Category Archives: Teaching

Things related to the practice and experience of teaching and being a teacher. More personal than the “Education” category.

Can You Bubble That In For Me?

A blog reader, a colleague and friend, pointed out this poem by Ruslana Westerland, an EL educator, that asks who are the victims of standardized testing. So, I read it and thought about it.

Here’s what occurred to me. If you had doctors all over the country telling you that smoking was bad for you, you would listen. You wouldn’t let the government pass laws that mandated that we all smoke, right? It took a few decades but we eventually did let the research rule the day even though the Tobacco Industry fought it tooth and nail. Think about that, though, how hard they fought. It was clear they had money to make off those cigarettes.

If you personally visited three lawyers and all three independently told you that you would lose that case in court, would you still file papers? What if you visited ten lawyers and they all said virtually the same thing? What if your case got national attention and scores of lawyers all agreed that you would lose that case in court? You’d be mental to file anyway. Right? You wouldn’t do it. You’d realize that all of those professionals, those educated and experienced experts in law were telling you the truth.

I mean, I could see if you doubted the word of one or two lawyers, sure. But, all of them?

So, how many teachers do you know that are in favor of standardized testing being used to measure the overall success of students, teachers and schools? I’m sure you can find some who will tell you that the tests have their uses, yes. But, by my reading, it sure sounds like thousands of teachers all over the country are pretty soundly against these tests. And, from the way that people fight to keep these tests in place, you have to wonder what they are getting out of it. Do you think maybe there’s millions of dollars to be made in the testing industry? More importantly, ask yourself, who stands to gain when public schools get shut down and turned into charters (which is apparently the ultimate goal of No Child Left Behind)? Do the thousands of teachers all really have a vested interest in shutting down standardized testing? How do we get thousands of teachers to speak out in near unanimity on a given subject.

To some degree, this should be remarkable in and of itself. Despite the stereotypical image of the “school teacher” with prim clothing, glasses pinching the tip of her nose, who goes home and grades with red pen while watching educational programs on TV and eating a sensible meal quietly before retiring at a very reasonable hour, most teachers couldn’t be less alike. There is not a monolithic “teacher personality.” We have conservatives and liberals at my high school. I even talk to a couple of the conservatives, especially if they have cookies. I love cookies. But, this goes beyond politics. I mean, if you can get liberals and conservatives to both agree on something, then it just might be true. Apparently, even conservatives can be convinced of the truth occasionally. (Okay, sorry for the partisan digs. I had an extra cup of coffee this morning.)

I will play Devil’s Advocate here: The reason that teachers don’t like the tests is because they’re afraid of getting fired, making less money, having their poor teaching exposed, and they’re lazy. That’s the argument, I think. It might be true in one case or another. I will tell you that in my first year of teaching, I remember having a discussion with the principal who was evaluating me. We were going over the standards for teachers and talking about how I could improve. It was a very productive conversation, not least of which because I had lots of room for improvement. Teachers get graded as either Needs Improvement, Developing, Proficient, or Distinguished. Being an overachiever, I had designs on being a Distinguished teacher, fo’ sho’. (That’s “for sure” as the kids say it, you know. I understand it comes from “rap music.”) So, I told the principal that I, who was receiving mostly “developing” marks and a couple “needs improvements,” wanted to be distinguished and what was it going to take get there. He laughed, in a kind, not cruel, manner, and told me that it takes years to become distinguished. I was a little dismayed, but I said, since there are many veteran teachers here, we must have lots of distinguished teachers and he laughed more this time, and not kindly. He said, no, that most teachers were happy to get proficient scores.

I was stunned by that. My little overachiever brain couldn’t figure out how you could be okay with just being “good” at something. Doesn’t everyone want to be the best? And, even if you can’t be the best, wouldn’t you want to continually improve and at least try to be the best?

But, I guess he was right. There are teachers that are happy just getting to a certain point and staying there. And, that’s cool. I mean, if you’re getting proficient scores from your evaluator, then you’re probably doing a good job in the classroom. Nonetheless, I don’t know that this means that most teachers are lazy. Complacent, possibly, but hardly lazy. Teaching is a butt-load of work. I realize that “butt-load” is not a universal standard of measurement but it does connote a huge amount. Anyway, teaching involves lesson planning, creation of resources like power points, worksheets, graphic organizers, etc, the delivery of instruction, preliminary assessments, formative assessments, summative assessments, reflection, grading, reteaching and also, someone has to decorate the classroom. Like I said, that’s a butt-load of work.

So, getting back to the question at hand, do we think that most teachers are afraid of their poor teaching being outed by the tests? That seems really unlikely. Don’t you think? I mean, we have a near universal sentiment among teachers against the testing and statistics will tell you that probably 30% or less of those teachers are really “poor” teachers that would be outed. Most of them would be proficient or above. So, does it make sense to say that teachers, universally, just don’t want to be evaluated? Or, is it more plausible to think that what the teachers really want is to be judged fairly?

