Monday, May 25, 2015

The Week that Was: The Dress Code Edition

That one is an inside joke for students that read this blog.  I've decided that the first thing I'm doing on Monday morning is writing DRESS CODE in huge letters on my board and pontificating about it for an hour.  Just because.


Substitute teaching is difficult.  You wander into a new school and you are totally at the mercy of the classroom management of the teacher.  If the teacher has bad management the students are going to be a nightmare to handle.  If the teacher has good management and a plan, the class is often a breeze. 
I've seen both.  I've been in classrooms with no plans and the teacher had no control over what was going on (back in 2000 before I was in Ukiah), which made for a very interesting hour class.  I learned quickly that one the greatest things a sub could have is a trivia book and a large bag of mini-chocolates.  I've had one real problem with a sub.  It was many years ago and I'm still convinced that it was a student and a teacher with big egos and too much testosterone.  I leave very detailed lesson plans, and 90% of the time those lessons are copied for the students on Edmodo and the work is self-driven.  My class should be a breeze to sub.  

I can't get into details except to say that I started getting massive amounts of texts fifteen minutes into class Thursday morning.  Thankfully I have a fantastically responsive administration and a very patient and mature group of students because the situation could have been U.G.L.Y.  Look subs, follow the lesson plan.  Follow it.  Follow it.  Follow it.  Don't sweat the small stuff; it's not worth the aggravation.  If there is no lesson plan then tell the personnel officer at the school because either that teacher had a serious emergency or is a real jackass.  And bring a trivia book.  A few of them.  With knowledge groupings from 7th grade to 10th grade.  And lots and lots of chocolate.


Speaking of which I did take two days off school to attend my Grandmother's 95th birthday.  I don't take many days off during the school year, mostly because I actually enjoy doing my job.  I rarely get sick (this year I was the only one on my basketball team that did not), though I might stay home to take care of my wife if she's really ill or has a significant injury.  Grandma's 95th is legit.  So I'm in Ashland, Oregon right now.


So the usual $85 Best Western room in Ashland was $250 a night for the Memorial Day weekend.  Ouch.  La Quinta was $140 a night.  So we went a new route; VRBO.  How is it?  Well I'm sitting on a deck of a large studio next to a house overlooking rolling hills of oak trees and deer.  Emigrant Lake is a ten minute walk.  $89 a night.  I'd call it a win.


Maybe just a wee bit. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sansa Stark’s rape scene elicits mass hypocrisy. (Spoilers)


As far as television is concerned, the rape scene where Ramsey Bolton rapes Sansa Stark while forcing Theon Greyjoy/Reek to watch ranks as the most disturbing scene I’ve seen on a screen in a very long time.  I’ve read the books so the scenes that included Ned Stark’s head being sliced and the Red Wedding were not anywhere close to shocking.  This….this was a fear that started welling up last week with the marriage proposal and slowly became a nightmare with the actual nuptials being performed in Winterfell.  I was so hoping that Sansa was not going to be the victim of Bolton’s sadism while at the same time knowing that in this world a newly married women, whether she liked it or not, was going to be used on her wedding night.  It was profoundly distressing. 

It also created a huge reaction on the Interwebs, including some tweets by a Senator.


The Missouri Senator gets kudos for watching Game of Thrones but to call the scene “gratuitous” destroys a whole lot of credibility on whether or not she’s a regular.  The series is a pantheon of sex and violence that matches George R.R. Martins books fairly well.  But the question should not be whether or not sex and extreme violence should exist in fictional stories.  Such things have existed in great literary works for centuries.  The questions should be much more nuanced. 

Does the rape scene represent the book?

While Sansa Stark is not raped in the book, the character of Jeyne Poole is on her wedding night with…..Ramsey Bolton.  And the scene is far worse.

Should be television viewer have expected this?

Ramsey Bolton is a disgusting individual that is the closest thing to an absolute sadist that exists in the serious.  The producers of Game of Thrones set up the wedding scene when Sansa and Littlefinger were overlooking Moat Cailin, and Sansa was debting on whether or not to proceed to Winterfell.  Viewers had to have been screaming the TV for Sansa not to go because Ramsey was going to do something horrid.  It was a guarantee. 

Does the scene advance the characters or the story?

In the scene Ramsey may have sealed his own fate as when he commits the rape.  If Sansa doesn’t kill him then Reek will; don’t forget that during the scene the camera focuses on Greyjoy as tears stream down his face.  And Sansa has been vacillating back and forth over being a real player in the Game or a scared doe who is simply the victim of numerous instances she can’t control.  Sansa knew this was going to happen the moment she accepted the marriage.  Her overthrow of Ramsey didn’t begin with the rape, it began before that, probably solidified by the dinner scene in the last episode.  The rape magnified the idea that Sansa was no longer the victim.  She’s accepting the situation because it’s going to lead to a larger goal.  Sound crazy?  Then you haven’t been really watching Game of Thrones.   

