Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Sunny Side of the Table

Even though interviews can be boring and tedious, it's MUCH more fun being on the interview panel! I was foolish enough to move just two years after landing my first job, and I can't tell you how frustrated I was trying to represent myself accurately while telling the interrogators interviewers what they wanted to hear.

We had 9 interviewers today, beginning at 8:30. They were scheduled 30 minutes apart, but it would have been easy to work in a 15-minute window, considering HR only allowed us 8 dull questions.

Now, I've only done this once, so I'm not any kind of expert, but here's what I learned:

  • The people who are interviewing you may or may not be your immediate supervisors. We were all from the same school, but were interviewing for positions at 3 different locations.
  • The people who are interviewing you may not have ever done this before. They could be pretty nervous, too, especially if it's early in the day.
  • Like any competition, it's not best to go first.
  • Come early. Your HR department might allow a huge window between interviews but, especially if it's after lunch, the interview panel will appreciate being able to move things along.
  • Answer the question.
  • Answer only the question. If you're going to volunteer random information, be sure to connect it back and show how it answers the question.
  • Answer the whole question.
  • Prepare a solid answer for the ubiquitous "what is your greatest strength? What is your greatest weakness?"
  • Be prepared to answer the weakness question. It is ALWAYS asked. Always. People who seem surprised look foolish.
  • Don't try to "forget" the weakness question.
  • Does it seem like I'm harping on the weakness thing? I am! My students know that when I repeat something over and over and over and over and over it means that it's important.
  • Don't go overboard with your clothing. Seriously. If you're applying for a job where you won't have to wear business formal, don't go buy a new suit. You'll look uncomfortable, and we'll be able to tell that you don't wear that sort of clothing in your current job.
  • Whatever outfits are expected at your job, wear them enough so that you're comfortable. Wash or dry-clean them once or twice before the interview. Break in your shoes so you don't fall over in the hallway on the way to the interview room. Don't wear an outfit you don't like.
  • Wear one interesting or unique piece of clothing or jewelry. Not anything crazy or punk, but a pretty necklace or slightly brighter tie. After 9 interviews, everyone kinda blends together, and we're not allowed to discuss candidates until the end. I'm not a fashionista by any means, but I did say things like "remember the one in the green shirt? She said that...."
  • Everyone says this, but I'll repeat it: LEARN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN ABOUT THE JOB BEFORE THE INTERVIEW. Ask people you know, use any contacts you have, even if you haven't talked to them in 20 years, and go online and talk to people, especially those in your local area. It's hard to picture you in a job if you're sitting there asking what you'll have to do.
  • In many school districts, interviewers have a list of questions, and they are instructed to record comments. When you finish answering a question, STOP TALKING. We may not say anything, but that's not 'cause we're waiting for a more complete answer, it's because we're making notes on what you already said. Rambling makes you look silly.
Teacher interviews are next week! It should be fun to help select my newest colleague.


Photo Credit: Rickydavid on Flickr

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Went to my classroom today!

Neighbor teacher texted to say she was working in her classroom, so I decided to unload the bazillion boxes of donated USB drives that have been overwhelming my miniscule dining room.

It smells funny.

Not the dining room, or the neighbor teacher. No, my classroom smells funny. My nose was itching within a few minutes of pretend-work-but-really-gossipping, and the trip into my closets to find the elusive but completely worthless grammar teacher's edition made me almost die.

Next time, remind me to go in early, open the windows wide, turn on the fan, and go revisit the In'n'Out that I've missed so much this summer. While I'm at it, I should recruit some kids to come and move desks for me...

As we pretended that we were going to do some real work, neighbor teacher and I discussed the following:
  • Summer school.
  • How happy we were to be rid of our principal.
  • How the former principal darkened our souls.
  • How low our test scores were going to be this year because teaching quality went down and nobody really did any extra interventions because we so hated former principal.
  • Our readiness to move on from the horribleness that was the former principal.
  • Ideas for staff collaboration which is guaranteed to be incredibly amazing because everyone loves each other like the kids on Barney.
  • My need for help in figuring out how to improve class, learning, and life for my English Learners.
  • My need for help standing up to my teaching team. Wonderful people, but they don't always listen.
  • Our frustration with the new 7th grade students' general misbehavior and how it's all the former principal's fault (wait, we weren't going to talk about her again).
  • Classroom configurations.
  • Sleeping in 4 hours later than normal.
  • Summer plans.
  • Summer reading.
  • Books that have been turned into movies.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and how cool it was when the memories kinda dropped like water into ink in the pensieve.
  • and other random frivolity.

