Sunday, January 30, 2011

Facebook and the student/teacher relationship

I have a Facebook page and yes I have students that are “Friends”.  Here’s a shocker, I actually engage in conversation with students……*gasp*……online!  But that’s not the most surprising of revelations.  I don’t know whether I should admit this in public but……here goes……I actually engage with students face-to-face for OVER AN HOUR EACH DAY!  OH THE HUMANITY!  Real conversation!  Sometimes there is conversation that has to do with, just like Facebook, school.  Oh my.  Occasionally a snarky comment might be shared, advice about sports teams might be traded, country music may be bashed, and God forbid, I might actually shake someone’s hand.

Start the investigation right now.

All of this nonsense about the dangers of Facebook in regards to teachers and students is becoming incredibly absurd.  For me, it all came to a head when I read comments in a Lifehacker article about Edmodo, educational software that is sort of a Twitter/Facebook/Moodle clone.  Some of the comments include warnings against teachers using social networking media at all.  Apparently the software leads to inappropriate teacher/student behavior because the fact that the idiot is in front of the classroom full of students would not influence that behavior at all.  And if a teacher is stupid enough to friend students and parents, and then post photos of a drunken night with the brothers in Vegas while commenting that the hang-over from Jagerbombs was insane, then it might not be the software there as well.  The teachers should be fired because they are a bit lower on the evolutionary chain, not because they have a Facebook profile.

Enough of the social networking hype.  Plenty of idiotic employees make the mistake of putting inappropriate things on networks and reaping the consequences.  The only difference with teachers is that our misconduct presents a bad face to the profession at least, or leads to grossly disgusting crimes at worst.  But as with all cases, the software doesn’t make people do it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Value of Face-to-Face

Over the last two weeks I’ve come to value something that is missing in big institutions, the sit-down amongst colleagues. 

I’ve come across passages of inspiration lately that have started to really condemn technology for its ability to keep people away from each other.  E-mails, text messages,  instant messages, all have the capability of sending a message without looks, tones, or emotion.   Teens love text messaging for this very reason.  When I ask “how come you guys don’t just call”, the answer always ends up being “I don’t really want to talk with them” or “I can say anything and actually mean something else”.  Since the person isn’t actually there, they can’t size up the actual value of the conversation.  Text messaging just minimizes it.  Perfect for the self-centered and short attention spanned teenager. 

With adults the same rings true.  A previous post last year was about an e-mail that was sent out.  The reaction to that e-mail was, interesting.  However the sit-downs I’ve had have produced real dialogue that wouldn’t happen if we weren’t sitting down and talking out feelings, frustrations, and hopefully solutions.  The impersonal  nature of e-mails doesn’t allow for real questions to be answered because the personal nature of the questions doesn’t exist.  You can better gauge the answer and reformulate questions because you are actually there.  Simply doing that can allow you to also take back those questions that linger at the beginning and fade as the conversation moves in a more constructive direction.

I’ve been reading a couple of articles stating that 2011 is the year of the social network backlash.  That the Internet loneliness will come to the forefront as a societal problem that demands everyone to unplug.  While I highly doubt it, I can see more and more institutions reminding themselves that human contact helped solve a hell of a lot more problems than e-mail ever has.   

Skins represents everything wrong with society’s views on teens


The most interesting thing about this post is the perceptions you have about the subject matter based on the title.  You’re probably thinking that I think Skins is bad because it promotes sex and drug use.  You’re probably thinking that I think Skins will lead to the end of teenage morals; that every 16 year old will try meth, participate in a gang bang with the Glee Club, and walk through your screen door at five in the morning nearly passed out.  You would be wrong.  Skins isn’t shocking.  Skins isn’t immoral.  Skins is not the end of the world. 

Skins sucks.

