A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Monday, October 31, 2005

This will keep me off the blog list of NEA Today forever....

...but I'm going to do it anyway. It is time to speak out.

Incompetent teachers should be fired. No ifs, ands, or buts.

I was reading the debate about proposition 74 in California, which comes up for a vote soon. Prop 74 would, among other things, increase the amount of time necessary to gain tenure as a public school teacher to five years from the current two years. But increasing the lagtime for tenure is only one tiny piece of the puzzle. Unspoken is the fact that those teachers were hired by someone, observed by someone (supposedly), and rehired by someone. Bad teachers do not pop out of nowhere. I don't see laws addressing these facts. Instead, I see yet another attempt to demonize teachers, while leaving untouched the larger issue of making teaching an honored and valued profession.

I'll say it again: incompetent teachers should be fired. However, I hope people understand that simply raising the years until teachers get tenure will hardly end incompetent teachers in the classroom.

First of all, the hiring process needs never to be based on nepotism and cronyism. I remember well sitting in a human resources office in a chichi district, listening to the director talk about how he was going to hire the son of so-and-so for this spot-- then he tried to hire me as a $12K a year assistant so that I could hold the hand of Junior. One of the most incompetent teachers I know was hired because he was a graduate of the high school at which I taught. And he's still teaching.

Second, teachers need to be evaluated by someone who knows what to look for in establishing judgments of competence and incompetence. This means that administrators should get out of their offices and be cognizant of what is going on in the classrooms. If they are too busy to do this-- which would seem the most important job of all-- then work should be reassigned so that administrators can do this. This should be their primary job, not number-crunching or stating the obvious ("There's an achievement gap!"). If administrators did this, it wouldn't matter how long it took to get tenure-- because they would know what's going on.

If there is a problem, they need to provide feedback and guidance to give the teach a chance to improve. They need to have the knowledge and experience to be able to provide this feedback and guidance. They need to amass documentation to use in getting rid of the deadwood. I knew an AP who falsified observations for 4 years-- she hadn't been in a classroom to observe since Clinton's first term. And it took the other administrators 6 years to figure this out. Might I point out that that is more than the amount of time it would take to get tenure under Proposition 74?

But you don't hear about passing laws forbidding these types of practices-- because it doesn't make teachers look bad, it makes administrators look bad. It doesn't allow the continued myth that there are a multitude of rotten teachers in our schools.

If a teacher is fired, they should not be given a good recommendation to go quietly just to make things nicey-nicey legally-- that just passes on the problem to some other school district, and betrays our sacred trust. And as Redhog says in his post of October 28, teaching IS a sacred trust.

We teachers have our part to play in this. We must not remain quiet when we see a problem. We must be able to trust that if we report a problem, it will be acted upon. School districts and teachers must demonstrate the will to get rid of bad teachers-- we know who they are. There's not a lot of them, but there are some. We need to understand that we teachers have an investment in this-- after all, the guy who reads the paper every day instead of teaching may well be the administrator of tomorrow.

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Out of the mouths of babes....

My 5-year-old was talking about his plans for the future (yes, I have a 5-year-old. I know Mike in Texas has a 21-year-old, whose grodiness quotient is off the scale, as you can see. I SO look forward to this vision of what awaits me. Thanks, Mike!).

Boy Child says that he is going to marry Zoe, he's going to have 6 kids, two of them twins, and that we will get to live with him forever. It is now in print in front of millions thousands hundreds dozens of you, my readers, so it's binding, right?

Then we asked him what he was going to be when he grew up-- an engineer? an astronaut? a teacher? a doctor? a musician?

He said, "I don't want a job. I want a life."

Wow. It's almost like he's a baby Buddha.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Carnival of Education #38 is on the deck!

The Edwonks have done it again-- the Carnival of Education is all lit up in neon to lure one and all. Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends!

Apparently, I was not the only one with math on my mind last week, as Kitchen Table Math discusses the math gap between our country and everywhere else in the world, and Scholar's Notebook discusses the success or failure rate of something called Integrated Math. Then Mr. McNamar at The Daily Grind who is obviously a kindred spirit (read fellow meanie) who talks about kids not ready for his 9th grade math class. Ruminating Dude takes on why math skills are dragging down kids in his AP chemistry class.

