Friday, April 30, 2010

Real Education

I didn't know there was a fake education.

Haven't cracked open this book yet, but I'll do a post on it when I get around to reading it. Just wanted to post the cover now because I thought the title was interesting.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Seeing double.

PACT stands for Performance Assessment for California Teachers, aka "How to Lose Your Mind In Four Months." Some other people refer to it as Teacher Performance Evaluation (TPEs).

There are several versions of this thing: one for every single subject credential, and two at the elementary level, for math and language arts (language arts requires an additional case study).

Here's what you're supposed to do:

1) Write a unit's worth of lesson plans. That's about 4-8 full, formal LPs. PLUS, a unit plan, which tells you what the lesson plans are about. As if the lesson plans themselves don't tell you what they are about. The plans can be based on district mandated curricula, outside resources, or you can make it up yourself.

2) Teach the unit. Technically, you're supposed to teach the entire unit. However, the PACT is supposed to be done during your student teaching, and you don't actually get to teach everything until closer to the end of the semester. Thus, in reality, you will probably only get to teach 1-2 of the lessons in the unit. I know of no one who has taught more than 2 lessons from their unit.

3) Record a video of yourself teaching. The clip has to be at least 15 minutes long. It can be edited, but it has to be from the same lesson, same day.

4) Write a super long paper discussing your unit, your lessons, your teaching, your students, your classroom environment, what happened before the lesson, what happened after the lesson, how and why you would change the way you taught the lesson and a bunch of other stuff. With references to research, and other resources. There are prompts to guide you through this part.

5) Take copies of three samples of student work - one low performer, one high, and one middle. Analyze, critique, and reflect upon student work as it pertains to the unit/lesson/your teaching/their performance. The samples don't have to be from the exact lesson you video taped yourself teaching, but it should be related in some way. Add this part to your paper from #4.

6) Submit the whole thing to the CCTC.

7) Wait two months.

8) Get your results back. If you passed, congrats! If you didn't, go back to #1 OR add more stuff to your old PACT. The CCTC will tell you what went wrong, but they won't tell you how to fix it.

There are six different sections to the PACT, including the video. Each will be given an individual score between 0-5. You need to get a score of 3 in at least four, and a 2 in the other two sections, to pass. That's a minimum average score of 2.66. Apparently, it's super tough to get an overall score of 4 - it rarely happens. Or so my PACT instructor said.

Yep. There is a course, with an instructor, to help you get through the PACT. If there isn't, and your teaching credential program requires you to do the PACT, then there really should be. This thing is a hay bale maze of craziness.

The craziest thing of all? NOT EVERYONE IS REQUIRED TO DO IT. Yep. It depends on your program, once again. Most likely, the programs that only require six weeks of student teaching don't make you do the PACT. Which makes no sense to me. Why have all these high standards for teachers and then NOT enforce them for everyone? Sure, you'll get some really well-trained teachers out there. But you're going to end up with some really poorly trained teachers too. Which is exactly what you would have without all these standards in place anyway.

Despite the headaches, I found the PACT pretty useful in developing my teaching skills. I still use some of those reflection criteria to evaluate my teaching now. There are lots of things learn from, just in the act of planning, teaching, reflecting, re-planning, and re-teaching. I'm lucky right now because I teach the same lesson multiple times each week with art and tutoring. For classroom teachers, this cycle usually happens over a period of two years.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The cough that won't go away

I've had this stupid cough for over a month now. I thought I was finally free of it, but it came back this morning all of a sudden.

The thing is, I didn't get this cough from a student. I got it from a parent. My fault entirely for going to her house. I didn't know she was that sick, or that contagious, or else I wouldn't have gone. I don't think she knew she was contagious either.

I hate coughs. My respiratory system has never been the same since teaching in China, where my school was surrounded by a coal refinery, a mutton processing plant, and a medical waste dump on three sides. The forth side was a prison, but that's not what made my lungs revolt.

I've been on an intense strategy fighting this thing. Liquids and scarves, medicine and surgical masks, sleep and protecting my voice whenever I can. It's worked. Last week was my first cough-free week since the middle of March.

And then it had to come back. I don't even know what I did for it to come back, unless I was around someone who was sick. Again. Dear people: when you are sick, don't ask your tutor to come to your house! I'm fine with rescheduling. I would rather miss one of your sessions than a full week's worth of all my student's sessions.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush

I'm not a pro-affirmative action reader when it comes to books about people other than WASPs, or stories about other than your typical upper-middle class society. Books are books and a good story is a good story whether the main character is a minority or not. Honestly, some of the stories written from a minority perspective are forced, and contrite, and stereotypical. Which defeats the whole point of stories with minority main characters to begin with. It's one of the reasons why I never liked Esperanza Rising. EVERY teacher chooses it as part of their reading list. It's overdone, and a little old fashioned. Granted, I've never read it myself. I should at least try it, I know. But the premise doesn't peak my interest.

Not so with Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush. It's awesome. It's suspenseful. It's dramatic. It's real. It's sad. It's bittersweet.

