Monday, March 29, 2010

Fourteen Going On Common Sense...

As I mentioned before, last week I spent time with one of my BFFs and her brand new, totally adorable baby. However, what I did NOT mention was that I also spent time with some family and, in particular, my fourteen year old cousin.

Why bring up babies and now fourteen year old cousins on the old blog?

BECAUSE MY FOURTEEN YEAR OLD COUSIN IS ABLE TO GRASP A CONCEPT THAT SOMEHOW CONTINUES TO ELUDE ARNE DUNCAN.

No lie.

You see, in a lovely display of family solidarity, my cousin wrote a book report about my book for his english class. My first thought was, "that is insanely sweet!" My second thought was *gasp* "Please tell me you warned your teacher about some of my, um, language and she approved this book." And my third thought was, "Did she at least buy a copy after she read your report?"

Here is his thesis: "Mrs. Mimi's experiences prove that public school teachers in Harlem need versatility, creativity, and most of all love for their jobs to get through each day."

(He also called Mrs Mimi a "miracle worker." Um, hello? Insert tears here people. I am the proud cousin of a phenomenal writer.)

I mean, SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! This kid is fourteen!! And. He. Gets. It. (My cousin also got a 95 on his book report...I'm not sure the same could be said in a report of the head of the firing squad, Mr. Duncan.)

Then, as I scrolled through the various blogs I read, I stumbled upon this piece in the Washington Post.

In a nutshell...if you can put any of the drama that is the current state of public education into a nutshell, the authors are arguing that Obama (and his boy, the Dunks) basically did a 180 when he went from bashing NCLB in campaign speeches to basically initiating a war cry of, "Let's test the crap out of them! Yeee haw!"

(Was the "Yeee haw!" too much? I couldn't decide. I think maybe just some fist bumping would have been sufficient. Either way...Obama and Duncan are celebrating ridiculousness. Bumping fists with one hand and firing teachers with the other.)

This whole testing testing testing mentality has killed my inner teacher along with any sort of flexibility teachers may have had to do any sort of actual, you know, teaching because it makes test prep the All Mighty. For some reason, the Non-Teacher Powers That Be assume that more testing equals better insight into what children actually know, which I guess is true if we are curious if children actually know how to bubble in bubbles and select a nice sharp number two pencil. However, I'm not convinced that a parent will be impressed with these results in their next parent-teacher conference. In all my years, I never had a parent sweat their child's ability to color in bubbles. They seemed more concerned with stuff like, oh I don't know...reading. Just off the top of my head.

Does more standardized testing equal more information that will actually help us be better teachers? Uh, no. No, more testing equals more test prep with equals more mind numbing hours teaching children about the tricks of a test rather than to be inquisitive beings capable of independent thought. We are robbing teachers (and their students) of the creativity, versatility and love of learning that my cousin (Did I mention that he is only fourteen?) clearly sees as key ingredients to a rich educational experience.

A few quotes from this opinion piece:
"In the classroom of any reasonably competent teacher, student progress is being evaluated constantly, each time he or she looks at classroom work, not to mention frequent quizzes, papers, projects and discussions.

"[T]he feds should help states that develop systems that build on the assessments teachers already do...That will enable teachers to go back to teaching, not running test prep programs."

Hmmmmm, sounds right on to me. And pretty flexible...what was the word my fourteen year old cousin used....ah yes! "Versatility."

Well said, my friend. Teachers need versatility. Not fear of losing their jobs. Not a script. And not more tests.

Granted, I don't LOVE that these authors keep referring to "reasonably competent teachers." Kind of makes me want to go, "WTF? Aim low enough?" However, I think their points about testing more than make up for this error in wording.

If we had "reasonably competent" people in positions of power (Should I nominate my cousin?) (Or a teacher?) perhaps we could get back to square one and fix this mess we've gotten ourselves into.

*P.S. - More square one talk thinking to come...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Square One

First I want to apologize for being a bit flighty this week. You see, one of my very best friends just had her first baby (a girl...and yes, I already bought her and Mini Mimi matching outfits) and I am currently visiting her, trying to help any way that my non-child-having self can. Translation: I stand there and say, "Can I help? What can I do? You're doing awesome!" and then I bake something because THAT I can do. (I mean, show me a pregnant woman who doesn't know her way around dessert!)

And no, before you start thinking, "Is Mrs. Mimi going to start mommy-blogging on us?" I'm not. (Crisis averted.) However, it IS on my mind and as is the way of my people, I can relate any experience whatsoever (just try me!) to teaching. Trip to the grocery store or beautiful illustration of how to model good behavior for children? A simple conversation with your husband about his day at work or an opportunity to draw important conclusions about the crucial nature of workplace culture for teachers? Am I really ever listening to anyone who is a non-teacher or am I just smiling, nodding and thinking about how your story can be used to think more deeply about the work of teachers?

So of course, when my BFF was all, "let's watch this documentary on birth together," I was all, "sure" and "how can I relate this to teaching?" I mean, relating a presentation about birth in America to life in the classroom kind of felt like the ultimate challenge.

I know, it's a sickness.

As I alternated between being personally enlightened about the experience I am about ten weeks away from having and equally horrified by the same experience in the very next moment, there was this moment where I had to shout, "Pause this thing and let me grab a pen!"

And then she shouted, "Do you have a pen and a Post It?"

And I shouted, "Dude, how long have you known me?"

Thinking that I had found a tidbit to help me handle the impending birth, my friend was thrilled. Until she asked me what I wrote down and I told her, "this will be perfect for my blog!"

You see, while this person was talking about the birth experience, his words rang true for the corner we have painted ourselves into in the American Public School system. Lately everything has seemed so desperate and tinkery and reactionary and just plain AWFUL! Schools that aren't faring well (according to the All Might Test, which is a problem in and of itself) are being punished rather than supported. Teachers are subjected to punitive measures and a negative culture and made to feel FEARFUL of people who should be there to support and nurture their talents. Instead of focusing on all the negatives, the teachers who suck and the All Mighty Test...we NEED to start considering what OUGHT TO BE, what would be the most helpful and what we can do that won't create fear, intimidation and an adherence to a freaking set of numbers that are useful but not the whole story by any means.

As this genius man with a fabulous accent said in the DVD (although he had no idea he was actually shedding brilliance on our current state of affairs in schools), "We are completely lost. Like a traveler who suddenly realizes he took the wrong way, the best thing he can do is to go back to square one, the point of departure and choose another direction."

I think this week, we should put our heads together and think about what direction this is.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Working With Adults - the Highs and Lows

Did I have a day yesterday!!

Let’s see, where to begin? Perhaps with the negative amounts of sleep I’ve been getting lately – I might as well be back in the classroom running around like a crazy person as we teacher types are prone to do in a desperate attempt to get everything done despite the general public labeling us a lazy instead of taking this year to dig in and finish my dissertation and launch a website. I mean, yes, I’m still working hard, but nothing NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING compares to the insane schedule that goes hand in hand with a well-run classroom. (And to all my pregnant peeps out there – you deserve a freaking trophy for doing all that you do with a new, rapidly growing friend in tow. I. Am. Wiped.)

So after attempts to render myself perky (read: a long shower and some much heated debating over which outfit makes me look the most professional and the least like a small tent), I packed up my Teacher Bag and was out the door. Honestly, it felt good to dust the old girl off...it’s been awhile since my spine has curved under the weight of that puppy. (Seriously friends, try to streamline what you take home over the weekend...I literally now have one shoulder that is higher than the other. Like visibly higher. By about an inch or so. And it’s all from years of dragging around my Teacher Bag Full O’ Papers and Books To Possibly Be Ignored Over The Weekend Only To Be Dragged Back Again On Monday Complete With Head Hung In Shame. Believe me, it’s not a good look.)

For yesterday I had a workshop! Now I’m new to this whole working with adults business - I’m in this phase that reminds me of my first years in the classroom. Where I am OVER PREPARED with a HEINOUS AMOUNT of materials and a VERY DETAILED set of notes to speak from so I don’t forget anything. And the lists – oh the LISTS! Lists of overheads, lists of hand outs, lists of things to talk about, lists of questions to ask...the listing options itself make this whole gig totally worth it.

