I curse my colleague this morning. First, she has a newer iPad than I do. Mine is first-generation, a veritable antique. I may well have selected a hammer and chisel, for all it counts. How dare she own a better iPad than I do?
More to the point, she led me down the garden path. 30 minutes before parents started coming into parent-teacher conferences last night, she started praising the virtues of Angry Birds Space. In fact, she did so to the point at which I forked over two dollars and ninety-nine cents of my hard-earned-cash to buy it.
But it didn't stop there. She shared with me some of the secrets of how to conquer various alien worlds. It was revelatory. I was unstoppable. There I was, racking up points all over the universe.
Yet shortly thereafter, parents started coming in, one after the other, crushing my newfound obsession. As a matter of fact, I'm amazed to be up this morning and not playing it now. It's probably because my daughter swiped the iPad when I walked in last night. As for my colleague, for all I know, she played Angry Birds all night last night. I was so busy I didn't even have a moment to check.
So here is my advice this morning--do not fear the Angry Birds. But more importantly, do NOT download them if you're busy doing other things! Find a quiet moment when you're facing a lot of free time (if you ever have such a thing).
Well, Natasha (surely you remember Natasha,right?) has moved away. Maybe. We're not really sure.
Natasha (and her mother) have been talking about moving out of state for most of this school year. Those of us who teach certain populations know what this is about. Kids are forever claiming they're moving down South/to Puerto Rico/to France/to the moon/whatever, and more often than not they tell this story until they're tired of the attention and move on. But once in a great while, some kid actually does move wherever they're threatening to move to. (Not to make light, of course, of true and perhaps more common stories about transient kids in the NYC schools: bouncing from one relative's house or shelter to another, which are, I hope goes without saying, very sad stories.)
Anyway. So it appears that Natasha might have meant it this time, this after disappearing for a few days earlier in the school year and coming back claiming to have already moved. She hasn't shown up to school in about three weeks and all of the phone numbers we had for her (and, as you can imagine if you've followed the Saga of Natasha, we had quite a few) are dead. This without so much as a goodbye, or, more pragmatically, any kind of a formal discharge process. She's still on our roster as of today.
When I was growing up (yes, children, back in the Ice Age), moving out of state would have been a big deal, or at least some paperwork would have been done. I can't help but think that if I were making a long-premeditated move to another state, I would notify my child's school in some kind of official capacity, maybe get her records transferred. Maybe I'd have wanted to speak to the teacher who's been calling my house for two years trying to cajole my daughter into coming to school and passing her classes. And maybe this comes across as petty and insensitive, given the challenges some of our kids' families are up against, and I'll grant that, but still, it irks and maybe hurts me a little on some level.
Hi everyone! It's me, Sandra Lee, the best goldarn cook on Food Network! Last night Andy Bear and I were talking over my Jellied Spam on the Half-Shell (really a half-can, but I digress), when he started talking about stocks. I don't know anything about stocks, so I made my pouty face, and then Andy started projectile vomiting (Oh, I don't know what I'd do without my good old plastic tablecloths!), and I said I wished someone would teach me about stocks.
Andy was wiping his face, and oh darn, there's another suit that has to go to the cleaners, when he got an idea. I knew he had an idea because while he was dumping the Jellied Spam into the dog's dish, he started to say something before that darn vomiting started again. Let me tell you, I have a million ways to clean vomit! I may write a book if I can just clean the darn laptop safely.
Anyhoo, Andy Bear says he's going to show that he's tough! Now that those darn teachers will have their ratings in the papers every blessed year, there will certainly be some bad eggs (that gives me a recipe idea!) who need to be dealt with. Sure, the New York Post will run articles about them, but how will that make Andy Bear look like the big old tough guy he wants New Yorkers to think he is. He says I'm his little good luck charm and that my idea about stocks was just what he needed!
I'll tell you a little secret. Andy Bear is always fretting over how his Dad was perceived as too liberal. That darn death penalty thing really did him in. He was always taking principled stands against things like that. That's why when Andy took a principled stand, it was against taxing those nice Koch brothers who gave him all that money when he was running for governor.
So it looks like we'll take the lowest-rated teachers, place them in the stocks, and folks can just have at it, throwing tomatoes or whatever. In my house, there's always a ton of leftover food to get rid of (and if your cooking anywhere near like I am, I'm sure your house is the same). I whipped up a pitcher of Pork Rind Vanilla Martinis to celebrate, and wouldn't you know it, Andy accidentally spilled it again! He is such a clumsy-puss! Fortunately, I use only plastic pitchers, so there was little muss, and that darn dog lapped it up. Then he threw up all over my plastic reproduction Velvet Elvis bathmat, but fortunately I cleaned that up in a jiffy!
Toodles, friends! Be speaking with you again after a little house cleaning!
Among the DOE's next targets is Bushwick Community High School, a transfer school that most people agree is an exceptionally effective transfer school. But the plan to "transform"* BCHS makes me wonder if the DOE knows what a transfer school even is, or if they know basic math. One of the arguments against BCHS is that most students who attend it and graduate from it fail to graduate in six years. Well, one might concede, yes, that is generally why they're at a transfer school: They accumulated so few credits at a traditional school, or decided to drop out and come back, or had to leave for other reasons and are looking for a second chance.
