Monday, June 30, 2008

School Trials and Tribulations

A little light reading for you from my district (or, Things I Have Been Meaning to Post About But I Went to Cajun Country Instead)

Budgets for various schools

Schools where black students are "thriving"

Closing schools with poor attendance

The Reading First Program might not be great

Exclusive "hill" schools

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I just got back from Louisiana - where I visited Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and parts of Louisiana with more Cajun influence.

You can see my pictures here and here. I ate great food and experienced extremely humid heat.

Most of the trip was really fun. Good food and fun places to visit. The part that really struck me though, was the short drive we took through the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, where the flooding was so bad after Hurricane Katrina.

I don't know enough to know who specifically was at fault for the slow response that caused so many people to lose their lives, homes, etc. However, I really do believe that there's no way that the federal government/state government/American people would have let this turn into such a disaster if it was primarily upper middle class or upper class white people being affected. Just like the violence and craziness that has happened at my school would never never be tolerated if the kids were primarily wealthier and white. In my own experience, I've seen things happen in the neighborhood near my school that seem to be universally accepted, because that's just what happens in black neighborhoods.

I really don't understand why we don't see all children as worth the same. I don't know why we don't see all people as being of equal worth, but can't we at least agree on children all being equally valuable, regardless of their socioeconomic status or color?

Here's the 9th Ward, three years later.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

SRA Boasts of Accomplishments in District

There is a famous (or infamous) reading program that my district adopted about 7 years ago, that is supposed to be the best for "urban" (ghetto) kids. It has its good and bad sides, just like any reading program. It doesn't give you much room for creativity, which bothers many people, but sadly, some teachers abuse room for creativity and use it to not teach, so it's a tough call. And it's true that before this particular reading program came into the district, we used a strange mishmash of materials. However, the company used our district to make a commercial basically for them, and it's fairly interesting... leans toward the propaganda-ish side. Some of what they're saying is very true, some is true in very specific situations, and some I don't know how anyone could believe.

For example, the statement someone made that "Two years ago, we were the highest performing urban district in the country." What? Seriously? Highest performing in something, maybe (highest rate of turnover for teachers??) but definitely not in reading/language arts. If anyone has proof that I'm wrong, I'd love to see it, but as of now, I remain extremely skeptical.

The other thing that was amusing/sad was that many clips showed students writing on little dry erase boards for phonics and spelling. Yes, those are excellent tools for teaching. No, the district/reading program doesn't provide them. I can pretty much guarantee you that those were paid for by the teacher. Probably the markers too. That depends on the school.

Anyway, here's the video.

Oh, and here are my two workplaces so far this week: I'm in Lousiana!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

No Child - The One-Woman Show

I'm not going to spend too much of my time in New Orleans writing on a blog, but I had to say a quick something about the one-woman show No Child that a friend and I went to last week.

The woman performing the show, Nilaja Sun, was (might still be for part of the year) a "teaching artist" teaching theater in a Bronx high school. I won't review it because it has already been reviewed eloquently in many places, including the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. If you have the chance to see it - anywhere - do so. It is the best portrayal of teaching in the inner-city that I have ever seen/heard/read.

A few similarities between third graders in the East Bay and tenth graders in the Bronx:
  • The curious phrasing of questions: "What time it is?" "What page it's on?"**
  • Kids kicking over chairs because they have no outlet for their feelings and their feelings are too overwhelming
  • Surprise expressed when a student mentions having a father
  • Teachers wanting to quit or quitting on a regular basis
  • Unreasonable expectations; I think in the show it was the kids having to pass 5 Regent's Exams in 3 days, at my school it was an 80% pass rate on the tests
  • Not enough time to teach things: in the show, a play was being prepared in 10 weeks, once a week, with some of the days taken over for various reasons. I was told one year that I needed to provide 3 hours of testing each day and "You'd better not cheat those children. I still expect you to provide 3 1/2 hours of language arts, 1 1/2 of math and 20 minutes of PE every day!!" In a 6 hour school day? Are you that unreasonable or just pretending?
  • Kids losing family members to violent deaths and other kids not even being surprised
  • The fact that no matter how ghetto the kids are, once you earn their trust, they'll do anything for you

Monday, June 02, 2008

What's Going On

I have been neglecting my blog for a while, not because - like the last 8 Junes in my life - I am super busy finishing the school year and cleaning up, but because I am actually making it as a freelancer! In fact, I'm getting so much work that I'm not sure how I'm going to fit in blogging, but I have some good stories to tell, so I hope to soon.

In the meantime, I'm writing, I'm editing, and I'm about to teach adults next week: a CBEST review class at CSU East Bay. Exciting but scary!

Some good stories coming up soon. With pictures.