Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Beautiful Mural


I've always had this dream that somehow our school could be make more beautiful. I've envisioned a mural of some sort, to bring color to the industrial off-white/off-yellow/beige-ish color of the school (why don't districts pain elementary schools in bright primary colors? Of all the buildings to be a neutral color, elementary schools should not be the ones). I've gone to paint stores to ask about extra paint, and discovered that, at least at the place I went to, they mix all the leftovers together, creating a pukey mud color.

Last year, my dream was realized. The principal at the time - we'll call her "Seems Great Then Totally Flakes Out Administrator" was totally on board with the idea, and I just happened to have a friend - Robin the Artist - who was both unemployed and trying to raise money for a missions trip. The principal said we had the money, said she loved the idea, that the school would reimburse for the paint and pay Robin $1500 for the mural. She loved the mural, so much that she offered Robin an additional $500 to make a bulletin board. ($500 is a lot for a bulletin board, but when one is trying to raise money, one does not tend to argue these points!)

So, the school got this beautiful mural that you see here, and Robin got her money - all is right with the world. Right?

Not quite.

Robin knew that it might take a while for the district to pay her, so she would email me occasionally from overseas to see how it was coming. I, in turn, would go to the office and bother them. First, the issue was that she didn't answer some questions about what the purpose of this independent contract was. Then there was some other thing to answer. She passed the answers on to me and I filled them out - it worked out OK, because she had already signed everything before she left.

When Robin got back, 8 months later, she still hadn't been paid. She asked at my school - now with a different principal - and was told to go "downtown" to district headquarters and ask. When she got downtown, she found out that the paperwork was never turned in. Well, either that, or the district had managed to lose it, which happens a LOT.

Now she had to explain this to a different principal, who had not approved the project, and didn't have the money in his budget. The original principal ("Seems Good...") was strategically not answering any of her email, and therefore avoiding this topic. In fact, I don't think she's answered any of of the emails from Robin or me to this date.

It is still pending, over a year since Robin did the mural (I think about 15 or 16 months later), and no one in the district has been very helpful. Finally, somehow, the check is supposed to be in the mail. At least a check for the first $1500. For some reason, the additional $500 is proving even more elusive.

If Robin doesn't get paid soon, I say she goes to the news reporters. This district really can't afford any more bad press. But, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

A Coat for the Gecko


"Jade" wants to make Tiger (the gecko) a little tiny coat. I'm not sure how she's going to accomplish this, but she appears determined! It's going to be red and pink, to go with his colors. Who knows.

Here's a picture of Tiger eating a cricket, with the cricket legs hanging out of his mouth. (Look carefully; the picture was taken through his glass cage, so it's not the clearest.) The kids love this more than anything. They think it's very bad manners on his part to leave the legs "hanging out his mouth."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Logic Triumphs After All

The administrators circulated a memo saying that they have heard our concerns and that they would move the report card due date a week later. Wow. That, my friends, is unusual.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Communication

Or Lack Thereof.

Report cards are due sometime. I'd tell you when, but I don't know. To quote Lindsay, this is a "no brainer. It should have been on the calendar from the beginning. Duh." I agree. But it wasn't, so we just have to sort of guess that it's been a long time since report cards, so they must be due soonish.

The administrators decided to be "nice" and give us an hour to work on them today so we wouldn't complain about them being due. We still don't know when they're due. This free hour was created from sending the kids home an hour early, just for today. So, on Friday at 2:30 they passed out notes saying that dismissal was at 2:00 one day only, this Monday, Feb 26. The flaw in this plan was that any child who was absent on Friday or whose teacher didn't check their mailbox at 2:30 pm didn't get the note.

Now, getting the note the Friday before would be bad enough. Parents work, have commitments, arrange for others to pick up their children, etc. Now they have to scramble to adjust everything by an hour. However, when they didn't even know their child was getting out an hour early, things become chaotic. Many of the students had to call their parents, and the administrators had the nerve to tell them not to come to the office to call because the parents "should have known." They had to come back and use my cell phone until the battery died, at which point I wrote a note saying that since this child was not here on Friday, she had no way of telling her mom - or knowing herself - that there was early dismissal.

We found out what the purpose of this hour was after it was over. On Friday, the notes said that the kids would be let out early for a teacher workshop. At 2:00 today, on Monday, I was wondering where the teacher workshop was. I didn't have time to wonder too much though, because half of my class was still in my class trying to figure out where to go, what to do, and how to get their parents to come get them. When I finally got them all out of my class - at the normal dismissal time - I went to my mailbox and found a memo saying that this hour was for working on report cards. Wish I had known before instead of after.

Ridiculous.

