Sunday, October 30, 2011

Merit Pay for attendance

I got this from Joanne Jacobs (check the Blog Roll).

At Wendell High School, teachers will receive merit bonuses based on the percentage of parents who show up for the conferences.

Teacher bonuses, which will be distributed for the first time in 2012, can be based on a variety of factors, such as test scores and average daily attendance rates. Both district and state goals must be met.

Wendell Superintendent Greg Lowe said his district decided to base teacher bonuses on parent participation in high school conferences because it’s been a problem in the past.

So it looks like it’s time for to start offering extra credit for kids that get their parents to show up in Idaho.

I’m trying to figure out how this would be measured in my case.  So in my Advanced Placement courses I’ll probably get near or over 50% attendance, while I’ll only get about 20% attendance (at the most) for my college prep courses, and I’ve had none show up when I taught Introductory level courses for struggling learners.  Hmmmmm…..

Economists call this a perverse incentive.  It will be another example to slap on the counter of why experienced teachers don’t want to teach classes with struggling learners.  On top of the fact that Intro level classes have more discipline issues, less support, increased likelihood of Second Language Learners (therefore, more scrutiny), and increased risk of personal loss (IEP implementation), now you throw in the radical idea of basing a person’s pay on whether or not a parent who might not be living up to their end of the education bargain will take a seat in your classroom. 

Thank God my wife and I decided against moving to Idaho

Coaching profanity

Profanity has no place at all in sports.  Respectable coaches never use profanity and those that do are simply reverting back to some semblance of egotistical Neanderthalism where male dominance can never be disputed.  Players don’t respect coaches that use profanity and never find motivation in swearing tirades that more-often-than-not tear down a kid’s precious self-esteem. 

Ok, now that the politically correct answer is complete, and I’m done smirking at it, the reality can be discussed.  Nobody should be spewing f-bombs left and right, but this idea that Shawn Abel should lose his job coaching football because he went ranting at half-time in the locker room is a tad bit ridiculous.  For those not in the know, Abel was recorded by a player and his comments were put up on YouTube for the world to witness.  The fake outrage is nauseating.  People are condemning the coach for damaging the frail sensibilities of high school students, as if he called them the worst names in the universe while talking bad about their mom.  Most of the complaints are coming from people who can’t believe someone would use that kind of language in an educational setting. 

Reality is that most athletes will tell you that they have heard this before.  Coaches sometimes use profanity because it further emphasizes a point; and no it doesn’t mean the coach is either bad or uneducated.  I don’t condone using profanity because of two reasons.  First, the political climate is so idiotic about being “correct” that every little thing that you say is analyzed.  Second, I felt like when I did use profanity during my younger years that it wasn’t effective in promoting my message.  That’s not to say it doesn’t work for someone else, it just doesn’t really work with me.  So I work really hard not to use swearing as a way to convey my message; although I have to admit that I might whisper a couple to things on the sideline when I’m away from everyone. 

I think profanity has become too much of a big deal overall in society today.  Those faux offended care so much about what words are being used that they fail to actually listen to the message.  And while Coach Abel might have been wise to tone it down a touch, there has to be something else to the situation because profanity in high school locker rooms should shock, well, nobody.  In fact it is often ignored and occasionally rewarded.  I just got done watching Prayer for a Perfect Season, an HBO documentary about Kevin Boyle’s 2010-11 basketball team at St. Elizabeth High School in New Jersey.  In the documentary you hear Coach Boyle swear at practice, in the locker room, and absolutely go Eddie Murphy style on the sideline and in game huddles (right in front of fans).  And you know what the coach from St. Liz gets for using profanity?  A $125,000 pay raise, a car and a new home in Florida (all paid for), and the distinction of being 2011 Naismith High School Coach of the Year. 

Now that’s profane.        

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Not easy teaching gay

The Los Angeles Times is not the only one to report it.  Looks like the new California law that requires teaching Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender studies in the classroom is meeting some resistance, and not because teachers are anti-homosexuality either.

