I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

30 August 2010

In general, I'm not a big fan of press reports, books or films decrying the Dread Teachers' Unions.  I note with interest that all the venture capitalists so hot to fund KIPP are not so hot to send their own children to KIPP.  And I am always bemused by prostisuits and educrats explaining why 37:1 is actually optimal for classrooms while their own children attend fancy private schools with 2 teachers for every student.

So when I heard Donors Choose was hooking up with the makers of Teachers Hate Children So Much or whatever the latest pro-privatization propos* is called, I gave my computer monitor a good hairy eyeball teacher look.  Sadly, it did not cower as expected; nor did it alert Donors Choose to hook up with an education ally, not some destroyers.

This did not, however, cause me to stop writing Donors Choose proposals.  I got four funded over the summer.  I had two projects still up this morning, when a donor funded all 2,200 projects in California.  My school had the most projects posted of all SFUSD - fifteen.  All fifteen got funded.  We're getting a curriculum kit, a mess of leveled libraries, cozy furniture for classroom libraries and Peace Places, basic supplies, storage carts and shelves, sensory integration and fine motor equipment, play therapy equipment, a DVD player, math games...

None of these are provided by SFUSD or the state.  Heck, they can't even get classroom mats or cots so the Kindergarten students can rest comfortably.  If we want our students to have what some kids get, we need to buy it ourselves or find someone who will.

I suppose this is a case of trampling on principle for daily reality, a pose I generally do not favor.  Still, standing on principle in front of twenty one students who already aren't getting a fair shake doesn't sound so hot, either.

*Guess who just read Mockingjay?

28 August 2010

This blog=facebook without endless teacher stuff.

It is my general practice to begin obsessively checking online weather reports on any late summer afternoon during which I do not observe fog rolling in.  So I was well-prepared for the hot days this school week:
  • sprayer bottles filled and set to mist
  • case of water bottles, each labelled with a student's name
  • procedures for bottle refills and accidents planned
  • consideration of responses to unconventional bottle use
  • checked batteries in sensory fan
  • purchased two small box fans
  • rescheduled all heavy academic content/serious procedure teaching to the morning
  • enforced resting (usually I have a quiet activity running - not this week)
  • planned outfits so that I am not grabbing knee-high boots because they are the only shoes I can find on my way out the door
  • mandated jacket removal upon entrance
  • scheduled afternoon indoor PE with second grade classrooms for the two hottest days
  • purchased popsicles
My classroom has a full wall of windows and old school encapsulated asbestos insulation, so it gets very hot.  All the Kindergarten bodies add to the heat.  The kids are cranky and tired, which heats them up further.  So my overall goal is to keep the classroom mellow, emotionally smooth and friendly.  Years of experience have taught me that it's better to spend afternoons rolling through the tunnel and painting than pushing through curriculum.  Not only is the former academic anyway (this.  is.  Kindergarten.), but the latter doesn't build goodwill.  I will need that later for heavy-duty academics, especially on days I am cranky and tired.

The transition to Kindergarten continues.  There was an upswing in roughhousing this week; I did some individual/small group stuff around limits and personal space.  Roughhousing is of course not allowed; sadly, that does not cause it to disappear.  On Monday we will be reading So Much as part of my anti-roughhousing/situational appropriateness campaign.  I talked to the lunch yard monitors and after school leaders.  Last year's anti-roughhousing campaign went pretty well, so I am hopeful this year's will too.

I have three students who are really struggling with behavior expectations.  Well, perhaps I should say that I am really struggling with their behavior and my expectations.  However, the behavior is out of line, so it's just finding the appropriate techniques for teaching/enforcing acceptable behavior.  One of the three has been doing better in the morning and apparently is a night owl by nature, so I think the issue is worsened by tiredness - after lunch, the kid's done for the day.  There is also a language issue, and since morning recess marks the downward trend in behavior, I suspect a need for structure (I find morning recess very difficult myself, what with the kids and the water and the bathroom and the play structure and the hoops and the balls and the blacktop and and and, myself).

