Sunday, November 30, 2008

The X's

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Besides the fact that we have a week off and it's the start of basketball season, Thanksgiving is fun for another reason.  The ex's.

No, not those ex's.  I'm speaking of those kids that vanished in August and have now returned to grace the high school with stories of wonder and glory of the outside world.  While my basketball team did not come out on the winning end of our game on Friday night, I was very pleased to see ex-ball players and students come out of the stands and say hello to the old coach/teacher, sometimes with a handshake, sometimes with a hug.  The stories are fun and I actually get a little jealous of the feeling they are experiencing.  Remember the time when the world seemed so open and "out there"?  I do, and sometimes I miss it, even though I experience more of the world now than I did when I was 19 years old.  Most students come back from the start of their four year experience with a mixture of pride and enthusiasm.  They are doing a successful job at the college thing while enjoying all the perks that come with leaving town for College U.  It's fun watching them and their reactions.  There are also those that return with the new realization that yes, college is harder than high school and they are now facing the specter of things like Academic Probation or worse, coming home.  These were the A students that breezed by the classes because they didn't want the challenge of an Honors level class their Senior year and that work ethic has returned to bit them in the ass.  I try to tell them to bare down and focus, but that often comes with the "yeah, high school didn't prepare me much" speech from the kid.  Yeah, if would've focused in high school, college might be easier buddy.

I keep up with quite a few students on Facebook, but looking at them in person and watching their smiles makes me happy knowing that they are safe and successful. 

Saturday, November 29, 2008

How do the testing gurus solve this?

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This is one of the many reasons why I don't agree with the idea that student performance should be the primary indicator of teacher or school accountability. 

I've found that over 60 students have filed for hundreds of hours of Short-Term Independent Study for the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I have a dozen students that have applied for STIS that last over a week in my classes, and all of them are a simple explanation, vacation.  It is interesting how badly the Thanksgiving or Winter breaks are abused by parents.  Cruises are one of the more popular exploits of a November or December weekday, along with trips to Mexico and Hawaii.  Some Seniors are taking time to actually go and visit colleges (something defiantly worthy of a few days), except that every single one of my STIS students are Juniors, and most of them are in no grade shape to be missing a week, or two, or a month.  This has created a frustrated atmosphere from everyone involved from the teachers who are sick of preparing a month of work for a student that won't do it on vacation, to the counselor who is taking heat from the parent about frustrated teachers and taking heat from the teacher about parents that make bad choices, to finally the administration who is in the bind that they can't do much about it anyway.  So in the end, who is really held accountable? 

Why the teachers, of course.

It is becoming more and more tiring to hear speeches about helping that one extra kid, or about getting those "borderline" kids to pass the Exit Exams, or about making classrooms more engaging to students, when parents decide that Thanksgiving Break needs to be two weeks and Winter Break should be three.  It is also becoming tiring trying to prepare work for students that don't usually do it or parents that become resentful for assigning it during their precious vacation time.  So I stopped doing it.  Instead, I make Independent Study exactly that, time to study.  Packets are meaningless point inflators that impart no knowledge to the student and provide an idiotic amount of work for the teacher.  Hence the reason that I don't use packets.  I just assign textbook chapters and give the student the relevant state standard and say, "You will be responsible for all tests and quizzes on that information when you return".  Most do nothing and get clocked, and no it is not my fault and no I don't lose sleep over it.  I used to, until I realized that true education is a societal matter, not one that is relegated to a classroom that is supposed to take a family's vacation to Cabo into account when lesson planning.  The calendar is available for the next school year in the Spring.  If the vacation is important to book flights and hotels in advance, I'd check with your kids education as well.

The best, and most disgusting story that I've heard happened two weeks ago when a parent became so enraged that her kid was not given a decent amount of work for STIS that the parent demanded a meeting with the counselor and every teacher to get specific assignments.  A parent conference to take up more teacher time for the child's vacation?  Are you kidding? 

