I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

31 March 2012

Two Months Left

I still have a lot of content to cover this year:

  • -r controlled vowels (ar/or, mostly) and the idea of long vowel sounds
  • about 20 more sight words
  • summing up all the oviparous animals stuff
  • landforms
  • telling time (to the hour)
  • measurement
  • estimation
  • maps
  • building numbers 11-20 (this is a common core standard thing)
  • writing numbers to 100
We also have some big projects/events left:
  • Read-an-Eggathon (I hide eggs with words in them, the kids hunt them and get a sticker for each correctly read word)
  • Paper People Project
  • massive schoolwide event
  • Promograduation
  • Self-Portrait Project
I can get this all done, I'm sure.  My Resident also has two back-to-back solo weeks ahead, though, which means I better plot this all out exactly so she knows which of these need to be covered.

Otherwise, I'm just making the standard Kindergarten teacher wishes: May there be limited spilling of paint; may it rain only on weekends; may the cafeteria not serve bagel dogs.

30 March 2012

Pointless Anticipation

Having already explained to everyone I know why there's no chance Team Kindergarten will get Fund for Teachers, I'm not sure why I woke up at 4:30 AM to begin checking my email today (Notification Day).

Maybe it's the ADHD.  Whatever the case, I am awfully stressed out by the grant I know I'm not winning.  So perhaps it's a good thing I need to go to my limited-internet classroom and do snail care/prep for Monday.

In other news, I also don't know if I won an art mini-grant.

In further other news, I got nominated for Teacher of the Month, which is nice.  Again, I think it's very unlikely that I'll win, but I'm glad someone noticed me working hard and thinks I'm doing a good job.

28 March 2012

Teachers' Unions Protect Students.

According to the education deformers, teachers' unions exist solely to protect our awesome pay and benefits while ensuring that lazy teachers can sleep through the school day, wakening only to demand that students peel grapes faster and to take a nip from a flask.

Scott Walker's Wisconsin wants to protect students from all that and more!  As you can see, students also need to be protected from teachers who want to have personal lives.  6:15 AM - 5:00 PM working hours keep teachers at schools where they belong, not out wasting time grocery shopping or spending time with their children.  And a traffic ticket is not simply an infraction: do you want your child learning from the morally bankrupt individual who speeds?

I find the "no jeans" rule particularly offensive.  Even I pull out the jeans for certain, mud-centric activities and field trips.

Really, what the deformers want is a demoralized workforce that doesn't last too long, ensuring low salaries for new teachers.  Nor are they terribly interested in a healthy workforce, or one that can look forward to a comfortable retirement: if you wanted to retire, they smarm at teachers, maybe you should've gone into business or economics, not hanging out with kids and finger-painting all day.

They haven't done the job, so they don't understand it.  They don't like children, so they don't value the work.  And they think they're smarter than the people who taught them to read.

It's beyond time to flunk them.

27 March 2012

Mikey One Percent

Mike Bloomberg, mayor of New York, enjoys regularly pontificating on the coddled school teacher and her undersized classes, her oversized pension, and the generally overfunded budgets making for fat cats at the public schools.

According to his local paper, he really should be addressing these concerns to the city's private schools:

Tuition, more than $40,000 at some schools, typically covers only 80 percent of the cost of educating a student. So schools need additional fund-raising to cover financial aid, maintain and expand facilities and broaden program offerings.

For the record, I just led a certificated staff meeting putting together a budget assuming $5,055 in annual funding for each student.

Maybe Mikey One Percent should take a break from lecturing us poors and look at the real numbers.

Information Is Important

One of the things that makes me the biggest geek ever hard to silence in difficult meetings is that I read many, many boring documents about education policy, funding, legislation, and politics.

I truly recommend this often eye-bleeding dull literature list to my fellow teachers.  It keeps you from being surprised when a new policy comes down or your district decides that the annual teacher layoffs should also challenge the Ed Code.  When principals pushing a point of view claim the school can't afford something the community and staff want, being able to pull out the numbers - and explain how restricted and unrestricted monies work - makes you a fabulous advocate.

