Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lost Souls and Accountability

Here's the thing about accountability-
It makes people accountable
And maybe that's not always a good thing..

If someone would give parent a score for parenting  Angelica's and Tom's parents would not be anywhere near the top of the list.

Angelica came to us  six years ago in ninth grade.  She and her two friends steadfastly refused to wear the school uniform to the great consternation of the assistant principal- earning them the nick name "Three the Hard Way."   One straightened out, one dropped out and Angelica kept drifting along, attending too many days to be discharged and not enough to make progress towards graduation. This year Angelica, with no help from the folks at home, decided she would take control and works things out herself.  She decided to transfer to a transfer school (hey- I don't make the names up).  I guess you can say a transfer school is a life boat for screw ups who want to turn it around and graduate. You can earn more credits and exit faster because - you earn credits faster.  (If it sounds like I don't get it- that's because I don't really). So Angelica transferred and then she got kicked out- because someone counted heads and figured out they didn't actually have a space for her.  So they made her a deal.  She should come back to our school, attend regularly and then in March she could transfer back to the transfer school since they would have room then.
Now that's the sticking point- Angelica doesn't attend regularly. She comes in from time to time and asks me to call Maury (another detail about transfer schools -they're on a first name basis) at the transfer school to see what's up.

So a few weeks ago I called and Maury said Angelica had to attend regularly if she was to be accepted. So she's come all the days we were open in February and today she made me call Maury again. I sold her- I told Maury she really needed to move on, she really needed the transfer school, she really is a sweet young woman.

And Maury's response.
Sweet was one thing but if she wasn't going to attend regularly, she wouldn't graduate and therefore ruin their graduation statistics. He needed proof she would attend regularly.

And then Tom came by.
Tom appeared last year in May.  He had left a school in Maryland in December, been assigned a school that didn't want him- oops- I mean didn't have appropriate services in February and actually showed up on our register in May.  He doesn't read very well, math is a mystery but somehow he passed history after attending for 17 school days.  (Again- I don't pretend to understand these things).

But he came to summer school. Where we worked on telling time on a analog clock, he showed me a picture of his hot Russian girlfriend, and one day confided that he was actually not really living anywhere.  I told the principal and she said something to the effect that we didn't have a social worker or guidance counselor in the summer program and we would deal with it in the fall.

He came in the fall for a few days and then moved to another relative's house in Brooklyn and disappeared again.

Then yesterday the principal called me in her office.  She had a transfer paper on her desk for Tom. "We can't take him back," she said.  He's nineteen, he has very few credits, we'll never be able to graduate him.

Yeah, we probably wouldn't be able to graduate him.  But maybe I could get him into the vocational training program like Louis.

Maybe there would be a place that actually wanted him.

But then there is our graduation statistic to worry about.

It gives us all something to worry about.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why teach?

So this was my day:
First period, ninth grade team teach algebra in the the algebra room.
Second period,sixth grade team team teach social studies in the science room.
Third period, lunch, in the Resource Room, and Elena came for help with her project.
Fourth period, resource room (really babysitting) with the self contained students who don't go to Spanish in the self contained classroom.
Fifth period another sixth grade social studies in the algebra room this time.
Sixth and seventh period science with the eighth grade in the science lab.
Eighth period I went to the bathroom- by myself.

Elena asked me if she could come for help during lunch. I knew it was going to be a hell day. But the algebra class had a project due on working wages and graphing and Elena got confused. Elena looked up the hourly wage of a kindergarten teacher and then graphed how much one would make as a teacher after working various number of hours. She needed just a bit of help figuring out the slope of the line. Elena is kind, and cooperative and enthusiastic. And grateful.

She reminds why I wanted to be a teacher.

According to, kindergarten teachers make $19 an hour.
Elena wants to be a kindergarten teacher.

Crazy day followed by a heated union meeting.
So many attacks on teachers, so much frustration. So much yelling.

Why would anyone still want to be a teacher?
I'm glad Elena still wants to be one.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Highs and Lows

So while I dived the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean, the Teacher Data Reports were released.