“…..teachers and administrators are flummoxed about how to carry out a new law requiring California public schools to teach all students — from kindergartners to 12th graders — about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans in history classes.
……Educators across the state don't have much time to figure it out. In January, they're expected to begin teaching about LGBT Americans under California's landmark law, the first of its kind in the nation.”

I addressed this back in July when the law first made headlines and I’ll say it again; this is politically correct crap.  Lower primary grade teachers are right to be concerned about teaching sexuality with kids and secondary history teachers are right to ignore this law and teach history.  When history involving gays and lesbians is important (Stonewall, Reagan’s treatment), then it gets included.  Otherwise, why give it so much thought?  By the way, I’m not speaking from a Grace “homosexuality is a destructive lifestyle” Callaway perspective either.  She’s clearly an idiot.  I’m just saying, if you want particular historical items addressed in the California Standards, put them in there.  Or, let the historians decide what’s important. 

Oh, and I’m still waiting for that transgender historical figure that I should include in my history class.  I asked for it in July and have received no response.  

Because Art and Music don’t pay da bills, that’s why

I really appreciate what Art, Music, and Foreign Language bring to the table in terms of a complete education.  It addresses needs to the soul and in some instances can create things often seem other-worldly and beautiful.

And with the exception of some foreign languages, it is fairly worthless in terms of income.

So California is passing AB 1330, a law that has Artists, Musicians, and language junkies enraged.  According to the San Jose Merc:

A new law that enacts a seemingly small change, allowing students to count one vocational class as credit toward graduation, has both supporters and detractors predicting a major shift in high school education.

Backers depict AB 1330 as a start toward teaching students job-market skills, through courses such as keyboarding, medical assisting and metal shop. The law goes into effect for the 2012-13 school year.

So what we are doing here is adjusting the requirements to graduate high school to actually mean something to students that don’t see relevancy in “college prep” liberal arts classes like art and music.  While these teachers might be right in being concerned with funding for arts and music, I think it is quite disgusting the amount of arrogance shown by some that assume being “educated” means you need to take German, ceramics, and learn how to play the trombone.  The state has shown no doors for those that won’t go or graduate from college (you know, the other 75% of the population) and that needs to change, now.  The demand for workers is out there, but we are continuing to show students the areas of demand. 

And don’t get me wrong.  Students should be guided into learning Spanish if they live in California because it makes you more marketable.  But we continue to push this idea of “do what you love” without being honest about the job prospects of those about to enter the work force.  Theater Arts are fantastic, but it is one of the worst paying degrees over the lifetime of the degree holder.  And check this out by Fareed Zakaria in Time Magazine:

    “Perhaps the most crucial measure of our ability to compete in a global economy is our educational attainment, especially in science, math and engineering……In 2004 only 6% of U.S. degrees were awarded in engineering, half the average for rich countries. In Japan it’s 20%, and in Germany it’s 16%. In 2008–09 there were more psychology majors than engineering majors in America and more fitness-studies majors than physical-sciences majors.”

I’m not against Art, Music, and Foreign Language, but we need a serious reality check if we are truly going to meet the needs of those simply graduating from high school.   Often these are the same teachers that complain that students are “dumped” into their classes because there is nowhere to put them.  Well, now we can bring relevance to their high school day and when they come to Art class, it’ll be because they want to be there. 

Fury, and a retest?

The last AP U.S. History test was a disaster.  The highest grade was in the low 80s and the class average was a cool 66% percent, with absolutely no chance for damn A.  Not even close.  This test should have had a ten percent higher rate.  It was pre-Revolutionary War through the ratification of the Constitution for Christ sake.  Some of these questions had information that was not only from the textbook, Hippocampus, and my notes (that we go over in class and online), but should have come from the good old 8th grade history class (Shot Heard Around the World?  Hello?). 

After investigating some students notes two things are evident.  First, many students are simply not taking the time to read.  And second, those that are reading are not taking the time to take notes from that reading.  Both of those things are absolutely necessary for students to succeed in class.  Unfortunately some students fail to do these things which creates an immediate drop in quiz and test scores.  If you were excellent in standard U.S. History and only read, you’ll struggle to get a B in APUSH.  That’s what many of my students are finding out.

