Friday, December 30, 2011

Corporate sponsorships and the Easter Bunny are dangerous to students

In a time when school budgets are getting slashed and extra curricular programs are being slowly destroyed it would make sense to reach out to the business community for a little support.  You know, make connections, build relationships, open opportunities for students, provide some revenue enhancements…..

Wait a minute.  Revenue enhancement?  Do you mean corporate sponsorships at a school?  HOW DARE WE EXPOSE LITTLE JOHNNY TO A COCA-COLA LOGO!

In a recent study by the National Education Policy Center, it was stated that corporate sponsorships limited a student’s ability to engage in critical thinking.  In the brief it explains that Johnny’s value judgments will be corrupted by the one place advertising is not common (which is untrue) and that simply marketing a product sends a message that the school is willing to sell out aspects of higher level thinking to promote a consumer culture that doesn’t want you to think.  Basically the mission of the school is to educate and the mission of the corporation is to enhance their profit margin, and the two missions conflict. 

There are two problems with this hypothesis.  First is the idea that children are somehow exempt from marketing when they step on a school campus.  Never mind that every textbook, pencil, and many school posters show corporate names and logos (Scholastic or Pearson or Prentice Hall), the students themselves are the most influential billboards for corporations.  It is not a coincidence that the most marketed to demographic is the American teenager since in just takes one opinion leader to create a trend that could involve thousands of potential customers.  That kind of marketing has been around for decades and there hasn’t been much movement towards clamping down on that aspect of consumerism.  

The second problem is the continued perception that schools are somehow spineless to create contracts with corporations that benefit students.  If the school’s fundamental concern is education then why not create a sponsorship policy that reflects that?  Demand that the contract reflect opportunities for kids that goes beyond money for advertisements.  Some school districts are doing that now and colleges have been doing it for a long time.  And while some corporations might try and play hard ball, insisting that the marketing has to be this way or that, the school always has a real neat option.  No.  But if the corporation is smart and realizes that hundreds or thousands of potential customers (and employees) are there, they’ll work with a school district to create a plan that benefits everyone. 

In the end the main reason why many tear into corporate sponsorships is political.  School boards are made up of people that often show political bias in decision making.  The lone negative vote when Santa Rosa dealt with sponsorships was going to vote “no” regardless of the benefit to the schools.  Wal-Mart could cure cancer, solve the national deficit, and film a better ending to the X-Files and that vote would have still been “no”.  So much for common sense public policy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Avoiding the Terrible Teacher

I hit more “Read Later” buttons for Instapaper on Cool Cat Teacher’s blog than any other.  Take away the fact that she works towards integrating technology and what you have is a woman who could probably be considered one of the more competent Master Teachers to anyone that cares to listen.  Ms. Vicki Davis (Cool Cat’s real name) has the gift of taking something intricate and complex (like teaching), and simplifying it down to its basic thought.  In the whole edublogsphere her words could be considered downright profound because teachers often miss the more basic ideas of running a classroom.

It was Cool’s post on the Terrible Teacher that got me today.  In it she describes the ten things that a teacher does that could classify them as “terrible”, ranging from monotonous instruction to teachers who take cell phone calls in class.  They ten things are simple in theory but I find that I observe them time and again in my own setting, and it is a clear sign that teachers are still a big part of the problem.  In the past couple of weeks I’ve seen a teacher instruct from behind a desk, a teacher take cell phone calls during class, and I was told by a student that multiple teachers regularly say that they hate their job.  All of that enrages me because it not only hurts the kids of those teachers, it kills the image of the profession. 

Check and see if you do any of Vicki’s Terrible Teacher Ten.  If you find yourself straying into any of the categories, change it.  Yes, it really is that simple.    

Friday, December 23, 2011

Um, next time gift me some real estate.....please..

I have to be honest.  I completely forget about gifts from students at Christmas time.

But when they show up I get a really big smile because it's kinda one of those time honored traditions that is a one of the perks of being a teacher.  You know, the apple on the desk kind of thing that shows some appreciation from either the student or the parent of the student (who knows).

