stevenpiziks: (Default)
The New York Times posted this article about students and writing. Go have a look and come back:

It's interesting and shows a number of teachers who have different approaches to solving the problem of students who can't write well.  But, as the article notes, people complaining of a lack of writing skill in America dates back to at least 1874.  The article also fails to point out the two biggest reasons we have that many students don't write well, and I'll address them here.

1.  Student Motivation  A lot of students--the majority of them--just don't care if their writing sparkles and zings.  They really don't.  They only want to know what they can do to earn a certain grade.  For some, this grade is an A, and for some it's a D, and some don't even care about that much.  Only a tiny handful actually care about learning how to be a better writer.  This describes the vast majority of the population, really.  Ask a thousand people on the street how many of them enjoy writing and want to improve their writing skill.  You'll come up with a vanishingly small percentage.  A teacher can only teach what the student wants to learn.  A student who puts in minimal effort will see minimal improvement.  In my own classroom, I use a number of techniques and activities to cheerlead and motivate and attempt to persuade that they should work to improve their writing, but in the end, they have to want to do the work.  I can't force them.  No one can.  It has to come from the students.

2. Class Size  A glaring omission from the article is the impact of class size.  Teacher A talks about identifying a great sentence in a student's work, and Teacher B talks about having all her students read their writing aloud in class.  Very nice.  Then I look at my class lists.  35 students.  34 students.  37 students.  How the hell?  I simply can't go through my students' writing and look for "great sentences."  And having my students read their writing aloud to the class?  I do that with ONE assignment per year, and it takes three full days, plus one make-up day for students who were absent.  I can barely provide feedback on essays by circling responses on a rubric.  I agree that teacher feedback and student rewrites are important to improving student writing, but when you have 34/35/37 students in class, with a third of them special needs, you just can't do it.  Back in the days when my classes were 21/22/19, I gave a lot more feedback, and my students did a lot more writing.  Now?  I scrape by with the minimum because I can only evaluate so many papers at once.

You'll notice that the above two situations aren't within the teacher's control.  Motivation ultimately has to come from within.  Class size is dictated by budgets.  If you really want to improve student writing, parents need to set an example for their kids to provide the motivation and vote to improve school funding to help with the budget.

stevenpiziks: (Default)
My cousin Mark drew my attention to yet another rant about a girl who was sent home because her clothes violated the school dress code.  The mother posted photos of the offending outfit and howled that he daughter was body-shamed and the victim of a sexist school.


As a high school teacher of 22 years, let me explain how this works--and what to do about it.

First, schools have the legal right to create dress codes or even force students to wear uniforms. The Supreme Court has ruled, it's law, and that's the way it is. Read Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District for full details, or look here:  If you don't like it, the place to make a change is with your legislative body, not in the principal's office.  You will be completely unsuccessful if you storm into the school and shout, "You can't send my child home for wearing _____!"  Absolutely the school can, and the full force of the US government is behind it, so save your energy. (But see below for what you CAN do.)

Second, school dress codes are written to set a basic standard of appropriateness.  The school board decides, based on community standards, what is and is not appropriate for students to wear in school.  This isn't new, it's not strange or bad.  There are certain outfits and articles of clothing that are inappropriate for school, just like there are inappropriate outfits for worship services, a funeral, a wedding, or a job.  My youngest son recently applied for a job, for example, and he was handed an extremely strict dress code.  Our entire society dictates what you can wear and when.  Schools are no different.  Dress codes are NOT written to body shame girls or to stop girls from wearing clothes that will "distract boys."  I'm not sure where this idea got started.

Proper dress codes, such as the one in the district where I teach, spell out what clothes are allowed and which are not.  My district does not allow spaghetti straps, sleeveless shirts, off-shoulder shirts, visible underwear, "muscle" shirts, tank tops, or shorts above a certain length.  The sex of the wearer is irrelevant.  Both boys and girls cannot wear tank tops or short shorts.  If a boy showed up in spaghetti straps, he'd be sent home, though he'd be allowed to wear a skirt that came down to at least his fingertips.  A school that DOES mention girls not being allowed to wear Thing A and boys not being allowed to wear Thing B is asking for trouble and needs to change its code to focus on the clothes and not the wearer.

Third, students are not allowed to use clothes to "express themselves" and "be comfortable."  I'm not sure where that idea got started, either.  A student's primary job at school is to learn, and anything that interferes with that job must be removed.  The Supreme Court has also ruled on this (see Tinker above).  A school may, at its discretion, allow a certain amount of self-expression, but this is solely the district's choice, and not the student's. That's the way it is, and you won't have much luck in changing a Supreme Court ruling.  Save your energy.

