Sunday, November 29, 2009

Five Innovative Education Reforms

Franchise Tag--In the NFL, a team can place a Franchise Tag on a player. This option allows a team to hold the rights to a player who might have otherwise left via free agency. If the team places a franchise tag on a player, he is guaranteed to make either 120% of his current salary or the average of the top 5 salaries, depending on which is greater.

Imagine a school district with a highly talented teacher who wants to leave, or a good teacher in a highly needed field--say math or science--who is also seeking a new school. The district could then "Franchise" the teacher for the following year. This would allow the district a full year to seek out a new, highly qualified teacher as a replacement.

Teacher of the Year--in MLB, the league's MVP is determined by the Major League Baseball Writers Association of America. This means that every voter is swayed by their own bias. Everyone knows this. Everyone hates this. Everyone accepts this.

We need to have one universal way to vote for Teacher of the Year--the class and school officers along with their cabinets. Biased? Yes. Would we all know this? Yes. Would we all hate this? Yes. Could we accept this? Yes. Imagine the lunchroom debates, the mocking of certain votes. We could have the school newspaper interview voters and demand explanation. It's a win-win.

Sponsorships--In Seattle, it used to be the Kingdome. Now, it's Safeco Field. In New York, it used to be Shea Stadium. Now it's Citi Field. In NCAA football, we used to watch the Cotton Bowl. Now we watch the AT&T Cottonbowl. My dad used to watch the Triple Crown in horseracing. Now we all watch the Visa Triple Crown.

Educators regularly decry the lack of funding for supplies, facilities, and salaries. Imagine if we stopped naming schools for their towns or after some famous person. Instead of having attended Ellington High School, I could have attended Big Y High School. Students have to take the CAPT here in Connecticut. Now, they could take the Traveler's CAPT. Hell, my classroom could use some computers for students to produce work on so maybe my room could secure a sponsorship from Starbucks. To make sure we can afford books, we could have Pfizer AP Chemistry or Barnes and Noble AP Literature. The possibilities are endless.

Wine Bars--When I lived outside of Seattle, there was a delightful wine bar--Purple Cafe. With its mellow metropolitan mood, such establishments delight and calm patrons. The welcoming atmosphere is perfect for a date or a buisness meeting.

Staff meetings suck. But imagine staff meetings taking place at a wine bar. Instead of meeting all together (80 plus staff), administrators could meet once a month with departments. We could sit and discuss business with the entrancing smoothness of jazz dancing in our ears and the robust spices of a gently fruity Red Zinfandel. Yep, I'm enjoying staff meetings a whole lot more.

Reality TV--Think about the way in which reality television has influenced society. The Real World helped us to the see what was really going on in the lives of hyper-sexed early twenties adults. Tempatation Island helped us to understand what was going in the lives of hyper-sexed, married, mid-twenty-somethings. Survivor taught us how to manipulate and strategize in the our own worlds. The Biggest Loser helped us feel better about our extra twenty pounds. In the end, it's been a benefit to society.

Now, the world could be introduced to what really goes on in the lives of teachers. They'd see us when we talk about the students and each other. Our insecurities would be exploited. America is ready to see the behind-the-scenes world of public education. Imagine awkwardly watching some young teacher bawling his eyes out after some kid told him to fuck himself. You can hear the snorting, the blubbering, and see the snot dripping, the face contorting. What would be better than watching two strong headed teachers tearing each other apart over whether we should allow students to listen to iPods between classes or take independent studies. Come on, you know you'd watch.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Whaddya Wanna Bet?

Time for the autumn installment of my ripped off idea, Whaddya Wanna Bet...

That I won't feel quite right for at least a week after all the Thanksgiving food I ate?
That I am still quite angry at the community grocery stores whose "Corporate" policies are blocking our ability to expand on last year's sublimely successful food drive?
That it is going to take a monumental effort to make up for the loss of all those days at those locations?
That I think we can do it now that our bus company is donating a bus for a "Fill-the-Bus" event?
That for as much as I want to see tenure disappear, and for as much as I want to see merit pay, I still get nervous about any plan to tie those determinations to closely to test scores?
That ultimately keeping anyone based singularly on their years of service might be the absolute the dumbest idea?
That reading about "Smitty" in Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges, has made me want to quit the classroom to become a guidance counselor?
That the right book, at the right time, can lift our spirits?
That smaller learning communities can have excellent benefits, while overcrowded, chaotic schools have detrimental effects?
That when my grandmother asked what I wanted toddlerTate and babyCalvin to be like as students, the first words that came to mind were: kind, compassionate, and polite?
That I then recalled the parents who helicopter over their student so I added self-advocates?
That lately, I don't see the purpose of grades, especially when one feels the pressure to inflate those grades?
That I hope all of you have a happy and safe holiday season?

