Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rulz for da Interwebz

Well, it’s official.  We have a Technology Use Policy for Ukiah Unified’s teachers and employees. 

This has caused a bit of a stir among some of the teachers at the high school, both in how it was implemented (we had to sign an agreement before we even read the book), and how the language seemed to impact the method of instruction to the kids.  What do I think of it?  Meh.  It’s a technology use agreement; aka, use your freaking head and move on.  But I’ll highlight some of the concerns.

First, Big Brother is watching.  Years ago I sat at a Union meeting were teachers insisted that it was police state tactics that the District had the ability to monitor an employee’s Internet traffic.  How can your employer actually justify monitoring THEIR network and THEIR e-mail for traffic that might impact THEIR employees?  I tried to explain the whole, you know, “it’s not your private network” thing, but it didn’t go over well and I just sat and enjoyed the hilarity.  The only reason I can see this as being a concern is A)  You are somewhere you aren’t supposed to be, or B)  You fear that the District will look to question your judgment.  I’m not concerned with either.  The closest thing to controversy might be using Facebook or Twitter during prep, and both I can easily justify educational use. 

Second, and the much more interesting point, was this:

“Employees shall not develop work-related web sites, blogs, forums, emails, or similar online communications representing the district  or using district equipment or resources without the permission of the Superintendent or designee.  All such forums shall include a disclaimer that the district is not responsible for the content of the messages.”

I got a few calls and e-mails asking how it relates to my personal blog (this one), to which I responded, “It doesn’t”.  My blog doesn’t represent the district or use district equipment, and I have a disclaimer that it does not reflect Ukiah High, and I use good judgment (although others would argue otherwise) on what I post.  That means the blog is out of the realm of the Use Agreement.  Note, I’ve talked to the District about my blog in the past so it isn’t like I am hiding anything. 

But that detail goes beyond my blog to actual technology that supports student learning.  The only technology supported officially by the District is Edline and Aries.  What happens to the many teachers that use Class Jump?  What about my Edmodo site, which is essentially a Facebook format designed for Education?  There are teachers with Facebook pages for their classes and Facebook Groups  that are designed around certain subject matter areas.  What about conversing with students via Twitter, Moodle, Instant Messenger, Google Apps, or open source software like Diaspora?  Does all that need District approval, and if so, who is the designee?  These questions were asked to me because some wanted clarification and many teachers wanted to know if the agreement had some hidden meaning that could hurt the use of technology.

My answer was that the policy seemed pretty standard and I don’t see the District breathing fire at someone using Edmodo or Class Jump.  I told everyone to use common sense, but that they should be free to integrate good technology into their classroom without feeling like cell phone polling was going to bring a Terminator to their door.  It’s like anything else in education; document and justify everything that you do.  If someone questions your practices, convince them that it’s the right thing to do.  I use Edmodo because it’s damn good, period (thanks #sschat on Twitter).  Anyone wanting to challenge me on it will be convinced in 30 seconds that its incorporation in my classroom is good teaching. 

So I go about my business of doing my thing and integrating technology when it enhances my job.  Just because I didn’t have a written Technology Agreement, doesn’t mean I haven’t been following the rules from Day One. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Kathy Griffin is back for New Year's! REJOICE!

All I can say is thank God that Kathy Griffin is back for the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square.

Seriously, CNN has got to see that out of all their programming, Kathy and Anderson Cooper are the only tandem that consistently draw good ratings because of the adult style of the telecast, and the hope that Kathy Griffin says something that might force CNN off the air.

What the hell are the other options?

Ryan Seacreast and ABC rolling out a barely functioning Dick Clark in a show that is so humiliating that it makes you want to hide behind the couch? MTV's homage to bad music and drunk entertainers that make you realize that the Islamic world actually hates us because we listen to Kesha?

Nope, I'll stick with the laugh-out-loud antics of Griffin and Cooper, and at the stroke of Midnight I'll watch the ball drop in Times Square, and Sushi drop in her red pump in Key West.

The value of Athletics, or , “why those art/music teachers are pissy that people like to compete more than blow things”.

I’m sure that I’ve now riled every arts and music teacher with the title of the post, so let me clarify that I find incredible value in Arts and Music education.  To me, the best education is challenging, inquisitive, and all inclusive.  Without Arts and Music, we are a society of robots that can solve an equation without appreciating the real world results we are observing. 

So why is it that many Art/Music teachers don’t say the same about athletics?  Why is it that post like this one at Dangerously Irrelevant (who I love by-the-way) are even considered to be outside of the realm of Education?  The post centered around three questions:

  1. How much money does your school district spend per year on athletics?
  2. How many student/teacher laptops (at, say, $1,400 apiece) would that buy?
  3. Which offers greater benefits for students and/or the district (short term and/or long term)?

The questions garner plenty of conversation about the cost/benefit of athletics, but unfortunately pit sports against technology, as if that is the only solution that is viable.  That is ridiculous.  But for the sake of argument, I’ll try and answer.

1.  If I’m not mistaken, Ukiah Unified basically paid for coaches stipends only this year, or about $75,000.  Understand that the money did not pay for assistant coaches, transportation (a mammoth expense), uniforms, officials, supplies, other anything else.  The rest was raised by Athletic Boosters, fund-raising, and gifts from parents.  At Ukiah High, the sports included (most Frosh/JV/Varsity):

-Boys:  Football, Water Polo, Soccer, Basketball, Golf, Tennis, Wrestling, Baseball, Track, Cross-Country, Swimming

-Girls:  Volleyball, Water Polo, Soccer, Basketball, Golf, Tennis, Wrestling, Softball, Track, Cross-Country, Swimming, Cheerleading

2.  That question is totally irrelevant because the amount spent on technology is millions more than spent athletics.  When you incorporate the new Apple laptops, modernized classrooms, updated Internet servers-routers-lines, professional development, software, hardware, and consultants, the costs are astronomical compared to the benefit to the student.  Add to that the questionable assumption that simply giving technology to students automatically creates benefit.  Yeah, how’s that working with teachers?

3.  Obviously both create tremendous benefit for students when done correctly.  But to say that Athletics is more or less important than tech, or Arts and Music is plain silly.  Take this comment for a poster on DI.

“….secondary athletics with their exclusionary practices, cut policies, and over emphasis on winning at all costs, do not build character, morals, or ethical values in our students.”


“There is no evidence that playing sports, at any level, builds character or self-esteem in students. If anything, our sports obsessed society and the jock culture found in most high schools has led to the exact opposite.”


I have always thought that high school athletics, especially football, is one of the biggest wastes of money in American education. People respond with either the “it builds character” line or about how the programs pay for themselves (which is certainly not true in our district) but neither is a compelling argument as far as I’m concerned.

Music, art, drama, and dance also help kids develop character, as well as their unique talents, and at the same time are accessible to far more students for the money spent. But arts programs are often the first to be cut during bad budget times, while school boards bend over backwards to preserve sports.

Those comments are wrong on so many levels that it is crazy.  First of all athletics is on par with academics with the idea of “exclusionary practices”.  I didn’t get into Algebra 2/Trig, or sing lead in a dramatic production, or play a solo in the band.  Know why?  I wasn’t good enough to simply walk in and say “guess what, I’m the man”.  I would argue that athletics is more like society in that not everyone will be an Advanced Placement level athlete.  And that’s assuming that teams cut.  Many teams at Ukiah High don’t cut, including the football team.  My team has to cut.  I have 13 players on the team now and to think that realistically I can get everyone on the court is ludicrous.

Second, the “jock” stereotype is only pervasive on teams where coaches allow it.  I learned more about good character from athletics than any other walk of life, and I had a fairly stable household.  Kids that don’t have stable households and that don’t go to school to “simply learn” need direction and positive role models.  Athletics teaches not only how to succeed, but to do so with dignity and grace. Athletics also teaches that failure happens often (think about completion rates, shooting averages, batting averages, or simple win/loss) and that it is how one deals with adversity that is important.  All the while a group of young men or women collaborate, execute, and treat themselves and others with respect. 

Finally, the California Interscholastic Federation published a study, one of many on the subject, that showed that any extra-curricular activity helps with engaging students in academics.  It increases participation rates in academic programs, it increases attendance, and plenty of studies show that students in motion (engaging in athletics) are more apt to have healthier lifestyles, including academics.  Every year that I’ve coached I’ve had a North Coast Section Scholar Athlete Team, and I’ve watched totally non-committal students go through tutoring sessions and extra work to remain part of the athletic program.  You may not like the reasons, but the results don’t lie.  Athletics helps academics. 

