I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

18 August 2013

Internet Holiday

Soooooooo I have been enjoying this really delightful holiday from education news (well, most of the time), SFUSD factoids (haven't read a BoE agenda in months), and so on.  Anyway, said holiday is ending, I think.

17 August 2013

My general method of classroom set-up is to pile everything up in the middle of the room.  This makes it easy to hang fadeless, and I make some trash piles in the corners for discards.  That went double this year since I was moving my things in and removing almost all of the materials in the room (earliest publication date found on said materials: early 1970s).

Anyway, when I went home on Monday evening the trash piles were gone, the furniture was laid out, and even the packing crates were stored away.  That said, before Monday evening the state of the room struck fear into the hearts of all comers.

This is kind of exciting for when your colleagues come by on Friday and are amazed that the room doesn't look like something on Extreme Hoarding (indeed, my mediocre skills at arranging furniture and materials management look incredible when compared to the disaster with which I start).  Of course, families coming by for an early look are probably frightened beyond belief.

(Not to mention that classroom set-up is actually physically dirty work - no matter how clean the classroom is, a good day of set-up leaves the teacher grimy gray and probably bruised from a couple of ill-thought furniture maneuvers.  This calls for ratty jeans, high school concert t-shirts, and hairstyles that do not inspire confidence.)

Oh well, hopefully they will be pleasantly surprised on Monday.

10 August 2013

IN OTHER EXCITING NEWS!

My iPod died spectacularly this summer.  Having recently received my paycheck, I took myself off to replace it and found that the iPod Touch now comes with adequate gigabytes to carry my entire musical library.

Do you know what else it has?  WiFi!  And do you know what that means, especially when combined with my annual summer holiday from ADHD medication?

It means that every cassette I owned in high school can be technologically upgraded and available to me in seconds thanks to the wonder of the iTunes store not to mention eMusic!

This has been enormously successful for unpacking, if also very expensive (and bad for my general disinclination to give Apple money in response to their rotten labor practices abroad and hatred of public school teachers domestically).  I have been shifting boxes and furniture while listening to a wide variety of the best of 90s art rock and alternative music.

And So It Begins. Again.

So I took the summer off from blogging.

Truth be told, I took the summer off from teaching.  Other than two planning days at my new school, a couple of planning days with my last Resident (who's got my old job), a couple of furtive glances at first grade teaching manuals, and several classroom purchases, I spent the summer doing other things.

(Sadly, these were neither pleasant or exciting things, and I really must write a successful Fund for Teachers grant for next summer to ensure a delightful adventure from which I return rested, revived, and in possession of a wide variety of commemorative cocktail swizzle sticks.)

Anyway, I've been back in the thick of it since the last week in July, during which I moved into my new classroom.  Moving in has taken up the bulk of the last couple of weeks; in addition to figuring out how to make my stuff fit, I've been throwing out bales of teaching materials left in my new room.  (For the morally superior record, I left my old room not only in considerably better shape than I inherited it, with all the materials it was supposed to have and only useful things like double copies of picture books and hand soap extra.)  Mostly I enjoy the process.  My room will be in the best possible shape to withstand my lack of organizational skill and I have cleared out a lot of things I don't use/was keeping for sentimental value/are great but broken.  Still, it's crunch time now and I have a mountain of stuff to trash, not to mention eight thousand things on which to write names, a new set of standards to internalize, and all kinds of questions (where's the copier?  Can I throw out the classroom computer with the not-entirely-but-mostly-broken-and-migraine-inducing monitor?  Who on earth keeps six dirty terrariums in a closet?) left to be answered.

(Wow, 'tis the season of the run-on sentence.)

Anyway, I have two full teacher work days next week; the other three are a mix of District and site professional development.  It could be worse: the teachers I know at the Zone schools get exactly one work day.  It could also be better: my colleagues on the west side report that they have three or even four days to dedicate to their classrooms.

This is an example of reverse equity, I think.  The reality of SFUSD is that the teachers at Zone schools are less experienced overall and more likely to be new to their sites (or to teaching entirely).  These are the people who need more time to set up their rooms, but they get less.  Instead, they attend all-day data sessions of arguable utility: K-1 teachers have limited data to analyze (if any), and these data days have been popular for years but don't seem to have done much to improve test scores.  They also attend site professional development.  I speak from experience when I say that this PD is hard to digest when you're thinking about whether you have enough Bordette and if there's any real fadeless paper left and if the school supplies the school ordered will actually be there on the first day of school and if anyone knows how to replace the laminate and is it true BOTH copiers are broken?

Because of the turnover at high-needs schools, I've found there's often a lot of community building at these site development days, and while community is important, the end result is that the teachers at the school are going to begin the year less prepared and more stressed.  Their classrooms will be less ready; they will already be tired out from spending Saturday and Sunday at school.

And the reality of SFUSD is that west side teachers are veterans, likely teaching the same grade level, with little turnover at the site.  The teachers spend paid time getting their rooms ready; the PTA may even be able to organize parents to hang that fadeless paper and make copies (not to mention purchase any supplies not yet on site).  These teachers begin the year more prepared and less stressed, and can spend the Saturday and Sunday before school starts with their families or at the gym or cooking a week's worth of meals - you know, things that will help them keep their stress down over the year to come.

Preparation for the first day matters.  It matters a lot.  In our need to make sure those high-needs teachers are ready for the first day, we're leaving them with less time to be ready.  That doesn't seem right or wise.

22 June 2013

In today's New York Times, there's an entire article on how naughty educators aren't protecting student data.

The article fails to mention inBloom.  That seems like a gaping hole in the coverage.  Unless you take the opinion that educators around the nation are lazily failing to protect their students and corporate America will do a far better job monetizing education.

03 June 2013

Testing Everything, Twice Annually.

This article- from the New York Times series "Teachers are Crazy Lazy" - irritated me.

I mean, there are some interesting cultural shifts represented within it, I think.  For instance, when I was in school, Physical Education and Art were subjects in which every student could obtain a passing grade, but not every student could excel.  Teachers, students, and families alike assumed that some children had talent in these areas and others did not; a talented student could do very well, but a child without these gifts would, even with effort, show at best an average performance.

If we are now testing these subjects with an eye to assessing teachers, apparently we now believe that all children can excel in these areas, and that natural talent is not important (or at least not necessary).  I don't know that this is positive or negative, but I think it is something to talk about.

Everything else about the article led to teeth-grinding.  Someone neglected to tell the Times that these assessments are already being piloted.  Despite hinting at portfolios and research papers, the reality is that these will be computer-based assessments.  Portfolios and research papers would be an expensive endeavor to grade, and administering such tests to literally thousands of students twice annually would be impossible (not to mention, what do you do with kids who just don't submit the essay?  Is that the teacher's fault?  Eugh, I can just imagine the rhetoric of HIGH EXPECTATIONS and whatnot).

I am appalled by the idea of these assessments not because I am afraid to be evaluated.  I am appalled by these assessments because I believe that any computer-based assessment in Kindergarten means more screen time and less interaction.  It means more individual drill and less collaboration.  It means more teacher talk and less child discussion.  It means less inquiry and more direct instruction.  It means (even less) play and hands-on learning and (even more) pen and pencil work.

I do not believe that children learn best from these methods, and I know they don't instill curiosity, creativity, and a love of learning.  But apparently these things are less important than rooting out those lazy, lazy teachers.

Indeed, if we have to destroy education to find and fire those teachers...well, there's always collateral damage.  That damage will be concentrated in schools not frequented by the children of Times reporters, certainly.

02 June 2013

And that's that.

For the first time in years, I checked out on Friday.  Most of my stuff is in storage; what I needed to get through the last few weeks is piled up haphazardly in my home (along with the chickens and the two chicks I kept).

Now, off to sleep for the rest of the weekend.

29 May 2013

Not getting better.

I am not enthusiastic about the CORE waiver.  I recognize the CORE districts believe their stance is revolutionary, but what the waiver adopts seems to be along the lines of our Superintendent's SSC Saturday speech: Our schools and teachers are not broken, but they need to be fixed with professional development.  Our high-needs schools are underresourced, and now that we have admitted that the problem is solved.

None of the changes made for the resubmit make me feel better.  I'm still reading the peer review advice, because I keep bursting into hysterical laughter.  Who are these peer reviewers who note that community organizations, families, and teachers were not actually consulted?  Working only with education reform groups and anti-union firms like Parthenon while claiming interest in talking to families is definitely on the In List for school districts today.

24 May 2013

Tempting Fate

Today I am deciding if I am keeping two or three silkie chicks.  I have been spending  a lot of time perusing this thread at Backyard Chickens, because I don't have the equipment or moral fiber necessary for a two-roo household.

