28 February 2011


Perhaps you heard that Trent Reznor won an Oscar. I heard. I didn't see it though. You don't want to know why I didn't see Mr.  "feel you from the inside" Reznor win, but I'm going to tell you, because that way I can segue into a nice little post on one of the most effective things that teachers can do, and how easy it is to screw it up.

See, I was going to watch the Oscars. Not because I wanted to, but because I only get 12 channels of TV, and 3 of them are in languages I don't speak. Animation domination was demonstrating it's dominance by being in re-runs, so I was going to watch the Oscars. And then an English teacher showed up at my door.

He didn't show up un-invited. In fact, he had called before he came over, because he is a professional, after all. At this point you're rightfully confused. Let me hit you with some back-story:

This evening after I finished wasting as much time as possible watching NASCAR (they turned left for several hours) and college basketball (one team scored more than the other), I sat down and graded 17 DBQs. (these are document based questions that my AP History students completed last week) I stumbled across a sentence that used all the right words for the question, but didn't actually say anything.

So I emailed my colleague, who teaches many of those students in AP Language and Composition the sentence. He read it, had the kernel of an idea, and phoned me. He wanted to get together and work on how to fix their writing.

He came to my house, ate a sandwich, and we spent 90 minutes devising a lesson to fix their problems. It was great. This is the kind of thing that makes students more successful. In jargon, we call this collaboration. 

Many schools realize the value of collaboration. They often set up collaboration times (they like to use further jargon, calling them "Professional Learning Communities"). I don't know how successful these times are, because I've never yet worked at a building that could make them work effectively.

I think that most collaboration can be effective at the more informal times of the day. For example, lunch. Last year in my school, English and Social Studies shared a lunch. That's where English teacher and I started collaborating. But all of that can be undone by a single administrator who doesn't know what's going on. This year I eat lunch with Math teachers. They're nice people, but we don't collaborate. 

It's not that we don't want to collaborate; it's that our brains don't work in the same way. They're a little literal. We're much more conceptual. But the guy who worked out the lunch schedule didn't think about that. He just randomly chose which department had which lunch. That underscores one of the major issues in education and education reform. It's very easy for one seemingly trivial decision to have widespread impacts. Someday, if you're really good, I'll elaborate on that concept, and how it helped my school meet (jargon alert!) AYP last year. 

I don't have anything groundbreaking to say about collaboration, but I did want to get my thoughts out there. To reward you for reading this whole post, which was pretty much devoid of funny or angry sentences, I've found this picture of someone who needs some collaboration: Charlie Sheen.

Oh, yeah.

25 February 2011

Friday U-boat, ed. 11

Before we get to today's U-boat, let me explain why most of them have been removed. In the wake of the Natalie Munroe brouhaha, I examined (with the "encouragement" of my lovely wife, herself a former teacher) why I blog the things I blog.

The larger philosophical things I write about because I'm hoping to start a conversation. I'm hoping you read the BlazeBlog, and you start to think about why we teach the way (and things) we do.

The personal anecdotes I tell because I think they're funny. It's also a valuable way for me to vent my otherwise blood-pressure-elevating irrational anger.

But the U-boats are a problem. You see, I like them. I think that they're great. They drive traffic to the site. People like them. But they're also mean spirited. I have been willing, in the anonymity of the Internets, to say things about students I would not have said to their faces.

So, I've decided to stop. I'll still post stuff that's funny, but not because it's dumb. I'll post stuff like K-Love's Bodaciously American Guide to the American Revolution, but I'm done with the ones that make you wonder what the hell the writer was even attempting to say.

It is a little sad, since I currently have one in the hopper that involves a Nazi-Alien, or as I call it, a Nazalien.

In that light, I present you with a student produced video that made me giggle. The message is even good. Read a book.

That Waldo, he's so Corny!

Have a great weekend!

23 February 2011

Handwriting getting kids misplaced

Do you remember a thousand years ago, when you were elementary school?

