possumcowboy: (Default)
It's been a while since I've taken a moment to put down thoughts here.

I'm working in air conditioning for the first time in my professional career. If you've never tried to squeeze education into young minds which are contained in over-heated young bodies, you really can't possibly understand the jubilation with which I have greeted the past month. You know what, though? Kids are complaining of being cold, now.

My class this year is very challenging. I'm working on improving myself in several areas in order to meet the challenge positively. The administration has been very supportive of me, and I'm learning a good bit from them. Other teachers (ESL, SPED, Title 1) come in from time to time, and I can see potential for my room to be an amazing place for getting a good education. (Potential, you'll remember, is a big word that means "hasn't done squat yet").

I've been sleeping much better, lately, and I'm pretty sure that this has a lot to do with my lack of posting. I'm pretty much ok with that, though. It's been a years of firsts. This summer was the first time I've been able to take my daughters on vacation. I was talking about that earlier; what an amazing experience that was for me and (I hope) them. I also recognize Leah for being instrumental for so many of the good things going on in my life right now.

Tonight's joke comes courtesy of Mike Smith:

Three guys were sitting around on lunch break, and the discussion wandered to the topic of what each would like people to say when standing over his casket at his funeral.

Bob said, "I'd like people to look down at my body and say something about what a dedicated father and husband I was, and how I took such good care of my mom there at the end."

Larry said, "I think I'd like people to look down at my body and mention what a good Christian man I was, how the church was so important to me and that I worked hard to improve the lives of others through charity and mission work."

Edgar mused for a moment, and then said, "I think what I'd really like people to say is 'OH MY GOD, I THINK HE'S MOVING!!'"

hi there.

Jun. 8th, 2011 01:43 am
possumcowboy: (Default)
Hello, Middle of the Night! It's been a while since we've spent any time together, eh? What a year!

This past school year was up and down in so many different ways. Students who will be missed, wishes for just a few more days with them to shore up any last difficulties in understanding math, science, social studies. The Boss asked me to think about next year over the summer, and I've been doing just that.

I guess the first thing is that I simply have to start out the year as an outrageous ogre. This isn't my style, but my usual approach of caring and compassion has caused nothing but difficulty as far as classroom behavior goes.

New legislation ties my pay directly to student test scores. As much as this pisses me off, it also has me thinking about what I'm going to do to raise student test scores. This means that I'll only be talking about things which are going to be on the test; no side excursions into areas which interest the students and might motivate them to become self-learners.

I need to incorporate more hands-on stuff into what I'm doing. Too many kids are writing notes or drawing pictures instead of paying attention, so I'm going to need to have them actively involved in something which requires them to work with someone else and makes messing around an impossibility.

My building is going to be renovated over the course of the next school year (finally! Air conditioning!!!), so our staff and students will be relocated for the school year in another building. I have only had one chance to go visit what I have been told will be my classroom, and I didn't get a very good feel for how I want to set it up.

I have the feeling that a lot of things to which we have become accustomed are going to change for this next school year, as far as how the day is structured for faculty. It'll be interesting to see what all the new requirements are going to be. Since new legislation has basically hamstrung what may be negotiated at contract time, a lot of "hammering of the bunghole" is likely to take place. We shall see.

Hi there.

Mar. 16th, 2011 12:54 am
possumcowboy: (Default)
Mexican food. It's incredibly enjoyable when you eat it. Not so much when it wakes you up later. I'm crunching Tums as a late-night snack. This isn't a total gastric disaster, mind you, but I had coffee later in the day than usual and it's woken me up pretty well.

Yesterday (Monday), a playground fight broke out just as I was coming out of the building to pick up my class, at the end of recess. One of my students was involved, and is now on a five-day suspension (which is what we do for fighting). I'm bothered, as my student has been making a solid effort to keep out of trouble. My student will fight back, though, rather than just stand and take a beating. The nerve of the child! The other student involved isn't from my class, and I don't know so well. My student, though, I feel concern for. I don't want my student out of my class, even though the rules require this. I like to believe that I provide a safe environment for students to learn in, and what really irks me is when someone disrupts this by starting a fight. My entire class was unable to "reset" after the event, and the afternoon was pretty close to a total loss, academically. Today (Tuesday) when I picked up the class from recess, everyone was a-buzz due to a visit from the principal. He'd come into the area where movies are shown during rainy-day recess and said something to the effect that the grade level would be having study hall instead of recess for the rest of the school year. I tried to get the entire story from the kids, but have no official version; I needed to rush out of the building at the end of the day.

