Saturday, September 30, 2006

Would the real parents please stand up...

I am officially old fashioned. Yes, at the young age of twenty nine, I accept my outdated belief system. The belief that I hold that has forced me to recognize my lack of relevance is the one I hold about homework. I believe that students, even as young as elementary school, should have homework.
CNN has an article that discusses the homework issue, a new hot topic among educational theorists. Apparently, four out of ten parents surveyed believe their child has too much homework for one night--in fact, the report claims that the average parent provides two hours and forty five minutes of help per week, a whopping 30-35 minutes of help per night.
Forgive me, Mr. and Mrs. Jones; I thought my job was to educate your child; I thought that educational practice at home was at least equally important as soccer; I thought that you, as a parent, might not mind spending 2% of the total minutes in a day helping your child succeed.

I know it is not your problem, this NCLB law that requires every student to be at grade level in the core skills, but could you at least take a bit of interest in you child. I know that you view my classroom as free daycare, and that you view me as a quasi-professional because I can't drive a Mercedes or live in your gated community, but would you please accept the humble assignment as a token of my interest in your child's future?
Sometimes I sit amazed at the current population of parents--so focused on making sure their kid likes them, that they are unwilling to remember the work it took for them to get where they are.

Friday, September 29, 2006


In this new, possibly recurring, topic, I will pose a situation that comes from the classroom for you all to decide on how you might handle it. The title, WWSD?, stands for our esteemed Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings. The events may have happened, or they are simply figments of my odd imagination.

A group of 9th graders enter the year below grade level in reading. They are placed in an English class and an English support class. No curriculum exists until after the second semester begins.
Many of these same 9th graders enter their 10th grade year even further behind grade level, while the state exam awaits them in March. This year, they are placed together in a block style class that combines the reading support and now the writing support into one longer period. After receiving their state exam scores, it is clear that they still need much help.
So, because the state requires the school to do "something different," you must decide what happens to this group of kids. Remember, they have been together for two years and have tried two very different approaches.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tech Help

Hello Tech Savvy bloggers. I am not tech savvy, and this cause me to seek help. Here's the problem: My school has blocked access to blogger this year. I've been using it for two years and would like to continue to do so. But, because and the blogspot url needs "full site access," and because the "next blog" feature in the top right, the filters will now block access. Is there a way around this? Or has anyone used

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Whaddya wanna bet?

THis is the second installment of "Whaddya wanna bet?" You can visit the first one here.

Whaddya wanna bet...

That Ms. Spellings is not happy about this article, and that this article didn't help matters.
That traditional teacher, Dennis Fermoyle, won't be receiving any honors from the progressives.
That when a suspsended teacher has a fundraiser put on by the Union, it will create a bit of controversy.
That I am confused by the introduction of this article insinuating that Asian students are not a minority group despite this report that says something much different.
That this article drove up the number of hits for First Year Teacher, The Science Goddess, Ms. Cooper, Mr. Tomas, Mr. Bullock, NYC Educator, Mr. Lotti, Mr. Fermoyle, Ms. Frizzle, Ms. Cornelius, Joanne Jacobs, Mr. Babylon, Eponymous Educator, and The Education Wonk.
That makes me jealous!
That the first three weeks of school go by much quicker than the last three weeks of school.
That high school dances will be stopped if students keep "dancing" the way they do.
That despite having a dress code, student won't ever follow it.
That what was scandalous ten years ago is prudish today.
That there is not much better than high school football under the lights on a Friday night.
That when basketball season starts, I'll revise that statement.
That nothing makes a teacher happier than when a substitute reports that your students were great and she'd love to come back.
That my autumn will be miserable without Red Sox Baseball.
That my autmun will only get worse as my Fantasy Football team continues to lose.
That there will be students who surprise you with their growth this year.
That there will be students who surprise you with their stumbling this year.
That if a school creates policy in a reactionary mode, the policy will likey fail.
That students would enjoy a university like schedule.
That so would I.
That the Daily Grind author gets out of his blogging funk and writes something worthwhile between now and the next installment of "Whaddya wanna bet?"


If you read my blog with any regularity, it is also likely that you read many of the blogs listed in this article. But if you haven't visited the likes of The Science Goddess, Dennis Fermoyle (by the way, read his book), or Ms. Cornelius, please take the time to visit.
But don't stop there. Visit these sites and then visit someone from their blogroll. And then visit someone from their blogroll. Take a virtual tour of the edusphere; experience what your colleagues or professionals experience. Listen to their stories; hear their stories.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Vote of Confidence

My Central Office continues to discuss the curricular merit of bloggin in the classroom. I had hoped to have the issue figured out last week considering I've been using blogs for the previous two years. My students are beginning to wonder whether or not they will ever have the opportunity.
And while the C.O. debates this critical issue, I have heard from two former blogging students. One stopped by the school, she graduated with the class of '05, to say hello. In the discussion I told her of the situation. She said she'd be a witness if needed. The second vote of confidence came via a current student who has a friend from the class of '05. He had told her that the blogging assignment was the best one I had.
Here' hoping that after this week's round of meetings, my Central Office will realize the learning value of regular writing for a public audience.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Early in the Morning