I've got kids to teach.      

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Meme

Happy Turkey Day, from Leesepea at "But Wait...." (on the blogroll).

1. Which do you like better: Cooking at your house, or going elsewhere?

-I love cooking, and we've made it a tradition that people that want to have Thanksgiving with us better come to Ukiah, because we ain't going nowhere.  Actually, I have basketball games the night before and day after Thanksgiving, which limits travel.

2. Do you buy a fresh or frozen bird?

-Frozen, and I do one hell of a job on cooking it.  In fact, I've never made a bad bird and my wife said it actually gets better and better.

3. What kind of stuffing?

-Organic bread stuffing, or whatever it is.  It's pretty good.

4. Sweet potato or pumpkin pie?

-My wife makes fresh organic pumpkin pies that kick all kinds of ass.  They are also excellent for breakfast.

5. Do you believe that turkey leftovers are a curse, or the point of the whole thing?

-We bought two turkeys this year for four people.  You figure it out.

6. Which side dish would provoke a riot if it was left off the menu?

-My wife's mashed potatoes.  Red potatoes in chicken stock with a cube of butter, and then mashed with gravy.  Yum.

7. Do you save the carcass to make soup or stock?

-Yep.  Well seasoned soup will last weeks.

8. What do you wish you had that would make preparing Thanksgiving dinner easier?

-The cleanup afterward.

9. Do you get up at the crack of dawn to have dinner ready in the early afternoon, or do you eat at your normal dinner hour?

-We eat in the early afternoon, but who needs to really get up that early.  We start at around 9 a.m. and we are mellow the whole time.

10. If you go to somebody else’s house, what’s your favorite dish to bring?

-Pie

11. What do you wish one of your guests wouldn’t bring to your house?

-Veggies.  Thanksgiving is a meat and potatoes kinda thing.

12. Does your usual mix of guests result in drama, or is it a group you’re happy to see?

-Both.  But it gets more and more mellow as the years go by.

13. What’s your absolute favorite thing on the menu?

-Turkey and gravy.

14. What are you thankful for this year?

-That my wife is doing ok.  And that I'm starting to be confident enough to know what good teaching is, even if it goes against what is popular.

15. Share one family tradition.

-The Thanksgiving Gift.  Everyone gets to give one person a Thanksgiving Gift that they open pre-Christmas.  I gave my wife the original Russian ballot "The Nutcracker" and she bought me Wall-E. 

It's empty, and good.

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It's the Friday after Thanksgiving and I sit in my classroom doing the work necessary to prepare for the next three weeks.  I have to admit, I love the feeling of being alone in the classroom, researching and preparing for the coming days, being able to be at peace with my own thoughts in my own setting.  With my wife happily at home reading with the cat, I set out to my classroom in a shirt and tie at around Noon, and have been working to grade blogs (kids are blogging at silvabrown.blogspot.com) and prep power points for U.S. History.  It's now 3:30 and I'm about to head over to the gym for the beginning of our home basketball season.  We won on the road on Wednesday and I'm rather excited to see how our second tilt works out.

I actually can't overstate how much I love the silent atmosphere of the classroom when it is empty.  I like kids, I like them a lot.  However most teachers know that the song and dance in front of the kiddies comes with a serious amount of preparation, and the better the prep, the better the performance.  I never really understood the idea of bustling until I became a teacher.  Now I bustle around the classroom looking through files, writing on the white board, and making dashes to the Admin building to make copies.  I was lucky to gain the trust of my principal during my first year and I was rewarded with a key that gives me access to the photocopier.  During my first few years I made Sunday excursions to F-6 (my room) almost weekly.  Now I do the Sunday thing less and less, but I still come in during holidays and I almost always stay later than the secretary that locks the Admin building on regular school days.