A few years ago, I met a student who graduated from BCHS and now works as a community organizer. He was incredibly frank about his problems with school: He let everything but school take priority in his life, messed up, and dropped out. It was only after almost two years of personal and professional wandering that he realized he truly needed an education. He went to BCHS and became passionately engaged with the school and the wider community. He always spoke highly of how BCHS was the school that gave him another shot.
Transfer schools are valuable resources for very challenged students and their families. Why on Earth do you need to "transform"* one of the most successful ones? The DOE needs to reread its own policies, reacquaint itself with its own schools, and, yes, maybe relearn some math.
*Correction, 5:30 p.m., 3/27/12: BCHS is slated for "transformation," not closure. The thrust of the post remains the same. The post has been corrected to reflect the initial inaccuracy. Miss Eyre regrets the error.
As Chancellor, one of my biggest priorities is putting Children First, Always. That's why the children will be first to eat the nearly 200 metric tons of pink slime in our frozen meat. Other municipalities are banning it outright and having kids eat peanut butter and jelly. But we're feeding it all to NYC's 1.1 million schoolchildren. After all, they've been eating ammonia-drenched meat products for so long, a few more months won't make a difference.
On the bright side, plenty of kids eat at McDonald's, and while we don't much like it when our kids eat highly caloric fat-laden mass-produced non-nourishing crap, at least it doesn't have that darn pink slime in it! McDonald's insisted it be removed immediately. Who would've thunk it?
As you know, I'm highly interested in nutrition. That's why I'm so particular about what I put in my waffles. But let's face it, lots of kids eat fast food crap every darn day. So really, what's a few more tons of slime, one way or the other? They'll get over it. And if they don't, I'll close their damn schools! Just kidding. Or maybe I'm not. Honestly, who knows what we're gonna do next, or why?
Anyhoo, the important thing is it's Children First. And if there's any left over, I'll feed it to my dog. Now there's a science to that. As you know, over the last few years, to serve you better, we've cut school budgets by 14%, and allowed thousands of teachers to leave without replacing them, causing an even sharper increase in class size than usual. We've taken a billion dollars to reduce class sizes and they've gone up each year. You see? It's Children First for budget cuts and larger class sizes.
Next, of course, is my dog. I will reduce his ration of Alpo by 14% and replace it with pink slime, which I hope he enjoys as much as the Children to whom I served it First. And we shall see about reducing dog park space by 14%, and devoting it toward something Mayor Bloomberg wants, like a Moskowitz charter school. As chancellor, I take the job of representing Mayor Bloomberg very seriously, and you can be sure that whatever new cuts, whatever foul products available, it will be Children First, Always. Because that's the kind of folks we are.
Hi everyone. It's me, your old pal Condoleezza Rice. You remember me. I'm the one who brought you the Iraq War. You know, I was the one who kept saying we didn't want the smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud, that Sadaam had WMDs, and all that. That's why we went to Iraq. Oh, popcorn balls, we didn't actually go, but we sent an awful lot of soldiers there and spent a whole lot of money. Well, we all know how that went.
Now I've got a new interest, which is education. It turns out the whole smoking gun mushroom cloud thing is happening in our public schools. Gee whillikers, if we don't do something about that, the terrorists could win! So Joel Klein and I have decided what we need, and need right away, are vouchers, tests, charter schools, tests, merit pay, tests, and, fer cryin' out loud, the ability to fire those darn teachers whenever we feel like it. Jumpin' Jehosophat, that's the only way to save the system. You can trust Joel because he works for Rupert Murdoch, who brings you Fox News, which is fair and balanced.
The only thing is that a bunch of nervous Nellies got in on all the fun and are saying things that somehow got appended to our important report. My advice is not to click on that link and not to read it. You know the sort of quality you can expect from Joel Klein and me, and I assure you we are bringing you more of the same. If you follow our advice, by gum, you'll do to education precisely what George W. Bush and I did to Iraq.
Joel and I can't wait to start working our magic on the nation's schools! And believe you me, with a partner like Arne Duncan it's just a matter of time!
We have a student at our school I'll call Joey. Joey is one of those good-natured, gentle kids that everyone is excited to see. He learned every teacher's name, even though he's only a ninth grader and doesn't have most of them as teachers in classes, and greets us all personally every day. He will walk right up to guests and introduce himself with a handshake. He'll wander into meetings and greet everyone before he is (gently) kicked out by whoever is running the meeting. He's funny and sweet and generally just great to be around.
He's also 14, almost six feet tall, built like a linebacker, and African-American.
Jose Vilson has already written about the implications of this case for teachers. I don't want to do that here, only to say that it makes me think about a story a colleague told me about Joey. Joey came to him once and said he'd had a bad day because he'd been stopped and frisked on the way to school. Apparently this happens to Joey a couple of times a week, and maybe it's not hard to guess why. But it seems to happen in the same park, on his way to and from school. You'd think maybe the police would have learned by now that Joey is absolutely harmless; in fact, he's a totally lovely kid. What is the point in continuing to target him multiple times a week?
And if Joey goes into his local park, maybe after dark, cutting through there to pick up a few things at the grocery store or walk a friend home from the train station, and he's wearing a black hoodie, does Joey "look suspicious" too? Even if he's unarmed? Even if he's not breaking any law? Even if all he's doing is walking, wearing a hoodie, and, well, being African-American and male?
This is, unfortunately, part of reality for some of our students. I don't have an answer, either. But I think it's important that we as teachers know it's out there.
Today, one of my favorite students surprised me by getting the highest test score in her class. She's a good student of English. She has a good ear and likes to use it. But this test focused on grammar, something about which she is totally indifferent. She learns it, but only because she can't really avoid it. She tends to pass tests, occasionally not, but ranges closer to 80% for the most part.
The student in the class who usually gets the highest marks was horrified. He couldn't understand how she beat him. I couldn't either, to tell the truth. She's not the type to cheat, and in any case I had arranged the seats in three rows, so it would have been difficult to do. She would have scored significantly lower if she copied from the guy in front of her.
"Did you study?" I asked her.
"No," she said. "I'm very smart."
That was an odd response. She usually says, "You're very smart," sarcastically, whenever anyone does anything she considers stupid. I decided to follow up.
My daughter gave me a little keychain flashlight. I remembered the old movies where cops shined a light in people's eyes and tried to get a confession. I shined the ridiculous little light in her eyes and asked, "Well, how did you do it?"
A student stood up. He said, "No, mister, not like that. You have to do good, bad." He meant good cop, bad cop. I asked him what he wanted to be and he said good. I said okay and took a tougher tone, shining the light again.
"OK, spill it! How did you do it?"
The boy sat down and said, calmly and quietly, with a smile, "Listen, don't worry. Nothing's going to happen. Everything will be fine. Just tell us the truth."
We continued along this line for a few minutes. We learned nothing whatsoever. The girl wouldn't talk. However, she laughed an awful lot.
We will save this good cop, bad cop routine for the next time we need to conduct another serious investigation.
I'm writing this on Monday evening before I finally call it a day. What is it about March that drives to these 11-hour days? I'm not throwing a pity party for myself, though. In fact, I've never felt more solidarity, being at my school at 6:30. I'm chatting with some fellow crazy colleagues who are destroying the copiers, and I know that all across the country, according to a new survey of teachers, many of my friends near and far are also working ten and eleven hour days, every day. So hello my brothers and sisters. Maybe it's time to think about dinner. GO HOME.
Anyway, this morning I was not at all in the mood to be at work. I couldn't sleep last night and woke up this morning pretty cranky. In my first class of the day, one of my students was extremely surly and unpleasant, and another of my students, who only joins us once a week or so and hadn't shown his face in a week and a half, decided to show up and brighten the class with his presence today, of all days. It took all of my professionalism and dignity to say, "Daisy, is something going on? Are you feeling like it's hard for you to handle being in class?" and "Teddy, I know you might be feeling a little lost right now, so maybe it would be good for you to start on p. 47 and see how much you understand, and I'll check in in a little while" instead of "^&%! it, YOU ROTTEN ANNOYING CHILDREN NEED TO EITHER SHUT UP OR GET OUT OF MY SIGHT." So I was at least proud of myself for that one.
But sometimes if you can just hold it together for those few uncomfortable, unpleasant minutes, you can let in just enough sweetness and light to get you through the rest of the day. Before long, we were laughing at nasty Shakespeare puns and discussing the problems of drunkenness and figuring out whether people are really evil or just dishonest with themselves. I was hosting some kids for lunch who just wanted to look up goofy things on the computer and listen to music and complain about school food. And when my last class ended, I'd lost track of the time and had to very quickly wrap things up, and students lingered several minutes after the bell.
Forgive this slightly corny post, friends. I know things are still bad out there right now. But just thought I'd share how even a Monday can be turned around with a little mindfulness from yourself and the kiddies. It turned out to be a good day. And, on a Monday in March, when the sun is still shining (and you're still at work, granted, but never mind that) as the clock approaches 7, that's a good thing.
That's what this piece suggests. If teachers are to be fired based on test results, what do we do about parents who can't get their kids to school? Should they be fined? Should their names appear in the NY Post so their neighbors can shun them and they can fear leaving their homes?
Probably not. Who knows why kids do what they do? They don't, in fact, come with guarantees. I know some great parents who wind up with extremely problematic kids. Of course, there is such a thing as negligence, and we ought not to accept that from parents, teachers, or anyone. In NY, parents who won't come to school to discuss their kids are negligent.
Teachers who won't help those kids are negligent too. But all the help in the world won't help a kid who, for whatever reason, is not prepared to learn. As an ESL teacher, I see kids who've been dragged from their countries and cultures and really don't want to be here. Kids like that cling to their cultures and refuse to learn English. When kids come from homes characterized by poverty and despair, teachers can't push a button and get them up to speed.
