Saturday, January 28, 2006

What kind of parent will I be?

If I am being honest with myself, I've been preoccupied lately. My wife is entering the final trimester before I add the title of father to my resume. I find myself looking over my students wondering if baby Tate will be like this one or that one. Will she be academically inclined? Athletically? Will she have a learning disorder? A social one?
And then, after weeks of teaching Romeo and Juliet to disinterested, well, mostly disinterested 9th graders, I sit down to take a phone call from a parent. I had made a decision that could possibly benefit my students on their final exam, provided that for this last week each of them paid attention, worked hard, and participated. On the last day before the final, a few students chose to, well, rest their weary eyes. It seemed unfair to punish the entire class, so I simply decided to disallow those students from the potential benifit.
I wonder if, as a parent, I would phone a teacher who chose this path if it were my daughter. Would I not understand that for every action, consequences--good and bad--will follow. Well, what if baby Tate had never done anything like that before? Would it change the outcome?
I can only imagine how much I will want to stand up for and defend baby Tate should she ever be in a situation that is trying. I can't imagine my parents defending me in that situation. Heck, the first time I received a detention was in the 8th grade. My Spanish class had been talkative, and the teacher was frustrated. "That's it. No more talking. The next person to talk will get a detention. Now, turn to pagina 34 (yes, I still remember the exact page--now.)" Well, with all of the talking, I missed the page. I didn't raise my hand to ask...instead, I called over the settling din, "Que pagina?"
"Andres, you will have a detention tomorrow." I explained it to my parents. They said I should have raised my hand--they were right.
Parental involvement in the education is essential, but at some point, teachers have to be allowed to adminster their directives the way they want. And at some point, parents have to allow kids to learn responsibility.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Teachers are Important

In an article found on the KOMO 4 News , one of the two local news stations I will watch, website, a report was made on the Washington D.C. based movement First Class Education. Entrepeneur Brian Janssen is quoted as saying,
"The idea appeals to me as a citizen and a taxpayer and as a parent," said Janssen, who grew up in Spokane and attended public schools. His parents were both public school teachers. "I don't think that kids, in general, are being extremely well served by today's public education system."

The basic premise, it seems, is that at a minimum, 65% of all education money allocated for schools, be spent directly in the classroom. In the classroom spending is described as "... teacher and aide pay, textbooks, distance learning expenses, field trips and supplies. The initiative excludes construction costs, principal salaries and interest payments on debt."

In theory, I like the idea. What teacher would not like the idea of better pay? Textbooks? Absolutely. But, as with all education reform ideas, the most important element is ignored. Educating the parents. When it comes to public relations, teachers are notoriously inadequate. Ask for more money, the parents point to the 182 day work year. Leave a child behind, the parents want our heads.
In order for First Class Education to find success, it truly needs to be a collaborative effort, not between the union and the public, but between the faculty members and the community in which they teach. It is time that teachers, not unions and not The Suits from the state capitol, take charge.
Not to knock First Class, because I believe in their basic premise, and because the article is not written by them, but where are teachers mentioned in the equation? How can education be reformed if the very instruments of that reform are not a part of the process?

Monday, January 09, 2006

I've got nothing. So here was my day.

6:15--Out the door (is it only Monday?)
6:45--Read today's scenes from The Tempest
7:00--E-mail (never anything good on Monday morning)
7:15--Wander from room to room.
7:25--Stand outside my door and wait (is it really only 7:25)
7:30--Teach The Tempest. Think about how if only these seniors would turn in assignments.
8:25--Reading Class. Two of my computers are having software issues for the reading program. no one knows why.
9:15--Prep. Go to Border's to pick up a side-by-side companion for Romeo and Juliet. It's been on my to do list since last Thursday!
10:30--Teach Romeo and Juliet (is it 2:00 pm yet?)
11:35--Eat lunch. Talk x's and o's for tomorrows basketball game.
12:15--Reading Class. Still having computer issues. (i swear my clock is slow)
1:10--Teach Romeo and Juliet. Have a difficult time getting class to quiet down after the innuendos.
2:05--Freshman class officers meet. We realize that basically there is no fundraiser that is allowed, either because it might be construed as gambling (raffles, bingo, etc.) or it might make students fat (candy sales, valo-grams, etc)
2:30--Grade papers
3:15--Get a snack before practice
3:30--Team meeting. Listen as coach teaches nutrition--while I eat a sandwhich with chips and coke!
4:30--Weight room. Someone should teach these girls how to lift properly.
5:00--Practice. Big game tomorrow. We need a win.
7:00--Arrive home to a dinner my wife made. I was hungry again, so I ate it.
8:00--Paid the bills. (is tomorrow only tuesday?)
9:45--Haven't blogged in a while and I had nothing to say but felt I needed to say something so I turned out this highly interesting piece on my day. Maybe you even read it!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

How do we change?

