Classroom Cash Expenditures 2013-14: $400.00

18 August 2013

Internet Holiday

Soooooooo I have been enjoying this really delightful holiday from education news (well, most of the time), SFUSD factoids (haven't read a BoE agenda in months), and so on.  Anyway, said holiday is ending, I think.

17 August 2013

My general method of classroom set-up is to pile everything up in the middle of the room.  This makes it easy to hang fadeless, and I make some trash piles in the corners for discards.  That went double this year since I was moving my things in and removing almost all of the materials in the room (earliest publication date found on said materials: early 1970s).

Anyway, when I went home on Monday evening the trash piles were gone, the furniture was laid out, and even the packing crates were stored away.  That said, before Monday evening the state of the room struck fear into the hearts of all comers.

This is kind of exciting for when your colleagues come by on Friday and are amazed that the room doesn't look like something on Extreme Hoarding (indeed, my mediocre skills at arranging furniture and materials management look incredible when compared to the disaster with which I start).  Of course, families coming by for an early look are probably frightened beyond belief.

(Not to mention that classroom set-up is actually physically dirty work - no matter how clean the classroom is, a good day of set-up leaves the teacher grimy gray and probably bruised from a couple of ill-thought furniture maneuvers.  This calls for ratty jeans, high school concert t-shirts, and hairstyles that do not inspire confidence.)

Oh well, hopefully they will be pleasantly surprised on Monday.

10 August 2013

IN OTHER EXCITING NEWS!

My iPod died spectacularly this summer.  Having recently received my paycheck, I took myself off to replace it and found that the iPod Touch now comes with adequate gigabytes to carry my entire musical library.

Do you know what else it has?  WiFi!  And do you know what that means, especially when combined with my annual summer holiday from ADHD medication?

It means that every cassette I owned in high school can be technologically upgraded and available to me in seconds thanks to the wonder of the iTunes store not to mention eMusic!

This has been enormously successful for unpacking, if also very expensive (and bad for my general disinclination to give Apple money in response to their rotten labor practices abroad and hatred of public school teachers domestically).  I have been shifting boxes and furniture while listening to a wide variety of the best of 90s art rock and alternative music.

And So It Begins. Again.

So I took the summer off from blogging.

Truth be told, I took the summer off from teaching.  Other than two planning days at my new school, a couple of planning days with my last Resident (who's got my old job), a couple of furtive glances at first grade teaching manuals, and several classroom purchases, I spent the summer doing other things.

(Sadly, these were neither pleasant or exciting things, and I really must write a successful Fund for Teachers grant for next summer to ensure a delightful adventure from which I return rested, revived, and in possession of a wide variety of commemorative cocktail swizzle sticks.)

Anyway, I've been back in the thick of it since the last week in July, during which I moved into my new classroom.  Moving in has taken up the bulk of the last couple of weeks; in addition to figuring out how to make my stuff fit, I've been throwing out bales of teaching materials left in my new room.  (For the morally superior record, I left my old room not only in considerably better shape than I inherited it, with all the materials it was supposed to have and only useful things like double copies of picture books and hand soap extra.)  Mostly I enjoy the process.  My room will be in the best possible shape to withstand my lack of organizational skill and I have cleared out a lot of things I don't use/was keeping for sentimental value/are great but broken.  Still, it's crunch time now and I have a mountain of stuff to trash, not to mention eight thousand things on which to write names, a new set of standards to internalize, and all kinds of questions (where's the copier?  Can I throw out the classroom computer with the not-entirely-but-mostly-broken-and-migraine-inducing monitor?  Who on earth keeps six dirty terrariums in a closet?) left to be answered.

(Wow, 'tis the season of the run-on sentence.)

Anyway, I have two full teacher work days next week; the other three are a mix of District and site professional development.  It could be worse: the teachers I know at the Zone schools get exactly one work day.  It could also be better: my colleagues on the west side report that they have three or even four days to dedicate to their classrooms.

This is an example of reverse equity, I think.  The reality of SFUSD is that the teachers at Zone schools are less experienced overall and more likely to be new to their sites (or to teaching entirely).  These are the people who need more time to set up their rooms, but they get less.  Instead, they attend all-day data sessions of arguable utility: K-1 teachers have limited data to analyze (if any), and these data days have been popular for years but don't seem to have done much to improve test scores.  They also attend site professional development.  I speak from experience when I say that this PD is hard to digest when you're thinking about whether you have enough Bordette and if there's any real fadeless paper left and if the school supplies the school ordered will actually be there on the first day of school and if anyone knows how to replace the laminate and is it true BOTH copiers are broken?

Because of the turnover at high-needs schools, I've found there's often a lot of community building at these site development days, and while community is important, the end result is that the teachers at the school are going to begin the year less prepared and more stressed.  Their classrooms will be less ready; they will already be tired out from spending Saturday and Sunday at school.

And the reality of SFUSD is that west side teachers are veterans, likely teaching the same grade level, with little turnover at the site.  The teachers spend paid time getting their rooms ready; the PTA may even be able to organize parents to hang that fadeless paper and make copies (not to mention purchase any supplies not yet on site).  These teachers begin the year more prepared and less stressed, and can spend the Saturday and Sunday before school starts with their families or at the gym or cooking a week's worth of meals - you know, things that will help them keep their stress down over the year to come.

