Saturday, December 29, 2007

I Have Moved

You can now find me at:

Differentiated Diplomas

I often wonder if a partial solution to helping colleges, trade schools, and employers determine the worthiness of students for their programs and businesses is the diploma itself. I anticipate my solution will not be popular among certain groups, but I do think it could eliminate some of debate over assessing student backgrounds and achievement.

My rough idea for four diplomas, which I would probably color code rather than officially name:

1 - The first diploma would be one where the student took the most rigorous coursework available, essentially an honors diploma for most students. Students could have their coursework scored on a points basis, and if enough points are earned then they would receive this diploma.

2 - The second diploma would be for students who took the mainstream ("normal" or typical) courses available to them when they have not earned enough points for the first diploma.

3 - The ELL (ESL) diploma for students who took a number of sheltered or ELL courses rather than reaching the basic standards or taking the basic course load of the mainstream student.

4 - The special education diploma for students with a large number of special education courses as part of their academic course loads. If the special education courses were merely support for the mainstream courses, then the second diploma would be earned.

These are just rough thoughts but make me wonder if it could be a potential assistance to determining or assessing student achievement. It may even lead to the elimination of the vast monies spent on testing and instead spent on more direct means of assisting students.

Just an idea I think about from time to time.

Higher Standards

An editorial supports raising the bar for students graduating from high school. Graduating seniors often take remedial coursework as freshmen in college and the low percentages of minorities applying to four-year universities are some of the pieces of evidence used to support this position.

While I, too, would like to see students better prepared for university life and coursework, I also see some concerning factors not discussed.

I firmly believe that elective courses often keep students in school and reveal to students their passions. By increasing the number of core classes (according to the article: "English, math, science, social studies and language") students take, the number of electives available to them would decrease.

Also, the public and school officials must be prepared for failure rates to rise initially. In any system when standards are raised, a period of time ensues where success levels drop and then they begin to recover. However, success rates may never reach previous levels.

Academic success is a social and community dilemma. The increase in single-parent households, the attitudes about school, the socio-economic status of households (the issue of poverty in general), and more affect student achievement.

It seems as though every solution to perceived academic shortcomings is conducted entirely within the schools, even though numerous factors outside of the school setting greatly affect student success--arguably even more so than what occurs within the classroom.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Where is the Money?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau the United States has a current population of 303,124,730 and according to the NPP the Iraq War debt is about $481 billion.

Based on the population in Washington State, our share is approximately $10.4 billion. This could be used, at $58,000 per teacher, to hire almost 180,000 teachers.

Obviously this is unrealistic, but I feel it does highlight how much money is not going to education that could be. Even 5% of that money could hire 9,000 new teachers.

Class size is a continuing problem in my district and particularly in the high school, and I definitely hope this issue rises to the forefront of budgeting decisions this year.

As I mentioned on a blog response earlier this week, one of our assistant superintendents repeatedly states that class size does not greatly affect achievement results at the high school. He says this despite mandating classes of 20 or fewer students for remedial and state-test prep classes and encouraging smaller AP class sizes.

I used my classes two years ago to show how the same course I taught to two classes, one of 18 students and one of 28 students, showed a major contrast in overall achievement. The smaller class had a 10% higher average than the larger class. Plus, the smaller class had no failures.

Did I mention the superintendent sent his kids to a private school where class sizes are half of ours? Hmmm...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Attendance Update

Looking at the new attendance policy's (the entirely punitive, unyielding policy we currently use) effects on absences and tardies, the preliminary numbers don't show success as of yet when looking at my past grade books. My look at the numbers is not a pure, scientific look, but it is what I'm seeing.

I truly believe we are punishing the symptom of the problem. We don't cure appendicitis by giving the patient Tylenol for the pain. Masking the symptom doesn't cure the disease. Our attendance system punishes the symptom (absences and tardies) instead of curing the disease (attitudes about class and school).

Following this post is a brief recap of what the staff was shown this year.

This is what I've found so far on a per student basis, keeping in mind that the new policy began in 2006:

1. Overall 1st semester absences have risen from 8.9 to 9.3 per student from 2005 until now. This is about an increase of 75 total absences.
2. Overall 2nd semester absences have risen from 9.6 to 10.5 from 2005 until 2006. Obviously this year's 2nd semester numbers won't be ready until June. This is an increase of about 162 total absences.
3. Honors students' absences have risen from 3.9 to 7.0 during 1st semester (2005-2007) and from 4.9 to 6.1 during 2nd semester (2005-2006).
4. Non-Honors students' absences have risen from 10.3 to 10.8 during 1st semester (2005-2007) and from 11.0 to 12.1 during 2nd semester (2005-2006).
5. Tardies have declined for honors students and risen slightly for non-honors students.

What I'm seeing in my classes is that absences are on the rise, slightly in some cases but rising nevertheless. The honors students have effectively deciphered the system and are maximizing their absences with the fewest number of negative consequences. They openly discuss how they can dodge detentions while still missing classes.

Additionally, I looked at absences by subject and period. Students in my Sophomore English courses (the lowest level I have) have the highest increase in absences while 1st period absences have risen more than any other period. I wonder what the Freshman rates are.

We have one administrator and three full-time employees essentially working their entire shifts on this attendance system. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I do know this system is not cost effective and is not going to solve the problem.

Brief Recap from an earlier post:

"At a staff meeting we were shown a chart detailing how the number of assigned detentions has risen for attendance infractions and another chart detailing how many absences are labeled excused and unexcused. These were presented to illustrate our increasing successes in "solving" the attendance problem.

At the beginning of the year we were told the measure of success would be the declining numbers of absences and tardies. However, this presentation did not show that data.

Two staff members before me asked questions which were not really answered, so I asked what our ultimate goal is with the new attendance policy (we had the same one last year, but this year we give double the detention time and only track tardies on a weekly basis rather than through a full semester). I stated the data shows parents are doing a better job of calling in and excusing absences and we are doing a better job of enforcing consequences for unexcused absences and tardies, but isn't the number of absences and tardies our true goal? What are those numbers?"

Online Alternatives

In this Oregonian article the successes of an online school are touted as a potential solution for students looking for a new mean of success.

And it works for some.

Over 1800 students are enrolled in this online school with high levels of success in reading, scores comparable to public schools in math and reading, and special needs students with passing rates near their fully-abled peers. Sounds wonderful.

Except there's a catch: "Connections Academy is off-limits for any student who can't arrange for a learning coach to be home with them for five or six hours, five days a week."

I would contend that any student who is getting assistance online and who has a full-time tutor is going to perform quite well. This signals to me children of middle to upper-middle class parents who normally outperform their peers in public schools anyway.

While I like the opportunities afforded (pun intended--sorry) these students, I do believe the comparisons are a bit disingenuous.

My high school uses online learning to allow credit retrieval, but we encounter a few major difficulties with normal hours online credit retrieval:
1. The curriculum is not aligned with ours.
2. The rigor falls far short.
3. The course requirements (of the course being made up) are not required of the online students.
4. The students regularly finish the retrieved credit in less than six weeks (with no real plan for the other 12 weeks).
5. The students have a high failure rate in the next teacher-led course in the sequence.

However, we are seeing some successes with Moodle. This Blackboard styled online system allows teachers to require the same knowledge as our normal classroom setting courses, but also allows the work to be submitted and worked on online. It's not a cure-all, but it does greatly improve the online systems and programs we have used in the past, especially the current credit retrieval programs.

I would love to see online learning take hold in my community, but I also believe the rigor and content requirements must be included. In addition, I think teachers from our school (preferred) or teachers with the skills and and background in the content area (who understand our aligned curricula and become part of our departments) must instruct the online courses.

This requires support from the district in dollars, time, resources, and people, so we'll see how serious it is to provide online classes with the rigor and high standards of the regular classroom.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The "Duh" Study

While flipping from channel to channel last night, I came across a report on Fox News about education. The researchers found that students who crammed all night for a test, the so-called "all-nighter," earned lower grades than the students who studied a bit at a time throughout the semester.

Essentially, the study explains that good students outperform bad students.

You don't say?!

This study and the feature itself seem emblematic of the new data movement: data must be provided for everything, even for common sense conclusions. Unless a formal assessment or study is used, the results are often discounted, not accepted, or ignored altogether.

While I believe formal studies and assessments are important, I do hope that informal assessments and qualitative data--the messy stuff that may not fit into a pretty chart--are not dismissed too quickly; they are weighted with authority as well.

(60 minutes after the above post) Update: I found a link briefly explaining the study in the Seattle Times. The way this article is worded, the study seems more like it focused on sleep deprivation, but the Fox News report seemed more like a good student vs. bad student study. Regardless, it still reads as common sense proved with data.

Monday, December 24, 2007

My Favorite Christmas Movies

Students are often curious about me and my life, and every December the students eventually ask me about my favorite Christmas movies when I show a film while we work during the final week of classes before the holiday break. The conversation goes something like this:

Student: Dr Pezz, what's your favorite Christmas movie?

Me: See if you can guess.

Students (one after the other): A Christmas Story, Scrooged, A Christmas Carol, A Muppet Christmas Carol, It's A Wonderful Life, The Santa Clause, The Santa Clause 2, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Christmas Vacation, Elf, Home Alone, Prancer, White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street

Me (after each response): Nope

30 seconds of silence

Student (with a sigh): Ok, tell us.

Me: Die Hard

Student: That's not a Christmas movie!

Me: Sure, it is. It takes place at Christmas. Ok, then tell me my second favorite.

Wise Student in the Back: Die Hard 2

Me: Excellent! And my third favorite?

Student: Die Hard 3

Me: Nope. That didn't take place during Christmas time.

Student: What is it?

Me: Gremlins

Sighs all around

Me: But...I brought my fourth favorite for you to watch.

P.S. The students all seem to know the Die Hard movies, but I feel old mentioning Gremlins since rarely has one of the students seen it.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Break Time

I'm taking a week's break from the blog. Enjoy your holidays and, as I like to tell my students, do something fun just for you.

Here's a Merry Christmas from a favorite family of mine:

Up Next

I get to start some great units to begin the new year:

Am. Lit.: Ray Bradbury stories and science fiction
Soph. Honors: The Princess Bride
College in the H.S.: The Red Badge of Courage
Mythology: Norse mythology

It's going to be a fun finish to the semester! Plus, I only have six students (out of over 150) who I worry won't pass. All can, but they need to buckle down and improve in a couple areas. I'm hopeful.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mad Dogging Me

In my high school the kids have a term called "mad dogging." This is when someone stares across at another student with the intent to harass or bully, which often leads to a shouting match, bad blood, or even a fight.

I got mad dogged in a more figurative sense by an administrator (I will call this person Mad Dog).

At a staff meeting we were shown a chart detailing how the number of assigned detentions has risen for attendance infractions and another chart detailing how many absences are labeled excused and unexcused. These were presented to illustrate our increasing successes in "solving" the attendance problem.

At the beginning of the year we were told the measure of success would be the declining numbers of absences and tardies. However, this presentation did not show that data.

Two staff members before me asked questions which were not really answered, so I asked what our ultimate goal is with the new attendance policy (we had the same one last year, but this year we give double the detention time and only track tardies on a weekly basis rather than through a full semester). I stated the data shows parents are doing a better job of calling in and excusing absences and we are doing a better job of enforcing consequences for unexcused absences and tardies, but isn't the number of absences and tardies our true goal? What are those numbers?

Mad Dog told me I was "focusing on the negative" and am being "negative" while M.D. was presenting. I had to calm myself as Mad Dog had just labeled me and my speech in front of my 80 colleagues while M.D. uses the microphone. Mad Dog made it quite clear mine was the final comment with a stern look at me and then ended the presentation. I got mad-dogged!

I see what M.D. is showing with his presentation, but "how are we doing?" is really what I want to know. Are absences and tardies decreasing across the building?

Well, I was upset and attempted to speak with Mad Dog during my prep (busy), and I didn't want to speak about it at the staff party that afternoon, so I e-mailed M.D. my feelings and concerns about the attendance policy. M.D. called me unprofessional for sending my thoughts in an e-mail and said it's "easy to complain" and not be "part of the solution."

Again, I was offended since I have been on every committee in the school for the last four years and have even tried to help Mad Dog create an attendance policy which is not completely punitive. In fact, I warned M.D. four things would occur, and three have with the fourth debatable:
1. Students whose parents are late calling in would be punished for their parents' failure, which would create animosity between students and staff.
2. The community would become confrontational and upset with a completely unyielding policy.
3. Absences and tardies will increase because they are only symptoms of the true problem: attitudes about attendance and tardies, which is where we should focus our efforts. I tested this theory by looking at my absences in my classes, which have increased from about 9 per student to 12 per student.
4. Any system with no reward and only punitive measures will fail.

