I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

31 January 2010

I am not Joe Klein.

I made the terrible mistake of picking up TIME at the gym the other day. Since I am a glutton for punishment and needed a little extra boost to my heart rate, I read Joe Klein's latest diatribe in his ongoing series, "All Those Lousy Teachers Unions Will Pay, PAY I TELL YOU, for the Time Mrs. Labinowitz Benched Me at Recess Unfairly".

Not that Mr. Klein sees it that way. I'm sure he experiences his awesome, radical, edgy hatred for unions and teachers as part of his mavericky maverickness. You know, the same independence of outlook that inspires him to award his Teddy Roosevelt medals to the most maverick of mavericks.

This is more apropos than Mr. Klein knows, I think. He appears to equate Teddy Roosevelt with incredible maverick spirit based on running for President on a third-party ticket and reading The Jungle even though Upton Sinclair a. doesn't write so well and b. was a SOCIALIST TEACHER LOVER.

Now, if you ask me the whole "Bull Moose" campaign is more a testament to meglomania, kind of like, oh, having your giant face carved into a mountain. The awards do end up being sort of appropriate though, in that TR had many other interesting qualities, like extreme hatred of women (ruining America by coddling virile sons) and people of color (COLONIALISM HO!).

But in the end, this is the kind of Maverick spirit that Mr. Klein reveres: the power to embrace one's corporate sponsors in the name of grit and independence. The nobility of shooting at the oppressed from the depths of their supposed white liberal allies. So it's no surprise that John McCain (woman-hater, racial slur user, protector of felons) is a perennial TR winner, and it's no surprise that Mr. Klein loves to rip on the teacher unions.

After all, they're a great target - full of women (bad), labor rights (which get in the way of the mavericky maverickness of working eighty hour weeks, you see), and historically popular among Democrats. Since Mr. Klein is himself a Democrat, railing against unions gives him that distinct thrill of the MAVERICK speaking truth to power. YES. He is letting those powerful, nasty teachers have it. They may move against him through their vast political connections. He may be forced to...I don't know, write lines or something. STAY INSIDE AT RECESS AND CLEAN THE CHALKBOARD ERASERS!

...all while being a wealthy white guy with a national pulpit espousing ideas popular among his corporate masters. Which is, if you think about it, inexcusably corrupt and brainless. Mrs. Labinowitz should've retained him, although if it meant she'd have to have his smarmy face in her class for two years I can understand why not.

23 January 2010

The extent to which teaching is a publicly-lived profession is startling. Everyone has an opinion on teaching, and a significant portion of the nation believes they could be teachers. Those (fake) lists of job requirements for teachers from the 1800s (requiring church-going, etc.) were believable because there are vague moral constraints placed upon teachers' lives even today. This is part of why Teach for America works as a lauded organization. Shiny, young and idealistic youth with no training provide both moral certainty and artless excellence.

Part of what comes out of this is the focus on being "relentless" in pursuit of success. This is an unyielding moral ground of rigor. Relentlessness requires teachers to keep pushing themselves and their students without regard for any obstacle. Relentlessness requires extended work hours and weeks. Relentlessness requires absolute dedication to academics.

Relentlessness is bunk.

Relentlessness is a smokescreen.

Relentlessness is a corrupt moral posture.

Relentlessness is characterized by a lack of reflection (Just keep going! Don't look back!).

I am an excellent teacher. I want my students to absolutely shred the Kindergarten content standards. I want each and every one of them to go to first grade above grade level with pride and confidence.

I also want them to roll around on the floor a lot.

When they go to first grade, I want them happy and excited about it. Relentlessness does not require happy children, self-motivated children, children who don't stress out about a little fingerpaint in the hair.

So what I'm realizing is: I'm not relentless. I am Michelle Rhee's nightmare. This hasn't been easy, since it is difficult not to accept truisms as truth, and because I have a tendency to try to reconcile good intentions (all children can succeed) with bad foundations (and social justice is not the answer).

But the thing is, if I demand my students overcome every obstacle while ignoring those obstacles, I am morally corrupt. I'm not teaching, I'm passing out bootstraps. If I push myself into exhaustion with seventy-hour weeks and leave the profession, I'm literally not teaching. If I push academics alone, I am accepting the dichotomy between academic content and
play. It all boils down to sterility: a world without context. Students don't observe reality and synthesize it with academic content. Learning and pleasure are separated; education is a period of one's life, not a lifelong process.

Sadly, all this grandiose posturing comes out of a very simple realization this week. It rained every day, and my students got not one minute of outdoor recess. Needless to say, they were more than a little squirrelly come...oh, come Wednesday morning. The human body, particularly when five, is not well-suited for rainy-day recess.

What I realized this week is that I can keep pushing through my RELENTLESS schedule or face reality. I can do heavy-duty academic content in the afternoon and get irritated when my students mess around. They won't learn anything, but hey: it's relentless.

Or I can fiddle with my schedule, hit the academic high points in the morning and reserve the afternoons for experiential learning and indoor play. The kids will be happier and I'll be happier. The students might not hit so many content standards, but the ones they do, they'll master. They'll also get a little boost for future learning, since the mind-body connection is a strong one. I will read several favorite ridiculous children's stories to great laughter and enjoy the pleasure of an indoor snowball fight.