When I was getting my teaching credential, one of my classes addressed assessment (that’s what we call testing in educational circles) and we looked at how we test, why we test, and when we test. We looked at assessments to determine if they were valid. We talked about standardized testing, too. In reality, for a standardized test to be truly valid then it needs to be truly standardized. In other words, it has to be given at about the same time and in about the same conditions. This is why testing happens in, or about, April in most schools (the mandate is that it happen after a certain amount of time has passed in the school year) and why the teachers have to read scripts to the students when administering the tests. “You are about to take a test on mathematics. This test is designed to show what you learned in your mathematics classes this year. Read the questions carefully, then mark your answers on the answer sheet in the bubble that corresponds to the question you’re answering. Take your time, but do not spend too much time on any one question. When you get to the STOP sign, put your pencil down, close your book and wait for the testing period to be finished. You will have 60 minutes to finish the test. Are there any questions.” Then, it usually says in the book, very helpfully, to answer any student questions. I missed reading that the first time I gave the tests in my classroom and ignored all of the student questions. Luckily I read those directions the next time.

But, do you really think that the tests are given in this standardized manner? How standardized is it if you have students coming to school to take the test that didn’t eat last night, or this morning? How standardized is it if they barely slept because of “family issues?” You might say that those would be isolated cases and statistically irrelevant, but not in my school. Not in many schools across the country.

Also, in that teaching class, one of the things that this professor made very clear to us was that we should test what we teach and teach what we test. That’s one of those very simple but profound statements. Let’s call it the axiom of assessment, even. You test what you teach because you need to see if you taught it adequately and teach what you test because it’s not fair to do otherwise. Think about that. You have to teach what you’re going to test to the students. It’s not fair to test them on things they haven’t been taught. Now, bear in mind that the tests and the questions are closely guarded secrets. So, as a teacher, you don’t know precisely what will be tested.

Aha! But, you do! We are testing them on the standards!!! All teachers should be teaching to the standards, right? That’s good as far as it goes, but it’s unreasonable to think that just because we know the standards means that the tests are valid measures of our teaching. Go read the standards for yourself. I linked them for you. I don’t think that someone that doesn’t know me and my teaching can make up a test and come into my classroom on one day and administer that test to my students and get a fair assessment. Does that seem fair to you? But, that’s what happens. They say, “Well you taught to the standards, right?” Then, they give the test on one day, a test I’ve never seen and test my students having never met them and never having stepped into my classroom and they say that test is a fair judgement of my abilities as a teacher.

So, go back to that axiom of assessment. You teach what you test. On a simple level, we teach to the standards since that’s what’s being tested. But, that’s not what happens, really. What happens is that, since we know we are being judged and that our school, our students are being judged by these tests and that the stakes are pretty high since they fire people and close schools for poor test scores, we start teaching kids to do better on these standardized tests. We give them practice tests. We teach them test-taking skills. You know, eliminate the wrong answers, when in doubt pick “C”, read the questions before you read the passage and so on. And, there’s no point in going into depth in your lessons since standardized tests can’t go into depth with multiple choice questions. That’s not lazy, that’s just smart. Why waste your time on depth when the tests are looking for breadth?

So, who are the victims of standardized testing? We all are. It’s not just the kids. It’s all of us. It’s the generation of
students that are lacking in depth and being tested to distraction. It’s the generation of teachers that are being marginalized and ignored and unfairly criticized. Its the schools being shut down and turned into “for profit” charter schools. (A subject for another blog.) And, it’s you. Because those kids grow up. Those tests don’t really require critical thinking and problem solving skills. So, those kids will grow up, go into the work place and vote. And, they will do it badly because, as the poem says, paraphrasing Diane Ravitch, “You can’t bubble in the answers to life’s questions.”

Most of all, consider this. Would you rather have kids that can write a blog entry like this? Or kids that are good at taking standardized tests? Because, you can’t fit writing like this in a bubble. You can’t fit complex thoughts into a bubble. Thousands of teachers are telling you that standardized tests are killing education and you still let the government do it? Well, like the lung cancer victims who smoked their whole lives, don’t be surprised when you get what you deserve: a generation of kids who can bubble that in for you.


Is $8 per month too much to help students?

It appears that Fontana Unified will put a parcel tax to the voters of the city.

Click here for a link to the Google cache of Fontana Herald Story about parcel tax

In an attempt to avoid future layoffs and program cuts and to restore some recently eliminated programs, the Fontana Unified School District approved on Monday night a resolution that calls for a special election for a parcel tax that could help the struggling district.

On a 3-2 vote, the FUSD approved the special election for a parcel tax that would raise up to $16 million in a four-year period — revenue that could help make up for some of the drastic cutbacks the district has been forced to endure in recent years.