I had a breakthrough with one of the others; I think the issue was limits-testing.  I will bargain with students about the amount of work that needs to be done/how it needs to be done/when it needs to be done (I like Collaborative Problem Solving a lot and try to use its philosophy in little situations like these), but there are non-negotiables.  Anyway, after losing out on doing a craft project until the work got done as agreed, this child has been doing a lot better across the board.  (She did get to do the craft project, by the way; it was just seeing that she would not get to do it while everyone else did that I think did the trick.  Yep, I'm a MEAN LADY.)

The third child is experiencing a disconnect between behavior systems at home and those at school.  Specifically, I will not be providing chocolate ice cream to end a tantrum.  Nor am I able to ignore the child until approached with an apology (the kid has stamina, I'm telling you).  I reserve incentives for kindness, personal best work, etc.  This child has been having serious difficulties in all environments (there is no adult on staff who has contact with K who has not had a Bad News Bulletin for me), and after some reflection and discussion with our emotional/behavioral support people, I think we are in for a couple of unhappy days before just how mean and non-budging I am comes through.  There was a large tantrum on Thursday; it was not rewarded.  Friday I did some one on one with this child, so I am pretty sure that certain cause-effect relationships are clear (throw food in cafeteria?  Clean food in cafeteria.  Rip up work?  Get new work).  For next week, I am planning to set some very specific targets with this child with short time spans and clear incentives.

I left work on time yesterday so that I could do real life stuff, like shoes and gym, before seeing a fellow K teacher play with her band.  While I was enjoying the show, my car failed to enjoy a hit and run.  At least DPT was good enough not to give me a street cleaning ticket, since I did not feel up to getting it off the street until today.  The fact that it had been pushed onto the curb and into another car may have influenced that decision, although the other car was gone this morning.  Anyway, it is time to walk over to school and get ready for the next couple of weeks (and Back to School Night!).  The sleep deprivation associated with concerts, early-morning police reports and poking vengefully at the many pieces of not-my-car car left behind will make this a little harder to do; I had better write a list before I spend another hour on non-classroom tasks.

22 August 2010

Amazing Fun Fact Day!

ADHD and Giftedness look a lot alike, at least in the school setting.  In fact they look so much alike that it comes up in teacher credentialing classes.  They may also be co-morbid.  (Successful ADHD people are also often gifted, which I bet is the extent of the co-morbidity - the giftedness helps get around the disorder, and the successful ones write the articles.)

Given my high-faluting education, fabulous wardrobe and bougie lifestyle, I figure I can claim success myself.  So there.

Honestly I don't get the fascination with GATE programming.  Maybe I would had I received it myself, but I went on my merry, distracted, gifted way without it.*  I'm not sure what it's meant to provide.  As far as I can tell, GATE stuff tends to be more hands-on, more inquiry-based, more open-ended.  It may be somewhat accelerated, I suppose - but giftedness is not the same as skill, so if we are saying GATE programming starts at a higher level of skill we are excluding gifted persons who have limited familiarity with the material, right?

All of my Kindergarten students are gifted.  They have all learned a lot already - like, how to speak a language, how to walk, how to get attention, how cool their world is - before they come to school.  And they can all learn the school stuff.  Some of them have talents I don't.  This is not Hallmark stuff or even Howard Gardner, here: they are all gifted.

I have yet to meet the learner who does not learn more when the work is engaging and involves doing and asking.  So why isn't GATE good for everyone?  I have to wonder if GATE classrooms are fulfilling some other need we perceive children to have.

*Admittedly I spent a lot of valuable learning time staring out the window, getting in trouble, tapping my foot and ripping paper into microscopic pieces (unless I had scissors,  in which case I cut it into said pieces).  But I got a scholarship to fancy college and everything, so I must have learned something.

21 August 2010

Respite ho!

I don't know what it's like district-wide, but the first week at my school is endless flux at Kindergarten.  Kids not on the roll appear; kids on the roll disappear or never show up in the first place.  The kid who sobs on Monday runs on to the playground screaming for joy Tuesday, while the happiest Monday kid lurks at the gate crying.

