Showing posts with label my experiences in the classroom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label my experiences in the classroom. Show all posts

Friday, October 14, 2011

Just...Ignore it but pretend not to or: I am a highly qualified moron




I was reflecting back to my teaching days and thought hmm...I was a LIFO case, but was there indeed any reason behind my LIFO status- was it pure coincidence, a pull-a-name-out-of-the-hat LIFO case or were there some reasons behind my LIFO status over another "equal" teacher? I will never know because you can be let go without cause, rhyme, or reason as a non-tenured, probationary teacher. No questions asked, no explanations given. Therefore, you only know if you're a LIFO case, a "we don't like you, you suck" case, or a mix of the two. Not very helpful for personal and professional growth.

I must speculate, however, that if I were "both", why? What did I do "wrong"? Yes, I was not the best teacher in the whole wide world. Studies do show beginning teachers are not, in general, as "good' as master teachers, which is as expected. But I do not feel I was the "OMG why is she in the classroom?" type of teacher. But it is all relative to perspective.

My test scores and attendance rates of my students were on par or above my c
o-workers so it was not that I was a bad teacher.

I did, however, not ignore things and that my friends may be the problem. Here goes my confessional, a possible black listing of future career if such things are relative.... (in no particular order of importance or timing of event....)

1. I am all for FAPE- Free and Appropriate Education. For all. So if I see a student struggling, I'll begin the chain of command, rigamarole, and bureaucratic tape to get to the bottom of things and help the child. That means I will hold a parent meeting, SST, vouch for IEP, etc etc which...gasp..costs staff time, effort, and money. They don't like that and seem to only want to help a few. Plus some (maybe all?) schools have a cap on how many students can, for example, be in Special Ed. There is "RTI" and other forms of "special ed light" without caps but there seems to be an unspoken for cap. Helping kids is n
ot easy- I admit this myself; having a class with say 4 IEPs, 6 ELLs, 2 GATEs, 8 RTIs etc etc gets a little tricky but ummm....it's our job. Helping children is the teacher mantra. So...when little ol' me, a new teacher, asks for meetings, documents, plans to help Billy and Susie, it looks bad. The master teachers who denied or simply ignored Billy and Susie's needs all throughout school would rather not take the blame and in
stead tell the new teacher that she is new, inexperienced, dumb, don't try and do this.
I did in District B exit two children from the ELL program who were fluent, their previous teachers had "forgotten" to exit them, forgotten to look at the CELDT RFEP (Ell test, fluent redesignation, exit the program...) qualifications. I did and had two sets of happy parents and
kids. In District C I not only identified 5x the ELL students than we thought we had (n
o one thought to look at files and data to see if they were ELL, needed assessed, and/or needed service) but I also began to exit 20% of our EL population to RFEP status. However, I ne
eded teacher signatures for this and....no one obliged.... too much extra work. I had dug up childr
en that had been lost in the system, either denied their FAPE services or denied exiting something they did not need, and that was not well taken. Yes, I followed federal, state, district EL law to the "t" which I guess a "newbie" should not do. District A, as much as I did not like how they operated, did one th
ing right- EL services.

And I'm sorry but when a child writes to me that they wish to kill themselves, no one li
kes them, I talk to them and seek a counselor. When the school is cheap and only has one counselor serving three schools, and the counselor is on maternity leave and then too "busy catching up" to help, and then "it is too close to the end of the school year, let's try it again next year"... I get a little mad. Thank God this child did not commit suicide and I was able to stabilize things on my own effort and time because I would publicly blame a suicide on t
he system that refused to help.

2. I know there is mixed research on retaining students. However, I had a student who did not qualify for Special Ed (IQ and performance did not meet the Sp. Ed equation) but was, in upper elementary, unable to add punctuation or capitalization to writing, or to add or subtract past ten- forget multiplication, graphing, geometry. Set to go to middle school after my classroom,I thought, this child needs another year of elementary as middle school will not help this child- this child will be completely "left behind" and "lost in the shuffle". I tracked down the impossible to reach, who cares, parent, got signatures, district approval and.. was LIFOed. Somehow, after all my legal docs to retain the child, the retention was revoked and off the kiddo went to middle school. Perhaps those dumb new teachers don't know when a child needs extra time in elementary. Perhaps I was supposed to ignore when this child could barely even do "finger math" such as 10-8. Just pass 'em on, social promotion my friends. Act like I am a caring teacher, out to help every
child, but really just ignore any problems and pass it on to someone else.

3. Stakeholder Influence - Teachers always say, bla bla bla, we need more parent input and help, administrator input, bla bla bla. But don't kowtow to these wishes no sir no way. I am one
to fix problems so when Ricky is not doing ANY work, I talk to Ricky, his parents, my co-workers, the curriculum coordinator, etc. Sure I am supposed to fix this all by myself because I'm super teacher! Really that means, I'm supposed to ignore Ricky's laziness or have a "heart to heart" with him, and just hope no one notices Ricky's failing test scores, besides, it is the next year's teacher's problems. By the way, "Ricky", after my initiated meetings and modifications, got sent next door to a tenured "better" teacher and continued to, gasp, not do a thing and no one batted an eye. When Anna is failing English, and parents do not care, and admin ignores me, I will not ignore her. I will work with Anna, whom everyone -including parents- says "probably does not have a chance graduating on time, she is slow and defiant" and she will come to my class at lunch, we'll eat together and work on
Romeo and Juliet, an expository essay, practice vocabulary tests. And Anna will go up a
band/level on the standardized exam.

Ok sometimes I am not super teacher and can't rescue Jose or Kristy. Some other teacher might "click" better, or perhaps no matter what, Jose and Kristy are so beaten by the system that my continual pep talks, assistance, etc are cast aside. It is sad. But I will not give up, I will try my darnedest - and involve others when I see fit- to ensure Jose and Kristy succeed.

