Monday, June 29, 2009

Okay, so, she doesn't have a cell phone

With almost sincere apologies to Relient K and the bloggers who insist that you must have a good post title.

I have only a few minutes left before embarking on the adventure that is making a vegetarian dinner when what I really want is a cheeseburger, so I thought I'd discuss a lighter topic that has been driving me crazy.

Yes, it's cell phones.

Now, I love my cell phone. It goes everywhere with me. It's not a fancy-schmancy smart phone, but it does play music and have some email capabilities. I love being able to text my husband without worrying about interrupting him in a meeting. I love being able to text the P.E. teacher across the field and allow them to get the information in a quick glance, saving me a hike. I love being able to apologize to my sister when she's not talking to me. What I don't love is having to tell kids to put their phones away in the Library of Congress.

In case you didn't know, and I wasn't really aware of this until a few days ago, the LoC is one of the most amazing buildings in the world. The ornamentation and architecture are breathtaking (especially when you've travelled the hospitalesque underground corridor from the Capitol), the exhibits are fascinating, and the sheer volume of knowledge contained in that one building left me unable to breathe and unwilling to leave.

And the kids were texting.

Before you insist that they were texting about how amazing the sights were, please let me stop you. No. They weren't. Trust me.

Toward the end of the last school year, when a parent retrieved a confiscated cell phone from a teacher, she made the comment that "oh, yeah, the phone bill shows that [my kid] texts all the time during class!"

Here's my question: WHY DOES THE KID HAVE A CELL PHONE??? He's students performing way below his potential, and yet he's allowed to text in class? My students are in middle school, and it's highly unlikely that he's earning his own money to pay for the phone. Of course, he's not the only student who allows cell phones to distract from learning.

True, it's good for kids to have cell phones to arrange rides and in case of emergency. However, texting is easy to turn off, and it's not hard to change the settings so that the kid can only call Mom, Dad, Grandma, and 911.

Why do parents allow their underachieving kids to have these privileges? Wouldn't it be easy to set up a reasonable system allow the kid to earn texting and free phone use?
You could argue that if the lessons were interesting enough, the kids wouldn't be texting during class. If that's your position, please scroll up and take one more look at the pictures, then come back and explain how that's even plausible.

Gotta go, I just got a text from my husband. Maybe I'll ask him to bring home cheeseburgers.

Small Schools: David vs. Goliath?

I attempted to post a comment directly on The Quick and the Ed, but alas, the software hates me. When Google Help waves its magic wand, I'll be back there commenting!

Chad Aldeman at The Quick and the Ed posted an intriguing article this morning entitled "The Truth about New York City's High Schools." In his post, Aldeman discusses a recent report on the impact that New York City small high schools are having on the larger schools, and he argues that the report is being misused and misinterpreted.

This blog entry caught my eye because the criticisms against NYC small schools are so similar to the rants our small schools have endured from other district teachers and administrators, as well as from uninformed members of our school board.

Like the NYC small schools, we've been told that our high achievement comes as a result of creaming students, and other administrators have gotten almost personally angry when their best students finally receive a coveted spot in a small school (although they're strangely silent about the wealth of underperforming students who choose our school). Our admission system is not nearly as complicated as that in New York, but it does require families to be involved enough that they can complete and return the 1-page application (basic information - grades and behavior aren't counted) before the lottery deadline; because of that simple requirement, we're unlikely to get families who refuse to involve themselves in education. That's the only distinction between accepted students and those who are placed on the wait list.

John Thompson, who posts on ScholasticAdministrators' This Week in Education, commented on Alderman's post. He suggests that "creaming" is not the best term, saying "can't we agree that choice inherently results in creaming?" If this is true, than the obvious response is to make every school an excellent choice, so that students can choose the programs that best fit their interests and needs.

Before you start yelling, please notice that I said obvious, not simple. Smaller schools have more flexibility and are better able to fit students' needs...but isn't that the point? Thompson argues that the "default" schools face tougher challenges, "require additional resources, and aren't necessarily amenable to the methods of the charters/small school/magnets[....]" But if these "default" schools are facing all these problems, shouldn't we work on reforming them, rather than tearing down the small schools? Let's continue the conversation about how to make those large schools an excellent choice for students who excel in that environment, and how to provide more non-traditional choices so that every student fits somewhere.

