Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oh, district, you're so witty.

So, I was doing a little Stumble Upon because it tends to garner some pretty cool tools for helping my students research and write.

Then I stumbled upon this:

I had to laugh to keep from crying. The district has blocked the Sarcasm Society website. The best part? It is blocked because the content falls under the category of "Humor/Jokes." I suppose we now know the district has a sense of humor, it just chooses to keep it blocked. What would its therapist say?
More Later.

Monday, May 19, 2008

"To what base uses we may return..." OR Shut up and read

As of today, Philly's got one month left of school. It's starting to show. I'm fine with that.
In retrospect, I probably wouldn't have saved Hamlet and Othello as the last texts for my ninth and tenth graders respectively. Still, I did, so we're here and there's nothing to be done about it now.
I co-teach my freshman sections with an equally energetic teacher whom the kids dubbed Ms. WaWa before I arrived.
We've made it to Act V Scene i and this is where the good stuff starts, right? I mean, daggers are drawn, poison is discussed and NO ONE is reading.
When reviewing the plot as it relates to the main themes in one section of today's class, I did one of those teacher pauses and noticed that thing that happens sometimes where a teacher asks a question, gives the appropriate amount of think time and then in the absence of eager hands, answers the question with an energy level that would make the Micro Machines Man winded.
Direct questions to the more aloof members of the class resulted in the bewildered stare I remember giving to my mom where I hoped I could wait out her interest in an answer rather than offer something self-incriminating.
My sails a bit wind-deprived, I stopped WaWa and asked a question to which I already knew the answer.
They hadn't read. Well, to be fair, four of them admitted they had completed the required reading. The rest of the class was either sitting idly hoping to go unnoticed or proffering up answers that belied a less-than-complete knowledge of the text.
I got my ire on.
"If you've read, that's great, get started on tonight's reading and you'll be ahead of the game. If you haven't read, start. Tomorrow, there will be a reading quiz asking for detailed answers to what happened."
I was met with the requisite, "oh-geez-we-ticked-him-off-feign-shame" silence. A minute or so later, shame had passed, a laptop was opened. "What are you doing?" says I.
"I'm going on sparknotes to read the No Fear Shakespeare version."
"No, no you're not. We're keeping technology out of this one and we're just reading and making notes where we don't understand things, so that we can ensure a rich class discussion tomorrow."
Yeah, I used the teacher "we" when I was talking about them - that's how ticked I was.
Now, I'll admit to faking my way through many a class discussion (I like to think it's a part of why they gave me my degree), but I also knew the classes where actually reading the text was key to survival:
Understanding of plot points - necessary
Main ideas of article on a New Historicist understanding of text - unnecessary
They don't know how to honor these differences yet. Today's class pulled back the curtain on a rather befuddled All Powerful Oz. Tonight they will read. They may not like it, but they will read. Such is life in compulsory education.
Tomorrow's class will be better for it. They will feel smarter because they will actually be smarter. They will know which questions to ask and how to ask them. At least that's the goal. No computers, no ActivBoards, no wifi, just kids, books, teachers and the occasional stickie note.
Here's hoping.
More later.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It's all me

attitudegraph.gif” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.As part of every induction session (usually the part we don't get to because we fall behind in the script) we are supposed to read a journal article loosely based on the session topic.
The first session's article dealt with the cycle of a first-year teacher. Nevermind the fact we're none of us first-year teachers.
It used the graphic to the right.
I'm worried.
Chris blogged the other day, “Too often, the rhetoric of schools does delve into the heroic martyr teacher succeeding against all odds. That's not sustainable. That's not even useful.”
Let me be clear, I do not want to be a martyr - that never ends well. I can't say I even want to be a hero - tights chafe.
I worry as I read this and this and this that teachers around the country are getting stuck somewhere in winter. Teachers are hitting the wall.
Something noble still exists in teaching.
Dana Huff writes:
Some days, I think teachers get a great deal of satisfaction out of their jobs — because truly no feeling can top working with a class when everyone’s really getting it and engaged in learning — and those days are worth the days when we don’t feel appreciated or satisfied, but it’s difficult, and I don’t think a lot of people are willing to or may even be capable of the endurance it takes to make a career of teaching these days.
The tale end of her description falls nicely in line with what Chris has to say about ex-teachers: Those teachers felt overworked, under-prepared, under-challenged, and under-appreciated.”
These teachers live in November. They teach daily in a long, cold winter of disillusionment after a gray, dreary autumn of survival.
Seeing this, watching it happen to teachers I know, I wonder why I'm still here. What's wrong with me that I still look forward to coming to school everyday?
I've yet to teach in a perfect school. I never will. I've yet to teach in a school where I couldn't fall in love with my job. I never will.
When it comes down to it, I come to school everyday because I've made certain I work in places I love. I always will. As cliche as it sounds, I live by choice.
I exercise control in what I have control over. That makes the horrible days - the really horrible days - when the things beyond my control take center stage still livable.
When did teachers abdicate control?
More later.

Friday, May 09, 2008

I'm Either Insulted or Going Crazy

I think I may have stumbled on to one of the causes of the high rate of new teacher attrition.
Wednesday night, I finished session 4 of 5 of the School District of Philadelphia's New Teacher Induction program.
My blood pressure wasn't as high as it had been for sessions 1 and 2. I got out of session 3 by presenting with Marcie at Penn State's 1:1 Laptop Conference. Coincidentally, it was the session where we talked about whether or not technology integration was important to differentiated instruction. (Had I been there, I'm pretty sure my eyes would have bled or I would have rocked back and forth in the corner humming "The Farmer and the Dale.")
I had to go through new teacher induction my first year in Sarasota. The process took the entire year. SRQ uses a mentor/mentee model where novice teachers are teamed up with veterans. I'm pretty sure my mentor didn't like me because our meetings usually consisted of the following:
Her: How you doing?
Me: Fine.
Her: Good. I guess I better initial those papers.
It was a synergy to make Stephen Covey proud.
Philly's induction, like Philly's core curriculum, is scripted, minute-by-minute. You can imagine what that does to class discussion. Not surprisingly, this also means, we have avoided the topic of differentiated instruction.
Wednesday, as we began looking at data and AYP and core curriculum and needs assessments and PSSA trend analysis and everything else, I could take no more.
"This is insulting," I said, "We are all professionals, we have been trained as teachers."
The instructor/facilitator/swami agreed, but pointed out that our ability didn't mean a few bad teachers didn't enter the profession.
"Yes, but I've had a few weeks with the 20 people in this room, and I'm pretty confident we're not those teachers, but we've allowed for the building of a system that treats us as though we are."
At this point, the train had jumped the tracks.
It was wonderful. We had an honest discussion of race and the history of Philadelphia, about systems and the like. For the first time, the car ride home was filled with discussion not of how things could have gone, but what things can become.
I've more thoughts on this swimming around. They'll appear shortly, but the crux of it is this: I know new teachers need support in their first two years or they'll revert to teaching the way they were taught when they were in school. But shouldn't that support be dynamic? Shouldn't that support be about what teachers need? Shouldn't we be engaging each other in the kind of dynamic discourse we're hoping for in our classrooms? Shouldn't we?
More later.