4. Eek! I challenge the status quo, curriculum, and tradition! How dare I, a new teacher, have any thoughts let alone input on what is "right" for students. Since I have only taught for one, two, three, four years and everyone else five, ten, thirty, I know nothing. I am a credentialed, highly qualified, moron. I ne
ed tenure and experience, title of master teacher, to know that scripted curriculum is indeed
best for children. Making kids sit, feet on floor, back straight, hands folded, at attention, silent, for two hours of a lecture is research-based and something a master teacher promotes because, well, only experts know this is how a classroom should look. Because I'm a newbie, I am to blindly follow direction, not question a thing, not have a single opinion, just operate like a smiley robot meets prison guard in the institution we call school.

I cannot try and fix things or help children because, as stated, I am a highly qualified moron. I MUST act like a smiling peppy child advocate at ALL moments, happily delivering a dumbed-down curriculum, willingly stuffing children in desks and lecturing when they need to move, play, experience, discover. Any problems I see must look like they're being resolved, but really, I'm to pass the buck on to the next teacher who will in turn pass it on again until we have 40% high school drop out rates, tons
of college entrants taking remedial courses because "schools are not preparing children", children and soon, adults, who f
ollow a path of entitlement, poverty, crime because they were told, whether directly or via the system, that no one cares.

I am to just shut up, follow directions, do minimal work, and be proud of my job. I am to kowtow to damaging practices and procedures and gladly accept my position of highly qualified moron until, by turning my back or eye, ignoring my instincts and morals, I gain tenure. Then, I can use the damaging system still (what's the difference? Not much except that now I can dictate my expertise in the damaging system and prevent change).

Sorry. No.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

a rant

I was browsing Huffington Post and had to respond to an article... plsu, having not blogged in a while I felt like I needed to do something.

The four witnesses called before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce agreed educators have not come up with an ideal framework to evaluate teachers. They also expressed concern over whether teachers are being prepared for the classroom, and said the right people might not be going into education in the first place.

Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said half the people that graduate from an education program don't wind up getting teaching jobs.

"I fear that for too many of those individuals have gone into an education school because it may be the easiest program on a college campus to complete," Walsh said.


Okay where to begin? First, teachers are not being prepared for the classroom. I reflect back on my administrative credential/MA courses and most of it was just theory and regurgitation of someone else's research. Very little was application. You can be the most learned about learning and "suck" at teaching. But many forget this. My own husband had suggested, as I'm job hunting, to look for jobs outside education, such as HR or management since "you have an admin. degree ya know...". Yes but I know very little about it. I can tell you about choosing curriculum, or about contracts/collective bargaining things I've read. I can tell you about how I explored my personality type and evaluated great leaders. I can tell you that schools have categorical funds, or fire based upon seniority. But if you ask me to hire the best teacher for the job, or to write a grant, I can't. Don't ask me to calm an angry parent or discipline little Trevor. Don't even think I know how to balance a school budget. I mean, I'll try and do all that. But I never learned or practiced how. And my university even admits to this, that most of their courses are theory based and that practice-based learning is not a focus. As a teacher, I felt the same way. I could sound like I knew my stuff and well, I knew and know a lot but knowing isn't everything. It's how you show what you know. So no. Schools are not preparing teachers to teach.

Teachers in America are in the "bottom third" of their class, the "dummies". Other nations value their educators more so the career is more appealing, and they often pay more. You can get a science degree and go teach for $35,000 or go do...whatever science thing you like and make twice that...and be more respected. Which would you choose? In other countries, their math teachers in middle school majored in math and often worked in math before teaching. Our teachers need just a multiple subject credential which covers math skills up to about 4th or 5th grade. No wonder our country has horrid math skills. Oh so not only are teachers the "dummies" but think of how many hoops we must jump to get a credential, keep it, and keep a job! No wonder so many teachers, 50% I think, leave the profession in the first few years.

Which is part of why half the people getting teaching degrees don't end up with a job- they do some student teaching and realize a) they're not ready to teach b) you mean a kid can hit you, injure you, and you can do nothing but maybe say no no little Billy, but you still get a gold star so you don't feel left out c)you can likely get pink slipped and have to look for a job which lessens your chance of being hired d)hmm if you keep switching schools and district you will never really make enough to support a family and pay off student loans. MANY teachers are on food stamps, can you believe that?

And then...ok there are no friggin' jobs! When I got my first credential back in 03' I applied and applied and interviewed and....no job for my first year. Okay I subbed and was able to live somewhere where I could just pay what little I had to go towards food and shelter but if not, I'd have been homeless or living with my parents. Then I got a job. That lasted a year due to declining enrollment and politics, not enough ADA money to pay for my position. Back to square one, subbing and tutoring for a year. Then I got another job but the district had to pink slip 5 teachers and ta da, one of those was me. Now my resume looked suspicious with all these little jobs, a victim of circumstances but still. "Why do you not stay anywhere more than a year?" Well it is called LIFO, Last In First Out. I have bad luck and well, our state is in, and has been in, financial crisis for quite some time so I get axed. Then I got a job that lasted 3 years whoopee! But due to financial crisis at the sate level, no one could afford me (even though I was only makign a measly $25,000) and so bye bye to my job.

I've applied and applied and no interviews. My job always goes to a "more qualified applicant". I have 3 teaching credentials, a Master's and 5 years experience not counting subbing/tutoring/summer school. I applied to one position, a VP, and over 200 people were fully qualified. Their reqs were 5 yrs+ teaching/admin experience, MA, admin credential, and a teaching credential. So imagine the fresh out of school teacher, no work experience, with one credential. She or he probably is competing with not 200 applicants but likely 1,000 or more per job.


And yeah a teaching degree is easy. I will admit. And there is the addage "Those who can't, teach". Perhaps that goes with the statistic of the bottom third becoming educators. And yeah I've known some incompetent teachers. But I've also known some that are like walking encyclopedias, and they have the art of teaching down to a science. But maybe we should make teaching programs more difficult. But given the job market, I highly doubt people are signing up for a teaching degree just because it is easy.

