I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

23 June 2012

For the Record

As a veteran teacher in a high-needs school, I am aware that the average ed deformer is pretty sure I am lazy, child-hating, and bitter this summer as I sit on my couch, eating bonbons, counting my big dollars, watching television, and plotting ways to ruin children.

I think having two chickens living in my house so that they can live at school next year, plus spending some of my own money to do training this summer, and tutoring students for free might perhaps suggest their perspective is clouded.

...or maybe it's just that I'm not putting eighty hour weeks in all year that I can do this.  After all, the true teacher, as they see it, does actually sleep at school.

21 June 2012

Why We Stay

There is so much talk about getting veterans to come to high-needs schools or recruiting short-termers for those schools that there's never any talk about the people who actually do stay.

Let's face it.  Those veterans from lower-needs schools are not going to be as successful at a higher-need school necessarily.  I won't say it's a harder job, but it is a different one.  The skill sets don't entirely overlap.  Moreover, contrary to popular belief, academic expectations in the classroom are higher at high-needs schools.  This can be a big shift in thinking and not an easy one.

Nor is the constant turnover of staff, even highly-trained and motivated staff, positive for the high-needs school.  Relationships matter and they aren't built on a Peace Corps-style stay.

And the thing is, some of us do stay.  It strikes me that figuring out why the people who stay choose to do so.  One could assume that we're all lousy teachers; one would be wrong.  I am regularly approached for teaching jobs in which I have not expressed interest at lower-needs schools.  Like many of my fellow stayers, I'm highly trained and actively seek opportunities for professional development (and the funding to go: New York in three days!).   Identifying the factors that make someone likely to stay and creating the conditions that those teachers want seems like a worthy field of study.

Anyway, some characteristics that I have noted in the stayers:

  1. We are not out to save anyone.  We are not saints or saviors, and those of us who are white are not the Great White Hope.  This attitude supports sustainable time commitments and building real relationships with families.
  2. We really like to teach.  If you really like to teach, you don't leave after two years.  You just don't.  If you really like to teach, you enjoy getting better at it.  If you really like to teach, it feels sustainable to you.
  3. We are good at teaching.  Teaching may be art and craft, but some people just have an intuitive feel for it.  If teaching comes naturally, then refining the craft is pleasurable and not hideously time-consuming.
  4. We know what we need in our classrooms.  I know I can teach successfully while children roll around the rug, but that the sound of fingers tapping the inside of a desk will drive me out of my mind.  I know that I can't effectively manage detailed line order and seating charts, but that I can teach children how to self-regulate in transitions and encourage the classroom community that enables children to pick their own seats in ways that are equitable and diverse.
  5. We know that children need different things.  The teachers who have fidgets, allow controlled walkabouts, understand that needing the bathroom happens and that sometimes you want to be by yourself are the teachers who stay.  They're more flexible and more open to teaching self-regulation as opposed to mandating order. 
  6. We believe families are doing their best and seek their input on their children.  If you assume you teach the offspring of incompetent and careless people, it's very hard to feel good about your work (or build relationships).  If you think you know everything about a child after that child has spent a few weeks in your room, you have the temperament for investment banking but not education.
  7. We build relationships.  I rarely if ever call a child's home (I hate the telephone - I will text, but generally only for informative/praise reasons.  Discipline at school is my job unless I need input on strategies that work at home).  I am introverted and shy and this can come off as standoffish, so I really have to work at being welcoming.  But I do it.  I have a good memory and collect data about family relationships.  I live in the neighborhood, shop locally, and take the bus.  These thing matter.
  8. We demand work-life balance, even when that means we can't do it all.  I am capable of maintaining organized files...if I put in ten hours a week at filing.  I run a couple of school events and lead at least one committee a year.  I could do more, but I'd have to give up things that make me feel happy and well.  I teach better when I am happy and well.  I can manage these tradeoffs.
  9. We believe social-emotional development is important and academic.
  10. We really and truly believe every child in their class is smart and they believe all children can do well and feel good about it.
So, what do these stayers want?  I think the biggest thing is smaller class sizes.  The smaller the class, the easier it is to build those relationships, really know each kid, determine the learning background condition each student needs to excel, and so on.  So I believe that if we really and truly believe in equity, not equality, we'd be reducing class sizes at high-needs schools.  There are other things, too, but this strikes me as the biggest.

19 June 2012

I remain unenthusiastic about the whole "looks like a Kindergarten teacher" thing, but this series about halfway houses in New Jersey is pretty interesting.

Chris Christie spends an awful lot of time ranting about teachers, schools, and unions.  Given that he thinks these centers are high-performing cost-savers, he is either lying, or the schools in New Jersey are actually located in Hell thanks to a convenient multidimensional portal.

