Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Written History

I learned of a way to connect with my students' fear of writing by exploring my history as a writer with them. The task required me to examine my own development throughout school and beyond. The outcome of this activity should allow my students to understand that the craft of writing happens over time and is often challenging.
Let me share my history with you. If you wish, post your own history in the comments section.

For as long as I can remember, I have written well. I can't say I always wrote neatly. From Ms. Stack to Ms. Mudget to Ms. Morgan, my penmanship always needed improvement. But in terms of content, I don't ever remember struggling. Truthfully, I wasn't much of a reader until my Junior year of high school, but was very happy whenever the test included essays. I could b.s. better than anyone.
That is why my spirits were nearly crushed when I received my first essay back from Ms. Traut. She verbally shredded my essay. I mean, it was heartless. As it turned out, the heartlessness was only my imagination. The reason she wrote more on my essay than I did was because it needed to improve. And it did.
The first day of orientation at Northwest University (formerly college), we all had to provide a writing sample for consideration. I managed to gain admittance into an English 103 class--an honors writing class. But again, a teacher managed to assault my writing with comments like, "cluttered," "redundant," "passive voice," and mostly "fragment."
I tried to argue that the fragments were on purpose--they were--but Ms. Young gave me this piece of advice, "Until you are published, you will write correct sentences." If I ever get published, I will dedicate the book to Ms. Young. Without hesitiation.
The two previous teachers prepared me for Ms. Pope. Rumor had it she was tough. I'll admit a sense of fear the first day of class. I sat in Ms. Pope's office a number of times as she praised my work while offering ways to improve. She always encouraged me to write.
This blog is largely a product of her encouragement. Yet, even after reflecting on my history as a writer, I cannot fully understand how I got to this point. Every student can write correctly, but not every student can write beautifully. And even for all the praise various teachers have offered, I sit amazed at the ability others have to construct a story, to tap into their life blood and let it bleed into the ink on the pages.
Ultimately great writing is exactly that, an expression of who we are at our most human, our most honest. And if I could find a way to shred the facades that my students construct, whether out of fear or embarrassment, my students would learn that all the pre-writes in the world cannot produce a better essay than when they write from their own experiences--their own understanding of the world they live in.

Goals and Objectives

I had the thrilling opportunity to watch a video clip from Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It was a cute clip of young children playing soccer, the ameoba affect in full swing. After one of the girls finally scored a goal, in the correct net, Covey came on to discuss some principles for effective organiztions.
His focused on achieving the overarching goals of that organization and how many reasons contribute to a failure to reach said goals. Ever changing goals poorly communicated goals often results in the organization not reaching its potential. Additionally, Covey mentions that when participants in an organization know the goals and buy into them, the individual is then free to meet those goals creatively. Interestingly, this point was ignored by those running our first faculty day.
We had convened by content area with the three other high schools in the district to, I suppose, get those district goals. I would suggest that the goals were simply the ones expressly stated by the State of Washington's Essental Academic Learning Requirements and Grade Level Expectations. We specifically focuses on those items that apply to writing.
Very little time was dedicated to actually creating ways to achieve these goals. Much of the talking centered around brief anectdotal stories with little substance.
It is difficult to not be negative when writing about professional development days. There is something about most of these days that just doesn't fit with what we really need. But, while I struggle to find much value in what we did today, I recognize the importance of a district wide plan. What I don't know for sure is, what do I really need to better my instruction. It seems that there is very little the Central Office has to offer in terms of making me a better instructor in the long term.
I need goals and objectives for improving my instruction. Unfortunately, I don't believe there is anyone in the Central Office who could offer me something I am not already aware of. You may interpret this as arrogance, and though I certainly am to an extent, it mostly rests on the disconnect between the classroom environment and the educational confrences these people attend. They can talk about the ideas and make them sound great, but they can't help me implement those ideas.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The last Weekend

Back to school for meeting on Wednesday. Can't wait! My Red Sox were in town over the weekend, and despite their miserable humiliating play, I got this picture of BIG PAPI hitting a homerun in Sunday's game!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

El Car-ni-val

I finally broke through! I got the chance to teach fellow teachers how to implement our reading program. The feedback was good.
The day went very long, so I wasn't able to get this up earlier, but please go to the Carnival. Yes, THE Carnival.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Whaddya wanna bet?

Inspired by my childhood's local sportswriter, Randy Smith, I will bring my first ever "Whaddya wanna bet?" post to The Daily Grind. Thanks Randy for years of "Do ya wanna bet?"