That’s another interesting note; only half my students in APUSH are actually from the 10th grade AP European History course.  That’s a good thing and a bad thing.  When asked, prior AP students said that they could only take so many AP courses and that Math and Science took priority over APUSH, which by-the-way has a reputation of being very difficult.  I have no problem with that.  Life is about making decisions and priorities need to be set.  But the interesting part is the number of kids who are taking AP classes for the first time or are taking an Advanced Placement Social Studies class for the first time.  It can seem quite overwhelming for someone to jump from something so focused on easy, standardized test questions to a mammoth course that requires extensive knowledge and analytical skills.

I’ll keep working on them of course.  But sense report cards come out Monday I’m expecting my class to continue to shrink.  One transferred out of the school last week and I’m looking at two not being very satisfied with their grades and possibly leaving fairly soon.  That’s what happens with open enrollment. 

Breaking News: Missouri finds Facebook creates pervert/pedophile teachers. UPDATED 10/23

In a move that will surely end inappropriate relationships between criminal teachers and under-aged students, the State of Missouri took the totally logical step of banning any kind of “social relationship” of the Internet kind.  Named “The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act”, the law has a very interesting passage that contains the following:
 Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child's legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.
Whoa.  I would be so illegal in Missouri.  Not only do I have students and former students as “friends” on Facebook, I have a domain name and website, plus my Edmodo account that the administration has no access to.  Ouch. 
The law was named for Amy Hestir, a girl who was molested by a teacher in Junior High School.  While I can’t imagine what Amy went through, I’d like to note that Amy is now 40, and the incident took place before the Internet was a public entity.  And Facebook, MySpace, and the idea of social networking was somewhere in the ether waiting to pop into the head of  an unborn Tom Anderson.  Yet the State of Missouri seems to think that having the same professional relationship online is somehow different than in person.  Hey, are there any KIPP schools in Missouri?  If so, doesn’t this sort of kill the idea of teachers giving students their cell phone numbers, because we all know that it can lead to inappropriate relationships…right KIPP?
Hopefully you could sense the dripping sarcasm in the first paragraph, because this stipulation of the Hestir Student Protection Act is pretty simply bad law.  In fact, the law is incredible anti-teacher, as if the profession has reached some kind of ugly status of pervert.  It’s another example of society not having the respect for education that is necessary for success.  There are over seven million teachers in the United States and a couple of bad apples do not represent educators’ ability to keep professional relationships with the students they teach.  But Missouri has decided to take the easy way out by trying to dictate the lives of educators who might want to use every tool possible to be a good teacher.  Hell, who needs to punish the criminals when we can simply attempt to leash everyone. 
And how does the state of Missouri enforce this law?  If my Facebook is private, the public isn’t going to have any idea who my friends are, that is of course if the Missouri state government is going to hire China-esque online watchdogs to hunt for inappropriate student-teacher contact.  And what of sites like Edmodo?  Those are designed for education, but are controlled by the teacher.  Are those illegal?  And “former students”?  Seriously?  So I can’t have online contact with a former student (who could be in their 30’s) on the off chance that I might have an inappropriate relationship?  I wonder who will be the first one to march up to the federal courthouse in Kansas City with a letter that says “Hey Missouri, mind your own fucking business”, and then proceed to use the Constitution completely destroy the word “former”.
In a time when government needs to do more to support teachers, Missouri has jumped on the bandwagon to vilify them.  It’s just another example of society not taking the education of children seriously. 

Updated 10/23
Apparently the law that originally had online contact banned has now been adjusted to let school districts develop their own protocols in dealing with teacher-student online relations.  The Kansas City Star reported that Governor Jay Nixon signed the new bill on Friday.  This doesn't necessarily change much, since nothing in the law prevents school districts from banning all online contact.  Expect lawsuits, only now expect a lot of them.   

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Missing higher thinking

I miss college. 