If your school was like mine, then you probably got a grade for "handwriting". I know I did. In fact, my parents still have a framed copy of the only handwriting assignment that I ever received an "A" on. This was when I was in the 4th grade.

Recently, media outlets have been decrying the lost art of legible handwriting. Teachers have been decrying this "lost" art since about the time that Socrates taught Plato. (his scratched-in-the-stone-tablet comment? "I like where you're going with this cave idea, but I can't figure out some of the words. Handwriting?")

Why handwriting is getting worse, if it is indeed getting worse, is no great mystery. You and I are engaged in the problem right now. By typing most of the words we produce on a daily basis, and reading much of what we read in type-set text, handwriting skills obviously decrease.

This is the point where you expect me to fly into a marginally researched rant about how since handwriting isn't easy to put on a standardized test, we don't test it. If we don't test it, it can't be important. I would probably follow that with some drawn out conclusion about how important handwriting is for civil democracies, especially ones that depend on hand written signs. I would go that route, but it seems a bit pedantic and predictable. In fact, that argument is probably better made about spelling.

Instead, I'm going down a less obvious path. I'm going to attempt to answer this question:

Does good handwriting = smart kid?

The more I teach, the less I think so. Actually, to be fair, I never really thought that good handwriting indicated that a child was smart. Perhaps they had good small motor skills, but I don't think that small motor skills makes someone smarter than someone without; look at Stephen Hawking as proof of that. 

However, I do teach advanced classes (AP US History this year), and I have noticed that many of the kids who are misplaced academically; those kids who  are in far over their heads, have really nice, readable handwriting. These are also the kids who are most shocked when they are told that they might not be Noble prize laureates. Actually, most of them wouldn't know what a laureate was. 

Anyway, I was saying that kids who think that they are smarter than they are, often have really nice handwriting. Not always, but often. I was trying to figure out why this was. Then it struck me. This happens because of human nature. No, I'm not saying that people who have good small motor skills are more likely to be delusional about their ability level. I am saying that the people who asses academic ability are more likely to help foster those delusions if the deluded person is someone with nice handwriting. (would you like that in plain English? Teachers overrate the ability of students with nice writing because those kids' papers are easier to read.)

I think this hypothesis holds up. I can't prove it, but since this is a blog, I don't have to. I just have to throw the ideas out there. 

Put yourself in some poor middle school English teacher's comfortable but un-stylish shoes. She-he has to read 145 compositions by 7th graders. This sucks. Unless you've done this, you have no idea how much this sucks. It's only natural that this over-worked teacher will be more favorably inclined towards papers which are easier to read. So, those papers score better. Over time, those students consistently get grades that are above what the content of the paper deserves. The authors of those papers move through school always thinking that they're pretty smart. S-M-R-T.

Then they get to me. I actually read for content. I make those papers bleed. 

My handwriting might not be all that good, but I'm actually (despite what you read here) kind of smart. I pick those essays apart. I feel bad, because kids have genuinely never been told "this isn't very good", and I say that pretty often to Juniors with really nice handwriting. 

So, what is the solution? Well, honestly, computers without internet. Why? Those devices could just be used to equalize the small motor skills differences which are impacting teachers' ability to judge content and ability without being blinded by penmanship.

Will it ever happen? Probably not. But I'm going to sit down and hand-write a proposal for it. I hope the deciders can read it..........  

21 February 2011

On Wisconsin! On Wisconsin! Touchdown USA!

Let's talk about Madison, Wisconsin for a couple of minutes.

No, not as the home of Bucky Badger and the 5th quarter.  No, let's talk about Madison as the state capital of Wisconsin.

Madison is a nice town, full of somewhat lovely people. But I don't think you read the BlazeBlog for our insightful travel writing (coming next month, where to spend your Spring Break!) You read it to find my grammar mistakes. And to see what we have to say about education. That's why I want to talk about Madison. This week Madison has become a hot-bed for education discussion and debate.

