Thursday, June 5, 2014

Common Core BS

Sam,  George and Eduardo entered the room.  They folded the bodies honed on weight lifting and hoop shooting into the one armed classroom chairs designed for people honed on classroom instruction and studying.  Nonetheless they squeezed into three chairs  in a row.

I moved them (unwillingly) around.  I collected cell phones.  I gave out sharpened number two pencils.  I read a long pink sheet about electronic devices.  The long pink sheet is required reading.  It uses terms like beepers and PDAs, archaic terms for the cell phone age but no one questioned me and anyway the cell phones where already tucked into plastic bags with printed identification. Yes NYC does not allow cell phones in school.  No one wants to use that argument, though when being asked to pay for a lost cell phone.

For  three hours, I stood by the over- sized windows, the kind that were put into large community high schools in an age when one electric bulb needed to be supplemented with the sunlight that poured through ten foot high windows.  The school building crests a hill surrounded by a community of row houses interspersed with Old Victorians that once housed the workers for the mills and the factories that dotted the neighborhood.  The elevator train brought waves of European immigrants into the neighborhood to work those jobs.  The high school educated their children and sent them out to work those jobs too.

The El train still rumbles through.  The mills and factories have closed.  The European immigrants have moved on and have been replaced by immigrants from South America and Southeast Asia. And the high school stills tries to educate their children.  But with no mill and  factory jobs we are charged with making them college ready.

We are told that Common Core Standards is the way to do this.  Make the standards rigorous.  Then develop exams aligned with these highly rigorous standards.  (By develop - I mean purchase) Then administer the tests.

And so this week,  I entered the age of Common Core testing.  I have too much invested in retiring from my job without problems, to go into too much detail about the content of the test.  Pearson doesn't want us sharing. But suffice it to say I was familiar with the authors of the texts used.  I have consistently scored in upper 90% of literacy exams my entire life, and yet I am not sure  I would have gotten the majority of the questions correct.

It did not matter that I did not allow Sam, George and Eduardo to sit next to each other.  Within the first ten minutes Sam was reporting out loud that this was bullshit.   I told him to do the best he could. I told him to be quiet.  Another ten minutes passed and everyone was asking when they could leave.
In an hour's time Sam and George began conversing.  They weren't talking about the test, they had no idea what was on the test. They couldn't read it.  I had no choice but to get a dean in.  They wouldn't quiet for the dean.  He called for the head of testing.  She threatened to call the principal.  Now  George panicked.   "Stop acting so special ed", he told Sam. The head of testing removed  Eduardo who was pressing on despite the noise,  to a quieter room.  The dean left.  With George out of the discussion Sam went back to work.  Then it was possible to  leave.  Sam handed in his test, George handed in his test, Eduardo came back to our room to hand in his test.

"Do you want to finish it here, it's quiet now?"  I asked.

"No," Eduardo answered. He was late for an appointment with his parole officer.

It is a meaningless test.  We are not counting it for promotion, graduation requirements or anything else.  The rationale for giving it was to see what work we need to do.

And I suppose,  when the test results are released to the press, with no indication of what the test actually looked like, to report how badly we are doing educating children.

The El train will bring these children out of the neighborhood of closed mills and factories, past the gentrifiying neighborhoods of Brooklyn to Manhattan.  There they can compete for jobs with the purchasers of new high-rise condominiums and warehouse turned lofts because the higher standards will force us to be better teachers and them better learners, they will be able to compete in the global market.  It least that's what I am told.

Or they won't.

Sam was right.
This is bullshit.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mine's Bigger Than Yours, or size really does matter

Someone left a worksheet with a diagram of the male reproductive system on the resource room table.  That’s not weird.  Someone leaves something on the table- everyday:  anything from  listing the causes, events and  impact of the French Revolution to finding the intersection  of the locus of a point and a line, to the conjugation of irregular Spanish verbs.  My job, besides being able to be able to immediately recall, explain and facilitate the answers (simultaneously for everyone) is to be able to make sure your homework gets back in your bag, so you can produce it when the teacher asks for it).
I picked up the biology worksheet and asked several people if it was their penis.
A few just said no.   Then I asked Angel.

Angel:  “Nope, I have a much larger one.”

Me,:  “Uh- too much information for me, Angel.”

Angel:  “No- miss, I didn’t mean it that way- I have a much larger diagram in my notebook.”