Witnesses told the committee there should be accountability for institutions where teachers are trained. The burden to retain teachers, they said, should not fall on school districts.

Oh. I had to be retrained. I was taught to differentiate, barely touch a textbook, use learning modalities and hands on activities. Egads. You may recall in my post http://3rseduc.blogspot.com/2011/03/houghton-mifflin-prescribed-automaton.html (I think, anyways) that I was asked rather honestly, "where did you learn to teach?" insinuating I didn't learn to teach, because I couldn't follow a scripted curriculum. I kept "not teaching" and bringing in supplementals, hands on activities, other "not teaching" things. I was not taught to follow orders and forget to think or analyze. So yes. In our current climate of scripted curriculum and assessment-driven craziness, yeah, we need to retrain our teachers. Purposely employ the bottom third, the "idiots" who can be brainwashed easily into thinking frequent testing, and robotic curriculum, works.

Walsh said young teachers are often placed in low-performing schools, but because they lack experience, their students tend to not do as well.

Yes. True. Been there, done that. Becuase of tenure and collective bargaining, let's say teacher X is hired fresh out of college to work at what else, but Prison View Elementary, the lowest performing school in the district. Somehow, she survives the first two years by fraternizing with the union president and by blindly teaching the curriculum. Her tenure is announced and she requests a transfer to Muffy McFluffy's Magnet School in the district, their highest performing school. She is granted it and spends the rest of her career there.
One would think, hey, at Muffy McFluffy's there is Teacher Y who single-handely increased test scores by 100 points in one year, won teacher of the year twice, and has been nationally recognized for her curriculum and classroom management techniques; with 5 books authored by her. How 'bout we send her into the dredges of Prison View? But with things the way they are, only she could elect the transfer. The district couldn't transfer her. But let's also say Teacher Z works at Muffy McFluffy's. Teacher Z is that rare teacher that the media and public love, who lets the kids turn into hooligans, playing leap frog on the desks while Z checks his Facebook farm and cafe. Test scores from Z's class are making McFluffy's look bad. The district elects to send Z to Prison View. Yep. Schools can transfer the bad tenured staff to the bad schools, but the stellar staff cannot go and help transform the bad school unless they choose to. And after 30 years of working with McFluffy's finest, who would want to spend their last years teaching at Prison View?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

my time in school

Photo: Me age 9 or 10. I think it sums up things pretty well.
School. What was it, for me as a child? What do I remember? I attended both public and home school.

Kindergarten- I remember many children crying on the first day. I recall each child got a week where they were the star and got their body traced on butcher paper to hang in the classroom. I recall having to draw a picture of our hero and I never had a hero as a child but I thought the weather man was cool so I drew him. But then I guess that wasn't the assignment, so I had heard, so I sadly drew a big X across my drawing, to find out no, I was right in the first place. So I decided it was the weatherman building a fence. I also remember having to choose a hand as I was ambidextrous. I chose to write with my left and cut with my right so neither hand would feel left out. I remember a father's day craft where we made toolbelts from paper and had to write what we'd give our daddy. I wrote asparagus. Hey..my dad loved the stuff. I remember being a tomboy.

First- Purple haired teacher. Would say "oh baloney" if I said I couldn't do something. I blew through over a dozen paper journals instead of our allotted one. I got in trouble for talking to my friend and got my own secluded seat at the back of the room. (I talked because I was bored.) I got to go to the upper-grade library for my reading choices. I made a candle and a plate and learned that I didn't like the game "mercy". I got scared when the science movie said the world would blow up, from the sun exploding, in a billion years, as I thought it was much sooner. I sat in the hallway, alone, in trouble, a lot.

Second- I liked my 2nd gr teacher, she was my kinder teacher but she went back to kinder so we got a new teacher. I helped two children- one from Germany- to learn to read. There was a girl I hated who claimed my dad had been to jail and was a bad person. I hated her and the teacher made us sit together and work together for the whole year. She purposely splashed green pain on my brand new shoes. I was the queen of the boggle game. I got teased for wearing glasses.

Third- One of my favorite teachers because she was hard on the "bad" kids and sweet if you were good. I forged an absence note and she caught me. I loved to read Serendipity, and Little House on the Prairie. I sucked at handwriting and multiplication. I recall making solar systems out of styrofoam and looking at snowflakes with a magnifying class, as well as grass and hair. I was absent for over 60 days of the year because although I loved my teacher, I was bored with school. I found staying at home more rewarding and intellectually stimulating. I composed poetry.

Fourth- my teacher taught for two weeks and her husband died atop Mt. Whitney so she quit. We had a new sub every day until we got a permanent teacher who denied bathroom use, would scream at you for missing assignments, and was a general meanie. I had a crush on a boy and was humiliated in front of the class for giving him a "date me" heart candy. I was home-schooled for half the year because I came home from school crying every day. I LOVED home school and finally could do work at my level. I attended public school again for the last few weeks of school to "acclimate". All we did was color in those color-by-number math problem things...loots of "division dinosaurs". My work group made fart jokes and copied off my division dino. Our teacher gave us cubbie post boxes and provided post cards to exchange. This fostered my still going postcard collection of cards from every country and I still have one of my first cards from 4th grade!

