Tuesday, November 29, 2005


I am old. Officially. This past weekend I visited my parents in Connecticut. I also had the chance to attend my 10 year reunion. Officially ending any hopes of youth returned. The cliche is true: the more things change, the more they stay the same. The kids from the other side of town, the rich part of town, still hang out and are doctors, lawyers, and other money making professionals. They sat together. The kids from the other side of town, the poor part of town, don't hang out much and are struggling actors, writers, and regular job people. They sat together. You get the idea. Me? I floated between groups, as was demonstrated by where I sat at the reunion--right in the middle!

Upon my return to the classroom, I found some not so great reports on my 9th graders. Read here. But this time, I didn't yell; didn't use the frustrated tone of voice. I asked them why the report was poor. Politely they shared their frustration with the sub and her approach. I simply told them I understand, but when a sub is there, it is her rules. I said, calmly, that I was disappointed in them and expect better. It felt good.

Basketball is in full swing--first game on Wednesday. I cannot express how desperately I want these girls to do well this year. They have worked hard and based on that and their undeterred optimisim, they deserve it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Standards, Collaboration, Best Practices

My favorite author, Frederick Buechner--a Presbyterian minister, once wrote about the language of Christianity as a dying language, often overused and watered down. Lately, I feel the same way about education language. The words are creating a barrier. The Science Goddess posted about what teachers need. In her post, she brings up teaching to standards, something I loathe.
I came into teaching just as standards based grading became the great buzzword. Theorists around the country convinced teachers that the old grading system was not really showing what kids could do. The old system punished, the new system reflected. So districts and schools began writing standards, rubrics for rubrics, and began judging students according to their ability.
But wait, I thought, can't my interpretation of a standard be different from my colleague's interpretation. I mean, hey, if one Supreme Court justice can interpret the constitution as supporting troubling topic X, and another interprets the constitution as disallowing troubling topic X, then isn't the same true for troubling standard X? Those who opposed the incoming use of standards were called dinosaurs and relics. Best practices indicated that standards were the way to go. The cutting edge teachers all used standards. Do you really see a difference, though, in whether students are learning? Show me the true data, not the WASL scores or whatever state mandated test you use. Standardized tests don't demonstrate student learning. Not when we are teaching them what types of questions they will be asked, and how to answer those questions.

The research shows, according to a video my principal showed the staff today, that collaboration between teachers is best for students. But seriously, are we that naive to believe that if teachers get together, create tremendous lessons, map out the curriculum, and develop cutting edge assessments that look just like the state's standardized test, that every student will then magically choose to participate, complete assignments, and stay focused on that test? Here's my research, after my whopping two years of teaching: No teacher can make a student learn or perform to their capabilities on a test if that student does not want to. This isn't an excuse, but I haven't heard any research to refute that, or acknowledge it.

Best practices is my favorite of the buzzwords. I can be honest, some teachers are better at teaching than others. Some teachers fit nicely into a certain niche, where their best practices work quite well. But if you pull that best practice out of the AP and put it into the average classroom, filled with students who don't care, and parents who don't support, that practice becomes as useful as a dust-jacket from a lost book.

Don't get me wrong, I believe we should be teaching all of the skills that many of the Standardized tests cover. I believe that working together with colleagues is in the best interest of students and teachers alike. I believe that we all should find out what works best in our subject and in our grade level and in our classrooms. But for the sake of individuality, you know, that concept that makes us America in all of its glory, could we please stop with the tired religious use of educational jargon?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Things to smile about

While my 9th graders make me want to fall asleep for an entire weekend out of sheer exhaustion from handling the same issues over and over, and while the strong majority of my Pre-College 12th graders make me want to make them sleep for an entire weekend so that they might be even close to awake the rest of the week, I have found reason to smile, even laugh this week.
The Education Wonk asked what was the last thing that made us smile. I quickly thought back to this afternoon as I read this post by a student in my Pre-College class as she reflected on the first quarter of school.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

What time do you start?

Over at my pre-college English class' blog In Need of Coffee, a few students reacted to an article from the Boston Globe's education section. The article deals with the issue of high school start times. In Need of Coffe, as you might be able to tell is a title based on the regular use of caffeine by students and myself. And, as is demonstrated by the url, seventhirtyblues.blogspot.com, you can guess what time we start at.

I support a later start for high school students. I know that there is a strong possibility that the alertness of my students in that first period class may not change. Certainly students may simply stay up later in response to a later start time. However, I think that even an hour later start might reduce the number of absences for first period, as well as alleviate the contagious yawning and drooping heads.

So, what time do you start school? If you start before 8:00, would you prefer a start time after 8:00?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Things that make me nervous...

Wednesday, November 2nd will be the first day of this school year that I won't be teaching. I've been selected for jury duty. Now, many agree that taking part in jury duty is an essential aspect of one's civic responsibility, but for me, I think my civic responsibility is in the classroom. I'm nervous about leaving my students. 9th graders are squirrely, even with me there. (okay, I'll be honest, I'm mostly going to miss them, but the image conscious teacher thing to say is that I'm nervous about leaving them!)

Tuesday, November 1st I participated in a meeting regarding some expensive curriculum. I had the opportunity to see a few central office personnel in a different atmosphere than normal. Now, I've stirred the pot, unintentionally and perhaps as a result of my very east coast voice/tone, in the past, but when I meet people for the first time and they make jokes about me, like they already know me, I get a little nervous. Now don't get me wrong, I can handle a little ribbing, I certainly ought to considering the amount I can dish out, but it really did throw me for a loop (any other cliches I could use in this post?)