Friday, September 28, 2007

Who is more important?

My wife is in a difficult situation. Because the State won't recognize her endorsement in Science (earned in Washington), she can't receive a contract to teach the position she currently holds. As it turns out, though, an elementary position is open in the district. So, she had to choose between the contracted elementary position and the long-term substitute position she currently has.She chose the contract.The elementary school wants her to begin on Monday. The current position doesn't want to let her go quite yet--they want time to find a replacement. Both have valid arguments about their students suffering.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Differentiated Instruction

For the first time in my career, I find myself seriously wondering "What do I do with these kids?" After receiving fifty percent of my seniors' Post High School Goals essay, I quickly realized that for this group, a three to four hundred word essay is difficult. Well, not just difficult, but well beyond their range of skill.
Knowing that I couldn't just forge ahead, I regrouped to have them write a one paragraph response to a short story. At this point, still with only fifty percent having done the assignment, I again found myself confused. Half of the group wrote decent content (though their grammar was atrocious), and the other half didn't seem to have a clue about how to approach the prompt--their grammar even more atrocious.
This morning I had them copy a paragraph from the board. Our purpose: to examine the elements of a well-developed paragraph. Many refused to do such a simple task because the paragraph was "too fucking long."
On the way home, my wife asked me what she should do with her students who refuse to do any work. I gave her two answers. The theorists would say that it is our job to convince, persuade, or motivate those students to learn; and, that if our lessons were only relevant, there wouldn't be these issues. We should differentiate our instruction for those who care about and value the assignment and those who don't give a shit.
The other response, coming from a teacher who is agonizing over ways to convince his seniors that the ability to write a paragraph is necessary said to inform them of their right to fail. I mean, if the police are required of our right to remain silent so that we don't say anything stupid--thus getting us into trouble, we should also be required to inform our students of their right to remain ignorant--thus relegating them to a life of poverty.
I am only a few weeks into this new position and I am anxious about my ability to succeed here. I have never failed as a teacher, but here, I feel like a failure on a daily basis. The theorist in me blames my inability to connect or motivate or whatever; the realist in me blames the students' parents for not creating an environment that values education.
So, because this blog is also a way to learn from each other, I am truly asking for words of advice on how to approach low achieving students in a high poverty area. I don't know that I have the skill set to succeed.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Season of Change

This is week three at my new school and already I am wondering about the future. Today we found out that the state will audit our school using Cambridge Education's resources. I know that our test scores have floundered with little improvement for some time, and therefore, the State is starting the process of intervention.
What astounded me about our faculty reaction was that, at least the ones who spoke, were all skeptical of what this audit could do for us. Now, I am not one who is thrilled about testing and all of this NCLB effects, but I do believe that we have a responsibility to educate our kids--all of them. I also understand that the community I teach in has many characteristics that are not in line with a culture of education.
The public often complains about the unwillingness of teachers to change. To a large extent, I disagree with the public in their assumptions about teachers and what we do. But, in some instances, their assessment is correct. And when so many of our students are not succeeding, I just can't help but be annoyed that so many are unwilling to at least hear what an outside perspective has to say. The season for change at some schools is here; it is time for those who are just collecting a paycheck until retirement, to go ahead and retire.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Baseball on My Mind

While my family and I wait for our albatross beautiful home to rent, we are roomates with my parents. Not exactly what we had in mind when we made the move, but it hasn't been too bad. One benefit has been the opportunity to help my parents declutter from years of living in their home.
One such decluttering need happens to be my baseball card collection. Today, I began the process of deciding what to do with all of my cards. At the moment, my solution is to sift through the cards and pull out any cards of players who are or could be Hall of Famers. I also chose to pull out all of the Red Sox cards and Mariner cards (my wife is from Seattle).
At the moment, I have counted nearly 5,000 cards and still have a few more boxes to go. This trip down memory lane has been fun, and maybe someday I'll write an essay on it. Anyway, not much to write about relating to school, so I went with my second love--baseball.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Data Driven Decision Making

In today's professional development meeting, the administrative team rolled out their shiny new toy--Data Walls. We listened to an hour and a half lesson on the how and why of collecting data to inform instruction. It may come as no surprise to you, but I am not all that excited about this project.
My disinterest doesn't stem from a belief that data cannot help inform instruction; instead, it comes from my belief the good teachers are already doing this anyway. Additionally, my disinterest comes from a lack of planning on the part of the instructors. In order to make decisions about what to focus on, I would expect to have in my hands the pre-existing data like the state exam scores. With those in hand, our data teams could peruse the data to determine what area needs immediate focus. But no, we didn't have that.
And this lack of information was only part of my problem. In addition to our regular staff meetings and department meetings, we are now required to meet with our data teams twelve times between nown and January. Those of you who have those important jobs in which you have hours of meetings will need to forgive me for complaining about an additional 18 hours of meetings, but I just have much better things to do than analyze data--namely, I need to prepare to teach in order for that data to change. And again, forgive me for complaining, but because the wonderful state of Connecticut is so prestigious, my certification from lowly Washington State, doesn't transfer smoothly. This means that I am being paid as a sub until certification happens. But, to be certified, I have to take two Praxis exams--which aren't offered again until November.
Dang it, that turned into a rant. I didn't want that.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


