Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Welcome to Visitors from Joanne Jacobs (or Anywhere)

Since I invited readers from Joanne Jacobs to read through my thoughts on teacher evaluation, I thought I should provide some handy links:

It's the Teachers, Stupid...Right?

A Modest Proposal, Part 1

A Modest Proposal, Part 2

I've meant to post some more of my thoughts on this, actually, so maybe I will.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Time for Vacation!

Woohoo! Had a great day with the kids today, got some lovely gifts from them, watched a movie, sent them (and myself) home with some I'm home and getting everything together for Christmas.

All the best to you and yours for this lovely, lovely break. ENJOY IT! YOU'VE EARNED IT!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies, and the School Quality Review

Well, our School Quality Review is happening pretty soon at the Morton School. Without giving too much away, this will not be the first or second quality review I've been through in as many years, so I'm pretty qualified to discuss why I hate this process.

Our principal is, to put it mildly, obsessed with the SQR--with admittedly good reason. It can make or break a school in so many ways. It's the DOE's stamp of approval (or not) on the job the principal is doing. I get why our principal is so concerned with it, I really do--I don't want to turn this into a principal-bash because I understand the admin's perspective. So let me make that clear right off.

But I do wonder how much time is spent (wasted?) on prepping for a quality review so explicitly. It's sort of like doing full-time test prep with kids: All we're learning is how to talk to quality reviewers, not actually how to improve our teaching. None of what I've learned about the SQR so far, this year or possibly ever, has helped me reach one child more effectively--just like, I suspect, the state ELA exam never actually helped a kid become a better reader or writer. I can see the need for some kind of review process, but I'm not sure that having some semi-retired principal and some person from England (no matter how lovely, smart, or well-intentioned the English I've worked with have been, which they are; they are usually much nicer and more professional than the DOEers who tend to do these things) really helps to improve things in a school.

I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong. I pride myself on trying to be aware of and learn more about the larger DOE, but I certainly don't have the circumspection or history at this point in my career to know the difference; I've only known a DOE with quality reviews. Maybe things were worse before we had them.

But here's what I wish for: I wish someone, someday would stand up and say that the nicest thing you can say about the quality review rubric is that it's aspirational. It gives schools a lot of things to work on--not all of which are automatically unqualified goods, in my opinion, but it's certainly a starting point. But I wish some administrator would have the guts to say, This is not as important as the day-to-day business of educating children. Do that well and a positive quality review will follow. I wish some DOEer would be honest and say, Yes, this IS a "gotcha" exercise. We DO want to know what you're not doing. We DO want to catch you slipping up. And if that isn't the case, don't have a goddamn 100-point checklist/rubric/whatever (I'm exaggerating, but not by much) and make us feel like shit.

Good Lord. I'm so ready for vacation.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

45 Minutes of Nothing

Jack seems to have lost interest in doing his schoolwork. So have I, by this time of year, but if I'm not allowed to go into hibernation from now until January 4, neither is he.

"Where's your paper, Jack?" I asked him as his class's writing groups gathered to start peer revision.

"Uhh," he said, "here."

I looked at it. It was a paragraph, this after a week of work. "Jack," I said, "you know this was supposed to be much more substantial."

"Yyyyyeeeaaahhh," he said, slowly, as if he might in fact not have known. He looked at his tablemates' papers, all a couple of pages long.

"It would probably be better if you spent this time drafting," I suggested.

Jack agreed. Then he stared into space for ten minutes. I usually allow kids to drift and daydream for a few minutes during writing time--some people really do need that time to spool, so to speak--but ten is usually my cutoff before I make them write SOMETHING, even if it's their name.

After ten minutes had passed with nary a word, I came back to prod him. "I'm starting right now," he protested. "Here." He scratched a few words on his paper.

Shortly after that, he was poking and chatting with two of his tablemates who were still doing peer revision. By this time more than half of the period had passed. "Jack," I said sharply, "you have work to do. It looks like you've written five words all period."

"I know," he said. "I don't know what to write."

"You know what to write," I said. "You're writing about a special time in your life. A time when you were happy or sad or scared, a time that helped to make you who you are today."

Jack looked at me blankly.

"A time when you've changed," I offered.

He looked towards the ceiling.

I waited.

Finally I asked, "Maybe a time when you've changed your mind about something?"

He thought again. Then he said, "Well, I used to not like math. But now I like it."

"Okay!" I said. "So what changed your mind?"

"Well, math class in sixth grade," he said. "That was a cool class. It made me like math."

I started drawing a circle map. "Uh huh," I said. "Keep going. Who was your teacher?"

"Miss Fox," he said.

"Okay," I said. In the middle of the map I wrote, "6th GRADE MATH CLASS." Next to that I wrote, "MISS FOX." Then I gave him the map. "You keep going," I said. "Write everything you can think of about sixth grade math. People, places, things, feelings, sounds, smells...anything you can think of. Try to fill that whole circle. I'll come back in a few minutes and see how you're doing."

He nodded.

I came back in a few minutes. "How's it going?" I asked.

He didn't answer.

I looked at the paper.


What's going on here? That's a genuine question. The kid can write. He's written five-paragraph essays before. Is it just an off day? Or is it something else?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Shauna is one of my favorite (yeah, I admit, I have them) students this year. She's a fairly recent immigrant still struggling with some ESL issues, but since English is her third language at the tender age of twelve, I think she deserves a lot of credit for how far she's come already. She works very hard and has a sweet, sunny disposition that anyone would be hard-pressed not to adore. Easy to like, certainly, and I'm proud of the progress she's made so far.

Anyway, Shauna was sitting with Jack today. Jack, as I've mentioned before, is a sweet boy, but he's not so into the academic aspects of school. For different reasons, they're both in my extended day section together. We were doing some writing today, and Jack was just plum out of energy for the day. He doodled on his paper for a while, making a title out of fancy letters and drawing some cartoons in the margins, before staring off into space for a minute or two.

"Come on, Jack," I chided gently, "let's get to work."

He started bugging Lisa, a girl who, like Caroline, has no patience for poor Jack. Lisa gave him dagger eyes and he quickly stopped. But then he turned his attention to Shauna. Sweet, gentle, shy, kind Shauna. Surely, Jack must have thought, dear Shauna will let me mess around for minute or two. She's so nice. She never says anything mean to anybody. She'll talk to me and look at my drawings.

He started pestering Shauna. Her reply, in a seethe that I've never heard from darling Shauna, came quickly:


And with that, a chastened Jack finally got to work.

Monday, December 14, 2009

How Long Does It Take to Make 100 Copies?, Part 2

The second part of this Life at the Morton School classic goes live at midnight at NYC Educator.

Seven school days until holiday break!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"It Sounds Like a Disease"

Today was one of those days. I think everyone has one just before Christmas, if you don't have ten. I woke up on the wrong side of the futon because my Asiago cheese bagel got stuck in the toaster and everything went downhill from there. I strongly considered calling in sick, if only to prevent myself from making some poor child cry, but I was too embarrassed to call in sick because my desk is an unholy mess. I ended up in my classroom, ten minutes before first period, literally, out loud, talking to myself: "Do NOT scream at the children. It's only first period. They haven't done anything yet."

My classes, as it often happens on those days, ended up cheering me up rather than bringing me down. One of my kids, who we'll call Oliver, asked me while we were having some composing time, "Miss Eyre, what's a word that means, like, feeling more than one feeling at once?"

I knew what he meant. "How about ambivalent?" I suggested.

He tried it on for size. "Ambivalent," he repeated. "That's an adjective, right?"

"You got it," I said. "The noun form would be ambivalence."

His tablemate, Jemima, commented, "It sounds like a disease. Like, 'Wow, you have ambivalence? That sucks.'"

"Like, 'Oh, I'm calling in sick. I have ambivalence,'" I offered.

We all laughed. But as I walked away, I thought, in fact, that ambivalence is a fine reason for calling in sick. Maybe I'll call in with ambivalence tomorrow. God knows I have it right now.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Good Morning, Boys and Girls

I have a beef with morning announcements. They are tedious, repetitive, rarely informative, and waste valuable instructional time. You may as well cut your 45-minute first period lesson plan down to 40 minutes or less because of morning announcements. I pride myself on starting first period precisely on time, and it irks me that I'm usually well into my lesson when I have to stop myself and the kids to listen to a bunch of prattle.

Principal X runs a reasonably tight ship when s/he does the announcements and usually keeps them under 5 minutes, but Miss AP is another story. My first-period class, a great group of kids possessed of strong senses of both humor and discretion, clocked her at ten minutes once. Ten minutes is 22% of a 45-minute period.

The administration does not seem to realize that when the same exhortations about lunch and recess behavior, sharing, reading, etc. are repeated ad nauseam and verbatim, kids quickly tune out. I have students who can recite the morning announcements from memory. Such are the morning announcements that when something truly noteworthy is announced, hardly anyone hears it because no one is paying attention anymore.

Have a great day!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Thanks, Dr. Schiff

Someone else realized that the teacher-doctor comparison doesn't quite fly.

In other news, new guestblog at NYC Educator up at midnight. Go there.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Best of the Edublogs

Robert Pondiscio at Core Knowledge had such kind words for this blog and for my work at NYC Educator that I just had to return the favor! Here are my nods for the Best of Edublogs 2009:

1.) BEST INDIVIDUAL BLOG: I'll agree with Robert and give a nod to Joanne Jacobs. I don't always agree with Joanne, but she always gives me something to think about--and by "always," I mean *every* *single* *day.*

And speaking of Robert, I just love Core Knowledge. Not just because I love the Core Knowledge curriculum, but because he's always on the lookout for the absurd, the inspiring, and the truly smart in education today.

