Category Archives: Frustration

Sub Plans

My complaint of the week is this: I spent two hours preparing my classroom, acquiring supplies, and writing my lesson plans for my time outside of my classroom because of a training required by my district. Then, the district could not find me a substitute, so my attendance was canceled. Now I have to attend a different session on another day. By the way, I’ve already had this training, but everyone must go this year.

Aaaaaargh!

Ok. I’m better now.

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An Education Divide

How does a kindergarten class of 40 sound to you? Or a high school class of 60? Well, in Detroit that can happen now.

I’ve never met any teacher who said bigger classes will make my job easier or help students learn more. However, I have often heard from those in power that class size really matters (and then the unspoken “for my kids”). Public schools are allowed to have bloated class sizes and inadequate resources, but the social elite ensure this never happens to their kids.

And still, none of this really gets to solving the real problem: poverty. Students in poverty are disproportionately at risk over all other students.

Raising expectations with new standards or additional required credits does not solve Johnny’s problems at home where his father left and his mother isn’t home much as she works so much. Higher expectations and new learning targets don’t help Cindy get the breakfast she misses every morning or the hits she takes each night from her step-father.

America’s students in schools with less than 10% poverty are among the world’s best while schools with more than 75% struggle mightily:

Poverty rates make a huge difference in student achievement. Few people are aware, for example, that in 2009 U.S. schools with fewer than 10 percent of student in poverty ranked first among all nations on the Programme for International Achievement tests in reading, while those serving more than 75 percent of students in poverty scored alongside nations like Serbia, ranking about fiftieth.

I only wish America’s policies matched the research and allowed this nation to solve the truest indicator of future success or failure: poverty.

Bought and Paid For Charter Schools

How do you get charter schools on the ballot in a state that has previously rejected them three times by popular vote? You buy the signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.

Here are the amounts of money given to the charter school movement in Washington State:

  • $1,000,000 (Bill Gates, Microsoft)
  • $600,000 (Alice Walton, Wal-Mart)
  • $500,000 (Jeff Bezos family, Amazon)
  • $450,000 (Nick Hanauer, venture capitalist)

Now that’s $2.55 million dollars from essentially four people (granted, Jeff Bezos got $50,000 from his parents). When popular opinion is not with you, buy the signatures as the leaders of the signature gatherers did in Washington State.

The signature gatherers were often paid on average between $1 and $2 per signature gathered. One gatherer claimed to have gathered over 9,000 signatures!

When I asked a gatherer at my local Safeway why I should sign up, she told me that it would save our schools. When I asked “how,” she didn’t know. Sad.

How about those donors take the $3.3 million dollars given to this initiative and instead hire 550 new teachers to lower class size and target the neediest of students?

CollegeBored?

My school district has told the high school English Department to create an assessment system like CollegeBoard’s SpringBoard program or else it gets the SpringBoard program.

My department’s resistance to the SpringBoard program is, in part, as follows:

  • expectations for kids will be lowered,
  • vocabulary and grammar are not emphasized,
  • it could negatively affect our AP numbers and scores,
  • our honors program will be eliminated,
  • poetry is not a primary component,
  • it’s scripted,
  • the classics are almost non-existent,
  • it’s based on excerpts rather than full texts (and students struggle with stamina), and
  • the kids tells us how little enjoyment there was with it at the middle school level.

This morning I searched for other people’s takes on the SpringBoard program, and I definitely saw a mixed bag of responses but I read much of what we saw too.

“The meat’s not there,” according to one teacher.”There is no grammar. There is no vocabulary.” Out goes Beowulf and the poetry of Shelley and Yeats. In come TV and film clips and excerpts from other literature.

Another teacher called the program “Orwellian.” This teacher says, “a program whose chief product is culturally illiterate students actually calls itself a literacy program? It’s not that the College Board people don’t try to help students become more sophisticated readers; it’s just that they have them read so very little.”

On another site a teacher notes that “some of the stories and poems use to be in the middle-grade classrooms. Guess what? I teach 9th grade honors. I don’t believe that placing lower level literature in the honors classroom is one of the best practices…Most teachers believe it should be a tool for the classroom, not obligatory to the extent that it is. It is sad that the only people in the classroom everyday are the very people that are not listened to and are afraid to speak up. It speaks volumes about the climate of this county.”

Another teacher used an analogy: “I once felt like a gourmet chef serving up 5 course, 5 star meals to my hungry students. I put my heart and soul into each and every one of customized recipes, and always took special requests when necessary. Now, with Springboard, I feel like a cashier at a fast food drive thru, dishing out pre-cooked, re-heated meals that are quick, easy, and ready to serve, but not all that filling or healthy in the end.”

What I fear behind all of this is what another teacher mentioned: “SpringBoard has essentially broken my spirit and my love of teaching.” Teacher voices in my district seem to be getting quieter too as more and more of the programs eliminate the originality and personalization of the instructor. Pre-packaged lessons in a can are replacing the lesson designs based on the diversity and needs of the students before the teacher, and those farthest away from the classroom appear to be making more and more of the classroom decisions.

Does a teacher really need to build a relationship with a student and learn his interests when the lessons are already pre-determined?

Does a teacher need to research anything or look at modern or immediate supplemental materials when the lesson is pre-generated?

How does a teacher succeed in a classroom where she feels she is giving the students less than what she could and that the child’s future may be negatively affected?

Ultimately, when the creativity, autonomy, and passion of the teacher is exchanged for teaching sameness, what happens to the “art” of teaching?

Poor Title, Decent Article

A recent article in The Seattle Times is entitled “What’s the Matter With Teachers Today?”

The title is an obvious ploy to gain readership and increase online comments; however, it’s not an accurate title at all. The article itself contains a brief history of teaching and mentions a few issues teachers must face, and the conclusion is surprisingly teacher-friendly for a Seattle Times article; however, it would be nice to see a positive education headline instead of the typical claptrap that dominates today’s papers.

Why not title the article more accurately? Is positivity failing to sell papers?

Schools Are Doing Well

I posted the following on a message board. What do you think?

I don’t understand why people think WA schools are failing. ACT and SAT scores are up (and above the national average) even with ever more students tested each year.

We still have kids entering the best schools in the nation and earning the highest of awards.

Schools are more diverse than ever, have more special education students than ever (the numbers are increasing rapidly here), and have more ELL students than ever. And still the scores climb.

Areas of affluence perform better than areas of poverty. It’s the same around the nation.

Schools reflect their communities.

Cheater!

A student was going around asking teachers to raise his grades from last year so he could play a varsity sport. One teacher (a coach) did it. Another (a young, new teacher) did not.

To me, this is a clearcut example of cheating, and what message did the coach send to the student by changing the grade?

How have you or your school dealt with these situations?