Monday, June 29, 2009

Wanting It

When I taught north of Seattle, I often complained about my Senior's who wanted to go to college but lacked the skill sets to be successful. Since I began teaching at my current location, I've often complained about the general lack of desire to put forth the effort to attend college. Today, on the first day of the Steppingstones Academy summer program, I was lucky to finally see students who have both the ability and the desire to make it to college.
Yet, I couldn't help but wonder at what point these soon to be ninth graders will come face to face with the reality of their circumstances. They are inner-city students who face daily affronts to their goals. I also wondered what is different in these students than the other inner-city students who so easily fall into the existing traps.
These students amazed me with their capacity to focus, their capacity to discern. Marzano's Effective Teaching Strategies include "similarities and differences," and so I'm curious. My district's students come from similar backgrounds, but their motivation and success levels are very different. Why?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Whaddya Wanna Bet?

I once dared to attach odd to a previous "Whaddya Wanna Bet?" only to have someone take me up on the bet. I haven't paid out yet because no data wall has been presented to support her claim. Once the data exists, she can then be paid in full! Congratulations to all the teachers who survived yet another school year with someone else's well adjusted kids. And now, the summer kick-off edition.
Whaddya wanna bet...

That after a year of reading a script for Corrective Reading classes, I have forgotten how to actually write my own lesson plans?
That any great education reform effort, from career academies to grade-level teams, will only find success if the right people are board?
That the media and political powers are quick to recognize inequality between the suburbs and the city, but often miss the inequality between the rural schools and everyone else?
That speaking of inequality, the greatest inequality we face in public education is not money but expectations?
That I am going to miss Dennis at From the Trenches?
That with a second child on the way, I wonder if it isn't time for the Daily Grind to come to a halt?
That Coach Brown's recommendations from students are both laughable and insightful; and we shouldn't be afraid to ask the question?
That I still tell the story of my first year of teaching when a group of girls said I played favorites with boys because they liked baseball and that particular group of boys said I played favorites with the girls because I let them talk about whatever they wanted?
That I am very proud of those students from my first year of teaching who have just graduated from college?
That I am just as proud of those students from that year who will graduate from college soon?
That I'd rather hang on like Brett Favre instead of retire from blogging?
That I feel old?
That for some districts it isn't just a bad apple, it's a bad crop?
That I need a good book to read this summer?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Last night I attended the matriculation ceremony for the incoming class at Steppingstones Academy in Hartford. I am excited for the chance to be a part of this phenomenal organization. As these young men and women took their oath with their families, current participants, and previous graduates looking on, I felt a sense of intimidation.
I've taught 12th graders the skills to succeed at the collegiate level, but now I must teach those same skills to middle school students seeking placement in the more prestigious private high schools. I am one of the links between where they are now and where they want to go. For many, this is the opportunity they've waited their short lifetime to grasp.
It is both exciting and inimitidating.

Monday, June 15, 2009


In my year end evaluation, my evaluator noted my high number of student referrals and high number of student removals. His observation is accurate, but I had to qualify those numbers. In contrast to my previous five years of teaching, this year's numbers were an outlier. Until this year, I could always count the combination of student referrals and student removals on just over one hand. But this year's implementation of Corrective Reading brought my numbers up. I had students refusing to cooperate and trying to derail the class nearly every period of every day for the first month.
Very few of my referrals or removals ended up with students receiving much discipline--a morning detention and the occasional in-school-suspension. However, I find the Washington Post's recent account of Jeffery Parker's handling of discipline in Prince George's (D.C.) Gholson Middle School fascinating.
For those on the outside who don't walk the hallways of many troubled schools, student discipline can be addressed through conversations and phone calls home. But for those on the inside, the problems are much more complex.
Being cussed out is a regular happening in our halls, especially by students wandering the halls who will then refuse to give their name. Our only recourse is to sit at one of the few archaic computers which house the student photos--except those photos often have the wrong names under the student faces. I just don't have that type of time.
In-school-suspension isn't much of a deterrent anyway. There the students listen to their iPods, play their PSP's, and even there, continue to escape to wander the hallways.
Some would say that it's the teacher's fault. That if our content were relevant and our analogies culturally responsive then these discipline problems fade away. I can't believe that. What is needed is a system wide overhaul. But I don't know how to do that.
Let's assume we overhauled the system, that our teachers were relevant and responsive but the students still didn't care? What do we do with a student who refuses to comply? What do we do with a student who continues to disrespect?
Ultimately, I want to see a school like the one I'm at successfuly educate students so that discipline really isn't a major issue--because we all know discipline will always be an issue; I just want it to be a lesser one.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Black Like Me

This summer, as part of the summer school curriculum, I will teach the non-fiction work, Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin. The book will be used in conjunction with the history of the Civil Rights Movement and paired with the fictional work of Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country.
I have taught Cry, but never Black Like Me. I've had some difficutly finding quality resources online, and wonder if any of The Daily Grind's readers have suggestions.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Are they Correct?

It's the end of the semester and my Corrective Reading students are as ready as I am to quit the "What word? Next word" mantra. In preparation for next year, I've bee readministering the placement test. By the end of the first few lessons in the B2 and C level courses, it became clear that some of my students should not have been placed in the class. We're trying to correct some mistakes.
So far I've only given the placement test to my B2 students. They are five lessons shy of completing the 65 lessons in that level, and only have one more Mastery test. Most of the students have passed all of the previous five Mastery tests, or perhaps have failed one of them. I figured that my students, especially with the encouragement from the Mastery test success and a pre-test reminder of the test's signifacance to their placement for the fall, would clearly show their improvement.
Not so fast. Here are their results:
1--Tested out of Corrective Reading.
4--Tested into the next level (C).
7--Tested back into level B2 as if they'd never even passed the Mastery Tests.

So I'm confused. How can a student pass the Mastery Tests, and most quite easily, and not then test into the next level? It has been difficult enough to keep these students interested in this monotonous class, but I can't imagine their level of frustration at these results.
I feel like I've implented the program to the best I'd been taught--the PD that goes with the program is two days; I received two hours by the sales person.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Time for Action

I find it interesting that I detest terms like "culturally responsive" but want desperately to find ways to bring the Latino population (which is the majority) into positions of influence and leadership. We need to create an inviting atmosphere in which our Latino students feel a part of our school culture.
Yet I can't help but wonder what that really looks like. In an English classroom, I can incorporate Latino authors and Latino protagonists, but I am not well-versed in the texts which are considered great. I am dedicated to a college prep curriculum, which inevitably means a Euro-centric focus at some point. How do we balance skill development and content knowledge?
How do I help get my Latino students past the belief that student council is not a "white" activity? And specifically, how do I empower the women to step out and take such roles when so many defer to the men?
I'm ready for action, but I'm tired of the cliches. I'm tired of being told to be "culturally responsive" and that our school is "not a friendly" environment for our Latino students. I know there are plenty of us ready to move beyond our current status as a failing school, but we need our students to partner with us. We've been told that it would help if more of our faculty looked like them, but while I tan well, I don't tan that well.
I'm ready. It's time.