Preparation for the first day matters.  It matters a lot.  In our need to make sure those high-needs teachers are ready for the first day, we're leaving them with less time to be ready.  That doesn't seem right or wise.

22 June 2013

In today's New York Times, there's an entire article on how naughty educators aren't protecting student data.

The article fails to mention inBloom.  That seems like a gaping hole in the coverage.  Unless you take the opinion that educators around the nation are lazily failing to protect their students and corporate America will do a far better job monetizing education.

03 June 2013

Testing Everything, Twice Annually.

This article- from the New York Times series "Teachers are Crazy Lazy" - irritated me.

I mean, there are some interesting cultural shifts represented within it, I think.  For instance, when I was in school, Physical Education and Art were subjects in which every student could obtain a passing grade, but not every student could excel.  Teachers, students, and families alike assumed that some children had talent in these areas and others did not; a talented student could do very well, but a child without these gifts would, even with effort, show at best an average performance.

If we are now testing these subjects with an eye to assessing teachers, apparently we now believe that all children can excel in these areas, and that natural talent is not important (or at least not necessary).  I don't know that this is positive or negative, but I think it is something to talk about.

Everything else about the article led to teeth-grinding.  Someone neglected to tell the Times that these assessments are already being piloted.  Despite hinting at portfolios and research papers, the reality is that these will be computer-based assessments.  Portfolios and research papers would be an expensive endeavor to grade, and administering such tests to literally thousands of students twice annually would be impossible (not to mention, what do you do with kids who just don't submit the essay?  Is that the teacher's fault?  Eugh, I can just imagine the rhetoric of HIGH EXPECTATIONS and whatnot).

I am appalled by the idea of these assessments not because I am afraid to be evaluated.  I am appalled by these assessments because I believe that any computer-based assessment in Kindergarten means more screen time and less interaction.  It means more individual drill and less collaboration.  It means more teacher talk and less child discussion.  It means less inquiry and more direct instruction.  It means (even less) play and hands-on learning and (even more) pen and pencil work.

I do not believe that children learn best from these methods, and I know they don't instill curiosity, creativity, and a love of learning.  But apparently these things are less important than rooting out those lazy, lazy teachers.

Indeed, if we have to destroy education to find and fire those teachers...well, there's always collateral damage.  That damage will be concentrated in schools not frequented by the children of Times reporters, certainly.

02 June 2013

And that's that.

For the first time in years, I checked out on Friday.  Most of my stuff is in storage; what I needed to get through the last few weeks is piled up haphazardly in my home (along with the chickens and the two chicks I kept).

Now, off to sleep for the rest of the weekend.

29 May 2013

Not getting better.

I am not enthusiastic about the CORE waiver.  I recognize the CORE districts believe their stance is revolutionary, but what the waiver adopts seems to be along the lines of our Superintendent's SSC Saturday speech: Our schools and teachers are not broken, but they need to be fixed with professional development.  Our high-needs schools are underresourced, and now that we have admitted that the problem is solved.

None of the changes made for the resubmit make me feel better.  I'm still reading the peer review advice, because I keep bursting into hysterical laughter.  Who are these peer reviewers who note that community organizations, families, and teachers were not actually consulted?  Working only with education reform groups and anti-union firms like Parthenon while claiming interest in talking to families is definitely on the In List for school districts today.

24 May 2013

Tempting Fate

Today I am deciding if I am keeping two or three silkie chicks.  I have been spending  a lot of time perusing this thread at Backyard Chickens, because I don't have the equipment or moral fiber necessary for a two-roo household.

In other news, I let the class vote on whether to write and perform a play called "Don't Let the Pigeon Go to First Grade" or sing a song at promotion.  They voted to sing, but when they realized this wouldn't be the choreographed, postered masterpiece their "Love Train" was they were disappointed.  They'll survive.

18 May 2013

DID YOU KNOW?

I just found out that motion sickness can endure for a few days after the event that caused it.

In my case, the trigger was our last field trip of the year (thereby bitterly ending my two-year streak of not actually throwing up on a field trip).  Despite leaving school for the comforts of toothbrush, clean clothes, and a dark room the moment the kids left for the day,  Friday brought few improvements.

Luckily, the day itself promised relative ease.  My Resident teacher was celebrating her graduation, so it was imperative to take advantage of her absence by having the kids revise and publish their books about her.  (This is a process of several hours, since they have to draw illustrations rather than sketch them, print their work out neatly, and make covers.  I also pull out the best of our decorative materials, because this is Kindergarten and we have the technology giant sequins and sticker gemstones.}

(I did slightly lengthen the process by providing black construction paper, Gel F(x) markers, and my personal collection of gel pens for cover art. "Fine motor development!" I assured myself while swallowing another dose of Dramamine.  "Far more academic than a last-minute sub day!" I added stoutly as a student walked by, face sparkling with the addition of stick-on rhinestones.  But since their books are involved creations with eight or more sentences, dialogue, sound effects, and besides it's the end of the year, I didn't feel like I had doomed them to failure by enabling their artistic impulses.)

It was also the end of the year talent show.  With over twenty acts, we had to make our way to the cafgymetorium early in the afternoon.  As the kids lined up to go, they realized that they were not performing.  They were shocked.  I explained that we had a bigger performance coming up (at promograduation in two weeks) and that we had not prepared anything.  The class was not appeased, but has a lot of good problem-solvers, one of whom suggested that they sing their "Oviparous and Viviparous Animals" song.  I introduced the concept of a program and, with great if manufactured regret noted that we could not be added to the list of performers.

