Thursday, April 30, 2009


Book 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.

This is definitely NOT the greatest children's book ever written. But when I read the first in the series - A Bad Beginning - I thought it was awesome. Probably because I read as a read-aloud with my 5th graders and their enthusiasm was contagious. Yep, even savy, hormone driven, attitude toting ten-and-eleven-year-olds like being read to out loud. Read aloud time was probably the only truly peaceful part of my day with them. I wouldn't have minded spending the entire day reading aloud in that class.

This book isn't very good for many reasons. First and foremost (and thus most obvious) is that it falls into the trap of many children's books by giving every single child in the book a line EACH AND EVERY SINGLE TIME SOMEONE SPEAKS. Which means you have to read 3+ lines, with descriptions of the voice and look of each character, when one line would have sufficed. Over. Kill.

Second, Lemony Snicket felt compelled to include an atrocious character named, "Sunny." The baby, and probably by far the smartest of the Baudelaire orphans (by the way, what is with that name?), she is also the most annoying. Granted, a big part of there reason why I think she's annoying is because when my CT read aloud her lines, he used this really loud, really obnoxious, really grating voice. All. The. Freaking. Time. Note to book readers: not everything ending with an exclamation point needs to be shouted out, spit flying and vocal chords creaking, thank-you-very-much. If Sunny really is as three dimensional as the stuff behind the lines hints at, then she would have a much more subtle voice.

Third, there is only one main villain, Count Olaf. He is the one sole savior of these books. Foul, evil, conniving, and flamboyantly so. But there is only one. Which makes the stories more predictable than any Daily Show joke about the Bush Administration. Mix it up a little! Sure Harry Potter's #1 nemesis was Voldemort, but there were other bad guys thrown into the mix as well.

Overall, great to read aloud with kids. Nothing else.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


So perfect, yet so far from it.

When I left EIB, I thought I would have to hunt long and far for another school quite as chaotic as that one. Boy, was I wrong.

P. Elementary is a school in my local school district. It is a relatively large school, K-6. Like many schools, it has the requisite main building made of brick and cement which was most likely built prior to 1970, definitely built prior to 1980. Just from an approximate eyeball measurement, I would say there are just as many classrooms made from the cheap "portable" materials as the brick-and-cement type classrooms. These portables were probably built in the early-to-mid-90's, when portables really became popular among California schools. In short, this school is a bit raggedy around the corners.

Like most schools in the area, there is a high population of Hispanic students and African-American students, with the percent of Asians coming in third. For such a large school, I was surprised at how small the administrative staff was: they all fit into the tiniest of portables (the office in the main building is empty, apparently under construction but there doesn't seem to be anything being done to it). There is no principal that I can tell, only a Mr. L who seems to be the only adult on campus who knows about anything going on at this school. The secretaries are of no help whatsoever. There is The One Who Is Grumpy All The Time, The One Who Is So Busy Translating Stuff Into Spanish That She Has No Time For Anything Else, and The One Who Refers You To Mr. L For Every Little Thing. The part-time school nurse (part-time?!) has been of more assistance than all three of them combined.

And it's obvious why. P. Ele, is about three times as big as WB with the same number of visible staff in the office. It's not only teachers who are over-worked, but the secretaries and aides and nurses and janitorial staff, and yes, the principals and vp's too.

More money will solve some of these issues, but not all.

More staff will solve some of these issues, but not all.

More classrooms and equipment will solve some of these issues, but not all.

For the most part, schools labeled as "underperforming" or "bad schools" are usually just doing the best they can with what they've got. They haven't got much in terms of resources. They have even less in terms of morale and motivation. Which is sometimes why I feel like throwing my hands up and walking away to start fresh somewhere else. I, like my art students, am not good with taking what is there and adjusting it to make it work. I, like my art students, always prefer to take a new sheet of paper and start over rather than see the beauty in the idiosyncrasies of the messed-up bits. Naive, no?

Monday, April 27, 2009

The sky is falling, so what?

Photo and article

All day yesterday and all day so far today, my dad has been hyperventilating about this swine flu outbreak. "A whole school near by was closed because they found a student with swine flu!" he cries. "You better cancel that trip to San Diego next month!" he says a few minutes later. It's like there is a neon PANIC! PANIC! sign flashing on his forehead every time the radio news cycles around and repeats the headlines of the day.

Well, it's not the first time there's been panic at school. And it won't be the last. Columbine heralded the age of metal detectors in schools. There was that meningitis scare a few years ago. Mary Kay Latournou (sp?) and sex scandals between students and teachers. A countless other things that make schools unsafe.

Well, I can walk out my door and get run over by a car today. There is no where that is "safe," so let's not delude ourselves into thinking there is. There are only choices.

Although, I don't have the answer for those choices either....

Saturday, April 25, 2009

...and all hell breaks loose

Headache worth a thousand curses.

My PACT score arrived today. A flipping 1.82. Crap.

However, all I got was the score. No comments, no resubmit button, no nothing. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?? They let you re-do it if you don't pass. But I can't re-do it if they don't release my work and give me a resubmit button! Seriously, this entire process has been a HUGE catch-22. On shrooms.

::Takes a deep breath:: I'm not going to worry about it. They say you can resubmit, but if they don't release my work for resubmission then that's not my fault, it's theirs. I'm not the only one with this situation, so they'll have to work it out somehow.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The joy of staying in

So you can make things like this baby blanket!

