Sunday, February 28, 2010

Depressing

I have to admit, it pretty much sucks being a teacher right now. 

And no, it isn’t about the kids.  The kids are easy.  Classroom stuff is not the problem.  It’s the profession that sucks.  I mean, it is really hard not to tell a student that wants to become a teacher, “Are you kidding?”. 

Thankfully, the students help keep some things in perspective.  Learning is still happening and my relationship with the students hasn’t been impacted…much.  But it’s hard to really put all the energy into teaching when you are constantly aware that you are getting fucked.  You know what’s the real impediment to student progress?  The system.  So I’d like to thank to following groups for totally fucking education.

-The State of California.  The primary problem with almost everything in California is the government.  However, I don’t think that people realize how much of a non-priority education really is to the state.  This week, two people that work within the halls of Sacramento told me that education is going to continue to get cut, and monies will continue to be deferred for the foreseeable future.  This means that the investment potential for the state is going the way of the Dodo, and educators have now been marginalized to simple state worker status.  Congratulations State Legislature.  You are bringing an educational Hurricane Katrina to your doorstep.

-Arnie Duncan, El Presidente, and those sniveling little weasels in Congress.  “Race to the Top” and “No Child Left Behind” have essentially become unfunded mandates.  The money spent on trying to meet all of there stupid little laws with their idiotic expectations (100% proficient my ass) has caused economic chaos within the district.  Thank God all those textbook companies were there to create books that met the standards, and we were obliged by the government to funnel them vast sums of money.  Don’t know what I would have done if U.S. History had all of the sudden changed. 

-The Ukiah Teacher’s Association.  In November I went to a meeting where my local union refused to bargain because everything was “fine”, the balance sheet was going to be “even for the year”, and sacrifice wasn’t going to happen because the district “wasn’t going to take my money”.  As I read over numbers, I still try and find that hidden pot of gold that the UTA talks about, and I realize that I will probably never find it along with the Loch Ness Monster, Barry Bonds’ steroid needles, and Al Sharpton’s dignity.  The inaction has helped create a $5 million dollar whole that is going to cut programs, kill jobs, possibly eliminate sports, destroy class size reduction, possibly eliminate prep periods, close two schools, and burn down the partridge and that damn pear tree.  Nicely done.

-The California Teacher’s Association.  The idiots that told all the locals to not negotiate with the districts so they could hope for a better position to bargain from down the road.  To quote another moron, “How’s that hopey-changey thing goin for ya”.

-The insurance companies.  My wife’s district is part of Blue Shield and the already lousy insurance is now going to get worse.  So let me get this right, I’m going to have to pay hundreds of dollars a month so I can pay a $1,000 deductable before I can get any coverage at all?  With all do respect to Conservatives, Blue Shield is doing a dandy job pushing me towards a National Health Service plan.  Hell, why pay for stuff I hardly use, and when I do use it, it pays for next to nothing?

-People that think that teachers don’t work.  Guess what, I work harder than you do.  Not only that, I work harder than you do and I’ve taken on more responsibilities and have been gifted a 3% pay cut over the last three years.  Teachers aren’t in it for just the money, but pride in a job well done doesn’t pay the mortgage, or the health insurance.  Society has demanded more from us, taken the resources from us, ignored our ideas for getting the job done better, cut our pay, and we still come to work every day to teach your children with passion and vigor.  You know what you would have done?  Quit.

So you might ask, why do the job if it seems so horrible?  The answer is quite simple.  I care more than you do, period.  I think my job is more important than most on the planet, and I’m going to fight for what’s right and point out what’s wrong.  Every day I go to work and the only thing positive on my campus are the kids.  Every other moment there is conversation about budget cuts, losing Advanced Placement, unions refusing to serve the interest of teachers, wage cuts, furlough days, good teachers quitting, schools closing, class sizes increasing, electives being cut, and a general feeling that nobody cares about education.  Get the kid (even if they haven’t earned it) a diploma for being there, have them pass a couple of standardized tests, and move them on to the next phase, even if actual learning doesn’t take place.  That seems like the social status quo.  I’m angry because I don’t see that as acceptable.  I have your children for crying out loud.  You should care just as much as I do (speaking to society in general). 

So, I’ll try to shake it off because I won’t lose the passion, but all this crap is really distracting.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Calling B.S.

 

I had been warned that a new student coming into my class might have the potential for some trouble.  Usually when multiple colleagues roll eyes at the mention of a name, it is a warning to be aware. 

On the fourth day of his tenure in my class we had a textbook quiz.  In my class, quizzes are shown on the Smart Board and the students answer the questions on paper in a limited time frame.  Then students exchange papers, grade them, and we are done in less than 10 minutes easy.  I stood on the other side of the room watching said student trying to work out the quiz.  It was obvious that the text reading was not completed because the quiz had absolutely nothing on it.  I mean it was totally empty.  The question was going the to be the reaction when the grading exchange came along.  Does the student pass back an empty paper, simply give up and pass back nothing, or try and con me?  I called “time’s up”, announced the exchange of papers for grading, and watched as the student kept his blank paper………and the paper of the student behind him. 

Hmmmmm…..

