I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

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.)