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.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Experiments in patience and shit sifting

I remember a few years ago when I was new to this area, and fresh out of college, I was applying for jobs in all of the area districts. My job at the time was teaching social studies to all of the expelled students of a district. I was hired as a para, but worked as a teacher, just to keep myself busy, and my morale up. My co-workers treated me as a teacher, and not a para. There was mutual respect of what we did, and that got me through my first year. I needed to get into a classroom for myself though. When I talked of applying to my current district, everybody said not to do it. The schools were ghetto, the district leadership inept, students don't care, etc... I needed a job. I took it, and I love it. The students are a challenge, but open books. There is the possibility of making a huge difference with my students. That's why I continue to teach there.

Working in my school or district is a lesson in flexibility. How much longer can you put up with one administrator, one mandate, or it all until you snap. So many teachers are already burned out this year. They don't want to teach anymore, and don't even want to finish the school year. Our district has broken them. It is working on me. We live in a German scheisse (shiza) porn, always being shit on. There is no respect for teachers.

Our administrators are enforcing many of the schools "reforms" through a gotcha system. If you fail to meet the requirements of any of the new systems, you are a bad teacher, and need additional observations and a professional growth plan.

#1: You must have a proficiency wall. A proficiency wall has graded and annotated examples of student work. It must have a rubric, so if students need to see what proficient (B) work looks like, all they need to do is look at the wall. It's a good idea, but the kids don't care. It sits there, idle, taking up space.

#2: Standards based grading (SBG). You must evaluate your students using SBG and tie your lessons to state standards. I have three standards. My gradebook has to be divided into three sections. Some lessons are graded for "practice" while others are assessments. You can only give a grade on the assessments. You cannot penalize for late or missing work, because under SBG it is the progress of a student, not the final scores that counts. Last year I gave an honors student a D, and the helicopter mom went to administration to complain. My principal told me to let the student hand in work 3 weeks after the close of the quarter, because in SBG there is no late work, no study habits, no responsibility. Students now know they can't be penalized, guess how that is going?

#3: Common assessments. We must make common assessments with others who teach the same content. We are to come up with common goals for formative (quizzes) and summative (tests) assessments, and give those tests. You create these in your...

#4: Professional Learning Team (PLT): This is a collection of teachers in the same content. We must meet weekly and create assessments. Testing is very important. We align our assessments to state standards and...

#5: District pacing guides (PGs): These tell us what we should be teaching and when. If you are off the pacing guide, as I am, you get in trouble. I had to defend spending extra time teaching immigration to my IMMIGRANT students, because you can use their experiences as teachable moments. If you are off the pacing guide, you cannot create common assessments with you PLT, and you will be penalized on the...

#6 Interim Assessments (IAs): These are district tests that teach specific content and skills. Little did teachers know years ago, when we created these, that they would be used against us. Every teacher in the district uses these, and they are used to measure teachers against each other. There is a data room where each teacher's scores are posted and compared to each other. If your scores are low, you get on administration's radar, and they do drive-bys of your room often. When they come by your room, they look for...

#7 Unit objective (UO), essential question (EQ), and success criteria (SC): In English, that means unit question, daily question, and how students show they know the EQ. These must be posted and updated daily. They must correspond to the standards, vocabulary and content goals, and produce evidence of student learning. If they are "wrong" you get in trouble. If you forgot to update them, you get in trouble. It all works under a gotcha system. These are for students to see, so that everyday the students know what they are supposed to do. It's overly complicated, with little benefit.

#8 Professional Leaning Communities (PLCs): These used to be called departments. Now they are PLCs. This is where you collaborate with other teachers in the same department, and align your classes horizontally and vertically. That ensures there is no redundancy in what is taught.

#9 Data: The point of all of those ideas is to produce data. Numbers on charts and graphs that shows students are learning and improving. If you don't make sure your data looks good, you're screwed. Your data on IAs, common assessments, state tests, ACT, and other assessments are posted and compared with others in the data room. It does not assist or encourage improvement, only punishment of what is deemed poor performance.