Sweet, or Tree, or Teresa (she has several names) is a fifteen year old girl. She has an older brother. He suffers from porphyria. I had to google that. Their father is out of the picture. Their mother is a live-in nurse who comes home about once a month for a weekend to check on the teens, and to stock up the fridge.

One day, Tree sees a ghost. And then her whole life changes. Hm, that sounds more sci-fi than it actually is. A ghost visits Tree and her brother during a time of transition. That sounds more accurate.

You can't tell it's about a Black family except for some of the dialogue and the fact that the cover art gives it away. I like that. The minority bit of the story shouldn't be a gimmick. It should be approached by assuming the reader is intelligent deduce it from context and language clues. Actually, in some cases, I think the cover art should be more vague about it too. It makes for a more authentic reading experience.

The book isn't not really for the young, young kids. There are several words in the book that prevents me from reading it with, say, third graders. Sixth graders can handle it though. The vocab is challenging, so I would teach that carefully before beginning it as a read aloud.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Media Mondays: Thank you, Mr. Einstein


Mr. Albert Einstein. It's difficult to find someone who doesn't admire him in some way. He was a smart AND wise man. I found these quotes by him here. They have all quickly become some of my favorite quotes ever.

"I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious."

"It's not that I'm so smart; it's just that I stay with problems longer."

"Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves."

"Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions. Imagination is more important than knowledge." (Yeah. Tell that to your local school board)

"A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new."

"I never think of the future - it comes soon enough."

"Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value." (Tell this to the school board too. I dare you.)

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

"Information is not knowledge. The only source of knowledge is experience."

"You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else."

I'm reminded of all those articles calling teachers to teach differently to the type of student population inundated with technology, media, and whatnot. For me, it's difficult to teach differently without living differently as well. And Mr. Einstein's thoughts here sure are different from where education is, and is going.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rolling stone

Third column from the left is home sweet home.

I used to have a blog titled, "Rolling the Stone." Despite the vague Biblical allusion, it was really more about the fact that I change my mind. A lot. In fact, I change my mind so often that it can be mistaken for not being able to make up my mind at all.

But I can make up my mind. Seriously. The moment I decide something I do it. It isn't as often a fault as it sounds. I'm not impetuous - I think things through. But I don't drag my feet about once the thinking is done either. Like the moment I decided to do a series study the California content standards, I wrote the first post on it. Or at least I wrote it the first chance I got. I don't think I was actually near a computer when I made the decision.

Three weeks ago, I made a decision to study the standards in a holistic way. I wrote one post on it. And then changed my mind. Not because it isn't worth it to study the standards in that way. It is highly useful. But I've just come to realize since then that knowing the standards is really less important than knowing my students and their needs.

So I'm spending more time studying the modern student. Which means less available time studying the standards. Which is tacked onto formal lesson plans like an after-thought anyway. And, like always I made that decision a few days ago, so I'm acting upon it now. Which means no more standards. Until I change my mind again.

On a related note, I was offered an NET job last week. I turned it down because they needed me to go across the Pacific immediately. The job is full-time, but short term, only through June. I wanted to take it, I really did. However, I couldn't bring myself to drop my current tutoring students - especially the NCLB kid, who already had two other tutors drop on her before I showed up. I told them no, and I asked they would keep me in mind for future positions.

Today, I was thinking of asking if that position was still open. My NCLB kid finishes tutoring May 2. My other tutees are traditional students. They can live without me. My other obligation can live without me too. I can get on a plane on the 2nd, arrive on the 3rd, and do nearly two full months as an NET with the possibility of renewal in the fall. That would be sweet.

Still some more thinking before I actually write the email. I like my yes to mean yes, and my no to mean no. The position may not even be open anymore, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lessons from the freeway

Bogus indeed.

I drive a lot. It's a curse and a convenience, and I live in California where we like to fan out rather than build up. Which means I talk about driving a lot. Here and here for instance.

Today's driving stories come from the freeway. Those huge structures of concrete and steel, asphalt and unidentifiable plants in the medians. The arteries of modern civilization.

Lesson #1: If you want to go slow, do it in the slow lane. Unless you WANT to be an annoyance and a hinderance to those around and behind you.

Lesson #2: If you want to go fast, do it in the fast lane, or else. Unless you WANT to be a jerk face.

Lesson #3: Head for areas with less traffic.

Lesson #4: On the occasions where heading for areas with less traffic is not advisable, nor feasible, chill out! Turn the a/c on. Crank up the radio. Sit up straighter, lower your shoulders. Loosen that grip from the wheel. You'll get there when you get there.

Lesson #5: That said, it is horribly rude to cut in front of somebody who is going at a faster rate than you. When THERE IS NOTHING IN YOUR WAY IN YOUR OWN LANE. Really? Do you really want "pissing people off" as your one and only success in life?

Lesson #6: Beware of keeping pace with the driver next to you. There is most likely someone coming up behind you, looking for the perfect opportunity to blow past both of you. Take your chance of moving ahead while you can.