I tried to get a hold of M.D. before school, who was again unavailable. I sent M.D. another note saying I'd like to resolve the issue and asked M.D. to come see me Thursday or Friday. Again, no response and no visit.

I have resolved myself to seeing that Mad Dog does not wish to resolve the issue and that M.D. does not value the power of relationship building with staff members (even though that very idea is written on the back of M.D.'s school shirt). This might sound like a bit of a stretch to assign these thoughts to M.D., but I have had five other staff members with similar complaints about Mad Dog, and now a group of teachers have approached me to set up some sort of meeting to help M.D. improve on people skills.

I'm not sure what I will do, but I do know that the adversarial air is thickening and teachers are feeling less willing to work with Mad Dog.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My Favorite Thirteen

Check this out at History Is Elementary: 13 facts about a Rudolph Christmas special I loved as a kid.

I Got Tagged!

Thanks for the tag, Clix.

The rules are as follows:

- Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
- Share 7 random and/or weird things about yourself.
- Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
- Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. A student once tested my Star Trek trivia knowledge with the question "What is the name of Jean-Luc Picard's fish?" I actually knew the answer: Livingston.
2. When flipping through channels I have to watch The Shawshank Redemption every time it's on the TV.
3. I have a miniature Globe Theatre sitting on my entertainment center.
4. My favorite advice to students is to "embrace your geekiness."
5. All of my pets are named after literary characters.
6. I go to Las Vegas with my wife 2-3 times a year and really do go for the shows.
7. I could eat burritos or Chinese food every day if given the opportunity. I love both!

Well, that's my eccentricity in a small synopsis. Here are the people I have tagged:
1. Jeff
2. Betty
3. Ryan
4. Hobo Teacher
5. Nancy
6. NYC Educator
7. Repairman

Sunday, December 9, 2007


Ok, it's halftime of the football game I'm watching and time to share a cartoon I found on the net here:

Walk the Line?

I almost forgot to mention an interesting tidbit.

My department head spoke with the local theatre company who is performing Romeo and Juliet and received an opportunity to have a special performance for all of our 600 freshmen students who read the play during the Spring. We have the funding for the tickets but not for substitute teachers and transportation.

When the Boss Lady was approached about helping get funding for the needed buses, she replied "Why not walk them to the show?"

Let me see...600 freshmen, over two miles, on snowy and icy sidewalks, and then a return trek all uphill. Hmm...I wonder why that might be a bad idea?

Needless to say, instead of trying to help us find a means of creating this awesome event, especially for students who may never have this opportunity again, we're told to "work it out."


Enforcing the Contract

The union president and the Boss Lady approached me (since I'm on the union Exec. Board) this week about meeting to help ensure that teachers fulfill their supervision duties and work their contracted hours. I will admit that I usually feel somewhat negative when I hear the Boss Lady state her desire to make sure teachers work their hours because I know the vast majority of the teachers work many more hours than is contractually required. However, I feel she has a legitimate point in this case.

Five teachers left the building without permission after the last class of the day and before the pep assembly, which they are required to supervise (by contract). Each was seen by the administrator supervising the parking lot for students trying to leave early.

Also, four teachers who were sitting in front of the students rather than among the students refused an administrator's request to sit in a position better suited for supervision.

Apparently, this issue follows the misuse of prep time by some teachers as well. We are supposed to use prep time to prepare for classes, not to make doctor appointments or to take a long lunch and so on.

What bothers me is this:
a) These teachers make our requests for more collaboration and prep time seem unjustified since we are all painted with the same broad brush.
b) These types of duty avoidances make my job (and the jobs of others) more difficult.
c) Insubordination is never acceptable. We can disagree or discuss the issue later, but to refuse--especially in front of students--can't be tolerated.

I hope the Boss Lady and I can determine a positive means of approaching the staff to review our professional responsibilities and behaviors. I'd like the review to be a positive one while still ensuring these types of actions don't reoccur. We, as teachers, would do the same in our classes, so I hope this is well-received.

Teacher Created Failures

I went to the high school state football championships this last weekend and watched a coach lose the title game for his team. His inability to adapt and poor play calling at critical moments (really, it was greed leading to opponent points) took the victory from the kids; the leader decided the outcome rather than allowing the kids the opportunity to succeed.

The winning team's coach did not put his team into positions likely to cause failure. He set his athletes up to succeed, and they did.

