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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Playlist '09


Carol of the Bells- Straight No Chaser
I'll Be Home for Christmas-- Aimee Mann
The Coventry Carol-- Alison Moyet
Dona Nobis Pacem-- Christine Lavin
Sweet Secret Peace-- Neil Finn
Calling on Mary-- Aimee Mann
Maybe This Christmas-- Ron Sexsmith
Gabriel's Message-- Sting
What Child is This?-- Kristin Chenoweth
Linus & Lucy-- Vince Guaraldi Trio
O Holy Night-- Avril Lavigne and Chantal Kreviazuk
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear-- Sixpence None the Richer
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen-- Bare Naked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan
Let it Snow-- Harry Connick, Jr.
Tacobel Canon-- Christine Lavin
Baby It's Cold Outside-- Dean Martin
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)-- Straight No Chaser
Please Come Home for Christmas-- Aaron Neville
I'll Be Home for Christmas-- Kristin Chenoweth
The Christians and the Pagans-- Dar Williams


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Whoa! Is it April Fool's instead of Christmas?

Yes, indeedy, Ms. Cornelius was actually stopped by an administrator and asked about a request a kid had made to change something, and the admin actually came to ask my opinion and preference before he allowed said request.

Man! Christmas came early! Now if only my colleagues didn't think I was lying or hallucinating!

And yes, I am wondering how long we'll be able to keep this guy. Probably not long, damn it.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

What is the point of teacher evaluations?

As a crusty mmmmmph-year veteran of the classroom, I am always amused when it comes time to go through the whole teacher- evaluation sham each year.

Whazzat? Did I just pronounce this tedious process a sham? Why yes, I did.

Here's why: because the administrators have been trained like a set of circus seals tooting wee horns not to write anything actually specific on these forms. Our highest level of evaluation is entitled "meets expectations." Whoa. Glad to know that I am busting my hump and that that "meets expectations." I mean, I have a colleague who actually saved a kid's life by doing artificial resuscitation on the child after collapsing, and what did his evaluation say? "Meets expectations." And sure, I bet we all expect people to attempt to perform CPR on a child if called upon, but really? Couldn't there have been a tiny shout-out in the yearly form for acknowledging that most teachers (thankfully) are NOT called upon to actually breathe life back into a student's body, and so really, she had EXCEEDED expectations at least in this area?

So yeah, there can be no mention of excellent feats we have performed-- like persuading the kid with school phobia to show up every "tomorrow" or raising test scores a full stanine and single-handedly breaking up 2 shouting matches before they became actual fights, and teaching non-stop from thirty minutes before school starts to an hour after school ends and all of the million things we do RIGHT IN FRONT OF ADMINISTRATORS. But they are not to mention these things in our evaluations, because then someone would actually have to pay attention. This timidity on the part of the human resources honchos also explains why I am implacably opposed to merit pay, by the way, because the real teachers of merit tend to go about their business and tend to be too busy to ingratiate themselves to administrators.

And then, there's the other end of the spectrum. Weak teachers also benefit from this spinelessness-- er, I mean, "lack of exactitude"-- because the administrators are uninterested in doing the real work that is required to make sure that they are not sued should they actually attempt to terminate a teacher who is not getting the job done-- like the guy who borrows everyone else's lessons but perks along under the radar because he is pressed and well-dressed at all times and he hangs out in the principal's office during his free time (and frankly, he's got a lot of that). Add the fact that he has administrator certification, so not only does he know how to play the game, but he is also protected by his potential status as a future administrator (and he'll probably make it, too, since like calls to like.)

So here are the darling identical pieces of paper handed to me as my evaluation, all those boxes checked "meets expectations." I am personally thanked, and my administrator really does sound grateful for helping him out by taking care of my own discipline and such-- but we can't put that down in the actual evaluation. I do appreciate him at least being willing to acknowledge me verbally, though.

I also appreciated him telling me that when I started teaching he was eight years old. THAT was special.

But when my records are perused years from now, you will not be able to discern any difference between them and those of most of my colleagues. So really, what's the point? We will all still carry on. Some will work harder than others, some will coast, and the grindstone of evaluation shall not grind either of them differently.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Western New York: A Monster Walks Among You

So tell me WHY this fiend-in-grandpa-shape deserves to get out of prison--EVER?
A 100-year-old paedophile has been released from prison in the US despite fears he is still an "active threat" to children.

Theodore Sypnier was freed from jail in upstate New York and is being moved from a half-way house to a flat in Buffalo.

Residents say the sex offender should spend the rest of his life behind bars, and fear he will prey on youngsters in the area.

"I want him away from society as long as possible," Erie County district attorney Frank Sedita told wgrz.com.

It doesn't matter to me that he's 100-years-old. He's evil. He's a paedophile. Paedophiles are the worst.

"It doesn't matter to me that he's 100-years-old. He's evil. He's a paedophile. Paedophiles are the worst."

Sypnier was charged in 1999 with raping two young sisters, who were aged four and seven at the time.

The minister in charge of the half-way house said Sypnier has remained completely unrepentant of his crimes in counselling sessions.

Reverend Terry King said the elderly paedophile can still walk for miles and should be kept away from children.

He added: "He has been adamant that, 'I'm 100, and I'm not gonna change'."

As a Christian, I certainly will pray for this man's soul. But that doesn't mean that he should ever be allowed out of prison. EVER. There are more details in the story from the Associated Press here. Here are the highlights:

He was sent to jail ten years ago for raping and sodomizing two little girls, aged 4 and 7, and took pornographic pictures of them. He was first arrested in 1987. I suggest you go to the link so you can memorize what this monster looks like, especially if your live near Buffalo.

Even though he expressed no remorse nor has taken any responsibility for his crimes, he will walk free into society now.

Lesson? The law does NOT exist to protect society, and rape is not taken seriously as a crime against the soul as well as the body.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Aprendizaje de español por el teléfono celular

Why not just give up the war on cell phones and use them in class instead?

Ariana Leonard's high school students shuffled in their seats, eagerly awaiting a cue from their Spanish teacher that the assignment would begin.

"Take out your cell phones," she said in Spanish.

The teens pulled out an array of colorful flip phones, iPhones and SideKicks. They divided into groups and Leonard began sending them text messages in Spanish: Find something green. Go to the cafeteria. Take a picture with the school secretary.

Leonard's class at Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel, a middle-class Florida suburb about 30 miles north of Tampa, is one of a growing number around the country that are abandoning traditional policies of cell phone prohibition and incorporating them into class lessons. Spanish vocabulary becomes a digital scavenger hunt. Notes are copied with a cell phone camera. Text messages serve as homework reminders.

"I can use my cell phone for all these things, why can't I use it for learning purposes?'" Leonard said. "Giving them something, a mobile device, that they use every day for fun, giving them another avenue to learn outside of the classroom with that."

Much more attention has gone to the ways students might use phones to cheat or take inappropriate pictures. But as the technology becomes cheaper, more advanced and more ingrained in students' lives that mentality is changing.

"It really is taking advantage of the love affair that kids have with technology today," said Dan Domevech, executive director of the nonprofit American Association of School Administrators. "The kids are much more motivated to use their cell phone in an educational manner."

Today's phones are the equivalent of small computers — able to check e-mail, do Internet searches and record podcasts. Meanwhile, most school districts can't afford a computer for every student.

"Because there's so much in the media about banning cell phones and how negative phones can be, a lot of people just haven't considered there could be positive, educative ways to use cell phones," said Liz Kolb, author of "From Toy to Tool: Cell Phones in Learning."

Even districts with tough anti-use policies acknowledge they will eventually need to change.

"We can't get away from it," said Bill Husfelt, superintendent of Bay County District Schools, a Florida Panhandle district of 27,000 students where cell phones aren't allowed in school, period. "But we've got to do a lot more work in trying to figure out how to stop the bad things from happening."

Seventy-one percent of teens had a cell phone by early 2008, according to a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. That percentage remains relatively steady regardles of race, income or other demographic factors. Meanwhile, many schools are low-tech compared with homes outfitted with home networks, wireless Internet and a smartphone for every family member.

Most schools still have prohibitive policies curtailing cell phone use — often with good reason. At Husfelt's district, seven students were recently arrested after they got into a fight on campus that he says was instigated through text messages.

In other parts of the country, teens have been arrested for "sexting" — sending indecent photographs taken and sent through their cell phones. Students also use the devices to cheat: In one poll, more than 35 percent of teens admitted cheating with a cell phone.

But phones are so common now that seizing them is huge hassle for teachers.

"It's just a conflict taking them up and having to deal with them," Husfelt said. "It's too disruptive."

Teachers who have incorporated cell phones into their classes say that most students abide by the rules. They note that cheating and bullying exist with or without the phones, and that once they are allowed, the inclination to use them for bad behavior dissipates.

"Kids cheat with pen and paper. They pass notes," said Kipp Rogers, principal of Passage Middle School in Newport News, Va., "You don't ban paper."

Rogers started using cell phones as an instructional tool a couple of years ago, when he was teaching a math class and was short one calculator for a test. He let the student use his phone instead. Twelve classes, including math, science and English, now use them. Students do research through the text message and Internet browser on some phones. Teachers blog. Students use the camera function to snap pictures for photo stories and assignments.

Classes often work in groups in case some students don't have phones.

In Pulaski, Wis., about 130 miles north of Milwaukee, Spanish teacher Katie Titler has used cell phones for students to dial and record themselves speaking for tests.

"Specifically for foreign language, it's a great way to both formally and informally assess speaking, which is really hard to do on a regular basis because of class sizes and time," Titler said.

Jimbo Lamb, a math teacher at Annville-Cleona School District in south-central Pennsylvania, has students use their phones to answer questions set up through a polling Web site. Instantly, he's able to tell how many students understood the lesson.

"This is technology that helps us be more productive," he said.

Would allowing our students to use their phones as part of the lesson actually transform them and make them "eager?" Those kids may be responding to Spanish instruction, but how much speaking are they doing?

Having just removed two cell phones in the last four school days-- one of which was being used to look up answers on a quiz-- I am not feeling really cell phone friendly right now.

But I will say our current policy is more of a hassle for the teacher than anything. We are supposed to confiscate the phones when we see them. However, we have been told we are supposed to take them to the kid's specific administrator which may be as far as a quarter mile away from our rooms-- and we are supposed to get there and back again in 5 minutes. All that effort-- and the kid doesn't get anything more than a hand slap unless it's their third time.

But do I need to find ways that kids can use their cell phones in class just to be all cute and techy? Really?

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