Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Career move, anyone?

I know. I am a teacher and therefore if any way I "whine," some community member will remind me of the benefits, the days off, and the simplicity of teaching his son. But after today, I am willing to take the risk of some anonymous commentor who is clearly much more informed about my job than I am.
Finals start tomorrow. This means a high stress level for my seniors even though I promised I wouldn't make the final too difficult. We've been studying grammar for the last week and a half. To be more specific, we've looked at the ten sentence patterns that 95% of all sentences fall into. Many times in the last week I have told my students that in the grand scheme of life and all of the important information they will learn in high school, this stuff is fairly low on the list. The importance of studying sentence patterns is simply to make students aware of their own writing process. Yes, I want my students to be absolutely certain that every word they put down in an essay has a purpose and is connected to another word or phrase in the sentence.
If better proofreading is the best a student gets from a week long look at "NP1 + transitive verb + NP2 + NP2," then it has been worth it. So, if I have to listen to one more student tell me how pointless the last week has been, I might just find something new to do with my time.
I get it. They don't enjoy analyzing sentences. But believe me, if they could only see how poorly they write at times, they might.... Ahh, never mind. No they won't. They don't care. They don't care because no one has made them care. They've been passed along and told how nice they are and that the earned an "A for effort."
But alas, in these moments of utter dispair and frustration--and that isn't an exaggeration--I come to realize that there isn't anything else I'd rather do. Yes, I would find a way to enjoy sports photography or sports journalism, but in the end, would I be as satisified as I was the day that one student told me, "Mr. McNamar, you're a good teacher," and meant it? I doubt it. Unfortunately, not enough kids appreciate what we do. They're too busy complaining about my final to care that this job takes me away from my wife and kids more than it should. They're too wrapped up in their blanket of child centered self-esteem parades to realize that we are human also and that sometimes our self-esteem is being drudged through the swamp.
Don't feel sorry for me, though; I made the test more difficult--by the way, that is a Pattern 9 sentence after the semi-colon.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

School Dances

This week, teachers at my school were given a copy of the adjustments made to our school dance policies. The type of dancing that has taken place at recent dances prompted action by the administration. This is yet anothe top-down directive that involved few teachers and fewer students. The thought is that if the "dirty dancing" doesn't stop, the school will cancel dances.

In the past, chaperones have been asked to put a stop to dancing that is more in line with rap videos than high school social gatherings. As the dancing trend grew in popularity, the number of teachers comfortable chaperoning dances has diminished. It is quite awkward to approach two teenagers engaged in grinding on each other and ask them to separate--only to have to do it again a few songs later.
Now, the new rules require that chaperones take the approach found in The Scarlett Letter. When two students are asked to end their grinding session, chaperones are expected to mark the back of the students' hand, a sign of their "dirty dancing." This way, if they are caught again, they are asked to leave the dance. In addition to the hand mark, students' names will be placed in a data base of offenders.
I don't mind chaperoning dances. These events give our students a safe place to enjoy themselves. But with all of this effort to stop them from dancing inappropriately, maybe we ought to get out of the school dance business altogther.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What a Difference I've Made

Because meeting AYP is important, my administration asked us to review our policy on late work. Many students were failing classes, thus dropping our on time graduation rate, because teachers didn't accept late work. I was one of those teachers. So, in the spirit of unity, I decided to accept late work this year. The results are mixed so far. If you can follow the data below, what you will find is that I really haven't helped more students pass; in fact, less are passing. The policiy has also given me the opportunity to grade 45 late assignments the week before the end of the semester. Those were on top of the actually assigned work that also needs to be graded before I can do grades. Hmmm.... And just to make you feel even sorrier for me than you do already, babyTate has woken up the last two nights with coughing spells.

First Look:
1st Semester 2006-2007 Failures: 34% of Seniors.
1st Semester 2005-2006 Failures: 43% of Seniors.

1st Semester 2006-2007 Quarter Two Missing Assignments: 195 of 767 or 25%
1st Semester 2005-2006 Quarter Two Missing Assignments: 179 of 588 or 30%

Upon Closer Inspection
1st Semester 2006-2007 Absentee Rate of 75% or More: 0 of 59 or 0%
1st Semester 2005-2006 Absentee Rate of 75% or More: 5 of 28 or 18%

*Note: In the following data, I've removed the 5 students from the 2005-2006 group.

1st Semester 2006-2007 Failures: 34% of Seniors.
1st Semester 2005-2006 Failures: 30% of Seniors.