As I type this, (I'm on my own time now, not the school's time), there is an announcement over the loudspeaker saying that there is a very important memo about report card dates in the office. They're probably due tomorrow. They were probably due yesterday. Oh well! They'll get them when they get them.

Addendum: Report cards are due Wednesday. Fat chance!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Longer School Day


The longer school day debate has started up again. This article references the Knowledge is Power Program (known as KIPP) - which has schools going from 7:30 am - 5:00 pm Monday through Friday and sometimes on Saturdays. Teachers are varied in their opinions on longer school days. I think it's too much.

I think it's too much for students - being at school for almost 50 hours a week plus some Saturdays!?! Maybe if they don't have homework, I don't know. It seems like an awful lot to me. I don't even think adults should be at work that many hours a week! It would be WAY too much for me as a teacher. You have to remember that teachers have to prepare for every hour that they teach. My time sheet says I work 30 hours a week. More accurately, I teach 30 hours a week. That only includes 2 hours a week of prep time. There's a lot more that goes into teaching - preparing, grading, worrying about the kids, cleaning up because there aren't enough janitors, buying stuff... and I'm exhausted. I don't know how I'd do 50 hours a week.

As far as if it's beneficial to the kids - I'm not sure. I'm honestly having trouble thinking past if it's practical. It could be beneficial - there's something to be said for more hours of practice, more electives, more hours of instruction. But we also have to remember that, like teachers, kids are people. And people aren't always more productive with more hours. At some point, all of us become tired, and our productivity (or learning) succumbs to fatigue.

We have full-day kindergarten now, when kindergarten used to be about three hours long. Maybe it was four hours; I can't exactly remember, because I never taught it. The kindergarten teachers got the rest of the day for preparation, which we were all jealous of, but only on the surface. We actually all understood that not only did it take WAY more preparation to be a kindergarten teacher than to teach older kids - they can't cut or write anything, so you have to get everything ready for them - but that the kindergarten teachers couldn't leave their kids long enough to go to the bathroom. They had to be with them every second, including during recess and lunch.

Now the kindergarten teaches get the same prep periods as the rest of us, and the kids stay all day. I haven't watched a kindergarten class yet, but the one thing that every teacher says is that it's too long for the little ones. They put their heads down and fall asleep, they fall asleep with crayons in their hands, they fall asleep on top of their books. There's no nap time scheduled in this, because there's no time - the standards are higher, the stakes are higher, and the pressure on teachers and children is higher. I am not against high expectations, but people are not machines, and we all get tired when we have too much pressure. Maybe if the people making the high-stakes tests, the longer school days, and the higher standards could see the five-year olds falling asleep on their books, they might think differently.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Observations and Being Nice


My evaluator now says that she didn't mean to schedule the meeting with me last Friday, she meant this Friday. (Even though she specifically said Friday, Feb 16 in her emails). And she says that she couldn't possibly have said she'd observe me on Tuesday because she's never at school on Tuesdays (she's always at a day-long meeting on Tuesdays). Again, check the email. Written (or electronic) record.

We had a meeting today about being nice. Specifically, about how administrators need to be nice. They have a habit of not being nice. Example: there was a memo about how the bulletin boards need to all be updated, showing current student work, no misspellings, blah blah blah. It was a little ridiculous, with a written rubric and everything (they're just bulletin boards) and near-perfection demanded of all student work that was to be posted. Whatever.

Teachers mostly updated their bulletin boards - some didn't, probably not from laziness but from overwhelmedness (if that's a word) - there just don't seem to be enough hours or minutes to finish all the junk we have to finish. The ones who didn't - and some who did, myself included - got the memo again, with "SECOND NOTICE" written across it. Come on, this is a bulletin board memo, not a collection agency! Enough people were upset with the harsh wording of the memo that it came up in a staff meeting.

My evaluator - for today, let's call her the Highly Defensive Administrator (HDA) stood by her decision to write a memo that wasn't nice. She repeated several times that she was sorry if she offended anyone or seemed curt, but she has never ever in her whole life (HDA's about 31) seen a school in which the teachers had to be TOLD to fix up the bulletin boards. I mean, she said it a LOT. She also said it in the same tone that I might say I had never, in my WHOLE LIFE seen a school in which the teachers had to be TOLD to not sell drugs to students.

  • First point: our school is a little different from the schools she has previously worked at, with much more going on - it's hard to concentrate on bulletin boards.
  • Second point: She didn't sound very sorry. And I'm sorry but... that's something I teach the kids not to say. Because it's not a real apology.
We went over this again and again with some people saying that they were hurt and didn't feel supported and HDA saying that she was sorry if she had offended people, but she had never, in her whole life seen a school in which... blah blah blah.

