Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reinforced. They don't have to stand.

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Last year, our new principal made an effort to announce the Pledge of Allegiance at least twice a week, and continued to do a variety of patriotic observances on the other days.  It made quite a little stir and then calmed down as the year wore on.  As I explained before, I don't force the kids to stand and explain the constitutional precedent behind the issue.  During the year about a third of the kids stood and recited the Pledge.

Over the last couple of days a teacher on the AP Gov List Serve asked what teacher's did in regards to the daily patriotic observance and the responses came rushing down the e-mail like mad.  Most seemed to follow my method of teaching the kids about the constitutionality of the issue while explaining the value of our civic structure, but there was a healthy amount of teachers that insisted that kids be made to at least stand during the Pledge.  Some stated that their districts and state law required it.

Well, once again the federal court system has told them that they are flat out wrong.  Last week the 11th District Court of Appeals won a case against the State of Florida that stated that students are not required to stand to observe the Pledge.  Apparently the district required a parent note saying that the student was allowed to opt out of the exercise, but barring that note, students had to show their respects by getting their rear ends out of the chair.  The court ruled that unconstitutional, and that the student had the right to opt out if they chose to do so.  The case is Fazier vs. Winn. 

Another interesting part of this case was the angle of the parent vs. the student.  What if the parent asked that the student opt out and the student didn't want to, or vice versa?  It seems to me that the court stated that the school has an obligation to see to it that the parents wishes are to be followed regardless of the child's wishes.  I'm interested to see how this would work in a 12th grade classroom, although it looks like it is more aimed at elementary school levels.

Summertime Itch

When a teacher gets the itch for the classroom, what's it like?

It goes a little something like this.........hit it!

-Visited school on Friday to get official AP results when I get the feeling that being back in the classroom will get be better prepared for next semester. Go figure.

-Monday morning. I hop on the bike, strap my laptop into my backpack, and peddle twenty minutes up the hill to the high school.

-I stop alongside the cemetery where I see a deer munching on flowers. At about 25 feet away, the deer gives me a look that sort of says, "What the hell are you doing here? You still have a month left."

-I peddle to the classroom and park the bike on a group of boxes that have yet to be unloaded. I then stand and scan the classroom. You know, that feeling you try to get regarding where you should start.

-Issue number one is background noise; i.e. radio. I head to the computer and realize that only one of my four Internet drops is turned on, and I need two; one for my laptop and one for my classroom desktop with speakers. I hunt for my uplink hub.

-I find my uplink hub in a box, but the power cord is missing. I find one that looks like it, but I spend five minutes trying to make the connection fit. It obviously doesn't fit, but I'm just not wanting to comb the school for another uplink hub. No success.

-Open the door to head to our tech person who works through the summer. About ten steps out door I realize that I left my keys in the locked classroom. I turn, with the old uplink hub still in hand, and head towards the admin building.

-The very god-like principal's secretary gives me her keys to open my door.

-On the way out of the admin building I bid farewell to the departing vice-principal, who has a new job in district. I'm bummed to see him go, but also happy with his replacement.

-I go back to the classroom and get my keys. Before heading to the tech person, I eye the new wall-mounted projector in my classroom. I head over and try to turn it on. It doesn't work.

-With uplink hub still in hand, and now with my own keys, I head over to the tech person with a couple of requests.

-The tech person is there and is thrilled with the school acquiring a new server. I mutter a silent thankful prayer to God that she's here and not making a whole lot more money somewhere else. She puts up with a whole lot of crap in a public school for someone with her knowledge.

-Request one is the uplink hub. She takes the old one and gives me another, with power cord.

-Request two is to turn on the three other drops. She writes down the drop numbers and says she'll be right over.

-Request three is the projectors. They haven't been tested yet so patience is the virtue to follow. She gives me the disk for the software and the manual (a small novel) to upload to my laptop. Thank God I have this now because everyone will want it come school week.

-I head back the room to drop off my new goodies and head back to the admin building to give the keys back to god-like secretary. I then grab a Diet Pepsi and return to the classroom to work.

-I fix the computer situation and tune to KNBR online to listen to the last half hour of Gary Radnich. He's making fun of arena football, which isn't hard to do.

