I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

30 December 2012

Outside the Contract Day.

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

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

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

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

Things to Do When the Children Are Not in Class

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







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

28 December 2012

Prove it.

Briefly:

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

27 December 2012

Teacher Esoterica: Yet More Surprisingly Useful Tools

(Part of an occasional series.)

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

26 December 2012

Character by Computer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because there's only one way that can go:

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

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

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

24 December 2012

Michelle Rhee Comes Through.

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

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

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

And that screed's title?  Is Radical.

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

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

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

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

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

23 December 2012

Oh break.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 December 2012

And that's that.

Nary an instructional day left in 2012!

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

18 December 2012

Bucket List

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

17 December 2012

Not Wearing Green and White, Not Having a Meeting.

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

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

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

13 December 2012

Crafternoonish

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

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

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

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

08 December 2012

not this again.

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

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

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

04 December 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT HAS THAT STOPPED YOU?

Of course not.

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

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

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

01 December 2012

Knowledge Over Dignity

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

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

(Alternate ending lines:

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