31 July 2006

Mixed Bag

There is quite the diversity of new-to-the-profession hires this year, considering that there are only five of them. My task is to plan a day of "induction training" for them that we will have in about three weeks. I'm a bit perplexed on how to accomplish this and make it meaningful to everyone when...
  • three will have SPED jobs---two of which are in self-contained classrooms for students who have significant needs
  • two are former paraeducators with lots of classroom experience
  • one who will be teaching a career oriented track to small groups of students
  • four are housed at the same school; the other is an elementary teacher
In other words, only one of the five will be in a typical classroom. At this point, I'm thinking that it might be most useful to set the SPEDs up with someone in our Special Services department to get into the nitty gritty of the things they really need to know. That leaves me with the two "regular" track teachers---and perhaps it might be good for us to just meet at school, work on setting up their classrooms and use that as a basis for talking about classroom expectations and so on.

I know that every classroom role is different, so I did expect a mixed bag of newbies...but maybe not quite this sort of disparity. I'm hoping that I'll be able to find a way to make some magic happen...find some common ground for us to share that day. Right now, it's hard for me to find that for them.

29 July 2006

Because I Said So

My school district, like many others in the area, has spent a lot of money with the BERC group. The Baker Evaluation, Research, and Consulting (BERC) group is run by Duane Baker---a former teacher in this district who now has his own little piece of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation in order to help with school improvement issues. Baker is a dynamic guy and his firm has done a lot of research in classrooms and worked to develop some tools for schools.

The administration here is very excited about Baker, as are some of the teachers. I'm supposed to be on this bandwagon, but there are a few things that bother me. If he's such hot stuff, how come he doesn't publish? There aren't any citations in the professional literature that refer to him. It seems odd that he has not engaged in any peer review of his ideas. In addition to that, he offers no independent support for his ideas. We are supposed to think they're grand simply because he says so...and I'm afraid that reason is not quite good enough for me. Where is your data for us to examine? What other professional researchers can corroborate your work? Whose work has influenced yours?

I don't think I'm the only skeptic in the district, but that's a difficult thing to gauge. Administrators are pumped up and there are some good conversations about effective instruction (finally) taking place. I just hate to think that in a time where budgets are growing ever tighter that we might be spending our precious monies on a prophet for profit.

28 July 2006

Druthers

School is starting to sneak back into the realm of Have-to's, pushing out all of my Druthers. I suppose in some ways, I really haven't had much of the summer off because of the WASL prep seminars, but it has been a very simple schedule for the last month and light workload.

August is a very big month for Curriculum: lots of trainings and meetings to prepare for and deliver. Most of the time I'm responsible for planning will be easy for me this year because 10 grades have new curriculum. They'll be busy getting better acquainted with things. I still need to get organized enough to tell the trainers some specific items that teachers should focus on. The sooner I do that, the better for them.

This year, it's the grades 10 - 12 crowd that have me a bit stumped, especially the teachers who primarily have juniors and seniors. They don't have the state test on their backs---although they do have lots and lots of kids who won't have passed it. Most kids are finished with their science graduation requirements by the end of 10th grade. I know that if they had their Druthers on the day we meet, I'd just send them away to go work in their classrooms...but I'm not allowed to do that. Besides, it's an optional day---teachers aren't required to attend. So, that still leaves me with figuring out a meaningful day of staff development for them. I have talked to the math specialist and we're considering combining the groups. Should we talk intervention/remediation? College readiness? Developing district expectations for continuing math/science education beyond graduation requirements? Delving into the data more deeply?

It seems an insult to spend part of the day talking with the grades 10 - 12 teachers about instruction, but so many of them are such content specialists that their focus isn't on student learning. It's all about being the Sage on the Stage. Can we find a meaningful way to get some conversation going about best practices? Get their intellectual curiosity moving in the direction of strategies that are good for kids (especially the 60% who don't pass the state science test)?

I suppose that if I had my Druthers with this one, the math specialist would just take them for the day. :)

Any copies I want available on the inservice days need to be designated by August 14. Yikes. That's just two weeks to plan and prepare---all the while Summer Seminar and WASL is still happening. Welcome back to school, Have-to's.

