Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Reflections on Chaos

My school had some chaos recently (this first picture is outside of my classroom). It was unsettling. I think that I am pretty cool under pressure, that I can stay calm, and not be rattled, but I have to say I was rattled. And it made me think about a lot of things.

I love what I do. This is a recurring theme for me, but it is so because it is true. Teaching is hard. On an easy day, teaching is hard. I love it. But it is hard.

During the peak of our chaos, I received a message from my mom (after I had let her know I was ok, yeah, it was that kind of day) commenting that I must have been wishing at that moment to have called in sick. The thing is, I was so absolutely glad I was there. I didn’t want to be in the middle of the situation we were dealing with, but I would not have wanted “my kids” to have that chaos with a sub. Subs are great, but in a difficult situation, the connection to my kids/my students was that much more important. I was able to keep calm, keep them calm, assure them as best I could that things were ok.

I teach, not because I love Literature, but because I love teaching, because it’s the best job in the world. It’s about the kids, not the content. The content changes, different standards, different courses, different levels… but that’s not the focus.

I was asked by a student the morning we were in the LA Times if I was embarrassed to work here. With an unequivocal no, I had to explain, “our school has a black eye right now, and it hurts, but I am not embarrassed to be here. I love what I do, this job is too hard to do if you don’t love it.”

As teachers we put up with a lot. We put up with a lot because what we do is important. We put up with small things like kids always forgetting a pencil (because, you know, they didn’t think they would need one today), to big things like the media villainizing the teaching profession. We have kids that need us in ways we can’t imagine when we first step foot into a classroom, and we put up with all the things they do to push us away and pull us in. We put up with supervisors trying to climb the professional ladder using our work as their success. We put up with so much.  But we prepare our lesson plans, grade our papers, and show up day after day, because it is the kids who we are there for.

So, when my school fell into chaos, it was important that I was there because of the kids.

On the other end of this, I am frustrated by the chaos that occurred. I wish the incidents leading to the chaos hadn’t occurred of course, but can’t help think that the grand chaos was avoidable if things had been handled differently.

I think our chaos would have been mild and almost unnoticeable (even to those of us on campus) had the grown-ups managed the situation better. The initiating incident was caused by students, there is no doubt about it, but the chaos that followed was a result of mixed signals and a lack of communication that bred fear.

Communication is such a huge issue. On a large campus (2000 students) communication systems need to be in place to manage getting information to groups quickly. Social Media needs to used as a tool by institutions to provide information to stakeholders; otherwise the only information that is available is rumor. And rumor is scary. There are many tools available to help get information out, Remind is one example, but beyond using a particular brand/product, a system of clear communication needs to be laid out so everyone can learn information quickly and correctly and minimize the chaos of a difficult situation.

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Monday, October 6, 2014

SLOCUE Rocks! Reflections from working with a new CrUE

Reflections from 

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working with SLO CUE with some Google Professional Development events and have had a blast. I definitely think I over extended myself a bit, not just with these two events but in conjunction with some other things going on in my life I have been a bit overwhelmed. Having these two events off my plate I am relieved and a bit more relaxed, but that is not to say the events were unpleasant in any way.

I wasn’t sure what I was walking into with these events. I was nervous. I was both over and under prepared. I presented on 3 different topics in 4 different sessions in 2 days over the course of 2 weeks. I was pleasantly surprised to get to work with great, funny, crazy smart people who are intent on helping other educators learn more to simplify their classrooms and push student learning to the forefront. I really enjoyed the people!

John Miller, the organizer, and his wife were gracious and fun, super fun! and super smart! I walked into the end of John’s session and realized, this guy has it going on! I need to get a topic that is so awesome that kids will show up on a Saturday morning to teach for me; because that is exactly what was happening! He had 4 students teaching a room of teachers! So impressed! The dedication that takes to develop that bond and community with students is not something that gets discussed, but clearly he has a way with his kids, and with his content that is pretty amazing.

