Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Paradise, or something like it?

While working for the Doubletree Hotel, I often didn't clock out until well past midnight. My teammates and I had to set up the conference rooms and breakfast meetings for the next day. Each night we worked past eleven, we would chat with a retired police investigator turned hotel security. "What's new, bro?" we would ask. "Another day in paradise...somewhere else," he would reply.
And so when my wife asked me about my day...well, it was another day in paradise.

My day started with my most challenging Corrective Reading class. This group has not bought into or accepted the reality of this scripted program. One student, J, has had to be removed four of the six times he's actually attended. He won't participate; he will argue if asked to participate. The only way to correct the reading of others is to exit the young man to the resource room. He's simply argumentative.
So today, when I asked him to turn around and face forward, he yelled, "Why are you starting with me? It's always me. J, turn around; J, this; J, that. I'm gonna call my mother and she's going to come down here."
"Okay. Call your mother," I say.
"No really, I will. I'm gonn call her," he commands.
"Good. Call her right now," my voice is calm.
"What?"
"I said, Call Your Mother Right Now. And then, tell her I want to have a meeting....Really, take out your cell-phone and call your mother."

And he did. Thinking I wouldn't completely understand, he spoke in Spanish--well, his mom doesn't speak English, but... I continued to remind him to make sure mom understood that he wasn't participating, but that didn't happen until the meeting about two hours later when I had a translator with me.
The meeting was, well, who knows. Mom agreed with me, the problems between J and me will only go away when J stops arguing and participates the way the program demands.

I don't know if that was the right way to deal with J, but I am tired. I am exhausted by repeating myself all day because I teach one script three times and the other script two times. I am drained by the two classes whose students are yet to buy in and would rather refuse to give the choral responses. I am annoyed by the student who wants to purposely get things wrong just to piss the group off. I am weary from having to cheerlead the program when I'd rather be teaching an English class. So J had to "wear it" as we say in baseball.

17 Comments:

At 5:30 PM , Blogger KDeRosa said...

Have you considered joining the DI Listserv and ask the teachers and coaches there what to do about the behavior problems you're seeing.

 
At 6:09 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

No. But that is mostly because my district has implemented a program, given me a 2 hr "training" by a sales rep., and failed to give me adequate opportunity and information to be 100% successful.
So, please tell me how to find the DI listserv because, though I may not want to teach this class, I want to succeed. I hate failing. BTW--it is only a handful of students in two of the five classes. I'll put it at 7 of 30 students who are problematic. But those 7 are very influential students. It bothers me that the success of this program is hinging on 7 id...um, non-compliant students. 7. 23 are great. 23 will at the least play the game. 7. 7 little....

 
At 5:51 AM , Blogger KDeRosa said...

Here are the instructions for joining the listserv.

Your district has given you an impossible task. You can't implement the program successfully without adequate training and, most likely, an on-site coach, for the first year to correct mistakes and deal with the behavioral issues. This is especially true for the corrective reading program for middle school students.

 
At 7:35 AM , Blogger Angela said...

Good thing you spent 4-6 years in school to do the job of a trained monkey. I feel so bad for you and your students. :-(

What are your chances of getting a real teaching gig next year? Do you have any desire to stay where you're at?

 
At 11:23 AM , Blogger KDeRosa said...

That's an interesting definition of "real teaching" Angela. I prefer a definition that takes into account what the student has actually learned as opposed to what the teacher may prefer.

The more traditional form of teaching clearly wasn't working for these kids, what makes you think that more of the same would be in their best interest?

 
At 12:28 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Well, the chances of moving back into my content area seem positive. And though I dislike reading a script, I am willing to give it the chance to produce results. What I am uncertain of is to what extent the results will impact what matters most to our district, closing the achievement gap on the state exam. With no focus on comprehension strategies it won't matter how well they can decode the words.
I have a desire to stay at the school and to be a part of the change. But again, without the vision and support of the CO and without the funding from the local community, will we be able to affect real and lasting change?
This is why charter schools appeal to me--especially after reading Sweating the Small Stuff by David Whitman.

 
At 2:05 PM , Blogger Angela said...

@Mr. McNamar: Glad to hear you're willing to give this a shot. Your positive attitude may yet win those kids over. And hopefully next year you'll be back in your content area.

