27 September 2010

Where I've been, and why those mandates don't often work

Hey there, long time, no read

I'd apologize for not gracing your monitor recently, but I'm not all that sorry. You see, I've been doing important things, like running a homecoming week and going to inservices.

For those of you who aren't immersed in the world of education, an inservice is one of those days when your kids don't go to school, but teachers do. (homecoming week I'm going to assume you remember) Theoretically, we use this time (the inservice time) to become better teachers. In reality, we use this time to act like students. That is, we doodle, pass notes, text, and watch the clock. Oh, and we go out to lunch, and get to have more than 30 minutes in which to eat.

It's good times, except when it's not. Like last Friday.

Last Friday, we had an inservice. We learned a lot of new acronyms, which means that we'll be better teachers. Now, I know that you know how Dr. Johncock feels about acronyms, and I feel similarly. I think that they are most often created by people who have a need to try to quantify, through a simple, 18 step process, how education actually works. These people are almost certainly all idiots.

All of the following are actual acronyms that I either learned or re-learned on Friday: IEP, ILP, SLIC, SIED, ASD, NEP, LEP, FEP, STEM, SAC, and RTI.

We spent literally hours on this. None of it will make me a better teacher. We had precious little time to actually talk to other teachers about what they're doing, to discuss cross-curricular lesson planning, or to observe them in action with students. We also got to watch some of our co-workers, who are trained in these acronyms show us PowerPoint presentations. Now, don't get me wrong, I love PowerPoint and use it in class almost daily. It ensures that all of my classes get the same exact information, and it's easy to email home to parents who have sick/suspended/skipping kids.

However, I hate to watch people who don't use PowerPoint very often use it. They need to
watch this guy and then actually not do those things.

I also hate to watch people try to put a video up on the screen. Practice it once or twice. I don't want to watch you be bamboozled by a projector for 3 minutes. Small wonder we're told not to lecture, since technology has made us worse at it.

I don't even blame my coworkers. Most of them know that lecture isn't their strong point, but they've been asked by their supervisors if they couldn't just "say a little bit, maybe help us out". Then, they're wedged into a time slot that either way to long, or way to short, and expected to teach other teachers. And they get no extra time during their already hectic day to prepare.

I'd love to give you 3500 words on how good lecture can be, and how hard it is to make lecture look easy, but that's a post for another day.

Returning to my story of woe from Friday: We sat in meetings, and now our leadership can check that box for their superiors. Then our superiors can check that box off in that binder of mandates from the state DOE, and they'll declare us Professionally Developed. So, it looks, to an outsider, like we got something done, and became better teachers.

Don't be fooled. All I got done was a bitchin' sketch of a rocket powered car. And I learned what the Friday special was at the local Bar-B-Q joint.

10 September 2010

Friday U-boat, ed. 2

Editor's note:

This u-boat, like all u-boats that were mean-spirited have been removed by request of the management

09 September 2010

Don't worry, public school makes America dumber too!

Into every life some rain must fall, as they say. And into every educator's life some directives must fall.

"Don't write passes too much"

"Let this kid go five minutes early to use the elevator"

"Give less homework"

"Give more authentic assessments"

"Call every kid who you teach who is getting an F"

I've received all of these directives at some point in my career, and many of them more than once. Sometimes, in an effort to foster that mythical "buy-in", the directives come from committees of teachers and administrators. Other times, the directive simply comes from on high. For the record, I prefer the one that comes from on high, because I find it less insulting, generally. The principals are my bosses, and they give me direction, that's how work works.

You see how I used generally there? That's for a reason. Because I don't like it when a directive is handed down from on high and is really dumb or repetitive. Or both.

And that's where I firmly place "Call every kid who you teach who is getting an F". Those of you who work outside of schools are seriously considering quitting this blog about now, but you're also thinking that this sounds like a reasonable directive. It's not.

Here's why:
I teach high school kids. Some kids who are failing my class are seniors. They can vote. They can drive. They can serve and die for their country.