This week allowed for plenty of higher thinking for my students, but relegated my position to facilitator since I’m not interested in engaging into political debates with 17 year olds.  It’s really good for them.  But for the old teacher that enjoyed the stimulating political debates, it creates an ache to go back to the academic environment that pushed my thinking and writing.  Alas, I’m confined to discussing the occasional political issue on Twitter.  Not that it’s bad or anything, but nothing really beats being in the room with people who are engaging each other in the art of conversation. 

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I want to eventually gain a Masters Degree, preferably in subjects I’m very passionate about (History, Poli Sci, maybe Ed Tech).  But I’m looking at the financial cost/benefit of doing so and it looks fairly impossible.  If schools really want teachers with advanced degrees (and not this ‘buy your Masters of Ed’ crap) then the amount of pay sure doesn’t show it.  My school district offers something like an extra $700 a year for a Master’s Degree, and I believe $1,000 a year for a PhD.  That’s a joke.  That means if I spend the $20,000 it would cost to get a Master’s Degree, I wouldn’t even break even by the time I’m retired.  I’d be doing it for my own satisfaction, only I can’t justify spending that kind of dough on a piece of paper that says I’m supposedly smarter than the next guy.  I can just watch and follow along with Yale or Stanford’s open courses and bada-bing, I gain knowledge at no financial cost.  Not that it helps my finances though, because I can advance my skill set as far as I want and the school district isn’t going to do much to compensate me for it. 

Oh well.  Guess I’m going to have to continue my journey of self-study with my books, my Kindle, and the Internet. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Here’s the problem with “Social Justice”, UPDATED 10/18

According to Wikipedia:
Social justice generally refers to the idea of creating a society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being…..Social justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equality and involves a greater degree of economic egalitarianism through progressive taxation, income redistribution, or even property redistribution.
There is a misunderstood idea that only “Progressives” believe in principles of equality and values associated with human rights.  That social justice can only be promoted by those that are actively engaged in trying to rob Peter to pay Paul, whether it is by regulation, taxation, or some combination of policies that target groups of people that have become economically successful.  This is factually incorrect.  In fact throughout history nothing has brought forth more egalitarianism than the ideals of the free market.  While the rage of the anti-corporatists is felt in the United States, we need to remember that places like China, Brazil, and India have actually established stronger economic equality, and maybe even the seeds of strong democratic movements.  Are there winners and losers?  Sure there are, just like there are winners and losers in every economic and political system.  But which system has done better for a greater number of people?  Seriously, take a long historical look. 
I bring this up because of this article by an “ed activist” that insists that social justice be taught in the classroom because it is empirically correct, and it is not the classical “conservative” doctrine that is regularly taught in education.  In fact, he goes so far as to basically blame political conservatism for just about every negative thing to ever happen in history, including quite possibly the creation of Rebecca Black.  It bothers me that this person brings their politics into a classroom, politics that are so tuned to the plight that Zinn or Marx or Chomsky bring up that the overall perspective of history is lost.  His perception is that kids already have a skewed vision of history (most do) and that it is his job to pick and choose what is right and what is wrong.  Now, most logical historians can agree that there are absolute wrongs in things like the American slave trade, the Holocaust, and the lack of equal rights throughout history.  Question; why do we have to prove to kids that those events are wrong?  If we show kids primary source evidence, and we do our jobs to create critical thinking human beings, then doesn’t it compute that kids will come to that sane conclusion on their own? 
Then we move on to harder questions.  I would disagree with the blog post author that Columbus is an easy point for a genocidal maniac, or that the atomic bomb was murder, or that the Equal Rights Amendment was necessary.  I think students need to research that and come to conclusions themselves.  That way when complex political and economic issues are presented, the real social justice comes in the form of intelligent citizens, not from people that insist that their political spectrum is more intelligent than everybody else’s. 

Update 10/18:
You can check out this guy's response to this blog post here.  Look, it's obvious that the guy is passionate, but the guy is not passionate about kids and that's the number one thing to teaching.  You eat your agenda and teach critical thinkers, and if someone decides to follow a path that is opposite of your own political beliefs you are happy that they found something that THEY are passionate about.  I'm not about to get into a flame war with an activist because (as you notice) compromise doesn't exist, the other opinion must be wrong, and nothing should get in the way of fighting the power.  Note; this was Tea Party speak for the last two years.  So read up and enjoy.  I respect opinions and don't judge people because they believe in Marx or Smith or capitalism or socialism or some arrogant notion that their method of social justice is absolutely correct.       

