Saturday, February 28, 2009

An Open Letter to the Connecticut State Department of Education

Dear Suits:

This week begins our annual discovery of student progress throughout this great state. We'll be disrupting school days in order to glean important information which we will not be able to use to place students for the fall semester.
Some in our state would like to see standardized tests disappear because they don't want to be held accountable. I am not one of those people. I believe in the importance of monitoring student progress, much in the way it is important to spend 140 million dollars to monitor volcano activity. That 140 million will be used to update equipment so that when a dangerous volcano begins to act up, people can respond.
Unfortunately the CAPT does not respond in the same manner. For example, if the test were designed as a formative assessment, with quick turnaround, we would be able to address dangerous gaps before we scheduled students for the fall. Why should we make students endure this lengthy test if we are not going to give them immediate or timely feedback--something that the popular education thinkers like Marzano teach us. In fact, CALI and other state run initiatives which are powerfully influential in low-performing schools demand that those schools learn about all of those important education thoughts. Shouldn't the state hold itself to the same standard? After all, Connecticut does have the highest achievement gap in the country and therefore is as much a failing system as the districts it has labeled as such.
And then there is the issue of standards. According to our five year action plan, Connecticut schools should "develop and implement rigorous, standards-based curriculums." My low status as a classroom teacher might not be worth much to all of the high paid suits who wrote that plan, but a standards-based curriculum demands that we discover whether our students meet the standard.
If that is the case, why do we limit our students to a rather narrow time frame for each test? For example, the Response to Literature test, if I recall correctly, allows for 70 minutes to read a short (6-8 page) story and answer four critical analysis questions with one solid page of written response. Now, 70 minutes might seem like a long time to those of you wearing a suit and trotting from one meeting to the next, but for many of our at risk students, 70 minutes for a seemingly endless test, doesn't amount to much. So they rush. They skim the story and write feverishly trying to fill up the page. Or, they read carefully but don't have the time to write a thoughtful response.
You see, the test shouldn't be timed. If what matters most to us is discovering to what extent our students are succeeding, we ought to give them as much as time as they need. Then we might discover that a few more of our students are capable. That seems like a good idea to me.
The data is important, but we need to be sure the data is correct and then we need to get that data back to the people who matter most in the process--students and teachers.

Mr. McNamar
The Daily Grind

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Crying Shame

You might hear a rumor, a nasty one rumor, from some of my students. I swear, these kids will make anything up to humiliate a teacher. Rumor has it that one of my students made me cry today. But it isn't true; I totally had something in my eye.
I'm just going to give you the facts. You can read them and come to your own conclusions, but I DID NOT CRY.
I have this one student who has driven me to the brink of chaos all year. This student is capable. This student has argued with me. This student has stormed out. This student has cussed me up and down.
Since beginning the Corrective Reading program, I have had to have this student removed from class all but two days (we started the last week of January). This student refused to participate, saying, "I'm not a dog. You can stop with the 'what word?' shit."
Yesterday this studnet showed up with 20 minutes remaining in class and just sat in the desk without even cracking open the book. But the student didn't yell or argue. Just sat there.
Today, the student showed up five minutes late. The student sat in the desk, openned book and even read for the group check out. I was thinking, "hmmm....this is strange."
Then we started the read aloud section. This has been the major stumbling block for the student. "I don't read out loud," has been the mantra.
I called on the student to read one sentence (something I had promised when I met with the student because more than one sentence was a problem).
The student read. No errors.
I asked again later: just one sentence. No problem.
Then, I called on another student whose name doesn't even sound like this student's to read a long paragraph.
The difficult student started to read. I interrupted because I hadn't called on that student. But then I stopped. Wait. "Um, oh, did you want to read this paragraph?" I asked.
"Yes. I do," the student said.
So I let the student read. And the student read. The student made some errors but didn't quit, didn't get embarrassed.
Allegedly, I got teary eyed. Allegedly, I didn't know what to say. It's a crying shame because that would have been a Hollywood moment.