Lesson #7: On the same note, if someone is all up on your rear bumper, flashing headlights, roaring engine, and all, TAKE THE HINT.

Lesson #8: Buffer zones = the most effective protection against crashes.

Lesson #9: Finally, be a Good Samaritan.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The class "Forget-er"

Easy to make waves, just as easy to make them disappear.

Tabitha* was one of my very first tutoring students this year. I've been working with her for the past three months. She's the only student who has never canceled on me. She, and her mother and aunt, are awesome.

She started out with a D in math. She's now pulling a B.

She LOVES Twilight.

She swims.

She was painfully shy at first, but she's opened up once we've gotten to know each other better.

I give her timed multiplication and division tests whenever I can. As a fourth grader, she really should be pulling 20 problems per minute in both. She got really close at one point a month back, 19/min in multiplication. Then her teachers started giving her piles of homework and we couldn't get to the timed test.

This week, she's taking the CSTs, so she has no homework. Yesterday, I gave her the timed tests again and she fell to 14/min in multiplication. She wasn't proud of that. But she went up to 11/min in division, from only 9/min last month.

Which is weird, because division is usually more difficult for students than multiplication.

"Oh yeah," Tabitha said, when I told her about her anomaly, "Since we've been doing the harder stuff in math, I've been forgetting the easy stuff."

Thus, the class Forget-er. Tab does tend to forget - she even forgets what she was talking about mid-sentence sometimes. It's funny until it gets exasperating. Good thing she pulls it back together once she senses I'm losing patience with her. I wish all kids were that perceptive. Hell, I wish all ADULTS were that perceptive.

I do have a question to end on: For this type of forgetting, where does natural, childhood ditziness end and a real learning disability begin? I'm pretty sure Tab won't qualify for special ed, probably never will. But it's definitely something I plan on studying more in depth than that measly six units of Intro to Special Education.

*Not real name

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Let's grow things!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Flash cards for flash aquisition

Simple grandeur.

Remember how I like to keep things simple? It extrapolates to some of the more old-fashioned learning techniques too.

I've been working intensely with my NCLB student on her vocab. Intense as in 20 words, on flash cards, per week. Not every word is brand new to her. I strategically chose enough old words that I knew she knew to make going through the flash cards less painfully slow. The quicker she does them, the more confidence she has in herself, the more she remembers the new words.

She has one of the smallest internal word banks I've ever seen from any 8th grader. Words are not her thing, apparently. But she's improved in the past three weeks or so, especially after I started drilling vocab words from the reading comprehension I give her.

I think it's really hard to learn vocab without some sort of context. More reading kids! Much more reading. Those measly half-dozen vocab words in each Open Court weekly lesson are not enough, as proven by my student - in fact, by many students. I don't really care what they read, be it magazines, blogs, news articles, or the advertisements on the sides of buses. Just read! A lot! You'll be surprised at how many new words a kid is exposed to just by reading environmental text.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

List: Top 100 Children's Books

Mountains of books.

This person made a list of the Top 100 Children's Books which I found via here.

From #100 at the top, to #1 at the bottom. I'm too lazy right now to type in the numbers for the list:

