Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Hiring Process

I was fortunate to get hired in the district I teach in. Before getting hired, I had two other interviews. One happened in a large group atmosphere that narrowed to me sitting with three teachers or administrators and answering questions. It was my first interview for a "real" job and I performed miserably. My second interview happened over the phone for a position in another state.
In Chapter 7, "A Commonsense Challenge," Hess writes, "Districts need to put quality-conscious personnel in charge of the hiring process and eliminate the excessive paperwork and lengthy delays that deter good candiates" (203). I wonder about the hiring process.
Our district takes applications and reviews them. If the candidate seems intriguing, at least slighty, I suppose, that candidate is offered a pool-interview. If that goes well for the candidate, they are placed into the pool to be looked at by individual adminstrators. It is a lengthy process with the intent, I hope, of finding the most qualified candidates. But those interviewing the candidates don't necessarily know the needs of every individual school, nor what strengths and weanesses an individual principal is willing to develop. The two real interviews I had worked in similar ways, it seems, so I don't know any other way. It makes me wonder how others do it.

How does your district hire candidates? Is it a lengthy, beauracratic process? Is it site-based? District controlled? Who sits on the review panel and hiring panel?

When Equal isn't Fair

Returning to Frederick M. Hess's Common Sense School Reform:
Our existing compensation system encourages career-squatting by veteran teachers tired of their labors, discourages young college graduates from entering the profession, frustrates those educators who pour their weekends and summers into their work, and attracts candidates who are often less motivated than those who got away (115).

With my second official year of teaching concluding in the next few weeks, I've taken the time to reflect on what I have and have not accomplished. One of the random thoughts that came through my mind as I sat in Starbucks with my wife and babyTate was, "Did I choose teaching because it was safe?"
Once we have reasonably proven our worth to a school, unless we really screw things up, it is quite likely we will have a job, if at the very least somewhere in the district, until we choose to move on or change careers. I wondered if that security prompted my ulitmate choice of profession. I had originally chosen a career in Youth Ministry, but in retrospect, the reality that a youth pastor only stays at a church for an average of 1-2 years, frightened me.
As proven by my 3,000 mile journey away from home to attend college, I can be adventurous. In terms of a career, though, I find myself less adventurous. I enjoy the security that can come with the teaching profession.
Unfortunately, as I look around even my campus, too often teachers do "career-squat." What ultimately bothers me is that while the younger teachers tend to put in extra effort, weekends, chaperoning, attending events, we don't get the same monetary compensation.
Clearly the difficulty is finding a way to better compensate. We've all gone around the horn debating how to effectively measure one teacher to the other for purposes of merit pay. And I can't say I have anything new or radically enlightening to say about it. But, there are moments when I would be willing to take the risk of some type of merit pay.
Merit pay intrigues me because I fear that one day someone might say the same about me as I say about others now. I fear the shaded corner of education where the career-squatters hide. Unhappiness lurks there. Apathy hangs in the air there. Merit pay would help to keep us away from that place we should not speak of.
Merit pay will most likely never come into existence in educational careers. Too many career-squatting teachers still voting on contracts.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Problem: Student attendance drops.
Solution: Attendance Committee is formed.

Problem: Student graduation rates drop.
Solution: Graduation Committee is formed.

Problem: Student participation drops.
Solution: Spirit Committee is formed.

Problem: Action Committees fail to produce results.
Solution: Committees Committee is formed.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

From the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Not the Normal Education Post

I have stepped out of my world as an English teacher and attempted some math. The reason: BARRY BONDS. I happen to like Bonds, even if he did rub some flaxseed oil on his muscles to get them bigger.
I compared Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, and Babe Ruth. I looked at their hitting average, on base percentage, and something I've never seen a statistic for. This was the math portion. I looked at each players' respective playing years and found out what percentage of the overall Major League Baseball homerun total each player had for each year. Here are my findings:

Name: Batting Average* On-Base Percentage* Homerun Percentage
Aaron .305 .374 .013
Bonds** .301 .439 .008
Ruth .342 .469 .036

* From
** Through 2005

Here's my analysis. Babe Ruth was and still is the greatest hitter to ever play the game. He has a better batting average, a higher on-base percentage, and is far above the other two in terms of the overall percentage of homeruns. Second, Barry Bonds, whether he was on steroids or not, actually had the lowest overall percentage of homeruns for his era. So get off his back. The steroids didn't help him that much.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Who's Accountable?