In other news, I let the class vote on whether to write and perform a play called "Don't Let the Pigeon Go to First Grade" or sing a song at promotion.  They voted to sing, but when they realized this wouldn't be the choreographed, postered masterpiece their "Love Train" was they were disappointed.  They'll survive.

18 May 2013

DID YOU KNOW?

I just found out that motion sickness can endure for a few days after the event that caused it.

In my case, the trigger was our last field trip of the year (thereby bitterly ending my two-year streak of not actually throwing up on a field trip).  Despite leaving school for the comforts of toothbrush, clean clothes, and a dark room the moment the kids left for the day,  Friday brought few improvements.

Luckily, the day itself promised relative ease.  My Resident teacher was celebrating her graduation, so it was imperative to take advantage of her absence by having the kids revise and publish their books about her.  (This is a process of several hours, since they have to draw illustrations rather than sketch them, print their work out neatly, and make covers.  I also pull out the best of our decorative materials, because this is Kindergarten and we have the technology giant sequins and sticker gemstones.}

(I did slightly lengthen the process by providing black construction paper, Gel F(x) markers, and my personal collection of gel pens for cover art. "Fine motor development!" I assured myself while swallowing another dose of Dramamine.  "Far more academic than a last-minute sub day!" I added stoutly as a student walked by, face sparkling with the addition of stick-on rhinestones.  But since their books are involved creations with eight or more sentences, dialogue, sound effects, and besides it's the end of the year, I didn't feel like I had doomed them to failure by enabling their artistic impulses.)

It was also the end of the year talent show.  With over twenty acts, we had to make our way to the cafgymetorium early in the afternoon.  As the kids lined up to go, they realized that they were not performing.  They were shocked.  I explained that we had a bigger performance coming up (at promograduation in two weeks) and that we had not prepared anything.  The class was not appeased, but has a lot of good problem-solvers, one of whom suggested that they sing their "Oviparous and Viviparous Animals" song.  I introduced the concept of a program and, with great if manufactured regret noted that we could not be added to the list of performers.

The class loudly and resentfully sang the song all the way to the cafeteria, although once we got there they became excited to see the bigger kids perform.  Alas, we have nine acts to go on Monday, so I may get to have this discussion again.

17 May 2013

And not excepting chickens.

So my spraddle-legged chick lost the splay after two physical therapy sessions and has been renamed Baby Fave (from Baby Splay).  Collectively, the chicks are now too big to be The Chicklets and are The Chicksters.  The chicks are currently nicknamed:

  1. Baby Fave
  2. Gray Wing
  3. Brownie
  4. #1 (the first to hatch), aka Baby Nuthatch
  5. Spot
  6. Super Puff
  7. The Other One
Baby Fave is the universal favorite of teachers and children throughout my site and is therefore mandated by custom and law to be female.  I remind all of the chicks that they are all girls regularly, because everyone knows that totally causes spontaneous gender mutation in chickens.

Since I can keep my chickens school-based next year, I can keep all the chicks at my home if I choose to do so.  However, it would really be better if I didn't, so I have given myself a hard deadline of next Wednesday for making all chick-dispersal decisions.

14 May 2013

may flowers, may baskets, may packing cartons

Sooooooo I'm moving to a different school next year.  It's another high-needs school, but its particular needs are somewhat different than my current school's.  I'm also going to be doing something a little different for the year.

I have mixed emotions about this.  Learning a new school culture is hard and I am not very good at it (ADHD and social cues, bad combo).  On the other hand, I'm mostly cheerful, generally polite and very harmless, so my enormous pratfalls, inadvertent copier destruction, and so on will hopefully not doom me.  I also had some other job opportunities,  including some working in fancy schools and some that would be teacher coaching (since I've done it, I think I have experience sufficient enough to state authoritatively that coaching is seventy million times easier than teaching).  I think I feel more nervous about whether or not I made the RIGHT CHOICE (although technically I could still make a DIFFERENT CHOICE, but that could lead to unparalleled mental confusion and anxiety so I would rather not, I think).  Throughout the process of deciding to leave, which was months of consideration, I became pretty certain that staying at my site would be the WRONG CHOICE that would sooner than later lead to BURNOUT and GOING BACK TO GRAD SCHOOL OR SIMILAR.

I am not presently deeply saddened about leaving my current school site; what I feel right now is relief.  My current class just mowed their way through the end of the year assessments and they are more than ready for first grade (more than half of my students are above grade level in reading and nearly all hit the benchmark; the only real difference to account for their performance is that their writing was better aligned with the reading).  They were (are, for three more weeks) also the most difficult class I have ever had, full stop.  While I could consult with site experts, this year I was absolutely stymied in receiving district support.

This was especially frustrating because

  1. I was asking for pretty minimal assistance;
  2. There was 100% agreement among professionals at my site that the services I sought were necessary;
  3. We are supposed to be doing inclusive practices, which is supposed to include serving kids BEFORE they need an IEP.
Anyway, I will have lots of time this summer to reflect on what made this class such a particular challenge, and to experience the five stages of grieving over leaving.  Right now I am trying to enjoy the end of my time at my school with my class and colleagues while not freaking out about how much stuff I need to move out of my classroom.

10 May 2013

I don't get why SFUSD is proposing spending $30,000 buying ten Teach for Americans for the next school year.  SFUSD is a popular district; it maintains an active job pool and has plenty of fully credentialed candidates who don't get hired.  Why pay TFA to do what the district has already done itself?

Moreover, the district is anticipating TFA providing some Special Education candidates.  Since I read ALL the board agendas, I know that many probationary Special Education teachers were removed without cause this year.  I don't think the answer is to replace them with entirely uncredentialed if well-meaning candidates, especially candidates who the state of California is unwilling to consider "highly qualified" no matter what the feds say.  Moreover, these candidates are also for hard to staff schools.  Hard to staff schools generally have a lot of English Language Learners.  The state is at present also unwilling to unleash alternatively credentialed-ish teachers on ELLs.  So where are these expensive recruits going to work?

Not to mention, sending two-year missionaries to "hard to staff" schools is unlikely to make these schools easier to staff in the future - unless you anticipate a never-ending chain of Teach for Americans, each link lasting two years.  Not that that means easier staffing, exactly, or ensures that students have trained, able educators who have been there long enough to build relationships with them, of course.

Additionally, there is an its/it's typo in the reso, and I strongly believe that such errors demand not only correction but utter destruction and contempt for the reso in question.

06 May 2013

Operation Chicken

Hatch Count: Seven healthy chicks in a variety of cool, fluffy colors.  (They are all silkies).

One has a splayed leg.  I'm 99% this was caused by its membrane drying after it had freed one leg and its rear end, which caused it to flail around a lot.  It can walk, run, eat, and drink despite the leg so it is getting short bursts of spraddle leg treatment (tying the legs together with self-adhesive gauze).

(Eight chicks actually hatched, but one of these may have been hatched/heavily assisted by Baby Splay Leg (I have video of chicks pecking industriously at other chicks' shells, and Baby Splay was the only chick in the incubator at the time).  Anyway, this chick had serious deformities and would not eat.  After two days of intensive care in a clean incubator at my house, we humanely euthanized it.)

I want to keep ALL THE CHICKENS, which means I need to get Mickey and Minnie (last year's hatch) adopted.  Or maintain them in two separate homes.  Or get insanely, miraculously lucky and have had an all-hen hatch this year.  Mickey and Minnie are socialized.  Minnie lays more eggs than the average silkie and Mickey is a show-quality rooster, so I figure I may be able to entice someone to adopt them.

30 April 2013

No Carrot But Plenty of Sticks

(h/t Diane Ravitch.)

Shorter coalition of education reform organizations masquerading as civil rights groups:  If the Department of Education grants the CORE districts a waiver,  California will be inadequately punished for failing to elect our candidate State Superintendent of Schools, will take vital funding away from our friends providing for-profit tutoring services at PI schools, and the glorious prospect of 100% schools failing their way into transformation into union-free charters.  And that would be bad for the children.

Wow.  I am not even a big fan of the CORE waiver.  The waiver itself is pretty reform-filled too - heck, getting the waiver requires the CORE districts to try to get teacher tenure tied to test scores.  I would've thought EdTrust would be eagerly cosigning it.  But apparently, the CORE waiver represents an insidious attempt to hold educators responsible for the pervasive opportunity gaps in California.

The letter doesn't actually cite any examples of accountability being laughed right out of the waiver.  It focuses solely on what a naughty state California has been, what with its disinterest in Race to the Top funding and slapdash waiver application.  (And its Democrats!  Naming DFER as a non-Democratic group!  Can they not read?  Probably not, because teachers unions.)