Some important state and local information sources:

  1. The Governor's Budget Proposal.  Don't make the rookie mistake of assuming this is the budget; this is what the Governor's policy and finance people think sounds good.  The state Legislature and lobbyists never agree in toto.  So following state political news is important.  The Governor must also offer some revisions based on state revenues: this is the May revise.  Some school districts - including SFUSD - are fond of using the prospect of the revise or its contents to explain why they laid you off.  Knowing what the revise actually says helps when drafting one's comment to the Board.
  2. The Legislative Analyst's Office Publications.  Mac Taylor and crew crunch the Governor's numbers and provide the Legislature easy-to-read analysis.  Since the Governor's calculations are often suspect, this is an important information source.  It is my opinion that the LAO has an anti-education funding bias.  They also recently came out against tenure - not for equity reasons, but to get on the education reform performance evaluation bandwagon.
  3. Publications of the Board of Education.  The agendas - which generally upload after business hours on the Friday before Board meetings - provide all kinds of interesting information (for instance, looks like we'll officially have Superintendent Carranza tomorrow evening).  The minutes and K resos are also of interest; the minutes are uploaded irregularly but following K resos lets you follow the money.
  4. Other publications on the District website.  You can also take a look at the annual "sky is falling, cut teachers" analysis of the budget.  It looks like the beyondthetalk.org site (which hosted all the Balanced Scorecards) is dead, but the Data Center still lets you look at a lot of stuff.
  5. In fact, I recommend hunting around the SFUSD website - you can find the most interesting projects there.

25 March 2012

The Chaos School

Personally, I think that if you are a paid op-ed columnist for a newspaper, one's columns should demonstrate at least a passing familiarity with stories published in that paper.

Apparently David Brooks disagrees, since this week he wrote a very silly column about the New American Academy.  He finds its plan - sixty students per class in an entirely open space, and teachers loop with students - incredibly novel and exciting.

So did his employer, The New York Times.  However, they found it the kind of novel excitement that a trainwreck offers.  What with the overwhelmed, under-experienced teachers, the lack of student work or progress, and the pithy quotes from students ("We don't know what we are supposed to be doing, but we are learning about math"), they seemed less positive that this model was anything but a way to make absolutely certain children learned nothing.

Well, maybe Brooks did skim the piece - he notes that the school's lack of structures "was a problem at first" and notes the principal stating that they had "better control" over the students now.  Brooks is impressed by the "subtle tricks" the school uses - lining students up at transitions, making them enter a new open classroom together, greeting the teacher.

David Brooks had better not be planning to visit any regular public school classes anytime soon, because the "subtle tricks" he finds there are likely to amaze him into cardiac arrest.  Seriously, this kind of stuff is Remedial Classroom Management!  If the New American Academy staff didn't have these procedures down on day one, they have no business working in elementary education.

Mr. Brooks is also impressed by the $120,000 annual salary provided to master teachers.  I'm not: each master teacher is ultimately responsible for sixty kids and training/deploying some number of under-teachers (who aren't paid so well).  Moreover, something tells me that if Brooks were offered a $120,000 annual salary, he would primly refuse such penurious compensation as offensive to a man of his talents.

Of course, Brooks and the New Academy gang share a tendency to casual racism; Brooks notes that the teachers demand "proper diction" (by which I assume he means codeswitching to Mainstream Academic English from AAL or similar).  The school's founder and principal refers to the first graders as coming to the school "in a state of nature...[with] no civilization".  Oh, and many of these kids apparently will have "familylike" relationships for the first time with their looping teachers.  It may come as a surprise to Mr. Brooks, but poor families - even poor families headed by single parents - do not exist in solitude.  There are other family relationships than marriage, and despite Ruby Payne's unresearched nonsense, poverty is not a Hobbesian state.

But mostly the column lauds something disturbing.  Brooks notes the founder was inspired by expensive boarding schools; I am quite certain Phillips Exeter does not have classes of sixty students.  He notes the school serves "poor minority kids"; he neglects to mention that the school took less than a quarter to remove three high needs first graders to "more structured environments" and lost at least seven more to withdrawal.  He admires the master teachers, but fails to mention the rest of the teachers are "novice early childhood teachers".  He's excited by the "interdisciplinary" approach, but that approach includes no art instruction.

The New American Academy is indeed an experiment, but it's one that is presently responsible for "educating" two hundred and forty children this year.  Brooks' "great experiment" is a gamble that sacrifices the education of those kids if (when) it fails.  So amazed is he by the school's "guerilla" leadership and its innovations that he ignores the real problems with the model.  So incapable of basic research is he that he can't even read his own paper before publishing such a PR piece.

22 March 2012

The Decoration Monster

I assume the popularity of Kindergarten teachers with first grade students is universal.  After all, everything was better in Kindergarten.  Kindergartens are 100% more likely to have play kitchens, and there is a standard expectation that you will get messy at least once a week.  First grade, not so much.

