Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Week that Was; the OMG THE STRESS edition

It’s currently raining, albeit lightly, in Mendocino County.  This is after a week where you could watch thunderstorms develop over Mendocino National Forest but never feel the impact since they would simply go east.  It was pretty damn humid during the afternoons too.


Students are stressed.  Senior projects are due.  The realization that the end of the year has hit them.  Senioritis is in full effect.  Ahhh, the joys of an April week teaching Seniors.  Thank God someone has actually taught kids about time management.


Yeah, oops.  Not my oops.  Society’s oops.  Because if there is one thing this generation has been told it’s that they can have anything they want without bearing the cost of a choice.  That’s unfortunate because I have kids that are having a massive amount of trouble functioning.  Senior projects are costing classroom days.  I don’t mean the one or two days presenting the project; I mean the one or two weeks dealing with the work because no one has taught the student how to manage their human capital.  Worse, parents are condoning this.  Absences are excused all over the place because of “school stress.”  I’ve looked at the Senior Project and some of these kids’ schedules and if they are stressed now……oy.


Persepolis went out to my Comparative Government students and as usual the reviews are quite good.  Our local Ukiah Reads group recommended the graphic novel and I require the book for Comp Gov because it looks at Iran during the Islamic Revolution and the war with Iraq.  Most Seniors get it and frown because of the subject, then look intrigued when they notice the comic aspect, then end up enjoying the story that follows Marjane Satrapi’s life in the Islamic Republic. 


Our Athletic Booster Club wants to brand the school. 

It’s a money thing and since I don’t have $5,000 to throw to new uniforms I have to pretty much fall on the sword of mercy of the Boosters.  The problem is limited selection and the incentives end up going school wide instead of to the basketball program.  You brand a school and all the coaches split $3,000 in merchandise deals.  But I have companies with $1,500 in merchandise incentives just for my program, and that would be nice.  Anyone got a cool five grand to donate to our basketball program?


I can’t believe that school districts ban student-teacher connections with social media.  Things sent to me this week on social media by my students:  a link to the Social Progress Index, an invite to a lecture on the discrepancy of women in STEM fields, a joke about a Nigerian e-mail scam, and this:


Gold I tell you!


Last Saturday my wife and I hiked in Hendy Redwoods and celebrated the fact living in Mendocino County has its benefits.


Later start times are now a thang.

Oh look.  Slacktivism! 


Nothing better than getting someone from Iceland to sign a petition to change the start times at a high school in Northern California.  I’ve seen these attempts at changing school structure before and what I’ve noticed is that the most vocal are usually those that don’t like to admit that their kids are slacktivists too.  Here’s my guess; based on the issue being school start time and the vehicle being, I’m figuring that this is the hyper-liberal clan that is disappointed that their kids are not as driven as they were during their highly educated activism fight-the-power stage. 

Oh well.  It makes little difference in my case if the start times changed.  But it will totally screw with half the population that is involved in athletics, much of the Senior class that has to work (including those that directly provide for family), and those students who will simply being staying up later for studying and homework.  And 80% of the students hate the idea and want to keep the early start time.  And we changed went to the early start time because students wanted it. 

Oh, and before you spout American Pediatrics data to me, let me remind you that the reports that they use for research show:

A)  Some high schools show marginal benefit to later start times.

B)  Some high schools show no benefit to later start times.

C)  Some of these high schools were in the exact same district. 

I also buzzed around the United States to some of the top public high schools and noticed that start times were not really a massive topic of conversation, or an excuse for poor academic performance.

Start times might help, might help, at a fairly high cost to the institution (transportation) and the student.  Worse, it’s like trying to fix a car with a busted engine by putting on a new coat of paint.  It will hardly make a dent in the issues that matter in getting the kids a good education. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What ever happened to simple?

Did you know that someone out there is spending $324 to invite a girl to Prom?  Actually, someone is probably spending a lot more because that looks to be the national average for someone to execute a promposal; the act of total narcissism cloaked in some “cute” method of asking a girl to prom that is going to end up soaking you for another $500.  It’s been the rage for the last few years and thankfully it seems like the shark might have been jumped in these parts.  My wife had a couple of promposals that she found “adorable” while I’ve had a guy stand on a chair and ask a young lady to prom.  Thankfully my Facebook feed hasn’t been inundated with the lame attempts at selfish tomfoolery. 