The class loudly and resentfully sang the song all the way to the cafeteria, although once we got there they became excited to see the bigger kids perform.  Alas, we have nine acts to go on Monday, so I may get to have this discussion again.

17 May 2013

And not excepting chickens.

So my spraddle-legged chick lost the splay after two physical therapy sessions and has been renamed Baby Fave (from Baby Splay).  Collectively, the chicks are now too big to be The Chicklets and are The Chicksters.  The chicks are currently nicknamed:

  1. Baby Fave
  2. Gray Wing
  3. Brownie
  4. #1 (the first to hatch), aka Baby Nuthatch
  5. Spot
  6. Super Puff
  7. The Other One
Baby Fave is the universal favorite of teachers and children throughout my site and is therefore mandated by custom and law to be female.  I remind all of the chicks that they are all girls regularly, because everyone knows that totally causes spontaneous gender mutation in chickens.

Since I can keep my chickens school-based next year, I can keep all the chicks at my home if I choose to do so.  However, it would really be better if I didn't, so I have given myself a hard deadline of next Wednesday for making all chick-dispersal decisions.

14 May 2013

may flowers, may baskets, may packing cartons

Sooooooo I'm moving to a different school next year.  It's another high-needs school, but its particular needs are somewhat different than my current school's.  I'm also going to be doing something a little different for the year.

I have mixed emotions about this.  Learning a new school culture is hard and I am not very good at it (ADHD and social cues, bad combo).  On the other hand, I'm mostly cheerful, generally polite and very harmless, so my enormous pratfalls, inadvertent copier destruction, and so on will hopefully not doom me.  I also had some other job opportunities,  including some working in fancy schools and some that would be teacher coaching (since I've done it, I think I have experience sufficient enough to state authoritatively that coaching is seventy million times easier than teaching).  I think I feel more nervous about whether or not I made the RIGHT CHOICE (although technically I could still make a DIFFERENT CHOICE, but that could lead to unparalleled mental confusion and anxiety so I would rather not, I think).  Throughout the process of deciding to leave, which was months of consideration, I became pretty certain that staying at my site would be the WRONG CHOICE that would sooner than later lead to BURNOUT and GOING BACK TO GRAD SCHOOL OR SIMILAR.

I am not presently deeply saddened about leaving my current school site; what I feel right now is relief.  My current class just mowed their way through the end of the year assessments and they are more than ready for first grade (more than half of my students are above grade level in reading and nearly all hit the benchmark; the only real difference to account for their performance is that their writing was better aligned with the reading).  They were (are, for three more weeks) also the most difficult class I have ever had, full stop.  While I could consult with site experts, this year I was absolutely stymied in receiving district support.

This was especially frustrating because

  1. I was asking for pretty minimal assistance;
  2. There was 100% agreement among professionals at my site that the services I sought were necessary;
  3. We are supposed to be doing inclusive practices, which is supposed to include serving kids BEFORE they need an IEP.
Anyway, I will have lots of time this summer to reflect on what made this class such a particular challenge, and to experience the five stages of grieving over leaving.  Right now I am trying to enjoy the end of my time at my school with my class and colleagues while not freaking out about how much stuff I need to move out of my classroom.

10 May 2013

I don't get why SFUSD is proposing spending $30,000 buying ten Teach for Americans for the next school year.  SFUSD is a popular district; it maintains an active job pool and has plenty of fully credentialed candidates who don't get hired.  Why pay TFA to do what the district has already done itself?

Moreover, the district is anticipating TFA providing some Special Education candidates.  Since I read ALL the board agendas, I know that many probationary Special Education teachers were removed without cause this year.  I don't think the answer is to replace them with entirely uncredentialed if well-meaning candidates, especially candidates who the state of California is unwilling to consider "highly qualified" no matter what the feds say.  Moreover, these candidates are also for hard to staff schools.  Hard to staff schools generally have a lot of English Language Learners.  The state is at present also unwilling to unleash alternatively credentialed-ish teachers on ELLs.  So where are these expensive recruits going to work?

Not to mention, sending two-year missionaries to "hard to staff" schools is unlikely to make these schools easier to staff in the future - unless you anticipate a never-ending chain of Teach for Americans, each link lasting two years.  Not that that means easier staffing, exactly, or ensures that students have trained, able educators who have been there long enough to build relationships with them, of course.

Additionally, there is an its/it's typo in the reso, and I strongly believe that such errors demand not only correction but utter destruction and contempt for the reso in question.

06 May 2013

Operation Chicken

Hatch Count: Seven healthy chicks in a variety of cool, fluffy colors.  (They are all silkies).

One has a splayed leg.  I'm 99% this was caused by its membrane drying after it had freed one leg and its rear end, which caused it to flail around a lot.  It can walk, run, eat, and drink despite the leg so it is getting short bursts of spraddle leg treatment (tying the legs together with self-adhesive gauze).

(Eight chicks actually hatched, but one of these may have been hatched/heavily assisted by Baby Splay Leg (I have video of chicks pecking industriously at other chicks' shells, and Baby Splay was the only chick in the incubator at the time).  Anyway, this chick had serious deformities and would not eat.  After two days of intensive care in a clean incubator at my house, we humanely euthanized it.)

