Monday, December 27, 2010

Don't blame teachers, assholes.

Modern educational "reformers" such as Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, David Guggenheim, Bill Gates, and Barack Obama tend to place great importance and blame teachers for poor test scores. A new PISA report shows that the US has stagnated when compared to the rest of the developed world, ranking below countries such as Poland, Portugal, and the Czech Republic. Most of the "reformers" believe the solution would involve firing those 'bad' teachers and principals. That is moronic. People who know about education, who have been teachers and not just read about it, examined the data and found interesting correlations educators have known all along.

The NEA (yeah, the union) broke down the numbers based on poverty. What the NEA found was striking. When you separate American schools based on poverty rates and compare them to other countries of a similar poverty rate, American students outperform everybody. Countries with a 10% poverty rate scored lower than American students in schools with a 10% poverty rate. The US was #1. Countries with a 20% poverty rate score lower than American schools with a 20% poverty rate. It is only when you get into high poverty schools that American students begin to underperform other countries. Our system takes a huge variety of of students and performs amazingly well. More tests, so called accountability, and firing bad teachers will not solve anything. Lets look at home grown successes, not racially homogeneous unimpoverished countries such as Finland or Japan. In addition, be mindful of numbers. Only 35% of students in Shanghai are allowed to go to school. We have to take everybody, and we still kick their ass. Take that China.

See the articles for yourself.
PISA Results
High Test Scores, Low Ability

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Since I've started my teaching career, and especially in the last three years at my current school, I have taught and been involved in a multitude of resume fattening opportunities. I have taught sheltered, special education, honors, expelled, and regular education courses in seven subjects. Training in ESL, MYP, and Constructing Meaning have given me some credit hours and tools for teaching. I have been assistant department chair, department chair, and union representative. My test scores and relationships with administration and teachers are exquisite, even though I believe test scores are meaningless numbers; "Fuzzy Math" according to George. Best of all, I'm still young and cheap to hire. Next year my school is offering me their final fat opportunity, IB.

The International Baccalaureate program is similar to AP in that they are challenging courses, taught at a very high level. If a student passes an IB exam they will receive college credit. The IB program offers almost a whole year of college credit if the student is able to pass the very difficult examinations. My school decided I should teach the senior level History of the Americas course, meaning I would be the final step for those students. That is a very big responsibility. My students from last year are already excited at the possibility of having me as their teacher again. To top that all off, the district will fly me to Lake Tahoe for training this summer. I had told my administration I would never volunteer to take on that extra work and responsibility if I still had 6 classes and 3 preps again. I hope to bring that down to two preps, and with the new schedule for next year, 5 classes. Administration wants me to keep teaching 10th grade Honors US History, so the students are ready for IB. That would be my ideal schedule. Hopefully that can happen.

My dilemma is deciding on whether I want to stay. Why stay in a district that values its employees as little as mine. This is the age when teachers pick their district, when you are young, marketable, and won't lose many salary years in a move. I have two teachers that are going to be principals next year. One may even be starting a charter school. Wouldn't it be nice to have the backing of administration, and not have to defend yourself from parents and bosses at the same time? I hate charters. But I also hate being treated like an automaton by the district. The only thing keeping me at my school are the kids. In no other school do you have the kind of opportunities to change lives. I shall have to wait and see how the chips fall second semester.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Difficult Conversations

You are never just a teacher. I also double as a counselor, mentor, monitor, authoritarian, and administrator. Sometimes, teachers and school are the most stable aspects of some kid's lives. I unwittingly get thrown into roles I am neither trained or completely comfortable with. For example, when I taught law, students would ask me about their "cousins" because they got in trouble over immigration, driving, or any other aspect of the law. I wasn't qualified or trained.

On Tuesday, I had a student come to me crying because she didn't have anybody else to turn to. I consider that quite the vote of confidence, but also rather frightening. Who did I think I was helping Lesley make important life decisions? First, her mother was suicidal to the point that Lesley had to miss most of a semester to take care of and monitor her. Because of this, her parents were getting a divorce. Her cousin in Mexico who was taking care of her grandparents got onto a list of the drug cartels. And to top it all of, her brothers and cousins living with her had gotten themselves into some Latin street gangs. She believed one of her cousins was behind, or knew who was involved in a drive by shooting at one of our schools the previous week. The shooting put an innocent girl in critical condition. She had been taken out of the room to talk to our building SROs, but didn't know whether to share what she knew.

This was one of the few times I considered giving out my personal contact information in case she needed somebody to talk to, or to be someplace else. I only considered. Dan, one of my coworkers stepped in and helped a student. He sent a student to California for a wrestling camp, fundraising, an bankrolling the whole operation himself. He taught the kid how to weight lift and work out. Dan did this because he cared, and the student's deadbeat parents refused to lift a finger for their son. The deadbeat dad got jealous, and called the school and police on Dan. He was escorted out of he building by police, and not allowed in until he was proven innocent. That is how our society rewards teachers who go above and beyond. That story was in the back of my mind when I decided I couldn't get personally involved.

The most I could do was to offer my paltry advice. Because Lesley was spending so much time taking care of and advising other people, I recommended she find time to do something for herself. She needed to escape the frame of mind she was in, otherwise she would be an enabler. Lesley rattled off a list of hobbies and activities she would like to do. I told her what I do. She seemed to appreciate and enjoy that suggestion. However she interpreted that advice, Lesley has been in class ever since. I sure do hope playing psychiatrist for 50 minutes did some good. I wish I could have done more. That seems to be a continual theme.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I have never been one of those teachers that looked forward to weekends or breaks. I used to silently mock those who treat the school like Office Space. Teaching the kids is awesome, and I wouldn't do anything else. This year, however, is different, and it's not the kids. Some people just take the joy out of life.

I'm done with the patronizing condescension. I'm done with the bullshit 'reforms.' I'm done with amateurs fucking up our kid's education. What hurts more than the morons causing the damage is having good teachers made to feel ineffective because they are stretched to thin. We care, and when we can't do our job, it kills. I'm done. Is it winter break yet?