This is the true nature of NCLB, I think.  It's a lot of talk about accountability of our teachers for our children.  But its essence is punishment: punishment for teachers in the form of mass firings, punishment for students in curricular narrowing and test upon test, punishment in school districts in demanding they do more with less so that they can hire ineffective tutors.

And according to these nominal civil rights groups, California will not be adequately punished until all of its schools have failed to meet the 100% proficiency goal NCLB sets.  That this may have real and ugly impacts for the children they claim to hold such concern for is not important; until the state gives in, it can watch its schools be destroyed.

29 April 2013

Eggs! Hatch!

ETA: Two chicks are fully hatched and two more were actively unzipping when I left today at 6pm.  Fingers crossed for happy living chicks dry and ready for the brooder tomorrow morning.

So this is my third year hatching eggs with my class (my first year with my new, beautiful, fancy, scientific, calibrated incubator).  My experience has been that Day 21 is pretty boring - a little pipping, maybe a single chick at the tail end of the day, while Day 22 is hatch-o-riffic.

Today was day 21.  A couple of eggs are maybe pipped.

I am really crossing my fingers for big action tomorrow, since it would be very hard to get another batch of silkie eggs hatched before the end of the year.

...This would be the year that I had a big countdown chart and everything.  I'm worried, and going to school early to see if anything has happened or if I can get eggs to set before Friday.

21 April 2013

Shorter New York Times: Parents need to stop freaking out about these Common Core tests.  If we don't fail more children today, how will we know which teachers to fire?

Also, we didn't read any of our own coverage about the test's problematic content, the stress New York children are evincing due to these tests, or Pearson.  Our kids go to the kind of schools that don't allow these tests, so it wasn't relevant to us.

And stop complaining about the private concerns making big bucks off the Common Core.  They're totally research-based AND no one is making you buy Pearson materials.  Wow, you all are conspiracy theorists or unionists or something.

Mandatory Matters

In California, Kindergarten isn't mandatory.  If parents so desire, children need not be enrolled until first grade.

Despite the increasing rigor in Kindergarten - and let's note that the Common Core changes, but doesn't increase the difficulty, of what the state required of its five year olds - the law still assumes that Kindergarten is nap time, play house, and social skills development.  All of these may be useful, the state opines, but they aren't mandatory.

This has some real and unpleasant effects on Kindergarten classrooms.  It is often the  reason given when students who appear to need extra supports are denied them.  "Well," specialists begin.  "Your concerns are reasonable.  But this is Kindergarten.  It isn't mandatory, you know.  Why don't you write a report for the first grade teacher so the process can begin next year?"

I feel confident that first grade teachers absolutely LOVE receiving these reports.  No, wait : I don't, although I suppose a report is better than nothing.  I know that writing these reports is time-consuming.  And I also know that we are failing to give children what they need.  A small intervention in Kindergarten can mean no expensive interventions later.

Not to mention that the child who needs support in a modern Kindergarten may be struggling with skills that are absolutely required for first grade.  Not just turn-taking, but reading: Kindergarten students must read by the end of the year.

Another issue is attendance.  I am not a big fan of some of the more punitive measures the District uses to improve student attendance (truancy officers, courts, fines, and so on).  I do approve of schools coordinating supports to increase student attendance.  But since Kindergarten isn't mandatory, chronically truant students do not receive any kind of attention.  They are not required to be there, so the fact that they come to school less than half-time may be difficult for the teacher, but it doesn't call for intervention.

Since Kindergarten teachers are teaching actual academic content children need to be successful in first grade and beyond, this strikes me as short-sighted.  Moreover, as we move to Smarter Balanced assessments that Kindergartners will take - and, waiver approval pending, the use of test scores to evaluate teachers - it strikes me as unfair that no attention is paid to Kindergarten truancy.

In the absence of a mandate, apparently low academic performance due to truancy is a teacher's fault.  Actually, I think many teachers (I am one of them) do feel vaguely hurt by low attendance.  If the child isn't in school, it feels like their families don't see value in attending.  The teachers I know internalize this as "if I were doing a better job, they'd be here."

Still, at a certain level of absence, these feelings evaporate, because no matter how hard you are on yourself, a child who is present less than half-time certainly has bigger issues than whether you are providing engaging, exciting, no-fail lessons all day every day.  And it is a struggle to plan for a child who is habitually absent.  That child is likely to need extra academic support and be less familiar with classroom procedures and routines.  Yet plans for remediation fail when the child isn't there for the intervention.

But hey, Kindergarten isn't mandatory.  So even though the child receives neither the academic content needed nor the supports to ameliorate the truancy, it will all somehow work out.

Obviously, I think it is far past time to mandate Kindergarten attendance.

10 April 2013

London Bridge is Covered in Animals.

...Or, The Things I Think About While Waiting for the Bus.

All of these can be sung (more or less) to the tune of "London Bridge".

Oviparous animals, animals, animals
Oviparous animals
Hatch from eggs.

Snails, snakes, and dinosaurs,
Chickens and frogs,
Ants and isopods,
All are oviparous,
And hatch from eggs.

Viviparous animals, animals, animals
Viviparous animals
Are Born Alive.

Cats, Dogs, and Grizzly Bears,
Monkeys and Mice,
Elephants and horses,
All are viviparous
And are born alive.

ALTERNATE (substitute in animal/genus in question)

We are viviparous, viviparous, viviparous
People are viviparous
We are born alive.

Amphibians are oviparous, oviparous, oviparous
Amphibians are oviparous
They hatch from eggs.

Mammals are viviparous, viviparous, viviparous
Mammals are viviparous,
Except platypi and echidnas.

EVEN MORE ALTERNATES:

Snakes and lizards and dinosaurs,
They are reptiles and hatch from eggs
Snakes and lizards and dinosaurs,
Reptiles are oviparous.

Dogs and Cats and Chimpanzees,
They are mammals and are born alive
Dogs and Cats and Chimpanzees,
Mammals are viviparous.

09 April 2013

Chicken Season

I'm not at school today (doctor's appointment), but I went in to set twenty four silkie eggs in the new, fancy, donor-provided incubator.  One is from the hen and rooster we hatched last year; the rest I ordered (genetic diversity and all that).

If this incubator is half as excellent as its advertisements, I may need a third chicken adoption site.

07 April 2013

CORE: We Can't Edit That Well, But We Have Powerful Friends

This morning I read the "California Office to Reform Education" No Child Left Behind waiver request.  It is available here.

It is not a very interesting document.  It offers a new accountability plan that will definitely require more student testing, and teachers will absolutely be evaluated on that assessment.  (Waiver requests require this; SFUSD at least has been rather quiet about this.)  In theory, the CORE districts will also take into consideration social-emotional well-being when judging accountability; this definitely means student surveys and possibly means building repairs.

It is also not a very well-edited document.  I suppose the redundancies of language are to be expected in a waiver application; the more you sound like Arne Duncan, the better your chances, right?  There is also some confusion about the number of districts making up the CORE; ten Superintendents sit on the Board but most of the documentation refers to eight districts. (Also, someone forgot to remove editing notes, so that on page 44, there's a parenthetical asking if eight should be changed to 10?? (question marks as shown here).

More interesting are the people and foundations supporting CORE.  Its Executive Director is Rick Miller of Capitol Impact.  Capitol Impact engages in "non-lobbying" activities that include providing "access to policymakers and opinion leaders".  Capitol Impact works closely with the Gates Foundation and the pension-loathing millionaires at California Forward.

Among those associated with and funding CORE's work is the Parthenon Group.  They most recently came to my notice when they anonymously tipped off the San Francisco Chronicle that teachers unions hate school districts getting money.   Actually, it ends up that the story was more that school district officials and union leaders do not agree with the Parthenon Group that accepting small sums of money in exchange for larger, permanent cash outlays is a great idea.

Anyway, my brief examination of CORE's founders, friends, and associates confirms my general opinion of the CORE waiver: there may be some good ideas in there, but despite the local rhetoric, it's more untested reform at the behest of the powerful.

06 April 2013

For What Are You Responsible?

Edited to add: I just saw this accountability rubric for Bill Gates.  It is a wonderful start to sharing the responsibilities more broadly; I hope it guides the Gates Foundation in its work!  I also hope for a pony!

My student teacher starts two solo weeks on Monday.  I feel partially responsible for how it goes: did I provide enough feedback on her lesson plans?  Have I been proactive when I've noticed potential sticking points in her management?  Have I been open about the things teachers do that aren't obvious (why we pick a certain response strategy at a certain time, say, or how I know that child needs, needs, NEEDS the bathroom whether or not he or she says so).

I am a veteran teacher.  One of the perks is finding classroom management easier than a new teacher.  That said, I am responsible for making sure my students treat guests, substitute teachers, and our student teacher with respect.  Even in situations where my students aren't sure what the expectations are, or in which they are disengaged, confused, or just being five years old, I expect them to act with kindness and self-respect.  It is my job to set that standard.

