Monday, December 31, 2007

May Your New Year Bring New Beginnings

Here's a quote I stumbled on a while back, in the blog of a young Swedish graphic designer:

"Everything's changing, it is unseemly to stand still."

- Radoslaw Siechowicz

I don't discredit the value of stillness - it is a time to gather thoughts and develop new ideas. But standing still when things are changing...that I think we must not do, but rather be certain we (as teachers) have voices in the change, after well-spent moments of consideration for what we will say.

All my best to you and yours in the new year.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Pressing Our Fingers In Clay

It's been my habit for many years, over the various blogs I've had, to post this essay around the close of the year and to follow it up with a sort of manifesto on the morning of the new year. This has been the most difficult year of my teaching career, the one they talk about that breaks a teacher and sends them off to other employment, which is why I've been so much absent from this blog. But it was never, NEVER the students that made me consider quitting. It was they who kept me going, and their faces, upon remembrance, that will get me back there come January.

Each year, I dedicate this to one student. This year I dedicate it to A, a Katrina victim who had been ill-served in her school, as we've discovered of so many of those kids coming out of New Orleans were.

So, this is for A, whom I've had two years now, and who stood up in class one day during a lengthy discussion and, in a very quiet but powerful voice, announced she was, for the rest of her life, going to fight stereotypes having to do with women, with large women, with African-American women, with large African-American women, and with the idea that "Your look means anything about who you are."


God, how we get our fingers in each other's clay. That's friendship, each playing the potter to see what shapes we can make of the other.
--Ray Bradbury*

I did not start out with the intention to be a teacher. I was going to be an actress. Maybe an author (I had some small success in that arena, actually). Possibly a veterinarian, and a sculptor in my spare time. But the matriarchs of my family were all teachers. My mother, grandmother, great-grandmother. When my father retired from the military he became a teacher too.

In hindsight it is possible I didn't have any real choice, but not because I wasn't given any. At a certain point in life I made a desultory jab at the business world with no success. Remembering summers spent pretending to be a teacher in my grandmother's classroom - the marvel of colored chalk, the smell of a new pack of construction paper - I felt that odd, tingling tug I suppose many people must feel when the unexpected purpose comes to swing around on the rusty hinges of the soul.

Teachers are never fully prepared for what they will encounter in the classroom. There are not enough student-teaching hours in a lifetime to ready one for the constant daily exposure to a clientele so reluctant and resistant as a student. The daunting arrival of new initiatives for education, poorly supported by equal financial enthusiasm, make public school teaching in this day and age a strange, almost apocalyptic landscape, the survivors of which are those who learn how to dumpster dive for useful left-overs, convince students to keep the caps on markers so they don't dry out, and turn a sheet of black poster paper into a working chalkboard.

Yet for all that, I was bestowed with a gift by those teachers that came before me, which makes me uniquely suited to benefit from teaching. Both parents and grandparents were immensely interested in me as a child and teenager, as an evolving human being. They listened to me. They indulged and encouraged several interests that have since fallen by the way-side. When I think back on my childhood and teen-hood, I am clearly able to see how very intrigued they were in watching me figure out the world, and getting a weekly, if not daily report. They bred this down into my blood, this amazing delight in the evolution of the young mind. Without this, there would be no purpose to teaching.

Media accounts of teen activity seldom paint a flattering portrait of American teens. Neither, quite honestly, do they themselves at times. Uncertain, frightened, fragile, brash, they can be cruel, retort defensively, and are driven by social maneuverings and politics that put the Borgias to shame. They are aware of this. Symbolic genocide of their kind in teen slasher flicks have made them callus to violence. They know this. Their schools are under-funded, and they lack substantial access to technology, which they recognize as their key to the future. They are able to speak about all the issues affecting them in their own elegant vernacular, all too often ignored by the very adults who claim to be representing their best interests. They know this too, and they shut down with a weary, frustrated slump to wait out the internment of forced silence and negative appraisal. All too often the spark of self-confidence dims in favor of the hunger for validation. Luckily, they seem to have boundless reserves of fire within them, not so easily extinguished. It is in those moments of rekindling that I find my certain sanctity.

There is a particularly cosmetic satisfaction to being a teacher that is widely recognized. Studying learning processes, composing a lesson plan that succeeds, seeing students make connections in their writing and their classroom responses, the well-oiled machinations of a successful classroom in which students are self-starting and engaged all contribute to the sense of well-being, of things well done.

What are more rarely spoken of in concrete terms are the rewards that emerge above and beyond that. Perhaps it is because we find ourselves at a loss, words run out, when we are suddenly, unexpectedly humbled by the trust that is placed in us when we have earned our students' respect; astonished by the power of a quiet voice to silence a noisy room; amazed by the first event of a single hand held up which draws all eyes forward. They listen for me. They watch for me. I didn't know this before now. There is great magic in these things, bestowed upon us only by the good graces of those we teach.

These are moments of significant purpose, exquisite clarity of self and the self's impact on others. Moments when we are able to put into play those abstract lessons learned from teachers of the past and find that small, sometimes invisible path to each student's heart, cling to it for a moment, and insert one whisper of validation in those world-weary ears. You matter. I know it in my bones. I don't say what isn't true.

We don't impact them all. We certainly aren't driven to teaching for the money or acclaim. But it is rumored, in whispered conferences among peers, we impact more than we know, or will ever know. Someday, we say, they will remember what happened here, and they will tell others.

And so we go looking for the switch, the button, the thread; the connection between ourselves and our subjects and their minds. The lack of resources easily falls away - why despise what we do not have? - and in its place lies what was most true all along. The greatest secret to teaching is simply the desire to watch students learn. We must want to see it occur as much as we may want material things, as much as we may want air. We could do this with sticks in mud if we had to, scratch it out on papyrus. As long as each day finds us another opportunity to tell them again what our best teachers told us in their own way: I see you. Your voice has shape. You do amazing things. The world got better when you came into it.

In the quietest, most perfect moments of teaching I realize this is true, not merely something to be said to placate a fragile adolescent ego. They do amazing things. Unfettered by any adult sense of caution or pretended humility they create words and art and music full of limitless passion: joy and despair and loathing and adoration. Their humor is boundless, their wit clever as any satirist. Their voices are the shape of the future. They see beyond what is to what might be, and pursue it with the fierce intent to make it true.

Watching them, I can see the future begin to take on form and purpose. Hearing them, I hear the echoes of my past self when I was enormous with meaning and ideas, perhaps some I've forgotten, or that have fallen by the wayside. I am reminded that there were no golden days of yore, that each day is now, that each moment is right now, that there is no better time to find an excuse to laugh, to ponder, to wonder how it all works and why, to tell the world what I think of it, to put my name, my mark, on the things that will be remembered.