So it's about time to head to the gym, where the peaceful feeling will be overcome by that other neat feeling, competition.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My thoughts on the election

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Three years ago, as the contenders for the 2008 Presidential Election lined up, a student asked me "Mr. Brown, do you think that Barack Obama can win the election for president?".  I replied, "No.  I don't think that the country is mature enough yet to elect a black man president.  Maybe in 2012."

On election night, my Facebook profile was nailed with comments from students in that class that reminded me that I told them that Obama had no chance to win.  I didn't say that, I said that I didn't think the country was mature enough. 

I was wrong, and I'm happy that I was.

That's not to say that I'm giving away who I voted for, but let's be honest, the vote was historic.  One can only look at the last 125 years of U.S. history and see that the Declaration of Independence can rest easier now that the idea of "all men are created equal" has come true.  Now a black mother and father can truly look into the eyes of their kids and say, "You can do anything you want, even become President of the United States".  That's very, very good for this nation. 

I really didn't look at history when I voted, I looked at who I thought could run this nation the best.  I think that the two candidates might have been the best two choices in years.  Ronald Reagan was the best in modern history, and then the candidates start to slump, with the Bush/Gore election having two idiots running for the highest office in the land.  So I wasn't too concerned with my choice bringing about negative change for the country.  Thinks I considered:

-Obama had the single most liberal voting record of any member in Congress.  Most of the people had no idea about that because he hardly made a ruckus in the Senate.

-Obama also did little to make himself noticed in the Senate in terms of backing major legislative change (take Hillary and health care reform for example).  This means that he was preparing to run right after the 2004 Democratic Convention speech (maybe even before it) and fits the bill as a typical politician.  More typical than McCain actually.  John McCain often went across party lines.  Obama almost never did. 

-McCain let his handlers own him, and that hurt his campaign badly.

-The number one reason that McCain lost is George Bush.  He probably didn't have much of a chance with the current party in the White House.

-The number two reason that McCain lost was Sarah Palin, who is a dolt and was the single worst vice-presidential choice in history.

What next?

Well, the fervor is going to die down and the actual action of running the country is going to be interesting.  While kids lined up en masse to vote Mr. Obama into office, they will also find that the President can only do so much to change an economy, especially one that is globally connected.  And those that are waiting for Obama to move far left are going to have to wait longer, because he's already realized that both extremes will get him nowhere.  The President-Elect has already signed up economic advisors that are pro-free trade (Obama campaigned anti-NAFTA) and Commerce Secretary that will want to work immigration into the economy.  Robert Gates is going to be around for awhile longer as Secretary of Defense (a good move), and already Mr. Obama as mentioned that he's about to take the fight to Pakistan if that country doesn't get its act together.  Sounds like a move to the center for me.

So history was made and history awaits this man who the country overwhelmingly chose as President.  It is going to be interesting, to say the least.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An Electoral Student

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I had the joy of coaching former Ukiah High graduate Ian Blue during his time on the basketball hardwood at the home of the Wildcats.  However his passion for  politics overtook the passion for hoops and now Ian finds himself in a very honorable position now that Barack Obama won the 2008 Presidential Election on November 4.  Ian will be one of the 55 electors going to Sacramento on December 15th to officially cast the California 1st Congressional District electoral vote.  Pretty cool. 

Regardless of the politics of it all, it is really a kick for me to watch students succeed.  Who knew that a lanky freshman in high school would someday stand upon the Capital steps with Congressman Mike Thompson, and then officially cast one of the most historic votes in history?  I'm proud.    

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Election night

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This is a picture of the Round Table pizza back room that I reserved for a little Election Return get-together during Election Night.  I had expected 30 people to show.

By night's end, around 200 students had come to witness a very historical event.  At 7 p.m., that room was so packed with people that students were outside looking through the window at the television coverage of the event.  It was pretty darn cool.  Notice my projector in the lower right hand corner of the picture.  I had the electoral map on the wall, allowing students to watch the change of the colors as the states fell into place.  The crowded started to fade with McCain's concession speech and only about 20 people were left to view Obama's victory statement.  The cool thing was that students were enthused before and talking about it after.  Always good to see the kids involved.