I came across this article from awhile ago and have been meaning to comment on it. Today seemed providential in more than one sense. I had a whole day of nothing doings scheduled - no teaching, no driving, not even chores because I was pretty productive this past week, thanks to the lifting of my 2+ months depression. It would be great. However, like all great things, there is always a little something that can sour the mood.

I live at home with my parents. They are ok with it, and usually I am too. Of course it's not the ideal situation (what is?) but there are positive, practical advantages for both sides. My parents, never really good at English or the social and cultural construct of American life, need a certain type of help with going about daily life. Of recent years, their senior moments have bordered on freaking me out too, so it's helpful for them to have someone on hand to, say, OPEN THE BATHROOM DOOR FOR THEM WHEN THEY LOCK THEMSELVES IN. No joke, Alzheimer's is eminent and at the forefront of various different health issues my parents are facing.

The advantages for me are pretty obvious too. I can save or invest the money I would have otherwise spent on rent and other living costs. I don't have to deal with incompatible roommates and the world of drama that creates. And even though my current roommates can have their annoying habits too, they are easier to forgive because I can do the same to them and not fear a house blow-up involving wasabi peas, passive aggressive notes/door slamming, and the harm of innocent house pet by-standers.

Now moving on to how this is relevant to the article linked above. I know for a fact one of my habits that is most annoying to my parents is my tendency to be a home-body. I prefer eating in than eating out, counting take-out. I prefer watching movies at home in my pajamas with snacks that I actually like rather than wait in the lines, sit in a stale movie theater and munch on even staler popcorn. This isn't to say I don't like going out either; I would pick going out with friends over curling up in bed and re-reading the Harry Potter series for the nth time any day. However, there is this great and difficult hurdle called DISTANCE standing between me and the people I like to go out on the town with, so until the logistics of flights and visits are arranged, chatting with them online or on the phone will have to do. Needless to say, this chatting happens in the comfort of my own home.

I know my parents find this annoying because I overheard them recently (well, technically only my mother because she is loud; my dad is more soft-spoken) discussing how it isn't normal, or healthy to stay in as much as I do. How most girls my age are getting boyfriends and getting married (note: statistics show this isn't necessarily true, depending on geographical areas, by the way). Because going out and getting drunk off my rocker every night is healthy? Because half the married women my age will end up divorced within five years, I wanted to retort, but didn't. I would have before, in another incarnation, but I've hopefully grown out of that and into something more mature that takes things in stride. Disclaimer: I have nothing against marriage. Really.

The point is, there is health and normalcy, not to mention fun, to be had at home too. How often have I walked into an after-school program at 5pm to teach art to kids who are grumpy and ready to go home three hours ago? How often have I arrived on school campus at 7am with students lined up outside my classroom, waiting to be let in? And there's currently a (political) movement lobbying for longer school days! Dude, I can't even comment on that right now, it deserves it's own stand-alone rant.

There is only one section near the end of this article I highly don't agree with. The writer interviews his friend and out pops this golden quote:
Fertile neglect is the name of that policy: leaving the boy to his own devices so I can pursue mine and he can develop those solitary skills that will serve him in future airports, waiting rooms and prisons. It came about simply because I found actual down-at-his-level waving-tiny-figurines PLAYING to be, for some reason, soul-destroying—the arbitrary despotic movements of the child-mind and all that. Bonus side effect: when you do consent, in moments of magnanimity, to lower yourself to their play-level they are incredibly grateful. ...

Awesome. This kid's dad is too cheapskate to even take him to the park for an ice cream sandwich AND too full of himself to even give his son attention when they are at home. "Mr. James-doesn't-play-with-his-son," you are so fired in my parent book.

At lunch time today, my dad bribed me to go on an errand just to get me out of the house. He seemed shocked that I could run it so quickly. That pretend-shock lasted throughout the afternoon and it became quite burdensome to have him comment, "Wait, you're still here? I thought you went out" every half hour. He eventually gave up, whereas if my mother had been doing it she would have been after me until I RAN out of the house if only to escape her nagging. Because my dad is a home-body at heart too.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Another reason for the recession

Can we fix this thing or what?

If education = money, then no education = no money. At least that's what this article suggests.

The achievement gap controversy has been around for a good long time. Gaps between girls and boys, whites and Blacks, the US vs. other nations of similar industrial development, and so on. The categories are endless. This article looks only at the US and other nations, I believe. And that if the US had closed the achievement gap from fifteen years ago, it would have a GDP at least $700 billion more than it does now. That's an entire bailout worth of dough.

Quoting the article:
"It's the equivalent to a permanent national recession," McKinsey's Bryan Hancock says. "We waste 3 to 5 billion dollars a day by not closing these achievement gaps. This is not simply an issue about poor kids in poor schools; it's about most kids in most schools."

Now I, like always, tend to see much more into it than how some reporters or policy makers or educators see it. Yes, statistics show the higher the degree you have, the higher your overall income tends to be. This is true, despite all the Gates and Spielbergs and other famously rich people who dropped out of college.

However, there are other factors as well. Students who perform better in academics tend to have higher self-esteem. Which means they tend to take more risks, accept more responsibilities, assert their ideas and follow through on them believing they are right for the situation. Which also means they perform better at their jobs, whatever that job may be. Which attributes to the GDP.