I have learned this much about being a teacher: it is the secret promise of education that the teacher, in the end, will benefit more than the students. It is in the rarest moments of teaching that the teacher transcends their own limitations, lets go of their past, and evolves bit by bit into a being of worth. And so I carry on, pressing my fingers into what substance I am given, seeing what shapes will emerge, indelibly molded by the willing hands of those I encounter - knowing that someday the chalk will be so deep in the creases of my flesh I will seem made of clean, smooth clay.


*Bradbury, Ray. Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bantam Books, New York. 1962.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Student Turns Back On The Hand That Feeds Him: Or, It Ceases To Surprise Me Any More

Student: [at 8:40 this morning] I failed my semester final, and the semester. Is there any extra credit work I can do to pass?

Me: You do realize today is the last day of finals and the semester?

Student: Yes.

Me: I don't show you ever came for morning tutoring with me, is that correct?

Student: Yes.

Me: I don't show you ever signed up for side-by-side conferencing with me during class for any assignment, is that correct?

Student: Yes.

Me: Did you go to afternoon tutoring, evening tutoring in the library, Saturday tutoring? Did you ask for help in class from Ms. S? [inclusion support instructor]

Student: No.

Me: Did you write the rough draft of the essay we wrote in class over the last five days that you could then use on your final?

Student: No.

Me: Did you study the exam review I gave?

Student: I didn't get one.

Me: Yes, you did. I handed you one when you came in the door.

Student: I lost it.

Me: I told all my classes that there were extras available.

Student: [shrug]

Me: So let me get this straight. You would like me to create, on the last day of the semester, some sort of extra credit which will make up for the three failing 6 weeks' grades you've had since August? Right now, when I'm about to give my last 2 finals, and have to grade 161 essays by the time grades are due tomorrow at noon? What is it you think I can put together by the time the bell rings at 9 to make up for all the work you haven't done since school started? And also...wait a minute. Do you even have a backpack with you?

Student: No.

Me: Did you bring any paper?

Student: No.

Me: Did you bring something to write with?

Student: No.

Me: came to me on the last day of the semester, wanting me to take on the added work of creating for you some sort of extra credit meaningful enough to raise your ENTIRE semester grade to passing...and you didn't bring paper, or anything to write with?

Student: [to his credit, looking really dejected now] Yes.

Me: So your intent was that I should also have to provide you with the supplies to complete the work? Are you aware that I buy the extra supplies for this classroom?

Student: [squirms a bit]

Me: Your accommodations allow for you to retake the semester exam for a maximum of a 70. Do you have a last period exam today?

Student: No. I just have baseball this morning. I can study then.

Me: Did you bring money with you today?

Student: Yes.

Me: Good. Take your money, and this rubric, and the sample essay we've been deconstructing, studying, and mirroring for this entire assignment. Make a copy of it in the library and bring it back. Then, I suggest you spend the time during baseball writing your rough draft for the essay, since it is 60% of your final exam. [Dictated by the district.]

Student: Um. Can I still fail this semester and then get my grade up enough to pass for the year next semester?

Me: [eyes probably popping out of head] Are you trying to tell me that after all this, you don't want to make the effort to even retake the semester exam? After you came here asking ME for extra credit?

Student: [squirms] Well...noooo...I'll take it. [Takes rubric and sample essay, returns within 10 minutes.]

Me: Okay, I'll see you next period.

Student...did not show up to retake final.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Student Drinks Chocolate Cheese

I usually try to spend my second period conference in a social skills class with some of our Autistic/Asperger students. The privilege of being welcomed into this (mostly private) class by them helps me when they are in my classroom, and helps me gain new perspectives in general.

Today, during "table time" in which we gather around the table and discuss concerns or objectives, one of the kids kept pulling random items out of his backpack. Finally, he pulled out a carton of chocolate milk and began drinking it. Someone asked him where all this stuff was coming from. He looked at the milk and said, completely deadpan, "I've had this in my backpack for two weeks."

We all gave the appropriate "ewww!" responses, which made him grin.

One student commented, "By now, it's pretty much just chocolate cheese."

Another student said, "What's the expiration date on it?"

And a third student said, without missing a beat, "1927."

At that point, we pretty much lost it.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Student Too Cute For Words

I have a student who tries very hard, but often gets lost in his work easily. He's also very shy and won't ever ask for help, so I usually try to make sure I'm anticipating some of his needs.

Today's activity kept me pretty busy going from group to group, and I noticed throughout that he kept trying to catch my eye. As I passed by each time, I tried to glance down at his work to see where he was stuck, but when I did he would flip to another page in his binder (already completed) and tap his pencil on it. Finally, on my third swing by, I slowed down enough to look at the page he was flipping to.

Across the top he'd written I NEED HELP, and he was tapping his pencil on it so I would notice. Can I get an "awwwwww" from the audience? It was too cute.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Good Old Fashioned Cheating

Cheating has become so high tech these days it's almost ridiculous to expect that I'm going to catch all of it. With phones getting smaller and teens' fingers getting faster, they can get five answers off the phone, have it off and returned to their pocket before I've even finished raising my eyebrow a la Mr. Spock and begun to cross the room.

With six identical classes, it's often not easy to come up with six different versions of the same assessment either. I can usually manage 3 different versions, and I stay mobile throughout the testing to keep them nervous. Still, it happens.

Last week, because we were in the library all period, I had a very quick quiz for them to take, and I'd gotten the versions scrambled up with everything else we were doing. (A computer reading test, checking out books, etc.) So I ended up using just one version of the test, the one I had the most copies of. Students got wind of it, of course.

I saw a girl repeatedly glancing down into her lap. Because we were in the library, I was behind her, and she didn't notice her table-mates had suddenly begun shifting nervously and clearing their throats to announce my approach (so subtle, these kids!). So I came up behind her and held out my hand, expecting to get a phone in return.

She handed me a tiny piece of paper with the answers hand-written on it. I swear, I haven't seen one of these since maybe my first year of teaching in middle school. I'm thinking of framing it, so I can show it to students some day when we're all jacked into the mainframe and paper is extinct. See kids, we used to cheat with paper! And had to brush our teeth by hand!

We then had to have the inevitable talk, where I inform her that she will receive a zero, she cries, then begs to retake the test, which I do not allow (there will be two more of these quizzes, so she can make up for the zero). I then asked her (as I always do), what she was afraid of, because I know cheating is a fear response though it may not be recognized as such by the student. She told me she hadn't studied. She then asked me if I was going to make her tell me who she'd gotten the answers from, and I said no. It sounded more like she wanted to confess, but I wasn't letting her off the hook that easily. It's one thing to choose to give out answers, it's another thing to choose to use them. In the end, it's all about you and the choices you make, I told her. Then she started crying again.