10.) BEST TEACHER BLOG: Not because I'm on it (NOT AT ALL)--no, really, even if I was admiring from afar, it would be NYC Educator. NYC Educator got me into reading teacher blogs and eventually blogging myself.

But if NYC Educator didn't exist, it would be Pissed Off Teacher or The Jose Vilson. PO'd Teacher reminds us why retirement age shouldn't be a reason to give up the fight, while Jose gives us the perspective of a politically and culturally engaged younger teacher. I love his blog all the time.

17.) BEST EDUCATIONAL WIKI: If you've never checked out Curriki, you should--a brilliant and exciting collection of lesson plans, units, assessments, and much, much more.

20.) LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: Undoubtedly Bridging Differences. Not a blog to read if you only have a minute! Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch's posts, and the comments they inspire, are deep, rigorous, and endlessly inspiring.

Thanks a million to Robert for the nod, and thanks to all the great bloggers out there who keep us inspired and fighting!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

From My Cold Dead Hands, Part II

Oh, Principal X. Just when we were becoming friends.

Please stop messing around with my curriculum. Or, if you plan to continue doing so, I hope you also plan to buy all the new materials and send me to all the new training I am going to be needing to cope with your grand plan. And maybe a few bottles of wine too.

My unit for January is now being disputed. Now. Don't forget, Principal X has had my curriculum map SINCE JUNE.

What's that delightful saying admins always like to use? "Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part"? Perhaps it is apt at this moment.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You Should Struggle with the Almighty!

[The quote in this title is from Angels in America by Tony Kushner, one of my favorite plays.]

I was having a reading conference with ShaSha a few days ago that wasn't going so well. ShaSha is an average student by almost any measure. She's sweet and funny and likeable, but in terms of her schoolwork, she's pretty much the middle of the road. I think she has the ability to be a better reader, and I've been trying to challenge her in that direction. But our reading conference wasn't off to a good start.

"I'm having a hard time reading this book you gave me," she said.

"What's hard about it?" I asked.

"I don't know. The story is confusing."

"Well, can you tell me what you've read so far?"

She retold the story accurately.

"Okay," I said, "that sounds about right."

"Yeah," ShaSha said, "But I don't get why she [the author] keeps switching back and forth between the two settings."

"Which settings?"

She named them correctly.

"And you noticed that she tends to concentrate on those two different settings and switch back and forth."

"Well, yeah."

"Why do you think she does that?"

She thought for a minute. "I guess to show how the character is different, like, in the two settings," ShaSha said. "Like, people treat her differently and she feels different based on where she is."

"I think you're right," I said to her. "So I have to ask you, ShaSha, what's hard about this book, then? Because you seem to understand it pretty well."

"Well, I understand it NOW," she said. "Like talking to you and to my group."

"Right," I said. "It's a little above your reading level. That's why you're reading it with your group and having conferences with me about it."

"Okay," she said, doubtfully.

"So when you read by yourself," I said, "it should be a little hard. That challenge is what's going to stretch you to your next reading level."

Then she seemed to get it. "Oh, right," she said. "I see."

ShaSha felt better after that. After the period ended, I walked with her to her next class and thanked her for sharing her struggles with me--we teachers aren't mind readers, after all, and her honesty helped me help her that day. And it reminded me that, as teachers, we sometimes need to gently remind our students that learning is supposed to be hard. It shouldn't come instantly or easily. If it did, it wouldn't be called learning--it would be watching or consuming, but not learning.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"That Guy Looks Like Ice Cube"

It was a busy and tiring day at the Morton School. My darlings were a little crazy this afternoon and probably not terribly encouraged by the results of the quiz I handed back to them, and they were cranky and mumbly for much of their double period. They were also annoyed with their guided reading group members, a number of whom had not done their reading last night and a few of whom were several days behind. In turn, I was also not perhaps in the most chipper of moods by the time last period rolled around.

When my truculent dears were finally settled into their works, I set to conferencing with my groups. One group had a boy I'll call Levar who was far ahead of his partner because his partner was way behind, so I decided to start him on a new, more challenging book. I went to the classroom library to get a book I'd borrowed from another teacher with him in mind.

"Here," I said, handing him Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis. "I thought you'd like this. It's about the civil rights movement and there are some really exciting parts about how Lewis confronted violence in the South while trying to fight for equal rights. And it will be a challenging read for you, too."

Levar took the book and held it at arm's length. "Yo," he said thoughtfully, looking at the portrait of a young, tense Lewis on the cover, "that guy looks like Ice Cube."

Well, I probably should have stopped him from comparing the august John Lewis to a gangsta rapper. But I didn't. Instead I laughed, and laughed, and my tension and frustration softened, at least for a while.

Thanks, Levar. I needed that.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Itty Bitty Witty Committee

I've never been on a committee at the Morton School. This shocks people who know me. I am fond of groups and have belonged to many in my life, and even led a few with some success. But I resisted committee memberships at first because I was busy and scared, and then because committees at the Morton School tend to be clannish little groups that are by invitation only and feature the same people over and over again.

So I was pretty surprised when Principal X asked me to be part of a committee. S/he was so enthusiastic and nice about it that I found myself saying yes before I'd given the matter any serious thought. Then I got an e-mail about the committee's first meeting and remembered, Oh yeah, I'm an idiot, I signed up for a committee membership. But this committee sounds pretty exciting. It's a committee for professional development and teacher leadership. I'll get a chance to say what kind of PD I think the teachers at the Morton School need and want, what's working for us and what isn't. So I e-mailed Principal X back and said I'd come to the meeting.

I was just glad to be asked, to be honest. I was never asked to be part of anything before in a school. I was asked to do stuff, sure, but never asked to be part of how things get done and what gets done. I've never had any input beyond my own classroom. This is a really good chance for me and I felt happy when Principal X asked me. Yeah, yeah, I know, y'all are making me eat my words about him/her, but I'm happy enough to eat my words if it turns out that I judged wrong. I think s/he really does care what the teachers think. I'm cautiously optimistic and, for whatever insane reason, looking forward to a committee meeting.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Murderers' Row

I am a Yankee fan, one in a long line in my family. Ever since I've cared about baseball, I've rooted for the boys in pinstripes. My favorites are Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte. (Especially Andy Pettitte. I love Andy Pettitte. And not just as a pitcher, ifyaknowwhatimean! Wink wink!) I was driven completely to distraction by the World Series this year, staying up long past my bedtime to watch every game. And I felt a warm, hugging satisfaction when they fielded the last hit by the Phils to seal their 27th championship this year. I felt that they deserved it, and not because of the ginormous payroll and baldfaced ambition, but because they learned this year how to play like a team. Even A-Rod, who I never liked, toned down his attitude and pumped up his game. No more Choketober for A-Rod. Nice job. Way to earn that astronomical paycheck.

Anyway, I got to wondering about the Yankees' success rate. The Yankees, more than any other professional sports franchise, makes it their explicit, singular goal, year after year, to win the championship. Period. "Rebuilding" years are not acceptable. Pennants are not enough. Only the World Series will do. The payroll and the attitude go hand-in-hand: We are spending lavishly, ridiculously, far beyond any other team because we want to win. There is nothing else. And it was frustrating to watch the biggest payroll in baseball implode for these past few years, and implode because of divas and egos and a lack of team spirit (and, some years, a lousy bullpen, but the loaded bullpen this year took care of that). So this particular championship was sweet because the rings weren't going to a bunch of jackasses. Well, A-Rod is still kind of a jackass. But I was happy, on the whole, for this group, especially the Core Four who don't have much time left.

So. Enormous payroll. Major superstars. Some of the most storied players in the entire game, going back over 80 years to the Ruth and Gehrig years. And what is the Yankees' success rate, if you count this current championship, after all that?

25 percent.

Which is still higher, by far, than any other team in baseball.

What does this have to do with school? Stay with me here.

Schools want 100 percent success rates for their students. Teachers do, too. Parents do. Certainly 100 percent of students would like to succeed. And anything less than 100 percent is unacceptable, just like anything less than a World Series is unacceptable for the Yankees.

But here's the difference: The Yankees are willing to spend, spend, and spend some more to make it happen. They don't pretend that success is going to come cheap. They will lay out for A-Rod, Sabathia, Jeter, whoever they need to lay out for at whatever price to win. And then they expect to win. It's not that hard.

So why do politicians and, to some extent, taxpayers pretend that education can be done on the cheap? That "throwing money at the problem" doesn't work? I agree that money alone won't buy success in education, but the Yankees know what politicians and eduwonks don't seem to understand: Success isn't going to come cheap.

Education can't be done on the cheap. Let's admit that. Let's admit that cutting corners results in kids left behind. Let's admit that anything less than a Harlem Children's Zone for all children everywhere is going to result in dropouts and failures and frustration. And, most importantly, let's really wake up to the fact that every dollar we don't spend on education--and by this I mean all kinds of education, from universal pre-K to rigorous vocational education to Ph.D.s in astrophysics--is just fifty dollars we'll have to spend on incarceration and welfare some years down the road.

