Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year's Eve!



I want to tell the story of taking kids to the Nutcracker but I am too tired tonight, so I'll do it soon. In the meantime, I have gotten several questions about why the name of the blog is "Being Light Skinded" and if I haven't misspelled "Skinned." You'll find the answer here.

More stories coming soon, I promise. I have some good ones!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Payment Received!

Yes, I finally got paid for subbing! And it was even on time for one of the time sheets I submitted. The other one, as we already know, was submitted months ago and had to be resubmitted.

Therefore, I have revised my estimation of L, this woman in the subbing department. She didn't completely fail to pay me. All she did was "lose" my mailed in timesheet after telling me that she didn't "like to get them mailed in." (coincidence?) Oh, and she refused to answer any of my emails or phone calls about the matter. And she called to yell at me when I canceled a job because I had a fever. But I did get one of my payments on time.

Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps she's not really really really really, REALLY unprofessional. Maybe she's only really, really really, really unprofessional.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Interesting Followup

I didn't get paid on payday (yesterday) but I did get in the mail today a direct deposit slip saying that I will get paid next week. Considering that next week the offices are closed, I'm not feeling too positive. Also, it would really help if ANYONE in the district answered my emails/calls about this. I did learn that I'm not alone. A few (at least) regular full-time teachers are not being paid either.

Think about the kind of dedication (some might say stupidity, but I prefer dedication) that it takes for a teacher to show up to work for four months without getting paid.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Money That I'm Owed

The money that I am supposed to have earned from subbing (for which I've now submitted two timesheets) is supposed to be in my account tomorrow. Let's see if it is. Anyone want to make a little bet? I'd estimate that the odds are about 3 to 1 in favor of me not getting paid. Ridiculous, but true. Check back later for further report!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More School Closures


The district is ready to close more schools. the people in charge don't seem to know (or care?) that this is a cycle that doesn't end. They close the schools where students who have completely given up on the educational system say that they are finally paid attention to. Apparently the test scores are more important than making the kids feel wanted or encouraging them to attend school. A lot of the schools that the district closes have only been open for a few years.

One of these schools that is about to be closed is Sankofa Academy. Sankofa started in 2005. It is just beginning its third year. Does anyone here think that just over two years is enough time for a school to prove itself? A raise of hands, please, if you do. That's right, I didn't think so.

The principal at Sankofa has spent years trying to plan for the school's opening. Of course, the school wasn't perfect. It started with grades 1-3 and 6 and 7. This is obviously a very awkward group of ages, and the district eliminated the middle school grades. Before that, the middle school kids caused a lot of disruption - what self-respecting 7th grader wants to be in a school with first graders? Even though the discipline problems have been eliminated for the most part, the district wants to close the school.

Does it seem to anyone else that the school was set up for failure? And then blamed for failing?

The other reason that Sankofa is being closed is because of low enrollment. Oakland is pouring money into creating small schools, and then punishing them for being small. After spending all this money (and years!) opening the school, they're willing to close it after less than three years instead of trying to support it.

And they're surprised that parents are pulling their kids out of the district??

The other school being closed, Burckhalter, was just modernized - at a cost of millions of dollars - and after the changes, parents were hoping to re-start a PTA and change things. But the district doesn't want to give them that chance. Why would they spend so much money on a school just to close it?

Of course, all these closures just alienate parents further. When a parent - and a community - fights to keep their children's school open and the district steamrolls them, closing it without listening... why are they surprised that these parents are sending their kids to private schools?

In 2000, when I started, the district had 54,000 students. Now it is less than 39,000.

I don't think I can write a letter to the editor or to the district since I'm still an employee. But the rest of you, feel free. I'll help you.

Monday, December 17, 2007

So Outta There!

Wow, this district is messed up. I tell you, I love these kids, and they need good teachers, and I felt called to this district when I came... and I don't think I can go any longer. They have successfully completely demoralized me.

The missing administrator - we're just going to leave him missing. I think it's been three months now, and the only thing ANYONE can get out of the district is that he's not coming back. That's all. And by the way, I emailed two local reporters who have previously covered events/problems at this school and they apparently had no interest. I guess administrators disappearing off the face of the earth doesn't matter when the kids in the school are poor. Because how well do you think that would go over in a middle/upper class school?

Speaking of how the poor kids are treated, apparently in October there was a break in a sewer line in a school not far from mine, causing raw sewage (yes, that's poop) to flow onto the playground. The school didn't close. Apparently it's OK to have the kids at school when the contents of the toilets are on the yard.

Why are the people who are in charge of this district not ashamed? I honestly do not understand how they can sleep at night.

I am subbing now, and I still haven't been paid. I have turned in several timesheets, and I'm not sure if any of them have gotten from L, the sub manager, to payroll. L has a problem with me - she actually called and yelled (yes, yelled) on my voice mail when I canceled a sub job because I had a fever. No matter that I did everything in my power to alert the teacher. She said, among other things, "You call up that school right now and get over there and ask what you can do!" Coincidentally... she didn't turn in my time sheet that month.

I have emailed this woman now five or six times asking about being paid and she has not answered one of them. It's definitely the right email address, because I'm replying to one of hers from the summer. She just chooses not to answer me about when I will get paid. Now a teacher requested me for a sub and the sub computer system tells her that I am not available. Hmmm. I am available. The only way I'm not is if someone with the power to do so has taken me off of the sub list.

My current plan (and I would LOVE feedback) is to do this:

  • Wait until the next payday (Friday, Dec. 21) and see if I get paid.
  • If I don't, email the head of HR and explain everything, including the nasty voice mail left by L,(which sadly, is no longer on my phone) and how I haven't been paid even though I have turned the time sheets in TWICE.
  • Whether or not I do get paid, I will be resigning at the end of the year.
  • I will write a detailed letter of resignation explaining why a qualified, committed teacher is resigning from this district. I would love any input anyone wants to give about which examples I should use. I probably shouldn't send my blog to the district!
  • I will send this letter of resignation to the head of HR, the superintendent, and anyone else I can think of in the district.
  • I am thinking about sending a copy of it to the newspaper.
This last one is where I need feedback. I don't think the newspaper will publish anything like a letter to the editor anonymously. Do I send it in? I may at some point want to apply for teaching jobs in neighboring cities, so I don't know if I want to publicly badmouth the district. On the other hand, the behavior of the district needs to be made public. All these stories in my blog are not things that should happen in this country - in the richest state in this country. It doesn't matter one bit to me that these kids are poor, are minorities, are on welfare, are from largely uneducated families. It is not all right to treat them like this. And it is not all right to treat teachers - who are trying to help them - like this.

Please tell me what you think. I've had more than enough.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Best Form of Birth Control

Here's an interesting article on population control. I'm not saying I totally agree with it, but I'm not saying I don't, either. It might be a good idea!

Of course, those of us who are teachers already know that the best form of birth control is, as they say, other people's children. I'm not just talking about emotionally disturbed children in the inner city, either!

At my church - which I love - there are a number of very active children. Sometimes they run around not looking where they're going and run right into me. This is kind of cute when they are two and three years old and not so cute when they are eight or ten years old. I have to stop myself from stopping them and saying something teacher-ish like, "You need to apologize if you run into someone," or "You wouldn't like it if I ran as fast as I could into you, would you?" The couple of times those things have accidentally come out of my mouth, their parents haven't seemed to appreciate it.

Before the church Christmas concert last week, the children in the choir were lining up, with their fancy clothes on and their hair all done nicely... and they were crazy. They were pushing and hitting and kicking and screaming. And this group was probably 2nd-5th grade or so. Old enough to know better. I don't know who was in charge of them outside the church, but they weren't there. Another teacher friend and I were talking about how crazy they were making us when a woman said to us, sort of disapproving-ish, "Oh, they're not hurting anyone!"

