Friday, January 28, 2011

School Distric Logic

Another old one.  I really would have appreciated an answer to this, even if it was "You're right and there's nothing we can do."

Speaking the Truth..

...whether or not anyone's listening.

My letter (also known as career suicide) to the people in charge of "Research, Assessment, and Accountability" in my district. Also known as the department that makes my kids take so many tests. (They're not responsible for the state testing, only for the mountains of district testing heaped on top of the state testing). I may be blacklisted now, but there are some times that - even if it's just for my own sake - I need to say what I know to be true.

Dear XXX,

I am a 3rd grade teacher in this district. I have just finished giving my students the mid-year math assessment and mid-year language arts assessment and I have a number of concerns that I hope you can address for me.

First, this is the second math assessment this year which covers standards not yet scheduled to be taught. In particular, this mid-year assessment - with a testing window of Jan 22-26 - covers geometry, scheduled to be taught from Jan 22 - Feb 9. Among other topics not yet covered, there are two or three questions on the different types of triangles; a standard not taught until Feb 8 and 9. I have to question the validity and usefulness of data obtained by testing children on standards not yet taught. It seems to me that either the math pacing guide or the testing window could be adjusted to make a more reasonable assessment.

Secondly, I am highly concerned about the math and language arts assessments being held at the same time, as well as the sheer number and frequency of district assessments. This week we had to complete both the mid-year language arts assessment and the mid-year math assessment, in addition to the regular weekly math, reading comprehension, and spelling assessments. Because of the time and energy these assessments take, it was difficult to fit the required teaching into the week.

The main reason I am concerned about the frequency of district tests is the adverse effect that it seems to be having on the children. To have five intensive Open Court Unit tests throughout the year, three district math assessments, the new district language arts assessments, on top of state testing and the weekly assessments required by the math and language arts curricula, is simply too much for my third grade students. They are not being given enough time to learn the subjects they are tested on, and are even tested on subjects not yet taught. They are frustrated and discouraged by being tested on what they haven't learned yet, and the frequency of testing is overwhelming them and causing some of them to dread coming to school.

I have a class full of wonderful students who are eager to learn and beg to be allowed to act on their innate joy of learning. They actually beg for science, they love exploring new topics and ideas, whether they be in math or language arts, and I feel that an excess of district testing is taking away from their valuable learning experiences. I hate to see children's self-confidence being damaged by being tested on subjects they haven't even had a chance to practice yet, as has been the case in some of the problems on the math assessments.

At this age, children will learn to love or hate school. We as educators, by our actions, can encourage the students to love learning or we can turn them off to it entirely. I hope you will take these concerns into consideration when planning assessments for the next school year. I am sure you want the best for all students in OUSD. If you have any questions about any of my concerns, please feel free to contact me via email at any time.
No. I never got any sort of response at all. Predictable, but still disappointing.

Four years ago: Speaking the Truth

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Purpose

I haven't had time for new posts lately, so here are some of my favorites.

What I Want People To Know 

I was talking to a friend the other day and trying to figure out why I am keeping up this blog. Part of me wants to show off my kids, how cute they are, what funny things they say. Part of me wants people to know what I'm going through with my ridiculous, dysfunctional district. But if that's all it is, I don't think I'd continue writing - I have a lot of other things that should be taking up my time. I think my main hope is that people will read this and understand that things are not OK in education in California. And more than that, I want people to get MAD about it.

Most of this is detailed in previous entries, but there is severe inequality in our schools. If you (or anyone else!) doesn't believe me, read my blog, read Jonathan Kozol's books, come visit my school. The inequality is so entrenched that I honestly have no idea what can be done about it at this point, but I do know that nothing that has been done is working.

No Child Left Behind isn't working. I'm willing to bet that politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, have no idea what daily life is like for children or teachers in these low-performing or "failing" schools. If they did, no one would be suggesting ridiculous strategies, like imposing "sanctions" against schools that are not making progress on the tests. "Sanctions" is not my word - it is the official word used - our sanctions were having our teachers' aides taken away - obviously punishment isn't a successful motivator because we're still a "failing" school. Iraq, North Korea, Cuba, and the children of East Oakland - all the beneficiaries of sanctions by the U.S. government.

