Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Scapegoats

The LA Times has decided to print "value-added" scores of all LAUSD teachers again. Although, if my local daily printed my scores I would have nothing to worry about, the point is that we shouldn't trust the major newspapers to get this right.

First of all, what do the journalists compiling the information know about teaching? Education is one of those subjects that you need to be involved in, in order to fully understand it. I've gotten to the point of refusing to have discussions about education with people who only work on assumptions and their high school experience.

The teacher ratings in the LA Times are based on standardized test scores. Those tests are a bunch of worthless bullshit that kids don't care about and give nothing for teachers to guide instruction. I don't need a three day test to tell me that Eduardo isn't proficient in reading, or Anab in writing. All standardized tests do is create a facade of accountability, at the same time robbing precious school time.

Perhaps we should evaluate the LA Times based on the same collective criteria teachers are. Here is my evaluation of their paper.

#1) The LA Times endorsed the Iraq War in March 2003, saying:
As this nation enters war, we trust that the U.S. and British armed forces will be able to take advantage of their vastly superior training and technology to end the conflict soon with minimal casualties.

Even I knew better. The LA Times has taken down that editorial that now only exists in small nuggets on the web. Getting the war wrong is one of the greatest failures of the modern media. The American media was alone in the world in terms of advancing the jingoistic vocabulary and propaganda of the government.

#2) The last time the LA Times endorsed a presidential candidate before 2008 was in 1972. The LA Times endorsed Nixon. We all know how that turned out.

#3) In 2006, shortly after the Republican defeat at the polls, the Times published Bomb Iran where the author Joshua Muravchik
The only way to forestall these frightening developments is by the use of force. Not by invading Iran as we did Iraq, but by an air campaign against Tehran's nuclear facilities. We have considerable information about these facilities; by some estimates they comprise about 1,500 targets. If we hit a large fraction of them in a bombing campaign that might last from a few days to a couple of weeks, we would inflict severe damage. This would not end Iran's weapons program, but it would certainly delay it.
Muravchik later goes on to compare the cold war with Iran as similar to that with the USSR, and compares the Iranian leadership to Nazis and Bolsheviks. The ignorance is palpable.

Are these examples nit-picky and selective. Yes. So are teacher evaluations. We need to understand the validity and reliability of data before we use it to evaluate and judge people. Teacher #1 in the white school will always get better scores than teacher #2 in the poor and immigrant communities. LA Times, come back when you have teachers on staff.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Marooned

Victory was fleeting. For one week, it appeared as though the system was beaten, and all was right in the world again. The students protested and won, applying lessons they learned in my class. They chanted "Save the Beard!" and "An injury to one is an injury to all!" or "Save our teachers!" How naive I now feel.

The day after the students protest I had the board meeting where the Board of Education was to vote on whether to approve or disapprove the recommendation of my non-renewal. The bad news was that the Board had not voted against a recommendation in years, and only a few times in the district's existence. In addition, I was bundled in for approval with all the other non-renewals, transfers, retirees, and other miscellaneous personnel changes.

When I pulled into the parking lot I greeted by a cop, who asked "Are you here to protest, or are you here for the meeting?" Security is out in force when dangerous activities abound. Amazingly, the students, their parents were out in force, and the State Representative from the district showed up, all for the TV news cameras.
The Board filibustered until the end, and finally opened up the room to speak. Dozens of students and their parents bravely got up and spoke. I learned a lot about what I do that night. How I was the only teacher that understood when one of my student's mothers was diagnosed with cancer, or how I was the only positive male role model in their daughter's life. I never felt more appreciated, overwhelmed, and right in my life. That night affirmed why I teach.

In the end, the board voted 5-2 to reject the recommendation for my non-renewal. We were all stunned. We had won. Stand and Deliver bitches!

That night, I sat on the porch with a few glasses of local whiskey and a few cigarettes. Victory tasted so sweet. I meant as much to those students, as they did to me. I was a teacher.

Those in power quickly moved to regain their authority. The day of the protest, I was pulled out of the classroom and placed on paid leave while an "investigation" was conducted. The human relations automatons and principals worked the board members behind the scenes and called for another board meeting a week later.