Game of Thrones is not anti-woman, nor is it a television show that uses sex as a cheap shot at getting viewers.  Lest we forget this…



Remember that debate?  Not too long ago the series was lauded for its powerful female characters and edgy political play where the ladies often had ultimate power while the men played with swords and lost body parts.  Now that some of those women are weaker (often because of other women) the outrage begins that male producers are picking on females and portraying them as victims.  It goes both ways, people.  People seem to forget that Theon Greyjoy had a season, an entire season, where his only scenes were those in which Ramsey Bolton tortured him, including horrific mutilation and sexual abuse.  Not much of a peep was said there.   

It is a fictional series by-the-way.  The sensationalism of sex and violence is plenty over-the-top but in a way that expands and provides depth to the story.  And the television version of the story avoids the morass that the books have become; devoid of the constant carousel of characters on questionable quests don’t ever seem to acquire resolution.  Yes, the Sansa’s rape scene was awful to watch and I would rather have not seen it.  But he politicizing, the phony indignation, and arrogance of claiming the moral high ground is nearly as disturbing as the scene.  

I wish I could turn THAT off instead. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Week that Was; the End is Not Near Edition

Advanced Placement tests are done.  Classes are being scheduled for next year.  Senior farewells have started.  The College Board is reminding me of summer fun in Salt Lake City.

We aren’t even close to over. 


The kids seemed pretty confident in the Comp Gov AP test, pretty much saying that the questions were either really easy or insanely hard.  When asked about comparisons to the APUSH test the students were fairly split about which one was tougher. 

I’m sure the College Board knows at this point that the FRQ and DBQ questions are only a hashtag away.  Want some sick humor?  Check out APUSH and AP Comp Gov hashtags on Twitter around the time tests are getting out.  The memes are often hilarious and rather politically incorrect.  They are also very informative about not only what was on the test but also what was not taught by the teacher of the tweeter.  Seriously, some kids didn’t even know the AP 6 in Comp Gov, and that’s unforgivable.


So what’s next for Seniors?  Well here is the yearly struggle of the message we give to the Senior class.  Next week is the wonderful new distraction called Senior Week.  Then a bunch of Seniors are on the Senior Trip to Mickey’s Corporate Kingdom where the will miss the following Tuesday and Wednesday, and then that Friday is Senior ditch day.  But somewhere we keep getting the message that we need to teach to the end, especially for those that, you know, are borderline in making the end. 

Graduation is the event that matters.  I never understood the idea of a Senior trip existing over multiple school days.  It sends a really screwy message.


What do we do after AP testing?  Well, we work.  I tell my Seniors that I recognize that they put forth a whole lot of out of class effort and it is time to pull back on the homebound workload. 

But they need to be in class.  My International Relations simulation is engagement intensive and requires attendance to be mandatory or grades start suffering.  My last few weeks are a great way to help boost the grade of those that struggled with my AP intensity while enjoying a simulation that can be really involved.  Nope, there’s work yet to be done.


The second basketball season begins this week.  Yep, Summer AAU is upon us where June and most of July is going to be taken up by lots and lots of basketball.  Gone are the days where you go to a couple of tournaments and that’s it.  Now Varsity programs are a year round function that compete with local AAU programs.  Those programs charge $500-$1,000 for less than 20 games.  We charge less $300 for 50 games, and we help out kids that need financial assistance.  Thankfully I have a staff that is amazing and takes on this summertime commitment because I need the vacation with my wife to recharge.


Hey, the Willits News actually honored the Teachers of the Year!


A student walks into Open Gym and I look at his feet.  He has low top shoes on that look half trail shoe and half bowling shoe. 

“Sorry D, can’t let you run today in those shoes.   Gotta have basketball shoes in Open Gym.”

You know that moment when about twenty guys in a gym stop what they are doing and look you.  Yeah, that happened.

“Brown, those are the new Durants.” 

“Those are the new KDs, Brown!”

“Brown, those are basketball shoes.  They’re Durants!”

I looked at a colleague who just shook his head and said, “Kids just don’t wear highs anymore.”

Highs?  Hell, kids don’t even wear real kicks anymore. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Haven’t tried a nude-in-class component, yet.

Something tells me that a nude human Supply and Demand curve might be a tad bit unpopular in the American public high school system.  I wonder about college.

