I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

29 December 2010

Fabulous Teacher Taste

This summer when thrifting, I found and tried on a vintage Lacroix skirt.  It was too big, even to wear as a dress, so I didn't buy it.  I also thought more seriously about buying one of those very 80s Moschino Cheap and Chic jackets but decided I don't really need shoulders that boxy.

Anyway, I saw one of these on 1st dibs with a 200% markup and the other at a fancy vintage store, tagged four times as much as it cost when I tried it on.  San Francisco isn't a big city: these are definitely the same pieces.

The point is: my scrounging is fantastic.  I am tempted to claim I should buy stuff to resell it like this, but who am I kidding?  I'd end up wearing it, spilling paint on it, or giving it to someone who would fit into it better than I do.

In other scrounging news, I picked up muslin for fish-printing and a mess of remnant Dia dos Muertos themed fabric bits for next year, job assuming.

We Saw It On Tee Vee.

I am one of those irritating, superior pinkos who does not own a television.  In my own defense, I don't really mention my lack-of-television status and am not opposed to watching television shows on my computer or something.  I forced friends, family members and neighbors to turn over their television for my World Cup viewing pleasure.  When I am not really feeling like working out, some "Countdown" on the gym television can get me piqued enough to get going (True story: I got so aerated reading about Tom DeLay in Mother Jones a few years back that I had to stop exercising and calm down).  I read recaps on Project Rungay.  Etc.  It's just that, what with the ADHD, I have a real problem sitting through entire shows.  Even with the commercial breaks and something to do with my hands, I get distracted.  Then I am irritated because I have missed key plot details.  Also, I am incapable of being home when shows I might want to watch are on and even less capable of recording them proactively.

So spending the money on a television and cable set up seems like a big waste.  I mean, over the course of a year that would put a big crimp in my shopping budget.  Indeed, it might keep me from purchasing new boots.  That would be catastrophic.  Hyperbole is good for you.

Of course, the kids in my class see plenty of television, and from an amazing cornucopia of genres and historical periods at that.  Invariably, 50% of my class is familiar with Chucky.  I do not know what it is about the big, ugly, badly-dressed misogynistic doll with a knife that is so appealing to five year olds.  Having seen maybe twenty minutes of a Chucky movie, though, I know I disapprove.  Sponge Bob is invariably popular; this year my class has a number of Barney fans.  The latter is something of a surprise; usually the dinosaur is "too baby".  Perhaps they skewed the show to attract a new demographic; I no longer try to keep up on Kindergarten Fandom Crazes.

Television has led to some funny events:

  1. I have a kid this year who, prior to running, waves his arms in circular motions as if he is in a Warner Brothers cartoon.
  2. I had a kid who used to cross his feet, point with both hands and wink as if he were doing the Madison whenever his picture was taken.
  3. One kid a couple years back used to make little fists, drop his head back and scream "REVENGE!" whenever irritated.
  4. He would also, after teasing a peer or getting in trouble, holler "You'll never take me alive!" and run around the room.
  5. Another child makes the "Home Alone" face whenever something untoward happens in a story.
Children's literature is good for this, too.  Mr. Frimdimpny gets imitated a lot, and many cafeteria items require the occasional muncha.  As a last day in 2010 treat, I brought some sugarless bubble gum in for a little Trouble Gum action.

In other news, today's big task is the DMV.  Exciting!  I successfully found glasses I can tolerate, so I am waiting to pick these up.  I got prescriptions refilled, had my old boots fixed and owe the dry cleaner $100 for cleaning (and an alteration on a fine, if salvaged Alberta Ferretti dress, one I am technically capable of doing but far too lazy to actually do).  I need to finish report card comments, but they're done otherwise.  This means that I should be able to get District-printed 8.5X17s, as opposed to classroom-printed 8.5x14s.  All in all, I've been fairly productive over the break.

28 December 2010

It is link day.

I have issues with KIPP.  If I could get over their issues with student and teacher attrition, I'd still have problems with their boot camp discipline - the kind of discipline that KIPP's overlords would never allow for their own kids, but are fine using on poor children of color.  Were I able to come to terms with the punitive management, the anti-union sentiment would get me, and even if I hadn't been raised by union laborers, I'd have to question the lack of cultural competence and remedial pedagogy that KIPP supports.

In short: not a fan.  I don't buy the hype, I find their rhetoric offensive and their theory of change racist and repugnant.

This is a report on the shenanigans at KIPP Fresno:

Notice to Cure and Correct

Perhaps, like me, you're curious as to what Mr. Tschang is up to these days.  I think I may have seen an update on Schools Matter, but couldn't find it.  However, a quick Google search presents this charter school network blog.  He's a "Regional Superintendent".

I don't believe bad conduct in one job should mean one is doomed for life.  I believe in redemption and righting wrongs.  It's possible that Mr. Tschang no longer believes starving children, cheating on federal programs and state tests, and the humiliation of kids in the name of discipline are acceptable policies.

The fact that he highlights his KIPP experience with nary a mention of the circumstances that led to his resignation, coupled with his denials and denigrations of those who spoke against him suggest to me that he has not had a change of heart.

You know, it gets tiresome hearing about the innovative innovations at those unfettered and fancy-free charter schools - particularly as they use their extra private money for heavy administrative chains like Achievement First has while I can look forward to my fourth annual pink slip as I total the hundreds of dollars I've spent this year on enabling creative, multimodal learning experiences in my classroom.

But when those innovations are abusive to children, it's appalling.

And Now, A Message from Our Corporate Overlords

With 18 whole months teaching, you have all the answers for sure.

24 December 2010

Christmas List!

Dear Red-Suited Imaginary Arctic Gift Givers,

I may not have been good this year, but definitely I did good things.  Despite epic budget cuts, regular interludes without heat and the daily denigration of my profession, I have successfully taught my students to read, figure, and treat others with a modicum of respect.

Given American capitalism's "pay for breathing" plans for CEOs, I suppose I could demand presents without any work.  However, the same Rand-reading illiterates* receiving bonuses for their ability to take in oxygen seem to think teachers have something to prove.**  Hence the above.  Additionally:

  • I did NOT go to New York so that I could be used to denigrate my own profession.
  • I voted in all elections.
  • I spoke at Board meetings, gave interviews to the press, and had my picture in national publications. In all venues, I observed that equity is not equality.
  • I spoke against child-blaming, parent-blaming and teacher-blaming.
  • I took responsibility for my students' learning and demanded that the powers that be take responsibility for their inequitable actions.***

I'm worthy.  I demand presents:

  1. Math and reading games to fill the backpacks for my students to take home this summer.
  2. Bird print funnel neck dress, size 38 or 40 IT.
  3. SFUSD cuts administrative paychecks and positions BEFORE cutting teacher jobs.
  4. UESF does not capitulate on "No Layoffs".
  5. We get the PAC-TIN grant.
  6. Magical black tights that do not get ladders.
  7. Aga Six-Four stove and range.
  8. 20:1 class size reduction K-12 throughout the state.  12:1 reduction at "high needs" schools (say, those with FRLP over 75% and/or those serving a major public housing development).
  9. Lots of nifty light fiction.
  10. My very own cross trainer and/or elliptical machine.
As you can see, my desires are both many and extravagant.  I figure such an attitude has served Lloyd Blankfein well, so it can't hurt me any.

In anticipation,

E. Rat

*Yes, I meant for that to happen.  You don't really need strong reading comprehension skills to suffer through Ayn Rand.  Her books are all a disturbing amalgamation of bad, mildly sadomasochistic romance novels and repetitive semi-philosophical pablum.
**And the ones who didn't slap some sense into those boys DO.
***Not that they did, of course.  How much you want to bet that Garcia declines to take a solidarity pay cut (beyond furlough days) again this year?

23 December 2010

Budget Apocalypse 2011: The Second Coming of Jerry

Last week, the Governor-Elect had one of his charming little summits in Los Angeles.  This one was on education.  The key takeaways were that we need to stop bothering Jerry so much.  I mean, you'd think he'd run for Governor or something on a platform we were expecting him to keep.

...hey, Jerry?  YOU DID.  So can it.