And for one hell of a price.  For the cost of a single teacher salary with benefits, a school district can successfully pay for the stipends of all the coaches (at all levels) within an athletic program.  On top of that, coaches will usually work during the off-season (for free) to try and reinforce retention of information and enhance skill development.  Coaches will also work with students at lower grade levels to transition them into the secondary level, and assist with students trying to get into college.  All the while coaches will be fundraising and networking with parents, the media, the administration, the league/section, other coaches, student government, boosters, local businesses, and a myriad of other groups that see athletics as a valuable connection between student achievement and the community.  And guess what my take home pay will be.  Broken down over the year….$150 a month.   Sounds like a steal.

So the question shouldn’t be an either/or situation.  It should be, “How can a school be more efficient with its resources to best meet the total needs of the students”.  In the end Arts/Music, Athletics, and technology need to all be considered vital to the successful lifestyles of our children.        

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Daily quizzes?

So my APUSH class had a simple request.  They would rather we have daily quizzes that covered about 4-6 pages instead of the normal twice a week quizzes that covered about 15 pages.  I acquiesced during the final couple of weeks of the semester and found out that, sure enough, grades on quizzes rose a bit.  So let's look at a cost/benefit analysis of daily quizzes. 

-Missed time on instruction and activities.  Daily quizzes will eat up around 10-12 minutes every day.
-Students that don't do the reading will get behind quick. 
-It doesn't emulate a real college environment.  You hardly have daily classes, and the reading is much more than 5 pages before the next class.

-You can catch students that are behind quicker.
-Grades will probably go up.
-More assignments means that there is more flexibility for "bad days".

I can't really gauge the cost/benefit of long term information retention.  When it comes to it, those students that study, work on writing, and join study groups will retain more information for a longer period of time. 

Your thoughts?

Merry Christmas

People are puttering around (or sleeping) here in Discovery Bay, the home of my in-laws.  Christmas family-wise is about over, and only one more leg on the annual Christmas Tour is left, the one home.  The Christmas Tour this year went Ukiah to Chico to Burney to Ashland to Ukiah to Sacramento to Discovery Bay, and finally back home.  All of that in a matter of days.  The weather hasn't been too bad except for the Burney to Ashland part.  We went in and out of snow squalls for most of the trip and drove on freshly plowed roads.  We saw one unfortunate soul in a jeep that took the turns too hard and landed on her side.  She was up and walking around, but it was frightening enough to see.

2010 at school did not end in the best manner.  One class has become the focus of too much energy and the Final's Day for that class ended up a circus.  Some groups of kids were so damn immature that I sat in awe for a moment at what I was witnessing.  I really didn't know if I was in a Senior classroom or in a middle school classroom.  I was so angry about that class period that I had a conversation with some of the admin about my feelings.  What I wanted to do was jack a half dozen out of the class, give them "F's" on their Finals, and prepare to take on parents who think their kids are angels.  The problem?  Every time someone says "school board", "superintendent", or "district office", everyone gets jittery.  I instead did nothing, which is going to make me more of a hardass next semester and that might or might not be fair. 

And get this, a dozen Seniors overall showed up late for my final.  Half of those showed up more than fifteen minutes late, and two others showed up 30-60 minutes late.  In the past I basically told them that they couldn't take their Final because they had been warned and ignored the seriousness of the Final.  After situations last year, I really couldn't sustain that policy.  So those kids waltzed in and made other students wait so they could finish the Final.  There was little I could do.

As irritated as I was about the end of 2010, I'm still excited for the new year, probably because I'm well aware that 90% of my students are great, and for every meathead that can't focus, there are a dozen kids working hard to get the job done.  I have new ideas for APUSH and AP Comp Gov that are floating in my head, and a greater need to hammer some of the basic ideas that I think kids need to succeed such as responsibility, accountability, and attention to details.  I need to remember that the four walls of my classroom are more important than any other place on Earth when I'm teaching, and that things that are happening within the District (take for instance, continued bizarre union/management behavior) don't matter in the scope of teaching kids.  I need to remember that out of the dozens of parent communications that I've engaged in, 99% have been positive, and the 1% negative don't deserve the energy they demand.  I need to remember to still use graphs with Supply and Demand (sorry Dr. Charkins), that explaining the British Parliament is now a lot different than last year, and that about one hundred years of U.S. History must be mastered within about four months. 

I'm ready to get back.    

Monday, December 20, 2010

Been awhile

Notice that when basketball season started, I faded away.  Can’t help it really.  14 hour days do that to me.

I’m in a motel right now in Fairfield, California, sitting on my bed after watching 10 basketball players frolic in the motel pool for an hour.  We are participating in the Napa JV Tournament and Fairfield was the cheapest hotel rate I could find for so many kids with breakfast included.  While we are 1-1, the kids are actually having a blast.  We beat Napa the first night and lost to a private school called Justin-Siena.  After a flat first half, we staged a comeback to tie it up, only to lose it after a follow up with three seconds left in the game.  Learning experience.  Yesterday we hung out at the mall and took a tour of Jelly Belly factory.  The tour is actually really well done and good for all ages.  Hold on….

See, that’s how it is.  It is now two days later at home and I’m finishing this post.  My last hold was a phone call from kids that wanted to hit the Nike Outlet store in Vacaville, which I obliged.  Then it was off to the tournament and now I’m back home.

Anyway, oh yea, the Jelly Belly factory.  Good tour, but I should be able to take students down using nutritional grant money.  Most of my kids left fascinated by the flavors, but quite disgusted by the amount of chemicals and sugar used in the process.  Sugar, sugar, corn syrup, and more sugar.  It was a great way to get kids aware of what they were ingesting when eating a simple four calories Jelly Belly.

Now that December Madness has passed (basketball tournaments, Finals, Christmas), maybe I can get back to posting.    

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Basketball musing

I’m feeling basketball nostalgic on the day before my our first game.  Feel free to skip this if you could care less.

-This will be my 23 year involved with the sport of basketball.

-It will be my 19th year as a coach.  It will be my 16th as a head coach.

-I didn’t start playing basketball until my freshman year in high school.  I was a soccer goalie.  I decided to play hoops because I was 6’1” and it seemed interesting.

-I played in my first game during the second game of the season against Red Bluff.

-I scored my first bucket in the low post of Passing Game against Las Plumas.

-I once had eight rebounds in three minutes during my freshmen year.

-Out of the 14 guys on the Freshman team, four made it to play through their Senior year; Mike Vance, Chris Ecklund, Shannon Rasmussen, and myself. I’m still happy that I had four years with those guys.

-I didn’t play much during my high school career.  To be perfectly honest, the guys ahead of me were better.

-Up in Anderson during my sophomore year my coach looked at me near the end of the game and asked, “What’s on your mind”.  I answered, “I’m wondering how many people are here”.  He replied, “Way to stay focused on the game, Jeff”.  It was the last time I would not be focused on the game.

-By my Senior year I had matched college team’s plays with our own and was designing different ways to run “14”, our man offense.  Fresno State was running it at the time.

-I loved UNLV’s pressure defense and fast break mentality.

-Believe it or not, I regularly coach against one of my former teammates.  How random is that.

-I first told other students that I was going to coach during my Junior year in high school.

-I ran into Shannon Rasmussen a few years later at a restaurant in Paradise wearing my Live Oak JV jacket and he said, “Holy shit!  You really did what you said!  You are a coach!”

-My Dad was drafted by the Dodgers and threw out his arm.  He never pressured me one day in athletics.

-I went into an empty classroom and cried after Chico’s Jeff Carter hit a free throw line jumper at the buzzer to kick us out of the Division Play-offs during my Senior year.  It was the last game I played in our home gym.

-I realized coaching/teaching was a real calling when I ironed my jersey for our NORCAL Play-off game at Seaside, only to leave it hanging at home.  I watched the last game of my high school career from the bench in Monterey.

-I made the Butte College team and blew out my ankle two practices in.  Another sign that I should coach.

-The coach I first worked for is still coaching, very successfully.

-Some of the best kids I know came out of a little town called Live Oak.

-I’ve almost never seen a successful situation where a father has coached his son in Junior High or High School.

-My real introduction to Islam was from a 15 year old boy who talked with me for over an hour on an away game bus trip about the Koran.

-The worst officiating in the history of the universe was in Redding, when officials were going to call the game because the Sikhs on our team wore small turbans.  They relented.

-My most embarrassing moment in as a coach was when I smashed a clipboard against a locker, shattering it.

-I was fired from one coaching job.  The Athletic Director told me after my last game.  His statement, “To be honest, I don’t think I could have worked for him this long in your position.”

-I quit from one coaching job.  After the scoreboard operator told me I was going to “get it” for playing the wrong guys, after I got calls at home about “playing the Asians over my boys”, and after a parent told me I’d “figure it out, one way or another”, I was almost there.  When the Superintendent called me in and threatened my job if I didn’t play certain players, I walked.

-A majority of ex-superstars that I’ve seen coach do a poor job at it.  Since they are in it for themselves, that’s not surprising.

