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.         

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Huh, huh, huh….he said boobies…huh, huh, huh

I’m not kidding, I didn’t know this was a big deal until I first saw a post on Twitter by @mooresclassroom, then I read an article in the Sacramento Bee, and then I noticed it on boys in my classroom.

Yep.  I ♥ Boobies.

In a trend that kids tell me has been going on for a few months, students (primarily males) are showing up to school with the little rubber bracelets that say, in huge font, “I ♥ Boobies!”.  This isn’t necessarily jiving with certain educational and administrative authorities, who have now moved to remove the “offensive” bracelets from the classroom.  A few incidents have included student suspensions, including one from Rocklin, California where a student was suspended for refusing to give the principal the bracelet.  At school today, I noticed that about a half dozen of my students (all male) were sporting the boob bracelets, all insisting that it was to support breast cancer awareness.  We talked about it briefly.  But the students were much more interested in the Koran burning, the recent employment numbers, and the upcoming football game against Casa Grande High School (Petaluma).  Boobies was a non-starter.

Let’s be really frank about two issues.  First of all, your child probably doesn’t wear the bracelet to give light to the fight against breast cancer.  He’s 16 (or 18 in my classroom), and his group of friends didn’t all of the sudden gain a massive dose of social concern regarding cancer awareness.  Neither did they all of the sudden grow out of the fact that they are teenagers.  Boobs are still fun.  I was reading message boards and news stories that contained parents that were enraged at a school’s guts to say that the bracelets were more of a fashion statement than real awareness.  Sure, and your kids never had an immature or horny thought in their lives.  Is it me or do adolescent males enjoy dick and fart jokes, even in high school?  Hell, I still love good dick and fart jokes.

And so do you Mr./Ms. Hypocrite.  Blazing Saddles and Airplane anyone?

The second issue is that the bracelets really are being overblown.  If they sit on a person’s wrist in class and are not being a distraction, why create one?  We aren’t talking about a shirt that says “Fuck Y’all, I’m from Texas” (yes, I had one), we’re talking about an immature little thing that only brings about problems that we bring upon ourselves.  I didn’t even know they were on the wrists of my seniors until I actively looked.  And then the conversation moved on.  And when we are in a classroom, especially at the high school level, do we really want to foster an attitude that screams about making the teacher totally comfortable.  I mean, the Rocklin teacher said she was offended by the bracelet and that was why the student was sent out.  Really?  The idea of “offensive” gets dicey in my view, that is, if we are really teaching something to students regarding the view of “right” and “wrong”.  I think Dodgers hats are offensive.  I think t-shirts with Toby Keith pictures are offensive.  I think anything advocating someone’s johnson is offensive.  But we really are a society where you can change the channel, look the other way, and move on.  Is this really a battle teachers want to fight?  I ♥ Boobies?

I think that Tracy Clark-Flory at has an excellent analysis regarding the whole issue.  People that have actually gone through the death of a loved one due to cancer have a perspective that is often overlooked.  The simplicity of the ad-campaign is what’s disturbing, and the makers of the bands should get more criticism for that.

What a teacher wants, what a teacher needs

Dangerously Irrelevant (blogroll) created a super interesting post recently with a very simple topic; what teachers need from administrators.  I’d figure it would be interesting to check out the issues and give a little insightful analysis.

Give us, and advocate for us, more time to plan. Effective teaching requires, more than ever, effective planning. I would love to have as much as 2 weeks (not including a day or two to set up my classroom) at the beginning of the school year.

More time to plan?  Yes.  Two weeks plus at the beginning of the year?  Too much.  To be completely honest, I think a teacher should easily be prepared to teach within one week.  Teachers with multiple preps, shop classes, and Special Ed case carriers probably have the toughest time.  PE is the easiest.  Better solution would be to give teachers more time to prep during the week.  

It's the 21st century - let's go there with our schools!

No kidding.  Of course money has something to do with it.

Teachers should have the most say in the professional development they receive

I’ve mentioned this recently.  Not only does a school district need to let teachers deal with professional development, it needs to let teachers do more in saying if they need it all.  When a teacher is doing the right thing, sometimes it’s best to just leave them alone.  Oh, and this doesn’t work if teachers aren’t accountable when dealing in professional development.  It can be abused.

