Friday, July 31, 2009

The Only Food Show You Need

Some days it's tough when you don't have to go to work. You develop a new appreciation for television. I've finally found a show I really like, and I want to share it with you. It's called Food Party, and it features my new favorite TV star, Thu Tran. It's sort of a combination of Gumby, Pee Wee Herman, and a demented Rachel Ray who, thankfully, has dispensed with uttering, "Yum-O."

As a bonus, rather than self-serving politicians or bobble headed celebrities promoting their new TV movies, Ms. Tran features important guests like Satan, Prince of Darkness. Are you gonna see that on Jay Leno? I think not.

It started out on the internet, and then got picked up by IFC. My feeling is this--if there were more people like Thu Tran, there would be fewer like Eva Moskowitz. To my knowledge, Eva is not featured on Food Party. That's just one thing I like about it. Now remember, don't try this stuff at home.

By the way, today is Randi Weingarten's last day as part-time UFT President. We at NYC Educator would like to suggest Ms. Weingarten spend more time watching "Food Party," as we sincerely believe it would be more helpful to teachers than whatever it was she'd been doing over the last decade or so. I'd like to take this opportunity to say goodbye to Ms. Weingarten and hello to Thu Tran.

Here's a little clip to get you started.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Morning in New York

Controller Bill Thompson just nixed a bunch of no-bid contracts from Tweed. So several computer consultants will miss out on quarter-mil salaries. Actually they're not as good as they sound, since they're required to kick back half to the companies Bloomberg and Klein make their sweetheart deals with.

The DoE is trashing Thompson for playing politics. "Playing politics" is the expression Bloomberg's minions use to indicate anything at odds with the philosophy of the mayor-for-life, who's doggedly insisted on controlling education with no checks and balances, despite the pathetic results obvious to anyone who looks beyond the op-ed pages of the newspapers.

It's actually a good sign that Bloomberg's people are getting this vicious this early. When you're way ahead and you know it, you run a cheery campaign like Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" and let your opponent flail uselessly in the wind.

Having spent 36 million before the campaign has actually started, the results are not as rosy as Mayor Mike would wish, as Mr. Talk pointed out yesterday. Perhaps the sun will come up in Fun City next November. That would be a nice change after eight years of PR specifically designed to block it from our view.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What No One Will Tell You When You Come to Work at the DOE, Part 5: Family Relations

Welcome back, old and new friends!

I decided to think about the issue of collegial relations for another week and blog instead about the only-slightly-less-thorny issue of home and family relations. Not relations with your own home and family, of course, except to say that I usually bid my own friends and family farewell during the last week of August and promise to get back to them sometime in October. No, here we mean relations with the families of your students.

First, a disclaimer: I am filled with trepidation whenever I contact a parent. Giving a parent bad news is definitely one of the worst parts of the job. It's certainly necessary at times, but I hate it. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's okay to dread it. After all, most parents (sad to say not all, but most) love their kids and want the best for them, and it's a blow to them to hear that their little darlings aren't doing well. It's natural to not want to be the one to deliver that news. But sometimes you have to, and most parents will admit that, if there's bad news to be heard, they'd rather hear it sooner than later.

My first step in forming good relations with the families of my students is to be proactive and positive. I send home letters to the parents of my students on the very first day of school that explain, in exhaustive detail, my rules, routines, grading procedures, expectations, yadda yadda yadda. You'd be surprised by how many teachers don't do this. Do it. It makes parents feel included and informed right off the bat.

Some of the best advice NYC Educator ever gave was to call every single parent in the very first week of school. I do it myself, and it's not nearly as burdensome as it sounds (and it's not as burdensome for me as it must be for him in the high school). This is not a rundown of everything you've found out about each child in your assessment process and it's not a live performance of the letter you sent home; it's a short call in which you introduce yourself, say something positive about the child in question (it's okay if it's generic), and express your high hopes for the coming school year:

"Hello, Mrs. So-and-so. This is Miss Eyre from the Morton School. I'll be Adele's English teacher this year. She seems like a lovely bright girl. I'm looking forward to teaching her. Have you reviewed the materials I've sent home? Wonderful. Please let me know if you have any questions. You can always contact me at Thanks for your time and have a nice evening."

A phone call like this sends two messages at once. To the parents, it says you are a considerate and pleasant person who reaches out to parents from Day One. To the kids, it says, I know your phone number and I'm not afraid to use it, capisce? I think that's a good message to send. Before you attempt this trick, make sure you have obtained from your students a minimum of two phone numbers and the name, pronunciation, and relationship of the adult who will probably answer the phone. As you probably know, many kids live with non-parental legal guardians, stepparents, and extended family members. Also ascertain if the adult who will answer the phone speaks English. If not, try to get a translator.

How to obtain this info, incidentally, before you get emergency contact cards returned? Simple: Ask the kiddies. On the first day, even high schoolers will generally not lie, as there's not much chance they're in trouble already. Pass out index cards and ask them to write emergency contact information in case they cut off a finger or something before you get an emergency contact card. I ask for two phone numbers, name of at least one legal guardian, relationship, and home language. These days, I think you can get that all on ARIS if you're in NYC, but whether or not ARIS will be up and running with your current class(es) on the first day of school is anyone's guess, plus phone numbers tend to change quickly. Anyway, the kids will probably tell you the truth. Then save those index cards all year and use the back side to note any home contacts you make.

Which is the next thing to keep in mind: DOCUMENT ALL HOME CONTACT. Save every e-mail, photocopy every letter, note every phone call. Some parents will claim that May is the first time they ever had the foggiest notion that Junior was failing four classes. You must be able to prove that this is not the case, that in fact you phoned, e-mailed, and sent notes home to Mr. and Mrs. Junior on seventeen separate occasions between October and April. If you can't, your administrator will assume it never happened.

And that leads nicely into how to break bad news to your little darlings' families. I've found that it's best to break it quickly. When there's bad news, I don't lead off with a positive. That positive is not what I'm calling about. I cut to the chase. Most parents tend to assume that it is not good news when a teacher calls anyway:

"Hello, Mrs. So-and-so, this is Miss Eyre from the Morton School. I'm sorry to have to tell you that Adele did not hand in her project even after I gave her three more days to hand it in late. She was informed of the due date for this project three weeks ago. It will be very difficult for Adele to pass without handing in this project. Let's talk about how we can help Adele to not miss the next project."

Most parents really will be fine with this, at least to you. There are nightmare stories out there and I'll give you some suggestions on how to deal with them shortly, but rest assured that most parents will express dismay at their offspring's behavior and say that they will talk to them about it. Reiterate any assistance you offer--tutoring, extended day, whatever--thank them for their time, get off the phone, and note it on your index card (the most important part!!!)

Okay. So maybe the parent is not fine. Maybe they will insist that the project was too hard or claim that Adele was mourning the death of her hermit crab too intensely to even contemplate beginning her project, whatever. I would recommend that you stand more or less firm. If your policy is that you don't accept late work after three days (as is my policy), reiterate this policy, unless there really is some kind of really exigent circumstance. If you offered Adele assistance that she chose not to accept, explain that to the parent. Really, the vast majority of parents will at least be civil, if not compliant, with you at this point.

As an aside, trust-but-verify any story a kid gives you about some kind of emergency. Kids do, unfortunately, tell stories from time to time. If a kid claims to have screwed up due to, say, the death of a beloved aunt, simply express your sympathy to the child and follow up with a phone call: "Mrs. So-and-so, I was so sorry to hear about Adele's aunt." If the kid is telling the truth, you can talk to the parent and make arrangements to help the kid make up work or whatever; if not, well... But, obviously, in times like this, a little flexibility can go a long way in building goodwill.