Whaddya wanna bet...

That Margaret Spellings couldn't meet standard on a few of these state exams?
That despite touting himself as a president dedicated to education, President Bush's NCLB will not make the history books?
That the reason the U.S. is having difficulty competing with other countries in student performace is closely related to the number of hours our parents let our children waste on the couch?
That when it comes to education funding, it will never be enough?
That a student who feels good about himself is not nearly as successful as the student who is challenged?
That if you gave me the choice, I'd take a student who has been criticised?
That local school districts are seriously strapped for cash?
That incompetent mangement is more to blame than lack of federal funding?
That years of experience in teaching really doesn't amount to much in terms of ability?
That Unions need to do a better job of selling the teacher force to the public?
That Unions will continue to whine about pay?
That the N.E.A. is about as related to education as a I am to my distant, somehow, someway connection to Nathan Hale?
That the N.E.A. wouldn't like that last statement?
That students need to realize they don't have it that bad?
That teachers need to realize they don't have it that bad?
That parents who make statements about how days off from schools challenges them to find daycare, think of public education as free daycare?
That their kid is probably a punk?
That grade inflation is a result of the babyboomer generation of parents who went too far on the pendulum swing from their childhood?
That more rich kids annoy me than poor kids?
That though teaching to the test means teaching to the standards, it also means not teaching for understanding?
That D.O.P.A. is a well intentioned law?
That it is nearsighted?
That districts could save a bunch of money by eliminating 1/3 of the redundant central office positions?
That I could do my job without 1/3 of the central office staff?
That they will keep their jobs while unimportant janitors and education assistants will lose theirs?
That if I offend you with my honesty about education, you are probably feeling guilty about what you don't do?
That the next time I post a "Whaddya wanna bet?," I'll be back at school, and loving it?

On Strike.

Since the end of summer school and WASL proctoring ended on August 10th, I have enjoyed staying away from the school. I was prepared to sit around the house and wait until 4:05 so I could hop on MLB TV and watch live Red Sox games.
Today, on August 21st, I cannot wait until school starts. The Red Sox have swooned, no, basically took a razor to their wrists and now Red Sox nation is forced to watch the slow dying process. Maybe someone will save them. So, I'm going on strike from the Red Sox for a while.

Turning to education, we don't have a contract in place for this fall, and the discussion has turned to strikes or "contract" hours. Meaning we wouldn't do any work beyond the 7:00-2:30 work day. This got me thinking. If we simply worked to the contract, who is ultimately affected? The district? The students? or the teachers?
The district isn't affected in any real way. Sure, they'll have to manage a P.R. campaign for angry parents. The student doesn't recognize they're being affected because they are oblivious. Isn't it the teachers who are affected? We'll still have to plan lessons, grade papers, and handle unruly students.
Now, everyone knows that teachers face an uphill battle with the public when it comes to the issues at hand. Because most parents have completed high school, they feel they fully understand what a teacher does. And they know that we get summers, every holiday, grading days, and a whole host of other days off.
What they don't know is that their kid might be a sarcastic little punk at school and that due to financing future buildings, we'll be losing our aides to deal with her. Here's the truth, most people in the public don't have a real idea about what we do in the classroom and out of the classroom to teach their children. And when a district offer increases class sizes, takes away aides, reduces planning time, or confines teachers to the campus, we don't feel like we're being treated as professionals.
So, if you are someone who gets upset at teachers for making your life difficult because we haven't accepted a proposed, contract and now the start of school is up in the air, meaning you must wait to find child care--which you apparently think we are--please take the advice of Atticus Finch and "walk a mile" in our shoes. If you can hack it, without complaining about pay or lack of respect, I will allow you berate me in public.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Ethical Blogging

Mike Fancher of The Seattle Times has written a smart piece about the ethical concerns that come with the social networking sites. And because D.O.P.A. considers Blogger a social networking site, the article serves a purpose for all of us.
I wish I could say that every post I have written has been met with reader understanding and low-ego emissions. I don't think that has been the case. But, I will always strive for honesty, clarity, and humility in my writing. Forgive me, though, if I ever should fail.
The thirteen questions at the end of the article will greatly benefit me this fall as I teach my Pre-College English class. I am hoping to find a way to continue the practice of incorporating blogs as an essential component of my curriculum. In teaching my students about public writing, whether private, semi-private, or public, this article will serve those students well.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

DOPA Dopes.