I want to keep ALL THE CHICKENS, which means I need to get Mickey and Minnie (last year's hatch) adopted.  Or maintain them in two separate homes.  Or get insanely, miraculously lucky and have had an all-hen hatch this year.  Mickey and Minnie are socialized.  Minnie lays more eggs than the average silkie and Mickey is a show-quality rooster, so I figure I may be able to entice someone to adopt them.

30 April 2013

No Carrot But Plenty of Sticks

(h/t Diane Ravitch.)

Shorter coalition of education reform organizations masquerading as civil rights groups:  If the Department of Education grants the CORE districts a waiver,  California will be inadequately punished for failing to elect our candidate State Superintendent of Schools, will take vital funding away from our friends providing for-profit tutoring services at PI schools, and the glorious prospect of 100% schools failing their way into transformation into union-free charters.  And that would be bad for the children.

Wow.  I am not even a big fan of the CORE waiver.  The waiver itself is pretty reform-filled too - heck, getting the waiver requires the CORE districts to try to get teacher tenure tied to test scores.  I would've thought EdTrust would be eagerly cosigning it.  But apparently, the CORE waiver represents an insidious attempt to hold educators responsible for the pervasive opportunity gaps in California.

The letter doesn't actually cite any examples of accountability being laughed right out of the waiver.  It focuses solely on what a naughty state California has been, what with its disinterest in Race to the Top funding and slapdash waiver application.  (And its Democrats!  Naming DFER as a non-Democratic group!  Can they not read?  Probably not, because teachers unions.)

This is the true nature of NCLB, I think.  It's a lot of talk about accountability of our teachers for our children.  But its essence is punishment: punishment for teachers in the form of mass firings, punishment for students in curricular narrowing and test upon test, punishment in school districts in demanding they do more with less so that they can hire ineffective tutors.

And according to these nominal civil rights groups, California will not be adequately punished until all of its schools have failed to meet the 100% proficiency goal NCLB sets.  That this may have real and ugly impacts for the children they claim to hold such concern for is not important; until the state gives in, it can watch its schools be destroyed.

29 April 2013

Eggs! Hatch!

ETA: Two chicks are fully hatched and two more were actively unzipping when I left today at 6pm.  Fingers crossed for happy living chicks dry and ready for the brooder tomorrow morning.

So this is my third year hatching eggs with my class (my first year with my new, beautiful, fancy, scientific, calibrated incubator).  My experience has been that Day 21 is pretty boring - a little pipping, maybe a single chick at the tail end of the day, while Day 22 is hatch-o-riffic.

Today was day 21.  A couple of eggs are maybe pipped.

I am really crossing my fingers for big action tomorrow, since it would be very hard to get another batch of silkie eggs hatched before the end of the year.

...This would be the year that I had a big countdown chart and everything.  I'm worried, and going to school early to see if anything has happened or if I can get eggs to set before Friday.

21 April 2013

Shorter New York Times: Parents need to stop freaking out about these Common Core tests.  If we don't fail more children today, how will we know which teachers to fire?

Also, we didn't read any of our own coverage about the test's problematic content, the stress New York children are evincing due to these tests, or Pearson.  Our kids go to the kind of schools that don't allow these tests, so it wasn't relevant to us.

And stop complaining about the private concerns making big bucks off the Common Core.  They're totally research-based AND no one is making you buy Pearson materials.  Wow, you all are conspiracy theorists or unionists or something.

Mandatory Matters

In California, Kindergarten isn't mandatory.  If parents so desire, children need not be enrolled until first grade.

Despite the increasing rigor in Kindergarten - and let's note that the Common Core changes, but doesn't increase the difficulty, of what the state required of its five year olds - the law still assumes that Kindergarten is nap time, play house, and social skills development.  All of these may be useful, the state opines, but they aren't mandatory.

This has some real and unpleasant effects on Kindergarten classrooms.  It is often the  reason given when students who appear to need extra supports are denied them.  "Well," specialists begin.  "Your concerns are reasonable.  But this is Kindergarten.  It isn't mandatory, you know.  Why don't you write a report for the first grade teacher so the process can begin next year?"

I feel confident that first grade teachers absolutely LOVE receiving these reports.  No, wait : I don't, although I suppose a report is better than nothing.  I know that writing these reports is time-consuming.  And I also know that we are failing to give children what they need.  A small intervention in Kindergarten can mean no expensive interventions later.

Not to mention that the child who needs support in a modern Kindergarten may be struggling with skills that are absolutely required for first grade.  Not just turn-taking, but reading: Kindergarten students must read by the end of the year.

Another issue is attendance.  I am not a big fan of some of the more punitive measures the District uses to improve student attendance (truancy officers, courts, fines, and so on).  I do approve of schools coordinating supports to increase student attendance.  But since Kindergarten isn't mandatory, chronically truant students do not receive any kind of attention.  They are not required to be there, so the fact that they come to school less than half-time may be difficult for the teacher, but it doesn't call for intervention.

Since Kindergarten teachers are teaching actual academic content children need to be successful in first grade and beyond, this strikes me as short-sighted.  Moreover, as we move to Smarter Balanced assessments that Kindergartners will take - and, waiver approval pending, the use of test scores to evaluate teachers - it strikes me as unfair that no attention is paid to Kindergarten truancy.

In the absence of a mandate, apparently low academic performance due to truancy is a teacher's fault.  Actually, I think many teachers (I am one of them) do feel vaguely hurt by low attendance.  If the child isn't in school, it feels like their families don't see value in attending.  The teachers I know internalize this as "if I were doing a better job, they'd be here."

Still, at a certain level of absence, these feelings evaporate, because no matter how hard you are on yourself, a child who is present less than half-time certainly has bigger issues than whether you are providing engaging, exciting, no-fail lessons all day every day.  And it is a struggle to plan for a child who is habitually absent.  That child is likely to need extra academic support and be less familiar with classroom procedures and routines.  Yet plans for remediation fail when the child isn't there for the intervention.

But hey, Kindergarten isn't mandatory.  So even though the child receives neither the academic content needed nor the supports to ameliorate the truancy, it will all somehow work out.

Obviously, I think it is far past time to mandate Kindergarten attendance.

10 April 2013

London Bridge is Covered in Animals.

...Or, The Things I Think About While Waiting for the Bus.

All of these can be sung (more or less) to the tune of "London Bridge".

Oviparous animals, animals, animals
Oviparous animals
Hatch from eggs.

Snails, snakes, and dinosaurs,
Chickens and frogs,
Ants and isopods,
All are oviparous,
And hatch from eggs.

Viviparous animals, animals, animals
Viviparous animals
Are Born Alive.

Cats, Dogs, and Grizzly Bears,
Monkeys and Mice,
Elephants and horses,
All are viviparous
And are born alive.

ALTERNATE (substitute in animal/genus in question)

We are viviparous, viviparous, viviparous
People are viviparous
We are born alive.

Amphibians are oviparous, oviparous, oviparous
Amphibians are oviparous
They hatch from eggs.

Mammals are viviparous, viviparous, viviparous
Mammals are viviparous,
Except platypi and echidnas.

EVEN MORE ALTERNATES:

Snakes and lizards and dinosaurs,
They are reptiles and hatch from eggs
Snakes and lizards and dinosaurs,
Reptiles are oviparous.

Dogs and Cats and Chimpanzees,
They are mammals and are born alive
Dogs and Cats and Chimpanzees,
Mammals are viviparous.

09 April 2013

Chicken Season

I'm not at school today (doctor's appointment), but I went in to set twenty four silkie eggs in the new, fancy, donor-provided incubator.  One is from the hen and rooster we hatched last year; the rest I ordered (genetic diversity and all that).

If this incubator is half as excellent as its advertisements, I may need a third chicken adoption site.

07 April 2013

CORE: We Can't Edit That Well, But We Have Powerful Friends

This morning I read the "California Office to Reform Education" No Child Left Behind waiver request.  It is available here.

It is not a very interesting document.  It offers a new accountability plan that will definitely require more student testing, and teachers will absolutely be evaluated on that assessment.  (Waiver requests require this; SFUSD at least has been rather quiet about this.)  In theory, the CORE districts will also take into consideration social-emotional well-being when judging accountability; this definitely means student surveys and possibly means building repairs.

It is also not a very well-edited document.  I suppose the redundancies of language are to be expected in a waiver application; the more you sound like Arne Duncan, the better your chances, right?  There is also some confusion about the number of districts making up the CORE; ten Superintendents sit on the Board but most of the documentation refers to eight districts. (Also, someone forgot to remove editing notes, so that on page 44, there's a parenthetical asking if eight should be changed to 10?? (question marks as shown here).

More interesting are the people and foundations supporting CORE.  Its Executive Director is Rick Miller of Capitol Impact.  Capitol Impact engages in "non-lobbying" activities that include providing "access to policymakers and opinion leaders".  Capitol Impact works closely with the Gates Foundation and the pension-loathing millionaires at California Forward.

Among those associated with and funding CORE's work is the Parthenon Group.  They most recently came to my notice when they anonymously tipped off the San Francisco Chronicle that teachers unions hate school districts getting money.   Actually, it ends up that the story was more that school district officials and union leaders do not agree with the Parthenon Group that accepting small sums of money in exchange for larger, permanent cash outlays is a great idea.

Anyway, my brief examination of CORE's founders, friends, and associates confirms my general opinion of the CORE waiver: there may be some good ideas in there, but despite the local rhetoric, it's more untested reform at the behest of the powerful.

06 April 2013

For What Are You Responsible?

Edited to add: I just saw this accountability rubric for Bill Gates.  It is a wonderful start to sharing the responsibilities more broadly; I hope it guides the Gates Foundation in its work!  I also hope for a pony!

My student teacher starts two solo weeks on Monday.  I feel partially responsible for how it goes: did I provide enough feedback on her lesson plans?  Have I been proactive when I've noticed potential sticking points in her management?  Have I been open about the things teachers do that aren't obvious (why we pick a certain response strategy at a certain time, say, or how I know that child needs, needs, NEEDS the bathroom whether or not he or she says so).

I am a veteran teacher.  One of the perks is finding classroom management easier than a new teacher.  That said, I am responsible for making sure my students treat guests, substitute teachers, and our student teacher with respect.  Even in situations where my students aren't sure what the expectations are, or in which they are disengaged, confused, or just being five years old, I expect them to act with kindness and self-respect.  It is my job to set that standard.