@KDeRosa: I didn't define "real teaching", so I'm not sure what definition of mine you're referring to.

 
At 3:56 PM , Anonymous Joe Bellacero said...

7 Students--time to go after them, one by one. Who might be the easiest to bring on board? That's where you start. A one-on-one conference in which you acknowledge his/her concerns by asking about and listening to them then giving back what you're hearing--"You're telling me..." then a brief explanation of what the program targets--"the mind has muscle-memory just like the body, by repeating what I say you are training..." Spend a class or two giving special attention to that person. (If you know something at which he/she has had success bring that into the mix.)
Then, on to the next easiest. You probably won't win them all but the more of them you can get on the path the better off everyone is.

 
At 5:53 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Joe--right from the start, I validated their emotions about this program. The meeting described in the post was my first real attempt at targeting the one student I know can have the greatest influence. It worked for half of today's class and then J struggled with a few words: the end of J's participation and calm approach.
I feel like I need the General Petraeus Counter-Insurgency Manual.

 
At 6:57 PM , Blogger KDeRosa said...

The scripts are actually pretty good once you get used to them.

Take a look at this comment that an teacher experienced with DI left recently re the DI scripts.

I've been reading the scripts to my kids for three years now and have covered a few hundred lessons during that time, getting well past the introductory basic skills stuff you're doing. I have yet been able to improve on the wording of the script. I've found that it's better and easier just re-reading the script to the student. Every time I think I've made an improvement, it turns out that the student doesn't share my belief.

Comprehension strategies are overrated. Generally lack of content know And comprehension strategies don't help with that.

Angela, you didn't expliciting define "ral teaching" but you did impliclity define it as "not what Mr. McNamar is doing now" which is to say what was being done before. And, we know that wasn't working with these kids.

I feel like I need the General Petraeus Counter-Insurgency Manual.

Randy Sprick is your man. Tell your school to spring for some professional development of all this remedial work will be for naught.

 
At 7:41 PM , Blogger Angela said...

KDeRosa: That comment you linked to was a really interesting read. I stand corrected: a trained monkey could NOT do this job. Or should I say, could not do it well.

However, I think it's erroneous to assume that the only alternatives for these kids are a) DI and b) what was being done before. Clearly neither one is successful, as Mr. McNamar tells it.

Even if DI works with these kids (and it very well could), that doesn't mean Mr. McNamer wants to use it. Anyone teaching with DI should be well-trained and confident in the program. If a teacher isn't passionate about it, I believe s/he should, theoretically, consider the option to teach something or somewhere else. Personally, I wouldn't make another year long commitment to doing something I hated and saw no results from. I'd give it my all this year, as Mr. McNamar does, but I wouldn't stick around for more unless things changed dramatically. I don't think it's unreasonable to want teaching and learning to be enjoyable (or at least not excruciatingly painful) a good percentage of the time.

I was interested to read in your comment that you implement DI with your kids, whoever they may be. Your blogger profile lists your occupation as an attorney.

 
At 4:59 AM , Blogger KDeRosa said...

Angela, actually a trained monkey could do a credible job depending on the students being taught. A trained monkey could be used to teach a class full of smart children. Since these children make very few mistakes, it's just a matter of reading the script and it could be read quite poorly and embellished foolishly and the children will still learn. However, it does take a very skilled teacher to teach the DI program, even with the script, to a bunch of low-performing middle-schoolers with a long history of reading failure.

I agree that there are more alternatives than DI and what ws being done before, but th vast majority of alternatives are only going to be effective as what was being done before which is why we don't hear of too many schools that have miraculously remediated their sub-proficient students outside of elementary school. And, let's give the DI program more than a few days before we declare it a failure. Even if Mr. M can't get the bad apples under controlled, a majority of the class is making an effort to learn, so let's wait and see how they do.

I have used DI with my kids -- my son and daughter.

 
At 6:25 AM , Anonymous Joe Bellacero said...

