Friday, March 19, 2010

Not a bad way to end a week...

Although, I had my doubts about it; a meeting with a parent at the end of the day on a Friday could NOT in any way turn out good. 

The Social Studies teacher had called the meeting.  One of my students, one who I keep pleading with "Please, try to live up to your name...", was failing her class.  Not only was he failing, but he'd been caught in more than one lie.  And his attitude needed some Serious adjusting.  Ok, I'll come, too - should last, what, 20 minutes??  Fine.. will do!

In reality, it lasted closer to 90 minutes, but boy was it worth it!  SST (Social Studies Teacher) looked at Student and said, very pointedly, "You lie, you are lazy and you cheat.  I've had enough of it."  He gave her this "Oh, if only I could tell you where to shove it, lady" look.  She asked him, in front of his mother, "Are you on drugs?"  He replied a simple "No," still glaring at her.  She then leaned in for a closer connection, pointed a finger at him and said "Are you being bullied?"

His face dropped.

"Are you?  You are, aren't you?  Who is it?"

His eyes started welling, and we spend the next nearly hour gathering the details of who, what, how, how often and for how long.  He lifted up his shirt sleeve to reveal a large bruise where the Ringleader had punched him because he refused to do something that was asked.  He cried, went through tissue after tissue, and at the end of it all, was no longer glaring at any of us. His little brother, age probably around 5, came up to snuggle with him, because he was scared for his big brother.  LB had probably never seen BB cry before.  Mom was crying, too, because she had no idea.

Nor did I.  I would have pegged this kid for the bully, not the victim.  He had slowly morphed into a world-class jerk.  He'd done the same at home, not coming home when asked, refusing to help around the house, getting mouthy, showing his mom the "go to hell" look he'd given his teachers, too.  I had no idea, at all, he was suffering so much.  It all makes sense now, as most things do in hindsight, that what we were seeing was a manifestation of a kid being abused.  He didn't know how to ask for help, but at least he had one teacher, one solid, veteran, say-what-you-will-about-strict-and-old-school teacher who could see the reason behind the behavior.

She pledged, as did I, to help him.  The Ringleader is notorious at our school for being downright mean to nearly everyone.  I think Student is carrying a lighter load tonight because of the meeting.  And this meeting reminded me, in a very in-your-face-wake-the-hell-up way, to stop rushing to judgment about kids and their behavior.  There IS always a reason for it, and part of my job as their teacher is to take the time to figure out what it is.  I am sure glad I took the time today; it was time very well spent.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Still torn...

I've been thinking a lot about this article and the implications of the ideas brought forth in it. I find myself still torn over it.  Fire Bad Teachers.  Sure, sounds simple enough, right?  Lord knows, we all know of some really horrible, shrew-like teachers who should have been asked to retire 200 years ago, but what about the ones who don't stick out quite so clearly?  How will we identify those teachers?

I mean, who is looking? Adminstrators?  Again, I understand the theory, but I can't quite see it working in practice.  Adminstrators are supposed to be the be-all-end-all-know-all in the school.   But in my experience, they are not really all that abreast of what happens in the classroom.  There are the annual observations, but for a 'tenured' teacher like me, that means my Admin only is required to spend (2) 15 minute blocks of time in my room observing me.  And anyone who can fog a mirror will likely be able to put on a good enough act for that amount of time.

Now, this year, my admin walks through my class fairly regularly.  He sees what is going on when I am not "on" for an observation.  But this is new.. last Admin darked my door exactly 2 times in 4 years.  I wish I were kidding, but I'm not.  She had the Assistant Principal do my observations the rest of the time.  She could not honestly say she had any idea of what was going on in my classroom.  We could have been reading Tolstoy or having naked twister games, and she'd never have known the difference.

Then there is the question of what MAKES for a good teacher.  It is not a simple formula.  You can send someone to school to learn all the theory, yadda yadda yadda, and they may look great on paper, but get them in front of kids, and they are awful.  Or you can have someone off the street with no 'formal' training, and they are magic in the classroom.  Who gets to decide the criteria for "good enough teaching"?  My fear is the decisions will be left in the hands of those who would just as soon have robots teaching as having live, breathing folks in the class.  Or some teacher may be cut not so much for a lackluster teacher performance, but because they don't 'jibe' with the Principal or Superintenant. 

Maybe extend the time it takes to earn tenure?  Maybe make it like your Driver's Licence (ok, but Arizona is a bad state for this example because my licence is good until 2034 - again.. totally NOT joking) and you have to not only sit through the test again, but you go back to being probationary and having a whole lot MORE evaluations and observations?  More drop-ins?  Less "I'll see you at this time for this class".