The Egypt Game — Snyder (1967)
The Indian in the Cupboard — Banks (1980)
Children of Green Knowe — Boston (1954)
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane — DiCamillo (2006)
The Witches — Dahl (1983)
Pippi Longstocking — Lindgren (1950) (I think this is actually a series)
Swallows and Amazons — Ransome (1930)
Caddie Woodlawn — Brink (1935)
Ella Enchanted — Levine (1997) (There's a book? The movie was horrid.)
Sideways Stories from Wayside School — Sachar (1978)
Sarah, Plain and Tall — MacLachlan (1985)
Ramona and Her Father — Cleary (1977) (Strangely enough, I don't recall reading any of the Ramona books. Ever.)
The High King — Alexander (1968)
The View from Saturday — Konigsburg (1996)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — Rowling (1999)
On the Banks of Plum Creek — Wilder (1937)
The Little White Horse — Goudge (1946)
The Thief — Turner (1997)
The Book of Three — Alexander (1964)
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon — Lin (2009)
The Graveyard Book — Gaiman (2008)
All-of-a-Kind-Family — Taylor (1951)
Johnny Tremain — Forbes (1943)
The City of Ember — DuPrau (2003) (My thoughts on the book, and the movie.)
Out of the Dust — Hesse (1997)
Love That Dog — Creech (2001)
The Borrowers — Norton (1953)
My Side of the Mountain — George (1959)
My Father’s Dragon — Gannett (1948)
The Bad Beginning — Snicket (1999)
Betsy-Tacy — Lovelae (1940)
The Mysterious Benedict Society — Stewart ( 2007)
Walk Two Moons — Creech (1994)
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher — Coville (1991)
Henry Huggins — Cleary (1950)
Ballet Shoes — Stratfeild (1936)
A Long Way from Chicago — Peck (1998)
Gone-Away Lake — Enright (1957)
The Secret of the Old Clock — Keene (1959)
Stargirl — Spinelli (2000)
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle — Avi (1990)
Inkheart — Funke (2003)
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase — Aiken (1962) (Yeah, baby!)
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 — Cleary (1981)
Number the Stars — Lowry (1989)
The Great Gilly Hopkins — Paterson (1978)
The BFG — Dahl (1982)
Wind in the Willows — Grahame (1908) (Am I the only one who thinks this is a FREAKY book?)
The Invention of Hugo Cabret — Selznick (2007) (I'm a sucker for books with no words - or mostly no words.)
The Saturdays — Enright (1941)
Island of the Blue Dolphins — O’Dell (1960)
Frindle — Clements (1996)
The Penderwicks — Birdsall (2005)
Bud, Not Buddy — Curtis (1999)
Where the Red Fern Grows — Rawls (1961)
The Golden Compass — Pullman (1995)
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing — Blume (1972)
Ramona the Pest — Cleary (1968)
Little House on the Prairie — Wilder (1935)
The Witch of Blackbird Pond — Speare (1958)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz — Baum (1900) (Unbeknownst to many, this is also a series. There's 20 of them, I think.)
When You Reach Me — Stead (2009)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — Rowling (2003)
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry — Taylor (1976)
Are You there, God? It’s Me, Margaret — Blume (1970)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — Rowling (2000)
The Watsons Go to Birmingham — Curtis (1995)
James and the Giant Peach — Dahl (1961)
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH — O’Brian (1971)
Half Magic — Eager (1954)
Winnie-the-Pooh — Milne (1926)
The Dark Is Rising — Cooper (1973)
A Little Princess — Burnett (1905)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland / Through the Looking-Glass — Carroll (1865/72) (Trip-y, and awesome, and math-wonderful.)
Hatchet — Paulsen (1989)
Little Women — Alcott (1868/9)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Rowling (2007)
Little House in the Big Woods — Wilder (1932)
The Tale of Despereaux — DiCamillo (2003)
The Lightening Thief — Riordan (2005)
Tuck Everlasting — Babbitt (1975)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — Dahl (1964)
Matilda — Dahl (1988)
Maniac Magee — Spinelli (1990)
Harriet the Spy — Fitzhugh (1964)
Because of Winn-Dixie — DiCamillo (2000)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — Rowling (1999)
Bridge to Terabithia — Paterson (1977)
The Hobbit — Tolkien (1938)
The Westing Game — Raskin (1978)
The Phantom Tollbooth — Juster (1961)
Anne of Green Gables — Montgomery (1908) (Whoa. I forgot it was that old. Still, timeless.)
The Secret Garden — Burnett (1911)
The Giver — Lowry (1993)
Holes — Sachar (1998)
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler — Koningsburg (1967)
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — Lewis (1950)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philsopher’s Stone — Rowling (1997)
A Wrinkle in Time — L’Engle (1962)
Charlotte’s Web — White (1952)

Several complaints about the list:

- No way A Wrinkle in Time is second to that pig! I love pigs, but I love philosophical, string theory-esque science fiction more.

- How come they listed all the Harry Potter books by their proper title, but never gave the exact titles for some of the other serialized books?

- This is, of course, a list of books that were originally written in English. Twenty-one Balloons, which technically should belong on this list, was written in French, so it was shunted. Along with other notable kid's books, I'm sure. Someone needs to translate those. Or I need to learn 32 more languages. Which ever task is faster is fine with me.

Some good things about the list:

- I have never heard of half of these. Which is nice since I now have a new reading list. On the other hand, my shabby excuse for a local public library probably won't have any of them.

- The Gossip Girl and Twilight books are not on here, for which I am so. Very. Thankful.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Kids on ipods

This is a pretty fascinating video, if only to get a different perspective on technology from some participants of the generation who have never known dial-up.

The decade according to 9-year-olds from allison louie-garcia on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The hidden signs

While meeting a couple cohortmates for lunch the other day, one of them brought up a good point. She said something to this effect:

"When I was teaching at the elementary level, it always seemed like the heat was ON. The pressure was literally up to my chin, and I was suffocating under it. Now that I'm in high school French, it's so much more relaxing. So much more fun. I mean, this is what it's supposed to be. Teaching is supposed to be enjoyable."

Yes. Teaching is supposed to be enjoyable. It is supposed to be fun. Mr. B used to say that to me all the time.

Losing the fun in teaching is such a hidden sign. It can sneak up on you and lead you into denial. You ARE having fun, you say to everyone, including yourself. It's just the paperwork, the testing scores pressure, the parents, the ADHD student who desperately needs meds. It's just that there is something preventing the fun from surfacing, that's all. And that's the danger.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cutting corners hurt your hands

From here to there.

Student: So how can I factor numbers more easily?

Me: You'll have to know the multiplication tables really well.

Student: Ok. But how can I know what the factors are without dividing every time?

Me: Knowing the multiplication table backwards and forwards will help you to eventually memorize the factors of the most commonly used numbers.

Student: That's so much work! There has to be a better way.

