Saturday, August 29, 2009

Any Educator’s Fantasy Football league?

For some reason I get either get into or find a Ukiah High Fantasy Football league.  Any educators that need an owner is very active and interested?

Week Two done

Believe it or not, I’m at the school on this Saturday morning.  There are a couple of reasons for this nutty move.  First of all, my Fantasy Football draft is coming up this morning and my house is about to be the meeting location for the females of my wife’s family.  Fantasy Football is serious enough to require some peace and quiet, so I took the laptop and headed to my classroom.  Second, and the most relevant reason, is that work still needs to get done.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing.

The theme for this week is fact that I’m not getting prep time to do anything that I really want to do.  I’ve been in meetings with everyone imaginable (formal and informal), to the point that I’ve stopped with calling my student’s parents because I’m tired of talking school related issues and just want to teach.  The last 30 minutes of my classroom time this morning has been putting away things that I just leave on the desk when I’m done with lessons, and after my draft I’ll enter a class or two of papers.  That stack is approaching eight inches tall.  Then I go home, lesson plan while I watch the Giants, and hopefully Sunday will be mine.  I highly doubt it though.

It might seem like I have too much work for my ninth year of teaching, but to be honest it’s the AP U.S. History (APUSH) course.  The amount of information required from this course is insane, and I’m learning a lot of information right along with the kids.  The real problem is about getting the information out without making the class straight power point lecture, which is really hard to do.  You might be telling yourself, “It’s AP.  If they want the credit, they’ll be self-motivated".  Sorry, but Ukiah High School students are not being very self-motivated learners right now.  Someone from the Admin building commented to me this week “Students are running away from rigor”, and boy is it true.  I’ve been hearing rumors that some Advanced Placement classes may be collapsed because students are bailing.  My own ears hear students simply waiting for their results on the first test, then they’ll head over to college prep classes if they don’t get the grade they like.  My APUSH class is at 25, and nobody has bailed yet after the first test.  However I’m really feeding them information from lectures, and that is slowing my pace down.  If I don’t stick to my schedule (something preached at the Cherry Creek AP conference), I’m not going to get it all in. 

That issue with rigor is dogging me in other classes too.  A student that I really liked complained that too much of the class was going through the book (two sections in two weeks, meaning about 6-7 pages), and that they wanted the notes only.  It was the clear sign that once they leave the classroom, a lot of students don’t want to be at all bothered by school.  It’s party time, period.  And in this town, I’m only finding that it is getting harder and harder for students to be self-learners. 

I nailed my first two cell phones yesterday.  Students were just texting away and I took them, gave them back at the end of the period, and issued the last warning to them.  It won’t be the last time this happens, as my number one discipline issue is cell phone use in the classroom. 

My overall classroom teaching was pretty good this week, although I haven’t been getting great sleep lately and first period has been shaky on occasion.  When I mean shaky, I mean my energy level is down and the class isn’t up to what I want it to be.   Yesterday it make a production possibilities lesson stumble and not go with fluidity.   Next week’s task is to get some sleep.  Oh, and teach the lead up to the American Revolution, the Role of Government in Economics, John Locke, How to Write a Thesis Statement, and good old Back to School Night.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pay the lads

image

A sub was in today and at lunch he made the comment that the best way to get kids to come to school is to pay them.  Money seems to make the world go around, so why not start them off young and make it worth their wild?

I'll give you three reasons why you should not pay students to attend school.

1)  You can't fund the programs that the government has instituted right now.  Where in God's name are you going to find the funding to pay some little knot-head to go to school and play dodgeball? 

2)  You are assuming that whatever you decide to pay, whenever you decide to pay it, is going to be incentive enough for kids to attend school.  Then you are also assuming that the incentive will remain for a very long time, since I don't see the government bringing it up in increments over the short term.

3)  As usual, YOU ARE AVOIDING THE PRIMARY REASON WHY THE EDUCATION SYSTEM IS BROKEN IN THE UNITED STATES!  SOCIETY DOESN'T REALLY VALUE EDUCATION!

  How is it that we come up with the most trendy, expensive, and idiotic ideas to deal with education and manage to ignore the simplicity of the problem?  I actually do know the answer.  It isn't attractive to go after society and parents when it's that very entity that votes for you in the democratic process.  Obama started to go this route when he ran for office, making comments about the need for responsible parents in society.  Now that he's president,  he's turned around and done the fashionable "it's the teacher stupid" routine.  Sure, bad teachers need to be eliminated, but societies ills don't rest squarely on the shoulders of instructors.