I see some of this same problem in my high school. While we have quite a number of wonderfully dedicated and industrious teachers, we also have a small few who refuse to collaborate and adapt.

One department in my school has been labeled the cause of our status as a failing school. While I don't believe the teachers in the department are solely responsible, I do see a couple of them as part of the problem. And of course, this reflects on the entire school and impacts everyone.

Two teachers refused to attend the training for their department's new approaches to teaching their content. This comes on the heels of their department being provided development opportunities from the state and district and on the heels of the department's agreement to alter some older methods of teaching in favor of some new approaches. At a minimum some best practices would be shared, and the potential is present to revolutionize and revitalize the department.

The lack of collaboration, unwillingness to change, and outright lack of professionalism appalls me. For a group who is the focus of reform, I would expect that the teachers would at least listen to the suggestions even if they do not embrace them. This type of cancerous attitude needs to be cured and cured quickly.

I hope to see these staff members won over by the rest of the department in their efforts to improve and ultimately help kids succeed.

Additionally, I expect to see the administration step in and enforce the mandates of professionalism. Too often I hear complaints about the lack of professionalism with little done to rectify the behaviors. This is a definite opportunity to effect positive change.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tongue in Cheek

Today is a day I love The Onion!

Check this out.

Should They Walk?

In Wenatchee, a town with a single high school of 2,100 students, the school board will decide whether or not seniors may walk during the graduation ceremony if they have not passed the WASL, the state's test required for a diploma.

In the state of Washington students must complete and pass the required courses, complete a culminating project, and pass the three sections of the state test (the WASL). If a student does not complete all three of these requirements, a diploma will not be earned.

I think the school board should first decide the purpose of the graduation ceremony. Is it simply an all-inclusive ceremonial function for all seniors, or is the ceremony a recognition of accomplishment involving only those receiving a diploma?

The potential difficulty I see arising is if students may walk during the ceremony without having completing all three requirements, which ones should be waived for ceremony participation? Is the state test the one to be set aside for participation? If so, why not the other two?

Currently, 100 seniors (about 20-25% of the senior class) would not be allowed to walk. This could be embarrassing for the students and the school. I guess we'll see how serious individual schools and districts are about holding students entirely accountable for their successes and failures.

I hope the Wenatchee school board decides to allow all to participate or only those meeting the graduation requirements.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lacking Cultural Literacy?

The other day in class I had The Monkees' "I'm a Believer" playing on the stereo, and one of the students asked me "Who screwed up the song?"

At first I was going to laugh, but then I noticed the question was sincere. I realized he was referring to the new Smashmouth version from the film Shrek.

I felt very, very old.

P.S. I heard a rap song using the beat from "Stand By Me," which is almost as bad as another artist I heard using The Archies' "Sugar, Sugar." Ugh!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thesis Papers

At my school we typically teach the standard, 5-paragraph thesis paper. We use the inverted triangle to begin, include quotations in each supporting paragraph, and conclude with the opposite of the introduction--pedestrian, yes, but effective for beginning writers.

I have, as of late, experimented with other types of essay and am now curious what others do.

What do you teach in your school when teaching the thesis paper?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Relationships are the Key

According to kids interviewed in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the keys for creating successful students are mostly cheap and obvious.

The students listed these items as the keys to their successes:

- a quiet environment,
- fewer distractions,
- smaller classes,
- encouragement from teachers,
- help from teachers, and
- the ability to make up missed work.

All of these ideas from the students reveal a need to establish, maintain, and deepen relationships with students--to know what students need and to know them.

This article adds credence to my fervent belief in relationship building in the classroom. I feel it's the most important aspect of teaching and is the primary reason for just about all of my successes in the classroom.

My students say much the same thing. My district said the same thing too, but only after numerous conferences, study groups, and trainings.

I guess we should have just asked the kids.

Simple Majority

According to Washington State newspapers, including the Seattle PI, the simple majority vote looks to be a success. Woo-hoo!


I love tangents in class. Yes, you heard me correctly: I love tangents in class.

Sometimes I learn more about my students in these situations than in any other, and sometimes we all learn a bit more about life than we could have done during the normal lesson.

Today while discussing the scene in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn where some townspeople exhume a body, students began asking unusual questions.

"How bad would the body be when they dig it up?"

"Is it true that the hair and nails grow when you die?" (I enjoy watching the kids' faces when myths are debunked.)