"Accountability" isn't working - at least not when accountability means tests, tests, and more tests. Does no one realize that never-ending tests do not motivate students, but do the exact opposite? I have had students cry, scream, throw tests, refuse to take them, throw up... It's hard to explain how heartbreaking it is to see a child - who loves to learn, who loves science and reading and mystery and adventure and computers and her teacher and her class pet and doing well and feeling smart - to see this child put her head down on the test and sob and say, "I'm just too stupid, I'll never pass all these tests." And for me to have to say, "Please don't get the test wet - I have to turn it in?"

I'm doing what I can about the tests. I tell the kids that no one should have to take this many tests, that school should be about learning with occasional tests, not testing with occasional learning. I tell them that the people who make these tests don't know how to make tests, because if they did, there wouldn't be questions that haven't been covered in the curriculum yet. I tell them that the people writing the tests don't know kids so they don't know what to put on the third grade tests and they make it too hard. I tell them that as long as they are thinking and trying and learning and doing their best, I am proud of them and what their teacher thinks is more important than what people who don't know them think. I tell them that it is important to do their best, but that no test, EVER, should make them feel bad about themselves, and that if it does, they need to say, "You silly test, you can't make me feel bad! I'm more important than you'll ever be!"

But I'm fighting a losing battle. Last year I had to teach science secretly - yes, secretly - since I wasn't supposed to be teaching science. (It takes away from No Child Left Behind curriculum). Each year, more tests are added and more pressure is put on us and the children to achieve. And no matter where you go, the schools with more black and Latino students will be in worse areas, with less experienced teachers, less materials, less autonomy, and more ridiculous bureaucratic requirements.

I don't know how it will ever change. But maybe if  people know how bad things are, they might begin to.

Two years ago: President Obama

Four years ago: What I Want People to Know

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Parental Involvement

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post for the groupery about parental involvement, and how to encourage it.  I'd very much like to hear from teachers and parents about if they've had success with any of these ideas or if they have any other ideas.  Parental involvement is crucial for school success, so let's think of ways to increase it!

Two years ago: Parental Involvement in Schools

Four years ago: Infirmary Ward

Saturday, January 22, 2011


From a student who wrote this after we had a lockdown because there was a shooting in the neighborhood.
Storys make me feel that there is no lockdown and nothing happened to nobody and somtimes they make me feel that when there is thunderstormes i read a book and i feel that there is no thunderstormes and it is sraining a lot and it soundes like thunderstormes i read a long book because it rains a lot

Three years ago: Another Possible Strike?

Four years ago: More Evaluations
                        Sinking to New Depths

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I have a new puppy and, while I still miss Solomon, it is nice to have another dog.  She is very different from Solomon, and I'm glad of that.  I think these photos sum her up quite well.

Three years ago: Changing Times: Cell Phones

Four years ago: Evaluations

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Jesus and Politics (rerun)

My new little puppy has been keeping me VERY busy so here's another old post.

Jesus and Politics

In college, someone asked me - with much sincerity - how I could be a Christian and vote against Proposition 187. For those of you who may not have been in California or paying attention at the time, Prop 187 was an initiative that was meant to deny social services, health care, and public education to illegal immigrants. Health care workers and teachers were also supposed to report suspected illegal immigrants, I believe. The proposition passed, but was later overturned by a federal court.

Aside from the disturbing consequences that might come from having the illegal portion of our population denied vaccinations and education (anyone really think that's going to help us out as a state? Whether or not you agree with undocumented workers being here, I would think we'd all want to make sure their children didn't get polio, even if it's only for the selfish reason that we don't want another polio epidemic!), I was confused about the assumption that Jesus would obviously want me to vote for Prop 187. Really? Because, if you actually read the Bible, you'll start to notice that Jesus spends an awful lot of time with people that others thought of as not being worthwhile or not being in the right place. The oppressed and downtrodden, even. I have a funny feeling that he might have been on the side of the illegal immigrants.

Now, I'm also not saying that you have to be a Democrat to be a Christian. In fact, I think that reducing God to the level of politics is shameful. God transcends politics. Jesus would not be a Republican, a Democrat, or even a member of the Peace & Freedom Party (although they have a great name!) I think that when we try to sum up Christianity in terms of political platforms that we are limiting God and trying to make him small enough for our minds.

I've been a Christian for a long time, and I'm pretty sure that in order to be a Christian, you have to "Confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead" and you will be saved. (Romans 10:9). Not vote against illegal immigrants. Not be a registered member of the Republican party or the Christian Coalition. Not stand for "family values" (and who decides which things are values, anyway? Jesus seemed to think that standing up for the oppressed, feeding the poor, and visiting prisoners were more important than many of the so-called family values. Look at Matthew 25: 34-45.