And if you don't believe me, ask the Yankees.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Teacher-y Teacher

I recently took on some tutoring work, hoping to make some extra money to travel to Europe with some friends next summer. I didn't want to work per session at the Morton School (I spend enough time there already, and there was nothing available to work with the kids rather than the adults) and I CERTAINLY didn't want to work retail. Tutoring it is.

SHSAT season has kept me pretty busy, and I was meeting with a client this evening. I checked her homework, chatted with her about her school choices and how she's feeling about the test for a few minutes, and then decided on a lesson for the evening.

"Okay," I said. "You did pretty well on the critical reading, and pretty well on the logical reasoning too. But the scrambled paragraphs are still giving you problems. Let's walk back through these few, and then we'll try a few more out of my book here."

She looked at me in amazement. "Wow," she said, "you're, like, a teacher-y teacher."

I laughed. "What do you mean?"

"You're, like, all organized and stuff," she said. "All prepared and everything."

I took it as a compliment and set her to work. But the comment had me smiling to myself for the rest of the night. I never would have dreamed of calling myself "organized" or "prepared" two years ago. I'm not even sure I would go that far on a daily basis these days. But I am pretty proud that I come across as a "teacher-y teacher." I like that a student meets me and feels like they're in the presence of someone who knows what she's doing.

That plus a very positive meeting with my coach today has me feeling excited about school for the first time since the first few days of school. All the changes at the Morton School really got me down for most of September and October. But as it becomes clear that Principal X is going to leave me more or less alone, and as we get into the really meaty units of study, I'm starting to feel happy about going to work again. I'm building a group of kids that likes and trusts me and works hard for me.

Maybe I really am a teacher-y teacher.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

With Friends Like These...

What is with teachers turning on each other?

I was having a chat with a coach at my school the other day, a lovely woman who has taught me almost everything worth knowing about teaching middle school ELA. With all the changes afoot at my school, my department has tried to band together to adapt to the changes the best way we can and support each other in keeping as much of our good work intact as we can. Our coach complimented us on sticking together, lamenting the fact that so many teachers in other grades and departments are selling each other out. One teacher will blame another for not sharing a piece of information. One teacher will rat out another who's not with some particular part of the program. And, in a particularly insidious twist on the old "toss under the bus," teachers are, in the presences of coaches and admins, bragging about how they've done or mastered something that their colleague hasn't.

If you're familiar with the NYC teacher blogosphere, you know about the Ariel Sacks and Matt Polazzo debacles. While I certainly respect Sacks' and Polazzo's rights to express their opinions, I can't say I much care for the way they tore down their colleagues in doing it. I'm not sure I'd want to be one of their colleagues, lest any fear or weakness I confess be fed back to a boss. Most of all, I rarely trust anyone that displays that degree of, well, smugness. If a few years of teaching has taught me anything, it's that fads in education come and go, and you can be on the right side of things one year and the wrong side the next.

There's a way to share what's working, yes. There's a way to celebrate our successes, to show our colleagues what we've done that might be helpful for them. But we shouldn't do it to make ourselves look better to a boss or to save our own skins--we should do it because helping each other is the right thing to do, and because if we all help each other, we'll all pull through.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What Do the "Reformers" Really Care About?

It would be possible, really it would be, to develop a merit pay plan that most teachers would find fair and tie it into a more rigorous and balanced evaluation system. So imagine that such a plan were proposed by the AFT or the NEA or, God help us, the UFT right here in NYC. And imagine that it were rejected. I wonder what the "reformers" would give as their reason.

Check out this piece at Joanne Jacobs and please do read my comments.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ariel Sacks Is Right about One Thing, at Least

Namely, that we as teachers need to have more say in how we are evaluated. I've blogged here about teacher evaluation (here and here) because, let's face it, one formal observation a year doesn't really cut it. And if merit pay is going to happen, I sure as hell don't want it to be based on nothing more than one test that even the most bright, thoughtful, motivated student can blow for little or no reason.

Evaluation shouldn't be something that's "done to" teachers and it shouldn't be a process in which we are at the mercy of one principal or AP. It should be based on a variety of factors that are directly within our control--i.e. not just test scores, but professional development, collaboration with colleagues, curriculum writing/development, contribution to extracurricular activities, tutoring, etc. Any teacher who gets that involved in the life of a school is probably no major disaster in the classroom, anyway. Likewise, teachers who can't be as involved at various times--new baby, health concerns, etc.--but can nevertheless still teach good lessons and help their students should get a pass, too.

A system like this wouldn't just be more flexible, more balanced, more fair--it would be much harder to "game," either by those (very few) truly lazy and incompetent teachers or by vindictive principals. A teacher who really busts his or her butt to make the whole school a better place for all kids would be almost impossible to "get rid of"--as well it should be. We should protect those teachers from the winds of change and the whims of circumstance. That truly would be putting children first.

I guess maybe I should get serious about posting more on this subject. I have a lot of thoughts on it. And, as always, I want to hear yours. And, Ariel, if you're back, throw yours in--what would be a fair way to evaluate teachers? What should make up the evaluation pie? And why are people so obsessed with getting rid of "bad" teachers? How many teachers seriously do "read the newspaper all day"? Jeez, my students hate when I put on a movie because I'm guaranteed to make them answer hard questions about it, and I stop the movie every 37 seconds to make them notice something or think about something. I seriously don't buy this epidemic of newspaper-reading. But I digress.

Comment away.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Weeding Out, Part 2

So I said I'd explain my resistance to THE PROGRAM in this post. So here it is.

THE PROGRAM does not, in my view, prepare students well for high school. It does not acquaint them with a wide body of literature that is widely considered to be excellent. Perhaps worst of all, in my view, kids don't get much of an opportunity to read texts deeply and share understanding of them as a group. And I'll be frank: I just don't like it. I don't like trying to classroom-manage it, I don't like the touchy-feeliness of it, I can't relate to it, I don't agree with philosophical underpinnings, I Just. Don't. Like. It.

Which is why Principal X is kind of driving me crazy right now, because as I get to know him/her a little better, I have to admit that s/he isn't so bad. S/he's backing off some of the micromanagement--possibly, egads, at the behest of our CL--and after a couple of one-on-ones with him/her recently, I've gotten a sense from him/her like s/he really cares about and respects what I'm doing, even if it's not 100% with THE PROGRAM. I was discussing an aspect of my current unit with him/her today and s/he was totally okay with it. I'm not saying I'm ready to become Principal X's number-one fan, but maybe some of my feelings toward him/her really are not personal--they're all bound up in my anxiety about and distaste for THE PROGRAM.

(Also, just a side note: If you're new here, Principal X is not a hermaphrodite--I'm just not identifying his/her gender as a privacy move.)

So what to do now? Swallow my serious misgivings about THE PROGRAM because Principal X might just be a decent human being, or stick to my guns and, so to speak, weed myself out?

Thank heavens I have six or seven months to make up my mind.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Weeding Out

Well, last week was a good week with the kiddies. We're right where I need them to be, now. I'm almost done with a second round of reading assessments and some of the kids have already jumped a level--yay! I had an especially fun lunchtime with the kids on Friday and a restful weekend, so I was, on Sunday, more or less ready to face a new week. Even a meeting that could have been totally soul-sucking this afternoon wasn't so bad.


Have you ever Googled "Teachers College Reading and Writing Project sucks"? I have, in a moment of pique on Sunday afternoon, and came up with this from your friend and mine, Norm Coleman, over at Ed Notes Online: "Weeding Out." I think this may be something of an Ed Notes classic, because it's still quite high in the Google results 2+ years after its initial publication. I suppose my mention of it here speaks for itself, but I'll come right out and say that I feel like I'm weeding myself out. I just don't want to believe in the new program. I know, I know--if I try to leave, even if I find another school that doesn't have this program, leadership changes all the time, and there's nothing stopping a new principal from instituting something else I don't believe in. Which kind of bothers me, too. So I don't know.

I'm really trying to be positive. Hardly anything negative (or positive, really, but no news is good news) has actually been said to me. Principal X really is not a negative, nasty person like some principals are; on the contrary, s/he seems genuinely cordial, pleasant, and not totally unreasonable. I don't want you to think that I'm working for some ogre. Indeed, in some ways, Principal X is actually an improvement over our old principal. So maybe I should, like I said in my last post, "get with the program," because really, if I take the long view, maybe my working life would improve?

But it isn't that simple. At least not the way I see it. In my next post, I'll explain why.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How Long Does It Take to Make 100 Copies?

If you made them yourself, they would take 10 or 15 minutes. Maybe. And that includes copier warm-up time.

If you have to follow the Morton School's bizarre, micromanaged "copy request" system? 5 school days and counting, kids. Not 5 calendar days. 5 school days. That's 8 calendar days (because of Columbus Day). 5 days AND COUNTING, meaning that the copies I requested a week ago today are not ready yet.

Already one set is irrelevant. Pretty soon, the others will be too. I would go ahead and remove them from the copy request folder, except, um, the copy request folder has disappeared. That's right! IT'S GONE. I suspect it's in the trunk of Principal X's car.

*commences ritual head-banging*

Monday, October 12, 2009

I'm Not with the Program

The messages I’m getting at work are so unclear, and I have half a mind to “turn myself in” to Principal X. I would like to sit down and admit to Principal X, I am not with your program. If you didn’t know before, you know now, and I just want to know what you want me to do so I don’t get fired.