They (and their parents for that matter) can check the Internets and see what the grade is. Or, they could look at the work they get back, do some simple math, and determine what their grade is.

They should know their grade.

But no, the powers that be want me to call them, and make sure they know. Because if they didn't, they might be surprised and bitch and moan when their kid didn't have enough credits to graduate. Never mind personal responsibility.

Do you have the expectation that you Kwik-E-Lube will call you to remind you that your car is due for service? No, because they gave you a sticker, and your car has an odometer, and you can figure it out. (and yes, I realize that many cars do remind you, but that part of the rant is coming up in 2 paragraphs). Better yet, would you complain to Kwik-E-Lube that the car ran out of oil and the engine seized? If you would, just stop reading my blog, because I'm disgusted by you.

Still reading? Good.

I'm going to throw some more examples and rhetorical questions in here, because I'm rolling.

Do you have the expectation that your doctor will call you, and check on how that diet plan is going? How about your bank? Should they call you to remind you to pay your mortgage? Maybe you'd like the restaurant to cut that steak up for you in the kitchen.

I think that this is part of a larger problem in America. We're not just allowing ourselves to get dumber, we're accelerating the process, and we're happy about it. We want our car to remind us that we need our oil changed. We want FoxNews or MSNBC to form our opinion for us. We want Word to fix our misspellings. We want to actively think less. Then, we're going to use that spare brain power to play Farmville.

I don't know when or where this started (though I'm tempted to blame Beavis and Butthead, or MTV in general, but I can't, because I secretly love Jersey Shore). I don't think it was like this when I was in high school (we'll call it 10 years ago, in a generous estimation). I feel like my teachers pushed me hard, and held me accountable. I could be wrong, though, because I was a good student, and even with this directive, they wouldn't have needed to call home.

In an amazing revelation, I don't know what the solution is. But I do know how I feel about it.I think it's sad. (not that I don't have the answer, but that we're spoon feeding everyone everything).

So, I'm going to do my part to make America smarter by not calling parents of failing students. Because I love America, and I want us to keep thinking.

08 September 2010

The STFU Method of Behaviour Modification

Welcome back dear friends, to another guest post by yours truly, Dr. Dick Johncock. Today, I hope to start to explain a little bit more of my revolutionary NBR behaviour modification system.

In review, my last post was all about my belief, as a behaviourist, that negative behaviour must be met with a prompt response, and that, if this response causes discomfort for the student, the behaviour will be changed.

However, many schools face budget shortfalls, and have teachers who are so involved in activities which take up their time and energy, necessitating that this concept must be acronymized. And so, I have used my many years of education experience to concentrate the basic concept I am advocating down into one simple acronym, with four simple steps:

Step One : Student commits an unacceptable act - Teachers recognize this step quite readily. Students do things they ought not do. They lie, hit, talk out, and demonstrate in myriad other ways that they are not yet ready for polite society.

Step Two: Teacher responds with a punishment of some sort. In the prior era of education, this response was often swift and physical. However, as a result of the softening of society, schools (especially American public schools, wary as they are of litigation) very rarely still implement corporal punishment. However, teachers in my system are still encouraged to respond quickly, using a punishment from the OOP (which I will unveil at a later date).

Step Three: Follow-up. Following punishment, student and teacher should have a brief conference to discuss why the punishment occurred. Should the student be angry or defiant, a second trip to step two may be necessary. If the behaviour was extraordinarily outlandish, parents and administrators should be contacted, so that they may also follow-up with students.

Step Four: Understand. Students, through the negative consequence they received, and the follow-up from teachers, parents, and administrators begin to understand that misbehaviour will result in punishment, and that punishment is unpleasant. Thus, students will begin to not misbehave. To put it in the quaint vernacular of the American teen, they will realize that "being punished sucks".

Obviously, there is a need to share this system with students, as you would any new policy. I think it works best if you emphasize the simple nature and predictability that comes with this new system for students. Simply have them write the four steps on their syllabus or notebook: 


In our acronym filled world, this process gets a new simple name. The way I encourage you to deal with that rowdy student? Remind him to STFU.