And of course, I am responsible for their academic progress.  I am responsible for creating a classroom that is safe, comfortable, and engaging.  I am responsible for providing scaffolding and support in academics and in social-emotional development.

So whenever I hear that teachers at high-needs schools like mine need to raise their expectations and holler "NO EXCUSES!", I feel frustrated.  And then I wonder: for what is the "no excuses" gang responsible?

Very few Superintendents, after all, are subject to pay for performance metrics.  Indeed, some of our most vocal education reformers have had at best checkered successes while leading districts.

Nor are district leaders held accountable to their schools.  When California cuts school budgets, Superintendents do not need to purchase their own copy paper and sticky notes.  I do.  When a district chooses to cut art, music, and physical education teachers, it becomes my responsibility to teach those standards.  No one is holding the district accountable to advocating loudly, fearlessly, and actively for better student funding. (It gets in the way of the cozy meetings with Governor's aides if you go all civil disobedience on them, I suppose.)

High-needs schools are hard to staff.  Teacher churn is horrible for student achievement.  Who is taking responsibility for making high-needs schools places where teachers feel supported and effective so that they can thrive where they are needed?

I do not see education reformers holding themselves accountable.  Lots of foundation money went into creating the teacher evaluation systems that aren't doing much for learning in DC schools.  The Gates Foundation put millions into small schools, then decided to cut those schools off.  Why aren't they responsible to the children left in those schools, or those who discovered that a small school gets you fewer electives and more overhead expenses?

It gets very tiresome to hear that I am failing students with my lazy lack of responsibility and my desire to blame structural inequities rather than my own inherent ones.  But the hypocrisy of those demanding I make fewer excuses really stings.

03 April 2013

Unsent Letters, Pre-Dawn Edition

Self,

It is bad time management to spend eight weekday morning minutes drafting a comment to a New York Times article, no matter how silly that article may be.

Yours in Impulse Control,

E. Rat.

P.S.  Writing this note wasted another three valuable minutes.

31 March 2013

What We Should Learn from Atlanta

I meant to read the "CORE" districts' waiver application this week, but I got distracted by the indictments coming out of Atlanta on Friday.  So I read the eight hundred page investigative report instead.

In the press, I am seeing a lot of disappointment in America's educators.  Recounts of Beverly Hall's tenure note the incredible pressures her regime put on schools; they also make sure to describe her work personality as unapproachable, removed, and aggressive - you know, not very womanly.

About sixty pages in, I was surprised to see a paper on Parks Middle School - lauding its remarkable (and false) achievement gains.  I was given this case study in success cheating to read at least twice back before the investigation was released (although not before Parks' results should have been worrying; by the time that fan note was released, the Atlanta Public Schools had already investigated - and found - cheating at Parks (also mistresses, misuse of public funds and public buildings, and sexual harrassment - but I digress).

I think the report should stand as a clear rebuke to education reformers.  Not only do the gains they want not come as easily as they claim, they refuse to take real evidence of cheating seriously.  The report includes two position papers by academics APS asked to take a look at the test results.  The statistician notes that the test scores are about as likely as an oviparous rabbit and that cheating is likely the reason.   This study was suppressed.

Douglas Reeves - noted in APS's internal records as an education reform proponent- spends three days visiting the twelve schools with the most suspicious records.  In his whirlwind tour that allows about half an hour at each school, he notes that all of his favorite reform strategies - high expectations, public knowledge of test scores, test prep, "strong leadership", etc. - are in place.  So he decides that the gains aren't suspicious at all, because obviously if you have high enough expectations and a strong enough leader, proficiency will skyrocket from 0% to 88% in a year.

Moreover, those favored strategies?  Favored some really nasty results.  The principal at Parks was lauded for removing teachers who wouldn't get with the program.  It ends up that these teachers weren't sad, lazy veterans but teachers who reported cheating.  His leadership skills were also honored through cash awards, performance pay, and secret gifts from education reformers when he made noises about leaving.  These cash incentives encouraged more cheating.

And since Georgia's teachers have few job safety measures - their own Professional Standards Commission admits that districts can easily retaliate against whistleblowers - and very limited tenure protections, teachers had the choice to cheat as required or be fired.

So what rank-and-yank, cash incentives, all that leadership, and high expectations got Atlanta public school children was test scores so gamed that the schools lost Title One  program improvement money, and children who needed special education services were disqualified from them because of their remarkable testing prowess.

When education reformers explain what they want, the word "Atlanta" should shut them up.

27 March 2013

Good Gifts for New Teachers

NB: I am not a new teacher.

For the last three years, I have had a almost full-time student teacher in my classroom.  They all purport to be very thankful for the learning experience, etc., but let's be honest: while hosting a student teacher is at times a lot of work, and while sharing one's classroom can be difficult, the student teacher is a boon.

All of my experience with student teachers has been at least good.  They do need support.  They need coaching.  They need feedback, and sometimes you have to set down limits and expectations (I hate this; managing adults is not my thing).  Sometimes they do things wrong and you have to fix them.  Your lesson plans need a new attention to detail so that student teachers can understand and apply them.  That's the work.

And then there comes the time when you watch your student teacher do a routine lesson or oversee a management situation and you think, "NO NO NO NO NO WRONG WRONG...oh, wait: not everything has to be just the way I do it."  And possibly you like the student teacher's method better.

And those moments when you hear one of your verbal tics come from the student teacher's mouth and think, "Gee, I need to quit using that expression so much."

Not to mention the time your student teacher asks you a question and you have to think about the answer, which requires some reflection.  Or you realize that you actually have no answer, that's just how you do it - and that really requires some reflection.

A student teacher means you can use the bathroom even on rainy days when you have no recess break.  Nor do you need to spend three hours portioning out paint, washing brushes, making copies, filing papers...your student teacher can help with some of these tasks.

Eventually come student teacher solo weeks, during which supervising teachers can cut, laminate, letter, copy, organize, pack, and clean to their hearts' content.

Given all this, I like to get my student teachers presents regularly: at the winter break, when they finish a solo day or week, when they finish one of their major credentialing projects, and so on.  Here are some I believe were well-received; I am running low on ideas and would love more should you have any.

  1. Gifts for the person: accessories keyed to the student teacher's taste, items for the home, massage/spa certificates.
  2. Gift certificates to Lakeshore.  Lakeshore materials are pricey and hard to justify unless you have a gift certificate, but they come finished and perfect for the new teacher.
  3. Gift certificates to Donors Choose, combined with help the next year getting those first projects up.
  4. A bunch of the readalouds you love and the student teacher has heard over and over and over.  Buy these in hardcover; if you can find good quality used copies you can buy a lot of them for very little money.
  5. Solo Kits - your student teacher will likely be the only adult in his or her classroom next year.  Get things that the kids can do while the student teacher tests or pulls small groups: fuse bead kits (don't forget an iron!), learning games, flash cards, etc.  Homemade is fine, too: you will be saving the student teacher time next year.
  6. Better quality and/or esoteric supplies: real fadeless paper for the walls, actual Crayola crayons, Sharpie chart markers, chart paper pads, post-it glue, scented markers.
  7. Science stuff: a terrarium, a set of magnifiers or prisms, etc.
  8. Art stuff: like science stuff, this isn't always provided.  Paint, beads, etc.
  9. Pillows and carpet squares.
  10. Storage containers: you the demonstration teacher may have been saving glass jars for ten years and select your yogurt based on the usefulness of the plastic tubs in which it comes, but the student teacher has yet to be inducted into the fine arts of material management.

24 March 2013

Arts matter.

During the Amazing Cape Interlude of 2013, a significant percentage of my class started to use long vowel spelling patterns  - specifically, silent e - in their writing.

I was not teaching this; in fact, I don't teach it.

(Why?  Silent e is hard conceptually and not enormously useful; I find that kids tend to learn it implicitly for reading by using context clues to read silent e words.  Then they start extrapolating it a little in reading; I tend not to see it in writing.  Other spelling patterns - r-controlled vowels, ee, and y says e - have been more successful for teaching and learning in my classroom.  Open Court teaches silent e; my experience was that about half of the class at best would really get it and start using it.  Now that I don't teach Open Court, I have chosen phonics topics that everyone can master - and come to think silent e is not necessarily developmentally appropriate.)

(That said, the Tom Lehrer song "Silent E" is fun.)

So why silent e all of a sudden?

The only place silent e was making an appearance was on capes, because everyone wanted to write SUPER in glitter paint.

Draw your own conclusions, but I know what mine is.

