Monday, May 30, 2011

Thank you Jim Lehrer

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Jim Lehrer announced his intention to step away from the news desk a couple of weeks ago.  The epitome of excellent journalism, Lehrer had been the driving force behind the PBS Newshour, which had begun as the McNeil/Lehrer Newshour when I started watching it in 1992. 

My first exposure to the Newshour was by Paradise High School Government teacher Carol Kirk.  We would not watch it all the time, but as the year went on we became more and more used to the “du-du-du” theme song and the Independent Television News reports from around the world.  When I did my student teaching, my job was to prep the tape that contained the Newshour, checking the focus stories to see if any were relevant to U.S. Government or Global Studies, and then to write down their point on the tape so it was easily accessible later in the class period.  Something I learned while working for Rex Moseley (my Master Teacher) was that at minimum the Newshour created a heightened level of curiosity, and that often led to discussions about relevant events and their connections to our subject matter.   I deemed it necessary for my classroom when I started teaching in August 2001. 

Students love it.  It takes awhile for the “inside politics” to make sense to the kids (like most of us).  But when the students learn some of the in’s and out’s of the political game, something as simple as a Sarah Palin book signing in Iowa starts to make perfect sense to them.  International events come alive and appear in context with the history I teach.  Finally all is presented talking up; meaning the Newshour avoids Lindsey Lohan crap and speaks to you like you are smarter than the average yahoo.  Students become connected to Jim Lehrer and when he was gone for an extended period of time in 2009, students became concerned.  Ray Suarez is nice, but he’s just not Jim.  This year’s kids have barely seen Jim, so their allegiance is pretty much non-existent.  Now that honor goes towards the rookie of the Newshour, Hari Sreenivasan.  Oh, and the new loyalty is very strong.  When Hari took off for two weeks earlier this year, my students insisted that Tweet the Newshour complaining that the substitutes were inadequate.  It was pretty funny. 

And now Jim Lehrer is off to do other things.  Sure he’ll be on occasionally on certain segments (Mark Shields and David Brooks), but the news desk on PBS just won’t be the same without him.  Jim brought us the news while making sure that we thought at a higher level for at least a few minutes each day.  I’m taking that and running with it. 

Thanks Jim!      

WTF, I’m supposed to teach???

R. Barker Bausell must have been born under a weird sign or something because he offered up a thesis to the problems of  education that makes too much damn sense. 

Teachers don’t teach enough. 

“….efficient teachers hewed closely to the curriculum, maintained strict discipline and minimized non-instructional activities, like conducting unessential classroom business when they should have been focused on the curriculum.”

In an absolutely shocking study, teachers that were efficient with class time actually had students that did better on standardized tests. Apparently not wasting the student’s time might actually help the student become more focused, more engaged, and in the end, possibly more learned.  Wow.  What an incredible surprise. 

I’d like to say that I’m efficient with my time, that I use it with purpose and that the time is valuable to student’s needs.  With Seniors, that becomes incredible tough to gauge.  They can look at you with disgust while at the same time believing that your class holds value.  It’s just the whole concept of high school that no longer holds value in their minds.  And some people might perceive classroom banter as useless and unnecessary.  I call it building relationships, and those relationships can get you through tough times during the year. 

Bausell also makes interesting recommendations to implement such a program. 

A focus on relevant instructional time also implies several further reforms: Lengthening the school day, week and year; adopting a near-zero-tolerance policy for disruptive behavior, which classroom cameras would help police; increasing efforts to reduce tardiness and absenteeism; and providing as much supplementary and remedial tutoring (the most effective instructional model known) as possible.

I like the ideas, but from the point-of-view of Ukiah High, some would have a near impossible time coming into practice.  For instance, we have shortened the school year because of budget cuts.  That kind of hurts the increased weeks and year argument.  And while I have no problem teaching more, I do have a problem teaching more without my specialization being appropriately compensated.  And tardiness and absenteeism is rampant at the present time; much of it willfully ignored by parents that think children are immune to the costs of wanting to do too much.  And we can’t hammer on attendance too much because they’ll end up going to a charter school where they get credits for simply showing up.  That’s one argument that Bausell seems to have missed.  Some charters are dogshit.  That leaves the near-zero-tolerance policy for disruptive behavior.  Ask any teacher.  We’d love it, but the climate of parents opinions of the teacher would make it look like we were picking on poor Oliver. 

In the end, it goes back to something that is missed in the Edu-Reform argument; does the community really want their kids in school longer.  Look at the evidence behind attendance and you might be quick to find that the tide is actually rolling against more instructional time, regardless of the public face put on the argument.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Coach Brown will not be chaperoning dances

Count me in with the group that pretty much refuses to have anything to do with high school dances.  In fact, I’m to the point where I laugh-out-loud at the very question of chaperoning a dance, even if it is asked by my students.  It’s kind of like asking, “Mr. Silva-Brown, would you mind putting your hand in this bowl of scorpions while Death Eaters come down and suck the soul out of you?”