Right at that moment, I looked over and there was one little boy hitting another little boy in the stomach as hard as he could. Just socking him. The other little boy did not look like it was a fun game and had sort of fallen down on the ground. Not hurting anyone! Maybe I have an abnormally low tolerance for children acting like fools, as we say in the ghetto. That's one nice thing about inner-city kids - you can call them on their crap. If you look them in the eye and say (forcefully and directly) "That is NOT how your mama wants you to behave," or "What would your mama think if she saw you?" or just, "Are you really going to act like a fool?" in the right tone of voice, they respect it and stop. They start up again pretty quick, but at least they stop for a time. Middle-class kids tend to say something snotty like, "You're not my parent!" or "I can do whatever I want!" or everybody's favorite: "You're not the boss of me!"

Please, please, middle-class parents, don't let your children be those kids. And don't even get me started on the rich kids who see their nannies more than their parents. Give me ghetto thugs-in-training any day.

Another friend had to drag us away from the kids at church, because I was going to intervene with the punching kid and then some parent was going to get pissed because I was insinuating that her child wasn't perfect.

Don't get me wrong - I really do love my church and there are many many wonderful children and parents there. This seems to happen everywhere I go, not just at church.

My favorite story is when I was at a hamburger restaurant in a nice part of town, so it's kind of upscale for hamburgers. This child - who was about 7 or 8 - old enough to know better - pitched a huge temper tantrum. I don't know what it about. Her parents were ordering something to go and the child, who appeared to be possessed, kept reaching up for pens, flyers, desserts, menus, anything that was on the counter that she could get her hands on, and flinging them to the floor. I mean, all right, my friend's 13 month old does that, but she's at the correct age for that. That's not a disciplinary problem. This one was.

The best part was that her parents did nothing. They sort of smiled indulgently, like, "Oh, isn't she cute," and left everything on the floor. Finally, the girl reached for something breakable - I think it was a mug or a glass - and I took it out of her hand and said (nicely), "No, honey, that needs to stay on the counter." I put it just out of her reach. The cashier looked at me gratefully and appeared to have had her faith in humanity restored. The girl, however - AND HER PARENTS - looked at my like I had just killed a puppy. It was obvious that they could not have been more offended. They gave me the look of death all the way out the door.

This might sound crazy, but this is one of the things I miss about being a teacher. I would love to have that girl - it would be such a challenge. She would learn to behave. As I tell the children, "You can fight me all you want, but it's my classroom and I am going to win." I know the trend right now is the student-led learning and letting students make the rules, etc., but (maybe it's an inner-city thing) I have found that the students are far, far happier at the end when they know who is the boss.

It's too bad I'm not the boss of all of the children I see out there.

Monday, December 10, 2007

To Be Expected

I told another teacher how I haven't yet been paid for any of the subbing I've done (and wont' be doing any more of until I do get paid!) Her response:

I told someone about your dilemma - I'd like to say she was horrified, but the response was more a resigned rolling of the eyes. This district does nothing to make subs welcome, as we all know.
It shouldn't be common enough that no one is surprised and yet...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Playing Businessman on BART


To continue the BART stories:

When we'd get on BART to go wherever we were going, the kids were actually usually on their best behavior. They would occasionally yell things like, "Let that lady sit down, she's old!" that you wish they wouldn't yell, but it really did show that they meant well.

One of their favorite games was to pick up discarded newspapers and pretend to read them. Sometimes they'd really read them, but usually they didn't want to put that much effort into it. If I asked them what they were doing, they'd let me know that they were playing businessman. To them, that's what businessmen (and no, it was never businesswomen) did. They read newspapers on BART. Once, one of them told me that she was looking for a new job for me, so that I could "have a better job."

We met some real businessmen on BART once, and it turned out that they were even BART businessmen. They were BART executives who rode BART periodically to see how things were going firsthand, and they sat down with us. These guys - who were obviously high up in the system judging from what they were wearing - started asking the kids where they were going. They gave some pretty unintelligible answers because on the way to a field trip, they are always so excited that they trip over their words and end up making no sense at all. The executives were patient though and (although I'd be surprised if they ever figured out where we were going) asked to come with us. The kids got really excited and invited them, but the men said that they had to go to work but that they'd really rather come with us.

The best part was when we got off, one of them told me, "You know, those were the best behaved group of school kids I have ever seen ride on this train." Now, if you've ever seen my class in action, you'll understand what a miracle that is. If you haven't met my class, just think about how many times a group of inner-city, mostly minority kids who are for the most part proud of being "ghetto" gets called well-behaved. Yeah. It doesn't happen.

I think the preparation for BART rides really worked!

Of course, they didn't always behave that well, but they mostly did well on BART. On buses, for some reason, they tended to act up more. I don't know what the reason was. I know that BART was exciting for them. On the way to one field trip we got through all the hassle of getting to the station, getting through the ticket gate, getting on BART, riding BART... and as we were getting off, one of the kids said to me, "That was the best field trip ever!" We were still on our way to the field trip! He thought the BART ride was the field trip, and it was the best ever! I wish the BART executives had been there for that one!

The other rule on BART was that they had to sit if there was a seat. They all wanted to hang on poles, but their balance wasn't good and they couldn't reach the top poles, so if there was a seat, they had to sit in it. And, this being BART, they had to sit next to a stranger if that was the only seat, but if the stranger was crazy, they could raise their hand and I would let them move. They knew what crazy meant and didn't abuse it. They couldn't switch seats, either, otherwise it was a Chinese fire drill at every stop.

If there weren't any seats, I told them what to do. On trains with a lot of floor space, they could sit on the floor. Otherwise, they mainly hung on to me. If there weren't any poles to hang on to, I would hold on to the top bar, and they had to hold on to me. There would be two or three taller kids on each of my arms (which were stretched up to hang onto the bar), and two or three holding on to each leg. Some would hang onto my backpack or belt. They mostly managed not to fall over, but I never got a picture. I must have looked like some strange child-growing tree.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tales from BART

Today, we're going to talk about BART - Bay Area Rapid [not really] Transit. I think BART is great; I just don't think the rapid part should be in there because it's a lie.

First, you must read this. I mean, you MUST. This describes the city I have worked in like nothing I've ever read before. Seriously. I just can't do it justice, so read it, please, and then come back.

Wow. I can only hope that if my students turn out to be thugs, that they turn out to be chivalrous thugs!

We often took BART on field trips. It was very convenient, because the school was not far from one of the stations. All right, it was about 3/4 of a mile, which was - for children completely unaccustomed to exercise - pretty far. And usually the chaperones were also unaccustomed to exercise. So the walk could actually get kind of long. Kids are funny: they whined and whined about their feet hurting, and the minute I said, "Run to the corner," they ran as fast as they could.

Before going on any field trip, we had a very serious talk about behavior. We talked about how the students were expected to behave on the BART or bus, as well as on the way there. Some points that were always covered were to stay with the group, not get ahead of the teacher, and not to run two at a time through the ticket gate because that causes big problems on the way out. Another very important rule was not to get close to the edge of the BART platform.

The BART platforms, if you don't know, are painted with a yellow stripe at the edges. The rule was not that you couldn't touch the yellow stripe - it was that you couldn't go anywhere CLOSE to the yellow strip. The platform itself was about 8-10 feet wide (although to a paranoid teacher, it felt like it was about 3 feet), with tracks on either sides, making it so there was no wall you could line the kids up against. And the platform was raised, which didn't really make a difference, because the drop to the tracks was the same, and the electric third rail was the same, but it felt more precarious. I would sort of line the kids up in the very middle as far away from either side as possible and make them sit down. The platform is also very slippery, so I was afraid of kids chasing each other and falling on the tracks.

