I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

29 February 2012

New Definitions!

In SFUSD, equity means that it's better to lay off 40% of the teachers at your high-needs school than laying off 16% of the teachers at another high-needs school.

In SFUSD, bravery is displayed when one lays off teachers rather than challenging the state to fund education by refusing to meet their budget requirements or cutting Central Office expenses.

Also, it's really mean of teachers to try to make SFUSD feel bad for laying them off.  Don't we understand how difficult it is to lay off teachers?  It's apparently way worse than actually being laid off.

In principle, I agree that there needs to be some kind of mechanism so that the annual layoffs don't disrupt the southeast side while leaving west side schools untouched.  I just find it hard to stomach that protecting staff at certain high-needs schools - certain high-needs schools that have also gotten all kinds of other advantages the rest of us haven't - and therefore making the layoffs even worse at other high-needs schools is some kind of answer.

And the whole "zone" thing seems arbitrary, really.  The idea that the issues at, say, Flynn - with its relatively low poverty rate and significant middle-class population - are anything like the issues faced at schools in Hunter's Point strikes me as dishonest.  If you're going to prioritize some schools over others, you might at least try to come up with some actual similarities beyond "extra funding" and "location".

Besides, any situation in which teachers without full credentials (er, intern credentials) are protected over teachers with actual credentials...that doesn't just upend seniority.  It upends common sense.

I personally should not be laid off, which means I can look forward to another year of staff turnover, training on the fly, instability, stress, and making pink posters for every laid off colleague.  What fun.

24 February 2012

Based on the Board agenda, I am going to be laid off to protect less-senior teachers at "zone" schools.

Non-zone schools that are also hard-to-staff and high-needs, therefore, will be taking the brunt of the layoffs.  You know, schools like mine.

SFUSD has so many enchanting ways of proving that they really hate teachers, but this is probably my very favorite.

I mean, I'm apparently less important to the District than a first-year, uncredentialed Teach for American.  Along with everyone on my staff.  Because in the end, some high-needs schools are more important than others.

(For the record, the "special qualifications" for those zone positions?  The ones that justify laying off teachers at other hard-to-staff schools?  Exactly how many teachers do they think - do they really and truly believe - don't have them?  I mean, everyone at my school does.)

23 February 2012

Unsent Letters: Thesaurus Edition

Dear Various Departments,

A SFUSD procedure is not necessarily synonymous with state and/or federal law. While we might generally prefer that our in-house procedures be followed, it is in fact permissible to modify - even skip! - these procedures.  Indeed, if our procedures and the law conflict, it is the law that we must uphold.

I think I speak for teachers everywhere when I say that the likelihood of procedures and processes being used to avoid costly services or programming - even when those are legally required - is infuriating.  I hate hearing various talking heads and central office types claim procedures are law (especially when they contradict the law in question).   And I loathe the idea that informing parents of their rights is somehow anti-education.  Would these talking heads want to be informed if they were the parents in question?  Or is it that only some parents in some situations deserve awareness of their options?

I really should start a SFUSD Legal Mythology blog (or at least a tag), because some of these things get recited at you over and over and over and over.  I taught in a different district and am a big nerd, so I often can escape this nonsense with glorious facts as my lockpicks, but it's really a shame that new teachers are getting misinformed.

16 February 2012


Tomorrow there is no school in SFUSD.

As a reminder, while teachers are not working tomorrow, they will not be paid, either.  This is the first of four furlough days this year.

Similarly, while the school year is four days shorter, students will still be expected to master the same content.

Should they fail to do so, or at least do so in a way that can be documented on Scantron, this is clearly the fault of their teachers and has nothing to do with the shortened year, reduced school budgets or anything else so clearly peripheral to education.  Or at least it undoubtedly will be to any number of bright, young venture capitalists moving into the exciting world of for-profit charter schools, performance metrics, and general anti-union fervor.

15 February 2012

Kindergarten For Some

Yet another way charter schools work to manage their student load in ways actual public schools cannot: enforcing their own Kindergarten entry cut-off dates.  Private schools do this too, officially or unofficially.  I've been told that some local public schools strongly encourage their own cut-off dates to some parents, but even if that's true it's not something they can enforce.