Unless you live in Alabama, where if you are an illegal immigrant giving a gift to a teacher, apparently both can be charged with high crimes and executed on New Years Eve.  Yes the season of giving has been toned down in the Heart of Dixie because some in the legislature feel like teachers should be equal to lawmakers; even though teachers have no political power, make less money, have worse health benefits, and don't get the opportunity to sleep around with college aged interns.  The state of Alabama has instead listed the acceptable gifts for the teaching profession

1) Fruit baskets, homemade cookies, etc.
2) Christmas ornaments of little intrinsic value
3) Coffee mugs filled with candy or of a holiday nature.
4) Any item that the teacher may use to assist him/her in performing his or her functions as a teacher, such as notebooks, school supplies, etc.
5) CDs or books of a nominal value, scarves, etc.
Maybe "homemade cookies" needs to be looked at with more scrutiny, because in Mendocino County all homemade products have the potential of making you see monkeys on ceiling.  Christmas ornaments of "little intrinsic value" is interesting.  "Any item assist a teacher in his/her....functions".  Well, I use a laptop more than any other item.  That would really help.  "Books of nominal value" sounds good.  But since this law is supposed to discourage gift cards it means that my Amazon card or Mendocino Book Company gift certificate might be in Jeopardy.  And why the hell are books and scarves in the same category?  I find it funny that teachers and students are being put in the same relationship as politicians and lobbyists.  Ok, I don't find it funny.  Instead I find that gives me more validation on why I will probably never visit Alabama, and why the North won the Civil War.  Any state that makes a law this stupid doesn't deserve its own historical social status.

This year less than five percent of my students left me a gift.  The most gifted items were homemade goods (I have yet to see monkeys) and little nick-nacks.  I have to admit that my favorite was a gift certificate for the local book shop, which clearly shows that I'm a nerdy teacher because I also teach sons and daughters of winemakers.  I'll let you think about that for a second.

I have yet to see an attempt by a student to buy off grades, even during the holiday season.  This isn't to say that I haven't tried.  Being an Economics teacher I regularly remind students that I can be bought for the right price.  Since I would probably be fired and my reputation tarnished for life, and I would need to be comfortable for a long time, I tell students that somewhere in the tens-of-millions range would be appropriate for whatever grade they deem fit.  They scoff at the number and call me unreasonable.  From now on I can say "Hey, you can always move to Alabama."

Merry Xmas

I really didn't know an appropriate title for this post other than Merry Christmas, partially because apparently it's not politically correct to say "Merry Christmas" any more.  Seems like those of other faiths or none (or my infinitely sensitive Jedi faith) are routinely offended by a day that is supposed to celebrate the birth of a carpenter (that most don't care about) instead of celebrating what most Americans should be celebrating; buying useless gifts for people that will probably return them and dreading family get-togethers.  So if the title happens to offend you this holiday season, just wait until you open your gifts from Wal-Mart.

I'm in the midst of the yearly Christmas Road Tour, coming this morning from Ashland, Oregon.  We'll be heading back home via Chico to visit more family, briefly hang out with our beautiful cats at home, and then hoof it out again for more family.  Since I just got out of school two days ago and have been basically driving ever since, I could use a day to do, well, nothing.

The end of school brought a smile to my face when about half the students that came to me with Short Term Independent Study contracts chose instead to delay their trip until Finals were complete.  That makes me happy.  Very happy.  They instead participated in Mock Congress, were very involved, got the Finals review, and completed the Final with a much better chance of success than if they were to have left for a month and taken it upon return.  Those that left?  Well, I can't say that I'm very optimistic about not only the end of Government, but also the beginning weeks of Economics that they will miss.  One out of the half dozen has remained in contact via the Internet.  One.  And she's trying her ass off to keep up while being out of the country.  I totally admire that.

I had my first Finals cheat this year.  Initially I thought it was a phone but it ended up being a cheat sheet.  How to did I deal with it?  I stepped to a corner of the classroom and asked the student if cheating was taking place.  After initially denying the allegation, a confession was made and the student retrieved the paper.  I calmly went back to the desk and allowed the student to finish the Final.  Afterwards I told the student that the Final would be scored a zero.  You might ask "Why have the student Finish?  Why not make the consequence immediate?"  With the Final about a quarter over I had to ask myself if I wanted the incident to be a complete distraction to the other 30 students.  The measure was taken for the good of the class and the minor debate about whether or not a zero on the Final was "fair" was done when class was over.  I think it was the right move.