Anyway, he agreed that education had taken the brunt of the cuts, but that was just too bad and to expect more and more miserable cutting in his next budget.  Also, he wants a passed budget in 60 days upon his entry.  Furthermore, Californians aren't willing to pay for the services they want, so that's just tough for school people.  And everyone else, too: the budget he's apparently planning to propose is going to be a big nightmare.  Sez Jerry.

Dan Walters of the Sac Bee thinks this is all part of Jerry's big plan:
  1. Propose a truly miserable budget that cuts all services to the bone, particularly popular ones like education.  (Note to Dan: Dude, in the case of education, we'll be on to the marrow now.)
  2. Propose special election for a tax hike.  Campaign for tax hike is "This budget or your money".
  3. Get state Congress to pass Doom Budget.
  4. Taxes win in special election.
  5. Have a new, better budget ready to go.
This seems plausible, if stupid.  Among other things, I have lived through several special elections in California.  The Groper's "Pensions for None, Money for Me" special election went down big (even the one good proposal on it: re-regulating utilities).  The "We Passed a Budget that Counts on You to Raise Taxes on Lower and Middle Income People" special election didn't go over so well either.  Moreover, irritants like Dianne Feinstein claimed that the failure was because Californians don't want to pay taxes.  (I dunno about all Californians, but I explained to Dianne that I'm plenty willing to pay taxes and tax corporations and the wealthy.  I'm just not so cool about regressive taxation.  Dianne wrote back to tell me that she knows everything.  Well, more or less that's what it said.  I write to Dianne with some regularity since she's always doing something miserable, and that's pretty much the response I always get.)

So old Jerry's willing to take a pretty big gamble on the photogenic quality of teachers and schools.  Dan Walters observed that he doesn't think the Dems in the state Congress will be so enthusiastic about passing Jerry's Doom Budget.  That's worth crossing one's fingers, I'd say.

It's not that I disagree in principle: we aren't raising state revenues sufficient to what the state needs, and way too many Californians have drunk the Korporate Kool-Aid and think taxes are bad and government takes money just to roll around in piles of it because services are free and those people are the only ones who get any services and those people don't deserve it anyway.  (Gee, sounds like the big old pile of money Jerry sat on until he got 13 for his pains.)

I do disagree in reality.  I look at the news and I note that business interests are praising Austerity Ireland even as it fails...while Iceland refuses austerity and recovers.  I hear whining Rethuglicans bearing giant scissors against the poor.  The interests that don't really care if our schools have enough money to survive have the cash to spend beating a tax proposal.

I don't know what options the state has to fund schools without some kind of revenues deal, and Prop. 26 (dear CTA, CFT: Next time, TAKE A POSITION) will complicate getting the money together.  On the other hand, Perez and the Dems in the Assembly could probably cook up a good scheme to punt this a few years down the road, and frankly?  A few years from down the road can't be as bad as now.

According to Rachel Norton, this sounds like another $25 - 30 million cut for SFUSD.  So I think we teachers can safely assume that we will have to face down our sad, sad BoE and Superintendent as they explain how it's not their fault and that they are far too spineless to refuse to pass a budget and (possibly) go into receivership (along with every other District in the state that's not already there) because if the state takes over, they lose their jobs it's really bad for the children.*  Also, equity only applies in good budget years.  Oh, and those new administrative officials?  Waaaay more necessary than teachers.

More broadly, to both SFUSD and the state, I think we need to start considering the Power of No, the possibility of civil disobedience and the refusal to play by the rules of Pass the Blame and Share the Burden.

And it goes without saying that we should begin planning our protest outfits and colors.  Traditionally, in local protests where schools select a color to identify their contingent, we're big on pink.  This requires some wardrobe arrangement on my part.

*I don't entirely disagree.  I do think that the tender embrace of the educrats and prostisuits at the state isn't worse for my school than the proposal the Board is likely to vote into action.  I've lived through state audit and Reading First: at least we still had teachers.  And I think it is deeply offensive to lecture teachers and communities about The Children without a. taking responsibility for what you are about to do to those children and b. mentioning that state takeover means the state fires the Superintendent and the Board loses its power.  You don't make self-interest dissipate by not mentioning it.

19 December 2010

California Schools: depraved on account of they're deprived.

...dibs on Anita.

13 December 2010

Teacher Esoterica: Useful Clothing Items

  1. Special Operations Field Trip Pants.  Mine have twenty four pockets*.  This is extremely useful: one pocket for MUNI transfers, three big ones for water bottles, one for bandages, one for hand wipes, one for my ids/emergency cash, a mobile phone pocket, camera pocket...  They also have two hanging straps, which enable two extra children to walk with me (if they are having a goat freak out or similar).
  2. Spare Jacket in a Neutral Color.  To leave at school for when the heat goes out or you forget that you have yard duty and are not dressed for more than ten minutes outside.
  3. Fingerless Gloves.  Protect against violently dry hands.
I don't really go in for aprons or fanny packs, which are also pretty popular.

*Not a typo.  24.  They're awesome.

12 December 2010

Lifeskills to Remember and Teach

  1. We say "Thank you!" even if we do not like a present.  No one is required to give us anything, after all.  And therefore I cannot complain about this subscription to a whackamole right wing magazine I was just given, and not even as a gag gift.
  2. Keep our things neat and clean so that others may use them.  They have to last.  Confidential to the ladies who shop at Saks: this means you, too.  Deodorant marks are a no no.  And if the zipper's that tight, you're not going to buy it.  Take it off.  Otherwise, the zipper is broken for the next shopper - good for my wallet but irritating in the extreme.
  3. Say "Hello!" when you answer the phone.  And while you're at it, don't hang up until you know a. who it is and b. why they are calling.  Especially don't hang up when they ask for the teacher: drop the phone and get the teacher.
  4. While it may be a lovely song, we are all tired of it after the tenth repetition.  Sadly, this includes the song I have on infinite replay before school starts.  The poor Resident.

11 December 2010

Neither rain nor snow nor heat nor darkness...

So the thing with a field trip to Slide Ranch is that once you're scheduled, it's do or die.  You need small buses to get there, which ran us $400 a class.  The Ranch itself has a modified lottery system, and to get a fall trip your application is due the June prior.

So the rain did not stop us from going.  Upon arrival, we did open up the question of completing the trip activities to the parent chaperones.  Parents were overwhelmingly in favor of full participation, so we did everything.  Eventually it stopped raining, but I was up to my knees in mud by the end of it (largely due to a freak out in the goat shed, which necessitated a carryout, and I couldn't navigate the board walk with a kid).

On the plus side, the buses had to travel so slowly that I only threw up on the way there.  Which is nothing.

It was a great trip - very exciting and highly engaging.  The rest of the week was something of a wash, though.  Thursday was useless: everyone was tired and grumpy and I still hadn't warmed up.  Friday was marginally better.  Everyone needs a holiday, badly.

We have a week left and it will be quite low key; although report cards now don't go out until 7 January I finished all the assessment.  We have one more verse of "Christmas in Hollis" to learn, and while we made egg nog* (and egg nog ice "cream" from the leftovers) we still have to do something with collard greens.  We're also having an art sale Thursday.  My resident just taught a fairly heavy week of math content, so we'll just continue to review that and introduce nickels: nothing too intense.

Next week is the school dance.  As always, I take the kids who are not able to attend this virtuebration and get crafty with them (I cannot handle the 300 children, loud music and flashing lights of the dance: better to have all the bad-tempered behavior challenging children doing arts projects and making fun of the oldschool hip hop and Afropop we favor in my classroom.)  I think I have the project selected (translucent tile suncatcher grids), I just need demos and grid ideas.

Although I've hit my year goal on filled Donors Choose projects (30 lifetime filled), I am somewhat bummed out because it hasn't been the banner year we had last year, during which I sometimes got two projects in a day over December.  I got backpacks and school supplies for the summer, one for each kid, but not the materials to fill them.  Worksheets aren't terribly useful because it's hard to find ones the kids can do and check independently; most of my students have working parents and/or parents who are not able to check work in English.  So activities and self-checking games are better.  I sent the packs home last year; there was still regression over the summer but it wasn't as intense and some of the kids came back a little more ready in math, apparently (they had a lot of fact practice stuff and got faster).  Still, there's time left.

