I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

31 January 2012

Unsent Letters

Chris Christie*:

“We cannot ask parents to accept failure in teachers when their children’s lives hang in the balance.”

I couldn't agree more!  Few things are more important than our children, and if in New Jersey you actually have children at risk of imminent death due to lousy teachers, then reform is clearly necessary.  (To begin, perhaps you should take those with known mob ties out of your hiring pool?  I mean, if the kids are getting the cement shoes and so on...)

I can't wait to see you fighting for parents to save their children from under-funded, segregated schools.   Those schools are really important, since you don't think their parents need to retire.

So I'm sure we won't see too many more of decisions like this, since given New Jersey's financial debacle, at the very least some of that $102 million is needed for the consultants who build the teacher accountability program and to fund that Consent Decree in Newark you don't seem to keen on.

Best,

E. Rat




*I'm afraid any standard letter appellations like "Dear" might inspire the kind of sexist, vaguely threatening "joke" the Governor saves for female journalists.  And I'm not going with some high-faluting "Honorable" or whatnot.  Certainly such a man of the (1%) people wouldn't want that!

29 January 2012

100 Day Snack Recommendations

Our 100 Day annual snack varies by where I manage to go shopping, but the deal is as follows:

  1. There are nine different items, of which each child takes ten;
  2. The last ten items are added by me while the child counts;
  3. Those ten items are chocolate chips, the "sometimes snack" additive to celebrate the 100th Day.
This year the other nine items were:
  1. Popcorn
  2. Chex
  3. Raisins
  4. Plantain Chips (yes yes, not the healthiest)
  5. Dehydrated Sweet Corn Kernels
  6. Happy Puffs (this organic toddler snack thing - I eat it and had a lot sitting around at school)
  7. Almonds (no tree nut allergies in this class, nor any peanut allergy so no worries about contagion from ingredients)
  8. Dehydrated Apple Slices
  9. Animal Crackers (again, not the healthiest but not the worst, either).
When I have time to get to a Trader Joe's or similar, I tend to use more dried fruit and the animal crackers would probably be something of equally questionable health value like sesame sticks.  I have in the past used wasabi peas, too - most of the kids like these.  (Besides, if a child reports s/he doesn't like something, I observe that there are ninety other snacks in the bag - there's plenty to eat, but on the 100th day you need 100 snacks.)

If I had a lot of nut/milk allergies I would do something with fruit - like cutting a slice of apple/pear/melon/plum into ten pieces, adding ten berries and so on up to one hundred.  This would be more expensive - as it is, even cheap 100 day trail mix is probably $30 or so.

Whatever you use, the snack is huge and the kids won't finish it, but they enjoy making it.  I think they are less tempted to overeat it because they know it is 100 things, therefore a lot.

Bad school, bad school

So what exactly is a bad school?  Does it beat you up and steal your lunch money?  Exchange emails about the stupid investors buying their designed-to-fail securities with Fabrice Tourre?

It can't just be low funding.  Some schools that get labeled bad have big cash right now, more than twice as much as some of the "good" schools.

Nor can it be simply low test scores.  Again, some schools that people agree are good have middling test scores, and others have test scores way below what they "should" be (compared to schools with similar size and demographics).

Teacher quality can't be the metric, either.  We don't have any real metric for deciding what a good teacher would look like as compared to a mediocre one, really.  And there are an awful lot of teachers at "bad" schools who have won teaching awards, gotten competitive grants, or are teaching pedagogy to new teachers to great acclaim.

Bad schools tend to hang out in bad neighborhoods, but a closer look at the demographics and crime statistics around these "bad" schools might find the label misapplied, or bring to mind Vic Warshawski schooling the Northsiders on the South Side: "You make Hyde Park sound like the the site of the Tong Wars, Mr. Devereux."

I bring this up because I'm pretty sure that bad school - especially as applied by parents in SFUSD during the Kindergarten enrollment process - is some kind of proxy statement for a lot of ugly, scabby issues in American culture.  A bad school is very likely to have few white students.  It's likely that more than 75% of the students qualify for free lunch.  And so on.  These issues have nothing to do with the school per se.  Nothing in such a student population makes it inherently bad.  In fact, it's offensive to think so.  Yet the bad school label gives convenient cover for the race and class issues we are not very good at discussing.  Moreover, it exonerates us from the responsibility of making things better - if it is the school that is bad, then the school may need to be fixed (by others), but nothing about the wider society is broken.