Students who perform below standards tend to have lower self-esteem, so they take fewer risks, and so on. Until they hit the "find a job" stage in life and end up making less income. This mentality is often passed on to the off spring. They don't call it the "cycle of poverty" for nothing.

Nearly all students I know want something like Hannah Montana's life - normal people with a secret, fabulous life and means to live it mysteriously appearing with almost no struggle whatsoever. They may SAY they want to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a business executive, but what they REALLY mean is that they want to be a business executive-by-day-rock-star-by-night. How realistic is that? The lure of escapism happens early folks. And when their fantastical dreams don't happen, they get all jaded and depressed and that self-esteem plummets like a rock. I've been there.

Here's another teacher's opinion on the same article that might be enlightening.

My question is: if people had known this for so long, how come the nation keeps sinking money into "other things" rather than investing in education and quality educators? And not just with money. I'm talking about the intrinsic value of education, outside of dollars and cents. Pop culture today proves that you don't need a high school diploma to be rich and famous. You also don't need a high school diploma to tumble out of a limousine, drunk and without your underwear. However, you wouldn't know it for the millions of dollars tabloids pay for that kind of documentation.

Hedgetoad touched on it a little bit. If our society held education in a higher place than in does now, would we have the issues eminent today? I highly doubt it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Throw around a few cool words


I've been pretty busy lately, teaching art every day of the week so far. Weirdly enough, I haven't been called in to sub for RVUSD yet. (REM: call personnel coordinator tomorrow about that) There are several things I want to blog about, but I haven't had the time to wrap my head around them yet so they'll have to wait. Until then, here is a story from today that I thought was quite awesome.

Art student: "I don't like coloring. Coloring sucks. I don't really like art but my mom made me take it. Coloring is the part that I like the least." (he says all this and more ALL THE WHILE COLORING HIS ART. kid, if you are going to stick it to the man, at least have a little more backbone about it.)

Later, same art student as above: "I'm done."

Me: ::takes a look and turns to him with a serious face:: "Do you know what you did today?"

AS: ::looks at me sheepishly, probably thinks I'm going to call him out on his whining and shrugs::

Me: ::turns his paper to face him:: See how you only used one color but with different values, or shades? This is called monochromatic art (ok, so I was making this part up - I'm an elementary teacher, I'm allowed to do that - and monochromatic DOES mean "composed of one color"). Most often you'll see shades of gray, which some people call black and white. This here is called sepia, since you only used shades of brown.

AS: ::takes a closer look at his own work, confused that something he did by accident actually has an official name:: But I only used one color.

(note: I wish I could write well enough to describe his incredulous tone here. He WANTED me to scold him, was expecting it, and ended up being praised for his creativity with color pencils.)

Me: Yeah, it looks kinda cool. Almost like one of those old photographs from the Gold Rush you sometimes see in museums. (he's in 4th grade; 4th grade social studies content standards revolves around California history; I assumed he had at least reached the Gold Rush by now and chose that to tap into his schema - whoa, did you SEE that strategic maneuver there? remember this when hiring me, please)

Art student #2: Let me see. ::looks, and is genuinely impressed:: yeah, that does look cool.

AS: ::takes another look at his own work, this time with a more appraising eye:: Are you going to put this in the office? (for display)

Me: Yes.

AS: Ok. ::walks away somewhat confused but in a good way::

I'm going to ask him in a few weeks what he thinks about art and see if his opinion hasn't changed. =)

Monday, April 20, 2009


Sometimes at restaurants, I choose what the person next to me is eating because I'm lazy and it's easier than reading through all the menu items.

Scenario 1:

Option A - get up at 6am to play two hours of tennis.
Option B - ignore the alarm and get some more rest because this cough has been ruining my intentions of getting a night's sleep.

Chosen: Option B. I woke up last night at 1am, 3am, and 5am coughing and spitting up the King of Phlegm's minions, even though I dislodged KoP a day or two ago. It's kind of like Hitler's dead but there are still Nazi's around.

Scenario 2:

Option A - do an art sub in Brentwood this afternoon, one that overlaps with swimming.
Option B - attend swim class and prevent myself from failing a P.E. course at a junior college.

Chosen: Option A. I'll be making $$$ at a job that has been good to me in many different ways. Besides, I can always re-take the swim class at another time.

Scenario 3:

Option A - finish UTEC, get my credential, move on to BTSA, and enjoy a life-long slog of classroom teaching including the slow and painful death of my rainbow colored dreams of improving the quality of education in this country.
Option B - forget all that credential crap and do the application for the next step in becoming an NET.

Chosen: ?????

Ok, so that last scenario isn't correctly informed. I just read the email from the Teach Away people, I didn't actually look at the fine print of the application. And it's only moving me forward to the interview process. And they didn't say when I would actually start - especially since I expressly remember putting December 2009 as my date of availability. So I think they should know that.

But they point is, NET vs. BTSA/Clear Credential. It's true that if I teach overseas, I don't necessarily need a California teaching credential. It's also true that many teachers are not making the 5 year deadline of getting their Clear because NO ONE IS HIRING OR KEEPING FIRST YEAR TEACHERS LONG ENOUGH TO DO THE YEAR-LONG BTSA. See what I mean about the slow and painful death? It's happening already.

I think I'll go for it. You have to let go of old stuff to have your hands free enough to take hold of new things after all.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Things that make me sigh. And not in the good way.