*No egg, no rum extract soy milk powder egg nog, but egg nog nonetheless.  We did grate fresh nutmeg over it!  And fold in child-whipped cream!

07 December 2010

Proposal of the Day

Cathie Black should immediately cut a check to the New York City public schools in the amount she earns via the two year extension of the Bush tax cut - and demand every plutocrat in her email contact list do the same for their public schools.

It wouldn't make any of it - tax cuts, education by businessperson, etc. - okay, but it would at least replenish the glue stick supplies before the last week of 2010 craftathon.

06 December 2010

Mad Crafty.

Winter Wreaths
You will need:

  • packing peanuts (12 or so per kid)
  • green fingerpaint
  • chenille stems
  • glitter (optional)
  1. Give children a pile of packing peanuts and a dollop of paint.  Encourage them to paint the peanuts using their fingers as opposed to dipping them into their paint.  Mention in grave tones the Dread Project That Never Dries (totally works).
  2. Once children have amassed a pile of green packing peanuts, direct them to impale their packing peanuts onto a chenille stem.  Peanuts should be placed closely together.
  3. Once the stem is largely covered, take stem and send children to nearest soap and water.  Remind them to avoid touching walls, floors, their faces, their jackets and other items until they are less green about the hands.
  4. If you have been smart enough to teach color word metaphors, at least one child will inform you that his or her hands are in fact the green eyed monster.
  5. Curl the chenille stem so that it makes a circle and wrap closed.
  6. Invite children to select a glitter color.  Note that glitter looks best when used sparingly.  Note that if we use up our glitter supply in December, we will not have any in January, February, March, April or May.  Resign self to epic glitter shortages by early Spring.
  7. While projects are still wet, allow children to sprinkle glitter on both sides.  Glitter will adhere to the paint.  Cough theatrically from spendthrift glitter use.
  8. When the projects are dry, a small bow can be made using another chenille stem (half).
  9. Affix wreath to yarn loop or suction cup hook.
These actually come out pretty cute.  The kids are always terribly impressed.  I didn't do them last year, but we did them today.

05 December 2010

So When Does It Turn Into Real Money?

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a SFUSD administrator say "It's only a million dollars", I would have the best wardrobe and best-kitted classroom ever.

I think the most offensive thing in the Trish Bascom scandal is that her lawyer is out there claiming that the kickbacks payments were "bonuses" to hard-working employees.

GAG.  As one of the many SFUSD employees who is losing salary through furloughs and cut Prop. A bonuses, this kind of talk makes me want to break all Student Support Services' pencils and steal their staplers.

That said, I look forward to using this example of SFUSD's absolutely appalling cash-handling skills and administrative spendthrift when they lay off all school staff come March.  It is beyond time for SFUSD to stop clutching its pearls and claiming that financial rigor has come to its central offices: it hasn't.  It is beyond time for SFUSD to take responsibility for its bad choices and its decisions.  I would respect those choices a lot more if instead of claiming that there were huge central office cuts, the District would admit it continues to bulk up administratively.  Offering some rationale for reality is honest.

04 December 2010

Fun Facts and Responsibilities

Despite the fact that I wear a dress to school four days out of five, I am never girly enough for the Princess Contingent in my class.  This group is an annual society with a largely (but not entirely) female membership.  The Princess Contingent is the group that requires the monthly lectures on topics like Why We Don't Share Our Glitter Lip Gloss and No, Really: Pink IS For Everyone.  They also give me regular unsolicited fashion advice, typically covering skirts (should be longer and poufier, preferably involving panniers) and necklines (lower, always lower).

I have found that dressing to please the Princess Contingent on days when I'm not feeling it and the storm clouds are rising can make for a better day.  I think their vocal appreciation of my style rubs off on everyone else and such is my Aura of Nobility via Fashion that kids like to do as I say.

So yesterday I wore this really stunning vintage sheath dress and coat set...AND mascara.  Banner day.

Then I came home and read this.  It includes plenty of quotes and suggestions from state politicians and education figures...already capitulating to the end of 20:1 everywhere, a 170 day school year, and - as always - education taking the brunt of the budget crisis.

Gee, thanks!  Good to know that we are all standing together to protect the state's future...hey, where are you going?  GUYS?!

You know what?  I HAVE HAD IT.  Every year it's the same thing:

  • this year will be the worst, next year will be better
  • we have to "share the pain"
  • there is no appetite for raising taxes
  • 13 is the "third rail"
  • you schools will figure it out somehow
And every year, the next year is in fact worse, the pain is shared among social services and safety nets but not its taxpayers, taxes on the poor and middle class rise while corporations get larger than ever cuts, poor school districts shorten their year, take the hit on their test scores and get told it's all their fault, and good teachers get laid off or decide they're tired of giving up their lives for the state.

And always, as always: poor schools, poor children and the underserved will get it the worst.

So, again: I HAVE HAD IT.

Marching forth on March 4th is not enough.  Filing a lawsuit against the state while capitulating to their budgeting is not enough.  Waving the spectral flag of insolvency and state takeover is not enough.  Conceding to school-destroying layoffs, increased furlough days and larger class sizes to protect...something or other is not enough.

It is time to say no.

It is time to march forth to sit in.  It is time to wildcat strike.  It is time to refuse to negotiate, refuse to sign a budget that kills schools and demand tax increases.  We do ourselves no favors by always finding a way.  We do ourselves no favors by saying that we can't change anything, we have no options and we as little as we like it we'll just have to give in.

I mean, do you see the Captains of Finance doing that?  Aren't we supposed to have the same performance-based (cough) accountability (hack) standards they do?  They don't give in.  They demand what they want, and the next thing you know my tax dollars are saving Goldman Sachs' cash from the AIG pit in exchange for wrecking the economy.

I say we do the same.  Nice isn't working.  Give me reality.

I have the responsibility to make my classroom work for my students.  I have the responsibility to make sure that they master the content standards and develop as decent, inquisitive people.  I take this responsibility everyday, including on those when I have to put on some lipstick and a fancy dress to cover three hours of sleep and stress.

I can't do it with thirty children in my room.  I can't do it on five years of pink slips in a row next to five years of Outstanding evaluations.  I can't do it on two cents for supplies, untrained colleagues and yet another salary cut by furlough.

Responsibility, in this case, demands that I refuse to participate in a system that destroys education.  It requires that I hold elected officials and District administrators to their responsibilities to protect students and teachers.

We need to refuse to allow this to be the worst year.

03 December 2010

If I Put My Jacket Over My Head, Will It Be Over Sooner?

Yesterday's rating: NOT AWESOME.

  1. Member of my family in hospital having major surgery (which went fine, if gruesomely).
  2. Fax machine overloaded as School Transportation cancels each and every free bus field trip already confirmed for this school year.
  3. School under lockdown for most of the afternoon.
  4. The lockdown was due to a shooting, one that killed a former student of our school.
Today we have an oh-so-exciting District Walkthrough, which after a banner three hours of sleep should be fun for child and adult alike.

I predict much painting, crayon melting recycling and similiar this afternoon.  We're all going to need it.

01 December 2010

MAN, the way people complain about the terrible Robin Hood ways of SFUSD and its naughty naughty southeast side schools, you would think that teaching on the southeast side would be more appealing to veteran educators.  I mean, apparently it's all candy and awesome, what with the ample cash (ripped out of westside hands), extra supplies, twelve adults per ten students and whatnot we got going on.

WHATEVER.  It's not only factually inaccurate - the low-seniority schools on the southeast side directly subsidize their higher-seniority peers elsewhere in the District, because teacher salaries and benefits are averaged - it is also offensive.

Southeast side schools have students with more significant needs.  That's just the reality: poor communities are badly serviced generally.  Minor health problems don't get taken care of and they are exacerbated by environmental toxins...the kind one finds in low-income neighborhoods.  My particular school abuts the largest housing project in town; it is a substandard, rundown place with limited public space, serious gang problems and no services outside of local CBOs.  Kids who live there need more than a kid who lives in a single-family home in Noe Valley.  They get less.

That's right: THEY GET LESS.  We are not Robin Hooding anyone; we are Hans Brinkering against a rising tide.

