20 December 2011

The GOAL method for improving schools

Greetings, friends!

First, let me beg your forgiveness for my too-long absence from the hallowed (web) pages of the Blaze of Competence. I have been undertaking travels across the United States in an endeavour to examine the most important issues facing education today. Obviously, this should not have kept me from my duties as a contributor here, but it did. I can offer you no explanation, so am reduced to begging for your forgiveness.

Once you have seen fit to forgive me, I beg for your indulgence as I unveil my newest strategy to improve education. In the past, I have focused mainly on behaviour (fitting, as I hold my advanced degrees in the behaviour field). (editor's note: please click the following links for Dr. Johncock's previous writings at the BlazeBlog:NBR, STFU, and the STARS system) However, in my recent travels I realized that across this nation, teachers are focusing more and more on improving the amount of learning that students are doing, sometimes at the expense of behaviour modification. Alas, that is, as they say, another subject for another day. Indeed, even the state legislatures have taken up the banner of so-called "student achievement".

There has been some backlash amongst teaching professionals in the colonies about this new focus on learning. They decry that they must now "teach to the test" instead of being able to teach any damn thing that they want. They point out that the tests are often not very good, and are indeed poor reflections of what students have actually learned. I would counter with the my whole-hearted belief that these tests have undoubtedly been developed by the foremost thinkers in educational theory and method in the several states and that teachers have obviously been given more time than was even necessary to align their teaching to these standards which are tested by these state assessments. That teachers would have the gall to question those in positions of government granted authority who have spent many years in the educational bureaucracy avoiding schools in order to develop these tests strikes me as laughable. In short (and to use an American teen colloquialism), educators should "deal with it".

Alas, my job is not to lecture teachers on what they should and shouldn't be complaining about. My job as a behaviouralist and educational thinker is to provide solutions. After several months of labourious thought, experimentation and revision I am proud, today, to reveal the content version of the STFU method: the GOAL method of meeting state expectations for student achievement. The GOALMOMSEFSA (or GOAL method for short) provides your teachers and students with a simple, 3 step method to improve student learning, and thus improve scores on the vital measures of student learning; state standardized tests.

However, before I delve into those three key steps, let us talk about what the GOAL method means. Yet again, I have (with some input from my crack staff of educational researchers) created an acronym to help both teaching faculty and their charges to remember what the method is all about. In this case, we have decided that two are better than one, and so we have two acronyms: GOAL and AYP. I shall endeavour to explain both of them in the following.

        The GOAL Method 
G - Getting
          O - Outcomes to
     A - Align with
   L - Learning

It should go without saying that we want the outcomes (those invaluable test scores) to align with the learning we and our students are spending so much time on in the classroom. However, all too often what we have taught isn't revalatory to students on their state assessments. To remedy this failing, we here at JET (Johncock Educational Theorationaliztions) have come up with 3 simple steps that teachers and students must take to improve their demonstrations of learning on state tests.

                                     A -  All students and teachers
                 Y - Your responsibility
P - Produce

A - All students and teachers - As with most of my educational theorizations, this one is blinding in its simplicity. All teachers and all students who are going to demonstrate their learning on tests must be involved in this program. Teachers can not miss meetings for any reason. To this end, JET will provide forms to those districts who hire us to have staff complete at all staff meetings to ensure that those meetings have 100% attendance. We will also provide forms for students to complete bi-weekly in each of their core classes (those classes where learning is importantly displayed on the test) to ensure that all students are also participating in the program. We have found that having teachers and students complete forms so that their participation can be tracked is one of the most valuable parts of any educational program for improvement.

Y - Your responsibility - The central focus of both this acronym and this program is that teachers and students have responsibilities to learn material which is on the assessment. It is the responsibility of teachers to obtain sample questions and released tests and then teach that material (preferably to the point of rote memorization) so that when it appears on the test the teacher can be confident that students have learned it. Students are responsible for the actual memorization of those facts and released questions. Certainly, neither teachers nor students should be encouraged to engage in critical thought or subject material which may arise naturally. If those subjects and skills were important, the states' departments of education would have put them on the tests. If those things are not evaluated (it is safe to say they are not) then we should not waste valuable time in our hectic bell-to-bell schedule on them. The amount of time which could be sunk into teaching a skill like critical thought and evaluation could account for several year's worth of memorization of facts for the test.

P - Produce - Once the test is placed in front of students, it is up to them to produce the evidence of learning. Teachers should have spent their year having students memorize answers to the test questions, along with a small amount of test taking strategies so that when the test is in front of them, students can demonstrate their learning as quickly as possible. 

As state tests are always graded and returned with the utmost expediency, several weeks after the test is given, those students who were shown to be deficient could retake the test until they demonstrated mastery. 

I feel confident that by employing the 3 simple steps of the GOAL method, all students in all schools will make great strides in demonstrating the learning which I know has taken place there. Should you wish to contact me, either for further information on the GOAL method, or to book a professional development, please contact me here.

10 December 2011

The Social Network, er, ah, classroom?

Because I'm vain, I run analytics here on the BlazeBlog. (actually, Google runs the analytics, I just look at the information they give me). It doesn't provide an overwhelming amount of information, since I don't really do this to make money or drive traffic to the site. Quick commercial: Click an add, and Google gets paid, and then they pay me. Everybody wins! Anyway, when I look at the information on where you all come to the BlazeBlog from, I'm not at all surprised to find that many of you come here from Facebook.

Why would it surprise me? Everyone and their mothers, literally, seems to be a member of that and the now ubiquitous "social media" sites like twitter. I think I make possibly the understatement of the year when I drop this thesis statement on you: Social media has changed our lives. It has also changed how we teach and how kids learn.

I'm pretty sure it's been a change for the better. Pretty sure.

The Internet is full of stories about teachers who get in trouble over something they posted on Facepagetwitterspace. Students who go without access for even a matter of 10 minutes begin to convulse, they look like crack addicts.

Before I get into a largely arbitrary listing of the positives and negatives of the social media revolution, I think you should be privy to the ways I think that social media has changed our culture and by extension our schools and students.  (admittedly, you could of course just google and figure it out for yourself, but it's my blog, and I do what I want, so I'm going to spell out exactly how I think this revolution has changed our lives.)

1. Social media is, more than anything else, about constant contact and feedback. I think that some sociology pH.d will write a dissertation in the next decade about how the like button changed the world, and I think that dissertation will probably make a lot of good points. Think about it. Sure, social media provides constant contact, but that isn't a huge game changer. Realitically, it just means that you hear from people more often. However, if you think about it, when you were in high school you were in pretty constant contact with your friends: you rode around in cars, you hung out in basements, you made 3-way phone calls. Social media simply serves as an amplifier for those activities.