Me: Not until you can recite the multiplication tables without hesitation.

There are short cuts to factorization, but I didn't want to tell this student what they were without forcing them to do it the long way first. Really now. Short cuts will just get you more lost than before, if you don't know how to read a map to begin with.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Math tutoring for grown-ups

Never too old to learn, never too young to teach.

One of my newer tutoring students is a lady in her late 30's/early 40's. She has two kids, the oldest one is in 7th grade at a private boarding school four hours away. The younger one is in the 5th grade, and will most likely attend said boarding school. She has this beautiful house on a lake, with a pool.

And her math level is about the same as a 4th grader (or what a 4th grader is supposed to be at).

It's awesome she's going back to school, in a subject she doesn't know well and has little confidence in. It's awesome that she's brought up two really polite and smart kids this far. It's awesome that she's successful at her work (from what I can tell, it has something to do with the media and household stuff, a la Martha Stewart).

And it's crazy to me that she has gotten this far, been this successful, all while floating on 4th grade math skills.

Well, I guess success is defined in many ways. She's a great lady, a hard working student. It's still a little awkward for me to be teaching someone 20 years older than me. But it's cool too. There's no teenage lethargy, no elementary kid's desire to pay attention to EVERYTHING in the room ALL AT ONCE. Definitely getting the widest variety of students possible in this tutoring job.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The appeal

The life saver. Hoping it works, but it's still good to know how to swim without it anyway.

Last weekend, I helped a high school senior kid write a Letter of Appeal in a last ditch effort to get into his top choice college, from which he had been rejected. It was a pretty good letter, even before I stepped in and finessed it for him. Very personal stuff, which is what a letter of appeal should be.

I wrote a letter of appeal way back when too. My parents were pinning their hopes of sending both their children to Berkeley. One of many disappointments from their children. I didn't particularly care for Berkeley, even if I was hoping to be accepted from them too. The prestige blinded me a bit, just like how whenever I see Chanel I want to have it, even if Chanel isn't really my style.

Anyway, my appeal failed. In the end, it turned out the way it was supposed to for me, and I love being an Aggie. But I'm rooting for this kid. It takes a lot of guts to spill it all out in a letter, which will be read by a bunch of strangers - strangers who, at least seemingly, hold the success of your future in their hands. It's an intimidating task.

If worse comes to worse, he can still attend his top choice school by going to a community college for a year or two, then transferring. This is also a smart choice, monetary-wise, albeit not always the most desirable choice, especially to a young person longing to break away from old ties and build new ones for himself.

Good grief. College is such a confusing path! Yet, for many students, it's the only path they ever think of. I know it was for me. I think I would have been disowned by my entire family and all my friends if I had chosen a non-traditional 4-year college career.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Facebook leads me to combative qualities

Carving out an argument like a rabid land developer.

The following "chain-status-update" has been floating around over on facebook for awhile:

"Over 23,000 teachers were given pink slips in CA, 14,000 in NY & 17,000 in IL. NJ & Florida are cutting teacher jobs & reducing salaries. We need to get our priorities in order! Athletes get paid millions, but teachers who we trust to help raise & educate our children get no respect! In honor of ALL teachers, copy & paste this to your status."

One of my cohortmates posted it on his status, and he got the following comment from someone:

"The comparison to professional athletes doesn't work either. Teachers know what they're signing up for when they get started. Getting paid through the tax and spend system is always going to be inferior. as it should be. I will never buy a professional sports ticket or merchandise but i also think club owners should be able to pay their players whatever they wish to pay. The point is... complain about superintendent pay. not an unrelated field."

I commented with this little number:

"I agree that club owners should have the freedom to pay their athletes whatever the hell they want.

However, the call is for respect, not really for increased salaries. Athletes do not have to buy their own equipment when playing for their teams. Yet, teachers supply paper, pencils, books, and other school and cleaning supplies for their classrooms out of their own pocket.

Athletes are still endorsed and maintain a fan base when they make mistakes in both the game, and in their public image. Yet, teachers are blamed for their student's low test scores, when said student is a truant because their parent "forgets" to take them to school; or because their student does not have academic support at home; or for any other reason that is completely outside of a classroom teacher's control.

Athletes are given time to develop their skills, their club and their fans support/invest in them as they become better athletes. Yet, teachers are expected to start out "perfect," doing everything right, all the time.

Salaries are not the only - nor the most - indecent thing about how teachers are treated."

I also want to add this:

Yes, teachers do know just how deep/wide the stinking pit called the teaching profession can sometimes be. They know what they are getting into. That doesn't mean they don't deserve the professional decency that is owed to any worker, of any field of work, in America - or anywhere else, for that matter.

At least the comment about superintendent pay is valid.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Networking issues

Overshadowed by the blossom, the late bloomer works hard to crack open it's own shell.

I'm not the most extroverted person in the elevator. I typically don't start up conversations with strangers. And on the rare occasion that I do, I don't ask a lot of personal questions. I don't even ask a lot of personal questions from non-strangers.