And while I miss my little friends so much more than I ever thought I would – I mean, some days I would give my left arm just to have someone ask me for permission to go to the bathroom and before you suggest it, I’ve already asked Mr. Mimi if he would indulge me and as I’m sure you can imagine, the answer was a resounding “no” – I have to say that I’ve enjoyed working with adults. So far. Most teachers are lovely. LOVELY. And ready to walk away with some new tools and ideas. And did I say lovely? I have yet to run into the stereotypical Bitter Teacher who could give a rat’s ass about anything I have to say and is repeatedly checking her watch waiting for it to be time for her to officially retire. (I say “officially” because this type of imaginary friend most likely Unofficially retired a looooooong time ago.) Perhaps there have been some miserable souls sitting in on one of my workshops, but thankfully they have kept to themselves and not rained on my I Love Teacher parade.

Now, while I love working with teachers and the idea of setting foot into an elementary school practically makes me giddy, I am still fairly nervous and try hard to make a good impression. So imagine my horror when I get PULLED OVER BY A POLICE OFFICER COMPLETE WITH FLASHING FREAKING LIGHTS RIGHT OUTSIDE OF THE SCHOOL WHERE I WAS ABOUT TO TRY TO IMPRESS THE PANTS OFF 35 PEOPLE.

Yeah, go back and re-read that last sentence, because THAT my friends, THAT just happened.

I’m in this little community (which shall remain nameless, of course) trying to find parking amidst the narrow streets, some of which are evidently only one way. (Can you see where I’m going with this yet?) Now, I left myself plenty of time, so I wasn’t exactly rushing, but I was definitely paying more attention to the signs that related to parking than I was to the signs that related to directionality. Evidently, I spent approximately 30 yards going in the wrong direction. (Thank goodness I was driving like 10 miles an hour and there were no other cars.) And WHAM! Police car on me like white on rice.

I contemplated continuing to drive so that we could be slightly away from the school rather than RIGHT OUT FRONT and then feigning stupidity but then thought better of that plan. Instead, I dutifully gave the officer my license and registration, making sure to draw attention to my now very noticeable baby belly. (Does that make me a bad mom?) If pulling the Pregnant Lady Card wasn’t enough, I also played the I Work In The Schools With The Children Who Are Our Future Card.

I was not about to get myself a ticket.

The officer was very nice when I explained to him my situation and then found me a fabulous parking space, also right in front of the school building. Thankfully, most of the teachers were at lunch, so no one really saw. Or at least I don’t think they did. Regardless, I spent the next few minutes in my car checking email and pulling myself together hoping that those who DID catch a glimpse of my humiliation would pry themselves away from the window and not notice WHO got out of THAT CAR.

Eventually, I made my way into the school, stopped in the entryway and inhaled deeply. Oh! How I’ve missed that distinct smell that is an elementary school! All that glue, industrial cleaner mixed with a hint of child....aaaahhh! (I know, I sound a little nuts, even to myself, when I re=read that last sentence.)

Either way, I think I rocked the workshop. If at all possible, I avoid Power Point Presentations (or as I liked to call them when I was teaching – Opportunities To Pull Out My Planner and Get Some Work Done While The Lights Are Out And No One Can See Me) like the plague. I also try to be funny. And relevant. And realistic. So far it seems to be working. I had some really great conversations, got some new ideas myself and basked in the glow of some very lovely compliments.

While it’s not quite the same as being there for that moment when new content finally “clicks” with a child, it’s still pretty nice to hear that something you said or created was useful to a teacher.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Oh Yeah? Well, Evaluate THIS!

You know, the image of teachers being painted in the media lately is really starting to grind my gears. I mean, it seems as if everyone who is currently NOT IN THE CLASSROOM a) feels like their opinion should be known and heard loud and clear (for some reason) and/or b) thinks of teachers as total morons who spend their days thinking up ways to avoid doing hard work and cowering behind a fancy bulletin board aimed at distraction when an administrator happens to walk by.

Really?

Like we’re all high fiving each other in secret because we “got away with something”? Like we should all watch out before someone fires us and teaches our cowering, lazy butts a lesson?

I, for one, never shied away from hard work if I believed in what I was doing and thought it would yield results for my friends. Sometimes, I took on ADDITIONAL work (on top of the mandated dog-and-pony paper trail we were required to create) to achieve better results for my friends. I also never cowered. EVER. I'm not the one who should be ashamed after all.

This weekend, I read this opinion piece in the NY Times about teacher evaluations. At first, I was all, "Who grades the graders? What a great title! What a great idea! OF COURSE teachers should get to evaluate the performance of their administration. Right?"

Then I read the actual piece and realize that they BARELY touched on the idea of teachers having a say at all and really just focused on how crappy our evaluation system is. And I totally agree. Teacher evaluations are currently pretty crappy and useless. But somehow, The Powers That Be make it sound like it's the TEACHERS’ FAULT that our evaluations suck. I mean, talk about confusing your ass with your elbow (as my grandmother would say).

I have written here before about how sucky and unproductive my past observations were. I felt like I was begging someone, "Please come to my room. Watch me. Give me some feedback. Give me something to work on....I'll take anything!!" Because, you know what? If you're a good teacher and it looks like you've crossed all your t's and dotted all your i's, do you know what happens then?

You get more challenging feedback to push you as a professional? No.
You get to initiate interesting side projects to push you as a professional? No.
You get to observe your co-workers to encourage learning from one another? No.

You get ignored. Hard core. No matter how fabulous your shoes are. Which at first sounds lovely, but is really mind numbing when you're the type of person who is constantly trying to improve. And really, aren't the best teachers constantly trying to improve? Evidently, those of us with tenure immediately become drooling idiots who refuse to do anything that isn’t clearly stated in our contract. Or at least that’s the popular word on the street these days. Boyfriend, listen, if we stuck to “just the contract” we’d be in a lot worse shape! (I don’t know who “boyfriend” is, but that last statement just felt like it called for a “boyfriend”, don’t you think?)

An example:
A few years ago, as a tenured teacher, I learned that I was entitled to doing a year-long investigation into a topic of my choosing, which had to be approved by my administrator. Hot, right? I'm imagining all these fabulous projects where teachers try new strategies or author new units and share it with one another and it all turns into one big, super nerdy teacher love fest! Needless to say, I. Was. Pumped.

I designed this elaborate study regarding the use of classroom space to promote increased student independence and was stoked. Nerd alert! Nerd alert! With my supervisor, The Weave (insert ominous music here), I laid out dates throughout the year when I would have to check in regarding my progress.

Date number one comes. Nothing.
Date number two comes. Nothing.
Date number three comes. Guess what? It also goes. Annnnnd....Nothing.

No email, no phone call, no observation, no question as to my progress, no response to my emails, phone calls or updates.

Fast forward to the end of the year.

The Weave: We need to get in a bunch of observations you missed regarding your project.
Me: What? I missed them? I was supposed to go somewhere?
The Weave: We need to get them in. That's why I hate these projects. It's too much paperwork.
Me: But I've been super excited about the project. I feel like it's a chance to push myself.
The Weave: Okay, so I'm going to come in three times next week.
Me: To see what?
The Weave: What?
Me: ?

I don't even remember if she came in. I do remember I had to sign a bunch of forms saying that I successfully completed my project even though no one ever saw anything from me.

Was I cowering in the corner? NO! I was jumping up and down like a petulant five year old throwing a temper tantrum saying, "Look at me! Help me! I've got ideas! Hey...I'm over here!" I mean, if neon had been fashion forward at that time, I would have worn it as a way to attract more attention to what was going on in my classroom.

Was I looking for ways to get out of doing hard work? NO! I embraced this new project. I was excited! I was learning! I could feel myself evolving! It was so wonderfully nerdy!

Regardless, I got an S. Or whatever you get. S for "suck it," I guess.

So, yeah, when do those administrative evaluations come out?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

You Are What You Eat Unless You Really Aren't...

I have learned an important lesson over the last few days. Or I guess it's a lesson that has been reinforced a million times over. Ready for a glimpse into the genius? You are what you eat.

Are you floored?

Well that's not it...you are what you eat EXCEPT for when a variety of other factors come into play such as family history, income level, blah blah blah, etc., etc. One great illustration of this concept is provided to teachers every time they go on a field trip and are horrified by some of the things families consider to be a "healthy lunch" and then feel sorry for the child who is subjected to heinous amounts of sugar and then told to "only use a museum voice" approximately thirty minutes later once all that glorious high fructose corn syrup has had the time to really set in. You know, get good and hyper. "Now shhhhhhh!"

Imagine now, that the same friend is sent to school on the day of a BIG TEST with a crap breakfast. Or no breakfast. Really, a situation that is mostly out of their control but today they will be JUDGED by their PERFORMANCE. Are they really what they eat then?