And of course, I am responsible for their academic progress.  I am responsible for creating a classroom that is safe, comfortable, and engaging.  I am responsible for providing scaffolding and support in academics and in social-emotional development.

So whenever I hear that teachers at high-needs schools like mine need to raise their expectations and holler "NO EXCUSES!", I feel frustrated.  And then I wonder: for what is the "no excuses" gang responsible?

Very few Superintendents, after all, are subject to pay for performance metrics.  Indeed, some of our most vocal education reformers have had at best checkered successes while leading districts.

Nor are district leaders held accountable to their schools.  When California cuts school budgets, Superintendents do not need to purchase their own copy paper and sticky notes.  I do.  When a district chooses to cut art, music, and physical education teachers, it becomes my responsibility to teach those standards.  No one is holding the district accountable to advocating loudly, fearlessly, and actively for better student funding. (It gets in the way of the cozy meetings with Governor's aides if you go all civil disobedience on them, I suppose.)

High-needs schools are hard to staff.  Teacher churn is horrible for student achievement.  Who is taking responsibility for making high-needs schools places where teachers feel supported and effective so that they can thrive where they are needed?

I do not see education reformers holding themselves accountable.  Lots of foundation money went into creating the teacher evaluation systems that aren't doing much for learning in DC schools.  The Gates Foundation put millions into small schools, then decided to cut those schools off.  Why aren't they responsible to the children left in those schools, or those who discovered that a small school gets you fewer electives and more overhead expenses?

It gets very tiresome to hear that I am failing students with my lazy lack of responsibility and my desire to blame structural inequities rather than my own inherent ones.  But the hypocrisy of those demanding I make fewer excuses really stings.

03 April 2013

Unsent Letters, Pre-Dawn Edition

Self,

It is bad time management to spend eight weekday morning minutes drafting a comment to a New York Times article, no matter how silly that article may be.

Yours in Impulse Control,

E. Rat.

P.S.  Writing this note wasted another three valuable minutes.

31 March 2013

What We Should Learn from Atlanta

I meant to read the "CORE" districts' waiver application this week, but I got distracted by the indictments coming out of Atlanta on Friday.  So I read the eight hundred page investigative report instead.

In the press, I am seeing a lot of disappointment in America's educators.  Recounts of Beverly Hall's tenure note the incredible pressures her regime put on schools; they also make sure to describe her work personality as unapproachable, removed, and aggressive - you know, not very womanly.

About sixty pages in, I was surprised to see a paper on Parks Middle School - lauding its remarkable (and false) achievement gains.  I was given this case study in success cheating to read at least twice back before the investigation was released (although not before Parks' results should have been worrying; by the time that fan note was released, the Atlanta Public Schools had already investigated - and found - cheating at Parks (also mistresses, misuse of public funds and public buildings, and sexual harrassment - but I digress).

I think the report should stand as a clear rebuke to education reformers.  Not only do the gains they want not come as easily as they claim, they refuse to take real evidence of cheating seriously.  The report includes two position papers by academics APS asked to take a look at the test results.  The statistician notes that the test scores are about as likely as an oviparous rabbit and that cheating is likely the reason.   This study was suppressed.

Douglas Reeves - noted in APS's internal records as an education reform proponent- spends three days visiting the twelve schools with the most suspicious records.  In his whirlwind tour that allows about half an hour at each school, he notes that all of his favorite reform strategies - high expectations, public knowledge of test scores, test prep, "strong leadership", etc. - are in place.  So he decides that the gains aren't suspicious at all, because obviously if you have high enough expectations and a strong enough leader, proficiency will skyrocket from 0% to 88% in a year.

Moreover, those favored strategies?  Favored some really nasty results.  The principal at Parks was lauded for removing teachers who wouldn't get with the program.  It ends up that these teachers weren't sad, lazy veterans but teachers who reported cheating.  His leadership skills were also honored through cash awards, performance pay, and secret gifts from education reformers when he made noises about leaving.  These cash incentives encouraged more cheating.

And since Georgia's teachers have few job safety measures - their own Professional Standards Commission admits that districts can easily retaliate against whistleblowers - and very limited tenure protections, teachers had the choice to cheat as required or be fired.

So what rank-and-yank, cash incentives, all that leadership, and high expectations got Atlanta public school children was test scores so gamed that the schools lost Title One  program improvement money, and children who needed special education services were disqualified from them because of their remarkable testing prowess.

When education reformers explain what they want, the word "Atlanta" should shut them up.

27 March 2013

Good Gifts for New Teachers

NB: I am not a new teacher.

For the last three years, I have had a almost full-time student teacher in my classroom.  They all purport to be very thankful for the learning experience, etc., but let's be honest: while hosting a student teacher is at times a lot of work, and while sharing one's classroom can be difficult, the student teacher is a boon.

All of my experience with student teachers has been at least good.  They do need support.  They need coaching.  They need feedback, and sometimes you have to set down limits and expectations (I hate this; managing adults is not my thing).  Sometimes they do things wrong and you have to fix them.  Your lesson plans need a new attention to detail so that student teachers can understand and apply them.  That's the work.

And then there comes the time when you watch your student teacher do a routine lesson or oversee a management situation and you think, "NO NO NO NO NO WRONG WRONG...oh, wait: not everything has to be just the way I do it."  And possibly you like the student teacher's method better.