Great minds, and all that. Check it out!


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Passing of a Great American

Think Different. Be Different. Stand up by refusing to stand up. 1913-2005. God Bless You, Mrs. Parks.

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It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

Ahh, memories of my childhood! It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was just on, and I was blogging watched all of it. And of course, I thought of a metaphor: teachers are like Linus, waiting out in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to come along.

My Great Pumpkin is the day when we are given the tools to do our jobs, when students are told that education is the priority by our society and by their families, when politicians behave as though education, culture, and civic virtue are the most important priorities that society can bestow upon its citizens. I don't need all kids to speak English, I don't need all kids to be angels or geniuses-- I'll take all comers if we just had these three things.

What's your Great Pumpkin? I hope it rises up to meet you, and we get to leave the "if onlies" behind.


Monday, October 24, 2005

What is the value of a school nurse?

What is the value of a school nurse? How about a young life?

Last week, an underclassman at my school suffered a cardiac arrest at lunch. The school nurse and the principal and some other staff came to this child’s assistance and performed CPR until the paramedics arrived. They kept this child alive until she could be taken to the hospital. After several tense days, she is awake and talking. She will hopefully receive a pacemaker and recover fully.

A couple years ago, one of my colleagues had an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured, also at lunchtime, so thank God it wasn’t in front of students. She told me she was feeling bad (we had known about the problem, but her doctor was trying to treat it with drugs which didn’t apparently work) and suddenly, she briefly passed out into my arms. After I carried her to the nurse’s office, she was treated and comforted by the nurses until the ambulance could come and take her to the hospital. She ended up recovering.

Another incident a few years ago happened at the middle school where I taught, when a kid who was running through the halls lost his balance and flew head-first into a wall. The nurse stabilized him and made sure his neck wasn’t moved or injured further while we waited for the ambulance. Come to find out, he had a fractured vertebrae, and if he hadn’t been treated properly, he could have been partially paralyzed.

There has been a lot of talk in the edusphere by Mike at Education in Texas and Joe at Shut Up and Teach about a group called First Class Education, which is backed by Patrick Byrne (the guru of Overstock.com and the incredibly annoying commercials). Basically, they want to force school districts into spending 65% of revenues on instruction. Although sports counts as instruction, nurses do not.

You can read the rundown over there, since they do it so well. But be on the lookout for this. It sounds good to devote more $$$ to instruction, but apparently there is a hidden agenda.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

My Words! In Lights! Validation!

Love those Edwonks!

Every now and then, they let me hijack some of their space in their nifty open threads. And they've given little ol' me my own frontpage soapbox on the effects of technology to the teaching day! Given that they get about a million more hits a day than I do, I'm thrilled.

I'm having a Sally-Field-at-the-Oscars moment, here.

Go See! Go See!

Sometimes, I just think I'm talking to myself-- which is okay, as long as I don't answer.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Paying tuition for classes (and students) that don't count? It doesn't add up.

Got this article from Education news:
What's the price of leaving high school unprepared? Ask Chelsea Stephanoff, a Wayne State University student who is spending nearly $600 this semester for a class that won't count toward graduation.

Why? Her math skills were poor enough that even after four years of high school math, she was placed in a remedial class....

The problem is clear in the enrollment for remedial math at Wayne State, which has soared 85% in the last four years. There are 1,200 students in 12 sections of the class, a computer-based course.

"These students are coming in at the level of ninth-grade math," said Patty Bonesteel, developmental math coordinator at Wayne State. "Without a doubt, the idea of being bad at math is perfectly fine in our culture, and that's unfortunate."