04 September 2010

A Friday U-boat on your Saturday morning

Editor's note:

This u-boat, like all u-boats that were mean-spirited have been removed by request of the management

01 September 2010

School Choice, or how I learned to write an almost un-humourous blog post

School choice has been much in the news lately, as pundits across the nation weigh in on the LA Times' decision to publish the "evaluation data" for 6000 elementary teachers in the LA Unified School District. ( check it out here ). For what its worth, I don't mind the paper publishing the data, although I do think any attempt to judge teachers by it is probably vastly misguided.

I know you're thinking that judging teachers by a test is fair, since that's how we judge students. But that's not entirely true. You see, teachers try to get students to improve. If students have deficiencies, teachers can try to overcome those, but even the best teacher won't always get a kid to "grade level" in one year. Do we judge the DMV on how many people get licenses? No. Nor should we. To take the crappy analogy one step further, do we judge drivers' education businesses on how many people get in crashes? I don't. But I'm intelligent, and work in education.

Anyway, this is a giant introduction to my current angry rant; school choice.

Now I know that I'm going to sound like an old fogey when I really get rolling here, but I don't think students and parents should get to choose. Unless that choice is a private school, in which case, hey, go crazy, waste that money.

I know, I know, people deserve choice. That's what make capitalism great, choice. Here's the problem. On occasion, people must be forced into doing something without choice, for the greater good. So, I want you to think about public education (and a lack of choice therein) as jury duty. (admittedly, this comparison is probably not entirely the best I've ever come up with, since people hate jury duty, but hang with me).

So, when the summons to jury duty comes, you get on facebook, you talk to people at work, you bitch. But when the day actually comes, you and 500 other people, with whom you have very little in common, gather in the basement of the courthouse, and you wait to be called to do your civic duty. No one gets to say, "I'm smarter/richer/more civically involved, I want to get civil court". They might get excused when they get upstairs and have a conflict of interest, but in the jury pool room, everyone waits.

And this is good. It's good for the nation, and for the people, because they're all doing their civic duty, and making the country better. That's what schools should do. They should make the country smarter and better, not just better test takers.

See, this is a segue, I went from jury to school, but how will I get to hating on charter schools?

Here's how

Charter schools represent parents pulling their kids from a traditional public school to go to a school that the parents think is better. Which is fine for your kids but bad for the country. You see, public schools serve many purposes. They build community, they force kids to interact (socially and academically) with students very different from themselves, and they teach communal values and civic behavior. They also serve students who's parents don't give a damn, and students who might have problems which only educational professionals can help to remedy.

Let's envision a world full of charter schools. Parents pick and choose a program "best" for their child. What does that do? I'll make some bold predictions.

Prediction 1:

Public schools only have the dregs. Congratulations, conservatives, you've re-segregated, only this time you've done it by class and level of caring. The best students are at charter or private schools. Special ed students, poorer students who can't afford transportation, and students who's parents are asleep at the switch, for whatever reason are the only people left in public schools. The upside is that education gets cheaper for the taxpayers! (but if we're talking about fiscal responsibility, we would have to talk about entitlement programs and the military, so we'll save those for another day.)

Prediction 2:

The "best" students become more and more specialized, because they are only surrounded by people and a building that specializes. This hampers their growth, because they are never truly given the opportunity for exposure to things they didn't know they liked. And, since kids will be constantly changing schools, they don't build those durable friendships that so many of us cherish from our youth.

Prediction 3:

America gets dumber. I know this seems hard to believe, given the dumbness already prevalent on the National Mall and cable news. But here's what I foresee happening: As American students become more and more stratified, they lose the one thing which has consistently made America better than other countries, the ability to engage in civil civic discourse. So, America becomes dumber, because young people progressively insulate themselves further and further into their own echo chambers, refusing to intellectually challenge themselves, and that makes us all dumber.

Anyway, I know this was a downer, and that it wasn't all that funny. So, in the words of a coworker, to reward you for reading all the way to the bottom, here's a picture of a velociraptor on a bicycle