I also have Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) and Middle Years Program (MYP) meetings and rubrics to attend because I am a department chair. It is maddening. When do I get to teach? Luckily for me, I am on top of the charts in the data game, so I am off the radar.

To make everything worse, our district broke our contract and gave us a sixth clas
s to teach. Contract says five. We fought the implementation of this last year. I wrote about it then. I survived the budget cuts, but many other teachers were laid off. Our union, which I became a building representative for, filed a grievance with an arbitrator, and won. The arbitrator told the district they had illegally broken the contract and had to compensate us for our work. Unfortunately, the arbitrator's ruling was non-binding. Last week our union packed the Board of Education meeting where they were to decide on the ruling.

District shat on us. The superintendent told principals in elementary that accepting the arbitration would result in lost elementary jobs. Elementary principals brought out their staff. Our union was divided between high school and elementary. Their argument was that contact time with students was inequitable, between high school and elementary, that we only work 20 hours a week with students. This is completely false, and insulting, being that I work 50-60 hours a week. Also, it takes much longer to plan and grade for 170 students and essays, than it takes to grade 2 + 2 = 4. The BOE rejected the arbitration, and now we are going to file a lawsuit. The worst part of the week was the superintendent bringing up principals, chamber of commerce, elementary teachers, and parents telling us we were lazy, greedy, part-time, and ineffective. It was almost too much. We were there till 9:30, and parent teacher conferences were the next day after school.

People are burnt out. Between all the extra expectations that really do very little to improve instruction, the gotcha system, and no respect from our district, there are going to be a lot of vacancies. All of those extra expectations take up a lot of time, and we cannot plan or grade sufficiently well, on top of having 33% less plan, and 20% more work. I have three preps but only two plans. Some of the best teachers are being pushed out, and replaced by Teach for America grads. For example, one of our veteran teachers used payday lending abuses to teach his students advanced algebra. This is relevant to the student's lives. Students who were on the verge of being kicked out of school became math geeks. He was written up for this because that was not on the district pacing guide. It is insane. My battle is separating all of that crap, from what I love to do, teach. It's getting harder.

There is only so far you can push people who do what they do out of the kindness and care of their heart. The staff at my school is committed, professional, and caring. We went from 15% ESL to over 50% in 10 years, and did not decline in quality. We take knocks from district because we care about the students. However, there is a point at which it becomes abusive. That point is rapidly approaching.

I had one overwhelmingly positive experience this week. There is one administrator in our building who teachers have respect for. She is helpful, insightful, and is human. She is an expert on sheltered and ESL instruction, and shares her techniques in an efficient and non-threatening way. She always looks at the positives, and helps when you fall. She does not work under the gotcha system. I invited her into my room to see what I had done with my sheltered students.
During parent teacher conferences, my two students from Myanmar brought in their parents. Zaw and Aye couldn't speak anything beyond "hello mister" to me two months ago. Now they are having basic conversation, and writing in my class. They are awesome. They were translating to their parents when my administrator walked in. I was nervous because she is somebody I respect, and I don't know if I am doing my job correctly with the sheltered students.

I had my proficiency wall and EQ, SC criteria up. She looked at my immigration projects. These are shadows of immigrant groups the students created, that had to represent various aspects of that group such as push and pull factors, assimilation, locations and religions, laws made against them, and contributions to the country. The students had to show that criteria through art. Students who cannot speak to me were able to complete this project. The silhouettes are walking towards the statue of liberty in a nice symbolic manner. The goal is to get the students to understand that their story is similar to older immigrant groups. Same story, different locations. My administrator walked around the room with her jaw open. She was amazed, and asked if she could return with a camera. I agreed. She told me that was one of the greatest, accessible, but still rigorous lessons for ESL students she has seen. I did well, and used none of the PLT, SC, or SBG methods. Just imagine what I could do if I wasn't one of those free loading part time lazy teachers.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

things dat r gay stuff etc.

did u no dat gramer is not taut anymore? english teechrs cant teech it, leaving it 2 us social studies teechrs. not cuz dey dont want 2, cuz admin wont let it happen. we h8 it.