In the never ending debate about accountability, I'd like to bring into the discussion the Central Offices of school districts. In his book Common Sense School Reform, Frederick M. Hess writes:

Status quo reformers support guidelines as to what content will be taught, becuase these encourage teacher collaboration and better enable teachers to work with students who switch schools. Status quo reformers are for "authentic" assessments that try to capture everything a student whould know. They talk about the need to use assessment to help teachers "talk with one another about how their students are doing," "stay focused on teaching well and meeting student needs," and "pay close attention to [curricular] alignment" (60).

There are certainly times when we as teachers feel that out Central Offices are "hawking" our every move. That when, despite our best instruction of the curriculum they have mandated, students do not succeed, they are looking to hold the individual teacher accountable. This feeling, whether a correct one or not, creates a system of distrust. The classroom teacher begins to feel that the Central Office really isn't supporting them, only dictating what to teach. The Central Office begins to feel that the teachers really aren't trying, only focusin on selfish desires.

When will Central Offices trust the teachers? Yes, some teachers will push against the system just to maintain the cozy, non-accountable job they've had for years. But I have to believe that the majority of teachers really want their students to succeed in school. And what bothers those teachers is a Central Office unwilling to bring them into the curricular decisions.

Let us not forget that those in the Central Office are no longer in the classroom. And for as much research data that they analyze, no amount of reading can replace the experiences of the modern day classroom. When test scores do not improve as intended, those driving the curriculum from the Central Office are a part of the problem. Who holds them accountable?

Why Do We Teach?

I can't say I'll keep it up, but I think that at least once a week I'd like to link to another blogger whose topic intrigues me. The idea came to me while visiting Bud The Teacher's post about a recent post I wrote.
The first installment comes from The Reflective Teacher's post on why we teach. Nobodyknows writes, "We are here to contribute to the greater good. We do necessary work." Good question.
For me, at least this year, the answer has been tough to come by. I haven't enjoyed my assignment as much as I did last year. I've felt disconnected as a result. But thanks to Nobodyknows I've gained back a bit of the first year (last year for me) purpose. We do contribute to the greater good. It reminded me of the speech I had to give for admittance to the School of Education at Northwest University (formerly college).
I figured everyone would give one of those fluffy speeches, and I wanted to stand out (go figure). So my speech followed a parallel structure of "I don't want to teach..." and then I'd give that reason and counter with the positive--the negative start to each point almost cost me a spot with one of the cheery elemetary education professors.
The two points that I do remember were "I don't want to teach for the money because we all know that there isn't much," and "I don't want to teach for the glory because we all know that there isn't much of that either." I did however want to teach because of the greater good that is served; because of the great teachers like Ms. Stack, Mr. Wood, Mr. Wilson, and Ms. Traut; because of the great professors like Dr. Pecota, Dr. Elmes, Professor Young, and Professor Pope.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

It Might Hurt Their Self-Esteem

I've coached Little League baseball and, for the last two years, have assisted the girl's basketball program where I teach. Nothing in youth sports bothers me more than teams that run-up the score.
There was one game as a Little League coach that my team lost 24-3. Yes, we were that bad and they were that good. But I didn't feel that they were running up the score. They didn't steal bases; they didn't hit and run; they didn't go out of their way to force in those 24 runs. It just happened.
But there was one game as a Little League coach that my team lost 22-5. I felt that this team ran up the score. They were stealing bases, dancing around as they took their leads; they were employing the hit and run; the did go out of their way to force in those 22 runs. It shoudn't have happened.
In youth atheletics, it is important to stress sportsmanship while understanding that some teams are just that much better. In Connecticut, the high school athletic association has adopted a sportsmanship policy for football games that suspends coaches from running up the score. The policy "will suspend coaches whose teams win by more than 50 points."
Here's the question. If a team is winning a game by 48 points and they recover a fumbled ball two yards away from scoring another touchdown, do we really expect that player, a competitive teenager, to fall on it without trying to score? And if he does just fall on it, do we really want our athletes to then not try and score again? Think about. Number 25 for the recovering team is a senior who doesn't play much more than two or three plays a game. He has the opportunity to score the only touchdown of his high school career. But in the interest of the other team's self-esteem, the coach cannot allow that kid to score the touchdown?
Again, I am all for sportsmanship. But we should not be teaching our athletes to not play the way they should, under any other circumstance, play their respective sport.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Late Work Part III