And paying kids to keep doing what they are doing is a great way to maintain the current moronic state of mediocrity. 

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Test Scores........pay up, Obama.

Do you think if tell the world my test scores that Arnie Duncan (Sec of Education under Obama) will shift some of that new teacher accountability money my way?  Probably not, but since this blog is about real world teaching, I might as well throw out my first experience with that wonderful piece of engineering, the STAR test.  Since I taught U.S. History for the first time last year, I was responsible for over 90 students taking the U.S. History portion of the STAR test. 

First let me note that our department made significant improvement in our test scores.  I won't give specifics because I don't want to speak for anyone in my department.  However, I will say that our scores jumped 17 points.  We are above the state average and above our growth target.  Personally, here's how my scores break down.

44.5% Advanced

28% Proficient

11% Basic

5.5% Below Basic

11% Far Below Basic

62 passed

29 did not

Now, I don't know how I'm supposed to treat the numbers.  Are those good or bad?  Obviously, we don't like the whole 11% FBB (Far Below Basic), but upon looking at the students that were in that range, I can tell you that extra efficient energy on my part was not going to change their test scores.  I could have poll danced and sang the material to those students, and it wasn't going to make a difference (mostly because they wouldn't be there to watch).  I think that another year might have helped move the basic students to proficient, although I looked at some of the students that scored Basic, and I'm at a loss.  My class is tough, and some students that got good grades could not get better than Basic on the test.  That bothers me.  These are kids that nailed my tests, which are harder than the STAR (not that I would know), and showed some serious knowledge, except when it came to the test that "really mattered".  It is really bizarre.   

Oh well, I'm not going to be able to really find out if the year would make a difference since I'm teaching APUSH this year, and my numbers will be unfairly skewed. 

Let's also remember that I had an 85% pass rate for AP Comp Gov this year as well, with over twice as many people taking it.  That should be worth some extra dough.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Week One Done

I'm tired.

With the first week done and gone I can safely say that I'm pretty exhausted, yet I'm satisfied with my teaching for week one.  Actually, I really don't know how I'm feeling because I'm just too tired to really comprehend it.

My classes are pretty good.  For those that don't know, I'm now teaching AP U.S. History.  That's probably kind of funny considering the stink that came about last year about me and college prep U.S. History, but I actually volunteered to take the job.  I won't get into the "why" of it.  People think that I'm crazy for teaching three Advanced Placement classes, two Comp Gov's and one U.S.  I can do it at this point.  I can't say how I'm going to be in a few months, because I'm looking into the future and wondering if I am going to be able to expend this kind of energy every day.  The task is quite daunting.  How daunting?

How about daunting enough to question whether or not to coach basketball this season.  Of course, during this time of year, I start to question everything that seems to get in the way of making the academic portion of my job function smoothly.  The no-hoop thought was erased pretty quickly when some of my ex-ballplayers come up and started to talk with me.  It might be too much in my blood to ever really be totally out of it. 

My classes are good, and full.  Full 34 in all but APUSH, which has 24 and might be declining.  I was under a little pressure to keep the numbers up, but I'm pretty much done with trying to convince kids that they are AP students when they don't want to do the work.  Many transferred out before the year began because the class conflicted with Leadership class, which focuses on community affairs and student government.  I'm not going to beg this type of student to stay in the class when it is clear that Advanced Placement is not their priority.  APUSH can be rigorous, and I understand the unattractive nature.  However these students enrolled in the class are going to nail the test, kill two college classes, and be better prepared for college than almost anyone on campus.  Sounds pretty to me. 

I've had only one issue within the classroom, and that was a student that hasn't liked me for awhile making snide comments in class for the first two days.  I simply refused to acknowledge the acts, kept the lessons engaging, and it vanished by Wednesday.  Otherwise, all is cool. 

Now, that's not the attitude of the overall campus.  It seems like everyone I talk to is feeling overworked, and taking serious looks at the cost/benefit of their input on their job.  We got our test scores.  We made the overall school target but failed in a sub-group.  Like usual, you can make serious connections between attendance and test scores, and that is perfectly evidenced in my three classes of Juniors last year (which I'll talk about later).  It makes many, including myself, just start to not care any more about the idiotic test.  You can't teach those that are not in your classroom, period.  Yet I'm still responsible for the those students that falter because of their inability to make it to free public education.  And they wonder why teachers don't like their pay tied to the 16 year old who can't wake up in the morning to go to class.  Mix into this the on-going, and going, and going.....construction on campus and the general mood is just damn tired, after only a week.