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Whimsical escapism.

Being in a paralyzing, dream-like daze.

Accidentally putting the ice cream back in the refrigerator side instead of the freezer side and not discovering this until the next day.

Read through my midterm evaluation from this semester while re-organizing my files and being depressed about it all over again.

Waking up from a nap that wasn't refreshing or relaxing.

Overhearing my mother complain for the first time - that I know of - how I don't have a boyfriend.

Things that make me want to prove I'm better than that:

All of the above.

I spent the past three days or so going through all my papers, sorting out the keepers from the recycle pile, and then reorganizing the folders with new labels. I feel rather guilty for having used a forest worth of paper in the past two years alone. But it feels good to clear out the clutter.

Friday, April 17, 2009

That was a freebie

"The story of a wealthy family who lost it all."

Arrested Development is one of the most awesome comedy series. Ever. I discovered this only recently, since the first time I watched it some years ago, I wasn't used to the "documentary film making" style and the wobbly camera action made me nauseous. But The Office has pretty much cured me of that.

Most of the running gags are very much inside jokes ("Heeey brother."/"Her?"/etc) and certainly some of them flew over my head even though I watched it from beginning to end. In the season 3 episode "Exit Strategy," one of the running jokes was about the incompetency of trainees. Each of the gags involved the newbie messing up and then the trainer/supervisor say, "That's ok, try again."

Sound familiar? It does to me.

Sometimes they say otherwise, but student teachers are basically thrown in and told to go for it. Usually if they make a mistake they get a "That's ok, try again." Which is ok sometimes because I like to figure things out for myself too. But other times it is the epic of epic fails.

In any case, knowing there is a satire on this system makes me think I'm not so much in the wrong. Especially after dealing with some non-helpful university administrative types today. Sure, I admit to making mistakes and I take ownership for them. To quote JL, "I believe people are responsible for digging their own holes and lying in them." I dug a pretty deep hole and I'm occupying it now.

However, there is no need to help me make my hole bigger, thank you very much.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Kinda like making egg tarts

Hit or miss? Or experienced consistency?

Another perfectly behaved class taught today. It's been a month since I was withdrawn from student teaching. I've run the gamut of emotions as well as sunk into what Psych Central calls a "severe depression" and was advised to "seek professional medical advice immediately."

But I have yet to figure out how it deteriorated the way it did. I don't think I'll ever come to understand what went wrong this semester for a very very long time. If ever. I haven't done very much differently from the way I typically handle behavior management. Well, maybe I've been a little more explicit about directions and consequences. The "sick" voice (raspier, lower pitched) helps a little too. I've also been MUCH more relaxed while teaching, which means the words come out smoothly, and my actions are seamless. I was told today by one of the parents, who is also a teacher (high school), that he couldn't even tell which kids I targeted for behavior and which ones were just getting help. All he knew was that the behaviors were quickly extinguished in a low-key manner.

Ok, I take that back. I guess I have been doing things differently due to environmental factors. I'm so much more at ease in certain types of classrooms than others! Just this past week, I finally began to develop acceptance of certain events and things that may never happen. The peace that followed this thought was such a relief. Yet, when I accepted that certain things were never going to change about JL's classroom, the brick wall I was beating my head against only got thicker and thicker.

Weird how things turn out.

During clean up time today, one of the girls hung back and watched me put away my traveling art kit. I let her help me tidy up the pencils and things in their individual boxes. She did all this without speaking, just nodding or shaking her head or smiling. When everything was put away and we were ready to roll, I asked her if she had a good time. She thought for a moment and then shyly said,

"I didn't think I was good at art before, so I never liked it. But I think I'm starting to like it now."

Oh geez. Just when I was ready to up and quit UTEC, some kid I've only taught once has to go and say something like that. Thanks a lot, kid. It's all your fault for making me not run away from this profession.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I've had that duvet cover since I was in elementary school.

I swim at my local JC twice a week, and with most JC classes, the students left by the middle of the semester are senior citizens (because they can take the classes for free), high school kids (because either their parents make them or they are naturally over-achieving like that), and people like me who already have their four-year university degree and are just doing it just because. Oh, the lifestyles of the over-educated and under-employed.

Since I've had nothing to do except while away my days in leisure, I've been reading a lot. Certainly among these are my favorites. I started the above book not too long ago, and have re-established my childhood habit of lugging around books with me every where. Including the pool.

I get there early on Monday and one of the older ladies in my swim class notices me reading.

Older Lady: So why is it called "The Stolen Lake."

Me: ::Looks up, slightly dazed from being engrossed in my book and from the glare bouncing off the pool surface:: Um, because someone steals a lake.

OL: ::Looks at me as if I'm crazy and scoots just a little bit further away from me::

Well, it's true. The book is set in an alternative universe where South America resembles Victorian England more than what it resembles today. There is a lake in the mountains of what would equivalently be the Andes, and because of the high altitudes and cold winters, the lake freezes solid during certain parts of the year. The king of one country cuts up this frozen lake and transports it to a hiding place because the queen of a rival country has kidnapped the king's daughter for the purpose of killing her and grinding her into porridge so that she (the queen, not the princess) can have eternal life.

I'm not saying that all children's literature is quite that off the wall. Frankly, there are some adult literature that's even crazier. But it's a kid's book for crying out loud! Did you not notice the cover illustrations, OL? Well, that's not fair, I admit. Adult literature sometimes have questionable covers.