In truth, small schools aren't David to the large schools' Goliath. We have no desire to topple them and cut off their heads with their own swords; the very idea of "us" and "them" is counterproductive to our common goal, which must be to provide an excellent education to every student. School choice should allow students and their families to choose from a variety of options, unrestricted by paperwork, language, economic status, location, or any other prejudicial barrier to success.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Year in Review: Sept, Oct, Nov, and Dec 2008

I'm only to September? Really? I have a lot of work to do.

September 2008. Checking the google calendar to see what happened then, because honestly, I don't remember. The first 3 months of the school year blurred together, and the overhanging feeling is one of frustration and not accomplishing the amazing things I had planned.

Oh, yes, that was the month of the Golden Bell award visit. Two years previously, we had earned the California Designated School award. That was (and continues to be) a pretty big deal, especially since we earned it the first year we were even eligible to apply. We spent the whole year writing the monstrous application and preparing for the visit, and when we won, the whole school rode an excited wave of accomplishment that lasted well into the next year.

So, the California School Board Association has this award called the Golden Bell. The application is about a page and a half, and we were nominated by the same people on our school board who were actively trying to kill the spirit of our school, so it wasn't that big a deal to anyone but the principal (I'm sure it's the first item on her resume now...). Of course, everyone likes winning awards, but the culture of our school was already so degraded that we couldn't really get excited. When the principal decided to start the 8th grade promotion in June with a "ceremonial ring of the Golden Bell" (yes, they actually sent us a bell), it was all we could do to keep from laughing.

The most frustrating part, besides the principal's taking credit for how awesome our school is when she had only been there a month, was the lack of reflection. When we applied for the Distinguished School award, everyone took a part in putting together the application, and a few people spent hours and hours writing the responses. It was a great time for us newer people to learn the history of the school, and for those who had been around to see how much we had change. We all had in-depth conversations about different components of our program, and the application process, though tedious, made ours a better school. The Golden Bell application didn't require the same collaborative reflection, which could have helped to solve some of our problems.

There's not a lot else on the calendar, but the few things there just serve to remind me of how much hair we tore out as we learned new, frustrating characteristics of our Dear Leader. For example, she spent hours talking about Constitution Day lesson plans and hounding people for their written proof that they had taught about the constitution on this particular day, regardless of relation to their content area standards, but she didn't take the time to plan all-school rallies, which, in the past, have been vital for maintaining the school culture.

The whole review won't be griping about the principal, but the first few months were so frustrating that I'm sure complaints will be a common motif for a while.

October 2008. Hooray for Midterms! Okay, maybe not, but by 7th grade, the kids have taken 3 midterms and 3 finals, so only the new students were at all fazed by them. Better monitoring in advisory improved the quality of only a few review sheets; I'm not sure why kids don't study for exams, and it seems that we will always struggle with preparation. We also started the Exhibition research report, which has also become something of a standard procedure. The 7th grade team worked together really well on this exhibition, and it went fairly smoothly, although there is always a lot of room to improve.

We also had the Learner-Led Conferences, which are a staple of our school. Every student is required to lead a conference after every Midterm week, and each parent signs up for a specific time. The rubric requires students to present, with passion and energy, their work (do you like how I used the plural there so that I could avoid the whole gender-specific pronoun thing?) and accomplishments. Oh, yeah, and they are responsible for completing the whole conference within 15 minutes. :). I've been to schools where only a few parents show up to an open-house style mess, and this is much more effective. Parents are more comfortable because it's their kid presenting, rather than a teacher talking at them, and the kids are encouraged to use their home language. (side note: I learned a lot of Spanish this year!). Kids aren't so comfortable, because there are at least two and sometimes four or five adults listening to them all at once, but it's worthwhile because they build confidence and learn how to talk to their parents about their grades. We gain some side benefits, too: the parents learn that they are welcome in the classroom, and they learn that their younger kids are welcome, too, because the teachers make a point of saying hello and having crayons and paper out for them. Students see that their parents and teachers (usually) have common expectations and talk to each other, and it makes the conversation easier if I have to call home two weeks later because someone didn't turn in math homework.