Still, I'm a satisfied tired.  What's more, I can teach Gov and Econ without much prep because it is finally at a place that I really like.  Tests are ready, power points are up to standard, and lessons flow much better.  The year could be very, very good.........if the energy remains.               

Sunday, August 16, 2009

100 Things New Teachers Need to Know, 41-50.

31.  PC Myth #4: “Students must be able to relate to content to understand or care about it.”  How condescending!  They’re not here to be pandered to, to have their warped, manufactured view of the world reinforced.  They’re here to expand their horizons.  That means intellectual humility borne of introspection brought on by exposure to challenging new ideas.  Shock and awe, baby.

I understand for Gently is coming from and agree with it in some regard.  But realize that students become a lot more engaged when they see relevance in the information.  How you present that information can help or hinder student involvement.  Fine, student views of information might be warped and manufactured, but use that to your advantage and make the information viable for student consumption.  To me, Algebra was just a bunch of formulas and numbers that held no meaning, and that is still my opinion today (sorry RIght on Left Coast) because I was never shown relevance.  Want to build a learner?  Show them why it matters.

32.  Bloom’s taxonomy is useful for planning assignments, but the “multiple intelligences” theory is not.  Every student wants to be a “people-oriented communicator,” and thinks they are…but they aren’t.  This world revolves around numbers and written words, and the things that radiate from them, and to the degree that we diverge from that in our training of our students, we do them a disservice.

And we make life in our classroom a royal hassle.  Teach different assignments for different modalities in the beginning, then take out those that benefit students the least.  Don’t be caught in needing to constantly address the one or two students that learn in “that” way.  Make some adjustments, but stick with what works best. 

33.  Keep a journal where you record funny moments in your class, memories of students who genuinely gained something from you, photos of themselves at dances that they give you, and anything else that’s positive.  It will save you when you’re ready to tear your hair out.

Absolutely!  I have a few e-mails that really made my day that I keep for those rough days.  They really help when you get the “me vs. the world” complex. 

34.  The perfect balance between professional and approachable behavior is impossible.  In general, lean towards more professional.  Assume that every student is out to get you; don’t give them anything to use against you.  This might appear extreme, but after your first few angry parents, you’ll learn to be cautious.

 I’m afraid that Gently is correct, and it might be the reason why I won’t ever be considered one of the best teachers.  I’ve noticed that many of the “greats” give hugs, have strong personal dynamics with students, and are incredibly approachable.  I’ve learned to be cautious because it takes only one rumor to make life miserable.  I guess it depends on the teacher, but I wouldn’t take the risk.  Remain professional and remain safe.

35.  Most students will need very frequent grade updates to stay at all motivated.

 Bah.  Most students don’t give a damn about their grade until the last month of the year.  My students have access to their grades online and most hardly check them.  If you don’t have an online grade book, I would post grades every 2-3 weeks, and tell students that you are always willing to talk grades outside of class time. 

36.  Go into every parent conference armed with copies of updated grade reports, recent samples of the student’s work, and any disciplinary paperwork related to the student.  If they have an IEP or 504, bring it and be ready to explain how you’ve complied with it.

Document everything.  Follow Gently’s advice and realize that the child has fed the parent their version of the story for days, weeks, or even months.  It will go a long way if you have everything written down. 

37.  If you have a problem with a student, email their other teachers for advice: someone knows how to deal with him.  If the student is in ROTC or plays a sport, go to the officers or coaches.  They will get you results fast.

Excellent advice.  I’m coming from the view of teacher and coach, and I expect my kids to make grades and excel. 

38.  Detention is rarely worth it.  If you do make a student come in, make them use the time to do homework for your class, or clean your room.

I don’t do detentions.  Why should I take up my time after school for something a student did?  I kick them out, send them to In School Suspension, or better yet, nail the problem before you have to take it to that level. 

39.  Collect homework as soon as the day starts.  Anyone who was “finishing” it after that gets half credit.

Better yet, collect when class starts and don’t accept after that.   

40.  Never, ever, ever take any work home with you.

Good luck.  Nine years in and I’m still working on this.  If you don’t take work home with you, more power to you.  I’m not there yet.  Of course, I’ve had a brand new prep every year for the last four years.

100 Things New Teachers Need to Know, 31-40.

31.  Never let students be in your classroom when you’re not there.  Lock your door when you’re out.

This should be obvious, except that lots of teachers don’t realize that you are dealing with kids that often don’t make the best decisions.  And it should also be stated that you should always have a door wide open when in the room alone with a student of the opposite sex.  If I have any doubt, I even tell one of the two female teachers next door that I’m with a female student.  They think that it’s wise because in the current era it only takes one accusation to ruin a career.

