Sunday, March 15, 2009

Twenty Questions for Teachers

Nancy over at Teacher in a Strange Land threw this out there. I figured I'd give my spin on it.

1. Teaching assignments, how long? High School: U.S. History, World History, U.S. Government, Economics, International and Global Studies, Advanced Placement Comparative Government, and Intro level (lower reading level, ELL students) classes in Government/Economics/World History. Add to that basketball coach. All of the above for 8 years.

2. Favorite Class Taught and Why? I love U.S. government because it is relevant and students become engaged immediately. Mock Congress is one of the best assignments in existence, using the ability to explain and then implement the Legislative Branch is just plain fun. Although, I might have to say that coaching is also a favorite. The kids learn more skills, and more relevant skills, than in the classroom, and the assessments are quick and revealing.

3. Worst Class Taught and Why? Can't say that their is a subject I hate (although I much prefer Government to U.S. History). I had a class about six years ago that was very challenging, but my teaching style was confrontational and that was part of the problem. There are classes during the day that are quite exhausting, but "worst"? Not really. The worst part of teaching isn't the kids. Trust me.

4. Favorite Class Taken? Anything by Bob Cottrell at CSU-Chico. That man managed to rekindle the passion for History at time when I was lost to what I really wanted from my life. I enjoyed his class so much that I took four of them, and learned an enormous amount. He was passionate, and I had lost that during my early college years. He brought it back.

5. Favorite Education Book? To be quite honest, education books are pretty much full of shit. Want a real lesson in education? Read a blog. Most good teaching doesn't come from a book, it comes from experience and common sense.

6. Best Teacher Buddy? Wow, a couple actually. While I tiff with my department on occasion (sometimes serious tiffing), I think that they are a great group to have around. While we do disagree on things, we can honestly say that we are a very strong department. An ex-teacher, now an administrator at one of the schools, was fantastic at showing me the ropes and giving me all kinds of "heads up" on how things worked at the school and in the community. I'd have fallen on many a landmine if it wasn't for his wisdom.

7. Best Administrator? I've taught for 8 years and have had two good administrators, and one other.

8. Most Disappointing Experience? Four years ago the "one other" administrator let a parent verbally rip myself and two other teachers apart for 90 minutes. By the end, one of the other teachers was in tears, I had capitulated on an assignment (that was never completed the second time either), and I had lost every ounce of respect for my boss at that time. That will never happen again.

9. Most Thrilling Moment? About three years into teaching I remember puttering around my classroom after a really good assignment for that day in December and thinking, "I'm going to do this forever, and I'm going to be good". It was moment I realized that it was really going to work.

10. Funniest Incident in Your Classroom? This year actually. But I really can't talk about it because it was borderline profane. However, it was Juniors in high school, no harm was done, and it was really damn funny.

11. Most memorable student? Nope, I have too many memorable students to pick just one.

12. What about unions? Necessary, but too busy trying to follow the CTA party line an acting in a confrontational manner. It's less of a bargaining tool now and more of a political body.

13. What about charter schools? A serious cop-out. Why would the state support schools that simply changed the rules regarding the students it can keep instead of changing the rules for all the schools? And don't say the teacher's union because a good administrator can fire bad teachers.

14. What about merit pay? I'm all for it, but you better get a terrific administrator and have a really good measurement on what makes a good pay grade. Pay based on some idiot test that students can sign out of and don't care about is insane.

15. What does "21st century learning" mean? It's 20th century learning using more technology and collaboration. Honestly, some of the things that used to happen in the past century (you know, discipline and accountability) worked out pretty good.

16. What makes a teacher "effective?" The ability to engage kids, period.

17. Most overrated "reform?" Charter schools. They have kids whose parents care more about their education, and they are allowed to make their own rules when it comes to discipline. Wow, not too hard to see why they succeed (on occasion). Give me the ability to kick out kids for failing academically and replace them with kids that have concerned parents and I'll show you some serious results.

18. Best professional development? The Advanced Placement Conference in Bellevue, Washington was pretty cool. However, the greatest professional development is watching other teachers' experiences and learning from it.

19. Personal education hero? Rex Moseley, my master teacher.

20. Priorities, if you could spend $5 billion on education? Better teachers in high-needs schools; innovation grants for creating new kinds of schools; serious teacher development--content knowledge, leadership, instructional improvement; a policy academy where practicing educators and policymakers jointly investigated research and creative options for problem-solving (I copied this from Nancy because it was right on the money).

Friday, March 13, 2009

The last of the Redwood Empire goes down


I always thought that there was sort of an ethic towards rooting for teams.  While you might compete against certain rivals during the season, when Division Play-offs or State came around you changed your tone and cheered for the locals.  I remember hating Chico and Pleasant Valley to death during the season, but was always willing to root them on when they played Sacramento and Bay Area teams in the NorCal State Championships. 

This year I was rooting for the Redwood Empire locals, those teams (minus teams that actively recruit) get my full fledged support during play-offs because they represent our league (Piner, Maria Carillo) or our area (Willits, Ft. Bragg, Analy).  In the end, the story of this year has been Analy High School from Sebastopol, a little town west of Santa Rosa.  The underdogs from the Empire had little size, but they made up for it with frantic defense and flurries of 3-pointers.  They disposed of San Marin first, then upset Drake, then #1 Bishop O'Dowd, and finally Miramonte in overtime to win the North Coast Section Championship.  On Tuesday they beat Burlingame in the first round of State before falling tonight to Sacramento High School, the school many have picked to win it all.  There really isn't a bad thing you can say about Analy's situation.  Sure, so they didn't win State, but they represented the Redwood Empire very well in a situation they were always picked to lose.  Nice job, Analy.