-The tech person comes into the classroom and turns on the other three Internet drops. I'm glad I'm here to do this now instead of in three weeks when everyone needs attention. I love an empty campus.

-I work for about 45 minutes on my new class syllabus. I add in an attendance provision that is probably one of the more risky things that I've decided to do in my teaching career. But if it works, it should make the whole experience easier and more worthwhile for kids. More on that in later posts.

-At the end of my syllabus I reach the part where I put in my school phone number with extension. I then realize that my extension has changed since I moved back into the new classroom. I spend 15 minutes trying to find my extension and set up my voice mail on the school phone system.

-Radnich ends and I bore easily with the next two yahoos. I turn to Bob-FM 92.7 out of Chico, my home town. I love the Internet.

-I begin to work on my new find; Engrade. I'm dumping the Moodle platform because I became tired of being a system administrator on top of being a teacher. Plus, I want to have my entire online environment on one system that is already set up. I'm putting everything; attendance, grades, agenda, work....online.

-I prepare the first week of class for all my classes. You can see my progress at www.engrade.com/coachbrown.

-I start to adjust a power point that gets my AP kids in the mood of thinking like an economist. Originally I had the basic rules of Ceteris Paribus, Marginal Cost=Marginal Benefit, and that humans are rational creatures. I add in the ideas of Incentives, and that the only thing that can change price is Supply and Demand. I'm reading an excellent supplemental book that I highly recommend to Economics teachers called Economics By Example.

-I got to the school around 10:30. At around ten minutes to 2 p.m. I get hungry and realize that I have to bike home if I want anything in my belly.

-I look around my classroom one more time before I head out the door. I realize that I have a lot of work to do before the semester starts. I also realize that the passion for U.S. History that I've tried to drum up for weeks is simply not there. I loved teaching Gov/Econ and I'm still bitter. But I'll be back to prep again, probably tomorrow.

-The drive home only takes 12 minutes. It's all downhill.

Monday, July 28, 2008

By the way, did I mention that the Wall Street Journal hates teachers?

It seems interesting that the bastion of capitalist thought takes a total reversal when it comes to teachers. 

I'm talking about the Wall Street Journal and its regular thrashings on public education teachers.  The formula is simple.  The Journal attacks public education teachers for being lazy, over-paid, and working in the best interest of themselves and teachers unions.  The paper then discusses the fact that teachers are not knowledgeable in their subject matter and that industry professionals should be teaching the kids, since teachers are certainly not professionals.  Then comes the constant argument for vouchers and school choice, and finally the ultimate slap, that the only good teachers are those that take the route of Teach for America, because they have the guts to volunteer out of elite universities to teach when they could go into more "desired" professions.  All of this drivel comes amid the constant attitude that education is so important to society, but not important enough to pay teachers more. 

Not necessarily capitalism at it's finest.

While I'm not a proponent of simply jacking up the salaries of every teacher in the country (I'm becoming a bigger and bigger supporter of merit pay), you can't simply say that education is important in every way except salary.  The linked article makes light that teachers work fewer hours and have time off in all seasons, and adds that many jobs take work home with them.  I would love to see that list of jobs.  Along with that list, I would like to see how society would react if teacher's simply "worked to rule", and went home along with the rest of the 9-5 world.  Add to that the fact that I make less than a dime an hour when I coach, and you have a system (and a newspaper) that stinks of hypocrisy.  And I have yet to even get into the professional development and money spent on supplies.  Again, it astounds me that the incentive for a more educated society is totally ignored in the paper that represents the capitalist ethic.