Monday, February 23, 2009

We Need a little Controversey

I've been feelin' Eminem lately. I "cracked a bottle" for my 500th post and today I'm thinking back to his song, "Without Me," which has the lines:

Now this looks like a job for me
So everybody just follow me
Cuz we need a little controversy,
Cuz it feels so empty without me

Well, I don't want to be the controversey, my wife won't let me. But after the uproar caused by my friend and former colleague John Foley, who somewhat satirically challenged our current English curriculum, I want in. Meaning, I want to know at what point does a piece of literature become too controversial, too whatever for the public high school curriculum.
On Saturday I read Matt McCarthy's Odd Man Out, a spectacularly easy to read book covering much more than one person's attempt at professional baseball. McCarthy confronts race and privilege, hard work and the cutting corners, the American dream and jealousy. I can't rave enough about this book. In fact, I want to use it for the Sports Literature class we'll be offering next school year.
But. How can I justify the inclusion of this book with such tawdry tales as this:

An Angels employee briefly interrupted the revelry to bring us fifty leftover hot dogs from the concession stand's "Weenie Wednesday" promotion....When I turned around, I saw the dark, naked bodies of two young Dominicans hovering around the hot dogs....We all knew they were up to something no good....Suddenly, Callaspo took one of the hot dogs out of its bun and deep-throated it. Then he took the bun and put it around Aybar's flaccid penis and poured ketchup on it....Then Callaspo bent over and pretended to eat the Dominican penis hot dog. When he did that, we all screamed, " Noooo!" Getting the reaction he'd desired, Callaspo turned to a few of us and said, "I no gay. You gay!" and burst into a fit of laughter (161).

Some might say to simply censor the book, to skip that part. But there is much to think about from this selection, especially when put into the greater context. Sports have always leveled the playing field, except when it comes to sexuality. The locker room has long been a bastion of male machismo and not all that accepting of anything but the strong male stereotype. But, is it appropriate for high school students?
At what point do young men and women reach the maturity to handle the, um, awkward and controversial subjects?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Teen Moms: Do We Help Them?

The Hartford Courant reports that Hartford Public Schools has cut funding for three staff members who operate the day care program which helps teen moms graduate high school. Now that is controversial.
I tend to be a conservative thinker when it comes to bailing out those who make poor choices. But I am willing to allow for the sometimes necessary bailout. For these students who will lose this service, the ramifications only perpetuate the cycle of poverty. For that reason, I think Hartford Public Schools has this one wrong.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Two Types of Poor

Yesterday I read Odd Man Out by Matt McCarthy, a former minor league baseball player turned doctor. It was a nice break from the education themed books; one I would recommend if you are interested in the culture of baseball. But this morning, I've determined the next book I will read, Work Hard. Be Nice. by Washington Post education beat journalist, Jay Mathews.

Richard D. Kahlenberg reviews the book in tommorrow's print edition. Over time, I certainly would have picked up the book, but a statement from Kahlenberg's review forced me to ask the question, Are there two types of poor?

Kahlenberg writes:
Moreover, KIPP's experience does little to rebut the longstanding social-science consensus that poverty and segregation reduce achievement because in many respects KIPP schools more closely resemble middle-class than high-poverty public schools. KIPP does not educate the typical low-income student but rather a subset fortunate enough to have striving parents who take the initiative to apply to a KIPP school and sign a contract agreeing to read to their children at night.
Before reading this review, I did not realize that there existed typical and atypical low-income students. I had no idea that a subset, to use his term, of poor families did not want their child to do well in school and therefore would take no initiative to fill out an application.
From my experiences at a low-income school, and again, I can only speak honestly about my experiences, the vast majority of parents, if not all, want their children to do well in life. The difference does not lie in initiative, it lies in social capital and the understanding of how to navigate a burdensome system.
To cast a wide blanket over low-income families who do not apply to schools like KIPP as lacking initiative is to unfairly judge those families.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Fairness Doctrine--School Edition

A New York Times report examines a few recent cancellations of Rent: School Edition by public schools across the country. These school administrators and parents feel that the frank discussions of homosexuality, H.I.V., and drug use are not age appropriate to be presented or viewed by high school students.
Reporter Patrick Healy reports:
The New York producers of “Rent,” who receive some royalties from the school edition, said they hoped it would become a new, revenue-generating staple of the high school musical landscape, as well as a teaching tool that augments sex education and draws teenagers to acting and theater with a more modern production than, say, “The Music Man.”

With all due respect to this wonderful Broadway play, Rent should not ever be viewed in order to augment sex education classes. The play certainly deals with, in dramatic fashion, the issue of sex and homosexuality, but that does not make it a valuable educational tool. In my opinion, it would be the same as Hugh Heffner creating Playboy: School Edition and hoping it would be used to educate high schoolers in their sex education classes.

