I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

29 July 2011

And It's Over!

The biggest reason I am not marching in Washington this weekend is that I go back to work on Monday.  I've been to school several times this month, and I am opening the school for teachers tomorrow for a workday.

Specifically, I am going back Monday to do a week of unpaid training.  In this I am joined by thousands of public school teachers, who spend their time and money going above and beyond for your children.

Teaching Kindergarten has given me a lot of pleasure.  It's also given me whooping cough, mononucleosis, and several exciting flus.  I have picked ticks off children after a field trip.  I picked up a child who really needed a hug three days after being in a car accident that totaled my car and permanently damaged my shoulder.  I have been bitten, kicked and hit by emotionally disturbed children.  I have had to retire shirts inadvertently used as kleenexes and once took a half-day off because I had been thrown up upon.

In exchange, I get a mediocre paycheck, a lot of bad press and a modest, threatened pension.

I am not a saint, a missionary or even rare.  What I recounted above is pretty much par for the course, especially for teachers at high-needs schools.

So the next time someone at a dinner party is pontificating about lazy teachers, or the unfairness of lifelong pensions, or our horrible public schools, I hope you will observe that truly politic behavior requires calling out lies, no matter what the venue.   The next time you read Joe Klein maverickating about the glories of education reform, I hope you'll drop him an email.  And the next time you turn on the television and you hear about the dread teachers' unions I hope you'll remind those around you that those unions are made up of the teachers who go to work everyday to teach your children.

27 July 2011

Goals for the Year

  1. Run a reduced version of the Bread unit.  I wrote this unit with a first grade teacher who is no longer at my school, and it is too complicated, expensive and time-consuming to run alone.  Also, the  cross-age factor is really key for the unit.   I did a really reduced version last year with a 2nd grade class around Day of the Dead.  Maybe I can talk to that teacher and we can plan a four-week unit.  It covers a lot of social studies and science standards.
  2. Always have eight projects in process at Donors Choose.  That is the maximum you are allowed to have, although there was some kind of system flaw and I presently have nine (three funded and waiting for school to start, six partially or unfunded).  This is the only way I get any of the classroom supplies I really want and need other than buying them myself, and I can always hope a foundation will buy all the California projects again.
  3. Continue to develop major, multi-day art projects.  I think the kids get a lot out of these beyond a really nice product: they develop a lot of patience.
  4. Chickens.   Right now I am thinking I will just try to hatch six eggs, in March.  That way if the hatch fails I can try again in April.  These will be silkies.  I need to make sure the incubator was not broken over the summer - I found it on the floor and partially out of the box when I returned to start setting up the room, which is a drag because I had stored it very carefully - and bite the bullet and order another one if it is broken.  If it is broken, I might request that the school replace it but I think that would be a big fat no.
  5. In the spring, have some kind of weekly fashion design club with older students.  Self-explanatory.  The afterschool program sort of had one, but frankly: I could do a lot better.  Originally I was thinking to start a cheerleading club - I was a cheerleader, it's not that big a stretch - but I think that would be more of a time commitment than I am willing to make.  (You see, I am not one of those good teachers, those eager beavers without a personal life.)

26 July 2011

Grumpy, grumpy

I have a week of vacation left, six unfunded Donors Choose projects, and arthritis.

ADHD fidgeters should not be diagnosed with arthritis.  It is not fair, particularly when they have DECADES before AARP membership.

Whine, whine, whine.  On the plus side, I have a week of vacation left, a clean house, an appointment to Novak out my hair, and adequate Bambi-eye skills to get my floating chair moved to school for me.

Lately I have been thinking about how easily Teach for America supports conservative bootstrapping and Horatio Alger theories.  More on that later, since I do so dearly love to pontificate.

24 July 2011

I try to mix up my classroom design every year.  Two years ago I tried all-child-responsibility, which meant a lot of really low shelves and crates, all with very few items on them for ease of retrieval/return.  This felt like a rat maze.  So last year I went with a more minimalist approach - I got rid of some furniture, set up everything in stations, and went back to teacher-moderated storage.

This year I'm trying to deal with reality.  For instance: I never use the mounted white board in my classroom for anything other than hanging charts and messages.  So I don't really need to make it a focal point, right?  And apparently the smaller carpet in my room is so old it can no longer be cleaned, so I need to have one rug-seating area rather than two.  And while putting the play kitchen in the corner makes it more like a playhouse, it also makes for an exciting area hard to resist when five-year olds are tired, grumpy, and want to see what will happen if they just refuse to follow the rules.

So I moved the kitchen to the front of the room, covered the white board with fadeless to make a new bulletin board, and put the workbench in the corner.  Since I can't make a little chill-out/morning meeting station by the door without a rug, I need to figure out what's going in that corner.

