Monday, August 30, 2010

Houston, we have reentry

I'm back in the bungalow, but so is the rat.
Drat. Drat. Drat. Drat. Drat.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


It is difficult,
But when everything is right...
beautiful music

Tennis Racquets, Flutes, and Symphonies

Just woke up from a school dream. First day, seminar kids, totally different classroom. I am telling them it will take me a while to "learn" them, that it takes me a little while, homework-wise, to find their sweet spot, to have patience and not be upset if the work is either too simplistic or a bit steep for them at first. A kid asks what a sweet spot is. "Who plays tennis?" I ask. A skinny pale boy with 4000 freckles raises his hand to explain, but as he begins, the bell rings.

Because it's a dream, he is suddenly a she, my former student V., and she is telling the class that if they want to know she'll tell them during break, but I ask her to please hold off until tomorrow so we can all be on the same page. And I wake up.

So I am obviously still concerned about meeting the needs of this special population.

It's true, too. To switch metaphors, each class is different and I need to learn how to coax the music out. Some classes are easy, like a piano: everything is laid out in order, black and white, straightforward. Others are like a drum: I have to really pound things and there's not much range. Others are a drum set, and there is so much to attend to! The worst are the flute classes where every little detail has to be perfect, lip position, breath amount and angle, breathing, nothing intuitive about the note production on the keys or about playing it at all, plus you have to hold your arms in an unnatural position the whole time--ugh.

(Really, things are even more complex--if you think about it, every kid is an instrument and the class is an orchestra. I am not just the conductor: I am a music teacher and a composer, too!)

Last year I was so panicky about teaching seminar kids; I suppose the dream (since I was in control, plus fully clothed!) shows I am not hyperventilating anymore. Guess I need to give myself a little grace when it comes to this crazy job. Conducting ain't as easy as it looks.

Jahja Ling, doing his thing

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I wonder...

Is the CST
valid? Critical thinking
and problem solving,

are these measurable by
multiple choice tests?

a "value-added" issue--uh oh...

I just got my kids' CST scores. Two kids earned perfect scores in history. Two kids missed one question out of 75. Remember, the history/social studies portion of the CST tests students on history stretching from Early Man to 1900, stuff they learn over three years right as puberty hits them hard.

Consider: there is no room for improvement for the perfect scorers, and not much for those who missed just one or two questions. Won't the next history teacher who has them look bad if someone uses "value-added analysis" to measure her effectiveness?

In a way, it will probably be easier to show gains--value-added proof-- with students with Far Below, Below, or Basic scores the year before. Teachers of the gifted may not look so shiny with value-added scores. Do you think Usain Bolt's sprint times could improve as much as mine could?

Does the value-added analysis account for the fact that the higher the score the previous year, the less room for improvement there is? Dun dun dunnnn!

Friday, August 20, 2010



In the business world, poor service/products generally lead to the death of a company, but there are plenty of other companies happy to swoop in and fill the vacuum. That's because a company affords the opportunity for the entrepreneur to access wealth and autonomy, despite the enormous startup costs (time, money, energy, etc) and the lack of guaranteed success.

But who will swoop in to fill the vacuum of teachers at the bottom of the Times list who may lose their positions?

Don't get me wrong, there are teachers who should get the heave-ho. This list will be a wake-up call for some, and a confirmation of sinking suspicions for others. (I'm all for abolishing tenure as it currently operates, but that's for a later post.)

It's just that teaching as it is perceived by the public affords neither of the incentives the business world offers, neither wealth nor autonomy.

Because of budget cuts, there are many new teachers itching to fill the classrooms of the bottom listers. But a huge percentage of newbies drop out after less than five years. Some leave because they realize that even with the two months' vacation that lured them, there is still more work than a 9 to 5 position. Some leave because of the shock to their system that school isn't "Saved by the Bell." Some leave because it takes more than patience and love of children and good intentions to do this job. Some leave because the money disparity is silly, particularly for those with science degrees. Many leave because working conditions and demands are often ridiculous.

"Market-driven" implies supply and demand, and it works two ways in the education world. Is there a supply of teachers? Is there a supply of BETTER teachers? Has the certification process changed to reflect the realities of public school education and the findings of research?

Is there a demand for new teachers that is more than wishing? What I mean is, the public WANTS great teachers like teenage boys WANT Corvettes, but do you see teenagers driving Corvettes? No, you see middle-aged people driving them because they finally can afford to. Is there money to pay for the great teachers the public WANTS, or is the public just so many wishful teenage boys?

On the other hand, is a great teacher one who works for money? And that raises all other sorts of issues about human motivation and how that connects to the supply of teachers. As things stand, top grads tend to choose fields other than education, but some trickle into the classrooms because any profession that directly works with improving others is something of a calling. (And that's the subject of a later post, as well.)

