Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Pity the Fool

Is there something to the Dr. Ben Chavis method? His critics claim he ran off all the bad students--which they claim are the Black, Latino, and American Indian students. But, what about the individual stories? Do those students lie? Does Chavis lie?
This morning I had a conversation with a regular attender of the In-School-Suspension room. He was in the process of writing a persuasive essay opposing the extention of the school day or school year. He wasn't sure how to organize the essay. But the discussion branched off into what causes schools to fail. Under the impression that our students fail because they are minorities, this student was curious about my feelings.
We discussed the many contributors to student failure. I mentioned that poverty affects student achievement, but so does poor teaching. I admitted that inconsistencies in holding students accountable for rule breaking is as detrimental to the system as students disrupting the school day. The student found it fascinating that I would admit to him that when a teacher stops holding a student accountable to the rule (say, no iPods in the hall), we have quit caring about their success. What we are implying with our blind eye is that the student is not important enough to correct. Chavis writes, "Training a pony is not much different from disciplining students. The key is wearing students out and teaching them to realize there is no use in being defiant (185).
Yep, some of you will become outraged at the comparison. I can hear the progressive angst now: "People are not animals. They have feelings and self-esteem. We, as teachers, cannot harm their precious little souls." It makes me laugh. If our students come to us acting like fools, we ought to treat them like the fools they are, not indulge their foolishness.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


It's easy to get distracted by all that is wrong in a work environment. The same is true within education. The reality is that I often get caught up focusing on what is wrong with my building and fail to miss those moments of beauty. Tonight I was reminded by one of the sweetest people I know, K-Rodge (from my Seattle days), that a positive outlook can be the differene between success and failure.
So, tomorrow when I get to school, nothing but positivity.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Miscellany

My friend and former colleague, John Foley, has a humorous post about refereeing celebrities.

While scoring essays at Starbucks this morning, I overheard three 60 something women discuss the merits of various donut types while telling stories of their donut buying adventures. This part of their conversation lasted over thirty minutes.

Also while scoring essays, I finally read a completely readable and articulate piece from one of my seniors. Even though there are five more to read, I had to stop because of the grading high the essay put me on--I didn't want to kill the buzz.

I've been wondering about reality lately. Mainly, I am trying to understand the reality that some teachers live in. One point in particular--writing instruction. Yesterday, a 9th grade student stood in front of me in shock. I had just finished pointing out that in two paragraphs of writing, he had yet to write a complete sentence. He either had a series of run ons or a series of phrases. The shock on his face was not contrived, and I imagine his response to be honest: "But my writing workshop teacher last year always told me how good my pieces were."

Maybe we should stop teaching students to free write in place of correct writing. Certainly writing to process thoughts has value, but too many of my 9th graders are great at writing what they feel, even if it doesn't relate to the topic or make a bit of grammatical sense.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

By Jove!

I'm attempting a rather brief mini-unit on mythology. My lack of experience in this area could lead to a debacle or boredom. But, a classic education requires some introduction to the oft alluded to.

Mini-lesson One: Guided Notes about why we study myths.

Mini-lesson Two: "How the World Began" from Myths and their Meaning.

Mini-lesson Three: Baseball and Mythology (to coordinate with our interdisciplinary unit on baseball).

Mini-lesson Four: Gods and advertising/marketing/company slogans (to be taught by student teacher).

The individual assignment, shown in the picture, asks the students to create a Facebook profile for a god or goddess. Students will have to find a picture, create a status update, identify two poems that reference their choice, and write a three sentence summary of their choice's importance. We've been working hard to solidify summarizing skills, so this will be yet another data point for that skill.

Friday, October 16, 2009


My parents used to tell me that one day my mouth will get me in trouble. I never listened. Call it thick-headedness or stupidity (probably the latter), but I just can't stop telling people what I think. If only I were smarter, I could be a politician!
Recently, the topic of intimidation has struck my fancy. Education Next profiles Michelle Rhee in their 2010 winter edition, and I'm sure there are people who feel intimidated by her approach. Me? I have a huge crush on her--but that's neither here nor there.
Unions are often claiming that administrators intimidate staff, but I've never been one to get bullied. I can't imagine every administrator I've had has always sung my praises; this blog is not anonymous, and I am not a close my door, do my job type of teacher. I have opinions.
What's interesting is that, while unions claim administrators bully, my experience is that many within the rank and file of the union feel more bullied by the union than anyone else. Heck, in most places, teachers are forced to pay agency fees to the union, even if the contract sucks. Give me free agency any day.
Teachers intimidate, too. I won't lie, I'm guilty. I try to intimidate my students with tough rules and killer grading. Once, a student told me, "Mr. Mac, you try to intimidate us, but you really aren't that tough." It killed me, and I loved it. There's nothing better than hearing someone firmly state their opinion with great confidence.
Students try to intimidate as well. I'm going to tell my mother, they threaten. Once, a student threatened me with that line (she'd arrived late and loudly protested the day's agenda when she arrived). "Go ahead. Take out your phone right now and call her," I said. I wasn't kidding, and the girl called home. Mom showed up by the end of the day; the two of us had a wonderful conversation about her daughter's behavior.
I think today's pop-culture calls it swagger, but whatever you call it, you might need to go get it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Likable Shithead

Sometimes in life you run across an individual who you like, except that they are a shithead. Every once in a while, that individual is a student. You find yourself asking why am I bothering trying to help this kid? They screw up royally; and when you call them on it, a twinkle develops in their eye, and their cheek involuntarily raises the corner of their mouth. They know better. And they know you'll fall for it every time.
When did this kid gain control like this? Why is this kid controlling everything? You are confused. You want to not like the student, but, uh, that wry smile gets you. You like their spunk, their stubborness. You go to your colleagues, and all you can say is, That kid is a shithead, but a likable one.

Monday, October 12, 2009


I continue to struggle with theory and practice. In theory, I agree with such rules as: no cell-phones, no iPods, no hats, etc. But in practice, I'm not as dedicated as needed. Many charter schools have these hard-line policies, and I am inclined to believe in those rules.
Yet, while standing at my door during passing time, student after student walks by with a cell-phone out our an iPod attached to their ear. Most students will put the devices away when I ask, but many will just keep walking. That's where practice and theory intersect in a head on collision. Do I follow the student? Our administration has made these rules the forefront of our year. So, what should I do?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Annoying the Bleeding Heart Educator

Dr. Ben Chavis, successful principal and now author of Crazy Like a Fox, used the American Indian Model of Education (AIM-Ed.) to revive American Indian Public Charter School. My guess is that his story bothers the elitists of our profession who believe in touchy-feely education. I'd also wager he's pissed off the unions and a host of other education related sectors. It will come as no surprise to some of you that I am enjoying his story.
The AIM-Ed. model has four components:
1. Family Culture--He doesn't mean the student's family or the student's culture. Chavis explains, "We are not going to burden the family members of students who are barely making ends meet or tell them they are responsible for the school's success or failure..."(65). The AIM-Ed. model seeks to create a culture of family within the school community. Teachers caring passionately about their students' needs and success. Chavis wants to teach his students how to act appropriately and how to succeed in school and life.

2. Accountability and Structure--Chavis writes, "When you look at areas in which minorities succeed--sports, military, and church--you realize what they have in common. They are all highly structured and have serious consequences for stepping out of line. Public schools in the inner city, for all their talk of being culturally sensitive and aware, don't put practices in place that work for the demographic they serve. Instead of using discipline and consistent role modeling, they impose an impersonal system on students, which causes chaos"(55).

3. High Expectations--AIM-Ed. philosphy believes students can succeed in spite of all the economic barriers. "We believe in our students," Chavis explains. "We do not play the victim card at our schools. I don't want to hear that crap from the students, families, teachers, or any staff...because I know that low expectations yield low success rates and cheat students" (85).

