Monday, October 28, 2013

Who's Afraid?

 Simon needed  to throw something out.   That should not be hard except the Resource Room is its own separate obstacle course.  By the time Simon reached the door which separates the second half of our half of a standard -sized classroom, from the first, he was focused on finding the garbage can on the other side of the partition so I  needed to point out that he actually had his toe pushed into the one on our  side.

"That's a garbage can,"   I pointed out, "tomorrow I will teach you what a desk is,"
and  then I remember that the new evaluation says that only ineffective teachers use sarcasm.

So I explain that I should not say that since there is this new way to rate teachers.
Of course this is interpreted as a new way to rape  teachers.

Which allows Simon to give his opinion on how he would rate teachers, which had nothing to do with   Danielson's Framework for effective teaching.

Whoa!!!  "Just throw out the paper Simon!"

Which might actually have happened, except that at that moment the assistant principal got on the system announcing a soft lockdown.

I have no idea what makes it soft, but it means that now the teacher from the other Resource Room squeezes in with us and we try to find a place which  is not near any windows or doors.  (Now there's a mathematical question for you - in a 10 foot by 6 foot room with one wall of super big windows and the opposite one a glass partition, where do ten people find a sheltered spot?)

So for the next ten minutes  we huddle  (okay- we squish)  together and discuss what makes a good teacher,   Simon and Bernardo likes the math teacher who is very strict- but everyone learns math, Francesca likes the ESL social studies teacher who is very kind, but you learn a lot anyway.  The other teacher worries that we deal with a lot of kids with a lot of issues who may rate us badly, because negativity is just their thing.

Me --  I am not afraid of negativity, big plate glass windows in the middle of an emergency, maybe, but negative students- I'll take my chances.

And then the soft lock down is over.   We go back to the table to work.

Later the assistant principal reminds me that during soft lock downs, we are supposed to remain silent.

Oops - another way I'm ineffective.

Its a good thing I'm immune to negativity.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Early Bird or Worm

Teacherkarp and I were driving to school. The sky was not even tinged with orange. A good half hour remained before the sun would peak over the horizon.  Never one to miss the opportunity to use a cliche I said:

"The early bird catches the worm."

(Or in our case the best parking space.)

But Teacherkarp pointed out that was reason enough for any self-preserving worm, to pull the fallen-leaf covers back over her head and wait for the early bird to be sated with those creatures foolish enough to be early risers.

Everything in life is perspective.  Our school day starts at 8:00 am.  There was discussion about making the start time 9:00 am but that would bring the ending time  close to 4:00 pm, a time when teachers who commute back to the suburbs would be caught in lots of rush hour traffic.

So we complain loudly, that our students don't make it to first period on time. (We are the early birds- they are the cautious worms)

I survived another open school night (my sixtieth by my count - two a year for thirty years).  My Facebook page and blog roll are filled with stories of touching moments, I consider any night no one cries (especially me) a victory.

The night before, Mr. Teacherfish and I had dinner at a local diner. Mr. Teacherfish reported having worked that day at a sight which allowed him to watch planes pass so close that he could see clearly the names of the airlines - Air Emirates, Swiss Air, Air Afrique.  As I watched the world of our insignificant neighborhood from the glass plate windows of the diner, I thought of the passengers on those planes and wondered how little our mutual lives intersected as they flew over on the way to the International Airport.

I thought how much less true  this is during open school night, I am told of  homes lost in the hurricane, anxiety attacks, lead poisoning and family deaths.  I take it all in and the next day I'm teaching the distance formula and the relationship between angles again, just the same as before. That's what they tell us to do.  Teach content-rigorously.

And yet like parallel lines and a transversal, our lives do intersect.  My friends on Facebook and other blogs prove we do matter. (My personal impact this year involved time and energy spent in the programming and placement office trying hard to untangle bureaucratic messes- hardly the grist for moving Facebook posts)

The day after open school night I find myself back in yet another classroom before the sun rises.  I quickly stow my personal belongings under the desk, lock the door and run to make copies.
And when I return to the classroom the belongings are gone.  The panic rises, no keys to open my house door, no wallet or money to take a bus home.  And then my co-teacher asks me why he saw my coming out of our next door neighbor's classroom.  I go next door.  There is my stuff- hidden under his desk.

Too many classrooms for this old teacherfish,  Perhaps I need to be the cautious earthworm and crawl back to safety until the early birds have all flown away and I can remember in which room  I actually teach first period.

My students wouldn't mind.  They'd love a few more hours of sleep.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Highly Effective Teaching and the Circus

Our small learning community group was discussing the Danielson Framework.  What a surprise. That's all we ever do.  The facilitator (or teacher leader as it says on our table of organization)  was making a pitch for having an honest, worthwhile discussion, not an easy thing to accomplish in any situation but a when the members feel bamboozled into being there....

 Last year joining our small learning community group had no loopholes, so there were about thirty members.  This year there are all sorts of loopholes, including the one that says those who have to do Special Education paperwork don't have to join one- unless of course -you're me.

I have lots of special education paperwork, but I am a teacher leader so somehow I have to be in one. (If that sounds impressive, just remember that the only result  I notice is I lose the period I am supposed to have to do all that paperwork- I don't lose having to do the paperwork I am still responsible for it.)

And I get to make stupid pleas for having honest, worthwhile discussions.

One member (whose real name is so appropriate for symbolic use as a substitute metaphor- that I cannot come up with a better replacement) suggested it was not fair that some people got to do hall and lunch duty while we have to sit around and discuss our teaching practice.

I have a student in the hospital awaiting a liver transplant.  She is sixteen years old.
Is that fair?
Life is not fair.
I do not say that.

I press on.