For the record, my North Section ties (Paradise High graduate) had me rooting for Enterprise and Sutter tonight as well.  Both didn't fare so well.  Oh well, time to prep for 09/10.  

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Retract that

Ok, so I haven't blogged in awhile. This was made evident to me when a fellow blogger walked up to me and stated that his blog is even more up to date than mine, something I hung my head in shame about. Hey, my only excuse is that you need to know that if I'm not blogging, I'm really focused on education stuff. I'm focused on getting back on track in the classroom now that basketball season is over. I'm focused on working on Professional Learning Communities in my department, and I'm dealing with this budget stuff that makes teaching a different sort of "experience".

Unless you are living under a rock somewhere, you probably have heard that California's schools are getting blasted with cuts. Schools are cutting teachers, programs, schools, athletics, music, you name it. Ukiah is no different, having to figure out a way to cut millions of dollars this year and next without completely disrupting the flow of education to students. It is not going to be an easy process.

So I decided to go to the recent school board meeting and make a little speech. Having a background in Economics and more insight (through reading blogs) about what is going on "out there" allows me to look at situations with a different eye. I can accept that the district needs to cut, although I can debate what cuts should be implemented. Right now the argument is Class Size Reduction at the K-3 and 9-10 grade levels. I can see both sides. First, I understand the idea that in hard budget times, teachers should be able to teach more than 20 kids. Hell, the lowest number I have is 24 and that's an Advanced Placement class. Three of my classes are over 30, two of which are full at 34. You aren't going to get a whole lot of sympathy from my end about raising the class size by a couple of kids, from 20 to say....23. However, I'll always support class size reduction because it is simply better for educating kids, and all the statistics that I see against it are skewed, bias, or are comparing apples to oranges. Addressing the needs of 34 or 20........hmmmmmmm, let me see......I can pretty much guarantee that the needs of "bubble kids" will be better met with the 14 fewer in the classroom. One-on-one attention will be a lot easier to provide. Oh, and the argument (ahem) that 20-1 is bogus because it forces schools to hire less qualified teachers is silly. That's trying to mix two different arguments to formulate a bizarre stance against CSR (Class Size Reduction). Here's a question: would you like that great teacher to be in a classroom with 34 students or 20 students? I think the answer is evident.

Anyway, I went to this board meeting and spoke in front of the crowd about two issues; transparency, and organization. When I mean transparency, I mean from all angles, and I said that. I want the district, the teacher's union, and the community to be as transparent as possible. That way, diverse opinions get thrown on the table and creative solutions get implemented. That's what I said in front of the board, the crowd, my fellow teachers, and the district Super. I also mentioned that to get through this, we needed to act as an organization, and everyone needs to take a role in leadership. The Super needs to be a leader, the Board needs to be leaders, teachers need to be leaders, custodians need to be leaders, the community needs to be leaders.......we won't get through this crisis and subsequent ones unless the parts come together form a unified, driven whole. I hate the "us vs. them" attitude that members of the board, the community, administration, and the teacher's union occasionally promote, and I told that meeting that those attitudes weren't going to work and we needed to find solutions.

I didn't mean it be a big deal, it was more like venting. I like what I do and I don't like seeing our "business" go down because egos, agendas, and a lack of cooperative vision get in the way. But apparently it was well received. I've heard from dozens of people that said it was a good message to start the process and that it seemed to address some fundamental issues that needed to be heard. Then around Noon today I was pointed to this article in the Ukiah Daily Journal.

" member Jeff Silva-Brown told the board that he doesn't like the "us versus (the district) attitude.... Cuts, if that involves a school closure, needs to be part of the dialogue."

Um, that is not what I said. I side nothing about not agreeing or disagreeing to the cuts made by the school district, and I specifically said that all cuts, including closing a school, should be considered. I talked about all of us having to make a sacrifice and doing this together, while the article makes me sound confrontational and demanding. I intentionally avoided that tone and lo and behold, the Ukiah Daily Journal makes it sound like conflict in the making. After receiving a call from a higher up saying that they felt I was misrepresented, I finally called Ms. Monica Krauth, the reporter at large, and stated my displeasure. I told her that she took bits and pieces of my speech and totally misrepresented what I stated at the meeting. Her response?
-I'm sorry, but that's what you said.
-You said "us vs. them" attitude (my exact quote "We need to get beyond the us vs. them attitude between teacher and district, teacher and teacher, community and district, and community and teacher. It will benefit us in the coming to a solution to this crisis".
-Really? I was told by many people that it was a fabulous piece.
-You seemed angry at the meeting (I was hardly angry. I know the situation and I know the current cuts are worst case. If I was angry, I wouldn't have been there.)
-The entire tone of the meeting was angry (I didn't see that either. It was very respectable).
-Write a Letter to the Editor if you don't like it.

Wow, so that's the second Ukiah Daily Journal reporter that has screwed me without care (K.C. Meadows being the first). The best thing about the Ukiah Daily Journal was the parent that volunteered to report and write stories for the Boy's Basketball season. He was great and he did it for nothing. The season is done now, so cancel your subscription to the paper. If not, you'll soon realize that Yellow Journalism is not relegated to the Drudge Report. Seriously, there is no justice in the world if Circuit City and Bear Stearns go under, and the Ukiah Daily Journal gets out of this economic crisis intact.

Thanks to those people that care about where the district is headed, and to those that took the time to let me know about the article. We'll get through this.