Fourth, it's absolutely true that dress codes are often enforced unevenly.  That's just the nature of the animal.  This is because the main enforcers are teachers, and teachers are wildly different as people, and circumstances vary from class to class.  Here's what happens:

Linda wears an inappropriate outfit to first hour.  The teacher notices, but doesn't see enforcing the dress code as important, so she lets it go.  Linda's second hour has 37 students in it.  Linda slips into class and sits down while the teacher is dealing with 42 other problems, and the teacher doesn't even notice the outfit because he's so busy.  Linda's third hour teacher notices the outfit, but also notes that Linda only comes to class one day in four, and if he sends her out, she'll miss today, too, and he'd rather have her stay in class, so he says nothing.  Linda's fourth hour is gym, and she changes clothes for that one.  Linda's fifth hour has a sub who doesn't understand the dress code and says nothing.  Linda's sixth hour teacher says, "Your outfit isn't appropriate. You'll have to go down to the office and change or go home."  "That's not fair! I've been wearing it all day!" Linda protests.

So yes, the codes aren't always enforced fairly.  Such is life.  If you want to ensure the codes are fairly enforced, you could volunteer to the district to be a dress code monitor.  Call today!

What do you do if you run into dress code problems with your student?

First, per-emptively make sure your student has a selection of appropriate clothes.  Teenagers push back, yes.  Welcome to parenthood.  Your job is to be a mom or dad, not a best friend.  Remove inappropriate clothes from their wardrobe.  Also be aware that even well-behaved teens will sometimes rebel, and a common tactic is to change clothes at school.  If this happens and your student gets in trouble with the office, let them deal with it without support from you.  Don't leave work to rush over with a new outfit.  Let them wear the ugly set of school sweats all day or sit in the office until the end of school.  It's a learning experience.

Second, understand that posting a rant on Facebook or Instagram about your daughter being "body-shamed" isn't anything but a bid for attention.  You're just fishing for people to say how wronged you were and how lovely your daughter is, and you're secretly hoping the district will get deluged with emails or phone calls so they'll make changes without any work from you.  The district won't cave to random phone calls and emails from strangers outside the district.  Experienced administrators know that all they have to do is wait a week, and the outrage will die down.  Nothing will change, though you may have duped a few more people into following you on Instagram, and it's pretty shitty to drag the school into your scheme.

Finally, if you think the dress code is unfair, get a group of like-minded parents together and talk to the school board.  (Not the principal--the principal generally has no control over the dress code.)  Going in a group will give you more clout.  Outline what changes you think should be made, without yelling.  If the code mentions the gender of the student, lobby to have it reworded to focus on the clothing instead.  Have a list of reasons.  Avoid things like "she needs to feel comfortable" or "he wants to express himself."  Those won't go far.  Instead, focus on things like, "These clothes are acceptable in our community," and "This is accepted public dress around here." 

We have dress codes at work, in worship, and yes, in school.  Having them in school gets students ready for dealing with them in adult life.  They aren't going away, though you can have an impact on them if you do it right.

stevenpiziks: (Default)
It's the last week here at Wherever Schools.  It's been a long, long year this time, not in the least because we had to add (unpaid) days due to new state laws.  The seniors have already graduated and left.  I only have a few seniors this year, so it didn't affect my teaching much.  After a year of four sections of English 9, though, I'm eager for summer break.

I'm getting the annual last-minute begging.  This student wants to make up an assignment from six weeks ago.  That one wants just a few more points so his grade can go from a B- to a B.  This other one wants a list of every missing assignment for the entire semester so she can make them up.  I give them all my standard answer: "The time to ask about this was three weeks ago. It's too late now."

I have to do a little more sorting and putting away than usual this year.  The building is undergoing some construction over the summer, and my stuff has to be out of the way.  In fact, they're kicking all us teachers out of the building the moment exams are over to start the work and telling us we can't come back into the building until fall, when the work is done. 

You'll find me at home, writing on my front porch!
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Dinah the Cat needs a friend.  Once Bernard "Mr. Bitey" the Cat was re-homed, she turned into Needy Kitty/Greedy Kitty, a black hole of attention mongering.  You can pet her or take a nap with her on your lap for literal hours, and she still demands attention.  (As an example, Darwin, who has a cold, spend five hours in bed yesterday with her curled up next to him yesterday, and when he got up, she demanded attention from =me.=)

She clearly needs a companion cat, one more like Alec, who she dominated.  They shared sleeping space and groomed each other.  Mr. Bitey Bernard was a thorn in Dinah's side, and she didn't like him much.  Even when they got along, it was on Mr. Bitey's terms, and Dinah became quiet and introverted.  Once Mr. Bitey left, Dinah became loud, introverted, and demanding.  Unreasonably and unhappily so.