The 4th quarter has started. The final grading period has commenced. There are some students who are likely to be retained due to inability to perform at grade level. There are some other students who are likely to be retained due to unwillingness to complete work for me to evaluate. The rest are either performing where they need to be, or working so hard that I'm willing to help them get that last little bit they need to be on track.

As you know, union teachers only care about teachers, and don't put kids first. At least, that's what you'd know if the only people you listened to were politicians. If you've been listening to them, have you noticed that the union teachers who only care about teachers have been too busy in the classroom with students to get out and throw the cow dung back? Have you noticed that our "political rallies" are held after the school day or on the weekend? How many of us have driven up in a new Mercedes? Bah.

Here is me, hoping that the union teachers who only care about teachers continue to care about kids and care about the culture of learning. What a terrifying world we'd live in if all the Chicken Littles of the political world were telling the truth.
possumcowboy: (Default)
Today's portion of the ISTEP was a writing prompt. The students were to write a persuasive essay. I'm probably better off not being too specific, what with test security issues and all, but I think "persuasive essay" is general enough.

So, as I may have mentioned, 23 of my 30 students are given the test outside my classroom, for reasons of accommodations for ESL or SPED. I'm left administering the test to seven students.

We've practiced all kinds of writing; writing to inform, to entertain, to persuade. We've practiced with released ISTEP items, available on the Indiana DOE website. We've practiced just the planning phase of writing prompts. We've practiced and practiced, and I've coached and coached. I've said, I don't know how many times, "read the prompt carefully to be sure you understand exactly what it is that you're being asked to do".

This writing prompt asked that students write an essay to persuade someone to do something. Fair enough? I got one test booklet back in which the student had done exactly that. I got six test booklets back in which the students had written a story about what happened on the day that the person was persuaded to do that something. Two students actually used the entire 55 minutes, and filled up nearly every line of the available space in the test booklet; usually these longer responses will get higher credit when scored. Sadly, both of those students had written a story rather than a persuasive essay.

I'm reminded of a line from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, in which he likens children to arrows. We aim them as carefully as we can, but in the end, we release them and hope that they fly truly to the target.

I asked them, after they were done writing and we had packed up all the testing materials and were having a snack, how they thought they'd done. Each student smiled and said that he or she felt really good about how they'd done on the writing. I told them that I was proud of the effort that they'd put in, and that they should all be proud of how hard they'd worked. I'll be interested to see how well my other students did; the ones who were tested outside the room. Portions of the test such as directions may be read aloud to them, where the kids with me have to read everything themselves.

Time for bed. Tomorrow is the dreaded Reading Comprehension portion of the E/LA (English/Language Arts) test. I hope they're well-rested.
possumcowboy: (Default)
Today was the first day of our high-stakes testing. Sixteen of my seventeen ESL kids were tested out of the room as part of their accommodations. Another several were tested out of the room as part of SPED accommodations. So, I had seven with me. Testing conditions are important to maintain, and it's important to read the test administrator's directions word-for-word. So, we did all that, and then set the timer for the math portion of the test; thirty-five minutes.

The questions were very much like the questions we've been practicing from previously released tests (you can get test questions from prior tests on the DOE website). Each required several steps, and each required a correct answer on the first part to be able to correctly answer a follow-up question.

I took the liberty of peeking through the seven tests at the student responses. I'd worked the problems out myself before giving the test, and wanted to see who would come close. Five years of hand-scoring written tests for CTB/McGraw-Hill has given me a good idea of what would be accepted for full or partial credit on items like these.

I think one student aced it. I think the others, not so much.

I'm a bit frustrated with this, due to the amount of time and effort we've put into preparation. Our entire school year up until now has been dedicated to this one week. I'm proud of the effort I saw from most of the seven; they showed their work, they explained their answers. In short, they did the best they knew how. I'm simply at a loss to understand how I could have taught the information more effectively. Other teachers and assistants who spend time in my room to work with various children throughout the day have complimented me on the job I do with instruction in all the areas they've seen, so I believe (based on third-party comments, right?) I'm doing an ok job.

