I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

30 December 2012

Outside the Contract Day.

Recently, I was reminded that real, unionized public school teachers are lazy, whereas theoretically public, non-union charter teachers are industrious and hard-working.

For the most part, I think the big difference is experience; having it means you're both more efficient and more prepared.  This effectively lowers a veteran's hours.*  Still, that's not the whole story.  Another issue is that my contracted day is conflated with my working day.  

I've noted before that I have approximately one hour of contracted non-instructional time weekly.  However, I have lots of non-instructional job responsibilities.  You can tell me if it looks like an hour of work to you (and I invite any teachers reading to add requirements and responsibilities I have forgotten).

Could I do some of these things with the students present?  I don't know; they're five. Is it better to devote my attention to them or to preparing for them?  Which would you prefer your children's teachers do?

Things to Do When the Children Are Not in Class

  1. Assess work samples.
  2. Analyze assessment data.
  3. Record data (in report cards or on the District online data system).
  4. Plan lessons.
  5. Meet and co-plan with other staff (librarian, PE teacher, etc.).
  6. Debrief with other staff.
  7. Clean desks.
  8. Take care of classroom pets (certain responsibilities cannot be assigned to five year olds).
  9. Monitor, repair, and clean supplies.
  10. Flush pipes so that water is unleaded.  (This involves standing at a sink pressing down on the fountain button, contemplating the waste of water.)
  11. Update behavior/social-emotional logs for any students requiring such monitoring (1-2/year).
  12. Call/text families as needed (Daily texts are the one of the most effective behavior incentives I've ever tried, by the way - the five year olds LOVE it and can be really reflective about how their day went).
  13. Write grants (I've gotten six or seven already this year - this consumes quite a bit of time).
  14. Write and respond to work-related email.
  15. Write field trip requests, bus requests, and permission slips.
  16. Return work-related phone calls.
  17. Meet with after school program to discuss student observations and provide support.
  18. Wash smocks, dress up clothes, Body Sox, Co-Oper Blanket, etc.
  19. Make photocopies.
  20. Make charts and posters (a lot of these are new annually, either because they are completed in-class or because I am a perfectionist).
  21. Write out daily schedule, refurbish centers/groups charts.
  22. Compost.
  23. Take recycling to recycling bins.
  24. Laminate, cut, collate, and staple materials.
  25. Plan and debrief with Resident teacher.
  26. Close windows (this is a major endeavor involving a long pole and standing on furniture in my classroom.  It takes about ten minutes).
  27. Restore card charts/cubby markers/calendar for the next day's use.
  28. Organize books, book bins.
  29. Collate and organize homework and weekly school information packets.
  30. Portion out paint, tiles, and other small manipulatives for lesson.
  31. Restore same to storage boxes after use.
  32. Purchase food, bedding, etc. for classroom pets.
  33. Go to the Children's Book Project and SCRAP.
  34. Stop making this list before becoming so depressed I have to go back to bed.







*Apparently Bureau of Labor Statistics data report that veterans work longer hours than new teachers.

28 December 2012

Prove it.

Briefly:

  1. I would reassured about the motives of our nation's charter cheerleaders if their own children enrolled in the charters they support.
  2. The very moment Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, or Arne Duncan enroll their own flesh and blood in schools with a 40:1 student-teacher ratio, I will believe they mean what they say about class sizes.
  3. And the instant one of these rich white guys announcing that college is for the birds supports his own child in her pursuit of a career in the trades or starting up her own tech concern, I will stop rolling my eyes every time Peter Thiel's name comes up.
  4. John Arnold can reform my pension as soon as he explains how the retention bonus Enron paid him during its final fall benefited Enron stockholders and employees, and how Enron's market manipulations (in which he participated) affected California's pension funds.  (Actually, maybe I'm not being honest here, since Enron's market manipulations were rotten for pension funds and much of the current "crisis" is related to nonsense like that.)

27 December 2012

Teacher Esoterica: Yet More Surprisingly Useful Tools

(Part of an occasional series.)

1.  An iron, because:
  • Fuse beads are great for fine motor and for keeping children occupied while you assess, and they require an iron.
  • You can also do faux stained glass (note: if you do this you will want to stock up on child-safe veggie peelers).
  • If you are lucky enough to have access to a laminator, you have probably noticed that it a. breaks often; b. requires film so expensive your school cannot afford a year's supply; c. is nearly impossible to refill when you do have film.  An iron and some laminating pouches  make quick work of most small laminating jobs.
2.  Plastic pippettes, because:
  • They're great for fine motor development.
  • If you have the Ksters use these to water their plants, fewer plants drown.
  • Pippettes + diffusion paper = cool art.
  • This project is so fun (and so messy).
3. Strawberry baskets, for:
  • stacking,
  • storing (I keep bingo board tiles in these and then stack them.  Since they're stacked, the tiles don't fall out).
  • a wide variety of craft projects.

26 December 2012

Character by Computer

So as far as I can tell, when it comes to actual pedagogy*, there are two reformer threads:

1.  Teach character traits.
2.  Teach online. (h/t EduShyster.)

Since I teach Kindergarten, I have no objection to teaching character traits.  This is generally what Kindergarten teachers are doing when they lock the door, draw the blinds, and pull out the dress-up clothes: teaching about resilience, creativity, and having enthusiasm.

I do have serious objections to grading these qualities, particularly when they are extracted from the non-school elements that impact them and divorced from the reality that the expression of character traits is not universal but cultural.**  (I also wonder if what we're now calling character was what we used to call boot-strapping; these concerns (and others) are beautifully expressed here.)

But what I don't get is how we can teach those character traits in the classroom of the future, even if we assume that the simple existence of tablet computers makes for engagement and enthusiasm.  I don't think a computer-based instruction model can teach grit and resilience and self-control (unless the technology is really balky and crashes a lot, I guess - but even then, who would grade the student response?).

If you have the Classroom of the Future - sixty eager learners, sixty one tablets, and a minimum-wage worker overseeing the room - who's going to grade the character traits?  The tablets?

Because there's only one way that can go:

Look Student, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.  Before it goes on your report card.*** 

Since I'll be administering computer-based assessments to my Kindergartners in two short years (and boy, do I have a lot to say about that), I do hope that these two strains of ed reform can sort out their differences before Smarter Balanced comes to the classroom (also that the District provide adequate technology to administer it before the day testing is due, so that I can teach the kids how to use whatever system they buy and thereby attempt to get reasonably accurate results).

*as opposed to things like increased class size, value-added evaluations, concealed-carry permits and whatnot
**A family of WASPs may demonstrate self-control by taking turns in a conversation with pauses; that same demonstration in a family of Italian Americans is seriously lacking in grit and resilience.  I'm using examples drawn solely from white American English  linguistic pragmatics to point out that these differences are everywhere,  Can you really trust a white, upper-middle class first year teacher to grade the character of a student of color accurately, or will that teacher actually be grading the child's compliance with white discourse norms?
***As someone with ADHD, I find this movie almost impossible to sit through and root for HAL to end Dave too.  But I wouldn't want HAL grading me.

24 December 2012

Michelle Rhee Comes Through.

Goodness, I have dearly needed a laugh these last few days.  Slogging through December was more or less a modified Tough Guy for teachers.  (For swimming in icy slop, substitute field trips in the rain and unheated classrooms; for mild electric shocks from hanging exposed wires, substitute twenty five year olds running on CHRISTMAS IMMINENT: TOMORROW?  OR SOMETHING energy.)

And little did I think Michelle Rhee would provide it.  Her statement on the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary was grotesque.  And she was forced to issue yet another statement noting that while Students First helped put a number of no unions, extra guns adherents into the Michigan State Legislature, that didn't mean she supported guns in schools.

But then I discovered that Rhee will be publishing a biography autobiography in February.

And that screed's title?  Is Radical.

And why is it so titled?  Because apparently Michelle Rhee believes that:

  1. Working closely with Republicans and conservative Democrats
  2. Accepting large amounts of corporate money to lobby for corporate policy
  3. General anti-unionism
  4. Aligning oneself with major foundations of conservative bent and ALEC
  5. Instituting top-down, secretive management in school districts
  6. Shoddy budgeting and shadowy finances
  7. Laudatory coverage in The Atlantic
are radical actions and events.

In essence, because Rhee associates herself with wealthy and connected interests in education reform, and apparently doing so is radical.