Parents have more influence over their own kids. But kids, despite our best efforts, have minds of their own. If parents do their jobs, they'll try very hard to steer kids in the right direction. They will not always succeed. If teachers to our jobs, we'll try to make kids understand and excel. But we won't always succeed either.
It's not a coincidence that so-called failing schools invariably contain high concentrations of ESL and special education students. It turns out, remarkably, that kids who don't know English have a tougher time passing tests. Furthermore, kids with learning disabilities often take longer to pass said tests. "Reformers" shout "no excuses," but these are not excuses. They are facts.
Of course parents should be accountable for responsible parenting. And of course teachers should be accountable for responsible teaching. But no one should be asked to perform miracles. I don't, for example, expect politicians to magically erase poverty. But it's absolutely unacceptable they ignore it and lay its consequences on working teachers, unions, parents, or anyone.
Pogo (pictured above) was right. We're all responsible for our society, and if we're going to change it for the better, we'll have to do more than simply point fingers at one another.
It's kind of amazing when anyone in authority speaks truth to Bloomberg. But Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch is doing just that. I don't know whether or not someone tainted her breakfast cereal, but she seems to recognize that Bloomberg's political machinations have nothing whatsoever to do with putting "Children First, Always." Would that the local papers would share that cereal.
Bloomberg simply cannot fire teachers fast enough. I can't say why he doesn't simply jump on the new evaluation plan, but it appears that fair hearings for even 13% of targeted teachers is too much for Mayor4Life. His plan, simply denying every appeal no matter what, appears to be more to his liking. After all, the PEP simply does whatever he says. Why can't everyone simply do whatever he says?
Let's hope against hope this is a wakeup call for Mayor4Life. Maybe even the privileged have had enough of his absurd nonsense. Perhaps he will find himself unable, even with all his money, to buy himself that fourth term he fantasizes about.
And let's hope he lands somewhere where he won't be able to hurt working people any more than he already has.
One of the reasons I love teaching high school is that I get to do Shakespeare. I'm not at all a Shakespeare expert, but few authors set my imagination on fire the way Shakespeare does, or make me marvel at how little human nature changes over hundreds and hundreds of years. I'm only on my second go-'round with teaching Shakespeare, but I love it and am consistently delighted by how much even some of my most challenged students get out of it.
Of course, another great gift of teaching is when students are inspired to learn more about whatever you're teaching on their own. One of my students was, it seems, inspired to learn more about Shakespeare.
"Miss!" he exclaimed today. "You know the Shakespeare play Much Ado about Nothing?"
"I do!" I said delightedly. "It's my favorite of his comedies."
"Did you know that 'Nothing' was Elizabethan slang for 'vagina'?" he asked brightly.
"Ah," I said, "no, I did not." I paused. "Hon, are you sure? Where did you read that?"
"Tumblr!" he said.
I let it go, but was determined to find out of this was the case or if I was being baited, having done no scholarly study of Much Ado beyond repeated obsessive viewings of the Branagh/Thompson film version. (Those are some thick eyebrows on a young Kate Beckinsale, by the way, as Hero.) I did some very cursory research, and, lo and behold, this is apparently true. It makes sense, fond as Shakespeare was of dirty double entendres.
I will say that this is not necessarily what I had in mind when I encouraged my students to learn more on their own, but, on the other hand, he was clearly interested enough in Shakespeare to do some Googling or Tumblring on the topic. So, you know, it's March, I'll take that as a win.
Leo Casey has a new column criticizing the NY Principals who oppose the upcoming evaluation system. He makes some good points.
1. Unfettered power of principals can be a disaster, particularly with Bloomberg-indoctrinated Leadership Academy grads. Anyone who doubts that can follow the saga of Peter Lamphere, who appears to have received U ratings for the crime of leading his chapter. Peter had to go to court to have one rating overturned, and I believe he still has one outstanding.
2. The current appeal process is a total sham, rubber-stamping absolutely anything any principal says. What percentage of principals are crazy? I don't know, but the very first principal I ever worked for was a lunatic, and much of the staff bailed out around the very short time I was there. No one like that can really judge anyone fairly.
3. The notion of rating an entire school on value-added is a poor one. It would pretty much give the mayor even more ammunition to close schools (not that he needs any whatsoever given mayoral control), and would further fail to address whatever core issues the failing kids have.
On the other hand, value-added is crap. It's not been shown to have worked anywhere for anything. There have been documented cases of teachers failing to get tenure, or indeed losing their jobs when pretty much everyone agreed they did quality work. If the current system is flawed, adding junk science to it does not represent improvement. While it's true good junk science ratings may make things a bit tougher for a crazy principal, negative ones could and would be used to rate teachers ineffective and fire them (regardless of how good they may be). And it would not be all that hard for a crazy principal to set up classes that would doom a targeted teacher.
Much ado is made over the fact that 13% of "ineffective" ratings will get a fair hearing, and it is indeed 13% more than now. Still, I can't get over the indisputable fact that 87% will not get a fair hearing, and with stakes as high as they will become under the proposed system, that's awful. I do not envy whoever it is in the UFT who will tell people, "I'm very sorry, but no fair hearing for you." I cannot even imagine the sorts of responses that will provoke. I can't think of anyone who doesn't feel they merit a fair hearing, or indeed any circumstance under which anyone would not merit one.