I stopped by my classroom today to prepare for a training session I am presenting at. I happened to click on the blog from last year's class, just to find out if anyone had written on it this summer. It turns out that the Central Office has blocked Blogger--most likely to comply with DOPA. So I am writing a letter to our government:

Dear Federal Government,

I want to thank you for your committment to our students. Without out your help, I don't believe we would be able to teach them life or academic skills while keeping them safe from everything that might harm them.
In fact, I don't know what I was thinking the last two years by allowing my students to blog about literature, politics, life, or school. You are right when you recognize the harm in using technology from their generation to reach them. Just look at some of the silly lines of reasoning or the horrendous grammar. If you hadn't put an end to such miserable writing through DOPA, my students migh actually continue to use this blogging technology to out improper reporting or to oust incumbant politicians.
Congressman Michael G. Fitzpatrick should run for president based on this one proposed bill. I mean, if we want to protect our country, he certainly is the one to do it. Just think, we could eliminate the threat of the terrorists by creating a bill that would block America haters. We'd call it BAHA (Blocking Amercia Haters Act). The bill would block our ability to read internet sites that bash the United States. In fact, it could go so far as to make countries like Iran or Venezuela "not exist." I mean, if we just block our ability to read about these countries, they don't really exist, do they?
Okay, that might be far fetched. But in reality, the use of blogs does not have a place in the classroom because online predators might get access to these students. It is better to remove the possibility than to teach our students how to avoid such predators. Isn't that what NCLB is all about? It only matters that you perform on a state test, not that you come to a full understanding of the material. We prefer the easiest solution.
Additionally, getting rid of access to blogs prevents students from writing using modern technology. Seriously, with all of the text speak that crops up in classroom writing, it is really best for the student that they don't write using online resources. It certainly will affect their ability to write clearly in the traditional classroom.
So thank you, Congress, for protecting our kids. And to think, you could have been focusing on saving our environment, funding education properly, or ensuring that all child molestors spend a minimum of 25 years in prison. But then again, you are about the safety of students, and that is why you are great.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


I don't know much about district budgets. But I do know that the idea behind the 65% Percent Solution seems rational. However, like all good theories, the real world plows in and levels it. And while I certainly understand that not all districts are created equally, shouldn't districts be putting most of their money towards people and resources that directly impact the students.

I'm not talking about taking away funds for counselors or transportation, but does a district, of any size, need 22 Central Office staff members, with Executive Direcetor, Directors, Specialists, and Secretaries, in the Curriculum Department? Maybe this is the part of education that I cannot understand because I am in the classroom. Yet, I can't help but recognize that too many districts fill up a their Central Office at the expense of the classroom. And the Central Office employee is quite unlikely to want to see money diverted away from their bank accounts.

In theory, the 65% Solution is right. It should work for the average district. It may not work for the rural town, like the one in the article. Once again, reformers want to believe that their theories can solve the problems of every school in America. We must, for the sake of the student, recognize that every district is different. And yet, we can't sit by and allow districts to mismanage funds and resources. Perhaps this is why privatized education could work. The private sector allows for greater flexibility and specified decisions. Unfortunately, failure on the part of a privatized school "company" means students get left behind, not unlike what happens now.
So the question becomes, what is more loathsome to us? Is it a school district that spends too much money on irrelvant positions in the Central Office, taking money away from teacher funding or supply funding? Is it the school district that spends too much money on irrelevant theoretical curriculum, taking away from Central Office oversight? Is it a school that runs independently and spends too much money on making the campus look nice, at the expense of teacher funding? Is it the shool that runs independently and fails to adhere to the standards of the nation?
Whatever it is that bothers you most, understand that you are by no means right. In a democratic nation, it is the majority that is right!

Sticking it to the man.

Quite literally these days. For the last two years, I have struggled to convince boys that reading, especially, is a manly thing to do. The boys in my reading classes have made significant progress in the decoding, comprehending, and analyzing aspect of reading, but I still feel like a failure at convining them of both the importance of reading and the enjoyment of reading.
I did not find a love for reading until after reading The Great Gatsby my junior year of high school. I think I was still trying to turn in book reports on Clifford Goes to Hollywood the year before.
There could be a host of reasons why boys don't develop the love for reading that we need them to. Could it be the lack of interesting fiction and non-fiction for boys to choose from? Could it be that many of our elementary school teachers, outside of P.E. and technology, are female and so choose books that appeal to them more than the boys?
Ultimately, what bothers me about the issue is that there isn't an overwhelming outcry over our failure to teach boys to read. There are no ACLU rallies or Title IX lawsuits. We've come to expect and accept low reading scores from boys. Why? It is the same type of discrimination that, should the sample group be minority, poor, or female, would have 60 Minutes interviews and Anderson Cooper in depth, flak jacket reporting.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Highly Qualified