Not that I'm angry at your for thinking I'm clinically insane. I'm used to that, actually.

But it was the look you gave my book after you gave that dirty look to me. As if the book was filled with cooties about to attack your For-Nora-Roberts-Only eyes and damage them beyond repair.

To me, that's the charm of children's lit. The genre has the capacity to explore all sorts of topics and characters and still be grounded in believable emotion. Don't tell me you've never imagined yourself at Hogwarts! It's part of the magic which anyone can join. But if a full grown adult imagines themselves aboard the Voyager with Captain Kirk, they are labeled "trekkies" and put into a little box and scoffed. Which they probably deserve to be - at least the ones I've met can be exceedingly obnoxious and condescending.

Going back to the magic bit. Besides sheep herder for Samsung, if I weren't a teacher I would be in the children's literature field, producing them, reviewing them, editing them, even illustrating them. Nearly all the books in my possession and probably would never sell/donate away are children's books. They do make great reading.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New hope

The power of art.

Art Student: ::whine:: I don't want to color.

Me: Then you can watch. (I pick up some color pencils and start to color his art)

AS: I like red.

Me: What item in your art do you want red?

AS: ::points:: The electric drill. (we were doing a still life of tools today)

Me: So you like jokes, huh? (he had been giving me "chatty" and "whiny" issues throughout the lesson because he wanted to tell knock knock jokes instead of doing art)

AS: Yeah.

Me: I know a joke, a Bible joke. Who in the Bible had no parents?

AS: Jesus?

Me: Nope, Joshua son of Nun!

AS: ::Promptly turns to another student and repeats the joke. They laugh. AS turns back to me and hands me another color pencil:: The hammer should be blue.

Me: Here's another. Knock knock.

AS: Who's there?

Me: Orange.

AS: Orange who?

Me: Orange you glad you came to art today?

AS: ::laughs:: Yeah. I'll finish coloring now.

Me: Go for it. (hands over the color pencils)

AS: I like art.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Low morale, part 2

Would school community gardens cheer people up? Maybe.

Jonathan Kozol is one of the authors that my instructors rely on, and I've learned a lot reading his work. Then this interview of him with the Baltimore Sun startled me. Specifically this quote:

Kozol says that when he began his work in education decades ago, he thought he could effect change. Now, he says, he's just a witness.

Wow. Where to even begin? Is the tide so strong that even a big name in education like Kozol thinks there is no way of stopping it? Then what chances do the little fishes like me have? And if we needed change decades ago, what on earth do we need now? A blank slate?

The article talks about how schools today are even more segregated than the schools in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s day. Segregation is no longer about just black or white, it's about the poor and the rich. The haves and the have nots. Even gender - and not like the way most people still think it is. Girls are quickly out-performing boys in all subjects. A couple years or so ago, girls began receiving more bachelor's degrees than boys. The numbers have only increased since, and the projected trend will continue for years to come.

JL used to talk on and on about "protecting students right to learn" from each other and from themselves. I have nothing against that in and of itself. But he would also go on to say things like "those who are model students need to be sheltered from the ones who act out" among other things (he talked A LOT). Half a step sideways from that point of view and you've got the basis of segregation.

The article asks about what can be a possible solution: closing private schools? Busing students across the city to diversify each school's student body? This is where Kozol states how he's just a witness now. It seems so sad and wrong and SAD that observing is the only thing some educators can do. It really is too big for us all.

I know I'm guilty of this too, but it does seem like the field of education is seeped in bad news. You try so hard, and do your best and still the feeling of helplessness overwhelms so that even the good stuff seems pointless and jaded and idealistic to the point of mythology. Or perhaps it leads to schadenfreude. I don't know which is worse.

The blank slate isn't looking like a bad option after all.

It's done!

Wishing I had brought one of these fellas home with me. It's not too late!

After reading a chapter of a very encouraging book, a good night's sleep, some tennis, and two donuts later, I was ready to submit my PACT. Pressed the button about a minute ago, and there's no turning back now.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Seeking perfection or why I hate the PACT with every fiber of my being.

Naturally perfect. No adjustments necessary. Unlike myself.

I'm supposed to submit my PACT by this Tuesday. Currently debating whether to just submit it now and get it over with, or hang on to it for another thirty hours or so to continue editing and revising.

In theory, the PACT is awesome. Kind of like NCLB. But in real life, it sucks. Big time.

Here's some background information. PACT stands for Performance Assessment for California Teachers. You video tape yourself teaching a section from a unit for at least fifteen minutes, then write a huge ass paper on the context of the learning environment (i.e. what the class setting is like), what you planned and why you planned it (i.e. lesson/unit plans), discuss the video of yourself, discuss some student work samples, discuss things you would do differently and other similar stuff. It is by far the largest, longest academic project that I have ever done.

Why is it great in theory? Well, I like it because I'm a reflector. Specifically, I "write to think," which means that I fell like I haven't completely internalized new information until I've written about it. Hence this blog, among other documentation that I keep. Writing the PACT has probably been the single most informative event about my own teaching that I've gone through so far. I'm even crazy enough to think I would like to do this on my own in the future, just because I want to for myself.