26 July 2006

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It's that time of the week again. No, your Saturday evening bath is still a few days away, but you can head on over to Text Savvy for this week's edition of the Carnival of Education. Immerse yourself get that refreshed and tingling feeling all over.

25 July 2006

Walking the Talk

The final segment of my current grad course is focused around developing a more personal sense of leadership: figure out where you are so that you know where to head next. One of the tasks involved a Philosophy of Education Inventory (You can take it, too! Just like a quiz in Cosmo!). Developed by Lorraine Zinn, it's a way of examining where you stand in relation to five major viewpoints of the purpose of education. They are
  • Behavioral Philosophy - “to teach children to comply with certain standards or expectations set by societal leaders or professional experts.
  • Comprehensive Philosophy - “liberal arts…to provide a broad-based, general education rather than a specialized or vocational education.
  • Progressive Philosophy - “educating people to live responsibly and resolve problems cooperatively within a democratic society.
  • Humanistic Philosophy - “education for self-actualization, or self-initiated development of a person’s skills and potential to lead to a fulfilling life of challenge and growth.”
  • Social Change Philosophy - “education as a primary force for achieving social change, or transforming society.
Really, without completing the inventory, you can probably see one or two areas that appeal to you. When I originally did the inventory last year, it was within a larger context: how do you work with other teachers who have a different philosophy than you? I think this is a much better way to view the inventory. My beliefs are one thing---but I don't work in a vacuum.

The other thing about the inventory that is interesting is to look at these philosophies in terms of generations. When you think about your school and the "humanistic" teachers...how old are they? What about the younger set---are all they "behaviorists"? One's philosophy develops and changes depending on what the educational schools value at a particular time and also the stage of life you find yourself in. I bet we all start off a "Social Change" types and then reality smacks us in the face.

Me? I'm equal between "Behavioral" and "Comprehensive," with a good dose of "Progressive" thrown in. I didn't score high enough on any of them to consider it my dominant vision. I think that reflects my change in job and the different hats I have to wear. How I view my role in the classroom (Comprehensive/Progressive) is very different from the role I serve with the district (Behavioral). The important thing here is not necessarily to label people, but rather to use this as a starting point in working with others.

I'm going to have to dig through my files at work. The workshop I attended last year had some great things to share about bringing together these various philosophies when trying to work toward a goal. It will make more sense now that I've done more reading---and perhaps others in my class would appreciate seeing how our current "module" can be applied. It's one thing to talk about these philosophies, but quite another when it comes time to walk with them.

24 July 2006

It's Been Swell...But The Swellin's Gone Down

As of May 1, here was our district student enrollment:
  • k: 713
  • 1: 847
  • 2: 843
  • 3: 908
  • 4: 883
  • 5: 968
  • 6: 893
  • 7: 972
  • 8: 1084
  • 9: 1129
  • 10: 1102
  • 11: 1019
  • 12: 979
As you can see, we have our largest numbers at the high school level, but that swell isn't going to last for very long. When you graduate 979 from the system the same year that only 713 enter, there are going to be some issues down the line. At an average class size of 25, you're already talking 10 fewer elementary teachers per grade level.

People just aren't makin' 'em like they used to. Kids, that is. Family sizes are smaller and the birth rate is slowing down. The numbers of pre-K children in the area are also much less than they were 10 years ago. That, coupled with housing prices that only retirees and/or "empty nesters" can afford doesn't make for a rosy financial forecast for the district. There really isn't much we can do about either of these things---we can only plan accordingly for smaller classes.

What will this mean? Fewer teachers for one...and fewer schools for another. Every school needs a kitchen staff, transportation, custodial and secretarial support, utilities, and more. Closing one or two schools is a significant savings. These closures do mean an impact on jobs. The district is hoping that attrition in one form or another will open up enough places for those with continuing contracts to be employed.