Yes I teach about #Occupy. No, it is not earthshattering. Calm down.

It started with a simple question on the #sschat feed on Twitter from a teacher in Washington D.C.

I think we at #sschat should be just as fired up about #OccupyWallStreet & #Occupy in general as we were about Osama Bin Laden. Why quiet?

I mentioned that at this point it was really unknown if the Occupy Movement was going to become more than just another disgruntled “I’m pissed off at the world” protest.  It was at that point that a New Jersey teacher at the Occupy Wall Street protest chimed in and railed me for not supporting the movement of the 99%.  He blasted me that the movement was a moral imperative and he compared it to the Arab Spring, slavery, and the Civil Rights Movement.  When I mentioned that I was teaching the Occupy protests from a neutral position, he called me out for supporting evil and then told me he wept for my students.  Believe it or not I did not get that offended because I’ve heard the rantings of activism many times.  People get so wrapped up in what they believe that anything less is considered flat wrong.  That’s what an activist does, and that’s why it takes one hell of a cause for me to become an activist in anything. 

For those that are wondering what history thinks about the Occupy Movement, history will tell you later whether or not it matters.  History has a funny way of doing that.  It’s not my job to tell my students that the Occupy Movement is on par with slavery because it’s not.  It’s not my job to tell students that Occupy is on par with the Civil Rights Movement because it’s not.  History hasn’t decided yet.  And far be it for me to tell any 17 year old kids that Occupy is a just cause, or that the protests are simple outrage at nothing in particular.  My job is beyond simple activism for a simple agenda.  My activism is developing critical thinkers.  My activism is presenting as much information as possible and if the kids are passionate about Occupy they will join in and affect change.  If they aren’t, they’ll ignore it.  Last week we looked at a PBS Newshour focus story on unemployment, and then turned right around and watched man-on-the-street interviews of Occupy Wall Street protesters.  Kids were interested not only in the protest, but the economics behind it.  And while we do talk about the increasing income inequality, the current economic crisis is much more complex than that.  In Government class we talk about populism and the growth of large movements, and how policy is connected to economics. 

The closest thing the Occupy Movement relates to seems to be, oddly enough, the Tea Party Movement.  Both are angry at economic conditions, both blame government policies that they say enhance the bad conditions, and both contain mostly middle class, affluent people.  Neither is bad, neither is good, and eventually both will be history.  How much either matters is yet to be determined.   

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Negative Interaction

“What’s your name again?”

“Mr. Silva-Brown.  I teach Gov/Econ and AP Social Studies.”

“Oh right!  I’ve heard of you.”

“Which Government teacher do you have?”

“Oh I don’t have one.  I’m on Independent Study.”

“So….do you mind if I ask you how that’s working out?”

“Oh I love it!  I don’t have to wake up in the morning and everything!”

“That’s why you got on Independent Study?”

“Yeah.  I don’t do well waking up in the morning.  I mean, I get all cranky and stuff.  Plus I don’t focus because I’m on my phone all the time and I’m so into the social thing that school just doesn’t do it for me.”


“I still come to my electives though.  I mean, I like those.  I don’t like regular classes so why show up?  So I’m more on a hybrid Independent Study.”

This was not how I wanted to end my week, and this conversation occurred thirteen hours into my work day and three hours before I would leave campus.  Even though I shouldn’t be bothered by this after eleven years, it still makes me bristle.  And it made the parent next to me also bristle, and while I didn’t say anything, the parent made a comment about whether or not the kid felt ready to enter the real world for a job.  The question was never answered.