That’s right.  While the Parents Television Council scream "kiddie porn”, while Taco Bell pulls commercials in fear, and while some of the Skins teenage stars insist the show represents the modern teen mind, we fail to notice that the show is a steaming pile of dog shit.  Seriously, it is bad.  It’s Gossip Girl in suburbia, only it isn’t witty, the acting is awful, and it is nowhere near close to resembling a show that deals with teenage angst.  Skins is a weak ass attempt to draw kids into an attempted representation of a teenage fantasy; where every kid wants to screw over their parents, experience a lesbian tryst, and focus on finding out who they are by breaking every comprehensible law and moral code. 

And while there are kids that might fit this description, the idea that the majority of teens in America fit this model is absolute crap.  Like societies view on Education, the focus is on a false reality that doesn’t represent the truth.  But  society pays attention to idiotic sources for information: the Parents Television Council, MTV, and glorified news outlets like Drudge.  Eventually parents blame every possible outlet except themselves, and why not.  Parents are constantly being told by society that they don’t really need to raise their kids; television, the Internet, and a million other “advocacy” groups will do it for them.  Don’t worry about value structures, because Jersey Shore is right there.  Don’t worry about work ethic, because their friends will help them with that.  And don’t worry about education.  Teachers will make it happen.

In a week where I have been frustrated with the lack of responsibility by parents dealing with kids, Skins was the cherry on top of the cake.  The incessant maneuvering by parents to provide umpteen safety nets for kids because lack of parenting has become a drain on teaching.  More and more I’m finding myself questioning if all of this is truly worth it if parents don’t have the mind to actually tell kids that they need to be more than they are now.  The constant pawning off of parental responsibility to every other possible entity is sickening and is creating a generation whose only powerful thinking for themselves revolves around the multi-tasking atmosphere of pseudo-homework, Facebook, Lil Wayne, Instant Messaging, and texting.  And when the most important part of the multi-tasking becomes too difficult (kinda like parents actually saying “no”), the teen is given a safety net like Independent Study.  Wow, a diploma generated from mounds of packet work.  Now there is a student you going to really be a productive member of society.  Parents get the safety net too.  Don’t want to tell your kids what to watch?  Then get incensed at the world at the behest of the Parents Television Council.  That way, you can’t be responsible for your child and shove the job of values on the rest of the village.  And I realize that after that entire rant, you have the same question as I do…

Who the fuck is the Parents Television Council?

Exactly.  And in the end, teenagers are still seeking the guidance and structure of their parents, thirsting for it so badly but at the same time being allowed to slide down the path of least resistance.  You know that that creates?  A future  that will come up with something as dumb as Skins.                

