Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Good Defense

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There is something to say for good defensive teams in basketball.

I grew up watching UNLV (University of Nevada at Las Vegas) playing their Amoeba match-up zone and stifling man-to-man defenses.  It is that style, that “in your face without mercy, organized chaos” style of basketball that gets players pumped, fans entertained, and “W’s” showing up the local newspapers.  Good defense clearly shows that the kids are hustling and thinking, since people are not only flying around the court trying to get a hand on the ball, they’re also communicating with each other in regards to what is happening on the floor.  Then all of that work creates fast breaks and the sport becomes a whole lot of fun to play.  I loved watching the Runnin Rebels because that defensive pressure was chaotic and unending.  Play Princeton?  Constant man pressure.  Play “40 Minutes of Hell” Arkansas?  Constant man pressure.  And some of the best offensive players in the game ended up as victims all might Rebels.  Ask Dennis Scott what happened in the first nine minutes of the second half of the 1990 Final Four.  One field goal is what happened.

My basketball practices have lately shown elements of some pretty good defense.  That might be a wee bit important in the first few games because two guys that can score a lot of points will be out.  This means that the defense on my team, a team full of high energy guys, must work that much harder to keep guys away from the basket.  Last year we had a nice run going where we wore teams down and in the last few minutes would out execute and do the little things well.  With the defense I’ve witnessed, maybe that streak will continue. 

We shall see. 

Sunday, November 22, 2009

10 years from now?

Dkzody’s Weblog post put an enormous amount of fear in me.

I have worked harder, cared more, done more, and it’s not enough to please everyone. After 18 years in the inner city school, working with kids from severe poverty, I am discouraged and feel beaten down. When will it get better?

I have occasional moments like this, and I really fear that ten more years down the road I’m going to feel like nothing has changed. Kids write to me after high school and the little e-mails or notes do wonders for my faith in the system, but societies pressure…….actually, I can deal with the pressure. Societies hypocrisy is what beats me down.

Maybe I should unplug. Maybe I should no longer listen to people, read blogs, and maybe I should start to maintain my classroom in the manner that I see fit for success, not to the standards of an ignorant populace that is more concerned about trips to Mexico, two week cruises, and drying good weed for sale to some idiot coming in from out of state.

I’m tired of lame excuses, technology not working, “professional learning communities”, and having to justify everything I do to a man or woman who is completely at the mercy of a 15 year old child. Do you know that on a progress report I almost wrote “Pain in the ass”? I caught myself, maybe unfortunately.

Do you know that I have to give every player a 5 day try-out for basketball? Junior Varsity boy’s basketball. That means that a kid can trip over the three point line every time down the floor and it must take me five days to figure out that he might be in the wrong place. Since when did our society become shy about saying, “Your kid is not good at this. Maybe he/she should try something else”? I didn’t make the J.V. Boy’s Baseball team at my high school. I was cut after 3 days and a cut list was posted of the guys that made the team. You know what I did? I played more basketball, got a girlfriend, got more involved with a church youth group, and got over it.

And while I’m ranting (and this post was not intended to be that), I’d like to thank those fellow colleagues that had “parties” on Friday. My Econ class got their previous test scores and worked on their Stock Market Portfolio. My AP U.S. History class took a huge test. My Government classes finished up Mock Congress Committee assignments, did a practice Bill-to-Law quiz, and finished “An Act of Congress: Following HR 6161”. I did not have a party. And nearly every one of my students reminded me of that fact. You did not make the Social Studies job any easier on Friday.

Yes, I love my job. But Jesus F-ing Christ, someone work with me here.

Standardized testing can kiss my ass

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Seriously, I’m to the point of not caring a damn about standardized testing. 

And while maybe I’m engaging in a little bit of hyperbole (after all, I’m hired to care about these idiotic tests), the fact of the matter is that more and more teachers are reaching that same conclusion about all the test jive. 

I am happy to see API growth but I just want to point out that the target is 800," school board member Dave Johnston said. "There's nothing magical about 800. When we get to 800, that means 55 percent of the students are at grade level, 45 percent are not. 800 is not a great target.

That’s the quote from one of my Board Members (check Friends of Dave right), who also said that teachers are working hard, yada, yada.  I’ve pretty much come to ignore anything coming from the mouths of politicians (no offense Dave) because I still think they don’t have a damn clue about what they are talking about.  Take the three in the picture at the top of the post.  Those are the three yahoos who will be representing the push for reform in education.  Race baiting ambulance chaser Al Sharpton, House Speaking hypocrite Newt Gingrich, and Arnie Duncan, whose choice of companions is a clear sign that only 11 months in, Obama’s education plan has jumped the shark.  How can you take education reform seriously with these clowns in charge?

