Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Time for a break?

Day one finished two hours ago. The day ended with me breaking up a fight.

Earlier in the day, I was talking with an administrator about my long-term goals. Someday I'd like to enter the adminstrative career path, and so I wask asking questions.

He asked if I had decided how I wanted to affect change. From the inside, or the out? And then he brought up this blog. He's never read it, but colleagues have and of course, not everyone has liked what I write about, or how I write about it.
He suggested that I might consider this question when I sit down to write in this forum.

Instead, it made me wonder whether or not now is the time to take a break from blogging altogether. I've tried to balance this blog with the reality of the daily grind and my thoughts on education as a whole without being specific to my building.

This is of course serious business. I love writing here. People keep reading it. But in the end, why am I writing?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I can't remember feeling this stressed out at the start of the school year. After teaching summer school outside of district, and after two solid weeks of heat and humidity, I don't feel prepared for tomorrow. Of course, after creating a new elective--Sports Literature--only to be told that the scheduled period conflicts with my team's common planning period and so I won't be teaching the class, my level of stress shot through the roof. I had wanted to create this class for two years, and now after its creation it's being taken from me, I can't help but feel a little disheartened.
Oh well, it is what it is.
I hope that this school year builds on what we accomplished last year. Our first school-wide food drive provided seven families with nearly 500 food items and the local food bank with nearly 2,000 food items. Our two Staff vs. Senior events, basketball and softball, brought the school community together in a way we've long needed. But there is more to accomplish, and I have to remember that it isn't about me, to quote Rev. Rick Warren. There is the greater good of the school to keep in mind. It would be irresponsible of me to dwell on the perceived slight and lose focus on improving the school. But I won't lie, it's difficult.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Back to School Fun

Today marks the start of year three in this particular district. And as was the case last year, we are beginning with two days of welcome back talking and professional development. I'm looking at the schedule for today and can't help but notice that there is no time built in today's schedule for personal implementation time. Meaning, there is no time for working in the classroom.
Okay, I get it to an extent. When your district fails to get enough students passing the state exam it means we need to to become better teachers. And the only way to make us better teachers is to re-teach us things we should already know, like using Scientific Research-Based Interventions (SRBI).
What SRBI basically says is, stop doing things that don't work with your students. But for me, and now I am going to become one of the people on my Annoying Staff Member list, this is third course load I have had since coming here. Meaning, I am teaching courses I have not taught at this school.
I taught one year of 9th graders in Washington, but the state focus was different. This year, I have all 9th grade classes except one (Sports Literature, which I also haven't taught). Most of my summer was spent teaching summer school, so I feel largely unprepared going into this year. What I could use is time. Time to explore the curriculum. Time to prepare a unit or two.
It isn't that I don't see value in recognizing the teachers who have been here for 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, and 50 years (yes, they exist), but I think my time could be better used doing what I get paid to do.
Plus, I'm not sure how many text messages I have remaining on my plan and tedious meetings bring out my text-happy fingers.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Well and the Mine: A New Favorite

Since my time at Northwest University studying literature under the guidance of two tremendous southern belle professors, I have found an affinity for southern literature. Most specifically, Flannery O'Connor, has had a profound influence on my vision of humanity. This weekend, I found another such voice in author Gin Phillips.
Many weeks ago, as summer began, I picked off the shelf The Well and the Mine (a novel set in Alabama) because it was labeled with the "Discover Great New Writers Award Winner" gold sticker. The first sentence reads, "After she threw the baby in, nobody believed me for the longest time." Those words alone caused me to tuck it under my arm as I wandered the store for more books to fill my already full shelves.
Ms. Phillips weaves this story of childhood and adulthood with the perspectives of each of the Moore family members. They endure tragedy, challenge depression-era racism, and discover something about who they really are when it matters most.
The final sentence took me by surprise. Tess, who also speaks the first sentence, concludes, "That the right answer could be more than one thing at the same time." I turned the page wanting more from her, but she had given me all she could.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mr. McNamar's Ten Commandments of Reading

I've recently begun reading the second edition of Robert E. Probst's Response & Analysis: Teaching Literature in Secondary Schools, and it has inspired me to evaluate the way I teach reading in the academic environment. Probst writes, "In other words, we must treat initial response as a draft, as something to build upon, modify, or perhaps reject" (59). So here is my initial response to the first 60 pages: Ten Commandments of Reading. I might build upon this list, modify it, or even reject it, but I'm going to offer it for discussion.

