Saturday, February 26, 2005

The freedom to misspell?

Last summer we got to spend some time in NYC while my dh was doing research. We sublet a Columbia professor's apt and had a blast. Anyway, one of the many things we did was visit the Met, where Faith Ringgold's Freedom of Speech was on display. It's an American flag made up of phrases and groups associated with the freedom of speech. (I would list examples here, but they would attract all kinds of google searches I don't want.) I really liked it and considered buying a print for my classroom, but did not because I swore I was not spending anymore money on decorative things for my room. Well, I kept thinking of it, so when we went to NYC at Christmastime I broke down and bought it. I had one of the librarians at school laminate it and I hung it up just in time for our lesson on the sedition and espionage acts of WWI.

One of my fellow teachers was admiring it and said, "what's the anti-deflamation league?"
"Anti-defamation league," I said.
"Well, this definitely looks like anti-deflamation."

And she was right. The poster definitely says anti-deflamation. I googled the word, thinking maybe that was some other fringe group out there that was an anti-anti-defamation league or something, but nope. I think she just misspelled it. Can that be possible?

Friday, February 25, 2005

What I did...and didn't do

Things I did NOT do during the past two snow days:
1. Taxes
2. Grade GT World History slave ship captain journals
3. Get next GT unit together
4. Call Grandma
5. Mail broken dvd/tape player to Toshiba people
6. Even pack up broken dvd/tape player so that when I feel like mailing it, it's ready
7. Laundry
8. Grocery shop
9. Learn to do a few new tricks with my blog
10. Enter this week's grades into electronic gradebook
11. Call to make hair appointment for when I'm in Texas next month
12. Sleep till 10.

Things I DID do during the past two snow days
1. Made waffles with homemade syrup for breakfast.
2. Got oil changed
3. Went to yarn shop with friend and paid $50 for Wool in the Woods Helix yarn in Hurricane color to make cute little tank top, which I would never pay $50 for at a store.
4. Listened to cat throw up. Twice.
5. Cleaned up cat throw up. Once (hubby did the other).
6. Slept till 8:30.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

It's not the principal...

It's the new assistant principal. Here's the story:

For the past several years we had an assistant principal that was male and also African American. He was a lawsuit waiting to happen. He once told me at a breakfast, "Keep eating donuts like that and you'll lose that cute little figure of your's." He said other, much worse, things to other women who should have reported him, but did not. He ran his programs like the Mob. You always wanted to be on his good side, because he could make your life miserable. The people that he disliked got the worst duty assignments, the worst chaperone assignments, etc. I really, really didn't like him but always got along with him (which seemed to be much easier for all young, thin female teachers). So, when he retired I was just hoping to get anything better than him.

We got another male, also African American to replace him. We all adore him. He's polite, professional, efficient, understanding, follows through on get the picture. He transfered from another mostly African American district where things were a little rougher. Our school is diverse, but also academically strong. He saw our school as a step up. When he signed his contract, apparently, he was guaranteed at least eight months before they could move him anywhere. His eight months are up. He is being sent to another predominatly African American, VERY rough school. The position is somewhat of a promotion, but not one he actually wanted. You can't really tell the Superintendent no, though. That position has actually been open for a while, too, but they couldn't find anyone to take it. (It's possible the position has been open for 8 months, but I'm not sure about that.) To me, it seems like there is some element of racism somewhere in there, but maybe I am wrong. Then again, this could just be part of the trend toward "student-centered" schools in which the students' needs are put above the teachers' wants.

We all breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn't the head principal, but are surely sad to see this guy go. They don't have anyone lined up to take his place, so for now, all the other AP's have to split up his responsibilities, which include arranging for substitutes.

Mother Nature has apparently had pity on us, though, and the forecasts call for snow all day tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Someone's leaving!

