Monday, March 27, 2006

Not My Best, but it's been a long week. Oh it's only Monday

From Governor Gregoire's State of the State address back in January.

This year, we need to build on that success. We need to continue improvements in our education system.
We made education our number one investment in 2005.
Voters recognized how critical smaller class sizes are by passing Initiative 728. But it wasn't until last year that we fully implemented the will of the voters, and we went one step further, we set up the Education Legacy Trust Account to permanently fund smaller class sizes. So when will this happen? My 9th grade English classes that must be ready for the WASL next year are at 33 and 33.
To attract and retain quality teachers we fully funded another citizens' initiative — teacher salaries. The classic g0-to. The proof is in the paycheck
One area where we need work is early learning. Let me be candid with you. How would you grade a system where less than 50 percent of the kids are prepared to learn when they reach kindergarten? Or a system where half a dozen early learning programs in state government are spread across numerous agencies and have no clear vision?
We know children with early learning success are more likely to finish school, more likely to go to college, less likely to be unemployed and less likely to commit crimes. Our children are born to learn, and the first and best teacher in a child's life is the parent. But when parents and their families want help with care outside the home, we must be there for our kids. We need less bureaucracy. We need to stop falling behind the rest of the country. We need to make sure our children are ready to learn when they hit kindergarten. Business leaders understand the value of early learning. They know it is an investment in the future. So we're creating public-private partnerships because this is about communities, and no one wants government to tell them how to parent.
For the last month or so we have seen the battle lines forming over requiring certain requirements and standards for our students.
I traveled to Europe and Asia and witnessed firsthand our competition and, believe me, we don't let our children down with high standards. We let them down if we retreat. And we fail them again if we don't prepare them to succeed.
Before we talk about lowering standards, shouldn't we first:
—Show all our students- boys and girls, black and white, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, rich and poor, we believe in them?
—Demonstrate we support their teachers by paying them a decent wage?
—Provide individualized help to students so they can achieve the standards? Yes. But first, we must tax the living crap out of you.
—And we need to develop alternative assessments for those who need them?
I have talked to hundreds of students in the last year, and I will tell you, I believe in them. I believe in every one of them. I will not give up on them, any of them. Please come and substitute, without telling them who you are, and without your gubernatorial posse, for my sixth period class.
And I will not accept one-third of our students dropping out of high school. Umm, have you told that to the parents? Would you mind holding them responsible as well.
I have learned that if we entrust students with responsibility for their own future, they will do amazing things.
Many students do not feel their high school classes relate to their future. That's because WASL Prep Class doesn't relate to their future. Programs like Navigation 101 challenge students to choose alternative careers and enroll in courses needed to achieve that dream. As a result, students engage in more rigorous coursework because they are in charge of their future.
We have "Running Start" for college. But what about kids who don't want to go to college? We need Running Start for the trades. Now we're talking. But because all of our funding is going towards developing the WASL, keeping the WASL in a secret, only Jack Bauer could find it location, and then sending it off to the same people that screw up the SAT scores, we'll have to put that on the scrap pile.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

From Pre-College to College-Ready

The students over at In Need of Coffee have recently finished writing about media for their second essay of this quarter. They will finish a third and final essay this week on the topic of community. They've done an extensive amount of writing, and most likely despise the word essay at the moment. But, I'll give them credit for continuing to persevere and accept this as preparation for next year.
I would like to share with you some excerpts (unedited):

"The media sends contradictory messages to women about what its like for a woman. On one hand, women should be independent, competititve, and assertive as part of the American culture. On the other hand, women are supposed to be dependent, submissive and uninterested in success or competition (Douglas, 17). Growing up femal in America is confusing."
--I especially liked the last sentence. It is only a few weeks until babyTate arrives and I am nervous about raising a daughter.

"Today, sex appears to be a mainstream topic; our culture can't get enough of it....Teen males, who watch pornography, develop a warped perspective on females. Most male teens will get the expectation of sexual encounters that no normal woman will fulfill....Females who view pornography feel inferior, and insecure because they can't reach the expectations of appearance."
--I appreciated her careful dealing with such a mature topic. Also, she didn't take the easy route of just harping on males, but instead brought up up the shadow topic of females and pornography.

"Many of the labels put on people come from the media. For example, white equals intelligence and affluence. Asian equals very high intelligence and incredible motor skills. Black, on the other hand, equals enigmatic entertainer or highly paid sports star. However, they will likely either smell, lack basic education or live in the ghetto. The media functions as a labeling machine."
--His insights throughout the essay were personal and profound.