Gah. Why are some lessons so painful?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Teacher Knows Books

I took my students to the library Tuesday to check out books for sustained silent reading in the classroom. Students dread SSR time, because they are usually required to keep page counts, write journals, choose certain types of books and genres and complete massive projects over their books. Nothing like making them hate something we're trying to get them to want to do in their spare time. So I told them we weren't going to worry about all that - that they should just get a book they thought they might like.

One of my students was wandering aimlessly, with that glaze over his eyes that signifies a reluctant reader suddenly trapped in his worst nightmare - an entire room full of books. I was checking out a book myself, so while I waited in line at the checkout counter, I asked him what kind of books he remembered liking at all. He said he liked Goosebumps, so I began rattling off a list of slightly more challenging horror and suspense novelists, telling him what they wrote and which ones I liked and why.

I noticed the crowd at the checkout counter had gotten very quiet. About seven kids who weren't mine were listening intently to our conversation. I looked up and said, "Why is everyone staring at me?"

One girl near the front said, "Because you can tell us what books we want to read."

It's good to know books, I suppose.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

English Teachers Fill Out Survey

Why you should not ask overworked English teachers to fill out a long survey about their writing training on the day grades are due, after they’ve lost 2 full weeks of teaching in 2 6 weeks’ periods.

Because we’re punchy. Because we’re frazzled. Because we just finished grading 170 essays. Because we also had to sit through a professional development faculty meeting during our planning period on this day and watch an art teacher explain how using art in the art class can help students be better artists. Because English teachers study word choice very carefully when they are feeling cynical.

And if you put us through a long survey of ticky boxes and blanks in which we’re asked to remember every little bit of writing training we’ve ever had, who taught it, and what we learned from it throughout our careers, then ask us something like this:

How would you describe your strategies for teaching writing?

You’re going to get a lot of this:

Me: Guerrilla tactics, ambush, bribery, and blackmail.

Colleague 1: I generally like to have the students write down words on paper, preferably with pen or pencil, although markers will work in a pinch.

Colleague 2: AWESOME! I use strategies that help students totally heart [she drew an actual heart] writing!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

It's Always Different Around the Holidays

It's like Through The Looking Glass. It's like April Fool's in November. It's like being tripped up by some cosmic banana peel and hearing a faint celestial laugh-track in the background.

Everything is different around the holidays.

This morning I had an observer, a young woman just entering a teaching program who must complete 16 hours of observation. Mine was her 16th hour. I really didn't want her to come during my 1st period, but that was the only time she was available.

So, I warned her in advance. This class and I are at odds. We're negotiating about several things: appropriate behavior, disruptions, not calling me a bitch out loud when I give you a zero for not having completed homework, etc. Tough crowd.

So of course, today, they were completely on task, participatory, and charming - except for a brief, limp rebellion at the back table when two students refused to answer questions I knew they had answers to. The first one said, with a huge grin, "No, I didn't do that one." The second one, asked to answer the same question, grinned and said, "I didn't either." Drama.

We moved on. The problem with their collaboration is that the other kids are tired of their disruptions, and won't play. It isn't insubordination until everyone's in on it. With just two, it's just kind of...sad.

My 3rd period class, which is all about the luuuuv but often can't stay focused, was completely focused. One kid slept through the directions for the assignment (despite me waking him twice). He came to me a little while later to say he was confused.

I said, "That's because you slept through the directions."

He said, "I did. I apologize for that, and for the extra time you have to take to re-explain it to me."

Can't a teacher even get a good excuse any more? An "I was resting my eyes," or "I was just thinking with my head down"?

In my fourth period class, the class that is always good natured and on-task, there was open rebellion. Cranky, fussy, rude, only class that didn't get through the entire lesson because they complained and complained.

Go figure. It's the holidays. Everybody needs a break, I suppose.


Best Slogan EVER, seen by the side of the road today:

Falcon Boxes. It's a box! You put stuff in it!

I must be delirious, because I can't stop laughing over this.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Things Teachers Hate To Hear, Part II

"If I pass out, don't send me to the nurse."

"Do you have...[counts on fingers] bandaids I could borrow?"

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What Is A Teacher?

Typed "What is a teacher?" into Google, and took the first five responses off the top.

A person whose occupation is teaching; a personified abstraction (Books were his teachers.)

To a mind of flint, the teacher must be iron, and strike sparks. To the empty pitcher, the teacher becomes a well...

The teacher is to the students what the rain is to the field. -Zaira Alexandra Rodriguez Guijarro, 11, (Mexico)

And - the all-important question -- Do you even like kids? And don't kid yourself (no pun intended): Taking your little brother to a baseball game one Saturday is nothing compared to trying to teach 25 screaming seventh-graders how to diagram a sentence. Think about it.

Teaching is like no other profession. As a teacher, you will wear many hats. You will, to name but of a few of the roles teachers assume in carrying out their duties, be a communicator, a disciplinarian, a conveyor of information, an evaluator, a classroom manager, a counselor, a member of many teams and groups, a decision-maker, a role-model, and a surrogate parent.

There are many different interpretations/ideas of what a teacher is. Some espouse the glory of an ideal. Make no mistake about it, the idea of a "teacher" is still revered, but those in the teaching profession have become much-maligned; sometimes justifiably so, sometimes not. People want to be taught. People want good teachers. People want teachers to be good.

Other interpretations are cautionary. You must love kids. You have to confront a stalled and static system, accept the salary, the Darwinian training, the administrative nonsense, the parental (and student) accusation or apathy, lack of resources, etc.

I'm fascinated by language, which is why I am an English teacher. Add three simple words to the question I initially posed, and you have a world of differences.

What is the role of a teacher? Once again, 5 off the top of a Google search.

If we want students to learn, we must show them how.

In my opinion teachers are the second mothers for the students because students spend a lot of time with their teachers.

The role of the teacher in literature-based instruction is one of decision maker, mentor, and coach.

Each of the six roles described (see Figure 1) can be subdivided into two roles, making a total of twelve roles. Roles to the right in the figure require more content expertise or knowledge, and roles to the left more educational expertise.