Once I had a kid walk on the yellow stripe as if it were a tightrope. ON THE EDGE OF THE PLATFORM. (Do you know what electric third rails can do? Let alone being squished by a train!) Before I could get to him, one of the chaperones - a really awesome mom - grabbed him by the arm and started yelling at him about what she would do to him if she were his mother. I had already told the kids that if I caught them going near the edge, not only would I ban them from any more field trips in my class, but I would tell their fourth and fifth grade teachers to ban them as well. With everything else going on during a field trip, there is NO ROOM for children with a daredevil streak in them.

I didn't ever let him go on another field trip (and his mom wouldn't have either, once she found out about it), and I never had another kid do that because I always told this story. The kids would say, "And did he get to go on any more field trips?" Once I said no, they listened up and stayed far away from the tracks and the edge of the platform.

We passed all sorts of interesting people and things on the way to the BART station. Remember, this is not a good part of the city. We saw women working the street corners, drug deals, dog fighting, overflowing sewers... you get the idea. During my second year teaching, the kids told me which street to avoid because that's where the crackhouse was - we could go on either of the streets on the side of it but not that one. So, the trips to the BART station were always fairly eventful.

Once we got to the BART station, it was hard to get all the kids through the ticket gates. I always tried not to go during commute hours, but sometimes we had to. Then I would try to get them all in one line so that we only completely monopolized one ticket gate, but we would still get mean looks. We'd also get nice people asking where we were going though, which was encouraging.

The behavior of the students on the BART trains was always really good, and I'll share my secret. Children in the inner city, especially those raised by only a mom or a grandmother, take their mothers very seriously. We've all hear the "your mama" jokes - there's a reason those get inner-city kids so riled up. It is the worst thing you can possibly say to someone. But there is also a way to use this to your advantage.

I asked the kids how many of their parents took BART or the bus to work or school or appointments. Everyone immediately started talking at once, telling me stories about where their mothers work or do whatever they do. Then I asked them how they would feel if there were kids on the BART train who were acting crazy and yelling and pushing when their mothers were trying to rest going to or from work. They were shocked that any kids would even think of acting in such an irresponsible manner when their mother was on the train and tired!

Bingo.

That's all it took. They reminded each other and occasionally I would have to say "remember, somebody's mom could be on the train and be tired," and they would act like angels. That is one my accomplishments that I am most proud of in my teaching career.

It's bedtime, more BART stories tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Adventures in Subbing

I worked as a substitute last week at a middle school that had many of my previous students. It was a good day - not just because it was a minimum day and I didn't know it! The first class came in and started giving me looks and all sat down. The bell rang and I said, "Listen, I'm not a sub, I'm a teacher. I know what you're doing, so get back to your own seats." They all just stared at me. I told them I was going to count to five and they would be in their own seat. They stared at me until I got to three and then 75% of the class ran as fast as they could to their own seat. I didn't know enough of them to be sure that they had been trying to fool me, but I had a feeling... one of those teacher feelings that are always right.

Later I had to sacrifice one kid - he wouldn't do his work and was testing me to see if I'd really send him to the principal. The minute I did, all the other kids started working! As a treat, I let them see my blue hair at the end of class.

The middle school has a lot of classrooms - in fact, most of them - with no windows. I've never taught in a classroom with no windows, and I haven't been in one since I had an organic chemistry lab in the basement in college. It's horribly depressing and I'm not sure how the teachers or the students manage to teach or learn in a room with zero natural light, all day.

The other thing I couldn't figure out is what these things on the wall were. It looks like they are bulletin board material and you could staple things on them, but they're about eleven feet high. Any ideas?


I don't mind subbing when there are former students of mine in the classroom. The problem I am having is that the district doesn't want to pay me for some reason. The grouchy sub lady who yelled at me when I canceled a job because I had a fever somehow hasn't been turning in my time sheets. More on that later. Right now I'm just glad I'm not teaching.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Seriously?

I can't believe I haven't included this in the blog before! This is one of my favorite stories about the district. I thought I had written it but I just searched the blog...

When I started in my district, the schools had just been converted from K-6 elementary schools and 7-8 junior high schools. The elementary schools were overcrowded, so they became K-5, and the junior high schools were changed to middle schools, 6th-8th grade.

A junior high school next to the school I worked at was one of these. Let's say it was called "Gecko" Junior High School. Well, this district, always willing and able to do a bad job of things, decided to save money and not replace all the metal letters. Instead, they made a sign that said "Middle School" and nailed it up over the "Junior High" portion of the sign. So, now you have a sign that is partly in old metal capital letters and partly in a newer wooden or something sign, reading:

GECKO Middle School SCHOOL

Awesome. The best was that no one noticed - or more likely, no one cared. This sign stayed up for years and bothered me every time I drove by. It's already a bad school - dangerous, bad reputation, in a violent area - do they need to look like idiots also? I mean, if you have so few reasons to be proud of your school already, you don't need this kind of thing.

Finally, Lindsay, who was no longer working in the district, submitted it to Chronicle Watch, which checks on things that are supposed to get fixed. Apparently, they thought it was as ridiculous as we did, because they published it, and it was eventually fixed. Sort of. At least, the last "SCHOOL" was removed, although the fastenings for the letters are still there, so now it kind of looks like this:

GECKO Middle School ------

There really is nothing like high standards in education, is there?

Monday, November 26, 2007

No News and No Clothes


I've asked a couple of teachers at my old school about the missing administrator and there continues to be no news. One teacher hypothesizes that it is part of the conspiracy to privatize schooling. I think it's part of the conspiracy to keep poor black and Latino kids lacking in education.

No, I'm not kidding.

Anyway, in thinking about the lack of information in regards to the disappeared administrator, I was reminded of the story The Emperor's New Clothes. The district seems to like that approach - pretend nothing's wrong and it won't be! The clothes are lovely! What incredible tailors!

The Emperor's New Clothes is, incidentally, a part of the third grade reading curriculum. If you have read the story, you may agree with me that this was a silly choice for third grade. What is the outcome of the story? The emperor gets scammed because he wants to believe that he's special, and no one wants to be the voice of opposition, so he ends up walking naked in a parade, while a little child is the only one willing to state the obvious, "The Emperor's naked!"

Can anyone guess what the problem is? Remember, third graders are about eight years old, sometimes nine. When the word "naked" comes up, there is a unanimous reaction. Every child in the room says "Naked?!? Gross!" Then 90% of them fall out of their chairs. They just fall out of their chairs because it's too much for them. Most of the class ends up laughing, repeating it over and over: "Naked! Naked! Naked! They say naked in this story!" It is impossible to get them back on track. Especially when the particular edition of the story features a back view of the emperor: "Look at his naked bootie, yuck!" I would have skipped the whole story if I had been allowed.

Maybe they should have people who work with real children choose the stories. And the spelling lists! On one spelling list, we had the word "hoe." It went along with "toe" and other long o words. If you don't know why the word "hoe" (it's the pronunciation, not the spelling) shouldn't be on a third grade spelling list... ask your kids. You'll be surprised at the vocabulary they shouldn't know.



Blue hair:


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dreaming of Teaching

No, I wasn't dreaming that I wanted to be teaching again! I had a dream in which I was counting the days until summer vacation and then I woke up and started trying to count... thinking to myself that at least I got Christmas break soon... then I realized I wasn't teaching! It was a huge relief, even though I had to work sooner that way... nothing is as emotionally exhausting as teaching.

Oh, and my hair is bright blue now - I'm happy with this color and will post pictures soon.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Purple Hair


Oh yes, and I have purple hair right now. It's lovely what you can do when you are not teaching.

Gulliver in Hookerland

It's rare that I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Phil, but if you read this post, you'll see why I do.

He says that sometimes, with the way little girls dress (I think he was talking about Halloween, but I feel like this much of the time), you "look out the window and feel like Gulliver in Hookerland."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How Many Feet Do Chickens Have?