Kevin Ashworth was one of those tweeps I finally got to meet in person. I am horribly socially awkward (I like to think like Temperance Brennan) but I can typically hide it in my social networking existence. I can because I am confident most of the time in my thoughts and my expertise of what I share that I know. (I typically stay away from topics that I don’t know much about, this helps, a lot!) Over the past couple of years I have followed Kevin (@slolifeKevin) on twitter and enjoyed participating in chats and discussing local education issues. He did the ‘I’m so and so thing’ that made me go, “Doh! Of course you are! I should have known!” when he recognized me and I didn’t recognize him. I hate that. But I am very glad he did it and I got to meet him in person.

Eric Jarvis was a gem of a gift to meet at these events. I really enjoyed his company! He is smart and funny and interested in taking everything back to work with his classes to try new things. My favorite kind of teacher! 

And there were others too, lots of them, that I hope to continue to have opportunities to work with and share with and learn from in the future!

There was also a large group of education students from Cal Poly. Way to go Nancy Stauch! It is SOOOO important to have teachers starting their careers with these skills in place and ‘normal’ instead of trying to backtrack and change habits and practice. I’m a total nerd, love all of it, and still struggle to put it into daily practice at times because I learned another way. It was so awesome to have young, fresh teachers interested in getting this stuff into their practice and into their habits. Yes! It has to start here!

Then there’s the Cue Folks.

Getting to work with Jon Corippo instead of being an audience member is a treat. Straight talk. He is really my favorite administrator out there. I do not agree with everything he says, but he can explain to me why he thinks something is right, and even better, he will listen to the other end. He won’t necessarily change his mind, but he’s open. And he has DAMN GOOD IDEAS. And he tells it like it is. AND he’s on everyone’s side. Really! I feel that from him every time I see him. He is the champion of teachers and the champion of students. We are on the same team afterall. Invigorating, and thought provoking. He makes me think about my daily practice, about what I could be doing better, and gives me simple steps that could help me get there.  
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(Seriously, where else do you learn to teach ratios with mullets!??)

Julie and Will Kimbley, Lisa Nowakowski, Joe Donahue are people I don’t see often (with my eyeballs), normally just via twitter and the other interwebs. It is great to get to interact in person, and chat and laugh with such great people!

I am so glad I chose to participate in these events. I got to meet new people, which is something that is not particularly easy for me, or any young parent/teacher. I got to think and do what I really, really love. This is where I feel good. This is where I enjoy being smart. This is where I thrive. This arena, professional development and working with other teachers on transforming practice to be better for learning, for students, for society. This is a good place for me.

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Or get caught by a Creeper!?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Permanent Employee?

Permanent Employee?

I happened upon a teacher blog post about tenure in CA and it got me thinking again. The blog post was from a social studies teacher in NYC, NYC Urban Ed Blog, and his point was focused on #10 below, but I think the full list here is worth a good read through.

Considering the going belief is that teachers who have “permanent” status, like I do, have a guaranteed job for life and they cannot be fired. This belief is contrary to fact. As the California Ed Code below is pretty clear there is quite a variety of ways for a teacher to be dismissed. The reason for the belief that teachers cannot be fired is because administrators have to follow a process in order to demonstrate that a teacher should be removed, and this means they have to stand their ground, have their ducks in a row, and it must be valid. 

Tenure protects teachers like me who disagree with their administrators about decisions, who question decisions that are not made in the best interest of the students, or are frustrated by administrators who speak much and act little. However, if an administrator is honest from the beginning, gives real evaluations every time that are truly based on teaching and not politics, then the process works. It is when they have given positive evaluations that were undeserved in order to be nice, or to avoid conflict that those subsequent negative evaluations are questioned.

Unsatisfactory performance IS a cause for dismissal. (Read that twice, it is #4 below, it is really there.)

But in addition to unsatisfactory performance of job duties, there are ten other causes for dismissal where a total of five have to do with behavior or performance at school or in their work. That leaves eleven items we as tenured teachers can be dismissed that are not even related to how we do our jobs, it is how we live outside of the classroom.

Please be aware, that in most jobs (even those without permanent status) when an employee is not on the clock or representing their employer, their behavior is their own. Their behavior may be embarrassing or frustrating, but off the clock behavior is not regulated by employers. This is not so true for teachers.