Okay. So the nightmare happens: A parent is giving you a hard time. They don't believe you or, worse, they blame you for something going on with the kid. I need to stress that this really does not happen all the time. Most parents will want to work with you in a constructive way. But let's say it does happen because, well, it does happen. You can try a couple of things:
  • Bring the evidence. Invite the parent to personally review their child's notebook or portfolio with you, say. This stuff doesn't lie. It's hard to argue that you're not helping the kid when the kid simply hasn't done anything.
  • Bring some backup. If you teach in a middle school or a high school, talk to your colleagues and see if this little darling has issues in anyone else's class. If so, try to set up a meeting with the parent, the child, the other teacher(s), and yourself.
  • Bring the higher-up. Deploy this option with caution. Do you have a good relationship with your principal or AP? Does he/she generally have the trust and respect of the parents? Consider the answers to those questions before you ask an admin to help you.

So with the ugly stuff out of the way, let's get back to "positive and proactive." I'm generally in favor of the class newsletter-type-thing, although it is one more thing you have to do. But do it, like, once a month. You can e-mail it or post it to a website to save yourself some paper and copying. Update families as to where you are in the curriculum. Tell them about special events and projects.

Finally, try--and this is hard, I know, days are long and time is short and all, but try--to reach out to parents with good news from time to time, especially if a kid is turning his or her particular ship around: "Junior's homework record has really improved in the past few weeks. I think he can expect a much better grade this marking period if he keeps it up." The parent will be relieved to hear the good news, and the kid will be glad that you noticed his or her good efforts and so will be more likely to keep them up.

I've left one question unanswered, I know: How to handle that strange ritual that no one enjoys but we still do anyway known as PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCES. Well, frankly, this post is already long enough. Come back in the fall.

See you next week!

Miss Eyre

P.S.: I finally updated my own blog with some real material. Go there. [/shameless self-promotion]

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Just for Laughs...

You might be a school employee if...

A Sticking Point in DC

In our nation's capitol, Michelle Rhee is in charge of education, and why not? She was a teacher for two whole years, and says she did a wonderful job. She hasn't got any actual documentation or anything, but since she isn't a teacher, the whole accountability thing is totally irrelevant.

That's official policy, apparently. Ms. Rhee's mentor, DC Mayor Fenty, actually eliminated funding for an independent evaluation of her "reform" program. So in the Rhee tradition, we will have only her word as to what kind of job she's done. Nonetheless, I'm confident she will say she's doing a great job and refrain from taking any disciplinary action against herself.

I've received an email that Rhee is insisting on "mutual consent" as a condition of the next contract. This is a misleading term. What it actually indicates is that principals get a veto on any incoming transfers. This is precisely the innovation that caused the explosion of ATRs in New York City. So it could be that teachers in DC could suffer the same fate.

However, part-time AFT President Randi Weingarten is on the job. Doubtless she's learned from her experiences as UFT President. On the other hand, she said publicly that everything was on the table except vouchers, and my source says Ms. Weingarten is trying to sell DC teachers down the river.

Will Ms. Weingarten make the same mistakes in DC she made in New York?

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Advantage of Small Schools

You can just pick 'em up, and move 'em anywhere. Maybe in his third or fourth term, Mayor Bloomberg can make all public schools trailer schools, put wheels on the trailers, and relocate them mid-year, mid-day, mid-class, or whenever Eva Moskowitz needs more space.

The Grand Tradition

In yet another shallow and superficial article, the New York Times maintains its standard as the paper that asks the fewest questions and holds the least curiosity about education. It manages to ask the obvious questions about unionization in charter schools, but doesn't bother to examine what actually happens when charters unionize.

The Times asks Steve Barr about unions, but fails to distinguish between the Green Dot version of union and real unions. The fact that Barr's teachers have neither tenure nor seniority rights is not mentioned. In fact there's no indication the writer even knows about it.

Of course, it may be true that unions sometimes hold back charters. After all, they recently made KIPP actually pay its teachers for the extra time they spent working. Charters see such demands as unpatriotic, as they provide "more work for less pay," which they see as a key American value. They teach their kids to work hard and be nice. That way, after having gone to school 200 hours a week, they can grow up and work 200 hours a week without complaint.

Fortunately for KIPP, charter teachers have very few rights, even when they're unionized. Without seniority rights, for example, charters can still get rid of pretty much any teacher uppity enough to make inconvenient demands, union or not. Of course, if unions are ever run by someone other than part-time AFT President Randi Weingarten, charter school unions may demand real rights, and that will be a huge inconvenience for management.

Fortunately, they've got some employees who would never stand for that:
“Every meeting I went to,” Ms. Furr said, “it was always ‘What can we get?’ and never ‘How is this going to make our students’ education better?’ ”

There is a widespread view, advanced by charter school moguls and "education experts," that it's evil for teachers to look after themselves. Apparently Ms. Furr subscribes to that point of view. She's bought into it so thoroughly that she fails to understand what a union is. In fact, it's the job of the union to protect and improve her working conditions. Here's the secret--making her students' education better is Ms. Furr's job, not the union's. That, in fact, is why her employer is supposed to give her money. Of course, this is America, If Ms. Furr doesn't want money, she's certainly free to donate it back to the charter school.

The Times, however, bemoans the workload of charter teachers. In fact, it mentions the rough conditions charter school teachers have:
...the workload, teaching 160 kids a day, it wasn’t sustainable. You can’t put out the kind of energy we were putting out for our kids year after year.”

That sounds rough. However, New York City public school teachers teach 170 kids a day, and then do "small group tutoring" after that. It's odd the Times reporter didn't know that. Of course, to discover things like that, a reporter might have to speak to a New York City teacher, and they are typically found in school buildings. Such buildings could be blocks and blocks away from New York Times offices.

Who wants to walk that far? Not New York Times reporters.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Today's Story

Over at Gotham Schools, blogger Ruben Brosbe documented his job search after having been excessed. It took Ruben a few weeks to find a job, but he did. I'm happy for him, and I'm glad the "open market" system worked so well for him. As a beginning teacher, I was excessed four times, and there was no such system available to me.

The first time I was excessed, there was a teacher shortage so severe I was sent immediately to another school. The next time, however, I was not so lucky. I put on a suit and introduced myself to what seemed like every AP in the borough of Queens (I was tired of driving over that bridge to the Bronx every day).

I was certified to teach English, so English departments were always my first stop. In fact I'd just registered to begin an MA in English, but hadn't yet paid the tuition. Not having a job, and not anticipating any income, I never took the classes.

I eventually found a job teaching special ed. My supervisor signed an agreement stating I would teach only English, and 15 minutes later assigned me to teach math and music. It was remarkable that I found a job at all. When I went to the district office, the woman in charge showed me a room full of tenured teachers and explained that each one of them would need to be placed before she could even consider me. The UFT said they were really sorry, but that I'd be glad when I had some seniority--at that point I'd be placed immediately.

That's no longer the case. A new teacher like Ruben can easily find a job, but with all my experience, with certification in three areas, and with over 20 years of excellent assessments, I'd be stuck in the ATR pool forever. I get emails from ATRs telling what their job searches are like, and they're not nearly as neat and clean as Ruben's. They don't have the luxury of critiquing interview questions because they simply do not get interviews.

I didn't have that luxury either. I took whatever I could find. I was fortunate in that my next supervisor assigned me to teach ESL, which I loved doing. I was glad to change directions and take an MA in my new area--an area in which teachers were sorely needed.

When I was in Ruben's situation no one would help me because I was a new teacher. If, God forbid, I'm ever in his situation again, no one will help me because I'm an experienced teacher. Regrettably, I'm no longer a cute 20-something and my salary now works against me. While I was able to circumvent the system and help myself in the past, I don't think I could do it now.

It's all timing, I suppose, and clearly Ruben's is better than mine.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

News Flash--Bill Thompson Wakes Up

After months of campaigning, NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson has woken up and realized that in order to run against an incumbent billionaire "education" mayor, it's prudent to disagree with that mayor's educational positions. As comptroller, Mr. Thompson has discovered that the DoE manipulates test scores.