KDeRosa
"...actually a trained monkey could do a credible job depending on the students being taught. A trained monkey could be used to teach a class full of smart children."
Let me try to say this calmly; there is no connection between "smartness" and reading ability. Reading involves a set of skills. There are slow-witted people who have an aptitude for it and sharp thinkers who struggle with it. Your implication that making mistakes is an indication of lack of smarts ("these (smart) children make few mistakes") is odious and ignorant of the realities of both intelligentce and reading ability.
Your characterization of students who reject this approach and indicate that rejection through disruption--the only way available to them--as "bad apples" is dehumanizing to students you do not know.
And perhaps there are parts of your job that trained monkeys might be able to do, but there are no parts of the teaching profession where trained monkeys could perform successfully.
Finally, "a bunch of low-performing middle-schools with a long history of reading failure" doesn't exist. The individuals in any "bunch" most certainly have had many reading successes yet still not have mastered all of the intricacies of the written word. Perhaps if you had been able to read your own words more carefully you would have realized how widely offensive and arrogant they were.

 
At 9:45 AM , Blogger KDeRosa said...

there is no connection between "smartness" and reading ability

Actually there is plenty of evidence of a correlation. And, it is higher when the instruction is more effective because the rate of inexplicable failure is reduced.

There are slow-witted people who have an aptitude for it and sharp thinkers who struggle with it.

Indeed there is. However there are many more slow-witted readers who struggle than who have an aptitude for it and there are much fewer sharp thinkers who struggle than who are successful. In fact it's so odd, we have a name for it when otherwise smart kids inexplicably fail to learn how to read as expected -- "specific learning disability." (Though I prefer to call it a teaching disability.)

Your implication that making mistakes is an indication of lack of smarts ("these (smart) children make few mistakes") is odious and ignorant of the realities of both intelligentce and reading ability.

Unfortunately, it's also a fact. Smarter kids make less mistakes than their dimmer peers. That's why they as a group perform better on ALL academic achievement tests.

Your characterization of students who reject this approach and indicate that rejection through disruption--the only way available to them--as "bad apples" is dehumanizing to students you do not know.

These are kids who appear to have rejected all previous approaches, not just the current one, as well that's why they are so far below grade level. The disruptions are more noticeable in the current curriculum because the students are required to perform so that the teacher can see if they are learning. And, it's well known that many children would rather act-out rather than be thought of as a dummy in front of their peers. You can connect the dots. In the current curriculum there kids can't just fade into the background and not learn.

but there are no parts of the teaching profession where trained monkeys could perform successfully.

There appears to be plenty of areas where suppposedly skilled teachers aren't able to perform successfully either, as evidenced by the all the remedial students in Mr. M's class.

The individuals in any "bunch" most certainly have had many reading successes

No doubt they have, Unfortunately, not enough successes to be at a proficient grade level for their age.

That's why we refer to means/medians/and modes as the descriptive statistics when comparing groups and not about the individual data points.

 
At 2:04 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Ken,
We use PBS (which Randy Sprick is associated with)at my school, but I'm yet to see it's success. Our admin seems to believe it is working because non-compliance referrals are down. But that could be as much a result of a younger staff or that they added an intermediate step in the referral process which they did not clarify as not being a referral.
Yet, I remain conflicted about what I believe. I've always included in my syllabus a philosphy of education. I believe that every student can succeed. I even believe that Corrective Reading can help students read, but I don't think it will help them pass our state exam. Does that mean the program is worthless, no.
And then I have a student like the one I've discussed. I have never not succeeded in bringing a student, no matter how problematic, into the fold, to use a cliche. So now, I find myself questioning not just my skill but whether "bad apples" exist in our schools. And if I believe that this sutdent or that student is "bad" does that make me a bad teacher? I've known teachers who have run students out because they couldn't, or didn't want, to bring him into the fold. I didn't like them much.
But now I'm that teacher. Having a student removed from class because I can't teach the others. It's just too much damned work.
And because I'm always self-concious about what others will take from my comments, I will add: I've met with two administrators and the students case manager a half-dozen times to try and solve the problem. And yet it persists...

 
At 12:39 PM , Blogger KDeRosa said...

You're right. Classroom management usually doesn't work until the academic success component is in place. You need both. That's my read on the data. the kids need to be able to do the work and see that it's going to lead somewhere for them.

 
At 7:35 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I LOVE it when people hijack the comments section to hear their lips flap. Thanks, Kenny. You are nothing if not consistent....

 

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