I substituted for a friend last week. It was a really good class and I enjoyed it, although there were definitely reminders about why I am done with this district. (For example, they don't seem to want to pay me for subbing, which is a problem!

The school is very similar to my old school. The kids are absolutely city kids. There was a word problem that asked if a farmer had five chickens, how many chicken feet were there? (It's second grade, so it's not too complex). The problem was not the addition but the chickens. No one seemed to know how many feet a chicken has! The overwhelming consensus was that a chicken has four feet. There were some odd pictures of four-footed chickens.

I was also reminded that kids bleed a lot. There was a bloody nose, teeth coming out, scabs coming off, scraped knees... all sorts of blood! And pee. There was an accident - a girl that just used the bathroom had an amazing amount of pee that ended up all over her chair and the floor. I got the class out discreetly but then one kid yelled as loud as he could when someone asked where the pee-er was, "She can't come out, she peed all over herself!!" Awesome.

I brought the gecko, because we all know that the gecko is everybody's favorite. Tiger was a huge hit, as usual. The kids were very gentle when petting him. They have some high-tech camera projection thing in the classroom so that you can put a piece of paper in front of it and it will show up on the screen for the whole class to see. Tiger cooperated very nicely by crawling under the camera so that there was a projection-screen sized gecko on the wall - it was pretty cool!

Despite the cool high-tech camera/projection thing and the all in one scanner/copier/printer, the school doesn't quite have both feet in the twenty-first century. Yes, I know we're almost at 2008, but this district seems to be pretty firmly planted in the early 1990s. No computers in the room except for the teacher's laptop (which is pretty unusual and might be the sign of a good principal - the laptop, that is, not the lack of other computers). And the Internet is "down." And has been for quite some time. I think they even have that crazy Internet thing in the Third World now - you'd think we could manage it here! Apparently it doesn't matter to the district.

Maybe they're actually paying attention to the Case of the Missing Administrator and that's why they can't deal with the Internet problems? Nah. More likely it's sort of like the clock guy. Maybe there's one Internet guy in the whole district and he's pissed off so he won't tell anyone how to fix it.

Now, don't even get me started on the radiator guy, if there is one. More on that later.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Halloween


I'm a little late - I forgot to talk about Halloween.

I just have this to say. There are not words to express how relieved I was on Halloween. Why, you might ask? Because I did not have to endure children on sugar, children trying to surreptitiously put on their costumes, or children who have stayed up all night on Halloween, then come to school the next day simultaneously exhausted and totally wired on sugar.

Instead, I got to carve pumpkins myself!

For those who aren't aware, Halloween is one of the two most difficult days for an elementary school teacher, in my opinion. The other is Valentine's Day. Combine sugar, artificially created holidays and school parties and, wow...

I'm glad I'm working at home on the computer right now instead of teaching!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Literally Unbelievable

First, an intro from Lindsay:
Before I started teaching at B's school, I would listen to the stories that B told about her experiences there, and I would find that they put the listener into a very awkward situation.

She would tell these stories that were literally unbelievable. Rats running through classrooms? Kids peeing in sinks during lockdowns? Verbally abusive administrators? You can't believe that that's actually happening. Here. In this country, which we all had a much higher opinion of ten years ago, when this was happening. The stories were so unbelievable, in fact, that you sort of had to do a gut-check: Is B lying about this? Logic kicks in, and you realize, either B is lying or this stuff is true.
Lindsay is not the only one who has mentioned that. I've had several friends say the same sort of thing, "You know, until I saw where you teach, I really thought you must have been exaggerating." "I wasn't sure you weren't lying." Every one of them changed their mind after seeing the school. So, get ready for one of these stories.

An administrator seems to have disappeared. I'm not sure yet if I mean "disappeared" as in the magic tricks or "disappeared" as in the South American dictators' means of disposing of their opponents.

The short history which I may have explained already is that our K-5 school was broken up at the beginning of this year into two K-3 schools and one 4-5 school, which I like to call a "throwaway school." You'll see why. Next year, there will be two K-4 schools and one school of only 5th grade, and the following just two K-5 schools. The problem with this, of course, is that it's hard to find people - either teachers or administrators - who are serious about their career and want to work at a school that will phase itself out in two years. It's also hard to think that the district will care about this school if it will phase itself out.

So, sure enough, they couldn't find a principal for the 4-5 school, and instead got an assistant principal who, while he was technically under supervision of one of the principals at the other school (I guess that principal was technically principals of two schools, if that's possible), would run the school. According to everyone I talked to, he (the assistant principal whom we'll call "Joe") was doing a great job, keeping order, establishing routines and structure, all the things kids really really need.

Until a month ago when the teachers were told that Joe would be out temporarily because the district had not completed his employment process somehow. I don't remember how exactly the teachers explained it to me, but I remember thinking that it sounded like his TB test paperwork hadn't come or something. Something minor. Except that it's been a month and Joe is not back.

Teachers have tried calling and emailing Joe and he hasn't responded. The district hasn't answered any questions (nor have they appeared overly concerned that a school has been missing their administrator for a month). The principal who "oversees" Joe has only answered by saying that he feels attacked and he can't have a conversation when he feels attacked. Joe seems to have disappeared as effectively as Pinochet's political prisoners.

(OK, maybe that bit of alliteration at the end there was overly dramatic, but seriously, how do you disappear an assistant principal? And why aren't more people concerned??)

Oh, and I forgot. When asked why the administrator is missing, the "downtown" office (main district office) asked if there was a problem at the school. Um, you mean besides the fact that the administrator's been gone for a month, no one knows where he is, and the school is dissolving into chaos? No, no other problem besides that. These people are amazing.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Stephanie Update

Stephanie's dad called me yesterday to let me know that she got a 4.0 in her first trimester of 7th grade and to thank everyone who is helping her get to the leadership forum in Europe by donating... specific thanks to Doug, Lindsay, Chris, Lynn, Carrie & Jason, Laura, and Alex (and some others who wish to remain anonymous. You guys are awesome and every little bit helps! This is a girl who will NOT waste the experience - she's amazing. One person expressed concern that the organization does not set up an easy tax-deductible way to fundraise - I think, honestly, it's because most of the kids don't have to raise funds. I think the fast majority of them just have their parents write a $4500 check and they're off. Stephanie's dad is taking extra fights (professional boxer) and working tons of extra shifts to try to pay for this, which is why I'm trying to get people to help.

If you are someone who has always wanted to help public education and doesn't want to give money to the schools because you don't know what they're doing with it... please consider this. Tell everyone. Forward it. If you have given money - please let me know your address so I can send you a thank you note from Stephanie. I'll put up a picture of her awesome report card just as soon as I find my camera...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

No Wonder I'm Still Tired!

I've been really frustrated that I don't seem to be getting untired - I've been not teaching for 4 months and I think I should be back to "normal" by now, but I'm still exhausted!

Then this conversation with Warren helped me remember what the last few years have been like. We were talking about "Alex," an extremely disturbed child I had two years ago whose dad threatened to set him on fire once (it even shocked the woman working at Social Services when I called). Somehow, the conversation went to "Rick," a kid who flat-out refused to do anything - and when his parents came on a field trip, they were more trouble than he was. I said something along the lines of "Thank God I didn't have those kids the same year," and then I realized... I did! I not only had the two of them but I had 13 others - yes THIRTEEN OTHERS - who were behavior problems and probably should have been in a special day class/group home/intensive counseling.

I think I said something like, "How did I do it???"

He said, "This is why you're so tired!"

I guess so!

Friday, November 02, 2007

They Can't Keep Employees? Really? What a Surprise!


I am so done with this district. Even just in subbing for them, they are still doing their best in guilt-tripping and devaluing me. The guilt-trips just don't work for me. Apparently the district personnel believes they will, though, or they would stop...