Me: “Go home Angel, have a good weekend.” (I would have liked to add you and your penis, but I understand boundaries, and have a significant pension to keep.)

The worksheet got filed with all unclaimed worksheets, in the circular file.  It will rest there comfortably with the  causes of the French Revolution,  the conjugated verbs and the intersection of a circle and a line- until the night janitor empties the garbage.

PS:  As I typed the last sentence I couldn't help but make off-color connections with all the topics listed above, from the proletariat being screwed to conjugal verbs to the proverbial hand signal where the index finger from one hand intersects the circle created with the thumb and index finger of the other.

Too much information?

You try being surrounded by teenage hormones all day and see how you start to think.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Effective or Not?

David wouldn't move his seat.  It didn't matter that the assistant principal was in the room.  It didn’t matter that her pen was poised above the pad, ready to make all the low inference observations required to give her evidence to rate me ineffective, developing or effective.

David doesn't like me much.  He has had the misfortune to be assigned to my resource room four semesters in a row.  If I understood at all how the programming office works I would figure out exactly what the probability of that is.  Just for starters there are about 100 students in the school that are assigned to one out of eleven resource rooms with six different teachers.  This school doesn't consider grouping students together based on need or grade level, unless you consider which period is most available in your program a need, so I imagine the chance of being assigned to any one teacher repeatedly,  is extremely low.  But David has “crapped out” to a use a gambling term, four times. 
I have a fondness for the blog Math=Love, where an incredibly young, incredibly talented math teacher writes about all things to do with high school math.  In one blog post she states that she understands probability way too well to ever choose to go gambling.  I applaud her sentiments.  I choose to go gambling a lot.
David is a hard-working dedicated student, who often appears to be quite bright.  But he can’t read well.  Though I have seen official reports with his grade level as high as seventh grade, my assessments always show that he misreads (as in reads the wrong word, or leaves it out altogether)  about 40% of the time for  material written on a middle school level.  He earns good grades.  The teachers like him.  He works hard.
But I have spoken to him too many times about his reading disability.  He won’t work with me. Everyone, his father, the school psychologist, the teacher from the same country as his parents (he was born here) and the assistant principal have tried to speak with him, but he remains aloof.
Actually he hates me.
The assistant principal was ready to observe the goings on of our little resource room.  I had things set up, all I needed to do was sit down next to the group working on the Algebra Regents. But David had the seat I needed and he wouldn't move. 
I asked him nicely, I bribed him under my breath, I shifted the table.
didn't have the time to consult the rubric.  What would a highly effective teacher do? (I suppose highly effective teachers don’t have students that hate them).
Finally, exasperated, I told David, I was going to get some papers and if he wasn't gone from the seat when I returned to the spot, I was going to sit on his lap and sing.
Maybe?  He moved.
Yesterday I got the rated observation back. 
All categories were rated effective.  I am either very good or very lucky.  Most likely a little of the first, more of the second, many people have shown me much less favorable rating sheets.
“Your classroom is structured, routines are obvious and you relate to your students with kindness and humor.”
I survive the rating miasma another year.
Effective- I have my personal doubts, I still can’t get David to work with me on reading skills.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What is quality? Green bagels, shopping carts and plastic porn stars

Monday was St. Patrick's Day.  I found a green sweater at 
the bottom of my closet and the assistant principal served green bagels.  It was the high point of the week. The rest of the week was the dreaded quality review.  I am not sure that the whole experience  has anything to do with quality or even review for that matter. 

But they think it does  The powers that be, come in and measure our quality- with a rubric.

It has a lot to do with how things look.  So we spent a lot of time putting up bulletin boards with their own rubrics.  When we were finished with the bulletin boards someone suggested we decorate our classroom doors with information from the college we attended.  Upon request, a school aide came around and wrapped the entire door with bulletin board backing  paper in the color of our choice and then we were supposed to make the door both attractive and filled with useful  information.  Not having my own classroom, I was spared. The young resource room teacher who struggles hard to figure out what to teach, filled the door with three dimensional bumble bees (It least it started out 3D, the fan- folded wings, that protruded from the door were plucked from the bodies of the poor bumble bees throughout the week). Apparently bumble bees were the mascot of the California college she attended (one can only imagine how useful that information was to immigrant NYC students who could barely afford living at home and attending the local community college).

I  was being my negative self about the whole door situation to one of the math teachers.  I was pontificating about how smaltzing up the hallways before  the reviewers  came, hardly indicated that there was any quality to be reviewed.