...to be continued...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

as the world turns...visions of pink slips dance in their heads


So plans have likely changed overnight. Looks like I'm losing my job...thanks to budget cuts and who knows what else at play. My resume reads like ADHD...job for a year here, year there, year everywhere. PhD likely on hold. Pink slips...three's a charm? This is my third...lucky me. http://www.playlist.com/playlist/additem/332251409

I'm in quite a murky mood today which is understandable. I am supposed to give a presentation about CAHSEE scores to the board tomorrow, minutes before the closed session where my non-existence is confirmed. I also said, before I knew of such status, that I'd review the student satisfaction survey and make graphs and tables to present to WASC. I wrote those darned surveys so I'm curious of the results but yet I don't want to see them because then I'd end up working for a place that fired me, terminated me, whatever you wish to call it. I had asked, before this "news" when I needed to come in this week. In my "sorry you're a goner" email my boss said to come in Wednesday. I can think of nothing more unappealing or undesirable right now. I have to pack up all my junk and leave and heck I should be a pro at this now but I'm not. I've been there for three years and it hurts. And now I don't know what the future holds as I was working part time which allowed me some time with my infant son which is something I hold dearly. Anyways I am rambling and emotionally upset so I will stop blogging this post. The rest of my family is taking this better than I. And I even kind of sensed this conclusion and it was like a relationship that had fizzled..I felt the fizzle and it was part "me"..I just didn't feel as passionate. But the "break up" is still just as tough. And while it is budget cuts at fault, it is hard not to take it personal. especially when at graduation i was the only staff member not mentioned, and staff that was let go last year attended and they got recognition. lovely.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Job Experience

Just thought I'd list my crazy amount of education-related job experiences in my life....
1999- volunteered at a Native American pre-school in Canada for part of the summer
2000- preschool job for the summer, in my home town
2001- K-6 daycare job for the summer
2003- substitute teacher in 3 districts, all grade levels. One long term position in a math classroom grade 6
2003??? Not sure the year but I taught a 3-6th gr combo science class for summer.
2003- English Conversation tutor to college students from Japan, China, Korea
2004- first "real" job, teacher grade 5. A "program improvement" school, high ESL and poverty.
2005- independent study/home school teacher to 30 children grades K-12; Long term sub teacher (inc. a position in continuation high, science, math, pe); Adult ed ESL Teacher
2005- or 06 or..? Summer school teacher, remedial math combo class grades 3-6
2006- continued subbing, also a tutor all ages at Sylvan
2007- Teacher, grade 5 in a title-1 school
2008-Teacher, English etc, Grades 9-12 in a charter school
2009- Teacher gr 9, data and assessments manager K-12, charter
2010- 1/2 time employee (and new mommy!) K-12 charter

Friday, April 1, 2011

Pink Slips

"Beware the Ides of March" said Shakespeare many centuries ago, and it should be a slogan for public education in California. March 15th, Shakespeare's/Rome's Ides of March day, is wearisome in California. Thousands of teachers receive "pink slips" (mine has never been pink...) saying basically that due to budget uncertainties, they may not have a job next year.

A quick tangent on budgeting...The budget if I recall correctly (as it is not my forte) has cycles of knowledge and disbursement...the state gives some inclination of funding in January, then April, then July...April calls an end to ADA ($ for attendance) and these periods may also be pay periods. (Sorry...I should really be more knowledgeable). I think by May 15 districts must "pencil" in the budget for the following school year, but they don't actually know what funding they will receive until July 1. And funding is based on the previous school year. Example, if a school of 300 students submits their budget in May of 2011, they find out their actual budget July 1st of 2011, and then when school rolls around in late summer of 2011, if the enrollment swells to 350, their funding is based on last school year's 300 students.
Therefore with all this budget confusion, schools make a not-so-conservative chopping block list in March and then refine it in May, based solely on speculations.

Back on topic here...
Those most often pink slipped, whether it be the Russian Roulette invitation in March or the Russian Roulette final rounds in May, are the newest teachers and staff (people often forget that teacher's aides, administration, etc get cut, too). If you're not tenured, it's quite likely you'll make the first rounds; and if it is particularly a bad year financially even a newly tenured staff person can enter the first rounds. This means teachers that most likely are struggling to support a family (since your first years of teaching have lower salary than your more "senior" years on the job) and more likely are paying off student debt, are most likely at risk. What a way to value the new teaching stock!

Them May rolls around and usually most pink slips are rescinded but there's often some kind of final rounds of certain death. Once this occurs, your likelihood of getting another job lessens because you only "lasted" at a school for a few years which looks suspicious. Once you reach my magical number of two of these experiences, no one wants to hire you; they never seen to think "oh, pink slips" but rather "oh, bad teacher".

I have fallen victim to these practices twice; both times I lost the second round of roulette.

I remember waking on March 15 with mixed emotions and biting at the bit until the Principal would call me in the office. Both times, I got the pink slip. I kept telling myself, so many people receive these and so few are let go so who cares? But there was always that nagging voice saying, what if? This made the two months between March and May utter hell...I had to content with the spring fever of my students, state testing, and job insecurity. I'd second guess my every action and thought...like, I was tired and yawned in front of the Principal, will she think that means I'm bored by my job? ADHD Annie is off her rocker today and refuses to finish her spelling test- will this cause me to be fired?
May 15 rolls around and I wake up in a foul mood. I keep telling myself, it will be ok it will be ok. But both times, it wasn't. I remember when I received the bad news I did my best not to cry, and went into the restroom and bawled my eyes out. I did not want to be the center of attention or object of pity. I had a job to finish, and this would not get in my way. (I did witness other staff being let go, that had a f%#k it attitude and barely did their job after May 15 but not me). I put on a game face and battled through the rest of the year. I refused both times to tell anyone I was not going to return the following year. See, teaching is a job but it is also a life style. The students, your co-workers, are your extended family. If you remove sleep, night school, errands, it seems you're at school more than home, and see your students more than your own family. So imagine being ostracized from your own family! Your home! You become a destitute, nomadic, Pink Slip refugee. It is heart breaking.
I remember that both times, I did not tell my students the bad news - that they would never see me again- until the very end of the last day of school. Therefore, the last day of school was bittersweet. I'd take photos of my class (before delivering my news), smiles abound as they got all jazzed up about summer...I preserved these happy memories on paper because that's how I want to remember my students. I do recall one of the years, the students went to promotion, meaning the next school year they would attend middle school, so for them it was bitter sweet too, as they were leaving their school of six years.
Upon delivering my bad news, my students were always so shocked. They said I was a good teacher and didn't deserve this and how they would never see me again and how sad it was. I got hugs and tears and thank yous.