It's true that during year two these people will receive the services of a "validator," who will essentially determine whether or not they merit the "ineffective" ratings. However, it appears to me that these validators will essentially have the same power we're so eager to deny principals. In a 3020a hearing (the one that determines whether or not teachers are dismissed), the burden of proof is on the DOE to prove that teachers are incompetent. However, if this validator, after three classroom visits, determines a teacher is, in fact, ineffective, the burden will be on the teacher to prove he or she is not ineffective. I can't begin to imagine how someone would do such a thing.
The UFT insists the second 20% will not be testing, and I will take them at their word. Nonetheless, this 20% must be approved by Commissioner John King, and I'm not confident he will like anything that is not specifically designed to enable further firing of teachers.The most important factor here is that all this value-added "reform" nonsense does not emanate from teachers. It comes from folks like Bill Gates, who routinely spout nonsense about public schools and what we do. Their goals do not include fair hearings or due process for teachers.
I cannot think of any "reform" we've embraced that has done a whit of good for working teachers, communities, or students for that matter. But feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.
Like a lot of young lady teachers, I'm saving up my sick days to have a baby someday, so I rarely take a day off. I recently took one, however, which actually might have been more miserable than sucking it up and going to work. Herewith I offer you the Five Stages of Guilt Over Teacher Sick Days.
DENIAL [5:45 a.m.]: I am fine. No really, I am fine, and I am sure that seven hours under the fluorescent lights trying to convince teenagers to go along with some Shakespeare will actually help me feel better. Off to work I go!
ANGER [6:17 a.m., while writing an e-mail attempting to explain all of the ground that will have to be covered in my absence]: Dammit, this is never going to work. My kids are going to half-heartedly fill in an old Regents exam for fifteen minutes and have a baby carrot fight for the rest of the time and leave my room a mess and make the ATR cry. Why did I call in sick? Is it too late to change my mind?
BARGAINING [9:58 a.m., having woken up from a medication-induced slumber]: Okay, let's see here. Maybe I can work on some lesson plans or some grading while I'm home, and then the rest of the week won't be so bad. Yes! I can salvage this day after all.
DEPRESSION [4:32 p.m., having gone back to sleep for a while, then awoken to a newly sore head and runny nose, and written no lesson plans and done no grading]: Well, that didn't work. I hope my kids weren't too horrible. No, they probably were. I am a terrible teacher. If I were a good teacher, they would be marvelously self-directed learners and be five scenes ahead on Julius Caesar tomorrow. I suck.
ACCEPTANCE [6:00 p.m.]: It was one day. Just one day. I have already been on Facebook and none of my colleagues have mentioned the building burning down or one of my kids blowing anything up without the sacred nurturing of my physical presence. I will probably feel okay tomorrow morning and I will go into work and catch up and, if necessary, apologize to the ATR for my not-at-all-self-directed children. And it will be fine.
Why can't I just take a sick day and actually try to feel better?
Mayor Bloomberg has decided to close 33 schools to teach the UFT a lesson--fight me and I'll close schools, agree with me and I'll close them anyway. To Mayor4Life, this represents school choice. Will this make Bloomberg eligible for the all-important federal funds the tabloids were crying about? Who knows? Who cares? The man is a true diplomat. And there aren't many people who can be celebrated by the press for their brilliant lose-lose deals.
Yet here's Michael Bloomberg, the education mayor, doing just that. If he has his way, the staff of every targeted school will have to re-apply for their jobs, and half of them will be re-hired, if they're lucky. In Mayor Bloomberg's New York, of course, it's Children First, and children will doubtless be the first to notice the absence of half their teachers. Why half? Why not? He said on TV he wanted to fire half of teachers, and that's just what he's doing.
The fact that a great many of them will be displaced as ATR teachers is fine with him. Sure, we'll be paying who knows how much to keep them wandering from school to school, when they could be teaching. This matters not a whit to Mike Bloomberg. He'll say it's the UFT's fault, wasting all that money when we could just be dumping these people on the street. And the New York Post will echo him, and so will the other papers.
In June, when some schools are making schedules, planning classes, assigning students, having SBO votes, these schools will be doing nothing. They really can't do anything because they won't exist anymore. Long Island City High School will become Short Island City High School. Flushing High School will be Flushed High School. Grover Cleveland will become Grover from Sesame Street. And so forth. All this for the sake of appeasing Michael Bloomberg's ego.
This is what you get when you give the richest man in the city control of a school system. And this benefits no one, not communities, not students, and certainly not the thousands of working teachers whose lives will be turned inside out for no good reason at all. These are the fruits of reform and this is our reward for cooperating with a petty little man who bought two elections, then bought Christine Quinn so he could overturn the twice-voiced will of the people to buy yet another. Now it's true he bought the first two elections fair and square.
But his time has past, everyone knows what a fraud he is, and it behooves us all to stop him and his band of Tweedies. They are out of control, out of ideas, out of their minds and a danger to the education of our children. And if anyone hasn't yet noticed, it is us, the teachers, not the billionaire opportunists, who place children first.