It's convenient, of course, that the poor and their schools provide such an attractive target: nothing like a little infighting to keep everyone from banding together for better school funding (locally: fewer SmartBoards at Cabrillo, more functioning computers at school sites, and state and federally too of course). I presume this is the same audience that believes ACORN and the Community Reinvestment Act caused the recession.  It's the same kind of nonsense, at least.

28 November 2010


Hello, I am procrastinating.

A few weeks back, enterprising yet foolish criminals broke into my school.  Mostly, they made a big mess.  They also took all the MUNI passes in the office and ransacked the lost and found, but in the end no school has a huge supply of easily fenced, portable items around to steal.

I am opening the school today to get ready for tomorrow.  Some other people might come by; being the teacher who lives closest to the school I am the only one with a set of keys, a pass code and my very own SFUSD security card.  I'm kind of nervous about it, actually.

I am sure my pets want me to stay home, too.  And I could make stock from this turkey carcass...and go to school at 4:30 tomorrow morning to get homework packets made.  Bleargh.

In other news, it ends up that the parachute dress makes me look like an upside down muffin, so I got this one instead.  I don't think San Francisco really needed an AllSaints store (when I say San Francisco, I mean "my pocketbook", of course).

24 November 2010

Budget Wonking Begins Earlier Every Year.

I had a small, uncharacteristic fit about pre-Thanksgiving Christmas-themed windows at major department stores, mostly because the because the terribly unfunny windows that Barneys puts up depress me.

Among other things, window-wise it could be so much worse.

But I do dislike the ever-earlier shopping season because it raises five year old awareness of the upcoming gift extravaganza and sugarthons and two solid months of holiday insanity is enough to turn any teacher into Mrs. Bitters.

Also coming early this year is Budget Apocalypse season.  Monday, a committee of the Board will be going over consultant contracts, presumably with special attention paid to Trish Bascom's Bring Bill Rojas Back Nostalgia Campaign.  There is also an informational session on the Edu-Jobs cash, which promises to be plenty depressing.  (Among other things, the state will probably end up using the money to backfill the education budget and we can all look forward to plenty of layoffs of teachers with the annual redesign/zoning/whatever bulk up of central office staff.)

Duty compels me to feel that I should go, but I think my mental health requires waiting until Brown's first State of the State address.

22 November 2010

One More Day!

Oh my goodness, these children need a break like you wouldn't believe.  The teachers, too.

Sadly, it's a bit of a collision course in that almost all the teachers are at various stages of this year's Nasty Fall Cold, while the kids are all over it and are absolutely wired and excited and hey, do I know Christmas is coming?  What with all that and the weekend rain, you can be assured twenty-odd peppy, if not very motivated children and one grumpy and not very motivated adult.

So we mucked around with primary and secondary colors via Insta-Snow, painted and got out the smart body supplies: maze balance boards, scooter boards and Body Sox.  This went okay, as did being very explicit about my personal level of energy (low), Kleenex consumption needs (high) and desire to manage behaviors that everyone knows are unfriendly to others (nonexistent).

Still: ONE MORE DAY.  We are having a potluck tomorrow evening schoolwide and I have a lot of no-knead bread dough rising for that.  Since I just this weekend got roped into cooking a Thanksgiving meal I am refusing to do any shopping for it (except for possibly a fine new outfit to wear), and that shopping is supposed to magically happen whilst I munch potlucky dishes.  Yum.

19 November 2010

The Word of the Day is "Ruching".

I wore a really nice dress to school yesterday, one of those ones that explains why one might spend a lot of money for something that looks like a misshapen sack of fine Italian wool on the hanger: because when on the human body, it becomes a magical garment that loves each and every bit of your figure and makes it look awesome.

Without prompting, an adult volunteer at my school noted that I am performing a service with my fantastic wardrobe, because I am "exposing students to good design".

This volunteer is my favorite person in the whole world, starting with that comment.  This totally justifies any afterschool trip to the thrift store I take today.

18 November 2010

Once Bill Gates has taught a class of 31 Kindergarten students with the following demographics:

  • 60% do not speak English at home
  • 25% attended preschool
  • 10% are homeless
  • 40% have experienced family violence
  • 100% live below the federal poverty line
  • 60% live in a substandard federal housing project originally slated for demolition in the 50s
  • 10% are in foster care
  • 20% have experienced the death of a parent
  • 10% have serious health problems
  • 50% regularly experience food insecurity
  • 10% have a documented learning disability
  • 10% qualify for speech services
and gets them from where they are in August to on grade level by June, I will be willing to listen to him explain how states must raise class sizes and not pay me for the degrees and trainings that make it possible for me to do my job well.

Until then, perhaps he should focus more on solving underfunding rather than adapting to it.  For instance, a good capital gains tax would make a big difference.  Indeed, were Microsoft more willing to pay taxes owed rather than incorporate in offshore tax havens, we could take a goodly bite out of the problem.

What his argument boils down to is the deprofessionalism of teaching.  He is proposing a job that no one can do well for more than a couple of years - and even with just a couple of years, the emotional and physical strain of the work would have lasting health effects.

So, Bill?  Go get a college degree, a credential and get back to me then.  For now, I'm going to assume that you resent the fact I'm better educated than you and did not have to steal C prompt from the California shareware anarchists to make a living.

17 November 2010

So Goldman Sachs is getting into the charter school business.  Specifically, they're putting together a fund for charter ventures - for buildings, expansions, etc.

Given how much good Goldman Sachs has done for the nation, I'm sure that we can expect this to be a real aid, particularly to low-income students being failed by their terrible, terrible public schools and their rotten, rotten teachers whose pensions are just the last straw and will bankrupt us although not as badly as investment advice from Goldman Sachs et al. bankrupted their pension funds!

Back in the days of My Favorite Corporate Scandal, Jeff Skilling of Enron was huffy and puffy about people claiming he'd said CEOs only have a responsibility to shareholders, so that if they are selling a product they know to be dangerous to consumers, they must make their decisions about the product with reference only to the shareholders.  He maintains he didn't say that.

These days, Lloyd Blankfein goes before government committees, reporters and congregations to claim that the shareholders'* interest being first, last and only is God's work.

I do not think this is a positive development.

And if the shareholders' interests are the only ones worth considering, this fund's charity is questionable at best.

In other news, we sang "Fat Turkey" today.

*in the case of Goldman, of course, "shareholders" means "partners".  The actual outside shareholders should feel a warm, fuzzy feeling about GS partners making money for GS partners.

15 November 2010

I'd Rather Be Broke.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

In return for the cash, the district was required to replace the school's principal and come up with a plan to turn test scores around. Former Starr King Elementary School Principal Christopher Rosenberg took the job.'

His plan was simple: Keep a laser-like focus on literacy. That's it.

That means no extra art, no additional science and no feel-good programs that can complicate the core mission.

That is the most short-sighted, depressing view of education that I have read recently.  If this truly describes what Muir is up to, then it's in thrall to the anti-child, anti-research forces.  All studies suggest, and strongly, that the best way to teach reading - particularly to poor students and students of color, like those at Muir - is to teach reading broadly.  Kids need reading across the content areas.  Kids need multiple, relevant access points to reading.  Kids need art and music.

And as a society, we need scientists, mathematicians and artists.  We need kids who enjoy reading and read broadly, with a critical eye.

The core mission is
education, not test scores.  As described, this is an approach that will bring higher test scores.  It won't bring success.  I know that I can teach kids to read AND have plenty of time for painting.  There are pedagogical issues associated with this (mostly around management, for time issues, and around lesson planning, for layering one's content objectives), but it's possible and it works.  It just demands that you put your time and energy into teaching and learning, not cutting out the "extras".

...class sizes as small as ten students sounds really good, though.