With a new tool called Data Director, I checked out the results from my U.S. History classes from last year, and the results seemed to be pretty good.  No, not everyone was proficient, but well above the state average.  About 70%.  And of those that did not pass, almost all of those were basic. 

I saw three things from the data.  First, attendance had a direct impact on test scores.  Duh.  I’m dealing with Juniors in high school and obviously poor attendance was going to mean that students didn’t do well.  This was the number one factor in low test scores.  I could point to 70-80 percent of my non-proficient kids and said “yep, attendance was an issue”.  Now, how exactly am I supposed to be responsible for 16 year olds not getting to my classroom?  My lessons are engaging, my management is strong, my results are good.  Why should my job hinge on a 16 year wishing to get high instead of learning in my classroom?  And I’m so over the KIPP crap.  KIPP would have expelled many of those students before the testing, and those parents are more invested in their child’s education anyhow, which eliminates a huge problem in test scores.

Group number two is Hispanics.  3/4 quarter of my white students were proficient.  Just over half my Hispanics were.  The whole point of testing is to tear apart data, here’s another one.  And no, the attendance issue is not connected to ethnicity.  And yes, I am CLADed.  And yes, I am SDIAE trained.  And yes, I use multiple forms of instruction and assessment.  Some Hispanics did well in my classes, others did not.  Almost all were not that far from proficient.  Language was probably an issue.  It ended up impacting my test scores. 

The final group was the most shocking, and a clear reason why testing can’t be taken too seriously to measure anything except for maybe long term trends in data.  I consider myself a pretty tough teacher.  I think my students would say that they learn in my classes and that I have high expectations regarding quality of work.  Take a look at past teacher report cards (I’ve listed them in various June posts) where students occasionally state that I’m too college-like.  There is no grade inflation in my classroom.  Ok, take all of that into account when I tell you that the third group of students included those that were very successful in my class, but did not get a proficient score on the STAR exam’s U.S. History test.  I’m talking seriously successful.  Advanced Placement successful.  Social Studies Advanced Placement successful.  But couldn’t get a passing score on piece-of-crap state standards test?  They simply didn’t care.  “We had AP testing”, “It doesn’t impact us”, “They really bore the hell out of me”………yeah, except that my job is that much harder because I need to listen to our newspaper trash the school because of test scores, or watch pundits insist that everything is the teachers fault.

So really, the only reason I care at all about tests is because I’m paid to, and since I’m not paid well, and my pay continues to fall, I’m becoming less inclined to listen to people that blow hot air.  Test this. 

Thank God I teach Seniors.  No testing, just teaching.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In a weird place

One of our teachers died last week.

She was only 45 and died of a heart attack, or so I was told.  She taught English and did the Journalism and Yearbook classes.  When I first heard about it from a colleague on Veteran's Day I was stunned.  I had just been in her classroom the week before helping kids edit the newspaper with election returns data, and now the permanence of the whole thing is kinda hitting me.  It’s not like I was close to Tonya Sparkes, we didn’t do a whole lot of speaking while I was teaching at Ukiah.  Our rooms were in different buildings and our lives pretty much revolved around students, which means we were always busy.  But every conversation I had with her was a pleasant one, and her loss just seems so, I don’t know, frightening and sad.

It was my first real encounter with grief at the school.  We’ve had some students and ex-students die in the past, and that has caused a little turbulence, but this teacher was a former Ukiah graduate and a very beloved member of the staff.  The impacts were far greater.  We had an early faculty meeting to discuss the crisis situation on campus and were told that grief counseling was available.  Teaching in that kind of setting is odd.  You know that the feelings going around are not going to be good, yet I also felt like some students were going to be wanting normality to continue to get their mind off things, and yet others wouldn’t even be involved.  Remember, a school of 1,600 students, and not all were involved with Ms. Sparkes.  So what’s a teacher to do?

Well, I gave a little speech, tried to talk about my experience with the deceased, and then offered time for reflection.  No one took it, so we did a light version of the lesson and all proceeded ok.  It was odd.  The rest of the day seemed right in line.  Well, kids are resilient that way. 

I cancelled basketball practice and I’m going to her memorial service on Saturday.  While I didn’t know her personally, I feel like the teacher family at the high school lost a good soul, someone who was a pretty danm good professional educator.  And I have no problem honoring the memory of someone whose legacy will revolve around giving up their life to help kids. 