Teachers, and other public sector employees, have turned out in droves this week in Madison, not to drink beer and eat cheddar, but to protest. They're protesting a bill proposed by the Governor Scott Walker (elected as a fiscal conservative) which would, he claims, "repair the budget of Wisconsin". In reality, his proposal wants to use the current economic woes, caused by tax-cut-and-spend Republicans, to take away the power of public employee unions to collectively bargain (except for wages). I don't know if you've seen the news, but the Democrats have actually left the state to prevent a vote on the bill. (here's a summary).

Now, if Governor Walker actually wants to solve the budget problem, and not just break the union, he would come to the table, since both the Democrats and public sector unions have said that they would take an 8% pay cut, along with increases in payments by their members to both health care costs and pension contributions, which would clearly help solve this crisis.

But Governor Walker doesn't actually want that. He wants to break the public sector unions. Now, I've said before that I don't love teachers' unions, especially when it comes to making it hard to fire bad teachers. But, I do strongly believe that public sector employees must have the power to collectively bargain for all aspects of their jobs, especially benefits.

Public sector employees are routinely better educated and more poorly paid than their counterparts in the private sector. They accept roles in society which are little respected, other than in political lip service. They do this for two reasons. First, they want to help. They are generally genuinely civic minded. They want to make the world a better place. Secondly, there is an unspoken bargain: less money, but good benefits and pensions. Delayed gratification, if you will. It's the same deal members of the armed forces strike with the federal government. Not the greatest pay, people shoot at you, but if you stay in long enough, a great retirement package, and free medical.

People like Governor Walker can't stomach this. They want less pay and less benefits. Oh sure, he says that he wants teachers to be well paid. In fact, a 30 second Google search turned up this quote from the Governor.
We will also create a new class of highly qualified, well-paid teachers who will be given the opportunity to advance in their career. These highly qualified teachers will be called on to mentor other teachers, while still devoting most of their time to classroom teaching.

Don't insult us, Governor Walker. Don't speak in code. You want a "new class" (non-unionized) of teachers. Of course, you want them to be well paid, but they'll have to negotiate everything else, right? I bet every year, they'll be told, "sorry, there just isn't money"; and without the power to negotiate other things, this new class of teachers will be powerless to actually change anything. They will in fact be bound to any plan which you propose. They will be doubtless be stuck with your George W. Bush inspired education philosophy.

Further, don't tell us you want teachers to be "highly paid". You don't. You want teachers to become independent contractors. You're a liar. You can lie to the electorate, they're pretty dumb. But teachers are more educated that the electorate. They are going to see through this. That's why they're at your statehouse. They're sick and tired of you, and the rest of the union-crushing right telling them that they are important, and valued, and then letting your actions reveal your actual feelings.

So, where does the BlazeBlog stand? In solidarity with the teachers of Wisconsin. Even as the state level unions encourage teachers to go back to the classroom tomorrow, we secretly hope they won't. By staying home, they demonstrate how important they are to society. This is about more than just one bill, this is about telling elected officials to back up their verbal support for public employees with action. This is about reminding society that we are all in this together, and that teachers are tired of being trod upon, simply because we choose to work with children and young adults instead of pursuing the almighty dollar.

This is about, as Aretha put it, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

16 February 2011

A blog about a teacher who blogs.

Editor's note:
Today's blog may contain some language which is best characterized as vile. The words aren't mine, but they were written by students towards a teacher / former teacher. I think that it is important to understand what these students said, so I've left them mostly in there.

Recently, a teacher in Bucks County, Pennsylvania named Natalie Munroe has made all kinds of news for writing a blog.

Here're the details

So, she was blogging on all kinds of subjects, but sometimes she talked about work. Since her work was teaching, when she talked about work, she was doing the same basic thing I do. She was talking about students in a totally anonymous way.

Now, she was angry (being a high school teacher, I can sympathize), and 8 months pregnant (which I cannot sympathize with, but I'm guessing might make you grumpy and emotionally unstable). She said some mean things about students in general. She also said some very funny things, I think.