I mean, I suppose that given what the average teacher makes, her speaking fees are pretty radical.  But I don't think this is the radical behavior to which her title refers.  No, I think Rhee views herself as a lonely crusader for the children, fighting against a vast army of unionbot teachers and their reactionary love of collective bargaining and small class sizes and pensions.

And Rhee's self-concept is about the funniest thing I've ever heard.  I suppose I could get angry at her abuse of nouns, but this is the equivalent of handing a Kindergartner a mirror for a self-portrait assessment and getting a fabulous picture of a firefighting robot with flight capability (this happens).  The difference is that the five year old is five and creative; Michelle Rhee is a college-educated woman in her 40s and she still sees that robot in the mirror.

23 December 2012

Oh break.

I am trying to temper my expectations for this break.  I'm having a difficult year.  My class is cute, learning what they need to learn, and so on, but individual students have serious (and at times paperwork-heavy) needs.  I feel on edge a lot of the time; this class has such a number of high-need kids that I'm worried it's going to tip out of my control.  Thinking clearly, this is more my fear than my reality - I have enough years to manage my class (barring, say, vacation hysteria and cranky, hungry, exhausted post-field trip children).  It is the kind of class where I dread being absent, though.  This class needs tight, predictable structures and trusting relationships with adults to do well; no matter how competent the substitute teacher, these things are hard to give.  (Not to mention that this year we've had more sub no-shows than any year before.)

I am also really doubting the District's commitment to inclusive practices.  I did the big two day training and I heard that we'll be serving all children, regardless of paperwork or plan, in the best way we can.  This is emphatically not happening.

If you really want to serve all children well, you have to start early.  Early childhood and early primary teachers tend to be very proactive.  We see a big range of behaviors, levels of readiness, and needs.  We still have to serve every child, so we develop lots of ways to make that happen.  We see a child who is high-energy and fidgety and we hand that child a core disk and give her freedom of movement around the room.  We see a child who constantly aims herself at walls at top speed and rubs her head against the rug and we offer novel tactile experiences.  The student whose attachments have been stressed by upheaval (homelessness, death of a parent, foster care) gets to stay in and have lunch with the teacher.  Low fine motor skill?  We pull out the clay and the rice trays and grab the raised-line paper.  There are a lot of issues that present in Kindergarten that can be ameliorated there, and ECE and K teachers are really the front line in lowering costs for Special Education.

But sometimes we do encounter a child who does not respond to any trick or tool we have.  Ideally, in an inclusive model, it would be easy to get a consult with specialist and if necessary, get some services for that child - a little APE, a social skills group, a touch of OT, a bit of RSP support.  These services are costly, sure.  The long term costs, though, could be far worse.  Children who don't get support in self-regulation, in motor development, in sensory integration, in social-emotional well-being: these children fall behind academically.  They struggle socially and with behavior.  Their social struggles feed further behavioral problems and those problems make it even harder for them to learn.  Failing to support children now is expensive later (not to mention disheartening, unethical, and wrong).

Although we're on an inclusive model, the proactive services are not happening.  If anything, it's harder than ever to get them.  I am a veteran teacher and nearing my wits' end trying to support all of my learners; as far as I can tell, the District's answer is try harder.

This is especially disheartening because I'm a veteran and a well-regarded one at that.  If I (in concert with professionals in and out of school) indicate a child needs additional support, shouldn't my experience count for something?  I have a demonstrated ability to meet the needs of my learners.  If I'm saying that I am struggling to do so in a particular instance, why is it not taken seriously?

And if I am feeling stressed and unable to provide, what's happening for newer teachers facing these problems?  I am lucky to have a big toolkit of ideas and stacks of donor-provided resources.  I can deploy these to help students.  But new teachers have neither the ideas or the experience.  Without these, their students who need extra support are probably not going to get it until they have been exited from the regular-day classroom.

None of this is inclusive, and it's wearing on children, their families, their teachers, and their schools.  And it feels so inherently hypocritical that it inspires cynicism.  In general over the years, I've been able to laugh at District nonsense, rant about it here, and then go into my classroom and enjoy the hell out of teaching.  This year my ability to do that is stretched thin.  I can still enjoy the hell out of my day, but what it takes to make everything run smoothly and with joy for teacher and students alike isn't sustainable.

So I'm really hoping for a recharge over the break (and, of course, all of my Donors Choose projects to be funded and a bird print funnel neck dress, as always).  But unless I can find the lever that will cause the District to take my students seriously, I'm already worried about how long that recharge will last.

21 December 2012

And that's that.

Nary an instructional day left in 2012!

...I am going in this weekend to get Januready, though.

18 December 2012

Bucket List

If you have not seen a dancing line of masked, paper chained, Kindergartners being led in a rendition of "Christmas in Hollis" led by Santa Claus AND one of their own on a live mic, you have not lived.

17 December 2012

Not Wearing Green and White, Not Having a Meeting.

This blog post is useful for the teachers of young children, I think.

Being a well-known liberal of known socialist (Bernie Sanders with 71% of the vote!) sympathies, I will be expressing my opinion on this horrible event by contacting my Senators and Congresswoman and imploring that they actively sponsor legislation banning high-capacity magazines, banning assault rifles, mandating gun safety classes, and generally supporting the concept that the 2nd amendment is perhaps not as broad as current jurisprudence suggests.

I also have a student teaching day, two IEPs, three meetings, a formal observation, a party, two major projects, and the winter festival to get through this week.

13 December 2012

Crafternoonish

The problem with having four weeks rather than three between Thanksgiving and the winter vacation is that you can spend the first couple of weeks thinking, oh well we've got an extra week this year, so we don't have to start that right now.

This is how you end up with six school days (one with a field trip, one with the Winter Program, and one that's a student teaching day) and too much to do.

So for formal crafts (as opposed to our regular pick-your-poison choice-based crafternoons), we'll just be doing these wreaths and the standard jar/decoupage of colorfast tissue paper project.  For the latter, we'll be using this awesome magical stuff for the actual decoupage with a teacher-applied Mod Podge layer to finish.

Given that I have an entire verse of "Christmas in Hollis" left to teach, two big projects seems fair.

08 December 2012

not this again.

The New York Times has found cause to evoke my profession once again:
His back bowed, his legs wide apart, he recounts his victory with the expansive, literal-minded gestures of a kindergarten teacher. We have advanced, it seems, from senility to dementia.
Dementia, you say?

Must be reading about our dread unions and hatred of children has at last sent us over the edge.

I think I preferred our wide-eyed, sensible-shod version.

04 December 2012

As you may have heard, some eager education reformers got together under the auspice of the son of a political dynasty attempting to claw his way back into relevance to brainstorm ways to bring the financial market's triumphs to public education.

While there, Mitch Daniels explained why he has a mandate to ignore the will of Hoosier voters.  There's nary a fact in his diatribe, which makes it all the easier to read the subtext:

Jeb, thanks for inviting me.  I'm honored to be sharing ideas with such an accomplished audience of educators.  While no one in this room ever taught - or indeed has ever set foot in a public school - the size of our wallets is all the proof needed to show we're far smarter than teachers.

You may have heard that Indiana voters elected a former teacher - and union member - to the state's highest education office.  You may have heard they did so resoundingly, tossing out my hand-picked corporateer and his plans for vouchers, more testing, more sticks for teachers and more carrots for Goldman Sachs.

And indeed, they did.  We're trying to convince voters it's because they cheated, but in the end, it doesn't matter whether the voters believe the evidence or us just like it doesn't matter what the vote was.

We're going to do exactly what we want anyway.

That's right.  For years, you reformers have used false data, outright lies, and open access to private capital to sway the voters.  It hasn't worked.

BUT HAS THAT STOPPED YOU?

Of course not.

And Indiana's voters won't stop us, either.

By refusing to do what we demand, they've proven they can't be trusted with our money's future.  They're too concerned with their children's.  It's up to us to make sure every last taxpayer dollar flows into our pockets.

Because after a couple generations of that, the voters won't be smart enough to try to stop us.

01 December 2012

Knowledge Over Dignity

To the tune of "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes", I present the Isopod Body Song:

Head, thorax, abdomen and carapace
Abdomen and carapace
Head, thorax abdomen and carapace
Abdomen and carapace
Eyes and antennae and all fourteen legs,
Head, thorax, abdomen and carapace
Abdomen and carapace!

(Alternate ending lines:

These are the body parts of isopods
Parts of isopods!)