We'll see what tomorrow brings.
possumcowboy: (Default)
(this is attributed to an anonymous author)
The Firefighters of Hoosierville

In the town of Hoosierville, there lived a group of 25 dedicated firefighters. They worked tirelessly, protecting the citizens, defending homes, and teaching the people about fire safety. They were effective, with quick response time, and the newest, most efficient techniques in firefighting. They were proud that they were making a difference in the lives of the citizens of Hoosierville. They often spent their own time learning more about firefighting, because after all, they became firefighters to make a difference, not to become rich.
     One day, the mayor came to the firehouse to hold a meeting with the firefighters. “You are terrible firefighters,” he said. “You claim to be effective, and yet, homes are still catching fire in Hoosierville.”
     The firefighters looked at one another in disbelief. Could this be our mayor, who ran on the pro-firefighting platform just a few years ago? They felt betrayed!
     “In order to remedy your ineptitude, I plan to open a second firehouse in town.”
     At first, this seemed like a lovely idea. Wouldn’t it be great to have others to share in the efforts? They could work as a team, and the fight against fires. Some members of the community agreed that it was a lovely concept.  Soon, however, it became clear that this was an idea that would not help the Hoosierville firefighters, but harm them, as well as the community.
     “In order to help the new firehouse get off the ground,” Mayor said, “you will need to make some sacrifices. First, you must provide a fire truck for them, and a building. You will still be responsible for the vast majority of the fires, but they deserve these things. Their funds will be taken from yours.“
     The Hoosierville firefighters were appalled. Didn’t the mayor realize that this would not help reduce fires in Hoosierville at all? They needed both of their trucks, and the budget was thin already. Reducing the funds would mean fewer axes, older hoses, and less training. The Hoosierville firefighters agreed to freeze their salaries for a year, in order to keep the jobs of all 25 original Hoosierville firefighters.  The Hoosierville firefighters continued working in the community, conducting drills with the students in local schools, performing speed drills with one another, and doing their best not only to fight fires, but prevent them as well.
     The mayor held a second meeting, this time, with a new fire chief by his side.  “This is your new fire chief,” said Mayor. “He agrees with me that you are not effective, and believes in the hope of the new firehouse.”  The hearts of the Hoosierville firefighters sank.
     One firefighter spoke up, “Mayor, tell us about these new firefighters.“
     “There are five of them. Three of them have had firefighting training.”
     Now the Hoosierville firefighters were puzzled.  “What about the other two?” 
     “Oh, that,” the Mayor answered. “They have all seen fires. They have other background knowledge.”
     “But no real firefighting training?”
     “They will learn on the job,” Mayor said. “They certainly can’t do any worse than the lot of you.”
     The Hoosierville firefighters were astonished at the lack of logic shown by their leaders. How could this be happening? They had to give up one of their two trucks for a group of five firefighters, and two had no formal firefighting training at all? How could this be happening?
     Some members of the community rallied around the firefighters, understanding their plight, but some, who had house fires of their own, agreed with the Mayor and his new Fire Chief.  They protested loudly, “THOSE FIREFIGHTERS ARE WORTHLESS! GIVE THE NEW ONES A CHANCE!”
     One Hoosierville firefighter looked at another. Wasn’t that the same citizen whose daughter they had carried out of the house after he had fallen asleep smoking a cigarette?  The Hoosierville firefighters were starting to become very angry. They were good firefighters, but they were starting to believe that no one thought so. The new firehouse was not at all successful compared to the original, but Mayor was rallying the community to do the very same thing in other cities across the state. He had begun keeping track of all fires in Hoosierville, regardless of the cause of the fire. That information was used as evidence against the firefighters, although very few of the fires resulted in total loss.
  From frustration, the firefighters protested.
     “DON’T YOU SEE, MAYOR? HOW CAN YOU NOT UNDERSTAND HOW YOU ARE HARMING THE COMMUNITY AND PUTTING US IN DANGER?”
     He did not appear to understand. Instead, he gave the fire chief more power, although the new fire chief never stepped foot in the original Hoosierville firehouse.  The Hoosierville firefighters did their job as well as they could, but they were very disheartened about current events. They were in a sticky situation. They needed others in the community to understand just how damaging the mayor’s ideas were, but any time they spoke up, they were accused of caring only about money. How could they make the people understand that this was about keeping their families safe?
     One veteran firefighter decided to sit down and write a story about their plight, but instead, used education as an example. Surely the people would understand how damaging that could be to their students.
What if public school funds went to smaller, less effective schools?
What if public school teachers lost their voice to speak for needs at the local level?
What if funds in the public school were lost to less qualified institutions, and music and art programs had to be sacrificed?
What if legislators listened to rhetoric instead of the experienced and effective teachers that they should trust?

What if the fire chief were given additional power without knowledge, or any appeal process?
     “Yes,” the firefighter smiled. “The people would understand, then, why the Hoosierville firefighters are so upset. It isn’t about money. It’s about the families, and helping people live, thrive, and succeed. That’s why we became firefighters, after all. We just want help and support, and the respect we deserve.”