Board Members Gus Hawthorn and Sophia Green voted against the resolution.

“I’m very grateful that some of the board members agree with me in that this is something we have to at least try to do,” said Trustee Leticia Garcia, who proposed the resolution. “I’m ready to do the work. I agree that this is a hard time to give more, but if we truly want to make education a priority, we’ve got to put our money where our mouth is. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure I can provide for our 42,000 students.”

If the parcel tax is approved by two-thirds of the voting electorate, it would raise $96 per parcel within the FUSD. There are 39,962 parcels within the district, according to state statistics.

So, the tax for most homeowners would be $96 for the year. That’s $8 per month. So, if I told you that you could save the counseling program in Fontana for $8 per month, would you do it? Let’s put that in perspective. For $8 I can buy an mp3 version of an album off of I can get a paperback book. I could buy a pack of cigarettes and a can of soda. I could buy two Jamba Juice smoothies. I could get two venti lattes with syrup shots for flavor from Starbucks. I could get a combo meal from most major fast food chains around here and have about a buck and half left over. Maybe two meals if I played my cards right.

Or, if I just spent that much money in one month I could save at least 70 jobs in Fontana Unified. I could make sure that students continued to have guidance for college, class selection, and also got to take advantage of group counseling on issues like anger management, grief, addiction, eating disorders and more.

But, I heard that some of my fellow union members actually oppose the parcel tax because they don’t want to pay more taxes.

My jaw hit the floor. Seriously? The local government comes to us with a reasonable request for money that has restrictions on how it can be used that will directly benefit members of our bargaining unit and the children of the district and you can’t do without a couple lattes every month?

And, if I may stand on my figurative porch and get all “you kids stay off of my lawn!” on you for a moment, I have to say that this is what is wrong with our country. We ignore blatant misuse of government like bailouts for rich people who didn’t even need it, or when Obama appoints the GE Chairman to his committee to create jobs and prosperity for America without a trace of irony or addressing the fact that GE not only paid zero income tax this year but in fact received a tax credit while posting billions of profit. But, instead, we act like it’s public employees that bankrupted Wall Street. And, when we actually would be able to see a direct benefit for the tax we pay, well, that’s just too much to ask now.

Honestly, that’s just disgusting. I don’t like paying taxes any more than anyone else. I paid thousands in taxes over the last couple of years. I just wrote checks to both the Federal Treasury and the Franchise Tax Board this week. Not fun. But, I would gladly pay $96 a year to save jobs and services for students in Fontana. The Board members that spoke against the tax indicated that they did so because of how tough the financial climate is. Granted, this is true, but do you know anyone that can’t set aside about $100 for a year? I can recycle cans to make $8 a month. I’m sorry, but saying that you’re against the parcel tax because people are paying too much in taxes already is like saying you’re gonna drink a diet coke instead of regular coke to go with your double bacon cheeseburger because you’re already taking in enough calories.

We have a word for that. It’s called delusion. You’re deluding yourself if you think that diet coke is gonna make a difference. And, you’re deluding yourself if you think $8 a month is going to break your budget. I’m thinking you have bigger problems than a parcel tax if you can’t afford $8 a month.

I’m thinking maybe you might need to do without the bacon double cheeseburger. And, if you had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich a couple times a month instead of the that cheeseburger, you might be able to make a difference to the kids of the district.

Honestly, any teacher, educator, union member that says they are against the parcel tax can never again utter the most overused words in education; “I’m here for the kids. This is all for the kids.” The person that says that the most usually isn’t.

I’m willing to give up a couple of lattes per month. Are you?

Update 4/17/11: When I originally wrote this, I had read the article as saying that the parcel tax money was going to be used specifically to bring back the Counseling Department and reduce class sizes. I do know that the Board has stated that restoring the Counseling Department is a priority. If they got the parcel tax and then DIDN’T restore Counseling, I think those contentious meetings last month would feel like paradise compared to what they would get from all of us. I, personally, would feel lied to if they didn’t restore at least Counseling and library services.

But, still, my larger point is how out of control we are about not having new taxes. It’s as if any new tax is a non-starter regardless of what it’s for. And, in this case, the closed-minded view that any amount is too much.

When Test Scores Drive Schools

“A Pep Rally for Tests…?”

An interesting post from Will Richardson:

As I said, Emerson is not alone in this pep rally effort. But I wonder what the parents of those kids at Emerson think of this. Sad to say, most of them probably are just going along with the flow, missing the whole point of what their kids are really learning by going through this exercise — that the test is what we do school for, and that it’s something to be conquered.

I’m not even sure I dare to say what I’m about to… First, let me say, as an employee of the school district, I am not a free agent. I am well aware that I get paid to deliver the education that the Board of Superintendents mandates. Further, I sincerely mean no disrespect in this post as I realize that probably everyone in my district realizes that the tests are awful and that the emphasis on them is totally ridiculous.