Preprofessional: The preprofessional teacher communicates and works cooperatively and [sic] families and colleagues to improve the educational experiences at the school. (One of the stranger videos I've seen in a while - RK)

It should be noted that the quoted portions of the websites above do not necessarily reflect my agreement with the statements or content. I just found them interesting. There is, certainly, a huge difference between not only the wording of the questions I posed, but also their interpretations.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Things Teachers Hate To Hear

Things Teachers Hate To Hear:

When did you tell us this was due today?

Can I keep this knife in your cabinet so I don't get in trouble?

Does this look like a Staph infection to you?

Things Teachers Hate To See In Emails From Admin:

Please be aware there is a Staff [sic] infection going around the district.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

You Know It's Going To Be Bad

I've been out sick for three days, and finally returned today. You know it's going to be bad when the inclusion teacher sends you an email that says, "There were some problems with third period. I'll be really glad when you're back."

I'm convinced half my positive reputation as a teacher relies on how badly my students act when I'm gone. It's not unusual for kids to act up a little, but apparently there was mass chaos, an uninvited visitor, and maybe even some insider trading - I'm still trying to work it all out. Then, when I return, people admire that I can handle that class. It's all part of my devious plan.

Usually, the secret is they don't act that way around me. I told the inclusion teacher today (he's brand new, and still getting his feet under him), that what always seems to happen is that the classes you are actually at odds with will act incredibly good (out of spite, I think), and the ones you'd never guess end up setting the carpet on fire.

Now, my third period class is very challenging, that's for sure. But it's also my loooove class, as I've talked about before.

Apparently, they were so awful, the sub called for help from the teacher next door. She came in, and soon retreated, they were that awful to her. Then she sent our mutual inclusion teacher over after lunch to help out. He wrote detentions for anyone who came in late from lunch. They felt that was unfair, and he had no right, no right I tell you!

He then called our ACHIEVE program. These folks work with our emotionally disturbed kids, and are on call for emergencies. That person came, wrote more referrals, and it went downhill from there.

Then in fourth period, the period the inclusion teacher actually spends with me, he took charge, took role, looked over, and noticed an extra student. The student tried to tell the inclusion teacher he was new in class, but that didn't fly - he'd skipped his other class to come to mine. Maybe he'd decided to audit it.

I saw one of the students from my third period class in the hall at the end of the day today. He said hi, I said, "What in the WORLD happened yesterday?"

He actually hung his head and said, "Oh yea, I got a detention. You see, what happened was..."

That's always my favorite story, You See What Happened Was.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Explain Yourself

Our department head was recently accused, in an email, of being a racist, and grading a student as such. She had to attend a meeting with the parents, student, and 3 APs last week. I spoke with her in the English "office" (or, closet) beforehand, and she was already in tears, mostly over the accusation of racism.

The grade in question was for last year. The student's mother is a teacher at our school. The student made a 79 for the second semester, but it was not high enough for acceptance into our Engineering academy.

All English teachers know of this parent. Every year, one of the English teachers gets her son. Every year, the English teacher gets an email accusing them of racist behavior in regards to grading this student when he fails to complete his work. His English teachers have all sent these on to Admin. She also has a daughter, who does her work. No one has yet received an accusatory email about the daughter.

The parents did not complain until after school was out and grades mailed. They sent a single email to the Department Head near the beginning of June, did not copy it to any admin or academic counselors.

Our department head is unable to access our school email system at home. I know that when I had dial-up connection (up until this year), I was similarly unable to access it. Generally, she goes up to the school during the summer holidays to check her email (as I used to). This summer, we were all locked out of the building as they re-wired for security cameras. (A task which was not completed, and has left exposed wiring hanging out of walls and ceilings.)

The parents accused the Department Head of not responding in a timely fashion. But yet, they did not begin their email campaign to her until last week - 6 weeks after the beginning of the new school year.

Admin required her to change her grades for that student so he could enter the Engineering program. The charges of racism were not addressed, as they have not been for the last 3 years.

When I first started working at this school, I learned a very painful lesson about admin support as well. I had a student who refused to work, his mother complained, and I was made to restructure my entire gradebook to accommodate him and his performance, rather than distribute grades fairly among students. I spent a lot of that year helping hard-working students excel, since their homework and major grades were rendered null for the student in question, who could only be graded on his daily work in class - and other students actually wanted to do more.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

I've fought many battles with this school which I've not spoken of, and probably won't until a far later date, or in secrecy. Luckily, due to copious documentation, I won them.

The sad thing is, CYA is my guideline, even when preparing lesson plans. I understand what even my department head doesn't - the school is hugely unmanageable, even for admin, and teachers will fall - unless they have incontrovertible evidence to support themselves.

Do you need me to tell you I have detailed phone and email records, as well as student writing samples and copies of graded rubrics going back three years? It isn't that I mind parent inquiry. I find parents who are actively engaged in inquiry into their students' progress are generally my allies in making certain students achieve the course objectives (though I've already had to fight off my share of parents who, mis-informed by students seeking parental leniency, have become unduly irate with me this year).

I just would very much like to not be afraid to be a teacher. This year is exhausting us all, and this recent decision by admin has left us all slightly despondent and discouraged. End whine.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Professional Development Response Form

After an entire day of mind-boggling inanity, we received a form in our boxes asking us to give feedback about the professional development. The form has three parts, and looks like this:

FEEL: How do I feel about what I've learned?

THINK: What are the most important ideas? What's my evaluation of them?

DO: How can I use this knowledge?

The situation has become untenable for all involved. Over 3,000 students in a building made for about 2,000. (I got five new students today - 4 of them from outside our school. I only have one class less than 30 now. It's at 28.) They are now pulling inclusion support personal to teach quickly assembled, new classes. It's not even a clear-cut case of fault, it's simply too much for everyone. The school has no money to bring in Professional professional development, so teachers are invited to share strategies. These aren't leaders in the school or experts in their subject matter, nor even people who have any expertise in teaching methods. They are volunteers who want to share their "neat" idea, and for those who don't know any better these new ideas are very entertaining and creative. "Modify to suit your needs" is becoming the motto, but no emphasis is placed on data-gathering, nor any type of concentrated effort to assess whether these methods actually produce better student learning.

The kids, bless 'em, soldier on.

Because the air conditioner hasn't worked in my room since a power outage on the first day (I have no windows), the only cool air to be had in my room is from the hall. However, they removed my doorstop from my door because it was a fire hazard. Since the doors are very heavy, using a chair or even a rubber doorstop (which I bought for myself) won't keep them open.

Today I finally had to resort to using an old paperback book wedged between the door's hinge-side and the frame to keep it open. (It was too hot, and I couldn't go looking for something to use as a door stop.)

One of the kids teased: "Ms. Kudu, I don't think that's an appropriate statement for a teacher to make about literature."