In terms of student caused annoyance, grammar is definitely high on the list. The causes of poor grammar are hotly debated, if supported at all. As a Social Studies teacher, very often my subject matter becomes applied English. I assign a lot of writing, and continuously am awed by what the students turn in. Text language often substitutes for real words. There is no organization, no thesis or topic sentences. Surprisingly, many students can engage in proper verbal communication, but are unable to put the same down on paper.

Students also tend to have trouble support positions with evidence and fact. The ability to very quickly check Wikipedia at any time allows students instant knowledge without any critical thought. I continuously battle with students over their grades.

"Why did I get a C?"
"Because it's not enough to say the Maya were destroyed by drought. How do you know that"
"I dunno, I read it on this website"
"Where is the evidence?"
Student points at screen.
"There is no evidence there, that is a secondary source"
"Mister, that's gay. This is hard"
"There is nothing homosexual about that website"
"Sorry mister."

Of course, if blogs existing decades ago I'm sure teachers would be saying the same thing. My issue is that our educational culture is not improving. There are now so many outside stimuli facilitating learned helplessness. At least now facebook has a spell check option, although my students don't use it. What we must do is change our curriculum to meet the challenges created by technology, and use that same technology to facilitate improved cultural and academic literacy.

For example, using facebook for learning. I had the students debate the necessity of dropping he atomic bombs on Japan. The two examples should contrast, showcasing my arguments above. One is the product of my teaching, and although slightly scatter brained, shows high levels of critical thinking. The other suffers from learned helplessness.
I believe that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a tactic to scare the Russians from entering the war between Japan and the US and it was unnecessary. I recall from reading the recent article by Zinn A People's war?, that we (the United States) saw the Soviet Union as a threat. One, because even after the destruction, their military and economy was regaining strength at an exponential rate. Another reason is because they were a communistic nation, which opposed our capitalistic beliefs and our imperialism to create a global economy that is dependent on the US. Also background knowledge from the reading, post-war, we were in a competition with the Soviet Union for world power. As this website states http://www.ncesa.org/html/hiroshima2.html "The United States government knew 3 things the Japanese government did not...One which was that the Russians were coming into the war". I think the US was paranoid if the Russians did enter the war and seize Japan, they could have control over the Pacific with our military bases and Southeast's Asia's natural resources. Although Hiroshima contained 2nd Army Headquaters that control the military of southern Japan, the US only CONSIDERED it a military necessity. While on the other hand, Nagasaki was a huge seaport in Southern Japan that supplied ships, military equipment and other military supplies through out Japan. In addition, Nagasaki's buildings were constructed of paper and other materials that caught fire quickly. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/mp06.asp But, in my opinion, the cities that were bombed didn't prove to be a huge military necessity; which supports the reason why it was unjust. which also means that the bombings were war crimes.
And #2.
I think that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki wasnt nessessary to end the war. yes japanese bombers did kill some of our civilians during the attack of Pearl Harbor, so the US eventually decided to do the same to at least avenge some o...f those civilians that weren't supposed to die but as well as our soldiers as well. Even though the people and the soldiers were like yea atomic bomb on your ass. Even so the bomb that hit first was necessary because of the many american citizens that were held captives and were tortured to death, but on the other hand i don't think that the second bomb wasn't necessary to end the war. I also think that with out the bomb, but if we just still bombed Nagasaki maybe they japanese would've surrendered much easier instead of us just giving them their just desserts with the atomic bomb.
As clear as day. The first comment is researched, reasoned, and organized. The second is from the hip. Unfortunately, all to often I receive #2. However, using facebook has helped many of the students understand reasoned debate, using facts, not impressions. Using tools to facilitate learning instead of allowing those tools to destroy it must be a continued focus of schools. If that happens, teachers will get fewer politicians like Scott Walker thinking "yea atomic bomb on your ass."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

My working conditions are your kid's learning conditions

Somebody has decided to make a new video that is in the know to my current situation. Turns out everybody is getting harassed right now. Administration has become Stalinesque in their paranoia and perception of unprofessionalism.