“Over the last 11 years, professor Ricardo Dominguez has taught a course at UC San Diego titled Visual Arts 104A: Performing the Self.
As part of an assignment, students are asked to make a nude “gesture” in front of the class in a darkened room.”

Yes, um, Coach Brown from the Ukiah Daily Fishwrap….I was just wondering….in a class called “Visual Arts: Performing the Self”, with a professor that is known to enjoy being naked, and with your daughter being told that nudity might actually happen in the class……


“It bothers me; I'm not sending her to school for this,” the anonymous woman told KGTV. “It makes me sick to my stomach.”

Not that I would know but it’s a good bet that there are other things that might be cause for concern at U.C. San Deigo that does not involve a nude people in a room painting each other.  It’s college for Christ sake; the act of getting naked for some Art class is not necessarily a brand new concept, especially in the University of California system.  I read the story and noticed two things; an overbearing parent, and …

Mr. Dominguez seems nice but I’m not getting in a room naked with him. 

“The students can choose to do the nude gesture version or the naked version (the naked gesture means you must perform a laying bare of your 'traumatic' self, and students can do this gesture under a rug or in any way they choose -- but they must share their most fragile self -- something most students find extremely hard to do). The nude self gesture takes place in complete darkness, and everyone is nude, with only one candle or very small source of light for each individual performance.”

Fine.  It’s art.  So is this.

Guess to each their own.  I wouldn’t get all nude with a professor and a candle lit room, nor would I get Abramovic slap happy to find an emotional connection to pain-driven art.  However the parent is the one that is out of line here.  College is meant for the bizarre to be explored and the boundaries to be pushed.  It’s also one of those things you let your kid experience even if the parent is paying the rent.  If the kid has the grades and drive, then the nude painting is just another stop on the journey of self-actualization. 

She’s in college.  Let her figure it out.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cheerleading will probably become a sport in 2017

In all likelihood competitive cheerleading will become a sport sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation in 2017.  There is probably a joke somewhere in there about cheerleading and the word “sport” but you won’t hear it from me.  Good cheerleading requires practice, skill, commitment, collaboration, and some serious strength and flexibility.  Those that don’t think it can be competitive haven’t seen good cheerleading. 

Still, while State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez might have thought she was doing a favor writing a bill making it a state sanctioned sport, what she really has done is welcome the sport to the CIF, Section, and school bureaucracy that now makes up the massive school-athletic structure.  Now coaches get to pay hundreds of dollars to sit through online classes, pass numerous security checks, and go through the district funding obligations to access money they might have raised but is no longer their own to play with.  Congratulations. 

Next season, El Diamante eight-year cheer advisor Amanda Richards, who also teaches physical education, is partnering with a new company to make the uniforms more affordable at $250.

Richards used to take her squads to competitions, but to cut back on expenses, they stopped going about seven years ago. It cost an additional $500 to $600 for each cheerleader to attend competitions.

Richards estimates that it can cost anywhere between $800 to $1,400 to be a cheerleader per school year.

"The burden is on athletics because we get no funds to run the program from the district," Flenory said. "So we have to absorb it. If a girl goes out for cheer and she can't go out to buy a uniform, I have to go out and find the money to buy the uniform."

But if AB 949 passes, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the school district the Miner athletic director noted, which is why he supports the proposal.

"Once it becomes a certified sport, there has to be some type of money for it," Flenory said.

Oh sure there does! 

Good luck!

Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Week that Was; the AP is going to be AOK, AIGHT Edition

This is the week that you might actually be able to hear the stress emit from student brains.  Advanced Placement testing started on Monday and while I try and try to calm them down, many act as if the test will bring ultimate fulfillment or total despair to their lives. 

My AP (Comparative Government) will be this coming Thursday.  The benefit is the extra time during this AP week, especially since the elementary teachers voted to make the high school loose one week of instruction.  But the bad part to the week is that about 70% of the students are not in class because they are taking other AP tests, and many are fairly burnt out by the time mine rolls along.  That just makes engagement that much more necessary this week!


From all accounts Prom was quite the success.  There were the usual student complaints that you always hear from Prom that revolve around the music or the drama but the busses didn’t seem to be much of an issue and the vast majority of students said they enjoyed it.  At the same time it looks like the bussing also curtailed a lot of the drinking as many supervisors said it was a slow night for boozy students.  Good.  We like students having a good time in a safe environment!


Mrs. Coach Brown got Teacher of the Year at her high school this year.  She got it because she’s really damn good at teaching and things.  She’s far better than I am.  She’s earned it many times over. 