Then, another administrator - we'll call him Highly Enabling Administrator (HEA) jumped in. He said that we had spent way too much time on bulletin boards. I said (by the way, at faculty meetings, teachers actually raise their hands to talk. What do normal adults do?) that I didn't think the issue was bulletin boards, but rather how people were treated - that if bulletin boards are being neglected, it is likely because teachers are overwhelmed or frustrated or feel unsupported and one more thing is too much. That people might actually respond better if they were talked to in a nice way. That, however silly it may seem to apply to adults, we all know that children need positive reinforcement, and that this may actually work with colleagues - to say nice things once in a while.

This is when HEA started defending HDA. He said that she had apologized many many times in this meeting (hmmm... like I tell my students, "Sorry, but..." isn't really an apology) and that he's trying to defend our jobs, which are apparently at stake due to mediocre bulletin boards. (This is a favorite strategy of administrators - when they get backed into a corner, they like to remind us that our jobs are at stake or that they can fire us whenever they want - usually not true - or, as the more subtle ones say, "You may want to dust off your resume...")

I guess being nice isn't in the school plan.

Things I Won't Miss About School

  • Trying to have my prep time - on minimum days after the kids are gone and I finally have some time to myself to work or whatever - while there are constant announcements over the loudspeaker, every 10 seconds. "Johnny Smith, come to the office." "Teachers, dont' forget that the back gate is locked." "We are making this announcement just to create noise and drive you crazy - it's part of our evil plan."
  • Having "optional" meetings that aren't so optional during my prep time, which is supposed to be left pure and unadulterated and for MY use.
  • Getting memos and announcements over the loudspeaker that teachers are not allowed to leave campus during our prep time. Which would make sense if the kids were still here and we needed to be around in case the prep teacher had an issue with them. But when it's after school, the kids are gone, and I have to be back for a meeting, what is the harm in me going to get a coffee for 20 minutes during MY prep time? It's not like I don't prepare at home anyway. Or for me going to Walgreens, to get stuff to PREPARE (as in "preparation" or "prep" time) for a lesson. And over the loudspeaker? All the kids look at me, probably wondering if the school is going to assign babysitters to the teachers next.
I'm 31 years old, working at an elementary school, and I'm the one not allowed to go off campus after school? Seriously? Something might be wrong here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Construction!











Jenn and some of her engineering friends came to teach the kids about construction. They brought safety equipment and pieces of rebar and showed slides of construction and a movie of work on the Bay Bridge (with the construction worker comments mostly deleted out!)

They also taught the kids how to make concrete by a cookie analogy. It was awesome. The analogy goes like this:

  • Crushed Nilla Wafers = Large Aggregate
  • Instant Oatmeal = Small Aggregate
  • Brown Sugar = Sand
  • Cornstarch = Cement
  • Honey = Additives
  • Water = Water

Mix it all up, roll it into a ball, let it dry, and... voila! Concrete cookies!

The Gecko is Growing Up!

My evaluator is afraid of the gecko.

I realize that this shouldn't bring me pleasure, but it does. (Especially because his teeth are probably the size of an ant's brain. They're teensy.) Jesus wouldn't feel happy and superior because His evaluator was afraid of the gecko. But I do.

It's not entirely fair to take out all my frustration on my evaluator. Some of it is actually just way too many years (sad when 8 years is way too many) in the district, which is entrenched in negativity, dysfunction, failure, and hopelessness. Does that sound dramatic? Probably. But I think it's true. (Lindsay, you were there, what do you think?)

But she is doing her part to earn my defensiveness and ire. Apart from the things I have already talked about, with my not-so-good evaluation and such... last week she was trying to schedule
an observation with me. Note that word, schedule. Because it is a SCHEDULED formal observation. I'm supposed to turn in a lesson plan for the lesson that she is going to observe, we discuss it, she comes to observe me, and then she tells me again that I have no student work up and the kids are not calm enough or something like that.

We exchanged three or four emails about the date of my observation, with me asking for the time as well. This is because she wants a lesson plan, and, like all teachers, I teach different things at different times of the day. In fact, I am required to teach different subjects at different times of the day.

She says we'll discuss the time when I give her the lesson plan.

I point out that I can't give her the lesson plan until I know what lesson she wants to see.

She says this is what we discuss when I give her the lesson plan... you see the pattern here.

In addition to the complete and utter lack of logic, we have a minor problem scheduling the time for me to hand her the lesson plan (I've decided to take the strategy of making a really lousy lesson plan so that I'm not wasting my time - it took me about 2 minutes). She tells me that all my suggestions for meeting times don't work for her, and can I meet her at 3:00 on Friday in her office. OK, fine. Guess who's NOT in her office at 3:00 on Friday! It's shut and locked.