Another said: "Maybe it's not a very good book."

Monday, October 8, 2007

What I Learned In Professional Development

Session 1: Engaged Learning Strategies for the Differentiated Classroom - presented by teachers.

1. As we entered, we saw strips of paper lying on a table. Some people took them. Some people did not see them. I stole two of them for later.

One said: The variable that the scientist deliberately changes to observe its effect.

Another said: A set of statements or principals devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.

There were six tables set about the room. The tables were labeled with the answers to the strips of paper. The labels were difficult to read (small), and it's been a while since I took science. So, without any instruction from the presenter we began to match ourselves up to people who had similar strips of paper, and sat down at tables. Turns out we were all wrong, because we hadn't matched ourselves to the answers. There was no agenda posted nor instruction given us that indicated we were supposed to do this. We thought that we should match ourselves up, and then we would be told the answer to our "clue."

That was demonstration #1, and it was then suggested as a useful strategy for teaching new vocabulary. Of course.

2. Next up, we were shown the colorfully designed paper pyramids on our tables. Students made the pyramids by folding typing paper. I don't know what they were for. On the front of ours, someone had meticulously separated one face of the pyramid into 3 parts. On the top was a well-rendered and carefully colored cartoon shark. In the middle were some octopus and turtles. On the bottom were some aquatic plants. Beautiful artwork. On a second side of the pyramid was "energy %" and some numbers. On the third side was "biomass (g)" and some numbers. I still have no idea what the activity was. When someone remarked how pretty the pyramids were, the presenter said, "All of these here were completely wrong. The prettiest ones mostly were wrong. I just chose them because they were the most attractive."

At this point I popped in a piece of gum, because I needed something to grind my teeth on.

3. Teaching symbiosis: we were given a baggy full of laminated pictures. They were lovely pictures of wildlife, such as trees and orchids, Egyptian Plover Birds and crocodiles, bees and flowers. We were told to arrange the pictures into 3 groups. It did not matter what the groups were.

At the end we were told that the objective was to arrange them by symbiotic relationships. So our group, which had arranged them according to predators, prey, and plants, (based on the dominant image in the picture) was completely wrong.

One brave teacher raised her hand and said, "Just what is symbiosis again?"

The presenter said, "I just TOLD you."

At which point I said, "Do you talk to your students that way when they have a question?" He ignored me.

Another person managed to make him understand that he had not given us a definition of symbiosis, but rather had briefly mentioned some types of symbiosis. The presenter then gave us the definition of symbiosis.

4. Teaching Scientific Method: the presenter showed us an old TV commercial for trash bags - Hefty. He then said he shows this to his students, and has them construct an experiment to test the commercial's claim that Hefty bags hold more. This experiment requires them to acquire the necessary resources (Hefty bags and a competitor's bag), fill them to the breaking point, and measure which one is stronger. I'm a little rusty on the science - wouldn't the outcome of this depend upon the competitor? And wouldn't using any other type of competitor, other than a "controlled" competitor give faulty results? More importantly, couldn't students have designed an experiment using Scientific Method to connect with something...scientific? Symbiosis, perhaps?

Then he told us that since TV shows are no longer than 11 minutes between commercials, he never gives more than 11 minutes for working on a task. Note: he did not say he designs his tasks to take 11 minutes or less, just that he doesn't allow more than 11 minutes to work on them.

5. The second presentation was much better. This was a peer-critique activity for a research paper, delivered by a history teacher. The only "engagement" strategy involved was to have students move from desk to desk as they completed certain activities. (Clocking.) The rest was straightforward specifics about having students look for certain elements, and decide whether that portion of the paper fit the description of elements. "Elements" included thesis, topic sentences, factual support, and conclusion.

There was no coloring involved. Whew.

Session 2: Gangs

We sat in a room and watched our campus officer give a PowerPoint about local gang insignia and influences, with lots of pictures. The slideshow took up all the time. It was the same one we saw last year. When some teachers tried to ask whether this new focus on gangs in our school meant we were initiating some goal or focus about dealing with the gangs, we'd run out of time and were hurried on to the next thing.

Session 3: Bullying

1. Part 1: we learned how to fill out a brainstorming web. We put the word "bullying" in the center. Then we filled out boxes to the side with things like "definition," "synonym," "what it's like," "what it looks like." They were using the opportunity to present yet another "engaged learning strategy," you see.

I was the only person who mentioned cyberbullying.

Then the principal read 14 PowerPoint slides to us (One. By. One.), with bulleted lists of what bullying looks like and what bullies are like, as if we teachers had no clue, no clue whatsoever.

The English department, who all sat together at two adjacent tables, engaged itself with creating new gangs, gang insignia, and writing gang graffiti challenges to one another on our brainstorming worksheets. Then we flashed our new gang handsigns to one another across the tables. Either there's going to be a huge fight behind the bus shed Friday night, or we're all going out for drinks. It's hard to tell.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Dream Time

Last night I dreamed I was very earnestly arguing with my AP over why it would not be appropriate for us to assign students to perform with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir over the winter holiday. Argument 1: We couldn't require students to participate in religious events for a grade. Argument 2: We couldn't be sure all students would have the funds available to fly to Utah. Argument 3: We couldn't be certain that all students had had the voice training necessary to get into the choir.

You know you've been thinking too much about authentic assessment and what homework should look like when you have dreams like this. Either that, or the growing variety of increasingly ineffective things our admin wants us to do this year is starting to get to me.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The DI Debate Continues

The Direct Instruction debate continues at Marginal Revolution, via Joanne Jacobs.

The comments are worth reading.

I always find it interesting that people give such flimsy opposition as to pick on that single, widely-reported attribute - "scripted" teaching - and malign it through ridicule, or base the entire rejection of the program on that when few people have ever actually seen it in action. (Including myself, except online videos, but I have carefully examined a DI text I bought for myself, and I was, for a short time, taught with DI, way back when.)

Here are some quotes from the comments I particularly liked:

"When Meryl Streep shows up to make a movie, they hand her a script. But when a new teacher shows up to teach her first class, in many school districts they ask her to invent her own lesson plan. What gives?"

"In the Middle Ages, education was conceived as a three step process.

The first was "Grammar" which meant mastering the details, and basic facts. This is the basis for our phrase "grammar school." Next was Logic which meant piecing together the basic facts (mastered by this point) and understanding arguments. The last step was Rhetoric which was concerned with creating new arguments and expressing oneself. Each step in the chain was necessary to go to the next level.

DI looks like it works very well with the first part. Students need to learn their phonics, mathematical tables, basic historical dates and events, rudimentary science and the like. Only once they have mastered those can we expect them to be able to use them creatively. If they don't master the basic skills, they'll never be able to ascend."