CNN repports that schools are not meeting the standards set for meeting the highly qualified tag of NCLB. It seems that the poor and minority schools do not have the correct percentage of teachers who are specifically trained.
There are a few issues that come up when discussing the highly qualified teacher. The first is who is a highly qualified teacher:
Highly Qualified Teachers: To be deemed highly qualified, teachers must have: 1) a bachelor's degree, 2) full state certification or licensure, and 3) prove that they know each subject they teach (here).
Interestingly, a teacher who is certified with an English endorsement, is not highly qualified to teach reading. That requires its own endorsement. This makes sense. Teaching a student to decode or employ basic comprehension skills is a much different task than teaching a student to evaluate or respond to a novel or play.
But a bigger problem exists. Convincing teachers, especially young teachers, to leave the suburbs for the poor or minority schools is that bigger problem. And, it becomes a difficult subject to approach without running the risk of being labled an elitist or a racist.
If we are honest with ourselves, we must be willing to admit that the poor and minority schools often have challenges not faced in the affluent suburbs. Those challenges range from run down school facilities to students who can't stay awake because they were up all night babysitting their brothers because mom had to work.
It isn't so much that schools aren't employing highly qualified teachers because their school is poor or minority filled. It is more an issue of teachers not wanting to fill those positions. In terms of job satisfaction, would you choose to teach at a school with a recent remodel, active parents, and engaged students, or would you choose to teach at a school with not enough desks, uninvolved parents, and students with other priorities?
The harsh reality is that teachers are just like everyone else. We aren't saints or missionaries. Most of us would rather teach at the easiest location. That is why I have the greatest respect for teachers that willingly accept these positions. It is hard.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Who's right?

The dad of an aspiring young baseball player is upset that the opposing team intentionally walked the batter before his son. The father feels that the coach walked the team's slugger knowing that his son was weaker. The coach was picking on the weakling. His cry of injustice has been heard by the likes of Rick Reilly.
I've played Little League baseball and coached Little League baseball. I've had the hitter in front of me walked to get to me. I've intentionally walked a hitter to get to another. It is part of baseball, youth or Major League.
But wait, the kid who eventually strikes out is a cancer survivor. Now it is much more than a strategic move to get around the team's slugger. Now it is "society's incivility." The kid has already experienced the hard lessons of life, why does he have to be taught this one? What are we teaching our kids? Words like jackassery are tossed around because the kid is weak and was picked on.
Okay. Now, let's step back from all the emotions and try and look at this situation objectively. First from the view point that one of the main goals of Little League baseball is to teach kids how to play baseball. Intentionally walking a power hitter is part of the game. Ask Barry Bonds, David Ortiz, or Albert Pujols. All have been walked to get to the next batter, who, presumably, is less likely to come through with the hit. Strategically, the coach is making the right move.

Second, let's look at it through the eyes of society--the strong picking on the weak. What I see, is a father who has good intentions for his kid, but is just as mean as he believes the opposing coach is. The father expected his kid to fail because he was "weaker." The father placed this label on his own kid. Your kid surived cancer, he's not weaker. He might not be as good of a baseball player, but he certainly isn't weaker than the other kids.

Believe me, I hate to see people getting bullied. I've had words with other coaches who allowed their team to showboat or run up a score. In baseball, youth or Major League, there is a code of conduct for how to treat the opposing team when you are stomping them. And trust me, if a Major League team felt that they were getting shown up, you can count on a few fastballs high and tight. But in this case, I see it as a coach who is put in a no win situation. If he pitches to the slugger, and the slugger wins, he's let his team down on the athletic side of things. Those kids aren't going to know that the coach "did the right thing," whatever that means. They will remember losing.
And in doing what he did, he opened himself up to criticism that he is a mean ogre.