20 March 2013

Mental Lanscapes, Miniature Teachers

The writing unit we are working on presently is information writing, and the framing is that you are writing to teach somebody about something.  Here are some of the amazing, self-selected topics children have chosen to write about:

  • snakes
  • kinds of fire trucks
  • poisonous things
  • healthy foods
  • what you can do with a flower
  • igloos
  • all the children in 2nd grade
  • color blending
  • exercises
  • cheese
  • leprechauns
  • babies
 Which all reminds me on a daily basis that the mental lives of children are fantastic, alluring, and strange.  It's also rather inspiring; I currently have a nine-page demo book for the next series of minilessons on ant queens.


18 March 2013

And the Letters Go Out.

I am rereading Tested, which always reminds me how very little rigorous testing has done for rigorous learning.  (It also makes me really happy I don't teach Open Court or Saxon Math anymore, and that the Reading Wars have quieted a bit.)

Now that enrollment letters are being received, test scores are being used as a bludgeon against some schools.  Having bad test scores does not mean that a school has bad teachers, bad kids, bad families, bad buildings, and bad administration.  Loose badness is not floating about the halls, a horrible miasma of black failure, ready to attach itself parasitically to all comers.

I feel bad for the teachers, the kids, and the families at these schools.  I hope they never see these threads (and I need to stop reading before my bad school comes up for its whacks).  I feel bad for the Tyler Heights teachers Linda Perlstein followed, forced by testing and rigorous curriculum to narrow their teaching until it squeezes out high-testing automatons.

Low test scores suggest a poor school.  Poverty is the strongest single correlation to test scores.  The student population is probably quite mobile, and many students are learning English.  I could go on and recount all the other sad realities of poverty that occur at most low-scoring schools.

I recognize that an assignment to such a school may not make for much happiness.  But it is unfair and mean to announce that the school is bad, with its bad teachers, bad location, bad children, bad families, bad test scores, and free-range bad just badding its way around, lurking in corners stealing lunch money.

The teachers at these schools are real people.  Their students are actual children.  I can tell you - as one of those bad teachers at a bad school - that my Kster's creativity, intelligence, and all-round cuteness compares favorably to any other Kindergarten bunch.  I work with some fabulous professionals, many of whom are in their first few years in the classroom (but a few old workhorses like me do haunt bad schools, too). My children come from loving families that want the best for them - just like we all do.

It is true that we are dealing with years of segregation, inequity, institutional racism, and lousy school funding.  It is true that these realities have had a huge and negative impact on those bad, bad, bad schools (so has testing hysteria, but I digress).  But when you call the school, its teachers, its children, and its families bad, you are blaming the victim.

Be kind.  It is possible to be angry about the school to which your child is assigned with out maligning the very real people there.

17 March 2013

The District's K, 6th, and 9th placement letters were to be mailed out on Friday, which would mean that they would start showing up in mailboxes Saturday.  I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist and I feel confident that the letters got mailed on Friday, but apparently none were received yesterday.

(I hope that this inspires action on behalf of the United States Postal Service; between the hiring freeze, the concerted effort to destroy USPS and public worker pensions in one go, and the enormous budget cuts, it is no wonder that our local postal workers couldn't sort and deliver 14,000 extra letters in less than twenty four hours.)

This will actually make my Monday easier, since the Monday after Enrollment Letter Saturday often brings a number of unscheduled tours to my Kindergarten.  Invariably, I forget about this and schedule some extraordinarily messy project and end up answering parent questions while begrimed.

(Which reminds me: families, never tour schools during the last week in May.  This seems to be popular at several southeast side schools.  Last year, some families came by just as the chicks were moving out of the classroom - leaving a messy and suspiciously empty brooder behind them - and shortly before we embarked on our abstract expressionist painting project, an experience so messy that I bagged the kids' shoes before we started last year.)

That said, I am reminded again that while teachers have strict timelines, no one else does.  Classroom teachers have to be ready the first day of school; out of classroom teachers - who are paid for the same in-service days teachers are - do not need to worry about this, since they can set up their rooms after the start of school and begin student services after a couple of weeks.  I do not think it is too much to ask EPC to get their data report out on March 15.  I recognize that they are very busy and could probably use more staff; I am also very busy and could use additional support.  But I still must get all my assessments finished and uploaded by the deadline.

I also find it interesting that SFUSD is embarking on a project to upgrade its technology and infrastructure.  I certainly hope this will include a change of policy in school budgeting.  Presently, all technology must be purchased out of school site budgets; there is no central funding.  Given that technology is required in the Common Core standards, this has to become a centrally-budgeted item.  Central budgeting would be helpful anyway because it would mean a simpler infrastructure to maintain.  (I believe that schools must purchase certain types of computers, but everyone I know gets their technology by grant or pocketbook, and that means lots of different operating systems.)

13 March 2013

Why Kindergarten is Awesome.

This week alone, we have

  • capes (the world's gaudiest, featuring both glitter paint and fake jewels)
  • insta-snow
  • sprouting seeds
  • tadpoles
  • egg-laying hen
  • noisy rooster
  • There's a Party at Mona's Tonight
  • Short e elephants with magical expanding trunks
  • TERC addition games
  • Making tints, tones, and shades
I mean,  so much cooler than your average profession or Scantron-heavy, test prepping third grade classroom.

09 March 2013

Giving Thanks and Whatnot.

I must hand it to the District: this year's preliminary budget allocations are presented in an easy to read, clear format with tables that clearly outlines all funding sources and projections.  Also, it appears that the budgets were created using actual student numbers as opposed to maximum capacity figures, which should be helpful for small schools with fluctuating enrollment (since just a few children less than expected can mean a school finds itself losing already-spent funds at the ten-day count).

If you are feeling thankful, perhaps you would like to nominate a teacher for the Mayor's Teacher of the Year program.  The Teacher of the Month program at 826 Valencia is also accepting nominations for teachers who have inspired fabulous creativity in writing.

06 March 2013

The One Where I Am Missing Something

Yesterday I had benchmark reports for each child in my class, comparing their performance to some benchmarks set by persons unknown for the Fountas and Pinnell literacy assessments.  These are meant to be sent home.

Findings:

  1. I hope the plan for the future is to have these by conference week, so I can explain them.
  2. I really wish we had an entry record, because you can see the growth from the first to second trimester, but if the district is really collecting data to drive instruction, you need to know where kids are when they start the year.
  3. By "data to drive instruction", I would like to mean "data to inform equity in funding".  Based on the Brigance, which was an entry assessment and had percentiles for the district and the school, in general my students start less ready than their District-wide peers.  (Many of my students don't attend preschool and my classes generally have more English Language Learners than average, I believe.  This impacts their entry assessment.)
  4. Who is setting these benchmarks?   The second trimester for letter recognition is 30 out of 52.  By November, I want all of my class  to be done with the alphabet, and typically everyone is.
  5. Similarly, the benchmark is 15 of 25 sight words, 8 of 10 on concepts about print, etc.  Overall, these benchmarks seem awfully low.
  6. That said, I am not assessing segmenting yet and I didn't assess it at the end of the first trimester.  After nine weeks, I haven't taught enough to make assessment useful, and after eighteen it is a lot of testing for something that will not drive instruction.
  7. So some of this is probably difference in curricula (Treasures doesn't teach that many sight words and probably does a lot of phonemic awareness), but not all of it.

03 March 2013

Philadelphia Public Schools Superintendent William Hite  wants you to know how much he values the hard work and professionalism of his teacher employees, despite his unwillingness to provide them with basic classroom supplies like textbooks.
Many of our teachers work beyond eight hours — they work on weekends, they work nights, and they work on holidays.  We value that.
Yes, because nothing says "we value you" by mandating unpaid work beyond the (lengthened, pay-reduced) work day.

What Hite is doing here is equating "professional" with "non-union".  What bothers him is the contract; by delineating what teachers can and cannot be forced to do, the contract keeps him from fully embracing the skewed work-life priorities of salaried labor in the United States.

It's not that Hite values the extra hours Philadelphia teachers put in.  It's that he wants the right to demand that they show their gratefulness for their (reduced, frozen) salaries by working extra unpaid hours every day.  By purchasing their own textbooks, by accepting fifty students in a class they've never taught before.

Woe betide the teacher who would like an evening with his or her family, or to leave work on his or her lunch break to pick up prescription refills, or to spend a few daylight minutes not at work.  Superintendent Hite knows that there are plenty of unemployed educators - or at least minimally-trained recent college graduates - to temporarily fill his schools' teaching staffs.  Why accept a teacher who wants a sixty-hour work week when you can get one who will do eighty for less money?

This isn't about learning outcomes, and Hite's claim that teachers don't need contract protection to get drinking water and textbooks for students is belied by...well, at least by the entire state of California.  Very little of education reform is "for the kids" - or at least whatever kids are purported to need boils down to recreating Gilded Age labor conditions for their benefit.