I agreed to sub for a former colleague today. No problem. I wanted to sub for her, was going to bring the gecko, of course, get to see my old students... then yesterday, I woke up and couldn't get out of bed. I had that slightly run over by a train feeling and couldn't stop being exhausted. I wasn't able to get out of bed until 3 pm, at which point I canceled my subbing job. I left a message with the person I was subbing for and canceled the job, figuring that if I couldn't get out of bed, I wasn't really able to safely supervise 2nd graders, and oh yeah, I had a FEVER. Not making this up.

So, feeling slightly guilty - because the field of education has sort of beat into me that I should feel guilty - I went to bed figuring that I had done everything I could. Then I got a call this morning from the person in charge of sub paperwork. She says (read this in a snippy tone of voice, please) : "You accepted a subbing job and canceled at the last minute. That school has 5 teachers out today. Call them and find out how you can go over there and sub right away!"

Excuse me? Am I five years old? Or am I a professional who might - believe it or not - only cancel because of something valid like ILLNESS?

Warren sums it up best: "It mystifies me that they haven't figured out that this isn't the way to treat employees." Then he adds: "They seem to think that you need them and you really don't. They need you." Funny thing about this district. They talk a lot about how hard it is to retain employees. Hmmm. Isn't there something about insanity being when you try the same thing over and over and expect different results?

Do I even bother to point out that a) I wouldn't cancel if I didn't have a reason, b) a better way to phrase it might be to first ask me why I canceled and not order me around like a 5-year old, c) this is why they lose employees at such an amazing rate?

Or do I just resign completely and forget the leave of absence?

At some point, I think I resign and write a letter explaining exactly why. And send it to anyone at the district who can read.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Brief Political Note

I'm trying to keep this blog about school, and I will be writing about Halloween at school later on today. But once again, one of the presidential candidates has astounded me, and not in a good way.

Rudy Giuliani (and I really believe that if he had just let his NYC mayorship be his swan song, he would be remembered lovingly by America... now he's just starting to make himself look like a...well, a jackass, really) talked about torture. Oh, he's against torture, just like everyone is, but it's all in the semantics.

For example, he's not sure that waterboarding is torture. He says that just because the "liberal media" describes it as such, he isn't sure that they are accurate. Really? If it's not torture, why doesn't he volunteer to try it so he can tell us firsthand how not torturous it is. John McCain points out that Pol Pot used waterboarding during his genocide in Cambodia, and it was also used in the Spanish inquisition. He (McCain) says "It's not a complicated procedure. It is torture." But apparently, the current administration is defining torture as causing death or organ failure. So, psychological torture isn't torture? Really??

McCain makes another excellent point - and he might know this being the only former POW in the group - that people will say anything - not necessarily the truth - to make the torture stop. Not that I know anything about it, but I would imagine that potential terrorists who are willing to die for their cause would somehow be trained to come up with untrue answers under torture. I mean, you'd think they'd think of something, knowing that's a possibility.

Giuliani also says that sleep deprivation is not torture. In fact, he makes fun of it. "They talk about sleep deprivation. I mean, on that theory, I'm getting tortured running for president of the United States. That's plain silly. That's silly." Wow. I can only hope that his mouth continues to get him into trouble before anyone votes for him.

Either the man really doesn't understand the difference between sleep deprivation as torture and sleep deprivation that political candidates (and nursing mothers, truck drivers, etc.) experience and he's a complete fool, or he's making jokes out of torture. Either one is a serious problem. Sleep deprivation was used as torture by the former Soviet Union and by Pinochet's regime in Chile. It's cruel and by the way, it can lead to death. The Nazis discovered that.

The thing I am most confused about is why we are even having this debate! Quite honestly, I'm less concerned about what torture will do to the terrorists as I am concerned about what it will do to us as a nation? How can we possibly justify following in the footsteps of Caligula, Pol Pot, Pinochet, and Stalin? Oh, and the Spanish Inquisition. Lovely people they were. Definitely the model of democracy that we want to use.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Dropout Factories

I found this report about high school dropouts in California this morning. As upset as people in the article seem, I think their numbers are low. I mean, I think more kids are dropping out than they say. I did a search to see if it was just my area and found that, true to my suspicions, the way that California calculates dropout rates may be wrong. Specifically, "We see, in far too many cases, that students who drop out are not being counted as dropouts." Isn't that the same problem these kids have had their whole lives? They don't count.

Anyway, I looked up our district, and fewer than half of our kids entering 9th grade graduate. That sounds kind of depressing, but don't worry, it gets worse! No one likes to admit it because it would mean that a whole lot of people aren't doing their job (I believe it's not legal to drop out of school until you're 16 in this state). However, many many kids drop out in between middle school and high school. Convenient for the officials, since dropout rates are usually calculated using the number of kids entering high school as a starting point. This way, the kids can drop out earlier and not even be noticed! I might be overly cynical, but it seems to me that most people would be happier if they weren't noticed... at least the people in power. Less guilt, less accountability. At least, that's been my experience while working with these kids.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Book Clubs



One of the things that I do miss about teaching is the book clubs. Book clubs were something I started in probably my fourth year of teaching. And was one of my best ideas, ever.

I divided the kids up into groups more or less by reading ability and assigned each group a book (that I had to buy with my own money, of course). The advanced readers would get something like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or The Twits (Roald Dahl is a great favorite with third grade boys who are reading above grade level). The lower readers would get something like the Horrible Harry series, because, although they are easier reading, they still have chapters, and that's a source of pride with third graders... chapter books.

One kid would be the facilitator for the day and they would go around and each read one page out loud. If none of the kids in the group knew a word, they could ask me. I took turns sitting in on the different groups. When they finished a chapter, the facilitator for the day would ask a couple of questions that were supposed to be higher-level questions about the character's motivation or something but were often things like "Where were they?" It depended on the child.

The kids actually did quite well with these. I didn't do it so much my last year - mostly because I was so tired and book clubs are actually very high-energy for the teacher. But they loved it. Sometimes the kids would do a presentation at the end of a book - they would present a poster to the class which told the title, author, setting, characters, and basic plot. Then they would explain if they recommended the book or not and why. It really got them interested in reading and I wish I hadn't been too tired to keep it up.

It is really amazing how long it takes to get over being THAT tired. I'm still finding myself needing way more sleep than is normal and wearing out really easy. I think one day I'll be rested again... I hope. School apparently depleted more of my energy than I thought.





Friday, October 19, 2007

Field Trip to the Zoo

In honor of my students from last year (who are going on a field trip today and invited me... sadly, I couldn't go), I thought I'd put up a piece of writing by one of the kids last year. This is "Our Field Trip to the Zoo." Watch out for dangerous chipmunks!

When we got to the zoo what I had did was since the zoo wasn't opening yet, we had went to the little park down by the zoo. Then when the zoo was opening we had went in. Then we had put our lunches on the bench. Then we played on the spider web. Then I had saw three crocodiles and two turtles. Then we had went and saw two tigers in their cave. Then we saw lot of giraffes and goats and a little bit of birds. We saw three elephants one was looking at us for kind of a long time. Then we saw some monkeys and some birds. Then we had saw the lion. Then we saw camouflaged big pigs. Then we saw this dangerous chipmunk. We had went to the petting zoo last but not least we had went back to the little park and played.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Dove Campaign for Real Beauty

Watch the video here. Then come back. Please.

I am starting to really like Dove. Sure, they're a company trying to make money off of beauty products just like all other companies that sell beauty products but they have a lot of good links for girls (fact or fiction body quiz, etc.) and they are making more of an effort to use models of varying sizes than any other company I have seen.