No problem at all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Day in the Life of a High School Teacher

-Alarm goes off at 5:15 a.m.  My wife and I chit-chat for a little bit and discuss the why’s of needing to get out of bed.  She goes and works out, I take a shower.

-Breakfast is oatmeal and coffee.  Instead of taking my coffee to go, I slow down a bit and watch the morning news and enjoy the dawn.  I wear slacks and a button down shirt.  No tie today because I don’t feel like wearing one.  I grab my backpack and my basketball bag and I’m out the door at 6:20.

-I get to school at 6:30, one hour before classes start.  I’m hoping for computer lab time for 1st and 5th period to review, track, and buy and sell stocks for the their stock project.  I reserved the library lab for 5th, but my building’s lab is taken by another teacher.  I plan to beg him later for it.  I begin to make a quiz.

-By 7 a.m. the first students arrive.  They are fantastic kids that are not only bright, but social towards teachers and are the exact kind of kids you want around in the morning.  The other teacher still hasn’t showed up.  I talk to my neighbor teacher about students using the teacher bathrooms in the building.  We are going to start writing kids up for using them, even if another teacher allows it.

-I get a call at 7:15, my 5th period library computer lab spot has been taken by a science teacher that reserved it by e-mail the night before.  I’m furious, but prepared nonetheless.  The other teacher gets to school and tells me he can’t give up his lab spot either.  No stock portfolio time this week.  Believe it or not, our school as less than 100 computers available for student use, for a school of 1,700 students.

-First period Economics starts with a quiz on business organizations.  One student comes in late and starts on the quiz.  We correct the quiz with seven students getting “perfection” and I write it on the white board.  They compete with Fifth period Econ for perfect papers and usually lose.  I send the one tardy out with a referral.  I tell them that today is a stock trading day and that they can turn in “trading tickets” (they must buy/sell/organize everything by hand, no online stock simulations) by Sixth period today.  I then show them how to create a line graph in Microsoft Word.  We then watch the news.  It lasts about 7 minutes.  Couple of questions and on to business organizations.  The focus today is corporations.  The class attention is good, the discussion is lively, and overall it is a nice day. 

-Between First and Second I take a phone call from the Varsity basketball coach.  We discuss the station drills I’m going to run tonight.  I then go outside and greet students.

-Second period is AP U.S. History.  The students go straight into the lab and begin to research information on Andrew Jackson.  Using three articles of impeachment, the students are putting President Jackson on trial with some students trying him and others supporting him.  I monitor the class in the lab and grade a few papers.  This class is lively, but a small group has maturity problems.  Two opposition groups playfully go after each other on whether or not Jackson committed genocide on Native Americans.  The discussion is good at first, but two students can’t focus and it ends up distracting people for a majority of the period.  It isn’t enough to toss out of class, but I’m pretty close to calling home on the group.  All does end well however, and it looks like people used the class time wisely. 

-Break is next.  The 12 minute break allows me to put up Mock Congress research links on my blog, and I spend 5 minutes out with colleagues talking about nothing in particular. 

-Third period is American Government.  We watch news and answer questions, then get to the bill writing portion of our Mock Congress. Students have divided themselves into Democrats and Republicans, and are using the computer lab to write bills.  They jump right into the process without a single problem.  The entire lab time is used to research statistics and begin the actual format of bill writing (which is very specific).  Everyone is engaged.  The entire period is me going from place to place checking on format and statistics.  It is a very productive period for a class that can be challenging at times.  They are totally engaged until the bell.

-I head out between Third and Fourth to converse with students in the halls.  I talk to an ex-student who is now a waitress.  I talk to two students about golf.  I talk to another about basketball practice tonight.  And talk to many about nothing in particular. 

-Fourth period starts out with a laugh.  I have a fantastic relationship with many students in the class, and the current ongoing “argument” is whether or not one of my students is actually Portuguese (which I am).  He brings in a book called “Portuguese Families of Mendocino County” and there is his family.  I act dejected and everyone gets a good laugh.  News and questions, and then (since this is also American Government) the bill writing begins.  This class is more deliberate.  They meet in party caucuses and discuss the bills they want to write, then set off and get them going.  Again, full engagement with no hiccups.  The Majority Leader and Minority Leader are very active in the class, making sure that the bills are on target and trying to sway some fence sitting members of the opposition.  It is another good class. 