Thus, needless to say, the whole networking thing, as it applies to job hunting, is entirely above and beyond my current skill set. I've tried it - yep, given it the good old college try. But I guess I just don't have the appearance of a person worth giving leads to.

And that is the main reason why last week sucked so much. Even people I consider friends were very vague and non-helpful to my inquiries. That makes me sadder than I can say. Besides, schmoozing makes me feel greasy all over, and sad PLUS greasy is not a good combination.

So, like most people of my generation, I went to Google for some help. All the advice sites I've sought give pretty much the same tips on networking.

ehow told me to:

a) Use social networking sites. CHECK! See links to my facebook, twitter, tumblr, flickr, and LJ on the side bar.

b) Dress your professional best. This is subjective, but I consider it a CHECK! Take a look at my "teacher style" tagged posts for evidence.

c) Join professional groups such as Toastmasters, or your local chamber of commerce. NEED TO DO. Although, I'm not sure how helpful business people would be in providing leads to education jobs. I'm willing to give it a shot anyway.

d) Carve out time for networking. NEED TO DO. Did I mention I'm an introvert? As such, I would much prefer to cuddle with my rabbit and watch Netflix movies on a Friday night than go gadding about to crowded, overheated venues of alcohol and dimly lit rooms. I've got to figure out a way to break this daunting step (to me) into manageable pieces. told me to:

e) Give and receive "qualified referrals." Referrals to what? I can recommend good books. I know some movies worth seeing. I'm pretty sure that's not what they mean. Maybe referrals to things that are more specific to teaching, like lesson planning materials. Or things like the Multicultural Conference. NEED TO DO.

f) Write thank you letters. Oh yes. I excel at writing letters and sending stuff through snail mail. CHECK! Now, if only I had more people to write thank you notes to...

Even Seventeen magazine had some tips for me:

g) Be real. CHECK! Been happening since I turned 23 and got over my angst-y, teenaged, college-spoiled self. I love this aspect of getting older: less faked copying, more real being.

h) Volunteer. CHECK! Well, it might not hurt to do more of this, especially when my volunteer work is focused entirely on church-related things. Are you ready for me, local SPCA? I'll be coming for your puppies and kitties next!

i) Develop a good memory of names, faces, etc. Oh good Lord, I suck at this. It took me four weeks before I to learn my 12th grade tutee's mother's name. Whom I kept mixing up with the grandmother. It took me an additional two weeks to learn the father's name. I have no idea who her little brother is. NEED TO DO.

j) Don't ask yes or no questions. Uh, hello? I'm a teacher of elementary school kids. Solid CFU skills included - which means I NEVER ask yes or no questions without having a follow-up for more clarification. CHECK!

k) Follow-up, including getting their contact info. NEED TO DO. My socially anxious self is entirely too ready to jump up and leave after networking opportunities, hence I forget to even ask for a phone number or email. Step One: resist the urge to bolt! Step Two: think of reasons to ask someone for their contact info (i.e. sending them photos taken, links they would appreciate, calling to confirm later). Step Three: be brave enough to use those reasons.

Wow. Looking back at this post, it really seems like I'm a huge wimp at interpersonal relationships. I'm really not - I have personality/gifts/career guidance tests to prove it. I do have friends, and I work well with people. I guess the first hurdle is the biggest.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Media Mondays: Post Secret

Photo from here.

Do you know about Post Secret? Because you really should.

Beware, some content on Post Secret is definitely NSFW.

Also, I totally don't know if it's ok to take images from Post Secret's blog. As with all images that aren't mine, I'll gladly comply if the owner wants me to take it down - or cite it correctly. Just don't sue me, please. Believe me when I say it's not worth it to sue a person on a teaching salary.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Standards Sundays: A holistic approach, history/social sciences K-6

From bud to blossom to compost, the whole kit and caboodle.

So here's the plan with this thing I call "studying the standards." It makes much more sense to me to look at each subject throughout the grades, following the strands and getting an overall view of what students are supposed to learn in each grade. I did something like this in my social sciences pedagogy course and, well, let's just say I have a much clearer understanding of what I'm supposed to teach for social studies now.

Which says a lot, considering how social studies is probably my weakest subject, content-wise.

Let's take the social science standards and look at the general idea throughout each grade:

Kinder. The official title is "Learning and Working, Now and Long Ago." In other words, it's about professions, how professions have changed, and what people did in the past as well as what they do now.

First. "A Child’s Place in Time and Space." Thus, community. Specifically, the local community.

Second. "People Who Make a Difference." I see historical figures here. Presidents, inventors, creators, scientists, authors, artists, thinkers, movers, shakers.

Third. "Continuity and Change." This one is probably the most mysterious, if you only look at the title. It's mainly about geography, politics and law, and economics.

Fourth. State history! Pull out your Play-doh and legos students, it's time to build a mission!

Fifth. Extensively studied in my series, starting with this one. The formation of the U.S.A.

Sixth. "World History and Geography: Ancient Civilizations." The most straightforward title of them all. My favorite history era. Ancient peoples are pretty awesome.

