Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring Broken

Testing season has begun, and it is sucking my will to live.

Starting on Wednesday, and continuing for the entire month of April, all of our 10th graders (those being tested) will be participating in day-long tutoring sessions to prepare for the DC-CAS. All day, nothing but test prep. Of course, these students will still be enrolled in art, music, foreign language, history, and science classes. They just won't actually be taking them. Unless it's math or English, it doesn't matter in April.

This bothers me as a teacher for two reasons. First, kids can't just focus on only math and reading for a month without going bonkers. Second, since I'm one of the teachers who will be leading these testing sessions, I have to abandon my classes to go teach these other kids. What will my children do while I'm gone? Fester in some other classroom (with a teacher that is less than competent)? Yes, exactly.

The dumbest thing is that students could be learning engaging and appropriate math and reading in all of their classes if we as a school just planned better. You can't do social studies or science without reading. You can't do physics, chemistry, or music without math. So what we need are curricula that are standards-based and make sure that kids actually know things while still exposing them to a wide range of topics. Such things wouldn't be that difficult to create, except that getting teachers to collaborate and work on a common goal is like getting dogs to walk on their hind legs.

I've written before that I think standardized testing is not all that bad. In theory, if kids know things, then taking a test shouldn't be a problem. And we do need reliable and easy-to-collect data on our schools. If run well, testing shouldn't be an issue. In good schools, no one freaks out about testing because the tests are easy. We don't have to stop everything to teach to the test because we've already taught beyond the test. That's the way it should work. It's just that pesky word "should" that gets us into trouble every time in DCPS.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

You Have the Right to Shut the Hell Up

What are government teachers teaching?!

Today I had no fewer than 3 students say to me that they didn't have to do something because they "have rights." "I don't have to sit in my assigned seat, it's a free country." "You can't tell me to be quiet, I have freedom of speech." "You can't make me do that if I don't want to. It's a free country." My response was, "Yeah, it is a free country. Do what I ask, or you'll be free to take this class again next year." They weren't impressed.

I started thinking about the fundamental lack of understanding my kids must have about the constitution and their rights. Our rights are tremendously important, but they only work for us if we understand what they are (and aren't). For the record, here is what the First Amendment actually says:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the
free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of
the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of

As I thought about this, and looked at my blog and some of the other blogs I follow, I realized that misconceptions about our freedoms are not limited to children. I can't tell you how many times I've read that people who comment on a blog have a "right" to express their opinion and that the blog operator can't censor their thoughts. These conversations usually go something like this:
  • Person 1 says something dumb and / or controversial
  • Person 2 says that they think Person 1's opinion is dumb, racist, inappropriate, whatever.
  • Person 1 declares that they have a right to their opinion and that Person 2 shouldn't be censoring them.
OK, here's the thing Person 1: no you don't. You have a right to an opinion, and the right to voice that opinion and not get arrested or put in jail or censored by the government. But you do not have the right to have an opinion and not get criticized or have your comment deleted. Too often we forget that there are governments in this world that actively suppress ideas, and we equate "freedom of speech" with "freedom to say whatever I want at all times."

Now, I'm a pretty big egomaniac (most bloggers are), but even I'm not conceited enough to think that I have the authorities bestowed upon congress. So when others complain that they have rights -- whether in my classroom or on a blog -- they're demonstrating clearly that they do not understand that the constitution limits the actions of government, not individual people. You can argue that a blog operator shouldn't censor, that I shouldn't make my kids sit in assigned seats, that I should value all opinions equally -- but you can't argue that you have rights.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rhee's Teacher Sessions

I've been thinking about writing this post for a little while -- I attended one of Rhee's teacher Q and A sessions at my school a while back, but didn't want to post on it immediately (mostly because I'm just egotistical enough to think that maybe someone at my school might read this blog, and I would prefer to remain anonymous). However, I can put it off no longer, thanks in large part to the idiotic comments made by Randi Weingarten recently. This woman is the Lord Voldemort of DCPS.

The comments come at the tail end of the article. Ms. Weingarten is quoted as saying the following about Chancellor Rhee: "Perhaps, instead of choosing to publicly negotiate directly with teachers, she should take the time she's set aside for 'Q&A sessions' and spend it at the bargaining table."

OK listen, jerkface. How self-important do you have to be to think that it's more valuable for a leader to spend time talking with a third party than to spend time talking with the very people she leads? Rhee shouldn't be speaking directly with teachers? On what planet does that make sense? From whom should we be getting our information? The union? Please. The union, which does little to nothing to engage its membership, suffers from a Sahara-like drought of information. I thought union was about having a voice. Apparently not. Apparently it's about Randi Weingarten having a voice.

Now, I agree that negotiations should be proceeding more quickly than they are. But sometimes a leader needs to get out and speak with the people she's leading. And that's what was needed in DCPS.

Personally, I was reassured after the session with Rhee at my school. She seemed intelligent, caring, and dedicated. More importantly, she seemed genuinely concerned about what we teachers had to say. She had articulate and well-reasoned answers to our questions, and she dispelled many myths about her and her office. I'll write more about some of what she said later, but I can say that I walked away from the meeting far more confident in her abilities and agenda than I was when I walked in.