4. Free Market Capitalism--Here, Chavis has the luxury of having made a good deal of money prior to taking over American Indian Public Charter. He pays students for perfect attendance. We don't have that ability. But, the principle of capitalism stands out. Make students compete.

Now, if you argue with 1-3, we could never work together. Urban schools are not finding success because we have failed to believe the same about our students as suburban schools believe about their students. You can argue funding and all the other trite rationales, but in the end, we do not have strong structures, accountability, or expectations. And we certainly don't have a family culture or community. The size of urban schools prevents this in most cases.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Why can't my sports literature students be this creative?

From ESPN writer Bill Simmon's Mailbag column:

Q: I'm a senior in high school and was assigned a project in lit class to create my own university, which other students would then "apply" to. Both me and my partner for the project are fans of yours, and, remembering a podcast in which you discussed your dream of having a college named after you, decided on Bill Simmons University. We went back to the podcast and created it exactly to your specifications. We even put in your admissions requirement: female applicants just send pictures. We got a D on the assignment and a lecture from the teacher about sexism and taking the class seriously. Thanks, Bill Simmons.-- Brett, Portland, Ore.

SG: I don't even need to write it. And by the way, rarely if ever, has a reader e-mail made me this proud. The only way it would have been better is if you snapped at the teacher, "Shouldn't we have gotten a double-D?" Come to my Portland signing (Nov. 20), bring the paper and I will autograph the paper and give you a free book. Take that, uptight teacher who doesn't have a sense of humor.

I nearly woke up baby Calvin laughing at this.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Mr. McNamar 2.0

Three and a half years ago, I introduced Mr. McNamar 1.0--Tate. Today, I introduce to you all, Calvin Boyd McNamar. He arrived two weeks ahead of schedule and is as calm and peaceful as his older sister was as a baby. And while Tate flashed her big eyes early and often, Cal has been reticent and content to sleep.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Where to begin?

This weekend was Narrative Essay Scoring Weekend. I hated it. My ninth graders worked on these essays five times in class over the course of four weeks. The project was in conjunction with a short story unit. We focused mainly on showing not telling, and most students did a decent job at that. But after reading their final drafts (which will not be final), I am not sure where to begin writing instruction. Take a look.

From the Honors class: (as written)

  1. I tried to make a sand castle but the soft sand wouldn't stay in position where as I tried using hard sand the castle wouldn't eventually topple to peices. Building sand castles just wasn't my think so I decided to go into the water. The sea water was icy cold against my feet and the rocks I steped on were hard and pointy. I haerd my other brother call and wanted to come with me.
  2. Not to mention, I was right next to the metal bench where you sit down to try on shoes. So here goes the attempt. My right foot goes down. My right arm goes down. But, as my face reached the ground, it smaked directly on the corner of the bench! Instantly the taste of the salty tears was on my lips.

From the College Prep: (as written)

  1. The phone rang unexpectedly the nervousness as he answers "hello". Then all ofa sudden a long pause, his eyes get teary, he had a puzzled look on his face. what's wrong? He replied says" nothing, nothing's wrong don't worry "me, I was young but I still had a feeling he was laying to me. You no that dark weird feeling at the pit of your stomach I had that.
  2. As I walked into my house from a day of eating ice cream and pizza with my friends, I heard my mom sobbing upstairs. I rushed upstairs to her room to find her sitting at the edge of her bed sniffing and trying to catch her breath. She picked up her head and I instantly knew she had been crying for a while because her eyes were blood shot red.

My reactions to:

Honors: These students lack an understanding of punctuation and complete thoughts. Also, they tried too hard to impress which resulted in cluttered paragraphs and stories that never ended.

College Prep: These students are all over the place. Some students could tell the story, but like the second example, need to vary sentence patterns. More than one student didn't even write a narrative (of course they didn't have rough drafts during the workshop days).

I'm not putting grades on these essays. It just wouldn't be right. So they will be rewriting. I'm thinking I might have them focus on just one section of their essay to revise for a final grade. But what writing instruction will have the greatest effect? That I don't know.