Monday, June 26, 2006


Over at Beyond Partisan, a website developed to have honest and sane discourse, an essay appeared about school vouchers.
The BP editors write:
"To sustain our international economic standing, we must define a national educational agenda that autonomous schools agree to include. "

The autonomous school intrigues me. After watching thirty Central Office staffers bumble around our campus registering students for summer school, the autonomous school greatly intrigued me this morning. But, that is not what I care to write about today.
What does the truly autonomous school look like? Certainly we can agree that we, as a nation, should hold our students to high standards. Yet, it seems that the more hands that grabbed onto the system, the less effective it became. I am not sure what exactly the federal government has every really done better than the entrepeneur except the military. Social security will fail my generation. FEMA and Homeland Security failed the people of New Orleans. And the Education Department is currently in the middle of botching up the very thing they are expected to move forward.
The editors wrote earlier, "However, they [vouchers] are the right choice: the Dutch do tulips, the French do cheese, and we [the United States] do markets." What would happen in if we really unleashed the education system? If we took off the restraints of micromanagement and beauracracy? The fear, and understandably so, is that the rich would get richer and the poor would get poorer. We will always struggle with maintaining equal opportunity for all. Yes, that is unfortunate, and we would certainly need to safeguard against it. But for all the efforts by the federal government to eliminate this barrier, the fact that poverty still influences education remains.
Can an open market in education reach to the poorest corners of our poorest cities? I would like to believe it could. And really, does education have to be the same for everyone? My education at Northwest University, while solid, does not equal that of a Princeton graduate. I don't feel robbed by the system. Should I?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I have no idea who Mrs. W is, only that she has chosen to leave the teaching profession. She was put in a tough position, one that many of us have encountered. The blood red, neon sign flashing A.Y.P. strobes above all our heads. Administrators are warned that if graduation rates don't rise, if test scores don't improve, then all hell will break loose; and it will begin with them. Subsequently C.Y.A. crept up in the shadows, lurking, waiting to pounce on what should be the most noble of professions.
Who of us can't relate? Who of us haven't sat at our desk, hands covering our face, wondering if the fight will be worth the money? The parents will be irate because grandma has already bought her ticket. The student will kick and scream because, well, they deserve a future, and we are holding it from them.
Who of us hasn't heard the underlying message when the principal says, "We must do whatever we can for the students who are failing." Whatever we can do? Whatever? WE? Her job is on the line if we don't. And perhaps ours as well. School districts have no qualms about sharing which teachers' students pass assessments and which teachers' don't--without regard to whether the teacher has Honors students or remedial students.
Last year I was put in this awful predicament. The student hadn't passed a graduation requirement, and if he didn't by a certain date, he would not be able to walk at graduation. I couldn't pass him. The easy thing would have been to just sign it off, but it was my name, my reputation on the line. In retrospect, I wonder if I wouldn't just do it, should the opportunity arise. I took hell for it.
For as much as I love teaching literature to sleepy students, trying to get them to just catch a whisper of what literature has to offer, there certainly are days I can't help but wonder how long? This profession, for as noble as it is, can drain the life out of you. And while there are people who will pounce on me for admitting it, take a lesson from Atticus Finch, and walk a mile in my shoes, or Mrs. W's. Come see what it is like in a classroom today, in any school district in America.

The First Summer Carnival

I finished yesterday and am celebrating by heading over to the the 72nd Carnival of Education.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Four years have passed since I walked into the classroom I student taught in. The master teacher had been teaching for quite some time, and, as it turned out, that year would be his last. We had far different styles. Those 150 9th graders treated me fairly well for the first half of their first high school semester.
I had more than one student who had trouble staying quiet during instruction, but nothing like the group of 9th graders I had this year.
There was one girl who should have taken honors, but didn't--I had the joy of teaching her this year for real. In fact, of the 25 seniors I taught this year, 9 of them were freshmen in that student teaching class.
I feel like I grew up with the Class of '06. They walked in to class that September morning as nervous as me. I think most of them walked out of class this June as successful as I have been.

I wish them the greatest of luck in all that they do. I will always feel connected to the Class of '06, my maiden voyage in classroom instruction. They taught me much, and hopefully I reciprocated.
In the way of the novel Cry, the Beloved Country, "Go well," Class of '06, and we shall "Stay well." Represent our school well, your parents honorably, and yourself honestly. The latter shall, if nothing else, keep you grounded.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Electronic Editing

I said I wanted to post about what other bloggers are writing about. I said I'd do it once a week. I also vowed three months ago to give up soda--no such luck!
Over at Random Thoughts, Nancy writes, about electronic editing, "I think teachers need to give serious thought to who their students are. It is the teachers who are hung up on hard copies, not the students. We have to give up trying to teach the students we were and, instead, teach the students we have."