Things must be similar elsewhere. The district anticipates 30 new hires at the district orientation. Twenty have been hired so far---and not a single one of them is a teacher who is new to the profession. Considering that 20% of my job with the district next year is to support newly minted teachers, it's not looking like I'll have much to do. I doubt that the remaining 10 spots will all be filled by n00bs...not if there are experienced (and good) teachers being squeezed out of jobs elsewhere. This seems to be the case so far. Meanwhile, I doubt the district will be handing out any continuing contracts to new staff...and I know that HR was delighted this year to extend leaves of absence and sabbaticals for staff who were away this year because it meant fewer headaches in trying to find them spots to have upon return. It's only a temporary stay, of course. I don't think I'd want to be the last one hired in this district. You'd be dusting off the resume fairly quickly.

Anyone out there feeling swell?

22 July 2006

Whose Job Is It Anyway?

Can you think of a teacher who isn't very effective in the classroom? Maybe it's a colleague...or someone your child had...or one from your own experiences as a student. Ineffective teachers not only make a negative impact during the time students sit in their classrooms, but some research suggests that there is a residual impact in following years. What can we do to change this situation?

It seems easy to place the responsibility on the principal. She or he is, after all, the instructional leader and evaluator. If hiring staff falls onto the shoulders of the principal, shouldn't firing? Of course, you'd hope that some sort of "intervention" might happen first, but my guess is that most teachers avoid this if it is suggested. Once you have been on an improvement plan, it becomes part of every job application you fill out in following years. This allows a lot of bad teachers to simply resign and get a job elsewhere---but doesn't really address the problem. Meanwhile, many principals are unwilling to take on The Union, even though there are provisions in the contract for removing ineffectual teachers from the classroom.

Perhaps it is the role of teacher leaders in the building to work with others to improve what happens in the classroom. As much as I like this idea (I am working toward a degree in Teacher Leadership, after all), this also poses some awkward issues. If teachers are working as peer coaches, this format could probably work. My experience, however, is that ineffective teachers are also those who are least likely to open their classrooms to others or seek out professional support. Is it possible that a principal could set an expectation that everyone participate in professional learning communities that include peer observation? Sure. Buy-in to such a program would be an issue, but perhaps it would remove the burden from teachers. Maybe some staff discussion about evaluation vs. observation would be useful.

What about the teacher who's not performing well? Shouldn't s/he recognize that the work being done in the classroom is not providing kids with the education they need? I have known a few teachers who do, but stay in the classroom because they are concerned about losing their retirement or because they only have a few more years until they retire. In the first case, they have felt trapped. They know they should leave, but the financial risk is too great. A valid concern---is there a way around that? The other general teacher type I run across is one who firmly believes that what happens in the classroom is about whatever the teacher wants, and not what kids need. This can be a fairly entrenched personal philosophy---it may even be what drew someone to the profession. Is it possible for them to shift their thinking and reframe their talents and abilities?

Parents and kids know very well which teachers are "good" at a certain school. They do get a voice in terms of classroom assignments, but other than that, they have no input into preventing other students from having a year of poor instruction. Should they be given a voice in the process? Could it be framed in such a way that keeps it from being personal...when we're talking about the needs of kids?

At a time when finding highly-qualified teachers is already difficult, the prospect of exiting teachers from the profession isn't necessarily welcome. Whose job is it to first point out that someone needs to make more of an effort in the classroom? Who provides the support to make the changes? And who monitors things and/or provides a graceful exit from teaching, if needed? How do we as an educational community give kids the best experience possible?

21 July 2006

Under Attack

Maybe it's the heat, but this picture from one of the webcams focused on Mt. St. Helens makes me laugh. Okay, so silly things are supposed to do that. Anyway, perhaps you, too, will enjoy seeing the volcano under attack from a giant insect.

Here's to cooler temps and being less punchy. 99 degrees for western Washington is too darned hot for any serious blogging.

Image Credit Unknown

20 July 2006

Paper Tigers

Ditto Machine by Firexbrat CC-BY-NC-ND
When I started teaching, this machine was a teacher's best friend. Do you youngsters out there recognize it? It's a mimeograph---a primitive sort of xerox machine. Teachers would make a purple stencil, load it onto a drum, crank the handle, and a fluid would be used to transfer the stencil onto paper. The fluid had a very keen odor. Many students (and teachers) enjoyed sniffing a fresh stack of papers. Ah, the good old days.