I also cleaned out a closet that has hooks and I think was intended to be used as a cubby.  I had been using the hooks to store scooter boards, but since I finally cleared out all of the detritus left behind by the teacher who used the room before me* I piled those in a storage cabinet.  That means I can ditch a rolling coat rack/cubby unit.

That leaves me with figuring out where to put the tables and how to set them up.  Hmm.

*By the way: bad form, particularly if you are still teaching at the school, just in another room.  Sure, it's easy to tell yourself that it's a lot of useful stuff.  But let's face it: you know it's mostly junk, with a few mimeograph masters from the early eighties.  It took four years to clear it all out of my room, and it included insect parts, multiple copies of the same useless blackline master book, notes from staff meetings held in the late nineties, chalk bits, and tins I was afraid to open.  By the end of it, I was lurking, waiting for the custodian to come by and take it out so I could holler, "IT'S NOT MINE!  I SWEAR!"  Leaving an absolutely empty room is preferable.

22 July 2011

“I can study Vygotsky later,” said Tayo Adeeko, a 24-year-old third-grade teacher at Empower Charter School in Crown Heights. She was referring to another education school staple — Lev Vygotsky, a Soviet theorist of cognitive development who died in 1934. “Right now,” she added, “my kids need to learn how to read.”

Sure she can.  The problem is that while those kids may learn to read, they will be pulled, pushed and prodded into shapes not meant for young children.

Charter schools like KIPP spend a lot of time taking the child out of childhood.  Silent halls, enforced eye contact, upright posture and lots of drills - all done in uniform - may make for an excellent test-taker.  The student may be able to parrot back any number of reading strategies.  The child will have limited ability to get along with peers in unstructured environments, intuit rules for social conduct in new situations, and play imaginatively.

The problem with not studying Vygotsky is that the merry KIPPsters and their ilk don't understand childhood.  They see deficient, not different communities.  They see disorder, not youth.  And they have no business teaching kids to read until they've been taught what a kid is.

I'm not a fan of charter schooling in general, but as it enters more elementary and ECE environments the more nervous I get.  It's too easy to forget that children aren't little adults.  Even the most experienced Kindergarten teacher is going to need to remind him or herself of this over the year, because the teacher is an adult and operates within an adult world.  The child's world is different.

And the current approach to education is destroying it entirely.

ETA: Just because Vygotsky was a "Soviet...who died in 1934" does not mean his work is invalidated.  Also dead: Maria Montessori, Loris Malaguzzi (Reggio Emelia), John Dewey, Marie Clay and Jean Piaget.  They all had something important and true to say about children.

Similarly, I believe that those tired, dead old guys like Euclid, Plato, Einstein, Darwin, etc. are still considered relevant to their fields.

21 July 2011

Running Out the Clock on AB 114

(I do not link to the Huffington Post, which is the source for this quote.)

[SFUSD Superintendent Carlos] Garcia said he thinks AB 114 might end up in court.
"Some people would claim ... that seems like an unfunded mandate by the state," he said. "There will be some legal challenges to that question. If you're not allowed to have some flexibility on laying off people, you could bankrupt a school district."
Oh, cry me a river, Superintendent.  "Flexibility" in SFUSD means "teacher layoffs that disproportionately impact high-needs schools".  If the Superintendent really and truly needed to lay off people to make the budget balance, there are all those administrators who got noticed but not laid off - all but seventeen of them. Not to mention the ever-growing cast of administrators and "teachers on special assignment" and so on cluttering up the Bayview and Superintendents' zones.
I think it's more than fair to read "I think" for "Some people would claim", and as far as "unfunded mandates" go, I'd like to draw the Superintendent's attention to federal and state school budgeting in general.
This is going to be a pretty immediate court case, if it begins at all.  15 August is the hard and final deadline for teacher layoffs - a particularly ugly one for SFUSD, since that means our Superintendent is considering laying off teachers (court battles depending) on the first day of school.
Maybe he can get the Mercury News to do it for him.

Cherry Picking and Legality.

Whenever one gets to the brass tacks of charter school enrollment and retention, charter advocates immediately point out that charter schools are blocked from outright selection of a student group through admissions: no testing, etc.  So those concerned with charter schools enrollment have to explain other, legal methods of restricting the student population.

The fact that charter schools have been gaming the system for years generally doesn't come up.  But now that even the New York City Public Schools - who've never seen a charter they don't like - are having to discipline their charters for illegal conduct in enrollment.

I don't think you can put this down to CHOICE.

In other news, I went to school yesterday and had my first how-will-this-ever-look-like-a-classroom freakout.  I decided to stick with two cubbies rather than cleaning out a closet that has cubby hooks and fixed the pegboard on the workbench.  Then I grabbed everything I had laminated and went home to cut it.

19 July 2011

News Bias.