The school year is now over a month old. Maybe Principal X doesn’t know I’m not with the program—that’s one possibility. Principals have many responsibilities, and one teacher at the Morton School, particularly one who shows up and controls her class every day and has pretty bulletin boards out in the hall, may simply not command much of a principal’s attention. Then again, Principal X has my fabled curriculum map. I know this is true because, during a chat, I saw him/her looking at it. So, presumably, Principal X knows that I’m not with the program. That’s one possibility. And that has two sub-possibilities. One is that Principal X knows and doesn’t care. The other is that Principal X does know, and does care, but hasn’t done anything about it yet. And THAT has two sub-possibilities: That Principal X won’t do anything about it, ever, or that Principal X will.

It’s that very last one that has me worried. I’m pretty angsted out about work right now, in case you can’t tell, and I’m angry because I seem to be so anxiety-ridden for all the wrong reasons. The kids? Fine. Nice. Sweet. Most of them working hard. More or less as under control as thirty thirteen-year-olds are going to be. I’m teaching them stuff, I’m pretty much where I’m supposed to be. But EVERYTHING ELSE has me biting my nails. You would think that the kids really constitute the vast majority of THE JOB, and that should be the case, but it isn’t.

I’m afraid to request copies of anything because I’m afraid I’ll have tipped off Principal X to my not being with the program. I mean, Principal X reads EVERYTHING that’s submitted for copying. Reads it, I mean reads every word. Principal X won’t allow something to be copied if s/he does not like it. S/he will simply give it back to you and “suggest” another way of doing it. This means that I’m sneaking around getting copies made however I can and winging the rest.

And that’s not the least of my problems. I felt so confident and happy about my curriculum, but now I feel like I have to tear it down and start over again. Except I can’t. The ball is already rolling. I sent home the damn thing to the kids and their families on the first day of school. I’m already halfway through my second unit. And this current unit is very much NOT with the program. The next two units will more or less be with the program, but I’ve got to stay under the radar for maybe three more weeks. And really, why should I have to tear it down and start all over again? If this was not acceptable, I should have been told in June, when I submitted my curriculum map. I should have been given something else and told that I HAD to do it that way. I wasn’t.

And all this makes me angry because I am not a bad teacher and this is not bad material. These are solid, engaging, absorbing lessons with lots of real-world connections and deep thinking for the kids to do. I’m really big on challenging the kids. We had a couple of really excellent periods last week, lots of discussion and digging deep (literally…I wish I could tell you more!) into the material. But it’s not, well, “with the program,” as I keep saying. And it makes me angry that I feel like I have to hide this good work.

Well, if you want good news, read NYC Educator. I’m trying to keep my guestblogs over there light and funny. This is my deep dark corner where I can rant about what’s pissing me off. Sorry, I guess.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Reform Fatigue

I said pretty much what I wanted to say in my comment in response to this post over at Bridging Differences, an absolutely brilliant blog that you all should be reading if you're not already. Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch demonstrate above all that two intelligent people can hold a debate that is both lively and respectful, divergent and intellectually useful. But this post in particular helps to explain a little bit why "reform" is not as fun as it sounds. Please read all the comments (not just mine) to get a sense of why this post might be speaking to me, and certainly others, right now.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Please Implement As Per Memo"

When you read a directive such as the above, you naturally look for the memo, right?

Of course, you know what's coming here...


*bangs head against wall again*

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tip: Tell a Teacher When You Plan to Assign a Coverage to Him/Her...

...instead of just hoping she GUESSES that she has a coverage and GUESSES which teacher she's supposed to show up for.

Then, when teacher guesses WRONG, do NOT yell at her.

Just a fun, handy tip!!!

*bangs head against wall*

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The 14th Day of School

Since October is less than 2 days away, I have to remind myself that today was only the 14th day of school. I was looking at my monthly planner today and despairing at the number of occasions on which I've had to move days back, and back, and back again. I feel like I haven't accomplished much of anything.

I know this isn't true. I have reading levels for every kid I teach and each kid has completed a writing assessment. They've already done one major writing piece, I have 2 bulletin boards up, some kids have already read a few books, and I finished my first unit (a mini-unit, but still). I really have accomplished a lot, I know, especially considering that I've done it in 14 school days. It just doesn't seem like enough.

I was supposed to start a unit today, but I didn't, and I don't think I'll be able to start it tomorrow either. All the assessing and goal-setting takes a long time. It's not even so much that I'm complaining, just that I worry that my "superiors" won't understand. I feel like I'm the last teacher in the building still doing this stuff although I know, intellectually, I'm probably not.

Anyone else finding it hard to get underway? Also, for those of you who are more experienced than I, does it seem like I'm taking too long to do this stuff?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

My Goal for This Year Is to Avoid Running Screaming from the Principal's Office

Really, a teacher blog about goals pretty much writes itself. All I have to do is say (type) the word and I can hear thousands of heads banging against chalkboards and keyboards. I actually don't mind the goal-setting business so much--I really do think children need to take more responsibility for their own learning, even at young ages, and goal-setting can be a way to help them do it. But, well, take my darling principal. This week, Principal X, as s/he shall be known, got wind of my planned goal-setting activity--I dare not specify how as to avoid revealing my whereabouts and circumstances. But s/he did, and decided to bring me in for a little chat. This chat revealed to me and reminded me of a few things:
  • Any reasonably good idea in education can swiftly turn into a bad one when it is imposed and micromanaged rather than discussed, collaborated upon, and gradually implemented;
  • Principal X is managing from a place of fear and domination, rather than experience and wisdom, and I need to be patient with him/her and maintain faith in my own competence and leadership in my own classroom;
  • Trying to satisfy yourself will always be more satisfactory than trying to satisfy others.

I'd rather not reveal the specifics of our chat, but I will say that it has ended up creating more work and more headaches for me, and less time actually interacting with the material I would like to teach for my children. Commenters here have helped me to accept this as being more or less inevitable.

Principal X doesn't seem to understand that his/her management style is not making teachers come around. What it is making us do is become more secretive about what is actually happening in our classroom, more resentful, less productive, and less compassionate with the children. I'm really trying to cultivate compassion for what s/he must be going through, but I don't think it's uncharitable to assume that most of my colleagues are focusing on what a pain in the ass s/he is making their work. And when they're feeling that way, they don't have the capacity to be compassionate with the children as much, which is certainly not good for them--our real bosses, as I said in one of my NYCEducator posts this week.

So back to goal setting. Mine is to not let my annoyance with Principal X get in the way of loving and teaching the children, though that's certainly not the kind of thing I'd share in a "professional conversation." And as far as teaching goal-setting, well, I'm trying to look at it this way: Doing it Principal X's way will keep him/her at least temporarily sated and off my back, and at least, won't harm the children. So I'm going to do it Principal X's way. If I lose a period to doing something I consider not entirely productive, well, I lose whole periods to things I already consider even less productive.

And maybe one more goal of mine is to keep an eye out for a different school, but only one eye, and only from time to time, so that my eyes don't leave the children I already don't get to "watch" for very long.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Square Peg in a Round Hole

The message could not be clearer that the tide is turning at my school. It was made official, plain and clear to me today. There is no discussion, no PD, no training, no variation. Everyone get on the bus.

I'm depressed about work in a way that I've never been before. My first year or two were rough, but everyone's are, and I was sustained by the thought that I was still learning, I was getting better, and no one really expected me to work miracles overnight. That's not to say I never felt stressed or pressured--I certainly did--but it all seemed to come with an air of this-too-shall-pass, gotta-crawl-before-you-walk to it. Now that I have my act together, now that I've worked very hard to be a halfway decent teacher, I'm being told that it isn't good enough. Not only is it not good enough, but it's entirely wrong and I have to tear it all down and start over again yesterday.

Now is not the time to tell me this. June was the time to tell me this. June was the time to tell me that the curriculum calendar I completed and submitted for this school year in June would not be acceptable. June was the time to hand me a pacing calendar or a binder or something and explain to me what to do with it, send me to some training, give me a book, something. June was the time to make it crystal-clear that there was one right way to do things and here is that way. I might not have liked it, I might not have agreed with it, and I might have looked for a new job over the summer, but at least I couldn't say I wasn't warned. At least I could have come into this school year with a curriculum calendar that was acceptable and not worry about planning something new in the middle of also trying to just grade papers, plan some new lessons, and keep my head above water in general.

This is not okay. I wouldn't do this to kids. "Get with the program" is not an acceptable thing to tell me or anyone right now, not me or my colleagues who are having their lessons interrupted (yes!) to be told more nonsense top-down directives in front of the children.

I can go on Open Market next year and find someplace that's more suited to my philosophy and methodology, or at least someplace that won't spring a brand-new curriculum and way of doing things on me the day before school starts. But I have to get through this year first. And if I don't stop doing all this bitching and start focusing on the kids, even that much won't happen.

Rant over.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Everything in Moderation

So I was pretty blue when I posted here yesterday and I don't think I really thought through my position as much as I should have. I didn't try very hard to understand my colleague's position. Selfish as it might sound, I still don't like feeling like I've lost a friend and that there's one more person in my building that I have to "watch what I say" around, but that is, I suppose, the way it is.

And it's also possible that I'm blaming her for things that aren't really her fault. I had a wonderful year completely planned for myself and my students. I had routines and procedures that worked for me and my classroom. I had books that I loved to share and activities that were effective. And I feel like it's all going to be taken from me the first time I forget to nod and smile at anything my principal says. That's not her fault and I'm projecting frustration with our supervisor onto her, I suppose.