When I was little, Big Mama Mimi always made sure I had a serious breakfast before I took any sort of big test. Connecticut Mastery Test? Oatmeal and fruit! SATs? Scrambled eggs and toast! GREs? Bacon and eggs! And you know what? It seemed to work.

Clearly, I had breakfast every other day too, but I do remember a little extra pomp and circumstance went into breakfasts served on the day of a Big Test. Maybe it's because Big Mama Mimi is also a teacher and knows that no matter how smart I am or how hard I studied, not having breakfast meant that I would probably suck it hardcore. Maybe she wouldn't have used those words (and is cringing a bit if she is reading this) but I think you get the idea.

Perhaps the Powers That Be should have spoken to her before deciding to fire teachers in connection with low test scores was a super idea (Insert thumbs up here.) (Or was that a middle finger?) Because in my opinion it seems crazy to fire a teacher because a bunch of kids didn't have a decent breakfast. Or stayed up late to help take care of siblings. Or work at a job. Or the million other factors that could result in a crappy score on a test that is really just a very narrow view of what a child can do and how well a teacher can teach.

Clearly, they forgot to call my mom (a *gasp* real teacher) before making that decision.

One time, on the way to work, I ran into a parent buying his child breakfast at the neighborhood corner store. I myself was grabbing a piece of fruit and much needed coffee. I had a yogurt in my bag to eat in my classroom. (To all the moms out there- drilling your kids about the importance of breakfast works...trust me.) This parent chose to buy their child a two-pack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I shit you not. Now, I love me some chocolate and peanut butter action as much as the next teacher who regularly hits the secretary's candy jar at the end of the day, HOWEVER I'm not sure a worse choice for breakfast could have been made.

Regardless, I knew this little friend and I were in for a stellar morning. Thank goodness my job didn't hang in the balance.

Why am I blabbing on about all this today anyway? (And in what is probably not such a coherent manner...) Because on Monday friends, my pregnant self was told to chug 50 ounces of orange flavored syrup-like sugar/crack and to then sit still and do nothing for an hour. While Mini Mimi evidently joined the circus. And then I was judged.

If you know me personally, you know that I'm pretty concerned with what I eat. Yes, I eat birthday cake at parties and steak with wine at restaurants and sometimes, on those oh-so-special evenings will even treat myself to something as glorious as a garlic mashed potatoes or truffle fries to go with my restaurant steak and wine...because I am a normal person. However, at home, Mr. Mimi and I are fairly anal-retentive concerned about the food we eat. And we do enjoy exercising regularly.

I KNOW! Shut the front door, right? How dare I go to the GYM and BE CONCERNED ABOUT MY HEALTH when clearly I should have been worrying about TEST PREPARATION or DATA or whatever, but sue me, I like yoga.

And, because I am a teacher (Seriously, I need to order that cape so I can scream that from the mountain tops. Note to self. Order cape.) I automatically equated this entire experience to standardized testing.

Here's my glucose-induced thinking. For what it's worth. I took a test and regardless of all the other factors out of my control that could effect the results, I was judged on those results. Because that's what we do. We judge.

Now imagine that I'm an eight year old child who is not capable of adult rational thought. (Yes, I know what you're thinking...I AM capable of adult rational thought. Occassionally.) And I think that I'm pretty smart and I love my teacher and have confidence in my ability to be successful in school until my mom sends me to school with nothing but Skittles for breakfast on the day of the Big Test and I bomb the test and now I'm in remedial classes, or summer school, or worse - my school is being closed.

Imagine how THAT KID feels.

But hey, thumbs up on the all the accountability.

(Oh, and I'm fine by the way...) (Schools on the other hand...I'm not so sure.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Sun Is Shining and So Are the Gods of Organization....

I know I need to comment on Obama's big plan to Run Like Crazy To More Standardized Testing or whatever he's calling his plan (j.k.- totally know, RTTT for Run Teachers To Tears, right?), but my picket sign is getting heavy and I need a break. Call me lazy.

I thought to myself, "Self, what could I write about to bring joy to all my readers? Yesterday you shared a story from one of your former friends...but what about today?" And then, like lightening, it hit me.

OFFICE SUPPLIES!!

I know, my heart just skipped a beat too.

Y'all, check out what I just found over at The Container Store (a.k.a. Mecca)!  It's a Cascading Letter File Tote!  Seriously, the name just gave me chills...sounds so fancy.  You know, 'cuz it's "cascading" and all.  Let's face it, having our files and papers cascade just seems so much better than having them pile up in alarmingly high towers of crap or jammed in your bag, doesn't it?

And is that a calendar I spy at the top?  Be still my nerdily beating heart!


Plus, this one is GREEN (or really, kiwi, but hey, kiwi is totally in the green FAMILY) for St. Patrick's Day.  Bonus points all around!  Or green beers...totally up to you.  (There's an equally hot translucent one too...so many choices.  Life is good, friends, life is good again.) 

You spend a moment organizing your genius to work on at home, conveniently (and stylishly) stow  your organizational tool of choice into your bag and BAM!  You get home, hang that baby up and INSTANT OFFICE!

I know that it was just a short time ago that I posted about the genius that is the 8-pocket Organizational Folder.  That organizational wonder will always have a special place in my heart.  ALWAYS.  

Carolina Pad Eye Candy 8-Pocket Organizational Folders, Assorted Designs, 9.75 inch x 11.25 inch, 6 Count (25520)Oxford 8-Pocket Organizer Folder - Multicolor

(Sigh.  They ARE beautiful, aren't the?)

However, I think this Cascading folder tote may be a lovely alternative for those of us who have A BILLION THINGS to carry home with us each and every night.  I mean, a pocket for homework to be corrected, a pocket for assessments ('Cuz what we do without an assessment to look at, right? Thanks federal government!),  a pocket for upcoming lessons that need to be worked on...the possibilities are just endless.  ENDLESS!  

So, even if it's just for today, let's just take a moment and smile about office supplies, okay?  




Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Let's Pause for Positivity, Shall We?

Yet again, it is my friends, or memories of former friends, who are saving me from drowning in a sea of my own complaining. Lately, this blog has been all politics, all news and b*tching all the time...but hey, it's not my fault that everyone seems to have had a secret meeting and decided to collectively turn against teachers instead of, you know, using their powers for good and actually coming up with some solutions.

I think my soapbox may be showing signs of extreme wear and tear from overuse. I mean, I have stepped up on that thing so many times in the last few weeks, that just writing this blog could be considered step aerobics. (You like how I rationalize that blogging is actually exercise? Now, please pass the cream cheese...) And around the blogosphere (still the nerdiest phrase EVER, but it is what it is) teachers and supporters of educators (oh, and people who are into common sense) are speaking out too. Even people like Bill Maher (thanks for the link C.A.T.!) are even getting in on the action.

Although many of us may be tired of speaking up, or afraid to speak up or think that our speaking up doesn't matter, I beg to differ. And now, I shall share with you an inspirational story from classroom's past.

(Plus, I think that some of us, who are in the classroom and ROCKING OUT are simply too tired to speak out after a long day of teaching and having to fight their way through the main office at the end of the day, which can be like running a gauntlet of negativity and people wanting to chat and waste time when all you want to do is grab a chocolate from the secretary's desk, check your mail and run upstairs to get ready for tomorrow, so OF COURSE you're tired. You guys could use a nice shot of positivity too. And that chocolate.)

Setting: My classroom library, on the rug.
Scene: My friends it in a circle, with stories tucked underneath their bottoms for sharing. My student teacher sits at the front of the class in my fabulous teacher chair. I sit at the back of the circle watching - and crying a little, but we'll get to that part.

Student Teacher: Remember, if you don't want to share, you can just say, "pass" and give me your work on the way back to your seat.

Nods from around the carpet. Is it any wonder I freaking love this class?

Student Teacher: Okay. Bubbles, do you want to share?

Bubbles gets up and reads her story. Everyone listens. Everyone claps. A few kids give specific compliments. My head is exploding....it is one of those days where you think to yourself, "Self, they were actually listening and now look at them. Who knew?"

Student Teacher: Fabulous. (I get everyone to use that word excessively if they spend enough time with me...it's a gift.) Um, Cutey Pie, do you want to share your work?

Now Cutey Pie is almost as shy as Mr. Shy. And that's pretty shy. He almost never shares in front of the whole group like this. It's just a matter of time before he says, "pass."

Cutey Pie: Pass.

Do I know my friends or what?
And then...

Curly: C'mon Cutey Pie, we really want to hear about your thinking!