11 November 2010

Annual Failure

Invariably, I have these really excellent big plans for Veteran's Day.  The general schedule is usually something like this:
  • Wake up early, but not too early
  • Eat healthy breakfast, read news
  • Clean house
  • Run eight or twelve errands
  • Fabulous workout time!
  • Find funnel neck bird print dress on sale for fifty cents in my size
  • Do one of those cook-for-the-month-then-freeze deals
  • Spend time with loved ones, pets
  • Watch "Vertigo"
  • Early bedtime
Of course, these strange midweek holidays never amount to much.  The beginning of the year is the hardest for Kindergarten, I think: the kids are at their youngest, the weather's unkind and the teacher has forty seven thousand procedures to prioritize and teach while completing days of one on one assessment.  (On the other hand, when other grades have testing stress and senioritis and whatnot, we'll be sewing and painting and reading books and going hiking, so it evens out.)  That means come mid-November, I'm tired. Hence, Veteran's Day ends up looking more like this:
  • Wake up way too early
  • Decide to have lots of helpful caffeine
  • Helpful caffeine makes going back to bed impossible
  • Eat Unhealthy breakfast
  • Start reading about current state budget crisis, get to the part where 98 guarantees are already down 2.2 billion for next year and turn immediately to reading about the McQueen retrospective Met Gala for calming
  • Think about doing laundry
  • Read books on couch with pets
  • Daylong laziness leads to inability to go to bed at a decent hour
This year I ended up going to school for a few hours to do some planning and prep stuff and cooked for two days or so.  I feel sluggish and frenetic all at once - a good run after what will undoubtedly be a strange day tomorrow should make enrollment fair manageable.  This will be my third time going and every year I find it a magical horror of noise, bright lights and sudden movements: it's far too easy to get caught up in the distraction and end up needing to spend a few hours with a cold compress and/or running on a treadmill in a dark room.

08 November 2010

Saturday, 8am

Oh boy, I am going to do Enrollment Fair again this year!

YAY!  Nothing like an early Saturday morning in a vast, crowded, echoing space.  Memo to self: stock up on doodle paper, caffeine, etc.  And bring a fat stack of our awesome new Todd Parr designed shirts.

Actually, I kind of like going to Enrollment Fair, although it is not really how my school drums up interest. It is certainly true that I have been asked questions that are borderline offensive (and sometimes well over the border), especially since I live by my school and I don't consider my neighborhood "the ghetto".  But mostly, it's interesting.

In other news, I volunteered to copy edit our BSC.  Since we're three years in, I wish that they would allow us to set up the information the way we want.  I mean, presumably all the schools have instituted programs and priorities that they believe will close the opportunity gap.  Now it would be useful, I think, to delineate those goals in a list and then note how they impact the equity/access/accountability issues.

But then, three years in and I am still waiting for the District to share its own Balanced Score Cards for various Central Office bodies and its own improvement plan for how it assists the sites on their journey, so I suppose format changing is unlikely.

07 November 2010

Ad Hominem: Latin for "I don't want to deal with reality."

There is this attitude that we are supposed to take big dollar donations to education at face value. "It's about the children!", you see. And that's true enough, I suppose - although whenever I hear "It's about the children" I cringe, because if someone feels the need to distinguish their input into education by its child-centricity, they must assume that all other stakeholders are not all about the children.*

Any discussion about the values that these individuals and groups appear to espouse in their work is verboten.  Don't like how Deformer X makes money?  Think their industry is antithetical to free, public education?  Prepare to be accused of arguing against straw men.

What nonsense!  The ideals that underlie business interests that engage in education projects are obvious.  Indeed, they regularly state that schools should be like businesses.  They bring in business titles (CEOs, not principals, etc.).  They yammer about free markets and choice, about the power of competition.

These are corporate, capitalist business ideas.  It's what the deformers know, and what they believe needs to happen in education.  So why can't we also look at the actuality of their thought, the base of their ideas?

I think we have to.  Free markets may be wonderful things.  Alas, I'm afraid that John Arnold and his merry band of traders at Enron preferred market manipulation to real competition.  Although no one has ever linked performance bonuses to improved performance, I'm sure nice fat extra checks are quite exciting.  But I note that the performance that required multi-million dollar bonuses was so short-sighted and built on such false premises that we are in a financial crisis.  A long view suggests that these performance bonuses were not justified by objective data.

Going deeper, I think it's fair to ask if the corporate culture in which the deformers thrive is appropriate for our schools.  I'd say it's not.  PRCs and similar employee evaluation systems support the survival of the few and competition over teamwork.  I am obligated to teach all of my students and to ensure that each one masters Kindergarten standards.  I don't get to "fire" or refuse to teach the ones who "just don't get it".  My students need to learn to support each other, to work together and to be active participants.  These are key values for a cohesive, civil democratic society.  They are not the skills prized at hedge funds.

It's a cultural mismatch, and one with very clear outcomes.  We can run our schools like businesses to the detriment of communities and most kids.  A few superstar learners will come out just fine, though.  Or we can run our schools like schools and provide good outcomes for the vast majority of students.

*As I understand deformer talk, they are all about the children.  The dread unions are all about the big big cash dollars and child-destroying that due process rights bring.  The public education system as a whole is about destroying society through low standards, corruption and liberal ideals.  How it is that I am all about the money while hedge funds are all about the children seems factually invalid, but I'm sure they have some quantitative analysis to explain how I am actually becoming extremely rich while they are toiling away on pennies, all FOR THE CHILDREN.

06 November 2010

Buy in Bulk, Part Two: Teacher Esoterica

While Teacher Hoarding Disease often blurs my thinking, there are some things that are worth having in quantity.  Some of these are obvious: copy paper, folders, pencils.  The utility of some materials in bulk, however, was not immediately apparent.  It was only after a few years in the classroom that I committed to keeping a stock of certain tools.  I strongly recommend maintaining a large supply of the following:
  1. Hole Punches: The teacher who has only one will be overwhelmed by students waving their newly-decorated nametag necklaces, demanding they be hung.  The teacher who has seven can set her class lose on them while cutting ribbon for hanging.  They also come in useful for flash card rings, papel picados, introductory sewing and lacing projects, developing hand strength, confetti and all kinds of nifty things.
  2. Flour Sifters: I have three of these.  Used together, my class shaves minutes off baking prep time with these.  They also make for good grip training.
  3. Stickers:  Stickers are cheap.  Kids love them.  Why hold back?  I assure you: if you are worried that children who get a sticker one time will expect them every time, this is not the case.  Indeed, you can even tell them that.  However, I should note that my class goes through more stickers for math and art than we do for rewards, since sticker-fidgeting and sticker horse-trading drive me nuts.  (I prefer to give out books and to draw on kids' hands with dry-erase markers.  I can turn out a ghost, happy face, heart, star, bat, cat, spider or similar doodle as quickly as I can put a sticker on a hand to be transferred to the forehead/ear/shirt/friend's hand/friend's back/oops out of sticky on the floor for me to pick up later.)
  4. Craft or telephone wire: Useful for art projects, tying bundles and fidgets.  A spool of ethernet cable at SCRAP is cheap and it's only a couple of hours with an X-acto to unearth lots and lots of colorful wire.
What else is worth stockpiling?

Buy In Bulk, Part One

Teacher Hoarding Disease is a real and dread condition.  It starts slow: an impressive sale on multifix cubes, a box of golf pencils, a couple of extra homework packets.  Over time it takes over, until one is left with a closet so overloaded with broken crayons, irregular paper samples and lightly chewed teddy bear counters.  Cursed are those who open the closet, for they shall be buried alive.

As I've said before, Teacher Hoarding Disease is an acquired syndrome, and an understandable one at that.  School funding often oscillates wildly from year to year.  In California, education budgets may be more predictable these days, but this is because the pendulum swings only from "Catastrophic" to "Evacuate to Fallout Shelter".  When you don't know what will be available or can predict that nothing will be, the difference between laying in for winter and compulsive hoarding blurs.

Teachers generally are resourceful: scavengers nonpareil with the flexibility of impromptu theater actors.  This disposition potentiates the disease's severity: you may never have the opportunity to buy one thousand watch gears for fifty cents again, after all, and they will be nifty collage materials.  Teacher turnover also complicates the course of the illness: retiring and laid-off teachers always have plenty of lovely, well-made and effective teaching resources that you will never use but cannot bear to throw away.  Some of this deitrus molders in dark cupboards, stealing valuable storage space and every year becoming less useful.

I have been in my current classroom for four years and I still haven't fully excavated what the teachers who came before me left behind.  Every winter break, I put at least ten hours into clearing out textbooks retired in the early 1990s, mostly empty bottles of separated tempera paint and the like.