I've discussed why we might accept late work and followed with the question of fairness. If you want to, read Part I and Part II. But it is not necessary to understand this post. Now, I'd like to look at how could we manage a system that allows late work. The unfortunate part of the high school report card is that we want it to reflect the learning of the student and the work ethic of the student. As of now, both are tied to the letter grade written on the report card. Is this acceptable? I will operate this discussion believing that the letter grade is more than just a reflection of learned content.

Scenario One: NO LATE WORK
Number of Assignments--15 (5-10 points; 5--20 points; 5--50 points)
Total Points Possible--400 points.

Student A turns in 14/15 assignments (4/5-10 points; 5/5--20 points; 5/5--50 points)
10 Point Assignments: 6,6,0,9,9=30
20 Point Assignments: 15, 15, 20, 15, 20=85
50 Point Assignments: 45, 35, 50, 40, 40=210
Total: 325/400= 81% B- (Completed Work Average: 83%)

Student B turns in 14/15 assignments (5/5-10 points; 4/5--20 points; 5/5--50 points)
10 Point Assginments: 8,8,7,7,9=39
20 Point Assignments: 18,18,19,0,15=70
50 Point Assignments: 45,40,45,40,45=215
Total 324/400=81% B- (Completed Work Average: 85%)

Student C turns in 14/15 assignments (5/5-10 points; 5/5--20 points; 4/5--50 points)
10 Point Assginments: 9,9,10,10,10=48
20 Point Assignments: 18,19,20,20,20=97
50 Point Assignments: 45,45,50,0,40=180
Total: 325/400=81% B- (Completed Work Average: 93%)

That just doesn't sound fair to me. Student C is being affected far worse than the others. And, his work is much better.

If I charged a 25% late fee, here is how it would affect:
Student A's 10 Point Assignment: 8. Fee Assessed: 6. New Score: 331 (83%)
Student B's 20 Point Assignment: 17. Fee Assessed: 12. New Score: 336 (84%)
Student C's 50 Point Assignment: 50. Fee Assesed: 38. New Score: 363 (91%)

I think this is fair. I could live with that. In fact, as I write this, I am reminded of credit cards. Maybe because I need to pay mine. If at the beginning of the year I charged a 10% W.P.R. (Weekly Percentage Rate), I could allow students to miss an on-time payment. If a student's credit score continued to decline, I could up the W.P.R. Now this is real world.

*Note: Any mathematical errors are unintentional and a result of my inability to do simple math--but I did do all of my assignments!

Late Work Part II

After writing part one, I found myself looking at the issue from the perspective of a student. I know that both in high school and college, I failed to turn in assginments. Some teachers said, "Sorry, you know my policy." I accepted it. I never complained to the teacher that the policy was unfair, and never even thought that my grade inaccurately reflected my learning. One class in particular comes to mind. English Literature I. I have never been fond of the old English Literature, and when I took the class in college, my dislike for the content overrode my appreciation for the professor, Julia Young--a great woman, and the only person in the Pacific Northwest I allowed to call me by my childhood name of Andy.
I earned a C+ in that class because I chose not to do all of the reading and missed a couple of assignments. I never felt the need to go to Professor Young and ask to turn the work in late. But I knew that a C+ did not reflect my ability and understanding. Was I wronged? I don' think so. When the next opportunity to show my understanding came, English Literature II, I did the work and earned an A.
Why do today's students need us to coddle them, give them chance after chance. The no late work policy has worked for years. What has changed? Is the sole purpose of a grade to reflect the content learning, or is it meant to reflect, also, something of the whole student?
The second view we mus consider is that of the responsible student. The one who will turn the work in on time. I know that, in high school, if a teacher allowed late work, I would have taken advantage. But I knew students who would have been greatly annoyed that I earned an A without turning in assignments on time while they earned a B with all assignments turned in on time. Would a policy that allows late work be unfair to the student who does his assignments on time?
I wonder about the real world that we teachers often refer to. Let's take two builders. They both are building a house, and are given a deadline of two months by the local community. The first builder finishes the house on time and sells the house for $300,000. The second builder runs into some complications and can't finish on time. He takes an extra two weeks. But that house sells for $400,000. What is the consequence? Nothing. The community accepts the late work because it will raise property values more than the $300,000 house.
Ulitmately, does fairness matter in education. Well, for public education fairness does matter. Every kid deserves the same treatment under the law. But it is not as if one student is not recieving a benefit that the other is recieving, so does this fall under true unfairness?