-I begin lunch by shooting an e-mail off to Ning to ask them to remove Google Ads from my social networking site.  I’m looking to launch my Ning site this January, maybe.  For sure for next year.  The rest of lunch is at the table with colleagues.  We talk about lack of participation in sports and the overall negative atmosphere at the school this year.  Student apathy is bad, and it seems like teachers have no support from parents in the matter.  We shoot around the table the stories of parents who seem to not care that their kid is doing poorly or is not attending school.  It is the most negative I’ve heard my lunch table in a long time.  I leave in a little bit of a bad mood until one of my Fifth period students shows up with a tall Cafe Mocha for me.  I can’t help but smile.

-Fifth period begins with a quiz and the perfection number is 11, beating First period, again.  Fifth will be allowed to trade stock through tomorrow but must get me all the stock tickets by morning on Thursday.  We watch news, I show them the stock graph in word, and then we start on Partnerships and Corporations.  This class is full of incredibly bright kids, but some like to try and manipulate the conversation into something more interesting than the current topic, if that makes sense.  Most of the questions are valid though, and the period flies by quickly without problems. 

-Sixth is my “prep”.  Today, it will be non-existent.  I walk to the Varsity basketball coaches room to discuss try-outs, tournaments, funding, and a myriad of things related to basketball.  I then walk to the Athletic Directors office and we head down to the Admin Building to try to solve a problem with student physicals (like students not having them).  I collect some of the completed ones and walk down the hall.  I talk to the principal for about two minutes regarding a basketball issue.  I then walk to the vice-principal’s office and spend time in there discussing one of my students about attendance.  I return to my class with 20 minutes left on my prep.  Some students arrive with completed stock tickets.  I take those and head to a computer tech office to try and get my Ning issue resolved, meaning the schools filters won’t allow for students to access Ning, which creates a problem in using it.  I return to talk to some students about stock portfolio numbers and my prep is over. 

-The end of school begins at 2:45.  I sit and do some work on a business organization power point when after 10 minutes a student comes into my classroom from the computer lab.  Apparently the credit recovery program supervisor was absent today and didn’t tell the students.  The lab is full of kids.  I head to the Admin Building to let them know the deal, get more basketball paperwork, and then start dealing with my basketball physical issues.  Some parents are mad because we (coaches) won’t let players play without all the paperwork.  The next 30 minutes is a flurry of going building to building looking for student paperwork, calling parents, and trying to resolve issues that are usually related to students not getting their responsibilities in order.  I’m not amused, and by 3:45 I’m pretty much ready to say, “If you really wanted to play basketball, this would already be done.”

-I leave campus at round 3:45 to get coffee.  I’m tired and irritated and Coffee Critic gets my business.  I run into a student who is filling up her caffeine intake before going to work, and another teacher who I chat with for a few minutes.  Back to school.

-I get back at around 4:10 to find that students are looking for me and parents are calling me, all about basketball paperwork.  I haven’t had a bite to eat before practice, but I need to address the paperwork issues now that they are at my front door.  More calls, more visits to the Athletic Director and the Principal, and it is 4:30.  The issue is not resolved, but I’m not budging and it is a “No” until Standards and Practices are met.

-I cook my microwave Chicken Alfredo and start to download The War Room off of Youtube.  I can really use some of those clips in my Government classes.  I change clothes in my classroom and head to the gym at around 4:50, after one last stop in the office to see if any more paperwork was turned in.

-Practice starts at 5 and lasts until 7:30.  I won’t comment on it because if one thing gets more negative attention than anything else in this town, it is athletics.  Oh, I will say that basketball paperwork problems were involved.  When practice ends the coaches retire to the coaches room to discuss the day. 

-I drive home at 8:30 to my wife, who is also very tired.  I watch the Kings-Thunder game until 10 p.m., then read and write blogs until right now.  Tomorrow is a day off, so I can stay up late and not think about schoolwork.

But I promise you, basketball paperwork will still be around tomorrow.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Energy

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As much as you want to ignore it, kids will tell you which teachers are good and which teacher they can scam.  I often hear arguments that students will only pick the teachers that are “easy” as the teachers that are the best.  Believe it or not, students (at least upper classmen in high school) are pretty dang honest when it comes to which teachers give them the goods. 