32.  Mentoring is the ultimate teaching.  Model the kind of adult you want your students to become: carry books around with you, don’t swear, discuss world events, etc. 

Coaches do some of the worst modeling for students.  I found myself becoming a much better coach when I started to do much more modeling of small things around kids.  I watched my language, worked hard in practice with my teaching, and actually not treat winning as a life or death matter.  Yes, coming out on top in competition is important, but kids will play better when things are put into perspective.  Oh, and I think kids like it when you can talk about things other than sports.  Bus trips become about movies, current events, politics, all those things that help better relationships.  I just spoke to a basketball player about a trip he’s taking to the Plastic Vortex in the North Pacific.  We hardly touched on basketball, and that’s totally ok.

33.  If a student is copying another student’s paper, take both papers and give them zeroes.  Do this even if the papers were for another class, and give them to that other teacher.  Further punishment than this is not productive.

I agree with this in theory and practice.  Be immediate with the punishment, and then end it and move on.  Here’s the problem; you’ll be the liar.  Kids cheat often, it’s more about whether or not we catch them.  More often than not, we probably don’t.  Just be prepared to go to battle with administration or parents when you accuse a kid of cheating, and be sure.

34.  Post on your board that you will not accept any kind of late work or even discuss grades during the last week of each quarter.  This will save your sanity.

Of course, I don’t take late work anyway, so this becomes moot.  I also put grades online, and that elevates a lot of questions about grades.  When a complaint comes around about grades, simply tell them to go online and work the math equation.     

35.  Have a file set aside somewhere to put papers with no names on them, for students to look through when they wonder why they got a zero on something “they swear they turned in.”  Give them half credit when they find it in there.

I grade no-name papers, put them in the return basket, and then ignore them.  Kids that keep track of their grades will come in when they see a blank score for an assignment, find the paper, and then they get the credit listed.  Guess what, 80% of no-names will never be looked at by students.  My rule is that the kids have all kinds of access to their grades, they should care about it more than I do. 

36.  Let them prepare an index card of notes to use on major exams.  This is about the only way to get them to study.

Nope.  I will, from time-to-time, debate with myself whether or not to allow some notes on a major exam, only to slap myself and remember that student learning has to be self-motivated, even just a little bit.  Remember to be a little more flexible for IEP’s and 504’s, but I wouldn’t make it a habit to allow notes. 

37.  Fewer projects, more writing.  Projects don’t teach nearly as much as we’d like to think they do, and they need more practice writing, anyway.

For English and Social Studies, I whole heartedly agree.  In fact, how about incorporating more writing into project based learning, that way you can get more benefit.  I think all classes don’t do enough writing, although I also understand why teachers don’t want to spend every waking moment grading written work.  I don’t want to constantly grade 150 essays.  But find a way to do more writing.

38.  Wake them up with a warning the first time they fall asleep.  Don’t yell or bang anything to do it, just nudge their shoulder with your knuckles.

Sorry, but I’m setting tone intense early.  Someone nodding off will get a gavel on the desk or a book dropped next to the noggin.   

39.  Cell phones and iPods are evil.  Period.  Get yourself a reputation as an inveterate hater of all electronic toys in the classroom.

They are evil, but like any classroom management, be consistent.  My rule is that if a cell phone goes off, students can simple turn it off and we move on.  Little distraction and it treats them like adults.  However, if they text or try to hid headphones, I keep the phone/MP3 player for a length of time that I feel is necessary.  Anywhere from 1 day to a week.  Warning, you will be responsible for that device if you take it.  You better have a safe place to keep it or you are looking at a world of trouble.   

40.  Unless you’re reading out loud to them, there is never a good reason for you to be talking for more than five minutes at a time.  If they’re not working hard independently, they’re not learning.

This comes from a school of thought that I don’t agree with.  I watched some of the best teachers simply lecture nearly the entire class period, and students do fantastic and are enthralled with the subject matter.  It is a gift to lecture and discuss with that kind of energy, but it can be done.  I’d say that you might want to limit your lectures to 20 minutes and intersperse other things.  I always use Power Points to enhance lectures, and student response is overwhelmingly positive.  Remember in regard to Power Points, less is more. 

Why we quit (updated)

The Washington Post published a letter from a teacher who has quit her job after four years citing burn-out. Sarah Fine teaches in Washington D.C. and her story is the perfect look into the daily feelings of a teacher struggling to fine a reason for the madness.