"Blogs can be used for education for normal students and AP students as well, such as the one at Some people go farther with internet education like the man in He extends interent education to not only blogs, but to podcasts also. A podcast is a web feed of audio or video files placed on the Internet for anyone to download or subscribe. The uses of a podcast can allow the teacher to do many things, ranging from lectures to presentations."
--This student went to a very different place with the topic than the others in class. It was a risk, and it paid off for him!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

We all have one like this...

Chatty. Aloof. Unconcerned. My sixth period class fits those descriptions. I wrote about them at the beginning of the year and have tried many of the suggestions given by other teachers. But, they have continued to be chatty, aloof, and unconcerned.
I'm paid to handle these types of classes; we all have one like them. The larger problem occurs when I am out of the classroom at one of the many well-thought out meetings I get to attend. My students seem to struggle greatly with respecting any substitute I've had this year.
The potent mix of already chatty, aloof, and unconcerned students with a guest teacher, usually a bit older, has finally erupted. This past week, while I was at a meeting, my students decided to be the worst group of ninth graders the sub has had in a long while. Some were worse than others, but the description of the class as a whole upset me.
So, because we have dealth with this poor behavior all year, and because I am tired of struggling, I handed out detentions to every single kid in class. Some think I was unfair, and perhaps rightly so, but I JUST DON'T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


While attending a district meeting intended to map out our curriculum, I expressed my concern over how few of my 9th grade English students understood simple grammar--the eight parts of speech, basic comma awareness, periods, and the rest of those boring to teach and boring to learn rules. I felt that with the increased focus on standardized tests, the WASL in our state, students should come into 9th grade having learned these skills. I believe an understanding of how to construct a sentence is necessary for correct writing. I am old school in my beliefs.

A colleague believed that the students were taught this material, but if they arrive in my class without the skill, I should teach them--as if I wasn't going to. She also questioned why students need to know what a noun is. That won't make them a better writer. I think we are going to simply disagree on this.

I don't advocate the rote memorization of grammar rules. Grammar, in my opinion, is a living being. Understanding grammar means understanding the relationship of the words we choose and the thoughts we want to express. This can be done without drilling students for weeks on end with circle the noun assignments.

But consider this, later in the day, as my colleague showed a wonderful powerpoint on improving the revision process in writing, she expressed that students should add apositives to their sentences. This struck me. In order for a student to add an apositive, they must know what a noun is. An apositive, a noun or noun phrase, explains another noun in a sentence. So yes, students must know what a noun is.

They also need to know how to use a comma and a period at the appropriate time. When writing a good sentence. (did you catch that?) But let's say they are simply writing a list. I believe that a comma should follow the first word or phrase, the second word or phrase, and before the word and. If they fail to do this, the meaning of the sentence changes.

Understanding grammar, basic sentence structure, creates better style. Knowing that the subject of a sentence, in this case Knowing that the subject of a sentence, does not have to be a one word noun, or even a word that looks like a noun, creates sentences that better express what the writer means.

Again, I don't advocate rote recitation. I advocate teaching the purpose of proper grammar--communication. Writing is communication. When we speak, people understand us based on our ability to properly pause at the right moment, to put together phrases, to create clauses. When we write, grammar allows us to accomplish those things.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

One down...

We finished the Reading portion of the WASL, our state exam, this morning. I teach 65 of the students who took the test. I am cautiously optimistic after listening to the students discuss how they felt after finishing. One student proclaimed that it seemed like the "...fourth grade WASL."
These types of comments scare me. My own history has too many moments of extreme confidence shattered by results.
The Writing portion of the test begins tomorrow. While I felt like my students were well-prepared for the Reading test, I still feel like too many were just below the standard. But, I've been told I score the standards rigorously (especially when I score 9th grade papers after scoring 12th grade essays), and that the state is not quite as tough. I really do hope so.
I can think of no better way to end the year in June than knowing that a large percentage of my students passed the WASL a year earlier than required.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Philosophy of Education

I did not originally enter college with the intent of becoming a teacher. At eighteen, I knew I wanted to influence the world around me, but had yet to find the niche for me. I had intended on becoming a Youth Pastor in the denomination I grew up in. Oddly, much of what I did in that track prepared me for becoming a teacher.
As I sat in church today, the pastor discussed what a mature church looks like, united, not given to trendy teachings, each doing their work (Ephesians 4:11-16). Instead of hearing these words in relation to the church, I found myself thinking instead about the school.
Inside the world of Education, some are given the skills to be administrators, some to be leaders, some to promote reform, and some to be teachers, to prepare our students for integration in our society, as laborers or executives, so that our humanity might be built up until we, as a society, are mature and attaining what truly great societies should achieve.
Once we as educators understand this, we will "no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every" eucational fad or catchphrase that comes along. And at this point, the world of education is quite willing to follow whatever fad comes along. We are not mature as a group. We are not united.