(As an aside, remember "Ditto" from the movie "Teachers"?)

The next machine to enter my teaching life was a risograph---the bastard offspring of a

DSCF3478 by Nottinghac CC-BY-SA

mimeograph and a legitimate copy machine. It could make far more copies more quickly, but still required a stencil. There seemed to be a continuous battle with &*@$#*! rolls of masters.

I now get to work with honest to goodness copy machines, which do have their glitches, but are much more user friendly. I had two new experiences with them today. One was to negotiate a contract for the new science kit center. All I can say is that Kinko's must be making a killing if it only costs half of a cent to make a copy. I'm very happy with the deal we're getting. Machine, supplies, service, and a quarter of a million copies a year for four grand.

My second interaction in Copyland today was not quite so pleasant. The district does have its own copy center: a room with two industrial-sized machines and two full-time clerical staff to run them. (Can you believe we pay people to just make copies?!) An order from the science staff at one school had been provided to the copy center and the person there just couldn't handle it. I provided copies of the new lab manuals and study guides. I even gave her a copy of the CD-ROMs that come with the new curriculum. She was incredibly flustered that she couldn't find the pages on the software and instead of making copies from the "hard" set I'd provided, she called to rail at me about how the publisher should give her electronic versions of each book separately. It was one of those times where I actually set the phone down and worked on my computer until I heard silence on the other end. "I'll get right on that!" I quickly replied and hung up. It took no more than ten minutes for me to make and deliver a set to her to use...but I felt really irritated by the whole thing. It seemed like she could have saved us three days of phone messages, e-mail, and in-person conversations by just making the set of master copies herself. Bah.

Will we still need so many copy machines in the future? Will classrooms eventually become paperless---sending and receiving assignments wirelessly? Who knows. There may still be another beast to master in copy room before I retire.

19 July 2006

It's a Bird! It's a Plane!

No---even better.

It's time for this week's Carnival of Education! Do head over to Mike's place, catch up on all the news that's fit to blog. You'll be getting a real treat.

2009 IL State Fair by myoldpostcards CC-BY-NC-ND

18 July 2006

They're Everywhere!

As Mr. Lawrence recently noted, it's difficult not to run into former students in The Real World. I seem to be seeing lots of kiddos who graduated several years ago. I haven't gone many places without being recognized. The hard part is that while I likely haven't changed a whole lot in the last 10 years, they have changed a lot. The little scrawny 15-year old boy is now a 23-year old man. The jawline is different as is the build. I am often grateful for their name tags.

I like to hear their stories and find out the directions their lives have taken. It's one thing to have been involved with them at the beginning of their young adult lives when they felt that the future had amazing promise. And it's quite another to chat with the pizza delivery guy and find out why things haven't quite panned out as intended.

I will miss this aspect of being in the classroom: having a more direct connection with kids...watching them grow up and become peers in the community. On the other hand, maybe working throughout the district will allow me to build relationships with a larger part of our youth. I'm glad they're everywhere.

17 July 2006

Midsummer

I find it hard to believe that school has nearly been out for a month...and one month from today is when the new district hires will be reporting for their orientation meetings. Somehow, I think those meetings would be far more fun if there was some sort of secret handshake and ritual involved. So far, there are 20 new hires, but none of them are new to the profession. My .2 job as mentor to new teachers is looking pretty darned cushy at the moment.

Summer Seminar kicked off its second full week today. This program, too, will reach its midpoint this week.

I connected with another specialist today at an all-day project that has been part of our lives since January. We spent most of the day just catching one another up on various things that we've been working on since school got out (like planning for the new kit center and impressions of Boss Lady 2.0) and thinking on to all of the things for next month. Neither of us has the official summer vacation, really---just a lull in activity between school years.

But it is definitely summer outside. Sunny skies, warm temps, and cool lemonade abound. Maybe being in the middle is just another way of being at the center of things. No matter how much work is still floating around, it feels good to be in the midst of summer.