Me: (in my head, of course) Um, WTF? Curly, TOTALLY loving you but don't push him.

And then...

Bubbles: Yeah Cutey Pie, we all think you're really smart!

Choruses of "Yeahs" and "You can do its" and head nodding spontaneously pop up around the carpet.

Am I crying?

Cutey Pie looks unsure, but decides to stand and walk to the front of the rug with his work. All of a sudden, a round of encouraging applause breaks out around the class. Cutey Pie takes his place, smiles and shares his work. Everyone listens. Everyone claps. A few kids give specific compliments. Cutey Pie hands my student teacher his work and sits down. Curly shoots him a huge smile and a thumbs up.

Yup, I am definitely crying.

SOOOOOOO my point is that all of us in the teacher community/blogosphere are here to support you if and when you decide to speak up. We will listen. We will clap. We will give specific compliments and perhaps a thumbs up.

I speak from experience.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Three Strikes...Am I Out?

So for the last three years, my New Year's Resolution has been to Be More Positive in (insert year here). And for the last three years, I have failed. (As is evidenced in previous years by this post in 2008, and this one in 2009.) I had high hopes for this year. I thought to myself, "Self, you can do this!" Yes, this year I am out of the classroom (which means I'm away from my little friends who were often the only positive ray of light in my day) BUT I am also away from all the shenanigans of public school these days - which includes but is not limited to administrative ridiculousness, test preparation mania and long periods of time without being able to pee. In addition, no more commute (suck it commuter train!), no more trudging across town in all sorts of weather like I took the postal oath or something and no more scoliosis-inducing bags filled with To Dos to last a lifetime (or just enough to ruin a good weekend).

However, with a big middle finger extended toward the current decisions made by our government, I think I need to accept defeat yet again in 2010. I guess I made it until March, which is something. Yesterday, I even tried to remain positive about this whole national standards thing...to find some good in it. And while there may be some good hidden in there, I have a bad feeling (enter my failure to stay positive) that this is headed toward overwhelming displays of testing! Punishment! Standardization of everything...and I mean EVERYTHING! (Imagine receiving and memo with an accompanying checklist detailing studies which have found that teachers are most successful if they only allow one child to go to the bathroom every hour. Preferably a male child...and now you suddenly have a rubric for the bathroom routine and you're going to be held accountable Gosh Darn It! You laugh, because it is ridiculous and also because it has a a grain of truth to it, yes?) (And if I am to fail my attempts to Stay Positive In the Current Year yet again, at least I am still able to cling on to bathroom references.)

So that I don't walk away from my computer and a)poke myself in the eye, b) give up on education and just apply for that job at Papyrus already or c) go back to bed and cry for days, let's just stick to the idea (and impending doom) of testing, shall we? I fear that my heart, my poor poor shriveled-after-so-many-disappointments heart can't take any more.

If I may, I'd like to begin with a story.

PART I (Yeah, there are multiple parts...get comfortable...and a drink.)
Setting: A dingy bar my fellow Super Colleagues and I frequented on Fridays for "sodas." Four young teachers sit at an oh-so-sticky table in wobbly chairs, beers sodas sloshing freely in time with the liberal hand gestures used to punctuate their spirited dialogue.
Super Colleague: You know, it's freaking March and I'm just starting to have time to teach science and social studies! (slosh, slosh)
Me: WTF?
Super Colleague: Dude, third grade is no joke! (slosh) We (slosh) spend all of our time (slosh slosh) that isn't reading, writing or math doing test prep crap. (guzzle)
Me: (slosh)

PART II
Setting: An empty classroom after the children have been dismissed. Eight teachers from two different grades sit around a table. Strategery is being discussed.
Third Grade Super Colleague: So, the amount of test prep we have to do is overwhelming. We were thinking some of it could start in second grade.
Me: *mouth gaping open* Um, okay. Although that's a little horrifying to think about, I guess I understand.
Third Grade Super Colleague: Look, I know it's insane, but we need help so that maybe we can spend more time actually teaching and less time actually prepping.
Me: I think I might be crying. Am I crying?
Third Grade Super Colleague: A little.

And so we worked out a plan to help our Third Grade Super Colleagues out because being in a testing grade sounds like a terrible cross to bear as a teacher. Our plan was actually livable (or as livable as it can get in this era of Obsessive Testing)

Enter The Weave who had caught wind of our strategery and had decided to "pitch in." And no, she didn't tell us to just "imagine the tests" this time. THIS TIME she wielded her power and unrestricted photo copier access in ways that still have the rain forest crying. She dug up pre-made test prep materials, which the third grade teachers are mandated to use...and therefore are on a third grade reading level, photocopied the packets and added them to our second grade homework routine.

I shit you not.

Granted, she did not require us to spend our time photocopying, correcting and check listing the packets (which was a pleasant surprise and implied some sort of acknowledgement of how hard we were already working), but OH! Were they checklisted! And were we shocked! Appalled! Second graders were not ready! Can you imagine - second graders had a difficult time performing well on reading passages that were almost a full year above their current reading level and distributed for them to complete in isolation at home!!! How could our second graders possibly be bombing on materials intended for children a year older and wiser?

I mean, shut the front door!

Yet, in the grand tradition of Dog and Pony Shows everywhere, we were able to "boast" that our school began it's test preparation (and by "test preparation" I don't mean deep and meaningful instruction, I mean bubbling, work-sheeting and drilling - oh my!) in second grade. So boo-yah to all you other schools that allowed second graders to revel in the magic and wonder that is imaginative learning - suckers!

And despite my best efforts to stay positive in 2010 - the year I shall (hopefully) finish my dissertation and have a baby - I am wary about the Testing To Come. Because with all this talk of National Standards, talk of a National Test in Every Freaking Grade can't be far behind.

Wait, am I still crying?
A little?
That's about right.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Getting Our Daily Recommended Dose of Reading and Math - National Standard Style, Mayo on the Side

And by "Hold the Mayo" I mean evidently we are considering science and social studies to exist on the side. You know, take 'em or leave 'em. Or so it seems.

All right my fellow Super Colleagues- it's time to dust off those soapboxes, pour yourself a refreshing cocktail and let your opinions be known!! A set of potential national standards (for literacy and math) have been released and are up for public commentary until April 2nd. Granted the public commentary is in the form of a survey (on which you can choose to provide general or specific feedback), but still you can make your opinion known. You have to scroll down to the bottom of the main page to find it. Although who really knows what will ever happen to these opinions? Will they be considered as much as the opinions of policy makers who have never set foot in a classroom since they themselves graduated from school? Will the results of this survey be make public and the subsequent changes made transparent? My guess is no, but I'm hoping yes. I guess it's easy to be optimistic when I have a cup of coffee in me.

However, before we really get going...what do y'all think of a set of national standards in the first place?

I have yet to form an opinion. (gasps from the crowd) I know, I know - Mrs. Mimi ALWAYS has an opinion, a gut reaction which leads to verbal vomit and some name calling here on this little old blog of mine. HOWEVER, I am trying to see both sides of the coin on this one. (Plus, my internet BFF and fellow blogger over at Notes from the School Psychologist implied that perhaps, with all my recent ranting, Mini Mimi might pop out carrying a wee little picket sign. Point taken, friend, point taken.)

I've grown. I'm trying not to "Just Say No" which is something I think I can do (as can many others) too quickly. (Although I think I'm ultimately leaning towards no, I still want credit for not immediately jumping to no.)

I mean, at least someone outside of a classroom is doing something other than firing teachers and thinking about ways in which they can dodge responsibility, right?

Okay. I'm thinking in the PRO column we can place the idea of having a common language to talk about our goals for students in each grade across the country. It would make our conversations here in the blogosphere, which is often between teachers around the country, more productive, I imagine, since we could trade best practices toward similar goals. At the very least, perhaps it would help us avoid this little problem:

Me: Honey, we've been working on telling time to the quarter hour in our classroom. Do you know how to tell time to the hour?
New Student From Another State: *blank stare*
Me: Did your old teacher talk to you about the clock?
NSFAS: *blank stare*
Me: (reaching for their student file...what the hell does standard 2.12 mean? What test is this?) *moving file to pile of papers and making mental note to do some research before remembering just how long my to do list really is and realizing that no, I will probably never get to this*
Okay, can you show me which hand is the hour hand?
NSFAS: ?

Or really, are these national standards just a smoke screen and states are going to be punished for not adopting them? Is a national canon of texts soon to follow?

Must...stay...open...minded...At least for the day morning.