Down in the Sticky Details, Far Away from Rhetoric

My students are really into two things right now:

  1. This book;
  2. Love.
It is kind of a weird combination but pretty fun.

What I Learned From Our Superintendent at the SSC Summit

ETA: I am trying to go all BEST INTENTIONS on this.  I mean,  we DO need to be real about the opportunity gap.  And we DO have a pretty obvious problem with student results.  AND assessment is important.  Besides, I love professional development; every good teacher is a growing, learning teacher.

That said, I feel like the District's leaders are localizing OUR problem in teachers and at schools.  That's fair to a point.  But I need to see that the District is willing to ask itself the same hard questions they want me to ask myself.

In my years in the District, I have worked hard to be the best educator I can be for ALL my students.  On the rare instances I have asked for help from the District, they haven't even suggested professional development: the answer is silence.

It's kind of like the inclusion push: I strongly believe in inclusion.  I hear the District saying that they do, too.  I see inclusion students.  What I don't see is the District providing the support to make inclusion real.  It is not just an issue of better professional development.

I want to see the District holding themselves accountable for students the way teachers do.  Maybe the Superintendent's new evaluation is the start of doing so.  But I think veteran high-needs teachers - who have been surviving in a system whose inequities are at times the fault of the District - have the right to expect more.
  1. Our teachers are not broken, but they sure need a lot of professional development to fix support their practice.
  2. Societal inequality has an enormous impact on student achievement, but teacher professional development will fix that, too.
  3. We are interested in a child's growth over time, not fixed measures.  This is why we collected great entry assessment data for our Kindergarten students this year.  Oh wait, scratch that.  We knew we forgot something.
  4. Testing is so overrated, which is why we are buying the Smarter Balanced assessments, and schools will be piloting them whether or not they have the technology to support them.
  5. Our move to inclusion has nothing to do with cost savings, state audits, or any of that.  It is all about equity.  The fact that our teachers don't believe us has nothing to do with their lived experience of 120 school days of inclusion.  It is because they are broken need support.
  6. We barely have two nickels to rub together, but seven cents is going to professional development that we are choosing because our teachers are broken need support.
  7. Teachers whining that they need support in the form of adequate copy paper for the year, the technology necessary for the Common Core standards and Smarter Balanced assessments, buildings with adequate heating systems, and social-emotional support for students are broken need to be professionally developed until they are too tired to whine.
Maybe I am just too old and jaded these days, but the Superintendent's claimed vision was so different from my reality that I felt more frustrated than fired up.  It's nice to hear that you are not broken, that the fact that some students come to school hungry matters, and that we believe in equity in outcomes.  But when the District's actions are so removed from its rhetoric, it is hard to believe your ears.

I spent a significant (more than a thousand dollars) amount of money on the kind of professional development that the District wants to standardize (and that's after getting a scholarship, by the way).  So I suppose I am happy that the District is going to start eating some of those costs.  But honestly, I am tired of hearing how the support I need is more professional development.

I am already doing that.  I spent two weeks of my summer and countless work year weekends pursuing professional development.  I read books and articles on my profession.  I seek out opportunities to be observed and get feedback, and to observe other teachers.  Many teachers are already doing this.  Our reward is apparently that we should do more of it, because we are doing it wrong or something.  Even if the development we are pursuing is the same stuff the District wants to demand.

The District seems unwilling to recognize what its teachers are already doing and what they are actually experiencing in their classrooms.  If our leadership truly believes we are not broken, they should start talking to us about what we need.  They should come and see what we are already doing (it would save me the bother of hearing I'm going to pilot an assessment that requires computers without computers, too - the tadpoles grow at a remarkable rate and are of high interest, but they do not run Smarter Balanced programs.  Of course, the ancient relic of a computer they replaced didn't either).

Oh, and also?  The District's teachers can read.  So the big reveal had been spoiled already.  And while I'm all in favor of ending the tutoring programs (listening to tutors holler at kids is not that fun, nor does it lead to increased performance), the waiver application is not quite as revolutionary as sold.  After all, like all waivers, it will require tying test scores to teacher evaluations.

Again, it's not that the waiver application is enough to demand a move to Australia.  It's that its presentation at the summit was not entirely correct, and I dislike it when my leaders ignore the sticky details in favor of soaring rhetoric.  My entire workday is down in the sticky details (metaphorically and not), and when the District erases them they erase their actual business of educating kids, too.

27 February 2013

Defeating the Undead

Kindergartners are in general not aware of the time on the clock.  They know the structure of the day, what happens when, and so on, but not the dismissal time.  So the hour chopped off each day during Parent Teacher Conferences week is disconcerting to them.

Getting packed up and out of the classroom is always an ordeal conference week; after many years I have realized it will just take longer since the kids' internal alarm clocks are not buzzing that the day is over.  However, today the class discovered a new and highly entertaining way to slow the process further: death.

STUDENT1: rolls onto floor. I'm dead.
ME: Oh no, STUDENT is dead.
Four more STUDENTS roll onto the floor.
STUDENT2: from prone position face down on floor We are dead.
ME: Oh no, many students are dead.
The dismissal bell sounds.
Several more students fall down dead.
ME: It is time to go home.
Ten seconds pass.
STUDENT3: rising jerkily from prone position on floor GRUEAUGHDGHGH.
ME: Oh no, a zombie.
REST OF STUDENTS ON FLOOR: GRUEAUGHDGHGH.  GRRAUGH.
Students rise and walk around the rug with their arms raised, their expressions vacant and their moans unable to distract the teachers from the possibility of a missed school bus.
ME: Oh, my dead students have reanimated.  Excellent.  Zombies, there are lots of brains outside.  Go get your backpacks so that you may go and feast upon them.
ZOMBIE STUDENTS: fall down onto the rug.
STUDENT 3: We are dead.  We cannot leave.
STUDENT 2: We will be dead here forever.
ME: The bell rang.  It is time to go home.  You must go.
STUDENT 1: We are dead.
ME: The bus will leave without you.
STUDENTS: silence (They are dead.)

It was a good thing that the bus has been really late every day this week, and that my ten-minutes-after-the-bell conference was very understanding.



26 February 2013

Conference Week Cape Time

Conference week is always a little strange.  The children are startled by the early dismissal ("Why are we leaving?  We are not playing?  How come groups are so short?").  The longer afternoons feel lumpy; I had one conference yesterday, one today, and eight on Wednesday.  And despite years of conferences, and knowing that despite how it looks like two hours of prep time on your schedule but it's really drop-in conferences, paperwork, and sudden crises, I still planned two meetings and a mega-planning session.

Oops.

Plus side, Friday I went to Target and found little red capes on clearance, so this week we will spend one shortened afternoon completing our superhero ensembles.

24 February 2013

The Scissors Monster

...Or, How I Became an Object Lesson on Scissor Safety for My Own Students.

Since I am attempting to have a more workshop-oriented writing program this year, I do minilessons with my students in which I teach something and demonstrate it in my own writing project.

The students are writing personal narratives, and we've been going through the process of revising and adding to a story.  I wanted to pick a high-interest narrative for my minilessons, one that would also allow for plenty of revision.

So I am telling the true story of the scissors monster.  When I was about four years old, I had a shirt and short set I really and truly did not like.  The shirt was a chenille tank top with horizontal pastel stripes.  I don't really remember why I loathed this shirt; it was probably itchy, but I like to think that I rejected it because it failed to meet with my already developed notion of taste and style.

Anyway, it was also the only errand-appropriate hot weather outfit I had at the time, and it was reliably clean since I wore it only under duress.  The day came when I was forced to wear it, and no amount of slumping, laying helplessly on the floor, pouty face, or stamping around was getting me out of it.

Alas, my mother got on the phone before we left to run errands.  Even worse, she left her sewing basket within my reach.  Already, my love of scissors was well-established; any number of important documents, harmless pieces of twine, and stuffed animals needing emergency abdominal surgery and/or amputation had been improved upon through the application of whichever household shears were left where I could get at them.

It took me less than a minute to liberate her sewing scissors (and her pinking shears, just in case) and cut the straps of my shirt.  Of course, straps are easily repaired, so I decided to complete my work by adding some holes.  Since it not occur to me to remove my shirt before improving it, this was a little dicey and took extra care, which is probably why I realized that two appropriately-placed holes would turn a revolting shirt into an awesome monster mask, complete with strap antennae.

So once the holes were cut, I pulled the shirt into position, tossed the scissors on the floor, and let myself out of the house to run up and down the block, half-naked and making monster noises.

Translated into four pages and about seven sentences, this is the narrative I am writing.  Despite having told the complete version only once, my students are more excited to revise this story and add more than I am and have all kinds of suggestions. And when my Resident teacher introduced a phonics reader that includes the line "To cut is fun, but not my rug!", to a one the class turned and looked at me.