I went down to the main office to look for her and a few other teachers were standing around and told me that she had left 10 minutes before. I emailed her right away and haven't yet heard from her. No idea if I'm getting observed tomorrow, or on what, but it would be JUST like my district for me to get observed and be "marked down" for not turning in a lesson plan.

In the meantime, to try and preserve a tiny bit of sanity, I am trying to remember that I love the kids and that I have sick days to use up this year so I don't die, and I'm hoping and praying that people keep reading this and find out what kind of craziness is going on in the public schools. At least in this particular district.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Chinese New Year!






It is the Year of the Boar (or the Year of the Pig, or the Year of the Piggie, if you're in third grade) and Mrs. Dwyer brought us Chinese New Year crafts to do! The kids made paper lanterns and heard a story about Chinese New Year and got to eat fortune cookies and apples. One of the kids brought homemade sushi (she's Vietnamese) but most of those were gone by the time Mrs. Dwyer and her wonderful helper friend got there.

The kid who made the awesome yellow lantern with the ferocious looking dragon says he can't draw. More of a low self-esteem problem than a can't draw problem, you think?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Year Off


I need about a month of this before I am going to feel un-tired again.
During Christmas vacation, it wasn't until the last Sunday of the two weeks that I began to feel rested. And I had to go to school the next day.

------------------------------------

I have applied for a leave of absence for next year. I am exhausted. And it's mostly not because of the kids.

I am tired of the crazy amounts of paperwork we have to do. I am tired of the ludicrous testing that requires me to do so much more paperwork, as well as making the kids cry because they think they're not smart enough. I'm tired of being given a 30 minute lunch and being told that's enough time for me to walk the kids to lunch, go to the bathroom, eat lunch, and prepare for after lunch. I am tired of sending kids to the office after I have exhausted every possible disciplinary action in the classroom only to have them sent back because there's no one to deal with them (we have THREE administrators; most schools our size have one, maybe two.) I am tired of meetings that are designed more to fill up our time than get anything useful done. I am tired of spending thousands of dollars of my own money each year on supplies and trips that the school should be paying for.

I'm tired of the inequity - I'm tired of my kids being considered less valuable than white kids in the hills. No one will say that, of course, but there wouldn't be this much inequity if it weren't true.

I'm just tired.

I hate to leave the kids; I feel like I'm giving up on them. But I can't continue this way, so I'm taking a year off. After that, we'll see what happens. I have editing work I'm doing, and I might sub at my school to keep in touch with the kids and earn a little money. If anyone else knows some good ways to make money (I would love to publish this blog as a book somehow - more to let people know what real life in public schools is like than to make money, although making money would be nice!)

Either way, I'll be keeping up the blog, so please keep reading!

No Child Left Behind - Football Version

I already gave you the dentist version. Here's the football version. Funny how we think it's ridiculous when it's sports, but not in its current form.

1. All teams must make the state playoffs and all MUST win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable. If after two years they have not won the championship, their footballs and equipment will be taken away UNTIL they do win the championship [my note here: they wouldn't take away all the equipment, but they would take away some and definitely fire the coaches every year.]

2. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the same time even if they do not have the same conditions or opportunities to practice on their own. NO exceptions will be made for lack of interest in football, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabilities of themselves or their parents.

ALL KIDS WILL PLAY FOOTBALL AT A PROFICIENT LEVEL!

3. Talented players will be asked to work out on their own, without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren't interested in football, have limited athletic ability, or whose parents don't like football.

4. Games will be played year-round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th, and 11th game. It will create a New Age of Sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimum goals. If no child gets ahead, then no child gets left behind.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Professional Development






We read a story about Picasso which told about his Blue Period. We tried a Blue Period too - I don't know which shades of blue Picasso had, but we used black, white, royal blue, sky blue, turquoise, and glitter blue. Picasso could have used glitter blue.

----------------------------

Professional development is often an exercise in boredom and/or sitting still. I never like it. Today we had a training on Every Day Counts. The first problem was that the presenter asked us was if we would put everything else away. We never put everything else away. Everyone is always working on at least two other things. Stapling packets of work, correcting homework, writing lesson plans, knitting (I'm not the only one!), cutting things... there's sort of an underlying understanding that we all have way more work than we need and not enough time so if we can multi-task, then we will.

So, she says to put everything else away, "if you don't mind." But I did mind! As did everyone else, judging by the looks on their faces. But it turns out that "if you don't mind," means "I don't care if you mind or not." So we put everything away. But the "helper presenter" kept her cell phone on, and its cute little dance ring went off. So, who was the distracting one?

