Monday, April 30, 2007


But I can't sleep. This has been happening a lot more lately, and I'm not sure why. I'm sure it's connected to school though. Tonight's particularly bad, and I'd call in sick tomorrow except that I need to get the crickets to the gecko. So I'm settling for calling in sick on Tuesday.

I think that a lot of this insomnia has to do with a vague feeling of dread about school. It's been that way for a while. It's sort of a fear of being "in trouble" that is really a little irrational but built upon by administrators and the district. I'm tenured - they can't fire me unless I really really mess up. They can give me an involuntary transfer, but not until the end of a school year, and as Warren says, "What are they going to do, move you to a hard school?" But still, the feeling of being about to be in trouble persists.

I'm not the only one either. I have a co-worker who is taking leave for the rest of the school year because the principal said to her something along the lines of, "Watch out; if you're absent one more time..." She said, "What are you going to do, fire me? You've already fired me! You can't do anything else!" But then she decided to take a leave just in case he could. I don't think she's really been absent that much, and she is a single mother with two young children.

From my first principal, I got a lot of comments like, "I can have your job at any time, you know!" A lot of those. And I hadn't done anything wrong! It was like it was just her way of blowing off steam. Can someone really be that unaware that constantly threatening someone's job is counter-productive, stress-inducing, poor leadership, and just plain mean? I was tenured soon after that, but I've seen other principals do it to colleagues of mine over and over. In fact, I think Principals Three and Six are the only ones who didn't do this.

It is exacerbated by the strict schedules we have to follow, the people who come in to see if we are on the right day of the right lesson; the exact right page that we're supposed to be on - not taking into account that students might be particularly interested in something or have had something traumatic happen that could knock us off schedule. Every one of us has been reprimanded in some way - gentle or otherwise - for not following the schedule to the minute.

No Child Left Behind just makes everything worse. I heard Condoleezza Rice talk about how our government was setting out benchmarks for Iraq as far as their progress in governing themselves. She added that Iraq would not be punished for failing to meet benchmarks, because that wouldn't be helpful or productive. (Or something like that - I can't find the exact quote.) But the same administration has punished us - yes, they use the word sanctions - for not meeting benchmarks on our tests. No matter that it's neither helpful nor productive, nor logical!

The atmosphere of blame and punishment isn't probably unique to my district, and probably isn't intentional. I would imagine that the principals have all been getting crazy amounts of pressure on them and some of them - most of them - just don't know how to deal with it in any way other than to take it out on the next level of people. (I don't know what the hell the Bush administration's excuse is!) But we can't last in this environment. Neither can the kids.

As for me, I'm tired of feeling like I'm always sort of in a nebulous state of being "in trouble." I'm a professional. I've been trained extensively to do my job, and I could be quite good at it if I was left alone to do it. Being watched and monitored to such an unreasonable extent doesn't make me a better teacher. It makes me a bitter, burned-out, tired teacher who is awake at 4 a.m. and can't explain why.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


No idea why, but the district accidentally paid me (direct deposit) three days early. They're supposed to pay me on the last day of the month but I got paid on April 27th. I'm not going to complain about this one!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Scientific Proof for My Burnout

The San Francisco Chronicle ran several articles about why teachers quit. Again, I could have told them all of these answers, but they didn't ask me. They preferred instead to spend God-knows how much money on a study.

The second article particularly interests me. Among the important points:
  • "Nicolle Miller could handle the overcrowded classrooms, the lack of supplies and even the shortage of books for her seventh- and eighth-grade students at an Anaheim middle school. What she found most discouraging was the lack of support. "I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to help these kids. A lot of times I would feel that I wasn't allowed to do certain things," to teach her mostly poor, non-English-speaking students at South Junior High.
  • "It was this constant, 'If you don't do better, you're going to lose your job.'"

  • Those who quit overwhelmingly cited bureaucratic impediments to teaching, such as excessive paperwork, too much classroom interruption and too many restrictions on teaching. Despite the high rate of attrition, virtually no schools have adopted the standard business practice of exit interviews to survey teachers about why they're leaving.
  • Miller, of Anaheim, left in 2001, saying she had burned out. She now works in children's ministries at her church and sometimes does substitute teaching at the private school her children attend.
I'm afraid that might be where I'm headed. Everything here describes me exactly. I can't count how many times I've told people, "It's not the kids [even though the kids have so many problems - I can deal with those]. It's the adults who are driving me out."