You know what; I don't know why I'm trying to explain what she said, since the Internet keeps EVERYTHING you ever put out there. That's why you shouldn't text pictures of your naughty bits, kids.

Instead, I'll let her work speak for itself.

Here's what she actually said

If you didn't read that cached version of her blog, please go back and do so, because this my post won't make much sense if you haven't read her blog. Or, you could stop reading this blog entirely and go play FarmVille.

Is the design the same as the BlazeBlog? Yes. Is she mean? Not to any one student. Is she funny? Kind of. Is she profane? A little.

More importantly, did she do anything worthy of being fired? No.

Well not for what she wrote. Maybe for how she wrote it.

You see, my complaint isn't about what she said, but that she said them poorly. She misspelled belligerent. She has a list of funny comments, but doesn't put them in a particular order, so the comedy value isn't what it should be. For example, I would have divided the list in two principle ways: academic knuckleheads and social knuckleheads. Then, I would have used the ones that are opposite of each other (about siblings) next to each other. This is basic composition. Admittedly, she has a 3 year old at home, but if that's hurting her composition skills, perhaps she should use a technique I'm sure she asks kids to use: draft, revise, publish. Just because you can post right away doesn't mean you should. 

So, to recap: she shouldn't be fired, not for what she said; but as an English teacher, perhaps, because she's not very good at writing (or at least at revising). Tangentially, I also didn't like her comment about the bell meaning the "end of class, so leave", because I think that you should talk to kids when they need to talk. That being said, as soon as I read it, I immediately thought of one kid who it would apply to in my Civics class, so I get where she's coming from.

Following her suspension, she tried to disappear the offending posts, but did post about the situation. She defends herself as an educator, points out the rush to disseminate only the negative she said, and points out that either parents or students went digging for the blog so they could use it to attack her. Even in this blog, she substitutes a 0 for an O at one point. Since I blog on blogger, I'll point out that there is a spell-checker, and that it's very good. Also, blogger has a button that allows you to preview your blog, as it will appear online. Again; draft, revise, publish.

In an interview with the Bucks County Courier Times she notes that it seems that there is "less accountability on students while (teachers) are forced to explain everything they do". I think she's right, and I applaud her for being a truth-teller. I think she's saying things that almost all educators, especially in middle and high schools, would support (even if they don't like the original things she said).

Anyway, lets get back to this blog of hers, shall we? I think the students who are out to get her (and who are dumb enough to comment on the blog), actually prove her point about entitlement (and poor grammar).

Some of my favorites with commentary:

Jokes on you because this link is being cycled throughout the students of CB East via facebook. Have fun applying for unemployment. Sincerely, "cooperative in class."
Um, wrong "Jokes" big guy. I think you meant "Joke's", as in "Joke is". Well played, genius, well played.

Then this piece of scat. I've edited the nastier bits of misdirected anger:

ConcernedStudent said... Why would you waste your time blogging about how we are belligerent f*cks (you spelled belligerent wrong dumb*ss)? You should be spending your time helping out students instead of insulting them on here. You have cheated, screwed, and under-cut every single one of your students this year. And i speak for everyone when i say you were a douche to all of your students in class and made no effort to help any of us achieve our academic goals. Maybe you should learn to teach and be compassionate with your students. Respect goes a long way, and the only way people will respect you is if you respect them (too late). Have a nice life. Good luck with the inner-city sh*thole they call a school in philly.
Where can I begin? So many things to comment on. You know what this calls for? A numbered list of criticisms!

1. The parenthetical thought is awkward because it is a statement, but it follows a question.
2. You know that "I" is a capital letter when it stands alone, right?
3. The assumption that she will be fired.
4. More capitalization problems; "philly" also needs a capital letter.