Healy describes a recent Facebook video of Corona del Mar High School students using gay slurs and the theater teacher, Ron Martin's reasoning for choosing Rent: School Edition:
"This is the first time I’ve chosen a show for the high school because I had an agenda,” Mr. Martin said. “In this instance, having an agenda as a teacher didn’t give me pause. My job is to give my students life skills. Discrimination is wrong on all levels."

First, Mr. Martin is correct that discrimination is wrong. He is correct in his implication that homosexual students in high schools across this country face discrimination and pain. Yet, I can't help but wonder whether Mr. Martin and other theater directors have the same sympathy for the discrimination that evangelical Christians face on a daily basis. While I make every effort to correct students who call things they don't like "gay," can I honestly say that I correct students who use "Jesus" or "Christ" in an abusive manner. That is equally offensive. If Mel Gibson writes The Passion of the Christ: School Edition, will these same high minded directors have an agenda that includes that play?

In the end, I don't have an issue with such a play being offered at the high school level. I would have an issue with it if the drama teacher made the play mandatory for his students, or if a school made it mandatory for students to view.
Drama, like Rent or Dead Man Walking, has the ability to create dialogue. But when there is a specific agenda, an intent to indoctrinate, then these productions lose my support. The best dramatic presentions create dialouge, honest and accepting dialogue.
Recently, Ellington High School in Connecticut performed the adapted production of Dead Man Walking, and not only performed it brilliantly, but offered a forum for discussion on the controversial death penalty. When the level of discourse is raised by these productions, then they are truly successful.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

If teachers were athletes...

Breaking News: Mr. McNamar has admitted to altering student test scores between 2004-2007 while teaching in a Washington school. Here is the transcript of his press conference:

Mr. McNamar, had your actions not been revealed by the school newspaper, would you have ever come out on your own?

I'm just here to tell my story. You know, to focus on the putting this all behind me so that my colleagues don't have to answer questions for me.

Mr. McNamar, you've talked about the pressure of getting every student to be proficient as your reason for altering scores. You mentioned that when you came to Connecticut to teach, a state with a greater achievement gap, you stopped that practice. Can you explain to us why?

In Washington, I was young and naive. I was 27 or 28. I hadn't grown up yet as a teacher. After a painful transition from no responsibility as a bartender to major responsibility. I was young. But when I found out that I was hurting students by doing this, and that in Connecticut I could lose my credentials, I realized it was time to grow up. I've had my best year of teaching last year. Something like 78% of my students passed the exam which is more than any other teacher. I'm glad it's all in the past. I can focus on this year's exam.

Mr. McNamar, you said you altered scores for three years. What was the benefit from doing that; and when you stopped altering scores, did you notice any difference?

I can't be sure of any benefit. I do know that when you alter scores on tests, it's half mental and half tangible. I mean, if you read Sparknotes and not the book but say, I understand this book now, if you believe it, you probably do understand the book. So I felt more confident, but it's hard to say.

Mr. McNamar, when you altered scores, did you do it yourself or just tell the kids to change an answer?

I did it myself.

Mr. McNamar, since this came out a week ago, the public has called you a cheater. Do you consider this cheating?

Listen, I'm sorry for what I did. I'm here to focus on the future. I was stupid, you know. I guess when you are young and stupid, your are young and stupid. It's not my job to call something cheating or not. I'm just sorry.

Mr. McNamar, many of your current colleagues are present but some former colleagues like Stence have said some pretty serious thing about your credibility. Do you think you need to repair in any sense those relationships?

I don't know what Stence said.

He said that your credibility is seriously damaged and that nobody should vote you as Teacher of the Year. You've disgraced the profession...stuff like that.

Hey, Stence is allowed to think that way. I don't like that he feels that way. I mean, I understand how people feel that way. I get it. I can't control them. I'm going to stay focused on moving past this all.

Mr. McNamar, what's your relatives name and who got the correct answers from OSPI in Olympia?

I'm not going to give you his name. I'm here because I'm responsible for my actions. I told him what to do and he felt like he was being helpful to me and my students. His name doesn't matter.

You touched on the cheating view that some people have. What do you say to the parents who have to tell their students that you profited from this?

I'm sorry. I think this happened for a greater purpose. God put me in this place for a reason and my voice can be heard. I hope kids don't make the same mistakes. Joe Fort is here. His son was expelled from college for plagiarism. He's right over there. This is an opportunity to talk about the future. I've talked with Joe and the district to join up and send out anti-test altering messages to kids.

Just to be clear, did you know that answers you were getting from the OSPI were in fact the correct answers, and if so, did you consider the consequences?