But maybe I’m being a killjoy.  Maybe I’m missing the point and should embrace the new and heartfelt traditions of the new generation.  How about a warm and loving promposal video.

Quick side note.  I went to two proms and I might have, MIGHT HAVE, spent half of what one promposal costs. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The week that was; the Local Theater edition

This week I saw a tremendous amount of success. 

One of my students got into Stanford.  Another former student dropped out of college and found her passion.  I ran into yet another former student who was happily married and expecting their first child.   And I saw generations of students, current and a decade past, living their passion and bringing joy to themselves and others.  It was a fairly awesome week


I haven’t been to the theater in awhile and this week I hit two weekday shows; Spamalot at  the Ukiah Players Theater, and Legally Blonde the Musical at Mendocino College.  One was good and one was fantastic.  The one that was fantastic kept me totally awake and interested for two and a half hours and made me want to join the theater.  I may have to go to more local shows next years since it has been quite the stretch between times I’ve watched a stage.  By the way, if you want to pay for me and my wife to go to New York and watch Hamilton, I’d love you long time.


Six families have pulled their child for extra vacation time for the next couple of weeks, two weeks after spring break and less than two months before graduation.  At this point I don’t even warn students that it can be detrimental to grades.  I simply give them a couple of my Short Term Independent Study form, sign the paper, and they are off.  Almost no one completes the work while they are gone.  Almost no one studies.  I get it, they’re on vacation.  But this problem is habitual and the teachers usually get the burden of angry parents and grades.  Oh well.  At this point we teach those that show up.


By the way, I heard that a local school district now gives online credit recovery……..for Physical Education. 


Physical Education. 

Way to cash it in Education.


Clubs Day was Friday.  Clubs Day is where different clubs hawk wares and food in the quad in order to drum up membership and raise funds.  The best food is traditionally the Indian Tacos but I could find none and wasn’t about to pay money for Safeway sugar cookies.  I did notice a fundraiser that allowed students to tape teachers to a wall.  For a certain amount of money you could buy a length of tape and add it to the teacher on the wall.  I wasn’t on the wall because I didn’t know and I probably would have said no anyway.  Physical abuse of teachers is no fun.


Did you know that Ukiah Unified has had three deaths and eleven injuries due to drinking and driving?  I didn’t until I was told this on Wednesday.  I brought it up to my Seniors who admitted that it  happened very often, and then remained silent about being sober drivers. 


This happened.  I showed it in my fourth period Comparative Politics class because it’s Star Wars.  Period.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Sweden and Finland lost PISA ground, not that it matters

The latest scores show that Sweden and Finland, the Scandinavian masters of education, did not fair nearly as well on their PISA exams.  You probably won’t hear about this because the whole “Scandinavia is better than you at educations” fad is so last few year.  That and the fact that PISA is not quite the meter stick that people have made it out to be. 

Check this out.

“Top of the list this year was Shanghai, whose students placed highest across all three areas. The four Asian Tigers -  Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taipei - were not far behind, with regional neighbours Macao and Japan also performing well.”

You do know that three of those locations are cities in China, right?  Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Macao are all locations that actually exist in the People’s Republic of China.  Singapore, Japan, and South Korea do not; and Taipei (my guess is that this is Taiwan, not the the capital city) is either a part of China or it isn’t depending on who you ask. 

Measuring China using these three locals is like measuring the Bay Area using Los Altos, Campbell, and Moraga; the results are going to be insanely spectacular but nowhere near the reality because the rest of the region is missing in action.  If we continue to use PISA scores (which we shouldn’t) then I want to know the overall scores of the entirety of mainland China, including those areas where schools totally suck because the headmaster doesn’t have the guanxi to suck up to the local politicians.  I want the good, the bad, and the ugly of everyone, not some measurement that says that the entire United States (or Sweden and Finland) don’t match up to a city in China where poor and rural kids have absolutely no chance of attending a public school, even if the family moves there and works as internal migrant labor (helllooooooooo Shanghai).

Just dump the damn PISA and call it even.

Friday, April 10, 2015

And in the end, some reconciliation.

So at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, this happened.

Seemed fairly tame until the police and the green card and yada, yada, yada.  The race card was unveiled.  The insensitive card was unveiled.  The stupidity card was unveiled. 

In the video, students in the audience can be heard yelling, “That’s racist” and “You are racist.”