And those moments when you hear one of your verbal tics come from the student teacher's mouth and think, "Gee, I need to quit using that expression so much."

Not to mention the time your student teacher asks you a question and you have to think about the answer, which requires some reflection.  Or you realize that you actually have no answer, that's just how you do it - and that really requires some reflection.

A student teacher means you can use the bathroom even on rainy days when you have no recess break.  Nor do you need to spend three hours portioning out paint, washing brushes, making copies, filing papers...your student teacher can help with some of these tasks.

Eventually come student teacher solo weeks, during which supervising teachers can cut, laminate, letter, copy, organize, pack, and clean to their hearts' content.

Given all this, I like to get my student teachers presents regularly: at the winter break, when they finish a solo day or week, when they finish one of their major credentialing projects, and so on.  Here are some I believe were well-received; I am running low on ideas and would love more should you have any.

  1. Gifts for the person: accessories keyed to the student teacher's taste, items for the home, massage/spa certificates.
  2. Gift certificates to Lakeshore.  Lakeshore materials are pricey and hard to justify unless you have a gift certificate, but they come finished and perfect for the new teacher.
  3. Gift certificates to Donors Choose, combined with help the next year getting those first projects up.
  4. A bunch of the readalouds you love and the student teacher has heard over and over and over.  Buy these in hardcover; if you can find good quality used copies you can buy a lot of them for very little money.
  5. Solo Kits - your student teacher will likely be the only adult in his or her classroom next year.  Get things that the kids can do while the student teacher tests or pulls small groups: fuse bead kits (don't forget an iron!), learning games, flash cards, etc.  Homemade is fine, too: you will be saving the student teacher time next year.
  6. Better quality and/or esoteric supplies: real fadeless paper for the walls, actual Crayola crayons, Sharpie chart markers, chart paper pads, post-it glue, scented markers.
  7. Science stuff: a terrarium, a set of magnifiers or prisms, etc.
  8. Art stuff: like science stuff, this isn't always provided.  Paint, beads, etc.
  9. Pillows and carpet squares.
  10. Storage containers: you the demonstration teacher may have been saving glass jars for ten years and select your yogurt based on the usefulness of the plastic tubs in which it comes, but the student teacher has yet to be inducted into the fine arts of material management.

24 March 2013

Arts matter.

During the Amazing Cape Interlude of 2013, a significant percentage of my class started to use long vowel spelling patterns  - specifically, silent e - in their writing.

I was not teaching this; in fact, I don't teach it.

(Why?  Silent e is hard conceptually and not enormously useful; I find that kids tend to learn it implicitly for reading by using context clues to read silent e words.  Then they start extrapolating it a little in reading; I tend not to see it in writing.  Other spelling patterns - r-controlled vowels, ee, and y says e - have been more successful for teaching and learning in my classroom.  Open Court teaches silent e; my experience was that about half of the class at best would really get it and start using it.  Now that I don't teach Open Court, I have chosen phonics topics that everyone can master - and come to think silent e is not necessarily developmentally appropriate.)

(That said, the Tom Lehrer song "Silent E" is fun.)

So why silent e all of a sudden?

The only place silent e was making an appearance was on capes, because everyone wanted to write SUPER in glitter paint.

Draw your own conclusions, but I know what mine is.

20 March 2013

Mental Lanscapes, Miniature Teachers

The writing unit we are working on presently is information writing, and the framing is that you are writing to teach somebody about something.  Here are some of the amazing, self-selected topics children have chosen to write about:

  • snakes
  • kinds of fire trucks
  • poisonous things
  • healthy foods
  • what you can do with a flower
  • igloos
  • all the children in 2nd grade
  • color blending
  • exercises
  • cheese
  • leprechauns
  • babies
 Which all reminds me on a daily basis that the mental lives of children are fantastic, alluring, and strange.  It's also rather inspiring; I currently have a nine-page demo book for the next series of minilessons on ant queens.


18 March 2013

And the Letters Go Out.

I am rereading Tested, which always reminds me how very little rigorous testing has done for rigorous learning.  (It also makes me really happy I don't teach Open Court or Saxon Math anymore, and that the Reading Wars have quieted a bit.)

Now that enrollment letters are being received, test scores are being used as a bludgeon against some schools.  Having bad test scores does not mean that a school has bad teachers, bad kids, bad families, bad buildings, and bad administration.  Loose badness is not floating about the halls, a horrible miasma of black failure, ready to attach itself parasitically to all comers.

I feel bad for the teachers, the kids, and the families at these schools.  I hope they never see these threads (and I need to stop reading before my bad school comes up for its whacks).  I feel bad for the Tyler Heights teachers Linda Perlstein followed, forced by testing and rigorous curriculum to narrow their teaching until it squeezes out high-testing automatons.

Low test scores suggest a poor school.  Poverty is the strongest single correlation to test scores.  The student population is probably quite mobile, and many students are learning English.  I could go on and recount all the other sad realities of poverty that occur at most low-scoring schools.

I recognize that an assignment to such a school may not make for much happiness.  But it is unfair and mean to announce that the school is bad, with its bad teachers, bad location, bad children, bad families, bad test scores, and free-range bad just badding its way around, lurking in corners stealing lunch money.