Plus side, no one has felt the need to re-enact this story in their own lives; they see it as more a moral tale of woe to be avoided.  In fact, scissor protocols have been if anything more closely followed since they learned of my youthful exploits.

Precounseling Out

It isn't newsworthy that some schools in the District are wealthier than others, that some schools are segregated, that some schools have an overwhelming number of high-needs students, and so on.  If you talk to District employees about the issue, you are likely to uncover a related idea - that some schools are very good at shifting needy students to other schools.  In some versions, this is aided and abetted by the Educational Placement Center, which knows which schools are likely to receive (and hopefully support) high-needs students without complaint.

Personally, I doubt that EPC is adequately organized to manage such transfers.  And while I am willing to accept that some schools are more likely to counsel students towards a transfer than others - and that the schools less likely to recommend transfers may be more likely to receive such students - in most cases I want to believe this is unintentional.  After all, if a student isn't doing well at a school, the well-meaning adults at that school may truly believe that the student will thrive elsewhere (as opposed to thinking only of getting rid of the child).

I also think that this conspiracy theory arises at least partially from the reality that highly-mobile students are more likely to be high-needs.  If a family is moving a lot, the family is almost certainly having problems - financial issues, family violence, etc.

That said, I don't think it is controversial that some schools are more demanding on certain aspects than others.  At least one school in the district strongly encourages red-shirting in Kindergarten.  Others are extremely specific about their homework policies.  This article notes that the school in question tells parents not to enroll unless they can be 35 minutes early every day.

In some ways, this is useful information.  I personally am not a fan of big homework requirements and would not want to enroll at a school that had them; I would like to know about this in advance.  District schools have different start times; school hours are something a family should know prior to enrolling.  And the schools are not setting legal requirements; even if a school recommends red-shirting, it cannot bar entry to a child with a late August birthday.

Still, I think we need to accept that these school policies do impact who enrolls and who does not.  And more broadly, I think we need to find better metrics for quantifying the percentage of a school's population that is high-needs - and use that information to better fund those students who need more support.

18 February 2013

That's the Way the Money Goes

I am gearing up to do a big unit on color theory with my class.  Let's investigate the necessary materials.

Generously Provided by Donors

  • color blending glasses
  • color wheels
  • fingerpaint paper
  • individual cups for portioning out paint
  • prisms
  • additional color paddles
  • colored cellophane
  • high-quality red, yellow, and blue construction paper
  • smocks
  • red, yellow, and blue finger paint
  • paint brushes
Teacher-funded
  • red, white, and black tempera paint
  • additional finger paint
  • sticky-back laminating sheets (fancy contact paper, basically)
  • soap
  • color paddles
  • prisms
  • CD/DVD of "Here Comes Science" (for "Roy G. Biv" song)
  • TV/DVD player and wheeled cart (borrowed from another teacher, who purchased it herself)
  • paint brushes
  • heavy white paper (for tempera)
Generously Provided by the District
  • yellow and blue tempera paint
  • brass fasteners
  • popsicle sticks
  • paper towels
  • tap water
Findings
  • Donors Choose and similar sites are my primary classroom supply sources.
  • Whether we consider it a state funding shortage or a district cash management issue, children are getting shorted on fairly basic materials.  (Do I need fancy construction paper?  No, it just makes better color blending lenses for the children to make and take home.  Do I need paint?  I teach Kindergarten, so yeah, I think I do.)
  • The $250 federal tax deduction for teachers' classroom expenses is inadequate, and if California stays 47th of 50 in classroom funding, the state should really consider offering a deduction.

17 February 2013

Somebody Went to All-Academic Kindergarten

and didn't learn that sharing is caring.

I've been learning a great deal from Inside Colocation, a tumblr maintained by a teacher whose school building is now shared with a Success Academy.  In addition to demonstrating just how inequitable conditions are, the blogger also shares images of charter school child training in action.

It is important to note that if children are unwilling or unable to be trained, Success Academy has no interest in educating them.

16 February 2013

Enough Preschool Debate Strategies.

Spend ten minutes perusing education blogs and you will find some experienced PreK debaters defending charter schools:

A: Charter schools cherry-pick their students.
B: DO NOT!
A: (presents some data)
B: YOU JUST HATE CHILDREN!  AND SUCCESS!
A: (presents some more data)
B: (covers eyes, sings "Mary Had a Little Lamb" at top-volume)

This Reuters report seems pretty definitive, but then, so is the Nursery Rhyme White Noise Strategy.

Maybe Alum Rock Was On to Something

Way back in 2007, Alum Rock Elementary USD denied a charter to ACE Middle School, citing a number of concerns with their proposal for a middle school.

The San Jose Mercury News was very, very disappointed.  Apparently Alum Rock did not want its students exposed to rigorous education.  However, the Santa Clara County Board of Education was willing to overturn Alum Rock and provide reform to its students; ACE now has two middle schools and a high school in San Jose.

The Mercury recently visited the high school, which opened in August.  This article doesn't merit a link on ACE's own site, perhaps because all that rigor isn't going so well.  A plan for "blended learning" has been missing key ingredients since the school became internet-ready five months after opening.  Students don't have textbooks and two-thirds of the teachers do not have full credentials (I guess Williams complaints don't apply to charter schools even if they are located in Williams districts?)  The students are not going to graduate college-ready, given the lack of required courses offered, their teacher's lack of materials and skills, and their purportedly low level of skills on entry (this is based on a standardized test from the MAP people and ACE reported it; I have to wonder about its accuracy.  It appears that most if not all of the students are English Language Learners; this can mean that the test materials are exposing more of a lack of English rather than a lack of skill).

Perhaps the ugliest news item is that in October, most of the school's staff found their jobs posted on EdJoin.  The school's founder explained to the Mercury that this was merely an inspirational technique intended to raise expectations for staff commitment and student progress.  Indeed, those pesky union contracts do block motivational techniques like this one.

Even the Mercury concedes that these students are being badly failed, and that it is unlikely the months of education they've missed at ACE will be ameliorated (although I am sure the educators at Independence HS, where former ACE students are turning up, will do their best even without having their jobs posted on EdJoin).

Whether this will cause the Mercury to rethink its ardor for all charter schools, especially those in Alum Rock, remains to be seen.  I suspect the editorial board will decide that this is an anomaly, and that you've got to fail some kids on the path to innovation.

13 February 2013

I am happy because my class is getting really good at managing their papers, making sure adults see the ones they need to, and getting those papers back: I got about three-quarters of my conference signup sheets back today (including all but one of the ones that require interpretation = got interpreters for all of those = more reasons to be happy).

I am not so happy because I have all of the report cards for those conferences to do before the end of the day tomorrow.  Eugh.

Millionaire Mercies

I disagree with many policy decisions the Board makes, disapprove of its general rubber-stamp of District initiatives, and am deeply suspicious about all the tears and verbiage in the name of equity  (Beyond the Talk: is More Talk, With Additional Blaming the Funding Crisis).

That said, I am eternally thankful that - at least as yet - our Board's inability to select CEO-turned-education-reformers as Superintendent and its disinclination to embrace each and every Rhee-esque school improvement strategy has at least kept Mikey One Percent from purchasing our school board.

I remember back when the evict-Ackerman school board election was (supposedly) a new national funding high.  Those days are over.  Apparently state control of school boards, national Common Core standards, nationwide testing schemes and so on aren't enough: our reformer overlords will now purchase for us the best Boards they can provide since we are far too foolish to elect the right people without their help.

11 February 2013

V Week

Valentine's Day is a holiday that is far more exciting to Kindergartners than anyone else (well, except perhaps reporters writing about how single women should worry more about their fertility).  For the second year in a row, my Resident is soloing this week, so I will be in a support role on V Day.  (It is really good preparation for next year).

In honor of Valentine's Day, Donors Choose is having a 1:1 match.  If you would like to make a loving gift to a teacher, simply:

  1. Find the project you want to support.
  2. Click on the name of the teacher (this will take you to the teacher's personal page, and the match qualifies only if you make your donation through that page)
  3. Enter the code HEART at checkout.
And in what I am claiming is in honor of Valentine's Day, the hen a. laid an egg that b. was collected prior to cracking open (my DIY nesting boxes have been having design failures).

06 February 2013

Today I removed the ancient, decrepit, nonfunctional iMac and replaced it with a tank of frog eggs.

While I won't be meeting the Common Core standards involving technological applications, we will have AWESOME SCIENCE.

Not that the iMac could have met those standards anyway.

03 February 2013

News Item!

Apparently I signed myself up for TFA Bay Area Alumni updates.  And look at what they have planned with the District!