This years MORP, PROM backwards, had the theme of Woodstock 1969.  MORP is traditionally the dance where people dress up and act goofy while trying to get in a dance.  As a historian, I was wondering what get-ups would classify as Woodstockesque.  On Saturday the pictures started to show up on Facebook.  I’ll take some of the failure as a History teacher for the outfits, I guess, because I don’t quite remember seeing rainbow colored get-up’s that made the girls look like they should be bringing people drinks in the Bahamas.  If they were really serious, everyone would have not showered or shaved for a week and the dance would have taken place in the rain on the football field.  Now that would be a real Woodstock dance. 

Mixed with the highly sexualized atmosphere is the constant “pre-gaming”, the act of drinking before going out for a night on the town.  Only students are pre-gaming before going to an event where they are actively looking for drinking.  This creates tension, needless game playing, and a much more dangerous situation for adults than is necessary for a Friday night.  Why deal with the risks?  Instead I can go eat sushi and kick back with my wife while watching a good flick.  Much more reasonable after a long week. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Just saying

So now that the media has picked up on the Superintendent survey, let me comment on what’s going on.  A few weeks ago, a survey was handed out to the staff that asked loaded questions about the job of the Superintendent.  The point of the survey was to show the school board that the teachers were frustrated with a variety of issues regarding our boss.  I didn’t fill out the survey for two reasons.  First, I don’t like the idea of anonymous surveys.  They are full of snarky comments that make teachers look like a bunch of old hags bitching about the quality of the soup at the rest home.  Second, there is no real legitimate political force behind an anonymous survey.  When the survey was first brought up, I dismissed it and recommended a simple vote of no confidence.  I won’t say how I would have voted, but I will say that a vote of no confidence holds a lot more weight by counting legitimate votes and making a simple, yet poignant political statement.  But I was ignored and this survey went out against the better judgment of many. 

I can’t tell you if the count is accurate or not.  I was not responsible for the survey and unlike a standard vote, it was not viewed by many responsible parties.  However I can say with strong confidence that Dr. Lois Nash is not entirely accurate with her statements in the newspaper. 

“Nash also questions the accuracy of the anonymous survey mailed to district teachers and feels it doesn't represent most teachers, but rather a small few in leadership within the California School Employee Association (CSEA) and the UTA.

"I think there is a small group who promote an adversarial environment within the district," said Nash. "I think most teachers are working hard to try and promote the highest achievement of our students."

That may have been true in the past, but it becoming increasingly apparent that a whole lot of teachers have passed beyond simply putting their heads down and trudging through a bad environment.  After we sacrificed over and over again, teachers now have a bad feeling that they are totally disengaged from the process of decision-making within the district.  And we aren’t talking about financial decision-making, we are talking about being a part of something that is so important that we have dedicated our lives to making it right.  And this is where Dr. Nash is might be mistaken.  I think the reason why this hasn’t come up earlier is because teachers were “working hard to try and promote the highest achievement of our students."  We were professionals that battened down the hatches and did our job in a rough environment.  Now even the most patient teachers are saying, “I can take the pay cut and the extra work, but I can’t take not being a part the conversation of what is good for students.”   

This week the district “found” one million dollars.  Apparently an accounting error has left a substantial amount of money on the table that will go towards, well, I have no idea what it will go towards.  I do know that money issues have created a massive amount of consternation within our district.  Some teachers think that the district is hiding money intentionally; along with the body of Jimmy Hoffa, the tapes of the fake Moon landing, and the evidence that Nancy Pelosi had an affair with John Boehner.  I am not one of those people.  However I watched my department scrounge for paper this week.  I bought my own scantrons this year because we had no money.  In fact, I’ve spent over a thousand dollars of my own money this year on my classroom.  I’ve had to tell my students “no” when they wanted to print in the computer lab many time.  I watched freshmen sports get cut, our consolers get overwhelmed with 500 plus students, and a request to replace out-of-compliance Advanced Placement textbooks denied.  I’m just saying…..

I usually stray away from local school politics for obvious reasons.  But when people start going to the paper and telling them how I think things are going, I get cross.  Want to know how things are going within our school district?  Ask a teacher.         

Why I didn’t not get involved in California’s “State of Emergency”

Last week was protest week for the California Teacher’s Association.  Around the state and at the Capital Building, protests sprang up to protest the absolutely absurd budget cuts that are coming our way if the California Legislature does not get its head out of its ass and vote to extend state taxes.  I did not attend a rally, create a blog post, or hardly even talk about the week’s activities.  Here’s why.