Find me someone that works as a teacher, principal or other administrator in K-12 education that likes standardized tests, honestly, and I’ll show you someone whose relative probably writes the tests, scores the tests or makes test prep materials. In short, we all hate them and what they are doing to the schools.

But, my friends, until we get through this cycle of “educational reform” and teacher bashing, this is the way of it. This is what you, the public are asking for. If you weren’t so dead set on getting numbers and data to prove if teachers are good or not, if schools are good or not, then we wouldn’t be using these tests anymore.

It’s as simple as that.

See, because here’s the truth. My principal wants to me to put on a CST (California Standardized Test) pep rally. I’m doing it, too. Monday, right after 2nd period, the entire school is going to gather in the stadium. We will hear the choir sing, BSU dance, Marching Band play. The kids are going to shave my head because I promised I would do it if we met our goal last year. So, we did and I’m getting a free haircut. We will shoot off confetti cannons. I have even been playing “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey for the last 50 school days every morning over the all call system. No kidding.

I bet you think it’s ridiculous. I agree. But, I’m doing it because I don’t blame my principal. His job is on the line. Ifene doesn’t lift test scores then he’s looking at being replaced. That’s what they do, almost first thing, if a school “fails”. Last year, our school was incorrectly listed as a low-performing school in California, one of the bottom 5%. The truth was, we were more like bottom 7%, but, still. We got put on a list of failing schools. Now, if you came on my campus, you wouldn’t think we were a failing school. Know why? Because we’re not. So, we all got pumped up and the kids made a 48 point jump in the API. We went from 666 to 713. But, if we don’t make our goal this year, then we have only one more year before we will again be considered failing. And, then, they almost always get rid of the principal first.

So, can you blame him for pulling out all the stops? I can’t.

But, this is what happens when test scores drive schools. We have to produce higher and higher scores because that’s what No Child Left Behind says we have to do. It’s Federal law. So, until you, or We, the people, convince the politicians that these tests are actually ruining our schools, not making them better, we will continue to do these things.

My daughter says to me on the way home from school, “Dad, I got a magic bowl from my teacher. She says we have to eat breakfast out of it all next week! Whatever we eat out of it makes us smarter because of the magic!”

I died a little inside. They think they have to lie to my daughter and tell her that a piece of plastic has supernatural qualities just so she will think she is smarter?

Look, I’m not trying to boast, but my daughter is guaranteed to test at least in the 80th percentile or higher in all of the categories. She even told me that they took a practice test and she got all of them right but one question. So, I gently told her that she was already smart and she didn’t need a plastic “magic” bowl to make her smart.

Honestly, am I alone thinking that is some messed up brainwashing? What happens if the bowl gets lost? Can you imagine what will go through her little 2nd grade head if she forgets to eat out of the bowl on Monday? Or if it gets melted in the dishwasher? She will FREAK OUT! And can you blame her? The teacher told her it would make her smart so she could do well on the tests next week.

But, can I blame the teacher? Well, a little. But, not really. She’s just trying to make sure that the school keeps it’s test scores going up. But, personally, I think it’s really screwed up to tell a kid that the bowl is magic. I mean, dammit, this is education!!! And we are resorting to fairy tales and superstition to help the kids do better on the tests?

Does anyone else not see what a betrayal of the truth that this is? But, this is what happens when test scores drive schools. And, if you think this is bad, wait until they force merit pay on teachers and use the tests to decide who gets the bonuses and who gets fired.

I will buy a bunch of magic bowls. Just see if I don’t.

It’s Not Just a Powderpuff Game

Something has occurred to me in the last year that I think is a very important, simple, and pervasive truth about school. It’s an idea that I’ve been sort of realizing for some time now. A column I read earlier tonight about public schools struck a few chords with me.

First, this post might be a little short and/or disorganized because I’m tired and it’s Prom week. I’m sleepy, it’s late and I want to make sure you have something to think about over your coffee or other beverage of choice.

Okay, so as the Activities Director (what’s that? Well, at my school, my job is to supervise, produce, plan, organize and otherwise make happen things like Homecoming, Prom, pep rallies, lunchtime games and other student activities that foster and promote school spirit) I have had to think a lot about what school spirit is. Why is it important? A lot of teachers probably look at my job and think, “Nice work if you can get it. I wish I could sit around all day and just think of stupid games for teenagers to play.”

To be fair, I don’t think of them. I steal them from other schools, TV shows, and books.

I don’t sit around all day either. I get up, walk around the room and sometimes stand at my desk.

So, it’s not all fun and games. But, something has really been coalescing for me in this last year. School spirit is positive pride resulting from the relationship you have with the institution. School pride comes from the school doing things worth being proud of. Winning sports teams, high test scores, and great arts programs are all sources of school pride. But, what about pep rallies and dances.