However, the feedback (be it the like button, the retweet, the whatever google+ has) is what has really changed us as a society. Sure, social media started out as a way to share what we had for breakfast. Now it has morphed into an way for us to get instant feedback on what we do. Don't lie. You like it when that little red box in the upper left of your Facebook lets you know that people are liking and commenting on your words, pictures, or links.  That's human nature. We all want to be accepted and liked. 

For students, this means that they want feedback on what they've done, and how they've done on it RIGHT FREAKING NOW! That's fine, but as long as class sizes stay large it's almost impossible with traditional assessments, unless you're willing to give mostly multiple choice tests, which are very easy to grade quickly (but which tend to do a very poor job actually measuring what students know and have learned). I think we need to move to more innovative ways of assessing, methods which can provide quicker feedback. I think that projects are a great way to do this. The final project can be presented, watched, or read relatively quickly (if teachers are willing to allow formats other than essays), and thus final grades for those efforts can be presented quickly.

Moreover, those projects (again if we're willing to allow for formats outside of the traditional essay structure) can be assessed very quickly in the draft formats. Indeed, teachers can even use social media as a tool to do this. I have in the past assigned facebook pages for famous figures in history. If students friended me with that profile, I would comment or message them with suggestions as they worked. It was a double win: they got that all-important quick feedback, and they fixed problems, leading to better scores. However, there is a concern that all of this positive feedback (the "no dislike button" problem, if you will) causes students to be adverse to hearing negative feedback, which leads us to my next belief about how social media has changed our, and our students' lives.

2. I've written about the problem of everybody getting a ribbon before. Really, most of this post is a rehash of that post. But I think that social media tends to emphasize positive feedback while minimizing negative feedback. If I block someone, or unfollow them, they don't get an email, their news feed doesn't change. However, if I get liked, or retweeted, or get a new friend, I get an email, my news feed changes, I find out. I think that this is an even bigger deal for kids. They are at an age when being accepted is a number one priority. They are very sensitive to criticism. As they live their lives shaped by their interactions with social media, I have found that they are less open to negative feedback. Their either ignore it, declare it to be untrue, or shut down when faced with negative feedback. (Some students take it and make positive changes, but they are rarer now than they were even ten years ago when I started teaching.) Why? Well, I'm not a psychoanalyst, but I suspect some of that comes from the lack of negative feedback they experience every day. I could be wrong. It happens.     

3. Social media is all about sharing. I think that it has caused us, as a society, to be more open to sharing our beliefs and feelings. It has also given us opportunities to share how dumb we are (you're a liar if you don't see some things people put on their facebook pages and judge them. You do.) Because of this, we're all (if we have a relatively open "friending policy") exposed to people with different beliefs and ideas than we hold dear. I think this is great for kids, since it's showing them how to be open minded. Also, this sharing has led to a little something one of my former students put in his facebook feed. He said that no one can be a stripper anymore, because all of our history is public.

It makes a lot of sense. There was a time when you could do work below what you wanted to do. Perhaps not stripping, but maybe a stint working as a Wal-Mart cashier. Maybe you hauled trash. Whatever it was, you could keep it secret from your peers at your professional job. Now? Not so much. How does this apply to schools and students?

Accountability. If you're friends with me on Facebook, you've probably seen the 18 minutes of me teaching in the classroom. That's great. A little embarassing, but great. I'm accountable for that. Kids are the same way. They do something dumb and post about it; people call them out. They can share their creative outlets; bands, shows, writing and people can provide support and critique. Everybody can grow if they really share on social media.

Anyway, about 990 words ago, I promised you an arbitrary list of the positives and negatives of the world of social media from a teaching standpoint. Let's hit it.

The Downsides:

A. Teachers who forget that they're teachers. If you're a teacher, and you're going to act the fool on Facebook, you better lock that puppy down. Because no matter how much you want to channel Charles Barkley, you are a role model. What you put on the interwebs will be found by your students. I've had students present me with letters I wrote to the newspaper when I was an undergrad. Most of those stories about teachers getting fired are when they do something really dumb.

B. The days of your private life being private are gone. If you're on social media sites, you're a public figure. It used to be that kids were shocked to see you shopping for groceries. Now? They probably know much more than that about you. Again, you can lock it down, but they're going to find out.

C. Cheating. Social media has made it easier for kids to share answers. Staff at schools need to be on the lookout, but also to be clever. Don't use the exact same test every year. Change answer options from hour to hour. Better yet, evaluate with tools that neutralize social media cheating. It's hard to cheat on a presentation. Memorizing the order of 5 multiple choice answers is a lot easier.

D. If you have students in your news feed, you are demoralized by their grammar conventions and spelling/word choice issues. tHeY REElly LiKe 2 ShoW hOw uNFaZed bY GrammEr theY R. The good news is, since social media won't advertise you blocking / unfollowing these people, you can do so without damaging their psyches too much.

The Upsides:

1. Social media, as I talked about 1000 words ago with the "Facebook for the famous" example, gives teachers, if they're willing to enter the arena, a way to provide feedback very quickly. Every day you can find a new way to use not just social media but technology in general to provide lighting fast response to students. They can use their phones to answer poll questions from the safety of anonymity. They can email you assignments so that you aren't lugging around paperwork. You can use shared documents on Google docs to revise as they watch.

2. If you and your students are in the same social media circles, you can communicate with them at times that aren't in class. Require students to join a Facebook group, and you can share assignment requirements, due dates, notes, whatever. If parents want to join, even better. Listen, students are going to talk about your class on social media, you might as well facilitate the discussion so that you can see what they're happy with and what they're complaining about. You can be a better teacher by finding out what your students need, and this is the place where they will most honestly tell you.

3. Social media allows you to engage students on their terms. Though we as old people may not feel as at home here, teens can't imagine a world without twitter and tumblr. That's where they go, it's how they communicate. If you're there, and communicating, it lets them know that you care about them, and it also sends a message that they are being watched by "real" people. Maybe that can help them avoid "stripper" moments.

4. As a teacher, social media can give you valuable feedback and genuine warm moments. I didn't ask for a video of me running my yap to be posted on Facebook. However, it was. The comments showed me that I had made a difference to those kids. It also gave me an opportunity to see myself. Without Facebook the video would exist, but it wouldn't have done any good.