15 July 2006

Must Be Summer







































Come on over. You've missed the strawberries and raspberries...the peonies and rhododendrons. Don't lose out on the other delights in the yard.

13 July 2006

Save Us, White Boy!

I met with the new me today: the person who will take my summer work and make it a full-time year-round position. I was on the interview committee for this job and this guy was not the first choice. We were railroaded by the new Boss Lady who had apparently made up her mind before we interviewed anyone (and she was ably assisted by one of the junior high principals).

I truly hope that I have to eat my words about this guy. I'd like to think that he will be someone who can not only figure out how to work with the high schools to help kids who don't pass the state tests---but also can do something about the frightening achievement gaps we have in our elementaries. But after spending time with this guy today, I think Boss Lady 2.0 made the wrong call in hiring him.

He comes across as a smug know-it-all creep. And that's probably the nicest way I can describe him. Gosh, the elementaries must not know how to grade. He'd better look at the report cards and see what's wrong with them. He'll fix communications right up with parents by sending out more letters. Can't the clerical staff make all the hundreds of phone calls? (He has a reputation of crapping on secretaries and not being able to finish tasks on his own.) He doesn't need anything we developed this spring, because hey, it's probably useless anyway. If he heads out like a bull in a china shop to the schools in a few months, he's going to send a message he can never overcome.

Half of his job is to be the district resource person for "cultural competency," a role he thinks he's highly qualified for. You see, he worked with the privileged offspring of diplomats at a private school in Africa. I do imagine that gave him some experience in working with a variety of viewpoints, but that's not the same as working with Kurdish immigrants, welfare families, and the other stakeholders we have here. And he's white. And male. I know he can't help that, but I think the district would have done well to recruit someone who has other connections to the community.

Mighty White Boy looks like he's going to crash and burn. Oh, I hope I'm wrong. There's too much at stake for our kiddos.

12 July 2006

Boss Lady 2.0

In all of the hullabaloo regarding getting the Summer Seminars up and running, I've neglected to share much about Boss Lady 2.0. The first one got a job at the state head shed mid-June and departed about 6 days later. "2.0" was serving another role in the district and was appointed to be the Big Cheese of Curriculum.

It doesn't appear the Boss Lady 2.0 is going to represent something terribly different for our department. She has been jealous of the resources this department has and now that she has them, I think she'll manage them well. Some of these resources are people, to be sure, but she isn't interested in micro-management any more than the previous jefe. Meanwhile, any projects that were lined up for next year are still lined up. She isn't going to alter any plans that have already been set into action. This is a real relief.

There will be a few changes. We are actually going to have department meetings, something each of us asked for in our individual meetings with her. Communications might actually be improved. Boss Lady 2.0 isn't wrapped around the finger of our literacy specialist---so all of the coaches and subs that are currently apportioned for writing will likely be reassigned after this year. Everyone in the office (except for the literacy specialist) is happy about this.

Welcome to the new Overlady. The Queen is dead...long live the Queen. Or, whatever's appropriate to greeting the new boss. Long may she reign. (And I hope I don't have to eat these words.)

11 July 2006

Summer Seminar vs. Summer School

Summer school---the kind that parents and kids pay for and students can receive credit if classes are completed---had its kick-off yesterday. There were lots of last minute registrations. Most of these were due to the schools sending out notices late, rather than families being lazy about getting kids enrolled.

My teachers and program are an oasis. And after working for the Summer Seminar, I don't think these teachers will consider doing regular summer school again. Why? First of all, we pay more. Our math stipend is $7200---and yes, the teachers do work more hours than they would in summer school, but they also have far fewer students. The Reading teacher has 6 kids and will make as much as if she'd taught the 30+ high school kids downstairs. Meanwhile, there's no grading. Kids do receive formative assessments all the way along, but with 6 - 14 kids in a class, the take home work is minimal. And finally? The curriculum is already pre-designed. So much for planning time.

As for me, I have a pretty sweet deal, too. Most of the work I was hired for is complete. I'll have to deal with the WASL retakes in a few weeks, but otherwise, this has been about the easiest $10K I've ever made. It will likely be the last attainable (and generous) stipend, too, as a "Student Success Specialist" has been hired to do this job full-time and year-round.