1.  AP testing, Comparative Government Final, teaching Seniors about investing and credit, spending entire prep on the phone with parents of potential Senior failures, preparing Economics finals, teaching Modern U.S. History in depth with APUSH, and basically, you know. working.  Who has time to drive down to Sacramento and get thrown in jail?

2.  Some of the protestors are crazy.  Yes, even Cindy Sheehan has brought her circus to Sacramento and don’t wish to be lumped into a group that includes people calling for the abolishment of capitalism and the rise of anarchy. 

3.  Part of me really, a very small part of me, wants to see this happen.  I want to see what happens when districts are forced into cutting 20 days off the school year.  I want to see how parents are going to react to the need for more child care, for less services for kids to get into college, and for the overall bad temperament of the teachers that will have taken a further 10% pay cut.  That would mean an overall 20% pay cut on my household, and that’s after a pay cut I just took this year.  No matter what you might think, teachers are human.  We’re asked to do more for less and spend our own money to teach your kids.  Eventually, teachers are going to get very resentful.

In the end, people in California (and around the country) are going to have to answer a simple question; how much are you willing to pay for the services you want?  Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Economist, and nearly every Sunday morning politico have stated that Californians have a habit of wanting exemplary government services at no financial cost.  In Education, that creates 35 students per classroom, 500 students per counselor, and an overall atmosphere that has many constantly looking over their shoulder.  You could say “deal with it”.  And I can say “Ok, but I’ll have a lot more concern about paying my mortgage than trying to get your kid to pass the Advanced Placement test.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Who’s fault is the F?

Much of my time these days is having conversations with parents about failing students or students that might have college aspirations put on hold because of a D.  I have yet to have a conversation that has been nasty.  All are cordial.  However, all also follow a pattern.

1.  First question is about extra work.  Somewhere along the line the system has created a safety net that allows students to fail for 3/4 of the semester and then allows them to make up that work within a couple of weeks.  I don’t play that.  The kids learn nothing and I get extra work.  I won’t work harder because the student spent most of the year on vacation.  About a quarter of the parents will then tell me that I’m the only teacher in the school that does not offer extra work.  I say ok.  What else is there?

2.  At this point the conversation delves into why the student is failing.  Nine out of every ten failures has to do with attendance.  I do very little homework.  I quiz like a madman.  In my class you have to show good knowledge or you haven’t earned the grade.  Upon explaining to the parent that their kid has missed chunks of my class, most immediately make an excuse.  “Yeah, but they are all excused.”  What the parent is saying is that either they excused the student’s absences or the student is 18 and can therefore sign themselves as excused.  What I say is that it doesn’t matter.  Parents immediately get defensive and accuse me of grading based on attendance.  I calm them down by inviting them to see their child’s grades online, where they will notice that I have no attendance related grades.  Students with poor attendance either miss quizzes and tests and don’t make them up, or don’t study while they are gone and fail them consistently.

3.  At this point I have navigated the excuse waters and we come to the question of “what can they do to graduate”.  My answer is A) Show up to class every day, B) Do all the assignments and do them well, C) Come to me if help is needed, D) There are no guarantees.  The last point creates temporary aggravation but it has to be said.  Otherwise it is assumed that a warm body that turns in crap will be enough.  It’s not.  And this is where I try to make it very clear not graduating high school is a reality. 

4.  Then comes the phrase “I need to get him/her to graduate high school.”  It is almost always part of the conversation.  It takes the responsibility away from the student and drives it into the hands of the parent.   

5.  The final part of the conversation is the venting.  Frustrations come out.  Family issues come out.  Lots of information that puts the students progress into context takes center stage.  Well over half the things I hear that students are telling parents is a lie.  That’s not new.  But the fact that parents are more apt to believe the teenager and not the teacher is a disturbing trend.  I’ve had parents insist that my attendance was wrong because they watched their kid walk out of the house every morning.  As if that’s a clear indication that the came to class. 

6.  The final piece is the necessity for constant updates.  Some call twice a week.  Other’s e-mail me for updates just as often.  Grades and attendance are available online, but they hardly get checked.  I don’t mind giving updates, but parents often want magical results in a few days.  I have to tell many that we won’t really know about their status until after the final.  It usually ends cordially. 

Some will go over me to the student’s counselor and attempt to exude pressure from that end.  Rarely does the issue go to the vice-principle, and when it does it is usually from a parent that has complained before. 

By the way, this attitude towards grade inflation and the mistrust of the teacher are both primary reasons why students are not making academic progress.  I’ve watched, with my own eyes, teachers capitulate under pressure to graduate a kid that clearly had not earned a passing grade.  It’s the easy thing to do and at the end of the year, who really needs the aggravation?  Well, I do I guess.  I’m about teaching kids about life, and this problem is not going to be excused in college or out in the workforce.    

