Saturday, January 31, 2009

Best. Game. Ever.

Our JV team came back in regulation, came back in the first overtime, and held on to win a double overtime game 85-82. I was fortunate to be a part of the experience.

I don't usually mention basketball related items on the blog because there are people actively looking at my ramblings in an attempt to oust me. However, this gets an exception because of the ultimate teachable moment that the game provided. Discipline, selflessness, heart, guts, courage, mental toughness, athletic ability, sportsmanship.........all those things that the California State Standards don't address were on court Friday night. Real teaching took place, and the kids passed many assessments with flying colors. Oh, and you want to know what I was paid? About nine cents an hour. One hell of a deal in terms of value education. And I would do it again, and again, and again.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hardly a melancholy good-bye

Mildly Melancholy (blogroll) lost her job earlier this month, but don't go looking for tears of sadness.

In a spot that many teachers have inhabited, MM feels that the job was totally overwhelming her anyway and that it was totally owning her life, and not in the way that breeds a successful existence. Her dilemma is not uncommon:

"is it really a fair trade when a person's mental and physical health is on the line? who is more important, the kids with the potential futures or the teacher trying to help them achieve that future? the reality is that the two fates are intertwined--if the students are the cause of the teacher's distress, the teacher can't function properly, and that cycles back to affect the students."
And her answer?

"NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT........... here's some dude telling a teacher that was successful for something like five or eight years, no, you should keep teaching no matter what. your health and well-being and happiness are secondary.......come on, dude. that is fucked up. seriously. this is what we get for venerating the martyr teacher--the one who sacrifices everything--family, health, time alone to rest and recuperate--in books and movies. people that take this job and keep it do it because we know it's incredibly important, and we all work hard because we know we can never work hard enough, because the work will never be done, because these kids need so much and most of it we can't give them. and some people are willing and able to make those sacrifices and yes, they are inspirational heroes. Are they realistic role models for the legions of young teachers out there? No way! Look at the demographics of charter school teachers, just as an example--young people, the vast majority upper middle class, unmarried and without children. You know why? Because the teachers with families and outside responsibilities (you know, the real world, the one that is causing heartbreak for so many urban children, is a force the rest of us have to deal with too) can't deal with stressful twelve-hour workdays when they face another entire workday at home that night. I can't even imagine being a regular public school teacher with children, let alone a baby or two! I've been tired for five years, and i'm single and childless!"

I can't say that my wife and I haven't had a conversation along these lines. We look at each other and think, "How do people that are teachers manage to have kids"? It really does seem near impossible to fathom coming home after long 12 hour days and taking care of another little one, hence part of the reason we don't have kids. Our lives are built around teaching other people's children, often trying to get them to learn really basic life skills that parents are too lazy/busy/drugged up to teach them. My wife and I spend our vacations preparing for the next time we teach. When we go to cities around the country we take pictures for lessons, buy materials for the classroom, and research primary sources to enhance involvement. The teaching really never takes much of a pause. The time for a family really isn't there.

Then again, my wife and I love our subject matter and love to share that love with students. While on the East Coast this summer, my wife and I are looking to get into the New York Stock Exchange Teacher Outreach Program. It isn't because we have to, it's because we love the subject matter anyway and we feel like it will make us better teachers having learned more. Being passionate about the subject isn't enough of course. That passion has to be translated to your teaching of the kids, because your kids will have what you got until you show them why it is interesting and important. And this takes quite a long time of trial and error, slowly creating that reputation of being the dynamic, tough teacher.

I can't say that I was in MM's shoes, but I can say that I have a pretty good outline of how she feels. Had I been in her position I would have told her that the most important things she can do are in her classroom, and that the hour long class period does matter in the long run. You never know when your passion will impact a child, you just have to be ever persistent about it.

As for the idea of the martyr teacher or the realistic teacher? I know plenty of really good teachers who manage to have a life. Every year the planning becomes easier, the classroom management gets easier, and the focus becomes more about teaching and less about surviving. If you've been around eight years and still feel like it's Year Two, then someone isn't guiding you in the right direction as an instructor, or you aren't learning about what helps bring about good teaching. At the same time, I've also seen plenty of teachers that have lost the passion and are sitting collecting a nice paycheck while the hard working ones need to step up to make up for their mistakes. While it would be nice to see them get the heave ho, I remind her again, what matters is what's going on the in the classroom.