The final issue in fairness relates to us, the teacher. Is it fair to a teacher to have to accept assignments whenever a student decides she is ready? We have the monumental task of teaching a large number of skills in 182 days. Our assignments, especially culminating assignments, serve to let us know that the time has come to move on to the next skill. How can we move on if we don't know where students are along the continuum? The differentiated instruction camps will tell us that we have to teach to the individuals wherever they are. But I am not that good. I can't teach to a group of 15, a group of 10, a group of 5, and a group of 2 at the same time. When we get right down to it, we really don't have a whole lot of time to accomplish this. We feel compelled to keep every student busy at all time. How do we do this? And ulitmately, does $40,000 compensate enough for such a task. I made that much as a bartender for a chain restaurant--and believe me, that is not nearly as challenging as teaching.

In trying to compare this aspect of fairness to the real world that exists outside of education, there really isn't anything to compare it to. No other job in the world meets with 150 clients everyday. The lack of comparision means that we don't have much to draw from in terms of solving the shadow issues.

Late Work Part I

At our last staff work day we discussed the large number of students who are failing. Our school's graduation rate has been slipping far too quickly. Of the students failing in my classes, only one has an F but has turned in all his work. The others are all missing one or more assignments. My policy is that I don't accept late work, but if the student feels she will not be able to get it done, she may e-mail me or call my room and leave a message. If the student does this, I will accept it late.
But I wonder if I my policy is hurting the students. Philisophically, I am old school. Students should turn work in on time because that is how the real world works. Or is it because it means less work for me? In exploring the real world issue, I've realized that there are ways to get around deadlines through communication. But often, those loopholes are costly. So, what is the best option for both teachers and students?

It's about learning.
Learning is primarily about gaining a skill. When students are expected to know how to write a five paragraph essay, if they don't write one adequetely, we must question why they didn't learn it. We certainly have presented the material, how come they didn't learn? We may be part of the problem. But when a student is taught to write a five pargraph essay, if they don't actually write one, we must question whether they know how to or not. We can't assess something that isn't turned in. The standards based model seems to allow endless opportunity for the student to demonstrate learning. Giving a zero grade affects the student grade far too much, and doesn't accurately reflect what the student learns. Allowing the student extra time to turn in the assignment would seem to allow that student the opportunity to demonstrate learning.

But what do we teach students when we allow them to turn in work whenever they want? We have all had the experience of the student who will do nothing for 9 weeks of a quarter, and then that very last week ask to make up every assignment. This leaves the teacher, who has carefully timed out units in order to allow for assessment, scrambling to do just that, plus previous assessments. Is this fair? Some will try and persuade the educator that, yes, it is fair, and in fact what we are expected to do. It is a fair enough criticism from those outside of the world of education and even some inside. The unfortunate aspect of accepting late work is that we do teach students that our deadlines do not matter, and that irresponsibility is acceptable. Or should we just accept that high school students are irresponsible, and this is all part of their training?

If we are in this business of educating students, don't we have an obligation to ensure that they have every opportunity to show us that they have, in fact, learned? By handing out a zero to a student, and saying, "Sorry, you know the policy," what I have I demonstrated to the student? That I am cruel? That I don't care? That responsibility is important? That regardless of what they know, it is more important to me to teach them the lesson of responsibility? And for what? My ego? Control? A few extra minutes of coffee time at Starbucks?