Eighteen more days. :)

08 July 2006

Cause for Alarm?

Our Summer Seminar program begins in earnest on Monday. We'll add Reading and Writing classes to the mix. So far, we've just had kids coming for help with math. Two parent phone calls this week left me scratching my head.

In the first case, the parent was frenzied because her child "was learning new things." Yes, you read that correctly. I wasn't aware that this would be a bone of contention about the program, but I have been duly served notice of it. I admit that there isn't anything I can really do about this...and even if I could, I'm not sure that I would make an effort. I believe that new learning is beneficial.

Secondly, I had a parent who couldn't believe that her son would ditch class. "He said he's been going." Um, okay. I'm sure he's been going somewhere during the day---but he hasn't been with us. Was I sure I checked all of the classrooms? Yes, all two of them. I'm not sure what direction things took at home Friday evening or if this conversation will continue. It seemed to me that the parent could ask the kid for samples of the work completed as evidence of attendance...but what do I know? I'm only there to actually see the kids.

There's certain to be more interesting exchanges with parents over the next few days and weeks. En garde!

07 July 2006

Summer Reading

Time for a little levity around here. And just in time for my 500th post! Someone forwarded a list of 25 analogies and metaphors gone awry, supposedly submitted by English teachers across the country. Take that idea with the same large grain of salt that one does with any multi-forwarded e-mail, but enjoy them all the same. I just picked my 10 faves.

  1. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
  2. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
  3. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
  4. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
  5. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
  6. McBride fell twelve stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
  7. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.
  8. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
  9. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
  10. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

06 July 2006

New News and Old News

A reporter came to hang out with our math kiddos this morning. We're grateful for the good publicity for the program and I think the students liked the attention. The teachers and I are anxious to see the finished article, which should be available in Saturday's paper. New news is good news in this case.

I was struck this morning by just how diverse the two classes of students are. I "created" the sections by grouping kids according to their WASL scores. This program is really meant to support students within a narrow range of scores and while we certainly didn't want to turn away any student in need, we had some concerns about holding back/slowing down the learning of the kids who were targeted to be there.

Student scores aren't stamped on foreheads, so none of them know the basis for their class assignments (unless they figured it out on their own---we aren't advertising this feature). They're all working through the same curriculum, albeit at different paces. Can you imagine what is readily noticeable when you enter the classrooms? One class is very pale...the other has several students of color. I'll bet you can guess which one is comprised of the higher performing students.

The teachers and I talked about this some after classes today. It's news to no one that ethnicity is an issue in achievement. Yes, we know it shouldn't be---kids are kids and tests are stringently evaluated for bias here. But the reality is simply that there is an achievement gap and we have to deal with that. Old news, I know.

I will say that this newly developed curriculum we're using and change to the instructional style for the math seminar appears to be very engaging for our lower performing group. As compared to the mighty whities in the next room, this class has a lot of energy: they talk about the problems, want help, ask questions, and really get into things---even though some of the tasks are frustrating (given their ability level). I think this bodes well for future applications.

I don't know if the reporter noticed these same things today. Her focus seemed to be on the individual perspective rather than the group dynamics. She was there to cover an event rather than provide analysis of it. I guess we'll find out on Saturday what's news to her.

04 July 2006

Better Late Than Never

I've had this stencil for at least 15 years...although the copyright date makes it 20 years old. (Could I really have had it that long?!)
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
(c) Ursa Major Corp.


The idea is that you put up a stencil on the ceiling (mine was in 5 12-foot long strips) then use glow-in-the-dark paint to fill in the holes, remove the stencil, and voila!: a starry night every night.


Since I was busy painting the bedroom and generally trying to freshen things up around the house, I decided that it was finally time to pull out this stencil and use it. I've been wistfully looking at it for a long time. Years.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
(c) Ursa Major Corp.
The Ursa Major Corporation (which is still making this stencil...although in a revised version) claims that the process of applying the stencil should take about two hours. However, as a single person fighting 12 foot long strips of paper to get them applied to the ceiling, I can tell you that Ursa Major's timeframe is a bit ambitious.