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Parade of the Vendor Trucks

One of the most annoying things I constantly hear regarding the health of students is that it is school food that is that is making kids obese.  It’s as if school districts around the country turned on some kind of fat switch in the late-1990’s that made the typical American child inflate to twice the normal size.  This method of thinking is idiotic of course.  The amount of healthy choices at school are far more numerous than when I was being educated in 1992, and yet we seemed to maintain a physique that did not involve rolling out of the cafeteria door.  The fact that Americans have become more stationary and reliant on computers might, just might, have something to do with the obesity epidemic in this country. 

That and ice cream trucks.

Novato, California seems to have slaughtered the deadly sins of culinary salaciousness by eliminating those delights that tempt juniors sweet tooth. 

 The district has eliminated the sale of candy, soda and other junk food on school property, and has removed chocolate milk, beef and even juice from its elementary school menus.

The problem is that Adam Smith’s theory of self-interest has trumped the fat ban of the nanny state, and students have simply walked across the street to the waiting ice cream trucks and taco wagons for their meals.  Sensing an opportunity, the vendor trucks have now made it a daily ritual to park on the street and serve those that have chosen to spend their hard earned Marin County money (laff) on ice cream sandwiches and taquitos.  This infuriates the administrative legions of Novato city schools to no end. 

"Allowing ice cream trucks to side step (education) code and NUSD board policy by parking next to the sidewalk where students are allowed to go makes a mockery of the wellness policy."

Let’s be perfectly honest.  The mockery IS the wellness policy.  In fact, the whole trend towards only focusing on food is a complete travesty to the illusion that public education is serious about getting healthy.  Requiring four years of PE in high school would be a huge step towards getting healthy.  As would required PE classes (by actual PE teachers) in elementary school.  And strict focus on engaging and sustained physical activity in PE classes would also be nice.  Half the kids sitting in the bleachers texting their significant others is not sustained activity, no matter how sore your thumbs get.  It should be no surprise that the enabled Internet generation whose schools focus on Math and English are suffering from an obesity epidemic. The desire to hit the computer games and the Internet seem to be so attractive today that it is tragic to watch even talented athletes lose the desire to do something else. Over the last few years I’ve watched potential go down the drain as Xbox takes hold during the offseason.

According to the state of California, sixty percent of 9th graders could not meet the minimum requirements of the state fitness test. It was worse at seventy percent for 5th graders. The number one reason for obese kids is parents, pure and simple. They control what kids eat, how often they are sedentary, and the habits that nurture good nutrition. When I was a kid my diet sucked, but I was outside constantly. We biked everywhere, hiked everywhere, and played games around the neighborhood. Doesn’t anybody play football in the street anymore? The risk of scrapes and bruises too much for the little kiddies these days?  Maybe a little the blame needs to shift to that entity that engages in this constant educational hypocrisy.  Society.

And certainly stop blaming the taco wagon. 

Monday, May 09, 2011

Real Edreform

This is from the great Mamacita.  It is not my post, but it needs to be said, now more than ever. 

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Most teachers who leave the profession leave because almost all of the attention, most of the perks, most of the privileges, and most of the allowances are given to the students who least deserve it: the disruptive kids. In other words, these loud, bratty, obnoxious kids are being rewarded for their disgusting behavior, so why should they clean up their act? I wouldn’t. Not if doing my own thing meant I’d still get to have and do everything little goody two-shoes next to me got to have and do.

Secondly, many of the parents who are involved with the school are the parents of these same brats. School administrators fear negative PR, and to a principal or superintendent, negative PR is when a loud-mouthed parent with a shitty kid calls the newspaper office. Entitlement is the bane of our society’s existence, and it’s alive and well in our public schools.

“You WILL accept my child and you WILL give him/her a special lunch and you WILL treat him/her on a different level than all these other peon kids and you WILL hold his/her hand and you WILL allow him/her to break any rules we as a family do not believe apply to us. . . .” Lovely mentality, yes?

Or this:

“Trailer for sale or rent, or possibly just someone else’s the family is mooching, no phone, no pool, lots of pets, chain smokin’ beer-guzzlin’ shacked-up, in and out of jail, booze, grass, if that damn school tries to call me one more time I’m goin’ down thar and kick me some ass. . .” Lovely mentality, yes?

Or this:

“My kid will play in that basketball game tonight and I don’t CARE that the rules say a kid who’s failing any subject is ineligible.  Your rules are stupid, because that game is more important that a stupid subject like English or science, and I’ll go straight to the superintendent and school board if I don’t get my own way with this issue.”  Lovely mentality, yes?

What’s even worse is the fact that more often than not, going over the heads of the teacher and principal will all too often give these people their own way.

Me, personally, I think that if there are any perks to be handed out, they should go only to students who have earned them. No earn? No get. Ever.

Why should a student bother to behave himself if he knows he’s going to get a limo ride and a Pizza Hut lunch for bringing a pencil three days in a row? I wouldn’t.

Why would a student exert himself to do any work, or allow anyone else in the classroom to do anything either, if he knows he’s going to be passed to the next grade anyway? Yes, I am a firm believer in holding back any student who can’t do it, won’t do it, or any combination thereof.

I don’t want my tiny second-grade-size daughter seated next to a hulking ballistic cursing disruptive 15-year-old, but if everyone is REQUIRED to behave properly, there wouldn’t be any problems even then, now would there? Because while a student can’t help the “hulking,” there are no viable excuses for being ballistic, cursing, or disruptive. EVER. Any person of any age who behaves in such a way should be removed immediately, not at the end of the day but IMMEDIATELY, escorted out by the police if the parent can’t be reached, and locked away where he/she can no longer deny other children their right to an education. That our schools have lowered themselves to becoming daycare centers for kids who are not required to behave themselves is a national disgrace. The schools who allow it are a disgrace, the parents who allow it are a disgrace, and the kids themselves are a disgrace. That’s right; I’m labeling children. After a certain age, they know how nice people behave. Life is full of choices. CHOICES. Door #1: Thank you for being a nice person who behaves properly. You may stay and be educated, that your life’s choices might increase. Door #2: Are you sure you want this door? Absolutely sure? Very well. Get out and do not set foot near the school grounds ever again. You are bringing down the entire population of students. Good riddance. Billy Madison speech. Door #3: Whine. Scream. Curse. Threaten. Hire a lawyer. Make promises. We don’t care. Get out. And take your obnoxious kid with you.

If only.

In other words, disruptive bratty obnoxious kids are mostly a product of their home.

Teachers who say things like this are few and far between. Not because they aren’t thinking such things 24/7, but because it’s dangerous to speak out. Ethnicity, race, gender, and social levels have nothing whatsoever to do with this issue, but teachers who recognize the actual problem and try to do something about it are often accused of being racist, sexist, un-PC, heartless, “in possession of inappropriate knowledge,” etc. And often the biggest brats belong to the parents with the most political pull.  Just as often, the biggest brats belong to. . . . nobody.  In either case, brats are brats.

In other words, somebody screams “prejudice,” when the truth is, these teachers are speaking truth.

Until the bullies and the disrupters and the violent and the kids who have no respect for learning are removed from our schools, our schools can not be what the free public schools were meant to be: places where all who wish to learn, may learn all they wish.

It’s hard to learn when 25 of the 38 kids in your classroom have important Letters of the Alphabet in their files, prohibiting the teacher from requiring any work or proper behavior. It’s hard to learn when it’s so loud you can’t hear yourself think, and that awful boy next to you keeps stealing your stuff and hitting you on the arm and laughing. He can’t help it, poor thing, it’s in his IEP that nobody may do anything that would lower his self-esteem.  I do not believe that ANY child who is disruptive or violent for any reason should be allowed to prevent other children from learning.  Inclusion will only work for students who work at it.

On the first day of school, let the few simple rules be known and let the penalties for disregarding the rules be known. Let there be no exceptions to these penalties. Require a signed document from every family, admitting understanding of these policies. Require an additional signature under the paragraph that spells out the “no exceptions” policy. From Day One, Period One, expect and require good behavior from all students. Instantly remove any kid that chooses to be an ass. Ass-behavior is always a personal choice.

No document from home? No privileges for the kid. Not until it’s signed and filed in the office. Several copies, and one to the superintendent. Why should the child be penalized because the parents can’t get their act together for thirty seconds to sign a damn paper? Because that’s the only way some people can be persuaded to do much of anything. Life is hard. What if some parents don’t LIKE some of these rules? Enroll your over-privileged kid somewhere else then, losers.

Where should these kids be removed to? To be perfectly honest, I don’t care. Just get them away from the good kids. Don’t good kids have rights, too? I’m sick and tired of disruptive kids having the most rights. SICK AND TIRED of it. It’s long past time to give the majority of attention and all things positive to kids who choose to behave properly and kids who want to learn.