Presently all of our Kindergartens are full or nearly full - I was overloaded for most of the week, actually - so at least we don't have class collapse fear.  Overall for the week things were fine: no accidents even.  Alas, on Thursday one child was absent.  She returned Friday only to throw up, in which she was joined by several of her peers.

I was hanging up the rainbows the kids made Friday and I realized that they were probably the best set a class had produced yet.  Almost everyone used all six color strips and got them in rainbow order (I number them to help them out a little bit...if they know their numbers).  Yet at the time they were making the rainbows I was feeling totally overwhelmed by child insanity, adult insanity, noise and trivial misbehaviors all adding up to SYSTEM FAILURE.

I think this is a little bit feedback from the start of last year, when our classes were small and we were stressed.  And I started last year with a student who was entirely out of control: body memory, I guess.  Anyway, it's a good reminder to chill out and care less about the small stuff, or the times when sixteen kids need my total attention at the same time and two other kids are throwing bits of paper at each other.  Even when they don't all get the attention and the paper bits collect like snow, the rainbows still get made and I don't need to be all tense and grumpy and join the paper fight myself.

In other news, I wore this the first day of school:

Got it at a thrift store, new with tags.

I still haven't worn the runner-up (this also thrift store Givenchy that supposedly/theoretically/according to people who possibly would know dates to the McQueen era), but I did pull out the Lacroix (salvage), the Balenciaga (salvage), the jacket with the heart-shaped buttons, the dress I bought on the Jeremy's Teacher Shopping Trip and the nifty Puma/designer collab dress.  In short, my clothes are awesome.

For readalouds, I stuck with the excellent-yet-brief/audience-participatory favorites: Tickle the Duck, Knuffle Bunny, Z Goes Home - stuff like that.  We also made Texas Snowflakes (but haven't turned them  into hats yet), had a garden lesson, two parachute PE blocks and one visit to the Imagination Stations (the play kitchen is popular, but still nothing compared to the Dress Up Bureau).  I made new alphabet first-run sheets this year and broke out the Handwriting Without Tears letter building blocks and magnetic boards (which as soon as I have a slot on Donors Choose available I am begging for more of.  Hmmm, awesome syntax there.).

Skillwise my class is all over the place.  I have only three students who need to learn how to use scissors and several kids who can write their names.  Two kids are reading a little and one can do a little phonetic spelling.  Several will benefit from the letter/number sorting game we will play on Monday.  The behavior patterin is interesting; I have very little hitting/pushing/shoving overall but a lot of issues with kindness/sharing/negative self-talk.  We started Caring School Communities on time and I think it will make a difference.

Procedurally, we have made a good start at composting/trash/recycling, walking in a line and respecting personal space.  Friday we started on work completion expectations.  Scissor safety is going well; glue use not so well.  I did a poor job of glue stick demonstration.  Also, my hypothesis around mechanical pencils (that massive lead wasting would not occur if we had them on day one) has failed.  

My general teaching philosophy is that it is useless to teach all policies on the first day, because the children cannot learn them all and the teacher cannot reinforce them all.  So I introduce a few at a time.  This seems to work.

Resident-wise, my resident is confident and can give directions, lead a table group and read Tickle the Duck (which allows for two daily reads, since I refuse to read it more than once a day).  With her first week schedule I don't really think we had any feedback time, so I am trying (not too well) to use the method I saw Adria Klein use: you're there and you pop in as needed.  The kids like her a lot.

One of my students had a bedwetting incident last week, which is possibly a school stress because my teacher is mean thing, or a sleeping so heavily because of the rigors of all day Kindergarten thing, or part of the coming of the virulent fever and flu with which this child was afflicted shortly thereafter.  This makes me sad.  On the positive side, I have not yet had many children disappearing into waitlist schools with no goodbye.   I can say that that behavior makes many many many teachers feel rejected and mean. (I know because it comes up at lots of trainings when Kindergarten teachers sit together.)  So far, only one student has left for another school, and I was keeping that child an hour after school because she was on the after school program wait list and her mom had no way to pick her up before then - clearly a case where a wait list opening was a blessing.