Please contact your representatives about the current legislation affecting education in Indiana, and find out more about how it will destroy your child’s public education as you know it today. Contact the author at anotherhoosierfirefighter@gmail.com . She still loves firefighting after all these years. To those of you who are firefighters of actual fire instead of ignorance, hats off to you. You do a great job!
possumcowboy: (Default)
I've set up shop in the family room, with stacks of papers in need of grading. I woke to tend to nature's needs, came out here, and was promptly joined by Mr. Clydiecat, who is rapidly becoming quite the writer's muse, I should say. He's crawled into my lap, tail against my right elbow and chin in my left wrist, to purr and (I suppose) enjoy the vibrations of my typing tendons against his furry little throat. Whatever it is that he likes most about writing with me, I'm glad of it. During the day, he's a holy terror (not to be confused with the holy terrier some of you were talking about earlier) and doesn't want anything to do with anything remotely resembling cuddling. He wants to be known as some sort of stoic feline warrior who would care nothing for the strokings and pettings of the common housecat. He surely is an uncommon housecat, and yet, in the wee hours of the morning, he is much more than content to join and enjoy the pampering.

I was dreaming earlier. Several things from reality entered into the dream. First was a blinding pulse of energy which would destroy anything it touched, even if the advance of the flash were slowed in some manner. I've been playing an online build-your-own empire game called The Lacuna Expanse (my brother-in-law is part of the huge team developing this game, so message me if you want an invitation to the game). In the game, you build various buildings and "grow" them in order to be able to have and do certain things on your planet. In my dream, I'd built an energy pulse repulser. So, this pulse of energy came from outer space, and my little planet was able to safe tiny communities and middle-class citizens by putting all the rich and elite in the largest spaces (like NFL domes) while the poorer simply hid in the dark until the danger was past. In my dream, we were all turned to vampires, and the dream-daughter was able to avoid becoming a full vampire because seh had been exposed to the combination of the ray and the repulser ray.

Confused? Me too, because it would appear that several key details of the dream are missing from the telling, and dreams have a nasty habit of only allowing the light of day to touch some of them.

While grading papers, I talk to the student whose paper I've looking at. I may have made some disparaging remarks while looking at some of the papers, yesterday. My frustration comes from what appears to me to be a plain old Lack of work ethic. For example, who does someone get zero out of ten points on a paper that the teacher requires you to do with the book open?

Since I'm drifting in and out of dreaming while I try to write this, I'm about to pack it in and head back to bed.
possumcowboy: (Default)
It's almost midnight. I'm crossed-legged on the floor of the bedroom with the laptop, and Mr. Clydiecat is attempting to help me type.

It's been a rough couple of weeks. High-stakes testing begins in five school days. We missed out on four days of instruction due to bad weather, and we've been trying to make up for the lost time. It's grueling. Kids are tired, I'm tired, and nobody wants to hear "ISTEP" in a sentence ever again.

Clyde has a tendency to drool when he's happy. It's really cute, until he's gotten himself into position on your chest when you're relaxing, and then drools into your face. I'm glad he's here, though. Furry friends really make a house a home, and you haven't truly been ignored until you've been ignored by a cat.

We ran out of cat chow the other day, and the poor dears had to manage on a tin of tunafish. You'd have thought I was serving Christians to starving lions! It's fun, though, to hear them trying to manage purring over the tastiness while growling at the cat at the next bowl.

Which puts me in mind of sushi. You know what would be really good right now? Toro tuna. Just give me a big slab of it and I'll squeeze my own lemon juice and just get right down to slathering on the wasabi.

Three-day weekend coming up. Then a four-day week, and then ISTEP. I just need to get information to stay in those little heads for a little bit longer! Once the test is over, I can teach for mastery; until then, I have to teach to try to cover the material.

I submit that a child who has been taught to mastery on basic skills will be able to pick up the more intricate things later on. However, the things we used to teach in second grade are now being covered in kindergarten. We want a competitive national education system, but we aren't willing to take the time to do it right. Once I'm elected supreme ruler, this will change. You'll know it's time for the revolution when you see my shock troops wearing red apple armbands, going through the streets and arresting anyone who thinks that Lincoln's Gettysburg Address had a zip code.
possumcowboy: (Default)
My school district has canceled school for tomorrow due to inclement weather. You'd have to have seen the abysmal conditions I've traveled in when school has not been canceled to really appreciate this. However, what with the entire mid-west expecting to be buried under a glacier in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours, I guess they decided to go ahead and let us be safe at home. I've observed, over the last 14 or so years I've been in this district, that we don't usually call off school until at least one bus full of kids slides off the road. That probably isn't true, but, at least in my mind, that seems to have been the case. We'll never know for tomorrow, though, because we're actually canceling school before the emergency arrives. I guess the reports of polar bears and yetis from states to the west of us have been convincing.