You can blame the calculator culture all you want. I still can't believe it when kids in my APUSH class pull out their calculators to figure out grades when there are 20 questions (I do all my grades on a 100 point scale). I once stumped all my classes for two days when I asked them if they could write "one-half" mathematically more than two ways. (And there are more than two ways to do it: fraction, decimal, percentage, pie chart, and ratio come to mind. And do you want to make your students afraid? Expect them to do long division! Worse than assigning a research paper!) And I am so NOT a math scholar, and never took anything beyond algebra II, much to my shame now.

Four years of high school math, and the student still needs remediation. I bet I know why.

We recently raised our graduation requirements in both math and science (which was a good thing, because the state board just required our changes anyway). And some math teachers were vehemently against this.

Why? Not because the teachers are lazy. Because if you add more requirements, what may inevitably happen is that the courses get watered down, so that kids don't drop out because they can't earn the credit. So three years of math is now equivalent (math pun!) to what used to be one year of math.

Is this right? Absolutely not! Is this fear understandable? Yes, since we are accredited based, in part, on our graduation/dropout rate, which has also been an interesting topic of discussion lately, such as in Alabama and New York City, to name a few places.

Another problem is that we have people without mathematics majors or even math subject specializations teaching math-- heck, at my old middle school, I was only one of two secondary certified people when I left, and there are currently only 2 people certified in middle school social studies in the entire building. And I'm not trying to be mean to people who are elementary or middle school certified, but they are generalists, not specialists. This leads to a de-emphasis on content which is patently cheating our students. Add in (another math pun!) the fact that students are not held accountable when they do not learn material all the way up until the 9th grade, when social promotion ends, and you've got a nightmare on your hands. They don't have the background-- they don't know their multiplication tables, they don't know that an odd number plus an odd number always equals an even number-- and now it's four short years until they are supposed to be able to go out into the big bad world.

So even the kids who are not potential dropouts get shortchanged, because they sit in watered-down classes.

True story: I have a young relative, let's call him Rico, who enrolled at a community college and had to take remedial math classes which didn't count toward an associate's degree, just like the young lady mentioned in the story, but worse, because this was community college. Anyway, Rico couldn't even make the grade there, and got a D for a three credit remedial course. But the best part is, he tried to alter his grade card to a letter grade of B. This did not fool anybody for longer than 4 minutes, however, because Rico didn't change the point value earned, and I guess he thought that the rest of us wouldn't notice that 1 x 3 DOES NOT equal the points one should earn if one had gotten a B (9). Oh, the irony!

Unfortunately, if you've got standards, some people aren't going to meet them.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Recently seen...

"It's too bad that the people who really know how to run the country are busy TEACHING SCHOOL!"

...on a button that I HAD to purchase.

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Why I love teaching, part 1

No matter how much the detritus of red tape and smug yet ignorant policymakers grates upon me, I love my job.

We were talking about George Fitzhugh's apologies regarding slavery-- in particular, his claim that slaves were the freest people in the world. It kinda reminded me of someone claiming that Katrina refugees actually had gotten a better situation as refugees in Houston than living in their homes in New Orleans slums....

So I decided to go multidisciplinary on them, and asked them if this statement could be interpreted as Orwellian. This of course necessitated that we explore what was meant by Orwellian, so we talked about 1984 and also Animal Farm. I told them that Animal Farm was an allegory, and some didn't know what that meant, either, so I described it, and one of my girls said, "Oh, like Plato's story 'The Cave!'" And she could even talk about what some of the symbolism was! And then a bunch of them wanted to read it too.

Now, I know some will criticize that this discussion had nothing to do with getting the kids ready for the APUSH exam. But I disagree. Learning how to interpret and learning how to make connections ARE what it's all about.

It was cool. And that's why I love teaching, part 1.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Clayussss, clayusssss.... Pretty please give me your attention as long as I don't bruise your delicate self-images in this PC time!!!!!!! Thank you.