This second one, in particular, made an enormous amount of sense to me. In English, we tend to want students to be able to perform at the Logic and Rhetoric level in their writing, but they haven't yet mastered basic grammar. So we end up trying to teach them grammar AS we teach them logic and rhetoric in their writing. It would be so much easier to eliminate one of the assessment categories. I don't expect that students will write perfectly all the time, even with DI, but I do expect that if they've had teaching which has resulted in mastery, communicating with them about their grammatical mistakes will be a much easier conversation. Pointing out a lack of focus in a thesis statement is much easier when you don't also have to point out subject-verb agreement, how to make a smooth transition between ideas, and how to spell "a lot." (Or, rather, how NOT to spell "alot.")

What DI has the potential to provide, in my opinion, is a common language - a language about language and how it functions. All the ridicule based on improperly represented assumptions of DI - that it is rigid, scripted teaching intended to make dullards of us all - strike me as some sort of ed-demagoguery: a word I've coined in my mind for whenever I see another report on education emerge, and the resultant hysteria it produces.

We received a survey in our boxes today which informed us that our district is considering merit pay, despite the fact that our state voted against it. This has fueled my thoughts tonight.

If we are going to pour more money into education, why don't we put it into training teachers in effective teaching practices, rather than abandoning them to the Darwinian gauntlet of graduating from sub-standard ed-schools and alternative programs? Maybe this is simplifying things a bit, but I always ask myself: when did the successful education of our students become determined by the assumed greed of teachers? The idea that we would work harder for money than for truly successful strategies?

It's ed-demagoguery at work. Teachers want more money. Make the money dependent on student success, don't use it to improve teacher effectiveness. The assumption being that teachers will work harder at the Sisyphean task of making ineffective teaching practices slightly less ineffective, on their own, with no instructive or useful training? It seems like saying, "Traditionally, we've taught you to trap a mouse with a paper bag and a piece of cheese, but we need to catch more mice. Here's some paper. Please figure out how to make a better paper bag."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mamacita raised a few eyebrows with this post a few weeks back, a rant about the poorly behaved students in schools. From The Trenches followed up with this mostly supportive post, which also examined some criticism from another blogger.

I'm not really going to discuss the posts (you should go read them), except to use the original as a springboard for something I keep saying over and over, and which I believe to be true: we could solve 60-80% of these disciplinary problems if we put students in classes where they were able to perform at their ability level, and excel from that level upward - something which might also help solve the engagement problem.

I recognize these students Mamacita is talking about - but for the most part I recognize them as the students in my class who are either above or below the "middle ground" I am expected to teach to. The ones below the middle ground become listless and frustrated with material that is over their heads, and a teacher who is too busy juggling ability levels to give them the concrete instruction they need. The students above the middle ground grow bored and resentful as they see themselves being held back by both the middle ground and those below it.

I went to a professional development meeting this morning in which we were given concrete strategies to use in what are now being called "stacked classes." Differentiated classrooms with ability levels so diverse they require teachers to teach two (or more) different curriculums in the same class period. The basic premise is that we begin with the same literature or subject matter, and with a unified activity (such as a journal). We then split the classroom up and teach one thing to one group, and another to another group, all the while finely splitting the hairs of a timer so that instruction for both is timed down to the minute. (And what if one group runs over? I hear you asking. Why, we do what we've always done...tell the other group to find something to do, or whip out some busy work for them. Alternatively, stop the slower group and have them complete the assignment for homework.)

The teacher then bounces back and forth between groups, but we have the same problem as ever - the implication is that we can trust ONE of those groups will be self-sustaining and self-motivated while the teacher works with the other group. So while we're making more work for the teachers, we've backslid into the exact same position as before - those kids who know how to learn on their own will, at least to the extent of the lowest-common-denominator of expectations the teacher is able to set, and the kids who can't learn on their own will be given activities which don't actually increase their ability level, but rather maintain them at their level while making it appear we're giving them more personalized time.

It just seems so odd to me that though we are now able to admit students have wildly varying needs in the classroom, we cannot bring ourselves to assign students to classes according to their ability, where a teacher would teach one specifically targeted lesson that might have the potential to bring students up to the level of their peers, instead of simply maintaining their status quo.

I guess that will have to wait for when I have my own school. :)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What Teaching English III Looks Like

Friday's Student Quote Of The Day: "I can't believe we have to work so much in this class! We didn't have to do any of this work last year. We never had homework. We never talked about theme and tone. We didn't have to do any of this literary analysis stuff."

Me: "But this year you're juniors. I have to prepare you for the TAKS and SATs, and for college or careers. Those things require you to be able to read and write very well, and I wouldn't be a good teacher if I ignored how much work is involved to succeed at them, would I?"

Student: "I didn't say it was a bad thing. I just can't believe it."


Because I needed a solid writing sample from my students that wasn't a personal narrative, I assigned a 3 paragraph "literary analysis" covering theme and tone in a Native American speech. For preparation I gave them a list of the 6 most common themes in Native American literature and rhetoric as notes. We've also been working on tone since the second day of class, and have identified the tone of several folktales and speeches already. They also received a list of tone descriptions from me, and added to it on their own. We then read Chief Seattle's 1854 Oration together, and completed a close-reading activity I designed which required them to comb through the speech identifying similes, and imagery. They had a day and a half to complete the writing.

The instructions were explicit: Compose a 3 paragraph literary analysis of Chief Seattle's 1854 Oration. In the first paragraph, identify one of the common themes in Native American literature and rhetoric, and provide a quote from the speech which illustrates that theme. In the second paragraph, choose any passage and identify its tone. Provide a quote which illustrates the tone you've chosen. In the third paragraph, choose a passage you particularly liked, and explain why it caught your attention.

That was the assignment. The actual implementation of it looked something like this:

Putting Out Fires

Do we just make up any theme we want? No, you simply choose one from the notes you took in class on common themes.

I don't have those notes. Check your binder. Look at the table of contents I gave you for your work this 6 weeks. See number 18, Notes on Common Themes in Native American Literature and Rhetoric? Right between 17 and 19? Go and see if you have those notes. Oh, yeah, I have them right here.

What's tone again? Check your notes. They are number 4 in your binder.

Do we have to write in complete sentences? Yes, because your sentences will need to make paragraphs, as explained in the instructions.

Do we need to put our names on this paper?

Is this for a big grade, or a little grade?

Should I indent my paragraphs?

Does spelling count?

Is "nostalgic" a word?
Yes. How do you spell it?