This is why most teachers who leave while still young, leave.  If you are not a teacher, it’s hard to comprehend the heartbreak these teachers feel: they love their students; they love teaching; they love every single thing about their jobs. . . except for the fact that they are required to endure  what nobody else in any other profession would ever consider enduring.  They’re required to watch the bright and promising students injured and taunted and threatened by “other kinds” of students, and they’re required to see those “other kinds” of students rewarded for things the nice kids do daily.  They’re required to give exceptions to the undeserving and nothing to the deserving.  After a while, their nerves are shot and their own self-esteem is in the dirt.  Decisions they make are overturned, their authority is questioned and shot full of holes.  Daily.  They’re not paid enough to put up with this crap. Nobody is.  This kind of thing should not even EXIST in our public schools.  In the olden days, students were expected to behave and required to behave, and any kid who chose to “act up” got punished at school and punished again at home for disgracing the family.  Kids who continued to “act up” were expelled.  Life is full of choices.

I taught public school for 26 years and my salary peaked out at 49,300. After 26 years. It became sooo not worth it. A hundred thou a year would not have been worth it.  The constant disruptions, the constant expectations that certain kids would not be held accountable, the constant accusations of favoritism and wrongdoing and the 23-minute lunch at 10:30 a.m. and the study hall with 48 non-participatory boys, many of whom had to sit on the floor because the room was too small for that many desks, the indignant parents who demanded. . . actually, demanded ANYTHING. Nice people do not DEMAND. And if someone is DEMANDING an exception, he/she is not a nice person.  Teachers don’t leave because of the money.  People don’t become teachers for the money.  People become teachers because of the dedication and the love, and teachers leave because there is absolutely no support any more.

When teachers walk out the door, they don’t usually do it because they hated teaching. They do it because the peripherals made it impossible to be a teacher. In some schools, administrators don’t even call their instructors “teachers” any more. It’s “facilitators” now. That’s because we are no longer allowed to really teach. We spend most of our time trying to maintain order in overcrowded rooms full of disruptive kids who don’t want to be there and don’t want to learn and don’t intend to allow YOUR child to learn, either. Why do we put up with it? WHY?

I make not quite 16,000 now, and even though we’re one sheet of cardboard away from living in a cardboard box under a bridge, I’m far, far better off. Why is that? Because teaching is what I love, eager students are who I love, and now I can do what I was meant to do without putting up with disruptive students or parents who demand exceptions.  And when a student gives us any kind of disruptive behavior at this level and refuses to leave, we call the cops.

It took me almost a full year to ‘catch on’ to the fact that I no longer had to ‘deal’ with that kind of behavior any more. It comes as quite a surprise to some students that after a certain level, disruptive behavior is no longer allowed. After a certain level, the facilitators no longer allow it on the facility.

Perhaps if our students were taught that lesson in fourth grade, we wouldn’t have any obnoxious hoods keeping our good kids from learning in any of the higher grades.

In a perfect world.

Yes, I mean every word of this post. Some of you will find fault with the fact that I do not believe our nation’s schools and our nation’s children should be required to put up with disruptive and violent behaviors. After all, some of those kids can’t help it. And so they can’t. Get them away from the other kids because frankly, anything that prevents the good kids from learning doesn’t belong there. Tolerance? I’m all for it. How about some of that for the good kids, too!

I do not believe that all of the disruptive students are Special Education material, either. Our Special Ed programs are usually excellent, taught by the most dedicated teachers of all, overcrowded, underappreciated, and too full of kids who don’t belong there, which takes those teachers’ time and attention away from the kids who DO belong there.

An IEP does not take the place of discipline. Sure, it’s easier to claim that your child has Authority Defiance Syndrome than to require good behavior and enforce the rules yourself. Quick fix for Mom and Dad, huh.  These people are taking time and attention away from kids who genuinely need and deserve special treatment.

We as a nation had better be very, very careful about what kind of behaviors we tolerate and even encourage with stupid reward systems for behaviors that ALL students should be practicing daily, because it’s already happening that many people are trying to enter the workforce without the necessary skills. Some of these people were busy texting and checking their email on their cell phones instead of paying attention, sure; I hate those people, too. But some of these people graduated with good grades that mean almost nothing because their teachers were so busy trying to corral the wild animals in their classrooms and keep them from actually harming the good kids, so busy trying to placate parents who expected the schools to not only feed, clothe, and babysit before and after hours but also to teach the behaviors and manners that are actually the responsibility of the parents, that at the end of the long, long day, there simply wasn’t time to teach anything. The schools should not be responsible for teaching your child to behave properly. If that is what you’re counting on, forget it. It’s not going to happen, parents. That’s YOUR job. I know you’re busy, but if you’re too busy to raise your child, perhaps you’d best be thinking about letting somebody else do it, not the school.

I’ll say this again: If an adult can afford cigarettes and beer and DOG FOOD, that adult should be able to buy socks and jeans and a hot lunch for his child. I’d say, the child should come before ANY of those other things. When those free-lunch, free books, free before-and-after-school-care parents would stand before me, reeking of smoke, whining with their beer-breath that they just plum couldn’t afford no shoes for the child, cough cough cough reek, it was all I could do not to tell them off for being just generally bad, bad people. Bad people who bought cigarettes, beer, dog food, and shoes for themselves instead of taking decent care of their child.