Naturally, I'm shocked and stunned. Not that the DoE manipulates test scores--but that Mr. Thompson has finally said so in public. There seems to be a tradition of prominent public figures ignoring the antics of this administration. That's why folks like Mr. Thompson, Shelly Silver, and part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten have so prominently supported the mayoral control that enabled such nonsense in the first place.

Mr. Thompson has also concluded that Chancellor Joel Klein has gotta go. This determination, apparently, eluded him over the last eight years. Now don't get me wrong--I'm glad Mr. Thompson has come to his senses. I wonder, though, why he's been so ginger about these things for so long.

It could certainly have much to do with the fact that he's been the darling of Ms. Weingarten's UFT over the last year. Of course, Ms. Weingarten had been laboring under the misconception that this was Mayor Bloomberg's final term. One of the assumptions the UFT has been making since I started 25 years ago is that the next mayor would be friendly to teachers--but it's always proven absolutely wrong. Ms. Weingarten and the UFT aristocracy doggedly refuse to acknowledge this or learn from decades of history.

I can't say how closely Bill Thompson has studied the history of this union, but I've been watching them very closely for the last few years. I'll make a prediction. Ms. Weingarten and her merry band, despite Thompson's willingness to go out of his way to speak up for them, will abandon him utterly come November. This is likely part of the contract Ms. Weingarten has already negotiated, in exchange for her support of the disaster that is mayoral control. I hope he knows that.

If he can't figure that out, he doesn't stand a chance.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What No One Will Tell You When You Come to Work at the DOE, Part 4: Assessment

Hello again! After looking at the harrowing and hair-raising subjects of Management and Discipline, we’re ready to return to Assessment. It is a word that many teachers no doubt would like to never hear again, right up there with “goals,” “engagement,” “accountability,” and “coverage.” So I am going to attempt to de-mystify assessment for you a bit in this post. Please note that if I sort of made things up as I went along in my own teaching career with management and discipline, I REALLY made things up as I went along with assessment, so the vets should scrutinize this post and feel even more free than usual to contradict, correct, and/or supplement my “advice” herein.

First of all, assessment sounds scarier than it is. It sounds scary because we’ve come to associate it with a few very negative things: high-stakes testing, big binders full of information, and the whole Acuity/ARIS complex. For teachers on the ground, assessment need not be scary and, indeed, you may actually find it useful. Assessment at its core is simply finding out about your students. Assessments break down into a few different categories:

· Pre-assessments are assessments you would give before teaching a lesson, a concept, a unit, or an entire year of content.
· Post-assessments are assessments you would give after teaching.
· Formative assessments are assessments you would give while teaching something—think of these as mini-assessments. They can be part of a sequence or a whole, or they can stand on their own. Indeed, a really good lesson will always contain an assessment piece, even if it’s only a few minutes long, and you should think of these as formative assessments, too.
· Summative assessments are assessments you would give as a culmination of teaching and learning.

So on the surface, assessment is a fairly obvious topic. “So,” you may ask, “you mean that assessing is just figuring out what my students know, and then, later, figuring out how much they learned?” Basically, yes. Go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief. People make it more complicated than it has to be.

Okay, so how do you choose and/or design assessments that will be useful for you and keep your administrators off your back? This is a tough question for me to answer. I’m a middle school ELA teacher and obviously my answers would be specific to my subject area. So, first, I’ll give some general tips for assessment in the first heady days of school. Then, those of you who are not teaching middle school ELA can stop reading and I’ll give some specific tips for you lucky souls in my content and developmental neighborhood.

General tips for assessments? First, keep them low- or no-stakes in the first few days and weeks of school. Make it explicit to your students that you are getting to know them and their needs and no one will be penalized for forgetting anything or temporarily slipping into bad habits. If you must grade assessment pieces just to keep your little darlings on their toes (and this may very well be a MUST in many middle school classrooms), grade them only on completion, legibility, and/or honesty.

Combine serious assessments with fun ones. Whether or not you believe in learning styles and multiple intelligences (and, yes, it’s okay to not believe in them), surveys about them can be fun for the kids. There are many interest inventories that are applicable to subject areas in which all the kids have to do is check boxes or similar about things they like and don’t like. This may sound like busywork, but it’s only busywork if you’re not going to read them and care about them. And you should. Most of the kids will be honest, and their interests can help you make some decisions in the classroom.

Try to make even the serious assessments fun. I’ve done an assessment in social studies in which students are given a pile of Post-it notes with some historical incidents and they work together in small groups to place them on a large timeline that stretches from one wall to another in my classroom. It tells me what kind of a sense students have about history just as well as a paper-and-pencil quiz, and they always like to stand up and walk around and talk. (Don’t try something like that, though, until your routines and rules are well-established—as you should already know!) Don’t skimp on the spoonfuls of sugar as long as the medicine follows immediately afterwards, so to speak.

Organize what you know in some kind of fashion. More and more, schools have a system for this—a binder, a spreadsheet, whatever. Don’t reinvent the wheel on this, especially not your first year. Do what your grade, department, or building does. Even if it’s not a perfect system, it’s easier than coming up with your own when you have more important things to worry about.

Finally, process your findings. I generally go kid by kid and write a short statement summarizing his or her strengths and weaknesses and where we might go from here: “Sarah’s writing is vivid and descriptive but lacks organization—share three examples of outlines and graphic organizers to scaffold organizational patterns in Sarah’s writing.” This is not a biography and it is not an IEP—just some notes for yourself and, of course, other interested parties, which may well include your School Quality Review team. So be forewarned and don’t be like me the first year I taught middle school, when I found myself in tears on the eve of the Quality Review because I had been handed a binder and told to put stuff in it and that was the extent of my “professional development” on assessment in middle school ELA. I need hardly mention (though I will) that such notes need to stick to the Dragnet rule—“Just the facts, ma’am.” No speculation and no comments on behavior or work habits—that needs to be accounted for, of course, but not here.

Now, for the middle school ELA teachers…

[Everyone else runs off]

Boy, I’m glad they’re gone! Let’s have some drinks and laugh at them! HA HA HA—

Just kidding.

Okay, my people. You can’t go wrong with these few easy assessments to kick you off:

· Teachers’ College Reading Assessments (should be available to you if your school is officially doing TC, and can possibly be borrowed/”borrowed” from a colleague or the Internet or somesuch if not). Even if your school is not a TC school, just about everyone has enough rough familiarity with the Fountas and Pinnell reading levels that they’ll know what you’re talking about.
· A simple writing assessment in which kids write a prose piece of their choosing for a certain period of time. Assess the pieces with a rubric—there are a million writing rubrics out there or you can make your own. I rather like the AUSSIE* rubrics and, again, your principal should have passing familiarity with them even if your school doesn’t participate in AUSSIE.
*AUSSIE? Like Australian? Yes. There are Australian staff developers who come and work in NYC schools. Seriously. AUSSIE is an acronym for something but they really are Aussies. Usually I would decry this as a terrible waste of money and resources but my school used to have AUSSIEs and I liked them.
· A reading interest inventory to give you a sense of what genres, topics, etc. could/should be represented in your classroom library.
· A listening assessment—you can use old state ELA exams, which are easily available online, to see how well your kids record and process what they hear.

And, again, in general: Keep it simple, keep it low-stakes, make it fun, organize your findings, and LEARN from them. Be able to talk about your findings with your kids, your administrators, and your kids’ families. Believe me when I say this will make you look very professional and ahead of the curve as a newbie.

I am considering delving into the extremely thorny subject of Getting Along (with the adults, not the children) next week, but I need to spend a few days assessing (!) how much I actually know about this topic to decide if I know it well enough to teach others about it.

See you next time!