This year I'm fighting the system.  My particular weaknesses:

*Teaching Manuals, Blackline Master Collections and Education Books
I've found a few incredibly useful guides, which has encouraged me to collect anything that might possibly be of interest.  The Explosive Child changed how I thought about classroom management to lasting and excellent effect: perhaps this research study from the seventies will have a similar impact on my mathematics instruction!  The reality that I may very well have more books than I will ever peruse for homework worksheets, sub plans and pedagogical outlook rarely occurs to me in the moment.  Also, my limited organization skills often lead to misplaced blackline masters, so sometimes I snag an extra copy at an excellent price so that I'm ready for when I lose the first one.

*Children's Books
The day I turned sixteen, I applied to work at a children's bookstore (and thankfully was hired and therefore able to turn in my fast food uniform for good).  Since then, I have always had some kind of involvement with childrens' books, so I know lots of titles very well and want to share them with my students.  My family is overrun by mad readers and my household boasts not one but two Amazon Prime accounts.  Therefore, my book hoarding is condoned and reinforced.  And again, I've made some wonderful finds, like four of the Church Mouse books, which are seriously out of print and available at your local online retailer for a couple hundred bucks.

*Craft Supplies
If I come across the materials for some excellent project, I often find myself wondering if these materials will be available for next year's class.  This typically ends with me buying adequate amounts for the next three or four years.  I use the materials for three years, at which point I begin to worry that I will never see them again.  At this point, I may elect not to do the project in the future, so that there is still a large supply of materials.

This year, I am weeding my teacher manuals by giving second copies to my Resident.  When I go to the the Children's Book Project, I take only the most exciting finds for the classroom library.  My class has already worked its way through several spools of yarn, paper towel rolls and crayon bits.

05 November 2010

Know Your Deformers: John Arnold

For a number of reasons too boring to recount here, I am an Enronista (if you will).  I have read each and every mass market book on Enron, including the really badly written ones by former employees unassisted by coauthors or ghostwriters.  I've seen the movie and read a number of technical papers about the company.  I've even read the Powers report and some of the similar investigative findings.  I can recount in great detail various financial shenanigans, badly-thought business plans, corruptions and deadly sins that led to Enron's ultimate failure and I have strong opinions about who the most guilty are.

All these details actually come in handy these days.  A number of Enron's financial crimes are largely the same ones committed by today's financial criminals.  I'm not shocked by the inability of our government  to indict, prosecute and ultimately imprison jerk-collar criminals: as yet, there have been eighteen guilty pleas and four criminal convictions in the Enron case.  Once the Supreme Court's latest ruling lets Skilling get free on a "too stupid to understand how my business works" argument ("honest services"), Andy Fastow and his Star Wars memorabilia will be the only Enrat left serving at a Club Fed.

But I digress.

Also, some of the Enrats have decided that their merry free marketeering will be just as fantastic for all in education.  Chief among these is John Arnold, whose eponymous foundation makes big grants to organizations like Teach for America and The New Teacher Project.  He's also handed big chunks of cash to Houston ISD to develop teacher performance assessments and is one of Michelle Rhee's top secret private funders drawn together to pay for the possible new salaries under her Blame the Teachers IMPACT contract.

You see, John Arnold is a big believer in pay as an incentive.  This is why he personally took eight million dollars - $8,000,000 - as a performance and retention bonus after Enron's collapse (while it was still trying to sell itself to Dynegy, whom it did not exactly tell about these fun time payments).  This totally incentivized him to...leave what was left of Enron and its trading book in less than a year.

Well, clearly Mr. Arnold knows retention bonuses don't mean anything, which is probably part of his problem with my due-process rights.

Mr. Arnold is also a gambler.  In less than three months, he managed to go from up $200 million to down $200 million while working as an Enron trader.  This apparently gives him real insight into gambling on unproven and statistically invalid methods of assessment.

If I were held to such a standard, I'd have lost my credential by now.  I have due-process rights, not dumb-process rights.

And most critically, Mr. Arnold has attitudes antithetical to a free public education system that wants the best for all its students.  His philosophy cannot allow for a system of participatory, community-based endeavor with an end goal of success for all.  It gets in the way of winning, you see.  I base this off statements John Arnold made in evaluating the performance of other traders.  Since you might not guess this by reading the statements, let me assure you that his comments were meant positively.

"...learning how to use the Enron bat to push around the market"
"market manipulator...force markets when it's vulnerable"
"further exploit our dominance"

...so much for a free market among the Enrats.  Mr. Arnold can't even be held to his own Randian nonsense.  He doesn't want a free market; he wants a market he controls - or at least one he can game.

The issue is not criminal conduct.  The issue is whether someone who prizes such a me-first, you-never attitude, who apparently deserves a performance bonus no matter what his performance is and who gambles with incredibly high stakes is someone whose philosophy is what we want in our schools.

Personally, I think Mr. Arnold's philosophy is the short-sighted, reptilian-brain impulse that underlies a lot of our current financial and societal problems.  I want our public schools to nurture learners who are creative problem solvers who approach those around them with empathy.  I want smart students who reflect on short-term and long-term outcomes for themselves and for the world around them.

These are skills that the Enron bat crushes.

01 November 2010

I am a local.  Born here, raised here blah blah blah.  That said, I haven't rooted for the Giants since the 80s - specifically, since 1987 when they blew the NCLS lowered the love, and the 1989 World Series (a huge selection of my relatives being at Candlestick) killed it.  Plus, what with the ADHD baseball is really hard to watch except when a. on a treadmill b. at the game, heckling or c. with a lot of people, heckling.

The neighborhood is going nuts, though.  And I always approve of the Triumph of San Francisco Values.

In other news, I made 6 pounds of flour's worth of Pan de Muerto.  The idea is that it will slowly rise overnight in the fridge and the Ksters will invite some second graders over to bash on it and shape it into skulls for second rise, bake and glaze.  (I made the glaze, too.)

31 October 2010


Having sorted all of our Halloween candy into "chocolate" and "fruity/mockolate"(Tootsie Rolls, I'm looking at you) sacks, I am rewarding myself with a sampling.  I passed out my address to at least sixty kids, so I'm hoping to unload quite a bit of this stuff.

I don't do a Halloween party with my class, because I am a mean and terrible person.  We did manage to have our school walk-a-thon.  This is a fundraiser for a local community organization; they use the money to fund outreach programs and field trips.  So the money does come back to us (my class has already been there and will go again next month).  But as a school, we think it is important to stress community interrelationships and to work together for causes other than our own budget.  (That's important, too.  We're selling hoodies and tee-shirts for that right now, and I will try to pull off a much larger art sale this Spring.)

After the walkathon, we had a snack, did some work and baked intensely healthy seasonal treats: pumpkin muffins.  I didn't feel like dealing with flax seed, so they did have eggs but I halved the sugar and replaced the oil with greek yogurt.  After lunch and a little more work, their buddy class came over and we all made little tp-roll mummies and ate muffins.  In the end, it feels like a party day but is very low-sugar.  I am a big believer in teaching choices rather than noes (so that we have "sometimes snacks" and I allow cupcakes on birthdays but not cupcakes every day), but Friday Halloween at school followed by Sunday Halloween and Monday candy-eating is pushing "sometimes" a little too far for me.

Monday is a furlough.  I like the day off if not the pay cut; what with the vet bills and the Jeremy's sale I am not enthusiastic about my somewhat smaller paychecks.  I went in yesterday to put the library loft together, and I will be going in tomorrow to hang wall mazes and clean up for the next week.  I will be joined by many teachers on Monday, and it's all these extra hours that teachers work that make the arguments about why Board employee perks (food) ring a little hollow.  We make less.  We work plenty of twelve and fourteen hour days.  There will be no Arguello catering meal awaiting us at the end of the day.  Just a salary cut of at least $1200.  WHINE WHINE WHINE.

29 October 2010

Words Cannot Express...


Today is our school walk-a-thon.  It is a fundraiser for a neighborhood organization.

Obviously, the walking component will have to wait.  BOO!

The walking component is really great, because the overexcitement of Halloween is soothed by the walking and resultant tiredness.  Twenty one children in costumes on a rainy day does not excite, particularly since I haven't slept much this week and I'm still sick.  BOO!