So why is it not great? The weaknesses of PACT (and BTSA too, come to think about it) aligns with the weakness of NCLB: reality bites it in the butt, leaves a huge mark, sucks any meaningfulness out of it all, and then leaves a noxious poison that leaves you weak and exhausted and ready to quit teaching for something less tragic.

Maybe that's why I've procrastinated this far on it. I'm basically done, but I don't want to go back for editing because it leaves a bad aftertaste. It reminds me how much I suck as a teacher, how very bad some of my lessons have gone, and leaves the kind of doubt that drains me of my will to live.

I am so not exaggerating.

The most convoluted part is that the CCTC panel which scores the PACT doesn't read every single one. They randomly select a few for spot checking and then pass everyone else. If I am lucky enough to be chosen this year, I'll be graded on a scale of 1-4 on each of eleven areas outlined in the rubric. Any number of 1's is a complete and total fail, even if you manage 4's in every other area. There is no averaging here. I have to score 2's across the board in order to pass. It's known that 3's are possible but rare and reserved only for the top rated. My professor who is guiding us through the PACT has professed he himself would find trouble achieving a 4 in any area.

Plus, people who have their clear credential (or equivalent) don't have to go through this. Which is kind of unfair, because IMO, many veteran teachers really need some sort of re-training.

What with the RICA, the CSET, the CBEST, the program, the additional units for continued professional development, the BTSA, and lord knows what else they're going to throw at us, it's no wonder teacher recruitment is lower than nearly every other profession that requires equivalent education and experience. Then there's the pittance of a salary to boot.

This sounds a lot like complaining, and it probably is. I've logged somewhere between 35-45 work hours just writing this thing over the course of half a semester, betting on the off chance that mine will get chosen to be reviewed. You bet I'm going to be a bit bitter.

Yet, I've now decided to hold off on submitting it, despite having done all I can possibly do with it. Because a more telling characteristic of a teacher than having gone through the PACT is believing their work is never finished and can always be improved upon.

Friday, April 10, 2009

It's never over

Stopping to smell the peonies. Wait, that's a peony, right?

I've been working on the PACT (aka TPAs) off and on for the past three weeks, wrapping it up, spell checking and grammar checking, and making sure I'm adding enough details to give me a good enough score to pass. And then I recall that not every PACT submitted will be graded by the All-Knowing-All-Powerful-Panel-Whom-Provides-Teaching-Credentials-Upon-Those-They-Are-Well-Pleased-With. If I do happen to be chosen as one of the lucky few to go before the panel, I'll pass with a 2. Out of 4. And apparently a 4 is nearly impossible to achieve, even for my professors and other seasoned teachers.

What kind of joke is that?

I swear, I've spent AT LEAST 20 hours working on this thing, NOT including attending the class that tells us how to do it. NOT including all the prep and background work that has to be in place for the context for learning. Just the writing, uploading, and form-filling out part. It's insane work that is driving me crazy.

So it's probably no surprise that I want to be done with this already. That I've slowly developed a Threat Level Red headache as today progressed, putting the final touches onto this project. That I feel like throwing my computer out the window because Taskstream isn't willing to upload my last few files during the internet's high usage hours.

So I'm going to be calm, and leave it alone, and come back to it later tonight. Because this is not worth the disintegration of my mental state to struggle with it when it's not being cooperative. Contrary to myths about teachers, we do have better things to do than accumulate stress levels that can kill an elephant.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A hint from above

I'm in love with this sport.

I played tennis today for the first time in three months. It was superb. I've forgotten how much I love running around hitting a bouncy yellow ball across a net for no apparent reason. I know quite a few teachers prefer to recommend team sports, like soccer and basketball, rather than "isolating" sports like swimming or tennis. I, however, don't really see the difference. I also think it really depends on the kid. Some kids do better in sports where they mainly rely on themselves to get the game going.

I caught up with the cool retired ladies that I usually play tennis with. By the way, when I'm retired - and I will totally be retired. I used to think that I won't ever want to be retired, I enjoy being busy and working all the time. But I've learned that I like being busy on my terms, at least for the majority of the time. Busyness on someone else's terms is pretty much inevitable. When I'm retired, I want to be like these ladies. They bike and run and play golf and tennis and volunteer in the community and spend time with family and friends and are engaged as much, if not more so, as non-retired people. Actually, it's safe to say that they are more engaged in life much more than the average non-retired person. It's awesome.

Anyway, one of the ladies' husband was recently diagnosed with cancer. He's getting treatment and seems to be doing well considering. And she's doing well too, with the stress and the worry. Of course she has to cut back on some things to go with her husband to the doctor and such, but she can laugh and play tennis and be concerned with others when they are going through a rough time too (namely, me).

Which led to me thinking. Lately, my thinking has generated nothing but lists and today is not exception:

Things that are higher on the cosmic priority list than myself and my problems

1. The overall physical, mental, and spiritual state of mankind. I'm not the only one with problems. Statistics will prove that I'm also not the first, nor the last, to have these life/professional issues either. This doesn't take away the fact that to me, my problems are pretty big. But it does provide some perspective.

2. The environment. Dude, a whole ice shelf broke off and fell into the ocean near Antarctica. If the earth was a human, it would be suffering of multiple diseases with a definitely NOT GOOD prognosis.