Because of conferences, and the beginning of long-term projects, the last two weeks of October tend to be the most productive, even with that sugar-laden interruption known as Halloween!

November: This month was more difficult than usual. Along with the previously-mentioned frustrations, long-term projects, and reawakening provided by conferences, we had the upset that comes when a teacher is out on long-term medical leave. Also, a family issue left me emotionally drained (fried, strung-out, practically stoned, with no illegal substances involved), so much of my teaching was robotic...on autopilot.

December: By the 2nd week of this short month, I had decided that allowing personal problems and an incompetent boss to prevent me from doing my best was total crap, and I began to come out of hibernation...just in time for the hell week that always happens just before the exhibition. Except, it wasn't hell's nice when kids know what they're doing! The exhibition went well, and we were ready for Christmas Break when it arrived. Happy New Year!

Summer Reading for Teachers

Having just returned from a family reunion and a field trip to Washington D.C., I can finally sit down and check my google reader to see what I've missed.


I've opened the interesting articles in new tabs, saved a few PDF's to read, skimmed through and closed the underwhelming pieces...and I still have too many windows of things I want to remember and implement this year. Okay, then. Here we go.

1. A 92 Percent Homework Turn-in Rate,
  • I've finally organized paperwork to the point where this could actually be useful!

2. Eighth-grade graduations might signal how low we set the bar

  • We have this discussion every year, and our conclusions are the same: non-existant. Any ideas?

3. Educational Professional Development

  • A good resource, although it's wishful thinking in my district. They'd rather have us attend the "unpaid professional development opportunities" that are poorly-run and uninformative.

4. 12 Things Teachers Should Do Over Summer Break

  • Too late for about 1/2 the items, probably won't do another 1/4, but I'm SO going to trivia night when my friend is in town!

5. Here’s My Top Five Mistakes Made By New Bloggers — What Are Yours?

  • Maybe I'm not such a terrible blogger after all! I'm surprised there's not an item that says "don't be insanely boring."

6. The Best Sources of Advice For Teachers (And Others!) On How To Be Better Bloggers
7. How to Motivate Your Students
8. How to Start a Lesson Plan

9. Self Education It's cool.

This is just a start. Wish me luck!

Oh, yeah...what else should I read?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

explanation of random short posts

In case it's not as self-evident as I originally thought...

I was on a field trip with 8th grade students to Washington DC, and I didn't want to carry around pen and paper everywhere I went. So, every time someone thought of a good idea, I posted it here from my cell phone.

If you have any other excellent ideas regarding preparation for and implementation of a DC field trip, please comment! We sometimes found it difficult to keep the students interested and respectful throughout the long days.
Note to self: read Damaged by mike mason
Get veterans to come and talk to the kids

Friday, June 19, 2009

Library of congress=sensory overload and a renewed thirst for knowledge.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Next year: raffle tix to those who correctly answer questions about the tours. Give prizes at the end of each day. Prizes could be...simple? Souvenirs?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Today: williamsburg and jamestown. Next year, build interest. Exhibition? Model?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

So we're here at the airport waiting for the field trip to start. This was the first flight for some of our kids. I wonder what they thought of kansas...
I remember being amazed on my first cross-country flight. The patchwork plains followed by the velvet mountains. I couldn't figure out why they looked so soft!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gotta love corporate branding.

I've made so little progress in learning the Promethean software this year that I have to rejoice with every little step, so here it is:

I have officially discovered the ActivResourceManager and learned how to download and install resource packs from the website.

Does anyone else find the Activ- prefix a little annoying? It's becoming as McUbiquitous as the McEverything we find in this

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I saw this post at A Math Teachers Notebook labeled: Professional Development Meme 2009 and I agreed it would be good to not only write out my plans for PD over the summer, but see what others plan to do as well.

Summer can be a great time for professional development. It is an opportunity to learn more about a topic, read a particular work or the works of a particular author, beef up an existing unit of instruction, advance one’s technical skills, work on that advanced degree or certification, pick up a new hobby, and finish many of the other items on our ever-growing To Do Lists. Let’s make Summer 2009 a time when we actually get to accomplish a few of those things and enjoy the thrill of marking them off our lists.