We are glad you get to attend conferences during the summer. Don't make us adopt, adapt and integrate the great thing you saw or heard about there at the beginning of each school year.

This annoys the hell out of me.  But I need to throw in that most administrators are going to the conference because they are required to.  And they are implementing the “great thing” because the district demands it.  The problem is that the accountability factor seems to be stressed on teachers, but teachers can’t help with what really works.  In my district, the new “research based” program is EDI, Explicit Direct Instruction.  With my population of students EDI is a joke.  I do better, period.

"Research Based" does not necessarily mean good, or right for our situation, great, effective, or proven over time.  There are many, many powerful, important, effective, innovative, sometimes transformative pedagogies that are NOT research based.

“Because the research says so”.  I’ve got 35 kids that say that Explicit Direct Instruction lesson plans are way below grade level.  “Research” can jump in the lake.  You can train a teacher in a million different pedagogies, but if the teacher has no energy and no admin support, all the research in the world is useless.

"Not everything that can be counted (tested) counts, and not everything that counts can be counted (tested)." - Einstein
Please, please, please - remember that when you are making decisions that narrow the curriculum for our neediest students (or any students). And yes, I know you've seen that quote before.

And we’ve heard this argument before.  Testing is becoming the norm and what we are building are not thoughtful, intelligent young men and women.  We are building Japanese style test taking machines. 

Changing course constantly is very bad. Teachers that are constantly put in a position of dealing with changing rules, curriculums, programs, principals, other colleagues, your pet project from your summer conference (and the assistant supes too), (etc).  “Please have your discipline plan, school improvement plan (sorry, the school district requires that), and back to school night plan to me before you leave today.”

As with any organization, stability will breed better results.  Our school is going through construction, new technology, mandates from the district, and the loss of staff.  Sometimes the employee needs to suck it up.  Yes, I told teachers to suck it up, because everyone else is.  Still, school districts often forget that people are actually trying to teach and make wholesale changes without considering the consequences.  In my district, technology changes with the wind and in such unorganized fashion that I simply do my own thing because I know it works better.  I don’t complain a whole lot and I don’t brag a whole lot.  When it becomes a serious impediment, I tell people that I’m confident in that it is a problem.  Some times it is solved, sometimes not.  But remember, our administrators report to other people.  So think globally.

Don't tell us that teachers are "the salt of the earth" and that we are the best darn teachers and staff that was ever assembled, and then explain to us all the "top-down" decisions we have to implement that we have little to NO real voice in. We, mostly, have master's degrees, years of experience and current experience (you, as an administrator, don't have current full time classroom experience). Let us use ours - trust us and hold us accountable for that. Hold us accountable for our planning, lesson design, creativity (and the results of that planning time you are advocating for). 

Ohhhh, should I go here?  See, I think teachers are at partial fault here and that might be controversial, but it’s the truth.  For instance, our district is very top-down.  Education wise that’s a bad thing because I often get saddled with dealing with issues that actually impair my ability to educate students.   Trust me, I can do my job and I’ll tell you what I need to do it better.  And I’m not unreasonable.  We are professionals and we should be treated like professionals.  Except that we often don’t act like professionals and that get’s us in trouble.  If my negotiations leader, President and Vice-President  represented the image of teachers in the state, we would be hunted down and burned at the stake.  Hell, I’m embarrassed about the lack of professionalism and I’m a damn teacher!  And when a union actually asks for a raise at the beginning of the greatest economic calamity in 80 years, I would expect the financial aspect of the district to be VERY top down.  Collaboration goes two ways, and when a party refuses to engage in rational conversation, it seems top down because someone is taking control of a bad situation from a child throwing a tantrum. 

You can't hold us accountable for student learning by making us use a program - and use it strictly - if we really follow the program.

Meaning, the program isn’t really what’s going to raise a student’s ability to learn.  Even more so if the program is strict.