Why are Weingarten and Parker so pissy about these meetings? Because the meetings are working. Teachers are becoming more supportive of the Chancellor, or at least more confident in her abilities. Rhee is circumventing the intelligence vacuum that is the WTU, and is engaging directly with teachers. Perhaps union leadership should take this idea from Rhee's play-book.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Obama says some hopey stuff

President Obama gave a speech today in which he outlined the important parts of his education policy. He said a lot of good stuff, but one quote in particular stands out as relevant to my school: "if a teacher is given a chance but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching."

Damn yes. There are teachers in my building who have been given a reasonable level of support, but they just aren't improving. Obama says get them out, and I agree. He goes on to describe lots of other policies that I think are just peachy (increased pre-K, merit pay, longer school days and school years, and improving state standards and tests), but I have this teacher quality bug stuck in my craw, and I need to vent.

There is one math teacher that I "work" with (I use quotes because, while I would describe my actions as working, I can certainly not say the same for his) who comes into my classroom to get my lesson plan every morning -- he never writes his own. The best part? In my department we send lesson plans out via email, but homeboy still needs to come take a hard copy. This guy doesn't get the emails because he "can't remember his password."

This man is, in almost every professional capacity, a moron. The following are just some of the bone-headed things he has done this year, all while getting paid:
  • He left his classroom unattended earlier this year and a student threw a textbook out the window -- it caused $3000 in damage to a parked car
  • He doesn't lesson plan EVER therefore doesn't live up to his contract
  • He "didn't understand" how to fill out his PPEP form and he copied the Spanish teacher's verbatim
Why is anyone interested in preserving his job? He -- and too many other teachers like him -- is damaging children every day in his classroom. But we can't fire him because the union will throw a hissy fit. If the union were half as interested in doing good things for children as they are in holding informational sessions and sending me robo-calls, then this guy would be long gone. Hopefully Obama lives up to his rhetoric and actually smacks the unions around so they'll release their vice-like death grip on the jobs of idiots.

Monday, March 9, 2009

DC's Got Talent

This weekend I was talking with a teacher from a different school (a public charter, as it turns out). We were talking about how we love our students (usually), but how the adults in our building can drive us insane. I thought DCPS had the Bat-Ass Crazy People award on lock-down, but it turns out that there's a charter school that may have us beat.

This teacher said that one day a couple of weeks ago the administration decided to cancel school. They didn't tell anyone until the day before, and announced to the kids, teachers, and parents that school would be canceled for a teacher in-service day. Then, when teachers came, they decided to have a -- get ready for this -- Faculty Talent Show. Duh. I don't know why I didn't think about that. Of course, the answer to fixing urban education isn't accountability or teacher quality -- it's an increased frequency of teacher talent shows!

According to my friend, the talent show lasted like 4 hours. Teachers just sat and watched each other perform. All day. This was instead of doing collaborative planning or analyzing test data or -- heaven forbid -- teaching children how to do things.

Maybe one of my readers knows more about this situation -- I was too flummoxed to ask any clarifying questions, of which I have plenty now. This definitely is the wackiest thing I've heard of administrators at any school doing...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rhee says her plan is sustainable

An article in the WaPo today has Chancellor Rhee asserting that her pay plan for teachers is sustainable. Rhee had a consulting firm construct some economic models, and they say that there should be enough money to pay for the raises with district dollars in five years.

Of course, not everyone will take the Chancellor's statements at face value. The documents related to the consultant's research are confidential, as they are part of the contract negotiations. Chancellor Rhee has declined to name the private foundations that are going to fund these raises, and that has a lot of people worried too. There are others who think it's just generally bad news to fund public schools with private funds.

I personally think Rhee's pay plan makes sense -- teachers in DCPS require a special set of talents and skills, and simple supply and demand says when you need something that's in short supply to have to pay more for it. But Rhee's plan went nowhere with the union, and who knows if it ever will. The biggest problem, of course, is that teachers don't want to give up tenure, which is what Rhee was asking for in exchange for the increased pay.

I know a dicussion of "Rhee" and "Contract Negotiations" usually devolves into unbridled craziness (from both sides), but I'm willing to brave these waters anyway. Here's my question: what exactly are we, as teachers, willing to give up in order to receive higher pay? Is the answer, "nothing" and we want to remain on the same pay scale? Is the answer "tenure rights" and we want Rhee's scale? Or is there some in-between point that we'd be willing to settle on?

For me, I say screw tenure. This isn't Tennessee in 1926 and we're not going to get fired for teaching evolution or being agnostic. I do my job well, and I'm not concerned about getting the axe. The increased salary would allow me (and many other teachers) to afford to own property in DC -- something that is pretty much out of the question right now. So my vote is to go with Rhee's pay plan. Of course, that's just one vote.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Possible snow day?

As I write, there is a big storm rolling into DC, and it's very possible that there might be a snow day tomorrow. It's not very likely, unless this storm is particularly bad (I've blogged before about why Michelle Rhee doesn't like to call snow days, and I still think she's got a pretty good reason). Of course, despite the fact that I like my job and love my kids, I'm definitely hoping for a snow day. Who doesn't like a day off?

In thinking about the possibility of having a snow day tomorrow (I keep telling myself that if I think about it too much I'll jinx it... which is a special kind of ego, I guess), I've made the following lists. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Things I Tell Myself I'll Do on the Snow Day:
Lesson plan
Finish grading tests
Research field trips

Things I'll Actually Do on the Snow Day:
Watch like 15 episodes of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit