I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

12 July 2010

Oh please, none of these.

SFUSD laid off eleven of fifteen teachers at my site this year, all of whom were eventually offered their jobs back. Of course, if you wait until the beginning of July to offer everyone's job back, some people leave: they actually need to be employed. So they find new jobs.

I think we can take it as a given that SFUSD will place elementary education TFAers in classrooms. I floated my TFA proposal (that they should be assigned to high-performing west side schools while veterans take the southeast side) by a prospective Board member last week and she seemed to dig it, but no dice for this year.

I have a huge issue with this, because in essence what TFA is doing is saving SFUSD's ass from a Williams complaint. If TFA refused SFUSD elementary education candidates, more credentialed teachers would get their jobs back sooner or not be laid off at all. TFA is Plan B for when teachers leave.

Given the latest studies on TFA (academic results: bad, retention: worse - and worse than other new teachers' retention rates) it's not really a point of pride to have them. Moreover, it's unfair to our students. They get to be someone's training class, and TFAers don't stay and build relationships with families - the kind that take more than a year and make a big difference. Nor is it fair to me: when you have uncredentialed newbies, site professional development must prioritize their needs. That makes sense, but those of us who have been teaching for years also need to grow, and our PD needs are different. They don't get met, so we either a. stagnate b. redesign the wheel testing "new" stuff or c. spend a healthy proportion of our salary that would be much better spent purchasing fantastic clothing on professional development.

Anyway, this is from the New York Times' latest Best-and-Brightest Piece.

Lilianna Nguyen, a recent Stanford graduate, dressed formally in high heels, was trying to teach a sixth-grade math class about negative numbers. She’d prepared definitions to be copied down, but the projector was broken.

This is not a productive method of teaching. Copying definitions does not teach anything. Also, does this classroom lack blackboards? Could she not photocopy her notes, group the students and have them jigsaw definitions - or rephrase them in their own words to teach the class? Newbies don't have pockets filled with Plan Bs. This makes it difficult for them, and they're out of their element. Things tend to go badly and end with management issues because the flow is poor.

...Copying definitions, though? Management will ALWAYS be bad with that kind of nonsense.

She’d also created a fun math game, giving every student an index card with a number. They were supposed to silently line themselves up from lowest negative to highest positive,

Dude.

Don't lie.

That is not a fun game. It is a boring game...unless someone manages to start a fight. That'd be cool.

It is also a discipline nightmare: that many students? In one line? Interacting? I predict pushing, with a side of shoving. Also probably some running.

You can get away with this kind of thing, mind you, but your ground expectations need to be tight. They need to include things like "When I say integer, stand up and tuck in your chair...don't forget your personal space bubble. If you pop someone's bubble, you are out and must sit down until I give you a signal..."

Also, this game is not very...well, learning. Everyone only gets one try. It's easy to help someone else out. A more interesting variant might require that some kids can't show their numbers but can only say "greater" or "less than" or something. Real world data might be interesting here, too: temperatures of planets in our solar system, I dunno.

(True story: I taught the scientific method to 6th graders by standing in front of the room claiming with a straight face that ketchup was made from blood, up to and including an exchange where a kid offered to go to the cafeteria to get some ketchup to prove it wasn't blood and I said to also bring a knife to prove that it was. Oh, don't worry: I didn't actually give him a hall pass. Anyway, best lesson ever? No, of course not. Did they get the difference between a hypothesis and some crazy shit you just thought up? Yes. Also, I can get away with this kind of stuff because I am harmless and sixth graders are generally not sure if I am schizo or just ADHD.)

but one boy kept disrupting the class, blurting out, twirling his pen, complaining he wanted to play a fun game, not a math game.

I am so with this kid.
Check how bad the management is, though: he's doing this IN FRONT OF A REPORTER. Either the kid is incredibly fearless or things in this classroom have degenerated to open warfare.

“Why is there talking?” Ms. Nguyen said. “There should be no talking.”

Yeah, that'll stop the talking. Oh, and raise your hand if you can hear the voice she used in your head. I totally could. Moreover, if the kid is clowning around IN FRONT OF A REPORTER, he needs a different plan than whatever you've got going on, and probably that needs to be a personal conference.

Oh, and no talking EVER? Did you tell them they had to do the game with no talking, or did you forget that and assume that they would give it to you for free?

“Do I have to play?” asked the boy.

That suggests she could still get somewhere with this kid. This isn't total rebellion: he's not refusing to play. He's just whining.

“Do you want to pass summer school?” Ms. Nguyen answered.

This could be a light and funny rhetorical question between a teacher and a pupil with a good relationship, or it could be an outright threat. A simple "Yes." would have been much better. After all, some kids will freely answer such a question with "No." And honestly, nothing in this exchange suggests a good relationship between Ms. Nguyen and Bad Boy X.

The boy asked if it was O.K. to push people to get them in the right order.

I will assume this was said in a smarmy way, but honestly: fair question! It also suggests that he knows (or thinks he knows) how to order integers by size. Kids who are above whatever you are teaching have far too much time to think up ways to bug you, like calling your boring game boring.

“This is your third warning,” Ms. Nguyen said. “Do not speak out in my class.”

So is the rule no talking? Because she answered him when he asked if he had to play. Or is it "No speaking out"? Also, what happens after three warnings?

Okay, I'm being very nit-picky, but honestly? America's best and brightest need to stop avoiding the job market in America's neediest classrooms. I have my own class, and I don't have enough time to teach them how to teach every day.

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