I think so. (In fact, it is in my best interest to think so.) If it is a school activity and is done well, it can lead to school pride. But, more importantly, to me, these large student activities are not just a chance for kids to have fun, make noise, and move in ways that annoy and disgust adults (like, say, at Prom). These are not just rallies and dances, they are opportunities for students to bond with their school.

This was illustrated to me the other night at the Powderpuff game. Now, in a way, this is one of the goofiest high school activities. If you’re not familiar, Powderpuff football is a bizarro football game. It’s flag football played by girls and with male cheerleaders. At our school, the Juniors play the Seniors for bragging rights. And, it is intense. The kids take it very seriously. Maybe too seriously sometimes. They practice for weeks learning plays and conditioning. The boys from the Varsity Football team coach them. And the male cheerleaders embarrass themselves.

It’s goofy. And fun. And, thousands come out to see it.

Why? Well, for one, my community loves football. We come together under the lights to enjoy a public spectacle. And, it is like this for many Friday nights in the fall. But, this one is different. We typically do Powderpuff right before Prom (in the hopes that going to Prom on crutches might be enough of a deterrent to not try to kill the other girls!).

The thing that I think is important is that somewhere along the way there was a cultural decision that Powderpuff was important. So, now, I would guess that nearly 2,000 people came out to see it. And, they cheered and hollered and had a good time. These days of war, recession, bubble markets and layoffs find us with good times in short supply. But, the article I read made me think about Powderpuff football because this is our community. This is people coming together to share space, time and activities. To bond with one another and to find commonality. To associate and socialize.

And, for me, it is humbling to realize I was a catalyst and partner in it. Because I believe that public schools do this, as the article says, in a way that others cannot. Charter schools will not do this. Private schools don’t do it the same way. Public schools do this by having the people that live near each other, the people of the neighborhood come together and be in the same vicinity as each other. These kind of events are important and vital to our society. A private school will have students that *can* be together because of academic achievement or socio-economic status. A charter school will have students there that chose to be there (but something tells me charters schools won’t have very rich activities programs or won’t throw Powderpuff games. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am).

But, as the article points out, public schools are democratic because they bring us together no matter who we are. We belong together because of this school and these student activities give us a chance to celebrate our achievements and commonalities. I heard once that a Supreme Court Justice said he only reads two pages of the newspaper (for our digital natives, a newspaper is big sheets of paper with ink printing that were produced in mass quantities and had current events on them for people to read each day); he read the front page and the sports page. When asked why he said he read the front page to see about man’s failures and troubles and the sports page to be reminded of man’s successes and potential for greatness.

Sports are taken more seriously than student activities like dances and pep rallies, but I think they are similar. I think that dances and rallies offer remind us to live, to love, to dream and to achieve. They offer inspiration. The root word of inspire is related to breath and to spirit. Literally, inspiration means to give someone spirit, that is, to breathe life into them. And, that’s why I think my job is so cool. I get to breathe life into students, into a school. It’s not just a Powderpuff game. It’s not just a school. It’s an inspiration. It is a democratic community.

All Students Can Learn and All Teachers Get Bashed

One of my favorite things I learned in a workshop given by Bea McGarvey was when she asked us, “How many of you believe that all children can learn?” We all put our hands up. Of course we did. In a room full of teachers, if you don’t put your hand up affirmatively to answer that question then you’re scum. And for good reason. See, if you don’t believe that all students can learn then you shouldn’t be a teacher. It’s true.

But, but, what about the, um, well, you know, the kids that are a little slow on the uptake. Maybe special ed kids, maybe they have a disability or something. Can they learn?

Yes. They can. All students can learn. But, we they learn at different rates and different ways. What this means is that we aren’t all the same. And, as teachers, we need to remember this. The problem is that we don’t always. For example, we tend to expect that students will learn best the way we used to learn and using our learning modality. I like to read so I tended to assume that students will learn best by reading things. I also like to work alone so I tended not to put students in groups. I learned differently, though. I learned to use audial, visual, and kinesthetic modes of learning, sometimes all at once. I realized that all students learn differently.

We know that kids learn at different rates, too. We know that Johnny didn’t start talking right away, but his brother was babbling as soon as he hit five months and started using words by 9 months, sentences at a year. Is Johnny stupid? No, he just took a little longer. Turns out, years later, that Johnny is very methodical and analytical. He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does it’s pretty good. His brother rarely shuts up, but he’s highly creative. Both are good at different things.

So, these are very well established facts. Practically every teacher will tell you that these things are true. Bea pointed these things out to us near the beginning of our workshop and I was kind of stunned to realize how simple and true it was.