Seem like a long conversation? That's what happens when you take two people who are accustomed to talking all day, every day, and give them 3 months without students! Really, I should get a job as a telemarketer or something.

Meanwhile, my classroom looks exactly as it did before my arrival, with the addition of several boxes of USB drives and the removal of the remains of the potting soil that we used for an experiment at the end of the year before last and that I now need to repot my basil plants.

Guess I'll have to go back next week. I wonder if neighbor teacher will be there...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Earlier this summer, I not-so-subtly let the principal know that I'd like to be on the teacher interview panel. We have a few slots to fill, and I've only had one chance to be on the "other" side of the table.

Yeah. That was a mistake.

As a warm-up to the teacher interviews, I get to sit on the interview panel for...a part-time health aide. Fun fun.

For a teacher, I would be looking for a million characteristics and qualifications. Do you believe in our mission? Do you respect our students? Do you teach well? Will you fit in with our team? Of course, HR probably won't let me ask any of those questions, but at least I'd have an idea before the school year starts!

For a health aide, with whom I generally interact only by writing notes about student symptoms, I have just two questions:
  1. Are you qualified?

  2. Do you like kids?

If the person can sincerely answer both questions in the affirmative, he or she is fine by me.

Our previous aide couldn't answer number 2 correctly; she was so mean to our kids! My students, contrary to normal adolescent behavior, actually stayed in class when they were horribly sick rather than endure her sighs, rolled eyes, and sharp comments about how they were making her job too difficult.

Her job, in my observation, seemed to include the following: taking temperatures, holding prescription medication, and organizing the scoliosis, hearing, and vision tests.

Let's hope these interviews go well. It scares me that some well-meaning person hired that last person!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Back to Business? Mmmmm, not yet!

The last 11 days have been a wonderful chance to be a tourist in my own town. My high school best friend / college roommate / maid of honor / probable godmother of my future children came to visit, so I got to play tour guide.

Of course, when she asked questions I couldn't answer, I took the challenge to make up the most interesting answer possible, just like a real tour guide (or, dare I say it? Just like a real teacher!). After a day or two I told her the truth, and we spent the rest of the trip competing to make up the best fake stories. The best ones came on the way back from wine tasting - I spit, but she didn't, and she became rather creative after our 3rd winery! Did you know that a random office building in Richmond is haunted? Neither did I!

During her visit, I learned a couple of things about touring the SF Bay area:

  • Don't feel obligated to always accompany out-of-town guests. I dropped her off at a few tourist attractions like the Winchester Mystery House. She had a great time, and I got the chance to do some laundry and take a nap. Same thing in San Francisco; while she went to Alcatraz, I explored the ferry building, the financial district, and several other places tourists don't usually want to go. Cut yourself some slack - your guests just might need a break from you, too!
  • At Great America, the Six-Flags-style theme park, don't eat the food. It's just not good, and soft drinks alone are $3.86 or something crazy like that. Instead, pay the $15 and spring for preferred parking, and leave an ice chest in the car. The park allows you to exit and re-enter with a hand stamp. If you really need "theme park food," eat your main meal from the car and get a churro as a snack.
  • Great America requires you to leave your bags, hats, and glasses (including prescription specs) in little cubbies on most of the rides. Don't get on a roller coaster if you're unwilling to part with your stuff. If you argue, the people in line behind you will either get mad or laugh. We guffawed with great relish at the idiot who made an goon of himself on the Psycho Mouse.

  • Do the same thing in San Francisco. Park at the Pier 39 garage, a fairly central location that accepts validation, and leave snacks and water in the car. Some lots don't accept validation, so they end up being much more expensive.

  • Get the $11 all-day MUNI pass. You can buy it from the cable car conductor or...somewhere else...check the website. This little slip of paper will become your best friend! It works on the cable cars, the F train, and (I think) the busses. Cable cars are normally $5 a pop one-way, and the F train is $2. The pass saves a little bit of money, and you can't beat the convenience. Also, at the end of the day, that F train, sardine can though it is, is a godsend. It stops frequently along the waterfront and down Market street.

