Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Which Lens do I wear?

How does a teacher change his perspective? Meaning, when I moved to Connecticut, I left a tremendous school. I wasn't fond of the district all of the time, but I loved teaching at the school. It never occurred to me that I might not fit into my new school.
Here I am, a few days before the end of the marking period, and I don't feel comfortable yet. Moving beyond colleague and into friendship has proved difficult. The four years of experience seem to have no real connection.
I feel bad. I feel like I am not giving my all, as if I am holding back because I haven't felt accepted. My drives home are negative. I hate it. I hate that I don't come home with a positive attitude. I hate that I don't arrive in the morning feeling like nothing else could make me that happy--I miss that feeling.
And worst of all, I feel like I am letting these students down. Don't they deserve my best? And yet, I am selfish enough to ask the reciprocal question, don't I deserve their best?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cherry Picking and Glossing Over

Today I felt like cherry picking a quote from the Washington Post's article about a whole school getting left behind. As a critical reader, sometimes I get snagged on one or two sentences, causing me to miss the entire point of the article. The quote from the article:

"At least three of the new teachers had been dismissed or released from other schools. One resigned after just a few weeks when he was found hiding from the third-graders in his class who were throwing papers at him."

After visualizing this scene--I have a group of low performing seniors who get a kick out of throwing papers at each other--my first thought was not about how NCLB has failed to get high quality teachers into low performing schools. Instead, my thought was, whose kids are these?

Listen, we can talk all day about the causes of poverty in rural Mississippi or anywhere else, but why won't we ever take on the poor parenting. I have a hard time believing that students whose parents teach them right from wrong would cause a teacher to cower in a closet.
Maybe I am just naive to think that parents, even those who have been beaten down by the system, should still teach their childrend how to behave.
Instead of punishing schools--and yes, some need to be punished--why not punish parents who don't teach their children how to act with civility.

A second quote:
"Some teachers have to buy books and other basic supplies for their classrooms, and then take their neediest students to Wal-Mart to buy clothes and backpacks."

I live in simple but generally well-off eastern Connecticut town. It's the town I grew up in. Our education system is fabulous, which is part of the reason I returned to live here. I teach in a school system that is failing. We don't have resources, and many of my students lack basic supplies. And yet, in our publicly funded education system, the State and Federal governments allow for such a disparity in funding. We haven't come all that far.

A third quote:
"One of the new teachers hushed his first-grade class over and over during a fill-in-the-blanks exercise. 'Those people who are talking are not going to know what to do,' he warned."

It would be unfair for me to judge this teacher's level of competency. Rest assured though, that regardless of whether he is competent or not, he is correct in assessing that most who point out the flaws of teachers, if put in that same classroom, would be hiding in a closet.
I have successfully managed some classes with behaviorally challenged students. But this year, in at least one of my senior classes, I am lost. I have never had students who lack self-control like this group. What should I do when 2/3 of the sentences spoken by a student contain the phrase "fuck off?" Yeah, I've sent him out...they send him back. He needs to be in class, so I.S.S. doesn't seem to be the best option.
It isn't easy trying to control a room full of 30 children, especially when they aren't your own children. But that is what we are expected to do--continually manage 30 children who don't value education and haven't been taught how to behave. If we can't do that, our critics who sit in a nice office downtown or in a college lecture hall determine we are incompetent. Then they write an article in some journal or newspaper about the failings of public education.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Of Johnny Appleseed and Teaching

The legends of Johnny Appleseed have him criss-crossing the northeast barefoot and tossing appleseeds into the wind. Wherever he went, apple trees grew. He cared deeply about the growth of apples, but the legends don't have him tending the trees and seeing them bear fruit.

Today I felt like the Johnny Appleseed of legends. Standing in my classroom, planting seeds for literary growth I wondered if the fruit would ever show. Who knows which students will take the seed and allow it to spring up into a healthy tree? I had the feeling today that my fields might end up barren--perhaps too rocky with turmoil at home--perhaps too sandy with the whim of a beach.

It's comforting to know that some students will get it, even if it is a year or more later. This weekend a former student sent me an e-mail thanking me preparing her for college. She apologized for complaining about all the tough assignments. That tree will grow.

And then again, what if my new administration with all of their checking in and scoring my lesson plans on a rubric forget that even the best objectives sometimes only offer a seed. Or that sometimes, you do just have to throw the seeds into the wind and let them scatter.

Which brought me to a follow up thought about my lesson plan poll. I need end objectives for a unit like I need a destination on a trip. But, I also understand that on a trip, like the one I took from Seattle to Connecticut this summer, there are many places to stop that don't always get planned on.

Monday, October 22, 2007

More on Late Work

My previous post about Lesson Plan submission continues to get feedback. If you haven't provided your feedback, please take the time to do that.
This year I have been trying out the late work policy that Standards Based Graders like Ken O'Connor tout. That is, let them turn it in whenever they want. That way, they know the assignment is important.
With two weeks remaining in the first quarter, I have 386 missing assignments to collect. That represents 26% of all the work assigned. Hmmm....between my Data Driven Decision Making meetings, my new to the building meeting, my staff meeting, my department meeting, my...oh you get the picture, I wonder when I'll have a chance to get to those assignments if or when they come in?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Planning Poll

This is a brief poll. If you want please respond.
Do you have to turn in lesson plans prior on a weekly or daily basis?
When you write lesson plans, do you use a format that includes the objectives, initiation, activity, and assessment?
Would you prefer to write lesson plans based on what you accomplished the day before?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Maybe I don't Care.