Relentlessness can go hang, man. It's time for a little Tomi Ungerer and a few cooking projects.

22 January 2010

For Future Reference

An excellent way to organize a work gang of afterschool helpers is by offering science experiments.

Today's experiment: "Do children like Nutella?"

21 January 2010

It is no real surprise that public education takes miserable budget hits come shortfall or surplus. It's "public" after all, and there has been a concerted effort to equate taxpayer-supported services as pits of corruption, failure and greed. Not to mention that education involves teachers, who were notoriously mean to you in second grade and are unionized. That's two more strikes right there. And then, children don't vote and their lobbyists have early bedtimes, not to mention karate practice and chores. Those really cut into wine-and-dine nights in Sacramento. Nor is it strange that poor children and children of color will suffer inequitably.

Still, looking at the budget cuts this year is enough to make one spit, or cry, or both. SFUSD is looking to cut $113 million over two years, which is what happens when the Governor says he's not cutting education funding. There is no way that this will not be ugly, but what is going to happen is so wrong that it's nauseating. (And I say this as someone who is tenured and should not receive a layoff letter).

We're looking at 30:1 class sizes, no step increases or longevity bonuses and at least two furlough days. So pretty much a salary cut for twice as many students in a classroom. Those students are unlikely to have many materials - site budgets are destroyed - and since we will have no textbook adoptions for another two years their materials will be very out of date.

As yet, no SFUSD ED, AS or Garcia himself have pledged to take a pay cut in solidarity with their staff.

19 January 2010

Sometimes I Can't Help Myself.

Claire Lilienthal is a K-8 in SFUSD. Claire Lilienthal was a member of the Board of Education who advocated for integrated schools.

Claire Lilienthal is reasonably diverse. Reasonably. Compared to SFUSD's student demographics, Claire Lilienthal, wherever she is now, is maaaaaaaaaaaad:

SFUSD is about 10% white; Lilienthal is over 30% white. About half of SFUSD's students live in poverty and around a third are English Language Learners: Lilienthal clocks in at 18% and 7%, respectively.

Chalk this up with "Things I Was Probably Better Off Not Knowing".

17 January 2010

Looking "Beyond the Talk", You Will Find

...a great big empty space.

Word has it that our august Superintendent is making the rounds dressed up like Foxy Loxy to alert us that the sky is falling: no class-size reduction, no 'extras' like art and music, massive layoffs.

"Massive layoffs" might be my very favorite part in terms of absolute waste of cash.  The "hard to staff" schools are getting their first bonuses next month.  They'll also take the brunt of the layoffs, so that those "hard to staff" schools will remain so forevermore.  After all, since they're always hiring, they're always filled with teachers whose seniority is negligible.  So despite the fact that teacher retention has a significant positive impact on poor schools, and despite the fact that SFUSD got the voters to pay for programs to increase retention, they're going to go ahead and lay off those teachers anyway.

I have to admit I find the CSR issue somewhat amusing, in a teeth-grinding way.  This is one of those cuts that will save SFUSD significant money on the backs of poor schools.  The District knows that several parent-funded schools have been buying down class sizes in 4th and 5th grades.  I think we can assume that most, if not all of those schools will shift to buying down all class sizes.  Poor schools can suck it.

Ultimately, this is what you get when you hire a guy that spent his last Superintendent job spouting racist epithets to the press.  In theory, we are all "Beyond the Talk" these days.  We're gonna close that achievement opportunity gap, pass out those Jimi Hendrix bags, get serious about educating children of color, make connections with communities with humility, make school funding equitable.

In actuality, we're going to pander to white middle class families (neighborhood! schools! except! for! immersion! programs!), encourage parent funding and give all the Title One schools an extra pair of bootstraps.

10 January 2010

The Budget Proposal of Our "No Cuts to Education" Governor

...or, "Ten Thousand dollars in goods and services personally raised for my classroom, plus an extra two thousand of my own cash sure won't do it next year."

...or, "The Groper Governor LIED? NO WAY!"

  • K-14 education takes about 30% of the cuts, while corrections take 14%.
  • Some portion of the cuts to corrections is cuts to education programs in prisons.
  • By messing around with gasoline excise taxes, Prop 98 takes a huge cut.
  • First Five takes massive cuts.  This would require a vote, so California's taxpayers will get to pay for that, too.  This is a real pity, because First Five is fat with cash and they use it reasonably well.
  • Programs that help kids get to school healthy, fed, and happy - CALWorks, mental health programs, Healthy Families - they will all be destroyed.
  • Special education will take special cuts unless the federal government kicks in some cash.
  • The budget proposes K-12 cuts to administrative overhead.  That always ends up translating to "Let's hire consultants!"  So not only is it a cash cut, it's one that will likely destroy site budgets while claiming to get more money into classrooms.
  • In fact, the Governor's budget makes it easier to hire consultants.
  • The Average Daily Attendance cash would be cut.
  • Class size reduction takes a cut so large it might as well be ended entirely.
  • Defund almost all education funding mandates.
  • End seniority.
  • End the 15 March pink slip notice.
  • 175 day school year.