  • Don't try to board the cable cars at Ghirardelli Square. You'll wait in line for a really long time. Instead, take the F train way east to the first stop after it turns onto Market and board the cable car there. You'll be able to stop at the coolest entrance to Chinatown, and the conductors are really good about clearly announcing the stop where you have to transfer to the Powell-Hyde line to get back to Gh Square.
  • Don't use the bathrooms at Gh Square. Yes, you'll need them after a long cable car ride and ice cream at the chocolate shop! Instead, walk down to Beach street (at the bottom of the square), hang a left, and head to the big white aquatic park building on the north side of the intersection of Beach and Polk (the northwest corner of Ghirardelli Square). It's a museum that's being renovated, but they've opened the lobby, veranda, and restrooms. Temporary exhibits are supposed to come starting in August 2009. The lobby has a fun 1920's mural depicting Atlantis, while the veranda is a nice quiet place to get away from the crowds and enjoy the view of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, the ships in the marina, and the crazy people swimming in the frigid waters. The bathroom is a thing of beauty! It's huge, clean, and (so far) undiscovered. Friday, just after lunchtime, I was the ONLY PERSON THERE! Nobody pushing open a door that barely latches, no little brats peeking through cracks, no nasty TP on the floor, no pregnant women glaring maliciously at you for taking so long...really, you come to appreciate these things! They also have free city maps that are the best I've seen anywhere.

  • View from the Veranda

  • If you see a guy spray-painting cardstock, stop and watch. The finished products aren't really my style, but he has the most off-the-wall technique (no pun know...spray paint...on walls...okay, not as funny as I originally thought).

  • Don't cuss out the bush guy. If you see him, you'll know what I'm talking about, but I don't want to ruin your experience. Just realize that it's all good fun. Funny story: someone cussed him out, he started returning the barrage - and my little sister, a teenager at the time, stepped in and started chewing him out for using such language when so many families were around. That's my baby sister :) To his credit, he was very polite and apologetic to her.

  • Fishermans' Wharf shopping progresses from cheap (west) to nice (east). If you need tokens for random family members or little kids, hit the places just down from Ghirardelli Square. If you want nicer gifts and don't mind paying the price, see Pier 39. If you want the classiest stuff you'll get within 30 yards of the water, see the Ferry Building.

at Pier 39

Ferry Building - they have a Farmers' Market on Thursdays.
  • If you want to drive down Lombard street, don't be stupid like me and take a right onto Lombard from northbound Van Ness. Even my 3-year-old car smelled a bit like burnt rubber after trying to make it up the 45-degree hill. Okay, my party-pooper husband says it's only about 15 degrees, but try telling that to my car! Still, you should use your map or GPS and come at Lombard from northbound Hyde street. You'll still have to contend with some hills and with the cable cars, but it's better than wearing out your e-brake!

Oh, yeah, don't let the California stereotype fool you. Yesterday, you know, in late July, the San Fran high was all of 66 degrees, foggy, and windy. There's a reason why the gift shops are stuffed to the gills with overpriced sweatshirts!

What are your best tourist tips for your city? Is anyone in New Orleans? I'm hoping to go to the CES Fall Forum in November and would love your advice!

Next week, it's back to business as usual. I haven't checked my google reader in a while, and I have several tasks to finish before the rest of my teaching team returns from their various sojourns next week. Wish me luck!

Monday, July 13, 2009

I Quit!

Yes, I quit. Not my job, not my life, not even my endless (unpaid, did I mention that?) hours of planning.

I quit this whole Year in Review thing. If you've read the first few posts, you probably think I'm a witchy monster who hates life.

Last year was so negative and hateful and hurtful, at least outside the classroom, and my memory just isn't good enough to translate all the awesome things my kids did into readable posts.

So, I quit. I'm not going to finish the year in review.

You're probably incredibly disappointed, so I'll make a promise: this year, I'll blog about the good things. I'll tell the funny little stories about the kids, brag about the amazing insights they express, and post pictures of their exhibitions, field days, and artwork.

No more of this raincloud stuff. I quit!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Hope Springs Eternal

New Superintendent who appears to support small schools.

New Board majority who support small schools.
Minority will be termed out soon.

New Principal,
one of our own,
a founder of the school who respects
and has the support of
teachers, parents, and students.

Instead of fighting for survival,
we'll be able to concentrate on
teaching and learning.
What a novelty!
What potential for progress!
What a wonderful world!

Photo Credit Matt McGee on

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Accountability? But it's too hard!

Ah, accountability. That catch-phrase hurled at and by teachers everywhere, that multi-tasking noun, that excellent idea so often used to insult and patronize. While "accountability" is slowly being displaced by "transparency," it still makes the rounds as one of the most misunderstood words in education.