We have all seen on facebook or other networks, the lists of requirements for school teachers in the early American years of the one-room schoolhouse. Teachers must not “keep the company of men,” or their dresses must not rise more “than 2 inches above the ankle,” are examples of the such lists. While the details have changed, expectations for teachers’ behavior are still very high, inside and outside of the classroom and school.

Schools are exceptional workplaces though, places where we send our children and expect a lot. I certainly do from the school I send my children to.

So, while everyone has heard some horror story about a teacher who ‘couldn’t be fired’ because they had tenure… remember, there are stories from every workplace. The idea that the ‘tenure’ is the reason they could not be fired is just not true. There is more to the story. I am not saying there are no bad teachers, there are bad employees in every profession. What I am saying is that there is always more to the story when a bad teacher is still in a classroom. Appropriate actions can and should be taken.

I promise you, no one wants a bad teacher in a classroom, especially the good teacher teaching next door.

Here is the actual text from the California EdCode.

44932.  (a) No permanent employee shall be dismissed except for one
or more of the following causes:
  (1) Immoral or unprofessional conduct.
  (2) Commission, aiding, or advocating the commission of acts of
criminal syndicalism, as prohibited by Chapter 188 of the Statutes of
1919, or in any amendment thereof.
  (3) Dishonesty.
  (4)  Unsatisfactory performance.
  (5) Evident unfitness for service.
  (6) Physical or mental condition unfitting him or her to instruct
or associate with children.
  (7) Persistent violation of or refusal to obey the school laws of
the state or reasonable regulations prescribed for the government of
the public schools by the State Board of Education or by the
governing board of the school district employing him or her.
  (8) Conviction of a felony or of any crime involving moral
  (9) Violation of Section 51530 or conduct specified in Section
1028 of the Government Code, added by Chapter 1418 of the Statutes of
  (10) Knowing membership by the employee in the Communist Party.
  (11) Alcoholism or other drug abuse which makes the employee unfit
to instruct or associate with children.
  (b) The governing board of a school district may suspend without
pay for a specific period of time on grounds of unprofessional
conduct a permanent certificated employee or, in a school district
with an average daily attendance of less than 250 pupils, a
probationary employee, pursuant to the procedures specified in
Sections 44933, 44934, 44935, 44936, 44937, 44943, and 44944. This
authorization shall not apply to any school district which has
adopted a collective bargaining agreement pursuant to subdivision (b)
of Section 3543.2 of the Government Code.

44933.  A permanent employee may be dismissed or suspended on
grounds of unprofessional conduct consisting of acts or omissions
other than those specified in Section 44932, but any such charge
shall specify instances of behavior deemed to constitute
unprofessional conduct. This section shall also apply to the
suspension of probationary employees in a school district with an
average daily attendance of less than 250 pupils.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Politics and Money in Education, NoBueno!

The discussion of education in the media has gotten rather absurd. Between the CA verdict yesterday and the ad run today in the USA Today bashing teachers I am flabbergasted that things have come this far. The instigators have made a case in the press that they claim to be teachers versus kids. That is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever come across. Teachers are all about kids! We are for kids, for education, for the benefit of our nation and world's future. It IS what we do, it IS what we ARE.


As proof to the real agenda of the Vergara lawsuit and teacher-bashing efforts popping up across the country, this full-page ad ran in today's USA Today attacking teachers and their unions. 

But don't agonize, ORGANIZE!

1. Call USA Today and tell them what you think of this ad --> 703-854-3400

2. Post your thoughts on the USA Today Facebook page --> https://www.facebook.com/usatoday

3. Tweet @USATODAY

4. Read Diane Ravitch's post "Vergara Decision Is Latest Attempt to Blame Teachers and Weaken Public Education" http://huff.to/1kmxZJM and SHARE!

Offensive much?

Are they serious?! Well, I guess that now they have a set precedent of a court ruling that due process is unconstitutional. Interesting, isn’t it? I guess if we all dropped millions of dollars into a press campaign during a trial we could all have a bit more of a say in it’s outcome. Too bad I’m a teacher, not a millionaire.