I would really point to the "social recognition" part of the job as a serious downer when it comes to managing ones personal sanity. Gotta love a society that expects you to raise their kids while telling you that you are lazy, overpaid, and lucky to be doing such an "easy task". Want insight into the hypocrisy of America? Read the comments. People tear into Sarah for being selfish and telling her to "suck it up", "welcome to the real world", and one teacher said that she was thankful that Fine was not coming back to the profession because it shouldn't be about personal emotional gratification.

Jesus, as if it's a problem to wish that society saw student success as "emotionally gratifying".

I think Sarah was tired of being society's scapegoat in dealing with problems around raising young men and women. I don't think Sarah is spoiled or egotistical, I think Sarah is sick of being bludgeoned over the head for doing one of the most important jobs without the right tools, the right environment, and the right support. About the only mistake she might make is that she thinks Ivy League schools somehow prepare you for the classroom. Here's a tip, and Teach For America might want to note this, good mentor teachers help prepare for a classroom. Passion for kids help prepare for a classroom. Organization helps prepare for a classroom. Supportive administrators help prepare for a classroom. If I'm hiring a teacher for a position, that diploma from Harvard means very little to me compared to a diploma from Southern Oregon State. The question is about teaching, not sitting through a lecture by Henry Gates on how to pop a lock on a screen door.

People would do well to listen to Sarah Fine very carefully. She had the heart and the passion, but you can only take so much before you think that the benefit outweighs the monumental cost. I lucked out. The social aspect really, REALLY bothers me. But I've had a group of excellent administrators that not only supported me, but were critical when they had to be as well. They treated me like a professional and a part of machine that's running the educational process in Ukiah. They helped make me a better teacher. Sarah didn't have that support and I'm sorry we lost her.

Updated 8/16

The co-principal from Sarah's old high school wrote a response in the Washington Post, and I think it's the perfect example of a cop-out.

"An important lesson that we will teach our students is that the best service is done without regard to reward or remuneration, perquisites that have historically accompanied careers in medicine, law and business. Indeed, at this moment in our history, it seems appropriate to note that reforming our dysfunctional public education, health care, and financial sectors will probably be accomplished by citizens more interested in serving others than in garnering praise for themselves."
What a bunch of horse shit. I think that it was made clear by Sarah Fine that she was willing to give herself up to teaching, but was not getting the support or tools necessary to get the job done correctly. It is also interesting that things like merit pay and teacher accountability seem to be all the rage in an era where the teacher should be so selfless. Part of the problem with our "dysfunctional public education" is that it has become the social norm to teacher bash. It's not like Sarah was expecting society to kiss her ass, she was expecting administrative support and simple respect. If we are doing such an important job, why not acknowledge it? That's not begging for praise, that's a sign of a healthy society. It's one of the reasons why South Korea, Japan, and Finland do better with test scores.

This kind of response infuriates me. Most teachers are not looking to be adorned, we're looking for help in getting kids educated. This co-principal is not helping at all.

What can we take out of Friday’s antics

Because I know that plenty of local people read my blog, I can only say that Friday included hours of my life that I will never get back.  However, we have learned a couple of lessons.

1.  Simply plopping technology in front of teachers will not help the education process.  In fact, there is a good chance that it will do the exact opposite because more often than not, those not familiar with technology will be inundated with problems when you need it to work the most.  Like any other new tool, you need to guide people into its implementation, support people at different levels of knowledge, and have a back-up plan ready if the technology fails.  I fear for the near future.

2.  The second that someone from the tech industry (Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc) says the words “Let me show you how to teach better”, I lose interest and look elsewhere.  Teachers can help me be a better teacher.  Good administrators can help me be a better teacher.  Someone programming code has no place it telling me how to teach better.  If you have a tool, show me how it works.  And when scheduling people like this, realize that the audience has different levels of understanding.  Some don’t use e-mail, while others are in the full throes of Classroom 2.0.  It is not a pretty meld for a condescending presentation about technology in teaching. 

3.  When I was back in the credential program, I graduated during the school year in December.  I was teaching five full classes of World History at Paradise High School as a long term sub for a sick colleague.  Other secondary credential program teachers were also teaching at that time.  The interesting thing about the credential graduation was the difference in reactions between elementary school teachers and secondary school teachers.  Elementary school teachers danced, sang, and cheered raucously for each other for every name announced.  High school teachers were muted in their applause, looked at their watches a lot, and headed for the exits as soon as it was over.  School was the next day and prep had to be done.  High school teachers and elementary teachers are different entities.  Maybe I shouldn’t speak for other high school teachers, but I don’t want meetings with songs and dance.  I don’t want skits and I don’t want to speeches on feelings.  I want to know the state of the district, the goals we are trying to achieve, and some words of motivation that speak about the people in this district being in this together.  Otherwise, I need to be in my classroom preparing for the year, especially if the problems of point #1 are right around the corner.

