Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Things I think about while on vacation...

Ever wonder what other teachers do while on vacation? I do. I bought a new razor today. I'd read in GQ that this razor was worth the money. There are two things I need in the morning, without fail, in order for me to be happy. One is a hot shower, not medium hot, blazing hot. The second is a good shave.
I inherited my father's thick stubble. As a teenager I once told my father, "I can't wait to shave!" He shot down my enthusiasm with "No you don't." He was right. I've used the same razor, the Sensor Excell for the past 8-10 years. I love it. But I went out on a limb and tried what was recommended. Not as good.
I hate when I try something new and it doesn't work out. I usually stick to the same game plan: same restaruants, same television shows, same clothing outlet. When I deviate, I do so with great trepidation. Today I was reminded why.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Time Well Spent?

Teachers have written about it before and will write about it again. Teacher Development Days. I can't promise I won't complain in this post, so if you are one of those people who don't like to hear teachers vent, please feel free to skip this post.
Our Central Office (C.O.) required all 9th and 10th grade teachers to administer a writing assessment, the third one of the year in addition to the two reading assessments. The assessment served two purposes, data gathering and grading calibration. Our C.O. seems concerned that rater reliability may be off between teachers and across town to the other high schools.
The training's intent appeared to include instructing us on what an at standard paper looked like, as well as what an approaching standard, below standard, and above standard essay looked like. We did a little of that. But for about five hours, we scored assessments. Every assessment was scored just once. No look at rater reliability between schools or teachers. Simply a grading day for an assessment that I did not choose to give.
There are a few interesting points. One, I only have two periods of 9th grade English with a total of 65 students. I scored more than that because we were just given class packet after class packet. In fact, we weren't allowed to score our own class essays. Two, I still don't know if I score similar to any other teacher in my building or in my district. Only what overall percentage of each standard designation I scrored.
The most annoying aspect, yes, the condescending attitudes of C.O. personnell as they rang a bell every fifty minutes to signal our break time. Just prior to beginning, we were given a lecture on research that indicated it takes adults just 7 minutes to take care of basic human needs, bathroom, stretching, etc.; and that if the meeting has not re-convened in 10 minutes exactly, it will then turn into a 20 minute break. So, we would be keeping a very strict schedule in regard to our breaks.
Silly me, thinking that I taught high school when the truth is I am in high school! Research? Ask Dan Rather about research. I just want to teach.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Department Meeting

Once a month the English Department meets to discuss various topics. These agenda items range from school policy change to discussions of best practices. Perhaps it is my Adult Attention Deficit Disorder that prevents me from focusing much in any meeting, but department meetings tend to send me over the edge.
When it comes to teaching English, whatever that really is, English teachers have plenty to say. Imagine what becomes of a meeting when we move from teching practices to substantial high school graduation path revisions. I will credit our school with wanting to stay ahead of the curve.
Inevitably, after a certain percentage of students fail to meet standard on the WASL this spring, actually late winter, the state will require that we do something to "fix" the problem. Our ideas are radical. Forget the idea of 11th grade English as a survey of American Literature, delving into the mysteries of Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman. NO, those students not meeting standard will delve into 11th grade English with a survey of WASL-like writing prompts and reading selections. Imagine, a whole semester learning how to take a test--of course, we wouldn't dare lose the backdrop of American Literature!
Then, those students will take an entire semester course on How To Write the Arugmentative Paper, a 5-7 page research based persuasive essay that is a graduation requirement. These classes would not be electives. They would fill the English requirement. As a side note, if they weren't to pass the WASL on their second attempt, yes, they would re-take the class, even if they passed it once.
Now, I don't want to sound too anti-WASL preparation, but as a lover of literature, I am concerned. But what I am most concerned about is that I really don't know much about what my department head or colleagues feel about these new proposals. We spent the time trying to talk over one another while shovelling holiday cookies into our mouths between valid points.
But at least I had the opportunity to share how blogging can enhance the classroom. Please stop over at my Pre-College class (that is on the chopping board for next year).

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Greatest Lesson

Every year at my high school, just before the winter break, we teach a three week lesson that is the most important lesson a student could learn. No, there are no state mandated tests that cover what they learn. In fact, it is not even a state standard...but I'd appreciate keeping this lesson out of the hands of befuddled men and women in suits, so let's just keep it between us.
Here is the lesson plan in teachereese:

Purpose: to teach students the value of compassion, giving of themselves, and community connectedness.

1. Students will collect non-perishable food items.
2.Students will bring collected items to their first period class.
3.Students will assist in delivering collected items to over 100 needy families.

Anticipatory Set:
Show video of previous food drives--over 40,000 items donated to over 100 families. Ask students about the importance of community--discuss.
Ask about a time when students needed help and if they received help--how did they feel either way?

Days 1-13
At the start of first period, collect and count items that students bring in. Track your class' progress on the whiteboard--compare with other class' totals. Encourage your students to sacrifice an afternoon, a weekend day, or any time they have to collect food.
Every day, discuss their progress. Continue to encourage.

Day 14
Make final count and deliver, with shopping cart after shopping cart, collected items to the cafeteria. Once lunch period is over, convert cafeteria into a makeshift Safeway, Big Y, or whatever you have in your area. Once conversion has happened, instruct students to take a grocery list for a family, and begin to shop the aisles.
TEACHERS: Be sure to join in, although it will be tempting to watch some of the most annoying, goofy, or difficult kids taking part in what is a rare moment of community at your school.
Day 15:
Send out student delivery teams to the area families.

This is the great part; the only assessment is, did you collect more than last year? If so, huge success. If not, still an unbelievable success!

So far, our school has collected 15,000 items. There is a young lady in my first period class who has collected almost 4,000 on her own. Trust me, Mr. President, this child will not be left behind.