I have two and a half weeks off, which really aren't weeks off of basketball (which resumes in a week) and are not timed very well with my wife's school district (which returns in a week).  Maybe I'll catch up on some blogging.

By the way, our basketball team is 10-2.  Kinda cool.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Taking kids on regular field trips is exhausting for me.  I worry like a mother and watch like a hawk.  As mellow as some people tell me to be I always come back to the fact that I’m responsible for someone’s child and that my job could very well be on the line if something goes horribly wrong.

Now take that feeling and start multiplying it, because that’s where I’m at tonight.  I’m doing my annual basketball overnight tournament trip to Napa…….well the tournament is in Napa while we stay in Fairfield.  It’s stressful and contains little in the realm of sleep.  Mix teenagers loaded up on junk all packed into little rooms and the recipe that comes out can be, interesting. 

I’m always considering taking students on weeklong excursions, either with some travel organization or creating something that I can do to go to Washington D.C.   The problem is that I can’t possible see myself enjoying the time because I would constantly be concerned about someone else’s child.  And not to sound like a crotchety old man but manners are not high on the priority list these days when dealing with many kids.  That means either I need to constantly remind them what good manners are about or enact consequences when the rules are blatantly broken.  It’s work.  A lot of work.

But at the moment I have a rare pause in my responsibilities.  A group of parents came down and everyone went their separate ways for dinner, which is a good and a bad thing.  Coaches probably know what I mean when I say “went their separate ways”  and that’s never a great thing for a team sport.  But it gives me a breather to blog and check out the Net.  What I really want to do is sleep.  I’m flat ass blasted tired.  But I’ve got a couple of hours yet to make sure that all the kids are accounted for and down for the night, even with the plethora of parents here at the hotel.

They are, after all, my responsibility.    

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A tad bit greedy

Know what I’ve noticed about colleges over the last few years?  They have a nasty habit of accepting students who are clearly not ready to attend their campus.  As acceptance letters role in I’m noticing that students with “decent” grades are being selected by by private colleges and major out-of-state institutions.  Sure, maybe entire body of work is worthy of consideration (sports, community service, making really spiffy Homecoming floats) but when colleges bitch that students are not prepared for college-level work and then saddle them with tens-of-thousands of dollars in debt, part of the problem must be the process at which students are selected.

I’m also noticing that Advanced Placement courses may not be holding as much weight in the selection process as I’m watching students that decided to forgo AP classes their Senior year get into the same colleges as those that decided to push themselves.  Granted, the AP students will be better prepared for college level work, but it sends the message that doing the extra leg work doesn’t necessarily equate to earning a spot in a great institution.  Hell, a student that got a D in a college prep Economics class and still got enrolled in a good out-of-state-institution.  Kind of hard to send the “not ready” message to colleges if all they seem to care about is the tuition. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011


December is an interesting month. 

College applications are usually finished by now, so many of my more proficient Seniors are more focused.  The end of the semester is also only a few weeks away, and that ends up making everyone stand up a little straighter and listen.  But along with the increased engagement comes a myriad of other challenges as Winter makes its appearance. 

In what can only be called unprecedented, eight students came to me last week with a Short Term Independent Study form.  Two were going somewhere for an increased vacation (one actually said “Disneyland”) and six were head to Mexico, all looking to miss 2-3 weeks total one either side of Winter Break.  At this point I’m fairly exasperated with family members that pull kids for month long vacations, and that’s where Edmodo has come in handy.  Students must have the organizational fortitude to stay with the class and be prepared to take the quizzes and Finals upon return.  The problem is that almost none of them do and that creates a line of F’s that create more problems down the road.  I’ve talked to the counselors about it and they are just as frustrated.  After everyone and the Easter Bunny telling them that it’s a bad idea, the parents are putting their foot down and saying “I don’t care what you say, they are going”.  This is why I tell all of my Short Term Independent Study students that most of my kids that leave for that length of time fail the course.  They nod of course and I rarely hear from their parents.  The one time I heard from the parent was a mother that went off the hook when I refused to assign packet work.  Afterward she yanked the kid out of class, put her on permanent Independent Study and that’s the last I heard of her.  So much for educational priorities.