1st Semester 2006-2007 Quarter Two Missing Assignments: 195 of 767 or 25%
1st Semester 2005-2006 Quarter Two Missing Assignments: 105 of 483 or 22%

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Tempest

After twelve years of plotting revenge on his enemies, Prospero comes to realize that to be truly human means to be truly compassionate. He states in Act V, "Though with their high wrongs I am struck to the quick,/Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury/Do I take part: the rarer action is/In virtue than in vengeance..."
Maybe my students will always hate Shakespeare while they are in high school--I know I did. Maybe they will come to recognize the insight into human nature that he offers--I know I did.
Maybe they will never gain the appreciation for his craft; but whichever is true, I know I will always love teaching his plays.
And with that said, I will now move into my own tempest of teaching grammar to seniors in high school.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Your 1996 Theme Song Is: California Love by Tupac and Dre

Let me serenade the streets of L.A.
From Oakland to Sacktown
The Bay Area and back down
Cali is where they put they mack down
Give me love!
That's right. Straight thuggin'.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Grades vs. Understanding

With standardized testing controlling our education system, standards based grading has become the trend in many school districts. My tendency towards maintaining tradition over fad may make me a biased judge, but I'd like to honestly evaluate the letter grade system and the standards based system. After reading "WASL Can Breed Student Frustration" in the Seattle Times, I couldn't stop wondering about that student has never received below a 'B', but hasn't passed the WASL.
Let us assume two things. One is that the statement is true; and two, that a cautionary percentage of students experience something similar. provides some statistics on the rise in Grade Point Average, and Harvey Mansfield wrote about a little experiment back in 2001. Could our trending to higher G.P.A's be contributing to the failure of students on state exams?
The letter grade system, A-B-C-D-F, is the most recognized and used system in the country. However, theorists like Ken O'Connor believe that the letter grade system is too subjective and that grading to a list of standards will solve those instances where students grade don't reflect student learning.
My belief is that both systems are inherently flawed because they both rely on subjective teachers to judge the quality of work. In a letter grade system, the teacher should explain to students what each letter grade would represent. In a standards based system, the teacher should explain what exactly the standard looks or sounds like. Both are subjective.
What concerns me, though, is not which system we choose to use. I am most worried about our trending towards not holding students fully accountable for their work. It begins early with social promotion. It begins early with teachers who hand out high scores for mediocre work. Not every student is exceptional in every subject. We need to stop treating our students as if they are.
The article reminded me of the many times I've marked a student's essay with an average score. The essays are typically distinguished by poor sentence structure or undeveloped thoughts. The student will whine that they've always received A's. Sorry. Welcome to the real world.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Two Year Anniversary

Yesterday marked the day that began my educational blog two years ago. If you care to read my thoughts on what I have accomplished in those two years, please read on. If you don't care, move on to lurk elsewhere.

I have had some success at blogging. Here are my favorite three posts:
Things They Forgot to Teach Me in College--This post spoke to many young teachers and experienced ones as well.
Help--It was this post that helped one of my students get published in the local newspaper.
My Ten Favorite Students--Again, this was a post that other teachers understood.

I have had some failure at blogging. In one early post, I offended some students. I took the post down and replaced it with an apology. In the end, and despite the pathetic media coverage's out of context quotes, I felt vindicated on many levels. But if you want to see the power of humility, usually not my greates attribute, you can read it in A Letter to My Students.

I have proposed the absurd in I Might Hold Out, createda new hit show in Hell's Classroom, and written a song for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

On a professional level, the Daily Grind has allowed me to evaluate my educational theories, practices, and vented.

After two years of writing semi-regularly, I wonder what I have accomplished. As I look back through my posts, I realize that I have accomplished exactly what I thought I might. The Daily Grind's title came out of the idea that teaching is a daily experience that sometimes has to be endured, just like any other profession. It is not the world of Stand and Deliver or Dangerous Minds. I've thought about becoming more focused, narrowing my writing prompts. But, in the end, I can only write about what prompts me. I need to tap into whatever is running through my veins, whether that be eloquent and meaningful or erratic and silly.

Thank you for visiting The Daily Grind. I hope we can continue to offer something worth reading.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The State of the Classroom Speech