The ridiculousness continues. Apparently Republican voters in some of the primaries are asked in exit polls about their religious convictions. Democratic voters are asked about their union ties. Because obviously, an evangelical Christian couldn't be a Democrat. And Jesus cares more about banning gay marriage than social justice. Right. Not likely.

Now there's talk about Mike Huckabee wanting to amend the Constitution to "God's Standards." First of all, what exactly does that mean? Is it going to be constitutionally mandated that we all sell our possessions and give the proceeds to the poor? Or that we love our enemies... including Islamofascists?

How do Christian morals and values affect foreign policy? It's not as clear cut as many Christians in politics make it out to be. For example, would Jesus perform pre-emptive bombings on countries that might be developing dangerous nuclear weapons? Probably not. He seems to let people make their own choices, even if those choices result in people dying. I'm not sure what I would want my national leader to do, but if you're looking to what Jesus would do... it's not always in line with what Christians would want!

Second, being a Christian is about the state of your heart. Theocracies turn out to be... well, not that good for everyone! I believe that mandating Christianity - or even Christian values - is not what God wants. If it was, he would have created us without free will. What makes Christianity truly remarkable is that we have the choice to follow God or spit in his face. He loves us either way and rejoices when we come back to him, but he never takes that choice away.

Many Christians lament the lack of prayer in school. I happen to take a different view, and I don't think that makes me a "worse" Christian. If I, as a Christian, can lead prayers in school, -then we also have to let Muslim teachers, Jewish teachers, Pagan teachers, and Scientologist teachers lead prayers in school. (Something that Christians leading the prayer in school charge tend to forget). Otherwise we very much risk becoming more like Iran than I am comfortable with.

Also, kids can pray in school. After the September 11 attacks, one of my third graders asked me if we could pray. I said that I couldn't pray for them but that I could give them a few minutes of silence and that they could pray inside their heads or just be quiet if they wanted. Turns out that, as usual, the kids are wiser than the adults. One of them informed us that "Duh, you can pray any time you want because God hears what is inside your head. Even in the shower." A Vietnamese girl, who was raised Buddhist, asked her Christian friend if Jesus loved her (the Buddhist girl) too and the friend said yes, he loves her very much and would she like to come to church with her. Both much more powerful than if I had been the one to answer... and totally legal because it was kids sharing their opinions, and not even during instructional time!

Another one said that he was going to pray for the terrorists. He said that the terrorists hated people and that means we needed to pray for them.

And to think I would have missed all this if I had led the prayer.

Three years ago: Jesus and Politics

Four years ago: Dr. Suzy

Friday, January 14, 2011

Who Hasn't Wanted To?

Every teacher, ever, has had a student who's talked so much that this has been tempting.  If they say they haven't, they're lying. 

I've had several students who have put tape over their own mouths because they can't stop talking.  They say there's no other way to stop talking.  One of them even said, "I want to stop talking because my mouth is tired, but I can't."  I always made them take the tape off but it's hard not to see it as a good, if temporary, solution.

Two years ago: Lou Dobbs

Three years ago: Butterflies, Warren, and Suzy

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Report Cards in the Dark

A re-run from a few years back:

I was remembering today about a day from last year when the lights went out. I was remembering this because it illustrates - so beautifully - the lack of logic among the administration.

The lights went out - and stayed out for four hours - and it was totally dark outside from the rain. We couldn't see anything at all, but had to keep the kids the whole time. Afterward, they canceled our staff meeting in order to give us time to work on report cards. Unfortunately, it was so dark, I couldn't really SEE said report cards.

When I went to talk to the principal and tell her I was throwing in the towel for the last 45 minutes of the report card period and going home to do it, she told me that I would have to fill out an absence form and take an hour of sick time for it. So I sat in the dark for 45 minutes, mulling over the question of why there is no logic at all in my district.
One year ago: Hamlet, Revisited
Two years ago: Riots in Oakland

Four years ago: Lights Out!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Teacher Bullying

An interesting post here about teacher bullying.  Although I would caution parents to not overreact - no parent wants to hear it but your child does lie, every child does - it's good to be aware that this does happen. I've seen it happen.  Especially considering the environment in which teachers work now - they are under so much pressure and are not treated well - I think it's easy for teachers to take out their frustration on the kids in their class.  I've definitely seen it happen.  But make sure you as a parent get the whole story.  Observe the classroom - you'll be able to tell a lot about how a teacher treats students, even if it's a little different when you're there.