She explained the program, which is great in theory. It teaches math using a calendar, with patterns, multiples, fractions, etc. Sadly, it needs almost an entire wall to be set up, which is room no one really has. It also involves a lot of use of Post-It Notes, which the school isn't about to buy for us, and are just one more set of things the teacher would have to buy.

The other thing the cheery happy blond lady presenting doesn't seem to understand, is that since the program involves lots and lots of little bits of pieces and things (look here) for examples - little coins and pieces of plastic and paper clips and laminated things and number tiles, etc, all sort of precariously balanced on an easel... all it takes is one child to throw a medium-sized temper tantrum and all your carefully counted little bits of things that have been carefully adding up since day one of school are going to go flying.

I don't think she's worked with kids who throw temper tantrums.

Sometimes, Kids Are Just Plain Weird.

One of my kids, "TJ," (who I need to explain more about at some point, severe emotional problems here) was throwing a fit after lunch. As we were having a Valentine's party, I decided to pawn him off on a teacher who was not having a Valentine's party. TJ went to get in this other teacher's line and immediately started making racist comments about the other kids. I went the the back of the line, and had just HAD IT with TJ today. So, I asked the other kids in my line what he had said. No answer. "Did anyone hear what TJ said to the other kids?" No answer. "Did he say something mean to the other kids?" Finally another kid answers...

"Teacher, I can make a sound just like a puppy, want to hear?"

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hoops to Jump Through


It's gotten worse since I was getting my credential. Now, in addition to doing your coursework, you have to:


  • take the CBEST test ($41, not hard)
  • take the CSET test ($222, really hard, many people retake it and pay again)
  • take the RICA test ($140, don't remember how hard)
  • take a CPR class ($)
  • BTSA (two year long mentorship program)
  • CLAD certification (extra classes and $$)
  • Student teaching (unpaid and virtually or completely full-time)
  • Tasks 1-4 (see below)
  • Clear credential (extra classes and $$)
  • Fingerprints ($)
  • Certain number of hours of classes or professional development (I forget how many) each 5 years to renew your credential. ($)

Oh, by the way, the prospective teacher has to pay for all of this. According to this website, the median salary for an elementary school teacher is $38,175, so we don't exactly make it back in a hurry.

These are the tasks. This is what would be the final straw for me, had I not gotten my credential already. I think the idea might be that the more hoops you have to jump through, the more dedicated you are. More realistically, the more hoops you have to jump through, the more tired you are and more likely to burn out and give up. Seriously, look at the list above and the tasks below and keep in mind that all of this is BEFORE you get to teach, not make much money, get very little respect, and work very very hard. then tell me, is it a surprise that we keep losing dedicated teachers?

Tasks:

Task 1: Principles of Content-Specific and Developmentally Appropriate Pedagogy
Within this task, the candidate will respond to four distinct scenarios that cover developmentally appropriate pedagogy, assessment practices, adaptation of content-specific pedagogy for English learners, and adaptation of content-specific pedagogy for students with special needs, respectively. Each scenario is based on specific components in the candidate's subject matter content area. For example, Multiple Subject candidates will address English/Language Arts in the first scenario, Mathematics in the second, Science in the third, and History/Social Science in the fourth. This written task is not dependent upon working with actual K-12 students. The following TPEs are measured in this task:
Making subject matter comprehensible to students (TPE 1)
Assessing student learning (TPE 3)
Engaging and supporting students in learning (TPE 4, 6, 7)Task 2: Connecting Instructional Planning to Student Characteristics for Academic Learning

Task 2 connects learning about student characteristics to instructional planning. This written task contains a five-step set of prompts that focuses the candidate on the connections between students' characteristics and learning needs and instructional planning and adaptations. The following TPEs are measured in this task:
Making subject matter comprehensible to students (TPE 1)
Engaging and supporting students in learning (TPE 4, 6, 7)
Planning instruction and designing learning experiences for students (TPE 8, 9)
Developing as a professional educator (TPE 13)Task 3: Classroom Assessment of Academic Learning Goals

Task 3 gives candidates the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to design standards-based, developmentally appropriate student assessment activities in the context of a small group of students using a specific lesson of their choice. In addition, candidates demonstrate their ability to assess student learning and to diagnose student needs. The following TPEs are measured in this task.
Assessing student learning (TPE 3)
Engaging and supporting students in learning (TPE 6, 7)
Planning instruction and designing learning experiences for students (TPE 8, 9)
Developing as a professional educator (TPE 13)Task 4: Academic Lesson Design, Implementation, and Reflection after Instruction