-The best coaches I’ve seen are teachers of the game, period.

-Some of the best coaches I’ve seen are in the league I’m currently a part of.

-I’m still nervous before every game.

-I believe that players should be great at a few things, not average at a bunch of stuff.

-I’ve played my old high school, Paradise, one time in a summer tournament.  I’m 1-0.

-When I was asked, “How would you feel about beating your old high school”, I answered that I would want to run them out of the gym.  I was a Bobcat for four years.  I’ve been a Wildcat for ten.

-Good letters from basketball parents outnumber bad letters 10 to 1.  I keep all the good ones and toss all the bad.

-I would sit a stud if he broke the rules before the championship game, with no regrets.

-Some of the most important words I say every year take place during the one hour of my team parent meeting.

-I have too many good basketball memories to count.

-However, two years ago a double overtime win with one player hitting two buzzer beaters and the game ending with another player taking a charge ranks very high.

-I owe a vast majority of my basketball knowledge to Jim Moore, Jack Danielson, Russ Neal, and Bill Heath.  Every time a player wears a tie, plays tenacious defense, runs Hurricane to perfection, does an up-and-under step through, or executes the Wheel to a lay-up, a little nod goes to them.

Since the butterflies are still there…………………..here we go again.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I’ve pretty much not touched any class work since leaving my semi-messy classroom on Friday.  Basically, my classroom looks like my life; half organized chaos where I know where things are, but I’m too busy to put it all away.  I’m planning to go into my classroom for about two hours on Friday before my basketball game to tidy up and do a little grading.

Speaking of basketball, and working, I’ll throw out this number for those that think that coaching high school athletics isn’t really a job.  I will spend 23 hours this week outside of my home on basketball related work.  So much for the tired, idiotic statement that school teachers get so much time off.

I’ve also been doing more reading (fiction and magazines), watching television shows that have been on Tivo for weeks, re-watching the Harry Potter films, and talking to my wife.  Since I leave at 6:30 in the morning and don’t get home until after 8 in the evening, I don’t see my wife much.  It’s nice to reconnect.

Turkey Day in our home will be a small affair with her parents, a little football, good food, and great wine.  My wife and I agree that it is our favorite holiday because the pressure of useless gift buying doesn’t exist.  You literally eat, drink, and be merry.  Then Friday and Saturday become game days and a different joy floods into my life for the 23rd season. 

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

2010 Giants Moment #18: Adios Pelota!

Probably the most disappointing aspect of the September 4 game against the Dodgers was the fact that the Bulldog, Matt Cain, had been torched for four early runs in a game that really mattered.  Many a television set turned off around quarter to 8 p.m. in the evening on that night, and many a Giants fan were wondering if the division run was really going to happen if this team couldn’t put away a hanger-on.
Those of us who stuck around were granted a vision of some of the magic that would roll right into the play-offs.  A series of solo home runs by Buster Posey, Edgar Renteria, and Pat Burrell started in the 7th and woke up the Giants veterans through the late innings of the once 4-0 game.  With the score 4-3, Juan Uribe stepped into the box in the Top of the 9th and flat jacked a slider off of closer Jonathon Broxton.  The two run bomb sealed the Dodger play-off fate and gave a huge confidence boost to the September run that would lead to the World Series title. 
In short, it was a game that made you scream with joy which woke up your wife who was sleeping and made her irritated that evening, then jealous that next morning.  Gotta love those.   

Relive the magic!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Laying on the 3rd rail

Unless you are brand new to my blog, you know that I think that multi-cultural focus in education is pretty much one of the biggest wastes of time I’ve ever seen.  Since Day One of the credential program in 2000, I’ve been told that the primary focus of instruction needs to be how to deal with Latino students, especially English Language Learners.  To better connect with these students, I’ve been shown techniques that are focused around Spanish speaking students, bludgeoned with the paramount importance of cultural sensitivity, and forced into spending thousands of dollars getting an addition to my credential called the CLAD,  with stands for “Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development”.   In fact, all teachers were required to get the CLAD or face the possibility of losing their jobs.  You know what all this multi-cultural focus has gained us?  Very little.

The problem is that it is wildly unpopular to disagree with putting culture ahead of academics, as I found out two weeks ago.  So while our school held a “Dia de los Muertos” celebration at the school, grumbling started to take place about the benefit of the event.  Everything from academic distraction to cultural overload to First Amendment issues were being discussed all over campus.  I was actually ambivalent.  My own feeling was that we focus on culture too much and that it should have been an after school event, but I’d been saying this for awhile.  An e-mail was then sent out by one of the events organizers apologizing for some items that may had caused offense to some people.  In return came a dozen e-mails supporting the event, including a majority that said that if people didn’t support the “Day of the Dead” celebration, they were “ethnocentric, culturally insensitive, and racist”. 

I was fed up with hypocritical nature of the argument that disagreeing with educational philosophy equated to racism, so I sent back an e-mail, which said the following:

-Not agreeing to the celebration does not make one culturally insensitive, ethnocentric, or racist.

-I would like a discussion on the value of cultural assimilation.

-Our Latino students have chronically low test scores.

-The ratio of support classes to student population heavily favors Latinos.    

-There are a variety of cultural events including celebrations, BBQ’s, college visits, ethnic retreats, field trips, and clubs, that pull students out of class during the day, including low performing students.

-We as an institution seem to have a lower expectation from our Latino students.

-We need to accurately analyze the real cost/benefit of how involved we are with cultural issues while neglecting academic progress.

-We might be unintentionally creating a culturally decisive atmosphere.

You might have thought I advocated Nazism and the return of slavery with the reaction I got.  Scathing e-mails called me a racist, a colonial oppressor, and generally ignored any suggestions that I made toward rational discussion.  A couple of teachers went so far as to tell their students I was a racist, and one even lobbied that I be disciplined for my insensitive remarks. 

But this story has a happy second chapter, because the discussion has started in a meaningful way around the campus, even with the heads of many remaining in the sand.  Ten years and consistently high standards have made the argument that race comes into my teaching a totally dead issue with the kids.  A couple of students came to me and told me that teachers were acting in a highly unprofessional manner, and those that wanted to know about the race issue were happy when I answered “I will always have higher expectations of you.  I will always care for you.  But I think the best way for you to succeed in my class is for you to be in it.  I have no apologies for wanting to keep you here”.  I have yet to meet a student that is not satisfied with that answer.  Most know me enough to think the race card is crap anyway.

Even better are the teachers that came to my classroom to have a legitimate discussion about what I wrote.  Some told me that most of the concern was around generalizations.  The population is English Language Learners, not Latino, that I should be talking about according to some people.  Fair enough, except that when we talk about supporting certain populations we generalize all the time.  Most came out of our conversation acknowledging that a school wide discussion should take place about communication, priorities, and plenty of other issues that boil underneath because people are concerned about perception. 

This isn’t an issue of lacking work ethic.  I think teachers get offended when someone asks them to rethink how they do things that might not be efficient, even if they do work hard.  I know I would.  But we are doing Latino students a serious injustice by refusing to have a conversation about how we do things as an institution, hell, as a society!  Cutting out dialogue and playing the race card does nothing but leave education in a state of mediocrity where we talk about the same results over and over again. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

2010 Giants Moment #19: Stepping back and showing class


I’ll be honest, I boo’ed the shit out of Barry Zito on the Saturday before the clincher against San Diego.  I was so pissed at the walks, the body language, the damn issue of a $126 million dollar fifth starter.  It all came out along with 43,000 other people that expected more from a guy that started the season so well.  Guess what.  He’s a bigger man than I am.  So is Aaron Rowand, Pablo Sandoval, and the numerous guys that took a back seat to players that had a better opportunity at winning a championship.

Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t feel bad about guys that earn multi-million dollar contracts getting playing time.  But it would have been so easy for the Panda to start moping in the slump, for Aaron Rowand to demand to be traded, and for Barry Zito to curse the play-off line-up with a temper tantrum.  But they didn’t.  They treated their demotions like professionals and realized that a greater good was being met by supporting those that were getting the job done.  Regardless of how you thought they played, or the size of their contracts (sunk costs anyway), you had to admire the “team first” attitude displayed by these guys. 

So Barry Zito will still be around, Panda needs to show commitment, and it’s 50-50 that Aaron Rowand is on another team on Opening Day, but it is undeniable that their positive mental contributions were vital to the 2010 World Series run.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

2010 Giants Moment #20: Marty Laurie enters the studio…and doesn’t leave


Most Giants fans don’t know that Marty Laurie has been doing baseball for over a decade, only for the A’s across the San Francisco Bay.  When the A’s station couldn’t find room for Laurie, he moved on over to KNBR 680 and started a serious pre-game and the longest post-game show in the history of radio.