To get into Independent Study a student needs a “legitimate” reason that goes through the counseling department and I believe might contain one administrator.  I can’t see the group simply giving away Independent Study for a “I can’t get up” excuse, so that leads me to the conclusion that the student or the parent or both lied.  And it is a scary thought to think that a parent would actually capitulate to social media and teenage hi-jinks instead of trying to prepare this kid to be successful in all of society.  What you enjoy in life is all that is worth doing; Homecoming, Shop, Arts, Theater, Choir, Band, Facebook, SMS, football games.  That other stuff that disciplines you for the future, you know, accountability, is crap.  This is the perverse nature of Independent Study, a program that I’ve lost about ten Seniors to this year. 

I have a solution for students that are in Independent Study, including those that are in the totally idiotic “hybrid” Independent Study.  Don’t give them a diploma.  Since the education they are getting in Independent Study is not even close to the education they can get by actually being at school, why present substandard students with a  full standard diploma?  Present them with a Certificate of Completion with a notation that the student did not fulfill their total educational requirements but will graduate at 18 because society allows it.  I think that’s a great idea.  Then I think employers in town should ask to see the diploma of a potential hire, because God knows that the last thing an employer needs is a person that can’t get to work or stay off their phone while on the job.  A real diploma means at the very least a student is disciplined enough to show up.

In the meantime as long as we have cop out programs like Independent Study, I’m pretty much going to ignore anyone putting the blame on classroom teachers for not providing a rigorous education.    

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Sometimes it needs to be said

Curmudgeon has a little conversation with the rest of society about the state of Education.  It’s biting, off color, and completely and totally necessary reading about how passionate teachers are about changing the way things are going in the profession.  But don’t expect the pollyanish, faddy solutions to the problem.  Curmudgeon is more concerned about actually solving the problem to make education work, not making people feel all fluffy with useless banter.

By the way, I’m hiring both Curmudgeon and the great Mamacita to lead my movement for Education reform.  Only after you address their primary concerns about Education will you get real reform in the system.  Everything else is just weak filler.  

Steve Jobs owns you.


I have to admit that I was slightly sad that Steve Jobs died.  I mean, he was one of those inventors that I grew up with in the rise of the generation of the computer and the Internet.  It’s been Jobs versus Bill Gates for decades with one or the other seemingly looking for one-upmanship in computing, peripherals, and software.  It seemed like the end of a pretty marvelous era.  Then I closed my laptop and went to in to help my wife with dinner.  I didn’t weep.  I didn’t “RIP Steve Jobs” on Facebook, and I didn’t contribute to the multitude of tweets that made it seem like Gandhi had just passed into the next life. 

Steve Jobs won.  That’s pretty much the only way you can describe what happened to Apple since the mid-1990’s and the near collapse of the company…to right now.  Steve Jobs managed a corporation not only by creating innovative products, but by marketing the company to near perfection to a group of people that believe that Apple is somehow the antithesis of a corporate entity.  It is the company that perfectly caters to David Brook’s famous Bobo;  a combination of  bourgeois and bohemian.  The fairly new upper-middle class that combines the liberal idealism of the 1960’s with the self-centered attitudes of the 1980’s.  Apple is the icon of the post-materialist; a company that is more than the money.  It is an experience, a lifestyle, a symbol of what a company can be to a new and vibrant age of information and optimism.  And Steve Jobs crafted that image very, very well. 

It’s funny because I think that Apple users seem to forget that Jobs was really at the forefront of running the corporate side of the company for a long time.  It was Jobs that was out there reassuring shareholders at meetings.  It was Jobs that was out there insisting iTunes was going to prevent Internet piracy to protect digital copyright.  It was Jobs who instituted Digital Rights Management on music, refused to let go of his coding to open source networks, and would often get on Twitter and e-mail to blast critics of this product.  It was Steve Jobs that approved for Foxconn to manufacture the iPhone, and it was Jobs that had to deal with public relations problems around the multitudes of suicides at the factory in China.  Tasks by-the-way that were off-shored to an international location depriving American workers of employment.  In short, Steve Jobs and Apple were just as corporate as Microsoft, General Motors, Exxon, and Alcoa; only Jobs knew how to market to a public that was starving for a positive corporate image. 