28 November 2012

Spreading Joy and Then Not

It was spitting rain today, so no field trip and no outdoor recess.  This can make for sad Ksters, so it was a day of hands-on science (with live animals!) cool phonics project with nifty folding to amaze your friends, and MY BUTTONS.  So actually it was a great day even before it was sunny enough to have outdoor PE at the very end of the day.

Sadly, when I got home I had a link to an ed-reformy survey in my inbox, and already I feel badly for the intern who will have the displeasure of codifying my results, rife as they are with unhelpful comments and leftist sentiment.

27 November 2012

Dents in the Desks from Heads

I think I speak for the nation's ECE and Kindergarten teachers when I say that the study recounted here is perhaps the least surprising ever.  (And also when I say whoever wrote the lead maybe didn't understand Piaget all that well.)

26 November 2012

Unsent Letters, Again.

Dear Katie Yezzi,

Nice job on your New York Times advertisement article for on Uncommon Schools.  As usual, I'm always impressed by the charter cheerleading: without an iota of data and nary a number, it's obvious that Uncommon Schools are far more awesome than the stinky public schools and their lazy teachers.

Without getting into issues around student selection and retention at your charter chain and how that reflects on Uncommon Schools' test scores bottom line of student achievement, I did want to ask how you square your that teacher morale and satisfaction are so high - way higher than that at the stinky public schools - with the increased teacher turnover at Uncommon Schools.  After all, those charter school teachers are 132% more likely to leave because they're dissatisfied.

Best,

E. Rat

23 November 2012

All This and More

This article covers many of the issues that are frustrating me this year.  I am not one of those shiny new young teachers they're profiling, but teacher satisfaction surveys indicate that even veterans like me are dissatisfied in increasing numbers.

Notably, we're not unhappy about our students (although the teachers I know in districts with increased class sizes are not enjoying having quite so many).
A 2007 study by California State University's Center for Teacher Quality found that teachers driven from the state's classroom most often cited bureaucratic frustrations like excessive paperwork, too many meetings, and frequent classroom interruptions. Satisfied teachers most often pointed to having a meaningful role in school decision-making, collaborative relationships with colleagues, adequate planning time, sufficient classroom materials, and supportive principals.
Yes.  This year alone:

  • I had to fill out a series of scantron sheets using test information recorded in student booklets (I record the information from students' oral answers.  My students will never bubble test sheets on my watch).  Then I had to put the same information into the online data system in a slightly different format.  In short: three different formats for the same information.  And since the district data program crashes a lot and I find its spreadsheets irritating, I had to record all that information into my own, cleaner format.
  • I receive at least one non-emergency call a day during instructional time.  These are not personal calls; they're either about school stuff or calls from social workers, field trip locations, lawyers, district administrators, etc.
  • I have exactly twenty minutes of prep time during the school day weekly.  I use this to plan with my Resident.
  • My contract day includes sixty minutes of non-instructional time daily.  I have mandatory meetings which may or may not be useful on two of these days.  I meet with my Resident on a third and do informal mentoring/tutoring on a fourth.  Generally, the fifth is another meeting, an SST, or an IEP.
  • I've spent over twelve hundred dollars this year on classroom materials.  I have received another four thousand dollars of materials through donations and grants.   I write the applications for those donations and grants on my own time.
  • My job does not provide the technological tools I need to do my report cards and complete online data requirements.  I must provide my own tools and do these on my own time.
So my frustrations are not coming from unexpected sources.  The thing is: I AM one of those teachers that we are supposed to want in the classroom.  My students do well and they are happy.  I get my paperwork done.  I scrounge up those grants.  Heck, I'm even training new teachers who have gone on to run their own successful classrooms.  And I do this at a high-poverty, high-needs school by choice.  Shouldn't SOMEONE SOMEWHERE be doing SOMETHING to help ameliorate these predictable frustrations?

(Confidential to SFUSD: Nodding supportively and then explaining how the budget crisis keeps you from action doesn't count.  Remember, when the budget crisis means schools don't receive vital resources, I don't get to decide that I simply won't teach that content.  You shouldn't get to do that, either.)

The article doesn't cover the general media bias against teachers (we unionized layabouts), but I also think that's unhelpful.  I have always been mildly irritated by the widespread assumption that I am not too bright, seeing as how I teach Kindergarten and all.  But this idea that teachers are slimy slime because we would prefer not to be evaluated using biased, unscientific criteria, that we're protected no matter what our crimes by our due-process rights and cushy pensions, that we're too soft because we'd like our classrooms to have no mice, rats, and working climate control systems - all of that gets old, too.

It is very hard to believe that the powers that be want the best for you and your students when they systematically strip you of what you need to do your job and then  complain that expecting necessities means you are lazy and don't care enough.  

The thing is, we care enough to expect more for our students.  We refuse to teach them that they're worthless, that their value can be compressed into their performance on two thirty-eight question annual exams, that they do not deserve the best we can offer.  We demand the right to teach our students how to advocate for themselves.  We insist that they question, analyze, and think creatively.  And we are angry that so many barriers are put in their way.

What the powers that be really don't like is that teachers are not going to roll over and let them destroy our students' futures.   Ultimately, I have to wonder if the piles of useless paperwork, the endless meetings, the lack of supplies, and the disrespect aren't part of a plan to get teachers to opt-out.

I still say the best way to fight back is to fight back, and to make sure that one's own classroom is not a monument to test prep and boredom.  MASKS FOR EVERYONE.

21 November 2012

Ideas for Assessment: Pattern Crowns

Most Kindergarten assessment requires one on one teacher-student interviews, which requires an independently working class that is fully occupied for a long time.  This is the first in an occasional series of suggestions for activities children can do while you assess.

Patterns (recognition, extension, identification, creation) are a key California math standard for Kindergarten.  They are not such a big deal in the Common Core standards, but the Common Core does cover sorting and classifying, and those are foundational to pattern-making.

This activity will provide about 45 minutes of testing time.  If you provide a when you're finished activity, expect to have 60+ minutes for all of your Fountas and Pinnell, DRA, DIBELS, Brigance, PALS, or Reading Lions needs.

This activity is also a nice one for guest teacher days.

Necessary supplies:

  • sentence strips (one per child)
  • glue (ideally one per child)
  • scissors (one per child)
  • pattern pictures (one sheet per child)
  • coloring tools (preferably thin markers or colored pencils)
Pattern pictures: I plan to upload a couple, but basically these are a table with multiple copies of three or four clip art pictures (each picture about 1.25 inches square).  The idea is to provide plenty of pictures so that students can choose to create a wide variety of patterns).  If you make a table and have a decent supply of clip art, you can offer a seasonal or subject pattern crown activity whenever you like.  By placing different expectations on pattern complexity, etc. you can offer a novel academic experience while testing every time.

Once equipped, students write their names on the back of their sentence strip and then cut out the pattern pictures.  They then lay out at least two different patterns before choosing their final pattern.  Before gluing, they must have another child check their pattern for accuracy.  (This is a procedure that needs to be explicitly taught in advance, but checking in with a classmate is something I expect my class to do all the time, and it really helps with proofing their work.  I also teach strategies for helping someone correct their work without telling them how to correct it.)

Once the pattern has been checked, they can glue it to their strip.  After cleaning up scraps and returning scissors and glue to their appropriate locations, students may retrieve coloring tools and go to town on their patterns (I encourage but do not require that they continue their pattern in their color selection or create an overlying color pattern.)

When I am done assessing, I staple the strips into crowns and dub their owners Pattern Princes and Princesses.

The kids LOVE these and will spend a lot of time on fine-motor acuity (cutting very accurately, coloring with real detail) in addition to practicing math skills.  The crowns are cute and the students know what the purpose of the activity was and what they practiced.

20 November 2012

Mean mean Kindergarten teacher

I am so mean I don't have a Thanksgiving party in class (although we do an all-school potluck the last school night before the break, and I always stay for that).

We did have Awesome Afternoon today.  This blended the reliable favorite of crafternoon with some of our better indoor PE toys (the tunnel, etc.).

All of this is just verbiage to my main point:

THE KIDS ALL MADE LITTLE MASKS OUT OF FELT AND THEY WERE SO CUTE.

How cute were they?  So cute they still had the masks at least around their necks four hours later at the potluck.

It is also the time of the year when I pull out this fabulous resource and start writing everyone's name out in cartoons.