And that video really touches me. They are not exaggerating. I saw this every day when I was teaching. The little girls wanting to be sexy, wearing "curvy" jeans, sneaking makeup at recess, spending an entire day getting their hair done, and... worst of all, in my opinion, learning that their self-worth comes from male attention. Yes, they are learning that in elementary school now.

We've got to change this. Any ideas how?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Story from "Lamar"


One day there were two frogs. Their names were Ben and Tom. When it got so hot, they played a game. The game was called leapfrog. Whoever got to the finish line and beat the time wins. So the game started and Ben had jumped over a log and Tom couldn't. So Ben had went back and helped Tom. And Tom ran off and stopped. And he didn't see Ben anywhere. So, he went back and he saw a fox getting Ben!

He hurried up to get Ben back into the race. When he saw the fox and Ben, he saw a huge house in front of him. And he saw Ben and the fox in the house. And he saw the fox going to cook and eat the frog.

When the fox got out of the house, Tom had snuck in there and got Ben out of the pot and went back to the race. So, they played again, and when they played again, this time the fox was chasing them. And when they got to the finish line, it was a tie. And the fox was still chasing them. When he ran, the fox ran into the pot and the two frogs ate the fox up.

The end.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Health Care

OK,I'll start by saying that I don't know much about this SCHIP bill that the president just vetoed. But I do know that I am tired of the Republicans and their stance on health care. They just don't seem to have any idea that there might be uninsured children out there. Maybe they're uninsured because of poor decisions of their parents, or because their parents are illegal immigrants. but they still have NO HEALTH CARE.

Most of my students had Medi-Cal but some had no insurance, either because they were not here legally, because they made barely too much to qualify for Medi-Cal but not enough for their own insurance, because of custody changing, or because of falling through the cracks as they live in shelters and try to find enough money for food. I don't know exactly what the answer is, but I am tired of politicians spouting off about how it's better to have patients make decisions with their doctors instead of having socialized medicine. Hello? Those who are uninsured DON'T HAVE DOCTORS WITH WHOM TO MAKE DECISIONS.

I am so ready to move to Mexico.

What does our president have to say about all this? With his usual eloquence, he states: "My job is a decision making job. And as a result, I make a lot of decisions."

Then he added: "The focus of the government ought to be to help poor children and to focus on poor children." (????)

As of right now, there is only 1 year 3 months 18 days 11 hours 34 minutes left of his term. I can only pray that the next person is better.

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Jon Stewart has a commentary about how we're getting back to Dickensian London in our treatment of children. It's pretty good.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Thing Number 75 I Don't Miss About Teaching

The guilt.

It's astounding to me, actually, that we haven't progressed beyond using guilt as motivation in the field of education, but we haven't.

Besides using guilt whenever teachers take a sick day (because they're SICK), administrators often use guilt as a way to make teachers work longer hours. Now, let's make something very clear. Teachers work long hours. Teachers work VERY long hours. There's no one here who's trying to get out of working long hours.

But when (last year), teachers point out that the administration has us working over our contracted hours and are answered with "Aren't you doing this for the kids?" Well, there's just no answer for that. Besides a good kick in the pants, that is.

And now I hear (and oh, how I hope this rumor is wrong but I doubt that it is) that the principal from last year is using the payout for overage hours (each of us was paid $1000 for working 40 hours over - that is, 40 hours with kids over our contracted time; we each put in many hundreds of hours we don't get paid for) as an excuse for not letting kids go on field trips this year. Apparently he's presenting it in sort of a "Those greedy teachers from last year wanted to be paid and the money had to come from somewhere, so there won't be many field trips..."

I'm going to check on this but it sounds like something that the might do and it is low. Weasely. Snake-like. Except that's not fair to the weasels and the snakes in this world. I have ZERO patience from people who 1. Take opportunities away from inner-city kids and 2. Don't take responsibility for their own actions. We warned him that he would have to pay for the extra hours!

Wow. I'm glad I'm out. No guilt.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Few Thoughts on Subbing

I subbed for the class that has most of my students from last year. Goodness, I am glad to have a different job right now.

First of all, I would never sub for my school if I didn't know the kids. It would be a nightmare. Without a personal relationship, without trust that has been built up over time, it would be hell.

As it was, I I had to send the same kid out twice who I had to send out twice a day last year. (That was an awkward sentence, but you get the point). Another kid had a meltdown because I made the teams even during PE. Two little girls started crying hysterically because they thought another girl insulted them (they had misheard her).

It really is no wonder the district can't find subs. A few other observations:
  1. Subs can't mail or fax in their time sheets. Nor can they fill out a time sheet online. They have to schlep themselves downtown (to a part of the city where there is NO PARKING) and turn in their timesheet in person, one one specific day. They can't turn it in early or mail it because (I was told) it will get lost. Great. Real professional.
  2. The sub system has taken to assigning me to schools without telling me. Then I get a call from the principal the next day asking where I am. Turns out the sub office forgot to put my phone number in the system even though I gave them my phone number several times.
  3. It's really funny when the other teachers think you're just a regular sub who doesn't know the kids and then, as a kid runs by and hits another, you yell the child's entire name, first middle and last, and the kid stops dead in her tracks, looks scared turns around, comes back and apologizes very sweetly, along with saying, "Please don't call my granny." It makes the teachers who are new this year stare: who is that crazy substitute?
  4. I can't sub for the kids without bringing the gecko. I am convinced that the gecko prefers the quiet of my bedroom, but he was bought to be a class pet, so class pet he is...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Education President


The Education President:

"Is our children learning?"

"Childrens do learn..."

Yes, the president really said that.

"As yesterday's positive report card shows, childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Guest Blog by Tonya - the University Perspective on NCLB

Hi! I'm Tonya, B's roommate. If you've been reading B's blog regularly over the past year, you know her feelings about NCLB, or as I like to call it, All Children Left Behind. I'd like to take this opportunity to provide another perspective on the repercussions of NCLB, and B has kindly let me do a guest spot on her blog (since I don't have one of my own).

I've been teaching at a large, respected university for eight years, first as a graduate student and now as a member of the faculty. I am an alumna of this same university, having received my BA, MA, and PhD from the institution in question. Obviously, since it is my alma mater, I would like to say that it is the best university in the world (certain European publications would agree with that), but I have to say that over the past eight years I have seen a change in the abilities of the students who have come through my classes, and not for the better. In other words, since NCLB took effect, I have seen a steady drop in my students' preparation for university level work.

To give you a little bit of context, I teach courses in the Reading and Composition series, intended to refine students' skills in academic research and writing. My training is as a linguist and medievalist, so my topics are often somewhat obscure, and I understand that medieval literature and history is new and intimidating for many of my students. Additionally, some of my students are not native speakers of English, so I understand that they have issues with just getting through the material, let alone expressing themselves coherently. What surprises me is that I see many of the same issues with my students who ARE native speakers of English, and that is just sad.

First there are the grammar issues. Some of these are understandable. I mean, does anyone really know how to use a semicolon? And commas can be hard to get in the right place. But come on, people, how hard is the apostrophe to understand? Possessives, not plurals! The real issue I face with these students is that no one has ever tried to teach them grammar. They have no idea what I mean by "subject-verb agreement" or "direct object." I seem to recall having learned all of this in elementary school, and I distinctly remember having to diagram sentences in eighth grade. Apparently, this is no longer done, with the result that students have no concept of the structure of their language. Since they don't know how their language works, they don't know how to use it. They know lots of big words that they memorized for the SAT, but they have no clue how to use them in a sentence. They also, apparently, equate "proofreading" with "spell-checking," with the result that I see sentences like the following: After Beowulf inherited the thrown, he rained for fifty years.

