Tuesday, April 29, 2008


The district I work for has a difficult task in front of it. Student achievement lacks the growth necessary, and teacher turnover rates soar. I can't decide between my desire to influence both the system and the students and my desire to both reduce my stress level and enjoy my toddler daughter.
Last night, I picked up Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. The first few chapters stirred my desire to influence. As I read, my mind wandered to various ways that our district could improve the reading ability of the incoming generation of students. We should influence the parents before their children ever enter our building.
My wife, who teaches fourth grade in the same district, assigned a journal prompt which asked, "1. Who read to you as a child? 2. Who reads to you now? 3. Who would you like to read to you now?" The answers showed why, when these students reach high school, they cannot read at grade level. Only a few students listed someone who read to them as a child.
That is one of our problems.
So, I walked into school today full of desire to influence. But alas, by the ten minute mark in first period, I was ready to influence somewhere else. I've been dragging reluctant students along for over 150 days; I just don't have the energy anymore.
It is a depressing place to be, vocationally speaking, when I feel like those teachers I loathed for "mailing it in."
Is it wrong that I don't want to hear, "This school fucking sucks," or watch a student refuse to turn his shirt that reads, "No Bitch Ass Ness" inside out? Am I a failure, as some education critics believe, because my students refused to complete a sentence starter that read, "Money allows me to...." simply because it was first period and I "shouldn't make us work during first period"?

I'm tired, I guess. This has never happened to me before. What kind of influencer can I be this way?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


In a follow up post to my last post, the Everett Teacher's Union feels that teacher Kay Powers was spied on by the district.
I wonder if Congress will investigate, or if Roger Goodell will have something to say.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Just Desserts

Returning to the them of Civil Disobedience, The Daily Grind (and yes, I am aware that I've been referring to myself in third person titular) is happy to see a school district get it handed to them by a teacher who stood up for what is right.
These types of firing will become more frequent as a result of centralizing power at the broader school administrative level. My biggest fear as I consider a move out of the classroom and into administration is that I loose touch with what is most important--the students.
In this case, Kay Powers, the teacher, was teaching the students much more thant a lesson in journalism. She was teaching her students that if you believe in something rational, then sometimes it is worth fighting for--even if it might cost you your job.
The Daily Grind applauds Ms. Powers for fighting against the district. What the Everett Public Schools should learn from this is simple: power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely. POWER TO THE PEOPLE.

Civil Disobedience

Thoreau writes that the mass of men serve the state, and therefore deserve as much respect as a lump of dirt. So when, Carl Chew of Seattle Public Schools refused to give the WASL, he was acting in the way Thoreau would want from us, right?
The Daily Grind is all for speaking one's mind. But I'm also for critical thinking and an understanding of reality.
Chew calls the test, "morally and ethically corrupt." Wait, morally and ethically? How can a test of basic knowledge be fundamentally wrong? Is Mr. Chew saying that requiring our students to be reasonably knowlegeable is on par with with, say, child abuse?
The Daily Grind believes that child abuse is morally and ethically wrong. But, I have hard time believing that giving a test is of the same level of wrongness.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It's all over: clap--clap-clap-clap--clap

Spring break ends today, leaving me unprepared to return to school tomorrow. The New England weather prevented me from accomplishing anything other than a respectable tan, a raked yard, a golf excursion, wiffle-ball with my brother, and a trip to Newport, RI.

The end part of the week was busy with my daughter's second birthday and my wife's thirtieth birthday--if she reads this, I might not be around to post again. Their birthdays are one day apart, making it both easy to remember and difficult to manage.

On my daughter's birthday, I started what might become an annual tradition; although, I might have been misled by the unusually warm weather. The picture is of me diving into the lake we live on. The water below is about to jolt me into reality--the water temperature still had that icy feel of winter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Whadda Ya Wanna Bet...

It has been almost a year since my last Whaddya Wanna Bet? column, and it is with sadness that I write this brief one.
Yesterday, the man from whom I've borrowed this concept passed away. Randy Smith excelled at sports journalism and did more to foster my love of sports than any other writer.

Whaddya wanna bet he'll be missed?

Whaddya wanna bet that...
--NCLB will still exist well after Obama wins the election in '08?
--if teachers were more effective, we'd be allowed the freedom we crave?
--if struggling schools want improvement, the answer isn't in uniformity of presentation?
--trying to decide on whether to find new empoloyment isn't as easy as it first appears?
--I'd be lying if I said I absolutely wanted out of my present school?
--I'd also be lying if I said I'd never leave?
--it isn't about the money?
--although FoxNews and CNN think school violence is normal...it isn't?
--the girls in Florida who taped a beating for Youtube deserve to be punished as adults--even if their reasoning skills are nonexistent?
--giving credit for seat time to students who didn't earn the credit gives public education a black eye?

Monday, April 14, 2008

School Calendar Reform

As I enjoy the first day of my Spring Break, I began wondering how the school calendar might affect our students' performance. What if the calendar could change? Read the two choices and then cast your vote.