So in essence, I had a bunch of masked superheroes claiming their names were things like "Super Robot Cat Boy" waving scrolls on which I had written out their names in fancy letters.  To top it off, they started doing the superhero hand motions from Readers Workshop.  It was everything that makes teaching Kindergarten so neat in one go, and I am truly thankful for that.

17 November 2012

Oh REALLY? Really.

I have a couple of kids this year who use sarcasm without really getting it - they've picked up on adult phrases (like the title) and don't exactly get how it works.  It's pretty funny actually, and while I generally try to diplomatically explain why such phrases are not situationally appropriate, it's contagious.

Indeed, I found myself muttering the above phrase when I saw this.  Of course, this is a story from Tiger Beat on the Potomac and presumably just the fevered imaginings caused by terminal bipartisanshipitis, but still:

REALLY?  I mean, really.

Arne Duncan's limited experience (and less than limited results in Chicago) are bad enough, but at least he's got enough sense to, oh, not come out publicly against the CTU.  In Michelle Rhee, you get someone who not only has a documented record of abusive behavior in the classroomlied about her classroom impactpresided over a massive cheating binge and its coverupsupports union-busting in and out of education, and endorses bigots.

And that's without getting into her fear of an Obama administration and the horrible things it would do, like possibly talking to Linda Darling-Hammond, back in 2007 and 2008.

If Rhee's a good candidate for Secretary of Education, then I think it's clear that the only reasonable replacement for Tim Geithner is Andy Fastow.  Heck, at least Fastow was the resident Democrat at Enron (although that apparently just meant that you refuse to golf at Augusta National and fail to bundle for Bush-Cheney).

14 down...

So in four days of conferences, I've finished fourteen.  This includes two SST conferences and two 504s.  So the week was a little exhausting even before you figure in that this tends to be a hard part of the year for kids and teachers.  This is the longest part of the year without either a significant vacation or a series of four-day weeks; everyone is a little tired.

I really like my class, but this year for whatever reason the little systemic issues are really getting on my nerves.  Getting interpreters for conferences is almost impossible.  So far, the District has provided either employee or volunteer translators for one conference; all the rest have required relying on friends and/or family.  Given that we are supposed to have a core value of access, especially for our historically underserved populations, this is really offensive.  It doesn't increase access if parents and teachers make an effort to meet and communicate but can't.  Rather the opposite, really.

I'm also involved in a tiresome battle with Special Education which is doing nothing but confirming that "inclusion" is a synonym for "cost-cutting".  At this point, more effort has been put into finding reasons to disregard the strong recommendation of the child's teacher, family, and school support professionals than it would have taken to provide the simple service we requested in the first place.

It bothers me that most of the outlets in my room have been non-functional for two weeks and two work orders, but no repairs have been made.  It bothers me that we have no safe, clean drinking water available for students despite it being a legal requirement and despite the fact we know we have leaded pipes.  And much like Special Education, this stuff costs more in the long run than fixing it immediately would have - although I guess it's my money buying bottled water and a new pencil sharpener for the one that blew out, so the hit isn't accruing to the District.

And this stuff has an actual impact on student performance.  If you want involved families, you need interpreters.  Sharpened pencils are pretty necessary for a functional classroom (and hand sharpeners waste a lot of time).  Water is critical for bodily function, let alone learning.  But when the District reflects on its own performance, they seem far too willing to blame teachers and school sites for not somehow overcoming the obstacles 555 Franklin places in their way.

Learning should really not be a Tough Mudder, you know?

15 November 2012

I'm not sure why the Chronicle thinks they have a hot, hot story in reporting that public schools in California may not be meeting minute mandates for science, social studies, PE, and art.  Don't we already know that?  Indeed, aren't there active lawsuits over the PE requirement right now?  Isn't there a documentary about PE in San Francisco being screened right now?  Doesn't it cover the lack of support for meeting PE mandates?

That said, I think it is HILARIOUS that the District is trying to insist that massive testing mandates and "literacy blocks" and whatnot have not led to curricular narrowing on their watch.  Or that providing PE specialists to a few schools and allowing a few others to use their site budget to buy Playworks somehow means all students are receiving physical education.  Or that science is completely supported even though you can't get live animal cards for certain units anymore, and woe betide you if all the "non-consumable" plastic bins have cracked in the last six years.

I do feel badly for the teachers who apparently have high-level district administrators pouring over their lesson plans to make sure science, art, and PE are happening, though.  The pressure to short students in these topics comes from far above the classroom teacher, but it is apparently the classroom teacher who will be blamed for not choosing correctly between competing mandates.

I do eagerly await the day when District leadership is held to the same standards District teachers hold for themselves.

11 November 2012

Naughty San Francisco Unified

The pension destruction reform crowd talks a lot about pension spiking: manipulating one's rate of pay so to increase pension benefits.  An easy way to do this is to have significant pay increases - warranted or not - in the last year before retirement.  Since many pension funds use only the final year salary in pension calculation, this can reap huge dividends.  On a massive scale, it can also negatively impact the fund's bottom line for all retirees.

Teachers in the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) aren't pension spiking; we work to contracted pay scales.  Any extra pay comes with extra work and there's not much of the former; making some massive increase to one's final annual salary would be nearly impossible.

Even the state agrees.  In their recent STRS audit, they noted that the certificated employees really can't spike their pensions, but their bosses can.

And some bosses in San Francisco Unified did just that.

The state looked at five districts; San Francisco was one of the two naughty ones.  Fifteen executives and managers received a collective 6% increase in pay in their final year.  Not a big deal?  Perhaps.  Let's quote the report:
Although that rate may not seem excessive, we noted that rank-and-file employees were experiencing furloughs and paycuts at the same time.
 Some of those managers made out very well.  One got a 26% pay increase six months prior to retirement; another got a 20% raise a year before retiring.  Sure, the increase could be justified (although again, unseemly in a budget crisis).  The District didn't justify these raises, though: the state audit found a decided lack of contracts noting positions, responsibilities, and salaries and no record of written documentation (evaluations and the like) explaining the increases.

Again, all of this is happening in a District in crisis, asking all employees to make sacrifices.  It's also happening in a District that was at the time seeking Race to the Top cash and the evaluation-by-test-score RTTT requires of its rank-and-file.  So apparently when managers and executives are demanding more for less from their teachers (and from their students receiving less instruction), they need to receive more pay personally.

And in a time when pensions are being attacked, these managers and executives chose to feed that fire by enriching themselves.

This isn't just a failure to show solidarity.  It is not just offensive, or bad optics.  It's indicative of a disconnect between District administration and the work of the District.  Our work is our students.  Our work is ending historical patterns of inequity.  Teachers and schools are committed to the goal, and they show that as they  do their best with less.  These managers were committed to ensuring their own material comfort at our expense.

08 November 2012

Unconsidered Job Dangers

A little-known risk of one on one assessment is that the child being assessed will suddenly, uncontrollably, effluviently sneeze in the assessor's face.

This cold is bad.  I understand why my students have been so cranky with it.

05 November 2012

Alternate Reasons to Vote Yes on Prop. 30


  1. By voting yes on Prop. 30, you pay homage to the Kindergarten state content standards in math (number recognition, counting, and writing to thirty!) in their last year of use.
  2. Arizona: land of Sheriff Arpaio, Russell Pearce, and SB 1070.  Arizona-based groups are dropping millions to defeat Prop. 30 in California.  Do you want to let them win?
  3. Jerry Brown is not going to be such a happy guy if it fails, which will make "California Uber Alles" a whole lot less fun to sing.
  4. Sixteen extra furlough days, massive cuts to social/emotional services, and at least one hundred teachers laid off in San Francisco Unified.
Whyever you do it, vote YES on 30.
Dear San Francisco Unified,

Ouch! Surely there have been far worse hits to ADA cash, but this is pretty ugly.

My suggestion?  If this were to happen again, the District office should remember that instruction on Halloween is limited at elementary schools anyway (whether you embrace the holiday or demand fealty to the daily schedule, costume hysteria eats time) and move an existing furlough day.

This will additionally gain the goodwill of baseball-loving teachers, who will not be irked that the people at the central office, who can already use the restroom whenever they like, also got to take in some parade on their lunch breaks.

Best,

E. Rat

04 November 2012

The Charming Millionaires Behind Proposition 31

Proposition 31 starts promising: a two year budget cycle for the state.  Then it gets a little dicey (Governors can declare fiscal states of emergency, giving them broad powers to slice and dice with little control) and then just odd (community committees with an enormous number of poorly-defined powers).