So, why do we go an ignore all of that when we design schools and testing? See, first, we put kids in grades based on their ages. All five year olds go to Kindergarten, six year olds in first grade and so on. We don’t check to see how quickly they are learning various skills. We just check to see that they have met a baseline and then move them on. Sure, some kids might get held back a grade, or even two in some extreme cases. But, mostly, kids move from grade to grade year after year.

High school is even worse because we don’t even hold them back anymore. Flunk a class and you just don’t get the credits toward graduation. But, all 9th graders are expected to learn the standards. All of them have to learn, say, how to write a three part essay in a personal narrative style or how to analyze various characters in a novel. The should be able to identify setting and the kind of narrator being used in a passage.

What happened to learning in different ways and, more importantly, at different rates?

Then, we mandate testing. We say that by a specific date, all 9th graders have had the chance to learn these given standards and we are going to test them. Then, we are going to take those test results and crunch the data to see which teachers are good.

Do you see how this is an awful idea? We are going to completely ignore that kids learn different things in different ways at different times and we will say that any students that aren’t learning in that teacher’s class are an indication that the teacher is bad. Now, I know the theory is that you can look to track that kid over time and then look at kids in that teacher’s class over time. The idea is that you can see which teachers are making kids better and which ones are making them worse.

It’s not an awful idea, but the problem is that it isn’t that clear cut. You can’t just look at that data only and pass that judgement. You need to get in the classroom and see what’s happening to see the whole story. And that’s why it’s ridiculous that the LA Times then goes and publishes the scores of teachers using their Value Added Scores.

Look, I’m no fan of poor teachers. But, I just think that teaching is too difficult a job to then reduce it to some scores in a newspaper.

To me, this is just teacher bashing taking to another level by using some data to back it up.

When did it become so popular to bash teachers? I must have missed the memo when I was busy teaching, but it seems like all of a sudden in the last two years it has become all the rage to hammer teachers relentlessly. Well, the value added theory at least uses some data to say that not all teachers are bad, just some of them. But, lately, I keep hearing how teachers are lazy, how they’re overpaid, they have “Cadillac benefits” and work part time hours.

One of my thirty-eight readers pointed out that I haven’t blogged since Saturday. My excuse is that I am burnt the hell out right now. I’m whooped. It’s April, we have about eight weeks to go. I was in charge of the Powderpuff football game and acted as the announcer during the game. For an introvert like me, being an announcer for almost two hours, ad-libbing humor, is exhausting. So, getting ready for the game was tough. Doing the game was tough. And, now we have Prom this week. I’ve been doing the elections for court, planning the dance, and so on. We have the California Standardized Tests coming up in two weeks. I’m in charge of testing awareness and publicity. We have to plan the CST pep rally. And, then, about four weeks after that, graduation, the biggest of the big events of the year. I’m in charge of that two. I have been working since January to raise $13,000 to pay for graduation.

I’m tired. I wish to God that I worked part time. I would love me some part time hours these days. In fact, there are few teachers who start work at 7 a.m. and end it at 2:17 p.m. when the last period lets out. What the…? Um, since the students have left, does this mean I don’t have to work any more? I don’t have to lesson plan? I don’t have to grade any homework? I don’t have to straighten the desks and pick up some trash? I don’t have to put up some new student work and take down the old student work I was displaying? I don’t have to prepare the next day’s “bell work”? I don’t have to make any calls home?

Awesome!!! I love teaching now! It really is easy! /sarcasm (That’s a nerd joke, if you don’t get it. It means I’m turning off my “sarcasm mode.”)

I love the bit about how teachers only work part of the year. Yes, we only work ten months. But, and here’s the part that is gonna blow your mind, we only get paid ten months of the year, too.

Shocker! But, it’s true! We get paid for the time we work, only! Can you believe that? So, those summer months where I’m kicking it on the beach, a cool, frosty, tropically flavored drink resting close at hand, I’m also not getting paid for them. Last time I checked, most full-time professionals get “paid vacations.” Can you tell me about this idea of “paid vacations?” I’m pretty interested in this idea of getting paid for not being at work.

My favorite criticism of teachers lately though is the idea that while we get paid, say, $55K a year, our $30K benefits program really makes it more like $80K a year. Okay, I would be willing to go with that method of calculating my yearly pay if…


… if we all calculated our salaries that way. But, nobody does that. I don’t know anyone who looks at their tax return and says, “Well, yeah, it says here that I make $75K a year, bro, but you have to remember that I have a $25K benefits program so that’s six figures, baby!” Oddly, the federal government does’t take our benefits into account when calculating our tax rate. So, I’m wondering why the teacher-haters get to do it when suggesting we really make more than we do.

Know why we get such good benefits? It’s because we all have college degrees with post-graduate education to get a credential that qualifies us to teach. Further than that, we are required to continue our professional development by going to workshops and conferences to stay current on the latest teaching theories and techniques. Many of us have masters and doctorate degrees. The only other professions that require these levels of basic and continuing education are ones like lawyers, doctors, and so on. I’m not good at math but I think lawyers and doctors make more money than public school teachers.