Our Friday after school teacher drinking session was the biggest its been in months.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wisconsin as a watershed moment

My friends have been in Madison, WI because they are standing up for what they believe in. There is much debate going on in the media about what that exactly is. There seems to be two minds opposing the teachers and public employees. One is of the belief that the pain and belt tightening must be shared. The other believes that unions are illegitimate and should have no rights.

The former is illogical for a couple of reasons. Why do we give tax cuts to the rich, and demand working families and children tighten the belt? For many of the fiscal conservatives, the double talk hypocrisy has reached contemptible heights. As a society we must have priorities.

The latter is the age old argument by Republicans who wish for business model management to be imposed on public schools. Unions do not hire or fire employees. Unions do not defend bad teachers. Unions give people due process rights, as given by contracts with schools. A teacher is a slightly different kind of employee. Teachers are highly skilled and specially trained. Due process rights are there to provide security for a teacher to experiment, tinker, fail and succeed, and innovate without threat of unemployment. If the teacher is unable to perform up to expectations, administrators have full power to remove that person.

The issue there comes down to how much the administrator is willing to do. Very often the answer is very little, or the administrator is climbing the ladder, and will be gone in a year or two.

Five years ago I started my teaching career in a small unionized GM city in Wisconsin. I have a real soft spot for Wisconsin and it has been incredible to see the solidarity and positivity the public employees are demonstrating there. Today, I'm a member of the union, and a building representative. Every day, I see the necessity of the union.

This year administration has begun harassment of teachers, and turned the climate toxic. Our building had a climate survey, polling the opinions of the teachers. Over 70% of teachers reported feeling unappreciated, that administration has no concept of the difficulty of their job, don't feel supported, don't feel they have a voice in the direction of the school and district, and would leave if given the chance. Teachers are being pulled into the principal's office for minor 'offenses' such as sending out an email with an inspirational video.

Right now, our school is an anomaly in the district for our increasing test scores. The reason is because of the incredible staff I work with. We are professionals. The survey shows that one of three positive responses was that teachers work cooperatively and respect each other.

If administration had the ability, most of the veteran teachers responsible for our student's growth would be fired for minor silly 'offenses'. I recently caught the administration's ire for some supposed unprofessionalism at professional development. I left PD on ELA strategies to get my ELA class started on a lesson. I learned strategies that I used and got commendations for by all administrators. One person decided they didn't like my leaving. I got written up and put on a growth plan. My status for next year is now uncertain. Even though my teaching has always been praised, been given awards for having the highest scores, shared my curriculum with staff, and been recognized as a department and school leader, I might be fired. When I told my colleagues that story they all had the same reaction. They laughed, then realized I was serious.

This is why we need unions. Administrators come and go. Some like you, some don't. What remains are skilled specialized teachers, who sacrifice so much for their students. If the priorities of our country are tax cuts for those making half a million dollars, poverty for teachers, and crumbling schools, fine. Just say what your true intention is, then we can begin to have a conversation "without the base alloy of hypocrisy."

I wanted to add a video that gave me goosebumps. Under Gov. Walkers plan, firefighters would be exempt from the changes. In a show of solidarity, they marched in to support the public employees in full dress uniform, bagpipes blaring. I think the general public needs to channel this energy, and support the schools and teachers, instead of attacking them.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Facts are funny things

The anti-teacher and anti-public school witch hunt these days is becoming more and more bellicose. Waiting for Superman by Davis Guggenheim just got the Oscar snub, and was rejected by Roger Ebert. One article that fought the propaganda in the film and pushed back was by Diane Ravitch in the New York Times movie reviews. Diane Ravitch was a supporter of No Child Left Behind, charter schools, and teacher "accountability." She has since come out against all of them, and become on the of the great defenders of the teaching profession.

In the review, Ravitch points out how Guggenheim, Rhee, Gates, and Obama currently point to certain examples of charter school or foreign success to justify their attacks on public education. For example, Finland is pointed to as an example the US should emulate. Unfortunately for the 'reformers', Finland has a 5% poverty rate and the teachers are 100% unionized. Charter schools fail twice as often as they surpass their public school equivalents. People say there are too many bad teachers. Most of those "bad teachers" are part of the 50% of people who leave teaching within the first five years. Those are just a few of the inconvenient facts that get in the way of those arguing for privatization of the education system.