It might seem weird that I included Marty Laurie into my Top 20 Moments.  But what Marty brought was a legitimate post-game show that was minus a lot of the Scott Farrell wannabe’s that dot the Giant Post Game landscape.  Yes, I’m talking about the Mychael Urban’s and F.P. Santangelo’s of sports talk radio.  The yelling and self-promotion got ridiculous, and Marty Laurie brought respect and baseball chat to late-night sports talk radio.  By the way, when I say “late night”, I mean “late night”.  Laurie became known for his Saturday and Sunday evening shows that would could for over five hours.  People were leaving Giants/Dodgers games at Chavez Ravine and pulling into their driveway in San Jose still listening to Marty talking to Bob from Brisbane.  It was a running joke that created and fostered good baseball chatter.

Marty Laurie’s knowledge and respectful passion for the game lends him to a spot in the Top 20.  My wife and I listened to Laurie’s pre and post game on our 2 1/2 hour drives to the ball park and it became part of the ritual of baseball.  When you threw in the excellent interviews (his interview of Bobby Cox was fantastic), Saturday and Sunday mornings all of the sudden became drive-time radio.  On the way to the coast?  Turn on Laurie two hours before game-time.

In the best possible way, he set the table for Giants baseball.   

Sunday, November 07, 2010

2010 World Series Champion, San Francisco Giants


If anyone told you at the beginning of the year that the San Francisco Giants would win the World Series, they were lying.  Sure, the team had two time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum and a battery-mate named Matt Cain, both among the leagues best pitchers.  But the next three in the rotation were questionable (Jonathon Sanchez), overpaid (Barry Zito), and pretty much unknown (Todd Wellemeyer).  Not the most competent pitching staff in many people’s views.  The diamond hadn’t changed much either.  Pablo Sandoval was nice, Bengie Molina was in the fold again, as was Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria.  But remember that Eugenio Velez and Fred Lewis were also around, players that gave past fans fits for years.  Every fly ball to left field was questionable because Lewis couldn’t use his glove.

Well, moves were made, torture occurred, and the end result was a World Series win that I still can’t wrap my mind around.  Oh, and this is after I made a trek to San Francisco on Wednesday to actually be a part of history with one million other people.  Yep, this Giants fan still can’t believe that the first championship was a team that included Pat Burrell and some guy named Cody Ross.  My wife and I hit up about a dozen games this year, and the word World Series was nowhere near passing our lips.  Fighting for the National League West?  Yes, and we really expected a down to the wire fight.  Series win?  Not even remote. 

So I’ll spend a few weeks thanking my Giants with a few moments that I felt were memorable for me, the points that made the 2010 Giants one of the most fun teams to follow to the very end.  It was a hell of a ride.

Dealing with open classroom “oops” moments

I have a pretty open classroom.  What that means is that the flow of ideas is hardly ever impaired by things that might not be acceptable in someone else’s classroom.  I deal with Seniors in a Government/Economics setting, something that demands openness if the subject matter is going to come across as relevant. 

That openness straddles a very transparent line.  Take swearing.  I don’t condone swearing, but I do allow for a little more latitude to the use of language.  My rule is that if you slip, fix it and move on.  We talk about controversial stuff and kids get passionate sometimes.  I don’t allow anyone to call anyone else out.  Then the boundary has been crossed.  But seriously, in dealing with 17/18 year old students, what’s worse….

-“I can’t believe that people voted for some bullshit policy that deals with marriage, something that is none of anyone’s business".


-“You’re stupid”.

Context people.

Today’s incident wasn’t about swearing, it was about a student getting too relaxed with the open atmosphere and popping off to me.  Everyone knew it too because that line of tack and taste was far enough crossed that a collective “ohhhhhhhhhhhhh” rang out in my classroom.  I asked him to step outside of the classroom for a moment.

I’ve seen students written up with referrals (disciplinary notes) for far less.  We aren’t talking belligerent kids here, we are talking young adults who would rather be in my classroom than A-24 (the bad place) waiting to get detentions.  What’s worse, I’ve seen teachers set a mood for a classroom and then ring up a student who pushes those limits just a little bit.  Hey, if you set the environment and style of your room, you better be prepared to enact a sane method of consequences for small infractions.  Mountains out of molehills, especially those you helped build, don’t help the students.

So I wandered outside and the student immediately apologized.  He knew he crossed the line and any further punishment was going to be a strong overreaction to a minor event.  I let him know that the comment of was to far, reminded him that I enjoyed his participation, and let him off with the suggestion that he be a little more careful with his commentary.  That was it.  Problem solved and the rest of the class notes where the boundary was set without resentment from overreaction. 

The testing of boundaries will only get worse later in the Spring as Seniors realize they are almost out of here.  It isn’t mean, it’s just a boundary thing.  It culminates with graduation parties in June, where I’m invited to parent initiated gatherings where students are often drinking, and not a simple glass of champagne.  Yeah, I avoid grad parties more and more as the years go by.   

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Here comes the pain

Know how a teacher figures out when report cards were mailed out?  When the smiles turn to grimaces, and the e-mails and phone calls start pouring in.

So far I’ve had only one phone call, one e-mail, and one student meeting regarding grades.  All went fairly as planned and followed the typical outline:

-Student or parents are shocked that the grade is so low.

-Student or parents insist that this is the first time the student as ever had a grade that low.

-Student or parents are told why the student has a poor grade.

-Student or parents ask for make-up work.

-Student or parents get slightly irritated when they realize that I won’t budge on make-up work, or budge on insisting that students actually produce excellent work for an A.

-Students or parents pause to read information, and if together, will look at each other wondering what the next step will be.

So far, the next step has been the insistence of working better, which is the right way to go.  I’ve made the class pretty transparent in its ability to but the responsibility in the hands of the student.  We are after all, talking about Seniors in high school.  The problems come when AP parents have the attitude that my class is not going to come between their child and Stanford.  Senior year here at Ukiah High School is focused much more on fun than rigor.  What is not acknowledged is that students have to make choices, and the best figure out how to manage those choices in the most efficient manner.  Guess what, the best usually go to Stanford and I never have meetings with their parents.

Senior teachers have an interesting task, especially when dealing with students that have college in mind.  What happens if your class is the only class that gives the mediocre grade?  What about the really bad grade?  Do you look at the greater picture of their 12 year progress, or does a student that slacks off their last semester take the “D”, thus possibly taking them out of higher end college admissions? 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Punished for lack of children

I’ll state first that I hate the idea of the national health care plan in its present form.  Let me get this straight, I’ll have a higher tax (since I have “good” insurance) put on me to help people that make unhealthy life style choices?  Um, how about not.  When we have a country that has more obesity, more diabetes, more heart issues, and more high blood pressure, I’m not interested in creating a nice fat incentive to maintain those ills that can be solved by making better personal decisions.  While we’re at it, pass health care and legalize marijuana within a year of each other?  Please.

Well, now I’m going to have to pay for people having children as well.  Up until this point, the cost for each dependent was $70, and families only had to pay for up to five dependents.  Well, dependent costs are now going through the roof, and I received this in the mail:image

Something seems totally not right that a family that decides to have more children will actually benefit more than a family that focuses on their career and doesn’t have children.  If you decide to have five children, pay for them to have health insurance.  Don’t have kids if you really can’t afford them.  That’s not being mean, that’s called an affluent society. 

What I’d really like to do is opt out of my insurance.  I basically pay for insurance that I never use because the deductible is $1,000 a year, and on top of that my wife’s insurance covers me much better.  With the money I save on this insurance, I can buy supplemental insurance that is better, and save money for extra incidentals that might occur.  For some reason, I’m constantly told that I don’t have a choice, I can’t opt out.

Is that true?  In California, do you have to stay with the insurance of your employer?      

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Just crazy enough

I wasn’t even supposed to be announcing the varsity game. 

I’m currently the voice of the Ukiah JV Football Wildcats (and Varsity Boys Hoopsters) and I ended up doing the varsity game between Rancho Cotate and Ukiah because the normal guy was down with the flu.  I didn’t realize that a technical error was going to make me a songbird. 

With about 1:30 left on the clock, I inserted the Star Spangled Banner cd into the machine and fast-fowarded to song #10, the instrumental of the National Anthem.  The 700 plus crowd and football players were all standing facing the south end of the field where the flag was slowly waving.  The noise that came out of the speakers was that horrid choppy sound of a skipping cd.  I quickly stopped the cd, took it out, and rubbed it on my shirt hoping to dislodge potential particles on the surface.  I glanced outside and saw hundreds of people looking at the announcers booth, waiting for the traditional song to be played.  While I prepped a second attempt, my colleagues in the booth were silent and the local radio announcer mentioned that the anthem had “technical difficulties”.  My mind started to whirl about alternatives to the cd not working.  Probably wouldn’t happen right?  The cd went in, forward to #10, and it started to skip again.  A silent stadium looked up at the announcers booth, this time with a slight annoyance.