In the CON columnn, I'm sure a lot of teachers are nervous about the idea of re-working their curricula to align with new standards. I hear that, but I also taught in a school where we changed our social studies standards and units every year since no one could freaking agree and thusly, have learned to embrace that sort of change. Teaching three different word study curriculums over the course of three years will definitely make you, um, flexible, yeah, we'll say flexible for now...Also, I'm sure a lot of teachers are going to say that these standards are limiting, but as long as they are used as a common baseline, why not go above and beyond meeting your students' needs as you soar to great educational heights?

As long as adopting these standards doesn't mean more tests are added to our already full plates. Oh Lordy - can you imagine the testing possibilities?? Somewhere, some douche in a suit is drooling, I'm sure.

A quote directly from the core standards draft: "...[T]here are multiple ways to teach these standards, and therefore, there will be multiple approaches that could help students accomplish the goals set out in the standards." I think this idea is what I like best of all. The standards (so far...and according to this piece in the NY Times) don't come with a prescribed or mandatory curriculum. Is that a glimmer of hope that we will get to actually choose our own individual paths for teaching these standards? Is that what I see in the distance? Teachers sharing best practices yet still being allowed to maintain their own individuality? Work their unique teacher mojo?? Or am I kidding myself and we're simply a sleigh ride away endorsing a national curriculum that would render us all automatons? (Again, douche-y guy in a suit is now jumping up and down.)

I read them over (focusing mostly on the standards for lower elementary since that is my wheelhouse) and didn't find them totally offensive or way out of line. One of my biggest concerns (besides being handed a national curriculum in a few years or the possibility for endless punishment that seems to go hand in hand with government involvement in education these days) is that teachers will be encouraged to plod their way through the standards whole class style instead of meeting groups of children where they are and making sure they all make a year's worth of progress. In my mind, making a year's worth of progress can be vastly different from all reaching the same end point in June.

I'm also left with some questions. How are these standards going to be used in terms of grade retention/promotion? Are teachers going to be inundated with all sorts of new ways to keep track of these standards which really means are we going to be handed a stack of new paperwork to fill out that will keep us from our teaching?

I would love to know what you think. National Standards - Jedi Mind Control Trick or It's About Time?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oh No They Di-in't!!

(Um, Yeah, They Did and It Blows)

I feel duped. Last week, I received a phone call from a legit Newsweek reporter and almost hyperventilated. I mean, what is a Newsweek reporter doing calling little old me? Right? I know I love to toot my own horn, but really, I know I'm pretty small fries. (Small fries in fabulous shoes, which helps, but small fries all the same.) The reporter was super friendly and seemed very interested in my experiences during my first year of teaching. Like every other teacher EVER, my first year of teaching was rough and plagued by behavioral problems. Now, teacher preparation programs and the horror that is the first year of teaching could be a week's worth of blog posts and someday, we will go there, but not today.

Because today, I'm still heated about this Newsweek business.

The article which includes quotes from yours truly is not so terrible on it's own. (Why Teachers Can't Control Their Classrooms) Although, I never EVER said that "very practical things weren't taught" in my preparation program because that is simply not true. I had a fabulous experience in my teacher preparation program, so that is the first point with which I take issue (and cried out, "Are you freaking kidding me?" when I saw it.)

But the cover story?!?! Holy crap, THE COVER STORY! (I mean the title alone is horrifying and against everything I stand for and think - Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers- and have been ranting and raving about for the past two weeks!!! *pulls hair out*) If I had known, had been informed, had been made privy to the angle that they were going to pursue in this issue, I would have said, "HELL TO THE NO!" (Okay, I probably would have said something more polite but equally discouraging as I was raised much better than that.)

I have learned my lesson, friends. And I'm sorry if you thought for one second that I had switched to the other team. I will always be Team Teacher and may, in fact, make up T-shirts in the near future.

Now, let's tear this article to shreds, shall we? (Or I can just grab my bat and we can go all Office Space style on this...your choice.)

So at the start of the piece, they do admit that the quality of a teacher is one of the most important aspects of a child's successful education, which is DUH true. But I RESENT the implication that therefore it is OUR FAULT ALONE that American Public Education has gone down the crapper (in their opinion). I mean, in terms of decision making power, TEACHERS ARE THE RESIDUE LEFT ON THE BOTTOM OF THE SYSTEM'S SHOE AFTER IT IS HAS WALKED THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS OF BULLSHIT OF IT'S OWN MAKING. I'm not saying that's where we belong, but let's face it...that's where we are in the whole scheme of things. When was the last time anyone with any sort of power or control over anything asked a teacher A REGULAR OLD CLASSROOM TEACHER what they thought of any of the latest trends in education and THEN LISTENED AND CONSIDERED THIS INFORMATION?!?!

Now, do I happen to agree with the article that there are weak teachers out there? Yes, actually I do. And I have said that before. We are all plagued by those weak links, forced to pick up the pieces they leave in their trail of uselessness and then are subsequently judged by THEIR performance because we all know that the media loves to highlight the crappy ones. (Well, the crappy ones and the superhero ones dressed exclusively in leather who star in movies.) You know, since teacher bashing seems to have become our national past time along with finger pointing, scape goating and baseball.

And while the article admits that there is a procedure for dismissing less than successful teachers and that many principals are failing to follow through on these procedures (instead passing these teachers like the proverbial buck on to some other school), somehow SOMEHOW failing schools remain all our fault. Um, hello, hole in your argument to go along with your coffee???!

Also, I resent the broad generalization that most inner-city schools resort to a defeatist mindset. I know that that may be true for some schools, but I think a lot of schools have stood up and said, "WE ARE GOING TO DO SOMETHING!" I know I have ka-vetched about some of the realities in my former workplace, but we never EVER just rolled over and took it. We may not have been perfect, but we busted our butts (or most of us did) to avoid the very same attitude that this article thinks we all have in the inner-city. And the beauty of that paragraph is that it is the very same paragraph in which the authors let parents and poverty off the hook. Somewhere, parents and poverty are reading this, breathing a sigh of relief and thinking, "Sweet, we dodged that bullet."

I'm glad that at least parents and poverty are being treated with such respect.

And before a whole bunch of people jump down my throat about parents, I am well aware that many parents are doing a wonderful job. However, those that aren't, REALLY AREN'T and believe me, teachers can tell in an instant in the classroom. But I would never EVER say that "all parents are bad and should be fired" because 1) you can't fire parents and 2) that would be almost as ridiculous as standing up and shouting that all teachers are bad and should be fired a la Central Falls without considering anything such as leadership, context or individual performance.

So then, in an effort to beat public education to a pulp, the article goes on and on about the wonder that is the charter school. Again, because I am not a raging idiot, I will not condemn all charter schools, because I know some of them are kicking butt and taking names (and are staffed with wonderful teachers). However, I will say that making the assertion that in general charter schools are outperforming public schools is RIDICULOUS. I mean, how much evidence to the contrary do you need to see what is right in front of your face?!?

And when WHEN WHEN are we going to stop pushing a business model of education? When are we going to realize that education is smart enough and important enough to deserve it's own language and model? Wake me up when that happens, because lately, I'm considering going to bed and pulling the covers up over my head until that day.)

Oh Lordy, now they are talking about fast track certification programs. And I know that some fabulous teachers come out of these programs, but I also think that those who aren't so fabulous are contributing to the high teacher turnover rates in inner-city schools. And do we really want to embrace the idea that six weeks of classes can get an individual ready for the complexity that is the classroom? I know they're all "but there's mentoring and additional course work and blah blah blah" but STILL. Six weeks does not a successful teacher make.

The article says, "It will take a quiet revolution to improve American schools." Unfortunately, they don't recognize that this revolution starts with listening to, respecting and acknowledging teachers.

Monday, March 8, 2010

It Was Almost Spring Outside Today and Oh Yeah...I Am In Newsweek

Today was gorgeous!! There was sunshine, blue skies and no need for a jacket...I can practically hear my open toed shoes calling my name (as well as the local nail salon who knows that Mrs. Mimi is in serious need of a pedi). I keep trying to tell Mr. Mimi (who is a southern California boy) that this is why we love seasons...1) when the weather turns nice you appreciate the sh*t out of it and 2) changing up your whole wardrobe a few times a year to accommodate the weather keeps everyone on their toes.