But who? This is the million dollar question at work right now. We had a nice three-day weekend. We took a road trip to a state park. It rained a good part of the time but it was just nice to be away. Today, when I returned to the classroom I was a little irritable. I don't know why, but sometimes the kids are just so needy, and whiney, and today for whatever reason I did not want to hear it. But the day progressed with only a few minor bumps, until the very last minute. One minute before the schoolday ends, the principal makes last minute announcements -- usually just bus changes, and any changes in games or practices. But today, he added "and to all teachers: we will have a brief faculty meeting at 7:20 tomorrow." WHAT? Our faculty meetings are on Monday afternoons, and always announced. Speculation began immediately. At first, some teachers thought there had been a death, but we decided if that was the case, they would have told us this afternoon. Then, we realized, there is a Board of Ed. meeting tonight. At these meetings, they announce and approve retirements and transfers. We have all agreed that must be it. I suggested we get one of those online betting sites going as to who. Unfortunately, odds are on the head principal, whom everyone adores. Sure, there are a few things each of us would change about him, but for the most part he is great. He has a laissez faire attitude. He has a very strict hiring process (everyone must be SEEN teaching first, either by him or an AP or department head. Our dept. head has driven several states away to see sample lessons before.) But, once he hires you, he gives you room to run your classroom. For the most part, if it works, you can do it. There is no required lesson plan format or specific way to write objectives or any crap like that.

It is possible that it is an Asst. Principal, but we have two brand new ones everyone likes. Really, there aren't many things this meeting could be about that would actually be good news. I'll keep you posted.

Yesterday I bought one of those exercise balls. It really looks like something I would like and focuses on strengthening your back, which I need. Today I inflated the ball, which took a long time, then excitedly put the instructional tape in our tape/dvd combo. Well, the whole thing has broken down. It won't play or eject or even turn on. It is past the 90 day stated warranty but when I called Toshiba they said to ship it in, and they would remove the tape and dvd that are in it and send us a new player, free of charge. I'm totally bummed that I didn't get to start my new exercise regiment, but hopefully Toshiba is going to be flexible here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

I'm not cynical anymore...

Just scared.

At our school we have a very strong AP program. Our principal's favorite thing to talk about is the AP test scores. Every student who is planning on going to college is encouraged to take an AP course, yet the pass rates remain high. Among all of the AP teachers, Mr. Superduper Teacher* is one of the most talked about. He teaches AP U.S. and AP European History. This past year he had 60 kids take the AP Euro test and not only did every student pass, but every student passed with a 4 or 5. He's a great teacher -- one of those teachers that just knows SO much about everything. He has great stories and can keep the kids interested and engaged the entire time, even though his entire class is discussion based. This year he teaches 6 classes, instead of the normal 5, and just doesn't have a duty period, because so many kids take his classes.

For whatever reason, Mr. Superduper Teacher has always liked me. If I'm honest with myself, there are some things I disagree with him on, but I am always nice and respectful because who doesn't like to be liked by Mr. Superduper Teacher? Well, the students just registered for next year's classes. Since our school is growing, and the AP program is growing, there are way more students than Mr. Superduper Teacher can teach signed up for AP U.S. and AP Euro next year. So, someone has to pick up the extra classes. Guess who?

Yep. Me. Mr. Superduper Teacher has been talking to me about it for a while (basically since I student taught there 2 years ago). So has our principal. He wanted me to take an AP workshop last summer, but it didn't work out. Basically I have been stalling, with the hope that I would move before they needed me to teach the AP classes. (I mean let's face it, the dh has about one year left on his dissertation and if he gets a job offer in Texas I'll be outta here faster than you can say YEE-HAW.) But the stalling plan did not work. I told Mr. Superduper teacher I would think about it, but then the next day the department head came by and basically informed me that I would be teaching a couple sections of AP U.S. next year. I don't really have a choice.

I know I should be jumping at the chance. It's like a promotion. And I love U.S. History and barely get to discuss it right now because I teach very low-level students. But I don't want to be the teacher known as "Ms. NOT-superduper Teacher." Which is what I will be. The whole school knows Mr. Superduper Teacher. The kids idolize him. Next year's 11th graders are already looking forward to having him because they have heard about him from other students and from siblings and parents and other teachers. Imagine the shock, the horror, when they get their schedule and it lists me. And to add to my fear of inferiority, the NEXT summer, we will get a list of students and their scores, and the whole world will know that Mr. Superduper Teacher is better than Ms. NOT-superduper teacher.

But, it should be fun. I'll learn a lot and I will survive. Right? right?

*Name changed to preserve anonimity and reflect superduperness of teacher.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

More on money

To begin today I have three more reasons money matters:

1. I have no place in my room to secure important materials like tests. My file cabinet does not lock. My closet does not even have doorknob. For the past two years when they asked us to fill out maintenance requests for summer work, I have requested they fix the doorknob. No luck.