Silent Writing Time

3 minutes in: Why have you put your things in your backpack? Did you finish your literary analysis already? I thought this was just busy work. I don't give busy work. Lots of teachers do. I'm sorry that's been your experience. Get out your paper and pencil and begin writing.

5 minutes in: [Student delivers paper to my desk. It has a bulleted list of the required information, and is on a different speech.] Go back and read the directions again carefully.

10 minutes in: Is this all we're doing today? Have you finished yours? No. Then let's cross each bridge as we come to it.

15 minutes in: Someone farts. It sounds staged.

20 minutes in: Class still recovering from fart.

25 minutes in: have managed to redirect entire class back to writing, but copy-cat farts have sprung up.

30 minutes in: Principal makes announcement about something important enough to interrupt my class. Students should not be using cell phones in the hallways. Yes, thanks, that'll fix it.

35 minutes in: Still walking the room, still having to show students the notes, the correct speech, reminding them to write in complete sentences.

Next period: wash, wince, repeat.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Student Learns Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

Every now and then, a teacher lucks out with a class that is imbued with "the looove." They just looove everything, and their joy shows and is contagious among them, spreading into their behavior and participation in class. They don't say it out loud, but their actions have, for me, an unspoken commentary of happiness, something like "We looove being in class, and what's this? Whatever it is, we looove it too...oh, okay, maybe we didn't looove it as much as we thought, but we are going to looove this new thing you're giving us, promise!" These classes aren't without their problems, but their problems tend to be unique to the usual experience.

This particular class has recently been infiltrated by a new student from another school who, for some reason, came in fighting battles (with me) that don't exist and has not, so far, been successful at reading the cues from her classmates. That is, she doesn't realize we've already agreed that we all have "the looove," or she came from a more hostile educational environment, perhaps. She decided she wanted to make her mark by being rude and confrontational. So far, she's been tolerated, but much of her challenging behavior has been ignored by all of us. I get the sense the students are trying to be gentle with her.

Today she decided she really wanted to push some buttons, and she thought it was going to happen in my class. She came into class very late, and made a dramatic entrance by walking in front of me while I was talking, dropping her purse to the floor by her desk loudly, and putting an open can of coke on the desk. She's very pretty and likes to preen, so she did some of that too.

She definitely got everyone's attention. I told her immediately she needed to get rid of the open coke (bottled drinks only in the classroom), then ignored her when she tried to protest. Out of the corner of my eye I watched her make a slow, dramatic trek to the trash can and proceed to stand there drinking the rest of the soda before throwing the can away (a common tactic). In front of me, I saw the entire class riveted on her antics, but not in the way you might think. (And not in the way I'd expected either.)

Classroom dynamics are a funny thing. You see, I already have an Alpha female personality in this class - and she started out the year being as nasty as she could be. When she realized I wasn't having any of it, we made our peace with one another and moved on.

Since she was in front of me, I watched her facial expressions go through a variety of contortions, finally settling in a raised-eyebrow expression of disapproval - something like a high-society maven disapproving of a woman who's worn a bikini to a formal fund-raiser for underprivileged children. I could have drawn a cartoon bubble over her head that said, "This will not do."

The other students' gazes ping-ponged between her and the new girl, and they began to roll their eyes, grin, and giggle. The new girl continued her dramatics, and finally returned to her seat.

when I'd finished my instructions I had them break into self-selected groups for an exam review activity. The new girl messed around in her purse, applied some lip gloss, and generally stalled until all the groups had been chosen.

Then she said loudly (I kid you not), "Who wants me in their group?"

You could have heard a pin drop.

For a very long time, no one said anything. Finally, one student said, "Well, it looks like we all already have everyone we need."

She didn't know what to say to that. Luckily, before I had to step in, a group of all boys said they'd take her. But as she joined them I heard, "But you have to sit there and participate. We don't want to talk about make-up and shit."

Student Is A Star

Our school has a tradition of asking teachers to award football players stars during the week before a game. We email their coach their name, and they receive an adhesive star to wear on their helmet during the game. While I don't mind this in theory, I do mind that it has created a culture of students who will ask for stars, or bargain for stars, rather than understand the stars are awards for above-and-beyond effort. Many of them often feel (and loudly voice) that they should be given stars for doing homework, or coming to class. Sometimes, when I ask for volunteers for activities, they will say, "If I do, can I have a star?"

I tell them consistently that they will never receive a star for asking or bargaining, and if they don't know why, they can come talk to me about it. Since no one has ever come and asked for an explanation, I tend to assume they really do know the spirit in which the star giving is intended, but they try the alternatives anyway.

A student in my last period class has been, since day one, a stellar young man. He has volunteered for everything. He will quiet the students around him when they talk over me. He is funny, and polite, and always positive, with a big smile. He is always volunteering to read the answers to the homework, and when students ask about alternative answers ("Could the answer also be C?"), he takes the initiative immediately and says, "Ms. Thomas will have the final word, but if it were me I'd say no because..." And I know that he has really paid attention to the homework.

I have a lot of pretty awesome kids this year so far, and he is one of them.

Last week, my student teacher told me that this student had gone to him privately and asked, very quietly, "Do you think Ms. Kudu might give out any stars this week?" When my student teacher offered to ask, he said, "Oh, no, that's okay. I'll wait and see."

Somehow, I hadn't realized he was a football player.

So this week I gave him a star. It's been a pretty rough week, and my other football players have been wearing me thin by "jokingly" telling one another, within my earshot, not to bother trying for a star in English class, as well as being all-around disruptive. Today (game day) was especially difficult, and they were especially disrespectful.

During his class today my "star student" waited for a lull, then pulled the little star sticker out of his pocket. "Ms. Kudu, thank you for giving me a star." And he showed it around like it was a prize.

I was so impressed I thanked him back, and told him how much it meant to me that he showed his appreciation for the star. Then I had to leave the room to go to the bathroom, because I must have gotten some dirt in my eyes and they were watering.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I Win!

I do a little simple CSS website design on the side occasionally, for myself and some author folks I know from another life. (Gas money, free signed and personalized books, etc.)

But I am pretty proud of my own teacher website, which is my own property (not the school's, not hosted at TeacherWeb or etc.), and which I reconfigure every year to be both useful, attractive, and user-friendly to my students and their parents. This year I even incorporated a privately-hosted message board for the students to communicate with one another and me (spam and ad free!). I'm pretty excited about it.

Today I got an email from a parent. The subject line said: You Win For Best Website. The parent went on to compliment my website, and it was a wonderful bit of flattery in three simple sentences.

Sometimes, it's the little things.