In a few weeks I’ll wander into my AT&T Store and retire my iPhone 3G for a brand spanking new iPhone 4GS.  I’ll do so knowing full well that Apple will be making a profit from the fact that I am purchasing something I desire.  I’ll also know that I will receive major satisfaction from this good, just like I’ve received satisfaction from Bill Gates, Howard Schultz, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Henry Ford, and J.D. Rockefeller.  Know what Steve Jobs had in common with those six corporatists?

A whole hell of a lot.  

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


No other way to say it; summer’s over.  The air conditioning has been permanently turned to off, as have the sprinklers.  The patio furniture is tucked in the shed and chill of the morning makes for longer showers.  Yep, it looks like Fall is upon us.

That means Homecoming, again.  I tried to be nice about Homecoming this year, I really did!  But last week the half dozen, half asleep students who were working on floats, backdrops, and skits were only a taste of what was to come.  On Monday a full three quarters of my students were exhausted from staying up until three or four in the morning to work on the parade float.  Today that exhaustion was only tempered by a dress up day as pirates and cowboys, except for my fifth period class who was out of it because of the energy expended during the day.  I’m watching grades plummet, and I fully expect some Advanced Placement students to make an exit when Progress Reports come out in two weeks.  It’s unfortunate.  When I asked kids about how they can justify staying out until 3 a.m. on a school night, almost all of them said their parents make Homecoming Week the exception to the rule.  Well, ok.  We’ll see what happens when that exception takes a toll this week, and next week.  Then all the sugar, energy drinks, lack of sleep, and heavy Friday/Saturday partying catch up and you have days of sick kids who get further behind.  Yeah, as usual, this is going to be ugly. 

You’d figure I’d be more accepting of it as I have aged.  But the reverse has been happening, and more and more of my colleague tire of the yearly event that ruins a good two to three weeks.  With all the pressure teachers are under to perform, how can we constantly justify such a massive distraction?  And yes, Homecoming has been pared down in terms of events.  But it hasn’t changed the fact that this school still takes a large vacation from academics in October.  And no matter how fun it is, it makes teaching a whole lot harder.   

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Bless You Controversy

Back in the day, when students came home saying they got into trouble the parents would usually ask “what did you do wrong.”  Now when kids come home from schools not only are parents narrowing their eyes toward the teachers, some are actively looking at tearing down educators because their own boring, pathetic lives are tremendously unsatisfying. 

This brings us to the current controversy at Will C. Wood High School in Vacaville, California, about 90 minutes south of Ukiah.  The story goes that teacher Steve Cuckovich was conducting a test in class when  he ended up having to discipline his freshman students for repeatedly disrupting class by responding to sneezes with an overenthusiastic chorus of "Bless you."  The sneezer would then thank each giver of the blessing individually.  It was obvious that the students were distracting the class.  Even students within the class admitted that when they were interviewed.  Apparently the teacher then gave a small history lesson on the use of “bless you” in relation to sneezing and then the whole shebang spiraled right out of control.

Without really talking to the teacher or the principal, a parent of one of the students called the local Fox News affiliate, who instead of conducting some semblance of journalism, parked outside of Will C. Wood High and treated the issue like Jesus himself was being crucified by the school.  The issue went viral and the faith in public education in Vacaville went down the toilet because of some bored parent had nothing better to do than believe their teenage kid.  In actuality the problem was a class of adolescents being a pain in the butt.  Every teacher has had one of these group issues at one time or another.  Someone coughs and then the entire class goes on a coughing spree.  Someone’s phone starts to ring and the class hums or clears their throats in unison to protect the technology violator.  With freshmen it is more common, although there is no excuse at all for it to happen during a test.  25 points off?  Not a chance.  Distractions during an exam are an automatic zero on the exam and that is made plain and simple from the very beginning of class.

This is the kind of stuff that steers the best and brightest away from teaching.  It isn’t the pay or the long hours, it’s the fact that society has a problem with respecting education.  Obama can repeal No Child, and Brian Williams can hold a hundred town halls.  But nothing will change until parents have faith that educators are professionals.  This should have been a non-issue that was turned into a viral mess because a bored parent gained more traction than the teachers and administrators at Will C. Wood High School.  There is something seriously wrong with that.