It's the first major initiative sponsored by California Forward, a theoretically non-partisan but wealth-heavy organization.  (You'll be happy to know that they also advocate reforming the initiative process so poorly constructed initiatives don't make it to the ballot; whether or not they would exclude things like 31 is unstated.)

While nominally non-partisan, its board is corporate (heavy with venture capitalists, hedge funders, and McKinsey types with a smattering of Hoover Institute-y researchers and previously elected officials) and strongly in favor of bringing the market to the commons.

Therefore, it's not a big surprise that California Forward also supports pension destruction reform, despite the preponderance of unearned golden parachutes on its Board.  They also support block grants to (I assume) counties to run programs.  This sounds quite a lot like block grants to the states, which have functioned more to cut safety nets than to create innovation and efficiency (although to be fair, I am assuming that cutting said nets was not the innovation and efficiency planned in the first place.  If it was: nice job!)

And it almost goes without saying that they really believe what California's schools need are more accountability and performance targets.  If this means something other than more technology, fewer teachers, and more testing, they sure aren't saying.

Whether or not you think 31 is good policy (obviously, I find myself unconvinced), I think it's important to understand what its proponents ultimately want.

We'll eat you up, we love you so.

The witty, debonair and no doubt very good looking educators over at Students Last noted with dismay both Romney's final debate pandering to teachers* and the moderator's world-weary assurance that everyone does indeed love teachers.

And they note very eloquently that if we are indeed loved, it's not a healthy relationship.

*although arguably, teachers are an appropriate topic for a debate on foreign policy.  Our penultimate GOP Secretary of Education did claim that we were a bunch of terrorists. Given the fevered imagination of the GOP, presumably our leadership plots from the darkest forests of socialist Canada or something.

Unsent Letters, Again.

Dear Justine Kennedy,

If on Tuesday you follow your inclination to vote against Proposition 30, I hope that you anticipate your career in epidemiology to provide you with ample funds for your  baby's eventual private school education.

Your vague sense that school funding is waste or perhaps corrupt may not be much more than that, but the ruin 30's failure will visit upon California schools is quite real.  Your no vote supports the continued decision of California taxpayers to rob our children now.  This will of course eventually cost us dearly, because the outcomes of a poorly-educated populace are far more expensive than education.

And indeed, even if you provide your own child the best education possible, all those children you voted to ignore will be your problem as we send them into a six billion dollar pit.  At the bottom they'll find only the PreK to prison pipeline and increased safety net costs.  We'll all of us, including you and your child, pay those in the end.

I hope you think better of your vague and unsourced sense that a quarter cent tax increase is highway robbery, and that schools will find a way around your selfishness.

Best,

E. Rat

03 November 2012

Short.

I love EduShyster so much I am tempted to drink wine just so I can follow along with the recommended selections.

Yes on 30, But Man Those Union Teacher Thugs.

WARNING: SO LONG.

The San Francisco Chronicle is recommending a yes vote on Proposition 30, but based on their recent water-carrying for ed deform consultants reporting, I think they must be having second thoughts.

A few days ago they published this story.  In brief:

  • SFUSD and OUSD have given up on Race to the Top funding.
  • This money would have purchased incredible math education.
  • And TECHNOLOGY.  Which is awesome.
  • By "technology" we mean data systems for administrative offices, but we could mean technology for schools.
  • The money in question is fifteen million dollars over several years $100 million.
  • But there will be no money because teachers don't want to be held accountable.
  • Which proves teachers don't care about children.
  • And apparently teachers think there's just plenty of money around since they turned down this cash.
  • Not that this has any implication for upcoming elections.
  • We're just reporting some of the facts.
Anyway, the myriad problems with this story are noted decisively in UESF's response at BeyondChron.  That is no impediment to me adding my comments on this story.  More specifically, I'd like to comment on its assumptions about education and its innumeracy.

Let's start with the latter.  Fifteen million dollars is a lot of money indeed.  In the context of school funding, though, it's nothing.  The district budget is hundreds of millions of dollars annually.  This money provides a few million for a few years.  Moreover, it will leave in its wake new unfunded mandates: the programs it supports in their infancy are to be continued by the school districts, now on their own funding.

Nor is this free cash money the Districts can spend any way they want (you know, by buying back furlough days or reducing class size or providing legally-mandated clean drinking water to students).  The money is available only to fund a certain set of new programs.  So it doesn't even free up existing money for other uses.

And then there are the core assumptions, which rest on no evidence but are so basic to the education reform mindset they don't bother providing any proof of them.  One of these is the assumption that TECHNOLOGY IS THE ANSWER.

It's not.

Beyond the reality that technology has been THE ANSWER for decades now - I speak as a survivor of BASIC programming, LOGO, and old-school, Apple II Oregon Trail - without making a noticeable difference to education outcomes, technology is a massive cash outlay.

If TECHNOLOGY IS THE ANSWER, schools need technology.  It is provided by for-profit private interests.  Schools are a huge market for tech corporations.  Moreover, it is an ongoing expense: great for corporate profits, not so great for classrooms.

For instance, THE ANSWER in my classroom is one eMac.  It is eighteen years old and can no longer access the internet.  Every other piece of technology in my classroom - from the electric pencil sharpener to the listening center - is either a donation or something I bought.

My school has been given two laptop carts full of THE ANSWER.  My wing of the school can't use the carts because they would overwhelm the electrical system - as it is, four outlets in my room are presently blown out because I attempted to sharpen pencils while charging my phone after school on Monday.

Even if we had the juice, THE ANSWER could still not be networked and used.  The District attempted to contract out wifi installation a few years back.  It ends up the contractor installed some nice boxes and colorful wires but no wifi.  (Really: the contractor went to prison).  My school is one of those caught in the scam, so we don't have working wifi in my building (we use phone cords and ethernet - not a solution for laptop carts).

Even though we did not hire the contractor and we are not responsible for the lack of wireless, we are expected to pay the District if we want it: $3,000 a classroom.  Our school budget does not have $24,000 sitting around for this purpose.

What I'm saying is that today's ANSWER is tomorrow's unafforable upgrade.  When ed reformers tell us about the wonders of interactive whiteboards and online courses, they should not just show the research that these interventions work (they don't have any, but the media isn't asking).  They should also explain how keeping technology functioning and current is budgeted in their plan.

The other big issue is the usual "bad unions don't want accountability".  Hey, I'll be the first to say that I find it interesting that my job should rest on my students' performance on tests alone, whether we have two furlough days or ten, twenty two learners or thirty, functioning heat or not.  Apparently, such is my power that no matter what the District throws at me, I will inspire ever-higher test scores in my students.  Moreover, the District is never accountable.  I mean, it kind of sucks I'm in my sixth year without a working heating system, but Kindergartners have coats, right?  And sclerodactyly isn't so bad, right?  I'm a teacher: I'll find a way around it.  And that bootstrap-pulling needs to start young.

That said, I AM ACCOUNTABLE.  The first grade teachers count on me to make sure their incoming students are prepared.  My students' parents trust their babies to me and I am accountable to them.  My students are bright, capable, and in need of my best: you'd better believe I feel accountable for their safety, happiness, and academic  progress.

BECAUSE I feel accountable to my students, I am not interested in any scheme that links my job security and their pay to their test performance.  All data show the same predictable results of this strategy: curricular narrowing, widespread cheating, lowered student happiness, and Scantron for five year olds.  Moreover, performance is never improved.

I assess my students because I need to know what they need to learn and what they've mastered.  The assessment is centrally reported and has been for ages (it's not the southeast side schools freaking out about the new TK/K assessment).  The kind of one-on-one observational assessment I do is not compatible with the reformers' accountability schemes - it's too time-consuming, requires too much knowledge to administer and interpret, and does not prescribe one-size-fits-all solutions.

So really, what the Chronicle published was some of its usual anti-union nonsense dressed up as reporting.  It's not really a surprise.  Given the current climate and the absolute importance of 30 passing, it's a real disservice.  I also have to wonder about the math teachers of Chronicle reporters: is it too late to go back and hold them accountable?  













02 November 2012

Oh look, I have internet again.

I've had a busy few weeks, and I have had plenty to complain about: the Chronicle's sudden anti-30 campaign, Williams violations, really weird central office schemes - but no Internet.

For now, I must just cross my fingers that the Ksters finished their candy hoards Wednesday night, but I have secret plans and clever tricks for posting and things this weekend, truly.