The Rules
NOTE: You do NOT have to wait to be tagged to participate in this meme.
  1. Pick 1-3 professional development goals and commit to achieving them this summer.
    For the purposes of this activity the end of summer will be Labor Day (09/07/09).
  2. Post the above directions along with your 1-3 goals on your blog.
  3. Title your post Professional Development Meme 2009 and link back/trackback to
  4. Use the following tag/ keyword/ category on your post: pdmeme09.
  5. Tag 5-8 others to participate in the meme.
  6. Achieve your goals and “develop professionally.”
  7. Commit to sharing your results on your blog during early or mid-September.

My Goals
1. Learn how to use blogs effectively. Right now, I don't know how to trackback or tag, so I can't even completely follow the directions, and I don't have the network of bloggers that are listed on other sites.
2. Learn how to develop flipcharts for my Promethean board that are more than a PowerPoint slide show.
3. Read and write about at least two high-quality books. One should relate to school administration, the other to current classroom research.

I tag:

sorry, I don't know how to do this. Someone teach me?

A Year in Review: July 08, Aug 08, June 09

Although we technically have a week left of school, and that week contains important activities like teaching and reviewing for finals, I've found myself pondering the meaning of life and wondering what this year has really been like. It will take more than one blog session to complete any sort of real analysis, but here's the start.

June 2009: Why do we learn new things right at the end of the year? I had two meetings on Friday (yes, the last Friday before the last week of school) that would have been helpful at the beginning of this year. The first was an IEP, and we got the results of pretty extensive testing. By the way, this was my first experience participating in an IEP meeting with both a competent psychologist/special ed teacher and a willing, educated parent. The test results made sense and we could connect them to what we saw at home and in the classroom. I also learned some real strategies that went above and beyond the typical useless mumbo-jumbo that under-trained special ed teachers usually spew like vomit. I really don't hate special ed teachers - it takes a better person than I to go into the field. However, it is a difficult field, and many of the teachers I've met who go into special ed are more idealistic than realistic, and more touchy-feely than intellectual. I've wasted many an hour in IEP meetings only to be told that "Kidsname needs more personal attention and visual reminders." That sort of advice isn't helpful.

The second meeting turned out to be more of a family conference. I've been frustrated because, all year, I haven't really found a way to get through to this kid. She doesn't relate to people like a typical 7th-grade student, although I suspect that her social awkwardness comes from a higher level of thinking, rather than some social disorder. However, I learned a lot about her in this meeting, and I think she may have seen that I really do care about her and want her to succeed. We created a plan for next year that, if properly implemented, should help to lead her out of this phase she's going through.

In both of these meetings, I experienced a gargantuan stab of "teacher guilt." Anyone with a dose of reality can tell you that, despite the idiocy of some old white male politicians, the teacher is only one factor in a kid's development. Unfortunately, the irrational megalomaniac constantly claws at me, telling me that if I were more careful, involved, or intelligent, these kids would not find education so difficult.

One of my goals for this summer will be to find the happy medium between my foolish messiah complex and backward ambivalence. I can certainly be more careful about my students, checking in on them, clarifying misunderstandings, practicing necessary skills, teaching time management, communicating with parents, and so on, but I'm no Ron Clark. I can't make myself sick or sacrifice my family in an effort to improve life for my students. So, as I create my plans, I'll be setting up a time schedule and working to find or create a better way to keep track of my students and tighten the seive so that fewer problems slip through.

Going back to the beginning of the year...because it makes sense...


no, not yet.

July 2008: The frustration from last year spilled over without a break into this year. July, that middle ground, saw further attempts by the district big-wigs to crush our successes so that their priorities could succeed. Instead of scheduling new principal interviews so that our teacher representative, who was one of the founders of our school, could attend, one of the district minions made frantic phone calls two day before interviews were to begin and could only contact me, one of the less-capable spokespeople for our school. I convinced her that I could find someone more qualified to be on the panel, but after a day of searching, I could only contact one other teacher who was only a slightly better choice. As it turned out, her voice didn't even matter - I could have easily been the token. The interview panel comprised just one teacher, one parent...and seven district lackeys who had obviously been instructed not to choose whomever our people preferred. As a result, we were assigned a principal who did not understand our vision, showed no interest in learning, and brought with her a terrible reputation for being inflexible and belligerent. Despite all this, the teaching team decided that we would do everything in our power to enable the success of our new principal, because if she failed, the entire school would suffer.