Okay so I promised not to make this a whiny, complaining blog, enough of those to go around, but still I couldn't let this one just slip by.

First of all I do not have a TDR. Although more than 80% of my career I worked in grades that were "reported," the three years the reports are based on - I did not.

Second of all, I read clips from a variety of sources and here is my summation of how the data reports are made. The city makes a prediction of how well the students in your class should do on their one day only, state tests. If the your students do better then they predicted you get a high score, if your students do worse you get a low score.

I resisted the urge to look at anyone's report- until I didn't.
I didn't find much interesting.
My husband came home and looked over my shoulder.
He noted that margin of error was 50%.

The news media made a big deal about them.
I thought it was pretty complicated to get through all the blather to the actual reports.
Will it make any difference in the end?

I don't know.
Why is it open season on teachers?

Teacher evaluations

Why We live in Fear of Having Our Evaluations Based on Standardized Tests;
From the sixth grade predictive- that's test speak for test that comes before the test.

What are the possible outcomes if you roll a fair six sided die?

Sixth graders answer: Heads or Tails.

The Lottery

There are some commercials I can watch over and over. I am always partial to ones for Capital Credit Cards with the pillaging, banking Vikings. No matter how many times they get their Viking ship stuck in the drive through banking window- I find it funny.

And then there are commercials that have a punch line that is only a moderate hoot. After the first time the hoot decreases to a ha, and by the tenth time I'm reaching for the remote as soon as I hear the opening strains of the jingle.

The ninth grade English class is on the short story unit. I'm starting to think short stories are a lot like commercials. Very few withstand the over and over and over again test. "Thank you Mam." by Langston Hughes might be one of them. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is not.

I remember being horrified the first time I got to the end. I remember thinking what was Jackson thinking? It was in the late '60's, I was in junior high school. We had all read “Life Among the Savages,” Jackson's homage to life in the suburbs in the glory years of the second half of the twentieth century. We were all children of the years of station wagons, backyards and prosperity, Years later, I read that Jackson's literary reminisce might just have been a rather rosy version of perhaps a less idealistic “perfect post war family
But I digress. The first time I read the Lottery the ending shocked me

The twentieth time, I read it with the ninth grade last week- I was reaching for the remote. But wait- that doesn't work for short stories.
The co-teacher, the licensed English teacher who chooses the literature we read, suggested it was one of the best stories in English Literature.

I am getting more mature- I didn't disagree publicly
Then he told them there would be a test when they finished reading it.

So for the next ten minutes I watched the blank faces, I listened to the papers shuffle, I smelled nothing not the raw smell of horror in adolescents who have had already had the PE class for the day.

When the teacher suggested it was time for the quiz I suggested we ask just one question.

Raise your hand if you think the Lottery is a good thing.
Every hand rose.

I didn't think they actually read it.

So to borrow the Robert Rule's of Order Terminology (hey I was at the Union Meeting this week) I motivated the question.

I read parts aloud. I had the main teacher read parts aloud.
And then I sent them off to read the ending themselves.

The silence was palpable.
I watched the jaws drop.

And then Cherina, Ms. Flat Affect herself, looked up and said,
“That's just whack- Ms.Teacherfish, that's just whack.

I still don't like the story. I still don't think it stands the test of time.

I still think it tries to universalize the horror of the atrocities of the Holocaust by transposing it into an idealized rural village.

But that's just my opinion.
The ending still packs a punch- if you've never read it before.

And the teacher forces you to get through it.

Thinking on the Plane

I wrote this February 17, on the plane to vacation destination. Then I didn't have internet service for a week:

I understand anxiety. I checked my bag before I left the house. I made sure I had my passport, my cell phone, my wallet, my gambling money (stashed safely away from the rest of the wallet). And then I did it again. And then I checked in the car just in case all those things had been stolen from my bag by bad travel spirits between the house and the car that was parked in the driveway.