2. Yesterday, to begin our lesson on the social effects of the Great Depression, I gave students this question on their drill/warm-up: What do you consider unacceptable living conditions?

Two students wrote "this school." When I attempted to tell them that really they have it good and should not complain (I only whine to you, dear readers, not in front of the students because that models poor work attitudes), they pointed out that there are not locks on most of the bathroom stalls and they consider privacy a basic requirement. Can't argue with that.

3. Most of my reasons so far have concerned the physical environment of the school. Those really aren't the most important, though. As I mentioned in my last post, I think classroom size it the biggest issue. Behavior management is easier with a small group. Differentiating instruction is easier with a small group. Grading is easier for a small group. Communicating with parents is easier with a small group. Getting to know students, and thus being able to watch for changes in behavior, sleeping habits, eating habits, etc that signal at-risk activities is easier in a small group. Using alternative assessments like portfolios in easier with a small group. Discussion is easier with a small group. Do I need to go on?

In other news...
I went to a workshop today. This was not a workshop put on completely by our school district, although some of the social studies officials were there. It is part of a grant program from the Dept. of Ed. You go for two days in the winter and then have the opportunity to go for two weeks in the summer. You take a college course in the morning and research in the afternoon. The goal is to help you infuse primary documents into your classroom. They pay tuition, books, parking, AND give a thousand dollar stipend. Basically, you get paid to be a college student again for two weeks. Count me in!

This morning, though, we started with a presentation by a man I will call Mr. Knowitallwithougeverreallyhavingtrieditbefore (Actually I'll just call him Mr. Knowitall for short.). Our district has sponsored talks by Mr. Knowitall before and they seem to have a real love affair with him. Here's his background:

Mr. Knowitall was a history professor.
He noticed students that came to his class weren't prepared for the college experience.
He decided he could do a better job.
He took a year off, and with the support of his college, took over one teacher's elementary classroom at a good school to see if he could do it differently. The regular classroom teacher was there the entire time.
His experience worked.
The next year he went back to being a professor and wrote a book about how great his "proven" teaching method was.

You can imagine how teachers respond to him. Every time he brags, I want to raise my hand and say "um..did you even have to do report cards while you were there?" You know, like when someone asked Bush Sr. how much milk cost. Maybe this guy really does know what he is talking about, and I certainly agree with his philosophy, but no teacher likes to be told what to do by someone who never really survived teaching on his own.

Also, as I have mentioned before I am the teacher representative on our school's PTSA. Today I got an email that had been forwarded from the PTSA president. It had been sent to her anonymously from some parent of a kid that graduated last year. I wish I could excerpt some of the passages for you, and maybe after things settle down I will. Let's just say this parent is a little bitter. Most of the letter took shots at the principal, who like all principals can improve on some things, but for the most part is doing a great job. The letter made broad, sweeping accusations of all sorts. I'll give you an example: We have had a real problem with cheating at our school (several blog posts worth, really). It is especially bad among the students who feel the most pressure. Early on in the year, a student stole an Advanced Placement social studies test and shared it with nearly 100 other students (who admitted their role). This parent actually suggested that the teacher (not me, thank God) be punished, too for being so irresponsible as to leave a test where a student could find it. (If you agree with parent, see #1 above.)

The parent also suggested the school is too negative because we give students a book of threats and make them read it the first day. This book is actually the student handbook, and we do have an assembly to go over said book on the very first day of classes. The district actually requires us to do so for legal reasons. It is imperative that no student be able to claim they didn't know the rules. I, of course, have attended these assemblies and they can actually be informative for the students. In the past, students have asked excellent clarifying questions dealing with sexual harassment and other things.

Anyway, I'm not sure what, if any, action will be taken as a result of the letter. I'll keep you posted...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Why money matters

UPDATE: If you haven't read about Bush's budget plan and how it effects eduation, you should. It doesn't give me hope for the future. He does seek to help out Title I schools, and they certainly need the help. (I recommend anyone interested in the plight of urban schools read Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities.) But we are not a Title I school, and we don't have enough money either!

Okay folks, I'm all fired up and ready to blog about yesterday's events. I have heard many people say that money does not make as big a difference in schools as teachers and their unions suggest. In fact, Rod Paige wrote an editorial in the Baltimore Sun last year saying he refused to "throw money at schools anymore." Ha! You know those teachers, soaking it up in the lap of luxury. I think I'm going to start a running list of why money does in fact make a difference in schools, but I'll start with the issues raised at our faculty meeting yesterday.