The good news is that those students in my classroom are starting to create some excellent work.  Government Mock Congress bills look really nice with students branching out in much more thoughtful directions than the usual lowering of the drinking age, and legalizing marijuana.  This year includes bills about doctor-assisted suicide, requiring schools to have solar panels for football lights, creating stronger laws against the ownership of exotic pets, and the taxation of ammunition.  My Economics students are creating solutions to economic problems in and around Ukiah.  It’s called the Ukiah Economic Development Project and it has replaced my old Economics Expo project where students created a business plan.  Instead students must answer the question “What can we do to make Ukiah a more desirable place”?  They then create an entire online report (paperless) around the problem, the solution, and a description of the town.  Students are working on local employment, increasing tourism, what to do with vacant buildings, and the economic impacts of banning plastic bags.  I’m really proud of the effort because the students must relate the problem to the economic concept of scarcity.  The group that is dealing in the plastic bags originally did so for environmental reasons but are now really pushing themselves by addressing scarcity and positive/negative externalities to all parties involved. 

Week-and-a-half left as I prep for Finals and ready the team for a tough tournament in Napa.  Christmas vacation, and all the driving that comes with it, is just around the corner.      

Coaching Situations

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Talking basketball on my blog isn’t the safest thing these days.  Out of all the things I’ve ever discussed on this thing, basketball has gotten me in more trouble than anything else.  Funny how that works. 

Certain things have made me reflect on basketball, again.  One is the forced resignation of Maria Carrillo High School girls’ coach Steve Azevedo.  I didn’t know Steve personally but I gathered he was a coach of the old school order; mentally, physically, and emotionally demanding.  Well, it looks like the old guard of coaches is being forced to change their ways or risk the wrath of parents who are angry that their darlings are not getting the playing time.  Parents of players actually hired an attorney to look into whether they had a case against the girls basketball coach, prompting Azevedo to leave his position and prepare a response to the allegations. 

It’s a sad situation.  I’ve dealt with these things in the past and it’s often a cross between weak coaching and weak administration.  There’s been times when I’ve probably been too much of an aggressive blowhard and there have been times when certain admirations have capitulated to parents that have nothing better to do hunt for coaches.  Thankfully things have changed over the last few years.  Since I took the JV position, I’ve become much more in tune with teaching basketball than simply “coaching” it.  I’ve also mellowed in terms of letting things that are being said bother me; I’m basically at a point at which I think I’m a pretty good coach and confident in my abilities.  But I think proactive parent relationships are a big, big help.  Parents who have kids coming into my program already know that I’m intense, demanding, and require things like dedication, hard work, and a shirt-and-tie on game days.  I also have a parent meeting early in the year in which I explain that I’m loud, direct, and will constantly push their child.  I tell them that I will never talk about playing time and team management, but that everything else is totally transparent and that without them we can’t be a successful program.  I think we have established an excellent core of parents who really go the extra mile on driving kids, staffing the snack shack, and just attending every single game.  It’s made the last six years pretty dog-gone enjoyable. 

I think the main reason I’m having so much fun is because at this point in my life I can live without basketball.  I know, it sounds weird.  But I’m very content with my job as a teacher now and basketball is just as important as APUSH or Comp Gov or Econ.  If one goes by the wayside, I still have a massively fulfilling job working with kids.  Winning is fun (and lord knows I detest losing) but the whole thing is learning.  And that’s pretty cool.   

Saturday in Willits

Well it’s that time of year.  On the second weekend of December for the last eleven years I’ve spent this Saturday in Willits, playing a game early in the morning and then again in the evening.  I don’t bother taking the 30 minute drive down the hill back home because it forces me to find wifi and sit and do homework, unless I blog. 

I’m currently in what could be considered the typical Mendocino coffee house hangout.  Counter-cultural feel with “organic” stuff on the menu that is fairly overpriced, ok taste wise, and wholly unreliable.  Right now I’m trying to down an organic chocolate milkshake which tastes more like a protein shake and is the consistency of  cough syrup.  I won’t be posting this at the coffee place because the “free wifi” (the reason I came here) is out.  It would have been nice to have known this before I spent $6.50 on a chocolate shake.  At least the Ray Charles in the background is nice.  And the people (like most in mellow Mendo hangouts) are really nice.

We won our first game last night and our morning game, which puts us in the championship game at 7:30 tonight.  It’s nice to also hear that the varsity Wildcats are playing championship ball in Healdsburg tonight as well.  Hopefully we can bring some hardware home for the school this weekend!