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.