Once my students left for summer, I'd stay after and pack up my classroom which is a hard thing to do. It is sad to tear everything down, knowing you'd never hear child chatter in that class again, never witness another "aha moment" inside those walls, never proudly display a student's work again, never post a "welcome to my class" sign and great eager but frightened children as they entered your class for the first time... everything you pack away carries a memory that may never be replicated. And you are filled with emotion- obvious sadness, but some joy for the good things that did happen inside those walls (kind of like an Irish wake, celebrating life!) and then some anger too, and misunderstandings, negative emotions all bundled up , that you didn't let out at school because you couldn't, and now they'd been shoved aside so long that now that you can let them out, it seems futile, but the anger still resides. You're gone, what is done is done. You've been a victim of circumstance. They'd better regret letting you go. Will they remember me, will a part of me always be in these walls, in the story of the school, the memory of the children, or will that all go away as fast as I do?

Shutting off the lights and locking the door for the last time is an unforgettable moment, almost indescribable. I slooowly shut the door, unwilling to fully let it go, let reality set in. But as soon as the lock clicks, I can't get out of there fast enough.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Houghton Mifflin, prescribed automaton education and then some


By now you may notice Houghton Mifflin and I are foes; mention of H.M. leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It's not that other textbooks are necessarily better, just that my experiences with HM have been anything but positive.

Do excuse me for any repetition of previous post content. I have probably 100 post ideas in my mind, a few dozen half-composed on my laptop, and a few dozen already posted and it is hard to keep it all straight. When my mind gets going, it doesn't stop.

RESEARCH BASED- If HM Reading First programs are research based, I live on the moon. (Actually I live in a neighborhood called Valley of the Moon so perhaps my analogy should change.)John Hopkins University did a study of the validity of research (statistical validity of the effectiveness/effectiveness claims) and guess what? HM did not appear in their list. Perhaps their research is invalid (i.e. "a study of three students proves... or, our own independent research done by our own people proves....) HM claims their program is scientifically-based. The progressives, many educational pioneers, and eugenic-supporters wanted to manage the population through science-based methods. Leave it to the experts, who use science (often racially and class biased via test scores and junk science) to tell you what to do. And based can mean, well, based....have you ever watched a movie "based on the true story" where only about 10% is actually based on the true story? So is HM "based on science...well....kind of...."? Well I do know this "science" is based on Prussian reading methods of "whole language" which I will explore momentarily. If only I could recall what I just did with my notes from my HM Reading First training, which stated learning modalities are a bunch of hooey, among other "gems". If I find my notes, there will be a post!

"WHERE DID YOU LEARN TO TEACH?" Yes, I was once asked this. During my first year of full-time teaching, my administrator actually asked me this. I am not self-righteous or vain but really? I was asked this because I would not follow the HM scripted curriculum to a "t". I would occasionally deviate as I saw fit because, well, I did go to school to obtain a credential and I did learn about learning styles, pedagogy, Piaget, etc. In fact, in my program we had to create an entire unit of 10 lessons without using/referencing a textbook. So suddenly here I am in HM hell and have to throw out everything I learned and "trust" what the textbook tells me? I spent $15,000 on a credential, only so I could have a piece of paper that tells me, follow the textbook? Why even teach? I could just have one of my more proficient readers come and teach the class. Heck I could outsource the book to India, have then orally transcribe it, and play the tape in class while I read the newspaper, paint my nails, go out for coffee.... Where did I learn to teach? Somewhere where they TAUGHT ME TO TEACH. Not to become some automaton slave to the textbook company.

PRUSSIAN SYSTEM OF READING: ORWELLIAN NEWSPEAK

The volkshulen(see my Prussia post) initiated a reading program, one that arguably taught not to read, or at least not very well. If you’re an educator, you have certainly heard about the “whole language” verses “phonics” debate to teaching reading, and have probably concluded that neither is effective but a combination of both, with a little more focus on phonics, is best… or so the research says. The whole language method originated in Prussia and was brought to America by none other than Horace Mann. Since Mann began “teaching schools” (such as those at the University of Chicago or Columbia) for teacher training, he ensured “whole language” was the only method used to teach how to teach reading. In addition, the reading programs in both Prussia and America encouraged age/developmental level appropriate sight words and prescribed vocabulary and sentence length. Such practices continue today in America, as can be seen in the Houghton Mifflin reading series and likely other textbooks as well. One can argue (myself included) that this could be part of “dumbing down” education. I might be going out on a limb here, but controlling language is like “newspeak” in Orwell’s 1984, which would be and was exactly the purpose in Prussia doing so.

UNABLE TO READ ON THEIR OWN I recall as a child having "SSR" or "DEAR" (Silent Sustained Reading/ Drop Everything and Read). An avid reader, this was the only part of school I really liked, and was probably the only part of school where I had choice and control over what I was to learn. unable to read on own. So of course Reading First/HM, or at least the school I was at, rid of that completely. I even asked why we went to the school library, if students did not have SSR. I also inquired why they not only were denied SSR, but why every story/textbook chapter etc was to be "read" to them on a CD instead of my reading to them, or, imagine this, they read it. I was told "the program dictates they be read to, and in Language Arts they can only do HM lessons, no supplementals such as books for pleasure. Besides, they can't read on their own, they don't know how". So we were not allowed to teach them to read independently, or even encourage it. Sounds like Prussian control to me. And they wondered why their test scores were pathetic? Conspiracy theory nut job (me) says: if they read on their own, they might learn, and learn beyond the bounds set forth for them, and they could be a threat to the system.