But Darwin didn't want another cat.  Alec died.  Bernard almost did.  He didn't want to deal with that.  But I was getting more and more tired of Dinah's unhappiness and her Needy Kitty/Greedy Kitty alter ego.  I embarked on a long campaign to persuade Darwin to get another cat, and finally--FINALLY--he agreed.  Said new cat needs to be a female--no urinary tract problems that plagued Bernard--and a kitten or young cat that Dinah can rule in her benign dicatatorship.

I searched animal shelters in the area.  Except there ARE no animal shelters in our area.  ("Please. Such things are for peasants!  We only allow the finest selection of the best-bred, most delicious small animals in our county.")  The closest one is 35 minutes away.

Friday afternoon, Maksim and I drove way, way down to the shelter in Westland. When we arrived, we learned they had only one cat, and she was HUGE.  Way bigger than Dinah.  She could have crushed Dinah with one saucer-sized paw.

"It's coming up on cat season," the shelter lady said.  "We'll be swimming in them soon."

I'd never seen a shelter that wasn't ALWAYS swimming in cats, but okay.  We left--and drove straight into the worst traffic jam I'd seen in my life.  We learned the highway we were on was totally closed due to an accident.  It took us 45 minutes to get to the next exit, and another 30 minutes to get home.  I was seriously unhappy.  Yeah, someone else was having a way worse day than I, but you know?  I had spent more than two hours in the flippin' car after working all day in an attempt to rescue at cat, only to learn there were no cats to rescue and then be further delayed on the way home.  Just what I wanted!
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
The attack and defunding of public schools has begun, with the introduction of House Bill 610:

House Bill 610 makes some large changes.
This bill will effectively start the school voucher system to be used by children ages 5-17, and starts the defunding process of public schools. In addition the bill will eliminate the Elementary and Education Act of 1965, which is the nation's educational law and provides equal opportunity in education.
It would repeal ESSA (Every Students Succeeds Act), which replaced No Child Left Behind: ESSA is a big comprehensive program that covers programs for struggling learners, AP classes, ESL classes, classes for minorities such as Native Americans, Rural Education, Education for the Homeless, School Safety (Gun-Free schools), Monitoring and Compliance and Federal Accountability Programs.
The Bill also abolishes the Nutritional Act of 2012 (No Hungry Kids Act) which provides nutritional standards in school breakfast and lunch.
The bill has no wording protecting Special Needs kids, no mention of IDEA and FAPE (Fair and Appropriate Public Education).
Some things ESSA does for Children with Disabilities
-Ensures access to the general education curriculum.
-Ensures access to accommodations on assessments.
-Ensures concepts of Universal Design for Learning
-Includes provisions that require local education agencies to provide evidence-based interventions in schools with consistently underperforming subgroups.
-Requires states in Title I plans to address how they will improve conditions for learning including reducing incidents of bullying and harassment in schools, overuse of discipline practices and reduce the use of aversive behavioral interventions (such as restraints and seclusion).
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
This year we had The Semester That Wouldn't Die.  The school year started late anyway because Labor Day came later than usual.  On top of that, Michigan decided to add five days to the academic calendar (without adding more money to the schools' budget, I might add).

Starting late often pushes semester exams out a week.  Normally we have them a week after we return from winter break--the week before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day so we can have a three-day weekend after exams.  However, this time the district decided, for some weird-ass reason, to set the end of the semester THREE weeks after the end of winter break.

I ran out of material.  Seriously.  I covered every single thing I needed to for the semester, plus some extra stuff I don't normally have time to do.  Then I said, "Hell with it" and started in on second semester material (which I wouldn't put on the exam, of course.)  I got all the way through the first unit of the second semester, and STILL had time for two days of exam review and half a day of teaching students how to study for final exams.

It wasn't just me.  Every teacher I talked to--and I talked to more than a dozen--was in the same boat.  "What the hell do I do now?" "I'm vamping."  "Should I start second semester, or what?"

Another teacher did some counting and pointed out that second semester this year is TWO WEEKS SHORTER than first semester.  Glad I did that unit early.  However, the single-semester classes that meet in the spring lose that instructional time, and this is unfair.

I don't know what the hell the district was thinking.  We should have had exams at the normal time and been well into second semester by now.  This was the semester that just wouldn't die, and we felt it.  The last week and a half was a slog through muck.  The teachers felt it, the students felt it, everyone felt it.