I've saved the "best" for last. Sorry about the length, but I think Mr. Shoolbraid's thoughts are just too good to avoid. Actually, you know what, I think I'll break his thoughts up, so we can really pick apart his thinking.
Dear... you, Hey, I remember you. This is Jeff Shoolbraid talking, just so you know I'm not hiding behind a computer screen and just randomly bashing you.
Good start, glad that you're not randomly bashing. Bashing is better when it's not random. I would take issue with your assertion that you're not hiding behind a computer screen, since that is just very nearly the only place from which you can comment on a blog.
I'm not sure if you remember me, but you were by far the worst teacher I've ever had because you were simply a c*nt.
You're a bad teacher not for any given reason,but because of what you are. Classy, and well reasoned.
Turns out my assumption was correct.
What assumption?
Though, if I just sit here and call you names and such it really doesn't prove any points and makes me essentially as unintelligent as you.
And you have proven your own point.
It also doesn't really solve too much, but now that it's out of the way, here are my just as pointless two cents: Students can be a pain, but it's your job to deal with them. So this means it's your job to deal with the assholes, weird kids, drama queens, quiet kids, and so on.
I actually agree with Mr. Shoolbraid for this part.
The students, on the other hand, don't really owe you anything. You see, as a teacher, the world should not revolve around you. You should revolve around the students' lives. Sure, maybe kids treat you like shit, or don't give a shit in general as far as the class goes, but you have to remember the demographic here.
Um, you know how you're on a blog, complaining that this adult is complaining about you? You've kind of just proven her point.
You're teaching high school kids. These are the rebellious/self involved/self discovering times in there lives. They are transitioning from being kids to adults. So sorry if they don't exactly know how to go about being interested in a high school English class. You need to give them a reason to give a f*ck, and this starts with showing respect to them, which involves a little bit of extra work on your part.
Um, yes, respect is important. You need to respect her, and then she should repay that in kind. However, I would put forth the idea that Ms. Munroe did show respect in that she didn't aim her anger at any one student. Unlike you. Also, transitioning to adulthood is not an excuse for not using the right "there/their".
Though, if you're not willing to do that, I don't blame you. I for one don't know what it's like from a teacher's prospective like yours, and I'd believe you if you said it was tough. Maybe teaching isn't cut out for you though. It doesn't give you the right to virtually abuse your class via an internet blog, which is just tacky by the way. It also doesn't give you the right to rob you students of a solid high school education.
What doesn't give you a right to "virtually abuse students"? Is it that teaching is cut out for her? You know what, that doesn't make sense. Also, is there a blog that's not on the internet? You could also use a comma before "by the way". I'm just sayin'.
It's not a students' job to please you, it's your job to get a student an A to the best of your ability in a reasonable fashion. So sure, some students may still not give a shit. If so, give them an F.
Wrong you are. My job has nothing to do with getting students As. It has to do with teaching, and grades have very little to do with learning, except as a motivational tool.
Some students might still be assholes, but I had a pretty good relationship with Silverfox and all the principles at the school (not in a bad way) and I know they're all more than capable with dealing with those kids. And sure, some kids still might be drama queens (and kings, lets keep it pc) but hell, that's life. I also heard that this little stunt is getting your fired, and to all the students and parents that you've pissed off over the years, I'm going to take this opportunity to say good riddance! Sincerely, Jeff Shoolbraid PS. Presidents have something to do with politics, I hope you've learned this by now.
This is mostly inside baseball and drivel. However, I've bolded the bit that I think is the most interesting. You see, Mrs. Munroe had a problem with students and their sense of entitlement. She even took a shot at kids with too big an opinion of their own intelligence (like Mr. Shoolbraid). What did you do in reply? You proved her point.

I hope she taught these geniuses who commented on her blog irony.... But she might be a good teacher, read this comment. She's clearly taught this commenter something, even if they do play fast and loose with the rules of capitalization.

