Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Apparently, our students can't________. Go ahead, fill in the blank. Our kids are poor, they can't meet standard on the CAPT. Our kids are poor, they can't do the same work as the middle class district. Our kids are poor, they can't donate one fifty-cent can of green beans to our food drive.

The pervasive attitude in my building that "our kids can't" has got to stop. If our kids can't, at least according to the teachers who teach them, then they will fulfill our prophecy. So let's just forget about it. Why am I bothering, or why is anyone bothering to teach these kids? They are poor. They don't speak English very well. They are doomed to a life of failure and poverty. I guess it is time for me to buy into the unofficial district policy of showing up to work, collecting my check, and hanging around until retirement.

Connecticut Food Drive

This Saturday, Windham High School in Willimantic, CT will host their second annual Fill-the-Bus Food Drive as the kick-off for their two week, school-wide food drive. Last year's event helped the high school collect 6,000 non-perishable items which were then donate in part to 17 local families as well as the local food bank. This year, the goal is to collect 10,000 non-perishables and donate to 25 families.

Location: 355 High St. Willimantic, CT
Date: December 4th (Saturday)
Time: 10am-4pm

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Money ain't a thing.

Rick Green, blogger for the Hartford Courant, has two posts about the highest performing schools across all state goals. The first is a focused on the highest achieving high schools. After hearing from disgruntled readers pointing out that his first list was simply a look at the wealthiest schools, he posted the fifteen highest performing school districts with low-income students across all state goals. I thought I'd provide a little but more information:

Rick Green, blogger for the Hartford Courant, has two posts about the highest performing schools across all state goals. The first is a focused on the highest achieving high schools. After hearing from disgruntled readers pointing out that his first list was simply a look at the wealthiest schools, he posted the fifteen highest performing school districts with low-income students across all state goals. I thought I'd provide a little but more information. Here are the high achivers and poverty rate:

Here are the highest performing districts for their low-income students as well as the poverty rate for those towns:

What I notice about the two graphs is that, other than the Elm City College Preparatory District (a charter school), the poverty rates of the towns are relatively similar. This similarity might suggest that the low-income students attending classes with middle-class students has a positive effect on their education because their numbers are so few.

I decided to test this theory by looking up the lowest performing high schools and the town poverty rates. Five of the schools are located in Hartford and two are located in Bridgeport. They are a mix of magnet, charter, and regular public schools. Collaborative Alternative Magnet is located in New Haven County, but the "town" doesn't exist in the data I'm looking at:

All of the lowest performing schools, with the exception of Stamford Academy and Briggs High School, reside in concentrated areas of poverty. What does exactly does this data really mean? I'm not sure. But I do find the data interesting. The low performing school I work at, which falls into the bottom 15% of Connecticut schools carries the weight of a town poverty rate of nearly 16%.

From all the data, one school district intrigues me the most--Elm City College Preparatory. This charter school is part of the Achievement First network. That their two schools are finding success with low-income students means they are doing something right. Critics would scream "creaming," but that rant is getting tired.

The other intersting debate which grows out of the data is funding. Some attribute the success of the first list to income only. Some attribute the failure of the latter list to a lack of income only. But, in 2007-2008, Bridgeport Public Schools spent $11,132 per-pupil. Avon Public Schools, one of the top ten, spent $10,161. My school district spends just over $12,000.

In the end, I'm not smart enough to synthesize a great deal from all of these numbers. But there is one conclusion I have come to: there is no one size fits all solution. And ultimately, we should be willing to examine multiple methods and not simply disregard them because they don't fit our political or social viewpoints.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pulling teeth

Let's be honest:
had students who graduated from high school, say, in 1995 not done their homework, it wouldn't have been the teacher's fault for not making A Separate Peace more exciting and culturally relevent. It would have been the students' fault.

had students who graduated from high school, say, in 1995 not given a thorough answer to a question, it wouldn't have been the teacher's fault for not differentiating for them. It would have been the students' fault.

had students who graduated from high school, say, in 1995 cussed out a teacher and ignored her directions, it wouldn't have been the teacher's fault for not de-escalating the situation. It would have been the students' fault.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Does anyone know where to work if you want to be treated as an adult professional? There isn't much which is more condescending than when a principal models good teaching practices by pretending as if the teachers are the students--voice and demeanor included.
And what about the issue of...alcohol. Should schools disallow teachers from giving each other a bottle of wine as a gift, or including wine in a raffle for faculty members?
Or, how about the issue of communication? Do we really have to act like we are in high school simply because we teach in high school? Can't we be direct with each other and still get along?
Or, how about the issue of trust? Do we really need to fill up every minute of every "professional development" day with silly activities? Can't we be trusted to use an hour of our time to plan our lessons or grade our essays?
Or, what about the issue of respect? Do I really need to ask permission to leave campus to go get lunch or pick up supplies which the school can't afford to supply? Can't we simply sign out and let the main secretary know we are leaving?

Professionals? Not us.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


My sophomores are reading A Separate Peace these days, and I'd like to use the passage which appears below to teach diction and imagery as they relate to tone. However, I'm struggling with using the precise word to describe the tone. What do you think?