It's a cliche worthy of a commencement speaker to define your terminology in a dramatic way, but here it is: Accountability means that you're responsible to somebody or for something, and that your actions are capable of being explained (my paraphrase of Encarta Dictionary).

At the most basic level, this isn't a problem for teachers. We hold our students accountable to the point of being ridiculous: "Why didn't you do your homework?" "Why were you late for school?" "How bad do you really have to go to the bathroom?"

The average teacher would want accountability to sound more reasonable: "What are you going to learn?" "How are you going to learn it?" "How will you know when you have learned it?" This type of classroom accountability should encourage students to learn and inquire and grow.

If you mention accountability for teachers and schools, well, you're asking for a fight. The images that come to my mind are angry union members yelling across tables, people with clipboards and high heels and silk blouses standing in my classroom as far away from the students as possible, and students' sickened expressions as they enter the classroom on testing days.

Accountability in education is too much like the first example. Instead of "Why didn't you do your homework?" it's "Why didn't your English Learners make more progress?" Teachers and schools are judged solely on a set of numbers, and attempts to evaluate in more logical ways become just as foolish.

One of the recent "innovations" was the introduction of the Classroom Walk-Through, or CWT because jargon makes us feel important. The idea is that district personnel, school administration, and other teachers will step into your classroom for 4 minutes, fill out a checklist, and move on to the next room. This should be done often, providing hundreds of classroom "snapshots" throughout the year in order to create a composite picture of what a school is really doing.

As much as I love snapshot collages, I can't pretend that they accurately represent what my students are learning. John Spencer on Television and Teaching recently compared such snapshots to a nature show in which the photographer stands back from a ritual, taking pictures and making judgements, but never gaining a true understanding of the culture by actually participating and getting to know the people. The CWT (love the lingo) may be better than a one-shot evaluation, but it still allows a wall of separation between reality and the clipboard.

So, what about teacher accountability? Don't all business sectors use some sort of performance pay? Not really, according to Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute. In an excerpt from his book Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right, Rothstein explains that "private sector pay is almost never based primarily on quantitative performance measures." Based on his conclusions, our foolish method of grading schools based on Math and Reading scores is detrimental to real education, because everyone always focuses primarily on the areas of their profession that are evaluated. We all know what happens when we focus on Math and Reading: we say goodbye to Science, Social Studies, Music, Art, Electives, Sports, and anything else that enables a well-rounded education.

When we look at common teaching practices, this focus shouldn't be a surprise. When I start a project with my students, I give them background information, instructions, examples...and a rubric that shows exactly what will be graded and how many points are available in each category. My students know to use that rubric as a checklist and to focus on those categories.

True evaluation requires a change in mindset. Accountability means that we are responsible for our work, but for whom are we working? To whom are we responsible? Who are the stakeholders in our school? We have many:
  • The Federal, State, and Local governments direct money toward our programs. They're controlling partners...who really have all of the control.
  • The community pays taxes that provide that money. They should have more control, because they elect many of the government officials. They also have an inherent interest because the community's future depends on raising up their children to be future leaders.
  • The parents of our students, regardless of their taxpayer status, because, well, they're the parents of our students.
  • Our students. These kids are required by law to sit their behinds in our classrooms for almost 6 hours a day, and then go home and do homework. They don't get paid, and they often don't have a voice in the decision-making.

In order to truly evaluate a school, we have to base our assessments on the goals of every stakeholder group, which means that our rubrics must include students' goals as well as federal mandates. Reasonable accountability requires resources: time, money, and an incredible amount of effort that I've already outlined in another post. Such resources are in short supply, but any type of evaluation that doesn't focus on the goals of all stakeholders is as ridiculous as a teacher focusing on bathroom usage instead of academic progress.

Monday, July 6, 2009

So Long, Schoolhouse!

It's finally gone! That ridiculously cheery but ominous symbol of No Child Left Behind has departed forever!

By coincidence, I had driven by the eyesore the previous day on a tour bus full of students. If we had known that the "Little Red Schoolhouse" that has stood in front of the Department of Education for so long was being torn down while we were only a few blocks away, we certainly would have made a side trip to stand across the street and cheer!

If you're not a teacher, you're probably confused right now. Well, take a look at the late facade of the Department of Education in Washington DC.

Photo credit dchousegrooves on

Allow me to indulge in a brief analysis of this symbol of American Public Education.