There are no exaggerations in this post. If your child’s classroom is a place of calm, peace, cool, and learning, please fall on your knees and thank God or your lucky stars, whichever one rows your boat, because your child’s school is an exception.

I’m not kidding, either. I only wish I were.

PLEASE do not assume that I am attacking special students here; that is NOT the case at all.  I am merely saying that no student who keeps another student from learning should be allowed placement in a regular education classroom.  Our public schools, bad as so many of them are, are still one of the main reasons many immigrants come to our country; it’s too late for them, but they have hopes for their children.  Without education, there can be no hope. Without education, people are easily fooled, easily led, and somehow less of a person.  Educated people are the hope of everyone’s future.

That’s why it’s so important to make sure that our public schools are places where students can be educated, without disruption, without fear, without “putting up with” anything that interferes with that education.  That so many students fear for their very lives when they go to school is a sad commentary on our society.  That those who give other students just cause to be afraid are tolerated is a disgrace.  Those who sanction it are the biggest disgrace of all.

Are we really so afraid of harming the self-esteem of a thug, or a bully, or anyone who puts another at risk or in any way prevents another from advancing forward in knowledge, that we have shunted the deserving to the back burner, and expect them to be content with the dregs of our energy and resources?

Apparently we are.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

#apush is trending right now

With my Advanced Placement U.S. History students tucked nicely into room R-10 and the passing period between first and second period in full sway, I popped onto Twitter to take a look at what teachers had done for a final review for the APUSH test.  What I saw was a massive #apush hashtag that was full of announcements of what was on the exam, DBQ and all.  While it shouldn’t have impacted test takers on the West Coast, I can imagine that Hawaii and Alaska must have enjoyed an advantage that had potential to skew the APUSH curve.  For the money and the time taken on preparing for the exam, this could annoy me a little.

The College Board is very explicit that students are not to discuss the questions on the test for days after the examination.  I wonder how organization that brings about some of the most important tests of a person’s high school career is going to deal with the ramifications of social media.

The Death of Basic Know-How

“Did you see that test?”

“Yeah man.  Mr. $#(@*@*!&^" does that kind of thing on occasion, putting basic algebra equations on the test.  It’s totally annoying.”

“He better knock that shit off.  If he starts putting algebraic equations on test I am fucked.”

The two students engaged in this conversation outside of my classroom have passed the High School Exit Exam and are in a Calculus class.  That’s right.  We aren’t talking about Second Language Learners getting their first exposure to the Devil’s Code (also known as ‘Math’), we are talking about the best-of-the-best not having a basic understanding of the concepts they learned that are supposed to act as a foundation for the information they are learning right now.  It doesn’t seem to be working out.

I reflected on this conversation and others I’d had been overhearing while reading the tweets from EduCon in Philadelphia.  EduCon is my kind of conference.  It focuses on Education issues around teaching, then throws in the integrated technology component instead of the other way around.  It’s refreshing.  It’s also maddening to watch the casual toss-away of basic components of education in such a flippant manner.  Plenty of conversations pop up about ending the use of textbooks, simple calculators, even changing the name “classroom” into something more learning oriented, whatever the hell that means.  All of the conversation has a certain “waldorfian” tone to it (Waldorf being a more ‘humanistic’ and inclusive education, so they say), which is scary because many of those students that come from such an ‘alternative’ method of education frequently can’t do basic theorems because someone didn’t have them focus on fundamental processes.  It creates a student that is so attached to his Ti-85 calculator that when the student is asked to do a problem with parenthesis, said student goes pale and starts to mumble that life isn’t fair.

The same can be said for those advocating the death of the textbook.  Never mind that there is no way that a student in my school should be responsible for a $500 iPad (they have trouble with a $4 paperback), the main issue here is the continuing push to ignore the importance of academic reading.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m totally in the camp that the academic textbook is pretty close to worst thing that can possibly be read.  But that doesn’t mean you ditch it for technology.  It means you actually create a textbook that becomes useful to students in pursuit of their academic goals down the road.  Dumping the text doesn’t prepare them for the reading they are about to do down the road, unless they are planning to skip the undergrad work and pay hundreds of dollars for primary source packets in graduate school.

Finally there’s the academic writing.  Being an active participant in the Twitterverse and Blogosphere is not easy, especially when people become such technocrats that they simply pass foundations and build their educational houses on “engagement” and “love of learning”.  I actually heard the quote “the era of the five paragraph essay is over” recently.  What’s the new literary format?  Blogging.  That’s right.  The tried and true “write how you feel” approach has apparently been put on the throne of writing.  Not only that, but we are going to accept it as a blogged format.  Let’s realize that “blogging” for a 16 year old is not David Brooks columns about Compassionate Conservatism in the New York Times.  It’s a text messaged laced tirade about why Justin Bieber should not date Selena Gomez.  LOL!  In the meantime you have eighteen year old Advanced Placement students still using text speak and first-person in a paper trying to analyze income disparity in China.  Kids need to write more and more, and more “traditionally”, if that’s what you want to call it. 