In terms of education, we must always walk this line. We live in a world that can't hurt anyone's feelings, even if what you are saying is the correct thing to say. We are teaching kids that it is okay to blame someone else for their failures. That society is uncivil if it beats you at something. We are teaching our kids that the world must accomodate them, instead of persevering. No one is smarter than another person. We are all equal in every way.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Survivor: Educationville

Nothing beats a game where contestants get to vote each other off an island, out of a house, or back into irrelevancy. So today, you will have your chance to play Survivor: Educationville with me. I am your host, Mr. McNamar.
Currently in Educationville we have the following players:

Students: Students come as a package, unless you live in a really wealthy community. The student section of Educatioville is made up of English Language Learners, Special Education students, rich kids, poor kids, healthy kids, unhealthy kids, motivated kids, unmotivated kids, high IQ kids, low IQ kids, athletes, band "geeks", get the picture.
Teachers: Teachers also come as a package. The teacher group of Educationville is made up of content area teachers, old and young teachers, newbies and tenured, traditionally certified and alternately certified, more effective and less effective.
Administrators: Again, a package deal. This group consists of former coaches, teachers, and "outiseders". There are dictators, collaborators, recluses, and leaders. Some are effective, others are not.
Central Office Staff: (Package deal) Unfortunately, we did not have room for secretaries. The Central Office Staff has superintendants of all qualities, assistant sups', curriculum directors, assessment directors, athletic directors, human resource managers, and any other "big wig."
Board of Education: (Package deal) Wonderful people who run for this political institute. Some are moms, dads, business people, etc.
Politicians: (Package deal) From the President to the town mayor. All have arrived in Educatioville for the competetion.
Education Theorists: (Package deal) You know them as "researchers." Most have never taught a day in their life, but their research must be valued. They spout out opinions, defend their position, and criticize Educationville for its failure to teach every kid everything that is important. Some even have blogs to tout their ideas and villify everyone but the student. *oops, I'm not supposed to make comments, just host the show. I retract the last statement.

Okay, Educationville is full. We don't have room for anyone else. Let the game begin. It works like this: there are no challenges, or dramatic music. You must simply decide who to vote out of Educatioville. You must support your reasons with your research based opinion. One might think the Theorists have an edge because they do these really time consuming and expensive experiments, but as host, I value actual experience. So, off you go.

Forgive me.

I know this is an education blog. I know the people that read this blog expect education related news or commentary. But as the dog days of summer roll along like thunderclaps over the Appalachains, I have found my stress level rising because of my beloved Red Sox.
A four game losing streak?
Jonathan Papelbon, the savior, apparently is not superman.

This season is falling apart faster than Phil Mickelsen with a 2 stroke lead on the 18th hole of completing the Grand Slam.
This season is falling apart faster than Maurice Clarett with a bottle of vodka.
This season is falling apart faster than Takeru Kobayashi can finish a hot dog.
This season is falling apart faster than Floyd Landis can come up with a new excuse.
This season is falling apart faster than Isaiah Thomas ruined the Knicks.
This season is falling apart faster than T.O. can piss off the quarterback.

I could go on.
Teddy Ballgame, help.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Do you feel bad for A-Rod?

In this post, I mentioned the District Minion--the staff members who pine all over anything from downtown. Here's an example from the sports world. Eric Neel has his head so far up "there," he may be lost for good.
I'm breaking from Education today to express my dislike for A-Rod. It is because he left Seattle for the cash, after telling the locals he wanted to play here. It is because he whined in Texas while piling on great numbers. It is because of the slap. It is because of the whining in New York. And it is because he is a Yankee.
And today, I am writing about it because my Red Sox have been terrible since mid July, and I am cranky.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

...with all the fix'ns!

Go here to find out how to fix American Public Schools.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Five Education Thoughts, One Random Thought.

Thought One:
This Hartford Courant article caught my attention. I lean towards accepting the idea of merit pay, and allowing my superiors--administrators--evaluate me in terms of my merit. But, without all of the facts, this story is what ultimately leads me away. There are just too many self-important, spineless, administrators who would treat staff this way.

Thought Two:
After a trying year for residents of New Orleans, I wish its students a successful year. There are still many potential issues that could hinder a positive education this year--threat of more hurricanes, funding, poverty, and less than effective leaders--but, if the students of New Orleans can find a way to work through the trials and maintain focus on what is most important, they will be models for the rest of the students who have far less troublesome issues (even if they don't see it that way).

Thought Three:
I enjoy teaching one of these additional R-classes. At the same time, I also lament the loss of electives for these students. I wonder why our system has failed to teach them these basic skills while passing them along to me. In terms of academeics, there is not much out there that breaks my heart more than a 9th grade student who doesn't know how to pronounce the "r-e" letter combination at the start of a word.

Thought Four:
We are currently Re-WASL'ing, and I am a proctor. Thousands of students across this state have glad... no, smartly given up summertime sun for the classroom flourescent. I wish these kids great luck on the re-take.