Miss Eyre

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Attention English Teachers

Here's something you may fancy--Vanity Fair fact-checks and edits Sarah Palin's resignation speech. Too bad Governor Sarah didn't call them in advance.

Juking the Stats

Charter schools have an ever-increasing arsenal of tools at the ready to enhance their results. One of the most useful, apparently, is dumping kids into public schools late in the year. It's a win-win, really. They get to keep all the money for the kids, but the public schools get stuck with either the test scores, the expenses, or whatever undesirable behaviors that make the charters want the kids out in the first place.

In Tweedie world, that's called "accountability." The charters take the kids, the charters take the money, and the public schools are stuck with the results. Over at the Moskowitz charter school, they aren't always successful in getting rid of kids who may prove inconvenient:

Kevin Riley, a parent at Harlem Success Academy II, said a charter school official tried to encourage him to pull his son Miles, 5, out of the school after they learned he needed a paraprofessional.

"[An official] told me, 'You're going to have to come in and see us. You might have to look for another school,'" he said.

Riley said he wouldn't remove his son, but felt "other parents would have been pushed out."

Harlem Success spokeswoman Jenny Sedlis called Miles "a sweet, wonderful child. He's enrolled in one of our schools, and his father said he is returning," she said.

Faced with not only a special needs child, but also the unwanted expense of a paraprofessional, they threaten the parents they might have to find new schools. If the parents decline and speak to the press, they instantly sing another song altogether. And, as the father points out, who knows how many inconvenient kids they're able to dump on the public schools?

In Bloomberg World, where those who oppose his absolute power are Nazis, it's exclusively the fault of teachers and public schools if kids don't all get 90% or above on standardized tests. And charters operate under an entirely different set of rules than those that apply to public schools.

Charters represent about 2% of city-funded schools, but fortunately for this mayor, they suck up about half the news coverage. Perhaps the mayor opposes parent education so vehemently because he knows that informed parents will demand decent conditions for kids in neighborhood schools.

Now that will cost real money.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Frankie, We Hardly Knew Ya

Frank McCourt died today. Frank was a New York City teacher for a good part of his life, and you can read about it in Teacher Man. I did twice, and will likely do so again one of these days. Most readers, like me, first made Frank's acquaintance via his masterpiece Angela's Ashes. This was the story of his childhood, and no one but Frank could have written it:

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

As bad as it was, Frank never abandoned his optimism, his humor, or the remarkable tone that made his story something you just could not put down. The film version of Angela's Ashes told the story sans the tone and was largely unwatchable.

Sadly, Frank's writing career didn't begin until he was well into his sixties. It yielded three memoirs (all of which you should read immediately if you haven't yet done so). It's tragic that the world has lost such a great voice--a voice full of wit and inspiration for anyone curious enough to listen.

Unlike the "experts" who ape whatever trendy ideas the tabloids spout, Frank knew quite a bit about education. Teacher Man shows us a thoughtful, creative, inspiring and original soul--precisely the sort of person you'd want to teach your kid. Frank didn't have some cookie-cutter approach to education, and never advocated one either. He found his own voice both as a teacher and a writer.

And Frank McCourt was one of the great voices of our time--someone who truly can't be replaced.

Rest in peace, Teacher Man. If anyone's earned it, it's you.

Glenn Beck vs. the Health Vampires

By now, you've probably heard Glenn Beck freaking out over some caller claiming that Americans need better health care. It's certainly an interesting and memorable conversation, in case it's escaped you somehow.

I'm more partial to this musical version, which organizes Beck's rant into a kind of B-52s thing. It's much easier to dance to, for one thing, and it gives you the illusion that there's method to Beck's madness. Were I him, I'd send a thank you card to its creators.

Check it out:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

That's All I Can Stands, and I Can't Stands No More

Mayor Bloomberg's has a double-pronged approach to his attack on quality public schools. In places like PS 123, which has managed to go from an F to a B in his own scoring system, he inserts a charter school. The charter school kids get uniforms and renovated classrooms, while the lowly public school kids get the "as is" experience of attending a school that's a hundred years old if it's a day.

Thus, parents get to see the separate and unequal treatment this mayor offers kids, and wonder why the hell their kids can't get the same conditions as charter kids. This can translate to increased support for charters, and even more people making 380K per annum, as charter mogul Moskowitz pays herself. This, in Mayor Bloomberg's New York, is somehow a good thing.

And even as Mayor Mike undermines PS 123 by giving away science labs and classrooms, he undermines excellent but overcrowded schools like mine by endlessly dumping more kids in. In Mayor Bloomberg's version of "accountability," bad schools are closed and good schools are demeaned little by little until he can close them too.

Go to PS 123 on Monday. Tell Mayor Bloomberg you support public schools, and you've had it with this nonsense.

Monday, July 20th

- Demonstration at PS 123

Time: Gather at 12:30pm / Start at 1:00pm

Location: 301 West 140th Street ( 8th ave) NY, NY 10030

Friday, July 17, 2009

Card Check Dead in the Water

One of the key reasons I voted for Obama was that he promised to get card check as an option for working people wishing to form unions. "Moderate" Democrats have now abandoned that part of the bill, apparently persuaded by business lobbyists.

Crunching the Numbers

Some numbers are inherently more crunchy than others. I suppose. Joanne Jacobs writes about how a car rental employees felt duty bound to explain to her what 3/8 represented. She explained, to his surprise, that this did not pose a major challenge to her. Though I don't particularly pride myself on my math skills, it doesn't much challenge me either.

Last weekend I was at a joint upstate where they sold food outside. I bought two items, one costing $8.50 and a side order of that cost $2.00. The woman at the counter dutifully added these two numbers with a pencil and paper, and charged me $12.50. I told her it was $10.50. She then did the math over again, and got a more senior employee to help. It turned out I was right.

I was standing nearby and noticed several other errors, and a little bit of a wait between customers as these calculations took place. There were a few reasons for this--one being the cash register was located inside. The other, of course, was that the young woman was the daughter of the owner.

Getting jobs is tough in this economic climate. Still, having your dad own the business is always one of the very best ways to break in.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A "Reformer" Unmasked

It's illuminating to read those that damn teachers with faint praise. This isn't the first writer I've seen who feels generous by admitting teachers shouldn't embrace every "reform" that comes down the pike (failing to note the largely unproven, and often counter-productive nature of such things), but then inserts a line like this one:

The real problem is that some unions oversimplify their function to protect teachers, creating a blanket protection for all teachers without accounting for teacher effectiveness.

Perhaps the writer feels the union should protect only those teachers it deems worthy. Who gets to make that choice? Extrapolating from that oft-repeated point of view, perhaps only those deemed innocent by the police should receive lawyers. The problem, of course, is that those making charges consider everyone guilty, or they wouldn't bother to make the charges. It's a hallmark of our justice system that everyone is entitled to a defense. In the case of some "reformers," they seem loath to extend that right to teachers.

As usual, the rationale is protecting the children. Of course, if these people get their way, children won't have those rights when they grow up either.

And sometimes, unions collaborate with them. In 2005, the UFT agreed to allow teachers to be suspended without pay or health benefits for up to 90 days (and I've been told it can go longer) on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. I've now heard of at least two cases in which these charges were proven false. This isn't the first voice of the "reform" movement I've seen advocating that teachers are defended selectively. The writer goes on:

On the face of it, this egalitarian aim may seem favorable to its membership but the reality is that it does more to decrease the professionalism of teaching, backfiring on unions in the long run. A “protection for all” attitude may do more to delegitimize demands for higher compensation and increased funding, which is in everyone’s best interest. As in any profession, accountability is absolutely necessary to ensure productivity.

First of all, demanding that charges are sustained before people are removed from their jobs is not remotely unreasonable. I'd hardly wish to depend on the judgment of this writer over whether or not my case merited a defense. But what I hear in this argument reverberates of things I heard when I was a kid, from the racists who populated my sleepy little neighborhood:

"Black people are okay, but the bad ones spoil it for the good ones."