Anyway, I see my K alumni several times a day and play any number of games with them, including blowing kisses, copycat, pretending that I think they're chasing me/staring at me, declaring I have no idea who these giant first graders are, etc.

Today I grabbed one off the recess yard and decorated her face with fancy stickers.  I did the same thing to another kid at lunch recess; she reported to her teacher "She stole me and stickered me!"  Needless to say, my current class thought this was the best thing ever, so while they were finishing a little project I invited them to be decorated one by one (it was optional but almost everyone went for it).  By popular request, I also decorated my own face.

...something tells me that just wouldn't fly down at the Central Office, which is why I'm never leaving the classroom.

Anyway, I tried to express repeatedly that even my vast sticker supply could not support endless steal-and-stickering, but I don't think I was successful.  Happily, break begins at dismissal tomorrow and that should provide ample time for the craze to die down.

19 March 2012

And also good things!

So the nice part of the Enrollment Saga is seeing how many siblings I didn't even know about are enrolling...and requesting me!  This is always a really good feeling.  And it makes for some kids who are a little less nervous on the first day of school.

Tomorrow I need to set up the land snail terrarium, so any visitors will be greeted by gastropods and muddy professionals.  But Kindergarten is like that sometimes.

18 March 2012


It's that fun time of year when enrollment letters go out and I can read all over the Internet how I am a lousy teacher at a lousy school full of lousy kids.  Dear unhappy parents: thanks for spreading the unhappiness.

Really, the biggest argument for EPC just giving unhappy parents whatever it is they want is that the online commenting is really bad for morale at the Lousy School Brigade.

Moderately displeased parents, if you do come to visit, please avoid demonstrating shock at the work the kids are producing, their good behavior, or their general well-being.  Also, it's very rude to ask why a teacher has a student teacher, or indeed why a school has an entire training program for pre-service teachers (no, not Teach for America, silly).  Presumably, someone thought people were doing a good job.

Also, referring to my neighborhood as "the ghetto" is straight-up offensive, and the people living in the projects are my neighbors and our fellow people, not "those people" in the "dangerous projects".  What's dangerous about the projects is our collective acceptance that it's okay for people to live in housing meant to be torn down in the 1950s.

No, our PTO does not raise oodles of cash.  Nor do we get fat stacks of free money from the District.  We are pretty industrious grant writers though (so please: don't advise us on hiring one).  But for the most part we muddle through unfunded.  It doesn't make for a lousy school.  Many of my students are poor, and some don't speak English at home.  They are all brilliant, generous, exciting young people.

Like anybody else, I have bad days and good days.  Sometimes I have an awesome idea for a lesson and it fails.  Or I get grumpy because someone kicked over a full tub of paint just as the dismissal bell goes off and nobody's got their backpacks yet.  Even teachers at those awesome schools get shirty or have to reteach something.  But the thing is, my kids learn what I need them to and have a blast doing it.  I can't walk across the school yard without collecting an entourage.  And parents are happy with their children's progress.

So go ahead and quit calling me a lousy teacher.

17 March 2012

Unsent Letters

Dear SFUSD Facilities,

Indeed, a boiler room flooding at 2 PM is an "act of God".

However, fixing the boiler at 3 PM yet choosing not to reset the heating system, apparently to avoid overtime costs, is not an "act of God".  (It is by your own admission not an act of safety, either.)

It is an act that will cause frigid air to blow into classrooms all afternoon, evening, and night, so that they are barely above 50 degrees F the next morning.

Children and adults should not be subject to endure in such conditions until several emergency calls the next morning rouse you to send a technician.

Moreover, it is a fiscally stupid decision, because - as you know, since you have received a signed document stating it - one of those classrooms is led by a teacher who will suffer severe pain and nerve damage from exposure to such temperatures in the classroom.

I assume that in the future you will take my health and safety seriously.  My five years in SFUSD have taught me that freezing children don't raise any eyebrows, but I figure that potential litigation might.


E. Rat
on behalf of her hands and feet, which should really not be all clawed and witchy at her age.

P.S.  I sent a kid home that day with a fever of 102.5.  How do you think the frosty classroom was for that child?  Or for my classroom animals?  Even when it's not enough days for a Williams complaint, children still suffer.  They can't wait for you to decide to put in a better heating system.