16 September 2012

How to Create Extra Testing Cycles in Kindergarten.

I finally got the information (although not the scantrons) on the required assessment for Kindergarten ELA this year.

Three assessment periods are required.  This aligns with the new trimester report cards, but it doesn't align with reality:

  1. There is no entry assessment - the first assessment period is around Thanksgiving - so teachers will need to do their own entry testing.
  2. (This means that the district will not have any good data about how children started the year and their growth from the entry baseline.  Given the disparity in preschool availability, this strikes me as either intentional leveling or just a wasted opportunity.  The district should collect entry data and disseminate it - if we really believe in equity, we should be fighting for equitable starting conditions.)
  3. Parent Teacher Conferences have been moved into November (from October), aligning with the first report card/assessment period.  However, the assessment is really going need to be done well before those conferences and the 19 November data deadline if teachers intend to have report cards ready to discuss at conferences.  Presumably teachers will do the assessment early, but three weeks makes a difference in Kindergarten - the 19 November data isn't going to be an accurate picture of the Thanksgiving break student.
Beyond these issues:
  1. The word list includes non-high frequency words that I will now have to teach.  These are words the students would read correctly in a text (using picture and context), but a word list has no context.  So this is a case of needing to teach to the test to give students a fair shot.
  2. The testing requires thrice testing higher-level phonemic awareness skills (blending and segmenting).  Testing these in November strikes me as a waste of time - I haven't taught the skill formally, so it's basically an entry assessment, and the skill is hard.
  3. The reporting form is a true Scantron and unlike the Brigance cannot encode actual information (for instance, you report how many letters a kid knows, but not which ones).  So this is an additional layer of work.
  4. The district repeatedly indicated that there would be an entry assessment.  I know a few teachers who have done limited assessment so they wouldn't duplicate district requirements.  There is no entry assessment.
  5. I know how to give these assessments, but not every school has been using Fountas and Pinnell.  I sure hope the district is planning training - and aligning with Treasures.  Among other things, Treasures teachers way fewer words (and different ones) than are on the word list.
None of these are HUGE issues, but they collectively betray a troublesome lack of planning.  The remove between district decisions and their impact on classrooms is too big, and the sense of urgency at the district level is nil.  Monday is the twentieth day of school and information is just getting to sites about the testing.  That's a problem.
School funding is down nationwide.  California is trying to pass a ballot initiative that will merely restore schools to the funding levels of a few years back.  I just read this article, which observes that Tuscon schools are struggling to protect full-day Kindergarten and turning to parents for suggestions on where to cut.  And it's not just that Rahm Emmanuel doesn't like teachers - having plundered their pension fund to cover district expenses, he still has a $1.5 billion deficit to handle (perhaps he could begin by getting Penny Pritzker and the UofC to cough up that TIF money they took or shaking down his buddies at Exelon).

Yet as funding decreases, standardized test goals keep going up.  So what if Kindergarten is a half-day, forty kid cattle call?  The Common Core standards are in, and those kids need to do better every year.  Who cares if your physical plant is falling apart?  Those kids better be scrambling toward one hundred percent proficiency.

Not that it impacts Excelon, Rahm Emmanuel, media pundits, or government officials if the funding falls and the test scores don't increase.  Clearly, an inability to do the impossible is the fault of lazy, greedy teachers on strikes of choice.  Right?

In other news, when the contract details come down, I look forward to seeing apologies from the anti-union "liberal media".  (Someone should have told the New York Times that Illinois teachers aren't actually allowed to strike about class size or classroom conditions, but I guess fact-checking is for little people).  I won't be holding my breath or anything, of course.

10 September 2012

Solidarity Matters.

So I went to the University of Chicago: a notorious home to nerds, really disturbing economic theory, classrooms sealed with lead because of radiation from experiments before the Manhattan project, and law professors who become Presidents and Supreme Court justices.

Our campus had air-conditioning, because summer in Chicago sucks.  There's nothing like walking home after last call at 2:00am and passing a time/temperature sign reporting that it's still over 100 degrees.

It is not too much to ask Chicago Public Schools to get a timetable for air-conditioning all schools.  Nor is it too much to ask that negotiated and approved wage increases be given, not taken away on suspicious economic grounds.  And compensating teachers for extra hours of classroom time seems reasonable (also?  One of the reason Chicago had "short" school days is because most schools had no recess whatsoever.  When you look at the actual instructional minutes, well, let's just say it's clear that Rahm Emmanuel's kids never went to CPS schools, because he'd complain less if he had the facts.

CTU isn't just fighting for Chicago's schools and students, though.  They're also taking on the usual suspects - charter schools, for-profit charter schools, investment bankers who want to do for public education what they did for the housing market - for all of us.

Please consider supporting their strike fund.

08 September 2012

Little Fears, Big Fears

For the last three years, I've had a Resident Teacher in my classroom.  The Resident is a student teacher, with the significant advantage of being nearly full-time.  While I have to plan for and train the Residents, it's obviously a bonus: more small-group instruction, another person to laminate things, someone to assist when a first-day Kster tantrums out.  So sometimes I worry that I don't really know how to run a classroom by myself anymore.

On Fridays, the Residents have a seminar and leave in the mid-morning.  The three Friday afternoons have been easy enough, with big craft projects after some math and language practice.  During this last one, I realized that I can still teach by myself.  It was a big relief; eventually, I imagine, the Residency program will end and I'll be on my own with twenty two four and five year olds again.

We had a major and disturbing theft at school this week, and the response from on high as yet has been that perhaps they'll upgrade the alarm/camera system...when the third third of the school bond money starts pouring.  I am so tired of waiting for this money.  Waiting on it is why we don't have functional heating in my wing of the school.  It's why we have lead pipes in the classrooms.  It's why the district is lagging on dealing with the massive mouse issue.  Sure, these things cost money.  But they also make learning and teaching more difficult.  And honestly, I have a hard time believing that the Central Office staff would be left without heat waiting for the money to come through.

05 September 2012

TWELVE school days into the year, and I still haven't been able to find out

  • what sections of the Fountas and Pinnell Reading Assessment I am supposed to give (woe betide the teachers who haven't been using it already, for they are even worse off)
  • when I will receive the recording sheets I will have to fill out for each and every child
  • when SFUSD anticipates having these assessments turned in to the Central Office.
I mean, it's not like I'm teaching anything right now, right?  This will be totally authentic beginning of the year data no matter when they bother to get materials to teachers.  October, November - whatever!*

The latest word is that we are to give ALL of the Fountas and Pinnell to ALL students, but this is so insane I have to hope I can assume it's a baseless rumor.  Why precisely I would give a spelling inventory and a phonogram reading list assessment to a child who has mastered just two or three letters is unclear - unless the purpose is "to waste instructional time while also making children feel bad".

Moreover, the entire battery is an enormous amount of assessment - at the end of the year, we're talking two weeks of heavy-duty daily assessment periods - or a week of Resident teaching while I assess every day, all day and into the after school program.  Why so long?  Because it's all individual.  And there's no math component, so I guess I should tack some time on for that.

This is really feeding a broader issue I have with non-classroom people.  I don't have the option to open my classroom on the first day of school and not be ready to go.  It is physically impossible to prepare for the year in the time for which I am paid; therefore, I give hours - this year, over a full-time week - to preparation.

Yet apparently the central office will get around to beginning of the year assessments whenever they feel like it.  Similarly, we won't be starting library or PE until the fourth week of school - books to inventory, schedules to make, materials to receive.  I can see why a week might be necessary to get up to speed, but three?  Could none of this work be done the way the teachers do it - on their own time?  And if not, why are these out-of-classroom professionals so cavalier with my time?

In the end, the whole "sense of urgency" thing school leader types talk about doesn't seem to mean anything to them personally.  They have a sense of urgency for me, but not for themselves.

*I've been doing assessment the past couple of weeks, because of that whole "data-driven instruction" thing the Reform and Accountability people believe in (although not enough to GET US ANY MATERIALS).  This means that when I get the Scantron sheets I will have the pleasure of filling them in not during assessment, but from my assessment records.  This will add a few hours to the process, not to mention being a huge waste of my productive time.  I TEACH KINDERGARTEN.  I HAVE THINGS TO WRITE NAMES ON AND LAMINATE.