Certainly a high-needs student population brings up issues and needs that other schools may not share.  I once read on an online forum that schools like some of the West side elementaries in San Francisco aren't really the place for children from bad neighborhoods.  After all, those kids might need services - a counselor, a social worker, a therapist - that good schools don't have on offer.  Which is offensive on a lot of levels - children and families at all income levels sometimes need help, and if those schools are unwelcoming to high-needs students then they are self-segregating.

It gets depressing being a bad school teacher, too.  Hearing about your rottenness is unpleasant.  It also can boggle the mind.  For various reasons I've recently had the opportunity to visit a number of SFUSD schools, many of which are good.  My overwhelming takeaway was that school funding is really lousy.  Kindergarten students at these good schools were stuck to dried-out markers, crayons and old watercolors.  The Legos had bite marks.  Many of the play people had been beheaded by classes past.  Whereas in the Kindergartens at my bad school, we've collaborated on well over one hundred grants - in terms of materials, there are things we don't have that other schools do (computers, etc.), but there are other areas in which we put the good schools to shame.  Beyond providing more stuff, we're doing it on our time (and dime) - all those grants didn't write themselves, after all.  We have to do more to break even, and when we put in Herculean effort and go beyond, it makes no difference.  We're still bad teachers working with bad children at bad schools.

27 January 2012

Fingers Crossed

Barring major technical difficulties, Team Kindergarten will submit its Fund for Teachers grant application today.  Writing it was really difficult; first there was procrastination.  Then there was general snit-having ("These questions are soooooo boring.") and a round of early technical issues.

Anyway, since we will be submitting it, I really hope we get it!

26 January 2012

100th Day of School

Plans:

  1. Make 100 day necklaces using 10 groups of 10 pony beads.
  2. Make 100 day trail mix, 10 groups of 10 snack items.
  3. Make 100 day pictures, 100 color coding label dots.
  4. A number of the kids reported they were making 100 day collections - have fun with these.
  5. 100 morning exercises.
  6. Read one 100 day of school book.
  7. Write about 100 somethings.
Generally I do not make such a big deal of Day 100, but this year the kids are really excited AND I know that I am exactly, precisely 100 days into the school year, and keeping the daily count systems on track deserves some kind of recognition.

25 January 2012

Maybe Not as Adaptive as I Thought

...erk, two days in a row of being irritated with the district and i'm pretty sore, having upped weights or reps for a whole mess of different exercises.

Plus side, I will have giant muscles that will cause the Ksters to gasp with awe once it warms up and I start wearing sleeveless dresses again.

24 January 2012

Good News, Coping Strategies, Buy in Bulk Esoterica

Good News: Some generous person or organization funded all the Donors Choose projects in SFUSD today.  I got two, one a biggie for recess equipment, which makes me feel better about not having resubmitted the grant for a loft.

Coping Strategies: Something that comes up in teaching at high-needs schools is secondary trauma: many of your students are traumatized, and that trauma is shared with the educators on site.  And there's trauma just associated with teaching in a high-poverty environment, or in dealing with systems that really aren't set up to do the best for children.  Everyone has some coping strategies for these issues, maladaptive or not.

I have a new one: every time I am upset about classroom stuff or irritated with the district's utter disdain for certain necessities (heat) or fondness for extra-legal procedures that take forever, I am going to up the weights I use at the gym.  At this rate, I will be scary cut by May.

Teacher Esoterica, Buy in Bulk: Those little cups that you get pickled ginger in sometimes?  About 2 ounces and food safe?  Those and the lids have dozens of uses: fill 'em with pre-portioned paint for easy clean up, distribute high-density snacks like dried fruit, store beads that have been sorted by color, etc.  These are so great I want to buy some for every teacher at my school and just see what other uses people discover for them.  They are not perhaps the most waste-sensitive solution, but we reuse them many times and besides, my class is rumored to be the best composters at the school.  So I figure they can have a pass to save me a little after school work.

23 January 2012

Before the Pink Ides of March

Superintendent Garcia has been busy letting the media know that layoffs are imminent.  I suppose we don't have any of those truth vigilante journalists around here, because I have yet to see a reporter ask in return, "Hey wait - isn't that the case every year?  Why is this news, Superintendent?"