I'll be talking to the union about it, since the union has input on the calendar, letting them know this was a huge mistake.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Today my freshmen are in the computer lab working on an essay.  I always get a steady litany of complaints and problems on days like this. Today, they include:

--"This mouse doesn't work, and neither does the keyboard!"  Follow the cords. Are the mouse and keyboard plugged in?  No?  What do you think you could do to solve this problem?

--"This keyboard is too small. It's hard to type."  (I'm not kidding--a kid actually said this.)  All the keyboards are the same size, buddy.  "No. This one is small.  Can I switch?"  If you want. Keep in mind you'll lose between five and ten minutes doing that, and the assignment is still due at the end of the hour--and you'll still have a small keyboard.

--[points to a computer screen filled with long lines of text, each followed by super-short lines] "Why is it doing this?  Can you fix it?"  Uh . . . have you seriously been hitting ENTER at the end of every line instead of letting the computer wrap the line around? "Yeah.  What else are you supposed to do?"  How long have you been using a computer, kid?

--"What font is this supposed to be?" "How do I change the font?"  "Where is the font?"  The directions are right there on the sheet I handed out to you.  If you ask me that again, I'm going to open the trap door to the crocodiles.

--"This computer won't turn on."  We're twenty minutes into lab time. How long have you been sitting in front of a dead computer?  "Twenty minutes."  What do you think you can do to solve this problem in a roomful of computers?  "Uh . . . move to a different computer?"  Very good.  If you had thought of that twenty minutes ago, you wouldn't have homework tonight.

--[Kid presses the CAPS LOCK key, capitalizes a single letter, shuts off the CAPS LOCK, and continues typing.  When he comes to a proper noun, he presses the CAPS LOCK key, capitalizes a single letter, shuts off the CAPS LOCK, and continues typing.]  Uh . . . have you ever tried holding down the SHIFT key to capitalize a letter?  "Yeah, but it takes too long."

I spend more time teaching computer skills than I do writing.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Like most teachers, I've spent a chunk of pre-Labor Day time getting my classroom ready for the new school year.  It takes an entire day just to arrange desks, hang posters, make copies, and hook up electronics.  The latter includes putting together two computer systems (one for my desk and one for my SmartBoard--first world problems, I know).  Last year, the school's lease on the laptops expired, so we all got new computers.  This is nice in that the new computers are faster and more responsive, but it's bad in that a new computer is always time-consuming.  It takes hours to get all the software rejiggered so it's actually usable.  (Software engineers need to be beaten regularly until they write software that people can actually use instead of how they think people should use it.  For example, the new version of Microsoft Outlook, which I'm required to use for my email, came preloaded with a micrscopic San Serif style font that I simply can't read, and it took me more than an hour to figure out how to change it because the function for that was hidden deep within a sub-sub-sub menu, and then you had to change it three times for three different functions--reading, previewing, and composing--which makes no sense.  Why would I want three different viewing styles for these three integrated functions?  Hand me the beating stick, please.)

I also made extensive modifications to upcoming curriculum, fielded a pileup of email, laminated a bunch of stuff, sat through some pointless meetings, and more, more, more.

But now we're all set and ready to go!
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)

My teacher salary has been cut yet again.

This time it's through health care. My deductible doubled in mid-year. I have an entire family on the plan, so it was paid off so far, and now I have to pay it all over again. Every doctor and dentist bill suddenly has to be paid in full by me. This is an enormous expense, especially since it all comes in a single month. It's over $1,000 extra to pay within 30 days.

It's awful. Darwin and I stare at the numbers, but they won't budge. Could you afford an extra $1,000/plus dollars due RIGHT NOW?

This is a sharp salary reduction of over $1,000 per year. Meanwhile, I haven't had an actual raise in TEN YEARS now. That's half my career.

When the economy was good, there was no move to give teachers high raises. Business salaries leaped. Bonuses skyrocketed. And no one offered to share that largesse with the people educating their children.

When the economy crashed, it was suddenly belt tightening time. Everyone had to make sacrifices, especially teachers, who had never been given extra in the first place.

Cut, cut, cut.

Now the GOP in power in Michigan loves to say the economy has turned around (thanks to them and not Obama). But have they increased school funding so teachers can get raises after ten years of cuts?

No. More cuts! More slashing!

Vote Democrat this fall. Please. The people who spend all day helping your children need you.

stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Earlier I mused that schools seemed immune to Pokemon Go.  Aran and I had visited a couple-three schools in our area and found no Pokemon to catch, no Pokespots, and no gyms.  I concluded that Niantic had deliberately avoided putting schools on their map.

I was wrong.

Today on some errands, I discovered one of the middle schools in my district is housing a Pokemon Go gym.