Saturday, January 08, 2011

My return week

-Arrive to forlorn faces and questions of “What’s my final grade”.  So much for having everyone’s grade available online.
-Begin Economics with the “Marshmellow Test” and choice.  Tell students that Economics is the single greatest class they will ever take. 
-Fight lightsaber battle with two students at the end of the day. I am victorious.
-Grade until 10:30.  Grades due Wednesday.
-Stress, stress, and more stress about getting grades done.
-Forgot to create PDF’s for my PPT’s on Edmodo, thus incurring the wrath of my students.
-Look at the Economics of fat Americans.
-Get wind that a union negotiator is throwing a tantrum.  Good for a laugh.
-Did I mention that I was stressed about grades?
-Discuss the multiple injuries Lance Armstrong would have if he ate it during the Tour de France.
-Short practice because of girl’s game.  Our defense is pretty good.  That pleases me.
-Grade until near midnight. Looking at some of the grades, I wonder why I stress at all.
-Yea, the grades are not done, and I have until midnight tonight.  I’ll grade essays at Cardinal Newman during the varsity game.  Sure, that will happen.
-My prep is full of phone calls and student crisis. I got 4 out of 5 classes done.
-I go the registrar and beg for mercy.
-Played Cardinal Newman. Had three good quarters……and one with 14 turnovers.  Kinda like saying that we diffused all the bombs except one. 
-Did not grade a single thing at the varsity game.  Figured I’ll do it when I get home.  Sure, that will happen.
-Listened to the usual, “Start the tractor” chant from the Newman student section.  
-Drove students home.  Had to listen to conversation about how Dwight Howard is as good as Shaq and Bill Russell were.  Spent moments wondering if I could get away with dropping said students on the side of the road.  Home and bed at eleven…..not grading anything.
-Feel horrid that I didn’t get the grades done, will finish during prep.
-Wear funny looking “Economic Reasoning” glasses, and tell my students that they are no longer victims.
-Students make obscure fascists statements on Reconstruction assignment, which draws looks of distain from everyone else.
-Had union president tell us during lunch to change our union rep (not the tantrum one) for no good reason. We unanimously voted to tell our union president that democracy is better then their attempt at portraying Vladimir Putin.
-Grades finally done, and now I want to collapse.
-After practice that is, which felt like the best all season.
-Watched all of Caprica at home, and was glad it is over.
-Bed at reasonable hour.
-Gave assignment that said “express feelings and creativity”.  One student replied, “This isn’t like you”.
-Outstanding comparative analysis of the United States government.
-The second student this year came into AP U.S. History from another school and said “I don’t know what an FRQ (Free Response Question) is”.
-Spent Economics talking about the Factors of Production involved in making a pizza. All the students got hungry and cursed me for talking about pizza.
-I called everyone that liked pineapple on pizza a Communist.
-Homemade Clam Chowder for lunch from the school cafeteria.  It is the second best I’ve tasted next to Spud Point in Bodega Bay.  I kid you not.
-I find out the County Office of Education lost my student loan forgiveness paperwork…..two months ago.
-I then find out that it wouldn’t have mattered because to get your loans forgiven, your school has to suck.  We don’t suck enough.  Yes, I realize that sounds bad.
-By the way, we are in the fifth year of Program Improvement, but my school is not bad enough that I can’t get some help on my student loans?  Fuck off No Child Left Behind.
-Go to Starbucks and find out that a former student was promoted in Governor Jerry Brown’s office.  I leave Starbucks beaming.
-Basketball game where the energy is there along with the turnovers.  We lose.  And the knife in my gut turns and turns and turns…..
-Wife shows up and watches the game.  She brought dinner and is cool as hell.
-Upbeat announcing of varsity games is tough after a loss.  Do it anyway.
-We have a player named Cesar Mendoza.  Santa Rosa has a player named Nolan Chavez.    I announced that Cesar Chavez is at the free throw line.  The crowd has a good laugh and I get the urge to eat table grapes.
-After-game drink at a local pub.  I face-palm most of the night but get drinks bought for me.  Meet parents of some of my students.  Try to be upbeat.
-Go home and writhe in bed for an hour thinking about the loss.  Asleep at around 12:30.
-Wake up, make a practice plan to work on turnovers during the week, and gain some perspective.  I have another 25 years of this so I might as well kiss my wife good morning and chill out.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Another suggestion about dumping bad teachers

On a more spiritual level, John Spencer made some recommendations about how to weed out the good teachers from the bad using the time tried measure of predestination.  I only half jest because I’ve heard of this before, the idea that teaching is a “deeply human endeavor”, and I’ve always been kind of on the fence on whether or not teaching is a genuine calling.  Did God already have it out for me to get into the classroom and try to bring positive change to society?  Was my early desire to be an air traffic controller simply a passing fad that was brought upon by an childhood dream of watching airplanes all day?  Who knows.

  Take away the Teacher's Guides and if they claim that they are unable to teach, they are right.  They can't. As long as you're at it, take away the standards and the curriculum maps.  Any decent teacher should be able to know what is vital in his or her content area.