And it is. Over and over, it's the adults driving me out. From principal #1 who kept telling me, "If you don't watch out, you'll get fired," to the most recent principals who kept saying that we'd better dust of our resumes - I'm tired of the fear tactic as a way to push for excellence. (Has that ever worked for anyone??)

It's heartbreaking to see kids reach out and cry for help and yet know that once again, the district/state/nation has cut funding for counselors or given teachers five more things to be responsible for so that we don't have time to help our children.

It is disheartening to see children beg for science or not know the first thing about history - or show an incredible aptitude for art/dance/music and know that we are so focused on testing that we don't have time or money to teach them what they need and want to know.

And it is just plain INFURIATING to see children who want to learn, who need to learn, who are motivated to learn, and who have to take these damn tests over and over and over! Who get so burned out because anyone would get burned out if they took this many tests - and practice tests - throughout a year. We're beating the natural curiosity out of them by testing them - over and over every single year.

We're going to regret the way we're running education. I think we're going to regret it very soon, and it's going to last a very long time.

Too Many Children

When teachers are absent and subs don't sign up (or show up), the "solution" is to divide said children up among other teachers. I think we get something like $5 or $6 per kid per day. It's really not worth it.

The kids come with no desks and no chairs; sometimes no work. Sometimes they're of the same grade level and sometimes not. I've had my own class of third graders, along with a first grader and 4 fourth graders. That was on a day I was being observed!

Today I had five extra. That might not sound like a lot, but every single one of my own students were present, so there was not a desk to be found. I had one kid working at the really low table the gecko cage sits on, one at the counter by the sink... They didn't have the workbooks we were working on, so they had to do different work, which, of course, they needed help with.

I'm tired. Too many children. Definitely not worth the $25-$30 I made from it.

Friday, April 20, 2007


I hate guns. I hate them.

I know that we have the Second Amendment in this country, and that there are many people who would shoot me for their freedom to carry guns. I don't know the statistics to argue for gun control or tougher background checks. I don't know why the US has such a high percentage of homicides by firearms compared to other developed nations. I just know that I hate them.

With all this talk about the shooting at Virginia Tech, it's been interesting - and disheartening - to hear what the kids have to say. None of them seem shocked. Instead of shock, their reaction seemed to be a deep empathy and sadness. In fact, one little girl told me in the same sentence that she had seen the VT shooting on the news and that her neighbors (other kids at the school) almost got caught in a shooting that injured another student's cousin. (The cousin, who is about 15 years old, was shot in the stomach but is recovering). The girl telling me about it had a resigned look that showed that she was used to these kinds of things.

Now, I'm not in any way trying to minimize the Virginia Tech tragedy. I hate that this kid passed whatever kind of background check there is for gun buying. I hate that school shootings are becoming so common and that no one knows what to do about it. I hate everything about it.

However, I feel like we should also be outraged and shocked about what these kids see every day. Almost every single one of my students has seen someone shot - a neighbor or a relative. This last shooting was described to me by a student as "someone trying to shoot a guy but he jumped out the way and they shot "Joy's" (a fourth grader) cousin instead and they almost got "Juana" (a first grader). And I was scared and I wish bad things didn't happen where I live."

Another student saw her cousin fatally shot - in the face - while she was in my class several years back. It was a gang killing and the killers were never caught. The little girl stayed up all night while everyone around her freaked out; when she came to school the next day, she couldn't stop shaking. There were no resources to help her - that, at least has gotten marginally better. She just kept shaking in the classroom.

There are many more examples - one little girl's dad was shot and killed while she was in my class. Another boy's dad was stabbed to death - again, they came to school the next day. There was just nothing else to do. I've gotten notes that say, "Teacher I'm sorry she didn't do her homework, the gangs was shooting last night and we was hiding in the closet." Or the bathtub - they put the kids in the bathtub or the closet so that bullets have more barriers to get through.

That's not even including all the lockdowns I've been in during my eight years at my school. Have I listed those yet? I can't remember. But no one worries about these kids or these shootings. Why? Because they're poor? Because they're black and Latino? People still argue with me about if Oakland is dangerous or not. I've had people - who live in the hills, where it's nice, white, and affluent - tell me that there aren't bad parts of Oakland, that that's just made up to make the city look bad.