We then move to the consistent accusation by the WSJ that educators have little or sometimes no knowledge of their subject matter.  While I'm the first to admit that there are poor members of my profession (like any other), to say that most teachers are not qualified to teach is ridiculous.  Fine, the CBEST is a joke (the basic skills exam for the credential), but the subject matter competency is far from funny.  Besides the B.A. that I received in History/Social Science (yes, I took the whole spectrum), I had to take a written test and pass an exit interview from three professors in the History Department.  It was very rigorous.  I, like most teachers, know my stuff.  The problem is that many external problems arise in teaching that are totally out of control of the instructor, yet end up reflecting poorly on teacher.  What happens when you have a classroom of 34 students, and 25 of them have IEP's with different accommodations?  You are going to have serious hurdles to instruction that are not going to be reflected when the test scores come out.  Yet the newspaper, along with other Republican politicians that I have spoken with, have made the case that industry professionals could easily step into the classroom and be more beneficial to students.  First of all, if they were going to be teachers they would already be in the classroom.  Second, it would be against NCLB because none of them would be considered "highly qualified".  Third and finally, I would love to see "industry leaders" in a classroom situation and see the beautiful test results from that circus.  Kids aren't like the private sector.  You can't just fire them or put them in detention when it doesn't go well.  That doesn't make positive gains on test scores and in some cases can get you sued (see IEP).  And once again, the Wall Street Journal has made mention that more Math and Science professionals would do public education more good, but refused to throw out the incentive of higher pay. 

My final criticism is much more touchy, and isn't meant to be an attack on Teach For America as it is an angry retort to how the newspaper continues to view the profession.  While the above link attacked teachers for making too much, this article from mid-June said the exact opposite, stating that the profession makes less than most other professional careers.  In a more recent article, the WSJ made Teach For America, and the profession as a whole, out to be totally altruistic, as if the job isn't really a profession at all and that people of high caliber are doing it simply to do good for the children, damn the economics and future financial freedom.  Sure, teachers are concerned about the welfare of society or we wouldn't really care about the students, but complete selflessness?  I thought part of the American Dream was the ability to be financially independent through hard work and being a good citizen.  According to the Wall Street Journal, that doesn't apply to teaching. 

And while the WSJ humps Teach For America to death, let's remember one thing.  Twenty percent of TFA applicants don't finish their tenure at the school they are assigned to, and around seventy percent don't stay at that school when their assignment is finished.  I guess selflessness only goes so far. 

Look, I'm not a teacher union lackey.  However, the Wall Street Journal makes every public education teacher out to be some lazy instructor with one eye on the calendar and the other on the teacher's union web site.  That's crap.  I understand that a credential doesn't make a teacher.  I also understand that it takes a certain amount of sacrifice to be in the teaching profession.  However, the Wall Street Journal loses more and more creditability when it decides what is and is not important to the success of education.  Telling teachers that they are important, and then telling them that their wallets shouldn't matter is absurd, especially in a society that needs those teachers to help revamp the system.  If you were to get a two dozen good teachers in a room and ask them to remake the education system, I think the Journal would be surprised at how much they would support a lot of our ideas.  But one of those ideas would have to be the basic economic principle of "incentives matter". 

We are, after all, professionals.                

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Good-Bye Wall Street Journal

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I'm done with the Wall Street Journal.

A few years ago I found that the Journal was a newspaper perfect for the needs of myself and my teaching.  The news was oriented towards a business class of people, with information that often went away from the political and more towards the economic.  The Op-Ed pieces were quite diverse, ranging from discussions about climate change and Darfur, to reasons that politicians make bad economic decisions.  The Personal Journal portion of the paper had interesting articles about personal finance and other economic articles that were great for my economics class as well. 

Skip to today, and the now Rupert Murdoch owned Wall Street Journal has become the San Francisco Chronicle of the conservative persuasion. 

When the Journal was bought by NewsCorp, I hardly paid attention because I figured that the reputation of the newspaper would carry enough weight to keep some integrity.  I started to get a little annoyed when the Scooter Libby situation was not only reported favorably by the WSJ, but Libby was basically defended to the death by nearly every columnist.  The news stories and Op-Ed's started sounding like a ringing endorsement for the extremist areas of the Grand Old Party.  Then came the change over in the editorial department.  I watched the diversity in opinion columns disappear and the likes of Karl Rove start to rear their heads on a consistent basis.  I remember looking at an Op-Ed page one evening and seeing Rove, Condoleezza Rice, and Dick Cheney all contributing their opinions on policy.  Equal time hardly existed, with the balance of power in the paper going strongly to the right.  And it wasn't even a fiscally conservative "right", it was the Rush Limbaugh, en vogue "right" that has a recent history of talking out of it's ass.  When I noticed that news articles were slamming Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for just about everything, I had finally had enough.  I'm not a propping up everything that the FED does as golden, but not everything the government does to the economy is a step towards communism.  Even Ben Stein, who should be the first person on the Wall Street Journal's list of Op-Ed hires, realizes that the economy is politicized by political ideology, and is worse for it.  And the Journal has fallen head first into the maw of the political beast that thinks it has a clue about what is economically viable for the nation.  It has jumped on the Bush Administration bandwagon that has squandered more political capital than any U.S. President in history.  How can a business related paper so blatantly support a leader that has made horrid economic decisions?  Bush had the world at his feet after 9/11, and he had the chance to become the president that began the move to next-gen energy.  Both moves would have brought him to the elite in presidential prestige.  Instead, he blew both out of the water, and the WSJ supports it.  Not sound economic reasoning.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Anna Quindlen needs to look up the word "pedagogy".

