Friday, March 23, 2012

Off to #edcampss!

It’s an hour into my flight to Philadelphia and I’ve come to realize that I’m the only moron on a 17” laptop.  I mean, Jesus, is everyone now buying a tablet to watch their chick flicks and reruns of the The Office?  Am I the only dope that thinks that iPads are really expensive toys that are still more limited than my laptop?  I can do everything that damn thing can do, except I do it bigger.  Only on a plane, that’s not good.  Maybe that’s why the guy in front of me sees to be rocking back every so often like some petulant child. 
So I’m off to meet other Social Studies tech geeks to figure out how to integrate technology into the classroom, only we are actually teachers so the conversation will actually focus on pedagogy, not so much “OMG!  ONE IPAD PER CLASS WILL SOLVE THE ILLS OF THE WORLD!”  Ok, some tech people will be there.  But they seem much more inquisitive and collaborative than lording over the fact that they can QR code their entire office for anyone to play with. 
My weekend will be packed.  I’ll land in Philly around six, try to check in to my hotel, and then it’s off to the National Constitution Center.  I’ll probably run into some fellow colleagues and from there the city is ours until a Tweet-up with other Tweeps in the evening.  Then it’s the actual EdCamp on Saturday.  Another Tweet-up in the evening and they off to Washington D.C. on Sunday to study the Newseum and if time, the National Archives.  Late train back to Philly where I’ll have about three hours sleep before my flight back to San Francisco, and then my three hour drive home.   
By the way, this is what professional development should be.  Seriously. 

The Sweep

The plethora of tardiness has finally pushed the teachers and administration into action.

Starting this week a new tardy policy was instituted that’s basically no tolerance; if you are late to class at all then you are given a campus beautification or an after school detention.  Parents can clear you, teachers can clear you, and if you are the usual 18 years old then you can sign yourself an unexcused absence.

Hell hath no fury like a teenager told that he or she must be on time, especially if said teenager is late because of a Starbucks run.  Yep, as you can probably surmise the tardy sweep has been compared to Nazi Germany, boot camp, a step towards dictatorship, and has been called all those names which would highlight a Bobby Knight basketball practice.  On my Facebook feed I found the occasional “Occupy UHS” post, along with the new “Fuck the Tardy Sweep” group.  Apparently that group is advocating that during one day next week all students should refuse to attend fifth period class after lunch.  Interesting.  In Florida students are walking out because of a classmates possible murder.  At Ukiah High School they walk out because they don’t like being told to be at class on time. 

Parents are now quite alienated.  Apparently the line of kids calling Mom and Dad on their cell phones at 7:30 in the morning looks akin to the lines for the newest Apple offerings.  And the parents calling in are none to happy that their kids are being held accountable.  Many teachers think this is actually a pretty pivotal moment; will we be strong in maintaining a policy of accountability or will be bow to public pressure that might accept the entitled attitude?

Well the answer is not that simple.  In fact my AP U.S. History students made a very valid point that “we aren’t tardy to classes that actually have consequences for being tardy.”  Very astute.  Far be it for me to call out colleagues but those teachers that don’t have tardy problems have a consistent policy in place that discourages being late.  I don’t have problems with tardies (though I do with overall absences).  And maybe we, the teachers, need to look at enacting our own classroom management strategies that hold students accountable.  That way administration can focus on serious issues, teachers can focus on a better classroom, and students know that teachers are serious when they show up.


Sunday, March 18, 2012


It’s one of those weekends that my mind is on overdrive.  I mean, have you been watching the NCAA Tournament lately?  Norfolk State and Lehigh?  Are you serious?  Hell, not even Kim Jung Un would have the Godly presence to choose those teams to advance.

Actually the tournament has been a nice respite from the academic world that has engulfed me.  Current list of work related issues:

1)  Grades are due Wednesday and I am behind and I continue to get behind.  Simply put I have an enormous of amount of make-up work that is piled up in my bin from all the varieties of absences that students are signed out from by their parents (or not).  Every day for the last month I’ve had at least two students at lunch making up tests or quizzes.  It is, quite frankly, ridiculous.  It also creates a lot more work for me; work that is basically done last.  That doesn’t prevent those that are chronically absent from whining about their grade either.  What it means is weekends like this one full of grading and quite a few hours after school imputing grades. Ugh.

2)  I’m off to Philadelphia this weekend for EdCamp Social Studies.  The ultimate in professional development is going to be a great meet-up for those history geeks that also like some technology in their pedagogy.  I’m totally excited to interact with educators that are more geared towards my leanings in getting kids to think, not necessarily test.  But it’s still travelling across the country and it’s still missing two days of school.  Sub plans need to be made.  By the way, any teacher that says that missing school has no costs is one that needs to be fired.  It causes more work.  Period.