I. Thou shalt read actively.

II. Thou shalt make meaning of the text.

III. Thou shalt not confuse summary with interpretation.

IV. Thou shalt not be afraid to ask questions.

V. Thou shalt not believe everything the teacher suggests.

VI. Thou shalt allow the text to challenge your beliefs.

VII. Thou shalt think while you read.

VIII. Thou shalt make connections to your own life or world.

IX. Thou shalt not fear a difficult and complex text.

X. Thou shalt discuss the text.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Repost: The Ten Most Annoying Members on Staff

Three years ago I posted "The Ten Most Annoying Members on Staff." As we approach professional development days and staff meetings, here is a reminder.

10. The Clarifying Questioner:You've all heard it. The principal has just finished a ten minute power point detailing the new attendance policy when this guy raises his hand to clarify a point that was made five times during the presentation. You want to slap him upside the head and tell him to pay attention--or just call him a freshman.
9. The Stuck in the Past: When Principal Jones was here, things were a lot better. Seriously, dude, I was five when Principal Jones was here; of course things were different. Better? Only because you are so old your short term memory has failed. You keep getting little glimpses into your past like flashbacks in movie. The dreamy nostalgia has got you high on 1982.
8. The 1-Minute until we Leave Questioner: There is nothing more thrilling than when the clock reads 2:59 at a staff meeting that ends at 3:00. Seriously, if you enjoy staff meetings, get yourself checked. You can't be normal. We've just spent 7 hours trying to convince kids to listen to us, had a student tell us where to put the homework assignment, and nearly headed home until the "Staff, don't forget the meeting at 2:15" announcement blares us back to hell. Then, that one lady in the corner, as if she's been planning this moment all day because she needs to feel important today, raises her hand with a question about some policy. The ensuing answer needs five minutes to explain. Meanwhile, you've started tapping your foot at an unhealthy pace and everyone in the room can feel the frigid stare you are giving. Let it go, lady; let it go.
7. The Collaborator: The Collaborator has many ideas--none of which she can do on her own. No. She needs your help. She's knocking on your door during her prep period, or e-mailing the staff about a new idea. Where does she come up with all of these ideas? She goes to a lot of conferences, and she lets you know about every one. I learned this. I learned that. We need to do this. We need to do that. How come no one wants to be on board? Oh, I don't know; maybe it is because you change ideas quicker than a my 9th graders change i-pod skins.
6. The Not Fitting In: Oooh. This one hurts. Nobody likes that awkward feeling one gets when a person tries just a little too hard to fit in. One part of you wants to laugh and point like when you were in high school, the other half wants to feel bad, but can't. I mean, he's 35 years old and still trying to fit in. There are two types of Not Fitting Inners. The first is just socially awkward with his peers. He joins conversations that he wasn't a part of, and knows nothing about--nodding his head in agreement or disgust whenever it seems appropriate. He's like Steve Urkel--somethings not right, but you just can't cut him off. The second type is the teacher who needs to feel cool with her students. She tries to dress like them, or do her hair like them. Neither work. You are just waiting for the day that some kid mistakes her for an actual student and trips her in the hall, books sprawling, people pointing.
5. The Shusher: The title says it all. He wants to listen to another pointless movie clip about succeeding schools--even if it was made in 1993. You want to make fun of the actors, or real teachers who are just so awkward because they know their going to be in the movie. He keeps "shushing" you like that kid in junior high that nobody liked. You want to start throwing little pieces of paper at him just to see if he cries. There is no place in the world for the shusher except for when Dr. Evil shushes Scotty in Austin Powers. Shhh. I' m sorry, no arguing. Shhhh. I don't want to hear it. Shh.
4. The Union Thug: As soon as the clock hits 2:30, he's gone. You won't seem him until 7:00 a.m. If the principal has a new idea that might solve some problems, it has to be a violation of the contract. Nothing this person does is an action of his own. He is a follower at all cost. He is the reason why the outside world rags on teachers anytime we complain about pay. The building rep is on his speed dial, and there is no convincing him to budge an millimeter--it is the difference between being respected and taken advantage of.
3. The Complainer: "My fourth period class is the worst," she says. You begin to respond with empathy because your sixth period class is hell, but she interrupts, "I don't know. MY class...." And on it goes. All year, every time you get together. Hey, we all complain. But there is a right way and wrong way to do it. When you complain, you must understand that the person to whom you are complaining to, has a story too. You have to be funny when you complain, otherwise it is the same whining that our students do--and we make fun of in the faculty lounge. You are limited in time. You are not allowed to complain for more than 10 minutes a week. You may choose to complain once a week for 10 minutes--remember to be funny--or you may choose to go with some shorter session (venting). If you can't be funny and concise, shut the hell up.
2a. The E-Mail Respond Aller: Because these next two are just so damn annoying, I have to call them equal. When the school secretary e-mails with an all staff bulletin about the fire alarms being tested and there may be an inadvertant bell, please, for the sake of Bill Gates and all the other techno-nerds, don't reply "The last one interrupted my lab and now my day is shot," to the entire staff by simply hitting the "reply" button. You see, it goes out to everyone unless you hit "reply sender." The truth is, we don't care. WE all had our class interrupted, not just you. This is the epitomy of selfish narcissism--to think that your experience is so unique that you must share it with all.
2b. The Self-Pertaining Questioner: The Vice Principal finishes addressing a new reporting system for grades. A hand in the front goes up. You cringe because you know what's coming: A Clarifying Questioner, A 1-Minute Till We Go Questioner, or the Self-Pertaining Questioner. The latter asks a question that is specific to his classroom, oblivious to the notion that no one else in the building would have the same question. As if this person hasn't heard themself talk enough that day, here's one more opportunity for them to show the VP that they are important. Look at me, daddy, look. I'm right here. No, daddy, right here. Come on, notice me. Please. Just e-mail your question later--no, on better thought, don't--you're probably also guilty of 2A.
1. The District Minion: So in love with the Central Office that she quotes it like the Rev. Billy Graham preaching from John 3:16 at the Astrodome. Like the Union Thug, she never thinks for herself, never questions for the purpose of improving. No, she just follows along with every educational fad presented at some meeting. She speaks a foreign language with words like: research based, formative, constructivist, scaffolding, and a bunch of other words. Meanwhile, while she's off at any and every district offered training, you are actually teaching. And if you should question the latest fad, you can be sure she's talking. Yep. She's like the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz, waiting to scoop you up and drop you off at the Wicked Witch's office. (I better be politically correct and include the Wicked Warlock's office--otherwise I might get in trouble!)