That little pearl encapsulates the prejudice and racism one generation passed onto another, and for all I know, the kid who said that to me is passing it onto his own children. To tell you the truth, I see little fundamental difference between his philosophy and that of the person who wrote the column. My elementary school acquaintance discriminated against people based on their skin color, and the writer of this column discriminates against people based on their occupation. It's tough not to notice there are both good and bad people in virtually every and any group.

This notwithstanding, the theory, in this country, is that we're all innocent until proven guilty, and that we're all entitled to a defense. Those who question this concept, for one particular group or another, are garden-variety bigots, plain and simple.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What No One Will Tell You When You Come to Work at the DOE, Part 3.2: Discipline

Hello again! Gosh, we’ve finally had some nice weather this week, haven’t we? I’ll be honest with y’all: The reason that this post is coming later in the day on Wednesday is because I spent most of yesterday chilling at the beach and catching up on my Netflix queue. This is summer vacation! They will pry it from your cold dead hands! But I have an obligation to all you nice people, especially my newbie friends, and I’m here, more or less on time, to follow up on last week’s entry on Keeping Your Little Darlings in Line. Thanks, by the way, for the nice comments on last week’s entry—management is something I struggled with a lot as a teacher, and though I’ve come a long way, there are always refinements and improvements to be made.

So. Discipline. Ouch. The word itself hurts, doesn’t it? As a newbie teacher, you may be imagining screaming, dragging kids out in the hall, etc. There was a rumor, and I never knew if it was true, at my own high school that a teacher smacked a kid’s head into a locker. Be advised that we are not talking about anything like that and, indeed, if we were, you and I and everyone would be in really big trouble, as well we should be. There is something the DOE/BOE/collection of out-of-touch bureaucrats at 65 Court and Tweed (ooh, I like that one) call “corporal punishment,” and while some of it is a little silly, the rules against most of it are designed to protect your newbie ass from vengeful parents. I’ll explain.

Okay, so, yeah, discipline. I hate talking about this. But let’s be honest: No matter how well-intentioned, positive, and efficient is your classroom management schema, one of your little darlings is going to do something stupid. Or, to put it in more classroom-friendly language, they are going to “make a poor choice about their behavior.” Most of it is pretty predictable: They will talk, or play basketball with a piece of scrap paper, or sneak out their iPod/phone in class, or spend twenty minutes meeting with their buddy from the other class in the bathroom, or swipe their table mate’s pencil case because they think it is funny. There is nothing new under the sun, of course, although I guarantee you that at least one or two truly surprising things in the area of Discipline will come up every year. But, even after just a few years teaching, I’m not surprised by much anymore. It will happen for you, too.

So these seemingly “little” things in the last paragraph? They have to be dealt with. Ignoring is the first level of “dealing with.” “But, Miss Eyre,” you might ask, “isn’t ignoring something NOT dealing with it?” In most cases, yes. But when a kid is trying to get your attention in a negative way that doesn’t really harm anyone else, I have found that ignoring is the best way to go. Complaining, muttering, rolling the eyes, etc. can generally be ignored—if it happens only once in a while. Every kid has a lousy day and they deserve the gift of being allowed to be invisible from time to time. You can tell whether or not ignoring works with a particular child if their tiny little temper tantrum dissipates quickly and recurs never or infrequently. If this is the case, congratulations—you have learned to ignore effectively. This type of ignoring does not say, “I don’t care if you break the rules of my classroom and hurt your classmates,” but it says, “I cannot waste my time with your petty complaints when your classmates need my help and attention so that they can do their work.” Of course, if a kid does this every day, they’re establishing a negative and dangerous pattern that needs to be dealt with in a different way.

The next level of “dealing with” is nonverbal redirection. Nonverbal redirection is great for a few reasons: the other kids can’t see you react to behavior that is mostly designed to annoy you anyway; the offender saves some face with his/her peers precisely for that reason; and the offender sees that he/she cannot ruffle you easily. Nonverbal redirection is a discreet, silent way to remind a kid that he/she is off task or not following rules: a pat on the shoulder, a hand on the desk, a stare (you MUST develop a good “teacher look”—my own is one of appalled dismay, followed quickly by disappointment), a quick “no” shake of the head, or simply moving closer to a kid. Most of the silliness can be dealt with through nonverbal redirection. Especially in the first few weeks, kids are seeing how much they can put over on you and how easily you are freaked out. Swift but measured nonverbal redirection answers those questions: Nothing, and not easily at all. The message that is ultimately sent should be this: “I saw what you did, and I didn’t like it. I’m giving you this one chance to stop doing it and I won’t embarrass you in front of your friends.”

Believe it or not, by being quick on your feet with ignoring and nonverbal redirection and having a good management plan, you have already helped to prevent a great deal of silliness and wasted time in your classroom. Most of the wrong that kids do in school is silliness. They are bored, or feeling a bit punchy or cranky, or they want to test you. That’s all there is to it. Keeping them busy, keeping your classroom well-run, and showing them that you miss nothing and tolerate no nonsense shuts down most of your low-grade mischief. Most kids genuinely want to get along with their teachers and with each other, and such systems really will enable that to happen. You will not be seen as “mean” or “unlikeable” for doing these things—as I said last week, kids will like and trust you more if your classroom is safe, predictable, and well-run.

Okay, so what if those things don’t work? Well, there are three kinds of “not working.” The first is your chronically truculent, disrespectful, disruptive child. Those children are out there, sadly. We can debate until the cows come home why such children are the way they are: learning differences, poor home life, poor nutrition, unchallenged brilliance, whatever. We’re not here to debate why, only to acknowledge that they exist. Some of those kids can be turned around if you can be both very firm in your expectations for their behavior and also challenge them intellectually, but let’s be honest: If they are chronically truculent et al. with you, they have probably been that way for years and are like that for most every other teacher. For such children, you need to be both more creative and more severe. Talk to his/her other teachers and find out if any of them have gotten through to this child. If so, ask them what they have done and see if you can adapt that approach in your classroom. For some kids, adaptations like working alone, or having a certain classroom job, or having an agreement about “cooling off” can help. I taught a young man with out-of-control ADHD who needed to take a walk about twice every period. Well, you can argue and be annoyed and try to make that young man sit down, but nothing good will come of it. Let him or her take the walk, as long as the walk is within the parameters the two of you agree on. And speaking of ADHD, find out if your chronic disrupter has an IEP and/or a behavior management plan. Don’t reinvent the wheel—it will not only give you unnecessary work, but it could get you in trouble if you do not abide by the IEP. And be patient with yourself with these kids: They came to you that way and you are not going fix them all by yourself. But you do have to teach them. Keep trying to reach out to them, but do not allow them to disrespect you or their classmates. That kid may come around. But he or she may not.

The second kind of “not working” is your child who started off the school year seeming to be a very peaceable and reasonable child only to go precipitously off the deep end at some point later on. This will probably alarm you, as well it should. If a kid who seemed perfectly agreeable in September becomes a raging, disrespectful, disruptive kid in January, it’s very likely that something happened in between to make him or her act out in these scary new ways, and it probably wasn’t anything good. Particularly if you are teaching in a difficult neighborhood, very scary things happen to the kids we teach. I’ve known way too many kids with dead parents. Parents and guardians and siblings get sick, go to jail, walk out, etc. Your guidance counselor should be informed immediately if you have a kid with a dramatic, rapid shift in behavior. Your guidance counselor will keep you and your administrator informed and work with you on how to manage this kid’s behavior.