News once again showed up, but a smaller contingent of parents and students. Four days notice is tough for kids who need to take care of their families. The student's spoke passionately again. I lectured the members on history and checks and balances. We lost 4-3. Shit, Dead Poet's Society.

Afterward, I stood outside with my students and attempted to repair the damage. They were despondent. The Board destroyed their faith in the system. I explained that you don't always win and urged them to never give up, always speak their mind. We hugged, took a few photos, and I said that I was proud of each and every one of them, and they should have no regrets about anything they did. Those kids will run this country some day. They have morals and balls.

The next day, the students started working on their civil rights people's poster project, modeled after these. I made an example for the students, about the students. I asked the students to get it from my desk and pass it around the class. My sub tried to resist, but the student's didn't listen.

Ever since, I have been languishing at home on Elba Island, still on leave while an "investigation" proceeds. It is a bizarre feeling. I have accomplished so much in four years of teaching. What does the next 36 hold? Yet, here I sit, wasting away.

People ask if I am doing anything with my "time off." No, I am not. I am angry and melancholic. I have somebody teaching my kids. Many are ditching class. Retaliation from the district is not just affecting me, but the students also. I don't understand how somebody can work in education and not either care or see the damage they are doing by placing me on leave.

A great bathroom poet once wrote,
Here I sit,
all broken hearted.
Trying to shit,
but I only farted.


Strangely sums up the situation right now.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Laying low

Temporarily keeping my posts down. Laying low till district stops acting irrational. Scab found this blog.

Hi Scab.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Redemption

What an eventful week. First, the students staged a sit-in to protest my non-renewal, taking suspensions that were later reversed after media coverage. Then they walked out and protested on the street.







Last night, students, parents, a State Representative, and union leaders poured their heart out. The Board of Education declined the recommendation for non-renewal (voted to keep me). I now have to fight to make sure the wishes of all parties are followed. More details to come as I come down from my high.

Monday, March 28, 2011

We teach fascism

A few weeks ago I learned I was being recommended for non-renewal for "performance based" reasons. I would believe it if

1. My teaching was ever criticized. It has not been. In fact, I have been the poster boy for the department every time district people want to see social studies in action. All of my reviews have been overflowing with admiration.
2. My students didn't learn. I have heard from multiple people that my students were better prepared and performed better in other courses. I have stacks of college level essays to prove it.
3. My students didn't like me. They attempted a sit-in to protest my non-renewal. I have hundreds of anonymous course reviews and dozens of personal letters from the kiddos.
4. I was being non-renewed for anything beyond taking too many bathroom breaks at professional development, or looking bored at the seventh hour of an all day PD.
5. I suddenly didn't meet "standards" two weeks before my final evaluation, that would give me renewal and tenure for next year. Hmm....

There is only one person in my school who is pushing for my non-renewal. The entire staff, student and AP team support me. This makes all interactions with the principal awkward, leading to a series of humorous events this past week. I was asked to not attend the department chairperson meeting because it would be deciding TE for next year. I think it's because I'm pissing her off.

Why am I pissing her off? Actually, it's not me, but I am enjoying every minute of it. Despite the obvious bullshit, my students are showing their true colors. I have the future leaders of this country in my room.

A few weeks ago the students began a petition to the principal. It stated that the administration could not expect the respect of its students if they followed through with the decision to non-renew me, and how could admin expect to run the school if the student body distrusted their decisions. It was signed by over 600 students, over 1/3 of the school. This got under the principal's skin. For the first time, emotion (anger) was shown, and freaked out the kids in a way that reinforced their desire to challenge her. Now the students are calling board members and writing letters. The students are planning on attending the Board of Education meeting where the BOE will decide on the recommendation for non-renewal.

The students then decided to apply their knowledge of history from my class. Remembering the ideas of the IWW, collective action and organization, the students began to plan a protest. It was to occur last Friday. Facebook groups and text messages went out alerting the whole school. Of course, administration caught wind of the plan.