Give her blog a look-see, and be sure to check out some of her other posts about her termination (liberation?). It's hardly melancholy.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

CNBC digs around Mendocino's Drug Culture

It's always funny to watch your small town on television.  I can see the familiar streets, Schat's Bakery (where I buy bread every Saturday), the Coffee Critic, and all kinds of views of the Ukiah Valley, Mendocino, and Potter Valley that I see every day. 

Well, now the nation gets the taste of the Drug Culture that I've been discussing, thanks to CNBC.  The channel is showing Marijuana Inc., which looks at the pot industry in the "Emerald Triangle" (Mendocino, Humbolt, and Trinity counties), although the focus is right here in good old Ukiah. 

One particular story is very familiar.  Joy Tucker from Potter Valley (10 minutes north of Ukiah) had enough of the pot gardens and moved away from the drug infested little nook that is P.V.  She also talks about working at Oak Manor Elementary School here in Ukiah, and regularly smelling the odor of weed on the kids when they came to school.  Think that's bad, try dealing with the culture with high school students.

The argument against the elimination is economic.  That might be half true with tiny towns like Laytonville or Willits, but the entire county wouldn't collapse when businesses would be more attracted to a beautiful area without a pot problem.

CNBC's Marijuana Inc.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

School is just not for me

I've heard this quite a few times from a variety of students that have moved out of mainstream classes and into Independent Study over the last two weeks.  The number of students has now reached about a half dozen, and while I don't take it personally, part of me seriously objects to the idea that we will be a more educated society by having kids do packet work to gain knowledge.  Funny thing is, the people that usually go on IS (Independent Study) are usually the students that have trouble coming to school because they prioritize the classroom on the lower level of their social ladder.  And what better way to enjoy the social benefits of high school while avoiding the mundane classes?  Students take core classes from their once a week IS teacher, but come to school to take the classes they enjoy (Photo, Drama), classes they can't get on IS (AP classes, Chemistry), and participate in all sorts of extra-curricular (sports, run for Homecoming).  The problem is that the student can't get to the school for the important things, but manages to reach the all-important track meet.  Something seems wrong with that.

Then again, part of me sees it as ok.  If we are serious about reforming the system, why not make Independent Study more available to all students?  In fact, why bother having educators at all if we are going to really promote student-responsible learning?  Because it isn't a very effective method to learning, that's why.  If the idea in our society is to simply go through the motions, finish the packet, at become another cog in the grade factory, then increasing Independent Study is a pretty good idea.  However society has been railing public schools for failing to teach children, and at the same time insisting that public schools adjust to the child's life schedule.  I've heard of the following excuses for going on Independent Study:

-I need a job for money for my new car.

-I can't take the drama.

-It's too stressful.

-I need to be able to attend (add athletic event) with more regularity.

-It doesn't fit with my dance schedule.

-School is just not for me.

Interesting, but also a pain in the ass because of two scenarios. 

First is the student that finds out he/she is on the waiting list for Independent Study and comes into the classroom raving that they will be watching Gossip Girl reruns at 10 in the morning while the poor, pathetic suckers are at school.  More time for late night beer pong is always a good thing. 

Second is the student that applies for IS and then totally disappears from your class because they KNOW they'll get accepted, even if they don't.  Then they come back after two-three weeks and want make up work because they found out that the IS program is full, and the teacher gets to deal with the parent that allowed the brat to stay home from the harsh reality of high school.  Sheesh.

I'm all for student centered learning, but if we want to prepare those kids for the next level (or get them to actually learn something), make it more like college.  Have two to three classes a week and assign work that is relevant, not busy.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Open up AP

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Since I started teaching my Advanced Placement Comparative Government course I've heard one thing consistently from other AP teachers; open the course to everyone and don't test in.  I did that and took some criticism for it since other classes do test for entry into the class. 

Now this comes from Jay Mathews at the Washington Post:

  "......a study of 78,000 Texas students found college graduation rates much higher for those who, while in high school, took Advanced Placement exams -- but failed them -- than those who took no AP exams at all."

About a quarter of my students this year did not take AP U.S. History, and I'm pretty confident that almost all of them can past the AP Test.  Like most Seniors, the question is about how hard kids really want to press their Senior year.  I'm running into more and more kids that say, "Nah, your class sounds cool and all, but I really just want a fun Senior year".  The idea that AP is a better prep for college isn't in their minds when they are Juniors.  Social life, Homecoming, Prom......all those things that make Senior year an experience out way the tough classes.

How does your school deal with it? 

Why the CTA's ballot measure will fail

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That teacher in the picture probably wishes for more funding for her classroom.  Funny, so do I.  Thing is, the new ballot measure proposal from the California Teacher's Association will not make her dream come true.  In fact, it will probably drive more resentment towards teachers in a state that has a massive budget problem.