For both of those kinds of “not working,” you need to know your school’s Ladder of Discipline. Your school probably has a building-wide one, but if not, yours should look something like this, as I mentioned in Part 2:

1.) Warning
2.) Student-teacher conference
3.) Phone call/letter/e-mail home
4.) Student-teacher-parent conference
5.) Referral to principal/dean

A “warning” is verbal: “Steven, stop throwing those paper balls right now.” (No saying please. No asking questions. A short, imperative sentence.)
A “student-teacher conference” happens privately, usually after class: “Steven, you know that throwing things is not allowed in this classroom. You know that if you need to throw a paper away, you are allowed to get up and throw it away without even asking me. If you do not stop throwing paper balls, I will need to talk to your parents about your problem with paper balls.”

Then, if Steven keeps throwing paper balls, you call Steven’s parent or guardian and speak to him or her about the problem. (If you cannot contact a parent or guardian after several attempts, and this does happen, skip straight to #5.) If Steven keeps throwing paper balls, call/e-mail/whatever back and request that Steven’s parent or guardian come in for a meeting with you and Steven. I have found this step to be pretty effective, such that, during the last school year, I only had to actually go to step #5 once. In this meeting, you and the parent should present a united front. The parent/guardian should be following up with further discussion/consequences at home. This won’t always happen, but believe me that it is generally worth a try. Some teachers will be a little crafty and make the effort to go straight to the parent/guardian that will be more effective—Gary Rubinstein says that he has seen hardened thugs quiver in the face of a harsh word from Grandma. So, if that’s the case, go for Grandma.

Step #5 is the trickiest. Your administrators are busy people who do not want to be bothered with tales of Steven throwing paper balls. This is why, if Steven keeps throwing paper balls, you must be able to prove that you have exhausted other options. Document, document, document. Document the phone calls, the e-mails, the dates and times of your contacts with Steven’s parents/guardians. I like to inform my admin if I have a parent coming in for a meeting, so that if I do have to go to #5, the admin already has a sense of what I’ve already done. Your admin may or may not do much, but, if yours is like my former principal, a phone call from her will be so unpleasant that Steven’s parent/guardian would rather cut off his or her own arm than ever have to deal with her again. Steven will probably stop throwing paper balls at that point. But, just in case Steven doesn’t, your admin has bigger guns like classroom removal and suspension at his/her fingertips.

So that’s the Ladder of Discipline, which leads me to the third kind of “not working”: The crazy, dangerous, acute onsets of bad behavior. This is everything from a fistfight to arson to theft. Obviously, you are not going to try nonverbal redirection with kids who are throwing punches or setting fires. Some people will say that stuff like this does not happen in a well-managed classroom, but I beg to differ. Adolescent boys in particular have raging hormones, physical strength, and lousy judgment. The toughest, strictest teacher isn’t going to be able to prevent that ugly combination from getting the better of a boy from time to time. If you or other students are in physical danger, you must notify someone immediately. Call security, your dean if your school has one, your administrator, and your guidance counselor in that order. You will generally be able to get at least one of them. Generally, that kind of thing is then out of your hands, but follow up ASAP because you will usually have to give a statement or answer some questions. Don’t be afraid to do this. Kids do stupid things sometimes. An isolated crazy incident will not forever change your colleagues’ opinion of you. They know that these things do happen in school. And, generally, don’t try to break up a fight. You could get hurt yourself or hurt a kid, even unintentionally, if you do.

One more word about discipline: This thing called “corporal punishment.” Corporal punishment is not just hitting or otherwise physically disciplining a child (and of course that is not allowed, as you should know). Corporal punishment is also calling kids names, ridiculing/humiliating them, making them sit in the corner or out in the hall, or otherwise singling them out for punishment in a way that could constitute harassment or humiliation. Now, many of us sat in a corner (including yours truly!) once upon a time and suffered no lasting emotional damage, but don’t try to use that argument in your 3020-a hearing. Don’t do it. Especially as an untenured newbie, scrupulously avoid that which is defined as corporal punishment in the Chancellor’s Regulations. If nothing else, your admin will make that available to you. You can also read all of the Chancellor’s Regulations here.

Well, I’m exhausted now. Back to my Netflix queue and thinking about Assessment for next week. As always, leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments and enjoy the lovely weather.

Miss Eyre

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why Are These People Even Here?

The Working Families Party has decided to endorse Bill Thompson for Mayor. It was disconcerting to see it was even considering Mayor Bloomberg. The party was conceived as an alternative to the Liberal Party, which Ed Koch characterized as "slime." The Liberal Party famously endorsed Jacob Javits the year Al D'Amato knocked him off the Republican line, and enabled 18 years of Senator Al (who Koch staunchly supported).

Here in Nassau, County Executive Tom Suozzi managed to win despite the Working Families Party having endorsed and run his primary opponent. Suozzi managed to break a decades-old political machine, and it was unconscionable that Working Families didn't help him. I haven't voted on their line since. Though it didn't happen in this case, who needs another spoiler to help the Republicans?

That's why it's interesting that WFP offers its endorsement before the Democrats select their candidate, allowing for precisely such things to happen. If they really don't want to be the slimy Liberal Party, why do they do that? And why should Democrats support them if they do?

Another interesting development is that the United Federation of Teachers declined to make an endorsement, despite Thompson's vocal support for initiatives of UFT interests. For those of us who've been speculating that part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten had already made a contract deal with the mayor, this (along with the reprehensible op-eds Ms. Weingarten wrote supporting mayoral control) was just further fuel to the fire. All I can say is this contract had better be a real humdinger if we're not going to work against the man who's done everything in his power to undermine and privatize public education in Fun City (and odds are it isn't, considering it never is).

There's still a primary, and Tony Avella will face Thompson. Avella actually opposes the cancerous charters that Bloomberg favors, rather than simply adopting Ms. Weingarten's positions, such as they are. Whatever the outcome, what is the advantage of the WFP committing to place a name on their ballot when it's possible that name might not represent the nominee?

In other words, who needs the Working Families Party?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Discussion Is Un-American

These days, it seems everyone loves Mayor Bloomberg's mayoral control. Governor Paterson can't wait to see it renewed. Why this is no one can say. After all, the mayor a new Board of Education, stocked it with his employees, and even made one of them President. They met for nine minutes, endorsed mayoral control, and closed up shop. They even got Scott Stringer to appoint a rubber stamp, after having selected lone dissident Patrick Sullivan for the ultimately impotent PEP.

What is the big rush to pass mayoral control? Is it that the default system will ultimately place checks or balances on this mayor's power over the school system? Will community boards be that much of a handicap for the all-privatization, all-the-time agenda of Mayor Micheal Bloomberg?

Perhaps. It's much simpler to have a Chancellor who does as he's told or is fired, backed up by a panel who does as it's told or is fired. And, of course, we have a new chief accountability officer, one who promises to follow in the footsteps of the last one--the very same footsteps that literally run from concerned parents, and blatantly distort their priorities on surveys his own department commissioned and executed. Perhaps the mayor feels that his gang gives the appearance that things are discussed, rather than decided unilaterally.

With the tabloid press cheering him on, this mayor continues to do what he wants, when he wants, however he wants. That's the hallmark of a spoiled child, not a leader.

PR skills, the only thing this administration truly excels at, have thus far enabled them to pull the wool over New Yorkers. One can only hope they open their eyes before the richest man in New York purchases himself and his billionaire buddies another term.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

David Carroll and Goliath

Singer Dave Carroll watched from a window as a United Airlines employee tossed his Taylor guitar around like a ragdoll, breaking it. United, though acknowledging it happened, gave him a song and dance for nine months before telling him they were going to do nothing about it. Dave told United if they didn't pay he'd put out a series of three music videos about United and their service.

The first song came out a few days ago, and it's posted below. Consumerist follows up, saying that after seeing the video United has finally offered to pay for the damaged guitar. Now, though, Dave's almost ready with the second video, and has asked United to send the money to charity.

Check out the video. Maybe you'll become a fan.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fool Me Once

Sometime during the never-ending presidential campaign, I saw Barack Obama say to the NEA, "I'm not gonna do it to ya, I'm gonna do it with ya," or words to that effect. Now, I read that his appointee has declared that NY State has to change its tenure law or we will not receive funds for education.