When I hear about a teacher being praised, I ask the students why they like him/her so much.  Hell, why not?  Obviously those teachers are doing something right and it would be foolish not to try and incorporate their successes in the classroom.  The same names usually appear over and over again, and the reasons are actually pretty simple:

1.  I actually learn something in the class.

2.  The teacher seems to really care.

3.  The teacher is energetic.

The third one is so important and it is often overlooked by those in the credential program.  Nobody warns you about the October Blues and how students will respond better if you keep the energy up.  In fact, students will often overlook errors in your teaching when you show energy and passion in what you are doing.  Think about it this way, for every 10 days of energetic teaching, the kids will actually give a break when you might be “off”.  While other teachers begin to slide in the level of interest with the students after the first month passes (or in our case, when Homecoming ends), teachers that maintain the rigor and consistent interest are rewarded with a year’s worth of respect and hard working kids. 

Here’s a hint for rookie teachers though, the kids won’t acknowledge it until later.  And if you are brand new at the school, you might not get it acknowledged until next year.  That’s the tough part of maintaining energy, the ability to sustain it when the kids seem bored, but are paying attention.  I’ve occasionally asked a student, “You ok?”, and the student will sometimes answer in a perplexed manner, “Yeah, why?”. 

“Well, you just seem kind of down and out of it today.”

“No, I’ve got it all.  This is actually my favorite class.  If it wasn’t for this class, I wouldn’t be here today.”

You have to smile after a comment like that, especially if it’s during the doldrums of October or the nasty stretch of early Spring. 

So rookie teachers need to remember that energy gets you through a lot of hassle, and it’s good for students.  Fight through the tired and the bad environment and the negative publicity, and bring the energy to the four walls in which you teach.           

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Legalize Marijuana, watch your kids go to pot

"Legalize it and tax it". 

That's the argument that is constantly stated by those people that think that weed is the answer to the woes of society. 

Those that actually believe this are liars.  I am living in a town where marijuana is basically legal and society is slowly but surely crumbling away from reality. 

First off, you aren't going to be able to tax anything.  When all it takes is a little drip irrigation and a decent green thumb, everyone that wants to grow it will simply grow it, not buy it with the burden of paying a tax.  And if you actually think someone is going to enforce taxing growers, guess what, authorities can't control anything as it is, they sure as hell aren't going to deal with taxation.

Then there is the school.  Startling numbers came out this week and they spread like wildfire around the campus. 

The number of students expelled for drug use and/or distribution is now more than all of last year, and it is getting worse.  I talked to various people that called the problem "epidemic", and when you are in a town that accepts the culture, how do you deal with this?

A few of us teachers through around a few ideas and in the end we came to two conclusions:

1)  Get out the real scientific truth about weed.  More and more studies are coming out regarding the impact of marijuana on the teenage brain and none of them are good.  No, it won't kill you.  It'll only make your life slowly worse and worse.  Maybe you shake it off as a high school/college fad, and then again, maybe you won't.  Maybe you want it and need it.  Maybe it is necessary to smoke it every day at lunch, and then when you get home, and then again at seven in the morning (yes, they are catching students smoking at 7 a.m.).  In the end, you will be deteriorating your body and your brain nice and slow, all for a stupid little plant.

2)  The drug is illegal, especially at Ukiah High, and let's treat it that way.  The teachers had no problem with increased police presence, dogs, the whole nine yards.  If the community wants to battle over the importance of marijuana over kids, then we make the stand at the gates of Ukiah High School. 

It really needs to be a city wide effort.  There are good businesses and good people in this town, and the only way this problem is going to be solved is if the good parts of this town overwhelm the idiots that find marijuana so important. 

Updated 11/10

Looks like the Twitter feeds have been catching on to my blog post, and it's funny to read some of the reaction.  You know what never ceases to amaze me?  When the people that are so pro-legalizing pot seem to insist that I'm over-exaggerating or lying.  Take for instance this guy, jdc325, who insisted that this post is "overemotional, illogical, and lacking in evidence".  Of course this is some schmuck from Great Britain and not from Mendocino County, so the moron wouldn't know the first thing about teaching in a pot-laced county.  Am I overemotional about the rampant drug use from kids or the lack of society's priority in their well-being over legalization of weed?  What is illogical?  Is it the fact that Ukiah has had an increase in crime since legalization or simply that drug related crimes at the high school have skyrocketed?  How about the lack of evidence?  I promise that I'm not lying that drug related expulsions are through the roof at our school.  I promise that I'm not lying that kids are waking and baking before attending school.  I promise that I'm not lying that kids are simply taking weed from families that grow and try to sell it at school. 

Legalize it, legalize it, legalize it.  All those bad things, real or "perceived", that happen in society are either lies or ...........who cares.  Just legalize it.

Idiots.