When viewing the schoolhouse, one's eye is immediately drawn by the garish McDonald's Clown-Nose Red that is slathered across the front like toothpaste on an inquisitive toddler. It's not the proud, worn, dark red of a prairie schoolhouse. Instead, we see a marketing ploy intended to draw the eye away from the looming bureaucracy in the nondescript edifice that is the real Department of Education.

The large, open doors evoke the image not of a schoolhouse, but of a Fischer-Price barn that I owned as a child. Those who enter are not encouraged to be individuals, but rather cattle headed for the feed lot, the milking stand, and, eventually, the slaughterhouse.

Surrounding the schoolhouse is a white picket fence, reminding us of the American Dream (or Wisteria Lane), where daddy has a job, a wife, 2.5 kids, and a house with a yard in the suburbs. Of course, everyone is happy, because their futures have already been determined by the shape of their genitalia and the size of their daddy's wallets. This honorable ideal is more than appropriate for today's Department of Education.

This white picket fence (or a simple chain at the Tulsa Public Schools office) also prevents curmudgeons and realists from accessing the main doors by any other path. Every person who wants to achieve their goals, be they entering the building, getting a job, or going to college, must jump through the hoops walk through the door of whatever current legislation is preventing real education. Alternative education? Charter Schools?? Homeschooling??? May it never be! If it doesn't fit the current administration's narrow goals, it has no place in America!

The sign, resembling a blackboard emblazoned with a childish scrawl, proclaims No Child Left Behind, that overly-hopeful name that leads people to believe that local schools are at fault for all of the nations woes. Like the schoolhouse, this legislation serves as a hopeful facade that hides bureaucracy, red tape, and the most amazing waste of money since the invention of souvenir shops.

If only they had used a wrecking ball...

Friday, July 3, 2009

Using, not banning, digital devices

I've just read yet another post explaining why teachers should embrace cell phones, iPods, and other digital devices in the classroom.

Awesome. She's absolutely right. I can think of several ways off the top of my head to use this technology.

Here are the weaknesses in this plan:
  • Not every kid has a cell phone.
  • Not every kid who has a cell phone has the same technological capabilities.
  • Cell phones can be distracting as status symbols.

Our school has uniforms so that clothing is less of a distraction. If someone can't afford the uniform, or school supplies, the school helps them to obtain what they can't purchase. If we applied the same policy to cell phones, we'd be using a HUGE part of our limited budget on droppable, breakable, out-date-able technology. Of course, if someone donated a whole bunch of cell phones, minutes, and texts, I'd gladly take them!

I've spent hours just teaching my kids to use basic office software. Would I have to spend the same amount of time teaching them to text and post to the web from their phones? Maybe, maybe not.

Some of my kids come from less-healthy home situations. If I gave them a donated cell phone, would it be "borrowed" by parents who can't afford phones...or, even worse, by older family members in gangs? How could I avoid making this a problem?

How do I address safety and cyberbullying? Am I more liable if I provide the phone?

Has anyone out there successfully used cell phones in the classroom? What do you do?

Teacher Stereotypes

My brother hates teachers. Not me, just teachers. He says we talk down to everyone else, don't do our jobs, and are responsible for many problems in the world.

But he's the only person in the world who thinks like that, right? Or do I need to prove that a negative teacher stereotype exists? If you need proof, google "bad teacher."

In the Teacher Magazine article, "Upending the Negative Teacher Stereotype," John Norton discusses responses to a June 6, 2009 Newsweek article by Jonathan Alter. (In order to confuse you further, Alter decided to incite the wrath of teachers everywhere by opening with a controversial quote from Jacques Barzun's Teacher in America.)

While good blog etiquette suggests that I should summarize and write about each response individually, that's simply not going to happen. The number of posts related to this story make such a task impossible. Unless, of course, you'd like to see my head explode magnificently.

Therefore, I'm going to invite you to read the article and comments, and then return to this page to see if I have anything worthwhile to offer. I know, that's a risky proposal; you're all too likely to follow the links, get lost in the discussion, and forget to come back here and comment. I suggest opening the links in a new tab or window :)

Norton's article, along with its pleasantly insightful comments, offers endless topics for discussion, but two major obstacles jump out that permit negative stereotypes to endure:

  • People in general seem to differentiate between "MY school / MY teacher" and "teachers and schools in the USA."

  • Teachers, politicians, and the general American public all seem to maintain differing views regarding teacher effectiveness.