In the best news of the week, I am not going to school this weekend.  YAY!

First week: DONE.

I'm tired (virulent stomach flu hit the Kindergartens starting Thursday, leading to lots of stinky, feverish excitement), so I'll keep this short and sweet:

For the love of a #2 pencil, will someone slap CW Nevius already?

15 August 2010

My informal teacher poll is running 90% in favor of the resolution that teachers are always nervous on the first day of school.

I have a slightly overfilled class, which bodes well for healthy enrollment after the wait lists start clearing, but I've only met three of the kids and only have a couple of siblings this year so that's plenty of new children to scare me.

I also have a Resident this year, so I can be anxious about whether my classroom will provide my Resident with a powerful preservice teaching experience.

The best bet at this point is a few hours at school this morning and then successful displacement of first-day jitters onto the all-important question of first-day outfit.

08 August 2010

Who is Paid for Performance?

I am tired of hearing that teachers should leap to embrace pay-for-(student)-performance schemes.  The fact that there is no reliable method for linking teacher pay to student performance - no testing instrument, no data collection scheme, etc. - should end the conversation, but it doesn't.  The amount of additional testing this would require also gets forgotten; I think we test enough as it is, and no matter how much it might add to my pay, I will destroy every #2 pencil in the world before my Kindergarten students take a standardized test.

Not to mention: pay for performance doesn't work.  Study after study after study demonstrates that it doesn't lead to increased performance in any domain, and ancedata suggest increased cheating under pay for performance schemes.

The argument that really gets me is the claim that CEOs and other corporate types are paid by performance, so teachers should be, too.  This is so entirely false that it leads me to question a claimant's intentions.

Blue and pink collar workers are generally employed by performance.  Doctors and lawyers are not.  Service industry employees are paid by performance; investment bankers are not.  Hedge fund managers make out just fine even when their investors don't.  Elected officials are not paid by performance.

CEOs are most emphatically not paid by performance.  CEOs make out just fine even when they are forced out; Mark Hurd is leaving Hewlett Packard with a cool twenty eight million dollars.  Let's see that in numbers:


Maybe teachers should agree to bizarre compensation plans if and only if our pensions are as generous as Mr. Hurd's package, here.  The average state pensioner gets a whopping $24,000 annually - not too impressive, given that teachers pay into their pensions and get no earned Social Security benefits.

05 August 2010

Equity is Not Equality.

I have a very simple, very straightforward and (alas) fairly costly way to quickly and effectively improve the conditions at high-needs schools:

LOWER CLASS SIZES - and if you can't do it everywhere, do it at the poorest schools!

No, it really is that simple:
  1. Class size matters, but the positive impact is largest and most lasting when the class sizes are around 12:1 to 17:1 (see Perry Preschool, the Tennessee study, etc.  This isn't controversial.  Contrary studies produced by right-wing organizations have used CSR at 22:1 or so or failed to account for schools that already had smaller classes - bad science).
  2. Class size matters, and especially for high-needs children and children of color.  The most positive impacts are seen for African American students (again, there is massive research supporting this).
  3. Smaller class size enables families to have a closer relations with teachers.  Relationships are key, particularly in communities that have been ill-served by schools for generations.
  4. Smaller class sizes enable teachers to offer better differentiation in content and management.
  5. Smaller class sizes are popular with teachers.  Want veterans at high-needs schools?  Lower class sizes would be a popular perk!  I'd take a guaranteed 16:1 class over my hard to staff money for sure.
  6. Private schools and privately-funded public schools use the money to lower class sizes.  If our wealthiest students deserve it, why don't our neediest ones?
  7. This would end the horrible practice of combination classes - when kids leave 3rd grade and class sizes increase, school funding often dictates 3/4 or 4/5 splits.  Combination classes (note: not multi-age/grade span classrooms, which are something different) are brutal.
This is what a robust "Weighted Student Formula" or STAR program would do: fund schools to maintain class sizes at 16:1 K-5 (at least).  But this is expensive, prohibitively so system-wide, and only offering it to some set of high-needs schools would, I bet, set off some real howls.