Of course, leave it to the idiots at the Willits News to report on district Teachers of the Year like this;

“A group of teachers received “Teacher of the Year” awards,……”

An article that big and you can’t even list the names?  Guess if isn’t weed or chaos, it isn’t newsworthy.  Trash.


Softball champions!


Mid-May also brings Senior realization mode.  Attitudes are starting to soften and shift as some of the students start to realize that their life is about to make a substantial shift elsewhere.  It’s not that they don’t want to leave, it’s that they are a tad fearful that the routine is gone, a tad sad that their cliques will be evaporated, and a tad apprehensive about what is coming.  Lots of listening and lots of smiles will be coming in the next few weeks.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Uh oh. Board Member starts sipping Alfie Kohn Kool-Aid.

It always starts with an Op-Ed piece in the critically acclaimed Ukiah Daily Journal.  In the past it has been about school start times, funding obligations, labor issues, and the athletic program.  Now, homework.  Yep, this is often how school board members peak the interest of community members on educational topics.

Megan Van Sant is a school board member who has written the latest piece on the value of homework called “Does Homework Matter?”

“Ahh… Homework. When I mentioned that I was considering writing a column about homework, the response from others was sharp and immediate. “Ugh,” said the first parent I spoke to. “I hate homework.” Without fail, every person I talked to about homework responded with a similar statement. Homework, it seems, is universally deplored.”

Not that teachers love homework but it seems Ms. Van Sant forgot to talk to educators about the unholy act of assigning work outside of class. 

What’s interesting about the issue of homework is that A)  nobody can agree on what “homework” actually is, and B)  much of the argument revolves around the issue of the child feeling “stressed” or “uncomfortable.”   For example, Van Sant grabs this quote form Kohn’s book about homework;

“A peek into many family homes easily reveals the negative effects of homework. They include children’s “frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities, and possible loss of interest in learning. Many parents lament the impact of homework on their relationship with their children; they may also resent having to play the role of enforcer and worry that they will be criticized either for not being involved enough with the homework or for becoming too involved.”

Oh no!  Do you mean that the soul crushing teacher has assigned something that actually requires the kid to do something they, *gasp*, DON’T WANT TO DO?!  The humanity!  The horror!  God forbid a parent play the role of enforcer for the sake of becoming involved in a child’s education.  This “don’t make my child uncomfortable because it is mean” attitude has permeated our society and turned it into the temple of thy childrens’ maximum comfort.

“Maybe, I thought, this misery and family conflict is warranted because of the academic benefits of homework. But delving into the research on homework was a surprise. It turns out that the positive effects of homework are largely mythical.”

It actually turns out that this is statement that is supported by Alfie Kohn is actually incorrect, and like most things regarding a child’s education, insanely tough to put towards causation.  Kohn hates everything standardized test, praise, homework, God, the Constitution, street food tacos, and everything else that could possibly get his name in the Edu-Reform circles.  He says that “time-on-task” is basically pointless when it comes to intellectual learning.  Skill?  Fine.  Learning?  No.  As stated in the above report, it’s basically impossible to make the statement that homework is bad because, A)  the students are different, B) the homework is different, and C) there are multiple variables in education that also correlate to student performance.  Hell, most reports can’t come to any concrete conclusion on how many hours per week.  Some reports say as much as four hours per night.  I will go on record and say that this is pretty much a bald faced lie.  Do I have students that will do this much homework a night?  Yes.  Are they a majority?  Not even close.  In fact I would say less than 10% easy.  Economists would say that when you ask a student “how many hours a night do you work on homework”, there is a good chance that the data might lie to you a wee bit. 

“The conventional wisdom about homework, even if flawed, is deeply ingrained in the American educational system. Nevertheless, within our own families, we get to create our own institutions. If you feel conflicted about homework, I encourage you to question your intrinsically held beliefs and trust your instincts. Try not to ruin your family life over homework. It’s just not worth it.”

   And now we get the real problem with homework; people don’t like it.  Check out this report by the Brookings Institute that pretty much throws out the overworked teen narrative and explains that most of the chatter is coming from a small group of parents that don’t like to see Johnny do something Johnny doesn’t want to do.  In fact, the data seems to support that more high school students have LESS homework than past decades because the curriculum has turned towards the classroom and out of homes.  Surprised?  I’m not.

I teach Seniors.  I assign homework.  It is not difficult at all and is used to reinforce lessons we did in class that day or recently.  Do I find it valuable?  I wouldn’t assign it if I didn’t see it as valuable.  I don’t think that homework is unreasonable or that the demand that it be done on-time is unreasonable.  What I do think is that kids have not been taught to make choices and not been taught to manage time.  And this attack on homework is the gross overreaction too that. 