Uh oh . . .
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
I test-drove The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time with my ninth graders.  We read and discussed the book in a single week.  For my largely special-ed classes, this was a fast, fast read.  Because of the language, the book was also controversial.  I was waiting to see what would happen.  Now the unit and the school year are over, and I have some thoughts:

--This was the first book we did in which I didn't read any part of it aloud to the class.  Every bit of the reading was homework.  Unfortunately, a great many of my ninth graders weren't up to the task.  I tracked their reading by having them to annotations in the book or handing in short summaries of the plot.  Between a third and half of them didn't read each section, even though I made the audio version available to struggling readers, and there were five sections.  This was disappointing, to say the least, especially since the book isn't a difficult or archaic read.

--The ones who ddi read the book responded well to it.  They liked Christopher, and they liked the story, and they liked seeing a story from an autistic character's point of view.

--My austistic students, especially, reacted well.  One my ASD students, who struggles with school a lot, got very much into the book.

--The swearing didn't seem to bother any of the students.  (I didn't think it would.)  In class, I often put on a faux shocked demeanor about it.  ("Shocking language!  I know none of YOU have ever heard these words before.  It must be terribly difficult for you to see such things in print.")  They usually laughed.  "We've seen way worse!"

--The major plot twists (who killed Wellington the dog and what happened to Christopher's mother) truly startled the class and even made them a little upset.

--I pointed out that the author was using wee and poo (as Christopher puts it) as symbols, and the students thought that was absolutely splendid.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Today is the last day of final exams. Tomorrow is the last day for teachers!  Woo hoo!
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
The school where I teach is adding some new books to the curriculum.  Yay!  I've been agitating for some changes to English 9 and English 12 because all the books and plays we read are by white men.  No minority writers, no women.  Inexcusable!

The English department came into some book money recently, and we spent considerable time reading and discussing additions.  We made several, but the ones that startled me most landed in English 9 and English 12.

In English 9 we're adding THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT TIME by Mark Haddon.  It's the enormously famous book about an autistic teenager in London who sets out to solve the murder of the dog next door.  Although the author is a a white male, the book is told from the point of view of the autistic protagonist, and we have a great many autistic students at Nameless High School.

Another English teacher and I had actually advocated for this book in English 9 a few years ago, but the idea was turned down, which is why I was surprised the book went through now.  The reason for the rejection?  The book uses the word "fuck" nine times.  I was careful to point this out again this time, but no one deemed it a problem.  "We teach OF MICE AND MEN, and it has the N word in it," one of the department members pointed out.  I just nodded.  I had used that same argument last time, but was overruled.  Huh.  Things can change in a few years.

In English 12 we adding THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker.  This is another controversial book in high schools because of the strong language, sex, and lesbian themes.  It was, in fact, briefly taught about 15 years ago at one of the other schools in the district and caused a ruckus.  However, the ruckus was mostly over the fact that the teacher hadn't read the book.  She had decided to teach a novel she hadn't read to her students to show them that she didn't have an "answer key" to themes and symbols and all that, and that she would discover these things along with them.  So the adult themes and situations caught everyone off-guard--the teacher didn't prepare the class because she didn't know. The students were also tenth graders, rather younger than seniors.  And parents complained.

However--and this is one thing I like about my school district--Wherever Schools is hesitant to ban books outright.  After much discussion, the school decided not to ban the book but to designate the book for English 10 Honors.  Since it had become such a big deal, though, no other teacher wanted to get into another fight, so the book quietly disappeared from the curriculum.

Now we're bringing it back.  I'm happy!  We're air-lifting TARTUFFE out (no matter how hard we try, none of us English 12 teachers have gotten the seniors to respond well to Moliere) and replacing it with PURPLE.  I'm looking forward to teaching it.

However, I'm wondering if there'll be any blowback.  I've had some parents object to OF MICE AND MEN, and a few times parents have pulled their kids from the unit entirely over the language issue.  Recently, in fact.  CURIOUS INCIDENT and PURPLE both have stronger language.  I don't quite understand this sensitivity--if you spend more than three minutes in the hall at school, you'll hear every word from both books several times over.  It's not like the students don't know these words or use such words themselves a hundred times a day.

But we'll see what happens...
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Last Saturday, Darwin got hooked into chaperoning for the spring dance at Nameless High School.

It all happened because of me, as you may imagine.  According to my contract, I have to chaperone or otherwise be involved in at least one after-school or evening activity per year, and I signed up for the spring dance.  A few days beforehand, I sidled up to Darwin and looked at his shoulder with overmuch bashfulness.

"Uh . . . would . . . wouldyougotothedancewithme?" I blurted.

"Yeah, baby!" he said.