3. Things not of this world and this life. A while back, I read (or was it heard? eh, don't remember) about the near certainty that what we know and see and feel and think is just a tiny speck compared all that is possibly out there. There is no significant proof that aliens exist. But there is also no significant proof that they don't. That teeny tiny world inside every cell in your body, à la A Wrinkle In Time is a possibility because nothing says it is absolutely not a possibility. I've always wondered what it would be like to stand from God's point of view.

Tangent: I'm suddenly reminded of this quote by a rabbi that goes something like "Whenever people turn to God and cry out, 'Why are you doing these things to me, God?' I tell them that God turns back and says, 'Why are you doing these things to me, people?'" It's not the exact quote, and I get the feeling that I'll be bothered by it until I find the quote again, but that's the jist of it. And I think it sums it up pretty nicely.

One a different note, I went out to VV again today. I love this group of art kids. The class has K-5, 18 students, and responding spectacularly to my behavior management. Of course, these kids come from higher SES families and most likely have most of their structural/behavioral needs met. But even so, they can go wild. As witnessed by the group of 1st graders in the library before my class. The librarian definitely had issues controlling them.

And now I'm making myself get a puffed up head, after all those humbling revelations.

EDIT: Ok, so I was re-reading this and it dawned on me that what I wrote sounds really really really weird. As in wrapped-in-tin-foil-to-communicate-with-aliens weird. I don't "believe" in aliens or any similar thing (believe is in quotation marks because I have linguistic issues with that phrase, which is too long winded to explain here). I do think that people on this planet get to see very little of all that is around us simply because we are limited like that. It's like the ending to the Chronicles of Narnia series. The Pensieve children have explored Narnia for what amounts to years and years. Yet, when they finally *spoiler alert!* die in the train accident and return to Narnia for good, they discover many more adventures and much more land than they had previously known. I don't really like C.S. Lewis' other writings on Christianity very much (mostly because I find it dry), but his Narnia books opened my mind to weird and wonderfully wide things.

Monday, April 6, 2009

It's spelled with a double e and a "-ah" ending!

I know I put really random pictures on my posts, which is why I try to make the captions relate to the topic. So I tried to google images of "cheater" so make the words and the graphics match for once. I really should have put "academic cheater" or the like, because I really didn't need to see some of those images. Yet, I can't decide if those images were more disturbing, or the fact that I also got a bunch of photos of cheetahs as well. As in the animal. Yep.

A fellow educator friend sent me this link last week. It's not new news; people have been plagiarizing since the dawn of time. Not that it makes it right. But China is a country famous for bootleg, so I'm not surprised either. I'm actually willing to bet that for every one cheater they catch each year at the exams, another ten goes unnoticed. Or at least uncaught.

I admit, I've used things without giving the proper citation. With the internet the way it is, it's sometimes hard not to. The image above links to a url that only has the image and nothing else because I couldn't find the origin in the time I have to write this post. I sincerely apologize, whoever created this image. If this is yours and you want recognition for it (or if you want me to take it off my blog), let me know. I'll gladly do so. All you need to do is identify yourself. Preferably with a valid link.

Plagiarizing is rampant. In my art classes, for the 6-8th graders at least, if more than one student worked on that piece I always make the contributors sign their names on it. It's collaborative, which makes it a social as well as a content lesson. And nearly all social lessons naturally lend itself to language lessons. And thus, I've effectively covered all three major (to some teacher, the only) objectives of any well-formed and well-delivered lesson.

I've used images from the internet in my lessons without citing them. I've taken ideas from other teachers and used them in my class without saying where the idea came from. I've tweaked activities I've found so that they fit in my teaching without telling the person who I got the activity from. Sure, that's what teaching is all about; we're not here to "reinvent the wheel" (a UTEC professor, 2008). But this is also a form of plagiarizing too.

Ok, re-reading what I just wrote makes it look like I condone cheating. I don't. If I catch any student cheating, they get an automatic fail on that assignment without the possibility of re-doing it. They'll probably get suspended too. But that's the point. This issue goes beyond the surface - aka the actual act of cheating. It's the growing ideology that one must cheat because:

a) like the parents in the article, one cannot get ahead in life without doing so. I should also acknowledge here that the BBC has a blatant bias against China and its social norms as well as its political policies. There is definite spin here. Because in China, this item is true. More likely than not, any one with any kind of status in China has cheated at one point or another. Which also makes the BBC's bias understandable. And now I'm definitely rambling.

b) that plagiarizing is just "sharing." It is and it isn't. I'm not smart enough to determine when it is either.

c) that the world has become so casual, indifferent to any kind of etiquette whatsoever, that people cheat without even thinking about it. They can't even identify when exactly they cheated, even if they know that cheating is wrong. Because cheating now doesn't look like the cheating of 25, or even just 10, years ago.

It's not limited to these three points either. And that's the one major issue I have with all the positive, collaborative discipline models I've learned so far. I can address the behavior and give a logical/natural consequence for it but that doesn't necessarily address the underlying, maybe psychological but definitely social, problems that led to the misbehavior in the first place. Case in point: the girl in JL's class who lies and steals and lies about stealing. She's repentant and willingly participates in the consequences of her actions. She's even more willing to do it again at a later date.

I have no answer for this. These are just my thoughts.

EDIT: I should give credit to Bop Bop (see link list on the right, under Friends) for pointing the above image out to me. She with the backwards smiley faces. =)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Terms of endearment

Sweet, but not a "sweetie."

During my most recent subbing events, I caught myself doing something that I thought I would never do: call my students "sweetie," "honey," or other such condescending terms.