Well.  We do have pumpkin muffins to make and bake, and half the class did string art while the other half did crayon shavings, so we have some art to do.  I've got a phonics sort that is Halloween-themed, too.  And we can check in on our water cycle experiment.

Or maybe it will magically stop raining, PLEASE.

I have a lot of Donors Choose boxes right now, but three of them are filled with unassembled furniture.  So  "Open the Box" would not be that exciting.  We do have a few more thank you notes to bust out, though.

I cannot remember any rainy Halloween-observed days in my youth or during my teaching career.  At least it should clear up this weekend.  I have liberally passed out my address to students at my school (since I live a couple of blocks from it) as part of our household campaign to Restore Trick or Treating to Urban Areas.

28 October 2010

In other news.

My pet lives.  My pet is lucky to have the best vets in the whole wide world.  The survival of my pet has put a pretty big hole in my discretionary spending, but I suppose it is time to begin experimenting with the use of accessories and whatnot to make new and exciting outfits out of the clothing I already own.
The Chronicle posted yet another of its limited utility yet temperature-raising reports on SFUSD this week. This one is particularly prettied up, I have to say.  It starts with a big number (half a million), but one that certainly includes salaries and dues and things like that.  The meat ends up being relatively small sums -  $22,000 for food (food that doesn't meet the Districts' nutrition plan for schools, which as a NPTL I must note with disappointment), blah blah blah.

Still, I do think this is indicative of two larger SFUSD problems:

I have heard the Superintendent say "It's only a million dollars!"  That's true enough when your budget is five million dollars, but the thing is that all of those millions add up, and when you're laying off teachers in March we don't forget them.  Is $22,000 a lot of money in the Big Picture of SFUSD?  No.  Is it a lot of money?  Yes.  I am tired of getting annual pink slips and twenty cents for supplies.  Every expenditure really needs to be means-tested if you are going to go on and on about belt-tightening and sharing the pain.

Every teacher in the District took a pay cut by furlough.  District employees and Board Commissioners need to pack a meal.  (FYI: As you can see here (courtesy the SF Budget Blog), working at the District Office - even for those working for the Board - is more lucrative than teaching in SFUSD.)*

Dear BoE, Superintendent and Similar:

When this stuff comes out - and it always comes out - you feed nasty notions about school budgeting.  "WHY FUND THOSE BLOATED ADMINISTRATIONS?" howl deformers.  "Hmmm," says the voter.    "I just read that the SFUSD Board of Education is going to a lot of conferences."



Your teaching staff.

*Which is not to say that I think these salaries are unwarranted or excessive, because I don't.  And goodness knows there are lots of SFUSD employees who aren't making this kind of money and are working at the DO.  That said, buy your own food.  In interest of demonstrating my moral righteousness, I am also against catering teacher PD days, which I may have gone on about earlier on this blog.

25 October 2010

On Stage

Ultimately, teaching is all-day acting.  You can't even take a bathroom break when you need one, and the current image of teaching as a profession is a day-long ritual of empathy, selflessness and excellence.  One's lessons shall always be on point, and one's students always engaged.  Responses to poor behavior should be caring and take underlying motivations into account at all times.  All standards shall be mastered by all students, and all standards shall be taught in multimodal approaches that value all learners.

This is great except for the little problem that teachers aren't robots.  We get sick, we have kids, we have family dramas.  Our partners lose their jobs, our children move back home, we're not sure we can afford college for our children, we slept badly last night, we were in a fender-bender on the way to school, the bus was late...

The best you can do is build up credits with your students for the bad times, so that they know your blue mood is passing.

I am sick and my pet is in the hospital with a guarded prognosis.  I have had this pet for many years and it has been my companion in very difficult times.  What with the coughing and vague lethargy I'm not going to be the nicest lady ever tomorrow (and if the vet calls, you'd better believe that's an emergency call I'm taking).

20 October 2010

The problem with private funding.

I have received tens of thousands of dollars in donations through Donors Choose.  Indeed, I just got two more grants filled this week.  Over the years, I've gotten

  • rugs
  • backpacks stocked with games and supplies, one for every child to take home at the end of the year (...twice)
  • a workbench and tools
  • a puppet theatre and all the goodies to go with it
  • costumes
  • oodles and oodles of sensory equipment (fidgets, raised-line paper, ball chairs, sit disks)
  • oodles and oodles of PE equipment (ribbon wands, balance boards, scooter boards, a tunnel)
  • an ipod dock and speaker system
  • a mobile kitchen, including plates and silverware
  • science units
  • books
  • math games
  • reading games
  • chair pockets, bookshelves and a rolling cart
  • wall mazes
  • extremely nifty arts and crafts supplies
In short, I've been very lucky to have had many generous private citizens and foundations support my students.  I am also an eager grant writer; for the last two years I have always had a project up on Donors Choose - except when all eight allowed have been filled and I am working on thank you projects.  And I can write a pretty good grant.  A colleague of mine says it's free money being wasted if you don't get those grants up, and I agree.

Also: I'm shameless.  Are you my friend?  Frienemy?  We went to second grade together and I have your email address?  Prepare to be solicited.

I am also asking for things that sound good.  I've had a couple of grants filled by the same foundation because I write grants for a specific area in which they are interested.  I have written some other grants to attract the interest of certain funding streams (and have been gratified by managing to get that interest, and the cash that accompanies it).

The problem is that not everyone is quite the grant-writer I am.  Not every teacher has the time to pull a grant together.  And some very basic needs - like school supplies - do not sound as awesome as "Help my students make extremely awesome sewing projects about their science learning" or "Caitlin Flanagan sucks: we want garden tools."

So while I certainly hope that all the world continues to enable my students a world-class, interactive and project-based Kindergarten, I'd prefer that all students could have the same experience through public funding.  The system we have now is unfair.  My students and my school do not have the advantage of generous local funding; we are lucky to have Donors Choose as a resource.  But there are equally-deserving schools that aren't able to make up the difference this way.

So far I am batting 1.00 on conferences: no no-shows three days in.  This is very exciting for me, since I really need to get them all done in a week and not try to run clean up.

In other school news, I am wearing my spiffy new school hoody featuring art from a well-known children's book author (sadly, not Tomi Ungerer, but almost as good) made specifically for our school.  The shameless scrounging to awesome thing is a staff trait; one of the teachers got the art and another got us a deal on the printing.  If we can just arrange for a Banksy mural we're so set.  Also,  I had a cute little  plaid-and-crinoline number to wear with the sweatshirt.

17 October 2010

Why My Job is Awesome.

  1. I get to blow minds with science - by dyeing a flower using colored water, by blowing up a balloon with yeast.
  2. I get to blow minds with arts and crafts - with water resist painting, with suncatchers, with oil pastels.
  3. I get to read all of my own personal favorite children's books, including my all-time childhood favorite story The Journey (one of the Mouse Tales) and the gruesomely fascinating, hunger-causing Zeralda's Ogre.
  4. I get to do daily ab exercises as part of my instructional routine.
  5. I don't have to sit at a desk.  In fact, I don't even have a desk.

Six Reasons Why Michelle Rhee Isn't the Answer.

(NB: Edited and expanded from something I put on my facebook a couple of years ago.)

1. Ms. Rhee seriously considered voting for John McCain because - get this - she is so afraid of what Obama and the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad Democrats will do to education.

...the hell? "McCAIN: Because underfunded public schools and skeevy for-profit charters are better than the dread teachers' unions."

Dude, isn't the Obama administration's education policy bad enough?  We knew it would be like this before he got elected, too.

2. Ms. Rhee demonstrates a critical lack of understanding culturally responsive education and more broadly of social justice. It is her stated opinion that any arts, music, or otherwise "imaginative" (her words) programming should not be provided to students unless they have mastered reading. Similarly, she is disgusted by classroom meetings, TRIBES and so on.

I missed the part where teaching arts was absolutely entirely antithetical to literacy. One of the key premises of CLRP is that the arts are critical to a powerful and multifaceted literacy, actually.

But that's Ms. Rhee's problem - she sees a teacher's responding to a student's needs as "soft bigotry", if you will. It is evidently beyond her ken that social justice requires that we give students the tools they need to succeed - both by using the most effective strategies and by being absolutely explicit about the strategies we choose (so that students can succeed even in, say, a wretched KIPP school, where blindness to white privilege is required for a hire).