Sure, the budget situation is bad: that's annual, too.  But SFUSD has very limited ideas on how to balance their budget in lean times, and all of those ideas come down to lay off school site personnel.  It's true, as noted in the article, that employees are the biggest cash outlay in a district's budget.  But it's also true that SFUSD has done nothing to streamline those human resource costs so that school site personnel are prioritized.  Nor has there been any interest among management types for sharing the pain, even if symbolically.

So here's my list of good faith optics and actual cash savings SFUSD could consider this year.

  1. At least follow legal procedure in notifying district office personnel of possible layoffs.  SFUSD likes to tell the media about all the central office staff they're possibly laying off.  Yet last year, SFUSD did not even bother to notify these personnel of looming layoffs, thereby making it illegal for SFUSD to lay them off in the end.  There was no actual intent to even pretend to cut central office staff.  SFUSD owes the teachers it's laying off better than that.
  2. Cut Central Office staff.  SFUSD has a wide range of claims about the lean meanness of its central staffing, but it's not really that impressive.  Sure, the district probably has fewer central office staff than the average district proportionately.  But SFUSD is a huge district - it should have far fewer staff than a smaller one, simply because all districts need certain personnel regardless of size (it doesn't matter if you have two schools or two hundred: you need a Superintendent, a Human Resources Director, etc.).
  3. Trim at the Top.  The Superintendent makes about seven times my salary and takes as many furlough days as I do.  He should take more.  It's not fair that the average teacher - notoriously low paid - is losing a bigger percentage of salary than our leadership is.
  4. Top Brass Should Share the Pain.  All SFUSD upper management should take a pay cut.  If the Superintendent and the Associate Superintendent took a 10% cut each, they've just saved one teacher job.  These folks are well-compensated; they've also avoided the real financial pain that their cuts have inflicted on school sites.  It's time to show solidarity with their employees.
  5. Little Cuts Don't Save Much Cash, but Build Good Will.  It's time to cut travel expenses at the district office.  The Board shouldn't be getting reimbursed for babysitting or fed at their meetings (I believe the former's already been cut, but not the latter).  Wait a year before upgrading or replacing the technology provided to out-of-classroom personnel.  Make do with fewer post-its in the Legal Office.  It's not a lot of money, but these are things school sites gave up years ago.  There is no reason for our leadership not to do the same.

22 January 2012

The Laziest Weekend in All the Land

It's the rain, I think.  Also the football: all good bus routes begin near Candlestick, and either you get out before the game or you stay in.

Today I need to work on a grant application, plan a meeting with my Resident teacher, try to do one of those clever cooking for the week things, and prep for making color wheels and doing an experiment about hues and shade.  Not that color is all we're doing: the kids get a new short vowel this week, and we have a field trip coming up.

20 January 2012

Science of Color

I like teaching about color, light, and color theory in Kindergarten for many reasons, but definitely the art/science projects that come out of the unit are a total bonus.  This project is easy and extremely fun.  The results are impressive, and the kids engage in a lot of hands-on learning about color blending and secondary and tertiary colors while completing the project.

Downside: unless you have the materials on hand, which I generally do, it's kind of expensive.  You could do the same project with contact paper, which is cheaper than laminate sheets, but the results are not as good.  Tissue paper doesn't allow the same color-blending effects as cellophane does.

Stained Glass Window Sheets
You will need:
Teacher Preparation (approximately 15 minutes):
  • cut laminating sheets in half*
  • cut colored cellophane into various pieces: cut some smaller and some slightly larger shapes, roll sheets and cut to create long, thin pieces, etc.
  • portion cut cellophane for student use (I use cafeteria trays and put out enough for 2-3 students to share one tray)
  • completed or partially-completed project so that students know what to do
Student Instruction (5 - 10 mintues):
  • Explain that students will be making a stained-glass like project while exploring color blending.
  • Review color blending already taught.
  • Demonstrate how to remove the backing from the laminate sheet and how to affix cellophane to the sheet.  Remind students to keep the sticky side up.
  • Note that all adhesive should be covered (no clear areas left) and that pieces can and should overlap.
  • Younger students should be directed that the confetti-throwing approach leads to heartbreak and mess, as pieces do not stick and fall to the floor, where students will have to pick them up because their teacher is old and does not like stooping.
  • Identify procedures for completing the project, cleaning the work area, and activities for early finishers.
  • Send students to begin project.
Project Completion (20 - 30 minutes):
  • Circulate and monitor, drawing out student observations about color and color blending.  (I like to do this while working on my own project; I stop by each table and sit with the kids for a couple of minutes before moving to another table).
  • As students finish, assist in finishing the project: using the other half of the laminate sheet to seal the work closed, trimming any sticky ends, and writing students' names.  A hole punch will allow projects to be hung.
We did this yesterday and the results were pretty awesome; this is one of those projects where other teachers ask you how to do it and to borrow materials.  It's almost as cool as the primary color blending paddles the kids made last week, which are very labor-intensive but worth it.