3)  Two things are happening parallel to each other at this time of year; I’m cramming information with more direct instruction (breaking the 20 minute lecture rule), and I’m reflecting on how to make my class better for next year.  I’m feeling less and less like a decent teacher the more I direct instruct.  I’m almost bored with it.  The solution that is present before me is “flipping the classroom”, which has always brought forth all kinds of skepticism with me.  Well, I spent part of the weekend on Ramsey Musallam’s website and I’m at the excited phase where the possibilities become endless.  Only it is tempered by the realities of where I work and the questions start to seep in; how much extra work am I adding to my large load, what do I do about the the high absence rate, how do I overcome the lack of technological infrastructure?  Some of these questions were answered this weekend by a variety of Twitter Tweeps that showed me that the flip is not about changing teaching as much it’s about making it better, if that makes any sense.  Pinterest, Google Forms, Hippocampus, the support sites for my textbooks, Educreations….all of the sudden “flipping” can start to gather enough support structures to allow me to document and justify grades to parents.  And before you say “it isn’t about the grade, it’s about learning”, you and I might feel that way but Johnny’s Mom is going to want a very clear cut answer about why he’s got a C.  That’s just the way it is.

So my weekend has not been relaxing, and that’s ok from the excitement point of view.  It’s March and I’m already looking forward to next year.  Actually, I need to change some things right now, so I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.   

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dressing the part

Shirt and tie 90% of my days. 

Yep, that’s what I wear when I’m performing on the education stage and while I was one of those that didn’t think the clothes made the teacher back in the credential program, I’ve changed my attitude now.  The shirt and the tie are as important as everything else regarding my professionalism in the classroom and have to admit that not only do I teach better when I dress-to-impress, but I think my students find the environment more academic.

This is not to say that the clothes make the teacher, as the debate that has started on Larry Ferlazzo’s blog has suggested.  One doesn’t suddenly throw on nice clothes and become Jamie Escalante.  The passion for teaching needs to come from within the soul and must be developed with hard work, a willingness to fix what’s broken, and a desire to form lasting relationships with students and colleagues.  But nice clothes sets a tone.  It sends the message that when a student walks into the classroom the learning process is kicked up a notch and that the person in the front of the classroom at least looks the part of a professional.  It’s a valuable first step. 

By the way, notice I said “90%” of the time I’m in a shirt and tie.  One some Fridays I go polo shirt and slacks, or I’ll whip out a History/Government/Economics t-shirt and create a conversation piece.  This Friday it was a t-shirt with the American flag and the First Amendment written in the flag.  Last week for my AP Comparative Government class I wore a t-shirt that had pictures of Marx, Mao, Castro, Stalin, and Lenin dancing.  Communist Party.  Get it?  They did and it was fun.  And of course I wear my UNLV basketball jersey and Chico State hoops shorts when the Winterfest Faculty versus 6th Man game takes place in February.  But know what happens after the game?  I take a quick shower in the locker room and put on, you guessed, a shirt and tie.

I’d be fined in Florida

Thank God I don’t live in Florida.

Yep, I’d be guilty of not following that 48 hour, third party voter registration window because, you know, sometimes teachers get caught up with other things.  And God forbid teachers, especially Government teachers, promote voting.  I guess this also means I should stop writing in The San Francisco Giants as a political party on the kid’s registration forms.

Thanks Stephen Colbert for reporting on this nonsense.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I’m taking over the French class at my school

That sounds absurd of course and I’m shooting this on my blog with the hope that the French teacher at my school (a friend of mine) will read it and begin to perspire with the knowledge that I will make a total mockery of what is left of the French language.

Except if he does read it he’ll laugh and realize that I won’t be taking over the French program because, surprise, I’m not qualified in French.  The only experience I have with French is my freshmen year in high school where I received a “D” for constantly laughing at the fact that “fuck off” in French just sounded so damn ridiculous.  Hence the reason I took German.  And so I won’t be harassing my fellow colleague because I would make a lousy French teacher.  The rule does not apply to coaching, and it really should.

Those of you that are old of this blog know that the most tip-of-the-knife conversation I can post is about sports at Ukiah High School.  It’s a conversation that leads to people’s heads exploding and the kind of protests that Occupy only dreams about.  This isn’t about any particular sport per se, but about the doctrine around coaches and their potential hiring.  See at Ukiah High School (much like many schools) teachers get the preference in regards to coaching.  This presents an interesting dilemma for experienced coaches that are walk-on coaches and for programs that want to have stability and build up a culture of consistency.  If a program is honestly out to do what athletics is supposed to do (make positive experiences for kids) then hiring the best person for the job would only make sense.  One doesn’t simply take a sport because they feel like it, unless they are teachers.  And this presents a dilemma in a town where athletics reigns over any academic achievement. 