As shown in the PISA reports that I wrote about in an early blog, it is not our teachers or schools that are necessarily the problem, it is poverty. If we continue to ignore the fact that poverty affects education, we will never improve education. Once we begin to tackle poverty, then the focus can shift to what schools can do differently.

As many have famously said, most recently the great Stephen Colbert; everybody is entitled to their own opinion, not their own facts.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Inspiration

Every time I get despondent about my effectiveness, I watch this video. The Man Who Planted Trees is perhaps the greatest explanation of what teachers in urban schools do.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Soul crushing

I am a firm believer that what I do is a necessary public service, to be filled by those most capable, and to be supported by society as a civic duty. The tone of government and media lately has been anything but. We had our Superintendent visit us at school and told us we should feel lucky, having summers off, vacation, and good benefits. In addition, we were lazy for not taking on the extra illegal responsibilities he was proposing. Those were expected ramblings out of the mouth of an inexperienced mental midget. He makes over half a million dollars a year, and has the gall to stand in front of public servants and tell them not to complain, and that we don't care about the students. Last year the man tried to teach a class, but was chased off by the students. Like every amateur educational 'reformer' the man was all talk, and no credentials.

On top of that, a 51 year old teacher in my department announced he was leaving. He worked in schools for years, and left his high paying law career to teach at our school. His reasons for leaving were simple, "I have never been treated this poorly in my life. People ask 'how do you deal with the kids' and I say, 'it's not the kids, it's the other adults.'"

Those are attacks we are used to. As a teacher you must have thick skin from students, parents, and administration otherwise you will not survive. Yesterday I had two experiences that made me realize how thin my skin still is.

I had run out of lunch foods, and decided to walk up the street to buy a sandwich. On my way up the street I came across a father, pregnant mother, and child in a stroller. As I neared, I noticed the father was smoking, and passed it off to the pregnant mother. As she smoked I realized it wasn't a cigarette but a joint. That kind of recklessness and ignorance left me dumbstruck. I could not believe the brazen disregard for life and cavalier attitude to engage in such acts so openly. I couldn't help but think that in 15 years I would be held accountable for that kid's standardized test scores. Strange how my mind immediately thought of that.

The second, and more disturbing story happened after school with a group of teachers. Every Friday a bunch of us go out for some much needed libatious revelry. As we were sitting at a table a high school aged kid walked up and said to Mary "Excuse me Miss, but I just wanted to say that you're a giant bitch in the hallways." He walked back to a table to join his mother, who laughed, pointed, and jeered at us. What a remarkable specimen.

Unlike private schools, public schools must take everyone. What kind of culture supports the mocking and marginalization of teachers? What kind of example are those parents setting for their children? I knew these things happen, but for them to happen so flagrantly in the open I think is what may have shocked me the most. I feel like I ride a bipolar roller coaster, days of tremendous success, and days that crush the soul. Sometimes you really have do dig down deep to find those reasons that keep you going.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The interwebs are a series of tubes.


It never ceases to amaze me the number of assumptions students have about you, just because you are a teacher. Whether you are 23 or 65, you're still old Ted Stevens, and just don't get 'it'. Students may adore your class, but view you as an anachronistic no-life dork.

This week I decided to approach school work from a whole new perspective. I decided to create a classroom facebook profile, and use it for homework and research for the students. The results blew me away.

My whole idea was to use the page to post assignments to the class group, attach additional sources and links, and encourage the students to discuss and debate among themselves. Debating and defending a position requires much more intelligence then simply coming to a conclusion on paper. In addition, I thought it would be more fun and interactive for the students. In the future, I hope to use the site for students to find primary and secondary sources, and assemble a whole class bibliography for a research project.

My first assignment was a two part.