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Post-WASC Analysis

No red wine committee.  This was an incredibly sad development and makes me question whether or not the people in WASC were actually involved in Education.  Wine is as necessary as CLAD.

The three days of WASC seemed a lot less invasive than in the past, even though I was involved in two groups.  The people seemed friendly and less looking for problems than trying to get people to be more reflective about their teaching and of the institution as a whole. 

My first meeting was dominated by others in a sales pitchy kind of way.  Sometimes I felt like we were trying way to hard to justify that we were when in reality we really weren’t.  It was kind of a turn off.  I mean, if the purpose is to have an honest evaluation of who you are as an institution then you don’t give off a false personality for the sake of expediency.  Then you never really solve problems.  It was fairly minor in the scope of everything else but it was tedious.

My second meeting was with my department and was much more pleasant.  It seemed like everyone was relaxed and almost having a good old fashioned brainstorming session with the occasional question by committee members mixed in.  It also made me thrilled (yet again) that I work in a department that is solid.  The people and personalities might have changed but the end result is that we have a tremendous amount of respect for each other and a killer work ethic. 

Most of the question we got in both meetings revolved around very particular subjects:

-How are you making adjustments to Common Core?

-How are you engaged in the process of collaboration amongst students within your classroom?

-How are you engaged in the process of collaboration with your colleagues?

-How do you create common assessments that are geared towards Common Core?

-What are your intervention strategies for socio-economically disadvantaged Learners and English Language Learners?

-Did you ever dance with the Common Core in the pale moonlight?

-Do you hear the Common Core screaming?

-Is Common Core your father?

And then whoosh, they were gone.

What was the result?  Who knows.  Our end assembly thingy seemed to last about twenty minutes and never gave us a definitive answer.  There were some good things and some things we could improve on.  But in the end the message still seemed that everyone had to prep for Common Core. 

Saturday, May 02, 2015

The Week that Was: the SBAC That Thing Up edition

Two hour block schedule this week as Juniors took the mandated tests.  Thank God they have all that incentive to do well or……….



Oh, and those SBAC scores;  going to be ugly.  This isn’t because I’m an overall pessimist, this is because they are ugly all over the nation and teachers are going to need time to adjust everything.  We are talking massive adjustments that will change the overall dynamics of classrooms and environments.  I think that change will be for the better in the long run but in the short term it will look supremely ugly in the test score column.


Prom is today.  It’s about 15 minutes south of town in Hopland and the school has decided to do something I find interesting.  Students are not allowed to drive to prom.  Nope.  Students will be driving to the school where they will be breathalyzed before they get on a bus and are driven to prom.  They will then be breathalyzed again when they leave prom and are bussed back to the high school.  While I cringe a tad about the whole school bus to prom thing, I’m totally in favor of a major intervention regarding alcohol in this town.  Not only is there an overwhelming problem of teenage drinking, there is a permissive culture of adults who think that it’s almost adorable that teens pre-game to Prom or get blasted for Sober Grad Night.  My old boss once said that a school should be an island of safety for all students.  This is a good step.



Here’s another great step.  We have a teacher on campus who teaches health occupations and is also a paramedic.  He has a genuine concern for kids and that passion transfers to other members of the staff.  He used the two hour blocks to educate the Frosh/Soph about drinking and driving by having them attend a presentation by the CHP in the gym.  Then the week was capped off by a Every 15 Minutes style drunk driving accident as the students came out to lunch.  The idea was to nail the students as they were leaving at lunch (most do) and have them witness the accident and get the education.  And also do it the Friday before Prom.  From what I saw it was a large success and it didn’t have the mammoth distraction that Every 15 Minutes has for a week.  It was a great lesson.   


How do you survive a two hour block?   Mix things up like crazy.

AP Comp Gov:  News – Questions – Practice FRQ – Video clip – Discussion – Lecture – Video clip – Break – Lecture – Video clip – Discussion – Writing – Done.

Economics:  News – Questions – Video Prompt – Writing – Discussion – Lecture – Break – Discussion – Video Clip – Writing – Done.

Add in an occasional funny story and the time goes by ok.  I do give my kids a seven minute break for bathroom and vending machines during block schedule.  If we get them in college, we can have them here. 


First rattlesnake warning!

Living in the Coastal Mountains of Northern California means that summer equals rattlesnakes.  Since the school nudges up to the west hills of the Ukiah Valley, a rattlesnake sighting here and there is not uncommon at all.  Yesterday was the first sighting of a baby in the fields just northwest of campus.  Summer is here!