I could, I think, get with my principal's program, or at least parts of it, if I didn't feel like it was being forced on us with no training, no context, and no explanation. We are far from a failing school. Our building is cheerful and clean; test scores are high; children and parents are mostly happy. Why fix what isn't broken? I grant that my principal knows more, certainly, about what's going on behind the curtain than I do, but it doesn't stand to follow that there's SO much more than we can be told. SOME explanation is in order.

I'm glad now that I took the opportunity to moderate my black mood from yesterday. Thanks to the tough and critical commenters who made me think about things in a different light and clarify what I was trying to say.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Like George Washington or Lady Gaga

My students have been studying the Federalists. Today, one girl asked me what the word "iconoclastic" meant. She found it in a prep book for SHSATs.

I said that it described someone who defies conventions, who blazes a trail with their new and sometimes unsettling beliefs.

"You know," I said, "like George Washington. Or Lady Gaga."

She nodded thoughtfully.

Then I realized that I had put George Washington and Lady Gaga in the same sentence.

Going Over to the Dark Side

Nothing I have to say about my principal would surprise anyone. This person is going through the motions that I understand most principals anymore go through: micromanaging everything, changing what doesn't need to be changed, ignoring input from teachers, and steamrolling out a whole bunch of new programs and initiatives with no training or discussion. I could tell you a few grimly funny anecdotes, but if I think of the thing that truly makes me sad, it's not about the principal at all. No, this is about a colleague.

This colleague and I have been working closely together, for various reasons, for a few years now. She is a bright, funny gal, and terrifyingly ambitious. I knew she was thinking about getting an admin license, and I would always joke with her about her becoming my boss, never, I suppose, really imagining what such a thing would be like.

But overnight, she has become an administrative intern, and just like that, our work-friendship is over. She backs up everything the principal says and does, even privately. If I joke or complain about some new policy, she just says, "Well, that's the way the principal wants it. You better do it." She's never around for lunch or common preps; she's always in the office doing the principal's bidding. She has truly gone to the dark side.

It makes me sad that someone with whom I laughed and struggled for so long is no longer the equal I remember. I have to assume that she is now firmly in the principal's pocket and quite possibly telling the principal anything anyone says, and that the days of commiserating and happy-hour-ing are probably over.

Another of my favorite colleagues is leaving letters to school districts in Westchester and Long Island in open view on her desk.

What is going on?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

From My Cold Dead Hands

When I started teaching at the school at which I still work, my grade was brand-new to the school. In terms of curriculum, I was given two enormous binders, one from Teachers College and one from America's Choice, but it was stressed to me that they were only "suggestions" and "resources." I had no idea what to do with either of these binders, so I simply ignored them. When I made up the curriculum from scratch as I went along, no one seemed to mind.

I will admit, of course, that this is hardly an ideal way to do long-range planning. I was a newbie then--a real newbie--and I knew jack-squat about curriculum mapping and backwards planning and only slightly more about writing lesson plans. I learned, of course--I looked at sample curriculum maps online, worked with my colleagues, learned what students did in earlier grades at my school and what students did in my same grade at other schools.

Out of this process came the most treasured document in all of my great repository of lesson plans, memos, charts, journals, and cocktail napkins: My curriculum map. It is a thing of great beauty. It is organized by month and by week. It has been de-spiral-ized, meaning that I felt free to throw out the ubiquitous "poetry book" project because every other teacher in every other grade has made kids do poetry books, and by the time they get to my grade, they are well nigh sick of poetry books. It has been backwards-planned Grant Wiggins-style. It is aligned to state standards. It kicks not a small amount of ass. I love it, I refer to it constantly, I stick to it. Like Charlton Heston's gun, you could take my curriculum map away when you could pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Except...oh, how I fear the worst for my beautiful curriculum map. Its days are numbered. An informal chat with my principal today about an entirely unrelated subject led me to begin to fear for my curriculum map. I believe I am going to be forced into an unholy three-way marriage with the new "Core Curriculum" and its thematic units (thanks for all the notice and PD I didn't get on this, btw, DOE) and motherplucking Teachers College. If not this year--if, by some small holy chance, I can squeak through this year with my rich, deep, funky, unique curriculum intact--then most certainly next year.

Those of you who know that I'm a fan of Core Knowledge might be surprised to hear that I'm so resistant to a uniform curriculum. My response would be that I would buy into a Core Knowledge curriculum so fast it would make your head spin. But this TC nonsense that's about to get shoved down my throat? No thanks. I built a curriculum for my classes myself, from scratch, and as a result I know it intimately, believe in it, and can defend every single thing I teach. As they say, I have ownership of it.

I have no ownership in this nonsense. Already I have been told that I have to throw out one of my units entirely to make way for a TEST PREP UNIT in April, gag me with a machete. The thought of doing all test prep all the time for a month makes me want to quite literally cry, considering that April could have been spent doing some deep, serious literature.

If my curriculum map's days are numbered, I suspect that my own days are numbered as well. I don't mind following someone else's map as long as it's one I can believe in. But I can't believe in this. And I don't think my principal will understand, respect, or accommodate that even a little.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lucky, Black Enterprise, and Fighting Over "The One With Obama in It!!!"

Hope everyone had as delightful of a first week back as I did! Well, "delightful" if I focus on the kids, which is precisely what I'm choosing to do. I have great groups, I really do--sweet and funny and ready to work. I've spoken to most of their parents already, as per NYC Educator's advice, and most of them were very pleasant and receptive. In those terms, at the very least, I had a fully gratifying first week.

I just had to blog about what happened this afternoon during independent reading. The kids restored my faith in humanity. I asked them to bring in some magazines to supplement our classroom library. Some of my favorite reactions:

1.) "I don't like Lucky [a magazine about shopping and fashion]. It's all just ladies standing around in they bikinis."

2.) "I like this magazine. [Student points to Black Enterprise, a business magazine aimed at African-Americans.] It shows that black people aren't just interested in being rappers and athletes."

3.) [Two boys fighting over an issue of Scholastic News] "I want the one with Obama in it!!! I had it first!"

Seems like they have their priorities in order.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Good Luck Tomorrow

No fancy way to say this, so I'll just say it...

All the best to all my colleagues, readers, and friends--the ones I've met and the ones I haven't. I hope for every success for all of you and your students this year. I'm excited to meet my new students tomorrow, to start being a teacher again. Summer vacation is nice and all--and, as I've said before, you'll pry it from my cold dead hands!--but I'm more than ready to hit the ground running tomorrow.

May PDs be brief and painless, may parents be understanding, may kids be funny and sweet (and compliant), may unannounced observations be rare, a happy school year to all and to all a good night.

Friday, September 4, 2009

An Auspicious Day

According to our Jewish and Chinese friends:

I knew that 9 was considered auspicious in China and was planning to share this fact with my students on the first day anyway, but the article in the Times might be an even better thing to have. I could make copies and we could do a little activity with it.

Hope this is a good sign! I was lesson planning today and I'm so very excited. Now, a long weekend full of staycationing fun in the city and upstate awaits me. Enjoy this one!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I Got Picked Up by GothamSchools!

Woot woot! In the "Remainders" section, all the way down:

Another day of classroom setup. I'm finished enough that I think I'm going to have myself a four-day weekend. It's looking like a very happy and cozy place.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Ego Book

I went back to school today to start getting my classroom ready. Not all of my colleagues came today, and the ones who did came in several hours after I did, so I had a few hours of total solitude to begin unpacking.

Towards the end of the year, I took a number of letters, cards, pictures, and the like given to my by students over the past few years and asked one of our school aides to laminate them for me. (The poor woman was laminating everything in my room that wasn't nailed down anyway.) I never cut apart the laminating film or anything after she gave them back to me, just rolled them up and put them in my closet, because I was running out of June by then.

Today, I cut them all apart and put them in a nice pile, and reread them. One of my favorites was from a student of mine from two years ago whom I'll call Jasmine. I would never have forgotten this letter from Jasmine even if I hadn't had it laminated. The letter goes something like this (paraphrasing):

Dear Miss Eyre:

Do you remember that day that Mrs. Brocklehurst yelled at me and made me cry because I forgot my notebook? I was so upset that I came and ate lunch in your room. You said I should tell the nurse I was sick and I should go home. I went home and I felt better later that day. Thank you for caring about me.


I don't know if I should feel particularly proud that this student remembers me so fondly for encouraging her to fib to the school nurse, but this letter always makes me smile.

Anyway, I have this collection of lovely notes from former students, and I'd like to put them together in a binder or a photo album. I hope it doesn't smack too much of an "ego book" type thing.

I also had fun decorating my room today with a few mementoes from last year's students, silly little things mostly, the kinds of things they probably expected me to throw out--art projects they gave me, paper flowers, snapshots from field trips. I've tried to save a few things from each school year. Last year's objets d'arts in particular bring back beautifully sweet memories.

It was a nice way to start preparations for the new year.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Modest Proposal Part 2: Intervisitation and Peer Colleague Professional Development Working Groups as Components of Teacher Evaluation

I've been thinking about the issue of teacher evaluation much more than I've been writing about it. It has not left my mind. I recently earned tenure, and I'm very proud of making it through the Fellowship, sticking around for another year to get tenure, and coming back to do it all again. That's all well and good. But I'm not persuaded that I'm now as good as I'm ever going to be as a teacher; this year, I plan to be much better than I was last year. But here's the problem: What constitutes "good," "better," or "best" for teachers? Can it be measured and evaluated? I think it can, and it can be measured more precisely and meaningfully than it is now. In my last post on this issue, I suggested peer review as one component. Another component of how to evaluate teachers might be through intervisitation and professional development working groups.