I often take umbrage with Chronicle stories because I find their framing biased.  For instance, their political reporting on the debt limit has been pretty bad with the throwaway comments.  They usually manage to toss in something about increasing Medicare costs and how they are unsustainable, but they link Social Security into their "everyone agrees that cuts are needed" line.  Since Social Security's financials do not mimic Medicare's, this is bad framing.  Even if everyone (except people like me, I suppose) agreed that Social Security needed to be trimmed, it doesn't follow that it is unsustainably budgeted just because Medicare is.

What bothers me more is the bias in what stories get told.  By the Chronicle's lights, SFUSD has had two important things going on this summer: tossing out workbooks and planning what to do with their Mission St. property.  While SFUSD has been wasting resources (cough) and worrying about things other than education (because teacher housing has nothing to do with maintaining a stable teaching force, and teachers have nothing to do with education), charter schools have been recruiting an awesome workforce!

This article has bad framing: Aspire gets a pass on its all-test, all-the-time approach.  The notion that charter schools "cherry-pick" is mentioned, but Aspire gets a pass - again, without any proof.  And Apsire's flacks make the general college-ready claims, despite the fact that Aspire has not been around long enough to prove it.

But what really irritates me is that SFUSD also has an Urban Residency Program.  SFUSD serves over 50,000 students in the Bay Area.  Aspire serves 10,000 nationally.  SFUSD's program works with local philanthropies and USF (also Stanford).  Aspire works with the University of the Pacific.  SFUSD's program has a bigger impact on Bay Area students.  But it's not the one that gets the press.

Covering Aspire's "innovative" program is one thing.  Ignoring SFUSD's is another.  It's when you add it up that problems happen.  What the trend of the stories reported creates is a narrative of awesome charter schools doing awesome things while SFUSD wastes public resources.  It's not accurate, and it's not fair.

Whether this is a global and intended bias at the Chronicle or just an artifact of what seemed newsworthy on any one day is irrelevant.  The Chronicle's story choice is abdicating its responsibility to objective coverage.

18 July 2011

Budget Comes Back to Bite.

We use a big chunk of our site budget to buy mental health support at my site.  We are one of the District's schools in a partnership with UCSF, which provides us professional development and a post-doc therapist. That's free to us.  The STAR program buys you a half-time Learning Support Professional - more or less a school social worker.  Our school budgets to make that a full-time position.

We also have had PIP, a play therapy program.  I spend a decent chunk of my time scheming how to get as many of my students as possible into the sixteen available K-3 slots.  This is a state Early Mental Health Initiative program and I've been to the EMHI conference twice through this program (extremely worth it from a professional development perspective; also, I like to wear my nice clothes and breezily inform acquaintances that I am "traveling for work").

Last year, as part of our giant annual Edgewood contract, we had a full-time Behavior Support Coach.  The coach did social-emotional skills groups, one on one counseling, and worked with classes whose dynamic had taken a bad turn - for instance, the class whose teacher went into early labor, thereby leaving before expected, in a way frightening for some students, and without a ready-to-go long-term substitute.  This was a huge support, so we budgeted it in this year.  We couldn't afford it without support from Edgewood's own state grants.

We heard today that we won't have a BSC next year.

This is frightening, not only because we are expecting the same bunch of smart kids with more than anyone's fair share of trauma, but also because word has it that we will be getting a decent number of kids from Willie Brown.

Willie Brown's last year was apparently not so awesome.  This story hints at the problems a bit, but the teacher grapevine included really miserable reports, and any time the principal's replaced halfway through the year you know things are bad.  I think we can expect that the kids from Willie Brown are likely to be dealing with the psychological implications of their last year there, and it's not too hard to imagine that they will be academically behind.

It strikes me that if we're getting some of these kids, we really need all the help we can get.  A lot of high-needs schooling is relationships, and we don't have any with these kids.  Moreover, their last school experience puts us in the red to start: it's all the school district, after all.

Here's hoping something good happens to get us our Behavior Coach back.

Is AB114 an insult to teachers already laid off?


It means that fewer of those of us still employed join you.

I am not a giant fan of the current system of teacher layoffs, because at least for some districts (including SFUSD), it unquestionably impacts high-needs schools more.  Furthermore, I think teacher layoffs are stupid, full stop.  Smaller class sizes work.  Laid off teachers have experience.  Experience is important.  And somehow districts who lay off teachers end up hiring uncredentialed newbies to replace them.

Nor does it impact rehiring.

Besides, anything that has school boards and deformers that riled up can't be that bad.  Sure, it sends them into their brooding, union-hating pits.  But so does everything else.  Let's quote Lance Izumi, who apparently found his union-label pajamas too scratchy years back:

“This is shocking,” said Lance Izumi, Koret Senior Fellow in Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute, CalWatchdog’s parent think tank. “It’s obvious that unions do not care for the kids at all if they are willing to shorten the school year. This is about protecting teachers’ jobs, whether they deserve it or not.”