"Sure, he said but didn't we all decorate our houses for the holidays?," he asked.

I never decorate my house for the holiday.  Not my tradition.  And does a decorated door indicate a thriving, happy family behind the colored lights?

It is my tradition to acknowledge the holidays .  The cashier at the supermarket noted that my shopping cart contained the triangular cookies for the Jewish holiday of Purim as well as corn beef and cabbage. I was being negative at the supermarket as well and had complained to the manager that, it was impossible to find a cart in the parking lot but upon finally locating one I filled it with multicultural calories-  which raised my blood sugar.  And I would have forgotten all about the shopping cart hunt, had not some  kid stopped me in the hall on Monday and told me I got him trouble. 

"I don't even know you'" I responded.
"But you told the manager there were no shopping carts left in the parking lot." he said, "and its my job to collect them."

I found a  New York Times piece, The Story of Bridie and Mo on the opinion page., I am still not sure what the writer's opinion was, (I guess I don't meet the Common Core Standards for close reading), but I liked the writing and it certainly was at least as St Patricky as green bagels.

We read through the piece in resource room.  It spoke of the neighborhood in Dublin, what had long been a sooty, rundown port of 19th-century warehouses had become one of the most modern and desirable neighborhoods in Europe — all luxury apartments and upscale hotels bathed in theatrical lighting, a glossy prairie of glass and steel. "It could have been Redhook, in Brooklyn, Donna smiled, she liked shopping there.   The writer goes on to describe the doll house, the six year old gypsy girls were building. Jose  liked the line,a mattress on the ground with a naked Barbie doll lying facedown in the middle of it, like a porn star down on her luck. I liked the word describing the brisk wind, skirling in from the sea.  I don't even know if skirling is a word but if the New York Times printed it....

Perhaps the piece was about the contrast between the have and have nots when Ireland was in boom years, perhaps it was about the loss of those boom years to Ireland.

Perhaps I should figured it all out before I shared it.  But maybe good writing isn't always about making your point in five paragraphs, with a clearly supported claim, three paragraphs of supporting evidence, and convincing succinct summary. Maybe good writing is about made up words and metaphors that link naked plastic toys to porn stars. Maybe quality can't always be measured by a rubric and a checklist.

The week ended.  The reviewers left.  They will deliver a verdict. Will it change our future- who knows?

Friday morning, the Resource Room teacher in the other room was discussing Russia, Ukraine and the Crimea. Evan, wanted to know why they got to discuss the Ukraine and we read articles about Irish Gypsies.  Evan felt like he had skin in the game, he had already enlisted in the army.  

We were only a little bit into the discussion of that whole mess when the bell rang.
I guess I need to find something to read about that part of the world tomorrow.  

Maybe quality isn't always that easy to measure.
Its hard to know what it really is. Its hard to figure out how one really provides a quality education.

Its much easier to just paste the wings back on the bumble bees.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

May I have your attention please?

Do I have your attention?

I had the attention of the second period resource group when I said it.

Two sections of resource students crowd into our little room, second period.  I don't mind.  I kind of like it,  The other resource room teacher is the Dean/basketball coach.  I haven't actually collected hard data, but it certainly seems like his presence has decreased rudeness, disrespect, and general ennui.

It still gets a little noisy.  Friday, the semester was in full swing.  We were in the process of completing a whole week without a major snow event, something that hadn't happened all winter- and looks not to be in the cards for next week.  Everyone had assignments or tests and the level of concern which had been hovering around none at all, was raised.  Jose was trying to study for a math test- I don't know what Jose learned, but I learned the Spanish word for slope- pendiente-, Jennifer was working on a worksheet on intersecting planes, (which involved every cardboard box in the room) and B.J. was revising the beginning of an essay on Dracula.

Not exactly an essay, he had to respond to a piece of literary criticism, that claimed Dracula was a "reflection and rebuke of Victorian society." He had to explain how reading the essay would help understand the novel.
Which B.J. found hard to do, even after looking up what rebuke meant, three times. B.J. was frustrated

The group kicked in.

Evan and Christy had had his English Teacher last semester and assured him she thought she was teaching college.  Nina, who spent the last snow day, learning all about denial of rights, was able to explain satisfactorily what the Women's Suffrage Movement was about, Jennifer happily pushed aside the rectangular prisms, (tissue and shoe boxes) and rephrased the definition of rebuke. Jose took the opportunity to practice reading English aloud, read the beginning paragraph and did something, he hardly ever does; he asked for the meaning of a phrase.