White Liberal Social Darwinism.

Only in San Francisco, seriously*.

According to denizens of the Aggrieved Reverse Racism Brigade, San Francisco (the city?  the district?  each and every resident?) is attempting to ensure "equality of results" (er, the usual phrase is "equality of outcomes", but I think the intent was to dumb it down for dimwitted Kindergarten teachers).

There is only one way to respond to this:

No.  There is no equality in outcome or in opportunity being attempted here.

How could you even say that with a straight face?

Let's look at some of those conditions here.

  1. How many white people live at Sunnydale, originally slated to be torn down in the 1950s?
  2. Are you aware of the location of Superfund sites in San Francisco?
  3. How about of the breast cancer spike?
  4. The asthma spike?
  5. Taken a look at school funding inequities within the District lately?
  6. Seen any of the figures on educating high-needs children?
That's just a teeny scrape on the pyramid of institutional racism.  There are your starting conditions.

As far as attempting equality in outcomes, how you could create evidence that anyone in San Francisco is attempting that is beyond me.  Are many forces - including SFUSD - trying very hard to ensure a quality education and college readiness for all students?  Is San Francisco attempting to offer medical care - thereby increasing productivity, life expectancy and ability to care for oneself - to the city as a whole?  Arguably, there is some attempt to enable equality of outcomes.

The thing is: it's a massive failure, and no one is trying that hard.  Yammering about being Beyond the Talk and being Beyond the Talk are two different things; no action SFUSD has taken leads me to believe that we'll be going beyond talking about Beyond the Talk.  Demanding A-G requirements is as powerful as mandating CASHEE: sounds good, no proof it'll do anything but increase the dropout rate.

Ultimately, what these semi-educated claims tell me is that the huge simmering vat of ignored privilege and sunny colorblindness that characterizes San Francisco's white liberal community is nearing a fast boil.

This is why I do not particularly care if San Francisco ever desegregates its schools.  Honestly, my school has a better chance of succeeding in its mission without having disruptive, anti-change elements like these in our community.  The students at my school are not the people who need to knock some sense into the ambience.

It is necessary work, of course.  Like it or not, the only way to ensure eventual equality of opportunity is to get all the stakeholders on board, and that includes the families turning to private schools because the public schools are scary social engineering places.  (Hack.)  And I do believe that it is the responsibility of white allies to do this work.  But I need a break from it, because I'm about to bash my head against the monitor to put it out of its misery**.

In other more cheerful news, I got a winter jacket.  With my thrifted Haider Ackermann culottes I cut a very Novakian figure in it and am more pleased with myself than usual.

*Okay, not really.  This particular blend of happy talk left politics and racism you don't see everywhere, though.  It's like a Ron Paul convention with more hugs.
**Which speaks to my own privilege, but you know what?  I am going to need to cut myself some slack on this one and reflect later.

16 October 2010

Courtesy Teacher Sabrina over at failingschools.wordpress.com.

I personally ordered six or seven of these, although I feel that the standardized test amount is unacceptably low.  Horse-choking quantities would only allow for six or seven weeks of uninterrupted testing, and that is simply not enough data for our laser-like foci.  Elephant-choking might be better.  Or that snake that swallowed the alligator?  That snake-choking.

That snake eventually exploded, of course, which is about exactly what the educrats and for profiteers have in mind for public education.
Despite it being a four day week, this one felt long.  Mostly it was the heat, I think.  Everyone is a little grumpier and stinkier, but being forty days in there's more to get done before we turn to popsicles and water experimentation.

We also had a giant walkthrough, which I guess had positive feedback.  It was still kind of useless, though.  There were a lot of high school administrators walking around.  They were in my room for twenty minutes; it was a twenty-minute whole class instruction period where we hit a bunch of reading standards quickly for review and not for mastery.  I can't imagine how you understand this if your mindset is high school, where you would have a lesson plan and formal instruction/guided practice/independent practice stuff going on.

It also explains why all three of them had to get up and see what I was drawing on the kids' hands with dry-erase markers while the Resident led a phonics chant.  I mean, I guess in high school you might draw a skull and crossbones (designating detention) or something.

(Dry-erase pictures: more loved and easier to manage than stickers.)

Even staying for twenty minutes - which is a lot better than wall-walking, for sure - there is so much you just can't know.  For instance, when they came in I was drawing a letter person using letters the class suggested.  I was picking sticks to call on kids.  My sticks are loaded: if I think we had better call on you more often, you have extra sticks.  But you don't know this unless I tell you.  And the kids were all super on-task.  I mean, in terms of participation, engagement and behavior they were unbelievably on target.  (Really.  At the end of the day the Resident and I speculated that Thursday would be hard because they used up so much positive energy on Wednesday.)  That suggests we have decent procedures and protocols to guide behavior toward learning, but they were largely invisible (especially, again, if your mindset is high school.  The way I heard it, high school students can monitor their own need for pee breaks and whatnot).

Anyway, there were no interesting questions or pushing feedback that applied to anything happening in Kindergarten, so from my perspective it was kind of useless.

They gave us all their guiding question stuff and problem statements, and they say they are focusing on instructional leadership as opposed to nostalgia/witch-hunting.  The whole problem statement+consultant bearing Power Point leads to my problem statement with the Redesign.

If all of these highly-paid EDs, Associate and Assistant Superintendents are "instructional leaders" (debatable anyway), who's doing macroanalysis?  We had eight Assistant Superintendents and a host of other District people wandering about, all focused on a tiny problem statement about one school.  This is the gist of the redesign: the Central Office is Watching You.  Assuming best intentions, we're all going to go laser-like on little school site problems and save the world.  (Thinking like your average SFUSD peon, we're stuck in a giant game of Pass the Buck in which teachers will always lose.)

But someone has got to look at the big picture.  We have a District-wide problem educating the kids who live at Sunnydale.  Just as you can't offset the entirety of that problem to institutional racism, you can't say that fixing classroom practice issues will fix everything.

The problem is bigger.  Many Sunnydale families don't trust us, which makes it hard to collaborate with them.  Many students living there have PTSD or poverty-related health problems: we need to focus on their social-emotional and physical needs, too.  And critically, if you live at Sunnydale the chances that you attend a drastically under-resourced school is very high.  This is a case where we haven't tried money, and it would make a difference.

Of course, if no one is doing macroanalysis, you can ignore the whole child, ignore District complicity in creating the current relationship we have with Sunnydale families, and holler righteously that "it's not about the money".  All these newborn instructional leaders can put the blame where it tends to end up: on the teachers.

15 October 2010

Oh, (my fellow) White People.

Pointing out that SFUSD has a long-standing access problem is offensive to some element among SFUSD stakeholders.

How depressing.

Fear of these people is one of the reasons why SFUSD will never do anything actually beyond talking when it comes to the radical changes needed to ensure school equity (HINT: it involves money).  I mean, I was just threatened for mildly stating that the school enrollment process has some access issues.  This is a well-known fact, and data on the issue are helpfully posted on SFUSD's own website.  Apparently this is a case of The More You Know, the More You Are Clearly a Proselytizing Socialist Liberal Communist Fascist or Whatever.

I so call BOO on that.  I don't post anonymously on forums and I'm not working terribly hard to hide my job location.  I take responsibility for what I say and do.  I go ahead and go beyond the talk every day, and I don't wait for SFUSD to catch up.

In other news, the latest SFUSD article in the Chronicle suggested layoffs are coming again.  I suspected that Garcia's (public) claim that the point of the contract concessions was to avoid layoffs next year would come to nothing.  It's a little irritating that we're still talking about the $113 million shortfall - couldn't they have waited until that figure was updated? - and the central office had a bit of a redesign that necessitated many more big dollar contracts and we're ALREADY on layoffs again.

But seriously, after last year the White Trolls of SFUSD really should get with it.  I go to Board meetings and after announcing my name and job location, I join with my colleagues in noting that going Beyond the Talk requires action, and if you're not willing to take it then you are nurturing institutional racism.  And at least once the majority of the Board and Cabinet wasn't texting so I know they heard what I said.

So, as I was saying: BOO.