Task 4: Academic Lesson Design, Implementation, and Reflection after Instruction
This task asks the candidates to design a standards-based lesson for a class of students, implement that lesson making appropriate use of class time and instructional resources, meet the differing needs of individuals within the class, manage instruction and student interaction, assess student learning, and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson. To ensure equity to the candidate, a videotape of the lesson is collected and reviewed. The following TPEs are measured in this task.
Making subject matter comprehensible to students (TPE 1)
Assessing student learning (TPE 2, 3)
Engaging and supporting students in learning (TPE 4, 5, 6, 7)
Planning instruction and designing learning experiences for students (TPE 8, 9)
Creating and maintaining effective environments for student learning (TPE 10, 11)
Developing as a professional educator (TPE 13)

Friday, February 09, 2007

My Neighborhood

Every time February comes around, the kids have to write a little essay about their neighborhood. The essays always shock me, scare me, and make me unspeakably sad. Here are the essays from this year:

"Lamar":
Out side at 12:00 o'clock a person comes and gets a gun out his pocket and shoot in the air. And at 1:00 o'clock in the morning it will be so quiet in my dad's house. Out side it look clean and dirty. I n my room it's so so clean. And my couch smells so grate. In a restawrant the food is delishes."
"Deja":
I here guns popping at night. I here babys crying at night. There little girls outside at night time. Little girls getting raped. I here dogs geting kilt. I here that man geting shot in the back.
"Ashley":
My neighborhood is dirty and it looks like a jungle. My neighborhood sounds like gunshots and fireworks there and sounds like music singing and loud. Sometimes
at everybody neighborhood feels like thunder and rain. My neighborhood is like mean and touf.
"Steven":
My neiborhood smells like smoke, food, and musty armpits. It looks messy, juicy, and dirty. It looks nasty, old, and clean. My neiborhood sounds like gun shots, people yelling and babie crying. It smells like acahol. My neiborhood smells like cigerits and gas from everyone's cars. My neiborhood sounds like people driving and it sound like rain dropping. My neiborhood sounds like people smoking.
"Ruby":
In my neiborhood is a very ungood but the odor smell very stinky like sweaty people, wet dogs, and nast sweaty sock. It sounds like cars going down the street. I don't have any friends in my neiborhood because I just moved in there so people don't really know me. Some people roll their eyes at me.
"Ali":
About My Neighborhood.
Sound: Music, loud.
Smells like: Meat, good, cake, pizza.
Good things: The good thing is that there's a police is watching our apartment
Bad things: They shoot, fight.
"Amani":
This is my neighborhood. People are not very nice. Out by my neighborhood. Boys and girls are getting raped at night. It smells like nasty liquid. I have a neighboor next door, and a huge backyard. It looks nasty because it has bottols an food in the sidewalks are in the streets. I hear guns, fights, car acsidents, barking dog, chrildren. The nebiorhood is not so clean because people dont clean up after their selfs. People usally around my house are getto. When my mon walk out of the house there are a lot of thugs on crack. People are crazy and my house is not really quiet.
"Tatania":
About my neighborhood. They be shooting in my neighborhood. The police be chasing them and they go to jail sometimes. The park smell stank. Some people be
outside looking. I be like can't they run somewere. I be like how can they stay outside.
"Kobe":
My neighborhood is not nice. First time my friend got raped and people die and have heart atak. I want everything to change. And my mom got diabetes and I want it to go away and I want the nieghbohood to change. Then all kids always get raped and killed and I want that to change to.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Duty Free Lunch? Don't Believe It!


Not for a minute.

I've explained before how we're supposed to have a 30 minute duty free lunch every day. Including rainy days. There is supposed to be one support staff member for each class who brings the kids into the classroom and watches them during lunch. Well, my person's only here some days, and when he's not... well, guess who's spending her lunch time watching kids. It' s certainly not an administrator! In fact, I can't even
find an administrator to ask if there's someone to watch the kids! Besides, I already know the answer. There's not a staff member here (except administrator's) -who's not watching kids right now. Unless we decide to employ the gecko, I'm out of luck.

So, I'm blogging on my lunch hour - I've put a movie in for the kids to watch. I'm still supervising them, but at least only about 2/3 of them need me to be on top of them with a movie on. The other third are totally zoned out into the movie.

We are taking one of the assessments listed on my schedule this week (remember, this schedule doesn't include the three weekly tests that I am quickly phasing out (don't tell!) and guess what... we have
another one next week. This one isn't from the state or the district, this is from one of our lovely administrators who somehow thinks we don't have enough tests already???? I am just absolutely baffled by this decision.