Thought Five:
If you are a parent and don't believe this report, just go to your daughter's or son's Kickoff Dance this fall. The sexual nature of current pop culture has dangerous influence over our students. It is a difficult world to navigate for a teenager whose left to their own devices. Parents have a responsibility to monitor what influences their child. This does not mean we should hide out in a cave, avoiding all contact with the outside world; but it does mean that we ought to be prudent. I fear the culture I will have to help BabyTate navigate.

Thought Six:
I am tired of people not getting along--even in the presentation of news. It is hard to imagine that, God, Allah, Buddha, YEHWEH, Jesus, or whoever you happen, or don't happen to worship, doesn't cry over such things. It is no wonder that our world leans towards secularism when so much violence is done too often in the name of religion.

Oh, the horror!

My insides twisted while reading this post.
*Update: Yes, I did it on purpose.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Luke, I am your father...

The Science Goddess, who listened to Darth Vader's plea, is one of my favorite bloggers. She has a good post about The Dark Side.
The Central Office is one of those terms that encompass a wide variety of offices, people, and tasks. Similar to the meaning of Education. It is something different to everyone. The truth still exists, though, that the Central Office is often seen as a hinderance to individual schools, especially in the larger districts. The bigger the district, the bigger the bureaurcracy.
For most of us, we aren't aiming our displeasure at the secretaries, although I'd be a liar if I didn't excuse some of them. I've had the displeasure of being shafted by secretaries who couldn't keep track of important documents or give me the correct information. The application process tells a potential employee everything they need to know about a district's Central Office sectretarial staff. That is not to say that there are not some wonderful and amazing people who are competent and beyond informative.
What tends to put a teacher off about a Central Office is the disconnect between it and the classroom. While The Science Goddess, as a former teacher, offers a great deal of insight to the Central Office's "suits" (read her blog on a regular basis and you will understand), the reality for many is that it doesn't matter.
If we are all really about the same goal, educating students, then why are Central Office "suits" often condescending towards teachers. This often appears when teachers are hesitant over new policies or new curriculum. The Central Office "suits" are the ones attending the latest fad seminars, bringing their research based instructional models to save the schools. Unfortunately, these "suits" fail to accept our research based opinions that come in the form of actually teaching.
The world of education has changed dramatically in the last ten years. The truth is that for so many years, the classroom teacher had autonomy, so long as he or she was abiding within the law. Today's demands require teachers to know the changes that are happening. Unfortunately, too many "suits" don't have the classroom experience or the leadership ability to bring teachers along. Teachers will respond to Cental Office staff that are able to listen to, and understand the teachers.
It is important to note that teachers, ultimately, pay the price for every decision the Curriculum Specialist or Assessment Specialist or Instruction Specialist make. When a school fails in its mission to educate students to standards, it is the principal and the teachers who take the heat. The people looking at the data and learning theories often stay protected--and at a nice salary.

So for the Science Goddess, who might be concerned about perception of going to the "dark side," I offer this advice:
1. Remember who you serve first--the students. If what you are asking the teachers to do will serve the students best, the truly good teachers will recognize it.
2. Remember your roots--the classroom. You've been in our shoes, and you know how out of touch with classroom reality some changes can be. Don't allow yourself to accept these changes for the sake of your career and image. No one likes a sell-out.
3. Earn the respect. Teachers are hungry for a Central Office "suit" we can really buy into. We don't dislike the Central Office because the old crazy guy down the hall told us to. It's because we haven't been treated as part of the program. Instead, too many "suits" have simply dictated their theories to us and expected us to fall in line. We aren't the military. Education is best served by the teacher who is allowed to be individuals within the great company of educators.
4. Trust us. Yes, some will fight it because it is new. Some will fight it because it won't work. Learn to tell the difference. And don't judge a critic for dissenting. Some of us do our best thinking, and will ultimately help your new idea, by challenging what you present. It may take time, but trust us; the truly good teachers will make it work.
5. Don't take yourself too seriously. The Central Office serves a purpose, but not one greater than the work going on in the classroom. The best run districts will have an appropriate balance between the "suits" and the teachers. If you make us look good, we'll make you look good. If you take care of us, we'll take care of you. That is a principle I learned in the service industry. So long as I took care of the customers, my boss was happy. If I took care of him, by doing my job well, he took care of me.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

"I do what I want..."

Just because I read Coach Brown's post doesn't mean I have to write a pre-packaged tag, does it? I mean, like Cartman says, "I do what I want..." I am doing this because I want to, not because my Coach told me to.