The spring dance was supposed to be outside on the tennis courts, and more of a party than a dance, with hot dogs and other food and activities as well as music.  But Saturday turned out rainy and cold and nasty, and when Darwin and I arrived at the school, we learned the dance had been moved inside.  This set off a flurry of activity.  The tennis courts are easy to create a check-in station for--there's only one entrance--and they're easy to patrol.  The auxiliary gym . . . not so much.  We all whipped together a plan for chaperones to cover different entrances to make sure everyone who came had checked in properly and that students weren't wandering into the wrong areas of the building.  (A major high school dance competition was being held in the auditorium and cafeteria, and keeping the activities separate proved a bit of a challenge.)

Hollywood always portrays high school dances as something like a New York club--everyone is dancing and waggling like crazy, shouting and screaming and going nuts.  There's always a punch bowl in the corner that the chaperones have to watch in case someone pours alcohol into it.  The boys wear suits.  The girls wear cocktail dresses.

No.  Just . . . no.

Everyone dresses in a wild variety of ways.  Some guys do wear ties (but no jackets) and some girls do wear cocktail dress-y things, but most are much more informal.  A few even showed up in khaki shorts and t-shirts.  And almost all the girls take their shoes off and run around barefoot.  They arrive wearing high heels, but kick them off the moment they arrive.

And NO ONE dances.  Seriously.  The music plays, but nobody dances.  This is because at high school, everyone is terrified that someone is watching them and they'll be judged for dancing, especially of no one else is.  Since no one dances, no one dances.  Instead, they stand around and talk.  Since we were in the gym (and since there were supposed to be activities anyway), we set up the volleyball net and got out some basketballs and put up a frisbee golf thing and created a few other activity stations, which the students took advantage of.  But dancing?  No.

During the last hour, a few students did dance, and in the last half hour, the DJ played some slow songs and some couples danced.  And that was it.

Darwin and I mostly policed to make sure no one wandered into the wrong sections of the building.  We didn't separate couples ("Leave some space for Jesus!" No.).  We also didn't see any grinding--everyone was very well-behaved.  Darwin got to meet my principal, one of the assistant principals, the student activities coordinator, and a couple other teachers.

Darwin and I didn't dance, though I did introduce him as my husband to the various adults we ran into.  This is something we're both becoming used to now.

The dance was really quite pleasant.  Darwin and I people-watched and ate some hot dogs I bought from the concession stand at the dance competition downstairs and we chatted.  And Darwin got to re-live high school!  :)

Best part?  We didn't have to help clean up!
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
The New York Times published a story about the way teachers are portrayed in the media.  They call it "Incompetent or Inspiring."  I call it "Saints and Assholes."

It's true, and I've written about it before.  Teachers in movies or on television are always saints who use sheer charisma to pull their students out of poverty, or assholes who live to punish their students (or who sleep through class or are too stupid to live).  Usually teachers in poor districts are saints and suburban teachers are assholes.

The saints don't actually teach.  Some of them try, but run up against a wall of glowering hatred from their students, who humiliate them.  But once the teacher realizes the students are just misguided or unhappy, he hunkers down, talks to them in their language, stops teaching entirely, and just, you know, relates to them.  All instruction ends.  He becomes, instead, a leader who shows them what life is all about, and their lives magically change.

The assholes don't teach, either.  They hate students and love watching them squirm.  They deliberately humiliate the class (especially the protagonist).  They pounce on wrong answers.  They speak without contractions and with ten-dollar words (and refer to their students as Mister or Miss).  Or they totally ignore the class.  They sleep.  They don't know the subject.  They let the students run roughshod.  They try to talk to the students with teenage slang but get it embarrassingly wrong.  The fall for obvious pranks.

All professions suffer from bad portrayals in the media.  But teachers, for some reasons, get an extreme.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
All right, everyone!  Today we're taking the Federally Unwritten Core Knowledge test.  Yes, Collin, you don't need to point that out.  Neither do you, Gretchen.  The test is projected to take at least 45 minutes, and our class periods run 60 minutes, so we have to get to the computer lab right away in order to--

No, you don't need a pencil, Collin.  This is an on-line test.  Yes, Gretchen, you should take your stuff with you.  Let's get down to the lab.  Harold, you're supposed to take this test with your study skills teacher, so you head down there now.

No, Collin--you may NOT go to the bathroom on the way to the lab.  We have to get down there NOW or we won't have enough time.  Quickly, now!

Okay, everyone, let's--oh, hello, Mrs. Roberts.  Why is your class in here?  We're testing today.  The lab is signed out to us.  Yes, I can see that you only have eight or nine students who need to finish up their assignments, but the test rules are strict--no non-test takers present.  You'll have to leave.  We can call the office about it if you've got a question, but we're under a very strict--thanks.  NO, DON'T TURN OFF THE COMPUTERS!  THEY TAKE A LONG TIME TO REBOOT, AND--crud.  Let's do our best, then.

