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Showing posts from March, 2007

The Playground Showdown

OK, maybe "showdown" is a little dramatic, but it's time to stop being ridiculous about the playground. The San Francisco Chronicle has something called ChronicleWatch that is actually better in the print version because it usually includes a photo of the person responsible for whatever mess it is. I'm OK with a little public shaming, especially when our public "servants" are choosing to not do their jobs. Time to submit this playground business and see if they'll do something about it. Seriously. The district can spare the manpower time and money to put up a locked fence but can't come fix the playground? Then we're going to tell all the kids they're going to end up "in trouble" if they play on it. First of all, as Lindsay pointed out, these kids wake up in trouble. They don't care about trouble, at least not most of them. Second, it is just cruel to have a playground sitting there that looks like a perfectly functional playgr…

The Photos

Yes, the photos below are of the gecko eating his peeling skin. He doesn't have problems; all leopard geckos eat the skin that they shed, both because it has nutrients and as a way to hide evidence of their existence from predators. He pulls it off with his little teeny tiny teeth and eats it.

The other random photos of reptiles scattered around amongst the posts are from a program, in which Owen of the East Bay Vivarium came and showed the kids a bunch of reptiles, and a few centipedes, millipedes, tarantulas, and amphibians. It was pretty awesome.

Principals: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I've been meaning to go through the list of principals I've had since beginning at my school. Here they are. An interesting bunch, to say the least!

Principal Zero: I call him Principal Zero because he was there up until the week before I started teaching, so although I never taught under him, the atmosphere at the school when I started was largely because of PZero. He was apparently someone whom you respect, even if you didn't like him. He was effective, and rather like an intelligent, soft-spoken drill sergeant.

Principal One: This is the woman who hired me. She was ditzy and liked to yell. She had been the assistant principal under PZero (and before that, a fourth-grade teacher, I believe), and I heard that she was great as an assistant principal, only dealing with discipline. As a principal, she was scatter-brained, and overwhelmed, and took this out on other people. She never got my name down, and in fact would usually refer to all teachers as "Mr. Man" or &qu…

Beware the Ides of March

Many California teachers are aware of a phenomenon known as the "March 15th letters." According to the California ed code, a probationary teacher will become a permanent employee after two years, unless they are informed that they are no longer needed in the district by a non-reelect letter. I don't know all the exact details, but new teachers - in a district like mine - are often increasingly nervous as the Ides of March draw near, wondering if they will get a letter or have a job guaranteed for the following year.

That is, if the teachers are informed. A good administrator would tell the employee as the year goes on that the employee had things to work on, and point out exactly what they were. Then this hypothetical good administrator would give the employee multiple chances to make changes, provide feedback along the way, and inform the employee (if need be) why exactly the employee's services were no longer required by the school or district.

That is not exact…

It Brook My Heart

"Amani" came to school today in an even more belligerent mood than normal. I asked what was wrong and she said that it was all my fault, I just hate her and there's nothing she can do right. I'm out to get her.

OK. Deep breath. "Amani, what's really the matter?"

"You never listen to me, you hate me, you like everyone else better than me."

One more time. "Sweetheart, what's bothering you?"

She comes back with a note: "My mom told me that most of the time she don't even wanna be here with me and it brook my heart."

It brook my heart too. Her mom's overwhelmed, she's taking it out on her, but Amani doesn't know that. She idolizes her mom. She doesn't know how hard it is to be a single mom and how her mom's reacting (badly) to stress. And there's nothing I can say to make it better. No wonder she acts crazy. Negative attention is better than none.

NCLB Backlash

If you've been reading this, you'll know my feelings on No Child Left Behind. Well, some lawmakers are finally getting a clue! Please write to your representatives and let them know of the burden that NCLB puts on schools.

Playing Hooky

I skipped a meeting yesterday. It was a mandatory meeting, but I just couldn't take it. I'm awfully burned out - I certainly wish that my body or mind or whatever part of me is THIS burned out could have timed it a little better with the school year. There's still 56 school days left. And I am dragging myself through each one.

I think a lot of it is because of the stupid bureaucracy I am dealing with - I am sick of bubbling in forms and taking employee satisfaction surveys when I know that no one cares if I am actually satisfied. Tired of being told to recopy report cards (not that I did it).

So, there was a meeting after school and I started to walk in, and saw that the only empty seat was right next to my evaluator who hasn't said a word to me in a week. (Warren thinks I intimidate her because I'm standing up to her). Then my principal came to tell me that the mother of one of my students - one of my shyest, sweetest, most insecure students - cursed out our PE coa…

They Had to Commission a Report for This???

The Oakland Tribune published an article today entitled "Study Finds State Schools in Big Trouble." I have one word for them: "Duh."

Among the problems listed were:

Not being able to fire tenured - but bad - teachers
An irrational system for distributing money
Missing data on students and resources
Too many mandates (including many unfunded mandates)
Excessive regulation
One size fits all solutions for a diverse group of schools
Extreme inequitySolutions recommended:
Giving more autonomy to school sites
Less regulation in schools
More funding for schools
Recruiting and retaining good teachers
Giving educators more flexibilitySeriously, they paid people to figure this out? They could have asked me. Think of how much money would have been saved if they had just emailed me instead of commissioning a report that included researches from 32 universities and institutions. And every teacher I know would say the same thing. Duh. Maybe it's not very eloquent, but there's actuall…

From Mystery To Medicine

The reading program that we're using has different units - they're each about 6-8 weeks long and during the unit we're supposed to do a lot about the particular theme. For example, right now in third grade, our unit is "Money," so all the stories we read are about money, the kids are supposed to keep track of observations about money in real life, etc.