I didn't think they were the exact answers at that time. Listen, I was young and stupid. He was able to walk in and get them, pretty basic. We didn't use our Curriculum Department or administrators. It was just the two of us doing very common things. We probably didn't even get the exact wordings or phrases for some of the answers. Like I said, we only did it on a few tests. I don't even think that was enough to make much of a difference on our AYP. So did it help, I don't know. For so long, I didn't think we had done anything wrong. And come to find out, irregularities caused an alert to go up.

As someone who monitors your code of ethics, how could you not have done more research or been more aware of what you were doing?

Beats me. I was young. I was naive and young. I was curious, too because we had joked about it in the past.

Teacher of the Decade is something that will come up in your future. And well, it was important to your district too, offering major incentives like a bigger room and not having to sign in or out when you leave the building. Do you feel your accomplishments are tainted, that maybe your success last year is tainted and you should give some of the benefits back?

AGain, I'm focused on today. It's been very difficult this past few weeks. A painful time for my family. I'm here to accept responsibility. As far as the past, I'm focusing on the future. I'll let the blogs debate my accomplishments in that time period.

Do you feel like you have to repair relationships with your colleagues and rebuild your credibility given that you denied altering grades in previous interviews?

Absolutely. But not just with my colleagues. I mean look, at the end of the day, this is my community, these teachers and I hope that this crisis will bring us together like never bfore. I owe an apology to them to the district and to all the students who looked up to me. Yeah, everyone.

Did you ever try other methods like changing a student's grade level to a year behind so they didn't have to take the exam?

No to that. But back in the day I did hint to students that their answer might be wrong if I happened to notice it. I dabbled a bit in that.

You were emotional when you wanted to address your colleagues. Can you tell us what your had to say to them?

Yes, thanks for that. For my colleauges, thank you for showing up today. These two weeks have been stressful and you guys helped me through it. I thank you and love you. I hopewe can put this behind us and have a great testing year. It will be amazing.

Mr. McNamar, you mentioned earlier that you didn't think at the time that you were doing anything wrong. Then why were you so secretive?

Good question. But again, I was young and stupid. We knew we were walking that line. I didn't check to see if we had gone over th eline. It was different back then. I was young and stupid and curious. I didn't want everyone to know what I was doing.

Mike Jones, a teacher and strong union supporter, said that your success should count. He said you cheated. Does his posiiton have validity?

I'm sorry Mike feels that ways. But everyone has an opinion and I'm sorry his is that one.

You alleged that the newspaper reporter did some bad things. Do you stand by those allegations and have you spoken with her since?

Um I did talk with her. I misunderstood some things. I reached out to her and we're both moving forward.

Mr. McNamar, because of your prestige as a teacher and how you want people to forgive and foget, have you considered submitting to lie detector tests every day, you know, just to prove that you are clean?

The current system is good. It's a different process from a while back. I'll submit to whatever they tell me I have to do.

Mr. McNamar, you told how Washington was a little less austere. Did you ever see other teachers alter scores or talk about it?

It was different, that's what I meant. My choices don't reflect that state. I was young and stupid. It wasn't Washington. I blame myself. This is about me. I have no one to blame.

Mr. McNamar, if I understand correctly, you weren't sure that your alterations would even help but you kept doing it to so many tests. Why would you keep doing that, being such a smart guy and all, if you weren't sure you were doing it right?

My statements were, you know, hyperbole so you could understand what I did. I was young and stupid back then. And curious. I stopped doing and now I'm ready to move on.

Last week, a Joanne Jacobs poll found that 46% of their respondents siad that they didn't believe you only altered scores between the time frame you gave us. How do you respond, and also, Arne Duncan said you "disgraced the profession," do you agree?

I made mistakes. I know the Education Secretary has a position and I respect Arne. Listen I taught Sunday School when I was 12 years old. I did it because I had to, it was expected. The best years of my teaching career came before and after that time frame. I just hope that in the end, the evidence points to a job well done. But if not, I understand that.

Mr. McNamar, I'm wondering why you waited until now to give out all of the information, especially after your interview last week.

Good question. I wasn't ready. I had to get my facts straight. It had been a long time. I wasn't prepared then.

Mr. McNamar, a while back you did an interview with 6o Minutes and reported that you had never altered scores. Last week you said you did those things, and today your ammending those statements. Can you assure us that what you are telling us today is absolutely the whole truth?

I was in denial then. I was young and stupid. No one had told me that what I had done was wrong, so I thought the issue was over. There was a lot going on and now I just wnat to tell my story; that's all.