That's right.  If you think 40:1 classrooms are worse than a shorter school year, you are scum.  Mr. Izumi does not consider the possibility that teachers might think both of these are bad, and he seems unaware that teachers take pay cuts when school years get shorter.

It's an excellent deformer soundbite, though.  He gets in a "bad teachers" crack, even.

Izumi said that many other states are going in the opposite direction, and implementing more school choice opportunities and teacher evaluation processes, while “California is regressing into 19th century union vogue.”

Yeah, it's true that many states, stuck in an ugly scramble for federal education money, are putting untested and unreliable "effectiveness" schemes in place.  And many school districts are being further defunded by "school choice" scams.  How this is a positive he doesn't explain.  Moreover, he doesn't have an equivalent contradiction to his Naughty California Wobbly Teachers proposition - unless the overall framing is "Unions hate children, hate teaching and are basically giant fascist juggernauts holding knives to the throats of valiant, underfunded, loving education reformers."

Let's not give him that framing assumption for free, shall we?

I hereby make the same offer to Lance I made to Dick Armey years ago (sadly, he never took it up!  I sent a whole position paper and everything!):  Lance!  Come do my job for a year.  I'll do yours.  We can trade salaries or not, your call.  Then you tell me how much I hate children, okay?

How List Making Went

I was absolutely supposed to:
  • laminating several sets of flash cards for long-term viability,
  • mapping out where the furniture goes this year, and
I didn't map out furniture, which was probably a good thing in that I have several pieces I wanted to move that end up being an inch or so too big for where I wanted to put them.  However, finding this out without a map probably led to more furniture-moving than necessary.

  • hanging fadeless paper and bordette on all appropriate surfaces.
It is a pet peeve of mine not to replace fadeless and border every year.  Fadeless fades; I'll use the same set of calendar tags for a few years but not bulletin boards: it's depressing.  I have four bulletin boards in my room.  I repapered three and papered one wall entirely.  The fourth bulletin board I didn't do because I didn't want to move everything in front of it and because I think it will probably be the calendar wall (which requires special treatment).

I may also consider:
  • Moving the library to the other side of the classroom (this is a major endeavor),
I decided against this.  I worked out a new way to contain the enormous quantity of books.  I'm still planning to clear out some books and give them to the ex-Resident, I think.
  • Plugging in the computers and printing out game sets, and
  • Hanging filters and contact paper on all the windows (to cut down on glare/heat).
I did none of the things on my "don't do" list, and I also:
  • moved the computers elsewhere
  • fixed a shelving unit
  • had a mild fit when I realized one of my classroom rugs was thrown away.  Admittedly, it was very old.  However, since it is unlikely to be replaced, it's a loss
  • had a larger fit when I realized my incubator had been moved, dropped, and badly re-boxed during the waxing process.  I could not bear to see if it was broken but will have to go in and check that.  It's $150 to replace it and I need to buy silkie eggs this year, so...argh.
  • broke an extra brooder light bulb and hunted the hall for my broom and dustpan to sweep it up.

16 July 2011

Opening the Year

Tomorrow will be the first day I go to school to get ready for the upcoming year.  (I did one day in early June, but that was not targeted toward The Coming Year - just maintenance-type stuff.)  One of my little goals for the year is to plan out my weekends at school (as opposed to my usual "Oh, hey - I'll just go in and do some stuff on Sunday).  This is intended as a time-management strategy.

You see, when I go to school on the weekend I invariably have a lot of stuff I should've taken care of on Friday afternoon waiting for me.  Friday tends to be Enormous Messy Project day.  If I know I'm coming in on Sunday, why stay to clean it up?  I forget that I am coming in for a reason - say, to make a month of homework and pull materials for an ELD unit.

And then when I get to school?  It's Sunday - the weekend!  I am supposed to be relaxing and having fun on the weekend!  So clearly I should do the things I like: planning out the arts and crafts extensions for a thematic unit, making a new bulletin board, organizing my pens.

This ends up being a colossal ADHD dramafest, wherein one of the following happens:

  1. Although I plan to leave at 1:00pm, I stay until 5:30, forget that the alarm is on a timer and re-arms and set it off while locking the back wing.  By the time I get to the front and disarm it, I am having a panic attack and my eardrums have exploded from the noise.
  2. I do exactly what I want to do, leave at 1:30 and end up coming into school at 5:30 Monday morning for a massive clean/pull/craze extravaganza.  This is a bad start to the week.
  3. I do exactly what I am supposed to do and feel bitter and grumpy about it.  I engage in shopping therapy, typically purchasing arts and crafts supplies for the classroom.
Anyway, it's not really ideal.  I'm thinking that perhaps setting myself a list of required, conceivable and Absolutely Do Not Even Think About It tasks will help me manage more successfully.  So for tomorrow, I will definitely be:
  • laminating several sets of flash cards for long-term viability,
  • mapping out where the furniture goes this year, and 
  • hanging fadeless paper and bordette on all appropriate surfaces.
I may also consider:
  • Moving the library to the other side of the classroom (this is a major endeavor),
  • Plugging in the computers and printing out game sets, and
  • Hanging filters and contact paper on all the windows (to cut down on glare/heat).
However, under no circumstances may I:
  • Start making homework packets or
  • Pull out all my quilling materials, quill a demo project and plan a craft unit.
While I'm on a list-making adventure, my other little goals for the year are:
  • Write at least five successful Donors Choose grants,
  • Keep/Train another Resident,
  • Support the Ex-Resident, and
  • Avoid all psycho-social interpersonal drama at my school site.  My school site is highly functional and the adult culture is okay, but a high-needs environment is high-stress for everyone.  Last year I tried to help people mediate their way through the pressure cooker and it's just too much vacuum-sealing for me to be healthy and stable.