See the how the holistic factor helps to clarify what an elementary school kid should know before they enter middle school? It basically starts introspectively, personally (i.e. what profession would you like?) and grows outward, globally, from there. I especially appreciate how the standards actually match a child's cognitive growth - from egocentric in kindergarten to a wider world perspective for the pre-teens.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Screen cap taken from RICA homepage.

NOTE: Apparently, I already wrote about the RICA. But I like the writing of this entry better, and there's a little more information that the other post didn't have, so I'm keeping this post anyway. Two posts on the same credential topic? Goes to show how important it is.

Welcome to part 20 of Ms. B's Explanation Of How To Get A California Teaching Credential! In this section I will talk about how I learned more about reading and writing the English language than I ever thought was possible to know!

The RICA is as assessment taken sometime before, or during the early part, of the student teaching component. Supposedly a test to show how well you know how to teach reading, it actually tests more on the pedagogical language associated with reading instruction.

Not that the RICA isn't useful, because it is. However, I took this thing more than a year ago and I've forgotten, or jumbled up the definitions in my head, many of the terms the RICA requires that you know. Yet, I was still able to teach my NCLB tutee so that she raised her language arts grades from an F to a C- in 1.5 months.

So yeah, not exactly the most accurate measurement of how well a teacher can teach reading. Still, I suppose I should do an independent refresher course on schwas, reading diagnostics, phonics, phonemic awareness, et. al. It wouldn't hurt to keep up the language behind teaching language.

The RICA (plus the multicultural/bilingual course) is the newer, younger, more streamlined version of the CLAD. All California teachers are required to have certification to teach EL students, for obvious reasons. The sooner it gets done, the less stress experienced, I say.

There IS a lot of stress surrounding the RICA. If you don't pass it, you don't get your credential, since it's a built in component - an "all or nothing" situation. The passing rate is notoriously low as well. I've heard anywhere up to half of all test takers fail on the first try. Do you have to pay the $130 again for a second try? You betcha!

The good news: any decent language and literacy course (plus some studying on your own) will get you well above the minimum passing score of 60%.

I didn't have to do the video performance section of the RICA (another $60, and then $300 for decent video capture equipment) because my language and literacy course incorporated a case study assignment PLUS I was doing the PACT in math anyway (more on the PACT next time). I have no idea how difficult it is to pass the video assessment. Any tips for those who took it?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Dear parent

Mo says, "Relax! Chill out! Life is too short to make your student miserable, and thus unmotivated to do much of anything on their own."

You know, your anxiety for your child to excel in art is starting to affect him negatively. It might be wise to back off a little.

Sincerely, your art teacher.

P.S. I also don't appreciate it when you attempt a long-winded conversation with me when I'm still in the middle of teaching. K'thanks.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The dedication of teachers

Fruits of labor.

Tonight, I gave an extra hour of my time to my tutee. For free. So she could finish one of her regular assessments. This assessment brought her up to 52% in her Algebra II class. She was at 18% a month ago. I can't think of a tutoring session with this kid where I haven't stayed at least ten minutes more - also for free. Tutoring counts time to the nearest 5 minutes. That adds up to about $100 of my tutoring pay that I've given pro bono.

I don't know of any teacher who won't give more than required for the benefit of their students.

I don't know of any teacher who hasn't shelled out their own money to supply their classrooms with field trips, decorations, pets, books, and paper.

I don't know of any teacher who won't give a bit of their health/personal lives/sanity in order to create a fun and exciting learning environment.

I don't now of any teacher who isn't willing to do all these things. They will complain, oh yes, they will complain. But in the end, they will suck it up and do it anyway. I hope I never meet a teacher who isn't like that.

Teachers deserve more pay, although they can live without it. Teachers deserve more praise, although they can live without that too. Teacher's deserve more respect, and yes they can live without it.

Because all that sacrifice is worth it when I saw how happy my student was when she finally began to understand Algebra 2.

P.S. Notice I said "worth it," NOT "rewarded." My REWARD as a teacher comes from the satisfaction of knowing I teach well, and knowing I'll keep improving with hard work. What is OWED to me as a teacher is decent pay, decent working conditions, and decent respect from the community.

Reward, owed, and worth. Three very different things.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

School marmy dresses: my version

I like dresses. I didn't used to like dresses. They got in the way a lot. Good thing I grew out of that, and learned how to move in a dress - as well as learned how to pick the right kind of dresses - or else my teaching clothes would be halved in volume.

The above was my favorite dress to wear with button up shirts underneath - that is, my favorite until the straps got stretched out and the entire thing died on me. It was comfortable, and went well with my orange cardigan.

This shirt dress is my current favorite, although it would definitely be too hot in about a month to wear. The material is quite heavy.

The above two are actually too short to wear without something else underneath, usually pants. Leggings as pants are not an option for me - too casual, and frankly, I feel weird wearing leggings as pants. Why on earth do manufacturers make dresses so short?