Anyhow, my guess is that your friends may have been a bit antsy today. Am I right? The change in the weather must trigger something in their little brains...the end is near! Outside recess! Spring break! THE END IS NEAR! (Although for teachers, this realization that the end is indeed near is both FREAKING AMAZING for obvious reasons and also TERRIFYING as we begin to realize just how much ground we have to cover before June.)

Adding to the challenge of the impending new season is the possibility of new behavioral issues springing up around you. (Pun so intended.) You're thinking you've got your classroom in order and then BAM! A child who has laid dormant all winter is IN YOUR FACE with a host of new issues and fool-proof behaviors aimed at distracting your already distracted friends.

Despite my love for the naughty boys, I am no stranger to such behavior. I am quite familiar with the old "I'm going to pretend that I am lost in thought while holding my pencil poised above my paper but really I'm waiting for you to look away so I can resume my shenanigans" look.

Out of nowhere, my Super Colleagues and I have all had children randomly start to refuse to take tests (although I can't blame them...there ARE so many), decide to throw things at other children in class while laughing like a lunatic from the back of the classroom and begin to torment other children. I mean, talk about a sweet wrap up to your year, right? And thusly, even at the end of the year, you, the teacher, need to choose your battles wisely.

So, for those moments when choose to engage, may I make a suggestion? Share an idea from one of my Super Colleages?

Fabulous!

(Several of my Super Colleagues and I were in on this plan, so gather round some of your buddies to execute the following.)

When a child is really ruining the day of everyone around them (and probably their own day as well), it's time for that child to take a break, right? I mean, I know everyone who has never stepped in a classroom will suggest that you find time to talk one on one with the child or turn their behavior into a teachable moment or blah blah blah and that's all well and good but sometimes, sometimes YOU JUST NEED TO GET THROUGH THE NEXT HOUR AND DEAL WITH IT LATER. Now please keep your non-teacher teaching opinions to yourself. Thank you.

Now, in these situations, we would send a responsible child with a sealed note saying something like, "You-know-who is throwing pencils from the back of the room. Can you come by and get him?" The recipient would respond with an estimated time ("Am finishing up conference, be there in two.") and send the child back to class. The original teacher would continue to ignore the behavior when all of a sudden, the requested Super Colleague would swoop into the classroom, make a bee-line to the friend in question, take them by the hand (gently of course) and leave. In this moment, the Super Colleague would not make eye contact with any other children, say anything or hesitate. The child in question was usually so caught off guard that they just got up and went. (Granted, no one ever refused to go in this scenario, so if it doesn't work for you, I'm sorry and have no back up for you...)

Why do I think this seemed to work so well? First, we didn't play this card very often...we saved it for those oh-so-special moments that threaten to rob your of your sanity. Second, the child clearly knew how to push the buttons of their own teacher and was not going to stop unless removed from the classroom for a period of time. Third, they didn't really have any beef with the teacher who came to got them. They saved their beef for their own teacher. And fourth, we caught them totally off guard. Mwaaa haaa haaa!

Sometimes, I felt like I should be wearing a cape.

Oh, and did I mention that my alter ego (a.k.a. me using my real name) was quoted in the March 15th issue of Newsweek in an article discussing how so many first year teachers struggle to actually teach because many are unprepared for the behavioral issues they must face? I didn't? That's funny because I AM QUOTED IN FREAKING NEWSWEEK!

Ahem.

Disclaimer alert: Please know that I have not yet read the remainder of the articles about the classroom presented in the same issue of Newsweek (You know, the one I'm quoted in?), so I have no idea where they went with their whole cover story...but still. NEWSWEEK!

Maybe I will have a cape made after all...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday List Mania - The Sick Chronicles

Evidently, getting so worked up over all these firings has made me sick. Literally. I am typing to you from bed, surrounded by transcripts that need to be turned into coherent dissertation chapters and picture books that need reviewing for my website. I am not done with my educational ranting (Please!), but I do think in the interest of all of us feeling better, we should take a break. (Plus, I am unable to take any crack-like cold medication which would provide a much needed kick-in-the-pants to be once again, hilarious.) (And I like lists.)

So a list it is. Last night, I read over some of my posts filed under "I heart my kids" and here are some of the older and more wonderful ones that will hopefully bring a smile to your face today. I know my friends were often what kept me from running screaming from the building or poking myself in the eye or drowning myself in a sea of cocktails. (Wait...)

Speaking of poking myself in the eye... How about the time when Bubbles brought me a beautiful painting and made one of the worst weeks ever that much better?

Mini Friend might have been the cutest kindergartner on the face of the planet last year. With a fabulous Naughty Boy edge to his personality and a certain way with words, he always made me smile.

What about all the unexpected things our friends say that make our days so much better than a coffee-fueled race til 3?

Maybe you think this post is a cop out. Maybe you're right. Either way, reading these made me feel better last night...not Nyquil better, but better and that has to be worth something.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Newsflash - Low Hanging Morale Makes An Easy Target

Today was the perfect weather to have "one of those days." You know what I mean? It's gloomy outside, still really cold, but that damp cold that nobody likes even if you are a "winter person"...you're not necessarily in a bad mood, but you're not exactly Ms. Sunshine either since your coffee seemed to have achieved nothing and you are wondering if it was actually a decaf in disguise...the kids are walking around your classroom like zombies, all blank stares and no energy but not the good kind of quiet, that creepy, vacant, very unproductive quiet. Am I painting a clear enough picture?

I hated those days. Those were the days when I was bored, the kids were bored, even the mice were too bored to come out and play during silent reading. NOTHING happened. No saucy behavior, no drama to deal with, no laughing, no nothing.

Talk about low morale, huh?

Speaking of low morale...I've had this piece from Ed Week on the back burner for a loooong time and this seems like just the moment to pull that rabbit out of my hat. Ya know, what with my obsession with the notion of firing an entire staff of teachers with the full support of the federal government and all. (Yup, still not over it friends, still not over it. Although I think I did hear somewhere today that the school board and the teachers union are thinking about re-opening that can of worms and going back to the negotiating table which I guess is okay, but feels a little like the damage has been done. And it stings.)

Anyhoo, Walt Gardner begins this piece with the sentence, "One of the criticisms frequently leveled at public schools is that they're run for the benefit of teachers rather than for students." Now, before you get all fired up (but down that drink you were about to throw at the screen...sip your whatever and relax), our friend Walt is not endorsing this sentiment. In fact, he is simply pointing out that this is totally ridiculous...schools are run for the benefit of children or at least they're supposed to be. Although, I don't see what's wrong with thinking about benefiting teachers too...I mean, I think we're pretty important pieces of the puzzle too.

Evidently Walt agrees with me, because he discusses the negative impact that demoralizing teachers can have on their students. As I found myself saying many many times, my mood set the tone in that classroom. Yes, a massive behavioral issue or lovely display of friendship could totally shift the chemistry but really REALLY when I was pissy, the room felt pissy. When I was feeling great, the room felt great too. And that's because we are human (not robots, not the devil and certainly not lazy and money grubbing as many would like to believe) and work in a setting where relating person to person is everything.

I feel like we should be singing that camp song "Do Your Ears Hang Low" except change the words to "Does Your Morale Hang Low?"

Everybody now!

Does your morale hang low?
Does it wobble to and fro?
Can you tie it in a knot?
Can you tie it in a bow?
Can you throw it over your shoulder...

What? You've had enough? Okay, I'll stop.

My point is (and yes I DO have one) that perhaps the Powers That Be (Arne Duncan, I'm looking at YOU) never considered all the ramifications of their actions. Not only was axing a whole group of teachers guillotine style demoralizing for the teachers it happened to, I think it was demoralizing to teachers everywhere. I mean, I feel like the article announcing the firing might as well have been "Off With Their Heads: School Board Engages In Total Ass Hattery." To think that our performance, our efforts, our knowledge is to be judged by a test that our friends take over the course of a few days that make up a fraction of our school year...a day which could easily be "one of those" days that count more than any other day for the rest of the year...and that we could end up getting fired so that the school can "Turn Around" is a tad demoralizing if you ask me.

So, yes, my morale is hanging low in addition to wobbling to and fro. Thank you for asking.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why Camouflage Is Not A Good Look For Me...Oh, And Empowering TEACHERS

Do you ever feel like getting things done at school is similar to running an obstacle course designed for elite Navy Seals?  And that even with some fabulous camo attire, you still would never quite make it?  Because while you, the teacher, may have power within the your own kingdom classroom (to a certain extent of course...don't want you drunk with power now, do we?) you certainly don't always feel like you have a whole lot of power or influence once you step over your thresh hold?  Am I ringing any bells with anyone?  Or am I standing alone in a ridiculous camouflage outfit that screams 90s in a not-so-retro-fabulous way?

