I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

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.
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.


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
  • 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
  • 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.
A: (presents some data)
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.