Tuesday, May 5, 2009

To Improve My School

As this year is drawing to a close, I'm beginning to think about the things that I want to be different about next year (probably most teachers do this -- at the end of my first year, I recall thinking, "well, I don't want to do any of that again"). And one of my new-school-year's resolutions is to be more active in helping to improve my school. It's all too easy to sit in my classroom and not think about what goes on outside my four walls, but I don't think I'll ever see the results I want to see unless the whole school climate improves.

I'm also beginning to think about ways that I can engage with / challenge my administration at times. (For starters, I won't EVER do that test-prep baloney again -- and I've decided that if I'm asked to do it next year I'll simply refuse. It's not fair to me and it's not fair to kids.) I've decided that I'd like to write a memo to make some suggestions of things my school leaders can do -- little things -- that would really improve the quality of life for teachers and, by extension, students. Here are my thoughts..

First, I want a teacher work room. Do these exist in DCPS? It certainly doesn't in my school. I want a place where I can get some very basic supplies, without having to go through some cantankerous business manager who yells at me. Why can't there be a room with pens and folders and -- gasp! -- paper that I can just go and get when I need it. You know, like EVERY OTHER WORK-PLACE IN THE WORLD. When I have to spend my own time and money securing basic materials, it leaves less time for planning instruction, helping students, or calling parents. Or watching Law and Order.

Second, I want to use email (and not the intercom) to communicate. Seriously, is it 1974? Is there any adult that still hasn't mastered the technology of email? If there is, we work in a building full of people who have expertise in explaining things, so my guess is someone could teach you. The lack of email (and general communication) is really starting to get to me. I generally find out about meetings I'm supposed to attend when someone makes an announcement 3 minutes after they've already started.

Finally, I want keys to the building and the library. It sucks when I get here early but can't make photocopies because the library (where we keep our copier) isn't open. It sucks equally when I try to come in on weekends only to discover that the whole building is locked. When I worked as an accountant, I was given keys to the building on my second day. If we're trusted professionals, we should be allowed to have keys.

Those are my ideas for little things my school could do that would make my life much easier. Obviously, addressing these issues won't fix my school. But they would sure make me less cranky. Any other ideas?


Glenn Watson said...

I've decided that if I'm asked to do it next year I'll simply refuse. >>>

I assume you are not a tenured teacher so please, please please, let us all know how that works out. I will bring the popcorn.

A DCPS Veteran said...

First of all, I love the fact that it's May and you're not talking about planning an exit from DCPS, as are so many other teacher bloggers. I agree with some of your points, but see schools sometimes as cultures hard to change, like turning around a battleship in the ocean. Using email instead of the intercom? Great idea. I have had principals who didn't/couldn't use email. You ask if there are really any adults who still haven't mastered the technology of email? Yes, there are many in DCPS and I've worked with several of them. At my friend's school, the principal frequently texts her teachers. This is a good point and everyone has been given a DCPS email account, so this may happen. What I don't think will happen is you, a teacher, being given keys to the school. Though you could ask if there's a way you could go in on Saturdays. I've known of staff who go in on Saturdays, sometimes even principals, because there's peace and quiet and the phone doesn't ring. Perhaps the copier should be placed in another area which isn't locked, or just give teachers keys. But I generally plan ahead so I've never caught without copies if I'll need them. Our copier is always breaking down. Good luck with your suggestions.

Progressive Educator said...

Today I got irritated with reading the word "resources" - as in, "Our school needs more RESOURCES before children can learn." That term is so broad that I'm not sure if people always know what RESOURCES they need as they say it.

So what a coincidence to then tune into your blog and see you foreplanning the types of RESOURCES you need to make next year more successful!

I recommend having more than one copier and placing the second in another spot in the building. As for announcements, I worked at a school were announcements were only made three times a day - first thing in the morning, one minute before the lunch bell rang (11:59 am), and at the end of the school day. People learned that if they had something they wanted included, they had to get it in by those times.

As for email, yes there are lots of people who still don't use the Internet much (not just email). That's one reason unfortunately that older teachers get a bad rap. They are STEREOTYPED as being technologically-impaired in an age that promotes technology in the classroom.

However, if the principal is game, he/she can require teachers to use email to read announcements, and you can setup a web page just for the teachers at your school to post announcements and get information.

Anonymous said...

To my mind, getting teachers to use email, (like getting them to stop using the word "ain't") should be simple administrative matters that principals must demand and accomplish or be dismissed (both the principals, and - with due process, the teachers).

These are the easy things, yet I don't know that Rhee has even suggested, not to mention demanded, that they be done. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong. I hear teachers and parents complaining about these things, but not the administration.

Kat said...