Let me paint you a picture.
Scene: The vice principals office.  We are alone in the office, stand off style.

Me: So, I really think that my friend needs some serious help.  He's getting bullied on the playground and has adopted some really strange behaviors in class like...
Her: (cutting me off)(clearly) How are his test scores?
Me: Huh? (articulate as ever when I'm caught off guard by unrelated bullshit)
Her: His test scores? Are they suffering?  How's his data look?
Me: Um, fine, I guess.  It's been about two weeks since I last took a running record, so we're in the midst of...
Her: (cutting me off) (of course) Well, come back when you have some data.
Me: But I'm really worried that...
Her: Thanks.

And scene.

Cut to me talking about my concerns with the parent.  The parent, who happened to be lovely and responsive, asked me what the school was doing.  You know, about the steps we had already taken since I noticed this new development.  Not wanting to throw the entire school under the bus (which took ever professional fiber of my being), I went over the interventions I had initiated in my own classroom.

Parent: But what about outside help?  Did you tell the administration about the bullying?
Me: Yes.
Parent: And?
Me: Perhaps you should express your concerns as well.  You know, we'll both jump on this one.
Parent: No problem.

Twenty minutes later the phone in my classroom rings.

Me: Hello?
Voice of the Powers That Be: Can you send down So-and-So first thing tomorrow morning? 
Me: Sure.
VOPTB: His parent brought a situation to our attention. I'll fill you in later.
Me: You mean, the situation I tried to talk to you about in your office the other day? (I couldn't resist, friends, I HAD TO say it.)
VOPTB: What?
Me: Exactly.

The upside is that my friend got some needed help.  The downside is that it took two weeks longer than it should have because I had to coordinate with the parent's work schedule so we could find a convenient time to meet, ask for the parent to make an appointment with an administrator and wait for said appointment to occur and then presto!  Something happened.

Now I'm not saying that parents shouldn't have any power.  Or that teachers should be able to over ride the concerns or wishes of parents or make major decisions without consulting parents at all.  I'M NOT SAYING THAT.

However, I am saying that it is absolutely INSANE to me that I had to jump through millions of hoops to get something done (all while wearing camo) because somehow, SOMEHOW...I, THE TEACHER had less power than any other person involved in this situation.

Am I still held accountable for this friend's data even though a) it was fairly irrelevant to the situation at hand at that point in time and b) I evidently am a powerless peon?

Hells yeah I am.   Ah, sweet, sweet logic.

And then, I read this piece. I was attracted to it because it's about my home state (shout out to CT - what! what!).  It's about CT passing a parent trigger bill (which already exists in CA evidently) in which parents would have a larger amount of power in determining whether or not a school should be considered as failing and to force change in those schools.  Get this direct quote:

"Parents and children are consumers of the product, yet they don't have decision-making powers in how a school is run."

Pssst. You know who else doesn't have much decision-making power in how a school is run?

TEACHERS.

Am I disagreeing that parents should be involved? NO.  Am I saying that parents shouldn't have the right to an excellent education for their children? NO.

What I am saying is WHY ARE WE GIVING POWER TO EVERYONE IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, EVERYONE WHO HAS EVER COME IN CONTACT WITH A SCHOOL OR THOUGHT ABOUT SCHOOL OR SAID THE WORD "SCHOOL" EXCEPT FOR TEACHERS???!?!?!

Riddle me that one.

Perhaps it's because we want them to remain Candidate Numero Uno on the old chopping block when it comes time to passing around some blame.  Or keep them in our line of sight so that they are at a arms reach for some extensive finger pointing?

You might have heard that Diane Ravitch has a book coming out.  The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (I haven't read it yet but it has officially shipped and is on it's way to my house as we speak or read or type or whatever.)

You might have also heard (because I told everyone who would listen or was within shouting distance) that she mentioned yours truly in a recent Huffington Post piece she wrote.

You  might have also heard that after endorsing the ideas that fueled business models of education and tough standards for many years, she has, after extensive research, decided that this doesn't work.  Instead, Diane Ravitch, a woman known for being a power house in the field, believes that it is time to re-empower the public school system.  She says after looking at the evidence (or lack thereof), she has become a radical who wants to "blow up the system."

I would say that empowering teachers would be part of that plan.  I mean, can you imagine anything more radical than actually listening to what a teacher says?   Talk about radical with a capital R.

So universe, do Mrs. Mimi a solid and make this happen, would you?  Because things are starting to feel desperate around here...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Dr. Seuss Themed Smackdown (Yes, You Read Correctly)

 When I was in nursery school, one of my teachers was named Ms. Geisel.  I was always told that she was Dr. Seuss' cousin or -in law something or whatever, but I didn't care about those details...all I heard was my teacher belonged to the same family as Dr. Seuss!  And if that's not hot when you're 32 years old 4 years old, I don't know what is. 

Natch, I've been thinking about Dr. Seuss today because it's his birthday.  I miss celebrating today with my friends - Dr. Seuss' birthday was a holiday I could really get behind, you know?  I can practically smell the stench aroma of green eggs and ham wafting down the hall from kindergarten classrooms as I type this.  I mean, Gertrude McFuzz might be one of my all time favorite read alouds.  Ever.  EVER.  I actually thought about wandering down to the garage today to fish that particular story out of my personal library and reading it...you know, since I'm so down in the dumps about Mr. I Like To Fire People Duncan's latest escapades.

If you've been reading things around here lately, you'll know that I'm trying to get back my mojo, searching for my groove, desperate to make a urine joke or douche reference around here.  Basically, I've been searching for the boot straps on my fabulous high-heeled winter booties, so I can pull myself up by them and get out of my little funk.  But alas, my mood has been somber.  

Then I came across this gem from the man himself:

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
- Theodore Seuss Geisel a.k.a Dr. Seuss

And I knew that it was okay for me to be in a funk, to speak my mind and to want to scream in frustration about the educational state of affairs lately.   Because you all matter in my mind, and (so far) you don't seem to mind.  (And if you do, thanks for tolerating me thus far...)

Which made my mind wander to another one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books - Hooray for Diffendoofer Day.  Dr. Seuss developed the storyline and characters before his death in 1991, but Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith helped to finish the manuscript so that it could be published.

So I made that trip down to the garage and grabbed these old faves.  Basically, the man is a freaking genius.

If you're not familiar with Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, it's the story of a group of children at the Diffendoofer School who have some unusual teachers with unusual teaching methods.  In a nutshell, the children at the Diffendoofer School are having real experiences, living life, learning to question...basically Dewey's wet dream.  However, one day, they find out that they must take a test and if they fail this test, their beloved school will be shut down, forcing them to go to the school in nearby Flobbertown.

An excerpt:
"It's miserable in Flobbertown,
They dress in just one style.
They sing one song, they never dance,
They march in single file."

Basically, the poor snooks over at Flobbertown local are suffering through what I am assuming is a highly scripted curriculum geared toward test prep and nothing more.

SOUND FAMILIAR?

The teachers at the Diffendoofer School reassure their students with this bit of brilliance:

"We've taught you that the earth is round,
That red and white make pink.
And something else that matters more -
We've taught you how to think."

I mean,  SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!  Talk about hitting the nail on the freaking head, because OF COURSE these kids ultimately pass the test with flying colors.  OF COURSE THEY DO.   Because good, solid teaching is the best test preparation there is.

Ya hear that, Arne Duncan??  It's you against the Seuss and I think school children around the country will join me in saying that this is ONE OBVIOUS CHOICE.  (So suck it!) (That last part was just from me, not the school children.)

So Happy birthday Dr.  Seuss.  And thank you. 

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories Anniversary EditionHooray for Diffendoofer Day!

If I Was Wearing Boots, I'd Be Pulling on the Straps

Dude.  I have got to GET IT TOGETHER.  Seriously, I am outraged and will continue to be outraged about the mass firing of teachers, however, crying in the shower is not helping.  I am determined to think of something to do, some way to use my voice, use OUR VOICES that feels more productive than blogging from my overstuffed chair with the cat on my lap.

I've decided that until genius strikes me (and it will...it HAS to), I am going to reflect on why I got into this whole teaching business anyway.  I mean, I landed my first teaching job because I possess these qualities...(get ready for some horn tooting) I'm smart, dedicated, resourceful and ready to learn more to improve upon what I do in the classroom on a daily basis.  I'm humble enough to admit when I'm wrong (contrary to popular belief) yet don't give up when things get difficult.   (Which is precisely why I have to get my you-know-what together.)  But I'm also driven to push myself and my students to find success when it seems to be elusive.  I have good intentions and feel like I've received the "call to teach" but I never rely on those two things alone...teaching is so much more than that. 