"What is left when a body is cremated?"

"How much is left after cremation?"

"Where did cremation start?"

(Oddly enough and maybe eerily enough, I just watched a program about cremation a few weeks ago on The History Channel, so I could answer many of these questions.)

This led to a discussion about why people choose burial over cremation and vice versa. Also, we discussed how (sub)urban myths begin and what a few are. Finally, we discussed how the exhumation scene could become a part of a CSI episode and how the frauds (the king and duke as the Wilks brothers) could be exposed today and how they could succeed in conning a family. All this in the final 30 minutes of class!

What a great day! The kids were engaged, they asked questions, they bounced ideas back and forth, and we all learned about one another. While we may have strayed from my intended discussion items, the kids thought critically, explored deeply, and decided to research the topic some more.

I wish I had inspired them myself, but I'll take true and honest curiosity any day.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Loving My Students

My classes were awesome this week!

American Literature: These kids have jumped right into The Crucible and explored the play wholeheartedly. They're asking the right questions and seem genuinely enthused to start each day. I think the groups I created are finally creating the collaboration I wanted to see.

College in the High School: They love The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn! It's the first time they have actively pursued the themes and nuances of the readings this year. One of kids said he really enjoyed the sonnet they wrote as well (from the perspective of a character in The Crucible), which prompted most of the kids to agree. I need to create more of these creative writing literary analysis writings.

Mythology: I have successfully turned them into the "myth geeks" I warned them they would become. At least ten kids in each class have explained how they identified mythological references in TV shows, movies, comics, and so on. I love it!

Sophomore Honors: We just finished a unit on The Chosen and Night, and the students explored both in Socratic circles for three days, and I never had to intervene. They continued the conversation with respect, introspection, curiosity, and thoughtfulness. I am so proud of them!


This week the leadership team drove me to leave the school at exactly 3:15. Normally I don't get frustrated enough to feel like I had to escape the windowless confines of the school, but this time I'd had it and needed a release.

First, we had a documented case of MRSA. A student in the school had it, but no one was notified until after the fact. We were notified this Wednesday. Initially I was told the admin team first knew on Monday. Then I found out a district office official discussed the issue with them on Friday. Yesterday I learned the Athletic Office knew last Monday.

No one let the staff know of this situation until 9 days after the case was at least suspected. For a week everyone was at risk! One teacher asked the Boss Lady (at a staff meeting Wednesday when we were first notified) why she didn't trust us enough to inform us of a possible contagion in our midst. I thought "why not care enough to let us protect ourselves?"

Secondly, we have a decision-making body in our school consisting of parents, students, teachers, other staff members, and the Boss Lady. For some unknown reason the Boss Lady and her lackey (who got voted in as co-facilitator because the team's teachers wouldn't step up to help lead the group) decided to stop recording who votes what way.

This is our only means of holding our voted-upon leaders accountable! How do we know if our wishes as a constituency are being promoted if we can't see how our leaders vote? The response: we (the royal "we") decided to stop doing it. This means a practice which has existed for over a decade was stopped without a group vote, discussion, or consideration of why it was there.

Thirdly, we no longer receive the meeting agendas and meeting minutes in our e-mail. While this may sound like a small issue when the information is available on a website, it follows the series of actions attempting to hide information and skew information. By making the information less readily accessible, fewer people will see it and hold the decision-makers responsible.

Overall, the leaders in the building continue to want to hide information of paramount importance and desire to decrease accountability for themselves. Grrr!

Sunday, November 4, 2007


If you haven't seen Chalk, you need to leave the house right now and get it. And watch it. And laugh. And shake your head. And laugh some more. I laughed so hard I cried.

I'm not sure if I laughed so hard because the move was that funny or if I could relate so much to some of the teachers and their plights. Plus, I recognized some of the characters teaching in the classroom next to me or sitting in the third row of my class.

If you're a teacher, you'll get it and love it. In some ways, the cover says it all.

Other movies I enjoy as a teacher:

Stand and Deliver

And for a real stretch: Idiocracy


I find it interesting--not necessarily effective--that a teacher refuses to administer the state-mandated standardized test. Other than gaining a bit of notoriety and calling attention to something already not popular, I'm not sure what the teacher hopes to accomplish. While I do not believe the state tests are a good idea, I can't say a protest of this sort will accomplish much.