A larger problem I face with these students is that since they have been tested to death for the last few years, all they know how to do is regurgitate information. They have been taught how to take multiple choice tests, not how to think critically or analytically. Many of them do not know the difference between an opinion and a fact. For example, I have had more than one student claim that Beowulf cannot be considered a true hero, since almost every time he speaks in his epic, he boasts, and boasting is wrong and selfish. When I tell them that the statement "boasting is wrong and selfish" is an opinion, not supported by the textual evidence, and certainly not an opinion held by those in the world of the poem, they look at me as if I have suddenly started speaking Icelandic and they don't understand the words coming out of my mouth.

But the issue I see in my students that worries me the most is that since there has been such an emphasis on reading and math in their educations, many of them have no concept of history or geography. I provide here a sampling of claims made by my students (apparently fact checking is not a skill they have been taught.) Beowulf was written by Chaucer. (Uh, no, unless he lived for 700 years). Before the invention of the printing press, literature did not exist. (Hmm... ever heard of The Iliad? How about The Odyssey? Or how about anything that the student purchased in the bookstore for the course, the topic for which was Medieval Literature?) In the early 1900s, slaves worked for rich white men in the American South. (Remind me again, what year was the Emancipation Proclamation?) Constantinople is in Italy. (They obviously don't know the song by They Might Be Giants, which by the way is impossible to get out of your head -- if you were in high school in the late '80s or early '90s, you're humming it right now, aren't you?!) Denmark is known for its tulips and windmills. (OK, I'll admit that one can be confusing)

Did I mention that these students are at an exclusive university? They belong to the top 10% of high school graduates in California. If this is the top 10%, then I shudder to think about the other 90%. I do want to make it clear that these are not unintelligent people. They are intelligent and, for the most part, hardworking. But we have lowered the bar so far in K-12 that when they get to me, I have to spend my time teaching them what they should have learned before they got here. The name "No Child Left Behind" is a good one, a stroke of genius by whoever named it. If you are against NCLB, then you obviously want American children to be left behind, or so those who have framed the discourse would have you think. But the reality is that under the current system all children are being left behind. By testing them constantly and focusing on math and reading only, we not only teach them the wrong things, we don't teach them very well.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Updates.

I have some updates on various fronts, so here you go:

  • The gecko is doing fine, but appears to be bored. Or maybe just not neurotic. I'm not sure.
  • I'm going to visit my kids next Friday. With gecko in hand. They are all in the same class and that teacher told me that they are far ahead of the other class, especially in math. Yay!!
  • You can still vote for my blog. You have to register with them and get one email message but they don't send you junk after that.
  • The administrator for the 4th & 5th grade school (did I mention that the school was divided into three schools?) is apparently really good and reasonable. Awesome. My evaluator from last year was supposed to have that school but I believe she left the district because she was (obviously) not happy.
  • Stephanie has received $400 so far toward her trip, with another few people promising money for her. You can still help this wonderful girl go to the leadership conference in Europe. This experience will not be wasted on her. Any little bit helps!
  • The district continues to mess up the payroll. Remember that paycheck I couldn't figure out? Now they want part of it back. I don't have the energy to explain it all again, so I'll just copy and paste the email I wrote to the union about it. Which, by the way, has not contacted me. I emailed 4 union officers and left a phone message and they haven't gotten back to me. I HAVE PAID ALMOST $8000 IN DUES TO THE UNION DURING MY TIME IN THIS DISTRICT. Shouldn't they be willing to, you know, do their job?? I have never had great feelings toward them. Maybe because I've never seen them actually help anyone. Maybe there's a big conspiracy to ignore all emails from me. Anyway. Here's the email:
I was a teacher last year, and we had an issue with overage hours. We got an email in July saying that we would receive a $600 check in mid-July and a $400 check in late July for the time.

I received $1200 in mid-July - the note was "OSTP." I received no additional money at the end of July. I called payroll to find out 1) what the $1200 was for, and 2) where the $400 was. After calling twice and going in once, no one could tell me anything other than "If you don't know what kind of time sheet you submitted it on, we can't help you." Obviously I don't know what kind of time sheet it was, because I don't know why I got the $1200 and the union submitted the time sheet for overage hours.

Now I've just received a notice from the district saying that they overpaid me by $600. They say (in not a very nice letter) that I need to immediately send them $600 or request a hearing. I requested a hearing, and can bring a union representative. I'd like them to explain to me why they paid me $1200 in the first place, and - especially now that they're taking $600 away - where my other $400 from overage hours is!

I hope all of this makes sense. Please let me know what I should do and how I can bring a union rep to the hearing. This district tends to make me feel like I did something wrong even when the mistake was theirs!

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Either I'm living in the Twilight Zone or educational entities - public and private, rich and poor, central district personnel, administration, and union officers - are SERIOUSLY MESSED UP. I'd use stronger language, but this is a family-friendly blog.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Back to Our Regular Scheduled NCLB Idiocy

This is just ridiculous.

A school that is "a California Distinguished School in recognition of its good scores, stellar performing arts programs, and success at helping needy kids" including one kid who was profiled who came from Mexico, not speaking English, ended up taking AP classes and keeping a 4.0, eventually getting into Brown... anyway this school - No Child Left Behind gives it an F.

They only achieved 21 of the 22 goals set. Hmmm.. shouldn't that be commended - 21 out of 22? and the last one missed by a very small margin?

Did I mention that our president couldn't pass some of these tests? I mean, seriously, the leader of the free world and he gets OPEC and APEC mixed up, along with Austria and Australia?

I am so over his folksy charm.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Girls Dressed as Women

Read this, then come back.

Disturbing, no? But anyone who's worked with kids lately shouldn't be surprised. I've seen little girls in halter tops, cropped shirts, low-rise jeans, "curvy" jeans, mini-skirts, platform sandals, high heels, makeup, hairstyles that took a full day to do, off the shoulder shirts... need I continue?

It disgusts me that clothing manufacturers make these styles. A six year old does not need curvy jeans. A six year old is not supposed to be curvy unless they still have the baby fat stomach. I don't want to see the kids' underwear because, while they are wearing low-rise jeans, apparently (thank God) they still wear normal underwear. It breaks my heart to see little girls at school who can't jump rope or run like they want to because they'll break their ankles in the ridiculous platform sandals they're wearing.

It also disgusts me that parents buy these clothes. I know it's getting hard to find clothes appropriate for children, but it's still possible!! Some parents say that their children won't wear anything else. Hmmm... you're still the parent, right? Last time I checked, parents are generally bigger than their elementary school aged children, and they definitely control the money, activities, and transportation. I have no patience with parents who give in to their child's every whim.

If you want to dress your little girl up so that she looks cute, buy her a little girl dress. Buy her overalls and a cute blouse. But please, stop trying to make her look like a voluptuous woman - she really turns out looking like a six-year old hooker.


Addendum:

Apparently, there are now thongs (underwear, not sandals) for children too? Anyone heard of this?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Shortage of Teachers?

Hmmm... maybe if they paid/treated teachers better... nah, that's way too logical.

Shortage of Teachers

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Stephanie

This is the lovely lady you'd be helping get to a leadership conference in Europe if you want to donate some money (any little bit helps). Yes, I have her dad's permission to put this picture up.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Stephanie's Mini-Autobiography

If you want to help her out - please make a check out to "People to People" and send it to me (email me or leave a comment and I'll send you my address). I'll get it to her. Tomorrow I'll put up her picture (with her dad's permission) and a copy of the letter that the leadership forum sent her so you can see that this is for real...

She really is wonderful if you want to do something good with some of your money.

Hi, my name is Stephanie and I am in the 7th grade. I go to one of the new smaller schools in Oakland called Coliseum College Prep Academy and I'm a straight A student at the school because of the help off some of my previous teachers and my family. Some of my teachers that were helpful to me during this were Ms. Harris, my third grade teacher, Ms. Smith, my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Cofield and Ms. Knole my 6th grade teachers and my principal Mr. Townsend.