I think we should count what these kids have to see and experience in the same way we'd count it if rich white students coming from educated families had to go through it. I think my kids should count as having the same worth as the others. I don't know why I seem to be in the minority with this view.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Blackie the Horse

Our incredible volunteer, Kathy Dwyer, did it again! Along with Ann Katz of the Children's Book Project, she set up a wonderful field trip for us. And the kids got to see Marin County for the first time in their lives.

Meet Blackie the horse: (from

Who was Blackie?
For 28 years you couldn’t leave or return to Belvedere or Tiburon, California, without passing a swaybacked horse named Blackie. A cavalry horse in his youth, Blackie later became a cutting horse at rodeos, appearing in the Salinas, California, rodeo although his owner, Anthony Connell, doesn’t remember the year. He was retired to a private pasture at the corner of Tiburon Boulevard and Trestle Glen Road when he was 12 years old. Mr. Connell visited him daily, as did children and adults alike who could be seen regularly feeding Blackie apples, carrots, and sugar cubes.

Those who lived in the area when Blackie was alive considered him as belonging to everyone. In spite of his age and swaybacked condition, many felt he still exhibited a military air and pride that came from having been a great horse in his early years. Back then the Army stabled horses at the Presidio. In the spring they saddled up, rode to Yosemite, and patrolled the park all summer. When winter arrived they returned to the Presidio. Blackie was one of the horses used on this detail.

It was a sad day when Blackie collapsed on February 27, 1966. The Marin County Health Department approved his burial in the pasture where to this day his grave is marked by a simple cross and a memorial plaque made possible by contributions from concerned citizens of the peninsula. Blackie lived for 40 years, which is unusual for a horse. It was love that sustained him, the love he received from old-timers and newcomers alike.

Thanks to a wonderful gift by the family of Gordon Strawbridge, Tiburon's first mayor, the Tiburon Peninsula Foundation erected a life-sized sculpture of Blackie in his pasture which is visible to all who drive by. Erected in June of 1995 in what is now known as Blackie's Pasture, the life-size bronze statue was created by the noted Bay Area artist, Albert Guibara to honor Tiburon's beloved "mascot" Blackie.

You can read more at either or

The kids got to hear the author of a beautiful book about Blackie read from his book, as well as ask questions of some old-timers who were instrumental in getting the pasture saved. By the end of it, they felt like they had known Blackie. One of them said, "I love Blackie and I really miss him." Of course, Blackie died about 33 years before they were born! But somehow, they felt a connection. They also all get a copy of the book (which are somewhere in transit, but I'm sure we'll gt them because the district isn't in charge!)

It didn't hurt that Blackie's Pasture is in a beautiful spot in Marin, complete with a little marshy area that they got to explore. It was a beautiful day.

Stuck In My Head

I have two things stuck in my head from school. One is the latest song that the kids have learned on their song flutes - it's a very simple variation on "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." And the way it's stuck in my head is the rather shrill way they play it on their song flutes. (That's not a criticism, just an observation).

The other is a song from a video we have called Dance Along- it's Sesame Street characters leading songs and dances and I sometimes let the kids listen to it/dance to it on rainy day recesses or at the end of school. This particular song is called "The Batty Bat" and it involves Big Bird pretending to be a bat with a bath towel cape, while the Counts along. I have the chorus stuck - very STRONGLY - in my head. The lyrics for the chorus go something like this:

Batty batty batty batty batty batty batty bat.
One two three, count,
Batty batty batty batty batty batty batty bat.
One two three count,
Batty batty batty batty batty batty batty bat.
One two three count
Doing the batty batty bat!

Thing Number 47 I Won't Miss About Teaching Here

Being hungry.

Again, a 30 minute lunch - after you factor in walking the kids to lunch and dealing with the lunch lady, and having the first opportunity all day to use the bathroom - is just not enough time to do anything about getting food if one happens to have forgotten one's lunch. It's going to be a LONG afternoon...

Friday, April 13, 2007

Post from Lindsay

Dear B's Readers,

I was very flattered when B asked me to guest blog on her site. As you read this narrative, I ask that you keep in mind that there are three sides to every story, and this is my side. If you want benefit of the doubt, best intentions or any of that hooey, go read something else.

She fired me without ever having seen me teach.