But I am on the plane now and everything is still with me. I know I just checked.

Louis had an appointment,today, with the psychologist who was doing the assessment for the vocational office. We looked at the travel directions on the sheets the doctor had sent us. I called the doctor to get even more specific directions, pass the Fed Express office, cross the street where the CVS drugstore is and walk past the pizzeria. We went over it three times. And then I had the bright idea to open Google Earth- we zoomed in, we zoomed out. We looked at the street level views of the store the doctor told us about. We looked at the turrets on the fake regency buildings across from the CVS and then we practiced crossing the street-virtually. Then Louis copied down the web address of Google Earth so he could go home and look at the website.

Louis called from the Doctor's office. “I'm here Ms. Teacherfish.” I got to the office an hour early. I did everything we practiced.

I want to say I breathed a sigh of release. But truth to be told, I got caught up in the busy day and had forgotten all about his appointment. I told him I was glad he was there safe and I was I proud he did it all be himself.

The psychologist got on the phone. He asked me a little about Louis. He wondered if he was anxiety prone. I told the doctor, that sometimes Louis's fixation on things gets on people's nerves, and some people find him very annoying to deal with. But me I like him very much, anxiety and all.

Got to end here. Got to make sure my cell phone, my passport, my wallet are still in my bag. You never know – they could disappear from under the seat in front of me while the plane is in flight.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lazy Sunday morning.
Michele Rhee documentary on Bloomberg TV. Good for a laugh? or aggravation before the morning coffee?

Surprisingly it was more balanced than I had imagined. There is the part where Geoffry Canada blames the AFT for Mayor Fenty's re-election defeat and Joel Klein gets entirely too much time for someone who has absolutely nothing to say but there are little clips made by people whose names I woefully can't include (due to my terrible memory for names and lack of ambition to get out of bed and find a pencil). One reporter spoke about about spending election day at one school in the middle of DC. The school had made significant improvement during the Rhee years. If anywhere Rhee support should have be earned it was there. Yet the reporter noted, that every parent he interviewed during the election day made getting Rhee out of the role of Chancellor a priority in their voting choice.

But the best line (again unattributed- until I do some research) was: Rich people love Michele Rhee.

I am punished. My seniors didn't do well on those oh-so-important-to-our-data-report Regents Exams. (Forget the impact it has on their lives)

So now I am teaching sixth grade social studies. Ancient Egypt- the city of New York has not one but two of the world's best Ancient Egypt collections, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum. We should take a trip. We could walk through a real Temple and sketch a real mummy. Talk about your primary sources?

But- wait - no! Not before the state exams. There will be no trips before state exams. Too much test prep to squeeze in.

The New York Times ran an article about the achievement gap widening between rich and poor.

I can tell you why. If you walk through the Ancient Egypt collections at either museum you will see the students from the private schools and the rich suburbs sketching the mummies, walking through the temple. But where are the NYC public school students?

In the classroom.

Doing test prep.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Negative IQ tests and other Rocket Scientist

Faith bent over. i could see the mahogany cheeks poking out from the khaki uniform pants. But what caught my eye was the the words on the belt. I caught IQ test, but then it bent around to the front of her.

"Come over here, Faith, just what does your belt say?"

"I don't know. Teacherfish- there are mad words on it."

And she lifted her shirt slightly and revealed I took an IQ test and the results came back negative.

Moral of the story: If you can't read the words on the belt- you probably shouldn't buy it.

"Pull your shirt down, Faith."

"Okay - Teacherfish.

Another Rocket Scientist

I marched up the four flights.
I took off the headphones, the gloves, the purse and the coat.
I hung up the headphones, the gloves, the purse and the coat.
And locked the locker.
Then I noticed my lock on the desk.
Whose lock is on the locker?
Who knows?
Not mine.
Not one I know the combination to.

I am home in my nice warm house.
But the coat the gloves, headphones and purse are locked safely in school.
Hopefully the custodian will clip the lock tomorrow.

So now whose IQ test is coming back negative?