I suspect that's the takeaway from all of this. Social media has changed the speed and way we interact with each other. But the real value is in that it lets us share. And though I bemoan (to some degree) that sharing as creating the too many ribbons/no negative feedback culture the sharing can be really useful. So teachers, pick up that mouse, and start using your social media for good!

(that said, I still hesitate to friend students, but mostly I accept them and then just hide them from my news feed. It makes all of my posts better if I think that students may be reading them. If I need to complain about kids, I can always fall back on a teacher's best friend).

26 November 2011

Is being Cart-er-ific is the best thing that happened to me?

Those of you that check your facebook have undoubtedly noticed one of the most popular memes this month has been to list something you're thankful for every day. I haven't participated, but not because I'm not thankful. I haven't participated because I think that I don't need to share the things I'm thankful for on the Internet. The Internet is a place for complaining and devaluing other peoples' opinions, not for telling the people I know what I'm thankful for.

But I am thankful, and seeing what other people are thankful for has caused me to think about what I'm thankful for. The more I thought about how fortunate I am (a natural side-effect of teaching about Africa), the more I realized that the situation I'm teaching in this year has really been a blessing. To show you how far my attitude has come, I provide you with a link to the post I wrote after my first day at work.

Huh. I didn't seem very happy. I wasn't. The biggest problem for me, I think, was the idea that I wouldn't have my own classroom. No matter where I've taught, I've had my own teaching space. I think that most American teachers would rank a classroom of their own as one of the most important factors in their success as teachers. As individual teachers, our classrooms provide the set-up for everything we do.

We cover the walls with posters, class rules, and images that send a message to students about who we are. Student work? I'm going to reward and display good work. Music posters? Talk to me about things outside of school. Souvenirs from other nations? I'm a traveler, talk to me about it. Stuffed animals? I belong in an elementary school. Maps and flags? I'm a stereotypical geography teacher. You get the idea.

In our own classroom, we establish a space that helps us to set up routines and procedures. I know that in my own room, I have a basket for on-time work and a organizer for graded work. I have tubs to let students get their missed work. I also have many many piles of paper. Everywhere. The bookshelves are covered with text books, history books, and binders of classroom activities. Student work good and ridiculous lines the walls.

However, in many schools, there aren't enough rooms to go around. Especially in middle and high schools, where students change rooms every 90 minutes, teachers often get relegated to the cart, and have to move from room to room. That's me (and thousands of other teachers) this year.

I've had teachers in my room before, but I've never had to be that guy. As the host, I never really liked it. I always ended up leaving, or putting in headphones, because if I didn't, I would end up watching/participating in class. But now I am the invader. As you can tell from reading that post from August, I was nervous about the change of roles. That makes sense, because I was right. Teaching in 5 different rooms for 6 class periods is hard.

(You know what, let me change that) Teaching in 5 different rooms for 6 class periods is HARD.

That's better.

For a person like me (piles of stuff, constantly digging examples out of books, pointing at things on the wall) not having the same room twice is really difficult. I have to plan much more specifically what I'm going to say, and the most important references I have to bring with me. Some days, I carry a backpack (with student work, seating charts, dry-erase markers, regular pens, copy paper, plan book, referral forms, laptop, laptop charger, and portable hard-drive), a re-usable Target bag (with speakers, power cords, and a sub-woofer/amp) and a projector (which my school calls a "light-box"). One room has the desks in pods, a second has lab tables, a third has desk/chair combos, and one changes weekly based on the whims of the full-timer in there. One room has a SMART board. One doesn't even have an over-head. I struggle daily to make sure I have everything I need to run class, because I can't just open a file drawer or cabinet to dig out the think I need.

It's making me the best teacher I've ever been.

Wait. What?

Oh you heard read that right. Being in 5 different rooms has made me a much better teacher than I used to be. 

I know that it doesn't make sense, but give me three minutes of your time to explain why. 

Still with me? Good. For the first month of teaching, the hardest part was the constant presence of the teacher who "owns" the room. They just sit there and plan while I teach, but I've been in their shoes, and I know that they're watching and listening. This was impossible for me. I felt like I could never have a "down" day. (Yes, I realize that this job is important/the future/appreciated but if you tell me that you never have 90 minutes at work where you aren't a super-star, I'm going to go ahead and call you a liar). Always having someone watch me made me want to really knock it out of the park every single day. I planned more than I had in years. I made sure that I was dead-on the standards, and that every activity was set up to match the best practices

That isn't easy. For the teachers who read this, think about having an observation every day. That's what teaching in a room with a veteran teacher is like. I was new, and they were sizing me up, whether they would admit it or not. I felt like I had something to prove. I made sure that my lessons were dynamic and good every day.  Since the room wasn't mine, I became a better classroom manager. There was no way I would allow a class I was responsible for to damage a room that wasn't mine. Desks end up exactly where they started, and you had better believe that the floor is cleaner than it was in J-208 at the end of the day.

But it's more than the impact on my daily teaching. If it was just that, I would have said that teaching on a cart has changed me but not that it has made me better than I've ever been. It's also that I get to talk to other teachers daily after they watch me teach. They see things that I don't. I also get to watch them interact with their students before and after class as I'm setting up. (this could be an entire post. I could tell you which teachers were great and which ones probably struggle within a week of the beginning of school, just by how they interact with students outside of a class setting). I get to see what they have on their walls, how they plan, and how they arrange desks. 

I don't know if people who don't teach can ever understand how out of the ordinary this is for teachers. In high schools teachers all live in their own little worlds. We don't spend very much time talking to each other or observing what we do differently from each other. The culture of schools has been that I won't criticize another teacher, because they have their way of doing things and I'm not an expert. By invading their rooms, and being willing to talk about a lesson, I think (at least personally) that is being broken down. I am taking everything I see and using it to be a better teacher. 

It's not that this is a pain free experience. It isn't. It sucks. That said, I think every teacher could benefit from having at least one class in someone else's room. You won't like it, but if you're like me, and you don't want to be embarrassed, it'll make you a better teacher.

14 November 2011

A new set of words I hate

I know that I've talked about the most dangerous words in education before.

I'm pretty sure I've yapped about misspelled words.

I even managed some poetry every once in a while. 

However, I don't know that I've ever written about words that make me angry. In fact, I just spent three or four minutes skimming the BlazeBlog, and I can't find any place where I talked about pet peeves. I haven't really ranted very much about my co-workers, since a lot of them read this blog. (Hi Vista! Go Wolves! etc! etc!) But now, I have to explain the question that I get asked by some of my co-workers that just makes my blood boil.

They ask (and I quote), "what chapter are you on?"