During the last period on Friday an assistant principal and dean came into my room and I was escorted down the the principal's office like a troublesome student. I demanded union representation immediately. I sat down and met with the principal and an assistant principal. This was the first time she looked me in the eyes since my notice of non-renewal. She was frightened of what the student's actions would say about her to the almighty district. The principal told me what the students were planning, like I already didn't know, and asked if I would tell the students not to do the sit-in. She said that there were proper forms of stating an opinion, and a sit-in is not appropriate. Obviously her ignorance pertains to subjects beyond history, but I decided it was not the right time and place to pick a fight. I also knew, the students had called off the sit-in, in order to better plan a more effective event at a later date. I agreed to talk to the students.

The principal had rounded up the leaders of the petition, and put them in a conference room. As I walked in, the other two APs were in the room, and I was followed by the principal and other AP. The entire admin team was there, serious, nervous, and straight faced.

When I saw the students I excited greeted them with "Sup, thugs!"
They responded with an equally excited "Hey Mr. _________!"

For a wonderful moment I looked at the principal, hoping the realization hit her too. You are not a teacher, you don't know kids, you are an automaton. In fact, you are afraid of kids. How do you get to tell me what to do? She gave me the nod to proceed with the fright fest.

I said to the students "I was told of what you are planning, and I would like to see you in MY class tomorrow. Thunderstand?"

"Yes, mister"

"Now remember, you have homework, right?"

"Oh yeah, about McCarthyism, right?" (irony)

"Yep." At that moment, I turned to the principal to signal I was done.

The principal then continued to ask the students if they could send out texts alerting the students that the sit-in was off. My four subversive students told her repeatedly that was unnecessary. Finally, the principal asked if she should make an announcement. At that point, the leader of the students turned towards the principal, and said with the perfect mix of annoyance, pity, and passive aggressiveness "Well, we've already told you that we think that is unnecessary, but, if you really want to, you can go ahead and do that." I nearly jumped out of my chair to give them a high five. They understand power. I wish I would've remembered to look at the APs to see their reaction. They support me, but cannot show it.

At that point, the students were retained for individual interrogations, while I was dismissed back to my room. On the way out, I signaled to the kids from around the corner a smile, wink, and OK sign. They smiled and attempted to cover up their laughing. Minutes later, the subversives came knocking at my door. I stepped out. We looked at each other and then spontaneously burst into laughter. I asked and made sure they were not intimidated. They said no. Apparently the office workers told the students to not allow administration to bully or intimidate them. The subversives and I agreed to talk later, we shouldn't be seen together yet. Those students were the first people in the school to get under the principal's skin. They were not cowed by administration. At that point, the subversives decided to double down and plan a better protest.

At the end of the day, there was an announcement from the principal urging all students to be at class. Then there was an all staff 5 minute meeting where we were encouraged to enforce tardy and hallway rules. Ha!

These students are operating independently from me. These students have decided not to be passive observers in their own school, and not treat their education as a spectator sport. Our administration came down on them like a fascist regime. What the students are learning about power from this process is immense. What they've done so far is incredible, and I cannot wait to see what next week holds.

Because of the students, I will win, or stymie her career, or both.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Brewing?

I have the best students in the world. They have taken their lessons in history, and applied them to their learning environment.

Over 600 of my students, 1/3 of the whole student body, signed a petition on my behalf. It tells admin that if they let me go, the students will have no faith in their administration and should expect the consequences. Today that was delivered to the only person in the building that has attacked me, and can reverse the decision. Rumor has it, it got under her skin.

Two weeks to go until the board decision on my future, and the students are still mobilizing.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Life non-renewed

All teachers up for tenure were non-renewed, me being one of them. Although I have no rights because I am probationary, the union wants to help me fight it. All of the staff are shocked and angered. A great social injustice towards our students.

Administration got promoted. How ironic. Fighting this will accomplish one of two things. Embarrassing them in front of the school board, or a reversal of the non-renewal. I have one person's mind to change, everybody else is with me. Time to raise hell.

It will be a dramatic spring and summer.