I was hired by aforementioned Principal Three. I had exactly six weeks of teacher education, in an intensive summer program, and I hadn't actually been in a fifth grade classroom since I was ten years old. In an attempt to make my first teaching job possible, he gave me a reduced class size (20 instead of 35), and allowed me to partner with a colleague from my credential program who also had a reduced class size.

I had a supervisor from my credential program who made weekly visits and evaluations of my progress. I taught full-time and spent nine hours every Saturday learning how to be an effective teacher in an urban setting. (As an aside, I think my internship/credentialing program was one of the very best in the state. Overwhelming and stressful, yet also terribly relevant and supportive.) And I had B there, right across the playground, offering teacher materials, discipline support and countless other helpful things first year teachers don't even know that they need. My point is, I was well-supported by people who could teach me how to be effective.

Principal Four started at our school in January, when we returned from the winter break. Two weeks later, she filed with the district to have me removed from my position.

Of course, I wouldn't hear anything about it until I got my first piece of registered mail, when I arrived home from work on March 15th.

To be clear, I have no memory of significant events that may have justified her decision to fire me. No disciplinary action was ever taken or discussed. I never received a stern warning, a friendly reminder, or any feedback on my teaching, aside from a very positive evaluation from the Vice Principal (Principal Two).

Principal Four is Evil Reason #1: When I asked why I had been fired, she flat-out lied to my face and said that it didn't come from her, but the district. After weeks of unreturned phone calls to the district, they confirmed that my release had originated with the principal.

Teachers Unions are Evil Reason #1: The union was unable to offer any protection, as first and second year teachers have absolutely no job protection whatsoever. Even a McDonald's employee can file a wrongful termination suit. In exchange for life-time job security for anyone who makes it past year 2, new teachers have less job security than a subway musician--as long as they show up, they have a job.

After two months of requesting justification for my release, I sat down for a meeting with Principal Four. Among the reasons she sited were the fact that I had used 7 of my ten allotted sick days. Frankly, I don't think I should have to defend myself for taking sick days that were allocated to me, but I'll do it anyway. In your first year of teaching, your immune system isn't is strong as it will become. In your first year of your credential, there are vast amounts of reading and research projects to write. In my first year of teaching, my boyfriend's mom was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. And I had taken seven days off. Only 70% of what I was allowed to take. Hm.

Another reason that Principal Four gave for my release is that I provided a video for my students to watch while there was a substitute teacher. While I recognize the importance of maximizing instructional time...

Principal Four is Evil Reason #2: ...the next day the entire staff received a memo suggesting strategies for keeping students engaged as we approached the end of the school yeay, and guess what was on the list. Yes! Watching movies! What a phenomenal guess!!

By the end of the school year, I had interviewed and received a job offer at another school in the district. Unfortunately, I was unable to accept the offer. The union's phenomenal negotiating resulted in the district compromising by accepting my resignation, rather than pin me with the non-re-elect status for the rest of my career.

Principal Four is Evil Reason #3: You've already heard the tortilla stand story, so I'll add this observation to the mix. The three individuals (including myself) who she fired from our school were the only teachers at that time with the following two things in common: we were white and we were not tenured.

Plus, she fired me without ever having seen me teach.

You do the math.

Epilogue: My next job was in an equally dysfunctional district, but with a far more functional school culture and management. I learned a ton, grew as a teacher, and was betrayed by the system there as well. It only took one more year of teaching (this one in San Diego) before I quit. Maybe I'll go back, maybe I won't.

Though I don't post there anymore, you can read all about my teaching adventures, opinions, and political analysis at

My regular (if you could call it that) blog is at

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Robin Got Paid!

Well, she got paid half of what she was owed, anyway. For some unknown reason, the district is splitting up the payment into two checks. But she got half! And promptly ran to the bank to deposit the check because at this rate, we're honestly not sure the district isn't going to come take it back!

I will keep you all posted on if she gets paid the other half of her payment. It's now been 16 months, I think, since she did the job she's been half paid for!

To quote our president: (and I got a Bushisms poster, which is providing hours of entertainment, so you'll be seeing more of these. Hey, you've got to laugh, cry, or emigrate to Canada is what I figure)

"I hope we get to the bottom of the answer. It's what I'm interested to know."

-George W. Bush

Monday, April 09, 2007

Social Skills

It's funny, because we're encouraged to teach social skills, conflict resolution skills, and empathy. Well, SOME of us (no evaluator's name mentioned) seem to not have these skills our own selves! Maybe it's not funny.