The teachers at these schools are real people.  Their students are actual children.  I can tell you - as one of those bad teachers at a bad school - that my Kster's creativity, intelligence, and all-round cuteness compares favorably to any other Kindergarten bunch.  I work with some fabulous professionals, many of whom are in their first few years in the classroom (but a few old workhorses like me do haunt bad schools, too). My children come from loving families that want the best for them - just like we all do.

It is true that we are dealing with years of segregation, inequity, institutional racism, and lousy school funding.  It is true that these realities have had a huge and negative impact on those bad, bad, bad schools (so has testing hysteria, but I digress).  But when you call the school, its teachers, its children, and its families bad, you are blaming the victim.

Be kind.  It is possible to be angry about the school to which your child is assigned with out maligning the very real people there.

17 March 2013

The District's K, 6th, and 9th placement letters were to be mailed out on Friday, which would mean that they would start showing up in mailboxes Saturday.  I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist and I feel confident that the letters got mailed on Friday, but apparently none were received yesterday.

(I hope that this inspires action on behalf of the United States Postal Service; between the hiring freeze, the concerted effort to destroy USPS and public worker pensions in one go, and the enormous budget cuts, it is no wonder that our local postal workers couldn't sort and deliver 14,000 extra letters in less than twenty four hours.)

This will actually make my Monday easier, since the Monday after Enrollment Letter Saturday often brings a number of unscheduled tours to my Kindergarten.  Invariably, I forget about this and schedule some extraordinarily messy project and end up answering parent questions while begrimed.

(Which reminds me: families, never tour schools during the last week in May.  This seems to be popular at several southeast side schools.  Last year, some families came by just as the chicks were moving out of the classroom - leaving a messy and suspiciously empty brooder behind them - and shortly before we embarked on our abstract expressionist painting project, an experience so messy that I bagged the kids' shoes before we started last year.)

That said, I am reminded again that while teachers have strict timelines, no one else does.  Classroom teachers have to be ready the first day of school; out of classroom teachers - who are paid for the same in-service days teachers are - do not need to worry about this, since they can set up their rooms after the start of school and begin student services after a couple of weeks.  I do not think it is too much to ask EPC to get their data report out on March 15.  I recognize that they are very busy and could probably use more staff; I am also very busy and could use additional support.  But I still must get all my assessments finished and uploaded by the deadline.

I also find it interesting that SFUSD is embarking on a project to upgrade its technology and infrastructure.  I certainly hope this will include a change of policy in school budgeting.  Presently, all technology must be purchased out of school site budgets; there is no central funding.  Given that technology is required in the Common Core standards, this has to become a centrally-budgeted item.  Central budgeting would be helpful anyway because it would mean a simpler infrastructure to maintain.  (I believe that schools must purchase certain types of computers, but everyone I know gets their technology by grant or pocketbook, and that means lots of different operating systems.)

13 March 2013

Why Kindergarten is Awesome.

This week alone, we have

  • capes (the world's gaudiest, featuring both glitter paint and fake jewels)
  • insta-snow
  • sprouting seeds
  • tadpoles
  • egg-laying hen
  • noisy rooster
  • There's a Party at Mona's Tonight
  • Short e elephants with magical expanding trunks
  • TERC addition games
  • Making tints, tones, and shades
I mean,  so much cooler than your average profession or Scantron-heavy, test prepping third grade classroom.

09 March 2013

Giving Thanks and Whatnot.

I must hand it to the District: this year's preliminary budget allocations are presented in an easy to read, clear format with tables that clearly outlines all funding sources and projections.  Also, it appears that the budgets were created using actual student numbers as opposed to maximum capacity figures, which should be helpful for small schools with fluctuating enrollment (since just a few children less than expected can mean a school finds itself losing already-spent funds at the ten-day count).

If you are feeling thankful, perhaps you would like to nominate a teacher for the Mayor's Teacher of the Year program.  The Teacher of the Month program at 826 Valencia is also accepting nominations for teachers who have inspired fabulous creativity in writing.

06 March 2013

The One Where I Am Missing Something

Yesterday I had benchmark reports for each child in my class, comparing their performance to some benchmarks set by persons unknown for the Fountas and Pinnell literacy assessments.  These are meant to be sent home.

Findings:

  1. I hope the plan for the future is to have these by conference week, so I can explain them.
  2. I really wish we had an entry record, because you can see the growth from the first to second trimester, but if the district is really collecting data to drive instruction, you need to know where kids are when they start the year.
  3. By "data to drive instruction", I would like to mean "data to inform equity in funding".  Based on the Brigance, which was an entry assessment and had percentiles for the district and the school, in general my students start less ready than their District-wide peers.  (Many of my students don't attend preschool and my classes generally have more English Language Learners than average, I believe.  This impacts their entry assessment.)
  4. Who is setting these benchmarks?   The second trimester for letter recognition is 30 out of 52.  By November, I want all of my class  to be done with the alphabet, and typically everyone is.
  5. Similarly, the benchmark is 15 of 25 sight words, 8 of 10 on concepts about print, etc.  Overall, these benchmarks seem awfully low.
  6. That said, I am not assessing segmenting yet and I didn't assess it at the end of the first trimester.  After nine weeks, I haven't taught enough to make assessment useful, and after eighteen it is a lot of testing for something that will not drive instruction.
  7. So some of this is probably difference in curricula (Treasures doesn't teach that many sight words and probably does a lot of phonemic awareness), but not all of it.