Mr. McNamar, describe the first time you altered a score--where were you, did you doubt your actions, how did you feel aftewards?

No. No doubts at the time. I just changed the answers.

Should your success from that time still count? Or should your students have to retake those tests?

That's not for me to decide. Iwas young and stupid. I had good succes before and after those years. The past year has been difficult for me, personally and professionally. I miss just teaching. I want to just want to get back in the classroom Be a better teacher. A better dad. A better person. I can only tell my story and let the people judge me from this day on. That's all I can do.

***The questions are completely based on those asked to Alex Rodriguez
***The answers to those questions are completely based on those given by Alex Rodriguez
***In no way did the real Mr. McNamar alter test scores during his time in Washington

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Road to Perdition

It must be hell hate your job. That hate must cause an absolute decay of spiritual strength. Luckily, I don't hate my job, but sometimes I look up from the road to find myself deep in wicked forest brimming with Rodents of Unusual Size.
This afternoon while helping an administrator prepare for our state exam, I commented on how no one will read any of the directions we're creating for them. "You have a little jaded old teacher in you," he joked. I laughed because it's true. Tucked away in my cynical mind is an old man ready to sit on the porch and yell at kids to get off my lawn. Of course, I will text my other old buddies who are doing the same and laugh about who scared the most children.
In my daily reading of the WAPO online, I stopped to read Jay Mathews' article, which provides 7 ideas to improve schools without spending money. The old man in me came out. I'll grant that the following ideas are worthwhile:

2. Unleash Charter Schools
3. Have teachers call or e-mail parents with praise every day. (He clarifies that he meant at least one parent per day.)
4. Have parents call or e-mail teachers with praise every day.
5. Have high school students read more non-fiction.
6. Encourage every teacher to call on every student in every class.

It was number one and seven that the old man showed up.

1. Replace elementary school homework with free reading.
--What is this crap about not giving homework to elementary aged students? Every other day someone writes about how far behind the rest of the world we are in education, but they want us to take away what should be a valuable practice time. Not to mention the good habits homework forms. I'm not talking about three hours a night, but thirty minutes of math practice isn't going to hurt students. Heck, in fourth grade I bought into the no homework theories and just didn't do my math homework for a quarter. I didn't learn much. We'll let kids have insane music and sports practice schedules, but freak out if we ask them to extend their learning beyond the classroom.

7. Furlough everybody.... (He uses his wife's upcoming two week unpaid furlough to help the company as an example.)
--I rarely complain about teacher pay. In fact, the only time I do is when outsiders suggest teachers get paid too much or should take a pay cut. Teaching is not charity. It is a profession that receives little monetary respect considering the task the public is asking us to accomplish. "Shape our future," is what they ask of us. That seems a daunting and important task, one that deserves more money (because that's what society has deemed an appropriate show of importance) than what most teachers make. I will challenge any outsider to come be successful at what we do, for the pay we receive, and not believe that financially speaking we do not value teachers enough.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Shame on US

Nicholas D. Kristof has written an opinion piece, "Our Greatest National Shame," for the New York Times. I paused to read the piece fully expecting to read about dumping more debt onto future generations, ToddlerTate being my future generation. Instead, Kristof broadly sweeps through public education and labeling us as the greatest shame. Well, actually, the failure of some students who pass through our halls.
He tells us that other countries are better than us. He tells us that some schools and programs have had success.
He points out that an education degree doesn't make a better teacher--a point I fully agree with, as well as the corollary that a master's degree doesn't make for a better principal.
And then of course he finishes with:
One of the greatest injustices is that America’s best teachers overwhelmingly teach America’s most privileged students. In contrast, the most disadvantaged students invariably get the least effective teachers, year after year — until they drop out.

May I punch the screen, honey. We'll buy another one and thus support our economy.

What evidence suggests that the "best teachers" teach privileged students? Is it the test scores, the G.P.A.'s, the college admittances? Or could it be that those students will succeed in spite of mediocre teaching?
Yes, I'm defensive. I've taught privileged students and disadvantaged students. In both places I've seen great teaching, average teaching, and ridiculously poor teaching. The difference isn't in the number of quality teachers, the difference is in the students.
No, I won't say that our disadvantaged students can't learn. But I will say the task is much more difficult, and for a host of reasons:

A third grade teacher who formerly taught at a private school now teaches at a poverty school. She sends home newsletters, notes, and homework folders. When she finally is afforded a meeting with a parent of a student who is failing, the parent admits to never reading those letters, notes, or ensuring that the students has accomplished the homework.