Or maybe he's irritated the schools don't churn out adequate quantities of dropouts to keep these private-profit centers even more successful for his political allies.

17 June 2012

Oh, so descriptive.

From the New York Times (bold mine):

Dr. Wolff was not one to easily back down. She resembles a kindergarten teacher, with plain eyeglasses and hair tucked behind her ears, but she has spent much of the past two decades immersed in the prison system, interviewing inmates across the Northeast. Along the way, she has become a critic of New Jersey’s halfway houses.

Well, I can't speak for all Kindergarten teachers, but this Kindergarten teacher went out last night wearing a backless dress and ninja boots, to watch another Kindergarten teacher play in a rock band.  Neither had hair tucked behind their ears, and both select stylish spectacles when applicable.

Also this week, I swapped info on tattoo artists with yet another Kindergarten teacher.  Later today, I plan to go purchase a new red lipstick and go to the gym.  At that point, I will tuck my hair behind my ears, since I don't want it to get caught on a barbell or anything.

Needless to say, I now plan to write whenever applicable that a person resembles a journalist, with a downtrodden air, jaded eye, and outdated perspective.

16 June 2012

And now you have to fix it.

Yesterday, I got irritated with this liberal thing I see a lot in education circles: the idea that reflection is enough.

It's not.  The purpose of reflection is to encourage future action.  And if your reflection is that something you tried didn't work, that is honest and important.  But if you don't actually change anything, then the reflection was useless.

I see this come up in parent involvement issues.  You hear a lot that some school tried something to get parents active and it only attracted certain parent communities - typically, those that were already fairly involved.  There's some handwringing about that, but the next parent activity?  Is pretty much the same and attracts the same people.

I put serious energy into parent involvement this year, and that meant doing lots of different things to attract a wider spectrum of parents.  Was I totally successful?  No.  So next year I'll try to refine what we did even further.

The other thing is that I did this myself.  I had the help of some parents, but I had learned that the parents at my school were not going to start a PTO without some serious T support.  Our parent liaison was not going to do it.  Our principal was not going to do it.  I thought it was important.  So I got started on it.  Now the trick is spinning it off so I can hand over some of the responsibility.

I get frustrated with change at schools that depends on other people, or that fails once and is never changed again.  School funding sucks.  Many parents are overwhelmed and suspicious of schools.   The conditions suck.  I want them to change.  Until they do, if I choose to get involved in this work then I better be willing to make things happen myself - or at least stop complaining when they don't happen, and wanting to be rewarded for admitting I failed.

13 June 2012

True Fact.

Despite teaching at an early-start school and generally arriving there well before 7 AM, getting to professional development by 8 AM is a challenge.

Whether this is due to it being summer, or just that Kindergartners are easier to wake up to than sitting in a chair working on practice, I don't know.

09 June 2012

ETA: This is what's driving "pension failure" by the way.

Oh, superintendents.

Generally I wouldn't link to stories that are ultimately part of the Pensions Are Evil storyline.  I think that all workers should be assured a sustainable retirement, and I believe that as a society we have the means - but not the will - to make that happen.

In this case, I am breaking my own rule because the superintendents play some administrator whiny cards that are just to obnoxious to let stand.

For instance, David Meany - retired Superintendent from SCOE - is pulling down a nice $192,000 a year from STRS.  This is more than his highest annual salary.  He'd like you to know that this is fair because he can't take Social Security benefits.

That's true: teachers with pensions aren't going to be receiving any Social Security benefits they earned, nor any their partners earned.  But in Mr. Meany's case, this complaint is offensive.  It's like complaining that you have to buy premium fuel because you drive a Corvette.

(For the record, it irritates me that my fellow citizens are so willing to destroy my pension, but if successful are extremely unlikely to restore my Social Security benefits.  As it stands now, though, my Social Security deposits don't bother me - I believe in a national retirement program and I don't mind supporting it.)

Bob Wells, the executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, does not see why Superintendent pensions - and more broadly, their pay - is a problem.  After all, we have all these NCLB requirements and accountability and stuff, right?  Superintendents could totally lose their jobs now, what with this accountability.

Make this argument in a room full of teachers and they will fall over laughing, then start swapping stories of Superintendent transfer.  Failing in one district is just an opportunity to fail upwards at this job class.  The examples are so legion - Arlene Ackermann, Alfonso Anaya...I could go on, but you get the point.  There's no chance these guys won't vest and pull down big pensions somewhere.