Student Gets Irony

Today was the last day before progress reports. We did a quick review of four types of irony, read Chief Canasatego's speech, and discussed the types of irony used. Then they had composition time to complete their rudimentary literary analysis of Chief Seattle's 1854 Oration. (Identify theme and cite textual support, identify tone and cite textual support, in two well-composed paragraphs.) Meanwhile, I took in late homework, helped kids with their grade graphs, and reviewed grades in the gradebook with them.

There was a homework assignment which was slightly open to interpretation, and some students took the opportunity to debate their grade with me. The problems were worth 2 points each. Every time someone did, one fairly popular student would tease, "Grade grubber! Why do you bother her for two points? Don't you think teachers have better things to do?"

So I finally turned to him (I have great rapport with him) and said, "You need to mind your own business and your own grades!"

The class laughed and applauded, and then, from the back, I heard...

"Oooooh. Situational irony."

The Disaster of Differentiated Classrooms

In the differentiated classroom, students of (sometimes drastically) different skill levels* are expected to learn identical material under the guise of several well-meaning premises, among them:

1. Equality. That each student should have a chance to learn exactly what their peers are learning, without being socially sequestered from their peers.

2. That education, up to now, has worked well enough that all students should theoretically be at the same level.

That second one is the stinker because it ends up requiring a lot of if/thens. If the student’s education has not been adequate, then the material must be modified so that the student can remain in the same classroom, and learn the same material, but at their own pace and with assignments which are scaled down to their ability - therefore, not the same as their peers’.

This is especially troubling in the high school English classroom. These differentiated classrooms, and the accommodations necessitated by them, end up being more about grading some students on what they have always done up to now, not what they can learn to do from here, because the modifications are often so heavily skewed the student need go nowhere in their learning.

For instance, I have a student whose accommodations state that he is not to be graded on spelling or punctuation. This one is new to me - though I’ve seen accommodations before which decreed the student would not be graded on spelling and punctuation on rough drafts and in-class work, this student is not to be graded on them all...not even on final drafts. Therefore, this student’s progress is completely hampered by the restrictions placed on his own learning. Could I find a way to help this student progress in spite of his own accommodations? Certainly, if I had the time to work with him individually. But with class sizes topping 30-33 this year, and he unable to come for morning or after-school tutoring because he rides the bus, that isn’t going to happen. This is a case of a student being left behind by a system purporting to serve his best interests. It is so much more important he be in a particular classroom than that he be able to spell and write coherently punctuated sentences.

What ends up happening is a perpetual game of catch-up. As a teacher, I plan for the middle, and juggle the students on either side of the equation as best I can. The ones who can’t keep up copy and cheat when they fall behind, those who can move ahead are left with large holes in their daily instruction they must fill while those behind are helped (interrupting the flow of their learning). Those who have the mental acuity to keep up, but who require heavy modifications due to their technical skills are just as much at a disadvantage. They may be able to verbalize answers and thoughts, but then must labor along at the writing tasks, still trying to keep up. In-class silent reading is a nightmare, especially if they must read something in class in order to complete an activity on it in class - there is as much as a 15-30 minute disparity between reading speeds, sometimes more. Again, juggling those who finish early with those who finish later. It’s much easier to succumb to reading out loud or listening to recordings, just to keep on track - which doesn’t serve any of them well in the end.

No matter the tricks and techniques I use (and I’ve got a bag full of them by now), my students and I are left with differing degrees of frustration. How is this fair to any of them? I teach 6 classes of English III. The solution would be to fill the classes according to ability, and allow me to differentiate grades fairly among them, according to the class. Different assignments for different needs, but not an assortment of them within a single class, where the (parent viewable) gradebook allows for no leeway. Some would argue that this is returning to the old system and the “short bus” mentality, I suppose. All I can say’s not only the teachers who are frustrated with this. Students target one another just as acutely in these situations, resenting the slower students responsible for their impatience, resenting the quicker students responsible for the overwhelming pace of the class.

The juggling required denies me the opportunity to help any of them get ahead - it simply assures that most will stay where they are.

*My neighbor, a 10th grade teacher, currently has one class which is designated inclusion and has 4 inclusion students with various modifications. She also has 4 Asperger's students, a deaf student who requires 3 translators, and 3 students with BIP's (Behavior Improvement Plans) so severe they require an additional teacher at all times. The class is at 31 students. One of her Asperger's students wanted to take pre-AP, but the school did not want to designate a pre-AP class inclusion for his sake, so they asked her to teach him the pre-AP curriculum in the same class at the same time. Since she has not had adequate pre-AP training, and the two curriculums are drastically different at our school, she refused. The AP teachers then got involved, because the student's modifications decree he is not to be given reading homework, and pre-AP is reading intensive. (This could be worked around, if he were placed in a class where he is the only, or one of few, special needs students, but not this class.) Admin then proposed that her inclusion teacher could teach him the pre-AP material, thereby removing the inclusion support from the 4 inclusion students. She refused this as well, rightly citing how illegal it would be. They then proposed that the inclusion teacher (a first-year teacher period) could teach the regular students while she taught the pre-AP curriculum, again depriving the inclusion students of inclusion support. She refused this as well, but they began divvying her students up in the gradebook at the end of last week as if they may insist on it. We are waiting to hear the final word.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Student Has A Rough Day

During an activity the other day a student suddenly blurted out loudly, "God! This is so stupid! Is this even in the TEKS?" (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.)

After assuring him it was, and that the activity was also preparatory work for an upcoming literary analysis we will work on, he continued to grumble loudly. I went to him and said quietly, "Is this really about the assignment, or are you frustrated about the grade you got on your homework?"

He ducked his head and mumbled, "I'm frustrated about the grade on my homework."


Reader's Notebook

Excerpts from the sci-fi (cyberpunk?) novelFeed, by M. T. Anderson, about teenagers in a futuristic society where the "feed" (internet, advertising, etc) is pumped directly into the brain.

People were really excited when they first came out with feeds. It was all da da da, this big educational thing, da da da, your child will have the advantage, encyclopedia at their fingertips, closer than their fingertips, etc. That's one of the great things about the feed - that you can be supersmart without working. Everyone is supersmart now.

We had this major debate going on...and then I said this thing, and Calista said this thing, and it was like, da da da da da, da da da da da, da da da da da, all day. It was kind of fun. I like debates where you argue about different points of view.

Here's a pretty fair review, in my opinion. What's frightening is that the depiction of the teenagers didn't strike me as terribly futuristic, sadly, but current, and the relentless targeting of them by corporate advertising is already occurring - if not directly into their heads through a feed like in the book, then as close to it as possible. The book is worth picking up at the library.