Ms. Superintendant, Ms. Regional Director, Mr. Principal, Mr. Vice-Principal, distinguished faculty, honored secretaries, members of staff, students--good and bad, parents--involved and uninvolved, community:
Good evening. I count it a privilege to come before you and present the State of the Classroom Address. To praise our success, to appraise the "State of the Classroom," and to look forward to the year ahead.
If you would allow me, I would like to thank my family for joining me here tonight. My wife has survived another year of me. That should be enough for an applause. My daughter, not yet a year old, is brilliant, cheerful, and eager to learn. She is nearly walking, and I don't doubt that she will be leagues ahead of her peers.
2006 was a year of strides for the classroom. Some of my students who were targeted as below grade level readers, joined the ranks of us who are literate. Consider the story of Ramon. Having slipped through elementary school and junior high based on his outgoing and respectful demeanor, he entered my classroom unable to read at the high school level. Along with his peers, he rallied for positive gains and a successful year.
I tell this story to remind us that not every kid who fails to learn is a problem child from broken homes or minority parents. No, failure can happen to anyone.
It is our job to assess the situation and correct it. And that is what we did. Last year, students like Ramon took a four district mandated assessments and one state mandated assessment.
But we have not succeed in every aspect. Clearly those who did not reach standard last year need additional support to reach standard this year. Unfortunately, we do not have the funds to make this happen.
The state mandates that we do something different and additional but continue to underfund those mandates. The Democrats want to raise taxes and the Republicans want to lower taxes. Our schools suffer while these partisan individuals argue over how to pay for all of their mandates.
We need a bold new outlook. One that will recognize the fact that my seniors have had to buy their own copies of books because we don't have the money to replace lost or damaged ones. Our state legislature has failed the institute of education. Our national government has created the most ridiculous oversight disaster since Reagan went Star Wars on the Soviet Union. No one knows if it will work or how to pay for it.
Additionaly, we need to protect our students. The biggest threat to their success is a lack of positivie parental influence. Sure, there are those that would have you believe that social status is more indicative; but I will suggest to you that parents who don't support or encourage their students have a more negative effect than lack of money. Parents who are supportive and promote the importance of education are more likely to raise successful students. We MUST hold parents accountable.
There is a push to simply spend more money. To dump money into education with no plan in place is as silly as throwing a dime into a fountain in hopes for a wish to come true. Vision is great. To have a vision for the future is essential to moving forward. But if that vision does not come with instructions, we will continue to waste money.
Much money is wasted on poor hiring. Our students deserve the best teachers. Drawn out hiring processes muddled by a complex application and interview process prevent us from getting the best and brightest of the future or current teachers.
Eliminiating the arts and technical classes does an injustice to the students that thrive in those environments. To leave those students behind in favor of AP classes is a form of discrimination. Yes, we need a place for the textbook thinkers. But, this world also needs the brilliant mechanic to fix our high tech cars and create the next beautiful memorial.
It is our duty to serve our students, and in doing so, we serve our community. Let us come together, united in our desire to be truly human. In the spirit of community, let us value each other and build a foundation through our classrooms that will continue to hold the schools of education together for years to come.
Thank you; God Bless you; and God Bless the classroom.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

In yet another post about the success of Direct Instruction, KDerosa points to the positive impact of the program. In the past I have challenged the success of programs like DI. My perspective, however, is skewed by the fact that I teach at the high school level. A place where students have become jaded towards whatever "new" program being tossed at them.
But today, as I sat with our school's reading facilitator, a woman with a Ph.D. in the subject, I brought up the idea of Direct Instruction for the elementary level.
I teach Scholastic's Read 180 program to 9th graders who are below grade level. This year, we added both a 10th and 11th grade Read 180 class. The results with my 9th graders have been positive. Many students are making progress. The group of 10th graders, a smaller group who did not have success with Read 180 last year, have flatlined. The 11th graders have all but quit on the program.
As we struggle to find something "different" as required by state law, I lamented at the ability of the lower grade levels to properly teach reading. I am not expert in the subject; and had it not been for Scholastic's Read 180, I wouldn' t have a clue what I was doing. I could teach students how to analyze literature and write about it, but until my experiences with Read 180, I didn't have any skill at teaching literacy.
So, KDerosa, maybe I'm moving in your direction with the DI concept--though not for the high school level!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Ever the Pessimist

Some would have you believe that the teaching ranks of public education are incompetent. If a student doesn't learn, it is strictly the fault of the teacher. It has nothing to do with underfunded schools that have class sizes over thirty. It has nothing to do with outdated programs. It has nothing to do with parental involvement.
If this is the case, then the estimated 50 billion dollars the government has underfunded NCLB by is of little importance.
I'm usually not one to complain about teacher salaries. Would I like more? Yes. But the truth in my mind is that I have it pretty good. Yes, I think that we provide an absolutely essential service to our communities, and that our pay doesn't reflect the value of that service. Sure, there are those who have equivalent training but don't make as much. I'd say that our task is more important to society.
But, teacher pay increase will never happen the way it should. So, when Democrat or Rebuplican leaders start talking about underfunding NCLB, I tend to get a little pessimistic. The reason isn't only because I believe teachers wouldn't benefit from that monetary increase; it is also because there are few areas that the government has been successful at overseeing. I believe that the bigger the organization, the less likely it will run effectively, no matter how much money is dumped into it.
The issue of NCLB is not ineffective teachers, low standards, or lack of funding. The real problem behind NCLB is that not everyone involved is held accountable. For those who are clearly anti-teacher, go ahead and argue that social status and parental influence is of little importance in whether a student learns that the letter 'a' makes the long 'a' sound and the short 'ah' sound in c-a-t (c-at)! You can argue until you have nothing left to give. This teacher won't ever buy into NCLB completely until all parties are held accountable.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Teaching The Classics