01 September 2012

The Annual Count Stress

As a small school with no particular cachet (to outsiders: we think we have many exciting and unique qualities), the enrollment saga is an annual stress.  Since we're small, it doesn't take much to tip us into needing another classroom - or losing one.  And Kindergarten enrollment is always fraught.

This year, we have been nearly full or entirely full at Kindergarten since a couple of weeks before school started.  Usually we don't fill up until the first day of school, if at all.  Also, there's been less movement: I didn't have any students leave after the three-day count (when places may open up at schools families have wait-pooled).  There was also an eight-day count, and nothing happened.  Friday was ten days, so I imagine there could be some shifts this week.

Also interestingly, we must have been officially closed for enrollment at some point, because this week we got a few students who started at different schools and then transferred in.  I'm guessing that enrollment district-wide is up, so we're just riding that wave.  Or maybe it's the new-ish enrollment plan.  I'd like to think that our local rep is up, though.  I mean, we do run a tight Kindergarten program, with a lot of cool programs and opportunities not available at every school.  A number of our teachers received various awards and recognition from local and even national groups over the last couple of years.

Anyway, high enrollment is great in terms of budget and staff stability; it's less fortunate for class sizes. Speaking as a seasoned professional, there's a big difference between a class of eighteen and a class of twenty-three at the primary grades; I would prefer the smaller class to my new contract sweeteners for over-enrollment.  And our upper grades are really big this year; we cannot afford to buy them down (some schools in the District can and do, and no matter the source of their funding it is to my mind one of the biggest inequities the District enables) and quarters are pretty cramped.

31 August 2012

Unfortunate Timing

Late summer and early fall brings many new book publications as well as the beginning of the school year, and this week my limited impulse control and voracious book consumption went head to head with the need to get a full night of sleep before a day of new Kindergartners.

Worst of all, I have an e-book reader and actually started using it over the summer, which means that I can have all available books in a series (yeah, I read low-brow literature: so what?) in an instant and at times delivered in massive, inexpensive omnibus editions.

In the end, I managed the scheduling conflict by reading books rather than the news in the morning.  Like a lot of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, I need to get up earlier than most people to function well.  So I filled my time with urban fantasy.  Generally I'd feel guilty about not keeping up on current events, but missing the latest developments in American politics was probably a good more for my blood pressure.

In other news, I have the only classroom in my building with no known mice issues.  This seems unlikely; the exterminator was going to do a full check this afternoon.  I hope I don't have mice.  The hygiene issues would be upsetting, and I had pet mice as a kid and can't deal with the traps.  On the other hand, if there are truly no mice in my room, I have to wonder if one of the snakes we occasionally find in our building has taken up residence in my room.  (Just because this is extremely unlikely does not make it something I don't worry about.)  I am going in this weekend and have already bribed someone to check for traps in my room and remove them if they are present and filled before I enter.

26 August 2012

Learning the Wrong Lessons

Part of Teach for America's theory of change is that some portion of its alumni will move on to positions that will enable them to take action towards educational equity.  Their experience in the classroom, reasons TFA, will cause them to have the desire to make that change, the leadership skill to rise to a position in which the change can be made, and the experience to make the right kind of change.

You could quibble with all of these, but it's the third that worries me the most.  Whatever these alumni learn is leading them to some very questionable choices about what change is needed.  I'd argue that this is due to the TFA model.

For instance, TFA alumni with power are loudly demanding pay-for-performance schemes and an end to teacher tenure.  Teachers are lazy, they explain, and need to be measured and threatened into adequate performance.

I've heard this from both alumni and CMs in the classroom.  What they don't get is that all the drive and energy they're putting into their classrooms during their two years is necessary groundwork.  The teachers they decry as lazy already put those hours in.  Their handmade games are printed, laminated, and cut.  Their lesson plans need annual adjustment, which is a lot faster than building a unit from scratch.  They spent four hours painstakingly making worksheets on the computer a few years ago, so now all they need to do is hit "print".  Parents and children know them, so they don't need to spend so much time making up discipline plans: veterans have authority in and of themselves (not to mention years of experience that enable working classroom management plans).

So what the CMs assume is that veterans are lazy.  They don't have the understanding or experience to know what they don't know.  And when they take their incorrect understanding to leadership roles, they make teaching harder for everyone.

Similarly, TFA's alumni are big into data and testing and DIBELs and data-driven instruction and all that stuff.  Indeed, data are important.  But the veteran teacher knows the limitations of the tool, and is capable of doing the on-the-ground, informal assessment that should really drive instruction.  I don't need to give regular formal assessments in reading to guide my instruction.  I can tell you - and show observational data to back it up - what my students know and need to learn.  But observational and informal assessment is harder than formal assessment.  You have to do it yourself: decide what you're looking for, how you will know if you've seen it, what you will do if you don't, and so on.  Give a formal, standardized assessment and it will tell you - no pedagogical knowledge needed.

Again, this is where the incomplete understanding of the TFA alumni makes my job harder.  Because they don't really know what teaching reading is, they demand students read nonsense words and be judged upon their ability to do so.  I'd rather teach my kids to read.  Assessments like these waste my time and teach nothing.

I could go on like this for ages, but I think the point is clear.  If you're creating educational leaders who make change, you should want them to push for important changes that will make a positive difference.  TFA alumni aren't pushing for those changes - smaller class sizes, decent classroom conditions and funding, etc.  The changes they imagine are pointless or punitive.  I believe this is due to their brief classroom tenures.  They don't understand what they don't know, but they're willing to punish me and my students for their lack of knowledge.

25 August 2012

Why We Need Actual Public Schools

Apparently, California's charter schools have decided to exempt themselves from Transitional Kindergarten requirements.

Can we stop hearing all about how charters do everything public schools do except better on less money?  They don't do it better, they don't do it cheaper, and in this case, they don't do it at all.  Whether it's failing charter schools retaining their charters or outright refusal to follow the law, whatever charter schools are, they aren't public schools.

The First Week of Kindergarten

I have been doing this for a long time now, and the first week's general outlines are pretty standard.  The week looks something like this.

MONDAY: Teachers are on their A game, which is good because the children are all over the place.  Some are so excited that they simply must touch everything RIGHT NOW.  Others need to be physically blocked from fleeing out the door in tears.  Transitions - to and from recess, etc. - are challenging.  The wise teacher offers a healthy snack and gets the kids ready for dismissal twenty minutes before the bell rings.  This cuts off crankiness at the pass while also guarding against not seeing who picks up a child in the dismissal crunch.

TUESDAY:  Far easier than Monday, most children are excited to do this again.  Anything that happened on Monday is assumed to be routine, which makes Tuesday a delightful adventure for cheerful children.  Any criers give over in five minutes.

WEDNESDAY: Do not plan to build on Tuesday's gains!  Wednesday is the day when the effects of two days of hard work and structure are evident in the children's emotional states.  Children who were slow to warm up on Monday and Tuesday may cry; transitions are shakier and teachers are likely to be asked about having a rest time, when school is over, and if there is school tomorrow.  Recess will be chaotic.  The wise teacher takes a vibe check of the class in the morning and reschedules accordingly; this is a good day for quiet play or getting out the really exciting imaginative toys and not so good for teaching complicated structures or completing worksheets.  Follow the emotional lead of your students.  There is no reason to demand work right now.  We are building the ability of children to feel successful and happy at school.  There is enough time for drill later.  Wednesday readalouds give you a good sense of how much the class enjoys books and their stamina, though.

THURSDAY: Far easier than Wednesday.  At least one parent will tell you their child went to bed before seven o'clock yesterday.  The refreshed children are ready to learn some new procedures and try some different work.  Most if not all of the children will be sad to hear the day is over.

FRIDAY: Teachers are tired.  By late morning, at least two children who have had no problems all week will have emotional storms.  If a child is going to throw up in class, it will happen on Friday.  This is a good day for a long afternoon of art and crafts and good readalouds, so any academic work should be finished by noon.  If it is at all warm, judicious use of the water spray bottle will soothe tears and restore order.

21 August 2012

One down, four to go

I do not really enjoy the first week of school.  Sure, I like meeting new children and their families.  Seeing how systems and lessons planned work for a new class is an intellectual challenge.  But overall, the first week requires lots of things I find challenging: enormous to-do lists of short items, retaining control over paperwork, managing several different information tracks at once, being the repository of all data for many sources (the after school program, families, the office, etc.) - all in all, it's very tiring.  And calmness in the face of chaos and tired children is key.