1. One book that changed my life:
The Magnificent Defeat by Frederick Buechner. No other book, the Bible included, helped me understand myself better.
"And because God's love is uncoercive and treasures our freedom--if above all he wants us to love him, then we must be left free not to love him--we are free to resist it, deny it, crucify it finally, which we do again and again. This is our terrible freedom, which love refuses to overpower so that, in this, the greatest of all powers, God's power, is itself powerless" (14).

2. One book that I've read more than once:
Godric by Frederick Buechner. I read it once a year, in the Autumn. I probably could use Buechner books to answer every one of the questions on the list. Poetic. Real.
"Remember me not for the ill I've done but for the good I've dreamed" (105).

3. One book I'd want on desert island:
The Tempest by William Shakespeare. It is magical and it takes place on an island.
"Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises, /Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. /Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments /Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices/That, if I then had waked after long sleep/Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming/The clouds methought would open and show riches/Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked/I cried to dream again" (III.ii.130–138).

4. One book that made me laugh:
Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain. I've not heard many people bring up this novel when discussing Twain. But I found myself laughing regularly, especially at the quotes from Puddn'head's calendar.
"When angry, count four, when very angry, swear" (89).

5. One book that made me cry:
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. Coach Brown must have a reputation to uphold because he won't admit to crying while reading. I have, with many books. But nothing gets me like this:
"After the last shovel of dirt was patted in place, I sat down and let my mind drift back through the years. I thought of the old K.C. Baking Powder can, and the first time I saw my pups in the box at the depot. I thought of the fifty dollars, the nickels and dimes, and the fishermen and blackberry patches.
I looked at his grave and, with tears in my eyes, I voiced these words: 'You were worth it, old friend, and a thousand times over'" (235). Man, seriously, I am crying as I type. Old Dan, I miss you too.

6. One book I wish had been written:
How to Fall Asleep in Less than One Hour--Guaranteed. Seriously. I take forever to fall asleep--even with sleeping aides.

7. The one book I wish was never written:
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I'd like to chalk it up to being a high school boy when I read this, but there isn't a chance I'll ever pick it up again. Sorry.

8. The book I am currently reading:
A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell. Set in Italy during the second world war, this novel is human and beautiful as a result.
"She said, 'The world is filled with unreasonable hate. What's wrong with unreasonable love?' Sentimental nonsense, I thought..." (289-290).

9. One book I've been meaning to read:
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I've been meaning to read this book for three years now.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Step right up!

You are probably visiting this site because of some former post at the Carnival of Education. So, go check out the latest edition, hosted this week by This Week in Education.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Ten Most Annoying People on Staff

In today's world of easy access, one should not have to pay to read previously written articles that were once free to the reader. And anyone who would consider charging a fee for his previously written articles, only after becoming wildly popular, is guilty of Big Leaguing. (But it won't stop me from reading his current work)
But nobody does lists like Bill Simmons, The Sports Guy. So Big League Bill, I am stealing your idea, but giving you credit--just like we teach our students!