4.  I need to be in the classroom to prepare.  Being an economics teacher, I think it is fair to say that I don’t like my human capital wasted. 

5.  A school board member put up the financial status of the district last week.  Two things to note out of post.  One is that the demographer was wrong and the enrollment at the high school went up significantly this year.  The second is that 57 teacher lay-off number.  I know for a fact that there are other things that can be done within the district to save money that Dave doesn’t mention, and the post is blaming already underpaid teachers for the district’s financial condition at a time when teachers to be supported.  I would be interested on seeing how 57 teachers are laid off in conditions where classes are already overbooked.  With the exception of AP U.S. History, all my classes are at least two students over the contracted limit of 34.  Notice I said “at least”.  I would find it interesting to then remove 57 teachers. 

Well, the message coming from those up in the chain is not bright at all.  The best support I’ve had has been my colleagues, who are still excited and ready to teach.  Thank God I spend my days in that building, and not the one down the road.   

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The F-Word

I was with a group of teachers today when the magic F-word came up.

Furlough.

Along with a completely screwed up budget, the State of California also made it legal for school districts to cut the school year by five days, thus potentially saving a district of my size quite the pretty penny.  It would require teachers to miss those five days and not be paid for those five days.  That means that a furlough must pass the muster of the teacher's union, which is not easy to do when neither side trusts one another. 

This became a part of the conversation today, whether or not a furlough should be accepted, and if so, then when should the furlough be instituted.

Furloughs came up in my district last March, and as expected, everyone hated the idea.  It didn't help that it was presented as "take the furlough or you risk young seniority jobs", but I was looking at economic numbers and remember, labor is the top cost.  It could have been worse.  In Willits they threatened to lay everyone on staff off and rehire them at a hair under full time, thus screwing up retirement and pay, if the furlough wasn't considered.  Again, it could have been presented a little more gently.  Hell, I'm striking if my district lays me off and screws me over....and I'm slapping my union executive board for even letting it get that far.

In the end, neither Willits nor Ukiah furloughed last year, but it seems more possible this year and next.  With the group of teachers I was with, the question was more a "when" than an "if".  And look, if the district is financially strapped, and the admins and supers are willing to eat it with the rest of us, and it saves the jobs of good teachers, I'll take the furlough.  It makes sense not only to keep the district afloat, but it also becomes good PR at a time when teachers are not exactly at the top of the national rankings.  Bad schools, huge budgets to education, bad test scores, teachers sleeping with kids, "summers off", we could use a little positive image creation in the community.  Take the furlough and it looks like the schools are sacrificing like the rest of the country for the good of all involved.

And before my union brethren go all up in a tizzy and reach for the pitchfork, I'd like to point you to a recent Economist article that confirms that more and more Americans are sacrificing for the better of everyone involved. 

In a society known for competitive individualism, pay cuts and furloughs are calling forth a spirit of collectivism. Hewlett-Packard, Advanced Micro Devices and FedEx have trimmed rank-and-file pay, but their chief executives have taken 20% pay cuts, says Challenger, Gray and Christmas, an outplacement consultancy. Slumping tax collections forced city administrators in Lima, Ohio, to draw up contingencies for a 10% cut in hours for all but emergency workers. But first the city’s eight most senior administrators gave up a 2.5% pay rise.

Obviously the upper management has to buy in or the whole thing won't work.  But if the union says no, we off good young teachers and get the image of petulant children that are trying to be outside of current economic conditions.

Then comes the "when" of the furlough.  Today I was with high school teachers, many of them honors and Advanced Placement teachers.  The answer was pretty unanimous; end the year a week early.  This way students get full time to get ready for STAR testing, Advanced Placement testing, and it works much better for the flow.  That would seem like the most logical choice.  Only teachers aren't always logical.  The following quote was from union meetings last year. 

The only way this community will see how bad things really are, the only way to move the community to act, is to take the week off in the middle of the school year.  Then the parents have to change things because kids are at home and people can see how school budget cuts really negatively effect the community. 