This brings up an interesting point, though. There are/were eighteen school days until the start of our high-stakes testing. The testing which, if our governor manages to ram his education "improvements" through, will be a major tool for determining a teacher's pay. Eighteen days. We've been working all year toward this, and I still feel that my kids aren't ready for it. They just don't take school seriously, and no amount of anything seems to convince them of the value of an education. I told them today that we're all out of carrots, so I'm going to start using sticks. Then, I had to explain what that meant, that I would never actually strike a student in any fashion.

Maddie turned 14 in mid-January. She's tall, blonde, smart, witty, and utterly amazing to me. It was so nice to have the girls here for the weekend; we celebrated Maddie's birthday by making whatever she wanted for dinner and dessert. She initially wanted me to make my chicken alfredo, and then changed her mind to chili. I tried to talk her back to the alfredo, but her mind was made up, and my mouth was ready for a meal that it wouldn't get to eat. She also wanted me to make french silk pie, which I did. Everyone said that this was my best one ever. I actually kept the beaters working for the amount of time it said in the book, and whaddaya know, it worked! The sugar all dissolved and the pie was smooth and creamy.

It's about half past midnight at this point, and I'm going to be heading to sleep. Even though there's no school in the morning, I'll feel better if I stay closer to a regular sleeping schedule.
possumcowboy: (Default)
Of course you have. I've been wondering the same thing, of late. What with all the signs of The Apocalypse happening under my own roof, I'm amazed that I'm not wondering from a nicely padded room at LaRue Carter Hospital. My biggest concern is that they make sure I have on two pairs of socks when they put me in the straight-jacket. The one thing I truly can't live through is cold toesies. Is it bad that I can spell Apocalypse correctly the first time, without using any kind of spell-checker?

Last week, if you'll recall, was The Sign of Water, in which we dealt with flooding, and then with "The Incident In Which The Jackhammer Tore Open The Waterline", in which we dealt with reflooding of a previously flooded area which was being dried out in order to be repaired. I'm pretty sure that the other signs of The Apocalypse are just now lurking around the corner. Most likely, they're waiting until the week before ISTEP to pounce all at once. are they allowed to do that? I mean, isn't that against some sort of celestical or celestial or select testicle code of conduct? These are questions which come to me in the middle of the night.

Today, this morning, or, if you prefer to be technical, on Monday morning, there was a moment of happy news in the classroom. An assistant principal popped by, with a folder full of writing samples from my students. They had been scored by the administrative staff, and most of my class did exceptionally well! Not top scores, but above the middle scores for sure! Only if you have been a teacher of children who seem to strive to not learn anything can you truly appreciate the way I tell you that I about broke down in tears first thing on a Monday morning. I complimented the entire class, told them that we would keep working on the writing process, and they proceeded to give their brains the rest of the day off.

I've just taken it upon myself to look up the Seven Signs of the Apocalypse. I find that a flood isn't listed as one of the choices in the Apocalyptic Menu of Disaster for the Endtimes. I'm not sure if I should be pleased, as this means that a minor plumbing issue in my home does not indicate that the end is near, or if I should be disappointed because I wanted to be interviewed by Oprah as "the man whose home was the catalyst for the end of all life as we know it on our lonely little planet".

Apparently, for each of the Seven Signs, a seal is broken open. I'm pretty sure I don't want Greenpeace here in my front yard pitching a fit about seals being broken open, so that's a bad start. For the first four of The Signs, there are The Four Horsemen. I VERY sure I don't want horses in my backyard, even if they are the apocalyptic harbingers of Conquest, War, Pestilence, and Famine. It's like my dad used to say: "I don't care WHO you are, Fat Man! Get those damned reindeer off my roof!"

Well, "The Repair Guys" were here today (yesterday) and put the carpet back down, with new padding where the old padding got soaked. With any luck, they'll put the vanity back in the master bathroom soon. Another bathroom sink will be greatly appreciated.