Technocracies aren’t meant to replace, they are meant to enhance and supplement a student’s learning environment.  When I see a Bill Gates supported school getting so much publicity because they use complex technology, but can’t really explain what their doing with a coherent thought, it makes me question if Edtech Reformers really understand what they are doing.                

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Bin Laden is dead

I was one of those Americans that hung a flag from his fence after September 11th, 2001.  I’ve cursed Osama Bin Laden’s name a few times and have thought of the number of ways I wished he’d been caught. 

Well, he was finally caught, and he was finally killed. 

I’ll admit that my first reaction was “got you, you little fucker”.  That was the enraged part of myself that remembered his taunts on the videos post-9/11, where the Sheik Osama basically stated that he would stop his attacks if Americans gave up their democratic government and way of life.  After a minute the rage went away and, like 9/11, I wanted to know what happened, how it happened, and what the future repercussions were going to be so I could discuss it with students tomorrow. 

Two things disturbed me irked me about this evening.  One was the mood of celebration at the White House.  Something just didn’t feel right about it.  People were partying like Japan had just surrendered on the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay.  In reality it’s more like Yamamoto was shot down somewhere over the Solomon Islands and the war is long from over.  The vision on Pennsylvania Avenue didn’t seem right at all.  Neither did the teacher channels on the Twitterverse.  It was the exact opposite from educators; instead of any jubilation at all, everything was “it is fairly meaningless” and “we just caused more trouble”, as if the event was just another soldier in the chain bad guys.  Morale victories mean something, especially when it is the symbolic leader of something so nasty. 

So I remain fairly level headed about the whole thing, although I must admit that I grin at the fact that the bad guy got what was coming to him tonight.  I’ll let Mark Twain close it out.

“I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.”

A bizarre week

Projector bulbs are expensive.  We are not talking “hey, that sushi is actually $15” expensive, we are talking “how the fuck is this light bulb actually $400” expensive.  My first bulb lasted two and a half years.  It might have been worth the cost.  The second bulb lasted this last four months.  I would say that the benefit did not outweigh the cost for the second bulb.  I would say that it was a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride when the red projector light started blinking and my screen didn’t start up.  I calmly called our on-campus tech guy and offered up anything from single malt scotch to tickets to the next Final Four for a projector bulb, and I got one.  In fact, the man came down and replaced it within five minutes, something that very well deserves consideration for a bottle of Glenfiddich. 

This was also the week were some Seniors got to feel the pinch of what the real world was going to be like, and some did not like it at all.  With Prom, AP tests, social lives, and the end of school breathing down their throats, the school became a haven for the dramatic, with anything setting off those that are now realizing that they can’t do everything they want.  Some fight.  The beginning of the warm weather brought forth a very active week of confrontations between the local Reds and Blues, something we’ve been dealing with over the last few years.  Some get anxious to the point of not being able to deal with school, or at least the academic part of school.  It’s amazing how parents are suckered into “I'm too stressed for school”, but their kid manages to get to a baseball game, a class election meeting, and Prom.  Finally some kids simply break down from life getting tough.  I’m often the recipient of some student anger because I often say no.  While I’m often a little more flexible about students in exceptional situations, I still want kids to see the importance of making a choice.  I’m still hammering them on attendance.  I’m still insistent that they maintain organization in terms of knowing when things are due, and I’m still running my classes with the understanding that they are there to learn.  That conflicts with the “we’re Seniors, let’s rage for the last quarter” attitude.  In return, I get a little blow back in the form of snarky comments, indigent looks, and sometimes outright tantrums.  This is where experience steps in; take it all in stride, remain calm, offer support, don’t overblow a small explosion, and remember that 80% of the students are doing just fine.  I am much better at dealing with the last throes of Senioritis.

Alas, the final problem was money.  I found that we have no money for next year, which is not a whole lot less than the little money we had this year but enough to make you hang your head a little.  We’ve been told to cut more from our budget, although that pretty much leaves counselors and custodians as the only ones left.  Already our counselors are at over 500 student caseloads, and already our campus is down 2-3 custodians, but apparently we are looking to trim at something and the only thing left if either cutting “programs furthest from the students” (like safe/clean campus and counseling don’t impact students") or creating new forms of revenue. 

But the week’s over now and we move on to Advanced Placement tests and the real downhill run to the end.