Apparently the math curriculum that this particular assessment refers tois really good, but we're not using it, so why are we taking its test? One of the other teachers asked exactly that. He said, "So.....will we be using this assessment to drive instruction?" The answer was no. He said, "So..... will we get a chance to be trained in this curriculum?" No again. "Will we get to teach this curriculum at all?" No, we're not using this math curriculum. He asked once more, "So, we're just giving the assessment, even though we're not using the curriculum and we don't know what the assessment will show us?" Yes. Moving on.

So, here we are, in the land of assessments, having a bit of a meltdown. It doesn't help that the flu is going around - it's hard to tell which kids actually feel sick and which ones feel sick because there are too many tests.

80 school days left, and I am taking a leave of absence next year. I will revisit that theme soon. Right now I'm going home to take a nap.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Comments on Being Overly "Standardized"









Sure, a lot of people think standardized, or "high-stakes" tests are great for accountability (I saw this shirt once that said "High Stakes are for Tomatoes" if anyone ever finds it for me), but what's the reality?

It's overdone. It's ridiculous. It's so far beyond the line of realistic and doable that it's chasing people out of the profession and chasing students away from the love of learning. Or, at least that's my opinion.

Here are some quotes from our union newsletter. These are not the quotes I think are extreme and silly. These are the ones I agree with.

I used to work in an “at-risk,” low socio-economic school. The school had not met AYP for three years. I transferred to a school in a middle class neighborhood that was closer to my house. This school did well on AYP.

My fellow teachers at the at-risk school were highly qualified professionals who also work hard. NCLB punishes teachers working in at-risk schools for things they have no control over. Children cannot learn if they have no health care, food to eat, and stable homes with responsible parents.


Last year we didn’t meet our goals. So mid-year, the state arrived with all kinds of experts going through our classrooms and criticizing our instruction. All grade levels were given strict daily schedules: all math and language in about four hours before lunch. No P.E. No health. No social studies. No arts. No more curricular trips. No music or chants or raps in the morning.

I am a National Board Certified Teacher. Young children need teaching strategies that meet multiple learning modalities. They need to feel creative. But my voice and other educators’ voices don’t seem to matter anymore. If teachers don’t follow the program, we’re reprimanded, written up, given poor evaluations, told to leave. How can a country claim to respect education when they don’t respect educators?

In the last four years, because of student scores, our department has had to totally revamp our English II curriculum. We met for many, many hours and plotted out English II every day of the year, down to page numbers. Every teacher is teaching the same material at the same time. We did this to not only make sure we were covering every objective, but also because we were under great pressure from our district administrators to prove we were doing our jobs. In standardizing our curriculum, we had to eliminate most creative student projects, in-depth class discussions, thematic research opportunities, and group work.

I have extensive training in using music and art in my classroom. I lost almost every opportunity to use these important lesson enhancers. Kids went from saying, “Mrs. Meigs’ English class is so cool; she uses music all the time!” to “I hate English II!”

I am a veteran teacher and former Association vice president, who also has the dubious distinction of working at the first and only elementary school in California to enter into fifth-year program improvement. Two-thirds of the school's teachers and all of the administrators were reassigned to other school sites because of test scores.

Furthermore, the school’s teachers were directed by the administration not to allow students to use crayons in the classroom because it was not time spent directly engaged in print.
Teachers were virtually not allowed to teach art, so I had to inform district officials that I was unable to give trimester grades for art. Completing report cards for a class of 32 students went from a manageable three-hour task to an unbelievable 15 hours of uncompensated work time.

Teachers at program-improvment schools throughout our district have been overwhelmed with extra staff development, training, book studies, curriculum-mapping activities, and more without adequate compensation for the extra work hours, and usually with no compensation at all.

NCLB is designed with 47 ways for a school site and a district to fail and only one way for them to pass. It is inevitable that all California schools will be in program-improvement status within a few years. I am now at a different school site that is currently not in program-improvement status; however, I know that the nightmare NCLB program-improvement status is always only a test away. NCLB hurts teachers, and NCLB hurts students. NCLB is leavi
ng the schools, and everyone in them, behind.

"I have been a special education teacher for 30 years . I have always worked to have my students make as much progress at their level as they could. I have tried to follow IEP goals, and have always told parents that if the goal was reached, we would push further. Now, I am told to teach the students at grade level, to disregard the previously written goals, and to teach the students no matter how frustrated they become. "I now have students crying, using every avoidance technique they can muster (feigning illness to avoid coming to school) because the material is so far beyond their learning ability. The ESEA/NCLB goal of grade-level ability by 2014 is never going to be obtainable by severely handicapped students."