"What is a chastity belt? Miss," 

So I told him, "its what men, usually husbands or fathers, put around women so a man can't get to her vagina."

Now, I've taken lots of courses on effective classroom management.  I've learn to say, "when you hear my voice, clap three times."  I've been told to hold two finger up.  I've read that lowering my voice to a whisper, works better than raising it to a yell.

What no one ever told me was that if you say the word,vagina, once, fairly loudly.  Everyone stops, looks and listens.

I mean everyone, even the students on the dean/basketball coach's side of the room.

I don't know if years of experience gives me the ability to manage a class effectively.  I don't know if all those years give me confidence, I don't even know if it makes me not care about getting in trouble, but I can tell you when a chubby, middle aged women says vagina loudly, people listen.

Now that everyone was focused on B.J., we could get his answer done.  Jennifer, helped him unjangle his thoughts and compose complete sentences.  Evan assured him which catch phrases, high expectations, teacher was looking for,Christy spelled Victorian and Nina helped Jose graph lines with different slopes so I could help B.J.

And then the bell rang, everyone was off to the next class.  We didn't even get real chance to discuss how one urinates wearing a chastity belt- though the question was raised. Its supposed to snow again on Monday, so school will be open or closed but either way there will be no crowds.  I suppose the whole thing will be forgotten by the time we are all together again.

Until the next time I need their attention.

Vagina, vagina, vagina.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Beautiful Day

Thursday was a beautiful day.

I know that because the new chancellor of schools told us so.

On the other side of the Resource Room a group of teachers gathered to watch the the news conference where she and the mayor defended their decision  to open schools. I was on the business end of the Resource Room.  Nina had a ten page paper to write and snow or no snow we had no time to waste, (but more about that later).

I spent a restless night, checking my phone for  the school closed text that never came. By 6:30 am I was on to the bus, where the bus driver explained how hard it used to be to drive the route on snowy days, and how his first wife didn't even care about how stressed he was when he got home.  The new buses, had more gears, and chains on the wheels and we made it straight up the icy hill in record time, since there was no one waiting on the bus stops to delay our progress.

The new chancellor and new mayor who have been in office for exactly 6 weeks and who  had to make their fourth decision on calling a snow day,  explained why they opted to open school.  The transportation was running, Macy's was open, and at the exact moment the news conference was being held it had stopped snowing.  Which in the chancellor's opinion, qualified for a beautiful day.

Al Roker, our local weatherman, turned national weather man, was half a world a way in Sochi covering the winter Olympics.  Apparently, his daughter, who attends the high school of Fame, (the movie) fame- which is an authentic, if not typical New York City high school, was not.   In Sochi the weather was 66 degrees, Katerina Witt, was reporting in a bathing suit from the beach because in fact, there it was a beautiful day.  Those of us, like Al Roker's daughter who were  stuck back in New York City were wearing far more clothing and Al was mad that schools were open.

Al Roker criticized the mayor, the mayor criticized Al Roker, it snowed some more over night.  And Friday the schools were open again.

But this is a story about Nina and her ten page paper.  Which was why I had to go to the other side of the Resource Room and tell them to keep it down- some of us were working.

Nina failed social studies last semester.  I had become increasingly concerned that Nina was depressed as the semester wore on.  Her usually ebullient attitude had soured and she refused more often than not, to let me help her do anything.  I called the appropriate offices, I called her aunt, I tried to talk with her and nothing seemed to help. She failed  gym and social studies and  the college counselor refused to take her application to the community college.

With the new term underway, she began to wake up.  I helped her get some assignments typed, and met with her aunt for the annual conference.  And she began to perk up a bit.

 Why, she wanted to know, did everyone ask her if she was okay? Nina asked me during the conference.

"Maybe," cause you don't act okay.
"After my mother died, people always asked me if I was okay," she continued.  "why would they ask me that, I held my mother's hand when she died and promised I would be okay."

I would have spent the next period, crying but the assistant principal kept calling and telling me to get the paper finished, faxed and filed.  I dried my eyes and brought it up to the assistant principal.

I told her the story, as I handed it in, like Nina, I felt a bit better after talking about it, I left the assistant principal's office as she reached for the tissues.