I attended my Department Meeting today. I was told that next week I have to administer a practice CAPT to my 10th and 9th graders. I also have to administer a CAPT like exam to my seniors, providing those who did not pass the CAPT and opportunity to demonstrate learning.

After the meeting I discussed, well it turned out to be more like an argument, about some of the questions I have about how our school operates. Remember, I am new this year, but I have taught for four years. It's not that my previous district did everything perfectly; I questioned many of the initiatives implemented there. I process the value of all things new by questioning it at first--my doubt is the ants in the pants of leadership.
But really, I just know from my previous experience that procedures and sequence could be done better at my new school. I thought that I care enough about my new students to ask the tough questions that I feel could benefit them--and me at the same time.

So, my discussion with a colleague turned into something that resembled an argument. I came across as a know-it-all (Okay, I'll admit it, I am confident enough in my thought process to believe that I am usually right.) I came across as not wanting to work hard for the students at this school because I don't see the value of providing my administrators with lesson plan outlines for every period of every day (I've never had to this, so it seems like extra work to me.)

But what if it's true? What if I am lazy and uncaring? Maybe I am too pretentious and won't feel content here. Sure, I'll admit to not enjoying spending 80% of my time managing my seniors who still think it's acceptable to throw paper balls at each other the second I turn my back to help a student with a question. I'll admit to not enjoying the daily struggle to get my freshmen to come to class with their notebooks and pencils. I'll admit to not enjoying when my sophomores blurt out "you're stupid; no you're stupid" in the middle of partner work.
I am not ready to admit to not caring about the students; but then again, what if I don't?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Whenever one of my group of friend would cross one of those "boundaries" in a conversation, my buddy Stence would call "Time!" As in, time out. As coaches, this phrase made sense--we'd all needed to call a time-out in a game.
Today, after the Cambridge Education auditors wrapped up their visit, I had felt a need to call "TIME." I wasn't observed, and their visit to our school had very little impact on me. In fact, I wouldn't have known they were there had we not been informed about it. It does seem strange that we all weren't interviewed or observed.
But I felt the need for a timeout because from my point of view, the school is not functioning as a team. It's one of those moments when each team member is off doing their own thing. We have a mission, a game plan, but the game plan isn't working.
As a coach, I have certainly found that my plans for a game weren't going to work. So I called timeout to bring the team together, take a deep breath, and rework the plan. Fortunately for a basketball team, timeouts can happen. And fortunately for a basketball team, it can take a thirty second timeout or a full minute, depending on the need.
The reality of education disallows any extended time to revisit and change the gameplan during the year. Though, wouldn't it be nice if timeouts existed?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Breast Cancer Gets Spiked

On my wedding day, I had a prayer by Frederick Buechner read. It asked God to catch us off guard today with some moment of beauty or grace. Today, as I looked up last night's high school sports results from the Everett Herald (I still keep tabs on the school I came from), I came across this story about Cascade High School.
The Varsity Volleyball squad from Cascade will face off against in-district rival Everett High School. The moment of beauty in the article? Two teams coming together to fight breast cancer. The match "will prominently feature the color pink, which the Komen foundation uses to bring attention to its cause. The teams plan to use pink-and-white volleyballs, wear pink uniforms and sell pink T-shirts for $10. For each shirt sold, $7 goes to the Komen Foundation."
Now, I will admit to bias in my reporting of this story. I taught at Cascade High School for four years before moving this summer to my native Connecticut. But I will say that if you are ever wondering where all of the selfless considerate young people are, stop in at Cascade High School during their annual food drive.
The two Cascade players mentioned are truly amazing young people--the type of people that great schools need if they want to stay great.
I have used this blog to explore educational issues, to define my love for teaching, and to vent my frustrations. But there is no post more worthy of a wide range of readership than this one. So, if you would, please share this article with anyone wondering what is happening to the young people in public schools today.
Oh yeah, Go Bruins!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Natural Selection

The theory of natural selection presumes that the favorable traits become more common from one generation to the next. As theories go, it makes some sense, until you attend a staff meeting, or look at the decision making skill of some people, who we will refer to from this point on as, The Idiots.

For instance, a group of teachers are asked to collect data to drive instruction--wherever the instruction needs to go, like 7-11. These teachers are told to select a skill set, develop and proctor an assessment, anaylze the data, instruct students, and then develop and proctor a second assessment. The information will be used for Data Walls.
But, as the process begins, these teachers are told that the assessment doesn't have to be a common assessment because this is a dry run, a practice, if you will. So, these teachers are spending four or more hours a month until January gathering data that is not controlled and therefore not valid for anything. Data Walls?, or Data Walls of Jericho? Natural selection should have eliminated such unfavorable traits from education.
As if that isn't enough, during the meeting that these teachers attended in their content groups, one teacher pointed out that they'd might as well do the data collection correctly. Meaning, choose a skill set that needs teacher attention, create a common assessment that uses the same reading level as the state exam--it is precisely because their students aren't meeting proficiency that caused the need for such assessments--and then teach the skill set to see if any real progress is made towards getting students at standard.
One teacher disagrees because some students, like Special Education or ESL/ELL or whatever it is called, won't be able to pass the baseline exam. Really? So, because students won't pass it, we should not include them in the data? Sounds a little shady to me. Sure, I get it; some students we know are really quite far behind. But don't we have the task of finding out exactly where they are now, relative to the state standard, and getting them closer to that standard? Again, unfavorable traits are supposed to be weeded out.