I don't know if I'll change my policy, but I certainly am willing to explore what the ramifications are. I think, at the least, I owe it to my students.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Poetry of Praise

I've never been one to care what people think of me. I have a reputation for either being greatly liked or greatly disliked. And the only time that I am bothered by the dislike is when people judge me before they've taken the time to know me.
I also get quite embarrassed when people praise me in front of others. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy hearing compliments, but they make me a little uncomfortable. This is most fascinating considering that I am not always the most humble man around. A little cocky is the word on the street.
But this year I have needed to hear the compliments in order to keep going. Call it a Sophomore slump of confidence. I have had more moments when I've felt failure would best describe my classes. Too many students who haven't bought into what I've taught. Too many students whose skills have not progressed as I want. Yes, they've made progress, but I want perfection. And that is why the unexpected compliment of a former student still has me floating through the days.
I had dropped my wife off at the movie theater so she could hang out with her cousin. I was going back to the house to be dad to our one month old. As I was leaving, I noticed a young lady who had taken my Pre-College English class last year. I remember her at the beginning of the year, struggling to meet my expectations, but always asking how to improve.
We made our small talk; she was back from college; she was doing well. I took the opportunity to show off babyTate. And then, without prodding from me, she said, "Your class really helped me out this year." It was unexptected, and precisely what I needed at that moment. It was--poetry.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The F-Grade

Starting around the beginning of May, any teacher who teaches seniors must regularly report thier possible senior failure list. After updating my list, and in light of recent discussions, I wonder about how to solve the issue of credit loss.
Let's consider I. Don Wanna. Don is quite capable of doing the work. He has turned in a couple of essays for my English class, but just can't seem to figure out how to turn in his weekly assignments. When he does, he shows average competency in writing and critical thinking. Unfortunately, he just doesn't do enough of the assignments to improve his ability or earn a passing grade. The Standards Based Community says that if he can meet standard, despite not ever really doing a whole lot, he should pass. And to some extent, I agree. Others would say that I failed to teach the student. And to a great extent, I disagree.
I would feel comfortable, in terms of the standards I have for the class, giving this student his credit. But, I still would want his transcript to show the "F." I would want his G.P.A. to reflect his lack of care.
So, as high schools across America struggle to meet Annual Yearly Progress in graduation rates, I wonder if we need to reconsider how we approach credits. If a student shows up every day, and on the work he or she turns in demonstrates basic understanding, can we really deny that individual credit?

Monday, May 15, 2006

My Last Word

KDeRosa, I am bored with your blame game. I accept full responsibility for every student who fails my class and the WASL. I wish to become more like that school in Baltimore, the one you always mention, what is its name? Oh yeah, City Springs School.
Except, I found myself slightly confused when I visited their web page. You had said once that parents cannot be blamed for failure, that 100% of the responsiblity, at least in the 95% of educable students, belongs to me, the teacher. Here are your words, "But at the end of the day, blaming lack of parental support when students fail is not a valid excuse." Now, before you go twisting my words, let me say again, that sometimes students fail because it is their fault, and sometimes students fail because of life at home, and sometimes students fail because the teacher didn't use Direct Instruction--that was my position.
But, here's my dilemna: City Springs School is wasting a lot of time by informing parents that they play a vital role in the education of their child. They have a page, a whole page outlining what they can do to support their student. You should e-mail the administration and let them know that the money and time spent on that page could have been used in the classroom.
And don't forget to mention that students don't need to be well-fed before they come to school to help them succeed. They actually spend money on providing food before school for those who don't get it at home. The nerve.
In addition, apparently some teachers at the school are not using the Direct Instruction program properly. The school had to devise a Discipline Code for disruptive behavior. At one point even mentioning using the police. For the sake of Direct Instruction's reputation, please go fix this.
And there's more. Again, apparently, some teachers at the school are not using the Direct Instruction program the way you prescribe. Some students have to be retained.
What I couldn't find, things like class size or funding--did you know that not every elementary school in the Baltimore City Public School system has a website? It seems unfair. The other things I couldn't find are teacher to student ratios. How many aides are in the classrooms. That type of information.
But, like the title says, those are my last words on the issue. I will continue to reevaluate my terrible teaching and lack of effectiveness on the lives of my students.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Scapegoat vs. TRUTH

D-Ed Reckoning always has the tone in his writing to just needle me a bit. But at least he is able to handle a debate without getting too snarky. Here is his latest jab:
I've been debating the merits of effective instruction vs. blame the students lately.