Trimester Option
The Fall trimester would begin in early September and courses would end in mid to late November. The Winter trimester would start a week after the Fall trimester and continue until the end of the third week in February. At which point the Spring trimester would commence a week later. Courses would end in mid May.
Academically, the system would change from year round courses to shorter, but more specific ones. Students could take fewer credits in a particular trimester if their coursework was more challenging, and they could load up on credits during a less rigorous trimester.

Quarter Option
The Quarter option would be year round schooling. The first quarter would begin in October and proceed for 10 weeks of classwork followed by a three week break. During those breaks, students who did not complete coursework would be held back for the break. The second quarter would start in early to mid January, ending ten weeks later in late march. The third quarter would begin three weeks later in early to mid April and ending in mid to late June. Three weeks later, the fourth quarter would begin in mid July, taking us back to a three week layoff before the October session.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Teachers are Dumb

I attended a meeting requested by parents that intended to determine their student's academic needs. They believe the student should be served in special education; there is no data to suggest this is necessary.
At one point during this lengthy meeting, a lawyer for the parents mentioned that the student wanted to become a teacher. And in his account, he made the statement that the student should pursue this career path because, unlike the medical profession, a prospective teacher need only attain a C average to get into college and then prove capable as a teacher.
Now, I cannot boast a superior G.P.A., grades have never been important to me, but the audacity to suggest that teachers lack comparable intelligence to other professions enraged me.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Teens Today

How did I miss this story for so long?

Many of my students sometimes forget that I am a teacher and reveal too much information about their weekends, but a root beer keg party? That's too funny.

This type of mischief makes me smile.

And then there are these teens. But somehow if they were to not do well in school, it would be the teacher's fault according to so many education theories.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

No Confidence

With President George W. Bush's tenure in office coming to a close, I wonder if more teacher unions will retaliate against state superintendents. In Washington state, Snohomish County teacher unions are weighing "no confidence" votes against Terry Bergeson, the current state superintendent.
The article focuses on the local unions' disagreement over the WASL, the state's stadardized test. Bergeson has continued to support the WASL despite so many teachers who want it gone, and despite major changes being made by Governor Christine Gregoire.
The article states, "Some teachers don't want the WASL to be a graduation requirement. They believe the test devours too many resources and puts too much pressure on students and teachers." Because I taught in Washington for four years, I know that the WASL does consume a signficant amount of teaching time.
I taught English at a large high school. The WASL forced me to teach basic reading skills like summarizing, identifying the main idea, drawing conclusions, and responding to literature. Additionally, the WASL made me teach my students how to write an expository and persuasive essay. It is difficult to imagine that such a test exists. The pressure consumed my life.
The President of the Mukilteo Teacher's Union claims, "It doesn't really inform your teaching. When you get the WASL results back, the students have already gone on."
She is only partially correct, which is usually the case in most debates about standardized tests. The WASL did give us information about our students. Where I taught, we created WASL like baseline assessments and other common informative assessments to track our students' progress in relationship to the skills and ultimately the WASL. But in terms of the data from the test, it is true about many state tests that the results come too late. If the results from a state exam are meant to determine our success at teaching skills, and then inform us about how to teach, then we need those scores before we start placing students in classes for the following year.
As with anything in life, a balance must be found. But getting rid of such exams simply because teachers want to be free from the pressures (which means they don't want to be held accountable), is not a good reason.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Administration Pays

The biggest perk I've ever gotten as a teacher: summers off. Apparently, I should become an administrator in the Northshore School District of Washington State.
A Seattle Times article details the expensive benefits that over 90 top employees can receive. The most amazing part is that the district is facing the possibility of cutting over 3 million dollars. Seriously.
I'm thankful for my $250 dollar tax credit, but I've been pining for a flat screen television and high performing laptop computer for quite a while.
There is a lot of money in the Northshore School District. The tax base is full of wealthy families, but there needs to be more common sense.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

For Christ's Sake

One of the overarching objectives of my English class is to prepare students to be global citizens. A global citizen respects the people around him, but does not conform to what society demands. I have a great deal of respect for people of great faith. The Dalai Lama has influenced my own faith. But why do those in public education fear religious expression?
FOXNews.com has a story on a high school art student who created a landscape with a cross, a Bible verse, and an inscription. He was given a zero for failing to remove the religious symbol. In an environment that should teach respect for individual thought and expression, why does it seem that Christianity is often targeted as offensive to other students? But even beyond Christianity, why do schools fear the open and honest discussion of sensitive matters? We should be teaching our students how to appropriately interact with people of all beliefs, and not just religious beliefs.

Well, this post is transforming into one of my Adults Ruin Everything posts. In a separate incident, but equally reprehensible, a school wouldn't allow a student to wear a John Edwards for President t-shirt.
Considering that every high school I've been a part of teaches about government and civics, I couldn't be more befuddled by moves like this. I hope the kid wins and the administration realizes that they are not educating students.