CalSTRS is trying to head off massive pension cuts for all pensioners, current and future.  What with the bad recent returns (a relic of short-term crazy, long-term loss investment strategies courtesy "market-oriented" and overpaid CalSTRS workers) and the difficulty they have in raising contributions (the Legislature has to approve it), they've made some suggestions for long-term solvency.  One of these would cap (with inflation adjustments) pensions at $147,000 annually.  This is an administrative-level pension; I know no teachers (and few principals) who earn that much.

However, the superintendents would like you to know that that is so, so mean.  They will set up their own pension system, or go bother CalPERS to let them in, or something.  I assume this is a threat because they pay in quite a bit given their large salaries, but I find it hard to believe that they aren't taking more than their contributions (no Superintendent starts out making big bucks; they start as teachers).  So I invite them cordially to go ahead and bug CalPERS.

The whole thing bothers me for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that the Superintendents are acting in their own interest against the interest of the teachers who are also counting on CalSTRS.  Yet again, leadership is lacking the courage they demand of their underlings.  A capped pension like CalSTRS proposes is not inadequate, but the possibility of sacrificing one penny is anathema.  Yet teachers are expected to take pay freezes and furloughs in stride.  When the District won't provide supplies, you do not see Superintendents at Target buying crayons. Their teachers will be, though.  Superintendents are willing to gripe to the state that funding is inadequate, but only over cozy meetings with the Governor.  The possibility of refusing to approve a budget within state guidelines, of calling a wildcat strike, of demanding that California fully fund schools - that kind of conduct makes it unlikely a Superintendent will get to hobnob with bigwigs, and therefore they won't engage in it.

In the end, if CalSTRS is legislated out of existence or fails financially, teachers will suffer.  Something tells me Superintendents will do just fine.

07 June 2012

Furniture

When it comes to one's classroom, furniture is grab-bag.  Schools may or may not have made standard purchases - say, a bookshelf for every classroom.  You may or may not inherit hand-me-downs that originated at someone's house - for instance, there's a Mexican pine dresser that's done duty in at least three classrooms at my school.

After a few years, you get so used to this that when someone suggests that perhaps schools should be provided with the furnishings they need it seems a novel idea.  Anyway, when this came up last week we decided on the following list for the primary classroom:

  • Kidney-shaped table.  Key for small group instruction, not replaceable by cleverly arranging desks.
  • Magnetic Easel Whiteboard.  Preferably with shelving, for all whole-class instruction, minilessons, and similar.
  • Ample Bookshelves.  Many of these should be at child-accessible levels so that children can select and return books with ease.
  • Large (12' by 15') Rug.  For whole class instruction, story time and the like.
  • Tech Table.  For technology, with drawers appropriate to material storage.
  • Correctly-sized lightweight chairs.  Students should be comfortable and the chairs should be easily moved, so that you can have fewer (one per kid rather than one per seat).
  • Teacher Chairs, At Least Two.  One for the kidney-shaped table and one for the rug area.  I understand that the New York City public schools got every primary teacher a rocking chair.  That would be neat.
Other additions?

06 June 2012

My school is in the final third of schools to get Prop. A updating and refurbishment.  My dream list:


  • Asbestos removal. (not going to happen, but I'm very suspicious of the "encapsulation", since the "Don't poke holes in the walls" memo is delivered only orally and only by teachers in the affected wing...and only when we remember).
  • Pipe De-Leading.  If you flush the pipes for five minutes, they run clean (convenient for testing), but this requires that someone, every day, stands in front of the fountain, depressing the button with a thumb, for three hundred seconds.  I have a hard time believing substitute teachers will remember to do this.  I cannot myself remember to do it every day.  So I don't allow the children to drink water from the classroom tap.  This is inconvenient and expensive (I provide bottled water as needed, so it's wasteful, too).
  • Hole Closure.  I have three apparently by design open sections of wall that expose wiring.  I'd like these to be covered by something more lasting than fadeless paper.
  • Reliable Heating.  Classrooms below fifty-five degrees for over a week is not optimal for learning, bad for children, and rotten for my personal health.  I suffered nerve damage in the icebox of my classroom this year.
  • Windstops on All Doors.  Currently, windstops are available only if you have seen a rodent, rodent nesting, or rodent waste in your classroom.  This is a cost issue.  Guess where the rodents hang out now?
  • Green Schoolyarding and Further Xeriscaping.
  • Refurbished Outdoor Water Fountains.  Most of the Ksters need a non-drinking child to pull the lever for them while they drink.
  • New Wiring.  I would like to be able to run a fan and a computer at the same time without blowing the electricity.
  • Bookshelves, Bookshelves, Bookshelves.  Does this count?