15 July 2011

So It Ends Up School is Hard.

No matter how many obstacles are removed from the charter school path, somehow failures abound.

Here we have an extremely well-connected, backed-by-a-venture-capital-fund (so you know the ultimate goal is making money off kids' education) deformer with a Gatesian pedigree and space in an existing real public school.  He's also got 150 incoming students and a principal.

And yet the school won't be opening.

Short Rant

The next politician, pundit, deformer or school official to worry about the technology gap and students unprepared for the glorious global computerized future economy* owes my classroom new computers.

I have two seventeen-year old computers in my classroom.  One of them cannot be connected to the Internet; the other valiantly attempts it but crashes attempting to load anything not optimized for seventeen year old computers (for instance, email).

These are a far more severe impediment to my students seeing themselves as people who use computers than state legislation with which SFUSD schools are in compliance already.**

*bleargh on that anyway.
**And good on you anyway, California!  Anything that gets commenters at the Chronicle that riled up is a positive without even considering the merits (and in this case, the merits are considerable).

12 July 2011

Search Keywords: AB114 and Currently Laid-Off Employees

There is nothing in AB114 that would compel districts to hire back teachers currently laid off.  If you are a currently employed teacher, you cannot be laid off this year.  This is NOT because of the heralded 15 March/15 May process, but because AB114 closed the late window that allows teacher layoffs over the summer given falling school budgets and a completed state budget.

AB114 does require districts to budget for the year as if revenues will meet (very optimistic) projections.  So if a district has teachers currently laid off, based on budget decisions made using a low-end estimate, they could (hey, should even) rescind layoffs.  But they are not required to do so and I would suspect recissions will not begin until very close to the beginning of the school year, if at all.

10 July 2011

Counseling Out Five Year Olds.

Here's an example from the New York Times:

By then, Matthew was throwing up most mornings and asking his mother if he was going to be fired from school. Worn down, Ms. Sprowal requested help finding her son another school, and Success officials were delighted to refer him to Public School 75 on the Upper West Side.

Matthew, by the way, was five or six at the time.  And he's puking and worrying about being fired.  From school.  For not lining up so good.  And he's a kid with three successful years of preschool.

So the charter recommends that he find smaller class sizes...down at the local public school.  You can't make this stuff up, I swear!

But here, it's staying after school to practice walking in the halls.  I swear I am telling the truth when I type that the school claims this is "high expectations", not "punishment".  I tell you, even George Lakoff didn't consider reframing this serious.  This is doubletalk.

For the record:
Maybe it's just my ADHD, but I think nine hours a day with more than 23 children and line order and SLANT is a bad environment for all children.  That's not expecting a certain standard of behavior, it is demanding robotic adulthood from five year olds.

Link to Ms. Sprowal's article about her family's experience at Harlem Success Academy.
I'll note that "shadowing" is something we recommend if a child is really struggling to transition to Kindergarten.  The child usually loves it, the caregiver gets a better feel for how the class works and can make suggestions about how to help the child succeed.  In this case, it seems like the obvious fix for Matthew would be more active time - free active time and also kinesthetic learning games, etc.  I think that the (often very-early career) teachers at these boutique boot camp charters tend to avoid these types of activites because they don't look or follow as cleanly as a call-response direct instruction lesson.  That's a shame for all kids.

09 July 2011

Debate for Deformers

Having comment-threaded with any number of pro-charter, pro-reform types, I think I've discovered their primary strategies for debate.  They have limited data in their favor, so it's a lot of buzzwords and reframing while building straw men.  Some favorites:

"It's all about the children."
What they intend to signify: This is generally used to end arguments.  You see, they're for the children!  So whatever they said is okay!
Deform Subtext: "Unlike you, who hate children and are in it for the awesome teacher salary."
How to respond: It ends up that everyone can be for the children and disagree on the best way to serve their needs.  Mentioning that - or taking umbrage at the subtext - refuses the reframing intended.