I'm close to my target back-to-bed time. There isn't much else to record. Cats are good. Kids are good. Wife is good. I'm good. It's all good. Good night.
possumcowboy: (Default)
I woke up about an hour ago, went to the bathroom, and have been tossing ever since. Here in a few hours, It'll be back to work as usual; the vacation is over. It was actually a really good vacation, despite a few days which were a bit of a worry. The girls were here for a week, we had Christmas dinner five times, and I got the Nook eReader (which is Barnes and Noble's selected reader). I've read a 500-something-page novel, a 900-something-page novel, and I'm about halfway through another 350-page novel. It's like I've discovered reading all over again! Right now, I'm on a Greg Bear stint. I tend to read authors I've enjoyed before, and this guy has some incredible stuff. He's one of a select few who I can count on to always deliver. The only issue I've got with him is simply that he's way too smart. Sometimes I can sense the ideas he's trying to convey floating just over my head. That was only one book, though, so I suppose we'll call that a statistical outlier and just move on with enjoying his writing, eh? I recommend Darwin's Radio as a fine first read from Greg Bear. If you enjoy that, you'll want to follow it with Darwin's Children, of course.

More favorite authors:

David Brin for science fiction. Has a Ph.D. in astrophysics.
Harry Turtledove for alternate history. Has a Ph.D. in Byzantine History.
Arthur C. Clark. 2001: A Space Odyssey (need I say more?)
Alan Dean Foster (he's entertained me since I was twelve, and Flinx was someone I wanted to be)
Robert A. Heinlein. He's simply the master of the SF genre. Start with Methuselah's Children, if you dare.

I'm going to try to get another good hour and a half of sleep. I want to get in early and get the room as ready as possible for my little darlings when they walk in this morning.
possumcowboy: (Default)
1-year wedding anniversary with Leah. I'm a little shocked that a year has gone past already, I must admit. I'm also pleasantly surprised at how nice it is to be married to this woman. And I don't mean in a gushy, honeymoon-phase kind of way, either. Sure, there are days when one or the other of us can use some improvement in one aspect or another, but for the most part, it's been a time of enjoying happy results of a wise decision.

For whatever reason, Clyde isn't in here on the bedroom floor to frustrate the laptop and me, and I sort of miss the wrestling we do before he calms down enough to drape himself over my lap while I type.

The end of the grading period was Friday. I got all my grades entered on time. Thursday, I printed out grade reports from the online gradebook I've been using, SnapGrades. Ms. Fleming, an ESL assistant, translated my handwritten comments on the papers: "Based on his/her grades in math and/or reading, [student] is being considered for retention". On a couple of those, I wrote "is being seriously considered for retention". That got a couple of heads to snap around. My hope is that several of these students will start to pick up the slack for the next grading period. I'm going to refer all of them to the BBT committee for possible retention, and I'm going to do all that extra paperwork. Last year, I had one or two that I probably should have retained that I didn't because I thought that they'd improve if I just taught better. I realize, now, that my teaching isn't always to blame for how they perform.

Thursday afternoon, as they were lined up in the hallway waiting to be dismissed to the busses, one of the boys I get on almost every day said that he was going to miss me. Several kids gave me hugs, which they don't usually do. One girl brought in a gift for me, and a gift to take home to Leah, as well as a card in which she wrote a little paragraph to Maddie, Macy, and Nathan. I'm pretty sure she spent her own money to get us these gifts. My is a little metal candle holder which has the word "HOPE" in front of three votive candles. The outside of the box said "$3" and I'm pretty sure it's from a dollar store. I almost cried when I opened it. I don't know if she'll be able to understand how much a dollar-store gift can mean to someone. I know that colleagues in some of the nicer parts of town rake in the loot, with gift cards and baked goodies and such. I wonder if they're as touched as I am, or if they take it in stride?

Ah, well. Things are good. My eyeballs are starting to burn again, and I'm going to follow them back to the warm blankets and kitties and the soft sleeping sounds of Leah.
possumcowboy: (Default)
Straight Talk from ISTA

Recently I have received several questions about ISTA’s position on various education issues that affect you as an educator.

I’m Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association and I want to clarify ISTA’s position on a few important issues like collective bargaining, teacher evaluation, merit pay and teacher tenure and seniority.

Let me begin with collective bargaining: collective bargaining is an orderly process that provides an effective and professional framework for teachers and school districts to meet, discuss and negotiate labor agreements and reconcile differences.

Since 1973, through collective bargaining and discussion, administrators have utilized the professional experiences of teachers to address relevant issues.

Teachers are uniquely qualified to engage in discussions about the working conditions that are most beneficial to improved student learning.

To deny discussion and bargaining on any facet of the education process is a missed opportunity to utilize the vast wealth of expertise possessed by Indiana’s teachers.

Opponents of collective bargaining claim that it is a large part of student achievement problems.