I recently read Why Don't Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham, a book I would recommend for any number of reasons, but I'll focus briefly on Willingham's suggestions for improving pedagogy. He suggests videotaping yourself teaching (augh!, I mean, still a good idea, but AUGH!), observing other teachers at work, and meeting with this partner or small group of "critical friends" to discuss what's going on. (Note the absence of an administrator in this equation. I like it!) These strike me as sound and sensible ideas. I really enjoy intervisitation, and I'm lucky to have a few colleagues who have warmly encouraged me in visiting their classes. Heck, even when I ended up substituting for an elementary class during The Great Swine Flu Panic of May '09, I learned a lot by poking around my colleague's classroom.

Willingham's suggestions aren't exactly new, but they do matter in two important ways. One is his own inclusion of his tips in his book on brain science and pedagogy. His message is that teachers think and make decisions so constantly and, as such, contrary perhaps to what some people believe, teaching children is an intellectually lively and challenging pursuit. We as much as the children need to monitor our own thinking and reflect on what we are doing in the classroom to critically engage with our actions and square them up with what we think and know.

The other is what he doesn't say in the book, but what I'm going to suggest here: The ways in which we seek to learn more about our practice, specifically through working with peer colleagues, can be a component of teacher evaluation. Attending professional development workshops is fine, and the better ones can certainly be helpful (sometimes they feed you and give you free stuff, for example), but there is no substitute for working with peer colleagues. These are the people who work with the same administration in the same building at the same time as you do. They teach, have taught, or will teach some or all of your same students. Thus their experience and feedback will match up most closely with what you need to be thinking about and doing in your own classroom. We can all think of one or two or a hundred workshops that were perhaps well-intentioned, but not exactly positioned to be of immediate and real value to our own classrooms. Intervisitation and peer colleague professional development working groups, on the other hand, do serve that purpose.

How could they be used as a component of teacher evaluation? A journal or log of meetings may be kept, or the group could form one or two particular goals at the beginning of a term or year and observe how each member is working towards those goals, or the group could form recommendations for each other based on what they see. Or, GADZOOKS, teachers could themselves discuss and resolve towards how they will use their work to evaluate themselves and each other. (I know. Letting teachers make decisions about how they will be evaluated sounds very scary. Hold on. It'll be okay.)

Of course, we're all seeing one immediate drawback: When, exactly, are we supposed to do this? Our vast reserves of free time? Well, this criticism is spot-on, of course. Three Standard Deviations to the Left had a great post on this issue recently, observing how few hours teachers in the U.S. have to plan and collaborate as compared to other nations. Mrs. Bluebird also mentioned that when she and her colleagues were actually given, in the school day, more time just for planning, lo and behold! their students showed improvement. I'll admit that, other than saying, "Well, we need more planning time," I don't know how to solve that problem. We do need more planning time. But proposals to lengthen the school day are currently coming with more instructional time and no extra money. That, frankly, is kind of a problem for me. My kiddies are already wastes of space by 3 p.m. If a longer school day came with more planning and collaborative time, and more breathing space for the kiddies, and, oh, I don't know, maybe a dab more money, I might get behind it. But more instructional time? I think most teachers are already spread pretty thin in that sense. And, as NYC teachers, let's not lose sight of the fact that in some states, teachers are carrying even heavier course and student loads than even our contractual maximums.

That's the crux of the biscuit for any kind of teacher evaluation reform, incidentally. I believe the best, most meaningful, most effective reforms will come from teachers working together, reflecting, and supporting each other. But we need time to do that, and lots of it. No surprise, then, that most teacher evaluation reform ideas are top-down, computerized, checklist-type things rather than holistic and engaging processes for teachers.

Nevertheless, I plan to soldier on with this idea. My guestblogging over at NYC Educator is going to two days a week for the fall, but I think I'll keep these thoughts on my own blog.

Oh yeah, school starts again soon, right? (Kidding.) I suppose I should post about that, too. Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Modest Proposal: Peer Review as One Component of Evaluation for Teachers

*I originally wrote about this as a comment on the Core Knowledge blog, one of those blogs you should be reading if you're not already.

One of the biggest complaints about teachers is tenure, folks, right? "Lifetime job security." "You can't get rid of the bad ones." This is a small beef of mine. On one hand, some of the detractors are at least kind of right--it can take a long time to fire even a patently, obviously terrible teacher, by which I chiefly mean a teacher who poses a physical and/or sexual danger to children. That person can be removed from the classroom quickly--hola, rubber rooms!--but actually fired, yes, that can take a long time. And that's crazy. Be assured that no one here is an apologist for people who hurt children.

But I would like to defend the idea of tenure despite its faults. Tenure is supposed to mean, above all, academic and intellectual freedom. This should mean that teachers are free to speak truth to power, to defend unpopular ideas, to elevate the pursuit of knowledge above all else. Sometimes I have to remind myself that that is my actual job, but, you know, I guess it still is, even these days. This should mean that teachers are protected against firing because, for example, they hate TCRWP (not that I am referring to myself here or anything) or Everyday Math. This should mean that if a teacher wants to do something unpopular or out-of-fashion that is nevertheless effective for him/her and his/her students, he or she should be able to do that without fear of losing the job. Since people always want to compare teachers to doctors and lawyers, imagine that a fancy new drug has come along that lowers fevers. It seems like a pretty good drug, but it's $50/dose. A doctor wants to continue to prescribe Tylenol because it's 5 bucks a bottle and does the same job. But the doctor's bosses think the $50/dose drug is better, so they fire the doctor. If that doctor had tenure, he or she wouldn't have been fired. That, to me, is how tenure should work.

Tenure should not mean that if you are bad at your job, you should stick around anyway, just 'cause it's too much of a hassle to fire you. A lot of people think that's what it means. Maybe, in some cases, that is what it means. But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let's think of some constructive ways that we can keep tenure in its purest form--as a crucial protection for otherwise good teachers who are simply on the "wrong" (read: unpopular) side of certain issues--and prevent it from protecting those who maybe should find another line of work.

First, tenure should not be automatically granted. Detractors will point to statistics suggesting that in NYC, I believe 97% of probationers are granted tenure. Well, if we go with Norm's estimates, that still means that some lousy teachers get tenure. To me, this is the fault of lazy administrators and should not be blamed on the other, hard-working teachers out there, but whatever--there you have it. A more rigorous evaluation system for probationers and tenured teachers would help this system, but primarily for probationers. You want to extend the probationary period? Do it. A good teacher is only going to be better after four or five years. I think that's pretty reasonable.

Second, maybe we need a more rigorous evaluation system for teachers. I have quite a few ideas on this (CONSULTING FIRMS: I CAN HAZ GREAT BIG PAYCHECK?), but the one I want to focus on today is the idea of peer review. Peer review can be part of a more rigorous evaulation system. But it has its pitfalls too, right? I mean, imagine a teacher who's being a thorn in the side of a faculty that has, for the most part, chosen to roll over and play dead for their administration. Peer review? For this teacher? Forget it. He or she could be Frank McCourt (not that HE'D last long in BloomKlein's DOE, but never mind) and still get a lousy review. No, we need a better way. Here it is: JURY DUTY!

What? Jury duty? Yes. You get called for jury duty, right? Your principal HAS to let you leave work for the day and go on down to the courthouse, and unless you can wiggle your way out of it, you spend a day or two hearing a case and rendering a verdict. Peer review for teachers could work the same way. A pool would be formed across a reasonable geographic area--in NYC, it could be district-wide or maybe borough-wide. This pool would be comprised of a good assortment of teachers--let's say each school would be mandated to provide a certain number based on their size, chosen by SLT or maybe by a chapter election. Then, out of that pool, teachers would be pulled, at random, for a day or two here and there, or maybe a week at a time, to observe teachers they don't know in other schools. (For those of you who are appalled at the idea of teachers being out of the classroom for this long, to you I say: Please figure out a way to have me not have to go and grade the state ELA exam for a week ever again, either.)

For schools with overburdened admins, this is a blessing. Teachers could be observed more often. And for teachers, I don't see how this isn't a win. You're being observed by someone who is much more in touch with day-to-day reality in the classroom. You're probably more likely to accept constructive criticism from a peer and, conversely, praise means more from a peer as well. And for those who go on "jury duty," they get the benefit of "intervisitation" with their class covered for a whole day--they can see what other teachers are doing well and identify good points they can take back to their own practice.

This could be part of a more rigorous evaluation process for teachers. Part. But what about other stuff? Like administrative observations and test scores and student evaluations and parent evaluations and committees of other peers in one's own school? Mmmmmm...I smell a series...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's the Teachers, Stupid...Right?

Well, if this is what Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism looks like, apparently the Pulitzer folks have fairly low standards.

I'm very tired of the myth that schools are bursting at the seams with apathetic, unskilled, surly, child-hating losers who can't get jobs doing anything else. I recently figured that, counting high school and college where one encounters many teachers in the course of a year, I had well over 100 teachers in my lifetime, and I can only say that one or two truly had no place being in a classroom. That means that my satisfaction with my education overall, if it was based solely on the quality of my teachers, would be over 99%. And I went to a large, comprehensive, public high school with a substantial population of students in poverty, so I think it's safe to say that my experience is not atypical.