"I need to go get ready for my students."
What they intend to signify: Again, an argument-ender: "You can respond, but I won't, because I spend all July getting ready for next year!"
Deform Subtext: "While you spend it on the internet, because you hate kids and don't work hard."
How to respond: Isn't it sad that deformers can't write three sentences in ten minutes?  Seriously.  This is deform-speak for taking one's ball and going home.

What they intend to signify: All children can master high expectations if we just demand that they do!
Deformer Subtext: By mentioning poverty/trauma/language, you have refused to keep adequately high expectations.  You must show movies all day in your class.  While you sleep.
How to respond: You might mention that responsible educators refuse to blind themselves to their students' milieu: it's part of communicative competence.  Indeed, truly having "no excuses" means that you are well aware of the challenges and adapt your strategies accordingly.  Notice I'm talking about strategies.  Deformers are so outcome-focused that they do not often think about input.  It's absolutely possible for me to expect my high-needs students to reach high standards (indeed, in early elementary, they generally are expected to outperform high-income children).  It means that I'm going to have to challenge the pedagogy expected, though.

This is part of my issue with the merry KIPPsters.  I've trained stacks of them, and they tend to share an inability to think about how a classroom of low-income children of color might respond differently than a classroom of upper middle class white children.  They tend to see behavior issues rather than cultural pragmatics.  So they teach a lot of white upper middle class metalinguistic features (SLANT, etc.), but the base assumption is not additive - you have communicative strategies and I am teaching you a new set - but subtractive - you have no communicative strategies or the ones you have are bad, so I am teaching you some.  Because this is how KIPPsters think, they really don't get what you mean.  And it's generally useless to explain it to them: they start talking about their one black friend or colorblindness and then you end up needing this classic:

"You are blaming the children."
What they intend to signify/Deformer Subtext: You refuse to have high expectations, and you hate kids, and so on.
Precedent: Chances are good you mentioned cultural competence.  I recently got this one for noting that KIPP's discipline strategies cause actual harm to children, and when those children leave KIPP, the harm remains.
How to respond: Go to one's own blog and respond there.  There's no point in reasoning with such people.

08 July 2011

All Toys are Learning Toys

Since I've been teaching for awhile, I've been able to experiment with lots of different toys and games.  Some haven't worked out, either because they are too messy (Moon Sand) or breakable (foam puzzles).  Others have been surprising hits:

  1. Lite Brites and Lumimos: Kids will spend a long time designing with these, and they practice fine motor skills, patterning, and geometry.  If you have the design sheets for the Lite Brite, they also practice initial letter sounds.  I have a Lite Brite Cube, which should allow four kids to play at once but is maxed out at three and best with two.  I also have two Lumimos.  Lumimos are currently on clearance at the Lakeshore Learning outlet in San Leandro.
  2. Skittles: This is a fun (loud) table game.  The kids practice turn-taking, fine motor skills, motor planning and adding.  I drag the Skittles board out after January, since I've found before then their motor skills are not up to wrapping the tops.  This is also a great way to check if your tables are exactly leveled.
  3. Hammer and Nails.  I start the kids with a practice board before they graduate to wood scraps and real tools.  I also have goggles and gloves.  Hammering is a skill you must teach; I have had any number of students whose caregivers confirm that they hammer at home who still use methods that lead to broken fingers and puncture wounds.  Still, it's possible to be very serious about untoward consequences without being scary, and everyone should be able to hang a picture.  This is a great activity for motor planning and creativity.  Over the year, I also teach kids how to sand and stain wood - there used to be a FOSS science module on this, but it's been added in a reduced form to the Trees unit.

05 July 2011

Five Fast Suggestions for Newbies

It's amazing how much really simple, obvious stuff is not so obvious when you are actually, you know, teaching.  It's like the constant multitasking and long days makes for little critical reflection (not doing so well on cutting the sarcasm, you see).

Anyway, five things I've learned that are big time or brain savers:

  1. Sticky note to the manual/lesson plan/back of the easel board: a fast way to mark down who's able to answer the questions.  This is particularly useful for oral skill drills (phonemic analysis, etc.) and the ever-popular "informal and ongoing assessment".
  2. Get everyone a water bottle.  Set some rules for use and you're free.  This cuts down on water trips - key in my classroom, since the pipes are leaded (I don't trust flushing them) and the counter isn't level so the water always, without fail, escapes the sink and destroys whatever is sitting there.
  3. Identify the key supplies you do not want kids to use and teach them how to use everything else (obviously, this is an early elementary thing).  In my case, the permanent markers are off limits (except in very specific circumstances) and I teach the kids how to use the stapler, the pencil sharpener and the tape.
  4. Provide regular stickers.  These are cheap, and your students will not - let me repeat, WILL NOT - become sticker-dependent.  Besides, since you control the stickers, you decide if you feel like passing them out.
    1. If you have access, provide books for prizes too.  If you are in the Bay Area, you do.
  5. Apologize to your class as needed.