The part he has wrong is the "blame students" part. Now, I know what I have written from a denotation perspective, but apparently, KDeRosa has heard something far different than what I have written.
So here is what this high school teacher believes:
Some teachers are highly effective and most students learn.
Some teachers are effective and many students learn.
Some teachers are less effective some students learn.
Some teachers are not very effective and still some students learn.
Some teachers use scripted programs, like Direct Instruction or READ 180 (A program I use and have some success and some failure with) and most students learn.
Some teachers use scripted programs, like Direct Instruction or READ 180 and many students learn.
Some teachers use scripted programs, like Direct Instruciton or READ 180 and some students learn.
Some students are wealthy and learn.
Some students are wealthy and don't learn.
Some students are poor and learn.
Some students are poor and don't learn.
Some students are motivated and learn.
Some students are motivated and don't learn.
Some students are unmotivated and learn.
Some students are unmotivated and don't learn.
Some parents are involved with their student's education and the student learns.
Some parents are not involved with their student's education and the student learns.
Some parents are involved with their student's education and the student learns.
Some parents are not involved with their student's education and the student learns.

How do I know this? How do I know the sources are credible?


60 Minutes

60 Minutes aired an intriguing segment on The Harlem Children's Zone.

These charter schools fascinate me. I wonder how long the money will flow. I wonder how much teachers make. I find myself wondering how they will ultimately change the face of education. The truth is that too many of our students are not succeeding. And while some believe it is strictly the fault of the teacher, others recognize the impact that the students themselves, and their parents, have on the process.

In the 60 Minutes segment, Ed Bradley--my favorite of the group, tells us how The Harlem Children's Zone is reaching out to the community and, specifically, the parents. Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the charter school, states:
"Middle-class families know education begins at birth. Poor parents don't know that," Canada explains. "We're just trying to tell the parents, 'Look you have to start giving them the kinds of stimulation that’s gonna help those brains develop.'"

And whether we are talking about pre-school aged kids, elementary or junior high or high school students, this is certainly true.
Yes, all students can learn. That does not mean all students will. And yes, parents play a role. That does not mean they will. And yes, teachers have a great affect. That does not mean they will--but it also doesn't mean that all teachers must follow a script!
Geoffrey Canada also talked about his ability to fire teachers based on their performance. I've mentioned before that if schools had competent administrators and less exclusive central offices where the buddy system seems to be the mode of operation, I would trust them with my career.
Ultimately, in the final analysis, it was pleasant to see that parent involvement is at the foundation of what appears to be a successful operation.

The Proudest Day of my Young Career

A while back, I posted a request for help in getting a student essay published in the wider media. I included excerpts. Thanks to the gracious help of Burt, a commentor, the essay has found its way into the local newspaper. Please take the time to check it out. I am quite proud of the student, and hope that enough people will view this article to help it move out of the local arena and out into the broader print.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

We'll keep it going...

Issue One:
"...for those 95% or so of kids who are educable the schools, our agency for teaching, are responsible for students' learning." (KDeRosa comment)

I think we can all agree the vast majority, 95% according to KDeRosa, are educable. Which would mean that, should those students choose to learn, to involve themselves with the instruction they are receiving, whether that instruction is perfect or not, they can learn. And that, if teacher instruction is not effective, certainly the teacher is to blame.

Issue Two:
"The six hours, 180 days a year are sufficient to teach what you need to teach them assuming they have the necessary pre-skills coming in and attend class regularly." (KDeRosa comment)

Well, the elementary school teacher has the student for that amount of time, minus other important instructional time in the fine arts, technology, and physical fitness. We cannot forget the importance of well-rounded individuals. BUT, for the average high school teacher, we see a student for 50 minutes a day, for 180 days, minus absences, assemblies, two week testing periods, and the far too many days the Central Office pulls the teacher out for meetings. He qualifies his statement with the assumption of previous skill comprehension, but every high school teacher knows that Middle Schools do not hold students accountable because they are too worried about social promotion.

Issue Three:
"You probably have a heterogeneous classroom with a wide range of student ability. You target instruction toward to[sic] the average student. You moveon [sic]to the next topic when the average students learn the material. Now you're surprised when the low performers who have been taught above their ability level at a pace that is too fast for them with the cumulative effect being that they fall further and further behind as the year progresses. And, you're actually surprised because they are unmotivated and disengaged. And, the parents of these kids, probably the least capable parents, are supposed to be picking up the slack at home." (KDeRosa comment)

Here is where I have some questions that perhaps will offend some in the education world. Recent trends in education have gone away from the tracking system, placing students with like skills together, in favor of the more politically correct feel good system. This system assumes that all students have equal levels of intellectual capabilities. Is this what we really believe? I for one, know that there are people who are much more intelligent than me, and that if I were placed in a class with them, I would be the lowest denominator. Is that good for me? Is that good for them?