I don't know what chapter I'm on. If you were to ask me what topic I'm covering, I would be able to answer. Indeed, you could ask me what themes I'm working on. I could answer that, and would probably talk your ear off for 30 minutes about it. But what chapter I'm on? Nope, can't tell you that.

Why not, you logically ask. You think that I should be following the book. After all, the book was written by experts, the teacher should just be a presenter of that information, in the order that the book presents it.

That's just the problem, as I see it. The book was written by a committee. Hell, in my U.S. History book, there are 5 pages of authors and contributors. If you've ever written anything in a committee, you know that it tries to do everything, and really does nothing very well. For an example we can all relate to, the U.S. tax code was written by several committees. As for the book authors,  I'm sure they're all very smart and earnest people. You know who else is smart? Me. Better than that, I even know what interests my kids right now. I can adjust what we cover, and how I cover it based on that.

I feel that when a teacher gets too married to the book (especially in the social studies, where I teach), they sacrifice that ability to adjust. Also, they really stop "teaching". I understand in math and the sciences, where teachers are teaching more skill-based courses, that the book is full of examples, and that those go in an order that increases difficulty as they go, and that those examples are hard to construct on your own. However, when you're teaching ideas, and concepts, and facts (as we do in history, especially) tying yourself to the book is, in my opinion, lazy.

Additionally, I think you're just demonstrating that you don't think you got a very good education and/or you don't think you're very smart. If you defer to the book, aren't you in fact telling your kids that the book is smarter than you? Aren't you breeding a belief among the students that you aren't the expert? I think that you are, and I think that kids deserve to have teachers that they can honestly believe are the smartest person in the room. The smartest person in the room doesn't read out of the book. No child is inspired to learn more by a teacher that just walks in, opens the book, and has kids work out of the book. Teachers spend a lot of time learning their content, why should they give that up to a person who writes books? At the maximum, the book author is your peer, not your better. (as an aside, if you think that the book author is that much smarter than you, I don't want you teaching. You're part of the problem. Go greet people at Wal-Mart)

Being married to the book also breeds this idea that we should teach to just what's in the book. The book is full of good information, but there is so much more out there that we can use in the classroom. My geography class would be flat if I stuck to the book, but I can bring in information about blood diamonds or the civil war in Libya. These are topics that are in the news, that parents can talk about their kids with over dinner. In short, they make connections, and connections cement facts and ideas in the brain. That's right, connections=learning and learning=good.

I can already hear the objections. The biggest one is the Test. The Test material is covered by the book. We must teach to the almighty Test. That's fair, but when I look at my test scores, my kids scored best on the topics we covered without using the book at all. Why? Because those were activities that they connected to.

This problem gets even more exacerbating when teachers are writing their own tests.  Too often while building common assessments (teacher-talk for a test that all kids take, so that we can get "data"), people simply look at the book test bank and pick out questions. When you ask them why they pick those questions, they answer with a fairly blank stare and tell you that it's what's in the book.


No teacher would accept that as a defense on an essay question (imagine the AP reader who gets the DBQ that says, "Nixon's effect on American society was largely to create the modern distrust of politicians, ironically cementing a nation willing to elect far more radical Republicans that himself. The facts supporting this are clear, David Kennedy wrote them all in The American Pageant.). If I wouldn't take it from a kid,  why should I accept it as the reason to put a question on a test?

Teachers and test writers need to pick questions to assess whether or not students learned. I'm not talking about if they can recognize the most familiar answer or spit back trivia facts, like how many nations are in Europe, either. I want a test question that makes students think and judge between the possible answers. Now, in the modern era of reliance on multiple choice questions, that means that the questions are A) harder to write and 2) often might have multiple answers which are technically correct.

For those teachers who rigidly adhere to the book and the test bank, this is a crisis. Students will pick the basic answer, and then, when it is wrong the teacher will have to explain that it wasn't the best answer. This is hard, because it requires personal attention and thinking from both the student and the teacher. There might not be time to get all of the grading done in class. Some of it might have to come home. I hate to quote former co-workers, but the teacher might have to "do the job right".

Listen, I'm not saying that textbooks are bad. In fact, in my interviews this summer I always said the same thing when asked about the use of a text book. I said it was a nice tool. But that's all I think it should be. It should be alongside the Internet, a book of simulations, films, and writing assignments.

But when you get married to the book, when you refuse to write your own questions, or write first-level questions, and then fight for their inclusion on a test not because of the quality or importance of what they cover, but because they are from the book, I begin to lose respect for you.

So, in the future, person not reading this blog because you don't know that guy with the meshed up desk has a blog, don't ask me what chapter I'm in.

p.s. also don't defend the map points you want on the test by saying "But those are the points that are already on the map!" YOU ARE THE TEACHER. YOU DETERMINE WHAT IS IMPORTANT! (well, you and the standards, but definitely not the guy who made the map in the workbook!

also, if you didn't click that "smartest guy in the room" link, and you're affiliated with D49, I think you'll get a chuckle out of it, but I could be wrong.

13 November 2011

Is the era of great teaching over?

editor's note: the author graduated from high school in 1998 and from college in 2002. Use that to provide some reference points about what he's talking about here.

I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was 10 or 11 years old. I loved making fun of people (some things never change, I suppose). This got me in some trouble as I remember. Let's keep in mind that I was in the 6th grade, so "trouble" meant I probably had to miss a recess. However, my teachers, Mr. Lantz and Mr. Lindgren made fun of us with impunity. I drew the logical conclusion that I would become a teacher so that I could make fun of people. This isn't a heart-warming story of changing lives, I admit, but it is the truth.

I entered Purdue University in the fall of 1998, with a major of Social Studies Education. By June of 2002, college was over, and the fine people at the Indiana Department of Education had issued me a teaching license. In August, I began teaching at River Forest High School, in Gary Indiana. I've been teaching ever since.

You may wonder why I've provided you with this little biological snippet. I mean, you normally come here for rants and observations, and now I spend a rare post talking about me and my life in teaching. First an obituary, and now this? What has happened to the Beloved BlazeBlog? Well, besides anger and teaching, I like to think that the BlazeBlog's other consistent theme is long-winded off-topic introductions; this is just one of those. Even while I was in high school I was watching what my teachers were doing, and college was a more formal extension of that. Clearly I'm still doing it (only because of loyal readers like you!). Those years of observation have led me to this conclusion: I think that I've been teaching in the greatest era for teachers ever. 

Think about it. We have studies that help us to find the best practices. We have time to collaborate. We have the Internet. 