So, there you go. I hope this post made up for my taking Monday off. I’m not always going to blog on the weekends. And, sometimes the posts might be short. I will make an effort to keep a regular schedule. At least one of you is reading every day and enjoying her coffee over the blog. That’s kind of a lot of pressure, suddenly. But, I am honored by the interest and want to make good on it. But, sometimes, this job gets to me and I’m tired. It’s not my fault, I’m a lazy teacher.

Tired and sad

Not going to go into details but the staff meeting at my school today bummed me out. If you’ve read some of the more political posts on my blog you know that I don’t blame my administrators, nor the superintendent, nor our school board.

No, I am going to take Metallica’s advice, kinda. I’m going to save all my hate for those that deserve it: the politicians that sold us out and the corporations that own us.

I’m tired and sad because, as a teacher, I know we are wasting time. We aren’t wasting time like, as in, hey, stop wasting my time, bro, with your silliness. We are wasting time as in years, formative years, in children’s lives. We are wasting their time to get educated, to get prepared to contribute to the world and realize their potential. We are wasting years of their lives. But, then again, I learned some time ago that education isn’t really for the kids. Education, as an industry, largely exists to employ text book writers and publishers, people who make smart boards and other “Ed Tech”, administrators, and, yes, teachers. If you doubt me, sit in a board meeting, read the minutes. Go to a school and spend a little time there. You can tell what’s important to a business by how they spend their money and what they use to make decisions.

For example, when I directed plays, I had to examine the text to find the theme. I would then use the theme to help me achieve the “purpose” of the play. My decisions for paint, costumes, acting choices, casting and so on all had to be tested against whether they helped me achieve that purpose, whether they contributed to the theme.

My experience is that most of the time people in education will do what is right for kids. That makes sense, right? But, you have probably noted the “most of the time” in that statement. That’s a problem. See, because the sentence really should read that people in education always do what’s right for kids. That’s who is being educated.

But, many times, if it is not convenient, or expedient, we do what is right for adults.

I will be the first to tell you, no one gets anywhere without a teacher. You can’t learn if someone doesn’t teach you. If you think about it, this is maybe the most true statement I have written. Even if the teacher is the ground and you learn that climbing trees is dangerous, you still need the ground to be your teacher. The nice thing about a school is that you can learn most things there without risking broken bones or even slight injures.

So, you can’t run a school without teachers. And, teachers need support. We need good administrators to organize and coach. We need them to see the big picture and steer the staff in the right direction. We need support from clerks, secretaries, bookkeepers, receptionists, custodians and food services. And, yes, we need counselors in those schools.

I’m tired and sad because today California found out that some tax extensions will not be sent to the voters. Without those tax extensions, the “worst case scenario” that our board of education prepared for is now the reality. So, basically, our district cancelled the entire counseling program. No more school counselors. I’m tired and sad because I can’t believe I live in a country, in a state, in a county, in a city where this is acceptable. That we will take away vital services for our children because it is expedient. That we accept this because we don’t want to pay taxes.

No, I take that back. We allow corporations like General Electric to not pay taxes. No, no that’s still not right. We allow corporations to post record profits and we still give them a 3.2 BILLION DOLLAR TAX CREDIT!

Unbelievable, right? The New York Times article says it’s true. If that doesn’t absolutely frost your melon, then let it sink in that the chairman of GE, Immelt, is who Obama just tapped to be the Chair of the Presidents Council on Jobs and Competitiveness

Nice. I can add a new emotion. Angry.

So, the students of my district are going without so many things, already and now we can’t have ANY counselors. I guess we have as many counselors as GE paid taxes. None. No, instead, we gave our money to them. Could that have anything to do with General Electric making a lot of stuff that we use to fight wars? Nah. And, Obama, the president I voted for, appoints this guy to work on creating jobs and making us competitive? Immelt needs to return that tax money and resign. Obama needs to go on TV and apologize for either an appalling lack of information or an even more appalling sense of humor.

I’m tired and sad and angry because I live in a country, in a state, in a county, in a city where this is okay, where we will accept it. Or worse, we will watch GE and the politicians squirm and someone will get their hand slapped and the news cycle will move on.

Or finally, what’s left of the people, the middle class and the working class will stand up for themselves and make all of them pay for betraying our trust. We have to think past insipid and vapid sound bytes and look for people that will actually do what leaders do. Leaders make followers better, not worse. Leaders protect their greatest resource, their followers.

I’m tired and sad and angry. I’m tired of being lied to. I’m sad that the people that run our government and our corporations have zero respect for us, and I’m angry that I have do something about it. But, I’m going to write letters, and blogs and tweets. I’m gong to talk to people. I’m going to knock on doors with my union brothers and sisters and educate the people. I’m going to vote and I’m going to keep voting until we finally get decent people in office to do what they’re supposed to.

