Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hell's Classroom

In my last post, a commentor gave me a fantastic idea: get an agent and start a reality show. But considering I am poor, and I don't say that only because I'm a teacher, I will have to function as my own agent. If a sadistic chef from Britain can have a reality show, then why can't I.
Episode 1:
Music intro begins, playing Superman by Five for Fighting. An old tired looking male with thick-rimmed glasses stands in front of an overhead projector. A few students are visible, hoods pulled over their head, faces full of boredom. A graphic flashes across the screen, Frederick K. Dever: Math. A fresh looking face now jumps onto the screen. She is energetic and her eyes are vibrant. The camera pans around her room focusing on the students who are grouped in collaborative learning teams. They seem to be working. Maxine Young: Biology. Another young face appears, a confused and dumbfounded look washes his face. The camera wraps around him to see what he sees; a student stands on the desk holding a sign that reads, "I'm Rick James $!#ch." Mr. McNamar: 9th Grade Reading and Writing for the WASL English. The music continues as the view leaves the classroom door to the empty hallway, out the doors to the New Year's Blimp view. (Goes to Commercial--Sponsors: Staples; Microsoft; Honda Hybrids; NEA; Democratic National Party;Coca-Cola)

Scene 1:
(The three teachers sit around a conference table. The school's principal Mrs. Pawn enters)
Mrs. Pawn--Welcome to A.Y.P High School! The next year will be a tremendous opportunity for you to demonstrate your best practices in regard to your specific content area. But before we get you settled in your classrooms, you will have a first day competition.
Mrs. Young--Oh yes! I told you guys we'd get a competition right away! Yeah!
Mr. Dever--Uh, if I might ask, is this in our collective bargaining agreement?
Mr. McNamar--What does best practice mean?
*Commercial: Microsoft
Scene 2:
(The three teacher are in NEA sweatsuits)
Mr. Merkel--Okay guys, and girl. I am the head janitor. Today, you will have to sprint through the building, pushing a shopping cart. As you go through, you must purchase enough supplies for the first quarter. Staples cashiers are ready to help. When you finish, you will then have to find your classroom. Once you locate it, you will have to sprint back to the office to get keys from the office manager, sprint back, and then remove all of the junk that is in it. The first one to clean out their room and have enough supplies for the first quarter wins this prize sponsored by Staples. (The Camera shows a wall calendar)

The three teachers take off, running from here to there. Mrs. Young gets the shopping cart full first, followed by Mr. McNamar. But Mr. McNamar is broke and can't afford all the necessary stuff. But no worry. The NEA has a loan booth waiting. But the process takes too long and the old Mr. Dever eeks into second place. Mrs. Youn wins the calendar.
*Commercial: Coca-Cola
Scene 3:
(The teachers are back in the staff room, tuckered out from the race.)

Mr. McNamar: Man, that was tough. That janitor guy is going to be a pain in the butt.
Mrs. Young: You know, when I was in a Foundations of Education class, my professor said to take care of the janitors and the secretaries. I've got myself set-up.
Mr. Dever: I'm too old for this. I didn't realize I'd be the only retire-rehire. At least I'm getting paid double what you guys make! (Exits)
Mr. McNamar: Dang, that is some b.s. That old man makes double what we make and we're gonna run circles around him in the classroom. I'd bag on the Union right now, but they're a sponsor!
Mrs. Young: Do you want to form an alliance? We could be like Rob and Amber from Survivor.
Mr. McNamar: Well, an alliance is fine, but I think more along the lines of 50 Cent and the Game.
*Commercial: Honda
Scene 4:
(Each teacher is seen working in their classroom, preparing for the first day of school)
Mr. McNamar--(talking to himself outloud): Where did I put that calendar? I need the curriculum map. Okay, here we one, syllabus. Day two, reading assessment? Are you kidding me? Two days of testing in the first week? And two more in the second week? Nothing like getting to know your kids! I can't focus. I still have another week, I think I'll go get some lunch.
(Switch to Mr. Dever's room)
Mr. Dever is plodding through the first chapter of the Algebra 1 book. He peruses his files from the previous 15 years of teaching, yawns, grabs his coffee and blows his nose. He looks to the camera and says "In teaching math, it is imperative that my numbers stay below 30. I don't want to have the same issues I had at my last school."
(Switch to Mrs. Young's room)
Mrs. Young--(to the camera): Oh hi guys. Come on in. I'm sorry, but I couldn't wait to get my bulletin board up. I hope you don't mind that I did it already. But here, I'm working on some lesson plans, developing objectives and anticipatory sets. Did you guys see Mr. McNamar leave already. He's going to struggle getting done on time."

The three classrooms appear on the screen as the foreboding music starts.