Final Tallies, Grant City

Donors Choose Projects Fully Funded This Year: 15
Donors Choose Projects Fully Funded, Lifetime: 49

Art Room Aid Projects Fully Funded This Year: 1
Art Room Aid Projects Significantly Funded: 2
(You can buy materials with partial funding on ARA)

Art in Every Classroom Mini Grants Received: 1

Final Tally on Massive School-Related but Not for School Fundraising Project: over $16,000
(most ever raised by school for any cause by $15,000)

Scholarships: 1

...so all in all, not too shabby.

For next year, I'm hoping to get 12 funded Donors Choose Projects, receive a Fund for Teachers grant, and get at least one more ARA project or other miscellaneous grant.  I just wrote three new DC projects - one for books and two to replace broken materials, and have two up at present.  So I suppose that's a good start.

05 June 2012

Lesser-Known Evils

Teachers have to break down their classrooms at the end of the year: put everything away and take everything down (fadeless paper fades, people).  Curriculum kits need to be put back together; puzzles need all pieces accounted for; all the furniture must be moved out for deep cleaning.

I generally do as little as possible of this until after school is out, because the Kindergartners don't like it.  This year I did have some fourth grade helpers on the last day of school who began to remove wall displays; three children wrote in their journals about not wanting to go to first grade.  I believe this is a cause-effect relationship; the visual reminder that hey this is over and you are not coming back is a little heavy for the soon to be first grade set.

However, this leaves me with a lot of unpaid labor after the school year is out.  Since I was stay-home-and-don't-move-much sick last week, I just finished yesterday afternoon after two solid days of breakdown.  So I am done in my classroom until early August.

Sunday was the grimy day, the kind where when you take a shower the sudsy water washes down gray and gritty.  I put everything away and reorganized quite a bit of stuff; I unloaded another Mystery Cabinet of the Retired Teacher and threw out the partially-used workbooks, discarded and old curricula, and separated, half-used tempera paint that collects in old classrooms like mine.  I also re-planned the craft materials so that supplies (except for general stuff like paint) are organized by project rather than type.  This means that when I need muslin for gyotaku, I won't have to dig through the felt and the silk remants to get it.  I also cleared a lot of old files that contained masters I no longer use (either because I've made my own, found better or no longer teach that topic in that way).

Monday was clean up - bagging the trash, delivering donations to the classrooms that requested them, pulling staples out of the walls and cleaning the desks.  I left some ambitious work orders for the summer, too.  I'm hoping that the two open holes in the wall that expose wires will be covered by something other than fadeless paper, and if asbestos regulations mean that the old and broken clock cannot be removed, I am hoping it will at least be covered (I would need a seriously tall ladder to reach it myself).

All in all, I put in fifteen unpaid hours doing classroom breakdown.  Doing it during my work hours would be nearly impossible - this kind of work doesn't happen in the daily hour of contract time after school.  Nor am I willing to inflict a blank classroom and limited instruction on my class for the last week so that it can be done when school lets out.  Anyway, this is just another service teachers provide that those generous-looking hourly wage calculations leave out.

...And that's without even considering putting it all back together in two months.

04 June 2012

Vote Tomorrow!

I am a voter without political affiliation and a financially literate and well-informed one at that, so it was with some interest that I read on the New York Times about the non-partisan group Govern for California.

The group claims interest in financially-literate voters.  Based on their boilerplate, their dream voter is a charter-school supporting, public-pension hating, anti-union type who also would approve the occasional tax increase providing it was regressive.

Needless to say, I think this is pretty limited financial literacy, especially given that charter schools are very expensive, public pensions have suffered under high-stakes corporate management and thanks to the financial crisis created by titans like the organization's founders, and that Proposition 13 is increasingly unpopular for all that we ignore it.

So I wrote them a snide reasonably balanced and definitely polite, if somewhat snarky email asking them to share some of their financial literacy with me, and noting that being a Decline to State voter (or a nominal Democrat, as is one of their founders) does not mean one does not adhere to some standard Democratic or Republican positions.  (After all, I'm a decline to state voter and well to the left of the Democratic Party.)  I also requested some more explanation of their general view of job creation and retirement benefits as a whole.  I do not eagerly anticipate a response.

Anyway, since I am a well-informed voter I will be one of the minority of registered Californians to make a trip to the polls tomorrow.  I am already not looking forward to November's election, because forests died so that Phillip Morris could flood my mailbox over Proposition 29 already.  Heaven forfend what a general election will bring.

03 June 2012

New York is Better Than Boots

Presently, I am attempting the fine art of impulse control against great odds: clerks that know one and offer special extra hold periods, a paycheck fattened with end of the year extra work payouts, really fabulous boots.

Tricky stuff.  On the other hand, while buying the fabulous boots means I wear them in New York, I wear them to window shop without buying anything in New York.  That would be truly unfortunate, since I just bought a plane ticket and made sure the return flight allows for ample post-Institute shopping time.