As I’ve said in the past that the European model might be the way to go for sports at the high school level.  So much time is spent on expectations for athletics that the mission of the institution is lost in a cloud of sweat and glory.  At the same time athletics has an important place in a student’s life that is worth more than some guy saying “You know, I think I’d like to take on coaching water polo this year.  Hell, I swam in eighth grade so there can’t be that much difference.”  Of course the most sane approach would be for everyone to act like professional adults. 

But what fun would that be?   

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Textbooks suck, although don’t have to.

Jay Mathews’ recent article on the Washington Post about the suckability of textbooks in quite interesting on many levels.  The simple realization by Mathews in itself is refreshing because while I know plenty of teachers that will jump on the anti-textbook bandwagon, I know of very few edu-pundits that are willing to condemn that which has been around school rooms for generations. 

As Mathews states in the article, textbooks are not effective in getting instruction to the basic (in my case high school) student.  They are boring, confining, and sometimes grossly generalized in how they present interesting theories to students.  Without any significant context for the student to go on, a lot of the theorems are just words on a piece of paper to memorize and prepare to recite on command.  They are extended encyclopedia entries with definitions bolded in the text and defined on the side of the page, making a student have to work not-at-all to actually find answers to questions that the book refuses to ask because the main point of textbooks is addressing content standards, not to impart knowledge.

I found the textbook adoption part of Jay’s column interesting as well.  One of the quotes kind of threw me for loop:

“(Beverlee) Jobrack said teachers and textbook adopters must be exposed to research on effective curricula and trained to find the textbooks that will link best with good teaching.”

Jobrack recently wrote a book called “Tyranny of the Textbook” which took aim at the billions of dollars thrown at the textbook industry.  Her comment about linking textbooks to good teaching is antiquated.  In a real United States History class a textbook would not exist and there would be a central location for primary source documentation.  The teacher can help fill in the blanks, but the history can teach itself without the use of generalizations.  And even if generalizations are necessary, a person can go online and access better materials than those found from Prentice Hall.  The only exception I would make would be Advanced Placement classes where the amount of information necessary to impart to the students in the limited time demands the use of a book that goes over a lot of stuff really fast.  But those are not normal students.  Those are motivated students. 

So why do I still use textbooks in Government and Economics at school?  Simple, because parents and students want that known crutch.  I’m still not totally into that camp that demands that everything on Earth be inquisitive and non-direct instruction.  Students still want to be told what’s going on and what exactly to study, and parents want to be able to have students have that information available outside of class.  Trust me, you have no idea how bad my attendance is and how often I hear “just tell me what I need to study out of the book and I’ll do fine.”  The students never do fine unless they are a top end student.  But education has yet to become a real priority in society and the textbook helps reinforce the notion that the student doesn’t need to be in class. 

It’s a sick week

I got my first really nasty cold of the year this week, and while I did troop it out I’m not paying for it because other than instruction, nothing has gotten done. 

Not that I’m totally positive that it would make a difference at this point.  I’ve got so much make-up work to grade that it is overwhelming me.  For the last three weeks I’ve had students, multiple students, in my classroom every lunch period making up assignments from absences that are cleared.  That work now stands in a pile with the rest of the work I’m grading that is starting to stack up.  It’s annoying.  It’s a tidal wave that seems to have no top and the only thing to do is dive right in, which I’ve slowly been doing during my prep.  I’m trying to make a much bigger effort not to grade at home and that’s for my own energy and home life.  So the pile may or may not go down sometime in the near future.  Or I might just take the entire thing out back and begin a nice weed guard project in my raised beds. 

By the way for me to stay home due to illness has to pretty much mean that I can’t function.  Since the end of last week I had the sore throat and on Monday it turned into the deep chest cold.  On Tuesday it was really bad and I’m fairly sure I got a little fever going during the day.  I even bailed on my prep and went home to bed to try to rest it out.  I think I did ok because yesterday the chest stuff was still there but my energy was up and I actually had an appetite for the first time in a couple of days.  I was happy I worked through it because lord knows I don’t need the extra work of prepping for a sub on top of everything else.

Otherwise it’s a good week.  The negatives of last week are gone for the most part and although the flow was interrupted by my illness, today’s lesson on cost/benefit analysis of closing Market Street in San Francisco to automobiles actually went pretty well.  Even used some Google Maps action to show them the section of town, the businesses, the traffic, and Street View to show them what everything looked like. 

Oh, and coming from a Republican, Rush Limbaugh should shut his fucking mouth.  I’m against President Obama’s gross overreach in requiring religious organizations to offer birth control, but I think the actions of the House Republicans and Rush’s comments regarding Sandra Fluke are disgraceful.  The whole issue (constitutionality) has now become a lame political exercise about who can act more repugnant, and that idiot Limbaugh has clearly won.