Real Classy Ms. Munroe. I just have to say that I am very disappointed by this. I originally didn't completely loath you like the rest of the junior class, but my feelings have now changed. I don't appreciate how in a previous post you stated that describing teachers and administrators with four letter words was inappropriate, is describing your own students with these same words acceptable? How's that for a rhetorical question? Also, how could you not have even thought to delete this? The worst of the posts are from a year ago, why didn't you delete them? It's understandable to want to talk about your day at work, but the internet, seriously? By the way, what is my "cooperative in class" comment mean? "A complete and utter jerk in all ways. Although academically ok, your child has no other redeeming qualities." well I don't believe an hour and a half a day for half a year can really lead you to a point where you can see a person's full character, you can't make those types of assumptions. "Asked too many questions and took too long to ask them. The bell means it's time to leave!" FYI your job is to teach. and the classiest "Rude, beligerent, argumentative f*ck." you tried to throw in a few "big words" but the final four letter word makes up for it. I am not going to call make up some "comment" to describe your teaching skills, personality, or character because I only spent an hour and a half each day for a semester with you. Just a small part of my day, and an even smaller part of my life. I can't judge you from just that... But your blog(this post alone) gives me a better and full picture. P.S. How was my use of ethos, pathos and logos?

Your ethos, pathos, and logos were pretty good. You could use some help determining satire. For what it's worth, I think 90 minutes a day, plus reading your writing (obviously a lot in an AP Lang class, oh that's right, I know you had her for AP Lang.), she can probably get a really good vibe on who you are.

14 February 2011

Celebrating VD, and what to get your favorite teacher!

That's right friends, the BlazeBlog is celebrating Valentine's Day, or as we like to call it in our offices, VD. It seems that Dr. Dick's habit of acronymizing everything just can't be contained.

Anyway, we thought that instead of ranting about idiocy, which would be easy, we would instead try our hands at creativity, with a list of things that teachers would love to get on VD (well, they wouldn't love VD, obviously; ok, they might love Valentine's Day, but not the other VD)

Without further herpes related confusion, our list of things that teachers love:

(caution, some links may contain early 90's content or messges, and will be unsuitable or unfunny to younger audiences.)

1. Snow Day.

2. Parents who aren't crazy.

3. A kid who doesn't do homework. Seems counterintuitive, since we're always telling kids to do their homework, but the kid who doesn't do the work is the kid whose work doesn't need to get graded.

4. A school board that stays out of the way.

5. Taxpayers who vote yes on bonds.

6. People who vote against Mitch Daniels.

7. 2 hour delays

8. Staff meetings that include the words "Happy Hour".

9. Planning hour.

10. A kid who turns in ridiculous work.

11. Janitors.

12. The dismissal bell.

13. The phrase "lunch is on your own, take an hour".

14. Spring Break.

15. Summer summer summertime

Hope your VD is fun, or at least not painful!

11 February 2011

Friday U-boat, ed. 9

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

08 February 2011

An ode to the snow day

Today I want to begin with a little poetry. In tribute to some summer camp fun, I present the Snow Day Poetry Corner. 

A Pair of  "Sno-Kus"

Snow Day, I love you
White, Cold, full of happiness
Please come more often

We don't work today
Some Big-wig says roads are bad
I stay home and nap

What could inspire such insipid "poetry"? The greatest of national holidays: The Snow Day

I have, for my entire life, lived in places where it snows. Sometimes, it snows there a lot. So, as both a student and a teacher, I have spent most of my life yearning for that special something that brings joy to boys and girls and only comes in the winter. No, not him. Not even Old St. Nick. 

No, I have waited, with baited breath, anticipating the Snow Day.

Everyone has their own routine. My wife, when she taught, spent her time poring over the internet, watching local and national weather, consulting radar maps. She made an educated decision, and then a prediction. Some children (and adults) do snow dances, or flush ice cubes down the toilet. I personally believe in the jinx. I won't talk about a Snow Day, and if snow is forecast, and we don't get a day, I blame those who did speak openly about it.

Why? Because the Snow Day is a mystical beast. And, oh yes, I will capitalize "Snow Day". Why? Because the Snow Day deserves to be recognized as a holiday. 

Now, I think we all understand why students love the Snow Day. It is a day free from responsibilities. A day to relax. That's actually also why teachers love it so much. 

You may wonder why a Snow Day is better than taking a day off. I'll try to explain the glory that is the Snow Day:

1. The Snow Day is unexpected. Surprise paid days off are always good.

2. You don't have to plan and grade on a Snow Day. Since you thought you were coming into work, you didn't bring home piles of grading! Win.

3. You get to act like a real adult. Last night, instead of a hobby, you were grading. Sunday, before the big game, you were planning the week. Yesterday, you got to pee during your 5 minute passing period. Today? Well you can watch morning TV, write on your blog, maybe even take a nap. Since you already had today prepped at school, you can even do it guilt free. If the roads are bad for 16 year old drivers and buses, but OK for you, you can even go out for lunch.

The Snow Day is also the chance for those of us who suffer through the cold and dark of winter, being taunted by our friends from warmer climes about their temperate lives, pictures of them in T-shirts and shorts in February, to have the last laugh. Suckers who live in warm places have to go to work every scheduled day. Not us. Sometimes, we just stay home.
So, as you sit in your office, reading the internet, know that somewhere people are wishing, and hoping, and praying for that 4 a.m. phone call.  

06 February 2011

The Culture of Fear, a real world example

Last week, I wrote a rant about the culture of fear which permeates public schools. My larger point there was that school boards often create cultures where everybody from the superintendent on down fears for their jobs. This creates, in many cases, schools full of teachers who are unwilling to take risks, or to oppose initiatives on philosophical grounds. 

It is easy to wonder why teachers, often very highly educated, fall into the trap of being afraid. I took the position that it was because principals had incredible control over teachers' current and future employment. To many people, this may have seemed to be hyperbolic. They probably thought that I had some bullies as supervisors and that was why I ranted about fear the way I did.

And then, this morning, I was watching CBS News Sunday morning (mostly because I like my television hosts to wear bow-ties, Tucker Carlson excepted). The first story was about privacy in the era of social media.(here's the story if you'd like to watch) It began as most such stories do, with panning shots of pictures on facebook. Then a shot of a young woman. I'm braced for the tale of how she didn't get a job because of things she wrote that were outlandish. Perhaps she had bared her bosoms in a photograph and been tagged. I thought she had made some foolish mistake.

Her mistake? She went to Europe, and posted this picture:

Oh noes! A 24 year old went to Europe (expanding her horizons), and took a picture of herself engaged in a LEGAL ACTIVITY.

She wasn't smoking a half-pound of pot. She's not on a stripper pole with a sign that says "vocational education". She's not even visibly intoxicated. Students couldn't even see the pictures.

And yet, her principal called her into his office (I'm doing the math and guessing that she was in her 1st or 2nd year of teaching), and asked her if she had a facebook. Once she said that she did, he said that he had received a complaint from a parent about the picture, and that, on the spot, she had to resign or be suspended. Imagine this. The 23 year old, recently in a situation where the principal was a figure of authority (when she was a student), given an ultimatum of that gravity. She chose to resign.

Now, CBS used this as a segue into privacy in the era of social media, which is fine, I understand that their show is general interest. But I think the most interesting part of the story came at the end: she was fired over an email complaint from someone who was anonymous

This is why teachers are afraid. We don't join the unions that might protect us because they're expensive and often protect what we view as incompetence. Then, as individuals, especially as young teachers, we're often put in positions where one or two people with administrative power can end the career we trained for quite quickly, and with very little reason.

What can we do about it? Perhaps new unions? But they would be corrupted by the same issues that have corrupted the current unions. Perhaps national legislation? Unlikely, since the conservative forces have managed to make job protection impossible in this nation, unless you're an incumbent. 

No I think there's another solution. Take power to hire and fire away from principals. Make them the educational peers of teachers. Hire someone to function purely as an evaluator, and that person would have control over staffing, to whatever degree principals currently have that power. 