Keys....you'll never get a master key. Those are distributed in late August by the principal on a strictly "need to have" basis. They are then copied so quickly that by Labor Day everyone in the school BUT teachers has one. In fact, illicit key distribution is the only job I've seen anyone in DCPS do quickly and effectively. This leads me to the next issue...

Office supplies...disappear even when they're locked up (see above). Imagine if they were out in the open. In a situation with limited resources, people stockpile. Ever have a buffet breakfast or lunch at your school? Some people (usually the fattest ones) go through that line like Bangladeshi street urchins. So hard goods don't stand a chance, my friend. I hear some people even [gasp] steal. (Shocking, I know...)

Email...I'm amazed at how staff finds the time to be on their dang phones so much (in the classroom, too), yet can't manage their email. Try sending with a "read receipt," which actually inspires some people to reply once they figured out you know they got it. Not many, though. In the most egregious cases, copying someone higher up on it often guarantees a response. Like Michelle Rhee.

Good luck in 09-10!

Toby said...

I hoard stuff too. This is learned behavior from being a DCPS teacher. Like copy paper, good pencils, chart markers, dry erase board markets, anything I consider good. Post-it notes? Giant post-it note chart paper? Black and white composition notebooks? It's mine and it's hoarded.
When I read the original post about the resource room, my first thought was, yeah, right, everything will disappear. But I didn't think to post it. Too judgmental. But someone else thought it too.
Every year I get a supply requisition form to fill out for what I want. And every year I say, no thanks, I get my own supplies.
Bottom line, is I don't wait for DCPS to supply me with anything. If I want it, I get it.

I Heart Good English said...

I too have a problem with teachers using ain't, the all-purpose negative. I've taught English overseas and know our negative markers on verbs, isn't, aren't, don't, didn't, won't, wasn't, weren't are complicated. But shouldn't be for native speakers of English. I find the use of other structures by supposedly educated professionals in a school setting more troubling. And these are errors I had never heard until I came to work in DC schools, due to my own background and upbringing. Here are some of my repeating favorites.
Problems with possessive forms as in "Who class you in?", "Ms. Johnson class", "my grandmother house". Dropping of to be as in "Where Mr. Smith?" "He gone." Substitution of irregular past tense form for past participle as in "You should have wrote", "Your mother should have took". And my true favorite, with multiple errors, "he don't pose to do that" and if you don't understnad, it means "He isn't supposed to do that". I sometimes relax and let "The meeting will be on tomorrow" and the letter after after q pronounced as are-rah slide. And I'm letting ain't slide.

Mr. Potter said...

Kat and Toby,

I hoard stuff too. But that's because who knows when I'll get it again. I once adopted a dog who had been found on the street and was way underweight. For the first few months, she ate ravenously. Then, when she realized that the food supply was steady, she calmed down and ate only whens she was hungry. If my dog can learn to pace herself, I'd like to think that we teachers could too. If we never had a problem getting paper, we wouldn't need to hoard it. Right?

Kings said...

"I heart good English" -- are you saying teachers talk like that?

If so, why hasn't Rhee complained about it all over the country and/or gotten teachers into professional development to fix it.

really - seems to me you could give every teacher a basic grammar test and if they don't pass, they have x number of months to learn it or they're out. I don't think too many people would have a problem with imposing that requirement. Personally, I don't thing Rhee wants anything that concrete or data-driven. She just wants to fire whomever she wants to fire, period

Glenn Watson said...

seems to me you could give every teacher a basic grammar test and if they don't pass, they have x number of months to learn it or they're out.>>>

And then we could all wait for the racial discrimination lawsuits.

I Heart Good English said...

The utterances I listed were all made by teachers. I heard them. They were made in spontaneous spoken English. Praxis I reading tries to control for errors in grammar as well as basic reading comprehension. If you read what I wrote, I never said these individuals were bad teachers. It's just that the making of those listed errors by educated professionals in a school setting is something I find troubling.

Kings said...

Glenn - I disagree - because so many of the teachers Rhee would like to fire are minority anyhow.

I think (though I'm no expert on this) that any college grad, by virtue of getting through college, has the ability to speak proper English. Teachers obviously should be required to use it in a professional setting - with kids and adults. They can use slang or dialect outside of work.

Heart - thanks for the additional info. These teachers may be good, but not good enough, IMO, if they don't model good English to their students.

Glenn Watson said...

Glenn - I disagree - because so many of the teachers Rhee would like to fire are minority anyhow.>>>

My point is that if a majority of the teachers who were fired for using poor English were minority teachers, which they would be, the lawsuits would not be long in coming.

any college grad, by virtue of getting through college, has the ability to speak proper English.>>>

The ability? Sure, anyone has the ability. I have the ability to get rock hard abs. But it is not going to happen.

Teachers obviously should be required to use it in a professional setting - with kids and adults.>>>

I agree. I was just pointing out the practical obstacles to firing teachers who speak and write poorly. Any test that would disproportionately effect minorities would be thrown out. There was a recent court case in New Hampshire having to do with firemen. No Black firemen could pass the test so the department threw out all the scores. The white firemen sued and lost. The federal court, with a potential Supreme Court justice in the group, upheld the decision.

Kings said...

Glenn - FYI: that fire fighters case was in New Haven, CT.

I get the point about your abs, but if you wanted to be a model or a bouncer or a professional athlete, you'd have to improve your muscle tone or find a new field and everyone would understand.

My point is that speaking standard, grammatical English is so basic to being an teacher that making this an expectation and requirement would likely be broadly accepted and not susceptible to discrimination suits.

I can't picture a group of minority teachers trying to make a case that modeling standard English to their students is not a basic educational goal.

Anonymous said...

I can't picture a group of minority teachers trying to make a case that modeling standard English to their students is not a basic educational goal.Who says it has to be a case? It's a far more insidious and effective lesson when improper English is used informally, in the classroom, the halls and the parking lot. Sure, no one would make a case, at least not publicly, but they do so unknowingly every time they say "ax" instead of "ask", "where you goin'?", "don't be touchin' dat!" and a whole host of other spoken errors.

Toby said...

Someone asked why Rhee hasn't focused on incorrect grammar. I think it's because she has bigger fish to fry, as in basic teaching competency and performance among some of our coworkers. We've all either read about or witnessed the incidents of teachers handing out worksheets or putting page numbers on the board and then reading the paper or talking on the cell phone, and not to parents either. Under the mandated highly-qualified specification, a teacher must be certified in their teaching area and pass Praxis. As was previously pointed out, there is a part on Praxis I reading that deals with grammatical usage. So passing Praxis I, though written not spoken, should address those issues.

Kings said...

Toby - obviously, from what I read here, Praxis isn't solving the problem of proper English usage among teachers.

and in terms of Rhee's "bigger fish" - she isn't frying them. She's just complaining - for almost two years now, about wanting to fire incompetent teachers. I'm saying that poor English is sign of incompetence that I think could be easily corrected in most cases. So why not focus on that. The teachers start speaking more professionally and so do the kids.

If you really care about kids and really want to see improvement quickly, this seems like an obvious place to start. There's no controversy over whether kids (and teachers) should speak proper english. It seems like a no-brainer -- like installing air conditioning in all the schools.

Glenn Watson said...

I can't picture a group of minority teachers trying to make a case that modeling standard English to their students is not a basic educational goal.>>>

I can. It has happened more than once.

Kings said...

Glenn - I think of the "Ebonics" discussion, but that was a while ago.

Have you heard teachers actively protest modeling standard English recently?

Toby said...

Kings, I love your response to "she has bigger fry", that Rhee is just complaining about bad teachers and doing nothing. We will soon see what her administration is doing. Remember the 90 day plan and how it was agressively implemented at the beginning of this school year? Remember how principals were putting around 3 teachers minimum per school on the plan? The teachers I know who are on the plan, and I'm not saying all DCPS teachers on it, but only the ones I know, are there for a reason. Let's see what happens as this school year finishes. Rhee's goal by aggressively using the 90 plan was to terminate ineffective teachers.

Kings said...

Hmmm - let's speculate --- let's say she doesn't really want the 90 day plan to work, because that would mean she doesn't have to bust the union to get rid of ineffective teachers. and she WANTS to bust the union.

Or she does want it to work, so she can hold it up saying - "this is the tip of the iceberg - it was hard to get rid of these teachers. We need a faster more efficient way to rid the system of bad teachers and bring in more good ones" (via teacher recruitment firms).

Or she sort of forgets about it -- i.e. - doesn't report on it so the public never knows how many teachers went on the plan, how many improved sufficiently, how many were let go and how many great new teachers (via teacher recruitment firms of course)were hired in their place.

Glenn Watson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glenn Watson said...

Have you heard teachers actively protest modeling standard English recently?>>

I have read about teachers and teacher unions in multiple states who complain and even litigate when their ethnicity was adversely effected by tests that were "racially biased." Racial bias is code for proper English.

Kings said...

Glenn - "racial bias" can be code for anything. I doubt any group of teachers could fight on the basis of not being able to speak standard English.

If Rhee wants to fire a significant share of the teacher corps and a significant share are minority already, there's always a chance for a racial bias charge and I haven't heard any threat of that up to now.

However, I think that requiring a basic professional level of English usage is like requiring a college degree from an accredited university. No teacher would shout racial bias if they didn't have that.

I believe any college educated person can speak standard grammatical English if they try. Some people are naturally better than others at expressing themselves, of course, but it shouldn't be hard finding a minimal standard. After all - it's about setting an example for children.