Issue Four: In response to a question on motivating students:
"That's an easy one. Teach them better. And to find out if you actually taught, you need to check to see what the student has actually learned. Students who are learning tend to be motivated to learn. Of course, there are no guarantees if the student came to you unmotivated and with a history of non-learning." (KDeRosa comment)

This response is judgemental at best. The automatic assumption on the part of a blogger, researcher, parent, newspaper, or federal worker (Spellings?) that a teacher has not taught them well is an assumption that is demeaning to the our profession. The reality is that the answer is far too simplistic. Teach them better? That reminds me of the time I worked construction while in college. A co-worker dropped a 12ft section of guardrail on his foot, broke three toes. The foreman came over, looked, and said, "Walk it off." A little too simplistic.

Sure, every student can learn something with good instruction. But, not every student can reach the standards we want to hold them to. It goes to that whole Multiple Intelligences things. There are some people who will never care to read a novel, infer the deeper meaning, explain the metaphor, or write a five paragraph essay persuading the reader that the narrator was an unreliable one; but that same person will be able to pull apart the engine of my Jeep Wrangler and put it back together so that it works. I can't do that. Good teaching won't be able to get me to do that. Yeah, I could pick up a few things, but I won't ever get a job as a mechanic because I don't want to. The mechanic could provide all types of great lessons and activities to excite me about learning the inside of an engine, but I still won't want to.
So, if the student doesn't want to learn the material, KDeRosa, no amount of better teaching will convince them otherwise.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Letter to KDeRosa


In your response to my last post, you stated your belief that every other profession is subjected to the same scrutiny and disrespect as any other profession. I'll gladly reconsider, but only if you can really validate your opinions (in blue):
How about every other profession.If a doctor fails to cure a patient who is curable even when the patient hasn't taken good care of himself, it's malpractice. So, you are saying that, if a doctor gives a patient the necessary medicine or the proper way to care for oneself, and the patient, for whatever reason, does not listen to the doctor, the doctor is guilty of malpractice? If a lawyer fails to make an argument he should have even though the client hasn't acted properly and the client loses the litigation, it's malpractice. Again, if the lawyer provides the client with solid legal counsel, and the client walks out and neglects that legal counsel, the lawyer is at fault? If an engineer builds a bridge and it falls down for almost any reason, it's malpractice. The engineer builds a solid bridge, follows all of the codes, and the bridge collapses in a massive earthquake or gas explosion, the engineer is responsible? If a teacher fails to teach a child who is educable but perhaps not the sharpest tool in the shed, the teacher gets to write a blog blaming the student for the failure to teach without repercussion. And here, you step out and take a shot at an educator who chooses to write a blog about the realit of teaching, the good and the bad, without ever having stepped into that classroom. If you really believe that a kid who chooses to never turn in an assignment, avoids any and every attempt at help and motivation, disrespects me and the students around her, is my responsibility, even though I have done my job according to all of the research and theory available, you, are, in the opinion of this sometimes humble educator, wrong. And you can rest assured if other professions had the same level of failure, you'd see the same level of scrutiny and criticism as educators are getting. And, the three examples you gave, all make much more money than me. Certainly you are aware of that, and certainly you probably blame the educator for that as well, because we are not doing our job, or because we get "summers" off.

So, let me rephrase, when someone who really knows the classroom I teach in, can show me how I have failed a certain kid, who is "curable" in you words, then, and really only then, will I listen.

In addition, though my tone is clearly one of annoyance, trust that I really want to know how to improve. I don't want theoretical answers, give me some sustenance, not leafy greens.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Education, What is it?