I love teaching.  I love (most) teachers.  I loved my friends....year after year, I loved them, even when the outlook didn't look so fabulous in September. I loved feeling like I could change something, improve someone's future or perspective, DO SOMETHING that made a difference.  Being in the classroom felt like, and still seems to me, the most powerful place to be in the educational system.  I know we don't have a lot of power down here at the bottom, but I'd rather be here with the kids actually TRYING than up at the top (which should definitely be the bottom) (I want to insert an obvious "because they're acting like a bunch of bottoms aka asses joke here) just pontificating and finger pointing and justifying my place.  


My second year of teaching (which HALLELUJAH was better than my first which sometimes I act like never happened) I fell in love with my friends.  In love.  I did everything for my classroom...nights, weekends, you name it and I was thinking of something, drawing something, creating something for my friends.  For my classroom.  My kingdom.  The place where I had a voice that mattered.  


Like a billion years later (it's amazing how fast being in education will age you), one of my former students came back to visit and played a rap that he had written and dedicated to me for helping him believe in himself.  (Grab a tissue here if you need to...I think we could all use a good cry lately.)  And right now, I think I have to call on that moment to believe in MYSELF again and the voice we all have.  (Granted, I have to find my funny voice again, because it seems to have gone missing...like my waistline and fashionability - people, maternity clothes blow.  End of story.)  


Mrs. Mimi promises to get her groove back.  I can be funny, be a voice AND be HUGELY PISSED about this entire situation if I keep in mind why I got into teaching in the first place and why I belong here. 

Sshhhhh. If You're Quiet, I Think You Can Hear My Spirit Breaking...

An Open Letter To Anyone Who Will Listen and Has the Power To Do Something:

My heart is breaking.  Literally breaking.  I have a mountain of data to analyze and write about, a website to develop content for and an article to write this morning and all I can think about is this whole Let's Fire The Teachers and Only the Teachers business.

Is this really what education has come to?

From my experience in the classroom, it often feels like those of us who are actually doing the work, are teaching the kids are enacting all those ever-changing and sometimes absolutely insane policy mandates are the ones with the least amount of power.

You want us to randomly change our curriculum because there is one that's newer and trendier?  Done.

Oh wait.  Now, you want us to teach hours upon hours of mind numbing test prep to get ready for the federally mandated tests?  Done.

Hold on, okay.  Now you're saying you want us switch the curriculum, include hours of test prep and now write it all down into little graphs and checklists so that you can make sure I'm doing what you told me to do at the exact moment you told me to do it?  Well, um, do you want to hear what I think about that?  Because I think that...oh.  No? You don't want to hear it?  Huh.  I guess I have no choice then.  Done. 

And now, when all of those decisions, all of those changes are not going well, are not producing the numbers that make you say you are politically worth our votes, you fire THE TEACHERS?   And ONLY the teachers?

I just can't get past this.

I know first hand that there are many teachers out there who suck.  SUCK.  SUCK!  It is both frustrating and exhausting to work with these people.  Because of those suck suck sucky teachers I had to think about ways to pick up their slack in between checking administrative demands off my list while still finding the time to teach in ways that I knew were going to make a difference.

I would never stand up blindly for all teachers.  How many times do I have to say that?  But I never thought we would blindly fire them all either.

Did some of the teachers in Rhode Island suck?  Probably.  Did ALL of them suck?  Probably not.  There were probably a bunch of them like my Super Colleagues and I, that were swimming upstream trying to make something positive happen for children and without a hesitation, they got fired too.
Honestly, they should have just blind folded them all, given them a cigarette and handed them their walking papers.

And this is our solution to failing schools?  No one else wants to admit that perhaps they played a role in all this?  No administrators, federal legislators, policy makers...nobody?  No?  You just want to stand there with the president and Arne Duncan and clap?  Is this the change you were talking about?  I kind of wish you had been more specific then...

As one of my lovely readers (Thanks Maestro) pointed out, it seems as if no one has considered that the larger ramifications of this decision may be to scare teachers and other schools into raising their test scores, whatever the cost may be to the actual education their students are receiving.  And can we blame them?

Is inducing fear really the 'radical political action' our federal government wants to endorse?

Why is it so easy to hate us?  To demonize us?  To take the few of us who do suck and generalize that the rest of us do too?  Is it because most of us have just taken it?  Just done what we're told and then done what we believed in quietly behind closed doors?  Yelled and cried about the ridiculous conditions we have to work with during our lunch hours in private when nobody could hear us?  Is it our fault for staying quiet for so long? 

Well I don't want to sit quietly anymore.  I don't want to just roll over and take it.  I don't want to work in a system which ties our hands and then fires us when they are unhappy with the results their decisions have caused.

I've got to think of something we can do. I just don't know what it is...my hands have been tied for so long.  For awhile, it felt like this blog was enough and now I know we need to do more.

Would you look at that?  A whole post and not one joke, reference to urine or curse word...my spirit really must be broken.  Does anyone know Stella personally and can you have her tell us how she got her groove back?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Yes, I'm Still Heated About This Whole Rhode Island Thing...

Although I do promise to get back stories about my former friends and my love for office supplies soon, I just can't let this one go. CAN'T.


So I guess since we are currently obsessed with treating education like it is a business, the line of argument here is that someone must be fired and since we can't fire poverty, parents, or children, teachers are the only suckers standing.  Or at least they were standing until early last week when they were mowed down by a bunch of individuals trying desperately to scapegoat their faces off in an effort to avoid any fingers pointed in their direction.

What really bothers me the most is that Arne Duncan is applauding.  I mean, the man is actually clapping for and supporting this kind of bullshit.  The federal government.  Supporting this. Bullshit.  It makes me want to cry about the future of education in this country. 

Another hole in this line of thinkig that I failed to point out on Friday (when I ranted and raved away from my soapbox) is this:

Where the F do they think they are going to find a whole bunch of new, fabulous teachers willing to work in this school?  I mean, really.  If we're going to go firing things and shutting this down, only to reopen them again the next year - where do we expect this group of genius new teachers to come from?  Our imaginations?  Because if I was fabulous (which I am), I would probably not touch this school with a pole lest I be pulled into this cycle of bullshit for no pay and the potential to get fired for doing the best I can with what I have and in the face of some serious leadership issues.  Oooo...let me get my resume together.  I know the news is saying that the teachers who were fired will be able to re-interview for their positions and a little less than 50% of them may be hired back but let's be real here for a second.  Do we really think they are going to jump at this opportunity?  Do we really think that these poor men and women are going to sign up for Round Two of Total Dumbassness?  Methinks unless they can't find a job anywhere else, they're not going to be barking up that tree any time soon.  Which means back to Imagination Land to find teachers willing to volunteer for more work, less pay and a whole lot of scrutiny.  With a dash of job insecurity to boot.

And while I'm still ranting...Have any of these ass hats stopped to consider what this move is going to do to the children who seem to have already been through enough?  Reading about the kids who feel that Central Falls High School was a home away from home that they've now lost (NY Times) breaks my high heeled little heart.  I mean, where is the evidence that this type of radical move works?  Or has a positive effect on children?  I found this piece in the LA Times which talks about a group of students involved in a law suit against those who decided to unilaterally fire their teachers.  Evidently, in the end, when the smoke from all that firing had cleared, students were left with under-qualified substitute teachers who rotated through their classrooms, providing little stability and no long term learning. 

I know I should stay angry and pumped up and ready to fight the good fight for all those teachers out there.  But really? I kind of want to crawl under my soapbox and cry.

But I can't cry.  Now is the time to be outraged.  Even Diane Ravitch, a huge mind in education who has been largely in support of business models of education and choice, has changed her tune and is outraged and discouraged.  And while I still don't see eye to eye with her on everything...I do agree with her that it is time "re-empower the school system" which I am choosing to believe means we need to re-empower TEACHERS.

I feel like we should have a Take Back the Night rally or something.

You guys are all right - so many readers have written to me pointing out that teacher and education bloggers everywhere are infuriated by this crazy ass move, yet all we are doing is blogging.  We are all upset and I think it is time to mobilize, to motivate, TO DO SOMETHING.   I JUST WISH I KNEW WHAT IT WAS....

Any suggestions?

Who's Peeking?