Normally, our faculty meetings are pretty good. Compared to some out there, our principal is very reasonable. There's always a packet handed out. It has an agenda on top and any necessary papers attached. He makes the outlandish assumption, that some administrators are unwilling to make, that as teachers, WE CAN READ. He therefore, does not bore us with information that is already included in the packet. He also tries not to be negative. Yesterday, there was no way around it.

1. An excerpt from the faculty meeting packet: "The difference in the cost between 3-hole punched paper and non-punched paper has increased from $1.50 per case to nearly $5.00 per case. Over the course of a year, that would mean an additional $2000 expense. As a result, we unfortunately will no longer be purchasing punched paper. However, we are purchasing three-hole punchers for use in the faculty room #1."

Okay, I know I am a little spoiled on this one. I didn't even know they made paper with holes punched in it until I taught at this school. But you can actually buy it at any office supply store. (And by the way, it costs the same as the non-punched paper at the local store. I'm sure that is because it is just a machine that punches it. So the company that has increased the price is doing so just because they can.) After using the punched paper for two years, I do not want to go back. Do you know what kids do when they get papers that aren't punched? They shove them in their binder. Not in their classwork section. Not even in their history section. Then the paper disappears into the unknown void forever. Hole-punched paper does make a difference, and so now I will spend even more of my precious time in the copy room fighting with a manual hole punch, which is sure to get jammed because other teachers will try to shove too much paper in during their pre-1st period haste. Incidentally, you will notice that the message states that they are buying one puncher for one faculty room. We are going to request that they at least buy two because that is for a faculty room clear on the other side of large building. We never go down there to make our copies.

#2 We got some very upsetting news about special ed and inclusion. It is hard for me to go into details without spoiling my delusions about blogging anonymously. Suffice it to say that our state is at the bottom of the nation in including special ed kids in a regular classroom. AND our district is last in our pathetically low state. So, we've got to get more kids into the classroom. This is part of NCLB requirements. Of course, this will mean creating more specifically labeled "inclusion" classrooms, which in our district have one regular subject teacher and one certified special ed teacher and a maximum of 20 students. I've been in other "inclusion" classrooms and I think the way our district is trying it works well. Of course, to move more kids into this program we will need many more teachers -- both because there should be two teachers in the classroom AND because the student:teacher ratio is smaller. Well, this takes a LOT of money. But we don't have that (thanks Bush and Congress). So guess what is going to happen instead: They will shift teachers away from honors and AP classes. AP class sizes already sit at the mid-30's. And while there certainly aren't the issues with behavior management and instruction differentiation with those type of classes, I just finished grading essays that took me on average 12 minutes a piece. Teacher to student ratios make a difference in every class, but it looks like someone is going to have to be LEFT BEHIND.

3. Associated with #2 is the issue of trying to get the special ed kids to pass the state algebra exam. As part of NCLB everyone has to pass a variety of state mandated tests to graduate. We have several for ninth and tenth grade subjects but the algebra test has provided the biggest challenge by far. 70% of our special ed kids are on a diploma track. 25% of those kids pass the algebra test. So, we've got to do something. Those truly are kids that could otherwise be left behind. The district has decided to make inclusion algebra a two-year course and to include a special ed teacher in each class. So what took one teacher will now take the equivalent of four teachers (2 teachers for 2 years.) Additionally, all other algebra classes will be taught in just one year, but in a double-period day. If you want a job as a math teacher this is great for you. If you are in any other subject, it isn't. This is bad for social studies teachers like me in two ways: First, that is one less credit for a student to take a social studies elective, which helps to create social studies jobs. Secondly, this also takes a lot of resources (money) away from us. I don't disagree with the algebra plan. It is obvious by looking at the test scores that something needs to be done, but once again we don't have the money to implement. We are just moving resources around. Hiring math teachers will mean letting go of some other teachers, which is basically what our principal said in the most positive way possible.

This is what I believe is the major fault in NCLB. Bush seems to think teachers were intent on leaving people behind before his law. Do people really think I would choose teaching and then NOT do everything in my power to help all of my students succeed? We do not let students fail on purpose, students fail because of a variety of problems. Addressing those problems almost always takes money.