Are the tests (assessments) we give students to decide if they have learned what they are supposed to learn actually good, valid tests? Do we REALLY know if a student passes them (or not) they are a good or poor student?

Again, not really administrators fault.  Of course the tests are idiotic, but we are all dealing with it.

Don't have meetings or set-up committees or trainings unless they are a REALLY valuable, powerful use of teachers' time.

Simple management technique.

This is harsh, but - If you have been an administrator for more years than you taught full-time in an actual classroom, you are probably disconnected from what it is like to be a teacher.

I think that this is a little less harsh, and a little more lame.  I think an administrator who has taught is valuable, but I wouldn’t put a timeline on when an administrator loses the vision of what it’s like in the classroom.  Whether we like to admit it or not, administrators should not think like a teacher.  They have financial issues, community issues, and forced mandates that we can’t even begin to understand.  I would make about 30K more as a vice-principal at Ukiah High School, and I want no part of it.  This commentary is full of frustration, and I get that, but good managers will maintain connections with employees.  It’s the right thing to do.

This might be the most important - Be open to creativity and innovation. No, BEG for creativity and innovation from your teachers and students. Then support what obviously works, and ask for changes and tweaks to what doesn't. Then hold us accountable.

Sounds about right.  We are professionals after all and we should want to do better.  If it works, let us do it.  If it doesn’t, tell us to change it.

Please help teachers have voice, and ask us to help you have voice.

Because of the media and idiotic union posturing, the “us versus them” attitude has become prevalent all around the country.  We are in a period now where the teachers are being called out and the Union bosses are doing nothing but exacerbating the issue by making dumb decisions.  School sites need to drop that crap and look at themselves as a functioning body that needs everyone working the right way. 

Lastly, where are the great examples of what works? What is awesome that happens in your schools with your teachers and students and parents!? Do you have some examples to share? Then shout out about them in every way you can think of!! Right now only others that have a different agenda (and lots of money and connections) seem to have a voice, so they are the only ones being heard. 

Yeah, in a society that thinks that everyone involved in education is lazy, overpaid, and doesn’t care, we need to do more to announce our successes.  Plenty of students do wonderful things, and as much as the media wants to flag constant failure for their ratings books, every day we see magic in the classroom and we need to pat ourselves on the back a little.  But we need to make the progress not seem transient or petty.  Real progress needs to be shown and we need to be serious about educating students.  All of us.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Head games

So, 18 year old Halla Banafa walks into an Abercrombie & Fitch store in Milpitas, California with the intent to gain employment.   When she walked out of the store, Halla was dejected when she was told that the head covering she was wearing was against company policy and that it wasn’t the “Abercrombie look”.  I’m sure you can see what’s coming.  That’s right, a religious freedom lawsuit involving a Muslim against the big, bad corporate America image.

Let’s be honest, Halla Banafa’s first mistake was applying for a job at a company that loves to peddle overpriced clothing to teenagers that have a fantasy about getting laid by a member of the Gossip Girl cast.  The last decade has been busy for A & F, as their catalogs overtook Victoria’s Secret as the one most likely to show up in a brown paper bag.  The company figured that the best way to get teens to open their wallets was to show nude models in all their glory and remind them that plaid flannels, the “Abercrombie  Look”, would make them more popular than the kid that played Magic the Gathering.  Oh yeah, and some of those models may have been underage.  Fantastic company to work for.

Still, Ms. Banafa’s issues of “religious tolerance” pretty much end when the guidelines say “no head  coverings”.  Unless the interviewer basically said “we don’t hire Muslims”, I can’t justify a  lawsuit that is going to take a business out back and spank them because they weren’t going to follow a politically correct path towards employing people.  I would have hoped that the interviewer asked “would you be willing to work without your headscarf”, and that the answer in the negative pretty much left out much possibility of a religious issue.  Banafa’s lawsuit is bogus. 