What a shitty day. I've always belived that when it comes to things like luck, the Leperchauns passed me over--and I'm Irish.
My lesson plan with the Sophomores today included a pre-write on the importance of family in influencing our lives--positively and negatively. We would be reading "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" by Sherman Alexie. The story begins with Victor learning that his father had passed away.
In the first set of Sophomores, I noticed a young man sitting with the text closed. Realizing that this was more than just obstinance on his part, I asked, "Is there a reason why you don't want to read today?"
He nodded his head yes.
"Well, would you like to share that reason with me?"
He openned his planner to today's date and there, scribbled in pencil: R.I.P. Papi.
Then in the following period, I noticed another student agititated during the writing prompt. He went to the bathroom. When he returned, I handed him the text and gave him the instructions. He sat down, openned the text and began reading. Thirty seconds later, he slams the packet to the ground, storms out of the classroom and slams the door behind him.
I received an e-mail from the school's psychologist later in the day. He informed me of some real bad family events taking place in the kid's life.
Shit, shit.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Staff Meeting Statistics

Like most professionals, I dislike staff meetings. These poorly conceived times tend to drain me of my enthusiasm for teaching, but often provide some comic relief if one is willing to lower himself to middle school like behavior.
My new school had its first staff meeting (not including the pre-school one) of the year. I sat next to a young teacher who came prepared to tune the meeting out by grading papers. But I need a new accomplice in my regressive behaviors, and because she is one of the younger department members, I chose her.
She served as my informant. I don't know the names of the staff members, so I needed someone to provide those for me. I plan on starting an official record of questions, comments, and other staff meeting faux pas (spelling?). However, I didn't realize that this young teacher isn't used to serving as an accomplice for poor behavior, but she served valiantly (I may be able to convince her to continue in her post).
In today's meeting, which lasted an hour and fifteen minutes--much longer than I am accustomed to. But as my buddy Stence says, "You've got to battle through."
Here are the totals from that meeting:
Ringing Cell Phones--2

The winner of the individual award asked four questions and added in one comment. Congratulations!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Why I love teaching

Yesterday two of my lower level freshman showed up to class unprepared for the fourth day in a row--we've only had five real academic days. If they showed up today without notebooks or pencils, I would have to take punitive actions. I don't like punitive actions because it creates additional work.
I was tired when I arrived at school this morning and had few expectations for a great teaching day. I struggled through first period; I forgot my notes in my office, and I forgot that it was a 70 minute period today instead of 56--my notes were for the 56 minute period I taught the day before. The rotating block schedule finally messed me up.
Then my lower level senior dove into their career center experience, searching for jobs or 1-2 year programs. Later in the day the career center professional excitedly informed me that a handul of them had returned, on their own, during their study halls (mostly a social experience).
With my referral forms in my pocket, I marched into the low level freshman class. But nope, these students were gems today. I only brought out the referral form to show the difference between that form and the positive behavioral forms I handed out to one of the two boys who made my day hell the day before.
And to top that period off, I hit my stride with their lesson plan. At one point, a usually rambunctious student said, "Hey Mister, you really like this stuff don't you." I told him that I really do enjoy this reading stuff. "I can tell, Mister, you're really excited today; you know, talking really fast and stuff."
Yep, this is why I love teaching--unpredictable.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Reasonable Expectations

At what point in a student's education should we begin to promote the college experience? And then, how often should we reteach the importance of a college education?
For the past three years I have taught Pre-College English at a large school in Washington state. Every year I found myself amazed at how little my students had prepared for college. They didn't know to take rigorous coursework all four years. They didn't know that they should have taken the SAT's before senior year. They didn't know about applications procedures.
I had hoped to teach at a school with a strong college prep focus. But my fate is to teach at a school with even less college preparation than my previous school.
Today one of my students, who I have during in my lower level senior English, told me that she wanted to attended college--that made me smile. I asked what community colleges she was looking at. Now, perhaps that was presumptuous, but she is in a level two class (we have four levels, and level four is the highest). "I'd like to go to Fordham," she replied.
Fordham? Clearly no one has had a meaningful conversation with this young lady about college preparation.
My question now will digress. Are we losing those middle of the road students to standardized testing? Meaning, are we so focused on making sure that those students have heavy doses of test preparation, that we forget to also focus on what comes after the test?
This Thursday, when I take her class into the career center, I am going to feel bad when she learns that Fordham won't be happening--at least not next year.