Back again

I always said that teaching is a priority over blogging, hence the reason that I haven't been on lately.

Basketball started and I've had a death in the family.

I'm on vacation, I'm catching up, and I'll start blogging soon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Eliminate High School sports? (Updated and moved because it is gettting more looks)

Updated 11/12: I'm moving this up because it's getting some comments as of late. Sorry for not posting, but school and life is very busy. Teaching takes priority from blogging. I'm sure you understand.

Mr. McNamar at The Daily Grind has offered up an interesting post; why not eliminate high school sports? His reasons:
1) Budget cuts.
2) The climate is anti-coach.
3) No accountability by administration.
4) Entitlement.
5) Parents

Up until about 4 years ago, I would have thought that Mr. McNamar was nuts. I learned more about real life from my basketball team than I did in any classroom I was in. I've used basketball to acquire my love for work, my passion for competition, and my love for seeing kids succeed. It was an excellent thing for me.....many years ago.

Now I'm half-way (maybe more) towards Mr. McNamar's argument. Don't get me wrong, I totally believe that athletics should be a part of high school, just not in the current state at my school. Athletics should be Advanced Placement Physical Education, and it should be treated that way. However, it's not. Instead, sports are treated like a separate entity that lies within the property lines of the campus. Coaches are supposed to act like teachers, but aren't treated as such. Coaches work longer days, but aren't paid as much. Coaches are more one-on-one with parents, but aren't given the same support.

I disagree with the idea that the money isn't there. Make it "there". Physical education is monumentally important and I can think of plenty of things to cut that I feel are not nearly as important as the health of the body of a child. But McNamar's numbers 2 through 5 are pretty much dead on.

2. The climate is anti-coach: Every parent knows everything there is to know about the sport because they coached little league, or they coached their son for years. Therefore, the coach must know nothing. And since the coach actually does this for a living, the coach must be stupid and must be removed because Daddy is living through their child.

3. There is limited accountability: We wouldn't allow a parent to come into a classroom and cuss out a teacher. Why do we allow parents to do so at athletic events? There is a format to follow if you have a complaint against a teacher, but a coaching complaint goes right to the top, for some reason. And worse, the administration actually listens. I'm still waiting for someone to say, "Your son doesn't get playing time on the Varsity team because he's not as good as the 8 guys ahead of him. We have full faith in the coach. When the child earns it, he will play. Have a nice day." A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle explained that teachers in California were leaving in droves. Why? General support. Get this: Coaching is worse.

4. Entitlement: This is a problem everywhere in education, but it is magnified in athletics. One athlete once called every recommendation I gave him "criticism". When I asked him if he had been praised all his life he said, "Pretty much". Memo to all kids out there, nobody "owes" you anything.

5. Parents: They feel way too empowered, and are screwing up high school athletics.

Which leads me to the idea of going the European route. Drop high school athletics and let the parents get a club together, all the while letting them create this oh-so-impressive program that they feel they can whip out of the air. That way they get complete control and can hire and fire anyone they want at will. Sure, the real students that need the sports won't really get exposed to them since the club will cost a fee (what, you think the district is going to fund you? They won't be funding us this year!), and you will have to drop over half the programs because you really can't find qualified coaches (the high school can't keep coaches), but you'll find some way to figure it out. Don't forget Title IX type laws, ADA laws, or the fact that athletics isn't just about "The Big Three" (baseball, basketball, football). You need to offer those sports that don't make any money as well. You know, golf, diving, tennis, freshmen sports.

But sadly, I'd vote on something like this because coaches are not treated like teachers, yet are held to the same standard. Unfortunately, parents are less irate about Johnny failing Government, than Johnny not getting at least 5 minutes a game on the basketball court. Until schools take, and I mean take, back control of athletics, it just isn't worth it.