MY ACTUAL EXPERIENCES: I do recall mentioning these in a previous post but here I go again....word for word from my own prior post, "In the 2004-2005 school year, I taught fifth grade in Montclair, CA at a Title-1, Program Improvement, Reading First school. The student population was low SES (100% free lunch), with over 75% ELL students (in my class of thirty-some, I had one native speaker and two FEP). As many schools have experienced, we were under pressure from NCLB to raise test scores and implement recommended programs in a regimented manner to assure success. I gained many valuable perspectives from this job, as I sometimes felt powerless to teach when I had to be on the same page at the same time as the next door teacher, and had to teach word-for-word from the textbook. Certainly, low SES students whom are more likely kinesthetic learners (not to mention the language barrier interfering in linguistic activities) will benefit from a spelling lesson where they discover the patterns, similarities, and differences and then categorize them accordingly- in place of the rote-learning lesson where I as the teacher dictate the spelling terms and write them on the board in the proper categories! Oh my…I was much too innovative and wanted to change the system to help the students as that’s why I became a teacher! Besides, my brain was chock-full of ideas from my credentialing classes which taught me great differentiation skills and motivational activities "
I recall the spelling-lesson moment. Here I was to write the week's spelling words on the board in columns under the pattern(i.e. ed or ing endings), tell the kids the pattern, hand out a worksheet. I was to point to the A i sfor apple B is for ball posters to help them recognize the beginning sound of the word (I never used those posters but they made a decorative wall border). I recall rather dramatically the hum of the not-so-cool air conditioning, the buzz of a fly, the sleepy mid morning sun seeping through the tiny slit windows, and this sweltering stillness. My class was behaving (and being one often told to better control my classroom, this was a golden moment)...they all stared blankly at the board and no one peeped or shuffled. I knew better- this was not a golden moment where I'd finally managed behavior. This was a crux of scripted (Prussian) curriculum- control. They were like drones, almost hypnotized, they were so disengaged. I HAD to save them. With precious seconds ticking away, I dashed to the printer, printed out a few copies of the words, and like a magical fairy complete with a wand, I pranced around passing out scissors, words, and tape and shuffled my students into groups. They were to, get this, find the pattern. On their own. I felt like a rebel, disregarding the silently screaming words of the teacher's guide and forging my own path of resistance. I felt liberated. The students actually talked about the lesson and worked cooperatively. My goofiest boy (of whom the school had lost hope in) decided to tape the words to his shirt and laugh while shouting out the pattern. It was the most fun I'd had in a most boring curriculum. And I was hardly the rebel I felt I was since I was still using the curriculum, the newspeak vocabulary/spelling words. I got in trouble for this. I was never sent to the Principal's office as a child but I sure made up for it.

I also recall a HM math lesson on averages, mode, etc. My class just wasn't getting it, so I spent an extra day reviewing division concepts. My neighboring 5th grade teacher confronted me and ratted me out for being a page behind her class. I was then reprimanded by the principal for "teaching division, a 4th grade standard, to 5th graders". She was not so keen to my comment that if they didn't know the 4th grade standard, they surely couldn't master the 5th.

Our classrooms were to be prescribed clones....like the song, "little boxes made of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same". One wall for spelling words which remained up all year and had to be a certain size and placement. Another for vocab and pre-assigned pictures to represent them. Another for those ABC posters of which spelling and vocabulary also go under. I spent hours a week "decorating". (A book by Thomas Alexander called The Prussian Elementary School echoed my "all look just the same" classroom. See my Little Boxes post) I even got written up for having a word which was velcro-ed to the wall cut a little crooked- instead of a 90 degree corner it was say 100. I am not kidding about being written up for a crookedly cut word. In my "improvement plan" (HR lingo for "you're fired") it said "sloppy classroom."

Also, I had noticed in our little clone classrooms that they were devoid of student work, which depersonalizes the classroom, as well as making it...not praiseworthy. I always remember the pride I felt when my work was displayed on the wall. It is such trivial nonsense, but I liked it. I was told that there was no room for student work (true) and that it might look sloppy or contain errors, and students without their work up would feel bad. I cheated the system the system yet again, or at least circumvented it by having my students work on making posters for the story themes, or writing the spelling-pattern headings for my stupid (did I say that out loud) spelling wall. And surprise surprise I got written up for that because one student wrote "co-operation" instead of "cooperation". Any word-nerd may know, Co-operation is acceptable especially in British English, but that is besides the point.

And quick mention of Elwood Cubberly who was editor of many HM textbooks of his time, and he directly influenced many educational policies and methods still in operation today.

Although anyone who knows me will say, wait, you work with Data Director (part of HM) and student data and assessments and yet you're claiming all these things are evil? Yes. Keep your friends close and your enemy closer, know your enemy, and take it down from within.

But yes I am my own worst enemy...using HM DD. dialectrobly opposed to ability testing but oh well. know your enemy, keep your enemy closer.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Entrance Essay


HERE IS MY COLLEGE (MASTER'S) ENTRANCE ESSAY FROM OVER TWO YEARS AGO...I FIND IT AN INTERESTING READ ABOUT ME AND MY EXPERIENCES.

Entrance Essay for MA + Certification in Educational Administration

I’ve floundered about in my educational career, product of budget cuts, student enrollment decreases, and brighter prospects. I’ve taught little snippets of every grade; my career looks like a hodgepodge of movie shorts. Pre-school, adult education, Native American, Title-1 program improvement, California Distinguished School, alternative education, charter school, I’ve dabbled in it all. In my short career of 5 ½ years (not counting, nor necessarily discounting, my student teaching and three summers of pre-school experience) I have seen what all grade levels and varieties of schools have to offer their students, staff, and community. No worries, I am not irresolute career-wise and I know my dabbling does not compete with a teacher of thirty years experience, but I feel I bring valuable experiences to wherever I go, and wish to contribute these while at U of R.

I also bring some valuable experiences for continuities sake. I am in my third year of full-time, year-long teaching experiences where I have begun to settle down and really learn the tricks and the trades of my own classroom. I feel these are the best to focus on while explaining my past and present experiences and history.