One of the fourth grade units is something like "From Mystery to Medicine." When Warren and I were at Target some time back, they had the M*A*S*H boxed set - which is pretty obvious because it's so BIG, and it's called something like "Martinis and Medicine." I keep getting the two mixed up in my head and I know that people are going to look at me really funny when I say something like, "So, in fourth grade, when they're on the Martinis and Medicine theme..."

Stephanie's Opportunity!

Stephanie is going to the People to People Forum next month. She sent me this email (she had a couple supporters in readers of this blog, so I thought I'd share). I'll have her write a little entry when she gets back. It couldn't happen to a better girl! The girl is smart, friendly but by no means a pushover, a natural leader... really, I just can't say enough good things about her!

It's almost time for my trip. I'm so excited to go because I have never been out of state before.Thank you for the card. I have not been on the computer for a while so I have not had time to write. I maybe able to come see you & Ms.Smith on the 6th before my trip.I'll send you & her a post card from Washington. Getting late gotta go. From, Stephanie

Over-Praising the Children

Other comments Ms. Evaluator crossed out (didn't say why they weren't OK, just that they're not ok):

Amani is good at math, although sometimes she gets sloppy and says she doesn't know something even when she does.Ann is a good writer but doesn't like writing very much.Lucy needs to be careful about taking her frustration out on other children.Lamar contributes a lot to class discussions because he thinks on a very high level. (?)Jessie understands concepts quickly but gets really upset with herself if she can't do something perfectly the first time.TJ likes math best but is also improving in reading. (???)Let me make it eminently clear to all worried parents out there that all report card comments had many positive remarks as well as specific recommendations. Apparently, though, it is unacceptable to imply that the child might be anything less than perfect. Is it because I'm white and most of these children are black that it is so offensive to mention are…

More Evaluator Woes

Today, she requested that I "re-due many of the comment cards" on my report cards and turn them in to her by the end of the day [How many of you caught the misspelling that she repeated five times? Also, anyone have an idea when I'd have time during the day to "re-due" half the report card comments?] She also said that I don't use "positive words and phrases" and need to work on "building a positive relationship with our community." She did the annoying "we" thing too - like when nurses say, "How are we feeling today?" She says, "In building a positive relationship with our community we need ot use positive methods to express our concerns."

Give me a break. Every single one of these parents has my cell phone number and feels free to use it. They drop in to check on their children and check on me. They invite me to their churches, bring me food, tell me whom I should marry, and cry to me about having to put th…

Julie Kicks Ass

(and because I'm used to third graders, I'm waiting for someone to say "Ooooooh, she said ass... I'm telling...")

Julie took me up on the writing to the district superintendent, excuse me, state administrator. Here's her letter. Feel free to join her in writing.

"And, when the going gets tough, we must have the courage and stamina to stay the course." Dear Ms. S------,It has come to my attention that OUSD is contemplating closing East Oakland Community High School due to low test scores. While I do not have direct experience in that school, I know friends and community members who will be drastically affected by this decision. Children at this school will not continue their education -- many will drop out and never be seen or heard from again, except through the police department. These kids feel, for the first time, like school is within their grasp. As if someone cares about them, and their education. The school has only been open for two…

School Closings - Please Help

The district is closing four more schools. One of them, Merritt Middle school, is being closed because it is on a college campus which is undergoing construction. The other three - Kizmet Academy, Sherman Elementary, and East Oakland Community (EOC) High School - are being closed primarily for low test scores. Now, I don't know anything about Kizmet or Sherman (although I do think Kizmet has only been around for a few years - maybe 3?), but I know a little about EOC.

EOC is an alternative high school that focuses on teachers caring, art, music, and students having a voice. Education Not Incarceration (ENI) is working with this school to "stop 'pushouts' in real world terms: support of positive behavior, rather than punitive actions such as expulsion and suspension; a strong, culturally aware staff, and curriculum that empowers youth by relating learning to their lives; supporting the growth of the whole child by involving the entire community in the education o…

They Have a Dream

For Martin Luther King's birthday (OK, almost 6 weeks ago now; I'm a little behind), the kids wrote what their dreams are. some of them provide a window into what these kids deal with every day.

"TJ:" (more about this one later; a very troubled child)
I have a dream fighting other kids. I have a dream hurting somebody on the football field. I have a dream about running away from home, school, and my football team and when I came back everything was alright."
"Jamila:"
I have a dream that people will stop smoking and drinking, stop shooting people, stop stealing money, and stop hating people. I wish that Martin Luther King, Jr. was alive. I wish people would stop mugging people.
"Steven:"
I have a dream that people would give dogs and cats good homes. I have a dream that people would stop being on drugs. I have a dream that people would respect their homes. I have a dream that people would give people in Africa some food. And I have a dream…

Slipping Through the Cracks

Meet "Kayla." Kayla is from Alabama, and moved to Oakland shortly before school started in late August. There was some problem with her vaccinations - either she didn't get them all in Alabama, or Alabama doesn't require the same tests as California, or the paperwork didn't arrive in time - I don't remember. Regardless of the reason, Kayla was not allowed to start school on the first day of school. Her mother tried to bring her, and she was turned away and not allowed to start for a week. Since then, Kayla has come to school almost every day, missing a few days here and there when she was sick, and currently has 13 absences, all but 5 from illness.

Meet "Jennie." Jennie has 45 absences. Her mother always excuses them, explaining that Jennie has been throwing up or having diarrhea. Jennie's brother has almost as many absences, for the same reason. For a variety of reasons, I suspect Jennie's father of being violent and abusive toward Jennie…