*Alternatively, you could use two sheets per project, or simply remove half the backing from a sheet and have students fold the project over to seal it shut.  This has the added bonus of not needing teacher assistance to complete the project but can be difficult for young students to manage.

18 January 2012

Sometimes it's so easy to see how systems meant to help go bad.  Some of it is the strange exponential brew of unrelated line items that form some really ugly whole.  For instance, if SFUSD is interested in both providing the least restrictive environment for children with special needs AND wants to save money in delivering services...well, it's very easy for that to become a block to any child receiving any services.

Of course, the issue of intentions always comes in, and there's something about central district offices that seem to cause those employed there to become very leery of school site workers.  Maybe it's seeing the whole picture: one can see that district wide a certain population is over-represented in low graduation rates/SDC placement/ED classrooms, so one views with suspicion the school site personnel proposing that a student from that population receive services.  It might be understandable, but it's still unpleasant: you have to assume the best of the people with whom you are attempting to serve children, or the children pay.

What I really dislike, though, is the way certain "procedures" that block access to assessment and services get quoted at you over and over and over, even when you know that the procedure in question is rarely followed or in fact illegal.  This is when it's very useful to carry a procedural binder and a copy of relevant case law.  It may make one unpopular with certain district folk who don't really like being (gently) corrected, but if the one in question is me, you were destined to be unpopular with those people, anyway.

17 January 2012

I Can Shower and Dress in Seven Minutes.

That is an important skill for whenever the New York Times goes in for one of its "Room for Debates" on teachers.  The questions they debate are always rather, um...loaded.  You know, things like "Bad Teachers: Just About Twenty Percent or All of Them?"  or "Teacher Pay: Is It Way Too High, or Just Too High?"

Today's question is "High-stakes Testing: Let's Fire More Teachers", and they recruited my very favorite Pacific Research Institute anti-unionist Lance Izumi to opine ("Teachers Are Union-Loving, Children-Hating Demons").

I managed to control the snideness for the most part, but I did have to provide my learned thoughts on the issue.  And now I'm a wee bit behind.  Oops.

15 January 2012

You know, I don't think Jerry Brown really gets school funding at all.  Also, I think someone needs to show him some post-napalm pictures, because scorched earth?  It's very bad, Jerry.  Very, very bad.  Not something to be all flippant about.

Among the fun things in his budget, he'd like to cut TK.  That's just wrong; how can you plan and cut at the same time?  I mean, SFUSD is already way, way behind in their planning, and based on the Special Education Redesign, even without cutting possibilities you don't want the SFUSD central office minds on a short deadline.

Anyway, I assume that SFUSD will patch together the budget the way they always do: mass layoffs.  I didn't get pink-slipped last year, but I imagine this year I will.  It's becoming increasingly difficult to want to bother weathering these, especially given how bad schooling really will be come November if the tax initiative fails.  ESPECIALLY when I'm already working my rear off and not terribly healthy, you know?

Still, for once I do place primary blame on the state.  I have never been amused by Brown's budget-by-threat, but this latest one is just mind-boggling.  It's worse than "A and B" budgets and worse than "Oh, hey - possible major cuts in February, okay?"  It's budget-by-Agent Orange.

13 January 2012

Sometimes doing what's best for children means that you need to upset a lot of contented panels and people at the District Office.

