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


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!"


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."

Monday, August 20, 2007

NCLB - Jim Lehrer's News Hour, Part II

Here's the transcript for part II.

One excellent point (you'd think that intelligent people would have figured this out by now) made by a principal in San Diego:

"You could not build a foundation for teaching and learning when you turn over your teachers every year."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

No Child Left Behind - Jim Lehrer's News Hour, Part I

If you still don't believe me that NCLB stinks, read this.

The first part of this very interesting three-part series on NCLB talks about how schools (and districts and states) are trying to get around the law, by using track and field analogies.

One interesting point is that schools have to raise the percentage of kids passing the tests each year. My school got to the point three years into NCLB where it was statistically impossible to meet the NCLB benchmarks the following years. You can see how this increased the "why bother?" mentality. Some schools and districts are setting the early benchmarks very low to get around this.

There are other ways that districts are fudging the numbers. Some states are just setting the pass rates lower. Illinois lowered the score on an 8th grade math test and the pass rates rose from 54 to 78 percent. Mississippi has the highest passing rate for the fourth grade test in the country... on the state test. On the federal test, they have the second lowest passing rate in the country. Hmmm... statistically valid?

So much time, energy, and money is going into trying to figure out how to get around the crippling law that we're possibly leaving more children behind.

Interestingly, Chester Finn, assistant secretary of education in the REAGAN administration (not known for liberal politics) and advocate for HIGHER standards in education says this about NCLB: "There's not an educator in the country that thinks that it's [100% proficiency by 2014] real or can happen, not one. Unfortunately, it breeds cynicism among educators. They say, "Well, why shouldn't we take advantage of every angle we can take advantage of so we don't look bad in the process of not achieving that goal?"

This is not a crazy liberal teacher trying to get out of being held accountable. This is someone who WANTS higher educational standards and worked in the Reagan administration. And he says the law is broken. More about Parts II and III soon. I can't listen to/read too much about NCLB in one day because it makes me hate the president and his cabinet and I don't think Jesus wants me to hate people. (I'm working on changing that.)

[Side note: the Secretary of Education for the United States should be able to avoid saying "you bet" about fifty times in a short interview. Also, "heck yeah" could be done away with.]

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Worst Website

I was trying to find the phone number for payroll today to try and figure out what exactly I got paid for on July 10. You'd think on the district website, one would be able to find a phone directory for the different departments. Or an email directory. Possibly even both. No such luck. Nor did a search for "payroll" turn up anything useful. In addition, I couldn't find the information for the HR person assigned to me or the person in charge of subs. Grrr....

Right now, the school is splitting into three small schools - don't remember if I've mentioned that. Every classroom is getting a new teacher and new grade level, just about. This means that in each classroom, there is a teacher moving out, a teacher moving in, a set of grade level textbooks moving out, and a set moving in, probably none of which are the same. So there's four sets of people trying to deal with each room. Yuck. I don't like chaos.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Learning Tool

It's a stuffed brain cell. Wouldn't that be a great thing to have in the classroom? There's a whole line of cells and germs and things here. I mostly just want the brain cell though, if anyone wants to get it for me. I am still subbing, after all!

Friday, August 03, 2007

The California Report, Murders, and Other Violence

This will be quick because I'm really tired but I couldn't leave this one alone. A black reporter and newspaper editor was shot and killed - assassinated, really - in downtown Oakland because he had written negative stories about Your Black Muslim Bakery, which is apparently not affiliated with the Nation of Islam, but whose leader has been in all sorts of scandalous new stories in the past few years including being accused of statutory rape. With multiple girls.

Since then, there's been an outbreak of violence which may or may not be related, but lots of people are being killed in Oakland.

At least city officials and police officers are finally realizing that there's a big problem in the community - especially around gang violence - with people who won't cooperate with police. The NPR California Report did a broadcast that you can listen to here that made me think about the same thing, because they talked about the Witness Protection Program, which doesn't really protect witnesses.

I've seen this happen a lot, as many of my former students have been witnesses to violence. It wouldn't even cross their minds to cooperate with police most of the time. I know many of us who are not in the area think, "Oh, how horrible, they're just continuing the cycle because they won't help be a part of the solution..."

Well, think about it. The gang culture abhors being a "snitch" above everything else, and this has spread to greater pop culture, with T-shirts being sold in stores all over Oakland (and the nation as a whole). The T-shirts usually say something like "Stop Snitchin'" and some of them have a bullet hole, or say "I'll never tell." There's some argument about what exactly the shirts are referring to, but, according to my students, you just know that you'd better not be a snitch if you see something happen, or you're next.

The California report broadcast talks a little about that, and the courage that one woman from San Francisco had to testify after her 2-year old son was killed. She says she'll have to look over her shoulder the rest of her life.

I don't even know what I can say. I want the community to take a stand and not put up with any more of this violence, since I have had to see firsthand what it does to the families in the area. I don't want the killers or the people hiring killers to win. On the other hand, I can't imagine being the person who did take the stand and knew that I would have to spend the rest of my life looking out for my life and the lives of my family members. In the end, I can't blame them for not snitching, no matter how much I believe in the snitching.