I've never really understood why teachers give zeroes. What's a zero? Is it a test grade? A quiz grade? Is it something to stay up all night and worry about? I don't know, so I've never actually threatened anyone with a zero, let alone given one.
But last year, every once in a while, I'd draw a big zero on a piece of paper, and deposit it on the desk of a student who committed some minor infraction. This year, my students have taken it to an art form. First, they started drawing on the zeros, putting faces on them, and writing comments. Sometimes they'd sign the zero as it made its way from their desk to the next one. On Halloween, one of the zeroes morphed into a pumpkin, painted bright orange. That was my favorite.
Lately, my students have been drawing aliens with zero shaped faces and contributing them. And now, I no longer have to give zeroes. The students themselves, when someone slips out of English into a native language, or whatever, walk over and slam the zero on the desk of the offending party. Sometimes kids cover the desk with their arms to try and prevent it, but there's no stopping a kid who's determined to give you a zero.
You can get extra credit in my class as well. If a Spanish-speaker speaks Spanish, I'll turn to a Chinese kid and say, "You never speak Spanish in class, do you?" I've never had a kid disagree. The Spanish speaker will protest. "Mister, she doesn't speak Spanish." I will say, of course she doesn't, and that's why she's getting extra credit.
I'm not sure these methods will make it into the next DOE version of What Teachers Must Do Instead of What We Told You Last Year, but my students seem to like them. I'm gonna stick with it for a while.
With apologies to the surely-well-intended folks at the MetLife Foundation for the sarcastic title, I present to you the MetLife Teacher Survey for 2011. It's long, and if you're busy (and in the long slog that is March, we're all busy), you can probably pack it in after p. 7. Basically, teacher job satisfaction overall is at 44%, based on the teachers surveyed, the lowest point in 20 years.
I am not going to comment on the whole survey, because I cannot possibly stay awake long enough to read all of it. I'm exhausted. We're doing Shakespeare nowadays in Miss Eyre's class, and the highly kinesthetic lessons that are way fun for the kiddos are way exhausting for me. But this is the Miss Eyre Foundation Teacher Survey, as presented by Miss Eyre, with Miss Eyre's job satisfaction percentages.
Satisfaction with aforementioned kiddos: 92% (come on, you liars, no one is 100%!)
Satisfaction with kiddos' parents: about the same
Satisfaction with colleagues: 98%
Satisfaction with administration: 100% (they're a small sample, and I'm lucky to have good ones)
Satisfaction with coffeemaker in staff room: 257%
Satisfaction with compensation: 50%
Satisfaction with how my colleagues are depicted in the mainstream media: -117%
Satisfaction with how my colleagues are spoken of by the mayor: -189%
Satisfaction with how the New York Post depicted one of the city's thousands of loving and hardworking teachers, Pascale Mauclair: -542%
Satisfaction with a culture that claims to value education, but continues to sell the current generation of my kiddos a load of crap that distracts from their allegedly valuable education: -897%
Yesterday morning I was very lucky. While I was waiting to grab a parking spot, a much better one opened up around the corner. So I zipped around to grab it, but went a little too quickly. I went right over the curb and destroyed a very new tire. Nothing like changing a tire before your first class to get the old adrenaline going. And on what appears to be the last freezing cold morning for a while to boot.
My school has a Quality Review coming up. Everyone is nervous. What do they want? Will they hate us and everything we stand for, like everyone at Tweed does? Do they want to know about Life, the Universe, and Everything? How long will they want us to discuss it?
There's a big poster up. Apparently, they wish to consult with UFT (briefly). The word "briefly" is written right there on the suggested schedule. Apparently, the reviewer will observe classes from 12:30-2:30, and consult with UFT from 2:00-2:15. So this reviewer will indeed have to make it brief, as he's scheduled to be in two places at once. What if the UFT rep teaches that period? I suppose it will then be briefer still. I'm kind of glad I'm not a reviewer following a schedule like that.
Still, I suppose the reviewer need only be in two places at once. Teachers, facing an outlandish evaluation system based on crackpot hoodoo whatsis, are nervous enough already. After all, the prospects of losing our jobs based on two years of Bill Gates reading chicken entrails are pretty disconcerting to begin with. Further assessments are not feeling all that great right now.
When I got out of work, my car wouldn't start. I drive a Prius, so it's a push-button start. When it failed, I tried pushing the key in. The car still wouldn't start, and the key wouldn't come out. I walked around the block to the gas station, and with some doing, the guy there managed to start my car. Apparently my car has two batteries, the smaller of which needed replacing. That's good because the larger one costs about one million dollars. Smaller only $292 installed, but you have to wait around for 90 minutes to get it, because it's not what they keep around the garage.
Then I drove to Costco, where I waited another 90 minutes to get a tire that matched the set. Am hoping for less excitement today. I actually go to work to teach. I love teaching. But I have a feeling that Mayor Bloomberg would like every teacher's day to be like my day yesterday, every day, all the time, in perpetuity.
