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.