Guess what: Too bad.  A teacher's contract does not require the teacher to sing the party line and agree with recommendations presented (especially when they don't actually have anything to do with that teacher's classroom, classroom practice, sartorial decisions, political leanings...in fact, when they have nothing whatsoever to do with the teacher in question).

That said, it's time for the smile with lots of teeth.

11 January 2012

Eight New Months of Budget Struggle

Man, the Governor loves K-14 education so much!  Children are photogenic, after all.

Sadly, the love is not backed up by the numbers: his budget proposes to permanently gut the Proposition 98 floor and forgo paying back $2 billion already owed (on top of the money from the 98 suspensions last decade).

Of course, if his tax initiative passes - which assumes that he actually takes it to the ballot this time around - he is certain nearly seven billion dollars will come out of it.  I understand that the LAO finds this optimistic, but whether it's the kind of optimistic that is baseless or not I don't know.

The current teacher contract with SFUSD expires in June, so budget follies should be especially vicious locally, I think.  After all, who really needs stability or pencils?  Certainly not California's children.  Just send a cadre to go shake hands with the local politicians.  Public education is government education* - why fund it?

(Despite my resolution to avoid all coverage of Look at These Demographically Non-Representative States Vote 2012, clearly some of the GOP rhetoric is got through.)

10 January 2012

With Bad Intentions

This week, I resolve to keep reminding myself that people have good intentions.

Superhuman work was done to arrange a necessary all-hands-on-deck meeting coordinating city workers, district people, and staff at my school site.  One of the people who needs to be there is now unavailable approximately forever and definitely not for the time set, and I am having a hard time not linking this to this person's pique at someone else around the issue.

This makes me generally grumpy, which is not fair to my blood pressure, my Resident or my students.

05 January 2012

Tech Survey Time!

The triennial technology survey is some kind of state requirement, I think, because I've been doing them for years.  They used to be these giant time sucks that asked all kinds of questions ("Do you know how to operate a mouse and a keyboard?  If no, how are you responding to this online-only survey?") and sapped energy directly from one's typing fingers.  This year's is shorter, but has more open-ended response spaces, so I feel a little bad for Educational Technology.

I suspect that they'll be getting a number of responses like mine.  My suggestions for training courses included How To Use Data Director, an Online Resource, to Complete Report Cards When Your Classroom Computers Cannot Load the Site, Equity and eMacs: Keeping the Dinosaurs Alive, What Does SFUSD Do with Centrally-Donated Technology and Why You Can't Have Any, 20 Cook St. Needs Interactive White Boards More Than You Do, Our Committment to Equity and Your Students: Technological Equity Is Yet Another Reason to Doubt Our Good Intentions.


(OK, I didn't actually propose all of these, but I did propose some of them.)

03 January 2012

Magical Day of Magic

Today I received in the mail a check for art supplies from an out-of-state foundation - a three digit check.  In the mail!  From strangers!  Money!  For ART!

Neat, no?

I also wore my new boots, new (thrift store) shorts and new (vintage) jacket and felt very proud of myself.  I had planned a very easy day - not too much new material, very easy group activities, etc. - to help the kids ease themselves back into school and it went very easily.

02 January 2012

Given that I am gainfully employed with health insurance and a pension and just finished a two week vacation, I really should not be so terribly whiny about going back to work.

And yet, I am.

I spent six hours at school today cleaning up and remodeling.  I didn't manage to get a couple of things done that I really wanted to, because I spent so much time scraping glue off desks with a variety of exciting chemicals.  However, many important tasks were completed and I think the kids will be very excited to see their January 2012 classroom model.

The increasingly disturbing emanations from the boys' bathroom down the stairs will not cause much delight, but I'm sure that Prop. A will take care of whatever permanent plumbing snafu was built into that bathroom sooner or later.

01 January 2012

New Year, La La.

I am not a resolution person, except for my annual resolution not to look askance at newcomers to my gym and eagerly count the days until they stop coming.

That's just not very nice, you know?

I do have plenty of hopes for the New Year, including no layoff vote at the 22 February BoE meeting, easy contract negotiations, a plan for TK that is somewhat more delineated than "Congratulations, you have a combination class!, getting ten more Donors Choose projects funded, receiving a bird-print funnel neck dress: you know, the usual.

For the next couple of days, I'll just hope for getting my classroom all ready tomorrow and not hitting a newbie strolling along unawares with a kettlebell.