Until, of course, they all quit, to be replaced by non-tenured, non-unionized, non-pensioned temp workers, who, as far as Gates and Bloomberg are concerned, are good enough for kids who can't afford private school.
Some of my students are reading Black and White, a young adult novel by Paul Volponi. (SPOILERS AHEAD.) In this novel, two friends, Marcus and Eddie, are seniors in high school. Marcus is black and Eddie is white. Both play for a contender basketball squad and are being courted by recruiters for top basketball schools. When Marcus and Eddie are struggling to put together money for senior expenses, they find Eddie's grandfather's gun and decide to mug people for money. They don't plan for anyone to get hurt, but when someone does, Marcus and Eddie are both facing the law. Marcus finds himself cooling his heels on Riker's Island and then facing a prison sentence, dashing his basketball dreams. However, Eddie is bailed out by his middle-class family, who hires an expensive lawyer to defend Eddie and keep him out of prison. Loyal to a fault, Marcus refuses to name Eddie as his partner in the stickups.
As my students finish reading this book, I want to share with them this article from the Times, suggesting that in the city as well as around the country, young black males find themselves suspended from school far more frequently than other students. I would say this is also the case at my school (though the stats may be slanted here due to what seems to be an overabundance of females with serious anger issues and penchants for settling their scores via weave-tearing and face-scratching). But I find it hard to believe that different, though not less serious, crimes are not happening at schools that are in wealthier neighborhoods and are predominantly white. What I suspect is that parents of young black men find it harder to raise, and sustain, a successful fight against these suspensions. Parents with more time and money can likely more successfully fight, or even suppress, charges against their progeny.
Since we English teachers love to talk about text-to-world connections, I'm planning to mine this one, but it's hard to say I'm excited about. I wonder how many real-world Marcuses and Eddies are out there--kids who do the same crime, but do not, by any stretch of the imagination, do the same time. And don't mistake my post for a get-soft-on-school-crime kind of thing, either--I strongly support serious consequences for criminal and chronically disruptive behavior in school. But what I don't support is pretending that one type of kid is a "problem" kid more than any other.
Mayor Bloomberg is a stalwart supporter of "value-added" scores being released to the public. After all parents need to have this information. The fact that it is thoroughly unreliable, with margins of error so wide you could drive tanks through them is of no importance whatsoever. They need to know!
However, there are also things they don't need to know. For example, they don't need to know how many trailers are being used in Fun City. After all, in 2005 there were 400 of them, and Mayor Bloomberg declared we'd be rid of them by 2012. Now, in 2012, there are 400 of them, and it's fairly clear by any standard just how much value Mayor4Life has added. However, if the city stops releasing information, no one will know about this anymore, and it will no longer be a problem.
The other thing, of course, that no one needs to know, is the status of class sizes. After all, it's kind of embarrassing when you take a billion dollars to reduce class sizes and they just go up year after year. Of course, when you allow ten thousand teachers to retire and fail to replace them, it's more or less inevitable. So once you stop releasing that information, no one knows about it, and the problem is solved.
Now sure, there are those rabble-rousers who complain, oh, the press is sending reporters and camera crews to the homes of teachers with poor ratings, they're being publicly humiliated over the crackpot science you negotiated for them, and they're afraid to leave their homes to go to work. Well, let them get out and become Mayor if they want to change things! Didn't Mayor Bloomberg buy this office fair and square, more than once? Didn't he change the damn law the idiot voters twice affirmed so he could buy it a third time? Let them go out and establish a school board that listens to no one but them, if they're so damn touchy!
The public has a right to know whatever Mayor Bloomberg says they have a right to know! That's how we do things in Mayor Bloomberg's New York!
The release of Teacher Data Reports in NYC has focused attention on evaluating teachers with the use of numbers derived from complicated algorithms that are said to measure the “value” teachers “add” to their students.These algorithms pivot on the use of student test scores.
Numbers do tell stories, and the public is being told that it can trust the story these numbers will tell about public school teachers, and that these numbers provide a scientific “measure” of the people who work with children in the public schools.
Here is a story offered as an alternative measure of what teachers do, things that stubbornly do not fit into an algorithm. While all the participant’s names have been changed, it is a true story, and the single quote is verbatim.It’s offered in tribute to a courageous young man, his family and his teachers, and in the hope that other public school teachers will successfully fight to have their and their student’s stories told:
Christopher came to New York City from Peru as a teenager, and graduated in 2009 from a NYC public high school that specializes in educating immigrant English language learners. Short and slight of build, he was smart, insightful, hardworking and had a dry, understated sense of humor. But starting in 2007, he was frequently absent and startedto fail his classes.
It was only weeks later, during parent-teacher conferences, that Christopher’s teachers found out that his frequent absences were the result of hospitalization for cancer treatments. What began as soreness and pain in his leg had been diagnosed as a late stage cancer. When his teachers asked why he hadn’t told them, he stoically and with great dignity said it was because he didn’t want any sympathy, and didn’t want to use his illness as an excuse.
From that point on, however, Christopher completed all of his work despite frequent hospitalizations and grueling treatments. He never once asked for any special accommodations for his illness.