Some people would say it's acceptable to call kids these things all the time. I never thought it was so. I've called my students:

-ladies and gentlemen
-young lady/man
-by their name/nicknames
-boys and girls (and only in a very business-like way, not the high pitched, squeaky way)

I actually made it a point to only call my students by these things. I never liked being called "sweetie" - still don't, thank you Mr. President - because it is slightly demeaning.

So it really surprised me when I heard myself using these terms on boy, girl, primary, and intermediate students. Probably because JL and the other upper grade teachers at EIB used them a lot. Come to think of it, KM used it a lot too, but it was less weird for her because she worked with primary and primary teacher tend to be high pitched like that.

It surprised me even more when the reactions to these terms were consistently positive. This week, more than one set of students were blatantly talking when I was explaining the lesson. The escalated through non-verbal, verbal, and moving to a different seat before they finally settled down. After the first verbal warning, there was some tension of ruffled feathers in the air. I called the kid "sweetie" when I told him to move, expecting some sort of lashing out (like I had with my 5th graders). He tensed up when I spoke to him at first, but relaxed and placidly moved and was a near model student for the rest of the lesson.

Here's another term I rarely use: WTF?! Kids actually LIKE being called sweetie? Cutie pie? Dear? Hon? Seriously?

I thought about it long and hard before my intellect found a logical reason for this phenomenon. Now, not all students reacted positively to it (although none reacted negatively to it either...). The trend was that nearly all my Hispanic students, at any grade level, gave a positive reaction. It kind of makes sense. Kind of. I'm a little apprehensive of writing this down too, and I'm the first person to admit that I'm totally not an expert on Hispanic culture. This is just my observation.

In Spanish, there are a variety of different terms of endearment for adults speaking to children. Chica and chico. Meija/meijo. Tierna/o. And then all the nicknames derived from their real names or some characteristic of the person. I also learned recently that if boy is named Guadalupe, it's much more soothing to the kid to call him "Lupe" for short. Because Guadalupe is actually a girl's name. Literally "Mary." As in the virgin.

So it makes sense (sort of) that students of Hispanic backgrounds would tend to respond positively when called "sweetie." Goes to show how important it is to KNOW YOUR STUDENTS. It would be disastrous to call a kid "dear" when they really, really dislike it and will react violently to it. Personally, I still find calling someone "sweetie" condescending. But that's just me.

The more I know, the more I feel like I know nothing.

P.S. Of course, there is the probability that I'm completely wrong either way.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Convoluted much?

Like an ostrich being fed bit by tiny bit through the bars, growing behind a cage.

Dear DOJ, FBI, and all California agencies which request fingerprinting background checks,

First, I would like to say that I respect your work. Thank you for keeping the streets (relatively) safe for the average American. It's a thankless job, which all teachers understand.

Now I would like to propose something to you. Something revolutionary. Perhaps - this is only a suggestion - it would be prudent to share information across agencies on people seeking the Live Scan service? Why? So then people won't have to pay the service fee multiple times.

Ok, so I admit this is a very selfish reason. I understand that there are dozens of special agents who run these things and if there were fewer Live Scan requests, then there would also be fewer government jobs. But please look at it from my point of view. Thus far, I've requested Live Scans for:

- applying to CSUS
- applying for a substitute credential through CCTC
- applying to my YR art instructor job
- applying to UTEC (technically, CSUS. I got in the first time, but opted to go to China instead so had to do it again)
- applying for the RDUSD sub pool

That's five times, approximately $300 worth of background checks. On the same person. Who's most serious criminal infraction is a parking ticket. FROM BART.

Seriously, I'm sure your agents have better things to do than to look at the DOJ file and tax records of a 25-year-old girl who has had a total of half a dozen alcoholic drinks in her life. The only people who think this is a bigger waste of resources than I do are the agents involved in my background checks. Researching my duller than doornails life probably makes them feel like the world is all gray and dingy. I do not envy that job.

Sadder still, I'll have to do the entire process another 3-5 times in the next few years. Learn to SHARE. If kindergartners can do it, so can you.

Thank you for your time.


Drowning In Red Tape

P.S. Hm, perhaps I should get arrested or something just to make the lives of those agents more interesting. I do have a lot of pity for them. I know the G20 summit is over, but is it too late to join one of those protests?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bits and pieces

The way isn't complete - probably never will be - but I'm ok with off-roading. At least right now I am.

Yesterday I taught an art class way out in WC at a school called VV. VV is one of those schools that is the complete opposite of WB or EIB. Namely, it was swarming with parents. Which kind of makes me nervous and at home at the same time. Weird. Other than that, I was going to write about the SES differences about VV and the urban settings I'm trained for, but we've been there and done that so let's move on.

Boo yah! Got on the sub list of RDUSD! I'm going in tomorrow for the sign-up. Looking forward to many many jobs. Also looking forward to refining my behavior management so that it works in ANY situation. They said I can have my choice of which grade levels to sub and which schools to sub in. I'm open to any and all right now - even high school. Ok, maybe not high school. But then, teaching high school can be helpful to me as a teacher too.....

Today is the first day this week I don't have a teaching gig. Which is funny, because almost the same thing happened last week. Life does move on. I already knew that being withdrawn from student teaching wasn't the end of the world. But it's also nice to have confirmation that it's not the end of my career either.