That said, I'm still leery of the new Kindergarten entry cut-off points - especially as TK disappears, I don't see any evidence that the earlier cut-off will lead to more socially and academically ready students.  I think they'll be bigger, but another year with nothing than more aging is not a panacea to Kindergarten readiness.

12 February 2012

Valentine's Day Crafts

It ends up my Resident is soloing on Valentine's Day, which is a pretty good idea, I think: celebration-management is important and not really taught.  I told her she was welcome to come up with her own crafts or I would provide the simple ones we generally do:

  1. Giant Envelopes.  My school may be out of markers and most colors of construction paper, but we have a lot of 12" by 15" envelopes.  Now that these envelopes can't be used for Donors Choose thank yous (too big for the no-postage-necessary label), their supply remains undiminished (site-wide, we've had maybe 150 projects filled).  Anyway, these are great for collecting valentines - unlike paper bags, they don't stand up and then fall over, and they're sturdy.  I have plenty of stamps, stickers, and scraps of construction paper for decorating these.
  2. Pattern Necklaces.  I try to avoid foam craft items, I make an exception for these beads.  The kids sort their beads, make a pattern, and then string it.  This is a nice assessment, actually, because they have a variety of attributes to use and can use more than one, or make a pattern of two patterns, etc.  
A couple of weeks ago, we had a small group covering "Cutting is Awesome", during which I taught the kids how to cut hearts (using the "draw the top of a two" method), snowflakes, etc.  That's enough Valentine's action for me.

10 February 2012

Teachers of the Month

It's time to nominate teachers for the Mayor's Teacher of the Month Award!

Of course, 826 Valencia also has a nifty TotM award.

08 February 2012

So someone asked me the total cash amount of the various grants and whatnot I've done over the last five years (which is how long I've been teaching in my current District).

Anyway, I started to do the math and then realized it was over $30,000, so I figured that was a nice, round number and I'd stop there.

The continued generosity shown by total strangers to my classroom is really awesome.  It's a pity the state is not as willing to step forward, but given how bleak the annual budgets are, I can't imagine the austerity education that I'd be providing without this support.

This message brought to you by the shock of having a Donors Choose request fulfilled in less than twenty four hours, which is a personal record.

ALSO:  A big hello! to visitors from the sfusd.edu domain.  We certainly have some staff putting in long evenings!

07 February 2012

Workplace Conditions.

Our school has mice, regular ant infestations, encapsulated asbestos, and leaded pipes that require daily flushing.  It also has certain systemic plumbing issues ("never correctly piped", briefly) and was one of the schools caught in the scamming-internet-wireless-installer net.

And like many SFUSD schools, we experience regular problems with our heating system*.  The main building had no heat in December - no heat on any day in December - because the heater broke, it took several days for maintenance workers to come in, and when they did they identified the broken part as one manufactured in Georgia.

My classroom is in the original building, and has a very exciting heater.  When it's broken, it doesn't just sit silent and sulking: no, it sends out refreshing gusts of freezing air.  Much like the heater at Bryant described in yet another article about heating issues in SFUSD.  I have a really great space heater courtesy Donors Choose, but I also have a very large classroom.  So it's only partially effective.  A second space heater is sadly not an option: the wiring is original too, and more than one space heater per classroom on the wing = total power failure.

Needless to say, this is one of those real-world situations other than terrible, horrible, no-good very bad teachers and their worse unions that actually has an impact on education.  It's hard to focus when you're cold.  It's not really ideal for five year olds to spend the day in coats and mittens.  And so on.

Nor is it terribly good for their teachers, particularly those with troublesome immune disorders, which is why I am bringing a nice note from my rheumatologist stating that I will suffer serious pain and permanent damage, not to mention not be terribly effective at teaching, when forced to spend week after week without heat.

This makes me very, very happy.

ETA: Doctor's notes?  Totally get you faster service.

*For the record, if Goldin is only getting two requests a week about heating issues, District-wide - well, first off that's really not a very good average, honestly.  But second, hey wait - he's lying: this article says it's two schools a day!  Anyway, thirdly: if he's only getting two a dayweek, well, his staff is protecting him from the calls, or he's out of the country a lot.