You're probably wondering where that person's salary would come from. Well, I have an answer that those conservatives will love: trim the fat. For example, my district; cash-strapped, cutting bus service, has the money to provide my building (and our middle school) with a woman called a "learning coach". She sits in inservices, and helps with RtI (Dr Dick has your RtI RIGHT HERE). She also shows us youtube videos and sometimes spouts educational jargon. 

I don't know what she gets paid, but I suspect that we could use her, or her salary to pay someone, who could become an outside adjudicator of teacher quality. Then, the principal could run the building, teachers could collaborate openly and without fear of retribution, and we wouldn't be reading stories like the one of a 24 year old, new and eager to change lives, bullied into resignation, for a picture of herself on the internet doing something legal.

But we won't. Instead, we'll stick to our current model of evaluations, and spend the money paying administrators mileage to go to work.

Don't get that dig at the end? Go ahead and click here.

04 February 2011

Friday U-boat, ed. 8

Editor's note:

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

02 February 2011

The Culture of Fear

Little known fact about me: I hate scary movies. It's true. Can't stand to be scared. Don't like the sensation, never have. Now, I understand that these films are popular (mostly because they cause teenage girls to cling to teenage boys, a situation that both sides like) but I've never been able to get into them.

I also am scared of needles and overflowing public toilets. Illogical and true, I swear. 

Why have I subjected you to this short list of my illogical fears? Well, there are two reasons: firstly, my therapist is stuck to a flagpole by his tongue and second because it provides a neat-ish segue to today's topic here at the BlazeBlog: fear.

Now, I'm not going to talk about teachers being afraid to go into work (though that is a problem at many schools). I'm not going to talk about students being "afraid to fail". I'm not going to tackle the issue of young students being afraid on the first day, and I'm not going to rant about graduate students who are afraid to leave the comfort of academia. 

Nope, valid and interesting as all of those fears are, I'm going to talk about one that I think is sadder than Flowers for Algernon. I'm going to talk about a culture in public schools that causes many teachers to be afraid to speak their mind. 

Think about it; even though most of you know who I am and where I work, I blog anonymously, as "Cato". I try not to reference my school or district directly. Why? Because I, like many teachers, carry some fear that being too forward with my ideas and criticisms could cost me my job.

How could this be? Don't I have a right, a duty even, to question decisions which I think will impact students negatively? Why should I be afraid to offer professional, calm criticism of educational policy in my district?

I shouldn't.

And yet, I and many of my peers are afraid. Why? In large part because of the power which administrators have over teachers. Principals are also "evaluators", that is, they fill out my performance reviews. They will serve as references when I move to another state. In fact, in some states I won't be able to get a new license without my current evaluator signing paperwork indicating my competence as an educator. Most principals are upstanding and honest people. They will do this, even for teachers who disagree with them professionally. However, there are a number of principals who fear for their jobs, and to protect their livelihood, they lean hard on teachers who dissent, to provide a picture to higher-up decision makers and fund givers that their building is compliant. 

It isn't just money, though. Most teachers at the secondary level are not specialists. We can teach pretty much any class in our subject-area. Administrators often have control over who gets what classes. The teacher often fears that they will be stuck with all freshmen unless they get in line.
So, here's the cycle  we find ourselves in in education: School boards / reformers want drastic change, so they threaten to non-renew administrators (who generally work without union protection). Those administrators, in an effort to protect their income, lean on teachers, dictating philosophy, and creating an atmosphere where dissent is not appreciated. Teachers, trying to make sure they are employable, and have good classes,  keep their heads down and their mouths shut.  

This is sad 

Teachers should have safe, open forums to dissent with the philosophies that come at them from above. I know that unions often provide this function, but as I've detailed before, unions are fraught with problems of their own.

I don't know what the solution to this problem is. I think that going to a system of using outsiders as evaluators might help alleviate the problem. I also think that convincing Boards of Education that they should manage the money and stay out of educational philosophy would be nice as well. 

However, frogs think it would be nice to not bump their butts on the ground when they hop, but they can't grow wings....