When I was in 4th grade I had a really wonderful teacher named Mary Jane Farha who taught our music class. I'm going to put her actual name in here because she really made an impact on my life. I remember her as middle-aged, but that could mean that she was twenty-three, for all I know. She played guitar. I play guitar. She taught us a really eclectic collection of songs and taught us about reading music and harmony: we heard Beethoven and "Roll Over, Beethoven." I listen to all kinds of music thanks to her, and played cello for the past thirty-some years because she told me I had talent. She also had a way of not talking down to us and not looking down her nose at the music we listened to, which, if you consider that this was 1974 and we were 9-year- olds, was quite an accomplishment: we're talking Elton John-with-the-weird-outfits-before-we-knew-he-was-not-just-being-eccentric and the Bay City Rollers here. ("S!-A!-TUR!-DAY!-- NIGHT!") At least she talked us out of listening to "Billy, Don't Be a Hero." Ugh.

Thank you, Mrs. Farha, for transforming our musical tastes.

Unfortunately, she also transformed our tastes in comedy. Once, when we had a few minutes before what we actually used to call Christmas break, she played us (warning: writer is about to use several underscored technical terms which will seem nonsensical to anyone under 35. Hold on to the tops of your heads!) a forty-five of Cheech and Chong's Sister Mary Elephant on the record player we had in class. Now, first of all, living in probably the most Protestant state in the entire nation, we were entertained by the whole idea of a nun named Mary Elephant, not to mention Rosetta Stone, and we got that joke because nobody ever told us that just because we were nine we couldn't understand things like Lord Carnarvon and the Rosetta Stone. But I digress.

We thought this was hysterical. It also transformed discipline in Mrs. Farha's class. Because from that time on, if we seemed to be drifting or getting a little chatty, she would simply nasally intone, "Clayussssss...." and we would all snap back to attention with little guilty grins on our faces. She never had to raise her voice, she never had to finish with the "SHADDUP!!" that poor Sister had to use. We loved that class. We loved her. We loved the fact that she could use something we thought was naughtily fun to keep us in line.

Polski3 got me thinking about this in his post of October 2 about kids not being able to follow directions. Two days after he wrote about this, I was sitting in a faculty meeting with our district Computer Diva while she talked about "internet aliens" (that would be anyone older than 20) and "digital natives," who would be our students. She claimed that the kids of today can simultaneously text-massage on their cell phones, listen to an MP3, IM seven pals, and plagiarize look up information for a report for school. Successfully! (She also internally cracked us up with her claim that these kids do all their editing of papers on the screen versus having to use a paper copy; evidence of any editing at all seems to be purely mythical from the papers I see, but that's a post for another day.) They don't need paper copies! They can multitask!

I think she's propagating a fairy-tale bigger than the Curse of Tut's tomb, here. I have told you that I have sweet kids, and they work very hard, but the lag time between ending one's conversation about the baseball playoff game, getting out one's notebook and actually finding a pencil is now approaching infinity. And I'm just asking for ONE thing at a time. I have two kids who are constantly late to class because of the band class running over-- (the band teacher claims he can't hear the bell -and apparently lacks both a wristwatch and a clock- and can't write all these passes, and so he just sends out mass non-apologetic emails an hour after the fact which then force us to go back and change the attendance codes for twenty kids. I would doubt his story about not hearing the bell, but I've heard our band. It sounds like Prokofiev in a fight with John Cage with a bit of the Anvil Chorus thrown in for whimsical effect. Once again, thank you, Mrs. Farha) and they never hear my instructions nor seem to have time to read the agenda on the board because they are already late.

Multitasking, HA! Bring your textbook. And your homework. Have a pencil or pen. Write legibly. The bell means it's my time. Maybe if I was doing my instructing via PDA or a Podcast or a website, that would enable them to follow instructions. Or I could just bring in my MP3 of "Sister Mary Elephant" on my shiny iPod.

Because I'm no alien.

I'm just a fossil.

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Time is on my side

Last week was parent-teacher conferences. As if that wasn't fun enough, I also had to go in for my semi-annual eye checkup, because I have an eye condition.

The appointment was for 2:30. School lets out at 2:15, so I asked one of my colleagues to watch my class for the last 10 minutes so I could be on time. I had to be back at school at 5:00, freshly pressed, rested, fed, and refreshed.

Got there on time. The waiting room was not that full. I had brought my iPod and a book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and Walker Evans, which is about sharecroppers during the Great Depression.