06 February 2012

Big Dilemmas

QUERY: Is it preferable to have catchy Kindergarten songs stuck in one's head, or totally Kindergarten-verboten songs stuck in one's head (providing one is a Kindergarten teacher)?

I mean, I'd rather not be stuck with "What Can One Little Person Do?" or similar jumpy tunes, but if I break into "Silent Hedges" that's not really ideal, either.

05 February 2012

In which I enjoy italics immensely.

Teach a primary school for a few years, and people begin to make certain conclusions about you:

  • you own puff-painted clothing;
  • all your shoes are sensible;
  • you never, ever raise your voice;
  • you are not too bright.
Seriously.  I once had a research fellowship, and the principal investigator - who had a kid in Kindergarten - told me he had assumed I "just a teacher" until he heard what high-faluting fancy University I attended.  And when he heard the esoteric field in which I earned a B.A. and M.A. together in four years?  Well, then he "realized [I] must be pretty intelligent".

Which your average teacher is, for the record - along with fast on their feet, able to sing, paint, sculpt, and jump rope credibly, and so on.

I wonder if this explains the miserable quality of research spouted at teachers all the time.  I'm not just talking the fact-free spin stories about charter schools (again, no more successful and sometimes far worse than real public schools) - I'm talking actual learned research.

Well, half-learned.  Ruby Payne's credentials are iffy at best, and her understanding of simple terms like peer review is limited.  That said, she sure makes a lot of money off school districts - although I was never more proud to be a teacher in my old district than when an audience of its teachers chased Payne's second off the stage.

But you also get bad research from actual university professors, which is presented to teachers with no critique to be swallowed whole.  I think now of Drs. Hart and Risely, who discovered in the 1990s that poor children have a "vocabulary gap" and that that gap lowers their IQ.

Hart and Risely never trained as linguists; I did, so upon simply hearing their conclusion about a million-word vocabulary gap I began beating my head against convenient hard objects.  When I later heard them explaining how their conclusions were not racial because they ignored all data about race, I waved my copy of the Lingustic Society of America's resolution about Ebonics in the air before resuming to bashing in my own skull.

I'm fairly well-spoken and I know the research around vocabulary gaps and deficit models in language study quite well.  I can tell you why Louisa Cook Moats doesn't actually understand language, and note that the research that might have cleared up this issue for her was completed in the 1950s.  So I generally make it my business to politely critique any professional development guru who starts yammering about Hart and Risely (I also thank the ones who sniff at the idea of the vocabulary gap).

Their shock is always magnificent.  "This is data from UNIVERSITY RESEARCH PROFESSORS," they huff.  "YOU are a KINDERGARTEN TEACHER.  I know that reading probably challenges you, but trust me: THEY DID RESEARCH."

So I really think it's best to provide my fellow educators with some links that will assist them in such situations.  "Well," they can say diffidently.  "It's true I'm just a lowly Kindergarten teacher, charged with teaching our future.  But I've read these papers by learned university professors who also challenge the deficit thinking Hart and Risely assume.  Have you?"

This little review essay sums up both the broader problem with deficit assumptions while taking on Ruby Payne and Hart and Risely.  It's a nice start; anyone looking for more of the same is welcome to comment - I've got citations from the 50s to the present day ready for my fellow educators of high-needs students who are tired of hearing about how the fabulous and brilliant children in their classrooms have been destroyed by their rotten upbringings.

02 February 2012

Allies, Not Enemies.

I make a monthly donation to a project at Donors Choose to support my fellow teachers.  I know several other teachers who do the same.

Today I saw a grant proposal that made the startling claim that high-performing/low-income schools get less money than struggling ones.  This could be true, although they also get fewer expensive mandates to fulfill than lower-performing schools.  It went on to say that high-performing, low-income schools are full of children whose parents emphasize hard work.

...because those parents of children at lower-performing schools don't?

Wow, way to be deficit in one's thinking.  Separating communities into the worthy and less-worthy strikes me as unsupportive of one's fellow educators and their students.  After a dozen years at high-needs schools, I have yet to meet those deadbeat parents that infest them in mass numbers, lowering test scores and depressing their offspring.