I don't know how teachers before all of these changes managed to teach anything at all. I suppose that they taught more generally, and probably focused more on teaching themes, and the classics (which are things we've largely abandoned). But that's a post for another day. For today, I want to talk about all of the advantages that teachers today have. The biggest of those advantages is what you're using right now: the Internet.

The Internet changed education as we know it. It became a real tool for educators, as nearly as I can tell, in the late 1990s. Certainly by the time I graduated from high school in 1998 the Internet was being used as a powerful research tool by good teachers to let students explore subjects which they might not have otherwise delved into. I know that my teachers gave us access and projects which forced us to utilize the growing amount of information at our fingertips. In most cases it went well. For my unfortunate senior economics teacher, it also led to a semester of suffering for him. I don't need to tell you the whole story, but it involves a website for the Longshoreman's Union and our misguided belief that longshoremen must surely talk like pirates. 

By the time I was being trained as a professional, web sites were springing up to share lessons, to collaborate, to figure out what worked best. Since this was before No Child Left Behind really started to enforce a culture of testing, the web (as hip kids called it then) allowed teachers to really find things that were creative and use them. I know that in my first several years, my classes were consistently using the Internet to research projects, to present their findings and conclusions, and to compete against kids from around the nation in a stock market simulation. It was a powerful tool.

But now, thanks to a culture of testing and accountability, I find that many teachers are doing less and less of that. You see, when you allow students to discover the facts for themselves, it takes a lot longer. Unfortunately, due to the volume of information which must be covered in most classes, the feeling is that you must drive-drive-drive. I know that I feel that way. I find myself doing less projects and less discovery learning because it simply feels like (though they learn things in a way that means they will actually remember) it takes too long to cover that material. 

So, many of my peers (and now that I teach in many rooms, I see more teachers than I ever have before) do things like reading and outlining chapter sections in class, and pure lectures. I'm guilty too. It is simply the easy way out. 

So, is the era of good teaching over? Has accountability and the tests that go with it killed the best teaching techniques in favor of the old method of drill-and-kill, lectures and outlining?

I don't think so. I think that it's harder than it was a decade ago (of course, I'm older, and everything becomes more difficult as you age, as far as I can tell), but that teachers can still inspire students, and allow them to direct their own learning. I think that we just need to trust students. We need to understand that they will, in most cases, do what we ask of them, and learn. But for those of us that have been around for a while, it means that we need to develop lessons and projects with more specific goals and objectives so that students can focus on what the state will assess them on. It's less freedom than before, but more freedom than being chained to a textbook that was published in 2001 (I'm using one of those right now).

Perhaps I remember only the good, of my education and of my work. I hope that is true. I believe that good teachers can make a difference, even in a world of high stakes, and that we can still be good teachers. I just worry that the sheer numbers of those willing to settle for second best will begin to overwhelm us. Solidarity!

25 October 2011

Friday U-boat, ed. 14

As per the somewhat usual occasional pattern for U-boats on this fine website, I present for your perusal and enjoyment, something that I saw at  school today.

Listen, I get the sentiment, and it's a good one. In fact, the same students responsible for this banner raised $3500 for the Susan G. Komen organization. However, the execution might lack a bit.

24 October 2011

Kathy Hooks

Every teacher who sticks with teaching for more than the national average of 3 years has someone to thank. In fact, we generally have many people to thank. But each of us has someone who had been there, and done that before us, and who was willing to reach out and help a new teacher. Last week, the world lost one of those people, and I'd like to try and pay a tribute to her in my own mediocre way.

But before I pay my tribute, I'll send you to read her obituary.

Last Sunday, Kathy Hooks, a former co-worker, mentor, and friend passed away. She was a teacher and mentor to me for the three years I spent at River Forest High School in New Chicago, Indiana. River Forest, by the time I got there in 2002, was not a great place. The school, which had once teemed with student life, was a shell of its former self. The building was full of empty rooms, full of dusty memories of better days. The first year I taught there it was the poorest per capita school in the state. The last year I taught there, a student broke in and lit the place on fire. 3/4 of the students received free or reduced lunch. It stood alone, proud in the community, but sad. 

You see, River Forest had been built in the heady days of the early 1960's in Northwest Indiana, a place called "The Region". The Region is a land of proud hard workers, on the South Shore of Lake Michigan. It had been booming with post-war prosperity; three steel mills were operating nearly around the clock. As workers fled Chicago, many made their homes in the bedroom communities along the South Shore Rail Road. New Chicago boomed. There was a need for a high school, and RF was born.

But by 2002, all of the mills had closed. The commuters had moved to St. John and Munster. The area was on the verge of ghetto. The people were tough, and stubborn, and proud, but that wouldn't make the mills re-open. River Forest High School stood alone, strong as it's mascot (the Ingot) as something left from those boom days. 

Kathy was in many ways the soul of River Forest. She had taught there since nearly the school's opening. She had been there when the steel mills were still going strong. In fact, she taught the best man in my parents' wedding. Even as the mills closed and economic collapse set in, she stayed and she taught.  Even as the gangs encroached on the district boundaries, and chaos was knocking at the front door, she stood firm, believing that ALL kids; not just those in good neighborhoods, not just those who had parents who fought to get them in charter schools, not just those with money deserved a quality education.

She didn't just teach, either. Many people in a situation like that (when I met her she'd "only" been teaching at RF for 35 years) are mailing it in until they can get their pension check from the state. Not Kathy. She was still a sparkplug. She was still in the halls. She was still hocking cookies during passing period to support the students she coached in academic decathlon and National Honor Society. That was where she showed me how to make a difference in kids' lives.

Every afternoon after school, the diamonds in the rough met in her room to train for academic decathlon. Kids came to her from a myriad of terrible backgrounds. Sure, there were some from middle class families, but they were the exception, not the rule. RF was the smallest school competing in decathlon, and by far the poorest. She could have easily bred a culture of "happy to be here" and be glad we're competing. But that wasn't the way she was going to do things. If they were going to do it, they were going to do it well. She was unwilling to accept an attitude of poor us. I watched her, year after year, inspire students and push them beyond where they thought they could go. She showed them what hard work could do for them.  They were rewarded. My second year with them, the team was the smallest to qualify for the state competition. I have no memory of how we fared, but I treasure the team picture of us. The look on those kids' faces is priceless. They, the refuse of The Region, the poor, the forgotten and counted out had done something. Kathy's work and dedication were the reason why.