It's simple economics; when in a recession a government should find a way to do two things.  First is to seriously audit its own spending.  Notice I didn't say "cut spending", I said that the government needs to go in and find a way to make things run more efficiently.  Second, the government needs to find a way to decrease taxes.  Nothing drives a crisis of confidence further into the gutter than telling people that the government is going to make you pay more for things that yesterday cost less. 

As is status quo for the CTA, they are proposing something that contradicts rationality; a measure that will increase the state sales tax by a penny, with all of the revenue going into Education.  Terrific.  First of all, everything that I buy is going to go up while I'm not going to see a penny of funding for the classroom.  Seriously, I have strong doubts that any raise in funding will come down the path to the men and women who are doing the serious grunt work.  Instead, it is going to discourage me from buying supplies for my classroom, the number one source of materials for teaching my kids.  My wife and I did our taxes today and found that we spent over $7000 on school related supplies this year, not counting the gas driving to and from workshops.  Think that I want to pay more while my income hardly inches up at all?  With the $4,500 I paid in union dues these last five years, I've seen a total of a 1% raise in the same time span.  My wife is worse.  For a happy $4,500 in five years of union wages, her school district's average wages have actually dropped 4.5%.  Not exactly a great return on a union investment.

Then comes the question of half of California's budget going towards Education, and the inability for teachers to get what they need to teach.  If the state was serious about Education (and according to the funding, it should be) then teachers would have access to the best tools of the trade to prepare kids for life "out there".  Instead, many teachers hardly have access to up-to-date textbooks, copier paper, or even a clean place to work.  Something is wrong when tens of billions leaves the Governators desk and hardly anything reaches the desk of the students.  Audit, Audit, Audit.........and I mean at every level.  What are teachers doing to reduce costs and save money?  What are schools doing?  What are districts doing?  What are county offices doing?  What are the state bureaucracies doing?  Something is not working right and someone needs to figure out how to appropriately fund Education. 

So while you'll be hearing about "Teachers that are looking for more funding for Education", understand that I'm looking for that funding from the monies that are already there, and I'll be voting "No" on that idiotic CTA tax hike.             

Friday, January 02, 2009

Back again

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I'm cold.

It's about 10:30 in the morning on the Friday before the return and this is the third time I've been working in my classroom.  Like I've stated before, I actually love the solitude of my "office", except right now.  It's cold.  For some reason the heater is pumping in air from the outside, which currently in the mid-40's.  This is giving my room a chill that doesn't go well with the basketball shorts I have on right now (I finished practice about a half hour ago).  I'm also eyeing my new water marks on the ceiling.  Many teachers are familiar with the clear sign that water has found its way through the room and into your classroom, creating a visible clue of damage.  My guess is that the nasty rains that occurred before Christmas found their way through that solar tube at the bottom of the picture and simply seeped into the ceiling.  I've already notified the proper people and it does no good to get terribly worked up about it.  It's ugly, but it doesn't impact the way I teach.  However, I'll call on it every week just to make sure it gets taken care of, because we all know that leaving it will only make it worse (owning a home taught me that quick.

Oh, and a New Year's Eve note.  I will watch Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin every year for the rest of my natural life if CNN keeps rolling them out for New Year's Eve.  I don't bother with either of them normally, but for a single night for the second year in a row I enjoyed the hi-jinks of attempt-to-be-stoic Anderson Cooper and the toeing-the-line-of-taste Kathy Griffin.  Few shows make me laugh out loud any more, and none of the New Year's Eve shows are worth a damn, except for CNN.  I was laughing my ass off on this New Year's Eve.  Where else can you watch the normal Times Square nonsense while cutting away to Sushi the Transvestite being lowered in a big shoe, then cutting to Kathy Griffin throwing something at the Jonas Brothers as they perform on stage, then cutting to CNN's New Orleans' correspondent being mobbed by drunk college students, then cutting to Griffin comparing her mood swings to a pap smear and a fluffy golden retriever, then cutting to an intoxicated Coolio calling himself one of the greatest rappers of all time, finally ending with the wonderful Kathy Griffin firing back at hecklers "I don't come to your job and knock the dicks out of your mouth".  It was flat out hilarious. 

And by the way if you think that was offensive, I think your priorities are off.  You know what offended me?  The constant male enhancement commercials and the idiots of Lynard Skynard waiving the Confederate flag around their concert like Jefferson Davis himself was in the audience.  Or how about ABC for continuing to roll out Dick Clark for the New Year's Rockin Eve.  That's just plain wrong.