You know what happens when you take away standards and curriculum maps in today’s education climate?  You get fired.  Do you know that we are supposed to have a standard on the whiteboard every single day of this year, addressing it before every class (thanks stupid ass Program Improvement)?  We might know what is vital in our content area, but that doesn’t mean it is supposed to be what is taught.  There is a difference.  For instance, do you know how much Personal Finance is in the California Economics Standards?  Zero.  That’s right.  In the ultimate subject about choice there are no references to a student’s ability to make financial decisions or deal with credit.  What is “vital” and what is “required” are often different.  On the Teacher’s Guides, I’ve never opened one.  I ignored the classroom model assignments in the Credential Program and instead followed the models of successful teachers at the schools I’ve been at.  Add a dash of personal flair, opinions from the students, and recommendations from good administration, and viola, you can burn the guides in the fireplace.

Take away the computers.  Tell them that there's no electricity.  Even if it's a computer class, there's still a lesson to be learned.  If they can't teach without the gadgets, then they aren't teachers. They're technicians and they have no business in a classroom. 

DIE HIPPIE SCUM!  YOU CAN TAKE MY COMPUTER FROM ME WHEN YOU PRY IT OUT OF MY COLD, DEAD HANDS YOU WALDORFIAN COMMIE!  Ahem.  A tool is a tool is a tool, and the electricity part is just another tool that can help.  I would say that this also delves into a weird area for the beginning teachers that have the opportunity to engage students by integrating technology in the classroom.  It is the rare breed that can simply engage using direct instruction and the ditto machine.  Still, the focus should be the teaching, not the tool.

Take away the School Discipline Program and have the administrators leave for a day. If they can't lead a class without the intervention of an administrator, they probably need to leave.

The only time I have administrators get involved in discipline is when I send kids for Attendance Contracts or when a parent calls angry that I disciplined their child.  Yeah, it would be nice that administration would never get involved in running a classroom, but sometimes it has to happen.  I think part of the teacher support is knowing that the administrators are there are are ready to back you up.  That gives you better confidence to management the classroom in the way you see fit.  When the support isn’t there, teachers start playing it safe, and kids pounce.  By the way, that Spencer’s statement would work nicely in a school that has motivated, driven students.  Bring that to Oakland or Richmond and you might have some issues.

Take away the grades and get rid of the homework.  Toss out the token reward system and the points and the gold stars.  If they claim that they can't motivate a class without these things then they're missing a big part of what it means to motivate.

Agreed, and then stare down the vengeful wrath of parents that want proof that little John and Sally deserve their grade.  Spencer is right on with this statement.   Not only should I be able to punt away grades and homework and “points” and incentives, I should be able to assess a grade with any of that crap.  I’ve been doing this for ten years.  Do you honestly think I can’t tell you who is excellent (few), who is average (most), and who is lazy as hell (some)?  Of course I have a question also for John.  Is he na├»ve enough to believe that taking all of this away and putting a good teacher in the classroom enough to motivate all the students? 

Take away the classroom for a day and have the teacher lead a group of ten kids.  Meet outside.  I don't care where.  A lake, a river, a mountain, a busy intersection of the city. If the teacher can't see how the subject connects to life and struggles to get a point across without a Word Wall or a chalkboard or a set of worksheets, then the teacher is missing the point of education.

Ahhhh, relevance.  So much is depends on the ability to make the subject matter mean something to the students.  Within the first week of college, my 20th Century History teacher Ty Benoit (who happened to also be my 8th grade History teacher too) told me that good teachers can’t simply be passionate about History, they need to be able to make connections with History and students, and those connections have to mean something.  I love teaching Government and Economics because it is relevant, interesting, and people can leave class not wanting to Major in Economics, but being able to figure out what’s going on and hold a conversation about it.  Best comments I get all year are from parents that tell me that my class creates fantastic discussions at the dining room table.  Now that is cool.

I buzzed around John Spencer’s site a little since he’s new to me.  It’s interesting.  Like must of us, he’s a lot passionate, a little bit unrealistic, totally into working hard, and totally not into the direction education is going. 

Sounds good to me.  Now let’s cut off his classroom electricity…..