Ultimately, we must learn to work together for that one cause. When the purpose of education becomes merely outperforming the world in Math and Science, I believe we will fail. We will fail because we will have forgotten the whole person. We will have neglected the importance of compassion, understanding, honesty, and diligence. We will have failed because we will not have valued the individual as a part of the whole.
But before we can achieve success as a system, we must learn to value the important roles that we all play. The reality of incompetence aside, we must do our part while believing in the others around us. The teachers must believe in their administrators who must in turn believe in the teachers. The school must believe in the district who must in turn believe inthe school. At the moment, too many of us don't believe in the people around us, creating a system that is broken.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

She'll be in my class someday...

While driving home from gettin my hair cut, I stopped to put gas in my car. As I waited to turn on to the main road, I observed a young girl in the backseat of a car point to balloons that flew above a sign advertising an open house down the street. The car was stopped at a red light.
The driver, the mother I assume, openned her door, hopped out, grabbed the balloons, and hopped back in just in time to catch the light as it turned green.

With the WASL (our state mandated test) starting on Monday, I thought about the lessons we learn that will never be found on a test. That child learned many lessons today. Stealing is okay as a long as nobody gets hurt. If YOU really want something, someone will give it to you. Her mother will do whatever she is asked. And, everything in life is easy.

These lessons will translate to her life in school. She will walk into my classroom as a ninth grader and, having forgotten her pencil, take one off my desk, forgetting to give it back at the end of class. She will forget to turn in a major assignment, and then five weeks later, at the end of the quarter, expect that I let her turn it in--for full credit. If I don't accept it, she will, on her lunch break the next period, use her cell-phone to call her mom, who will immediately call me demanding I treat her daughter with respect. And when I still don't budge, she will cry to her counselor that I am retaliating against her, treating her unfairly, and she feels intimidated in my class, therfore needing to switch to another teacher.

With such lessons available at home, or in public, what serious use is an exam to test the student's ability to think for themselves, analyze and solve problems, communicate in words their thoughts, or any other unecessary and stupid thing?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Here We Come a'WAS'ling...

Here we come a-wasling among the kids so green;
Here we come a-studying to the test so mean.
A-Y-P may you make
And in your class students wake
And George bless you and send to you some federal funds.
And Terry send to you some state funds.

We are not miracle workers who can change the world.
But we are teachers whom you should better afford.

George bless the principal of the school, and the faculty too.
And all the little buggers that round the school go.

Please Vote!

The Pacific Northwest. Beautiful--in August. March--not so much. We've had some odd weather lately and everyone wants to talk about it: The Science Goddess, Hedgetoad, and KOMOTV.
Let me show my east coast bias (grew up in Connecticut). The rain and wind and strange weather is nothing compared to to a powerful nor'easter. But, as I live out here, I think I'll take a shot at naming the systems.

A Sunwindhailer rolled through this afternoon.
A Weatherroullette spun through this afternoon.
A PunchPac'er stormed through this afternoon.
An Ohcrapthe520willbeclosed sped through this afternoon.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Only if you're smart.

Only the smart kids were allowed to attend a local high school's state basketball game? I addressed the issue of athletics and acadmics a few posts ago, and am still bothered by this perceived divide.
Here are my questions about the Renton High School policy:
1. Did all of the athletes who missed school have a B+ average?
2. Did the administration consider the law of averages? That most kids, unless grade inflation has changed this, will not be at a B+ avearge?
3. Did the administration consider the negative effect on the team, who would now be at a potential fan disadvantage at the game?
4. Did the administration, despite the last question, really believe that students would not simply have a parent excuse their absence in order to attend the game?

There is a time and place for pushing the strong academic success of our students. But there is also a time when building school pride has to happen. High school athletics has the ability to bring a school community together and rally around themselves. It is their team, not the principal's.
What the administration neglected was the understanding that most kids don't enjoy school, and as a result will look for anything to further their belief that adults, specifically teachers and administrators, are out to make their life hell. When shortsighted administrators choose their agenda over the good of the school community, students loose.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Homeland Security