I’ve seen this issue brought up at school on occasion, and usually the only time it becomes a problem is when a) the student becomes offended at something the teacher said, or b) the teacher forces a kid to stand for the Pledge or the National Anthem.  When I coached in Live Oak, California there was an issue with Sikh daggers that went away really fast.  I was also involved in an incident in Redding, California during a basketball play-off game.  Refs wanted the Sikh members of our team to remove their turbans, even though it was against Section policy.  To his credit, the varsity coach threatened to walk off the floor and refs came to their senses.  When teaching freshman and sophomores I occasionally had a parent that doesn’t like their Christian child learning about Islam.  Other than that, religious issues in school aren’t really a problem.

We have enough real problems in society regarding the role of religion without having an 18 year old with a grudge get in a snit because she misread the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.   

Friday, September 03, 2010


I’m constantly amazed by the phrase “well just change it” when it comes to teaching.  While you can change some things in class instantly (usually impacting classroom management), most lesson related issues can take some time to change.  Like a year.

Lessons go awry for all teachers.  Even the best have some kind of “off day” or a funky transition or just a lesson that didn’t work as planned.  And when it comes to specific lesson plans, a teacher might not be able to do the lesson plan again until the next semester or the next year.  It gives the teacher a nice opportunity to think about what did and did not work, but there is some kind of illusion out there that lessons, even those that have been done well by other teachers, function with the same effectiveness with everyone.  Remember, every classroom has different variables that are constantly changing.

Take for instance my lesson on Monday called “Cleaning the River”.  The lesson’s objective was to teach about Marginal Analysis and government decision-making. The lesson came from the California Council for Economics Education, and I’ve watched it being taught a half-dozen times.  It is a really effective lesson when done right.  Simply put, you take a piece of carpet and cover it with trash in the classroom.  The carpet is a polluted lake.  You ask for two volunteers and have them “clean” the lake into a bag for ten seconds.  Then you discuss how much trash they picked up and how “clean” the lake got.  Then the volunteers clean it again for ten seconds.  Same time, less trash.  Again, how clean should the lake be? Again. Same time, and even less trash.  All the time the volunteers are “paid” for the service of cleaning the lake and the students soon realize that the marginal cost of cleaning the lake eventually outweighs the marginal benefit.  The lake can never be perfectly clean.  It works really, really well.  So I tried it.

It sort of worked for me, but it sputtered around a bit.  I began the lesson a day early by having students list all the services provided by Mendocino County.  Then I told the students that I had 10 units of resource and that the resources had to be prioritized to county services, thus dealing with the issue of scarcity.  Obviously, 35 students could only really agree on some items, so they democratically elected a “mayor” to make the major decisions.  Eventually the “mayor” came up with five priority items and divided the units of resource.  Then I brought out the lake.  I didn’t have a large piece of carpet so I came up with a really large trash bag that I cut down the middle.  It made a really nice big lake.  The result of the lesson?

-First of all, I have a small group of students (only 3 out of 34) that really enjoy being the center of attention and hijacking the class with fairly pointless arguments.  In this case one of the students insisted that contractors never breach a contract because they don’t want to pay extra money.  It’s one of those situations where you want to move on but the “look at me” students are having trouble  letting you.  You want to throw them out but they are being annoying, not “bad”.  I should have had them step outside early on and not doing that made the lesson get off track.

-The garbage bag didn’t work well at all.  On my tile floor it slid all over the place and some of the smaller items of “pollution” (paper shreds and coffee grounds) made a little mess.  Wasn’t that big of a deal, but  it elicited giggles which distracted from the lesson.

-The third round of cleaning involves the idea of need “specialized equipment” to successfully clean the lake, aka a handheld vacuum cleaner.  Carpet and vacuum work well.  Plastic garbage bag and vacuum work poorly and it became an exercise in reigning in the laughter. 

In the end, the lesson provided a decent idea of marginal analysis.  But it was clear that the lesson had little flow, was veering off track on every opportunity, and became a greater bane than a benefit to class time.  Was a total failure?  No, not by a long shot.  But by this point I want a certain vibe and flow to my class, and this new lesson didn’t provide that.  So it was a disappointment that I want to change before I teach it again in January to my next semester of Economics.  Hey newbs, even ten years in things will not always go as planned.  Get used to it and change it for next time.  You won’t have much time to mope about the negativity.  The next class begins in 7 minutes.