Are you tired and sad and angry, too? Are you with me? Comment, share, speak up, tweet and let’s take our country back from the corporations.

The danger of the tweet. – What evil lurks in the tweets of teachers?

Virginia Board of Education Urges Policy on Social Networks as Teaching Tools

At first I thought this was going to be an article about how this School Board of Ed was going to look at ways to integrate Twitter into the curriculum. The first couple of paragraphs look like that. I was very disturbed.

What a horrible idea.

First off, when was the last time anything good happened because of Twitter? I think there are a few Middle Eastern rulers and former rulers that would have something to say about the danger that Twitter poses. Look, we have to realize that China, one of the largest, most populous countries in the world, doesn’t even use Twitter! Think about that! There’s something like a hundred billion Chinese people and none of them tweet! You don’t hear anything bad coming out of China; just great gymnasts, amazing and inexpensive technology, and good food. Right? Am I right? So, when I read further that the Board was actually going to craft policy to keep teachers from interacting with students on Twitter I was very relieved.

This is a step in the right direction.

But, I think we have to take it further. I think it’s great that our Educational leaders are following in the footsteps of a demonstrably great country. For example, look around you. I bet that most of the stuff within reach was made in China. Go ahead, look at it. I’m right, aren’t I? Can a country that has such a huge capacity to produce so many goods and consumables be wrong? Also, China isn’t having terrorists attack them. China isn’t involved in three different wars and it sure isn’t nosing around in Japan’s business right now while they try to recover from disaster. China knows how to mind it’s own business. It doesn’t even get involved with other countries. So, if China bans social networks, don’t you think we should too?

Social networks are dangerous. Proof? Well, the article cites a very clear example where a teacher was convicted of molesting a student. He was sending messages to many students through Facebook, another great evil descending on the world. Obviously, you can’t have teachers messaging students through any social networks! Let’s just call a fact a fact. How else would this teacher have gotten the opportunity to molest a student if he couldn’t message them through Facebook? It seems like every time some teacher gets caught acting inappropriately with students there was some kind of digital messaging going on. Obviously the only safe contact between a teacher and student is face to face. The internet is far too tempting and dangerous; it is like the One Ring in the Lord of the Rings. The One Ring had great power and potential in the hands of its wielder, but it was evil. It bent even good people to its will and twisted them until they committed heinous and treacherous acts. That’s what the internet does with its smut and porn. Any decent communication has potential to fly off the rails and get nasty in digital form. If a teacher wants to speak with a student they should only do it in real life, analog style.

It’s the only safe thing to do.

Further, interacting with students via Facebook or Twitter means that teachers will possibly see the horrible things kids do online. You didn’t know about that? Well, consider yourself lucky. It used to be that if a student wanted to say something filthy to another student they had to pass it across the class like prisoners passing illicit drugs from one cell to another (I saw that in a movie!). This way a teacher had the opportunity to intercept the message and punish them. But, nowadays, students can text each other, instant message, or email. Well, students don’t use email. But, you know what I mean. Those digital messages go floating away and there’s no way to use them to punish the offenders. We can’t have that. Students need discipline and they need to write on paper like we always have. If they are going to write disgusting things to each other they will use ink, just like I did. That is not to say that I wrote disgusting things to anyone because I didn’t. Moving on.

We can’t have teachers interacting with students on social networks. It would be better to just let the parents deal with it. Let the parents catch kids sexting (I heard about this on the news – it’s where kids combine sex and texting, which I can’t really imagine but, then, I’m not as young as I used to be.). Parents give kids the birds and the bees talk so we should let them give the turds and the tweets talk, too. Students are much more apt to listen to their parents in this matter, as they always have.

I actually heard someone suggest that teachers could teach students safe and appropriate ways to use social networks. Laugh out loud! Okay, after I finished administering the Heimlich maneuver on myself with the corner of the table and got that bit of bagel out of my throat, I had to just laugh. Seriously? You think a teacher can figure out how to use Twitter or Facebook in an appropriate manner, first of all, and then teach it to kids, second of all? It’s just silly. We all know that students barely listen to teachers on regular stuff. But, can you see kids listening to us old people on how to tweet?

And, besides all that, who is going to teach the teachers to use Twitter? What good would it do? Do we really want teachers all over Twittter, tweeting about, “Oh, my goodness, there’s so many tests to grade!” or, “I’m sorry but you spell it ‘your’ not UR.” or, “So excited to introduce photosynthesis to 3rd period!”

Ugh. It’s sickening. Nobody wants to see all that. We all know that the only reason to use Twitter is to tweet inane nonsense about what you’re doing now. Or, tweeting inappropriately with students.

And that’s the danger of the tweet.