 SFUSD In-Person Event (Feb 28th): Join SFUSD Assistant Superintendents Dee Dee Desmond and Karling Aguilera-Fort, senior level leaders, principals, and staff to discuss pathways to school and teacher leadership as well as how to become a teacher in the district.  This will be a chance to hear the perspectives of SFUSD’s leadership, learn about the technical requirements of each role, ask questions, and network with attendees.  The event will take place on Thurs, Feb 28th from 6pm-8pm at the TFA office (22 4th Street, 7th Floor).  Dinner will be provided.  Sign up here by Fri Feb 22nd to reserve your spot!  Feel free to pass this along to other TFA-ers who might be interested.

Neat!  I was under the impression that the District was moving away from its relationship with TFA, given its cost and it being kind of unpleasant that the District can only find uncredentialed, temporary employees for its Special Education classrooms.  But it appears that the relationship is merely moving into a new stage, one wherein I can look forward to legions of administrators with a third of my experience can opine on data-driven instruction and urgency and relentlessness while I cut laminated things out and try to keep from rolling my eyes too too noticeably.

My bet is that even if there is no new contract with TFA for next year, the District will be leaning on TFA and similar reform organizations to staff its Zone schools.  Newbies won't complain as loudly about curricular narrowing, or question an unending focus on test scores, or observe that poverty is an impediment to learning.

In other local news, the 49ers have declined to provide an example of determination, grit, and sticktoitiveness leading to eventual success.  I guess I'll read "Tillie and the Wall" instead.




What Am I Missing?

Apparently even Rocketship knows that its "learning labs" are not terribly effective for instruction (although plenty effective, one assumes, in teaching critical timewasting skills to youth and cutting wages in education).

But the lack of success won't stop Rocketship's cofounder from pursuing profitable opportunities in computer-based learning.  Indeed, it appears that Rocketship's failure is inspiring him to create the kind of online learning program that will make him a mint when Rocketship purchases it allow for the individualized instruction current software does not.

In other news, Tuesday is the release date for Michelle Rhee's autobiography, (Not At All) Radical.  It's also the release date for many exciting urban fantasy novels of mixed quality.  Actually, given Rhee's myriad exaggerations, outright lies, and the performance of DC schools under her tenure, I'm not sure why her book isn't considered urban fantasy.  Still, I know which titles are auto-downloading to my Kindle early Tuesday morning, and Rhee's sure isn't one of them.

31 January 2013

Last week, I took a release day with my Resident.  The idea was to backwards map the Kindergarten year in English Language Arts with reference to the Common Core standards.  Any given standard has lots of little composite pieces - for instance, if you're going to teach kids how to read CVC words, you'll want to plan out when you are introducing various sounds.  Some sounds should be taught earlier than others (say, m before v); others should be separated instructionally (teaching short a and then short e is not a good idea, at least not in California).

This was my first time going deeply into these standards (as opposed to reading and looking for differences from the old state standards).  I was amused by the technology aspect (guess I will just fail to be effective there), and irritated by the constant opening phrase "With prompting and support", which is ridiculously vague.

Overall, though, I find myself much in sympathy with this.  These may or may not be good standards that describe a Kindergarten experience that is at once rigorous and achievable for all children.  (They're certainly rigorous.)  But they lack the wonder and creativity that five year olds bring to the classroom, and I dread their impact on Kindergarten.  I think it is possible to have high academic standards and lots of good play and social development - possible, but very hard.  And when all of our energy is pushing the former, the latter is going to be forgotten.

29 January 2013

Trees die, writing improves.

I got a scholarship to go to a Teachers College Reading and Writing Project institute last summer.  I've been using (not to the letter, but fairly closely - rigid curricula doesn't create flexible learning) the Readers Workshop model for a few years, but hadn't been doing so much Writers Workshop.  Sure, I'd seen various books on how to do it, but found them opaque; Kindergarten isn't like any other grade and too many available books compressed K-2 into "early primary".

Anyway, this year I am using (again, with significant adjustment for my style, my students, and so on) more of a Writers Workshop model.  I'm pretty happy with the results so far; the kids write more and they seem more confident at it.  Part of the model is that they have largely endless quantities of paper.  Generally I give them a three or four page booklet.  They plan out what they want to write by touching each page and saying it (HINT: THIS TAKES SEVEN THOUSAND MINILESSONS, NOT THREE OR SO) to themselves before they sketch and write.  During revisions, they can add more pages if they need to.

The plus side?  Like I said, they write more.  Their writing is organized, too; some kids even use transition words on their own.  Some kids also are independently picking up story language or mimicking their leveled readers in their structure.  And as I get better at teaching writing this way, I'm sure the student results will be even better.

(Downsides?  They're taking longer this year to space words well, but it does seem to be shaking out now.  I'm also having to do lots of small groups and conferencing around spelling expectations - at this point, initial-letter-only spelling is not what want to see.  Still, this does seem to be working itself out and I'm trying to have faith in the process.)

But what I do find alarming is the sheer quantity of tree we're going through for writing.  When the kids revise, having the space on the page for adding more detail is great, but not everything gets revised.  It's also useful for editing, but again: not every piece gets edited.  Since the kids have a lot of choice about what they revise and what they don't, we have paper waste.

We are back-to-backing, of course.  I thought about trimming the size (half-sizing sheets and making little booklets), but this year I have a number of kids who are not developmentally ready to write that small (nor do I want to have this as an available choice/accommodation for a number of reasons).

I haven't been able to come up with anything though.  I suppose it's time for some websearching; I can't be the first teacher to fret over this.

26 January 2013

It is probably a good thing that chickens are notoriously dim-witted, or the silkies would be demanding tribute after weeks of intense celebrity at school.

20 January 2013

What You Don't Learn in Two Years

Whether it's Michelle Rhee demanding that arts instruction be reserved only for fluent readers or ten hour day charter schools with nary a minute for painting, the education reform movement is no fan of the arts in education.

This is not especially surprising.  It's not just the focus on test scores.  Nor is it solely a capitalist impulse against harder-to-monetize subjects or corporatist education focused on creating the service workers of tomorrow.

It's also that the education reformers who taught didn't teach long enough to teach the arts.

This is not hard to understand.  If you are a lightly-trained new teacher, you're going to teach subjects for which you are given the necessary materials.  Almost every teacher gets a full classroom set of math and reading materials - workbooks, alphabet cards, anthologies, and so on.  The materials are ready for you to use and easy for the harried and overwhelmed teacher to access.

Even easier to teach?  Test prep.  Every low-performing school is awash in practice tests, test strategy guides, computer-based testing, and test-taking curricula.  These are usually scripted, and typically based on a direct instruction model: you talk and the kids test.

Early in one's teaching career, when all teachers are learning how to manage a classroom, procedures, school policy, materials, assessment, and procedures, direct instruction with very clear instructions is a lifesaver.

Arts instruction, on the other hand, is a nightmare of preparation and management for the new teacher.  The materials are not provided, and a lot of planning is necessary just for getting the supplies to the students (let alone using and cleaning up the supplies).  Alternative certification programs do not cover arts instruction; teachers will have to find or create activities themselves.  Untrained first-  and second- year teachers are unlikely to be able to handle arts activities - and if they are disposed to consider the arts of minimal importance anyway, they won't try.

An example: if I want to teach a reading lesson on phonemic awareness, I group the kids together.  They sit quietly and respond to my oral prompts, which I can come up with on the fly (words that start with a certain letter sound, rhyming words, etc.).  Everyone starts and finishes together and the materials needed are minimal (at most, maybe some tiles for counting sounds).

If I want the class to watercolor, first I need to source the materials: paint, paper, brushes, cups for water, rags or paper towels for spills, and a place to dry the paintings.  I then need to figure out how to pass out these materials to the class, what to do when water becomes too saturated with paint and needs replacing, how to handle spills, what to do when some kids finish early...

And that's just procedures and management.  If I want the paintings to delight the artists, I will probably also need to figure out how to teach using watercolors: how to get bright, saturated tones, how to layer colors, how to make colors bleed into each other, and so on.  (At the least, you will want to teach the first of these, since it will save you the hassle of sopping wet, grayish masterpieces.)

Teaching the arts gets easier when you know how to handle a classroom.  After a couple of years, every plastic tub you empty at home comes to school to be repurposed for holding watercolor water.  You know how to get the cups emptied after the project with as few spills as possible.  And knowing this, you can plan a neat lesson for your class.

Early on, it's very hard to do this.  (This is why I invite new teachers over for shared crafternoons in my room.)  The difficulty is such that even when teachers try arts instruction, things are likely to go poorly - and that makes it harder to try again.

But if you're only in the classroom for a couple of years, you will never gain the experience necessary to have cool arts activities.  And without it, you cannot understand why it is so vital to children's education.  And should you go on to great things in education reform, it will be very easy for you to cut the arts out entirely.