After following the extensive debate about who is at fault when students fail (here), I have come to the conclusion that I don't have a clue about what education really is. The problem is that I don't have a frame of reference to compare the world of education to. The best I can come up with is that, to some, the world of education is much like the United States of America during times of massive immigration.
The inscription at Ellis Island reads:
"Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

It seems that my task is not so much to educate, meaning to impart knowledge or skill, but it is to work wonders. We say, give us your tired, sleepy student, that you did not not give a bedtime to; give us your poor, shabbily dressed, that you could not afford new clothing for, your timid masses yearning to escape the screaming, the wretched brat of your over-indulgant home. Send these, the hurting, life-tossed to us. And not only will I lift my lamp beside the metal detector and the cramped huddled classroom, but I will teach them, 100% of them, by 2014, to read at grade level, write at grade level, calculate at grade level, and hypothesize at grade level; I will do so despite my salary not even reaching half of what the Senators and Congress People who dictate my job to me make; I will do so despite my salary being less than the district employee who looks at testing data charts. I will forge on in the high calling, the ministry (oops, I just got religious, sorry!), even though babyTate has not stopped crying all night!
For all those who believe that successful education rests solely in the hands of the teacher and the system, I ask you to inform me of any other profession that carries such a burden as that while constantly subjected to scrutinization, disrespect (students, parents, media, and goverment), and I will gladly reevaluate my position.
This is not intended to assign blame elsewhere. The reality is that we are all to blame when students fail. The student, the parent, the media, the government, and the teacher.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

C if u rel8

Janet, over The Art of Getting By has written a fantastic post concerned for the deterioration of spelling, grammar, and all things retro. I have written about this disturbing trend as well. But, Janet, I have to admit that I recently gave in; I caved.
Because my ninth grade students continually sprinkle their essays with 'cuz, ppl., i, and b4, I put together a two day lesson plan on text speak based off of this BBC lesson plan. I put togther a whole powerpoint that was written in all text speak--very few vowels, numbers replacing sounds, etc.
My ninth graders' eyes lit up when I introduced it all. There on the screen for all to see, an abomination to all English teachers and professors, "2txt or not 2txt, tht is da qstn" Shakespeare, Thoreau, Hemingway, Frost, and Orwell, please forgive me.
After tossing around some text messaging lingo, I explained the purpose behind the lesson. I explained that when we as individuals are with our friends, we are able to speak and act with a casualness that fits the situation. But, if I were to approach a job interview or parent conference with the same whimsical attitude, I would not be taken seriously. Certain situations require different approaches. The prom is a formal dance, your attire ought to be formal as well. The same goes for writing. When you IM, Myspace, text message, or write notes to your friends, the text-speak is acceptable. It works. But for assignments and formal writing situations, you ought to use proper English.
I then handed them a short paragraph in normal prose. They had to translate it to text-speak. A much more difficult (well, relatively speaking) task than they thought. Today, in class, they translated a paragraph, that I had put into text-speak, back to normal prose. And tonight, for homework, they must write their own explanatory paragraph, in normal prose, and translate it into text-speak.
Wll they get n e thing out of ths? Prbly nt. But, at least they had sum fun ths wk. BTW n e 1 can txt evn old ppl lke us! C U l8r.

Carnival of Education

Even though most of you come here through The Education Wonk, make sure you visit the Carnival of Education today.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Who's failing who?

What does it mean when a large number of students fail a teacher's class? Does it mean teacher ineptitude?
What do teachers do when this information is made public to the rest of the faculty:
"Every teacher interviewed talked about the intense pressure she felt to increase her students' scores. The majority of teachers, in discussing this pressure, spoke emotionally about an annual faculty meeting at which a chart was revealed that listed each teacher's pass rate next to her name. In other words, a competitive economy where the sole currency was test scores was established within the confines of the school. It was a competition of which teachers were painstakingly aware."

If the purpose is to allow those teachers who are successful (AP, Honors, teachers who don't hold to the curriculum, teachers with low expectations and standards), will this benefit the teachers who are not successful?
For instance, I wonder what the AP and Honors teachers would say about this recent statistic from one of my classes:
17 of 33 Failing
21 of 33 recently DID NOT TURN IN A 100 POINT ESSAY (5 Paragraphs and week to write it.)
20 of 33 recently DID NOT TURN IN A 100 POINT DOUBLE ENTRY JOURNAL (These students had three weeks to read the book, were regularly reminded to keep up on it; in fact, given time in class to work on it.)
What valuable piece of teaching skill have I failed to acquire? Allowing late work? Yes, but that is because of lesson I learned a while back. You see, I DID NOT PAY MY INSURANCE BILL ON TIME, the insurance company had the audacity to drop my coverage! Incredulous.