I decided at that time that I needed to educate myself so that I could be a useful advocate for our school.

August 2008: After rushing through the last of my online classes, jumping for joy when I found that I had passed all three sections of my 5-hour certification test on the first try (a rare accomplishment), and flying back from standing up in my friend's incredibly stressful wedding the night before summer school began, I arrived at the school at 7:30 on a glorious sunny morning on the unfamiliar campus we had borrowed for summer school to set up for my first day teaching in the new year.

Nobody was there.

I wandered the campus, looking for a custodian. I called other teachers. I tried to track down our new administrator.


I greeted the few students who started arriving early, and explained my wanderings to the other summer school teacher who drove in a few minutes later.

Finally, and I forget how, we were let into classrooms: I got the library, and she was parked in a classroom way across campus.

Then students started arriving, and the two of us quickly began exchanging worried glances. These weren't the right students!

When we had first planned summer school, we had planned on having more teachers and smaller classes, so we had created a list of incoming 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. District policies being as foolish as they are, we quickly learned that our beautiful plan was not acceptable, so we created a 7th-grade-only alternative. Then our principal was yanked from us (in an attempt by the big-wigs to squelch innovation wherever possible), and the new principal was instated as previously described. The now former principal passed on the documents to the now current principal, instructing her specifically to use the new summer school list when sending out notifications. Yeah, she didn't do that.

That beautiful late-summer morning was quickly turning into a nightmare, and it was a perfect opportunity for new principal to prove herself. Yeah, she didn't do that either. Rather than swoop in, sort out the details, and apologize for her mistake, she crisply informed us that she had an administrative meeting at the District Office and was much to busy to come and assist. We were to teach the students we had, and we could meet at the end of the day to work everything out.

Have I mentioned yet that this is a 5 day summer school? By vamping through that one day, we lost 20 percent of our teaching time. Of course, we did our very best, as mature professionals, but we were fairly irritated by the time we made it back to our school site. Our hopes for a mature, professional reconciliation were quickly dashed. The principal asked us (I think it was just me by that point - the other teacher had another meeting) to "be creative." I proposed a wide variety of solutions. The principal could call all of the affected students and make corrections so that the right students would show up the next day - I would even help with the calling! No, that wouldn't work. No explanation as to why it wouldn't work, but I've since learned that this individual has a habit of going to ridiculous measures to avoid taking blame. I also suggested that we could keep the students who were currently attending, but we would need to be compensated for more prep hours, because we had already spent a considerable amount of time planning an intense, rigorous course of study for these 5 days. No, that wouldn't work. Again, no real explanation as to why it would work.

That was when I learned that "be creative" means "shut up and find a way to do what I told you to do." What an incredible difference from the student-centered, team-led environment I had enjoyed for the last two years! It was starting to sound like my first two years of teaching, except now I knew better, and was determined not to be blindly obedient like before.

Still, I, with the rest of the team, tried to be helpful and make things work. When the principal left a calendar meeting to go set the schedule with the monster school, with whom we share a campus and who typically tries to run over our needs because they're bigger, I quickly printed her a copy of the schedule WE HAD ALREADY AGREED ON in our June planning sessions, the notes from which I knew she had a copy. We all cheered for her when "she" convinced the other school to agree to that same schedule, and we were kind when she failed miserably to reach satisfactory arrangements in other areas. In my attempt to become a stronger voice for the needs of our students, I started hanging out so that I could be around to help and know what was happening, bypassing the solitude of my classroom and the luxury of the pool to plan amidst the chaos of the office.

School started just a few days before the end of the month. It was the easiest, smoothest first week of school ever! This was my first year looping with my students, and I already knew everyone's names, had a seating chart arranged that avoided problems, and had created lessons and a homework assignment that were appropriate for their needs. Despite the storms we could already see coming, this was going to be a good year!