Granted, I don't know what the Wisconsin state test covers, but I do know I can get over 90% of my kids to pass it without much additional workload or adjustment to my classroom curriculum. Really all I do is wordsmith my questions to match the test's language and ensure the students answer in a particular style.

I firmly believe the age of standardized testing will pass within 4-5 years when just about every school in my state is labeled as failing. The public will be outraged and will pressure the government to make changes if someone does not intervene between now and then.

Time will tell.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween Oddities

Will Rick in the second row actually bring in his homework?

Will I see an administrator in my area of the building?

Will student costumes be viewed as humorous instead of possible dress code violations?

Trick or treat!

What to do?

I have a frustration this week; it's rare that students truly frustrate me, but this week they have accomplished the feat.

Three weeks ago I assigned a required assignment for my American Literature class, a class with quite a broad range of skill levels. The assignment was quite simple: each student chose a chapter of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to summarize using at least eight events and/or quotations.

I gave the students one week to accomplish this small task, one I assumed would be quick, painless, and easy for the students. However, when I received the writings the students had not even come to close to meeting a minimum standard on the assignment. I received thematic analyses, editorials, and character analyses.

Next, I created a check list for the students, so they could rewrite the summaries. Last Friday the students turned in the summaries. They were better. However, they did not use the check lists. Of the ten items on the check list, only one student completed eight of the check list items.

Today I returned the summaries for a final time and walked the students through the checklist with their summaries item by item. They have until Friday to make the corrections.

I'm not entering a score until this third due date. I want them to do it correctly rather than worry about points. My concern, though, is that laziness and not inability is the culprit. When capitalization and indentation is an issue for 11th graders, I become quickly concerned. Granted, this is not the most exciting assignment, but I am required to have the students complete it at standard.

I guess I'll find out if the third time really is the charm.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What We're Reading Now

American Literature: Puritan and Colonial literature such as Bradford, Bradstreet, Equiano, and de Vaca.

College in the High School (C.H.S.): Finishing Miller's The Crucible and beginning Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mythology: Finishing "Pegasus and Bellerophon" and starting "Jason and the Argonauts"

Sophomore Honors: Just finished Night by Elie Wiesel and starting The Chosen by Chaim Potok tomorrow

By the way, the students finished their projects in Mythology, C.H.S., and Honors, and they were awesome!

It's Over

Conference week is over!

I love conference week, but I'm even more happy to see it end. This week could be the most fatiguing of the entire year.

Normally, we teach half-days and then conduct conferences with parents for two nights and two afternoons. However, this year the Boss Lady (after canceling Open House if you'd forgotten) changed the schedule to three nights. While this may not sound earth-shattering, three split shifts with coaching, activity advising, and other meetings is a torturous stretch.

I must admit I was on cruise-control for the last day.

Still, I love talking to the parents. They are so appreciative of the opportunity to meet their students' teachers and to hear first-hand what is happening (or not happening) in the classroom.

The best conferences are when the students arrive with the parents. With these, I just start asking the student questions until he/she has essentially led the session. It's great!

Tomorrow is the last half-day, so a couple of us are going to play basketball right after the final period. Following that I have a three hour drive to our football game in a far corner of the state. Late night, but we'll win the league title tomorrow. Go team!

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Celebrate good times...c'mon!

I got caught up on all of my grading! My final set of projects come in tomorrow, and conferences are next week.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Movies at Night

I have started a bit of a tradition here at my school, where I show films related to the literature we read in class. Students must bring in a note from a parent/guardian to view the film, but the students seem to enjoy it, especially since I give a very few extra credit points for the viewings. Add extra credit to anything and students will do it!

I showed:

Chocolat for Magical Realism,
Interview with a Vampire and Dracula for Gothic Literature,
Marie Antoinette for A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and
A Man Called Horse for Fools Crow by James Welch (mainly for the Sun Dance).

So far the movies are a hit!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I Goofed

I had three tests and two projects due this past Friday. Grrr!

Now the grading begins.

On the bright side, I get to start The Crucible with my College in the High School class. It's one of my favorites!

Monday, October 8, 2007

No Confidentiality

A survey was sent out to staff last week, which was supposedly confidential and people's anonymity would be maintained. Well, one teacher was honest, blunt and negative, but honest. Later, he received a call at home by the administrator of the survey who wanted to know if the teacher had "a bad day" when filling out the form. Apparently, the administrator of the survey can click a button to discover the identity of the responder.