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ped·a·go·gy /ˈpɛdəˌgoʊdʒi, -ˌgɒdʒi/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[ped-uh-goh-jee, -goj-ee] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation

–noun, plural -gies.

1.
the function or work of a teacher; teaching.

2.
the art or science of teaching; education; instructional methods.

I'm a little late with this one, but I was reading through Newsweek and came upon an article by columnist Anna Quindlen. Ms. Quindlen was irritated at firing of Connie Heerman, a teacher who used the pictured book, The Freedom Writers Diary, in her classroom against the wishes of her school administration. Basically, here's the story:

-Heerman asks to use the book in her classroom. The admin tells her to hold off on it.

-Heerman collects permission slips from most of the students in the class regarding the book.

-Heerman buys the books and distributes the books to her students anyway.

-Heerman is told to collect the books immediately and some students refuse to hand them back.

-Heerman is fired.

Now, Quindlen made this comment in her column, "A teacher who is psyched about engaging struggling students learns that bureaucracy is more important than pedagogy". The problem with this comment is, of course, that Connie Heerman didn't use successful pedagogy because she failed to follow a cardinal rule in the art of teaching; model. Heerman went directly against the authority of the district and in doing so failed to model the appropriate response to the districts wishes. Fine, Heerman doesn't like the decision by her superiors about the book, and she probably has a valid point. However, regardless of how much she cares about student education, let's remember one thing; she's an employee that basically gave the middle finger to her boss. How about modeling to the kids an appropriate method to go after the district on censorship? How about a discussion on censorship period? There were plenty of ways to teach relevant life lessons using the situation that didn't involve pissing off the employer. There were plenty of ways of modeling good behavior that would really benefit the kids in the future.

I would argue that Connie Heerman's plight is an example of bad pedagogy, and I would strongly recommend that young teachers remember that they have to follow the rules set up by the district, no matter how much they would like to "fight the power". I made a slight mistake with a movie that landed me in hot water during my second year of teaching, but that was dumb ignorance (not an excuse) and I was fortunate that my principal saw it as a learning experience. Know your district policy and then take appropriate steps to change it if you don't like it, but don't snub the bosses. I think that censorship of almost any kind is ridiculous and I think the book should be used in classrooms as inspiration, but I'm not making policy.

Great pedagogy is modeling good behaviors for kids. Anna Quindlen needs to remember that she wouldn't want her interns to do what Ms. Heerman did and give her the big kiss off.

Quindlen's article

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tom Friedman says it so well

"Which brings me back to America. Perfect we are not, but America still has some moral backbone. There are travesties we will not tolerate. The U.N. vote on Zimbabwe demonstrates that this is not true for these “popular” countries — called Russia or China or South Africa — that have no problem siding with a man who is pulverizing his own people.

So, yes, we’re not so popular in Europe and Asia anymore. I guess they would prefer a world in which America was weaker, where leaders with the values of Vladimir Putin and Thabo Mbeki had a greater say, and where the desperate voices for change in Zimbabwe would, well, just shut up."

Where the hell is the world outrage? 

And where is the media coverage of an event that makes Gitmo look like a doll house? 

And where is the U.S. Government thrashing of the all three governments publicly, from both Congress and the White House?

Read Friedman's article, and get some perspective on the world.

dy/dan. What matters in the classroom.

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I'm sure that Dan Meyer, blogger at dy/dan (blogroll) and former student at my school, won't mind that I snag his blog picture, especially since the post is about the man himself.