This is the oldest dress in my closet. I've only ever worn it to weddings, but it'll suffice as a costume change between the teaching day and parent-teacher conferences in the afternoons.

The black and purple one in this photo is a little fancier and have only been for weddings in the past. It's a very comfortable dress and goes will with a cap-sleeve shirt underneath.

I really love the pockets in the red dress above. Sadly, this one is on it's final breath and will be retired to the rag bin soon. I'm pretty tough on my clothes - but then, teaching is a tough-on-clothes kind of profession.

This last one is super comfy, but is already beginning to be stretched out. I bought it a size too big, not realizing the cotton top would stretch out so much so quickly. The skirt is my favorite part of the dress. It's airy and swishy and modern.

Looking back at these, I see a pattern of browns and florals. I guess I like earth tones in my dresses.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Keeping it simple

It's been a random thinking day. I blame it on the King of Phlegm that has once again lodged in my lungs.

As with personal finances, keeping lesson plans as simple and easy as possible has always led me to better teaching overall. The complicated stuff doesn't go very well when the basic procedures and knowledge haven't created a firm foundation yet.

In the planning stage, I always prep more than can possibly be done in the given time. Just because I like contingency plans - in case of extra time. But in the end, I shed a lot of the extraneous stuff for a more focused lesson. Students have more fun, learn stuff more in depth, allows new knowledge to sink in, and relaxes everyone because they know what we need to do that day isn't an impossible list that will never get finished.

There are so many great, great lesson ideas out there, every where - in my head, on the internet, in my colleague's heads. I can think of great lesson ideas just from staring at a tree (climbing it, measuring it, crayon rubs of leaves to study their structures, etc). It'll probably take 10 years to even get half of my ideas realized.

Still, I like to think of these things, even when I know I'll opt for the streamlined version. It's just fun to imagine all the possibilities.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Media Mondays: There, I Fixed It

Photo from here.

I've got to say, I would do the same thing if I couldn't find a ruler long enough for the chalkboard.

I've also got to ask: Why can't the school afford enough meter sticks to go around? If they can afford them, why did they not buy them? If they can afford them, and bought them, where did they all go?

All these questions are probably a moot point if the professor had a meter stick at hand and decided to use a chair leg anyway. Go eccentric professor!

There, I Fixed It is part of the Lolcats division for the handy-person in all of us. It's pretty great because some of those photos are superiorly stupid and others are actually quite smart ideas.

Or at least I think they are smart ideas. But then, I grew up in a household where we used old glass spaghetti jars to hold cookies.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Standards Sundays: new format in construction phase

I've been getting a little bored writing about the standards using the way it's been done so far. Bored, and not really getting the depth of insight into pedagogy that I know I can get from this. So I'm going to change it. Teaching philosophy at work right here! If it works, keep it. If it doesn't, scrap it and do something new.

Taking a break from the standards this week to get my thoughts together before executing them. Sideways cookies until then!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Don! Don! Doko-doko

I took my first Taiko drumming class last year at the CSUS arts resource faire and I really, really liked it. It took until now to get back into the swing of it (pun!) though. It's definitely something I'll consider starting at my future school - or at least in my own classroom.

Drums are typically $250 each, but you can make one with strong, clear packing tape, large garden trash bins (no lids), and a sharp razor blade. The drumsticks, called bachi, can be made from wooden dowels (just be sure to sand the edges down) or bought at Japantown (San Fran has a pretty good taiko supply store apparently). The bought ones are of course more expensive.

So far in my taiko lessons, I've learned beats through doubling. More specifically, the number of beats halves each time you repeat a new pattern, like 8 sets of four beats, followed by 4 sets of two, then 2 sets of one, where each beat is two counts (i.e. you swing your arms once each time, so the right and the left hand hits the drum once for every "count").

Lessons are on Saturday afternoons with the Sacramento Taiko Dan. I'm looking forward to today's.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The process of prep

I am so glad Easter only comes around once a year. I'm not sure I can handle something that is so prep heavy more often than that.

Not that it's a lot of work. It isn't. I've prepped lessons and activities that have required MUCH more work. I'm just a little stressed because 75% of what I need to do for the egg hunt and group games need to be done within an hour right before the event. Time management is crucial, I have to make the day of as stream-lined and efficient as possible. Which means I really have to know what I need to do. And do it fast.

Ok, back to work.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Life lesson #6: When luggage gets lost

Fly happy.

I went to DC for a few days this week and got my luggage lost for the first time. I guess it was about time that happened - I've flown a decent amount so far in my life and have never had to deal with lost luggage before.

Lesson #1: DO NOT be pissed off at the airline luggage counter people. It doesn't get you, or your luggage, anywhere, it doesn't make them feel like they owe you good service, and frankly, it makes you seem like an ass.

Lesson #2: Friends who give you their underwear (new, of course) and clothes to use until you get your stuff back are some of the truest friends around.

Lesson #3: Pack light. Do carry on only whenever possible.

Lesson #4: The luggage delivery person was really nice. I wonder if you can tip them? Maybe that's actually a lesson I haven't learned yet.