So I enjoy opportunities for outside items that raise my ire, like this nonsense in the New York Times.  Briefly:

  1. As a teacher, I would be opening myself to serious discipline by suggesting a child be assessed for ADHD.
  2. So I find it suspicious that the teacher in the article did not only suggest the above, but also turned directly toward medication.
  3. Indeed, the way the author recounts the tale suggests the teacher was more interested in control than any actual needs of the child.
  4. I note with interest that the author tells us she took her child to an "upper East side of Manhattan psychiatrist."
  5. This leads me to believe that the author's son was enrolled at a private, competitive school.
  6. So in addition to doubting the existence of the teacher (did she receive a bonus from Shire or similar for every prescription?), I have to wonder to what extent the parent's desires for her child impacted her decision to medicate him.
  7. As someone who spends at least the majority of each year taking ADHD medications, I take offense to the author's conclusion that medication is only really necessary when teachers suck.
  8. In comments on a blog post about the article, readers recount teachers diagnosing their children in  Kindergarten.
  9. ADHD is rarely if ever diagnosed in such young children by anyone at any time.
  10. Teachers are generally aware of the criteria for diagnosis because parents ask about ADHD with some frequency.
  11. Therefore, I doubt the veracity of these drug-pushing Kindergarten teachers.

20 August 2012

Here We Go Again!

It doesn't matter how many times you've done it before: the first day is hectic, nearly unplan-able, and stomach acid-producing.

Most of the Bay Area districts go back today.  They really should do a Clean Air Alert (Overwhelming Tension: Avoid Schools, Targets, Watering Holes of Teachers during Friday's Happy Hour) for it.

17 August 2012

It is really past time to get to school and start haunting the office for a class roster, but this article was awfully interesting.  I especially appreciated that TFA's growth claims were questioned - by TFA.  I am going to try to say more about this later, but with PTO picnic, chicken repatriation, and the rest (MONDAY!)...

16 August 2012

Scripted Curricula

What with school starting Monday and all, it was not really the happiest bunch of teachers over at the Treasures training today.

Treasures is our new District language arts...thingamajig.  It is not our curriculum in that we are not required to use it; rather, we are to regard it as a "resource".

...a resource we spent three hours reviewing.  It's not much time - nowhere enough to really be ready to use the program.  And yet it's an eternity: no matter how many hours a teacher has put in already, there's always too much to do to be off campus looking at pamphlets for an afternoon.

Besides, many schools haven't even unwrapped their Treasures yet, and no one seems to know what the District purchased - since they probably didn't buy every component, it's hard to get excited about resources we may or may not have.

Since my school is one of the "Balanced Literacy" schools using Teachers College stuff, we were especially not looking forward to Treasures.  However, I think it will be useful for the new teachers in that it has a fully-planned scope and sequence for phonics, spelling, and phonemic awareness.  Readers Workshop suggests that you read Words Their Way, research your kids, figure out what they need, and then make your plans (plus all the materials you will need, which can be extensive).  A teacher with experience can do this.  A teacher who is new has way too much else to do, and doing everything guarantees failure everywhere.

Overall the thing looks fine; some of the big books will be good to have, and my leveled library always needs more titles.  It is not quite as scripted as Open Court (and certainly has nothing on Saxon Math, which not only told the teacher exactly what to say but provided right and wrong answers that children might give, plus appropriate responses to child answers).

Otherwise, I would say that my site is very excited: very excited to work together, for a new year, to try new things, etc.  And then very excited because every classroom at our school is big - all of the Kindergartens and first grades have 23 or more children - and class lists are still not available.  That's a lot of names to write, even though I assume that not all of those registered will appear.  And time is running out.

13 August 2012

Grants, Grants, Grants

At this point in my teaching career, just about everything in my classroom - from the pencils to the furniture with side trips to the dress-up closet and the chicken hutch - has been provided thanks to generous donors.

I have received over fifty grants on Donors Choose and literally tens of thousands of dollars in materials from various grant programs.  I do think it is unfortunate that classroom materials are now available to the teacher who is the most willing to put in extra time, scrounge around, and successfully beg private individuals for cash.  I believe public education should be publicly funded.  That said, I do have some suggestions for those who want to join me in getting what their classroom needs.  These are especially keyed to Donors Choose.  It's big, you can write easy grants for almost anything, and it's well-known.

  1. Think about what gets funded.  In my experience, math and science projects fund faster than any others, followed by reading and writing projects.  I've gotten furniture, some of it quite expensive, but these are the projects I have had to request twice.  Typically, art materials also get funded; play and physical education takes a little longer.  You should ask for whatever you want, but when you have few points and are just starting out, I recommend math and science.
  2. Keep it simple.  I think it's generally better to request a unit of study than a general topic.  For instance, a project full of materials to practice one-to-one correspondence is better than a bunch of math toys to teach a year of study.  Also, no matter how carefully you select, it's likely that you will occasionally receive a manipulative that sounds great but doesn't work in your classroom.  If it's one of many teaching that topic it seems less disappointing, I think.  Also, this helps keep costs down and makes for a coherent, simple essay.
  3. Work those one-point projects, but don't forget the big ones.  Less expensive projects are more likely to be funded (and funded quickly) than more expensive ones.  They also cost fewer points, which is important until you have had lots of projects funded (and have lots of points).  But some big projects fill.  I had a two thousand dollar project funded by over forty small donors and one nearly as large purchased by a single individual.   Also, it does happen that there are sudden mass project buyouts.  A couple of years ago, one of the Giannini descendants funded every project in California.  Once last year, an anonymous donor funded every SFUSD project.  It happens.  If you have one big-ticket project that you resubmit every time it expires, you are likely to get lucky someday.
  4. If You Need It All, It's One Project.  Donors Choose recommends splitting big projects into a series of smaller ones.  Of course, if a project requires all its components to work (and you cannot fund part of it by other means), then you're in trouble if only some of the smaller ones get funded.  So if you, say, need the projector or you can't use the doc cam, then you need to have one big project.
  5. Don't Hide High-Needs.  Teaching at a high-needs school is hard work.  Parents are less able to support the school financially; children have fewer opportunities for enrichment outside of school.  Poverty has serious impacts on learning.  Many high-needs schools also have many English Language Learners.  Don't hide these facts (if applicable) in your essay.  There's no need to be depressing or demeaning to families, but there is also no reason not to observe that your students get less and need more.  Many people want to help - let them know why you need their help!
  6. Be Seasonal.  Get your projects up for Back to School and keep them up through the winter holidays.  I make sure to request my annual project for summer learning kits for my students before October of the year before.  There are certain times of year when you are more likely to get a project funded.  Make sure you have your projects up and ready for funders.
  7. Always have projects up.  You can have up to eight active projects on Donors Choose.  There is no reason not to have a request up for funding unless you do not have anything you need.  I do not know any teacher who does not need anything.
  8. Just Ask.  I post projects to my facebook and email out links on occasion.  I request reposting.  Although most of my projects are funded by strangers, I've also had friends donate, or request that their corporate giving office look into helping my classroom out.  You have a hard job.  Email is easy to delete.  Send out a link.
  9. Constant Vigilance.  I check in regularly to discover announced funding opportunities.  I also look for unannounced ones.  If my project gets a match offer, I try to discover why so that I can potentially get that offer again.  (This can literally be as simple as having one specific word in your essay.)  I take a look to see who funded my projects, and if it is a foundation, I try to discover if they have certain kinds of projects they like and if I have anything else I need in that area (for instance, I know of a couple of foundations that generally fund sensory integration grants).  Going all Mad-Eye Moody about grant opportunities can yield big rewards.  For instance, I noticed a potential funding pattern last week and mentioned it on my facebook page.  Several staff members at my school put up projects in response.  Yesterday about half of those projects got funded.  And when the Waiting for Superplutocrats people teamed up with Borders to hand out $15 gift cards, I had projects up to be funded in $15 increments.
  10. Get those photo releases signed at the beginning of the year.  I make sure to pass these out at Back to School Night with a detailed explanation.   I usually get a bunch back before Back to School Night ends.  I follow up with any parents who don't attend BtSN or don't return the form; I have never had a parent decline to sign once I explain the purpose.
  11. Just get the thank yous done.  I know how hard this can be with everything else you have to do.  But the thank you notes don't have to be elaborate.  Take the pictures on your mobile phone.  Simple.
If anyone has other hot tips for getting funding, I'd love to hear them.