However data from the National Assessment of Education Progress show otherwise.

States in which there are no teachers covered under binding agreements score lower than states that have them.

Reports show that those states are among the lowest in the nation. In Indiana many of the best performing school districts are those which have had collective bargaining rights for educators for years.

The 20 top performing schools based on last year’s ISTEP results are all in school systems where teachers and administrators collectively work together under the guidance of PL 217.

So it should be clear that collective bargaining is not an impediment to student achievement. Needless to say ISTA supports collective bargaining as it currently exists.

Next, let’s look at tenure.

It’s a myth that K-12 teachers in Indiana have tenure.

What we do have is a due process procedure.

Due process is simply a means to provide a teacher who is facing dismissal with the relevant accusations concerning his or her performance and gives the teacher an opportunity to be defended before the local school board.

ISTA does not support keeping ineffective teachers in the classroom.

In fact we support the current practice that allows any teacher, regardless of seniority, to be dismissed for just cause.

No locally negotiated contract, or any state law, forbids the firing of a teacher who has been determined, through a fair evaluation system, to have performed poorly.

Seniority is a system that provides an orderly process to reduce staffing when necessary and that protects against arbitrary decisions by administrators to replace more experienced--and therefore, more expensive teachers--with less expensive ones. Seniority is not a performance issue and does not protect ineffective teachers.

We’ve also recently heard much about the “merits” of merit pay.

It is important to remember that there are many kinds of merit pay plans including merit pay for an individual teacher to merit pay for an entire school community for its good work.

ISTA opposes singling out individuals for merit pay bonuses because it fails to recognize the collaborative and professional nature of teaching.

ISTA is much more supportive of building-wide bonuses that might be provided to all staff or for schools that show outstanding improvement over time.

ISTA also questions how merit pay programs will be funded.

Especially during these difficult economic times, offering merit pay bonuses to select individuals means a reduction in resources for student learning or the reduction of educator compensation. ISTA does not support either of those funding options.

And, finally, where does ISTA stand on teacher evaluation?

ISTA strongly supports teacher evaluation.

ISTA believes that the teacher evaluation process should be fair, rigorous, consistently applied, realistic of the rigors of the teaching profession and should be based on multiple measures of evaluation.

ISTA does not support using a single criterion, like student test scores, as the sole measure of evaluation because ISTA does not believe that would provide a comprehensive nor defensible evaluation.

ISTA also believes that all teacher evaluation systems should have a clear focus on improving teaching practice to improve student learning.