Voiceover: Will Mr. Dever have more than 30 students? Can Mr. McNamar stay focused long enough to get ready for the first day? What will become of Mrs. Young and her proposed alliance? Tune in next week as our Hell's Classroom teachers face their students for the first time!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Carnival

Jenny D. is hosting the Carnival today. Take the time to check it out. These are the ones I especially liked:
The Science Goddess
The Education Wonks who usually hosts the Carnival


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I might holdout

An NFL player, making millions of dollars, decides he wants more money because of his statistics. He is under contract and part of a player's union. If he doesn't get his already signed contract renegotiated, he will hold out. This has been a part of professional sports for a number of years now. Players wanting what they feel they have coming to them.
With the likes of Terrell Owens touting their performance and statistics, I think it is time that a few educators hold-out. Not me of course, my rookie year was mediocre. But there are some educators whose numbers are pretty good, educationally speaking. And instead of the entirety of the union members striking, individual teachers should be able to make a stink, whine like athletes, and force the hand of our districts.
Can you envision that, Mr. McNamar Demands Respect would be the headline in the Seattle Times. The beat writer for my school district would then write about my demands, a new contract equal to that of a five year veteran because "90% of my students met standard on the reading assessment. I feel disrespected by the current contract. I signed it when I was young...they took advantage of the situation." The beat writer would then offer her opinion and prediction.
The local news talk show on 710 KIRO would be flooded with calls from opinionated listeners (fans). "No way does McNamar get that. He's not worth it. My kid had him in first period, McNamar was barely awake himself. Don't you remember what he said in that mid year interview 'I'm awake when I want to be awake'" A second caller would argue, "Come on guys, McNamar has earned it. His numbers are obvious. The closest second year teacher numbers wise is Ms. Connelly, she only had 84% meet standard and her attendance numbers aren't even close. She took all three personal days and 6 sick days."
Ah, the fun we could all have, if only there was money in education. Corporate sponsors. Ticket sales. Concession stands. Merchandise. T.V. revenue.

Monday, July 25, 2005

You're Fired (oops, I mean You have deferred employment)

From ToungTied via Fox News
Deferred Intelligence
A teachers' union in the U.K. says the word "fail" should be banned from use in classrooms and replaced with the phrase "deferred success" to avoid demoralizing pupils, according to
The Times.
Members of the Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) argue that telling pupils they have failed can put them off learning for life.
The PAT will debate the proposal at a conference next week.

And, to be fair, I propose that students who do pass, should not receive a letter grade, but the phrase "deferred failure," or in their phrase, "deferred, deferred success."

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Hook

With the first day of school 6 weeks away, I am already nervous about whether or not I will be able to convince my students that what we will be doing all year is important to their lives. The prospect of moving from the Pre-College class I taught last year, with its mostly committed students who at least understood the importance of going to college, to teaching 9th graders has me worried.
I taught 9th grade English while student teaching. I remember it being pleasant, but honestly I think it was that particular year's cohort group. Last year's 9th graders seemed less mature, but then again, I didn't have them in class.
The hook happens within the first two weeks of school. Unfortunately for me, my school is requiring two separate tests, both taking two days each, within in the first week. The first day of school I will hand out the syllabus and go over the general school and classroom rules. The second and third days will be a baseline reading test--crafted after the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning.) I will then have a day to do some get-to-know-you activities, followed by two days of a baseline writing test--again, crafted after the WASL. Because we start school on a Wednesday, the first "two" weeks will more or less be filled with testing. I bet that my students will love English class by the end of those two weeks!
And because I am a teacher, I am responsible for motivating them through all of this because, well, who else are we going to hold accountable?

Sunday, July 17, 2005


As I prepare for the upcoming school year, I have been wondering about the idea of specializing in specific grade level. As an English teacher, each year has a set of expectations, both in reading skills and writing skills , that we must accomplish. Certainly the same can be said for the other disciplines, only in a slightly different way.
Doctors are trained to have a broad and general understanding of the medical world, but then focus on a specific discipline. Some choose to be pediatricians, while others go into orthopedics. That becomes their speciality, what they focus on and are best at. They tend not to stray from that discipline. In teaching, your average teacher is asked to be a specialist in more than one category. Teachers are often in support of this dabbling mentality. But it seems to me that if we are going to be most effective, we ought to focus on a specific grade level.
Wouldn't it do our students a world of good if we were truly experts in our area. Next year I will be teaching Freshmen despite teaching Seniors last year. My entire summer, outside of teaching summer school, is focused on preparing new material for the year. I think I had some success last year, and would have enjoyed the challenge of modifying what I had done. In fact, I had already started working on that as the year wound down. But maybe I will find that Freshmen are my niche. Maybe I find I enjoy teaching them. Shouldn't I be allowed to focus all of my prep time on that. Five classes of 9th grade English.
Why not? The detractors say it will be boring and monotonous. But I think that a good teacher would not allow himself or herself to become boring and monotonous. I want to be the best teacher around. I think I can reach my maximum ability by focusing on a grade level. Who does it hurt?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Summer School

In my summer school class I have numerous English Language Learners who are taking the class for something otherthan, or in addition to, earning a lost credit. I commend these students, some who have very little English skills, for their desire to improve skills while immersed in an English speaking classroom.
The great difficulty I have though, is that I am not equipped, in my own teaching skills, to provide for the needs that they have. Language has already shown itself to be a great barrier in the communication of directions and lessons. While during the normal school year, ELL students have the appropriately educated people around the school to facilitate their learning, I do not have that available during the summer session.
I am charged with the task of not only communicating through the language barrier, but also evaluating each student's progress. As I sat with one student today, it was obvious that he was frustrated in his inability to communicate with me, and I was at a loss for ways to communicate with him. He finally looked at his watch and said he needed to catch a bus. I felt the same way. There is a sense of powerlessness that controls the tongue when one does not have the words needed. But here is what I did understand. My student didn't understand the book he is supposed to be reading. He didn't understand the directions for the assignment that went with it. Here is what I think about all of this.
How in the name of NCLB am I going to evaluate this student? He has asked for a Pass/Fail grade. But how do I know whether he is passing or not? How do I accomodate during a summer session without knowing what and where to accomodate?