In the 2004-2005 school year, I taught fifth grade in Montclair, CA at a Title-1, Program Improvement, Reading First school. The student population was low SES (100% free lunch), with over 75% ELL students (in my class of thirty-some, I had one native speaker and two FEP). As many schools have experienced, we were under pressure from NCLB to raise test scores and implement recommended programs in a regimented manner to assure success. I gained many valuable perspectives from this job, as I sometimes felt powerless to teach when I had to be on the same page at the same time as the next door teacher, and had to teach word-for-word from the textbook. Certainly, low SES students whom are more likely kinesthetic learners (not to mention the language barrier interfering in linguistic activities) will benefit from a spelling lesson where they discover the patterns, similarities, and differences and then categorize them accordingly- in place of the rote-learning lesson where I as the teacher dictate the spelling terms and write them on the board in the proper categories! Oh my…I was much too innovative and wanted to change the system to help the students as that’s why I became a teacher! Besides, my brain was chock-full of ideas from my credentialing classes which taught me great differentiation skills and motivational activities (thank you U of R!). In retrospect, I should not have so grudgingly accepted the scripted lessons, and I should not have snuck in a kinesthetic lesson or two, as that was not my position. And I do realize that such programs exist for a reason, the theories of which are actually marvelous and revolutionary. I would love to actually go even more research-based and try and find what works for each child and teach accordingly whenever possible. Another valuable experience I gained from my position in Montclair was data-driven instruction which is a weird curiosity for me, as I actually enjoy looking over and analyzing data – what methods and practices are reflected in this data? What cultural, economical, and other outside forces may have had a mild contribution to the data? What standards are difficult for the student base? Were the questions worded strangely, or did the teachers browse over the standard thinking the students comprehended it when they did not? How can we change our teaching to increase the test scores across the board? What other alterable factors can we experiment with? I am currently the “data dude” for my school, or at least I’m in that position for our WASC visit, so I took it upon myself and tabulated some data in visually friendly graphs to help us being data-driven instruction, as we’re lagging behind the trend. I did this all on my own volition, as I did not want our school to appear disorganized, as we didn’t even have the data in one place before I got to it.

I have taught another year in 5th grade, during the 2007-2008 school year. I will not delve into so many details; while it was quite valuable, I have discussed rather unendingly about my previous experience in the same grade level. My school in Beaumont was a California Distinguished School, and we had API and AYP scores that were sufficient- around about 800. That does not mean we did not face obstacles, but we approached it often through data-driven instruction. We also had a great school culture, one of respect, understanding, and drive to achieve. Students were constantly praised and taught to do the same, and the school was full of smiles- so much that other schools teased us (in a friendly manner) that we were just too full of smiles.

I loved working with the elementary students, in fact I had originally decided while pursuing my initial credential, that kindergarten was my calling. I had loved my summer jobs in pre-school- a job which I had stumbled upon whilst fulfilling my community service requirements at Redlands- so Kindergarten was where I just had to be. However, I changed my mind when I had to be a student teacher in a 3rd grade classroom- wow, these students were very astute, and yet still full of childlike wonder. My next student teaching position was in 5th grade and I loved that, too. However, in between my 5th grade teaching experiences, I taught at an independent study program and had K-12 students and I really enjoyed the intellectual level of high school students. They have transitioned from concrete-operational thinking to the abstract, critical thinking level also known as “Formal Operations.” They begin to tie ideas together, challenge their thinking, and discover how what they are learning actually does relate to life. I was quite excited when I received a call to do a long-term position at a continuation school teaching science, computers, and P.E. Many ask me “you taught in continuation?” as if it is part of Hades Underworld. I instinctually knew that if I gave them the respect they deserved, they’d return the favor. Many of the students were so damaged from their life so far, that they did not respect authority, adults, or even education but deep down inside they were human beings- and they had a heart. When I left that position to teach 5th grade, many of my students were upset and jealous of my future students and asked me to come back.

I have now landed a position in a Charter School teaching English I-IV and I love connecting literature to history, the present, and their own lives. My school fosters preparation for life and allows students to set their own life path- University, Community College, Vocational, or Certificate of Completion. Their schedules are more individualized to reflect their path, and we are very keen on differentiated instruction. No wonder though, as our average class size is under twenty. In a much smaller environment, students do not get lost in the crowd. They get to know their instructors and vice versa, and they get the attention and differentiation they may need.

With such experiences, one may ask why I am pursuing Educational Administration. I feel that I am a mover and a shaker, a motivator and persuader. I am an engine for change when change is needed, yet I value tradition and proven methods. I feel that many times, teachers- especially newer ones- are not given the respect they deserve. We are to be quiet, listen, and follow directions. Many times we are “tsk-tsked” for recommending too many students to the SST process, or pursuing IEP’s, GATE, Redesignation (FEP), or retention. If we have an idea and it is more than just a worksheet, we are questioned as if it is wrong to challenge an idea or assist a student in need. It costs too much money, takes too much time, or is just not how we do things around here (unless it is thought up by a master teacher.) I do not want to sound bitter, as I am not. I am actually inspired by this. I want to listen to all perspectives as they are likely valuable, and some could even be enacted. No matter who you are, you should be as valuable as any other member of a school-site team, and I want to encourage that.

I have been intuitive and done some self discovery, and come to realize that I am quite a conundrum. I am creative, an out of the box thinker, a visionary. I also of course am empathetic, understanding, a good advisor. On the flip side, I am logical and see structure and patterns in the chaos of our world. I am often told I am business-like, professional, that I am “on top of things”. I go above and beyond the call of duty, and a self-motivator. As mentioned, I put together the test data as I saw a need for it. I get back to parents in a timely manner, and complete other tasks and paperwork before others. I see how things could be, and wish to implement them. For example, I was in a long staff meeting where we kept going off on tangents- albeit interesting and relevant, they were not on the agenda and doubled the time of our meeting. Setting goals and deadlines – ten minutes for announcements, fifteen for schedule changes, etc…and then if you want to stay and discuss your ideas and tangents, we will set aside a time afterwards, not necessarily mandatory, to get things off your chest. Those notes will be summarized for your review if not in attendance, as they likely have value but went past the agenda.