I’ll be honest, the first thought was to turn on the mic and call a girl that I knew was at the game up to the announcers booth.  She had done the National Anthem last year a couple of times and was excellent.  But that could take five minutes or more, and hundreds of people kept looking at me for a song.  For some reason, I calmly sat down, pushed the mic button, and obliged. 

It’s interesting that I sang this week because we discussed the War of 1812 in APUSH, including the background about Francis Scott Key, the actual length of the song (we sing only the first stanza), and played them the music from the drinking song “Anacreon in Heaven”.   I really wasn’t nervous at all, just focused.  In my mind, everyone in the stadium knew the cd failed, so the sound of my voice isn’t going to be that big of a deal.  Only thing to make sure….


Yeah, Government teacher can’t sing Star Spangled Banner.  I wasn’t about to let that happen.  So I calmly sang the song, making sure to drop my voice before “bombs bursting in air”, and pulled it off.  I got applause, tips of the cap from the fans, and plenty of “atta boys”.  It was actually a pretty cool feeling.  Somewhere in my mind I felt like the anthem needed to be played and I was crazy enough to just belt it out.  So yes, I can add to my list “sang National Anthem in front of large crowd”.  

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Living the job

I have no kids and a wife that is a teacher.  Know what that means?  It means that I have a life that is surrounded by the environment of education.  Good thing or bad thing? 

I’ve noticed more recently that the teacher edu-blogs have become more and more introspective after the attacks from Education Nation.  The completely senseless attacks on educators has made many not rethink the profession as much as rethinking how much the profession dominates their lives.  Because Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada made such gross generalizations about teachers (pretty much all negative), those that care about their professions are taking inventory of their lives and asking, “Am I doing enough?” or “Am I supposed to do more?”.  The simple fact that teachers are feeling this way is a good thing.  Educators have been put on the defensive for years now and I’m hoping those that are introspective are going to find that they are competent and hopeful in the profession.  Hopefully they ignore the Rhee’s and the Meg Whitman’s of the world (she attacked teachers in the last debate) and look at how they teach with more perspective on their lives.

Which brings me to the topic of the “all encompassing teacher”.  Does the profession rule everything?  Mrs. Cornelius bristled at the idea that teachers should be constantly available to students at all times of the day.  Time off is time off, and the students that want constant communication are those that often don’t pay attention in the first place (something I’ve found to be too true).  On the other hand is Vicki Davis, who commented “You can't leave school at school - school does affect your life. Don't pretend that it doesn't”.  In my life this is also true.  But is it right?

I’m ten years into my career and I still love my job, although I’m more pessimistic about society’s view on Education than ten years ago.  It’s really to the point that dealing with classroom management, grading papers, and giving instruction isn’t that hard at all.  The hard part is doing things better.  Right now, “better” seems to be an issue of communication.  Some students and all basketball players have my cell phone number, and usually it is only used by basketball parents or AP students before a test.  I’m actually thankful for that.  My students have my e-mail, my Facebook page, and Edmodo to communicate with me.  When I’m home in front of the TV or grading I’ll have my laptop open to Facebook and my e-mail.  I’m constantly tweaking, twisting, thinking, doing something related to making things better in the classroom.  It is definitely a big part of my life.

The problem is that it should not have to be that way, and while I love the profession, I think the idea that every teacher must live the job is exactly why so many drop out.  The burden to do everything correct is on the teacher, which is like saying that everyone being healthy is the burden of the doctor, only society doesn’t see that.  People are obese because they make bad choices, and some die.  But in education people are all of the sudden stupid because teachers are doing it wrong, and failure is not an option.  Using that logic, teachers are trying to fix a problem with no cure because the patient is constantly being told they are doing everything right. 

Take the communication aspect.  80% of my student communication occurs after 9 p.m. on Sunday night, and the number one question is, “Did we have work due for Monday”.  Work is clearly listed online, on the wall of the classroom, and in the classroom in a spiral binder that is kept up by a student.  That question should never be asked.  But it is because the perception in many schools is that a teacher isn’t a professional, a teacher is simply “help” to reach the next level.  Regardless of the actual learning, the job of the teacher is to push to the next societal achievement.  I teach Seniors, most being “college bound”.  Parents could care if they learn their Senior year, they care about college, regardless if the kid has earned it or not.  That means that I’m serving a society that demands that I solve the problem of ignorance with the restriction that it fits within the entitled attitude of those people that complain that children are stupid.

In the end, it really is simple cost/benefit analysis.  I’ve spent ten years creating a structure that I think is beneficial for students.  It has taken much my life for those ten years.  The benefit was that I got to live my dream and teach kids who will go out and do great things and lead successful lives.  That fact that I’m looking back on that is a sign, I think, that I’m starting to find that the costs are outweighing the benefit.  I have the support I need from colleagues and from my site administration.  That rarely has been a problem.  But I’ve had to gather tools on my own that I should have had access to long ago.  I don’t feel like my district leadership is supportive and I don’t feel like the profession is moving anywhere in society.  I’m ten years in, I have the tools, I have the scores, I think I’m a pretty good teacher.  But I’m being told that it isn’t enough.  Ten years in and I still have to be concerned about someone complaining to the school board about failing a student, or worse, about basketball playing time.  Nope, I’m not willing to have it encompass my life.

I really can’t clearly explain how I feel about this topic because it sounds more negative that it actually is, except that it truly is a negative thought.  I love my job and I don’t intend to do worse at it, but myself (and my department) have often questioned “can we ever really meet our full potential when so much is wrong that we can’t control”?   

I’ve made education my life for ten years, pretty much all encompassing.  I don’t expect praise, I expect some help.       

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The bookshelf

Within my classroom is an 8 foot tall bookshelf that once belonged to a former colleague.  When he retired he asked if I wanted to keep the bookshelf for Sustained Silent Reading period, otherwise known as SSR.  I was thrilled!  The tall shelf is also a good 3 1/2 to 4 feet wide and can hold a whole lot of books.  The problem was filling it with the variety necessary to peak the interest of all my students, who ranged in reading levels from 4th through college.  What’s more, the books needed to be cheap. 

The answer ended up costing me less than $100 for hundreds of books.  The local hospice shop was the starting point.  The front of the store had a small book section that was occasionally restocked, but nothing very substantial.  My wife and I then asked one of the volunteers if we could go to a back shed where they stored the stuff that hadn’t been sorted yet.  We found a goldmine.  Dozens of boxes with books of all kinds were waiting for our inspection, which we preceded to do for hours.  We left with boxes full of fantasy, sci-fi, chick lit, non-fiction, and a massive collection of Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes comic books.  All for dirt cheap.  Then you throw in years of “Friends of the Mendocino Library” book sales.  Every October, the Mendocino County library has an insane book sale that brings out some beautiful gems for next to nothing.  This year it was Sophie Kinsella, some Economics in Action books, and the entire Ken Burns’ Civil War series on VHS, all for about $13.  Score!

Classroom libraries, even a small one, are essential.  They are always busy during SSR, but students will buzz around it on occasion between classes or before school.  My policy on checking out books is honor system; go ahead and take the book, just make sure and bring it back when you are done. 

Believe me, students are reading.  I just notice that teachers like to go around and around with students over content.  Apparently Twilight isn’t good enough for some teachers, kids have to be “exposed” to the great classics.  Let me tell you, from the standpoint of a voracious reader, a whole lot of classics suck.  I was exposed to plenty of books in school that made me shudder with horror at the thought of reading them.  The shelf is varied in content and students are never pressured into reading anything.  Only three rules apply in SSR; no textbook, no homework, no sleeping.  That means that if an AP level students wants to relax the brain on Garfield, go right on ahead.  I also have magazines for students that I get at home and quickly bring to the classroom; Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, The Economist, and Wired.  I think the idea of “a novel must be read during SSR” is bullshit.  We are supposed to be promoting love of reading, not forcing content.  Don’t college students remember not having time for a good read?  S.I. was great because I could sit down at the breakfast table and read an article about Mickey Mantle in five minutes.  The reading wasn’t super high level, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t good.

Hopefully districts are starting to latch on to the idea that reading promotes literacy and that test scores can go up when you engage kids in the love of literature.  SSR is one of the best times of the days for kids.  Let’em read!                

GIANTS 2010 ANTHEM (yes, Coach Brown is growing the beard)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Willits Board President dresses in skirt, calls himself “Michelle”.

In a time when school districts need to come together and figure out how to deal with unprecedented economic times,  it's nice to know that a school board president takes teachers and throws them all the way under the bus.  I mean, what better way to boost moral than to call hard working teachers lazy, selfish, and money-hungry.