There is no question that a great teacher is valuable, worthy of wealth and autonomy; our current system does not reflect that truth, rewarding equally the effective and the ineffective.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010



by Jason Felch, Jason Song and Doug Smith, Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2010

Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2010

In sum, later this month, the Times is set to publish the names of everyone who has ever taught at least sixty kids in LAUSD over the past seven years with the "value-added analysis" (which I'll call "VA") of their effectiveness: "The Times used a statistical approach known as value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students' progress on standardized tests from year to year. Each student's performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors." (from Who's teaching L.A.'s kids?)

Whoa. Talk about accountability! One gorgeous thing about this is it will finally lift the label of failures from those teachers who move their 8th graders from reading at a fourth grade level to a seventh grade level in one year. As things stand now, the school where that child attends is censured because she is not at grade level, never mind that she just moved to California last summer.

I have a big project due tomorrow at QTEL--let me tell you, reading another teacher's L.A. Times this morning did nothing for my concentration. I am bursting to talk about it with open-minded, non-defensive, logical educators. How can I focus on an anticipatory guide for the Industrial Revolution when this development is like a ten on the Richter scale of pedagogy??

In no particular order,
1) I wanna talk about tenure and the apparent lack of connection between seniority and efficacy.
2) I wanna talk about teaching as an art and a science.
3) I wanna talk about how to attract the best to this most critical of professions.
4) I wanna talk about Michelle Rhee.
5) I wanna talk about teacher evaluation.
6) I wanna talk about improving teaching.
7) I wanna talk about achievement motivation.
8) I wanna talk about the one question no one but teachers seems to ask: does the CST really measure student learning?
9) I wanna talk about what makes teaching in a public school so very, very different from the business world.
10) I wanna talk about why teachers are so defensive and touchy about issues such as observation, merit pay, evaluation, and so forth.

(For the record, my knee-jerk, gut-level reaction to VA evaluation is YIPPEEE!!!!!!!!)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

from "Tuesdays with Morrie"

The last page:

"Have you ever really had a teacher? One that saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to a proud shine?"

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Jetsons

My principal, best in the known universe, sent this to us and I need to post it here so I can remember to try to use it this coming semester. Watch it till the end to see something really killer! How can I best utilize this awesomeness? How? How? Dunno yet, but dang!

So in thinking about technology and its uses, we get really excited about stuff like this. Of course we do--the cool factor is off the chart. Each innovation feels like we are in the future, living the Jetson life. But if you remember the cartoon, everything is done for the Jetsons. They pass their time describing the problems and pressing a lot of buttons. The problem solving is done by machines. Will creating a pop-up book transform Elroy and Judy into problem solvers? better writers? deeper thinkers? I don't see how, just yet. If you can see, let me know.

I am a full-on believer that fun is important, just ask my students--I come from the Mary Poppins school of education. But as a responsible educator, I have a sacred trust to maximize our learning in our minimal time. I need to see how technology ENHANCES or DEEPENS real learning. If it is just aesthetic or entertaining, it is an expensive, time-consuming bunny trail I want to avoid, no matter how cute the bunnies may be.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Letter Came Yesterday

"Happy summer vacation and greetings to my friends at DPMS!"

And so it goes, as Kurt would say. It's The Letter, our annual back-to-school informational missive and it signifies:

1) I am employed!! God be praised! So many would appreciate such a letter--it means a contract, it means mama can pay the bills, it means health coverage.


2) The unofficial end of summer. Usually this letter kick starts my banana-slug mind, buried deep under layers of beach sand, frappuccinos, and sunscreen. Usually I sharpen the pencils and rummage for my thinking cap. I start fantasizing about the Perfect Year and reread Harry Wong's invaluable The First Days of School for the 16th time. (I wish I'd had that book when I began teaching, or it'd be the 21st time. It's just that calming, inspiring, methodical, remindering, planful, friendly, realistic, no nonsense-y, etc.).

But this year, I have been to the beach one and a half times. It has been COLD, and I don't just mean the water. My mind hasn't really had the opportunity to hibernate because I was busy for a month fighting the Paper Monster (see older post). We have been treated to a literal unending stream of visitors from New Hampshire, Bakersfield, Corona, Arizona, Florida, and Virginia, and this week I will be with high school pals up in the prettiest city in the U.S. of A.

I am finishing Ron Berger's An Ethic of Excellence (both ethical and excellent, you'll be glad to know), and his ideas about authentic, beautiful work and creating a culture of critique are making my head explode. Last month, Rafe Esquith lit my hair on fire. My poor torso is lost.

I am not ready for The Letter!!!!!!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

6th Period Prep: a Sorrowful Haiku Mourning the Loss of the Perfect Period 4 Prep

periods one, two,
three, four in a row--I'll need
a king-sized bladder