People in my profession become educators for many reasons, but a major reason is to help students in need. I am a child advocate and want a fair education for all. I feel a lot of students “fall through the cracks” until it is too late, when a simple intervention (often much simpler than an SST) could have solved the problem. I feel as an administrator I could help students, faculty, parents, the community... and together we could strive towards a common goal. It takes a village to raise a child, and I’d love to be a head facilitator.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

sweet memories


My first year of full time teaching was the most horrible degrading year and yet I stayed in education because of it. In another post I will delve into the degrading parts, and how I vowed to never step foot into a school again, in another post. But here's what kept me in education.

The kids.

I teach for the kids. Not the pay check, not the socialization with co-workers, not the health benefits or summers off or whatever. It's for the kids.

My first year teaching, I had my flaws as I was a first year teacher thrown to the wolves. (more about that, as stated, in another post). I admit I wasn't perfect. But I cared. I cared more than anyone about those kids.
I worked in a 5th grade classroom with 30-36 students (depending on the subject) in a town that wasn't your quaint suburb. 100% of my students were on free lunch- thus, in poverty. Only one was a native English speaker and only three others were fluent in English (and Spanish). The rest were all Spanish speaking immigrants. I had, years later, applied to jobs out of state and no one believed that I worked in a title-1, program improvement, school on 100% free lunch with 80% EL population.

Anyways...these kids had nothing. I had to supply pencils and paper. Some showed up in the same outfit every day. Screw hunger for knowledge, they were hungry for food. They were already in gangs. They had incarcerated parents, dead parents, drug dealer parents, prostitute parents, missing parents.... I had twins that had bragged about their new apartment because they got to share the couch to sleep on which was much better than the floor of the last place.

I recall one day we won an attendance award and got a hot dog party. As they were eating their alloted one hot dog, a student of mine was telling her friend how gross the school nachos were. But after her hot dog she asked me if she could go to the lunch line for those nachos as she was still hungry. I said sure, since I knew by law they were entitled to their free lunch. Well the lunch lady screamed at me and refused to serve the girl because she already got her lunch, the hot dog. Since I was trying to keep my job at that moment, I didn't quote her the law etc...hot dogs were not from the federal lunch fund but rather the extraneous rewards fund and since someone (tax payers) paid for this girls nasty nacho lunch, she was entitled to it.

I rewarded my students, at least once a month, with a party during lunch. They would go get their nasty nachos or what have you and sneak over to my classroom where they had pizza waiting. I'd get my husband to order pizzas and deliver them. Each child would get THREE slices. These children, poverty stricken and starving, would forfeit slices and give them away. We would construct little carrying device (two paper places stapled into a pouch) to deliver to siblings or take home to parents for dinner time. These children had nothing and yet had the heart to provide pizza to their families.

I also had Christmas. I know, such things are illegal now, even the mention of it as it may hurt the feelings of a non Christian. But all my students were catholic and all attended the church down the street. So, knowing I was already on the chopping block, went for it. I bought a 3" fake tree and decorated it. Then I went to the 99cent store and bought a stuffed bear for the girls and a toy truck for the boys....99 cents a pop. $35 later I was done. The night before the last day before Winter Break, I snuck in and Santa fied. When the students walked in the next day....wow....the memories still bring a tear to my eye, they lit up so much. I've never seen happier kids. Many had never had a tree so they were so happy to have one in their class. And I'd been apprehensive about my teddy/truck toys...how lame....but I was wrong. Everyone was so excited! I had a few students tell me that they knew how hard up their families were and that Christmas had been canceled. My gift was their only gift and they were so happy for it. One of my toughest kid- already in a gang, real tough cookie....said this was his favorite memory of 5th grade....walking in to see a tree and a gift for him.

I had one girl who I took under my wing. See there was an after school program and it would rotate classrooms each month. However....it didn't and was in my classroom the whole year (let's take advantage of that new teacher we're firing and put hyper after school kids in there!!). She was an attendee and I'd let her help me put up spelling words or file papers. If I happened to go out for a late lunch, I'd pick her up a sandwich from the 99 cent menu. Well then I found out her families sole income (mom and 5 kids, one institutionalized on her bill) survived off mom's income of tamale selling. That's all... well she started bringing me a tamale a day. I tried to pay $1 they were sold for but was almost always shot down. A family of 6, on a tamale income, gave me a tamale a day....total sacrifice. When we returned from Winter break, she and her sister came to me acting all embarrassed. Well they had cleaned house all break and earned $10 and wanted to get me something but they had no clue what to buy an adult. They were embarrassed of their gift- a knock-off barbie from the 99 cent store. What is my best gift EVER? Super-ceding an ipod and a trip to Chicago? A 99 cent doll. That was the most heart felt, hard earned gift in the world.

I knew some Spanish, as I had to to survive here. I had a girl who enrolled half way through the year and she was smart and I told her and her mom just that. This girl was kicked out of her previous school for failing grades which baffled me. Mom was so happy to have her in my class, she got As and Bs and mom was so happy that her daughter was so happy and doing so well, she had nothing but praise.

We had a boy whose mom had..a not so legal career and was never home. He'd be wandering the streets at 10pm as he was never cared for. His academics suffered- he was maybe at a first grade level, and his behavior was atrocious. Since kindergarten, teachers had tried to meet with mom to get him on an IEP, to no avail. No one had ever even seen or talked to his mom. Well come parent conferences, to pick up grades and this haggard woman comes in and shuffles through my grades. I was in a conference so I could not help her. She grabbed a report card and left and as she walked out the door I saw her hand it to her son...the aforementioned child. She showed up at school!!!! She even assigned the attendance log, so everyone would believe me!

I have many many more cherished memories that will always live in my heart. Six years later, I still tear up when thinking of these kids. Who has been killed in gang violence? Who is pregnant? Who is an honor student? Who wants to go to college? Who remembers me? I really do wonder how they're all doing... more so than any other clas I've had. They're in eleventh grade now! Whenever I go near that school (there's a fabulous Latin American market nearby with great empanadas!) I purposely detour and go into that neighborhood just to look for people, check out faces of people walking to see if they're my students. I've yet to find one and if I did, would I stop and chat? Would they remember me? Who knows, but I always wonder....