Often, we as educators wonder how to do things better. We evaluate our methods, our content, and our assessment; but when we recognize flaws in the system as a whole, from the local school board to the federal government, how do we effectively evaluate, and possibly change, an entity that is rooted so deep into the firmament, that, seemingly, not even an act of god could uproot it?
I spent yet another day of potential teaching sitting in a meeting to map out the curriculum. Now, I definitely needed to do some planning for the remaining weeks of the semester and the school year, but something about these central office mandated days the stifle my planning motivation. As we discussed what literary targets to teach, and when to assess student learning, I found myself wondering when, or how, to improve student learning beyond the WASL.
With NCLB and the movements towards heavy implications for standardized tests, that as far as I know, test the very basic skills we want our students to know, when will we start to teach them skills they need for college? One out of three students entering college need remedial instruction in English. These students lack the tools they need to write beyond a timed a prompt, to read beyond a sample excerpt.
We must realize that as our society progresses, a college degree is quickly, if it isn't already, becoming what the high school diploma became twenty years ago--necessary. With this understanding, we as an education community must begin to shift our focus, starting in the earliest grade level, towards preparing our students for success beyond the WASL or whatever version of a standardized graduation test you have.
The difficulty, I suppose, is that from year to year, from town to town, and from teacher to teacher, continuity is often rejected. Teachers are, or at least would like to be, independent contractors. Sure, like contractors that build houses who all have the same end in mind, a finished product, but with vastly different ideas about how to accomplish this, teachers all have individual ideas on how to create the finished product of an educated student. We can agree on some basics, but in large part, we wish to put our own stamp of creativity or influence on the outcome.
In doing so, we run the risk of failing our students. By the time a student arrives in her senior year of English, I expect certain mastered skills because I know what she will need to find success at the next level. I am committed to preparing her for that. Sure, I sound arrogant, I know, but we all need to have that sense when we teach. We must understand that we really are only assembly line workers in a student's education life. The Kindergarten teacher has his responsibility, if he fails, the first grade teacher recieves an incomplete product. And ultimately, the college professor recieves a student who cannot write a complete sentence or think for herself. As colleagues, we must be committed to each other.
What we balk at are outsiders--"the suits"--telling us how to do it. In large part, we feel left out of the process, our investment in a college education demeaned. And so we hide out in our rooms, railing against the establishment, unable to move beyond this slight. We get together only to point out where "the suits" have gone wrong. We become increasingly solitary.
I think the system as a whole is broken, like social security for my generation--a great idea that I've already invested in, but won't reap the benefits from. I wonder how to fix this giant mess. When I get overwhelmed with an at home project, sometimes I just stop, put it aside, and replan. I get that same sense sometimes when I stand in front of a class of 9th graders who don't know that the word "is" is a verb.

Monday, January 02, 2006

"Snap back to reality..."

Returning to the school this morning with a full day of teaching ahead of me, was not what I wanted to do. I'd complain about how unfair it was that, while the banks, the mail, and federal agencies were closed, my district had us teaching, I won't. We teachers, for all of the griping we do about pay and respect, sure have a nice vacation schedule.
But that doesn't mean I can't complain about waking up for work that first day after vaction. My wife, a teacher as well, had the day off--adding to my morning frustrations--and so I was left to rouse myself from sleep and force myself to get up. I spent an extra five minutes in the shower, see previous post, in order to wake myself. No such luck. Then I had to shave...with my new razor that I hate. With my contacts still blurry because my eyes still wanted to sleep, I knicked myself, twice. It wouldn't stop bleeding until the school day was almost over.
But, it felt good. Two week vacations are too long sometimes, and I needed to settle into routine again.
Mostly though, it means I can get back to writing. I am hoping that this year allows me to be thoughtful and creative in my blogging, if only to satisfy that inner drive to write.