After 20 minutes of waiting, I was ushered in to take my field vision test. They tell you that blinking will not affect the test results, but does that still apply when your eyeballs feel like they were dipped in sawdust coated in Tabasco sauce? I'm not sure.

So I clicked the little button every time I saw an micron-sized light, for what seems like forever, but was actually about 5 minutes. Then I'm ushered into an examination room, where the nurse/tech puts more Tabasco sauce in my eyes and then attempts to start sticking devices ON MY EYEBALL!

On an instinctual level, I do not wish to have devices actually placed on my eyeball, and no matter how much I talk to myself, my brainstem, which in this case behaves like a recalcitrant toddler in front of a plate of sashimi ("Don't WANT to!"), takes control of my eyelids and neck muscles and avoids this procedure until finally the tech rolls her eyes, sighs, and grabs my eyelids and pries them apart herself and then holds them that way while she shoves this shiny thing onto my eye. I mean, I feel like that guy in "The Pit and the Pendulum."

After she finishes fueling my nightmares, she leaves. Everything is blurry because my eyes are dilated by the Tabasco sauce. But my iPod battery gives out, and I try meditating but my eyes are streaming orange tears, so I finally give up and hold my book two feet away from me, squint, and start reading. My butt gets numb, the chair in uncomfortable, and I'm reading condescending, flowery prose poetry about a girl who is married to a man who doesn't deserve her.

After I've read 87 pages in this fashion, I get up. It is now 4:15, and still no doctor. I square my shoulders and walk into the hallway, look up and down, no doctor, and I decide that I have commitments elsewhere. I walk up to the appointments secretary, who is chatting with another nurse. No one should read 87 pages of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men at one doctor's visit.

MC: I have to leave now.

AS: Ummm.... what?

MC: I have to leave. Right now.

Nurse Ratchet: (Obviously thinking, "Holy crap! She's still here!") I'm sure the doctor needs to talk to you, though.

MC: And I need to talk to her, else I wouldn't have made this appointment. But I have to be back at work in 30 minutes, driving through rush hour traffic, I need to change clothes, wash my face, put on new makeup, and now you people have made me blind, which should increase the fun factor of accomplishing these tasks exponentially. But I have to leave. Now.

AS: Well, do you want to schedule a new appointment now?

MC: What would be the point of that (thinking to myself, "since this one has obviously turned out so well,")? Look, I'm not angry, although I should be, but I must go. Right now. Not five minutes from now. Now.

Right about this time here comes the doctor with some woman who was not in the waiting room when I came. I can tell she's thinking, "Hey, the cattle have stampeded their pen." She pulls me into a room for fifteen seconds, shows me the printout of my field vision test, says there's an area of concern, but that I "aced" the test (How can these two statements be compatible?) and that we'll just check it again in six months, and then disappears again. I pay (yes, that was stupid, but my default mode is good girl/pleaser) and then I leave. I manage to weave through the hellacious traffic, clean myself up, and speed to school for 3.5 hours of alternating boredom and talking, all the while with eyes like an alien's.

For this I waited nearly two hours? And why is there this assumption that my time is worthless? What is the point of an appointment if I have to wait two hours? Why can't I call them before my appointment, ask how far behind they are running, and show up then? I paid a total of $18 for aftercare for the thrill of NOT being seen by the doctor. Meanwhile, there's an "area of concern," and I start having anxiety attacks about going blind, because I'm too tired to be rational.

Then I realize. Some people get treated like this during parent conferences. They line up like cattle, and get their concerns ignored. I resolve to not be one of those teachers.

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Standards? We don't need no stinkin' standards!

So one of my most happy-go-lucky ones came to me today because she had a 79% in my regular class. She says she didn't have grades like this in her previous honors class, and thinks that because the class is a "regular" class, that means she shouldn't have to study struggle.

In the words of a previous student who came to visit me from college, "You were so mean-- making me think instead of trotting out the worksheets. It's SCARY out there without worksheets!"