With little money coming in from property taxes, and numerous budgets being rejected, young and fresh teachers are let go, professional development for brand new research based interventions get scrapped, windows stay broken, halls remain unkempt.

Every outside reform agency, from NEASC to Cambridge to the State, want you to implement their version of success, simultaneously and without collaboration. A host of new initiatives and meetings take away from the time a teacher has to prepare.

Theory tells us that wildly disruptive students should not get out of school suspensions. The State says that OSS is not an option in the future, find a new way to discipline consistent troublemakers.

Free will. That's right. Free will. If you've ever dealt with a toddler, you know what this is like. Now, add twelve years of firming that defiance, that mindset, and multiply that number by some non-researched or empirically sound number like 450 and that is what teaching at an urban school is like. NOT ALL URBAN SCHOOLS; I better get that out there before all of my detractors come hounding me.

You see, people--yes, the general public, come see what it is like. Come spend some time and observe the students, observe the teachers. What you will find is not what you read about in the NY Times op-ed page.
You will find wonderful teachers who are tired, worn down, from the constant test of wills. You will find wonderful students who are tired, worn down, from the constant pain of circumstance. And if after spending more than a glancing moment at these schools, if you still believe that public education is the shame of the nation, then okay, shame on US.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Union Thug

The Union Thugs (#4 on the annoying list) in New York City want to change the way KIPP AMP in Brooklyn operates. After reading David Whitman's Sweating the Small Stuff, I feel even stronger about dismantling the sometimes subversive nature of teacher unions. Before the Union Thugs come out in full force and have their Teamster friends dismantle my blog, let me be clear about the importance of a union. In every successful system, a series of checks and balances is necessary. Without that balance, we end up in a debacle much like our current economic environment. Workers need to be respected, especially in education.
Yet, it would be disingenuous for me to not allow that the mission of a business or organization does not also need protection. A for-profit company needs to make a fair profit to keep a profit driven system from collapsing. A non-profit organization needs to accomplish its goals and should be allowed to do so without the worker, who was chosen by the organization, subverting its core beliefs.
In the KIPP AMP union controversy, these teachers signed on to teach at the school, fully aware of what would be sacrificed in order to meet the organizations goals. Now they want something different--their own agenda ahead of the organizations.
Part of what separates the KIPP schools from the public is their ability to work outside of the constraints of the teachers' union--which let's be honest is not all that interested in student achievement. By nature, the union is not supposed to care about what is best for students. And that is why I have serious concerns about unions in general. This isn't to say I believe that we should not have a teachers' union, only that maybe it's time for the union to adapt.
At the very least, a teachers' union ought to look for the right balance. Some teachers need to be fired. Old teachers don't deserve more money simply because they have taught for ages.
I have witnessed the positives of unions and the negatives. In the end, I just want balance. But I don't believe that these KIPP teachers are seeking union representation because they've been abused by the KIPP machine. Knowing my profession, they simply want a cushy position without any real accountability.

Friday, February 13, 2009

If you smeeeeellllallalalalalala what Linda's Cookin'

In the early and mid 1980's my father permitted us to watch the WWF (now WWE)--we were instructed not to tell mom. I matured during the '90's but regressed in the early 21st century for a few years, indulging in the WWE's Monday Night Raw, Smackdown, and yes, even attended Wrestlemania when Seattle's Safeco Field hosted it.
Connecticut's Senate has recently approved WWE's chief executive Linda McMahon for one of the 11 seats on the State Board of Education.
Now maybe we can have some royal rumbles and cage matches regarding the inadequate and unfair funding that is hindering its urban districts. Heck, in this world of throwing money around to solve problems, why not at least put the money where it is needed.
It continues to amaze me that our state demands that urban schools increase performance without recognizing that funding is a major issue--NOTE: NOT THE ONLY ISSUE. So Ms. McMahon, it is time to put someone in a figure four leg lock and get them to submit.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Paradise, or something like it?

While working for the Doubletree Hotel, I often didn't clock out until well past midnight. My teammates and I had to set up the conference rooms and breakfast meetings for the next day. Each night we worked past eleven, we would chat with a retired police investigator turned hotel security. "What's new, bro?" we would ask. "Another day in paradise...somewhere else," he would reply.
And so when my wife asked me about my day...well, it was another day in paradise.