I actually got to deliver this to the Heating Manager myself by phone...after explaining that no, it would really have to be the Heating Boss himself to whom I spoke.  This was necessary because it will no longer be possible for the Heating Office to be unaware that I actually have a medical reason - doctor-verified and everything - why I cannot be in an unheated classroom.  Nor will the Heating Boss note, "But your site hasn't had any heating problems this year, right?" when the truth is we spent two weeks without heat waiting for a part to come from Georgia - former Soviet Republic I assume given the wait - and another week for unknown reasons, and then several days here and there.  The Heating Boss also admitted that the classrooms in question are not supposed to use space heaters, since the electrical system can't handle them.  Perhaps they need to buy us a lot of those foot warmer thingies.

14 March 2012

Missing the Point.

At last night's Board meeting, the District functionaries and Board members present seemed somewhat disconcerted to find that overthrowing seniority did not win an admiring chorus of approval from the San Francisco labor council.  What? said the faces of various administrators and officials, especially those interested in pursuing other elected positions.  But we're all about social justice!

Leaving aside the purported commitment to social justice, I'm still not clear on why so many people seemed surprised the skip proposal wasn't popular.  I mean, being the first district to attempt to overthrow the Ed Code's seniority provisions has "high paid speeches for soon-to-be retired Superintendent" written all over it, along with demands for first class airfare and luxury hotels just like Michelle Rhee gets for her speaking engagements.

I'm not opposed to setting up a system that would somehow retain teachers at high-needs schools: the actual on-the-ground implications of strict seniority can be really nasty for equal access to education.  But the thing is that SFUSD can't even be bothered to provide my five year olds with heat, let alone veteran educators and equitable funding.  If they really wanted veterans on the southeast side, there are simple job condition issues that would make a big difference in teacher retention.

(Not to mention those retention bonuses - you know, the one I didn't get this year because financial conditions mean I need a bigger paycut than the Superintendent.)

(Speaking of which, what did happen with the equity plan for furlough days - the one where you take more of your salary is higher, so that classified employees have the fewest and the Superintendent the most?  I guess it got circular filed with the annual Equity Report.)

But few things are as delightful as watching one's former Resident teacher totally school the Board (see what I did there?) about showing simple respect for the educators and allies who came out on a rainy night to speak before the Board.  If only this would have an impact on our Superintendent, who really needs to bring his laptop like his Deputy.  See, the mobile phone texting is just too obvious, whereas one can peruse the DFER website in peace on the computer while managing to pretend to care what these people have to say.

13 March 2012

Since I'm pretty sure I'm the person who first told the union that no really, the district was going to request Superintendent zone skips ('cause I'm that nerd who waits until the after-business-hours-Friday-evening BoE agenda upload)*, I found it interesting that there was a full cadre of Zone principals at the meeting, explaining how the standards-based education and extra bodies on the ground constitute a special program so that intern credentialed teachers have "special skills and competencies" necessitating a skip.  I mean, the District sure wasn't mentioning this to all the schools taking a bigger hit to protect Zone schools.

(Or something like that.  But what's for certain is that for all that SFUSD keeps saying this is about equity, they don't seem as willing to make that argument on paper.  Maybe because it doesn't look so good with all the actual troublesome facts about high-needs schools.)

This week the rest of us are bringing our response.  I'm glad the agenda is only 87 pages; what with all the comment this is going to get long, and I gave up eleven vials of blood yesterday and just am not feeling it.

*No, really.  I emailed to ask about it right away, and my Saturday response was that it wasn't going to happen.  To which I replied that actually, it was.  For real.  Check the agenda.

12 March 2012

Spring into Donations

Just visit your favorite teacher's personal site at Donors Choose, make a donation and put BLOOM as your match or gift code: doubled donations!

Goodness knows your local district, state education budget, and puny federal dollars are barely covering the pencils these days.

10 March 2012

The Grade a Banker Project

So New York City public school teachers have had their "value-added ratings" released to the media.  Despite some concerns that value-added ratings may be inaccurate, it's clear to any right-minded deformer that value-added ratings and public shaming are the way to go.  Besides, the DFER types probably had lousy public school teachers who didn't teach them about data, graphs, analysis, and statistics, so this is just desserts: So what if these ratings aren't very accurate?  We can't do the math anyway!

Anyway, I think that all of us public school teachers should get behind value-added ratings.  This doesn't mean I plan to pass out the #2 pencils to the Kindergartners on Monday, though!

What I think we need is to bring this method of rating job performance - including public data release - to the world at large.  Given their focus on free-market efficiency, meritocracy, and all that noise, I propose we start with our great houses of financial capital.