This comes on the heels of Arne Duncan's ultimatum our state must lift the cap on charters or face losing money--and I've no doubt New York already pays plenty more than we get back.

So when Obama said he was going to involve teachers in his decision-making process, what he meant was that he was going to steamroll the Gates-Broad-Walmart-Bloomberg agenda and exclude them utterly. That's the sort of thing politicians refer to as "clarification."

I voted for Obama and expected better. Given the alternative, I can't say I regret it. And Obama has promised reforms I support--better Supreme Court appointments, better health care, and easier union organization. Any of those things will still make him a better choice than McCain.

But still--we won this election. Barack Obama not only got more votes than his opponent, but went on to occupy the office. You'd think he'd have a little regard for those of us he made promises to. You'd think someone peddling hope would lead us away from our cynical ways.

Thus far, you'd be entirely mistaken.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The PS 123 Uniform

Eva Moscowitz has stolen just a little more of PS 123, I'm informed by email. There will be an emergency demonstration there, 301 W. 140th St. at 8:30 AM tomorrow.

PS 123 went from an F to a B rating, and as a reward, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have taken away several more of their classrooms. This is what happens to good schools in Mayor Bloomberg's New York--no space for you. They call that "accountability," I believe.

If there's space, it goes to charters. If not, charters take it anyway. For neighborhood schools they have trailers. They won't do for Moskowitz school students.

In fact, not even regular classrooms are not good enough for charter schools. That's why Moskowitz needs to renovate them, and if some thoughtless teacher left stuff in it, or prepared it for September, that's the way the chalkboard crumbles.

Imagine you are a public school student, and your classroom was built a hundred years ago. You sit in your ancient wooden chair and learn to like it. Moskowitz school kids get brand new ones. Her rooms are renovated. Last time your classroom was renovated, Theodore Roosevelt was storming San Juan Hill, which looked much as your classroom does now.

Your bathrooms, built in the year of the flood, are made of ancient buff-colored brick. Maybe Theodore Roosevelt used them. Who knows? Moskowitz school kids get shiny purple tile. Moskowitz kids get smaller class sizes and better facilities even as your school is dismantled piece by piece to make room for them.

Do you get the message, public school kid? Do you see that some people are worth more than others in Mayor Bloomberg's New York? Remember that lesson, because that's precisely what this mayor wants you to remember. Brown v. Board of Ed.? Ancient history. Mayor Bloomberg is a reformer, and that stuff is all in the past.

Moskowitz school kids get nice new uniforms. You, you don't even get that button in the picture (even though you're treated as such). You're not alone, though. They treat my kids exactly the same way.

Mac or PC?

I need a small laptop to carry around next year. I'm trying to decide between a small Macbook and a smaller netbook, with a much smaller price-tag. I've decided that if Mayor Bloomberg isn't going to bring technology to the trailers, I'll do it myself.

I went to the Apple store yesterday and was highly unconvinced. Mostly what I do with computers is write, and in a classroom I'd like the option of looking up multiple dictionary definitions or finding help answering the tough questions those darn smart kids ask now and then. Many of us language teachers with limited drawing ability could also use access to pictures, and we can't always anticipate in advance which ones we'll need.

So should I get that $300 netbook, or spring for a grand and get that cool-looking Macbook Pro? After all, I've been around long enough to be a pro. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that netbook does everything I need, and is actually lighter than the mac by maybe a pound-and-a-half.

Of course I'm looking for advice, but before you venture any, I ask that you look at this 52-second video. Please be patient with it. The narration begins in French, but don't let that frighten you. Wait half a minute, and you'll see exactly what Macs do that PCs don't.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

What No One Will Tell You When You Come to Work at the DOE, Part 3.1: Classroom Management

Welcome back! So if you still think you want this job, you definitely must read this week’s installment on Management and next week’s on Discipline. (I decided they merit two separate posts. Assessment is coming in two weeks.) Oh never have two such important words sounded so boring. But do not skip this post. Your life will most definitely be hell for a full ten months unless you take it seriously. Also, do not think that this stuff does not apply to you if you are teaching the big kids. It ESPECIALLY applies to you if you are teaching the big kids!

I touched on some of these things in last week’s installment, but let’s talk about them in more detail. Half of keeping your little darlings in line is what we call “classroom management.” Classroom management truly makes a world of difference in how your classroom runs and, believe it or not, in how well your students learn. Research has shown that students not only learn better in well-managed classrooms, but they prefer a well-managed classroom to one that is always on the verge of chaos. Since children are fairly well-versed in creating and sustaining chaos, this may surprise you, but it’s true.

So what goes into classroom management? Almost everything you and your students can possibly do in a classroom. I would boil it down to one single word: routine. Have routines for everything. Teach them explicitly and repeatedly in the first couple of weeks of school. Mentally prioritize them and remind and reteach each one as need be. Your students will not only get the hang of it—they will appreciate the fact that there are no surprises, no “gotchas” in your classroom. Circumstances and personality will dictate somewhat what routines you need, but here are ones that you will most certainly need regardless of your age group, classroom, building, etc.:

· Entering and exiting the room
· Where and when to stash coats, lunch boxes, etc.
· What materials to have ready for class
· What to do when getting seated at the beginning of class
· How and when students can leave seats
· Bathroom
· Fire/intruder/lockdown drill
· Asking questions
· Collecting homework and other documents
· Moving and changing seats
· Snack/lunch (for the little ones, generally)
· Assemblies
· Visitors
· Phone calls
· Tests
· Lateness/absence
· Cutting (this one is mostly for the big kids, but believe me when I say that I once caught first graders cutting)
· Projects

Depending on your subject, you may need to teach other routines. If you (God help you) are doing the Teachers’ College nonsense, you will need to explicitly teach how Reading and Writing Workshops are supposed to work. With any luck, you will have been given a book or a binder on this by your administration, but, after all, this is the DOE. (Or is it the BOE again now? Who knows.) If not, Google it and/or pester colleagues. If you have a science lab, you’ll need to teach lab procedures. You’ll figure it out.

It’s worth noting that you may not need to decide what all of those routines are yourself. By all means, if there are department-wide, grade-wide, or building-wide routines on any of those things, follow them to the letter. First of all, if they’re already established and running, kids are more likely to simply assume that things are the same in your classroom and do them without being told. Also, frankly, you have a lot of decisions to make and it will save you some time to follow someone else’s routine. See? You’re already learning how safe and comfortable established routines can make people feel!

I know what you’re thinking. “What?” you’re asking. “How am I supposed to make this interactive and fun and reaching out to all the multiple intelligences? HOW???” Relax. You’re not. It’s okay if the actual teaching of this stuff is somewhat straightforward and lacking in the bells and whistles. Please trust me when I say that your students will appreciate straightforward, easy stuff for a few days. They’ve got a long time to worry about the hard stuff. And if they see that you are very serious about your routines being followed to the letter—and you have to lead by example on this—they will be more likely to follow them. Struggling students in particular like to feel successful early on. If they see that they can please you by walking into the room quietly, taking out a notebook, and starting a Do Now (for example), well, they’re very likely to try the next thing you suggest. And the one after that, and the one after that.

Which brings me to the next thing you have to keep in mind about management: Positive feedback. Frequent, sincere, positive feedback. Do I believe in rewarding students just for doing what they’re “supposed to do”? Well, in principle, not really, but I have to admit that it works wonders. And we’re not talking Xboxes or cars here—we’re just talking about a little compliment, a smile, a nice phone call home. I don’t believe in withholding praise—praise is good, as long as it’s deserved. But remember that it can be embarrassing for older kids, especially boys, to be praised very publicly. Try to be discreet in your praise until you know the kids well—a smile, a thumbs-up, a nod. And even high school kids like getting stickers. If the whole class follows a routine, thank the whole class: “I really appreciate how nicely you all came into the room and started your work so quickly and quietly. That’s going to help us get a lot done today.”