When in school, Christopher would gravitate toward his teachers, whom he felt could understand better than his peers what he was going through, though his travails would largely go unspoken. The students in our school are very supportive of each other, as they grapple with the difficulties of adolescence, a new school, culture and language. They treated Christopher well, but in the uncertainty, fear and discomfort his situation could cause, many of them treated Christopher almost like a mascot. Thus, his cleaving to his teachers.
When his hair fell out due to the cancer treatments, he would go to the library instead of the cafeteria for lunch, where he would help Natalie the librarian sort books, answer the phone and assist other students. He would hang around after my class, with a palpable yearning to connect, and talk about that day’s class discussion, sports or the Japanese manga he loved. His low-key determination and lack of self-pity were a source of wonder to his teachers.
By the end of his senior year, Christopher was in remission, had passed all of his classes and Regents exams, and was ready to graduate. It was Natalie, unbeknownst to him, who paid for his senior prom ticket, and it was Natalie who accompanied him to the prom as his date. Shortly thereafter, he graduated and we sent him off to a four year CUNY college. During his freshman year, he returned occasionally to visit, catch up and offer thanks to his former teachers.
Last spring, Natalie received a call from Christopher’s father. He told her that Christopher’s illness had reappeared, that he was doing poorly and was asking to see his teachers. The father said that if they were going to visit, it would have to be soon.
The next day, three teachers, Natalie among them, went to Christopher’s home, located in a two family house carved up into warren-like apartments, in an immigrant neighborhood a fifteen-minute walk from the subway.
Christopher’s hospital bed took up half of the largest of the apartment’s three dark rooms. In it, he lay attached to a respirator, shrunken, sedated and unconscious. His teachers held his hand, told him they were there and that they loved him, and sat down to chat with his parents. As people often do in those circumstances, they told stories. They told stories of Christopher’s acting out scenes from a play in class, stories of his helpfulness and companionship. They told Christopher’s parents of their deep admiration and affection for their son.
Within a few minutes of the teacher’s arrival, Christopher stopped breathing. His teachers were there as his mother sobbed quietly, and as his father alternately begged him to come back and to go with God. His teachers were present to share the most awful and intimate moment a family can have.
After offering what support and condolences they could, they excused themselves and went out into the bright spring sunshine, where life in NYC roared on. One of the teachers, who had suffered a grievous personal loss just months before, broke down crying, saying that he felt like an intruder. His colleagues comforted him by saying no, it was OK, that Christopher had wanted him to be there.
The next day, Christopher’s father called Natalie at the school library. He thanked her and said that Christopher had waited for his teachers to arrive before leaving us.
The staff of the school raised over two thousand dollars for Christopher’s funeral and burial. He had explicitly told his parents that he wanted to be buried here in the US, notPeru. At his wake, he was wearing his New York Yankees cap as his family, classmates and teachers came to say goodbye.
One of Christopher’s social studies teachers, herself an immigrant, later said that, painful as it was, she had to go to Christopher’s wake because, “he was my student and I am a teacher.”
On the heels of NYC Educator's great post yesterday on the differences in classroom management styles between men and women, I want to add some of my own thoughts on teaching while young, petite, and female. Especially now that I teach high school, I'm hardly what you'd call an imposing presence, physically speaking. But I was always told that there's no reason a "little lady" such as myself can't control a class full of big ol' teenage boys. When I first started teaching, I was terrified and thought that was nonsense. As I've come into my own, though, I've realized that it really is true. With practice and time (and you may have to read "time" as "years"), that is.
One of the most powerful constructions of phrase I have as a management tool is "I need you to...please." Like NYC Educator's colleague's turn of phrase yesterday, notice that it's not a request--it's a very clear, polite command. Lisa Delpit and others have written about how young people from cultures in which it is more common to command children hear questions about behavior as actual questions to which a negative response is acceptable. For example, "Could you please put that phone away?" may very well meet with a negative response and a lack of the desired behavior.
"I need you to put that phone away, please," however, sends a few different messages. It's a command. The "I need you to..." opening says to the student, however, that the command is for a reason, that something they're doing is inhibiting their growth or the learning of those around them, and I need you to help me make this work for everyone can be a powerful message for a young person. And the "please" is important too. I can say this statement in a tone that is not exactly pleasant, but the "please" tells the student that I haven't forgotten my manners or forgotten to treat them respectfully. It doesn't leave a lot of room for argument or complaint. It is now a command that sounds, even to your average recalcitrant teen, like a reasonable request. They may make a face, or mumble "Damn, miss, you beastin'" under their breath while they do it, but they'll do it. And the other 29 kids in the room will notice.
And then add "thank you." I can say "thank you" in the same tone I would say "If you don't stay on task now, I will run your New Era cap through the paper shredder and enjoy it," but it sure is powerful. It's my version of "case closed." We're finished dealing with this issue and I trust that it won't come up again. Moving on.
I learned "I need you to...please" from one of my favorite books on classroom management, Jim Fay's Teaching with Love and Logic. And for more advice on keeping talk (your own) to a minimum with teenagers, read Gary Rubinstein's The Reluctant Disciplinarian.