Monday, November 23, 2009

How would you answer?

A recent survey question from the State of Connecticut addresses one of the criteria they would like to be a part of the new evaluation process for new teachers.

"Promoting engagement in and shared responsibility for the learning process and providing shared responsibility for the learning process and providing opportunities for students to initiate their own questions and inquiries."

We were asked to rate how important to the overall effect of teachers is this criteria. The breakdown then had us answer based on its importance for teachers in years 1-3 and over 3. Then we were asked how important the criteria is in promoting student learning.

I voted for minimally important. I guess its my recent infatuation with Core Knowledge and the idea that there are certain pieces of knowledge student should just know.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Why can't students advocate for their own needs? One student feels I don't like him, so dad comes in to confront me. Even though his son isn't following my clear instructions, he felt his son deserved a higher grade. Another young lady misses quite a few days of school, takes initiative to get some missed work, but doesn't complete it in the time frame I asked for. She doesn't earn a very good score on a quiz, so dad wants comes in to tell me I should fix the problem.
I am a reasonable teacher. If a student feels like he or she has a reason to complain, he or she should take ownership and come talk to me first. If the problem remains unsolved (meaning my answer is unreasonable), then mom or dad should get involved.
I'm already teaching toddlerTate how to self-advocate. Shouldn't a 14 year old have those skills?

UPDATE: I'm not the only one! See Joanne Jacobs.

Monday, November 16, 2009

You do the math.

Just an observation. On my most recent vocabulary quiz (words listed below), an interesting data point emerged. My high school draws from two locations. One location is largely White, the other largely Hispanic.
I decided to check the statistics--you know, data-driven-decision-making. The students from location A (largely White), scored 20 percentage points higher.
The appropriate question is, why? Why do the students from school A score higher than the students from school B? Is it their whiteness? Truthfully, some of my non-white students have expressed their belief that white students are smarter. How does a teacher combat such beliefs? These are 13, 14, and 15 year olds. I've attempted to spark intrinsic motivation, but that hasn't helped. I've attempted to ignite a period competition (the majority of my school A students are in one class period), but that hasn't had much effect. This week, instead of posting scores based on period, I'm posting based on middle school location.
I'm at a loss for motivational techniques. My competitive nature would have been sparked long ago had my teacher pointed out that I was being outperformed by someone else. Even if I couldn't beat them, I would try.
Oh, I expect that some of you will question why I would teach vocabulary, especially out of context from a novel. I'll allow a student to answer that:

"I wish you had been my English teacher every year. I took the SAT's and did terribly--especially in the vocab section. I recognized like half of the words on your list as words that were on the SAT."--A senior in my advisory class.

Let him struggle...

In Animal Farm, the characters have meaning beyond the text. Orwell meant for Napoleon to represent Stalin and Snowball to represent Trotsky. He also meant for Squealer to represent the propaganda machine of the state controlled media.
I explaine all of this to my students before we began the novel, though I didn't spend a great deal of time with the history. I would prefer them to see some of the many viable connections between the novel and modern US governing. At any rate, one of my brighter students is having trouble with the seeing the propaganda for what it is.
Today, when asked his reaction to Napoleon restarting the Windmill project and taking credit for the idea as his own while rewriting Snowball's history as that of a traitor, the young man felt was convinced that it was Napoleon's idea all along, that Snowball had, in fact, been run off the farm for trying to steal Napoleon's idea.
My impulse was to correct him, to tell him he was wrong. Instead, I asked a few questions, pointed to a few passages, but to no avail. His peers even tried to help him out, and yet, he was able to persuade at least one other fence rider to join his position. It was a fascinating class session.
I gave him the following advice, "Continue reading. Remember that Napoleon's committee bettered the plans according to Napoleon. So, pay attention to what happens with the Windmill." We'll wait an see.

Friday, November 13, 2009

7 Commandments

My freshmen are in the early chapters of Animal Farm, and at the moment all seems well. Today's activity would have made my district very proud, except that I forgot to put my objectives on the board.
After checking their active reading, I informed my students that a rebellion has occurred, and the teachers have been run out. They are now in charge. Their first order of business is to create 7 Commandments which will define how students think and behave at this new school. They had 20-30 minutes (one class needed more time) to create one single list and write it on the board.
The results were both amusing and depressing. My class clowns often took the leadership reins early only to eventually lose power to the more level-headed. In all cases, the primary leaders were boys; and in most cases, the girls ended up providing the final word. Many of my most intelligent students who consistently demonstrate excellence in the academic field contented themselves in the background, barely uttering a sentence or two. Some students yelled at one another, other hurled invectives at ideas they found useless.
Each list had its own unique feel. One class focused on student behavior (the honors class). Another class seemed interested in the type of food they would now be able to eat. Most classes included the allowance of electronic devices, though some were more reasonable than others. In the end, only one class decided that rule number one would be "Bring back the teachers," apparently concerned that without us, chaos would rule.
At the end of the assignment, I provided my observations. Students were amused that I found in them character traits of Mollie or Squealer. Some were shocked when I informed them that they used fear to bring their peers along.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the assignment, and I hope they did as well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Makes me want to quit

Let's go ahead and tread on some thin ice tonight. Via Joanne Jacobs' blog, I've discovered what might make me quit teaching--discipline quotas. More precisely, in Tucson, "Schools that suspend or expel Hispanic and black students at higher rates than white students will now get a visit from a distric 'Equity Team' and will be expected to remedy those disparities by reducing their minority discipline rates."
At the risk of progressives calling me racist, I'd like to ask a few questions:

1. Do Hispanic and black students violate the rules at a higher rate than white students? Meaning, if 10.5 percent (as reported) of all Hispanic students get suspended, does that 10.5 percent break the rules egregiously enough to get suspended?
2. Do the white students violate the same rules and receive the same punishments?
3. Is the disparity a result of more rule breaking by the Hispanic and black students in comparison to the white students?

If 10.5 percent of the Hispanic students break the rules egregiously enough to merit suspension, then they should be suspended. If a white student commits the same violation, he or she should be suspended as well.
If the white students receiving the same punishments for equal violations, then a the disparity is only in numerical value, not in special treatment.
If the Hispanic and black students are violating the rules at a higher rate, then the obvious deduction is that their discipline rates will be higher.

When political correctness blocks our ability to discipline a student, we castrate our ability to control the learning environment. If we put teachers in a position where they must second guess their decision to issue corrective punishment, we will lose our authority as teachers. Why should a student take me seriously in the classroom when my instructions are to write a 5 paragraph essay when in the hallway I won't hold them accountable to the no iPod rule.
And before the progressives get all worked up, let me address a very real problem in schools like Tucson. There are some teachers, security personnel, and administrators who target minority students. Their preconceived ideas and latent prejudices cause them to look the other way when a "good white student in DECA" walks by without their pass. They know the student or have seen the student actively participating in positive behaviors, so they smile and walk on by. But when that same teacher sees a regular hall-walker, who happens to be Hispanic, the teacher will stop and ask for the student's passport book.
What I would really like to see is a commitment by our schools from the earliest years to teach all students how to behave in school. I would like to see our schools look past the socio-economics or race of a student and hold them to all to the same exact standard. And when any student deviates from that standard, he or she is disciplined appropriately. Because for as much as I have seen minority students targeted, I have also seen minority students get away with far more than a non-minority student out of fear of being labeled by an administrator or the student.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Trying to plan

I'm laying out the scheduled readings and lessons for my Animal Farm unit but find it difficult to plan. The November doldrums have swept in and clouded my mind. Part of the problem is that I don't really want to think too hard. For instance, I teach four freshmen English classes in a rotating schedule. Additionally, some weeks we have block scheduling and other weeks we have half-day PD scheduling. This week looks like this:

Monday: Meet with periods 2,3,4,5
Tuesday: Meet with periods 2,3,4,5
Wednesday: No School
Thursday: Meet with periods 3,4,5
Friday: Meet with periods 2,3,4,5

Three of the freshmen classes will meet four times; one will meet three times. The following week has two half-days for conferences--I haven't seen the schedule yet for those days, so I'm not sure which classes will meet. Then, we have the Thanksgiving week: two days of classes and a half-day that always feels like we shouldn't bother coming in.

This should be much easier, but the intermittent crying from baby Cal and the newly arrived sassiness of toddler Tate have scrambled whatever brains I had.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Adults Ruin Everything

Though his suspension was recently overturned, T.J. Peeler's story shows once again how near-sighted we adults can be dealing with youngsters.
The sports fields offer our men and women opportunity to succeed and fail. They ought to be allowed to enjoy that success with a modicum of celebratory actions. What is wrong with a student athlete pointing to the sky or chest-bumping a teammate? Nothing. Unless you are a stodgy, heartless adult.