Sunday, January 30, 2011


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 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, 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, 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 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.