“It was interesting to note the excellent showing of Willits Charter School. They have led the way before with consistently high test scores.

They have smaller classes due to lower salaries for employees, but that can't explain all their success. There must be a dedicated team of professionals doing a heck of a job. How refreshing to have teachers that care more about their students than their paycheck.”

That quote was from Willits School Board President, Bob Harper.  Mr. Harper wrote an Op-Ed piece in the Willits News (the local paper), the only source of local news that is read by the multitudes in the town of Willits, a small community about a half-hour north of Ukiah.  Bobby must have just got back from some special screening of Waiting for Superman, because it really takes a special kind of naivety or ignorance to throw out a half-assed accusation of the very institution you are supposed to support.  However, I’m not really surprised at a rant from someone who worships on the altar of test scores.

But since Bobbo brought up test scores, how about we look at those demographics of both schools.  By the way, I don’t question the hard work of Willits Charter Teachers, I question the motives of a Board President that sits in on negotiations, and then uses the media to spew crap in a lame attempt to sway public opinion.

  Willits High Willits Charter
Population A little over 500. A little over 100.
Hispanic 22% 3.5%
English Language Learners 7% 0%
Students with Disabilities 13% 5%

What you see has little to do with teachers that supposedly care less about a paycheck.  You see the same old, tired formula about charter schools; pick, choose, call it even.  Mr. Harper likes to show himself as knowledgeable about charter schools because he doesn’t really have a damn clue how to deal with the real problems of education.  El Presidente not only insulted teachers, but showed himself unethical by trying to negotiate with teachers through the media, and extremely biased in the way he views public education.  But before he gets all Michelle Rhee on charter schools, he might want to actually address the fact the charter school in Willits does not serve the same population.  In fact, it isn’t even close.  And while I’m not excusing low academic achievement, I’d like to point out to Bob that those students that don’t know English will probably score poorer on an English test than those that have a grasp at the dominant language in the United States.  Wow, fancy that.

I use this example for two reasons.  One, I want to avoid this example in my own school district.  Board members, district officials, and teachers need to sit down and actually collaborate toward a solution to the financial woes hitting education.  Guess what, they aren’t going away and will probably get worse.  And two, this shows that problems with education are also a local government issue, not just a social image concern.  A board president that lip locks charter school test scores, manipulates information to his advantage, takes knife jabs at teachers, and promotes Gary freaking Hart is exactly what education doesn’t need.

Hey Bob, I know plenty of teachers that work their ass off.  Why don’t you get off yours and stop being part of the problem.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Am I the Homecoming Grinch?

“You crack me up.”

My colleague told me this while we stood on the football field watching about 30 Seniors celebrate the winning of the coveted Spirit Bell. 

“Why’s that?”, I responded.

“Your act about not liking Homecoming.  It’s funny.”, he said.

“But I really don’t like Homecoming.”

“Yeah, but you like this.”  My colleague pointed to the cheering, happy students.

Of course I like happy students.  But the happiness is meaningless and the lost week (much more like two) will end up creating an enormous amount of havoc in the academic realm.

For those that don’t know, Homecoming at Ukiah High School is basically seen as the best moment of the year.  For the complete rundown of the week, check out this post from two years ago.  The only real difference is that we don’t have a kiosk platform this year.  About three weeks ago students started to show up to class sleepy.  Two weeks ago the float and skit were in full force.  This week was a complete wash for many students.  My attendance was awful during the week, with Friday being a complete and total nightmare.  Kids were removed from class because they vandalized another class’s float.  Kids missed class to prepare for the Friday skit.  Kids missed class to work on the float.  Kids missed class to work on student government.  Kids missed class to dress up for the parade.  It was an embarrassing day for education.  And many students that came to school dressed like they belonged in front of the Crazy Horse in Chico on Halloween.  The girls, all the way to 14 year old freshmen, flaunted more lace, booty, and breast then what should be allowed while guys ran around with painted bodies in nothing but swim shorts.  Many teachers are frustrated, but hardly anyone wants to speak up because Homecoming is such a connection to the community.  Everything that happens is accepted because of one phrase; “It’s Homecoming, and it’s only one week”.

No, I don’t want to totally eliminate the idea of Homecoming.  But look at the week it terms of serving the students in the academic process.  It accomplishes nothing.  Kids are impacted for a month by Homecoming; planning, set-up, execution, and then everyone is sick the week after because they all stay up late, eat crappy food, and get hammered Friday night after the game.  Then I have to sit through idiotic meetings about EDI, “failure is not an option”, and supposedly doing a better job at helping students succeed.  All the while my phone is about to off the hook because student grades just went into a hole when Johnny decided that “Spirit Points” meant more than grades. 

Sure I sound bitter, I just watched my profession get bitch slapped on NBC while looking at sagging test scores and falling grades.  I’m on the one hand being held accountable for the academic progress of students in high school, while those students are being held accountable for being home by Midnight on a school night so they can work on the scene where Superman makes “Yo Mama” jokes about the Senior class in the Homecoming skit.  Then the parents will blame me for not being accountable for the academic end while the students are celebrating winning a dumb-ass bell that represents weeks of trashing other classes in school. 

Yep, I guess I’m a Grinch.  Hey, when my profession is evaluated by skit performance and floats, I’ll be the biggest Joe Homecoming ever.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What the NBC “Education Nation” Sunday shows taught us.



After watching Oprah’s attempt at whoring ratings using education, NBC jumped on the bandwagon on Meet the Press, and then proceeded to create a “Teacher Town Hall”, a meeting that seemed more like a cross between a faculty lounge lunch conversation and promotion for charter schools. 

But while problem after problem came out to the front, nothing was really addressed in terms of finding solutions.  At the Town Hall teachers went on stage to give only a small summary of some of the issues, and then were promptly overshadowed by a litany of teachers grieving all the issues that we discuss on a daily basis.  Along with public school teachers were a line of charter school teachers that acted like we were all in the same boat when it came to students, but not in terms of results or pedagogy.  Eventually, the real issue that society has a problem with actually valuing education was completely lost in the conversation.  When someone started to bring it up, it was drowned out in conversations about tenure, working on Saturdays, teacher evaluations, and Waiting for Superman. 

So what didn’t we learn from Education Nation?  Well, society taking responsibility was one thing.  Along with:

-We didn’t learn that Monica Groves, the first “teacher” that NBC followed in a typically miserable/rewarding first year, is no longer a teacher.  She is in fact a dean at a KIPP school in Atlanta.  While probably a very nice woman, she was the perfect example of the issues around teacher retention.  A Teach For America alum who left the profession for different pastures, like most TFA educators.

-We didn’t learn that charter schools and public schools don’t play by the same rules.  We didn’t learn that even with those rules, over a third of charters do far worse than public schools and only a little over 10% do “better”. 

-We didn’t learn that even in weak union states, or districts with little or no union representation at all, that students are struggling.  I wonder if Michelle Rhee would get the same results in Texas.

-We didn’t learn any semblance of a solution.  Even on the #educationnation Twitter feed, the teachers responded with a whole lot of anger that the problem seemed to be dumped in their laps without a whole lot of consideration towards the bigger picture.  We learned that there is plenty of blame to go around, but we are a long way from solving this issue.

Thanks to Stephen Lazar (Outside the Cave on the blogroll) for being a part of the Town Hall.  And if this whole conversation does anything, I would hope that it galvanizes good teachers at banding together to protect and enhance their profession.  


Hold on, I’m going to watch the Waiting For Superman town hall.

Ok, well the town hall was basically a Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada stroke party, with a healthy dash of union bashing mixed in.  Again, no help to education and really bad television.  Thank God I Tivo’d Iron Chef America.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I want merit pay, but it won’t make me “better”

In news that really surprises no teachers at all, merit pay has found to have no real impact on creating the mythical entity of “the perfect teacher”.  The study conducted with the help of the National Center for Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University, found that teachers with performance bonuses faired no better than the averaged salaried teachers at getting students to pass stupid ass tests that mean absolutely nothing to their future. 

In other news, the male teachers of this study demanded an apology from Vanderbilt because they had mistakenly assumed that the Performance Incentives would give them an erection that lasts longer than four hours.

Lame joke?  Yes.  Lame study.  Of course.  What, you really needed to spend millions of dollars to find out that teachers really give a shit about their job regardless of pay?  You haven’t been reading the decades of statistics  that show that administrative support and working environment far outweigh income when teachers are polled on why they leave the profession?  Newsflash, if we did this for the money, society would really be screwed.

This is not to say that I don’t like the idea of merit pay.  I think that it’s disgusting that some teachers that I know receive more than I make and work half as hard with half the results.  But merit pay wouldn’t make me any better of a teacher or make your kid any better of a student.  And don’t you dare use this excuse to say, “Well good, then teachers are paid a fair wage”, because we aren’t.  And while I’m all for merit pay, I’m also for every teacher walking out of his/her classroom for a couple of weeks and daring society to find babysitters, just to make a point about the wage value of teachers. 

