Thursday, September 29, 2005

15 minutes of fame

Whoa. It seems like everyone in this end of the blogosphere was mentioned in NEA's October issue. Everyone except me, that is. Me, and EdWonk, and Polski3. Frankly, I don't care too much that I was left out. But how could any article on blogging in education leave out EdWonk and his weekly carnivals?? And Polski? Well, I'm guessing that has something to do with his critical takes on the California union. I smell a conspiracy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I'm not here. Go somewhere else

Wow, it's been a long time since I've posted. But there's no need to apologize because most of my readers are teachers and know that sometimes other things require our attention. Actually, it's been mostly non-teaching things that have required my attention, but more on that sometime later.

Megan over at Open up my head and see what's on my mind has responded to my post below in a lengthy and inspired post. Go on over and check it out. I like that she has focused on teaching as a "calling." I do not argue that we need more inner-city teachers and that their job is tough in ways that I cannot even begin to fathom. But are warm bodies better than teachers? Because that's what I would be. If that's not what I'm cut out to do, should I do it anyway because they need people? How does that help the situation? Inner-city schools don't just need teachers, they need GOOD teachers. Maybe my way of helping solve the problem is to make my own students aware of the disparities that exist in schools today (and you better believe I bring it up in several units). Maybe my teaching of both knowledge, skills, and morals will convince one of my students to teach in the city. But I do well where I am. And just because other people would like my job does not mean I am replacable (as suggested in a comment in the previous post).

Saturday, September 17, 2005

In defense of my usefulness

Two posts below I described my experience at Back-To-School Night. I got a comment that I have decided to respond to in full-blown-post fashion instead of simply adding a comment.

In response to my super parent post Mrs. X writes:

Good schools don't need you. Those kids will get into college and 'succeed' with or without you. Challenge yourself! Go to one of the schools with the problems and succeed there. Then you'll know what being a life-changing teacher really means.

Wow. Okay, so it is 4:45 on Saturday afternoon and literally the only thing I have done for myself is a quick Starbucks breakfast. Otherwise I have been working on school things all day. Since the standard U.S. History course I taught the last two years begins with Reconstruction, I have been scrambling every day to refresh my colonial and revolutionary history knowledge from my freshman year in college and then organize it so that I can teach it at a college level.

And then I get a message that tells me my work is not valuable. It stings a little. In Mrs. X's defense, I understand her general point. While I was in school I poured through Jonathan Kozol's books and had every intention of teaching at an inner-city school. And then I moved to a big East Coast city and suddenly I felt all the insecurities of being a 5 foot 4 white girl from the south. But it wasn't just the fear that kept me from taking a high-needs job. I can't afford it. Remember than I am married to a PhD student. He makes less than half what I do and deals with twice the stress. One of us has to be sane. I just decided it wasn't time for me to do that.

Secondly, my kids most certainly DO need me. Teenagers are teenagers wherever you go. They all have insecurities, they all face peer pressure, they all have lousy families. Oftentimes, I see myself as a protector of the students whose parents are overly involved. My students are stressed to an unhealthy level because of the pressure their parents put on them. They see themselves as failures when they can't score all A's in a load of 6 AP courses. They engage in risky behaviors because of it. While I challenge my students, I try to convince them that it is about learning itself and not the outcome. I try to convince them that I think they are valuable and worthy of my love, even if they can't pass my tests.

I face a significant challenge in trying to help my students define what "success" is. Unfortunately, many of them see it as Mrs. X defines it -- getting into a good college. I try to teach them that success if much more complicated than just academics. I also insist that success is not always the ultimate goal. Sometimes doing the right thing is more important. I have had very frank discussions with my students about using dishonest means and cheating in order to achieve success. I have worked to open up a dialogue and I am glad I have because what I have discovered is that many of my students see any means as justified if they can get that 'A'. People like Martha Stewart and the Enron executives needed to have a teacher like me.

In a school as competitive as mine, there are still students who don't fit in. The students in my standard classes KNOW they didn't belong at this high school. I am there to insist that they still challenege themselves, that they still strive for excellence, and that they still respect themselves.

My students have eating disorders, drug addictions, health problems, overachieving siblings, and pressure to look, walk, and act the right way. If I don't help them, who will?

Friday, September 16, 2005

So, I broke the law today.

Yep. That's right. Perhaps the next time I post will be from jail. Except it won't.

As I'm sure many of you are aware, tomorrow is National Constitution Day. The government was very upset that the general public doesn't know much about the Constitution, so they mandated that public schools and other federal programs do something to increase awareness of our founding document once a year. Since they set the first one for a Saturday, our school was supposed to celebrate today.

Oh, dear, where to begin?

First of all, if teaching students government (as we do for all 9th graders in our district) all year long doesn't help them understand the Constitution, then how will focusing on it one day help? And, if after that year they still don't get it, how will stopping in the middle of World History (10th graders) to spend ONE DAY on it help either? There is, in fact, Constitutional education going on in schools. It might not be working, but that is an entirely different matter.

But that's not the biggest issue for me. So the government tried to fix a problem and failed. What else is new?

My issue with this is that I do not like the government telling me what I have to teach on any particular given day. This is scary folks. It is not a great precedent. It's a new level of federal regulation. Dare I remind you that Hitler gained support for his anti-Semitic ways by controlling what students learned?