That was a direct quote from another teacher in the union, and many paraphrased similar quotes were uttered as well.  The arrogance really is astonishing, and embarrassing.  As if the community doesn't already feel the impact on the economy, we might as well piss off people because we feel slighted by the current situation.  Yeah, you can count me out of this group of teachers.  Let's see who benefits from shutting the school down in mid-session:

-Not the good teachers, because they still have to prepare kids for content testing in May.

-Not the administration, because they will be dealing with angry parents and angry good teachers that still have to prepare kids for testing.

-Not the public, because most will leave kids alone at home or have to find child care which comes at a substantial cost, and the older kids will just be let loose on the town.

-Not the district, because they are going to get drilled by an angry public and administrators being kicked around by the angry public.

-Not the coaches, because whether they are furloughed or not, other teams will play and practice.

So who does it benefit?  The answer is simple.

Bad teachers.  Teachers that don't have enough to do and teachers whose agenda is not the kids, it's themselves.  And while they address their own agenda, they really don't care who gets nailed to the wall as long as they can show the world that they are irritated.

Thankfully, the teachers I was with today seemed to agree that furloughs suck, but if needed, they should be at the end of the year.  And also thankfully, most of the conversation was centered on teachers being excited about the beginning of the new year, sharing ideas, and planning different methods of collaboration and context.   

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Are…you…KIDDING ME?!?!?

Clinton Douglas Smith, a former teacher at Willits Charter School (not to be confused with Willits High School), received a suspended sentence for having a sexual relationship with a 15 year old girl.

Let me repeat that.

A 38 year old male teacher was given a pass for having sex with a girl that was hardly in high school.

I don’t know which of the following facts is more disturbing:

-That a 38 year old male thought that it was ok to have sex with a 15 year old girl.

-That a teacher found a 15 year old sexually attractive.

-That the man was married and had a daughter that was friends with the victim.

-That the psychologists found that he wasn’t a sexual predator.

-That the psychologists actually recommended that Smith hold a workshop for teachers on how to stay out of sexual relationships with students.

-That a fair amount of people supported him.

-That people were “relieved” with the court ruling.

-That 20 local area teachers sent letters supporting this guy.

We are talking about a man who took full advantage of a young girl, filling her head with images of a mature relationship.  Yet the judicial system seems to be looking at this as a small mistake.  This isn’t a mistake, this is a disgusting action that was made by choice by a mature man, a choice that was clearly illegal. And while I would never condone a relationship between a teacher and a student, we aren’t talking about an 18 year old student and 23 year old teacher, we talking about mass manipulation of a young girl. 

How the hell does this guy get off with “time served” and a suspended sentence?  That baffles the mind.  It is also a sad commentary about the legal system of rural Northern California, where we are more concerned with protecting drug dealers and child molesters than enforcing legitimate rule-of-law.  This blight can do nothing but make Willits look bad, real bad.

And other teachers sending support?  Are you kidding me?  Let me make it clear that I know of NO teachers from Willits High School that support this guy.  I can’t believe that anyone would actually speak in support this crime.  You would guess that the best of friends would do the wise thing and shut-the-hell-up.  But actual letters of support?  I’m a teacher and if I found out who sent those letters, if I had a kid, I would pull my kid out of that instructor’s class in a second.  There is simply no excuse.   

People of Mendocino County, understand that teachers do not find this behavior acceptable.  I work with people that would have no problem locking this guy away for a long, long time.  Clinton Smith, and his idiot supporters, do not represent the vast majority of educators in Mendocino County. 

And to the judge that sat in on this case…what the hell were you thinking?      

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Simple economics, sort of

Cafe Hayek’s Don Boudreaux brought a little simple economics to the realm of merit pay.  Basically, he noted that if teachers work for non-monetary reasons (“we don’t work for the pay”), why is it necessary to raise pay at all.  In fact, why not lower it?

  So if teachers do not respond positively to the prospect of higher monetary rewards, they are unlikely to respond negatively to the prospect of lower monetary rewards. Alternatively, if the problem with merit pay is that measuring teacher performance is simply too difficult, then we can conclude that Fairfax teachers now are as likely to be doing a truly lousy job at educating children as they are to be doing an excellent job at this task. . . .  If teachers aren’t motivated by money, then they’ll work just as diligently at lower pay as they will at higher pay; if cutting pay will, in fact, cause some teachers to quit, their replacements are likely to perform no worse than them.