My day started with my most challenging Corrective Reading class. This group has not bought into or accepted the reality of this scripted program. One student, J, has had to be removed four of the six times he's actually attended. He won't participate; he will argue if asked to participate. The only way to correct the reading of others is to exit the young man to the resource room. He's simply argumentative.
So today, when I asked him to turn around and face forward, he yelled, "Why are you starting with me? It's always me. J, turn around; J, this; J, that. I'm gonna call my mother and she's going to come down here."
"Okay. Call your mother," I say.
"No really, I will. I'm gonn call her," he commands.
"Good. Call her right now," my voice is calm.
"I said, Call Your Mother Right Now. And then, tell her I want to have a meeting....Really, take out your cell-phone and call your mother."

And he did. Thinking I wouldn't completely understand, he spoke in Spanish--well, his mom doesn't speak English, but... I continued to remind him to make sure mom understood that he wasn't participating, but that didn't happen until the meeting about two hours later when I had a translator with me.
The meeting was, well, who knows. Mom agreed with me, the problems between J and me will only go away when J stops arguing and participates the way the program demands.

I don't know if that was the right way to deal with J, but I am tired. I am exhausted by repeating myself all day because I teach one script three times and the other script two times. I am drained by the two classes whose students are yet to buy in and would rather refuse to give the choral responses. I am annoyed by the student who wants to purposely get things wrong just to piss the group off. I am weary from having to cheerlead the program when I'd rather be teaching an English class. So J had to "wear it" as we say in baseball.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Let's Get Ready to Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuummmmbbbbleeee

High school sports are supposed to bring out the best in us all. The community coming together to support the youths' athletic endeavors. The team representing the hard working people of a community. But not in the Seattle-metro area recently.
According to the Seattle P-I, a recent game ended in a brawl of NBA proportions. I haven't seen video, yet, but I'm sure it exists. Only then will the facts be known.

Sports Literature

With the help of my department chair, my Sports Literature proposal passed through the approval process and will be included in the classes for next year. From the standpoint of engagement, this class should capture the interest of many of our students.

From a Language Arts perspective, this class will provide opportunities to write in both the expository form and persuasive form. It will also allow for reading both fiction and non-fiction. And finally, it will provide for practice in the skills of verbal debate.

Topically, I hope to cover the connection between modern sports and ancient myth, the role of sports in society, gender in sports, and all the other interesting themes.

I still have to settle on the texts. Any suggestions?

Saturday, February 07, 2009


In the words of Eminem, "Crack a bottle, let your body waddle," because The Daily Grind is celebrating. According to my dashboard records, I have written 499 posts. This one will make it 500.
Thank you to God, my mom, my dad. Thanks to my older brother who set me down this path of blogging back in January of 2005. Thanks to Ms. Young who taught me to show it, not tell it; and of course Ms. Pope whose love for language and the written word has driven me to give her something of value to read.
Thanks to my wife who lets me slip into this other world so that I might learn something of who I really am. Thanks to the other excellent education related blogs: From the Trenches, The Science Goddess, The Education Wonks, Joanne Jacobs, Coach Brown, and the many others who offer insights into this profession.
In these four years of blogging, I've found myself the story instead of the subjects I write about. I have discovered that maturing as a teacher demands struggling through issues, even if it means my character is maligned. I have contradicted myself dozens of times, whined too many times. I have written with sexy syntax and grotesque grammar.
I have made people laugh, cry, and pound their fists in disgust. I don't regret any of it.
I have written about students I hated and students I adored. I have blasted colleagues and praised others. I've been positive and negative. In the final analysis, I have been human.

So thank you (the three of you) for reading my story--which continues on. I hope you have found yourself thinking, wondering, and questioning from something I have written.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Reality and Obama

"I found this deficit when I showed up," President Obama said tonight. He's struggling to convince the American public that his efforts are necessary, that 800 billion to 1 trillion dollars is necessary to stimulate this economy.
Here's what bothers me. Why can't I get away with such a statement. I mean, if I as a teacher were to allow my students who read at the third grade level to continue to flounder even while throwing unproven methods at them, would the public accept that as acceptable? No.
We have to fix problems. Those students reading at the third grade level have to be fixed, by me, before they take the state exam.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Us vs. Them

Your team vs. my team. Parents vs. kids. Youth vs. adults. Rich vs. Poor. Black vs. white. Native vs. immigrant.
In the long and shadowy past of civilization, relationships have often separated into an us vs. them paradigm. We naturally, I think, notice our differences far quicker than we notice our similarities. Public education breeds such thinking. Our students are shifted to Honors classes and Fundamentals classes. We have kindergarten through twelfth grade. There are athletes and thespians. And none of this is to say that distinguishers are completely wrong. But the topic caught my attention this afternoon on the drive home as my wife relayed her field trip story. I will put it into my own words.