10. The Clarifying Questioner
You've all heard it. The principal has just finished a ten minute power point detailing the new attendance policy when this guy raises his hand to clarify a point that was made five times during the presentation. You want to slap him upside the head and tell him to pay attention--or just call him a freshman.
9. The Stuck in the Past
When Principal Jones was here, things were a lot better. Seriously, dude, I was five when Principal Jones was here; of course things were different. Better? Only because you are so old your short term memory has failed. You keep getting little glimpses into your past like flashbacks in movie. The dreamy nostalgia has got you high on 1982.
8. The 1-Minute until we Leave Questioner
There is nothing more thrilling than when the clock reads 2:59 at a staff meeting that ends at 3:00. Seriously, if you enjoy staff meetings, get yourself checked. You can't be normal. We've just spent 7 hours trying to convince kids to listen to us, had a student tell us where to put the homework assignment, and nearly headed home until the "Staff, don't forget the meeting at 2:15" announcement blares us back to hell. Then, that one lady in the corner, as if she's been planning this moment all day because she needs to feel important today, raises her hand with a question about some policy. The ensuing answer needs five minutes to explain. Meanwhile, you've started tapping your foot at an unhealthy pace and everyone in the room can feel the frigid stare you are giving. Let it go, lady; let it go.
7. The Collaborator
The Collaborator has many ideas--none of which she can do on her own. No. She needs your help. She's knocking on your door during her prep period, or e-mailing the staff about a new idea. Where does she come up with all of these ideas? She goes to a lot of conferences, and she lets you know about every one. I learned this. I learned that. We need to do this. We need to do that. How come no one wants to be on board? Oh, I don't know; maybe it is because you change ideas quicker than a my 9th graders change i-pod skins.
6. The Not Fitting In
Oooh. This one hurts. Nobody likes that awkward feeling one gets when a person tries just a little too hard to fit in. One part of you wants to laugh and point like when you were in high school, the other half wants to feel bad, but can't. I mean, he's 35 years old and still trying to fit in. There are two types of Not Fitting Inners. The first is just socially awkward with his peers. He joins conversations that he wasn't a part of, and knows nothing about--nodding his head in agreement or disgust whenever it seems appropriate. He's like Steve Urkel--somethings not right, but you just can't cut him off. The second type is the teacher who needs to feel cool with her students. She tries to dress like them, or do her hair like them. Neither work. You are just waiting for the day that some kid mistakes her for an actual student and trips her in the hall, books sprawling, people pointing.
5. The Shusher
The title says it all. He wants to listen to another pointless movie clip about succeeding schools--even if it was made in 1993. You want to make fun of the actors, or real teachers who are just so awkward because they know their going to be in the movie. He keeps "shushing" you like that kid in junior high that nobody liked. You want to start throwing little pieces of paper at him just to see if he cries. There is no place in the world for the shusher except for when Dr. Evil shushes Scotty in Austin Powers. Shhh. I' m sorry, no arguing. Shhhh. I don't want to hear it. Shh.
4. The Union Thug
As soon as the clock hits 2:30, he's gone. You won't seem him until 7:00 a.m. If the principal has a new idea that might solve some problems, it has to be a violation of the contract. Nothing this person does is an action of his own. He is a follower at all cost. He is the reason why the outside world rags on teachers anytime we complain about pay. The building rep is on his speed dial, and there is no convincing him to budge an millimeter--it is the difference between being respected and taken advantage of.
3. The Complainer
"My fourth period class is the worst," she says. You begin to respond with empathy because your sixth period class is hell, but she interrupts, "I don't know. MY class...." And on it goes. All year, every time you get together. Hey, we all complain. But there is a right way and wrong way to do it. When you complain, you must understand that the person to whom you are complaining to, has a story too. You have to be funny when you complain, otherwise it is the same whining that our students do--and we make fun of in the faculty lounge. You are limited in time. You are not allowed to complain for more than 10 minutes a week. You may choose to complain once a week for 10 minutes--remember to be funny--or you may choose to go with some shorter session (venting). If you can't be funny and concise, shut the hell up.
2a. The E-Mail Respond Aller.
Because these next two are just so damn annoying, I have to call them equal. When the school secretary e-mails with an all staff bulletin about the fire alarms being tested and there may be an inadvertant bell, please, for the sake of Bill Gates and all the other techno-nerds, don't reply "The last one interrupted my lab and now my day is shot," to the entire staff by simply hitting the "reply" button. You see, it goes out to everyone unless you hit "reply sender." The truth is, we don't care. WE all had our class interrupted, not just you. This is the epitomy of selfish narcissism--to think that your experience is so unique that you must share it with all.
2b. The Self-Pertaining Questioner
The Vice Principal finishes addressing a new reporting system for grades. A hand in the front goes up. You cringe because you know what's coming: A Clarifying Questioner, A 1-Minute Till We Go Questioner, or the Self-Pertaining Questioner. The latter asks a question that is specific to his classroom, oblivious to the notion that no one else in the building would have the same question. As if this person hasn't heard themself talk enough that day, here's one more opportunity for them to show the VP that they are important. Look at me, daddy, look. I'm right here. No, daddy, right here. Come on, notice me. Please. Just e-mail your question later--no, on better thought, don't--you're probably also guilty of 2A.
1. The District Minion
So in love with the Central Office that she quotes it like the Rev. Billy Graham preaching from John 3:16 at the Astrodome. Like the Union Thug, she never thinks for herself, never questions for the purpose of improving. No, she just follows along with every educational fad presented at some meeting. She speaks a foreign language with words like: research based, formative, constructivist, scaffolding, and a bunch of other words. Meanwhile, while she's off at any and every district offered training, you are actually teaching. And if you should question the latest fad, you can be sure she's talking. Yep. She's like the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz, waiting to scoop you up and drop you off at the Wicked Witch's office. (I better be politically correct and include the Wicked Warlock's office--otherwise I might get in trouble!)

Do YOU know these people? Did I miss anyone? Misplace any of the above. Let me know!