I just got back from a professional development function that wasn't going to be worthwhile unless I took things into my own hands. I can't go into detail about it since I actually really like the program, just understand that some lessons don't work. When I saw this lesson not working, I sought to learn on my own. See, being more established as an educator, I really have a good understanding of what I am looking for in terms of the development of my practice. My vision is built around the idea of what I think is best for kid's learning and my ability to teach them relevant information with maximum retention. I've been preparing for this vision since high school. I noted what not to do in the classroom and have been gathering materials since 1991. Yes, I knew I was going to be a teacher back then and I have the newspapers I saved to prove it. In my head, it just seemed right that my students in the future had an actual piece of history from my past, and it would be interesting (the L.A. Riots was my first real save). Understand that this vision is not complete, but it is closer and more tuned that at any time in my life. I'm confident, hungry, and constantly on the lookout for the enhancement of my vision.

Student teachers don't quite have this luxury yet. I remember being in their position where the amount of "pay attention; this is important" information seemed like a waterfall that never stopped dropping on your head. To figure out what was of real importance wasn't going to happen until the student teacher went through the trials of the classroom. As teachers know, the credential program can't prepare you for what is really coming from the classroom.

This is where Mr. Meyer comes in. I've been reading his blog for years with extreme interest. His is a story of a young teacher near Santa Cruz that has managed to develop his vision of teaching and has decided to share on his blog. What's interesting is watching his reactions online that mirrored mine when I started teaching, and the pleasant realization that their are others out there that not only struggle with classical issues (classroom management, time, student interaction), but also next-gen issues. Very few bloggers are able to discuss Classroom 2.0 without sounding like academic technocrats. Fewer still can actually apply it to relevant pedagogy (the art of teaching), and it is the rare diamond that can relate all of that to stuff that actually matters in young teacher's lives. Dan has taken it further by creating vodcasts, user created video shorts that are relevant to teaching. They are extremely well put together and give off messages to young teachers that many of us would love to shout from the highest mountaintop, but haven't the extra spark to put together in a pretty package.

It is these vodcasts that I would recommend to all those that have left the credential program and are looking to make sense of the avalanche of information that the professors crammed into you. Dan's fifth installment was about the ability to manage time, and he included some methods that are successful for new teachers to incorporate. His intro to the piece, "I work here........", can be understood by every young teacher, and the "walks at night" are especially relevant to myself, a teacher who took his task so seriously during student teaching and his first year that he ended up in the doctor's office for than once regarding stress. I watched it and remembered those times, and then I furrow my brow in irritation that while I learned endless ELL strategies in college, nobody explained to me the necessity for a simple written "to do" list.

Realize that I'm not advocating everything that Dan recommends. But here's the cool part, neither does he. Instead, Dan talks to you like he's across a table at a conference and you are having a mind opening discussion on best practices. "Hey, it works for me....." is the attitude that is taken, not "If you don't use this, you'll probably fail at teaching" or "I'm teacher of the year for blah-blah and you're not, so use this" . He's not condescending at all, and that's refreshing.

My one note to young teachers view his vodcasts is to keep it simple and make it adjust to your style. Not into Jott? Keep a yellow notepad handy everywhere. Don't have a projector? You can make simple presentations with a computer and transparencies, trust me. Or simply show a picture to enhance discussion. Every day I show a cartoon, picture, video clip, play a song.....something to engage learning and to get kids to ask questions. You don't need technology to do that. You need drive and preparation. And if you really want a project, hit up the adopt-a-classroom websites around the Web and put your resource capital into your own hands.

In the meantime, head on over to dy/dan (blogroll right) and see a good teacher at work.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

AP Results

I headed over to the school today to get Advanced Placement results and to copy some U.S. History TCI work. In the main office, I got the privilege to being one of the first to look at student results. I think they are pretty good.

Student grades:
Two students scored a 5
Three students scored a 4
One student scored a 3
One student scored a 2

Passing rate of 86%, compared to the current 59% average passing rate nationally.

People have told me that those scores are great for a first time AP class. Of course, my focus is on the getting the 2 up to passing status.

I also found a striking correlation between the grades on this test, and the grades on the AP English Composition test.

Summer school is in jeopardy. And the problem is?