Now that would be one hell of a study. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Oprah’s Education Antics

I was going to write a scathing response to Oprah Winfrey’s recent ratings whore out extravaganza, a disgustingly callous display of feigned outrage and finger-pointing, but instead I found this letter from Stephanie Sandifer of the the edublog Change Agency.

Dear Ms. Winfrey,

I appreciate your efforts to highlight problems with our education system, but I am extremely disappointed that you failed to include any teachers as guests on your show today.  By doing so, you presented only one side of the story – a side that is decidedly pro-charters & privatization and anti-union/anti-teachers.

Your daytime show is highly influential and many viewers trust that the information you present on your show will be balanced, fair, and positive.  Unfortunately, by only inviting guests who are neither classroom teachers nor educational experts, your show today failed at being balanced, fair, and positive.  Instead we were presented with “experts” who blame all public education ills on classroom teachers.  Simply being a former student of the public school system does not make one an educational expert.

The problem is much bigger than it was presented on your show or in the film Waiting for Superman.  The problem does not lend itself to easy solutions like just firing ineffective teachers or opening more charter schools.  In fact, many of the current solutions being put forth by our policy makers (more high-stakes testing, teacher accountability tied to single test scores, etc.) will not solve the problems.  The problem is much more systemic and involves the broader community – it is not confined only to the four walls of the classroom.

I have worked so very hard for many years as a teacher and eventually as an administrator in inner-city schools in one of our nation’s largest urban school districts.  I know many people – former public school colleagues – who left the public school environment to work for KIPP and YES Prep charter schools.  I also know educators who left KIPP and YES Prep when the “super heroic” expectations left them extremely burned out.

I do recognize that KIPP and YES Prep are very successful with many of the students that they serve.  However, administrators at those schools will be the first to admit that their program is not designed to serve ALL students.  They are not designed to serve the students who have no parental support at home and they are not designed to serve students with special needs.  Public schools are charged with serving ALL of these students and do not have the luxury of demanding that families sign “contracts” stipulating the expectations of the students and their parents.

My biggest concern is that current reform efforts – including the growth of charter schools – are focused entirely on vilifying teachers and holding only teachers accountable.  I agree that we should have highly-qualified teachers in every classroom, but I also recognize that this will still not solve all of the problems that our schools face.

In my experience and in my research I have yet to find sustainable and/or effective classroom or campus-based solutions to the following:

  • Students who come to school hungry on a daily basis
  • Students who go home to abusive/drunk/drug-addicted parents
  • Students who have no home to go to at the end of the day (yes, I had a student show up once in filthy clothes and out of “dress code” – he had been kicked out of home and was living on the streets for 3 days)
  • Students who work full-time hours – working evening and late night shifts – to help support their families
  • Students who come from homes where education just isn’t valued

You see Ms. Winfrey, for charter schools to be a solution, there must first be caring parents or caregivers at home who make the effort to enroll their children in those charter schools.  This is too frequently one of the issues not discussed when praise is heaped upon successful charter schools. Parents must first “opt in” to charter schools.  What about the children who don’t have parents who know or care to “opt out” of the public education system?

What happens to our public education systems when all of the high-achieving students from affluent and/or middle class homes have opted to transfer to high-performing schools and/or private/independent/parochial schools, all low-income students with caring and concerned parents “opt in” to charter schools, and the public schools are left with students who have no support at home (for whatever horrible reason) and special education students (who have no charter or private school options)?  What highly qualified teachers will we find to teach in those schools?

To be fair, I do support the continued growth of charter schools, online/virtual school programs, and other innovative solutions.  I also continue to believe strongly in the value and promise of a free public eduction system that serves all students, and I strongly support innovative and creative efforts to reinvent our public education system so that it meets and exceeds the needs of ALL students.

As for the issue of “highly-qualified” teachers — I believe this depends on who is defining “highly qualified.”  There are so many issues to address with regard to pre-service education/training and pipelines, new teacher induction, and in-service professional development and support.  Once a teacher is in the classroom – do we define “highly-qualified” as “one who achieves high test scores or shows ‘value-added’,” or as “one who challenges students to think critically and creatively”?

Additionally, are we defining “highly-qualified” by teacher behaviors that you highlighted on your show today?  I am referring to the teacher qualities that you mentioned:  staying at school until 11:00 p.m. to help tutor students, and carrying around a school-issued Blackberry to be available to students 24/7.  If so, then is the teacher who leaves work every day at 4:00 to pick up his or her own children from school not “highly-qualified” or even adequately committed to the education of his or her students?  What about the teacher who chooses to not be available 24/7 so that they can lead a life that has a healthy work/life balance where they allow for quality time with their own families?  Are we really asking teachers to be so committed to their students that they make personal sacrifices to do so?  I hope not.

By the way, when I was a younger teacher I did take late night and weekend phone calls from students  — often just to let them know that there was an adult in their life who did care.  I now have my own family and I have scaled back my work hours as well as my availability to students in order to be fully present with my own children and my spouse.  While I am committed to being a dedicated and caring educator, I also understand that there must also be healthy boundaries and balance in order to avoid burnout and neglect of my own family.

You see, while I am a dedicated and hard-working educator, I am also now a parent and I believe very strongly that a child’s first and most important teachers are his or her parents.  I do not take this role and responsibility lightly.

As I have high expectations for myself as an educator and a parent, I also have high expectations for other educators AND for all parents.  I also have high expectations for all students and I firmly believe that the “learning” part of the equation is the students’ responsibility.  We are all individual parts of multiple and complex solutions, and when we (meaning: educators, policy makers, and the media) fail to hold EVERYONE accountable then we cannot expect to achieve complete success.  When we fail to hold everyone accountable then we should not profess to have solutions for all schools, all teachers, or all students.

You have accomplished so much and made such a positive impact with your show over the many years that it has been on the air.  It saddens me that your show today did not present all sides of our very complex and badly-in-need of reinvention education system.  I hope that in the future you will make an effort to give equal airtime to other voices and other solutions.


Stephanie Sandifer

Parent, educator, concerned American citizen

Viva this

On Mexican Independence Day, my nationalism showed through to my colleagues and I pretty much have no problem with that at all.

During morning announcements a girl came on and gave a short history lesson on Father Miguel Hildago’s contribution from freeing Mexico from Spain.  All was fine and dandy until the girl raised her voice and announced, “Long live Mexico!  Viva Mexico!” (stated by Hildago during Mexican Independence), at which time the rumble started in my classroom.  I doused it quickly by making a joke about the student mispronouncing “sovereignty”, one of our recent vocabulary words (“Obviously not from this class because we would have nailed that word!”), and quickly moved on to recent Republican visits to Iowa.  The class passed without incident.

The break time after the class found a collection of teachers at the common table discussing the repercussions of the girl’s pronouncement.  One teacher verbally denounced the “Viva Mexico” comment in class.  Another had to nearly break up a fight between Mexican students who cheered and other students who took offense.  Still another teacher said that a group of Mexican students added their own commentary and shouted “Brown pride” and “Down with the U.S.”.  Whether the comments were hyperbolic or not, there was some definite resentment by staff members to the comments and was I one that expressed some of that resentment.  I find it interesting that the sub-group that has managed to keep us in program improvement every year is the same sub-group that refuses to assimilate to the culture that they live in, the same culture that has provided them with economic opportunity.  And what’s worse, it seems like we promote that attitude by having to be “culturally sensitive”, which at Ukiah High School means that a couple of teachers drape their classroom in Mexican flags, teach kids about how they should remain Mexican at all cost, and then say that anyone that disagrees with them is racist and that’s just how America is.

While in the meantime we forget that we need to, you know, actually teach them something.

I’m not advocating students from other countries dropping every shred of their cultural heritage when they come to the United States, but with a population of students from Mexico, there is a serious movement out there to ignore the social push to become American.  Scots-Irish, Germans, Italians, Japanese, Hmong, East Indian…all cultures that have helped build this country and have waived a variety of flags in support of their heritage and their new home, the United States.  With Latino students we lower expectations, engage in ridiculous pedagogy, and focus on feel-good stories instead of demanding academic progress.  I’ve said this many times, multi-cultural education is not the best way to get students to be learned, especially when you come from a culture that doesn’t put a premium on education. 

I’m not Joe Arpio, so you can dump the idiotic race comments or the ideas going through your head that I’m completely anti-immigrant.  I have no problem with people of any race coming here and positively contributing to society; to further this wonderful democratic experiment.  But come here and embrace the opportunity that the taxpayers have offered you. Embrace a culture that wants you to be learned, that wants you to succeed, and that will reward your hard work with a better life than what you would have had “back home”. 