04 July 2011

Search Keywords, Teacher Fashions

Yes, it is okay for teachers to have feather extensions.  A member of our afterschool program does hair bling and feathers, so teachers at my school can get fancy on their lunch breaks and therefore we have a significant minority boasting them.  That said, I've met teachers from other schools at all levels with hair feathers.

The environmental/appropriation issues remain, of course.

I may be the wrong person to ask though, seeing as I both have visible tattoos and tend to go in for the more extreme hair dye options - last year, red and blue; this year I'm going with white blonde to start.  I've also been at my site for years and live four blocks away, so families have had plenty of time to get used to my sartorial decisions.

I went shopping Saturday and had this conversation.

Elementary Rat: I suppose I do not need a slightly too big pleather and lace dress.
Shopping Companion: It is certainly not a practical item.
ER: None of my clothing is practical.
SC: Well, that's true.

Actually, it was kind of a shocker Saturday in that Jeremy's was having a sale and I bought nothing.  This summer I've only bought one coat, a shrug, six dresses and a skirt.  Oh, and a pair of shoes.  I've also been given a bolero and another skirt.  I've unloaded maybe three times that, though.

For the record: I spend my discretionary income entirely on my classroom and my wardrobe.  I do not drive an automobile, eat out regularly, watch/payfor television/cable, or go on fancy vacations (the New York trip was totally closet and classroom related: I visited some East Coast teacher cronies and went to the Savage Beauty exhibit.  In conclusion, I refuse to feel bad about how I spend my money.

Playgrounds Should Be Standard.

Until last winter, the 1st through 3rd graders at my school had no playground.  A recess of unmitigated blacktop play is not such a good thing: it's hot, balls get lost over fences, thirty minutes of tag tends to lead to roughhousing, etc.

Moreover, playgrounds don't only build social and cooperative skills.  Nor do they simply build imagination.  They provide the kind of challenges - balancing, motor-planning, spatial awareness, etc. - that all learners need.

No matter how much SIG money the government is willing to hand John Muir, apparently they don't want to spend it on a playground.  I have issues with privately-funded education, but when no one else is willing to take it on teachers and children are out of options.

Go get Muir a playground.

02 July 2011

The Mercury News is Maaaaaaaad.

Usually, the Mercury News blames school problems on teachers' unions or a lack of adequate charter schools (true fact: I got an obscenity-laden email from one of their ed reporters a few years back after I wrote (calmly and politely) to refute some pro-charter silliness).

Now, Jerry Brown is just as bad.  Let's look at their ire.

Every year, the Legislature passes a budget - perhaps in June, perhaps in October - and the public waits to find out what's actually in it. And every year there are some appalling provisions that should not be allowed to stand. But for pure chutzpah, it's hard to top Assembly Bill 114.

The so-called education trailer bill contains giveaways to teachers unions

Nooooooo!  At least some editorial policies never change.  Remember: teachers' unions are not collective bodies of teachers.  They are unparalleled evil aimed at the heart of corporate reform.
...and outrageous restrictions on school districts' ability to manage their finances, making a mockery of Gov. Jerry Brown's commitment to local control. It was passed in the dark of night with nary a committee hearing - probably because it could not have survived public scrutiny. No wonder voters distrust lawmakers. These provisions must be repealed.
...Because voters would prefer proactive 40:1 classrooms?
AB 114 bars further teacher layoffs in the coming school year due to state budget cuts, and it requires districts to assume funding will remain at its current level next year; they can't cut programs. Yet everyone knows state funding for schools could well be slashed in January, since tax revenue may not meet the optimistic projections in the budget. This bill essentially requires districts to budget recklessly.
Let's be honest.  California's pitiable school funding has required reckless budgeting for years.  It's a different kind of reckless, but reckless all the same.  Is the Mercury News not familiar with the ever-growing watch lists of school districts teetering on the edge?
It also means that if revenue doesn't materialize in January, school officials' hands will be tied. Their only real option for closing a big gap will be up to seven furlough days, but those must be negotiated in each of more than 1,000 districts. With layoffs off the table, districts will have no leverage in those talks. Cuts could instead fall heavily on those who are not teachers.  That, frankly, may be the point.
Because all right-thinking people know that teachers must take the brunt of cuts.  Look at all the cuts we've already refused.  Heck, I've only taken a $2000 annual pay cut (not including the contracted bonus I lose this year on top of my salary cut).  And I didn't even get a pink slip this year!  Indeed, a mere half of the teaching staff at my school did!  Clearly, I am a goldbricking union worker.  I mean, look at all the cuts to the SFUSD Central Office!

...Oh wait, don't.  You won't find any.  A mere seventeen non-renewal notices went out.  The redesign has led to ever-growing administrative forces in the Bayview and Superintendent's zones.  And as always, among the district officials incapable of taking any extra hit in the name of sharing the pain is the Superintendent.