I’m motivated by monetary reasons, although not solely for this profession.  I think that good teachers have a passion for teaching kids that goes beyond money, just like any good employee puts passion in any job to become the best.  But guess what, I work better when I’m appreciated, monetarily included.  Follow the Jack Welch method, treat the best employees like they are the best employees, and it will make them work even better.  The others will follow and aspire to be better, or they go by the wayside.  I think that my diligence and hard work got me to this AP Conference in Denver (even though I paid for most of it), and don’t think for a second that more pay wouldn’t make things brighter for me.  It’s part of the reason that I don’t do well at union meetings.  Yes, I agree with merit pay.  Why wouldn’t I?  I want to be paid more than the guy that is lazy and accomplishes less.  When the union lackey comes to me and says, “All teachers work hard”, I roll my eyes and realize I’m dealing with either an idiot, or a person in complete denial. 

Boudreaux does have a problem with his argument, and that is the issue of allowing teachers to actually work in the best conditions for success.  A doctor can give great advice, prescribe the best medication, and perform a perfect bypass surgery, but if the patient does not work on their lifestyle, they die.  Do you blame the doctor?  Of course not.  However, the teacher is expected to perform in an environment where they can give perfect service, but the outcome is beyond their control.  We can give excellent advice, have engaging lessons, and put every ounce of passion into the craft, but in the end, if the student (a teenager no less) doesn’t to take the initiative, the student fails.  And the teacher takes the blame.

In the end, this is why teachers are so against merit pay.  Would you trust your pay on the results of a 16 year old?  What about a 12 year old with parents that are never home?  What about a 15 year old who is homeless?  How about a 13 year old who can’t speak English, and is from a home where her parents beat her?  Or a 14 year old who has severe autism?  I’ll tell you one thing, I’ll be more likely to want merit pay if I work at Cherry Creek High School in Greenwood Village, Colorado than if I work at Laytonville High School in Laytonville, California.  Success helps when the tools to succeed are supplied to the players.  The playing field is horridly unequal, and when Boudreaux’s argument drifts in “hey look, colleges have merit pay”, he becomes arrogant and naive.  If I’m not mistaken, college students are paying to be somewhere where they choose to be, and college professors don’t have to deal with a tenth of the issues that secondary level teachers are hassled with.  They also deal with a smaller population and I would argue, do less work.  Since college is a choice, and addresses a smaller population, if we are talking economically, high school teachers should make more.          

In the end, this comes back to the issue of society refusing to address its part in educating children.  Here in Greenwood, society supports education and it is evidenced by student success.  In Ukiah, society is concerned with legalizing marijuana and that is also evidenced by student success, or lack of it.  We could transfer many teachers between schools and guess what, I would anticipate that student achievement would hardly be impacted.  Good teachers are good teachers, just some have the advantage of better tools and supportive communities. 

Mr. Boudreaux is correct that teachers need to stop being hypocritical about wages.  But that won’t solve the problem of education in America.  Society needs to stop being hypocritical about its role in education.  Then we’ll start seeing results. 

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Live! From Denver, Colorado

Here’s a tip for those that don’t think that money matters in educating children.

You are in denial.  Period.

So I’m at an Advanced Placement Conference at Cherry Creek High School in Greenwood Village, just south of Denver, Colorado.  The best way to describe the town of Greenwood Village, along with Cherry Creek, is money.  Lots and lots of money.  Greenwood Village is the “tech center” of Denver, a lot like Santa Clara is to San Jose.  The school is enormous and beautiful, somewhere that looks and feels like an institution of higher learning.  The campus is bigger and nicer than Mendocino College, our local J.C. in Ukiah.  There are thousands of computers on campus and the programs that are available to kids is really, really impressive.  When we are talking about preparing kids for the college life, this place seems to have the tools to get it done.

And guess what, all of this makes me want to work here.  Not that I don’t like Ukiah, I feel fortunate that I work where I work, with the people I work with, and with the support of my administration.  But who wouldn’t want all this technology with a community that supports education and students that are motivated to succeed?  Seriously, the atmosphere is primed for attracting teachers.  My wife and I both looked at each other and for a fleeting moment, we might have wished that we weren’t stuck in a house that has lost $100,000 in value.  I had a similar feeling after going to the AP Institute in Bellevue, Washington at InterLake High School.  I feeling goes away eventually, replaced by the want to bring a better experience to the students in Ukiah.  If I can’t really get to Cherry Creek High School, I might as well bring the experience back to room F-6.

This also brings up another interesting question.  Colorado spends significantly less than California in per pupil spending, yet manages to creates this beautiful high school.  Is it how the money is spent?  Is it a matter of Cherry Creek being in the middle of an upper-class part of Denver?  If so, doesn’t that bring even more light to the fact that urban schools are underrepresented in the funding department? 

Simply put, why can’t every school in the United States be like this?