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The national news has finally got the news that summer schools around the country are in doubt as the budget woes in state legislatures continue.  While politicians are lamenting the closure of off-season "education", count me among the teachers that views the summertime crutch as an unnecessary waste of resources. 

Let's be honest, summer schools do provide a good education for students.  Yet the students that attend these sessions are given the impression that you don't need to pass the 7 month version of the class because the 6 week one will be just as valuable.  Um, reality check anyone?  When I taught my one summer school class years ago (not in my current district), I was told that "the students failed in the million dollar show, so given the ten cent show", and that's exactly what happened.  They got a textbook and a packet of worksheets to work on while I sat back and lesson planned for my future in Ukiah.  They learned nothing, they gained nothing, and the atmosphere had the typical "credit factory" feel.  From what I've seen, summer school hasn't changed much.  Students are given a little instruction and told to brave the book on their own, with little meaningful interaction for learning.

We know that two types of students usually attend summer school; the student that wants to jump ahead, and the student that failed a course.  Neither is being helped by a system that can't possibly allow for the retention of knowledge or the development of critical thinking within the time period allotted.

We haven't even touched on the economic aspect of  summer school.  In Ukiah, students are not only taught, but also bussed and fed (and bussed from a distance), which creates serious economic implications for an already cash-strapped district. 

In the end, I would seriously consider either ending the practice of summer school, creating a trimester style system that gives students one session off, or at the very least, make the students pay for summer school.  The system is being taken advantage of now, dipping into the pockets might be a motivation for families to get more involved in student lives during the school year. 

AP article on summer school closures.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

5

I was greeted by a message on my Facebook by a student that took the AP Comparative Government exam this year.  I was thrilled to learn that the student received a 5, the highest possible score, on the test.  With seven out of the sixteen students taking the test, one 5 might not say a whole lot about where the overall is going, but the student responses after the exam were very positive save one student, and that was a student I ignored because I pretty much figured it was going to be hell for an AP student that probably shouldn't have been there in the first place. 

So I wait, and admire the 5 as a victory for student and teacher, and I also admire the fact that next year's AP Comparative Government class will have jumped from 16 students to 25.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Heroes

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About 30 miles west of Ukiah and 17 miles east of the Pacific Ocean is the small town of Comptche, population 600.  The men above are from volunteer fire department from the tiny town in Mendocino County (courtesy of the New York Times).  When the fires kicked off locally, we had little help with the exception of the brave men and women who took off to the fire lines to save people and property.  I've learned that the reason why information was so sparse was because the "organized" effort against the fire was pretty non-existent.  For days the only battle against the blazes were local departments that wouldn't have time to report out because they were busy fighting the flames.  Citizens couldn't report out because they were busy trying to save their homes.  The local media couldn't report out because they were too lazy to report out (get a laptop, a digital camera, create a blog, do some f-ing reporting).  In the end, information came in by third-party people until Cal-Fire started to get a half handle on the situation. 

The New York Times does a nice job acknowledging the first line troops that worked so hard to save the property of members of their communities.  If you are in Mendocino County and you run into ANY firefighters, give those guys a big "Thank You".  Their tireless efforts show the heart and character of the kind of men and women that deserve so much more than simple gratitude, and thanks to the New York Times for letting the country know that real heroes still exist.

The New York Times article.

A little hot

It's only 110 degrees today.

Believe it or not, we are about due for a run of these kind of temperatures around here. This summer, although dry, has been incredibly mild. Low-90's has been the norm for most of June and the air conditioner has been pretty silent, especially in the evenings. Now we have the average coming down the pike, a run of heat for about a week and back to average temps on Friday.

I'm starting a two week conference at the County Office of Education call the Teaching American History Project. It's year 2 of the project which entails a lot of information, instructional method, and teacher collaboration on, what else, teaching American History. It is more than worthwhile in what it is trying to get across and the ability to talk to other teachers gives me more ideas for classroom use. One of the challenges that I find with this kind of collaboration is the incredible gap between the technically literate and technically challenged. Last year the group went to a workshop about creating Power Points, only to find that the learning curve ranged from "how to you start up the computer" to "how do I adjust HTML within the slide to create a better balance with my images and my text". This creates an interesting problem for introducing new methods of teaching instruction because you are going to have to teach down to the instructors that haven't the technical know how to understand things like Vodcasts (my new favorite thing to watch from dy/dan), viral video, or multimedia presentations. Think of it like a teacher who needs to teach to a college prep class where 20% can hardly read. It makes the advanced readers time a little longer because the information is pretty basic. It's not anyone's "fault" really, I mean look at the people that are in the room with me at this moment. The ages are pretty broad, from student teachers to 25 year veterans.