Three years ago: Notes from Subbing in Kindergarten

Friday, January 07, 2011

Yet Another Tragedy

Another kid was killed in Oakland.  I hope it will never stop being surprising and horrific to us that young people are killed so often.  Once it does, I think we've all lost.

Three years ago: A Moral Dilemma

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The End of Third Grade

I found some more old student papers.  These students are now in 8th grade, I think, which is strange for me to think about!

This one had a tendency to pout whenever he didn't want to do something:
I have 36 days in third grade.  I am not happy because when I leave my teacher's class I will have to do harder work and we would have to wait longer to go eat for lunch.  I will be good and listen to the teacher and I wont make a pout when I don't want to do that much work.I am sad because I am going to miss my teacher and the gecko.  I am sad because I am going to miss all the people who came to this class.  I am sad because we won't be able to be on the computer that much and I am sad because after summer I will be going to a fourth grade class.

I really like this one:
I have 36 more days in third grade.  I am scared to go to fourth grade because it sounds scary and hard and teachers mite be mean.  I do not want to get sunburned in the summer because if I do, I will cry and scream.  Maybe fourth grade might not be bad at all.

This kid may have not been fully in tune with reality because his mom was in jail and his dad was usually too busy for him:

I have 36 more days in third grade and I am very excited because I will go bowling and simming.  And I will trying out for the rebles basketball time, baseball team, and the swimming team too.  My mom will be taking me to my baseball practice, and my dad will be taking me to my basketball practice.  My dad will coach my basketball team and we will have to work hard and do the b est we can do.  And it will be so much fun when we go to six flages, waterworld, and grate america.

This one was a little confused:
I have 36 days in Third grade.  I am moving And I am going to move somewhere far and I am going to miss my classmates and I know yall is going to miss me.  I think I am not moving.

Three years ago: Horace Mann (Mystery Solved)

Four years ago: More City Wildlife
                        Another Old Email

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Glad I'm not Working Here Anymore

Just read this post from two years ago  Even having lived through it, I'm incredulous enough that I need to repost part of it.

Happy New Year! If you can't read his headgear, the dog is also wishing you a happy New Year.

I chaperoned a field trip right before Christmas - we took the kids to the Nutcracker. I was thrilled to not be the person actually in charge, so it was a fun day for me! Trips are much more fun when I'm not the one in charge of figuring out how we're going to get there, pay for it, not kill each other, and get home with everyone still in the group.

The principal started off by being his charming self. Mrs. Dwyer set up the field trip and got people to donate the tickets as well as their time - she actually got enough drivers to take the whole class downtown. The teacher was very organized about getting everyone into the correct cars and keeping track of everyone. Mine was the second to last car to leave. As we were getting into my car, I saw the principal come over and talk to the teacher. Apparently he told her that he hadn't approved the field trip. Good timing, dude. Three fourths of the class is GONE and now he says he hasn't approved the field trip?

Except he was lying. The teacher had filled out the field trip request and the permission slip and clearly written that the kids would be transported by private cars. The principal had signed it - his signature was on each and every permission slip. He might want to start reading what he signs because apparently his problem was the traveling by car part, which he had approved.

The principal said that the kids couldn't go by car (it seemed to have escaped his notice that most of them were already gone). Not only could they not go by car, but in the history of the whole school, there has never been a field trip to which kids traveled by car.

This leads me to a few observations:
  1. The school is over 100 years old. Probably there has been a field trip that used car at some point. He does not, in fact, know about every field trip that has happened over the last 102 years.
  2. The only reason that most of the field trips are not by car is because the parents don't have cars - they're poor. It sounds horribly stereotypical, but many, perhaps most, of the families don't own cars and some that do are not licensed because they are not legally in the country. In the schools located in the nice parts of the city (the "hill schools"), almost all the field trips are by car. It is legal, sanctioned by the district, and encouraged. The only reason to not let our kids travel by car when we have found drivers is to continue to hold them back from the opportunities that the richer kids have. Not something the leader of the school should be doing.
  3. Who in their right mind tries to stop a field trip after most of the kids have already left? That's just dumb.
I think that he is aware that he is not dong a great job as principal and somehow trying to deal with that by seizing every bit of power that he can get his hands on. Just my theory.
you can read the rest here:

Two years ago: The Nutcracker! (Or: Men In Tights)