Grab a computer, please.  No, Gretchen, you sit over there.  You and Leanne may not sit next to each other. You know that.  Collin, you can't sit next to Pete.  Kevin, you can't sit next to Lawrence.  Terry, you can't sit next to Laura.  Move now, please.  NOW, please.  NOW!  Harold, why are you here?  You're supposed to be down in the special ed room with Mrs. Grindleshwarz.  Go now, please.  NOW, please.  NOW.

Log in with your student ID.  Not your Google ID.  Your student ID.  Collin, which ID did I just say to use?  Then why are you logging in with your Google ID?  Log out and log back in.  No, you may not go to the bathroom.  You haven't even logged in yet.  Laura, go back to your seat.  You are not allowed to sit next to Terry.

Call up the Firefox browser.  Do NOT use Chrome or IE.  I repeat: FIREFOX only.  Do NOT, NOT, NOT use Chrome or IE.  NO CHROME OR IE.  Which browser should you use?  That's right--Firefox.  Go to the site--Collin, why are you using Chrome?  Which browser should you use?  No, you may not go to the bathroom--you haven't even gotten on-line yet.  Laura, GO SIT DOWN.

Go to the web site  Then--yes, we all know what it spells out.  Just do it.  Is everyone at the site now?  You should see a smiling kid waving at you.  Yes, Kevin?  How can you not know your school login?  We're in the fourth marking period and we've logged into the system five hundred times since school started.  No, I don't believe you when you say you "forgot."  We were in here just last week.  Get logged in.  Fredericka, can you help him?

Is everyone at the test site?  Yes, Pete?  It froze?  Let me see.  Uh oh--blue screen of death.  Okay, move to a different computer.  No, don't wait for this one to reboot.  It'll take too long.  Oh, all the rest are taken.  Try the teacher station.  The login is weird, though.  Hold on--I'll get you in.  There.  LAURA, SIT DOWN!

Okay, at the test site where it says "Login" type your first intial, middle initial, and the first five letters of your last name.  Yes, Ann?  I don't know what to do if you have no middle initial.  The instructions don't say.  Try it without.  Yes, Fredricka?  That's right, your last name only has three letters.  Try all three and see what happens.  Yes, Ann?  It CRASHED?  Close the browser and try again.  Yes, Fredericka?  Error?  What kind of error?  Huh.  I have no idea what that means.  Let me see if the instructions say anything.  "If the student's last name has fewer than five letters, fill in the remaining letters with the letter Q."  Try that.  Ann, are able to get in?  Oh, good.

No, Collin, you may not go to the bathroom.  You haven't even logged into the test yet.

Is everyone logged into the site?  What time is it?  Holy--okay, let's get moving.  Click where it says BEGIN READING TEST.  Once you begin, I can't give you any help.

Yes, Collin, now you may run to the bathroom.  Hurry up.  LAURA, SIT DOWN.

Yes, Ann?  Let me see.  What is that--three-point font?  I can't read it, either.  Is there a view function that lets you change it?  The timer is running.  I can't do--crap.  The time on the question ran out.  Try this.  There we go.  Well, you missed the first question, but do your best with the rest and--no, don't cry, dear.  I'm sure the test will take that into account.  Somehow.

Is that the bell?
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
When I awoke from the kitten dream (see previous entry), I had a dreadful migraine.  Unfortunatley, it was 5:20 AM, half an hour before I have to get up.  Terribly inconvenient time for a migraine headache, because the medication makes me a little loopy and I'd rather be able to sleep for a couple more hours.  However, there was nothing for it.  I got up and took a couple of pills, then went back to bed for another half hour.

When my alarm went off, the pain was lessened, but still present.  I took another tablet.  Now the pain is gone, and I'm in a pleanant semi-fog.  Good thing my students are working in the computer lab today or I'd be in trouble...
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
In Michigan, the GOP made it illegal for the teacher unions to collect union dues directly from paychecks because it was "an expensive burden" for school districts to handle it.  (This is a blatant lie--thanks to computerized paychecks, it costs the district literally nothing to deduct union dues and send them to the union. The GOP wants to hurt the union by depriving it of money.)  Union dues have to be collected from individual members.  The GOP also made it illegal to collect political action committee (PAC) money as part of regular dues.  PAC dues have to be done separately--another move to hurt unions, which usually vote Democrat.

Our PAC collection person left this year and we needed a new person.  I volunteered.  I'm the PAC man now.  I get to walk into classrooms with a crowbar and say things like, "Nice overhead projector you have there.  Shame if something happened to it."