Connecticut, full of rich white people living next to Martha Stewart, right? Well, I have to defend my homeland after reading the latest on its fight against NCLB.
While Connecticut has the image of stoic wealth, I can vouch for the many towns outside of Farfield County that struggle with the very same issues that other states face. The Suits sometimes forget about reality. That a cohort group comes through with certain personalities, skills, attitudes should cause educators to understand the possibility for skewed statistics.
In the case of the latest test data, lobbyists believe that Connecticut's dislike for NCLB and all that goes with it creates a situation where "That kind of public opposition … is often interpreted by local educators as permission not to try."
Stop. Hold up. Is this lady (Kati Haycock, director of Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group) implying that because we as educators might have a professional opinion, we would simply quit? That pisses* me off.
Sure, you have an agenda, you are an advocate. Me, my agenda is to educate high school students. And believe me, not everything that is worth teaching can be tested on the Connecticut Mastery Test, or WASL in my case.
I have many mean things to say, believe me, but because this is print media, I will withhold. I guess it just needles me to think that Ms. Haycock, someone who is the director of anything to do with education, assumes that we as teachers will simply quit if we disagree with the policies of our school, district, state, or country. Ms. Haycock, belive me, I disagree with many beliefs that I am forced to promote, but I am NOT using it as permission to not try.

*Sorry Mom!, for the bad language.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


With all of this Blog Tag going on, I wonder about our safety as bloggers. Perhaps some edusphere administrator should ban it. I also wonder what Ms. Haley might think about the actual banning of tag. And before I forget, stop by the Carnival of Education. But, alas, I must play the game because my dear brother made me it. Please check his blog out.

Four Jobs I have had:
1. Lifeguard (Sandy Beach, Ellington, Connecticut)
2. Laborer (Atlas Fencing--installed guardrail to keep people like me from driving off roads)
3. Mixologist (Red Robin Inc.)
4. Banquet Attendant (Red Lion bought out by Doubletree Hotels bought out by Hilton)

Four Movies I can Watch Over and Over:
1. Billy Madison (Shabaduhu)
2. Top Gun (Crash and burn, huh, Mav)
3. A Christmas Story (You'll shoot your eye out)
4. Michael Jordan: Come Fly with Me (Just once, I'd like to be like Mike.)

Four Places I've Lived:
1. Crystal Lake, Ellington, Connecticut (the first 18 years of my life)
2. Northwest College--er...University now, Kirkland, Washington
3. Bothell, Washington
4. Everett, Washington (my first home purchase)

Four Shows I Watch:
1. 24 (does it get better?)
2. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (a rare sign we aren't all going to hell in a handbasket)
3. Desperate Housewives (I drink White Chocalate Mochas too...)
4. The O.C. (umm, to keep up on trends in high school?)

Four Sites I Visit Daily:
1. The Education Wonks
2. ESPN The Worldwide Leader in Sports
3. Fox News (With apologies to the NEA and WEA)
4. Google (there's always something to look up!)

Four Things I'd Like to do Before I die:
1. Meet my hero, Cal Ripken Jr. (I'd give up the other three for this one!)
2. Write a book (Harper Lee says we all have one in us)
3. Move back to Crystal Lake
4. Become a Superintendant (I even laughed at that one!)

Two I am Tagging:
1. Cassie
2. Boston Dreamer

The Great Divide

What do you do when a sports team from your school makes the state tournament? Celebrate, right? A pep assembly the day before? But, consider this dilemna. On the day before the big game, an assembly is already planned. This assembly is to promote success on the state's standardized test.
Well, we combined the assembly. Half of the assembly period will pep up nearly half of the students who will take the test, the other half of the assembly period will pep up anyone interested in our basketball team.
I have not heard any complaints from the sports community, at least none have gone out of their way to vocalize their displeasure to me, and I am part of the coaching community. I have heard complaints from teachers who are in the midst of preparing students for the state exam. I am also part of that community.
I find it unfortunate that too often one or the other community feels slighted, although from experience, it is typically the academics. I mean, aren't we here to learn? I just wish the strict academics, or the test-driven teachers could understand the importance of athletics. I feel the coaching community does an fine job of stressing the importance of academics, especially considering players must meet and hold a certain G.P.A. to play.
Students need to feel connected to their school, and athletic teams can offer a source of pride. Sure, some don't even like athletics so why should they care. Well, here's why: when their peers put on a uniform with the school's name and logo emblazoned on their chest, those athletes are representing the entire school. As a teacher, I want those students to represent me well, and when they do, I am proud. Similarly, when a student applies to a college, one that has difficult admissions requirements, and is accepted, I am proud.
I firmly believe that when students connect to their school and their school community, the positive vibe in the halls, however distracting it can be, carries over to the academics. We don't have to give up one to succeed in the other. And when teachers publicly frown on the academics, they fail to recognize the diligent and strenuous efforts of those athletes. Can you imagine a coach publicly frowning on the academic achievements of the National Honors Society? It's ludicrous.