Here's the problem with those howls, though:
  1. Life isn't fair;
  2. Equity is not equality.  Giving BVHP schools exactly what you give to schools in the Sunset is equality.  But those BVHP schools have greater needs, and if you truly want all students to have equal opportunity, those greater needs must be ameliorated.
This is a lot easier than school desegregation, which is so enormously unpopular among a certain subset of San Francisco that it seems like wasted energy to me.  Besides, the smaller classes and improved test scores might drive parents to consider these schools.  Given a big population shift, it's likely that some schools would start exiting the class size reduction program, at which point school communities would have to ask whether the reduction was so powerful that heavy advocacy to maintain it across the system (thereby eventually extending it to a larger group of schools).  After all, ratios like 16:1 just make California more like other states.

04 August 2010

And so it begins!

I went to school yesterday.  I dragged in a big wet vacuum to steam the rugs, but I forgot to ask how to use it (oops) so I wasn't too upset that the floors in my room were just getting waxed.  I had surgery on my hand and it's still not 100%, so I am hoping to use a patented combination of whining, eyelash-batting and bribery by baked goods to organize a work gang.

Today I am also going to school, but it's only to meet up with some of the fabulous ladies with whom I work so that we may refresh our collections of salvaged couture and DIY remakes.  Which brings me to the next stereotype in my teacher fashion parade:

The Teacher Who Wears the Same Uniform the Kids Should.

This teacher invariably has one or both of the following motivations:

  1. S/he is not an early bird and teaches at an early-start school.  Uniforms do not require one to be awake and generally do not require ironing.
  2. S/he has some kind of ethical/political/socioeconomic position that is best visited upon fellow teachers through wearing the uniform...accompanied by regular lectures.
Monitoring the students' uniforms is not something I'm willing to waste a lot of energy on.  Like many of my fellow attention-challenged, I have to get up very early so that I can be fully functioning by the time school starts, so I have lots of time to decide if I'm feeling Midge Wood or Grace Jones.  While I have great sympathy for the ethical/political/socioeconomic arguments, I prefer to make them while well-dressed.  (Also, buying salvage means fair trade labor and reuse.  WIN!)

Whatever the case, the course of action is clear: avoid this person at least through first bell.

03 August 2010

Argle bargle.

(Sorting through, disjointed, etc.)

I strongly believe that diverse schools are best.  Moreover, I think diversity in and of itself is an important value; all children deserve diverse schools because all children benefit from it.  Well, providing that the school affirms that diversity for all, I suppose.  So I would love to teach at and learn in a diverse school.  I feel fortunate that our school staff is quite diverse, and that our student population is also mixed.  Still, our school staff is not diverse in ages and the children at my school are all of color and mostly (80%) poor.

Yet some wealthier and whiter parents are not interested in diverse schools - or at least schools that match SFUSD demographics.  I don't think anyone would benefit from their (perceived) forced presence; their perceptions of the school community would complicate assuming best intentions on either side.  I still think these parents and their children would benefit, but the amount of work it would take to just get everyone talking seems way too strenuous.

So right now I'd settle for more equity with the students we have right now.  Our schools are not equitably funded, and it's a problem.  Moreover, there is a persistent attitude among some stakeholders in SFUSD that poorer schools are riding high on Title I funds.  That is simply false.  Not only are those funds miniscule, this position ignores the reality that Title I students need more.  They need more services through school health.  They need more school readiness activities.  They need more counseling, more food, more after school programming, more outlets, more more more.  The Weighted Student Formula isn't keeping up, and neither is federal Title I.