My neck and shoulders are aching today, but I have to tell you, the overall effect of the stencil is well worth it. Oddly enough, there's was this sense of floating as I lie in bed last night looking at my handywork. These little pinpoints of light go give the illusion of stars...but very close ones. The stencil was big enough that I had to do some of the east-west portions on the walls and that also added an interesting effect.

I have thought about giving away the box of stencils over the last decade. It was one of those things that I wanted to do, but couldn't get the energy for...or felt like if I'd be moving soon that it wasn't worth the effort. I considered that someone else might make better use of it. I suppose that they could have, but I'm very glad that I've held onto this little package. Better late than never---I now have my starry nights.

03 July 2006

Ahead of My Time (For Once)

One of my goals for last school year was to make a class blog work. I wasn't terribly successful, in part to the lack of cooperation from our district tech service. They thought I should be grateful that my class had the only blog allowed in by the nannyware. What more could we possibly want to do other than look at it? Who needs to post or comment?

Although not a goal for the year, I also had an interest in Moodle as a tool for a variety of things. Here again, I was stymied by our tech department. Open source software? Horrors!

Maybe I was just ahead of my time. Our tech department has since gone to trainings in other districts on Moodle and is pushing it hard. And blogs? Our area Educational Service District is offering professional development for teachers in order to use these in the classroom. We will have new filtering software next year---and perhaps it will be more permissive.

I'm frustrated by the lack of opportunities I was able to provide this year because of what little support I could get. It looks like if I'd just been able to wait a year or two, I could have been on the bandwagon. That would be a whole lot more fun than battling city hall just to get the parade permit.

02 July 2006

Hard Questions

I've talked with lots of parents over the last couple of weeks---parents of kids who didn't pass the state test (WASL) this spring. Most of the kids missed it by that much, as Maxwell Smart used to say. Others were way below the mark. Regardless, there were several hard questions I was asked by parents.

The hardest of all? "How come my kid got a 'B' in Honors English, but didn't pass the Reading and Writing tests?" I also had a math version of this question asked this week: "How come the teacher didn't prepare my son for the test?"

The Honors English parent was angry---she admitted as much, because she didn't want me to think she was mad at me. But my answer didn't make her feel any better about things. What I had to say was that the teacher didn't choose to focus on the standards, and instead evaluated the student on different expectations from what the state said a 10th grader should know. Because the teacher didn't use the standards for instruction, her assessment of student skills wasn't close to the state assessment. You can imagine the follow-up question: "Why didn't she do that?" The only one who can answer that is the teacher, although the parent might also like to pose the question to the principal, who is responsible for monitoring the instruction.

To be fair, the 10th grade test should be a culmination of all of the efforts k - 10. It's easy to point to the 10th grade teacher, but there were lots of people along the way who should have been building student skills. I pointed this out to the Math Parent, who was mad not only about his kid not being prepared to pass, but also being stuck with a poor teacher (in his opinion) all year. Mr., you're going to have to call The Union on that one---they're the ones who protect bad teachers.

In two years, kids are going to have to pass the science test in order to get their diplomas. The best reason for me to do this summer work for the district is to get a "heads up" about what the interventions are going to look like before we have to be added to the mix. I've already been delivering a very unpopular message with teachers all year: if you can't document that you've done what you were required by state law to do (teach the standards assigned to you), parents can come back and sue you. Teachers don't like that idea. If you have your own personal idea of what "biology" should look like, then why would you bother seeing what the state thinks is important?

Parents are going to ask us a lot of hard questions in two short years. I hope I can help teachers see that they're going to have to be prepared to answer.

01 July 2006

Bored Much?


Is it just me---or does someone need a hobby?

FYI...these are the Bonnetts. They tried really hard to find something on the blog which would hurt me, but were unsuccessful. I hope that when I retire, I have more worthwhile things to do with my time. Same goes for Shirley Sherman. Sorry you don't have a life...but you can't have mine.

O Canada!

Happy Canada Day!

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