ETA: It's not clear how the Mercury News thinks those negotiations should work, anyway.  The rider closes the late layoff window, which would close anyway on 15 August.  After that date, you can't lay off teachers (unless you pass a rider allowing that).  So is the Mercury advocating districts go into negotiations now?  And where would bargaining power reside in that case?  Or does the paper really think we need another rider, allowing for teacher layoffs...oh, whenever?
This editorial is revolting because of its nasty assumption that union negotiations are always out to destroy school districts with their unreasonable demands and love of striking.  How many teachers' strikes have occurred in San Jose over the last ten years?  I'm pretty sure the answer is zero.
I know this is hard for the Mercury News to understand, but as a union member, I want the best for children and schools.  Unlike the Mercury editorial board, I actually do the job.  And I'm good at it.
I have given up pay, time and resources to make sure my students have what California won't give them.  I've already spent $350 on my classroom this year and school doesn't start for a month.  I spent four days after my contract ended doing the cleaning jobs the District won't pay for and will be in three weeks early for unpaid professional development, carpet cleaning and basic repair.  I have spent time taking my students to the park, library and informal tutoring sessions this summer.  Needless to say, these aren't paid pursuits.
It is beyond offensive of the Mercury News to cast such aspersions on my motivations.  And given that the largest school district in their city has a very specific contract that has required major teacher salary and benefit cuts, I don't know that they even have the basic understanding that having an opinion requires.
I'm in a District that has laid off relatively few teachers.  The state is something like 30,000 teachers short from a couple years back, and there are more students than ever.  Class-size reduction is over.  Furloughs are everywhere.  And teachers keep on trucking to meet those standards.  Shame on you for expecting pay, teachers!
No one, least of all superintendents and school boards, wants to lay off more teachers. But for some districts, it might be preferable to a disruptive furlough or cuts to already decimated libraries or counseling programs.
That's debatable.  We are all entitled to our own opinions, of course.  But opinions should be based on a healthy foundation of facts, and I don't know that the Mercury News can marshal any here.
Moreover, who told the Mercury News how the late window works?  I'm pretty sure it was me, actually.  I had to write repeatedly to their education reporter, who spent lots of ink observing how lucky teachers have to get 15 March letters and man, don't they complain a lot.
Decisions on how to cut costs should be made by districts and communities - not Sacramento. That's what Brown himself touted in his campaign, promising to "return more decision-making to local school districts." Yet he signed this bill Thursday.
But wait. It gets worse. The bill suspends the law requiring county superintendents to ensure district budgets are balanced in the current year and in the future, identifying problems before they become crises. As of mid-June, there were 143 districts on the state's financial watch list, including six in Santa Clara County.
Wait!  They DO know about the watch list!  Do they know how it's grown as the state refuses to fund schools adequately?  No offense, editorial board, but the balanced budget demand has been tossing districts onto the watch list for years now.
Ron Bennett, CEO of School Services, is an adviser to districts. In a letter to Brown, obtained by journalist John Fensterwald of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, Bennett warns: "Stripping the county superintendents of their oversight responsibilities in 2011-12 will almost certainly bring dozens, if not hundreds, of school districts to the state's door for emergency loans."
Ron, that's happening already.  How nice of John "Charters RAWK" Fensterwald to share with his former employers.  I really should find those emails he sent me, because they are pretty classic.  In the way a train wreck is classic, but classic all the same.
The California School Boards Association on Thursday asked Brown to support repeal of these troubling provisions, saying "the state should not be substituting its judgment for that of those who live in the communities affected."
The communities affected haven't had anyone listening to them in ages.
The California Teachers Association is one of Brown's and the Democrats' biggest backers. But Brown's reputation as a straight shooter is at stake. Having signed the trailer bills in a hurry, he should go back to the Legislature and ask that these provisions be repealed. School officials and good government advocates should keep up the pressure until he does.
So apparently the Mercury News, given their huge fear of what that terrible CTA will do, would prefer to weaken it by mass teacher layoffs right now, effective on the first day of school.  That would certainly be great for education, wouldn't it?
Not that I expect better from a paper that publishes Dan "Bipartisan Man" Walters or has never seen a charter school it didn't like.  I hope that their not-very-august advice goes into the same circular bin as their demands for tax extensions and reasonable GOP members evidently did.
In the unlikely event Mercury News reporters read this, I'd like to ask them to refrain from using bad language in any comments they would like to leave.  I am aware - personally! - of what creative swearing they can do, but I am a Kindergarten teacher.  Assume I am wearing a Pooh Bear jumper and charm bracelet* and respond accordingly.
*Okay, technically I am wearing a sharp little dress from a local designer, heels and earrings I bought at the Met.  But pretend.  Speaking of which: crossing my fingers for fog on the first day of school, because I have the BEST dress to wear on its way to me.