Norton mentions the common "American-schools-are-bad-but-my-kid's-school-is-OK" stereotype. We see examples of this view everywhere. Jay Leno harangues teachers night after night, and it's become an old not-so-funny gag that every joke that starts with a teacher will end with statutory rape, but he praised his own teachers when he returned to Andover for a hometown event. On The West Wing, the smartest TV show in way too long, Jimmy Smits' character makes education a huge part of his election campaign. In one episode, Santos (the character) is explaining his education plan to potential fundraisers, and they show irritation when he gives that old line about getting rid of bad teachers. "My sister is a teacher." His response? "And I'm sure she's a great teacher, but..." This idea is pervasive, even ubiquitous, but it's still just...silly.

When we separate our own schools and teachers from the general population, we allow ourselves to retain our simplistic views on the state of education. If my teacher is the only one who works hard, then the rest of the teachers are just "out there." If none of the teachers "out there" are worthwhile, then we can justify the view that American Education just needs to be turned on its head. Then we leave ourselves with naive solutions that don't work.

Instead, we need to examine what we have. A superb educational consultant in Northern California recently commented on the "pockets of excellence" in an underperforming district. We could extend that appellation across the country. What's working in American schools? WHO is working? What are they doing? What best practices could be adapted to other learning communities?

Which brings us to the second point: How do we define success? Politicians (and yes, I'm using the term loosely) have spewed nonsense about accountability, trying to run the public education system like a business. However, one significant difference separates public education from businesses, charter schools, and private schools: public schools admit all students. Even small schools of choice admit students randomly, not based on grades or behavior. We can't "counsel out" students, as KIPP is rumored to do, or expel kids for any but the most severe infractions. (For more about our admission policy, read this post). The problem comes when teachers try to explain why we sound so excited about achievements that sound terrible to those outside the profession. When we list the reasons why a 40% proficiency rate or 85% homework turn-in rates are wonderful, we sound like whiners. We sound like we're just making excuses, and the world mocks us for it. While you're thinking about success, and commenting on your ideas, open this article in a new window.

Teachers need to work tirelessly on several fronts to assuage the negative teacher stereotypes. We need to be willing to adopt the best practices from other teachers, schools, and states; or, as Harry Wong says, "Steal, steal, steal!" We need to define success in terms that people in other professions can appreciate.

Oh, yeah, and we all need to work freaking hard to follow Abraham Lincoln's advice: "Whatever you are, be a good one."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Doing Someone Else's Job

This post could also be called "How Much I Dislike My Curriculum" or "Why I Really Should Teach Social Studies."

Some people hate textbooks. Some people rely too heavily on textbooks.

I don't fall into either of those categories, which seems to make planning more difficult.

If I hated textbooks in general, then creating my own hodge-podge curriculum would be the unquestionably normal thing to do. If I relied heavily on the district-chosen curriculum, I wouldn't really have to plan anything, because I could just put little post-its on the resources I wanted to use and start photocopying away.

Oh, no, either of those would be too straightfoward. Instead, being somewhere in the middle, I'm scouring the district curriculum (which is really neither worthwhile nor appropriate for our demographics) for useful items and ideas, searching the web and my endless teacher-type books for the rest, and trying to sequence it and make it all fit together so that my kids will learn what they need without wasting time.

Right now, I'm working on the grammar component. It doesn't help that the district-chosen grammar book is a great waste of trees and ink!

For example, the state standard says, "Use subordination, coordination, apposition, and other devices to indicate clearly the relationship between ideas" (ELA Content Standards page 53). So, I break out the little handbooks, look up the handy index, and what do I find? Half a page of complicated explanation, basically saying that subordination is creating a subordinate clause out of the less important idea.

Thanks for that.

My kids already understand subordinate clauses, but they couldn't begin to comprehend your wordy, incoherent ramblings! Okay, so where do kids practice this device? Oh, what, they don't? This non-explanation is everything you're giving me? Jolly! That means that I get to use my (unpaid) summer planning sessions to create practice opportunities for them. Don't forget, that's just one of many standards.

That's okay, I don't mind volunteering 8 weeks every year to create curriculum, even though you've already paid the textbook company for these worthless space-wasters we call handbooks.

So what's in the rest of the book? Five hundred pages of mostly useless exercises, trivial grammar rules, and unreadable explanations. I'll end up using 3 or 4 of the 19 chapters. As for the rest...well, I now understand why most of this 8-year-old book looks so new!

Now, I'm not reinventing the wheel here. If this job were already done (as it is in the most-fabulous TCi Social Studies program), I'd happily take a Kathy Reichs book down to the pool without feeling any guilt.