What's the answer to this digital divide? I'm thinking that the teacher credential program needs to get into gear and add more classes that address teaching in the Classroom Web 2.0 world. Those teachers that won't open e-mail, won't learn how to use projectors or open documents might need to be pressured into getting out of the 20th Century.

The benefit is there, we all just need to continue to be life long learners.

The thing about unions......

I was browsing Right on the Left Coast (check the blogroll) and I found an article about teacher unions from a blog called Edspresso (which I occasionally visit). The question was simple, "Are teacher's unions anti-teacher?".

This is such an interesting and touchy subject. I'm a site rep for my local union. I'm also a person that wants to see education run in an efficient and logical manner. Some might see my opinion as waffling, since I think the teacher's union is necessary, but I also see it as somewhat corrupt. Why is it necessary? Well, until the administration is totally competent, and I mean all the way up to the Super, unions are necessary. I've been lucky to have very supportive admins for the vast majority of my career (including currently). However, without the districts protecting the teachers becomes a priority, the union must remain. Stories abound where teachers are left to dry when parents get out of control and go after a teacher's job. My legal protection rides with the union, not the district.

The problem is that nearly everything else regarding the union is suspect at best. We are forced to pay fees that often go to causes we want nothing to do with. Our union sent thousands to the Hayward Teachers Association last year when they went on strike, without the permission of members. Oh, it's in the bylaws. And when the "Executive Committee" (the head honchos of the local union) wants to raise fees, they just do it. During the last meeting of the year, I requested that a fee increase go out to vote and that a complete list of expenditures of the union be produced. I was denied both. I actually kind of flipped out on whole group, questioning their real motive in their positions. Then we get into the idea of merit pay, actually, any kind of merit pay. When I broached the subject as something that was legitimate and that would be placed on top of the regular salary, our union went nuts. No real reason was given into why it was bad, just that it is anti-union to like merit pay. Of course, good teachers might disagree. Finally, I couldn't bear to watch the union make a big deal out of the teacher lay-off notices this year. Yeah, you are right, good teachers were getting laid off.........something that could be totally avoided if the good teachers were kept and the bottom 10% were let go. You know who prevented that? Um, labor agreements.

I really don't know what to do about the current situation locally. I keep trying to tell people at my site that they are getting fairly screwed, but the attitude is pretty much that they have no time to deal with it. It seems as if the cost of actually trying to fight for a well run union isn't worth the benefit of actually having one. Next year promises to be even more contentious, as Ukiah High School, the single largest entity in the district, will have no representation in negotiations. Not that it is entirely the fault of the union that teacher's don't want to put in the time. I can be added to that group.

So I'm at an interesting crossroads. I became involved in the union to bring some sort of reasonable order to it. I have found that it is just not that easy. I fear for the fact that my money is in the hands of people who are not looking out for the best interest of teachers, which makes me want to stick it out. But our representation took a major hit this year when two excellent UHS negotiators resigned. And when I end up leaving union meetings, I feel actually afraid that these people represent me. Best interest is not there, for the teachers, kids, overall health of the district, anything. I'm thinking that the Teacher's Empowerment Network is a possible answer (Right on Left Coast promotes it like crazy), except that the local union still has control over some of my fees and still ends up screwing over good teachers.

Understand, I'm not some flaming anti-communist, anti-union raver with some political agenda. I see value in unions, especially when it comes to protecting and negotiating in the best interest of the profession. But I see serious problems with how my money is spent, and that our profession is not being addressed in the best possible light.

Your thoughts?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Busy on vacation

Sorry I haven't blogged, but live remains busy while my summertime continues.  Combine basketball with Giants games, a lot of reading, a lot of video games, some blogging on my classroom blog, and some general laying on my butt, and you get the kind of busy that relaxes the brain for a new year.