We examine the examples of highly effective classrooms in regard to behavior practices.
Classroom interactions between the teacher and students are highly respectful, relfecting genuine warmth, caring and sesitivity to the students as individuals.  Students exhibit respect for the teacher and contribute to high levels of civility among all members of the class - Danielson 

I got to thinking if I ever got there in a thirty year career.

Once long ago in a place far away I taught a grade school class. The students were all children of recent immigrants with serious enough learning disabilities to be placed in a self contained special education program. (Currently standards have changed and students with similar profiles probably would be in an inclusion program- but whether or not that's a good thing is story for another day.)

There was a chemistry to that class that made it special. I got assigned jury duty and met a man who sponsored the program that gave free tickets for the circus to handicapped children. I had never been able to obtain those tickets before- my students just didn't appear “sad” enough- but there was a benefit from sitting -unselected- in the jury pool for three days.

Our school bus got stuck in a Manhattan traffic jam on 34th Street and 5th Avenue. Julian leaned forward and explained to me that we could walk to Madison Square Garden in a few minutes. Julian was ten, how he knew that- I didn't I want to know but I am not above taking advice from ten year olds. We arranged our pickup and walked west. I stood on Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street directly across from the Garden and asked a cop how to enter. I had a complicated set of directions that explicitly explained where we should line up – but we saw no lines on Seventh Avenue.

The cop asked me if I had arrived from Iowa just that day (along with ten -ten year olds with the variation of skin tones only a class made up of recent world-wide immigrants could possess). The entrance to the Garden was directly across. We held hands, crossed the avenue, rode the elevator up and were suddenly ringside. Madison Square Garden was empty. The circus people took the kids on elephant rides around the ring.

The arena filled slowly throughout the next two hours. I found out later, that the intricately detailed instructions- the cop had me ignore- created long lines along Eighth Avenue and Madison Square Garden was filled at the rate one would expect it would take to process ten thousand “handicapped” children- one school bus at a time.

What kind of teacher takes ten special education kids off a school bus in the middle of a Manhattan traffic jam(on the advice of a ten year old)?

Maybe one who thinks the classroom interactions between the teacher and students are highly respectful, reflecting genuine warmth, caring and sensitivity to the students as individuals..

Or maybe one who is just crazy.

For at least one moment in my life I really trusted the class community relationship. And it paid off- in elephant rides.

Will I ever have that again? There are moments I think it is possible- like Thursday morning when I was teaching the distance formula to some students with less than stellar reputations for academic and social performance. All hell was breaking out in the hallway, screaming, cursing, security whistles, but we continued to work even as the crashing against the wall shook the green board we precariously perch on a desk, to use as a projector screen. Nobody would have video-taped that moment to post on the practices of highly effective teachers website. But I count it as a victory.

I asked our skeptical small learning community how often they felt they reached the point where the atmosphere of their classes reflect the one described in the framework.

Almost all, claimed to be at that point currently.

Me- I wish I was always there, but I can only know I reached that level once, a long time ago when I sat ring-side watching the elephants trot my students around the circus ring.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Riddle me this

Here's a riddle my seven year-old friend told me.

A man runs 90 feet then turns to his left.  He runs another 90 feet and  turns left again.  He does it one more time and then runs home.  Two men with masks  are standing there,  What are their jobs?

I like to use this riddle when we start our unit on quadrilaterals.  If you don't know the answer-I will put the answer at then end of the post.  But the next section should be pretty much the clue that gives it away.

Its baseball season around here.  Not MLB, the Mets had a characteristically bad year, and the Yankees an uncharacteristically bad one, so no one is following the playoffs  too closely.  What people are following is the baseball tryouts.  I think I've said put your glove away almost as often as "put your phone away."

The skill level range from Carlos in the inclusion class who is convinced he will be captain to Bobby who really wants to get there but not sure  he can make it (to the field, not the team).  Dan said it was okay if Juan followed him to the field but he was going to go fast so Juan had to keep up.  Juan wasn't worried. Dan was wearing the neon blue baseball team pants .   They're not in the same  class as Bobby,  I couldn't find Bobby- he would have to find the coach. Just for the record the field the team practices in is not some emerald pasture behind the school.  Its a bus ride away in a city park.  So much  pressure.

If you think baseball is hard- you should try math.

Wednesday was one of those days I thought I was a really great teacher.  The self contained class was working on a foldable on angle relationships.  It involved watching videos and copying stuff from a template.  Two skills that they mastered.  It was going really well. People cooperated, people persevered, even helped each other.  A perfect day.  Of course there was chaos in the hallway and there was a variety of thumps and yelps against our door, which made me (stupidly) open the door.  I complained to the security guard that that I couldn't teach with such disruptive behavior.  She peaked into the room and said, "but they're behaving beautifully."
Never mind.

Thursday we worked on applying the rules to math problems.  Okay, so now I think I am  only a pretty good teacher. It didn't go terribly, it didn't go great, but I can see how complementary sounds almost the same as supplementary.

Thursday afternoon was the mandatory Danielson training.  This is the place where I learn how to be  a good teacher.  The topic was classroom environment.  I learned that highly effective teachers have classroom routines suggested by their students so that taking  attendance doesn't interfere with instructional time.

Friday we worked on using the foldables to solve the angle relationship problems.  I couldn't  find my attendance sheet.  I dropped the box of markers, I could't find the templates we used on Wednesday and I didn't have the right color  paper.  (So I teach in five different classrooms- highly effective teachers don't make excuses)  Kenny said I was boring and put his head down to sleep.  Bobby couldn't concentrate because he was  worried he couldn't find the baseball field.

Okay-- maybe I'm a highly ineffective teacher.

So it goes.  Another week begins tomorrow.

Umpire and catcher, the man ran the bases, and  arrived at home-plate -where the catcher and umpire were standing, wearing protective masks.  The baseball diamond is really a square,