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Today's Big Questions

Is income tax a big socialistic income redistribution scheme, or is it just a more effecient means of helping people acquire services?

As one of my kids said,"Are we just chasing our tails here, or is there really the only difference that everyone gets at least something when government provides it versus when people have to use the marketplace?" And these are my regular history students! And young Mr. Capitalist came roaring into the fray to defend The Amuurican Way. And we were off for fifteen minutes of lively debate.

Hard to believe that this discussion started out by discussing the Populist party platform of 1892.

I'm so proud.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I am SO Not Surprised!

Of course this is me! I found this little gizmo thanks to Educat. Of course you've got the time to waste-- you're reading my insane ramblings, aren't you? Go to take The Classic Dames Test here.

Katharine Hepburn
You scored 21% grit, 23% wit, 42% flair, and 19% class!
You are the fabulously quirky and independent woman of character. You go your own way, follow your own drummer, take your own lead. You stand head and shoulders next to your partner, but you are perfectly willing and able to stand alone. Others might be more classically beautiful or conventionally woman-like, but you possess a more fundamental common sense and off-kilter charm, making interesting men fall at your feet. You can pick them up or leave them there as you see fit. You share the screen with the likes of Spencer Tracy and Cary Grant, thinking men who like strong women.

Find out what kind of classic leading man you'd make by taking the
Classic Leading Man Test.

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Today's Big Questions

In considering the following quote by Whitman, "The only dirty book is the expurgated book," we considered the following: Can an artist's work be changed or censored while remaining true to the original vision? Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? What is the difference between being inspired by someone's work and being derivative?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

More weird moments in automotive linguistics

I love language and I love words. I try to teach my students at least ONE "highfalutin'" word each day in all my classes (today's words: detritus and its cousins flotsam and jetsam. The kids liked how one could imply so much with just one word.)

The other day while we were waiting for the bell to ring, we had been talking about the power of words in advertising, and gave them the famous story of the Chevy Nova-- in Spanish that means "won't go." I also questioned whether Nissan really thought things through when they named an SUV "the Murano." This sounds suspiciously like "marrano," which was a Spanish pejorative for Conversos, Sephardic Jews who converted to Catholicism after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. It has the connotation of "filthy swine" in both Spanish and Portuguese.

So I have to wonder why Subaru would name an SUV "the Tribeca." Not many off-road possibilities in New Yawk, are there?

Do you have any favorites?


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Frankenstein toes (insert evil laugh here)

Forlorn? Disgruntled? Gruntled even, but still grumpy? You need a laugh, honeychile.

Go to A Series of Inconsequential Events and read about the Singing Pig's misadventures with a falling sink, a Mexican restaurant, and a big toe.

At least the prehensile toes of this lazy blogger still work. You rock, Piggy, just when I thought that I was too tired to laugh.

She's got the goods. And the shredded toe.

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Can You Hear Me Now?????

Hallelujah!!! I got my latest cell phone bill, and this is the most incredible thing that I have ever posted, but I swear that it's true: My latest bill was $1.90 BELOW the amount to which I agreed in the contract. Including tax. $37.05 instead of $39.95. I swear.

Sorry, Fred, but it's true. I used to have the guys that constantly chant "Can you hear me now?" but they didn't hear me when I complained about a coverage hole right over my house. Before that, I had the guys who "Never stop working for you," but apparently they only worked for me when they could figure out how to triple the charges. I also was the victim of an advantage, which ended up being Singularly expensive when I received a $380 bill right before Christmas for roaming after a trip to Chicago, even though my plan had no roaming charges. After 5 hours on the phone and speaking to 19 different alleged oxymoronic "customer service" reps, I finally got one who would agree to give me my money back-- after 10 days more waiting. By the way, the last guy to whom I spoke, Mr. Honesty, told me to NEVER, NEVER, NEVER do autopay for your cell phone bill, since you'll never see your money back in a dispute.

See, I knew Joan Cusack could never lie to you. Anyone who can play the girl in the brace (Geek Girl #1) in Sixteen Candles to Marcella in Grosse Pointe Blank to Jessie the Singing Cowgirl in Toy Story can get me to part with my hard-earned greenbacks.


Thursday, October 06, 2005

A fervent prayer

Oh Lord,

I ask your intercession on Saturday, when my beloved Sooners play the minions of Satan Texas Longhorns. It's been a good ride, Lord, the last five or so years, but I am not ready to let go. I cannot wear the Texas Longhorns shirt to school next week. It would cause cellular decomposition equivalent to matter meeting anti-matter. The assistant principal from Texas is savoring the anticipated moment of triumph. I will buy him the barbeque, Lord, but the longhorn shirt! Spare me!

Saturday. The Cotton Bowl. Be there.

Boomer sooner!

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Bubbas and Yankees

Stream- of-consciousness here, as I await parent-teacher conferences tomorrow and the next night:

Shouldn't there be a law against the New York YANKEES having a player named Bubba? And anyone rooting for the Yankees around me gets a BRONX CHEER.

Is "ept" the opposite of "inept?" Why isn't it "inapt?"

Was I hallucinating, or did I hear the district computer diva use the terms "internet alien" and "internet immigrant" with a straight face in our faculty meeting today?

Does anyone know which countries use US dollars as their currency besides the US? I forget...

Who was crazier in the subgroup "People who have held elected office in the US:" Aaron Burr, David Duke, Richard Nixon, or Tom DeLay?

Did I just spend all day today explaining what speculation, inflation and bimetallism mean? Will I ever get those minutes back in my life?

Question to the skinny Gen Xer in left field: How many times do I have to hit it over your head until you learn to back up on the fat old broad? My mitt is older than you.

A sign that I have watched 50 First Dates waaaay too many times: I'm looking at Jason Giambi, remark how he looks kinda chunky, my hubby says, "I think he's finally off the juice," and my elder daughter immediately says, "It's a pwotein thake!"


Monday, October 03, 2005

Apparently, there is a fate worse than hard work...

... and that's boredom. You may not believe this, but I have had two kids (through their counselors) approach me in the last week to GET IN to my AP US history class from regular history, and we're more than six weeks into the school year-- we are currently on Chapter 13 of my 43 chapter textbook, too.

First reaction: What am I doing wrong? (Immediate facetious response, I admit-- I'm just kidding.)

It's fascinating, though, given how we usually see them scurrying AWAY this time of year like rats from a sinking ship because of the homework. There is usually mucho handwringing over how to make this class in many schools more accessible and easier. I am, after all, about to be immortalized on the pages of the school paper as the teacher who gives the most homework in the school. Not that I am some sadistic dragonlady, but these mostly working class kids have to compete against kids who do twice as much reading/homework as the amount I already give them. Given that I had to explain the unification of Spain and the French Revolution to them just to be able to talk about stuff in American history efficiently, they've got a tough row to hoe. But mostly, with the exception of one kid right now, they are willing to do the heavy lifting. And not to brag, but I'll put the learning and growing my kids do in the course of the year through their own efforts up against anyone at a "richer" school.

We do have fun. We do laugh. We do learn some vocabulary. And we learn lots of US history. I have a few weird stories I use to spice it up. Regardless of how I come off when I'm annoyed on this space, I have a pretty open and amicable relationship with most kids who cross my path, and once you're my kid, you're my kid forever and I will fight for you till the end.

Second reaction, once I have picked up my jaw from the floor: It's too late. I'm sorry, but it is. It boggles the mind to think about how much they would have to do to catch up. It would be inhuman. Really.

These two kids claim that they are bored in their regular classes. They had the chance to sign up for APUSH, but dropped it before school started. Their choice. They did get put into a regular class whose teacher has a rep for not being very, shall we say, rigorous. But that's the chance you take.

Since I give some lower-octane AP- like stuff to my regular kids, I am also afraid that the next step is for them to want to tranfer into one of my two regular classes (sample question: what was the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, and what connection does it have to hurricane response?).

But, honeychile, those inns are full! I don't feel that I would be doing anyone a favor by taking one in the neck. Kids have to learn how to accept the consequences of their choices. They have to learn to deal with all kinds of teachers and classmates and bosses. And I can't just keep getting more kids because someone is less popular. If there is a problem, then it needs to be dealt with, and not by overloading other teachers.


Sunday, October 02, 2005

A new meaning for the term "Open House"

Hmm. Scorching heat. 15 hour days. AC on the fritz. Dry cleaning bills. Working four weeks before you see a paycheck. Yes, it must be open house time!

So Youngfella teaches next door to me. Nice guy. Last year at open house, he went through three-fourths of the night before he realized his fly was unzipped, and boy, did the other loud, juvenile Neanderthals social studies staff give him the razzing of his young life for the rest of the year.

So we're sitting there waiting for yet another hellish, mind-numbing experience chance to bond with the parents, goofing around in my colleague the Guitar God's room (He and I play together in the faculty band, and I've forgiven him for preferring the Stones to the Beatles-- he's young, he'll learn some day.) In walks Youngfella, lookin' sharp in crisp black slacks, gray shirt, blue tie. He sits down on a desk, and I see a flash of gray below the belt. Could it be?

It's the mother in me. I can't help it.

"Hey, Poohbear. XYZ." I tried to say it quietly. Yes, he had done it again.

He blushes and closes the ol' barn door. My colleagues begin to ki-yipe to the heavens. Total mayhem. Then they start harshing on me for warning the poor young sap. Can you imagine the fallout if he'd done it two years in a row???

He has been sufficiently worshipful of me in the days since, as is my due as the only kind-hearted soul in the department.


Saturday, October 01, 2005

Sigh. Some people just make me shake my head

I discovered this little gem while I was reading my October 2005 issue of NEA Today magazine in the "Talkback" section:

Zero Inspiration
Ignorance they say is bliss, but that is no excuse to take it out on students because of your antiquated, outdated rules on giving a zero. ("Talkback," September) Every time you give a zero, you skew the results negatively. To stop the skewing because of a large difference between a 64 (a D-grade) and 0 you should never give a grade lower than 10 points below your lowest passing grade (say, a 55). With that, the student can work to improve his numerical grade and that equates to "fairness." Russell Cadman, Union Gap, Washington

Wow. Where to begin? There's so much there with which to amuse oneself.

First, Russell, let me say that your use of punctuation and mathematics indicates that you were one of those-- cough-- 55 percenters in these two fields. How lovely that you are inflicting your ignorance upon a helpless generation a member of my profession.

Second, let's examine a hypothetical situation.

Student X does no work during most of the semester, for which he receives a 55% in Russell's class. He turns in 3 assignments in the last week of the term, thus making his final grade a 70- a C.

Student Y has difficulty in the subject at hand, but he busts his hump, staying up late at night, going to tutoring after school and so on. Sometimes he earns a 60%, sometimes he earns an 80%. At the end of the semester, he has earned a 70%- a C.

Student Z has great mastery of the subject, works diligently, and earns a grade of 100%-- an A. (Student Z could take over for the teacher on days he is absent.)

So here are a few questions for you, Russell:

1) Would you want Student X wiring your house, collecting your garbage, teaching your children, or performing surgery upon you?

2) How does it feel to make students Y and Z feel like the stupid ones in this scenario? Have YOU succeeded (I assume that your numbers racket will eventually be justified as a quest for self-esteem) in whatever it was you wanted to accomplish here?

3) Student X did 15% of the work and got the same grade as student Y, who showed mastery of 70% of the material. Why should student Y drive himself or deprive himself from pleasure-seeking for the same result as student X?

4) Does everybody get 55% added to their grades, or is it just the lazy? If so, how do you still base your grades on a 100 point scale?

5) Does anyone pay attention or even bother to show up to your classes most of the time? Do you actually care if anybody learns anything?

6) Why are you in a classroom, Russell? What is your purpose? Please think long and hard about this before you waste another minute of another student's time.

F has a range of 59% in most grading systems because we want people who "pass" to demonstrate that they have learned a majority of the material-- even a supermajority. It's not just to be mean.

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