1. In your opinion, what do you think were the main causes of the Great Depression. It could be one, or many. DEFEND your position with evidence from the text. Cite new evidence.

2. Using the links provided before, to what extent do you think our current recession is similar. Cite specific evidence (preferably new evidence somebody hasn't cited yet) to prove your point.

The grading rubric was set up to encourage discussion and thought.

U: Your post is unoriginal, and is a restatement of already stated ideas and opinions. Evidence is unclear.

PP: Your post shows original thought. Your answers are backed up with evidence from provided websites and text

P: Your post shows original thought. Your answers are backed up with evidence from provided websites and text. In addition, you responded to another student's post and posed a question to that individual, different idea, or responded to a challenge of your own post.

A: Your post shows original thought. Your answers are backed up with evidence from provided websites and text. In addition, you responded to another students post and posed a question to that individual, different idea, or responded to a challenge of your own post. Your post also incorporated outside ideas, sources, or experiences. (cite outside resources so you get credit)

By the end of the three days that the assignment was up, out of two sections with 55 students belonging to the group, I had 795 posts. I could not have asked for a better response. Students debated, challenged, cited, and researched. All of the students said they learned more through debating on facebook, than if they would have simply done the assignment on paper. I thought it was especially powerful that the students could immediately research for counter points. The students were so enthusiastic, they came into class Friday beaming, so proud of themselves. Here is a sample of their discussion:
I agree with the farming statements mentioned above. I think it would be important to know how much of an impact farming had on the depression so I researched and found approximate numbers. According to agclassroom.org total farm population... was 31,614,269 making up 27% of the labor force in the United States, proving to be almost a third and according to stocks-simplified.com, 750,000 farmers declared bankruptcy. A contribution to the failing farms was the rapid 40% decline in crops after WWI (as Pedro mentioned). It forced the farmers to foreclose the extra land they had expanded during war and these foreclosures were of huge loss to the banks. Not only was it the foreclosures but the mechanization that was replacing farming methods. The mechanization impacted farmers but also increased production while wages stood motionless causing that existing gap between the rich and poor to widen even more. As wages stood still, prices were on a rise causing people to put limitations to the purchasing of goods and services.

I do believe that the Great Depression was triggered by more than one reason. The credit contribution was huge as it made it easy for the people to have access to credit (as Jesus further explained). Consumers saw this as an opportunity so many began to “borrow” money in which they realized would be a good idea to use on developing stocks without even considering the risks just hoping to strike profit. Of course this soon came to be proved wrong, no one became filthy rich instead they ended up having to owe large amounts of debt and some even losing all life savings; depression strikes. According to stocks-simplified.com, by the end of the depression the stock market had fallen 89%. Overall, main causes as the end of the chapter mentioned was huge debt, farming plight, unbalanced income and the Hawley-Smoot Act which was a contribution to the decline in the foreign market. In addition to you Pedro, I found out that President Coolidge had vetoed it saying that that money was to be used on more useful things and according to boerner.net his quotes of opinion were: “Farmers never have made much money. I do not believe we can do much about it” and “Agriculture must stand on an independent business basis”. What a blockhead.

Our current recession is very similar; today we continue to depend on credit. Our inflation is also a contributor, because today’s income/price ration is worse than in 20’s. Chances are that like then, we have a false prosperity that Americans continue to put too much faith in and spend more than they have, shown by the evidence that our debt and GDP value has surpassed an acceptable, safe level. 40% of Americans continue to use an average of 4 credit cards to spend more than they have. And only about 29% do not hold credit cards at all, according to Hoffman Brinker credit card debt statistics. Evidence also shows that there is still a huge belief that we are financially stable and more equal, when in reality income balance is very unequal. Average people get sucked into debt through the belief they can escape it via an education made impossible to afford for those who are not in the wealthiest class themselves. When a graph comparing the income balance of the depression, compression and current recession, the recession and depression are nearly identical, meanwhile the compression is a steady low. Our system still depends on consumer purchasing as well, and seeing as conditions and the many similar systems are still in place from the depression, I believe the recession is very similar.


I'm psyched. I cannot wait to see what else the students can do.