Not really.  That’s pretty damn far from being racist, especially when you take into account that all but one of the performers is Latino or Latina. 

Insensitive?  This is where we start talking about what we actually want to push within our schools.  Student Jose Ramirez was trying to bring something that was satirical to a school production with a cast that, in fact, was represented by formally undocumented migrant children.

“I used to see it a lot. I got relatives that got deported and, to me, that was traumatizing,” Ramirez said Wednesday. “But the older I got the more I released my feelings in, like, a comedic way.”

Comedy, satire and political statement. That’s what Ramirez was aiming for when he conceived of a dance performance last week that has raised concerns among some Maria Carrillo students who believe it was insensitive and even racist.”

Comedy, satire, and political statements are things that should be  celebrated in our educational institutions.  But we have become a nation where hurt feelings put the immediate kibosh on all controversial discussion.  Ramirez even stated that he couldn’t understand how Latinos were being stereotyped when his stagehands wore sombreros and ponchos, when that’s what Latinos were wearing when he went out into Latino society!  And the conversation that was supposed to be about immigration strayed into “well that was hurtful.”

But in the end the principal of the school stood back and let some discussions take place, and it looks like there is some understanding.  There was protest, sharing, and in the end there was some young adults worked out possible questionable choices (the end of the skit) while making it clear that it is ok to talk about topics that are controversial, even through the filter of humor.   

Ken Thiessen goes the extra mile to be totally wrong (UPDATED 4/10/15)

Ken Thiessen is the principal of Wichita East High School and he has managed to completely forget why we are in the business of teaching children.
Michael Kelley has Down syndrome and autism, but that doesn't stop him from participating in extra-curricular activities at Wichita East High School. He plays basketball for the special needs team and gives it his all every night. His mother, Jolinda, bought a letter jacket so he could have a reminder of his participation with the team. The problem was that she bought a varsity letter for that jacket, which school officials say are only to be worn by those on the varsity team.
No, this should not be a problem. Not by a long shot. This should be something that could be a good lesson in realizing that we are not in the business of equal measure for everything in existance because circumstances necessitate that we become flexible with policies. Making an exception in this case is called leadership.
Only in this case the leader capitulated. After a parent complained that Kelley had on a letterman jacket, the principal ordered young Michael to remove the clothing on the spot and replaced the cover with a girls sweatshirt.
By the way, the parent that complained about Michael Kelley wearing a lettermman jacket....fuck you.
And Principal Thiessen could have made right by saying that he set the wrong tone by thinking this was some kind of normal situation but alas he wrote a letter that bascially said deal with it.
As the leader of this school, I understand that taking criticism for my actions and decisions comes with the job. What I can’t accept, however, are the horrible comments from people who have no idea what East High is really all about. Suggesting that our school doesn’t support and embrace special needs students is simply not reflective or indicative of the culture we have in our building. Our administrators, our teachers and staff, as well as our entire student body value ALL of our students. This is continually demonstrated in our activities, our celebrations, our honors and the daily way our school conducts itself
For those of you who don’t know East High, please take an opportunity to learn about us before you judge us based on one story that originated approximately a year ago. Our graduates have shaped the history of Wichita for more than 100 years, and our students today give me great faith that our proud East High legacy will continue for years to come.
You tarnished the image of Wichita East by falling all over some idiotic symbolism that would have meant 50x more to an autistic kid with Down Syndrome (who did work in athletic compeititon) than to a college bound varsity athlete whose letterman is simply another honor to plant on the mantle of his or her success. This should have been a no-brainer and ended up being a horrible example of what-not-to-do.
I'm as big of a supporter for following the rules as the next guy but there are always exceptions. Always. We are in the business of dealing with kids and sometimes you need to think about the right thing to do, not necessarily the "rules" thing to do or the "satisfy the jocks and parents attitude" thing to do. We are not talking about a "new normal" here, or something that would need containment like it was a virus. Giving Kelley the letterman wasn't going to lower standards or destory the egos of varsity athletes on campus. Nope, it was an exception that should have been made to the rule. It would have been good teaching.

UPDATE 4/10/15

Brian Sumpter is the Sports Editor for the Lake County Record Bee (the county to our west) and has started the "1000 Block Letters for Mike" campaign in which schools send their letters to the Lake County Bee and then they are forwarded to Mike Kelley.

Pretty proud to be a Wildcat today!