While driving to school the other morning, I passed a number of students standing out in the Pacific Northwest's rain. I had gotten a late start, and so I was able to see the huddled masses as I passed by.
Today, I read this article detailing a "flex" plan for school start time. For the third year in a row, I am teaching seniors first period, or 7:30 a.m. And, now that school is in its third week, the tardiness is fianlly becoming the norm.
I'd like to see our students start school later. I don't believe that it would solve the tardiness issue, but I certainly believe that more students would be on time and paying attention.
In my college years, my first class was not until 8 a.m. my freshman year. After that, I didn't take a class that started before 9 a.m. I wonder what effect a later start time would have on learning?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Double Entendre

One of the vocabulary words I've recently introduced to my Pre-College students is the word crass. A few of the synonyms are boorish and unrefined. So, when I walked through the halls after school one day and noticed a slogan on a student's t-shirt, I was reminded of the vocabulary word.
Now, my concern about what image students present was lambasted two years ago when I shared my thoughts on a tradition at our school. I'd like to avoid repeating that, and so I will tread ever so cautiously, so as to not have my words misunderstood by students who might read this or by news outlets looking to headline the five o'clock news.
The phrase itself, considering the sport it was related to would seem harmless to the woefully out of touch. In fact, one might make the case that the slogan actaully does relate to the sport. But when the slogan has a potential double meaning, and one that is in fact crass, I get concerned. (No, I will not share the slogan--yes, I am censoring--no, I shouldn't have to--yes, people are looking for any reason to come after teachers)
It makes me sad when students choose to flaunt what is crass. It is unfortunate that our students feel this approach to image is necessary. I won't blame television or media, though certainly there is culpability in that arena. And really, it isn't important to assign blame; it is only important that someone teaches our students how to promote a positive image of themselves.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I'm done.

I like Dennis Fermoyle's blog, From the Trenches, because he believes in what we public school teachers do. He defends us well; and for that, I am grateful. He's recently been de-blogging (I just coined that to mean Debate through Blogs) with K-Derosa from D-Ed Reckoning about instructional methods and public school perceptions. K-Derosa tends to snark at public education based on all of the research--and by research he means Direct Instruction. I do, despite his obvious bias and unwillingess to give any credit to teachers, enjoy reading his posts because they do challenge me to ensure that my methods are actually effective. Giving K-Derosa any credit in the matter is difficult because I've also been on the receiving end of his jab--don't worry, it didn't hurt.
With school starting last week, I feel like I've missed out on all of the fun this debate has generated. Nothing entices me more than a good verbal spar, even if it is merely for the enjoyment of sparring. But, after reading the multiple posts, I felt I wanted to add my thoughts. Unfortunately, I found my thought tank was empty. That confused me. I'm never at a loss for words, especially if it means fighting for education.
Upon further review (sorry, I've watched too much football lately), I've decied that my empty thought tank resulted from too much theory discussion. For me, education debates reflect the current political landscape. Instead of focusing on what will actually work, we hunker down in our rhetoric, avoiding any concessions to the "other" side. Take the issue of the Iraq war. One side is slow to admit any mistakes while the other side says that every move we've made has been a mistake. The same is true in education.
One side says that if every student doesn't meet 100% of the standards, then the school has failed. Yet, the other side demonstrates a willingness to make excuses. Isn't the truth somewhere in the middle? Or is that just an excuse too?
Certainly when a student fails, I am part of the problem. And yet, when a student fails, she is part of the problem as well. Or are we unwilling to hold a student accountable in any way because she is a student? If that is true, then at what point do we hold students responsible for their own education?
So there you have it. I'm done with blaming. I accept responsibility for my failures and vow to make improvements. That is the best I can do.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Does this class matter?

I recieved an e-mail today informing me that "Grant Season" has officially openned. Great! Last year I received a grant for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and A Raisin in the Sun. Those were for my freshmen.
The e-mail was delivered to the 9th and 10th grade teams. I happen to teach 9th graders, 10th graders, and 12th graders. The latter is my Pre-College English. You know, the class that should prepare them for college.
Unfortunately, there aren't but a handful of Beowulf copies, scattered Canterbury Tales, a library of Shakespeare, and a myriad of other books, few of which have enough for two class sets. I want to teach Cry, the Beloved Country because of its brilliance and poetry. But, the copies we have are better fit for the paper shredder. But wait, the e-mail was only to 9th and 10th grade teams, not seniors.
Sometimes I feel forgotten. In the ninth and tenth grade, our students get extra special attention because of the WASL. In eleventh grade, students get special attention because of a district required essay. Sure, our seniors have to complete a culminating project, but nobody cares about the rest of the classes. WE DON'T HAVE BOOKS FOR THEM. We don't push them into college. We just let them be.
This concern led me to Washington State's education site. This bureacracy lauds itself as a K-12 website, making the casual reader believe that twelfth grade is important. But take a look at this. Grade Level Expectations for, wait, did I read that right? K-10. Certainly this is a mistake. So I check out the Grade Level Expectations for writing. Nope; I was right. My seniors don't matter to the State of Washington. We have grade level expectations for students up until the tenth grade. After that, good luck, kids.
And, we are spending money to figure out how to fix our education system through the Washington Learns program. We wonder why Washington State ranks in the bottom half in education. Here's a place to start. DON'T FORGET ABOUT STUDENTS AFTER THE FRIZ-NICKEN WASL.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Class Size