Then there's locally collected money.  At a school level, some schools are raking in PTA dollars.  We're not.  Without getting into any of the issues around this, it's not possible to argue that it's fair - and I don't think much of "Life isn't fair" being visited upon children in this way.  (Besides which: my Kindergartners have figured that out already.)  More broadly, the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of property tax funding disparities, so districts with high property values (Palo Alto) or big industrial concerns (Santa Clara) have more money on hand than SFUSD does.  And of course, California's statewide school funding is abysmal.

All that said, I am growing more and more concerned with the idea that one has to do one's best for one's child no matter what the cost is.  The fact that so many San Francisco parents opt out of public schools means that the system as a whole becomes less diverse, and it loses its most powerful advocate voices: the voices that have the power and the privilege to demand systemic changes to school funding.  (Small philanthropy is great, and I love Donors Choose, but I think the state should be funding my classroom.)  So the aggregate of doing one's best for one's child is that many other children get less.  Long term, I suspect the costs for that same child will be great (PreK to prison pipeline, etc.) but the cold hard cash arguments are not my favorite.

I think what is bothering me right now is that I feel like there is very little understanding that like it or not, we really are all in this together.  Opting out is not actually an option; you can opt different, if you will, but you are not an island.  I want to live in a society that cherishes its members and works collectively for all within it.  Lately, I feel like "American individualism" has become a contrary (and false, BECAUSE YOU STILL AREN'T AN ISLAND) and forceful thing that does great harm.

01 August 2010

Two weeks.

I once had a principal who absolutely refused to allow teachers to be at school after 5:00 PM on the last Saturday before school started.  Sunday trips were verboten.  This is good policy; I don't think people realize how nervous teachers are starting a new school year.  The tension grows through interminable "professional development" sessions a few days before school starts.  This is the worst time to have any kind of professional development; teachers are too preoccupied.  There is a great deal of list-making and classroom mapping in these workshops; teachers with laptops compose "Welcome to My Classroom!" letters on the sly.  I find it difficult both to sit still and to remember orally-given information without some kind of hands-on element, so I generally try to bring a bunch of laminated things to cut - it's mindless, yet focusing.

Teachers are stressed out and eat too much boxed lunch at the break, so to keep them awake presenters invariably break out the candy in the afternoon.  It's downhill from there.

I've heard of all kinds of centering, stress-lowering activities for teacher work days.  Personally, my stress is not lowered by anything other than getting my classroom in order so I skip the yoga and whatnot.  On the other hand, one year I was so nervous on the first day of summer school (new grade, unfamiliar school building, forty two kids on my roster) that I washed but did not rinse my hair.

Anyway, I do like to focus on BIG GOALS for the year.  These are not the BIG GOALS in the management textbook sense, nor in the Teach for America sense.  I have been teaching for a long time now.  We do not have new standards this year nor any new curricula.  I do want to develop my practice, and I do that by making some plans every year - things I want to try, subjects I want to teach differently, management techniques I would like to use more effectively, etc.  It is not as important to me that I see each of these ideas through; some things end up not working out simply because I cannot maintain them successfully.  I just want to make sure I reflect on what happened and see what I learned from it.

Last year, my big push was teaching thematically and I think I pulled this off reasonably well.  It led to a lot of long projects taking many days.  These can be hard for me; they require organization and planning.  So it was an important development area for me personally, and I think the learning payoff was big.  Students seemed to have more patience and more willing to keep working on things; for instance, by the end of the year students were willing to spend 90 minutes weaving a basket (with music, conversation and short breaks, of course) and "sewing bees" were popular at art time.  And I think the content integration was useful, too.  In the past, I've worked to integrate more sensory stuff and to actively teach cooperation.

For this year, I have some very specific learning goals for motor development.  I failed penmanship (left-handed, ADHD) in school and am not a stickler for it now.  I think it's destructive; my students struggling with illegibility put so much energy into neatness that they have nothing left for content.  I do want to provide experiences that will build hand-eye coordination and fine motor control and to be very explicit why these are important.  I also want to experiment with teaching letter formation; I am the happy inheritor of a bunch of Handwriting Without Tears stuff that looks promising.