Be clear, the war in education is special interests versus educators. I do not use the term "Special Interests" in some generic way, I mean people who are attempting to turn our education system into a wholly new avenue for profit. I mean people like Rick Berman, David Welch, Ben Austin, and so many more. They want to dismantle the current education system in order to create profit centers for themselves, and it is US the educators that see their farcical actions as what they are, a way to get rid of experienced teachers (which by the way is the #1 predictor of student success) and replace them with poorly trained maybe-college grads who only have a shelf life of a few years before the next crop of stepping-stone educators come in to take their spot, never building a community of learning anywhere or a foundation of true support for students and families.

I am not claiming that our system is perfect, it does need some remodeling. Yes there are some in the field that should go elsewhere and we need a system to remove them (there is one, by the way, but it is dependent upon competent administrators).

But this battle that is waging in the press, striking fear into the hearts of parents, and teachers, is not getting us where we need to go. These reformers, are not aiming to help the lives of children, they are trying to line their pockets to the detriment of our children. That includes my children, so I am angry as a parent as a teacher.

Please do not fall into their marketing tactics intended to scare the public into this ploy. But don’t take my word for either, talk to your kids' teachers, talk to other educators you know, see what is really going on in the schools. Please do not sell out our children’s education so that the already-rich can get richer to the detriment of our children’s education and future. Because THAT is exactly what is going on here.

Here is a great blog post for further reading on the current issue.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

What do I do?

What do I do?

I love teaching, but what I do changes all the time for variety of reasons, but my title has never changed. What does this mean?

People ask me what I do, and I am a teacher.

Does it really matter what I teach? Or who I teach?

I love kids, teenagers to be specific. They are so definite and so open at the same time. Many of my students see the world in very black and white, but they are open to the discussion and confusion that leads to growth that many adults are not able to accomplish.

And what I teach...well .... It is literature in the sense it is introductory and I love opening their eyes to reading deeper and seeing more in the text. And I'm okay with the fight to get them to just read the darn thing already! I almost find pleasure in that fight, because if I can make it interesting and engaging in the way I approach it, then I typically win.

But I also love technology, and sharing it with other teachers. This means I present at conferences, and share with colleagues close to me whenever I can. I love helping teachers find new ways to teach and engage students. So many teachers just don't know where to start, and my philosophy is that the place to start is where you are at. Take the curriculum you already have, the lessons you have already developed, and see what ways technology integration can give them an edge. It is not about starting over, starting from scratch. So many creative teachers out there, so many amazing lessons, technology can just give it that boost. Like a squeeze of lime on those tacos, or hot sauce...the result is amazing, but you have to be brave to decide to try it before you can experience any results.

I like working with new new teachers in the classroom as well. Teacher candidates coming in with so much to share, and such a huge desire to be great teachers. It is fun to work with them to develop the strategies that are so important yet we all think of as fluff in our methodologies classes. But once they are staring down 34 10th grade students with a poem in hand wanting to discuss poetic techniques, the realization that strategy really is important dawns on them. And that with a good strategy (or 4) in place , they can discuss poetic techniques with 10th graders.

Add to this list being a Department Chair managing communication, policy, and budget for 15-17 teachers. This gave me a managerial perspective, yuck. I was good at it, and enjoyed it, but that was because I worked to help my department and represent them and our students.

And a last addition to this list I was also an Intervention Teacher on Special Assignment tracking student progress, supporting teachers, managing data systems, etc. this allowed me to see impact. The impact of intervention courses on students individually and on groups. The impact of intervention courses on a department schedule and on teachers. And so, soooo much more.

So really, when is say I am a teacher, what exactly does that mean?

Does it mean the same for all of us who are teacher? I think: yes.

Whether you teach phonemic awareness to 4 year olds or pedagogy to adults, teaching is teaching and teachers are teachers. We share knowledge with learners. We connect with our clientele in a way no sales person ever can. We help people (children, teens, adults) learn, grow, and develop into the people they want to be.

We teach. I am a teacher.