I hope this brief explanation will help you better understand how your organization supports your interests on these important issues and I thank you for your work and dedication to the more than one million public school students in the state of Indiana.
possumcowboy: (Default)
The school year seems to be sprinting through the calendar. I'm amazed that we're in December already.
wherein I fuss about scheduling and educational policy )
  • I don't have my kids all day.  That's right.  Sure, they go out as a class to special area classes like art, music, physical education, and media skills; I'm not talking about that. 
    • When it's time for reading block, several of my ESL students go with an ESL teacher to work on reading with her, and several other students go with a Title I teacher to work on reading with her, and I only get to work with about a third of my class.  Honestly, that's better for the kids and better for the teachers, working in small groups.  But I'm no longer in control of my own paycheck for reading.  Title I is funded by federal money; I can't say that I don't want them to go: they are going to go.
    • Students who play an instrument in the band leave the room all day long for instrument-specific practice with the band teacher on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Would it be fair to the kids if I refused to allow my students to learn the mathematical skill of reading and playing music, or learning to play together as a cohesive unit in order to create something that is greater than what they can produce alone?
    • Most of my ESL students leave the room for between 45 minutes and an hour toward the end of the day to go with an ESL teacher and work on a computer program designed to help with English language skills.  This is also the time when I do my math instruction, so these kids return to the classroom in time to hear the homework assignment, but have no idea how to do it.  How do you think they will do on a state test?  Another case where government money and district mandates are involved; I can't opt out of my students leaving the room at this time.
  • Not all my kids are motivated toward academics.  It's true.  They are motivated by $100 shoes, but not so much by learning world history.
    • So, I'm going to get payed on whether a kid likes school or not?  Can I control that?  I have kids who like coming to my classroom and being in my class, who aren't willing to take time to do and return homework, or open a book at home and study.
    • Kids like to gossip and talk and pass notes during class.  Who knew?  Oh, wait.  I did.  I remember passing notes to people when I was their age.  I remember whispering to a friend and then having no idea what page we were on in the textbook.  I turned out to be a frikkin' TEACHER and I did that.  I LIKE school and I did that.  Hell, I've whispered and passed notes in staff meetings!  Damn humans and our gregarious and curious natures.
  • Schoolwide holiday program performance
    • Our school puts on a holiday performance.  We have kids singing about Christmas, Chanukkah, and Kwanzaa.  We have kids singing in English, Spanish, and Hebrew.  This week, we've taken 45 minutes out of two different days to practice entering the gymnasium from one side, getting on risers for our part of the performance (which includes the kids singing "Silent Night" while holding a flashlight under their chins while the lights are dimmed and the audience sings along), and exiting the gym from the other side.  If I say that we aren't going to "riser practice" then my whole class will look like bumbling schmucks during the performance.  However, these practices are during the time I'd usually be doing my math instruction.  When we're done, my ESL kids head out for that "Fast Forward" computer program I mentioned above.
    • The band/instrumental music program has been having extra practices with the whole group (like you'd want them to have if they were going to, say, put on a performance together).  Those kids pop out of their chairs and leave the classroom, instrument in hand, usually when I'm about to explain some crucial point about direct and indirect objects, and subject complements in sentences, and how they work with transitive and intransitive verbs. 
  • Special programs
    • Today, during what is usually the time that my kids go to art class (our art teacher is legally blind, but an amazing art teacher nonetheless), a performance group from one of our district's high schools visited.  All kids in grades 4 through 8 attended.  This time they would have all been out of the room at the same time anyway, but other programs would/will pull them out of instructional time.
    • On the day that the lady from the State Department of Health comes to talk about how boys and girls become men and women, after she leaves, we'll get practically done do to
      • giggling
      • follow-up questions
      • giggling
All this is in addition to my objection that all kids are NOT equal.  Some of them need extra care and attention for any number of reasons.  Some kids need time at the beginning of the school year to understand that my classroom is a safe place.  Some kids have issues at home that you and I can not possibly fathom.  When the older brother of one of my students accidentally shot himself in the face, causing half of said face to disappear and leaving the bullet lodged in brain tissue, I noticed that he didn't seem to be very focused on classwork.  He did, however, want to tell me every morning how his brother was doing, and how his brother was able to sit up and write requests on paper.  He was very excited to tell me that, while his brother was still being fed through a tube because his jaw is wired shut, he would be able to come home soon.  The student told me these progress reports when he was supposed to be working on an in-class assignment. 

The discussion seems to be that the best teachers ignore all these things and simply make test scores rise like the mist at the dawn of a new day.  Personally, I think accountability is important and good.  I also think that I do a damned good job working with students in the population I serve.  If my paycheck starts to be based on a lot of things I can't control, though, I'm taking the LSAT and going to law school.  Former teachers make damned good lawyers, and maybe I can make a difference in the world of education from a legal standpoint.  Taking care of teachers is an important part of taking care of our students. 

Last thought: A teacher I've known for several years had to undergo a special investigation because there were "too many erasures" on the state tests that the students completed.  The investigation is due to the fact that wrong answers were erased and correct answers chosen.  We coach our kids to go back over their tests if they have time, and change answers if they believe they should.  This teacher works with special education students.  Those students listen carefully and try hard, and often find errors in their own work when they look back through it.  When they find an error, they erase and change the answer.  A LOT of times, SPED kids understand a question better the second time through, and change answers.  I'm 99.9% sure that this teacher conducts her tests according to the exact letter of the law, while making the required accommodations for each student as set forth in that student's IEP (a legal document regarding accommodations made for each student in the classroom and during testing).

In other news, we bought a Christmas tree and will be putting it up and decorating it tomorrow.  I want to have a pot of chicken soup working while we decorate.  There'll be snow on the ground, and there's something about the combination of snow on the ground, being warm inside the house, and the aromas of the evergreen tree and chicken soup.

possumcowboy: (Default)
I hadn't realized that cheating was such big business. It never occurred to me to have someone else do my work for me, even though I may have "helped write" a paper or two for other students while in college myself.
The Shadow Scholar

I'm just posting the editor's note from the top of the article. I hope you'll click through to read all of it.

Editor's note: Ed Dante is a pseudonym for a writer who lives on the East Coast. Through a literary agent, he approached The Chronicle wanting to tell the story of how he makes a living writing papers for a custom-essay company and to describe the extent of student cheating he has observed. In the course of editing his article, The Chronicle reviewed correspondence Dante had with clients and some of the papers he had been paid to write. In the article published here, some details of the assignment he describes have been altered to protect the identity of the student.

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