Okay, I know that's a very far stretch. Or is it? To me, what this whole Constitution Day is really about is patriotism. At best, it's strongly encouraged patriotism and at worst it's forced patriotism. I do not think it coincidental that they chose a date so close to September 11th.

Additionally, as one man from the CATO Institute put it, "we think it's ironic that they are supporting education about the Constitution through unconstitutional means." (Or something like that, I don't have the newspaper article in front of me.)

So, today I did not teach about the Constitution. My tenth graders learned about Hammurabi's Code and my eleventh graders learned how to write an AP essay. In two weeks they'll be writing an essay on the Constitution, and they will be glad that I talked to them about how to write essays today and talked about the Constitution where it fits in the curriculum, which is AFTER the American Revolution. I invoked what I believe is my constitutional right to NOT teach the Constitution. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure at least some of America's framers would be with me.

By the way, I will not be going to jail. The law included no enforcement powers. So if you didn't celebrate, no worries.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Turns out

Turns out I did not have cold/allergy problems as I previously believed.

Turns out I have viral bronchitis instead.

Turns out you should not take your normal cold/allergy medicine when you have bronchitis.

Turns out if you take allergy meds with bronchitis it will just make things worse. You will be congested beyond belief, with a terrible cough and the need to clear your throat constantly.

Turns out that coughing and clearing your throat constantly make you lose your voice. Completely.

Turns out that the new Minute Clinics at Target really are fast. You can get there, get diagnosed, and get back to school in one class period.

Turns out you cannot lead a discussion on the Great Awakening with your AP kids when your voice sounds like a frog going through puberty. You will have to show a video instead.

So, here's to hoping tomorrow turns out better because I can't let my AP classes fall behind so early on. Luckily my tenth graders are still in the library working on projects and the librarians are sooo helpful. My students, too, have been very sympathetic and nice.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

You know you work in a good school when....2nd edition

UPDATE: Um, hello? I had a major proofreading error in the title for almost a week now and none of you said anything? You're too nice!

And now for the Back to School Night edition of "you know you work in a good school when..." (Incidentally, Back to School Night might be known as "Meet the Teacher Night" or something else to some of you. Parents rotate through their child's schedule, spending ten minutes in each class.)

1. A student's mother, father, grandmother, and grandfather attend
2. The grandfather asks a history related question
3. Some class sessions are standing room only
4. Teacher are instructed to arrive by 6 so they can find parking, even though nothing officially starts until 7
5. A father pulls me aside to ask my opinion of "Guns, Germs and Steel"
6. A mother pulls me aside to see if I need any supplies for my classroom or chaperones for History Club events
7. A fellow teacher who lives in the neigborhood has the whole social studies department over for dinner, and you actually enjoy one another's company

So, overall it was a good night. But it is the longest day of the year. We don't leave until nearly 10 pm and school begins at 7:30 am. Every year I swear I will just take a pillow and sleeping bag. Add to this that I have my first cold of the year. I'm taking it easy all day today though and hopefully will be rip-roaring ready to go tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Just keepin on keepin on

Howdy everyone!

I'm just checking in. Like many of you, I'm finding lots of material for posting, but not a lot of energy. The beginning of the year is just always so overwhelming.

My AP classes are still going smoothly, but not super-duper. One problem is that the two sections I have are so different that I think I'll never had a good day with both of them. One class is 1st period with 30 kids, 13 of whom are moving up from honors and 3 of which are smartie-pants boys that want to call me on every little detail. The other section is 7th period (last) with only 24 kids, most of them super organized and super social girls. They did, however, ALL laugh at my Napoleon Dynamite joke. (What does every guy need to get a girl? Skills. Napoleon would have been proud of the New England settlers because they had farming skills, unlike the Jamestown settlers who didn't even have numchuck skills.)

World History is world history. Smooth and a little boring because I find the early history somewhat uninspiring. But we'll be starting a big project by the end of the week. YAY library days!

Hey, I had a nice time in Texas, thanks for asking. It was nice to be in Houston and see all the positive things going on to help hurricane victims when everything on the news has been so negative and upsetting. My sister's church service was especially uplifting. The church, with about, 250 active members, is in charge of 160 "survivors" (what they are calling them instead of refugees) and 150 members signed up to spend their Labor Day getting trained to serve food at the Astrodome.

I hope everyone had a nice 3 day weekend and you're off to a smooth start. I'll try to catch up on blog reading and commenting soon.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The first week in five words or less

Okay maybe more words than that. But it's almost time for bed and I don't want to leave my loyal readers in suspense any longer, so I'll give you a quick summary of the week.

My first week of advanced placement classes has been okay. Not great, but not terrible. Really they seem to start out really well and then lose steam at about the thirty minute mark. The kids begin looking like zombies. I don't know if this is due to the 85 degree weather combined with 90 percent humidity or if it is that I seem to get lost in my notes at that point. Either way, I've decided I need to not micromanage the discussions so much and let them guide me more. We shall see. One student has dropped out.

GT World History has been fine. The kids seem pretty good.

Other than that there really isn't a lot to report. We did have a student faint the first day of school due to heat. This is the second year in a row this has happened. People haven't complained much about the weather though, considering it is way better than what Louisiana is facing right now. (I plan a future post on the hurricane, by the way).

So all in all, not a stellar week, but it could have been much worse. Tomorrow I will go straight from school and hop a plane to Houston for the weekend so I can meet my 3 week-old nephew. Have a good weekend everyone!