Phineas had gotten up unnoticed from his chair. "I don't care," he interrupted in an even voice, so full of richness that it overrode all the others. "I don't care."
I tore myself from the bench toward him. "Phineas--!"
He shook his head sharply, closing his eyes, and then he turned to regard me with a handsome mask of a face. "I just don't care. Never mind," and he started across the marble floor toward the doors.
"Wait a minute!" cried Brinker. "We haven't heard everything yet. We haven't got all the facts!"
The words shocked Phineas into awareness. He whirled as though being attacked from behind. "You get the rest of the facts, Brinker!" he cried. "You get all your facts!" I had never seen Finny crying, "You collect every f---ing fact there is in the world!" He plunged out the doors.
The excellent exterior acoustics recorded his rushing steps and the quick rapping of his cane along the corridor and on the first steps of the marble stairway. Then these separate sounds collided into the general tumult of his body falling clumsily down the white marble stairs (176-177).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I think I have officially overextended myself. Besides teaching a section of Sports Literature, a section of English 10 Fundamentals, 2 sections of English 10 College Prep, and 1 section of English 10 Honors, I have added the following to my schedule:

1. Organizing the Staff vs. Seniors Volleyball Game (Dec. 3)
2. Organizing the Faculty Scholarship Raffle (Nov. 23)
3. Advising the Sophomore Class and their t-shirt sale
4. Organizing the 3rd Annual Food Drive (Dec. 4-21)...which might be the death of me considering our local grocery stores have all bailed on allowing our students to collect food at their locations.

But lest this become a pity party, let me express the importance of all four events.
The Staff vs. Seniors Volleyball game is the first of three such events (basketball and softball come later). Our students, as with any students, enjoy the opportunity to watch us interact with them in a non-academic environment. For a brief time, they will see us working together, laughing together, and ultimately giving of ourselves to them, for their benefit.
The Faculty Scholarship Fund is yet another opportunity for the staff to join together to benefit our students in a quasi-academic manner. I will always remember the way my previous school's faculty enjoyed this event. There is an importance to connecting with each other outside of the Data Teams and other crap we endure.
The Sophomore Class t-shirt sale will allow our students to show their unity. A few weeks ago the faculty wore their recently purchased Staff t-shirts on the same day. Our students couldn't stop asking "Why are you all dressed the same?" We were able to demonstrate to them the importance of community. Schools need community builders. Simple t-shirts can start that process.
Now, the food drive is the most important of all these events. I started this school wide event in my second year at this school and did so because of the awe inspiring experience of participating in Cascade High School's food drive. That school had the most generous, compassionate student body and faculty. I knew my new school needed that. In two years, we have collected 11,000 food items and donated to to 25 local families. But as with last year, we are facing a broader community that doesn't share our values. Grocery stores like Price Rite, Stop and Shop, and Wal-Mart are hiding behind corporate policies and hindering our ability to collect food at their locations. It baffles me that others don't see the value of teaching high school students the importance of giving. We will see what comes of this food drive. I am praying that something will work out and that the progress we have made will not get halted by nearsighted corporations.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

What Would Belichick Do?

Here in New England, Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots is considered a genius. Around the country, and especially to the hated New York Jets, he is a cheater. So, a recent story about a Connecticut high school coach who used a "found" wristband containg the opposing team's plays, has me wondering, "What would Belichick Do?"
Actually, I'm wondering about whether or not what the coach did by using that wristband was ethical or not. I mean, 'finders keepers, losers weepers.' I'm going to take the side of the "offending" coach. I mean, if General Petraus had found Osama Bin Laden's "playbook," I hope he would consult it!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Every day when I drop my daughter off for school, I say to her, "Tate, be kind, compassionate, and polite." These three ideas are what we expect from our daughter. And then....
Today, some nameless folks from the state came to visit our school. I knew they would be visiting my classroom, and have no problem letting people come watch what I do. The visitor was supposed to come in during the last period of the day, but came a period early. Not a problem.
She walked right in. She didn't wait at the door; she didn't introduce herself. She sat herself down right at my desk.
I was annoyed. I believe it is polite that when an unknown visitor, whether from central office or from THE STATE comes for a visit, arrives at a classroom, it is polite to wait for an invitation and to ask where the best place for them to sit might be.
When the lady left, my students immediately broke concentration to ask "Who was that? Why was she here?" and add commentary like, "I don't like her. She just walked in." It made me smile. They know what politeness looks like!

Sinking Ships

Please allow me a moment:
"One teacher can't change this," she said, adding, "Maybe you should just give in a little." This senior girl sat across from me, her SAT prep book opened on the cafeteria table scribbled with something about someone. Maybe I shouldn't have let her hear my annoyance with the group of students crushing pretzels and making fake cocaine lines on the table behind us. It isnt' the first time I've worn my emotions on my sleeve--it's a weakness of mine.
"If it bothers you so much, why do you keep teaching here," she asked. And its a complicated question to answer. Do these underperforming students in a largely forgotten district deserve caring and dedicated teachers? Yes. Can I be that for them? I am beginning to wonder.
I can't imagine that her attitude towards the school, her own annoyance with student behavior is clear, is limited to just a few. But is the writing on the wall? Can one teacher, two teachers, three...make a difference? With all that has been written lately about effective teachers and their ability to create change in a student's life, is it just smoke and mirrors?
Can a dysfunctional public urban school change? Will a state takeover make the difference? Fat chance. Will a lovey dovey cajole them along approach get them to behave more appropriately? So far, not really. Do high standards matter? Not if the students don't want them.

"Well, I guess you have three choices. You can leave; you can stay and be frustrated; or you can stay and give in." I wonder if those are the only options.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A House Divided?

With today's election bringing the possibility of a divide between the legislative and executive branch, I am wondering what might come of it all.
We the people might recieve a bit of protection from a one-party domination, much like the way mid-term elections went for President Clinton. In terms of education, the potential winners, should President Obama and the Republicans choose to get along on at least one thing, are charter schools. Repbulicans were the initial supporters of demphasizing union power and offering choice to students. Eventually Democrats have come around on the need for change in our public education system.
If charter schools had stocks, I would be risking some money in them if the Republicans make major gains.