Nina negotiated with the social studies teacher.  He assigned a ten page paper on how some groups have been traditionally denied their right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,"   and the movements, and laws that were the results of such discrimination. Nina had one week to research it and write it.   Nina reads and writes with speed and accuracy of dyslexic who has not caught a lot of breaks in life.  While the rest of the school played staff- student basketball games, watched new conferences and generally complained about being in school on what should have been a snow day Nina and I slogged through the paper.

We had nine pages done at the end of the day.  And together we finished the bag of chocolate I had brought in for Valentine's Day.  The assistant principal offered me a ride home, but I was busy talking to the guidance counselor about why he thought I should develop a strategy to have Nina learn how to write the paper on her own, without my help,  so I missed my ride.

I took the bus home.  Strangely enough, same bus driver as the morning ride picked me up.  Another uneventful ride, this time even easier since it was downhill, and now raining instead of snowing.  His second wife worries about him, he assured me, he called her at the end of every run.

That's the moral of the story, isn't it?
Bus driving, paper writing and navigating life is much easier when someone worries about you.
Even on a snowy day.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Siri Takes a Midterm

Siri was doing pretty well on the midterm review.
Yeah the Iphone Siri.
True- we’re still not supposed to allow students to use their cell phones in class. Hey- the city discipline code says they’re not even allowed to have them in school. 
I read in a blog this weekend, that a teacher, I like to follow, had decided she was going to confiscate them when she saw them.  I am not sure about her reality, but I live in one where the sentence “Let me have your cell phone,” works about as well as, “Scotty beam me up.”
So most of the time I just beg students to put them away before the roving assistant principal comes around and then student and me are both in trouble.  But the assistant principal’s 97 year old mother  died, and Friday morning was the funeral- so she and the other administrators were otherwise occupied.
I had not planned to give a mid-term to the self- contained class. Of course -that is in direct contradiction to everything I’ve heard in this week’s professional development about rigor and parallel curriculum - but so what?   I figured I had to give a test at some point, but I hadn’t actually gotten around writing one when I opened my email on Monday and saw a note from the assistant principal of the special education department,  that we needed to bring our midterms to her office to be filed.   I planned to ignore it, but by Wednesday I decided I would cobble one together.  Then as long as I was writing a midterm, I would write a midterm review sheet. 
Friday morning I gave out the review. Most of the students, I am happy to report, went through our attempt at an interactive notebook and  perused their foldables for the answers.  But not Darian.  Darian joined the class late and doesn’t come to school that often.  It interferes with his selling marijuana business.  Darian often tells me he makes more in week than I do in a month.  I have no way  knowing but he does have a much better phone than me.  Siri was most cooperative, and generally faster than even the most complete of the interactive notebooks.
“Siri, what is a complementary angle pair?”  Siri responded immediately that it was a pair of angles that added to 90 degrees, and threw in a picture for good measure?
“Siri, how do you find the slope of a line when given two coordinate points?”  Siri returned  the slope formula with instructions on how to implement it within seconds?”
Darian did encounter difficulties when he asked for the definition  of a linear pair?  He couldn’t get Siri to understand his pronunciation of linear.  Siri kept coming back with some information about ears.
Okay- so I understand that what a good teacher would have done – would have been to tell him to put his cell phone away and use the resources in the room, but I was caught up in the efficacy of his plan.

“Why don’t you ask, what’s the meaning of life?”  I suggested. 
Darian did.  Siri told us that was a good question, maybe the ultimate question, but didn’t get more detailed than that.
Back to the worksheet.
By the end of the period, Darian had completed the sheet. Pretty accurately I might add. 
The other self-contained geometry teacher stopped by my room later in the day.  She had administered the exam and was depressed by the outcome.
“I don’t know what the point is?” she asked.  I go over the same thing over and over and over and over again, and they still don’t remember it.”
I know how she feels.  I feel the same way. I’m frustrated too, why do we teach geometry to people who can’t tell time on an analog clock?  If you can’t manipulate a ruler and a compass do you really need to know the triangle sum theorem?
We are told that with the right amount of rigor, high expectations and multiple entry points we should be great geometry teachers.
But can that really be true?
I don’t know---maybe I should just go ask Siri.

(or maybe we should just be replaced by Siri, she never got frustrated even, when Darien  could not pronounce linear!)

We’ll see how Darian does on the exam tomorrow.  The assistant principal is back from the mourning period. He’ll have to put the cell phone away.