Pobrecito Elementary School has partnered with Well-heeled Elementary School for the purpose of learning through reading and writing together--a pen-pal program with a real purpose.
Pobrecito students boarded the school bus and bounced their way over to Well-heeled Elementary for a day of personal interaction. For the most part the day went well. Unfortunately, two of Pobrecito's students made some bad choices. One boy poked fun of a Well-heeled student, calling his gait something along the lines of effeminte--adding a four letter word for emphasis. The second boy decided he wanted to play a game that is often played on Pobrecito's playground: Hit Your Friend in the Nads. It's a simple game, played with friends. One simply tries to hit his friend in the groin. They play it in the middle school these boys will be going to, as well as the high school they will one day attend.
The Pobrecito teacher discovered the behavior, addressed the two young boys. They apologized; they lost privileges back at Pobrecito Elementary, and the teacher and boys moved on. The cooperating teacher at Well-heeled was made aware of the consequences and she moved on as well.
A week later, the principal of Well-heeled Elementary School phoned the principal of Pobrecito to "inform" him of the incident.

Now I wonder why Well-heeled's principal felt the need to inform Pobrecito's principal of the matter. My guess? The parents were so disturbed by Pobrecito students' behavior (them), that they demanded a meeting with the principal to lodge their complaints. Feeling the pressure, he made the phone call.
Then I wonder what is gained from such an experience. Do Pobrecito students come away in awe of how well-heeled their counterparts are, and in seeing what it "should" be like, change their ways? Do Well-heeled students walk away from the experience, in addition to a sore groin, somehow sensitive to "them" and their culture? Do Well-heeled's parents gain valuable insight into the struggles of the millions of families living in other areas like Pobrecito Elementary?
Other than the us vs. them separation, I'm not sure what is gained.

On the other hand, I become extremely defensive. Listen, I have issues with the way many of my district's students behave. I abhor their lack of interest in learning or putting forth the effort I think will make them successful. I hate that our students get away with wandering our halls and defying teachers. It pisses me off that we alone, the teachers, must carry the public's ire when the students fail.
But snobby principals of snobbier parents who are unable to recognize that much of their success is only attributable to being born to the parents they were born to, and to being born in this country at that time, inflame my deepest scorn.
Okay, I'm doing a lot of story creation here. I don't know the whole story, only one perspective (that I happen to trust). But I do know that the principal of Well-heeled never stopped by to visit his class of students who were hosting this exchange of human interaction. I'm calling that snobby.

Monday, February 02, 2009

What Word?

"The word is stripe. Stripe is spelled, S-T-R-I-P-E. Spell stripe," I command followed by the signal--an egg shaped maraca.

"S-T-R-I-P-E," the class recalls.

"What word?" I ask, again signalling for their response.

"Stripe," they reply.

Over and over again, I read various instructions for my students. Upon my signal, they mostly reply, and mostly in unison. We're still in the formative sessions of the McGraw-Hill Corrective Reading program.
In the first three days, I have found relative success implementing the program for the students who are reasonably well adjusted to life in general and school specifically. They follow the repetitious and juvenile chorus because of the sale's pitch.

On the day before we began the program, I gave them these thoughts:

"The State of Connecticut has said that all of its students must be reading at grade level. As part of that mandate, they told our school district that we need to do a better job of teaching you reading skills. That isn't to say what all of your previous teachers had done was wrong, only that it wasn't scientifically researched. The state wants scientifically researched programs.
So, our Central Office, not me, not your teachers, but people you don't know, chose this program because it was both cost effective and researched to have some success.
The Central Office told the principals that we would be doing this program, so I have no ability to change you out of this class or change the curriculum.
I will tell you this: it will make you feel like you are in the third grade or below; but if you tested into this class, that means your reading level is between the second and fifth grade level. So, we have to go back and teach you properly the skills necessary to read at the ninth grade level.
This program can only succeed at improving your skills if you decide it is important and thus work hard to do your best.
I will allow you to complain today and tomorrow, but on Monday it will not be acceptable. Any questions?"
They had plenty. They complained. And so far, most have bought in. I caught two students who complained vehemently skipping today; one resentful young man slouched and mumbled his way through today's lesson. But the others at least tried to make the best of it.