I know I'm just one person. But I've also made teaching my career, and I can say with some certainty that even high-poverty schools in New York City are not overburdened with terrible teachers. I've seen some teachers who don't do things the way I'd do them. I've seen some teachers--a lot of teachers, actually--who are young, inexperienced, naive, and tentative. That group once included me, after all. And, yes, particularly when I was out scoring the ELA exam, I saw a couple of teachers who were perhaps not quite right for this particular line of work. But are there hordes of lousy teachers who need to be gone yesterday? I was sold that myth when I joined the Fellowship, but I don't believe it anymore. I've met way too many teachers who tried every fad that came around the block and eventually rejected them all because they knew that what they did worked for their kids. I've met way too many teachers who have been at this for a long time and still do professional development and retool curricula all summer because they want to be better. I've met way too many teachers who spend hours on the phone with parents and tutoring kids, and too much of their own money on books and supplies in the hopes of reaching a few more kids.

Here's the kicker: The article I linked above wants to blame unions for low pay and low motivation for excellence among teachers. Tell me some local governments wouldn't pay teachers minimum wage if they thought they could get away with it these days! I get what he's trying to say, in part: Low pay and low prestige doesn't attract the "best and brightest." And while I certainly wouldn't mind getting paid more, it bothers me that people think there are no "best and brightest" in the teaching corps. I could tell you my college and grad school GPAs and my GRE scores, awards I won and honor societies I belonged to, but I could also tell you that I'm not alone. I know a great many very bright teachers. We'd like to get paid more, sure. But I'm not sure that trying to attract the same bozos who sold exploding-ARM mortgages to poor people into teaching is the answer, either.

Robert Pondiscio at Core Knowledge and some other bloggers are starting to spread the message that the myth of great unwashed masses of lousy teachers is just that: a myth. I want to be part of spreading that message, too, though I suppose the best way to spread it is to come back in the fall as an even better teacher.

Index of My Guestblogs at NYC Educator

Hi friends!

All my blogging energy (until today) has been going into my guestblogs at NYC Educator. For the summer, I've been blogging with the new teacher in mind in a series called "What No One Will Tell You When You Come to Work at the DOE," focused around practical tips and tricks on day-to-day survival in the classroom. In my first year of teaching as a New York City Teaching Fellow, I had a very fine professor who told me something I never forgot: "In your first year," he said, "it's fine that your goal should be to just survive. You're not going to be a great teacher yet. It's just not going to happen. If you make it to June feeling like you have just enough energy and commitment to try again in September, you've already beaten a lot of people who burn themselves out in less than a year and quit." That was fine advice. I hope my newbie friends take it.

Future installments will deal with family and home relations, collegial relations, and the particular vagaries of the NYCD/BOE.

Here's an index of my guestblogs thus far:

Classroom Setup

Planning Your First Lessons

Classroom Management



Wednesday, July 1, 2009

This Week's Guestblog at NYC Educator

Check it out! This week: Planning Your First Lessons.

Monday, June 29, 2009

"Yo, Later" to All That: Why I Love Summer Vacation But Hate Missing the Kids

So the 2008-09 school year finally ended. I say "finally," but I didn't start counting the days until after spring break, and I didn't get REALLY antsy until the last week of May or the first week of June. I have friends who teach in other areas, and seeing them go on summer break so much earlier started getting annoying. Still, on Friday, it was our turn.

I will say, about summer vacation, that you will pry it from my cold, dead hands. While I agree that low SES children absolutely need more academic, cultural, and physical enrichment over the summer, I do not agree that more plain old school is what's needed. They need the kind of summer camps, sports teams, arts programs, and the like that middle- and upper-class children have access to for free or very low cost. There is also the issue of time for simple rest and play that all children--I would venture to say all adults, even--need. My non-teacher friends often complain that teachers should not be "special" among working professionals in the amount of time we get off, but to me, this is a reductivist race to the bottom. Why not work for more vacation time for ALL workers, not less for teachers? Tell me, if you're not a teacher, that you wouldn't like more than 2 weeks and a handful of holidays off year. Of course you would.

Anyway. Summer vacation. I have a long list of plans that I already summed up on NYC Educator, so I won't recap them here, but I'm very excited. I like to think that I spend summer vacation doing all kinds of cultural and intellectual things so that I'm a better teacher in the fall; that as I become a more complete and enriched human being, I will be a happier, more confident, more secure person in front of a classroom. (Oops, did I say "in front"? My bad. I know I'm supposed to be a "guide on the side" and all that. Except I don't really dig being a guide on the side.)

Saying goodbye to the kids, though...that was hard. Harder than I thought it would be. I taught an extraordinary group of kids this year and I got pretty attached to them. It's the first year that I felt like I did the kids more good than harm, and I feel like I saw actual growth in some of them that I could take partial credit for. (Partial, though--any kid who does anything has to learn to thank himself or herself for taking that first step and caring to do better.) I learned how to have the right kind of "relationship" with the kids this year; I feel like I could show them that I liked them and cared about them without being their "friend," so to speak. I had a lot of fun with them in the classroom and on their trips and other activities. I feel that, if they availed themselves of the instruction and other opportunities I provided, they should be ready for high school and beyond.

And this was the group that reassured me that I can teach, because I was pretty close to quitting last year. I worked really hard last summer to make sure I was ready to do a better job, and they met me halfway and "played along" even with my goofier ideas. They surprised me over and over with how compassionate, insightful, and tough they could be. On at least one occasion I can think of, a very boring assembly, they held their tongues purely as a favor to me. These kids had my back as much as I had theirs, and I told them as much on Friday. I told them it was the best year of my career. And I meant it.

Best of all, they made me believe I could do it all again next year.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Suggestions for "What No One Will Tell You..." Series

If you read my first guestblog at NYC Educator, you know that my next planned installment is on how to start teaching lessons. I'm a middle school ELA teacher, but I'm going to try to keep it pretty general. I'm a big admirer of Gary Rubinstein's suggestions in The Reluctant Disciplinarian, and much of what I do is based on his advice.

But I'm also soliciting suggestions from all of you. If you're a new teacher, if you know a new teacher, or if you were a new teacher once yourself, please leave a comment for me with any feedback for further installments in the series. I'll give you mad props in the blog post if I like your idea.

Stay tuned for a new entry here on my last day of school.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Guestblogging at NYCEducator

I'm super excited that, for the foreseeable future, I'll be guestblogging every Wednesday at NYCEducator. I'm working on a series of "advice" pieces for new teachers that are tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic, sassy, and tailor-made for dealing with the strange and wonderful world of the NYCDOE. Please feel free to share this info with your young and newbie friends, and check me out at NYCEducator every Wednesday!

Oh, and if you're not reading NYCEducator EVERY DAY, you should be.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothin' Left to Lose

For all you teachers who have never done something like this, take heed: It is not a good idea to plan a field trip for your middle school students AFTER they have had their graduation ceremony AND their senior trip.

Allow me to elaborate. For months now, threats of being removed from graduation and/or the senior trip have been sufficient to discourage egregiously bad behavior among my little friends. There have been, this year, only two fistfights (both of which involved the same problematic little friend) and no real major classroom disruptions. I attribute this to a combination of a more tranquil and cohesive group of students and my much-improved classroom management. I can count on one hand (okay, maybe two) the number of times I've had to raise my voice this year. I've been able to deal with incidents of whining, sassing, etc. with phone calls and e-mails to parents. I wrote up exactly one kid for detention (the stapler-throwing incident I wrote about here a while back). No removals. No suspensions. And if my own winning manner with the darlings wasn't enough, well, nobody wanted to be left out of graduation or off the trip.

Well. Both are now over. Both were smashing successes with all our little dears on their best behavior. And now the tougher cases in the eighth grade have realized that, as the title of this blog indicates, they have nothing left to lose.

Which brings me to my point: IT IS A BAD IDEA TO TAKE YOUR FRIENDS ON FIELD TRIPS AFTER THIS POINT. I had the pleasure (?) of escorting mine on a trip under just such circumstances. And any threat I could lay out to discourage bad behavior was like a wet noodle. It was a somewhat trying field trip.

It did not help that the individual who planned this trip--which, it is worth noting, was neither myself nor my grade partners, all of whom WOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER--did not apparently take into consideration that this trip was being planned for "seniors" with nothing left to lose. Or that there might be bad weather. Or that, when dealing with middle schoolers, it is always better to order too much food than not enough.

I am planning a longer and more comprehensive post on field trips in the future, but I had to blog about this now before I completely exploded.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


(Not me, before anyone panics. No, I am, at the very least, satisfactory. Now and, with any luck, forever.)

I've been hesitant to blog for a while. There is a lot happening at my school which, I fear, may make it easy for a reader to identify where I am. We have been in the news and the internal DOE gossip for a number of reasons. So I'm going to try to be careful in these next few posts and be even more vague than usual, but it will be difficult. I couldn't take it anymore this afternoon, though.

A colleague spoke to me this afternoon. She is being threatened with a U-rating. She is supporting her family because her husband has been laid off. Her youngest child is going to college next year. She asked me to write something to support her.

Without even thinking, I told her I would. I have had nothing but good experiences with this person. She is a lovely, warm woman who never has an unkind word to say about anyone. And she certainly seems to be, at minimum, competent in her position, though our work is very different and I'm not sure how qualified I am to comment on what she actually does. But she has come through for me in sticky situations and, bless her, she is DISCREET. She does not rat people out. I am rather old-fashioned inasmuch as I value not being tattled on and, in return, I do not tattle. (Unrelated: I was extremely tempted to tattle today when I saw two little children at my school buying sodas in the teachers' cafeteria for their teacher. But I did not tattle.)