About rewards: This is a touchy and personal subject for teachers, as heaven knows we already pour out enough of our money right back into our kids. One thing I can tell you about rewards is that the best rewards are often free. I have a system whereby the whole class earns “points” over the course of a week or a month that can be used to “buy” a reward for the whole class, like a free period, a party, or a homework-free weekend, all of which cost you exactly nothing. Of course, they can also lose points by screwing up. (If you like this idea, a more detailed explanation can be found here.)

Another way I do rewards is by giving out little raffle tickets for acts that go “above and beyond”: a struggling student aces a quiz, a student spends a lunch period tutoring or helping me in the classroom, etc. Then, every so often, the tickets go into a pool and the winners, say two or three in a class, get to pick out a prize. I get my prizes from the dollar store. Things like pens, sticky notes, little bottles of hand sanitizer, etc. make for nice prizes. I do not do candy or any edibles. That helps me save money while still making all students feel special and recognized.

If you have suggestions for other routines or other ways to get students on board with following them, please do post them in the comments. This week’s post was pretty much all sweetness and light, but we’ll be looking at the dark side of Keeping Your Little Darlings in Line with Part 3.2 next week: Discipline.

See you next time!

Miss Eyre

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Seperate and Unequal

Even as Tweed empowers the likes of Eva Moskowitz to subvert neighborhood schools with her charter schools, the ones that need to renovate classrooms before they're suitable for the charter kids, our union, the UFT has partnered with California's Green Dot Schools. Like many charters, Green Dot offers smaller classes. This is an advantage unavailable to neighborhood schools. On a fair playing field, wouldn't public schools get them too?

Also, I'll bet you dimes to dollars Green Dot/Moskowitz kids won't be studying in trailers, like my students. Moskowitz is correct, in fact, that kids need and deserve clean and inviting facilities. There is certainly a message sent by dumping kids into trailers, closets, hallways and bathrooms, and anyone who thinks kids don't get it simply doesn't know kids.

And, of course, while creating a second class of student, there's also a second class of teacher. Moscowitz' teachers have no union. Green Dot teachers pay dues, but have no tenure and no seniority rights. In fact, the benefits of Green Dot teachers being unionized elude me utterly.

So these charter chains certainly succeed in putting the needs of kids before adults. They also let kids know what sort jobs and rights they can expect to enjoy as adults. It's a grim and insidious little system, and you'd think Brown v. Board of Ed. had put an end to it years ago.

Of course, anyone who thought that sorely underestimated the determination and resources of Mayor-for-life Michael Bloomberg.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Mr. Bloomberg Prioritizes

When it comes to education, there are three things that Mayor Mike emphasizes: privatization, privatization, and privatization. So don't be surprised when charter mogul Eva Moskowitz comes measuring the drapes in your school. In fact, she's more likely to just come in and start renovating classrooms, as the crap the mayor gives public school kids is simply not good enough for charter school kids.

Teachers at PS 123 blocked Moskowitz' attempt to commandeer more of their building, but times are tough for those who'd oppose the mayor's policies of doing whatever he wants, however he wants, whenever he wants. In fact, PS 123 was not enough for Moscowitz, and now one of her schools seems to be keeping a public school from expanding.

It's remarkable that such things go on while so many city schools are overcrowded. Here's the message Tweed is sending--if you're overcrowded, too bad, get over it. If you aren't, charter schools need space. It's important to privatize as much as the system as possible, so that folks like Moskowitz can pull in over 350K for running non-union shops. The disintegration of actual public schools, and the spectre of more of the same--these things have no meaning for Mayor Mike "accountability" Bloomberg.

If you want to rally against Mike and Eva's attacks on education, info is right here.

Thanks to David Bellel for the pic.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

Here's a video and transcript of Tony Avella, a candidate running for mayor of New York City who appears not to be insane. Personally, I think not being insane is a desirable quality in a mayor (I realize many op-ed writers disagree). Here's an excerpt:

I am absolutely not a fan of charter schools and I never have been. The whole reason they came about is because the regular public schools were failing…Why did we come up with another system, why not fix the schools that are failing?

I see value in innovative schools that focus on things ordinary ones may lack. It's hard, though, to justify a two-tier system in which charters get reasonable class sizes, the best of equipment, and decent facilities while my kids are dumped in a trailer.

It's amazing that people buy the nonsense spouted by tabloid op-ed boards, who either don't know or don't care what happens to the overwhelming majority of city kids.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Independence Day

I wish you and your families a great 4th.

In case you're still sitting at home, don't miss the 10 most ironic ads over at Consumerist. I particularly like the one about how most doctors prefer Camel cigarettes.

Are we smarter now? It's tough to say. Many New Yorkers seem to believe Mike Bloomberg is a great education mayor. And the tabloids, of course, keep printing op-eds that say it's true. Who knows how many blatant falsehoods we swallow on a day-to-day basis?

I remember when we got the President's week recess, the New York Times had a piece explaining that this would be inconvenient for parents, and that the evil UFT refused to have teachers come in and teach kids that week. What the New York Times reporter didn't know was that the Board of Education was not even proposing that kids come in--they wanted teachers only to report for PD.

When Michael Moore spoke up early against the Iraq war, he was roundly vilified in the mainstream media. Shortly thereafter we discovered the war was based on information colored and cherry-picked by the Bush administration. The war has been an unmitigated disaster, and has now lasted longer than WWII.

Happy birthday to the United States of America. For a gift, I'd like a media that isn't asleep. I'd also like a health care system that covers everyone, and a President who knows what works in education and proceeds accordingly, rather than catering to the whims of self-serving billionaires.

What would you like America to have on its birthday?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Pay Now (or Pay Later)

Better think carefully before ignoring that student loan. New York state means business. Robert Bowman passed the bar on his fourth attempt, and the state has determined that, by failing to make substantial payments, Mr. Bowman is unfit to be a lawyer.

Do you think that's true? I haven't received any letters lately from lawyers demanding payment, but I sincerely wonder whether they'd show me any more understanding than the state showed Mr. Bowman.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Good Enough for You

Here's a picture that brings back a lot of memories. The ubiquitous trailers that education-mayor Mike Bloomberg and his cronies have deposited all over the city have this certain something.

And wherever these eyesores are dumped, people talk about them. They say things like, "Why the hell can't my kid be in a classroom instead of one of those things?"

But according to this story, it'll be a while before that happens. After all, times are tough, the economy is down, there's no money, and we've never done things that way. Of course, when times were great, when the real estate market was booming, when everyone was making money and not even the indispensable Mayor Bloomberg knew the crash was coming (Odd, ain't it?), we still couldn't get rid of them.

I'm struck by a remark in this story:

“From an exterior point of view they may not look nice, but from the interior, they’re great,” Ryan said.

I don't know precisely who this Ryan character has for an interior decorator, but our trailers look like Kansas after the twister carried Dorothy away. And what's going to happen to these trailers?

...Chancellor Joel Klein, who originally said he hoped to eliminate all TCUs by 2012, has put the issue on the back burner. Tsavaris-Basini said that in a recent meeting, deputy schools Chancellor Kathleen Grimm said elimination of TCUs is no longer a priority.

I'd originally read that it was Mayor Bloomberg who made that promise, later "clarifying" his remarks by explaining that he wasn't going to do it after all. I can tell you that if parents were to tour these miserable facilities, they'd certainly question the Chancellor's priorities. Of course, since the Chancellor serves at the Mayor's pleasure, you gotta suspect priority number one is doing whatever the hell the Mayor wants.

And giving kids a decent, clean place to study, clearly, is not a priority at all.

Update: If you want to see the interior up close and personal, don't miss these photos, courtesy of the inimitable Pissed Off Teacher.