Other non-faculty meeting related reasons money matters:

#4 There are three printers on the first floor of the school. Today none of them worked. Two have been broken for more than a week. One of my co-workers had to go to her parents house to print out her observation lesson because she typed it on a computer with Works and none of the working printers were connected to computers with Works. I am trying to imagine a senator going to his parents house to work on a bill...

#5 The paper towel holder is broken again.

#6 The weather is fairly warm right now. I can't cool my room down by opening the windows, since there are none. Today I figured out that I could cool my room off by turning the heating fan on because it does not work and just shoots in cool air from outside.

#7 I have a bachelors and a masters degree and I clip coupons from the newspaper.

#8 My classroom computer doesn't even have the correct programs to view the district's website.

#9 Some teachers have to share desks. One teacher has it for one period, and when the class ends, he/she carries it down the hall to a different teacher.

Did I mention we are the flagship school of the district? Nationally ranked? I think it's pretty sad. There are plenty more reasons but I'm going to stop for now. If anyone else wants to add a reason schools need more money, please comment. We can keep list and send it to Santa next year.

Monday, February 07, 2005


My teaching day was fine. When we got to school, we discovered that the PTSA school beautification committee had done a small "while you were out" type makeover on the main women's faculty bathroom. Actually, I knew it was coming because I am the faculty rep on the PTSA committee. But everyone else was shocked and thrilled. Then, everyone just got cynical about how pathetic it was that it took a few mothers to do something about our bathroom. It's disgusting. It stinks. One toilet was clogged for an entire semester. Additionally, we went three months without a paper towel dispenser. When the district cancelled the flu shot clinic and sent us a reminder to wash and dry our hands, I mentioned that it usually required soap and paper towels to do so. The mothers even cleaned out the small trash recepticles in the stalls. God bless 'em.

That wasn't the only excitement. We also had a faculty meeting that included some tough topics. I want to talk about these things and vent, but I am very tired. (Right after the meeting I had to race out to the airport on the other side of town at rush hour time to pick up the DH who had been in Texas to see his brother performing in his senior musical. Then, I finished grading the DBQ's.) So I am not going to blog about the meeting presently. For now, let me sum it up like this:

1. Schools need money.
2. Schools need money.
3. Schools need money.
5. Umm, we need money. Please.?!?

Okay I recognize I have some conservative readers out there and owe you an explanation. I'll post one soon. I promise. It's just that tonight I can choose to be a good blogger or a good teacher and I almost always choose being a good teacher over being a good anything else.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

If you're looking for a cheery teacher, she's not here

I'm in the February Funk. Anyone know what I'm talking about? No sun. No snow in sight. Spring Break is oh so far away. The education professors warn us about this. One of my profs actually encouraged us to start a "February File" of motivational readings and nice notes from students, etc. He gave us several cheesy poems to get us started.

When I whined to my husband, he pointed out that we have a holiday coming up and we have a mini-road tripped planned. So, I have that to look forward to, but it seems so far away! There are 60 mediocre DBQ's, a faculty meeting, a dentist appointment, a professional development workshop, interim grades, and an assembly standing between me and President's Day weekend.

I better go find that file!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The jazz lesson worked!

As I mentioned previously, when teaching the Harlem Renaissance, I do an entire lesson on jazz music. The students listen to ragtime, blues, jazz, and swing (admittedly later but it works here). When the students are listening, they have to describe the music in one box using a list of words provided (improvised, structured, multiple instruments, call and response, etc). In another box, they have the write what they personally think of the music. Here are some responses (all typed as written):

Reminds me of the ice cream man. I like it, it's happy music. (ragtime)

It is intersting that the instruments can talk each other. Whoever invented this music, he/she must be genuis. (jazz)

It makes me excited, especially the drum sound. I didn't know that the drum sound could be this emotional. (swing)

I really liked this one. You could really move and dance to this music. The instruments are played very well, like they are sexy b/c you can just move and feel every note. (swing)

It is relaxing and it isn't as bad as I thought it would be. (blues)

I like the blues. Tells how life can be.

I liked this one the most out of the bunch. Now this is something I can dig. (swing)

Pity party! (blues)

This was a sad, soulful music. Whenever I feel lonely, I would listen to music like that. (blues)

It was a good way for blacks to express themselves. It reminds me of a cartoon. (jazz)