Before NCLB, I taught physical science to ninth-grade (mostly Latino) kids and physics to twelfth graders. I designed my ninth-grade physical science class curriculum to allow me to teach mostly physics, so as to discover and recruit exceptional students for my twelfth-grade physics class. I created standards and pre- and post-tested my ninth graders to ensure that the students learned the material and were able to demonstrate their knowledge. The students had to demonstrate skills, including the ability to interpret and use physics equations, to rewrite those equations and solve for different variables, and to combine equations to discover new, deeper relationships buried in the math/physical science concepts. As a result, the number of students taking physics over the years jumped from about 20 in the beginning to over 80.

"After NCLB, my school district eliminated ninth-grade physical science, and in its place substituted earth science. According to the school district, this was done because the district believed our students would do better on the state NCLB tests in earth science. Today, the number of physics students has dropped to around 40 per year, and I project the number will continue to drop in the future.

"I have been forced to conclude from my experience that NCLB is not about teaching science to students, it is about our school district raising test scores. In this case, teaching science and raising test scores are mutually exclusive concepts producing scientific illiteracy and, at the same time, higher NCLB test scores. When I controlled the curriculum, I could teach science, math, reading, and writing. Now, I teach standards that have no connection to the rest of the school curriculum. My students' education has suffered but, by God, their test scores are up!"


"I was the proud teacher of English language learners. I spent between 10 and 12 hours every day planning lessons and designing curriculum that would not only teach students English but also expand their world and change and enhance their lives and that of their families. I didn't mind the hard work. I could see the benefit to students, and I was invigorated by it.

"My students stayed in school, graduated at a higher rate than the rest of the high school population, and have gone on to wonderful careers. The bilingual and ESL programs I created were viewed as models by universities in our area.
"My ESL students designed the first student-created Web site in our school district after they read the novel Holes. My students read and wrote meaningful, expressive poetry. Some of them even had their work published in the school literary magazine. My students read Shakespeare and performed their own versions of Romeo and Juliet in a contemporary setting. My students acted out the courtroom scene from To Kill A Mockingbird with a jury composed of students, and they wrote papers about racism. These projects changed their lives. I have had former students come back to me years later and tell me the exact moment they experienced transformation.


"Jacob Martinez told me, 'I knew I could work in the computer industry when we made that Web site. Today, I am a project manager for Sony PlayStation.' Gabriela Nunez told me, 'I had the confidence I needed to attend college after being in your class. I knew I could read and think about great books, and I wrote papers that were read aloud in class. My classmates thought I had something important to say.' Messifa Ankou old me, 'To Kill a Mockingbird is the best book I ever read. I will always remember Atticus when I feel afraid to speak up about things that are wrong.' No student has ever come up to me and said, 'My life is better because you had me do lots of worksheets and test preparations and take standardized tests so you could keep your job.'

"What has happened to us? I don't know any educator who thinks we are going in the right direction. I still love students and want to teach, but I don't like what I'm being forced to do right now. I've turned into something I'm not proud of. Please, I want to teach. I want to help students in meaningful ways. I want to be a great teacher again.
"My students don't do any of these things anymore. We prepare for tests and are tested. I have been forced to squander 17 days of class time because of standardized tests. One of the curriculum changes I have had to make is to use boring vocabulary drills. Last spring, one of my students said to me, 'Mrs. Jordan, when my brother had you in class, everyone made a poetry book. When are we going to write poetry?' I answered, 'We don't have time for poetry any more. We have to get ready for the test.'

"Another student said, 'Can't we read a book instead? I heard we were going to read some cool books this year, and we've only read two.' Tears welled in my eyes as I replied, 'We don't have time to read books in English class. I'm sorry kids, I'm so sorry. I don't know what happened to us.'


--------------------------------------------------------------

There are more here: http://www.nea.org/esea/nclbstories/states.html. I have tons of my own stories, but the one thing that mine and every other story I've read or heard of have in common is that many, many kids have lost any joy they had in learning.

One teacher wrote about how she would tell her kids who were behind that they were smart and they could succeed, and not to let anyone tell them they weren't good enough. During the big state test, one of her kids put her head down on her desk, cried, and said, "Teacher, you lied to me. You said I was smart enough, and I'm not."

I had a child in class, let's call her "Lacey," who, upon getting ONE MORE assessment from the district, threw it on the floor and said, "Why we have to take all these stinky tests?!?" I explained to her NCLB and accountability and that the government wanted to make sure they were getting taught, and she said, "No Child Left Behind? They ain't leaving us behind! I wish they would leave us behind!"

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is going to be re-voted on again in Congress in September. Talk to every teacher you know about the effects of NCLB. Then, please, please, please write to your representatives, write to your Senators, and tell them what you think about NCLB. Please forward this to all your friends and acquaintances and ask them to write to their representatives. Get every child you know to write. They deserve better than this.

In the meantime, I have another district assessment to give the kids this week.