I've often wondered about the necessity of teaching the classics like Othello in the modern classroom. For many of my students, the strangely constructed sentences and healthy vocabulary of William Shakespeare can seem too challenging. But I am confident that teaching plays like Othello have a place in the modern classroom because of the emotional connection possible between the reader and the text. The only question is, how do we make Shakespear accessible to today's students.
For Othello, I assigned nightly readings. The next day, we would quickly summarize and then discuss the characters, their emotions, their thoughts, their decisions. I tried to relate the jealousy, the lack of confidence, the importance of reputation, and the idea that not all is what it seems to their experiences. Most students have something to say about those themes once they can understand the events of the play. My struggle is getting them to that point.
We are currently reading The Tempest. For this play, we are reading it in class with appointed readers and one appointed translator. Sparknotes has a fun modern translation in their No Fear Shakespeare editions.
But this method has issues as well. One is that not all readers are fluent. This makes the reading lengthy and difficult to follow.
Well, that is not what I was going to post about, but the following three quotes are. In a recent essay, my students were attempting to write a reader response showing how Othello meets certain criteria for being great literature. The criteria was that the literature should create a healthy confusion of pleasure and disquietude in the reader. Here are three interesting thoughts:
"...the characters bring pleasure to each other."
"This book was a play that was hard to follow, but a book you had to understand to get all of the critical thinking." HUH?
"In order to insure that he got Othello back..."

Thursday, January 04, 2007

An Even Better Article Buried Deep in A Sensational One

Hidden deep into the article, Cheerleaders Gone Wild--I wonder how many unfortunate souls will now be directed to this post when they Google that phrase?--is a great bit of advice for parents. One that I am thankful my parent followed when raising me.
Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees & Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence, writes, "You should not do the talking for your child. Let your kid work it out when it comes to grades and playing time." She continues, "If your child learns to speak to people in a position of power about something they feel is not right and to articulate how they feel about it, you are teaching your child a very powerful life lesson."
Now that I have been on the receiving end of a few parents who want to fight battles for their children, I can absolutely agree with what Wiseman believes. For me, I'd like to emphasize the added importance of teaching those character traits to girls. Now that babyTate is a part of my life, I am much more aware of the stereotypes that we force upon females. I never want babyTate to rely on someone else to fight her battles; I especially don't want her to feel that those traits should belong only to men. I will survive a sassy, independent daughter if it means that she learns to fight for what she believes is right, to articulate why she believes it is right, or to accept when what she believes is wrong.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

East Coast Bias

Jay Mathews searched out the best in Education related blogging. His list is found in the article Innocents in Blogland. I did a little research, not a whole lot because I need to get over to Linens and Things to purchase a vacuum cleaner that is on sale. It is reasons like this that my pathetic blog didn't make the list. But take a look at which ones did. See if you find the pattern.

1. The Chalkboard--Greensboro, NC.
2. Critical Mass--New York, NY.
3. D-Ed Reckoning--Swarthmore, PA.
4. Edspresso--Phoenix, AZ.
5. Education Policy Blog--multiple contributors, mainly from East of the Mississippi River.
6. Eduwonk--Washington, D.C.
7. From the Trenches--Warroad, MN
8. Intercepts--Elk Grove, CA
9. Joanne Jacobs--Los Altos, CA
10. MathNotations--New Jersey
11. A Passion for Teaching and Opinions--Ukiah, CA
12. A Shrewdness of Apes--Somewhere in the USA--I can tell she's an East Coaster.
13. Susan Ohanian--Arizona State University
14. Teaching in the 408--California
15. This Week in Education--Chicago, IL.
16. TLN--Southeast, USA.

Okay, this may not be entirely accurate, but I tried really hard! Two-thirds of the blogs listed in the WaPo article are East Coast based. I hate to admit it, but I think there might be an East Coast Bias in Education Blog Voting.
Now, you may call it what you like. Sour grapes--you bet. Blog envy--just a little. Immature--I once wrote a post about the Ten Most Annoying People on Staff. I guess this is what I get for being the class clown. Anyway, I am just going to call it an East Coast Bias with a bone toss to California--oooh look at us, so important because we take up 3/4 of the West Coast.
Well, someday I'll figure out what I am doing on this blog and make it to the top, you know, move on up to the East Side and get a piece of the education pie in the sky.