Here's a little story that sadly, sums up how said administrator interacts with people.

There's a wonderful fourth grade teacher upstairs; let's call her "Nicole." She's GOOD. She's a young, well-educated, obviously very intelligent and talented black woman - exactly the sort of role model our kids need (and I'm not quite sure how we got her, she's above the normal caliber of teachers in our area). She's probably about 29 years old, but she manages a group of thirty fourth-graders - who are arguably one of the more difficult classes in the school - better than I've seen from most career teachers. They were walking down the hall and she stopped to talk to me - all the kids started saying hi and talking and shoving, and she just turned around to them and said, "Line!" They all got back in line, with their hands behind their back and their mouths shut. There are three people at my school who can do that with that tough of a class, and I'm one of them, if I do say so my own self. (The other is a fifth grade teacher who's hands-down the best teacher I've ever seen. The administrators, not so much).

Anyway, Nicole had $100 stolen from her last week. She knows who did it - the whole class saw him take it, he had way too much cash on him that he said he "brought from home" and he's got a history of being very troubled in these sorts of ways. The administrators said there's nothing they can do and consequently, refused to help. Nice. But not that big of a surprise, which makes me sad.

So, Nicole spends the whole day trying to figure things out, being stressed out and upset - it's always a betrayal when a student steals from you, even when you know it's because they are emotionally disturbed. It always feels bad. At the end of the day, she was still dealing with problems and children and children with problems, so she called the office downstairs and asked the secretary if she could send a child down with a tamale to be heated up in the microwave. The secretary said no problem, she wasn't busy right then, and she was sorry that Nicole had had such a bad day.

Nicole sent a child down with the tamale, the secretary microwaved it, then mummified it in paper towels so it wouldn't be hot for the child carrying it, and the child brought it back up to the teacher. Kids love being singled out for this kind of thing. It makes them feel really special. The administrator saw this and followed the child into the classroom, demanding to speak with Nicole.

Nicole, of course, thinks that the administrator is going to talk to her about the theft of $100; either to help her out or at least say she was sorry that it had been such a rough day. No. You know what she said? "It really upsets me that you are having a child carry microwaved food up the stairs."


She went on to add that the child could have burned himself on the food or tripped going up the stairs. First of all, the food was better insulated than my house is (OK, that's not saying much!) by the big wad of paper towels. Second, these kids microwave stuff by themselves ALL the time. Third, they run up and down the stairs 10 times a day. Fourth... WHAT???

Time to get some social skills. Empathy training, anyone?

This makes me extremely angry, not because this incident in itself was so horrendous, but because it just sums everything up. Here's a dedicated teacher, who's paid for countless supplies on her own, losing money to the children she's serving, and not only does she get no help (I'll go on about our lack of discipline policy later), no sympathy, but the person who's supposed to be helping and supporting us is criticizing about the most ridiculous, nit-picky stuff. Like we don't have enough problems, seriously, she needs to create them???


Oh, and Robin STILL hasn't been paid for the mural.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

No Caption Needed.

If anyone wants to get me a present, I'm looking at this mug here. (I like the tote bag too - a matching set?)

I also like this, this, and especially this.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


We spotted a truck next to the playground this morning that said Tot Turf - the Leader in Playground Surfacing Safety! Yay! I think this must mean that our playground is getting fixed! Either that or they're just spending more money on tearing it all up. I wouldn't put that past my district.

The other update is that Robin has STILL not been paid for the beautiful, wonderful, colorful, inspiring mural painted on our wall. I'd prefer not to use my name because my life can still be made miserable for a couple more months, but does anyone want to write in to ChronicleWatch for me? You just email Lindsay and I had success with it in the past. More or less. Who wants to help Robin get her money? Email ChronicleWatch, talk to reporter friends, or talk to me and I'll tell you who to write to at the district. This is unreasonable, not to mention embarrassing.

It's not even like Robin's waiting for the money to buy a new car or take a vacation. She's raising money to go back to Sudan and help with the situation there, for goodness sakes. If anyone wants to help her fund her way, email me.

Incidentally, my evaluator hasn't spoken more than two words to me since I wrote her that letter. And my life is better for it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Counting Down

There are 44 more school days left. Last year I didn't even start counting until 45 days left. This year, I think I started counting at 110 days left. I told a friend when there were 80 days left and he said , "Just enough time for a trip around the world." It seems to be going very very slowly...