Like New York's data, we can start institutionally and then drill down to individuals.  We'll rate the success of corporations - return on capital, impact of investments on the broader economy, need for federal intervention, etc. - and then move on to individual bankers.  Just what did Lloyd Blankfein do to build greater wealth in the United States last year?  Hedge funds, private capital managers, and big banks will provide a strong start for our objective approach.

Good banks and bankers can look forward to having their picture in the company newsletter and perhaps discounted tickets to a baseball game.  Bad banks and bankers can be publicly shamed and fired, just like we do with teachers!

It might also be of use to see what the data proponents use to grade their own progress.  I mean, John Arnold's standards for a good performance evaluation are pretty different than mine - and I don't think his are really in line with what we want our children to learn.

09 March 2012

Marginally Nifty.

Getting through the last three days - which included a day with a videographer present, all but two of my Parent-Teacher Conferences (one no-show to reschedule and one where the scheduling is tricky because it's a Provide Your Own Translator conference - just something to keep in mind when reading SFUSD's mission statement, which includes affirmation of linguistic diversity - and I need to get the translator to schedule it, too) - on about eleven hours of sleep has got to be impressive in some sick, sad way.

Or at least it's responsible for that grammatical chasm above.  Anyway, in addition to the shortened days and PTCs, two butterflies hatched as adults, the pond snails arrived, and I managed not to have a tantrum at anyone who works for the district, including those unwilling, unable, or incapable of fixing my roster so that I can actually provide parents with report cards.  And since I was gearing up for one of those hot-afternoon-first-week-of-Kindergarten style tantrums, I think this showed remarkable self-control, especially with the low sleep and the ADHD and all.

...Although the cheerful distractability may have been what kept me tantrum-free.  Who knows?

06 March 2012

Secret Teacher Knowledge: Parent Teacher Conferences Edition

Helpful Hint:  Get together your next few permission slips for field trips and get them signed at conferences.  It saves the hassle of the Kindergartner Paper Black Hole, a notorious swirling vortex of entropy that resists all known teacher methods (the paper necklace, the liberal use of Astrobrite, leaving the slips with the after school sign out person).

Reminder: Don't forget to comment on social-emotional growth with an eye to the rigors of first grade (less rug time, more independent work, etc.)

WHEN, SFUSD, WHEN!?! It never fails to alarm me how difficult it is to get SFUSD to provide any paperwork in Vietnamese...let alone conference translation.

05 March 2012

Making it Work

SFUSD requires online report cards.

They are not required to provide functional computers.

They are not required to provide internet access at school sites.

They are not required to provide correct rosters of one's students.

They are not required to provide adequate server space so that the report card program doesn't crash.

They are not required to provide printers or ink.

I ended up doing report cards on a Kindle at an open wifi point, and I'm still not sure how I'll get the report cards printed.

So the next SFUSD official to yammer about 21st century learning and technology and online data collection and standards online and data-driven instruction is getting glitter-bombed.  It's easier to yammer and buy a program than it is to make it actually function, and I'm tired of putting my time and energy into all the actual requirements of SFUSD's big talk.

Beyond the Talk, you will find teachers on the ground cobbling together systems to make it work while district adminstrators pontificate and pose for photos.

03 March 2012

Unsent Letters: Take It to the Top

Superintendent Garcia:

Given the size of the public relations office and its well-compensated staff, it's unfortunate that you don't run your comments past them before speaking to the media.

Because when you tell schools slated to lose almost 50% of their teachers that the skip order you want "won't tilt the Earth on its orbit", those schools are disgusted with you, your lack of concern for their students, and your blatant disregard for the actual, on-the-ground implications of protecting intern credentialed teachers over fully-credentialed teachers with experience.

Which is, by the way, a key point.  The "special skills and competencies" of some fifty-eight protected teachers do not include a real, renewable California teaching credential.   I'd say that puts kind of a low bar on whatever it is that sets "zone" schools apart from equally-challenged schools in other neighborhoods.

Let's face it.  Union-busting is all the rage with soon-to-retire and retired Superintendents looking for lucrative speaking gigs in the future.  And if you can union-bust in the name of the children, even better!

The problem is that you're going to knock the Earth off its orbit entirely at some schools that have bigger challenges than some of the arbitrary zone sites.  And that it's hard to argue you have an elite and highly-trained, heavily-recruited teaching force at these arbitrary sites when some of them have credentials that are only controversially designated acceptable under NCLB.

Actually, maybe it's better that the PR office didn't catch you before you called the Chronicle.  It's always good to know how little we schools matter for the top brass in our District.