Sure, Kathy received a pile of awards. Hell, the list alone makes up 1/4 of her obituary. But there's a line just before the list of awards starts that speaks more about her than any of those awards ever could. It is this simple sentence:

"Kathy was a retired teacher from the River Forest School Corporation with 41 years of service at River Forest High School in New Chicago, Indiana"

That's the sentence that attempts to summarize a life dedicated to changing lives for the better.  She taught students at one of the most down-trodden places in the world for 41 years. She inspired staff for 41 years. She changed lives for 41 years. She gave 41 years, fully 40% of her entire life and 80% of her adult life to a place and an idea. The place was River Forest, and the idea was that one person could make a difference. The place will never be the same without Mrs. Hooks in the downstairs science lab, and I can only hope that the idea will never go away. I feel confident that with as many lives as she touched, it never will. 

Rest in peace, Kathy, you've earned it.

p.s. Please don't think that Kathy was the only person doing this kind of thing at River Forest. She wasn't. Kirk Whiting, Sandy Mihalik, Jack Burton, Molly Krodel, Gale Robertson and dozens of others are giving their best every day for the kids that society wants to ignore. RF, and the family there, would make for a great documentary. Alas, America doesn't have the heart to watch that story.

10 October 2011

In which I figure out that change made me angry

I realize that many of you read this blog for the anger passion that practically oozes out of my BlazeBloggy pores.

I also realize that I haven't been posting as often as I did last year. Seriously, at points last year, I was posting three or four times a week. I was spewing forth opinions like a FoxNews anchor.

Now? Not so much. Even when I do post, the posts aren't as charged with anger passion as they used to be. Why? Well, I think that there are a couple of reasons. None of those reasons have to do with education reform, which is every bit as misguided and wrong as it has always been. The reasons don't have anything to do with me getting better at teaching, either, since that certainly hasn't happened. Seriously, you should see my test scores. They. Are. Not. Good.

So, I've decided to give you the three reasons that I think I'm not as angry, and therefore not posting as much as I used to. Without further ado, here they are:

The first reason is simple. I'm living with my wife again, and she has a calming influence on me. She helps to put things in perspective. She reminds me to keep my blood pressure down. Also, since she no longer teaches, she no longer has fodder to provide me with. We don't talk about school and teaching at home very much, so I'm thinking about education less. When I lived alone; I ate, slept, and thought education 20 hours a day. (you might think I'm a loser, but I would point out that I didn't have cable, so I was not losing my life to useless TV) Now I think about things like walking the dog and going to the farmers' market on Friday. 

The second reason is that my new co-workers don't like to sit around a talk about education nearly as much as my old co-workers. I think that the school's architecture might have something to do with that, but that's a post for another day. I haven't had a 5 hour session over beers to solve the world's problems quite yet. Without that fuel, I'm just having conversations with myself, and since I generally agree with me, I run out of material pretty quickly.

However, the third reason is the most striking and the most important. I'm not writing as much because I'm not as angry as I used to be. Why is this? How could this be? I mean, I'm teaching 38 kids per class across the board. I have 4 sections of freshmen, including several that are the reason animals eat their young. I'm going to get tested, and struggle to still be a good teacher while knowing that my kids (and I by extension) will be judged by their performance on a multiple choice exam.  I should be spitting fire and breaking desks with the amount of fist pounding that ought to be happening. 

And yet. 

The BlazeBlog is without fire. Without vitriol. Almost without content. 

So, why am I so not angry?

I finally realized that I now work for a district that, despite being under fire for lack of improvement, doesn't go changing all willy-nilly. In fact, the organization we brought in to tell us how to improve basically said, do what you're doing, only better. This is such an amazing change. The last two districts I worked for were best summarized by the old cliche that the only constant was change. We changed programs every nine weeks. We changed schedules, graduation requirements, bells sounds and internet blocking settings as often as we could. It was all in the name of progress and improving student scores. All it did was confuse teachers and students. No one knew what acronym we were currently using. Bells rang that were complete surprises to everyone. All of that change and the speed at which it happened led to anger.

I was angry that we were never given a chance to let good things happen. I was angry that every new idea seemed to dumb down things further and further. I was super angry that we seemed to change just so we could crow to the public that we were changing. We got sick of it and so did we. 

Now I work for a school where I'm using a copy of the bell schedule from four years ago. It was the newest copy they could find.   There is a comfort to knowing that the bell will always ring at the same time. I already know next year's schedule. There won't have to be a series of staff meetings to discuss it. Instead, we can discuss improving as teachers. Our PLC meetings are more productive because we don't have to spend them deciphering what we're supposed to be doing. We don't spend our valuable collaboration time learning new acronyms, but do spend it actually writing good common assessments.

It turns out that teachers are like students; we (I) like a predictable environment. It makes us (me) more comfortable and when we're (I'm) comfortable we (I) are a lot less angry. 

Less change = less anger = less blog posts. So if you're angry about my lack of anger, I guess you should ask my current employer to change more. I don't think they'll do it, but if they do, you'll read about it here first!

03 October 2011

Gettin' Paid

In the words of innumerable rappers, and the incomparable ZZ Top, I got paid today. (I got a pocket full of cash).

Nope, it wasn't a paycheck. In fact, I should write about that, since pay here in the Central Valley seems to be significantly higher than anywhere else. I have more kids, and more is expected of me, but the pay is almost reasonable. I'm sure I'll have to examine that soon.

But today I got paid for this. Yes, that's right, you faithful few who click on ads rewarded me. Google finally made enough money on your clicks to pay me. $103. Doesn't seem like much, but it was awesome.


Mostly because it means that people read this. It means that this is more than a glorified diary.

So, thanks, I guess. You make this worth writing.

To pay you back, I supply to you my favorite 10 Blazin' Blog posts from the last 18 months, including at least one that is no longer available.

10: Celebrating VD Anytime I can suggest that you should buy a teacher Will Smith, I think I have to, right?

9: District Approved U-boat If you don't remember what my old district's benefits page looked like, or how true it was, you should check this out....

8: Best educational commentary  - This is still the best educational commentary of the last decade. Hands down.

7: Eulogize the living!  - This is a post that really captures the emotion of leaving the High Country to come to the Central Valley. It also has a powerful lesson about saying "Thank You".

6:The STFU method of behavior modification  - Dr. Johncock checks in with his plan for fixing behavior plans at number 6

5: My commencement speech  - I'm pretty happy that the first graduates of Vista Ridge asked me to speak. And since I'm vain, I'm pretty happy with the speech I came up with.

4: Parents  - This was, I thought at the time, my opus. I felt like this was the pinnacle for me. I felt like this was the piece that would cause me to break through, to get larger internet recognition. I was wrong, but I still like it as a post.