I started through the grading process and immediately it was evident that he was going to copy answers during the grading time from the other student’s paper to his own.  I watched him throughout the process as he picked and chose the answers carefully, not writing everything down as to give it away.  I acted totally ignorant to the situation and finished going through the answers, slowly walking over to his position in the room.  After finishing the answers and right before calling for all papers to be passed forward, I stopped in front of the student’s desk.

“You don’t really think you’re going to turn that in do you?”

The class went dead silent.  It was kind of funny watching him slowly try to hide and crumple up his paper with all the other students watching with bemused looks on their faces.  He had little room in which to maneuver.  He grinned, shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Oh well, I guess I got caught”, and handed forward the other student’s graded work.  I wasn’t quite finished though.

“Take your paper and put a zero on it and turn it in.  And I want you to remember something; it does no good to B.S. me because I am the ultimate B.S.er.” 

His look was priceless, and the students in class giggled, mainly because they knew it was partly serious and partly an introduction to atmosphere of the class.  It was also a warning.  The upperclassman in high school would have been tossed in many cases, and probably written up as well.  This time he was notified that his one break was given to him and the only manure flinging around the class was going to be from the teacher. 

Was it effective?  That incident was weeks ago and I haven’t had a single problem with the young man.  Sometimes when you mix a little shock-and-awe with un-politically correct ways of doing things, you might get interesting results.  A referral and dismissal would have signaled “the usual” for this kid, and I might have lost him for the rest of the year by Day Four.  At least now he realizes that the class is different, a little edgy, and he’s made the effort to attend regularly. 

He’s bought in with no B.S.   

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Dear Parents, you are killing us.....

If there is one thing that is the overriding discussion topic among teachers this year, it isn't the drug use, the current rise in fights, the budget cuts, or the overwhelming sense of getting screwed by the recession. Nope.  The major topic of discussion this year has been parents.

I know, it's probably not the best thing to be calling out parents right now without using an anonymous name.  And I'll be the first to say that a large portion of parents are supportive and fantastic.  Hell, I consider some of them friends.  But the state (and idiotic No Child Left Behind) aren't concerned with much except test scores.  And in this regard, parents are killing us.  Today in our faculty meeting we found out that many of that "border population", that group of students that didn't quite make it the testing goals last time and could drastically turn our results around, were simply excused from the test by parents that wanted them to do other things during Exit Exams over the last two days.  "Doctors appointments", vacations, you name it, the student's parents signed their kids out during one of the most important weeks to do things other than the test.  That kind of screws us.

And since I'm directly impacted by Mom's desire to listen to their kids bitch about sitting in a classroom for four hours, I kind of give a shit.

Attendance in our district is a major problem.  I have Advanced Placement students that have and will miss weeks...........as in weeks, plural..........and still expect to maintain a high grade.  In fact, I'm now running into an interesting dilemma; what do you do about a possible Advanced Placement failing grade that might result in not graduating?  Now you might say, "Well, as long as their organized and on top of it, what's the problem?"  The problem is that they are not organized and not on top of it.  They are on a cruise in Hawaii and haven't a damn clue about anything going on in class.  These are called "Short Term Independent Study Contracts", which are now common for those families looking to go to the Bahamas in February, regardless of school being in session.  It's also become a great excuse for Hispanics to travel abroad during Christmas Break and to not show up until February, thus killing their grade and our test scores at the same time.  The Short Term Independent Study Contract is basically Average Daily Attendance (ADA) support for students that are gone for about 20 school days.  Students leave on vacation and are "required" to do work while they are gone.  They are then counted towards our ADA, which allows us to be funded.  Basically it is giving people an excuse to leave because they know we need them around for the money.  Sucks doesn't it.

Most teachers give packet work or ignore the work entirely.  I don't do either.  I tell students that they must know X, Y, and Z upon return, and that they must follow the work on the classroom blog.  They will then be responsible for all the missed quizzes and tests upon return, and all in-class assignments are excused (meaning they don't exist for the student's grade).  This irritates parents and students because they love packet work; useless busy work that proves that students know nothing except how to stay up late at night the day before class to rush the work.  So the student turns a crap packet that I'm supposed to take seriously and grade?  That's assessment? 

How about no.

How about hell no.

How about giving me a fucking break and scheduling your trip to the Caribbean for those two weeks in December, that week at Thanksgiving, the week in March, or those three months in the summer. 

It's called "Independent Study", meaning your kid is supposed to be studying independently for information they are required to know about the class.  And while I'm not an idiot, and I am full aware that the student will not be studying on her way to Maui, realize that I don't care, and if I had my way a student would be dropped after missing five days of class in an AP level course.  Advanced Placement is supposed to emulate college.  How many college professors do you know that would let you miss five class?  How about ten?  Fifteen?  Yeah, welcome to my world.

I know for a fact that admin is trying to deal with it, and that in the end, we are basically fucked.  A parent is going to pull their kid out of school for whatever reason they deem is important and damn the consequences.  There is little we can do to stop that.  But I just want those testing advocates to realize that this week over twenty students, around the amount needed to pass our goals, were taken right out of Exit Exam testing by a note excused by their parents. 

And we were totally powerless to stop it.  Wonder if API and AYP take that into account.