Well, I haven't said that to anyone.  Yet.

However, in the spirit of drawing more flies with honey, I thought it would be a good idea to hold a contest.  Perhaps a raffle.  Turn in your PAC money on time, and you're entered into the drawing for a prize.  But what could be the prize?

I have a partner in collection, and I ran the idea past her.  She loved the idea and pointed out that we have a number of premium reserved parking spaces.  We could use one of those for the prize.  That, I agreed, was a perfect idea.  Best part?  It costs nothing!

We cleared it with the administration, and I sent out the notice.  Already I've gotten lots of fat envelopes filled with PAC dues.

Maybe I can put away that crowbar.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
A few days ago, it was so warm we opened up all the windows and doors to bring fresh air into the stale winter house.  Every yard was warm and dry.  I even saw some buds on a few brave--and foolish--trees.

Naturally, with this came the Leaf Blower Brigade.

Yes, it was the middle of February, and my neighbors were rushing outside with their leaf blowers to get a jump on spring lawn cleanup.  The neighborhood was raucus with airy snarling and growling.  Really, I wanted to shove a grenade up their blowpipes just to stop the noise.  This =is= Michigan, after all.  What fool clears the lawn in February?

Sure enough, that very night, a windstorm blasted across Michigan.  Forty and fifty mile an hour winds upended everything that wasn't nailed down, and many things that were.  Trees toppled, and debris, debris, debris tumbled.  I felt a deep satisfcation as I saw my neighbors' newly pristine lawns become Nature's dumping ground.  Between the new leaves, pine needs, branches, and medium-sized trees, it looked like they hadn't done a thing.

But before they could get a grip on this, they were punished even further.  The snow arrived.

It hit all at once, promptly as predicted, at 9 AM Thursday morning.  Wet, sticky clumps that crashed down from the sky and turned eveery lot and lawn white in moments.

Rumors flew around school. They were sending everyone home at lunch. One of the other high schools had already canceled.  The superintendent had already decided to cancel school tomorrow but hadn't told anyone yet.

I told my students that in my 20 years of teaching, I'd only seen one instance of everyone being sent home early, and the district never canceled school for a single building during inclement weather.  "Anything's possible," I said, "but don't count on it until it happens."

Meanwhile, the Internet reported that the state captiol was shutting down for the day and county offices were shutting down for the day and the school district was canceling all after-school school activities for the day.  Rumors intensified.

During fifth hour, we got an email.  School was being released half an hour early.  (!)  This was to ensure the buses would be able to get everyone home at a normal time.  (Maksim's bus left way early, but he ultimately arrived home at his regular time.)

I called Darwin to tell him.  "You might want to close village hall for the day and start home," I said.

"I can't," he said.  "I'm swamped."

The roads were horrible and dangerous on my short drive home.  I texted Darwin to tell him he should leave ASAP.

"I'll be leaving at 4:30," he responded.

Ten minutes later, I got another text: "I'm closing village hall at 3:30."

A little while after that, I got the call--school is closed tomorrow.  It's only the second time in twenty years they've closed it this early for weather.

Meanwhile, all over the neighborhood, the same people who had been laboring with their leafblowers were outside with snow blowers and snow shovels.  I glanced at my own untouched lawn, which looked exactly the same as theirs, with a certain amount of un-neighborly satisfaction.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Whenever the school district hands us major changes in the curriculum--and lately that's been happening every year--I lose enormous amounts of planning time.  Instead of being able to tweak existing material, I have to create brand new material, an exhausting and time-consuming process.  Writing lesson plans takes four or five times longer than normal.

When this happens, unchanged classes suffer.  I'm forced to do exactly what I did in previous years, no changes or edits, because I just don't have time to look at anything new.

This year, both my English 12 and my English 9 classes have been severly revamped by the district, and I'm rushing to keep up.  So my poor mythology class has been shorted.  In fact, I skipped over two major projects for the simple reason that I wouldn't have time to grade them.  Unfortunately, this is now coming back to bite me.  I've gone through all the straightforward material for the class and I still have four weeks to go in the marking period.  (This is what skipping projects does for you.)  So I either have to backtrack and do the projects, or add more reading material.  Both involve yet more time I just don't have.

I did set up one project and ran into the problem that the computer labs aren't available due to testing, and figuring out a workaround took time away from working out English 9.  It's a never-ending cycle.

And it happens every year now.

I'm wiped out.  Every year the government says, "Guess what!  We've figured out the PERFECT way for you to teach. Do it this way now!"  It adds a tremendous lot of work on top of what we're already doing, and the students suffer when the teachers can't keep up.


stevenpiziks: (Default)

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