3:U-boat number 8  - You can't read it anymore, but it had a connection between Pearl Harbor and a guy's girlfriend claiming he was wearing boxers while he was actually free-ballin'. I've actually made it sound more sensible than it did as written. Some days it's too bad that I decided U-boats were too mean.

2:The OOP  - Dr. Dick's finest work. As an aside, I would not Google "Octagon of Punishment" unless you really like MMA.

1: A tribute to Ms. Zika  - She's retired now, and I'm sure cackling with Candy Corn teeth over a bottle of wine somewhere warm, but I know that she changed my life, and many others. The number of page views this post got, combined with the responses I got made me very happy. My brother sent it to her, and she responded very kindly. I'm happy that this blog led me to thank someone I should've thanked years ago. 

And so, again, I'll say thanks! Because without you all clicking, I wouldn't be able to say that I'm a paid educational commentator. Now, I can. Look out world, Dr. Dick and I will hit the road, and we will sell the OOP, STARS and NBR to the masses. We will change education, and your ad clicks got that ball rolling.

27 September 2011

What makes a good principal good?

On day, while walking out of school, after a particularly tough department chairs' meeting, my principal, after whom the idea of going out in a Blaze of Competence is named, asked if I had ever considered a career in administration. I told her that I had not. She asked why not. I had a simple response. I don't like cleaning up other peoples' messes.

Today, I thought the BlazeBlog might investigate what makes a good principal. I was inspired to write this post by a tweet which led me to this New York Times article. I know that you don't want to read that article. Go ahead and read it anyway, because I want you to know how much I stole from it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm going to give you that column's list of the things which make a good principal:

1. A good teacher has been a teacher
2. A good principal feels at home in a cafeteria filled with 800 children eating rubbery scrambled eggs for breakfast.
3. A good principal has her own style.
4. A good principal protects her teachers from the nonsense. 
5. A good principal sets her own high standards.
6. A good principal works with union leaders to carry out her educational agenda, and if she can’t, takes them on. 
7. A good principal knows teachers are only part of what make a school run.
8. A good principal takes money out of her pocket for the school. 
9. A good principal loves and trusts the public schools where she works.
10. A good principal worries in private, ignores the surreal and finds a way to get things done.
11. A good principal has a To Do list several feet long.
12. A good principal leads by example.
The column surely uses one principal as the basis for the entire list, and there are certainly risks in that approach. Also, he doesn't actually quantify how he determined that she was successful. However, I've worked in 5 high schools (6 if you count my student teaching. I wouldn't though, since I was hardly thinking about the principal because I was mostly focusing on survival.) and he seems to have figured out most of the keys to what makes a principal good.

But you don't read the BlazeBlog to see me link to the professionals. (aside: if you want me to run a links column once a week, either email me or post in the comments.) So, here, in a totally derivative fashion, is what your humble host thinks makes a principal good. 

1. A good principal sets clear expectations.
The principal is the captain of the ship that is a school. They need to be the person who sets the goals. They need to set clear goals for all members of the school community. When a principal has clear goals for 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and longer, people know where they are going. These goals can be developed with members of the community and teaching staff, but the principal has to be the person who enunciates them and pushes people towards those goals. 

2. A good principal recognizes effort from all people, not just faculty.
 The principal needs to recognize that while the teachers have the most direct interaction with students are the faculty, students are learning from all of the employees of the school. Students learn about life from janitors, lunch ladies and secretaries. Indeed, I think most people who have worked in schools can agree that the support staff keeps a school running. They make sure the toilets flush, the trash gets taken out, and the hungry mouths are fed. They are the first and last faces most visitors to a building see. Principals have a duty to recognize all of those people as equal partners in the education process. When those people feel appreciated, they will keep working hard, and the school will continue to operate as a team. 

3. A good principal is an umbrella.
Schools are constantly under assault from people who can't teach. Legislators, board members, and community lunatics are constantly flinging rocks on the internet, on the phone, in person. (Ok, they don't actually fling rocks in person. In person they yell.) There is a constant stream of people who think you could/should/must do 95,000 other things. A good principal deflects as much of that as they can. They absorb the abuse so that teachers can focus on teaching, instead of worrying about new legislation or board policies, or, or, or. I'm not trying to say that teachers shouldn't have to deal with problems they have created, because they should have to clean up messes that they made. However, many of the messes teachers end up dealing with aren't self-inflicted. You know what? I misspoke up there in the subheading. A good principal isn't an umbrella. A good principal is a Kevlar vest.

4. A good principal keeps their worries to themselves.
A principal has the hardest job in a school. They are a member of the team, but they often have to be an individual. I think this is hardest when the times get toughest. When the worries of the world, of test scores, of insane parents and stressed out kids piles up on a principal, the temptation is to spill all of those worries out to the staff. I think that all that does is to make the rest of the staff worry about things that they can't change. Perhaps principals need to find some sort of support system to allow them to get their worries out without making their staff's heads hurt. 
5. A good principal is predictable.
One of the things that educators are constantly told is that students need to have a predictable environment for behavior. Schools are no different. They need to be able to predict how a principal will react. They need to know if the principal is going to be enthusiastic about new ideas, how the "boss" will respond to behavior problems. They need to know if they can expect the principal to rant and rave when he shows up to a swimming pool full of jello and goldfish, or if he's going to laugh and put the fish in a tank in the office. It is when people don't know what to expect that students and staff start to take chances, (Going Rouge in mavericky Republican parlance) and that's when schools make the front page for bad reasons.

6. A good principal engages the community.
Schools, when they are at their best, are centers of community. They serve as a gathering place, a rallying point, a home for those seeking one. It is imperative that the leader of that gathering place be engaged in the community outside of their building. Further, in the modern era, schools have to focus more on creating career ready graduates. To do that, schools should be utilizing the business leaders in the community, bringing them in, finding out what they need. The principal should spearhead those efforts. When the principal has been out talking to community leaders, it makes it easier to ask for money, or to diffuse potentially disasterous events. When the principal doesn't engage, the school seems like a foreign place, and community leaders judge it more harshly than they would if they knew the people who lived worked there.

7. A good principal believes in and trusts their staff.
Too often, schools are attacked for what they are or are not doing. A good principal defends their staff because they believe in them. One of the worst things a principal can do when they're new in a building is to not believe in their staff. I think the most damage I've ever seen done by a principal (and admin team in general) was when they entered a building and decided that every problem was caused by "the way we used to do things". For the record, I've been through that twice in ten years. Attacking in this way shows that you don't trust your staff, and that you think they were simply along for the ride with the old boss. Trust in your staff is key to getting them to trust you.