My brother is working on an article and e-mailed me a copy to edit. As an English teacher, I was tempted to print it out and start marking it up. I love my number two pencils, finely sharpened, lined up next to one another; I love the smell of the freshly trimmed wood and graphite as it presses against the white paper; I...sorry, got a little carried away.
Anyway, I realized that I would not be able to quickly share my editing with him unless I scanned the article or sent it through the U.S. Postal Service. I decided to give editing electronically a try. I figured out how to strike-through and comment. Though I consider myself part of the technological generation (graduated from high school in 1995), I don't consider myself all that proficient with technology (as demonstrated by my five failed attempts to render a DVD of the Staff vs. Senior basketball game).
I do think that electronic editing, though time consuming this first time, has merit. The only downfall is that, for this house poor teacher, I can't take the computer to Starbucks. Seriously, is there any better way to grade papers than with a freshly espressed Grande-two pump-extra hot-non fat- no whip White Chocolate Mocha (yes, I do live in the Seattle area; and yes, I've become snooty!)?
Now, if I could only figure out how to do that strike-through thing like The Ed Wonk--so proficient at it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Perfect Timing

As the end of school year blues continue to sing loudly, I had a former student drop by my classroom. She had passed the WASL, our state test, and wanted to thank me for helping her get there.
As usual, these sort of things happen when we most need them.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Preliminary reports suggest that our WASL scores for the sophomores are good. I am more interested in the scores for the 98% of freshman that took the WASL this year. Unfortunately, as with anything that comes from the state, we will have to wait until just before the school year to find out.
Our hope was to have those numbers so that we could prepare for the upcoming year beginning at the end of this year. Oh well.

Monday, June 05, 2006

It's been said before...

We've debated who to blame for student failure, and the truth, at least for me, is that responsibility falls sometimes onto the student and sometimes onto the teacher or system. In fact, today I took faux responsibility for student failure. I had a substitute last week that had to deal with a very rowdy class. I told my class that I accept responsibility for not effectively instructin them on how to act like mature high school students.
Dennis Fermoyle writes, "I have taught and coached at Warroad High School for sixteen years. During those sixteen years, I have found that any student who comes and takes classes here will get a good education as long as she has a desire to learn and a willingness to make an honest effort" (In the Trenches, 15). Certainly, some schools underperform and contribute to student failure. But, our society has to be willing to look first at the student when failure occurs.

When I coached Little League Baseball, I took a team of players that were largely made up of cast off players. The other teams had been formed the year before and were only drafting a couple of players. I had a team of three return players and eight new players. Most of these kids were not that talented. It was the second team I had coached. The year prior, I coached a younger group of players. I made a lot of progress with those players so I knew I had the ability to take players and teach them the game. But, many of my players, a bit older than the year previous, had already begun to lose interest in the game in addition to not being very talented.
We struggled to win games. I didn't have good players.
The same can be said for schools. Sometimes we don't have good students. Their interest has already begun to falter in addition to not being very diligent. Sometimes we need to admit that our students are not as good. That doesn't mean we don't teach them. It doesn't mean we lower our standards. It means we take responsibility when we are responsibile. We must be willing to approach the possibility that we, the teacher or system, have failed, and we must be willing to approach the possibility that they, the students or parents, have failed.

Friday, June 02, 2006

In the Trenches

My copy of Dennis Fermoyle's book In the Trenches: A Teacher's Defense of Public Education arrived the other day. I began reading the book while on a date to Starbucks with my 7 week old daughter, Tate.

So far, through chapter four of eight, I've found myself enjoying the experienced stories of a veteran educator. Though my agreement with him on so many areas, despite being so green, will only enhance the already present image that I am part of the "good ol' boys club."

The first point that I took notice of, enough to underline in the text, resulted from a recent conversation I had with a teacher at my school. We had been discussing whether or not society ought to make college education compulsory like the K-12. We had admitted that a college education has, in essence, become the equivalent of the high school diploma of 20-30 years ago in terms of the opportunity it presented to the individual. Fermoyle writes, "If college students don't have enough motivation, they'll end up dropping out, and nobody minds. If a high school student isn't motivated and drops out, it's considered a failure on the school's part"(10-11).

I don't think it is in the best interest of a 15 year old to decide education is not for them. But I still do struggle with the idea that writing a five paragraph persuasive essay is all that important to someone who does not have the desire for further education. If Jack or Jill want to become an auto mechanic, the five paragraph essay doesn't help them. Of course they won't be motivated to write one. But if our schools had trade classes, they could begin the process of becoming a top-notch auto mechanic. And, if instead of focusing only on the trade aspect, the student was learning business models, those students could own their own shop instead of working for someone else. My guess is that if done right, they could make more than us as teachers.

My colleague told me of a trade class that focused on house construction. Every year one house would be built by theses students. At the end of the year, the house would be sold, paying for the cost of having such a class. How valuable is that? For those students, immeasurably. You see, my guess is that if those students were interested in and motivated for that class, they would see the value of taking Geometry.

So maybe it is the failure of the school when students drop out. But not in the way that Dennis implies. Maybe our schools are too focused on motivating students to pass our state exams, that to them is meaningless--despite our enthusiasm and dedication to it.

Intersting, I didn't have that end in mind as I wrote. Funny, isn't it, how reading often makes us think, and surprises us where it leads us to.

At this point, I will officially recommend In the Trenches because of the personal stories and clear, honest love for our profession that Dennis shows.