1a. The Retirement Countdowner: Since leaving my previous school, I have encountered far too many people who know the date of their retirement. They've lost interest in teaching as a profession and are more concerned about when they can start collecting their 70%--which they complain about as being too little. Listen, just flipping retire. We'll miss you; we'll throw you a little party. But for the sake of the students, just move on.
Do YOU know these people? Did I miss anyone? Misplace any of the above. Let me know!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Finding the right fit

Some people believe that great teachers come in a one-size-fits-all package. Not me. There are teachers who would be great, just not at the school I teach at. And there are teachers who would be great only at a school like the one I teach at.
As we continue to search for the right teacher to join our team, I am struck by the nuances present in each interview. This is the first time I've been on the questioning side of the table, so I have learned much about the process and how to look and listen more carefully.
Ultimately, for a school in need of improvement finding the right fit is essential. The candidate must possess content knowlege, high standards, a compassionate heart, a style that invites, familiarity with high stakes test-taking, a deep desire to become a part of the school community, and so much more.
In the end, it is difficult to balance. Which is more important, content or energy? High standards or compassion? Friendly or demanding?

Monday, August 03, 2009


Irony: Mr. McNamar giving the Steppingstone Faculty Talk this morning on the topic of "Fear Not: Change." I like routine. For instance, this morning I woke up 20 minutes before the alarm clock went off, showered, dressed, made my lunch, left the house at 6:30, stopped at Starbucks and ordered a Grande, non-fat, extra-hot latte and a cinammon scone. That has been my summer routine. Should an unexpected event disrupt that routine, I will suffer a great deal of mental anxiety and stress.
My Rising 9th graders will experience great change in a month's time. They will all enter high school, which is certainly much different from middle school. For some of those scholars, the experience will change dramatically as they will be leaving Hartford Public Schools to attend some of Connecticut's top independent prep schools where they will be reminded at every moment that they aren't in Hartford anymore. But even for those students remaining in HPS, I suppose their 14 months with our program should have created such a drastic change in their approach to school that they should stand out academically from their peers.
I intend to use a dollar bill as an analogy. You see, a dollar bill has value, but it isn't always useful in that form. Consequently, there are times when one must change a dollar bill for coins. The value remains the same, but the outward appearance changes. For our scholars, I want them to understand that change doesn't mean losing their identity or their value, it can simply meen adapting their new surroundings in a useful way.