8. A good principal builds relationships.
 I firmly believe that education, at it's root, is about relationships. Kids learn more and better from adults who they believe believe in them. Teachers work better for administrators when they think that those administrators will defend them. Support staff works better and harder for bosses who they think care about them as people. If the principal leads this, and builds a culture of acceptance and positive relationships, the whole school can and will follow. The opposite is also true. If the relationships from the big office feel forced or false, people will no longer give of themselves totally.

9. A good principal provides guidance to young and new staff members.
Schools have a high turnover rate. Some day, perhaps the BlazeBlog will address this problem. At heart today, however, is principals and how they can be good. When dealing with new staff, it is important for a principal to provide support and guidance for new staff members and especially for new teachers. Support doesn't necessarily mean being in the classroom a lot (although they can help by providing lots of informal observations). Support can be an honest and frank discussion. Most of all, they must avoid creating a culture of fear.

10. A good principal stays out of the way.
If the principal is completing number 7 on this list, then they know that they should just let their teachers teach. Too often they can't manage to do this. District officials press down on them, and they press down on their faculty. They think that the best way to improve scores, behavior and reputation is to be heavy handed. Far too often, the end up like Michael Scott. (ok, maybe not like Michael Scott, perhaps more like David Brent.) They think that they are changing things, that since they've had 15 meetings with 30 different people things are changing. They aren't. Teachers will ignore a principal who is all hat and no cattle.

So, to summarize, a good principal sets goals, shields staff from idiocy, helps new staff get the lie of the land, and then gets out of the way. Thanks to all of my bosses who did that.

20 September 2011

This hole isn't deep enough! More digging!

Ok, dear fans of the BlazeBlog, here's a fair warning: This post is basically a poorly researched political rant. So, if you come here for a dose of educational theory or just some insights into my day, you should probably just skip to the end, where I will plop in a short pithy observation about high schools. Until the end, you're getting a screed about Rick Perry.

So grab something and prepare to get angry. At me. Or at Rick Perry. Or at the Tea Party.

Before I delve into my screed, some back story. At the end of the dark days of George Bush's presidency, a legacy of deregulation (thanks, Bill Clinton!) and an attitude of government neglect (thanks, Dick Cheney!) led to a melt-down of the financial sector. Now since the financial sector writes enormous checks to campaigns is vital to American economic stability, the government made numerous "loans" to large international banks. These loans had no strings attached and no rules (thanks, Henry Paulson!) and actually did very little to help fix the problem.

Out of this, a band of fiscal conservatives sprang into action. They called themselves the Tea Party. Aside from giving us one of the greatest collections of terribly spell-checked signs in history they have also introduced some "interesting" political ideas. A return to the gold standard. Outlawing Social Security and Medi-care. Letting people without insurance die. Thinking that Sarah Palin would be a good president.

If we're honest, most of their ideas are far to fringe to really have much impact directly on America. However, their original and oft-repeated (at high volume) message of fiscal conservatism. Most politicians have interpreted this message to mean "cut spending". Since the Tea Party is on the far right of the spectrum, the people catering to them are Republicans. And if we know one thing about Republicans, it's that they hate them some taxes (fun note about that clip: He actually did the fiscally responsible thing and raised taxes). So the Republicans in Congress, and across the country have moved dramatically to the right, and are now demanding that all new spending be off-set by cuts.

Realistically, that shouldn't matter. Shouldn't. But it does because I, and most other teachers, are paid from those funds. Our schools are lit with electricity paid for by tax revenues. I print on paper bought with tax money. When the copier breaks, do you know what kind of money pays the repairman? Tax money. This isn't just true for schools. It's true for all government spending. If you cut it, you cut that money flowing into the private sector. Now, you'll point out that schools don't need increased funding. Then, I'll point out that yes they do, because people do it like they do on the Discovery Chanel, and there are more kids than ever. Now there are even more. You get it. We need more money for schools because there are more kids.

So, we find ourselves in a situation where the economy is stagnant. The Conservative Right's demand for cutting spending is about to make things worse. How? Well, they think that if you just cut taxes, companies will start making and hiring more. I don't know what the reasoning is behind that, and I'm honestly so over the Republicans that I'm not even going to bother to read through the Google results.
What I do know is that by cutting funding to base level government spenders (schools, fire departments, police departments) you're actually hurting private business, because we buy a lot of things from private companies, and now we aren't.

Sure, it sucks that our classes are getting bigger and our checks aren't. It sucks that it takes longer for the fire truck to show up when your house is burning down. It sucks that the police can't really spare the extra manpower to look for your stolen car. But that suck is personal, and Republicans don't care about that. They care about stimulating the economy. You know how? It's a 2 step plan:

1. Cut taxes and spending (again, I'm not sure what this will do)

2. Vote for  this guy.

You know him, you love him, it's the adorable governor of Texas, George W. Bush Mr. Rick Perry! And what is his plan for getting the American economy rolling again? Let's take a look at his webpage, shall we?

Hmm, what did we see?

Perry’s pro-growth agenda, combined with real spending reductions, will lead to a new era of economic growth and the creation of millions of American jobs.
(emphasis mine)
Real. Spending. Reductions. 

Do you know what that meant for teachers in Texas? Well, now some of them get to clean their own classrooms. That's a good solution, since the other one was to lose their jobs, along with thousands of other Texas educators.

(I'm not even going to touch that his entire page for the issue of "jobs" ( which I assume is his economic plan, since his website doesn't have a link for "economy" or "economic issues") consists of only 163 words, of which 7 are "Rick" or "Perry". That's good. 163 words can solve the whole economy. I swear that somewhere Aaron Sorkin is already writing pilots about this)

I can't pretend to know what Rick Perry would do to schools if he were (shudder) elected President. But I do know that in Texas, where he touts his job-creation record, public-sector employees are losing their jobs. And I can figure out that when schools are cutting teaching positions, they have probably cut everywhere else they could and still stay functional. That means millions of dollars no longer going to private companies, which would have had to employ people to service those schools. It also means that those employees aren't spending money. To add insult to injury, those public employees then qualify for unemployment benefits. What pays for those benefits?


Why not just use the tax dollars to pay them to teach? Certainly the unemployment benefit is a much lower cost than full time employment. However, there is benefit to society when the teacher is teaching. When they are getting an aid check and bagging groceries? Not so much.

Anyway, you're tired of reading my poorly reasoned and negligently researched rant, and you're looking for a little bit of giggles to get you through the evening. Here it is:

Freshmen smell terrible. Really really terrible.

So terrible, I'm going to link to Charles Barkley saying terrible in a video. Over and over and over again. 

You're welcome.