You want to really see what happens in the classroom, drop in and watch, for more than 5 minutes.  Do it often.  Daily, if necessary to get an idea of that teacher's style.  Then go on your gut - does this FEEL like a successful classroom?  I know, folks want rubrics, give me quantifiable measurements of performace.  But again, children and teachers are not widgets; they don't all fit nice and neatly into the box.  Besides, as a species we have veered way too far away from our gut instincts, we've rubric-ed ourselves into non-thinking, non-feeling robots.

Sort of like what They seem to want in the classroom... hmm... grand design?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gettin' my groove back...

Last year, I  considered myself a Runner.  I was out nearly every morning, running.  Not fast, not terribly far, but consistently and aggressively (for me) running.  I saw my average speed go from a 13 minute mile down to about 11:13.  I said I'd be happy to reach a pace of 11 min/mile. 

I never got there. 

Sometime in April, I pulled something deep in my right hip.  Nothing seemed to help make it feel better, not stretching or massage.  In June, I ran my last 3 miles, with a pace slower than my 11:13, but faster than 12:00.  I have not run since.

Until this week. 

I wanted to get back out there... I'm about 24 pounds lighter now than I was then, so in theory it should be easier on my body to run.  I'm sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and I know running is part of the answer.  I don't need to break any speed records, just need to get back to my consistent and aggressive (for me) running routine.

I know I have to go slow.  I know I have to listen to my head, not my ego, or I will get injured again.  I know I can't go out every day or I will burn out.  So, here's what I've got so far...

1st day out - 2.75 miles at 16:21 (*walked the whole thing)
2nd day out - 14:13
3rd day out - 13:37 (3 miles)
4th day out (today) 12:53 (3 miles)

I'm not back to where I want to be - but I'm clearly seeing an improvement in my stamina already.  An additional benefit to working back into this slowly - I am taking Cyrus with me.  He makes a wonderful running partner.. and it makes for a very happy and mellow Cyrus for the rest of the day. 

Sort of what it does to me, too.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Conflicted, torn - that's me. I saw this article in Newsweek, after hearing about the horrible practices in Rhode Island where Those In Charge decided to fire a group of teachers. I'm a member of our local teachers union, and I am one who is first to complain when one more thing is asked of me, as a teacher. Between my full time job and my OTHER full time job of being a parent, I am stretched pretty thin. I can get behind the argument that, while we may be 'sheltered from accountability' as Newsweek states, in no other profession are requirements tacked on year after year without any compensation. What I mean goes like this.. I am sitting in a 45 hour class right now. Why? Not because I want to take this class, but because someone in Authority believes that I must take this class in order to KEEP my job. I'm qualified to teach today, but without this class, I am all of a sudden UNqualified to teach as of April 3rd. I have to take this class, as well as others, at my own expense, just for the opportunity to keep my job. I pay, out of my own pocket, for each specific area of licensure, for each test to "prove" I am competent. On a guess, I have spent, not counting my Master's Degree, close to $5000 just to KEEP my job. Enough is enough!!
     In any other profession, additional education leads to additional compensation, in one way or another. In Public Education, they change the game on us every two or three years. And we jump through the hoops because if we don't, we will lose our jobs. Not that our jobs are all that great, anyway, in terms of monetary compensation. The average teacher in Arizona is lucky to make $45K a year. I wish I were kidding.  Starting salaries in most districts around Arizona are $32K.  In most of the civilized world, it is closer to $45K for STARTING, and goes up from there.  When you consider student loans, the cost of getting an education, the cost of living here in this state, a teacher's salary is not a livable wage. Especially in an area like Arizona where heating bills are highest when we are NOT working, and car insurance is more expensive than any where else in the country.  How do they expect to attract the best and the brightest when they pay the same as the local Starbucks?
     So I could stand behind the teachers in Rhode Island who refused to extend their day by 45 minutes, and give up their lunches twice a week, and offer free for service tutoring. If we don't stand up and say NO, how far will Adminstration and Legislature push the envelope?

Then I read the article carefully. The average salary of these teachers who refused to add anything on to their day?? Yea.. $75K. Almost TWICE what we make.

My immediate reaction at that point was "shut the hell up and do what you need to in order to help your students succeed".

     There are bad teachers out there, no one will deny that. There are folks who are looking at their calendars with their retirement date highlighted, who cannot care about being a GOOD teacher any more - that pension is looming. There are teachers who cannot complete a full sentence without some sort of grammatical error who should not be teaching our young children how to write sentences.
     The system for evaluating teachers is bad. But to do away with tenure? That puts a good teacher with a personality conflict with his/her adminstrator in peril, so we need aspects of tenure to prevent that from happening. Stricter standards for new teachers? Maybe - Connecticut makes it nearly impossible to get a teaching certificate in that state, and they do have arguably some of the best teachers in the country (But not necessarily the best education system - not sure how that works).

Clearly - something's gotta give. Maybe this idea mentioned in the article was not such a bad one - blow up the current system and start from scratch. Hmmm.. that might work as an idea for Congress, too...