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.


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...