I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

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.

11 October 2010

Unified's Doings.

1. This is the first year of the "Central Office Redesign", or "What do you mean you don't know about our redesign?"  Unless you'd made it your business to read the Powerpoints the District entertains itself creating (this one had a cow theme, if I recall correctly), you may not have known a redesign was in the works.

This summer I sat on a panel of SFUSD educators.  We were asked about the redesign.  Of the five panelists, two were aware of its existence and neither of us were certain that they really intended to roll it out this year.  SFUSD also did a study of redesign awareness among teachers, helpfully pulling the teachers to be interviewed from the teachers who were at the central office over the summer helping write assessments to be used as part of the District-wide systems creation meant to accompany the redesign.

I'm guessing that knowledge about the redesign among that select group was pretty high.  In the end I was also interviewed for this study and my knowledge was pretty high, I suppose, but also far more skeptical (well, I'm assuming).

I am not really enjoying the redesign because it means that there are now some other people in power who have a different idea of what EDUCATION looks like.  Whatever the wallwalkers before them liked, they don't.  If it was standards, now it's objectives.  If Do Nows were in, now it's class meetings.  Whatever.  I have been teaching for a long time.  I have a documentable record of success in the classroom.  I am always interested in learning something new and whatever feedback I can get, but I am not adopting the latest craze in reform just because someone at 555 Franklin read a neat new book over the summer.  And at this point, how I do what I do in the classroom flows from what I believe education should be.  If I don't know your philosophy and you don't know mine, then it's very hard for your advice to be applicable to my situation.

2. I was going to yammer about the special education report, but what I think about that is so complicated that I had better not.  Also my laundry is done and I must hang up my harem-panted jumpsuit before it is too wrinkly to wear to school.  It is a key part of my hot-weather wardrobe.

08 October 2010

Deep Thoughts: I Don't Really Have Them.

  1. Does it bother anyone else that the "All these lower-income children many of them of color don't all need to go to college!" brigade is led by the racists who brought us the poorly-researched, worse-cited and intentionally misleading The Bell Curve?
  2. It is better to pay the taxes one owes than to donate cash to schools.  Goldman Sachs et. al merrily dodge their way through the more esoteric portions of our tax code and starve the public sector - yet receive accolades when they toss a couple million at a charter endeavor.
  3. None of these "best and brightest" currently telling me how to do my job have any evidence that they are, in fact, terribly bright.
  4. Related: Three years in the classroom and conflicting reports (from one's own mouth, no less) of one's success there does not an expert make, MICHELLE RHEE.
  5. Every so often in teaching, one has a student who is just on your wavelength.  It's neat and it doesn't happen every year, which is why yesterday I hosted the latest meeting of the Ladies Who Love Clothes (More Than You) in my classroom.
  6. One week until the first field trip.
  7. Having a Teacher Resident is so great that I am preemptively getting worried about possibly not having one next year.  Our school community is under increasing stress - the economy is bad everywhere and worse for people who were already low-income.  The stress manifests itself in underslept, underfed and underhoused five year olds and a prevalent air of tension.  We need two adults because our kids need reliable, known and loving faces who are not themselves drowning in a sea of needs.
  8. If this budget is the best the state Congress can come up with, they really should've just not bothered.

06 October 2010

Businesses aren't really that good, actually.

I am so very tired of the idea that running schools the way we run corporations is a good idea.

Looking out at the wreckage of the me-first, you-never economy - a system in which some marginally smart but exceptionally greedy people made out quite well while everyone else and all of our societies teetered on the edge of collapse - it's a bit rich to think that these cats have any idea what they're talking about.

One of Michelle Rhee's big funders in DC is ex-Enron.  I don't care that not all Enron employees were criminally liable for the company's failure.  This creep was an energy trader, and all Enron energy traders - all of them, every last one - built an unsustainable system (the Enron book was worth less than nothing when finally cracked open at UBS) predicated on gaming California.

The conduct may not be illegal, but still: their business plan amounted to "Let's go long on California power, milk the system any way we can, and laugh while California goes dark.  It's okay, because they deserve it.  Shouldn't have let us write their deregulation scheme, huh?  SUCKERS."

I do not believe that the idea of making a buck on someone else's bad planning, ignorance, good nature or bad luck is a value worth enshrining.