I don't know why my superiors are out to get this woman, and I can't even begin to guess. I mean, I have heard rumors that one of the higher-ups thinks she's incompetent. But why, again, I don't exactly know. And even if she is, aren't they supposed to, I don't know, help her out or talk to her first? Has that been done? I don't know.

I don't know what to write, either, and God only knows what kind of effect this will have on my "career." She told me the letter would be anonymous, but we all know what "anonymous" means in the DOE. I don't necessarily buy that--not coming from her, but coming from the DOE. I have to accept that, if I do this, I'm putting at least a bit of my "career" on the line. At minimum, I may have to put myself out on the Open Market next year, though that may be a foregone conclusion anyway (stay tuned for future posts explaining this). Because apparently I have to implicate my superiors in this--at very minimum, support my colleague's statement that she wasn't offered training, assistance, whatever. And, obviously, go against the administration's general thrust of wanting this person gone.

It's a weird way to be ending the year. As far as my kids go (more on this later), I love them dearly and I will cry my eyes out to see them go. And I have gotten to know many of the kids coming up and I'm looking forward to spending the year making new friends with them. That, of course, is exactly the right way to go out as far as the kids are concerned. But the grownups? Things are going way south, way fast. And I'm at a crossroads.

June 26 can't come fast enough.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Snakes," Part II

You all know about my friend T from this post and others, including this one (in which he revealed his fascination with poisonous snakes). T has been having a difficult time lately, as I mentioned in my last post, which is why it has been so gratifying to watch him work on his senior project.

I took my friends to the school library last week so they could pick up some books for their projects, and T never hesitated. His long stride led him directly into the 500s and he planted himself in front of the reptile shelf. He quickly accumulated a stack of books on snakes, nice new books with lots of photographs and tables and statistics. He was hooked.

Today, he was among the first three kids who had already completed a rough draft of a written report. He told me he was ready for me to read it, which I did, with pleasure. Some people might be surprised to learn this, but T is a pretty good writer. He's very careful and methodical with his writing. Give him a structure and he internalizes it almost immediately. With T, at least, I've seen the wisdom of scaffolding and structure for kids with LDs. He struggles with writing when the assignment is more free-form, but something he can outline and plan and make boxes and bullet points for? He'll rock it. I gave him a few small pointers and made some corrections, and he nodded and scribbled and set about typing his handwritten notes on his computer.

I don't know if he still has lunch detention, but it's worth noting that, during a week that has been completely chaotic in my usually peaceful and orderly school, T has been very quiet. I'd like to flatter myself that this focused and self-chosen project is giving him a lot to do, and it's work that he likes to boot. I have no idea if this is the case. But I'm really happy to see him bearing down on his work--and, more to the point, doing it with almost no reminding or prodding from me. He's very self-directed right now, sitting and working for long periods of time without getting distracted or frustrated.

Good news? Hey, I'll take it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

To a T

Poor T. He's been having a rough time of it lately. I'm usually not one to feel much pity for chronic behavior problems, but in this case, I'm really not convinced that it's all his fault.

T's one of the few kids I've taught for two straight years. I got almost all new kids this years, but T and I have a bit more history together. Only once in two years did I ever have a problem with him in my classroom; he threw an eraser at a kid who said something negative to him, and I wrote him up for detention for that and called his mom. (His mom is a great lady.) The next day, he was pretty reasonable about it. He apologized and seemed to accept that he had a detention coming for that. I let bygones be bygones, and we went back to our usual pleasant working relationship.

T was suspended two weeks ago for getting into a fight with another student. I already forget the details because I wasn't there. But T is a great big boy and the student he fought with is a lot smaller--he could have done some serious damage, though he didn't. I wasn't terribly shocked when this fight transpired, though. The student he fought is, shall we say, a tad on the irritating side, and has a terribly deceitful and unpredictable streak as well. I'm not surprised that T was moved to slug him. Not that I'm defending the fight, particularly because of the mismatch in size, but I chalked it up to boys being boys.

I've talked to his mom and she doesn't know what's wrong. She says he's been taking his medication and that nothing is wrong at home, and I have no reason to not believe her. Indeed, I thought he had settled down since his suspension. Today, for example, he asked if he could come to my room during lunch to work on a project, and I said he could. I was waiting for him when my phone rang.

The lunch aide asked if I had given T permission to come to my room.

"Yes," I said. "Did he give you the note?"

He had, she explained, but he was also supposed to have detention. (Detention at my school means eating lunch in the main office with the secretaries or a school aide.) Was the project due tomorrow?

"I don't know," I said. "It's for another class. I just said he could come to my room if he needed a quiet place to work."

She deliberated for a minute or two and hung up. T never made it to my room. When he eventually returned for class in the afternoon, he was downcast and sullen. I knew he'd probably been upset that he couldn't work on his project and had probably gotten himself a few more days of detention.

Later, I asked how long T was supposed to be in lunch detention. The principal's secretary sighed. "How many days of school are left?" was her answer.

"How long has he been in?" I asked.

"Since before spring break."

Doesn't punishment kind of lose its effectiveness after, I don't know, a couple of days?

Also, am I wrong for kind of feeling bad for T?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A World Without Teacher's Choice

Inspired by Accountable Talk's post on Teacher's Choice, I want to imagine for a second where my classroom--and my budget--would be without it. No one is going to buy me bulletin board supplies, or art supplies for my eighth graders (I'm not an art teacher), or little prizes for good behavior, or what have you. And I can't compromise on this stuff. I'm lucky to teach some really expressive, artistic kids, and they LOVE to do arts-and-crafts-y things. This is not my thing, not at all, but I have been converted to the idea that arts-and-crafts-y things can be used to demonstrate really deep understanding of and engagement with literature. So I let my kids do them because they like them, I can grade them, they make my room look nice, and everyone is happy.

ANYWAY. So I'm guessing all the posterboard, markers, colored pencils, crayons, etc. are all on me next year. Or on the kids themselves, which is probably the only alternative--I simply can't spend hundreds of dollars that won't be reimbursed. There's still the $250 tax write off, I guess, but still, I always spend more than the tax deduction and Teacher's Choice combined.

Maybe the only way to do it is to put the costs back on the families, sad though it is. Many kids at my school can afford it--though certainly not all, and I'm aware that I'll have to continue to underwrite those costs. If only they knew how much it costs teachers to have all the little extras in the classroom--a classroom library that is updated a few times during the school year, art supplies, fun activity books, games, DVDs, etc.--maybe they would join us in telling the city that yanking Teacher's Choice is a crock.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Enlightening Conversations about the UFT's Most Dysfunctional Well-Intentioned Chapter

I would say that my school has the UFT's most dysfunctional but well-intentioned chapter for a number of reasons. I personally like my CL despite the fact that I think she has made some mistakes and I don't always agree with what she does in her role as CL. She is a nice person who has gone out on a limb for me, personally, and I honestly believe her when she says she wants to make some changes in how she manages things next year. I believe she earned my vote and I was happy to vote for her again for 2009-10, and I was pleased that she won the election.

That said.

Our chapter is in shambles. After the departure of our principal, who has had, as I have mentioned here before, something of a reputation for difficulty, everyone in the building wants to shake things up in some way. People who were never interested in anything union-related wanted to run for CL and delegate and join the CC--people who never bothered to attend so much as our chapter meetings, let alone attend anything else. I will admit that I am not the world's most engaged union member (at least not in a visible way), but I do regularly attend chapter meetings, even when I don't want to, and I'll send e-mails and make phone calls and what have you. Okay. And because I am not the world's most engaged union member, I think it would be fairly silly, at best, for me to run for any of those positions, but lo and behold, people far less engaged than myself are running for them. Silliness.

I had a conversation (hence this blog's title) with our current delegate today, a colleague I like and admire very much. We shall call him Mr. T. Mr. T is a fabulous teacher and person, and, as he is active in the leadership life of our school, I wanted to approach him about how to get more involved. I feel like a great many dictates come down from on high that I know nothing about and understand even less about, and I would like to be part of the conversations that form those decisions. I have no excuse for not being involved anymore; my instruction, grading, and classroom management are now slightly better than half-assed, and I'm not doing grad school anymore since I finished my M.S.Ed. and have no idea what I'd do another degree in. So SLTs and the like seem to be something I ought to get involved in. I figured Mr. T would know.

And he knew. Oh, did he know. More than I ever wanted to know. In a mere fifteen minutes, Mr. T filled me in on way more of the dirty dealings of committee memberships than I ever wanted to know. Did you know that Inquiry Team openings are supposed to be posted? You did? I didn't. They were never posted at my school. For the first time, I knew that you could express interest in being on the SLT and run for a position on it. I learned for the first time that anyone can show up to any SLT meeting and ask questions and bring up concerns. And I learned way more about the elections for CL and delegate than I ever could have imagined.

This quote from Tom Brokaw, which appeared in New York Teacher a while back, applies:

You've been told during your high school years and your college years that you are now about to enter the real world, and you've been wondering what it's like. Let me tell you that the real world is not college. The real world is not high school. The real world, it turns out, is much more like junior high. You are going to encounter, the rest of your life, the same petty jealousies, the same irrational juvenile behavior, the same uncertainty that you encountered during your adolescent years. That is your burden. We wish you well.