I have two brothers and one sister. My brothers are 18 and 6 and my sister is 4. My family is also a big influence, especially my parents pushing me to do well in school and make something of myself while taking care of me at the same time. My dad is really involved with my school and my work. But both of them are a big support to me.

My religion is Christianity and I go to church at International Faith Center, a non-denominational church that is also in Oakland.

I live in Oakland, CA. It's all right because now I'm used to it so I've been here all my life. You have to get used to it. There are some distractions but they don't get me off track. I know how to ignore them. I was only far from here once when I went to Washington on the other leadership forum. But this time I get a chance to go even further, out of the country. Actually, I hope I can go. It would be a really good experience for me.

Thank you for reading my Autobiography.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What's Wrong With Our Priorities?

So, I was looking online to see if there are other part-time jobs I can pick up, you know, to make a living (overrated). I found quite a bit in the "help at-risk/severely emotionally disturbed children" category.

Since I've already worked extensively with these children, I thought I'd check out some of the listings. There's a problem though.

The average pay seems to be around $13/hour.

I realize that $13/hour is more than minimum wage, and that these places - usually schools, non-profits, etc. don't have the funding to pay more. But I feel very strongly that this should disturb us all much more than it seems to.

There are two problems here, really. Well, many more than that, but two that jump out at me. First of all - and this is also true of teaching - how on earth does anyone expect intelligent, capable, personable, socially intelligent people to want to work for $13/hour??? That's $26,000 a year. Even teaching pays more than that, but the idea is the same. I was second in my class in high school. I graduated from college with honors. I am a very smart girl. You know what most people's reaction was when they found out about my chosen career?

"Teaching? But you're so smart. You could do anything."

We're in trouble when that's our reaction, but it's not likely to change until people who work with kids are paid competitively. I think part of the reason that this is not likely to happen is that teaching is a pink collar job and as much as I'd like not to believe it, women still make a lot less than men. Another reason is that kids - especially marginalized kids - are not valued.

Which leads me to my second point. Kids are not stupid. They know if they are valued or not. They know if they're getting good people or not. They understand that if their teachers leave every year, someone is devaluing them.

Now, if I had a rich husband or someone who wanted to give me money just for being a good person, I'd take one of these jobs. In fact, I would love to work with emotionally disturbed kids in a different venue. But I can't afford it, and neither can most of the people I know. Also, we can get better paying jobs that don't require us to think about uncomfortable things like how these kids are being failed. I just can't help feeling that we'll regret it some day.

NCLB - the Jim Lehrer News Hour, Part III

Part III made me really sad because they had bits from an interview from a National Board Certified Teacher in Oakland 8 years ago and now. Big changes. And not good ones.

This is what the teacher said 8 years ago: "As a teacher, my first priority is my own 90-some students. But thinking broadly, I really try to work with other teachers across the district. And I can reach more students in that way, by supporting new teachers, trying to give them some fresh ideas to work with in the classroom."

This is what he says now: "I'm seeing a lot of desperation on the part of teachers, a lot of frustration. Out of the group of six teachers that I've worked with for a long time, only one is still in the classroom."

"No Child Left Behind has created unrealistic expectations and punished us for not meeting them."


The US Secretary of Education, naturally, has a different view. (at least she wasn't saying "you bet" every 3 seconds in this interview).

"We were leaving thousands and thousands - millions of kids behind... all of a sudden we have an intensity about meeting their needs and it's making people uncomfortable."

No, Ms. Spellings. It is not making us uncomfortable. Some of us in the teaching profession ALWAYS had an intensity about meeting their needs. The problem is that the system we have - and I am including No Child Left Behind in this - DOES NOT ALLOW US TO MEET THEIR NEEDS.

The National Board Certified Teacher says - and rightly so - that when he points out the failings of NCLB, it sounds like he's for leaving children behind. But consider this scenario: when you get a kid in fifth grade who is reading at a first grade level, and this child leaves the fifth grade reading at a third or fourth grade level - do we say "Congratulations! You improved by two or three academic years in just 9 months! That's amazing!"

No.

We say that the child failed, the teacher failed, and the school failed. And then come the sanctions. It doesn't matter if that child is still reading at a first grade level or not. He's not proficient. Therefore he and his teacher are failures.

Another teacher, from supposedly the best school in one of the best districts in the US has this to say:

"I think that multiple-choice, bubble-in tests are the easiest kind of tests to give. Why are we spending all of this time training kids to give us the right answer when we should be training them to think?"

I think I'll just copy and past the other part of the interview, because I couldn't say it better:

JOHN MERROW: Under No Child Left Behind, schools are evaluated by test scores, which are broken down by subgroups such as race, family income, and disability. If even one subgroup fails, the entire school is labeled as having failed to make adequate yearly progress. At Bailey's, teachers in the testing grades -- three, four and five -- are feeling the pressure.

LYNN RIGGS: Everybody has succumbed to drilling to learn how to take a multiple choice test, so that we've all modified our teaching, Fairfax County included, Bailey's Elementary included.

JOHN MERROW: Secretary Spellings says that should not be a problem.

MARGARET SPELLINGS: If you have a curriculum that is sound and strong and is what you want your kids to know and you're measuring against that, there's not a thing wrong with teaching to the test.

JOHN MERROW: Fairfax County teacher of the year said, "Our country needs people who can solve problems, be analytical. All that's lost in the high-stakes tests and narrowing curriculum."

MARGARET SPELLINGS: Well, I mean, I guess what my question is, is that person advocating that we go back to not finding out how poorly or how well our students are being served, that we eliminate measurement of kids?

JOHN MERROW: But Bailey's teachers don't believe that one test is an accurate measure of student progress.

BETSY WALTER: As a teacher, I'm continually assessing my students. And I believe that they're much more authentic assessments than a standardized test. I don't come in every day and baby sit. I am a teacher. We have significant learning that goes on every day. It just might not be shown on that test that someone developed at the testing place.

LYNN RIGGS: We're going to find out about different types of energy.

JOHN MERROW: Lynn Riggs ran into a different problem when her fifth-grade students did a project on deep sea vents, underwater volcanoes.

LYNN RIGGS: One of the things that is absolutely fascinating about this fabulous ecosystem that is miles beneath the ocean, there is no sunlight there. What is it that's driving this ecosystem? What is this chemo-synthesis? How does this work? I've got to be able to explain it to fifth-graders.

JOHN MERROW: Riggs says her students love tackling such a difficult subject.

LYNN RIGGS: But the kicker is, this spring, as the kids were preparing for their state tests, one of the questions was about food chains. Of course, the right answer is "the sun." And I'm thinking, "Great, they're going to get the question wrong. I've taught them too much. They're going to be thinking, 'But what about the deep-sea vents, chemosynthesis? There's no sunlight that deep down in the ocean. It's dark.'"

JOHN MERROW: And testing pressure is getting worse. Earlier this year, Fairfax County lost a battle with the U.S. Department of Education. As a result, Bailey's teachers had to give grade-level English tests to immigrant students, regardless of their ability to understand English.

BETSY WALTER: I can tell you right now that my entire class will not pass. I have children who came to America a year ago that are being tested. I have children who have illiterate parents, so when they go home, no one can help them with their reading.

JOHN MERROW: Do you fear that Bailey's will not make adequate yearly progress?

LYNN RIGGS: I don't fear it; I know it. Chances are good that we will not be making adequate progress in at least one or two of our categories.

JOHN MERROW: And what will that mean?

LYNN RIGGS: It will mean we are a failing school.


And Nebraska's teacher of the year explains part of why I am not teaching this year: "
If No Child Left Behind stays the way it is, I think the level of frustration is going to cause people to say, "You know what? This is just not worth it. I love my children, but I can't continue to do this when professionally I know this is what's not in the best interests of my students." We're just going to have many more people leaving the profession."