The one thing I learned from my college statistics class was that manipulating numbers is easy, and it is beneficial if you do it correctly. That is why education statistics rarely mean much too me. In perusing my state's Report Card, I stopped at the Students Per Teacher ratio. Not bad. For every 17.4 students, one teacher is present. But wait. If there is one of me, then why is there nearly double the seventeen and four tenths of a student sitting in my first period English class?
Class size is not the solution to our education problems. It won't fix poor teaching, disinterested students, or dated curriculum. But, only someone who is not a teacher would suggest that class size in a public school is an insignificant part of the education problems.
Why can't we be honest with our public?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Unmotivated

Here you are. Let me get that for you. No, you don't have to eat that. Yes, you can have that toy.
I don't know how to motivate all of my students. The difficulty I face is that sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I don't. Nobody trails me through my day to observe and offer ideas. So what do I do?
What do I make of a student who walks into my reading support class, pants around his knees and hat askew, flaunting his I don't give a f--- attitude, but by the end of the year manages to blow the state exam apart? How much of it was the kid? I certainly hope a lot.
As I instructed my Pre-College students on how to stand out in their Entrance Essays, I found myself telling the story of applying for the Education program. Most students gave the cliche speech about making a difference to the assembled panel. Not me. I wanted to stand out. I told the panel all of the reason why I didn't want to be a teacher. One of the points I made was that if my focus was only on making a difference, I might find myself depressed more often than not. So really, how much of an influence do I have?
And, what do I make of a student, jeans pulled up and polo shirt ironed, who fails my English class, bombs the state exam, and is placed in my reading support class as a result, but on the initial reading test, places three grade levels above his own?

Monday, September 11, 2006


One of the few challenges I face while teaching the Pre-College English class is convincing my capable students to look beyond the community college option. This is not to say that the local community colleges don't have fine programs, but the opportunities a four year university has to offer should draw more of my students. I won't lie in saying that I am a bit of a snob towards community colleges, but that is just my opinion.
It seems that too many of our students choose the community options because they are unsure about their future, feel like money is a barrier, or are not that independent. The result is that the community college becomes an extension of the local high school, with many of their classmates going with them.
Last year I had a student get accepted at a fine east coast school, and that thrilled me. This year, more hands than ever went up when I asked about four year universities. But I am still hopeful that many of these students will look outside of the region. Again, not because our universities are not excellent options, but because I believe that going to college is both about the education and becoming an independent contributor to society.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Off we go...

Lazy Sunday afternoons have returned with meaning. The first week of school ended as quickly as it came, and now I start the second week. The first week is swallowed up with viewing the syllabus, explaining new and old policies, and getting to know students.
The second week is when the instruction begins. At the moment, I am still working through the red-tape in order to have blogger reinstated in my curriculum. The district believes that what students write today may affect them later. True. But I see blogging in the classroom about literature as an effective way to teach them how to write for a public audience.

If you haven't seen this article on blogging in the classroom, take the time to read through it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


With the start of classes on Wednesday, I've begun thinking about who will be in my classes. What kind of students will walk in that door throughout the day. I am sure to get the brown noser, the grade grubber, the slacker, and all of the other stereotypes out there.
But will I get a student like this? (Don't just skip over the link. It is a story to read.)

There is something energizing, almost mystical about young men and women who live beyond their age. At nineteen, this young man should be focusing on his education while improving his given talent. And yet, in the midst of opportunity, he realizes that there is much more to life than Fraternity parties and late night binges. While morons like his peer in Texas demonstrate for us the perils of college athletics, McElrathbey puts life in perspective.
If there is anything just left in this world, McElrathbey will earn his NFL contract someday and so will his brother. They seem to deserve it.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


It takes too long to get the school year started. We met last week, on Wednesday, with the other department teachers in the district. Thursday we met with our school staff for all of the pertinant information. Friday was technically a day off, though I felt compelled to visit my classroom and tinker for a few hours. We get Monday off because of the holiday, and Tuesday is a self-directed workday. Finally, on Wednesday we'll see our first sighting of students!
This will be my third year teaching. I have taught both classes, Reading and Pre-College English, for the last three years. For the first time in my career, I feel quite prepared to teach. In fact, my expectation for this year is that it will be my best performance yet. I'm not perfect, but I feel like I am starting to hit my prime as a teacher. Thankfully, in education one's prime can last much longer than a professional athlete, whose window could only be a matter of five years.