Viva knowledge!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Month 1: Cell Phones, EDI, and great flow

I know that the year is fully in swing when already the “cinch notices” appear in my teacher box.  A cinch notice is the official way that we notify parents that their child is not doing well, and could fail the course.  Care must be taken in marking cinch notices because if you don’t send one to a failing student, they are basically not allowed to be failed. 

The number one problem within this first month is the cell phone, and the second problem isn’t even on the radar compared to this device.  I’ve taken three phones already this year for 24 hrs, had one parent come in and get it for the student, and have gave numerous warnings.  My cell phone policy if pretty rational.  If the phone goes off in class, they turn it off and there is no fuss.  The problem is texting.  Students texting have the phones taken away for 24 hours or until a parent visits.  Even with the obvious enforcement, students seem to have no fear in using the little devices.  The easy way would be to suspend them every time the phone comes out.  Two problems.  First, I want the students in my class.  Two, I better be totally right about the texting or the incident could become bigger.  By simply taking the phone I make the incident about my classroom and it goes no further.

Explicit Direct Instruction, or EDI, is the new mandate from the District thanks to our wonderful third year of Program Improvement.  It really is the nightmare scenario for a high school teacher looking to get students to think at a higher level.  While the parent company DataWorks insists that it is not scripted, the format of EDI requires you to rigorously follow an outline that is basically not to be deviated from.  While the methodology that is used is solid (checking for understanding, breaking down standards, establishing learning objectives), the structure is made for elementary lessons, low-level learners, and English Language Learners.  Since I was involved in the training this summer (everyone will have to be trained within two years), I’ve been told I get to be a little bit of a guinea pig.  An advisor came in and did a lesson which my kids politely sat through, and then debriefed in an extremely negative fashion.  EDI leaves no room for questions, does not allow alternative discussion, and made my students feel like junior high school kids.  Once again testing forces teaching to the lowest common denominator.

My first month flow is pretty fabulous.  I changed up some things about Economics to make it more Macro focused, and have slowed down in Government to make the core foundations of the Constitution the main idea of the class.  I’m also over a week ahead in APUSH, and that’s without some of the changes I made to save time down the road.  Class management has no real problems at this point.  Two classes have groups that enjoy making themselves known to everyone, all the time, but for the most part they are under control.  First grade notifications went out this week, and believe it or not I have students that are failing.  Actually, when you compare attendance to grades, it isn’t hard to believe at all.  I have students that have already made the choice of missing one to two days a week and they are now going to feel it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Build it


I finish off this September 11th, 2010 with my thoughts not only with the families of the victims of the 9/11/2001 tragedy, but also with the hope that people don’t let the aggressors of this heinous act get what they want most, a division of the American people. 

Of course you should let Feisal Abdul Rauf build the Park 51 Muslim Community Center near Ground Zero.  In fact, you should be out in the streets waiving copies of the Constitution in front of the location in support of the project because in the grand scope of the tragedy, this project is why the American Democratic Experiment has been a success.  This project is a clear indication to the rest of the world that the United States is a nation that does not sacrifice its core believes after an attack on one of its beautiful cities.  While I hurt inside thinking about the pain of those that lost loved ones nine years ago, I hurt worse watching so many people engage in a verbal protest against not only an entire religion, but the United States Constitution. 

It’s legal, but it’s wrong.  Therefore it should not be built.”

I’ve heard this over and over by people that seem to be harboring an ignorant Islamophobe within a weak shroud of patriotism.  Feisal Abdul Rauf is what’s right about America.  He wrote a book, What’s right with Islam is What’s right with America, in which he writes that the United States actually best represents Islam’s true values.  Rauf publically condemns terrorist acts, and many academics rave about his noble goals of connecting the West with Islam in communication and understanding.  Fareed Zakaria recently said that al Qaeda has it out for Imam Rauf, and added,

  …if al Qaeda wants to blow up people like him, isn't that a pretty good indication of where he stands in the world of Islam?  

I don’t know about you, but Feisal Abdul Rauf sounds like an American.

This day of remembrance and respect has ended up a media circus.  It doesn’t have to continue to be.  Blaming Islam for the Twin Towers is the same as blaming Christianity for Terry Jones or Timothy McVeigh.  Continuing to act in a manner that is contrary to the U.S. Constitution gives more power to a man holed up in some back room in Pakistan than the citizens that the document names in the first line, We the People. 

So do what’s really right and don’t give Terry Jones the time of day.  Fine, he burns the Koran.  In this country he is exercising his constitutional rights for 15 minutes of fame while we exercise our right to ignore his idiocy.  Then go to Ground Zero and hug someone that was involved in September 11, 2001.  Hug an atheist, a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian, it doesn’t matter.  Give them a hug and be there for them.  Then go over to the Park 51 and say “Let’s get this thing built”.  Then go back to Ground Zero and insist, with every fiber of your soul, ‘LET’S GET THIS THING REBUILT!” 

And then let’s get back to working on the great democratic experiment that is the United States of America.  

California loses out on Race to the Top…and nobody cares.


Simply put, Race to the Top was a shitty incentive program.

I know it’s late in the game to talk about it, but I think that a teacher’s perspective would be helpful for the people in Washington D.C.  That way, when the decision comes about to make the next fad in education reform legislation, it won’t suck so badly. 

Race to the Top was an attempt at education accountability by the federal government where certain standards were set that states could attempt to match.  States then applied for the funds and if they were accepted, they received a one time cash advance for the glorious work that was done advancing education reform.  There were a few problems with Race to the Top (RTTT); unions had to agree, the program favored states with already low standards, and the money was a one-time thing.  California applied twice and was denied twice.  In my opinion the changes were already going to be implemented in the long run, the changes shouldn’t be dictated by one time funding, and the changes probably will do little to help the real problems in education.

If the federal government wants to really help out in education then it’s going to have to be more than a pitiful one-time lob of dollars at changes that could seriously impact state governments.  The kind of data management that the feds want is legitimate, but that costs some serious cash in a time that serious cash doesn’t really exist.  Come out with a serious campaign to deal with the issues around education, and believe it or not, the President might actually bring about solutions to other social issues plaguing the United States.

And California might want to consider exactly what’s going on with its education dollars in terms of spending.  A recent study by Ed Source shows that California is 43rd in the nation in per-pupil spending.  As much as people want to bitch about the percentage of the budget that goes to education, the per-pupil spending is a clear sign that the 8th largest economy in the world is not prioritizing education.            

In the end, THEY must want it

In an age where everyone seems to have an opinion about why school’s aren’t churning out the best possible academics, Robert Samuelson of Newsweek came out this week and brought to the table the most legitimate reason for the lack of student achievement.
The students.
While the Los Angeles Times advocates “value-added”, while Joanne Jacobs advocates charter schools, while unions advocate for money, and while the government advocates accountability to no one in particular, Samuelson states that it is a moot point to address any of these things when students refuse to advocate for themselves.
The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If the students aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail. Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a “good” college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school “reform” is that if students aren’t motivated, it’s mainly the fault of schools and teachers. The reality is that, as high schools have become more inclusive (in 1950, 40 percent of 17-year-olds had dropped out) and adolescent culture has strengthened, the authority of teachers and schools has eroded. That applies more to high schools than to elementary schools, which helps explain why early achievement gains evaporate.
Motivation has weakened because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard, and don’t do well.
I think that Robert Samuelson’s mention of the strengthening of the “adolescent culture” is critical to figuring out why teenagers are not as engaged as they once were.  Since the days of Beverly Hills 90210, education has taken a back seat to the need for the teen to gain more of a social life than ever before.  While the concept of “getting down” as a teenager isn’t new, parents are not doing their job reinforcing the idea that education is actually more important than playing beer pong.  And society continues to churn out more extreme examples that show that simply having fun will get you social acceptance and financial freedom.  90210 has begat Gossip Girl.  The Real World went from diverse engagement to anticipating 3-ways in a hot tub at the Palms.  And society has embraced Jersey Shore as “oh, it’s just fun”.  The only problem is that parents aren’t telling them that it’s just fun, they are letting it ride and kids are taking rebellion not with a 1960’s political slant, but a 2000’s “if I don’t give a fuck long enough, someone will bail me out…or I’ll get on a reality show” attitude.  Look, Kim Kardashian is rich and popular simply for making a sex tape.  While students might not go to that extreme, the attitude of no-skills-will-get-me-somewhere is reinforced by popularized stereotypes.
Yes, teachers need to be more accountable.  Yes education laws need serious reform.  And yes, more money should be going to education.  But until you fix societies identity crisis, all that is useless.  Until people start reinforcing that stupidity is a flaw, hard work breeds success, and that society needs intelligent and talented people, then we are all running in place.