This morning at an all-staff meeting we were again told our identities were not able to be discerned. This was obviously a lie. People now know we are being lied to.

Sadly, the level of distrust in the building grows.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Test Prep

Last week I gave my students study guides for their novel final exams this week. One of the teachers in the copy room saw my study guide and asked why I give the students all of the identifications, quotes, and essay questions. I explained that I see teaching as:

1. Tell the students what they need to know. I show the students everything I want them to learn, skills and content.

2. Teach the students what they need to know. We learn the content as we learn the skills.

3. Make sure the students show me what they need to know. The exam reveals to me how well I did in teaching the material and skills, and it shows the students how well they did. The exam is as much a test of my success as it is representative of student learning.

If I see very low scores, I know we need to practice more and redo the final exam or project. If scores are high, we were all successful.

Anyway, the teacher in the copy room with me seemed surprised that I would give the students so much information that will be on the test or in the project. I simply stated that I don't believe we (teachers) should surprise students or try to trick the students. I believe students should be responsible for their learning but with known targets and standards.

I don't give the students every question, but I do give them every identification and skill required.

Out of Class

One pet peeve I have is honesty. Another is being pulled out of my classes for trainings.

This week I have to leave my classroom to participate in a training. I don't mind trainings, but I abhor missing classes for it because it's twice as much work for me.

Last June my department was told we had to attend an assessment training, but it would only be a half day. Since we have great reading assessments, we knew there wasn't much to discuss except for range finding and creating anchor sets of answers.

However, when we returned from the summer we were informed that the training had become a full day because the district wanted us to attend ELL training as well. This angered the department because we were assured we'd only be out of school for a half day. It's why we agreed to attend. I understand the training is important, but I like to attend trainings after school or on weekends.

Well, half of the department (there are 20 of us in total) attended last week, and the ELL portion never occurred! It was an entire day of assessment training!

Now they have to attend another day of ELL training. We started at a half day out of the classroom and we are now at two days. We are not happy because the district office wants us to do this again next semester. My turn to attend is coming. Grrrr.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Final Projects

I finally decided to give my final projects to my students in my Sophomore Honors class. They are going to choose three of the following four options for their A Tale of Two Cities project:

1. The students must choose a moving or critical quotation or passage and create a visual representation based on it. Paintings, drawings, and the like are acceptable, and the selected quotation or passage must be a part of the representation. In addition, the students must compose a short explanation about color choice, images, and so on.

2. This option requires the students to select eight literary devices from the class list and to create a graph/chart. On the chart the students must have a column for the devices, a quotation showing the device's employ, and the effect of its use.

3. Here, the students recreate a key scene from the novel and film it to play in class. Clothing, backgrounds, and dialogue must be authentic, and the students must have excellent film work.

4. This final option allows the students to compose a 300-400 word eulogy for any character from the novel.

My American Survey class will finish Fools Crow this week as well. They will select a 100 word passage and will compose a diction analysis. For now, this is all they will do since they have written three essays on the novel already. Besides this, I'm excited to start The Crucible.

My Mythology students will choose two of the following options (though I stacked the points, so the sonnet is a desirable option):

1. A Shakespearean sonnet where each of the first three quatrains summarize three different myths and the final couplet explains the connection between the three myths.

2. An original myth which must include eight mythological figures. The myth must either explain the creation of something, follow two lovers overcoming obstacles for their love, or teach a moral or lesson. These three types mirror the myths we've covered thus far.

3. A comic book summarizing one of the tales covered in class.

4. A picture book aimed at children teaching kids about mythological figures.

I look forward to these finished projects!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Books Right Now

Here are the books I'm teaching right now:

American Literature: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
American Survey: Fools Crow by James Welch
Mythology: Mythology by Edith Hamilton
Sophomore Honors: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

We finish Twain, Welch, and Dickens this week. I just love when Carton mounts the steps to the guillotine and says, "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." It gets me every time, and this line hooks the kids for good. They never forget it. What a finish!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Puzzle Time

In an earlier post, I mentioned how I have changed the way I approach vocabulary in the classroom. What I did not mention is that I have also started to use a particular site I found a while back to create puzzles for my students.

I use Discovery School's puzzlemaker every week. On Mondays I give each of my literature courses crossword puzzles to help the students review old vocabulary words, learn new words, and recall events and figures.

The kids tell me they prefer these puzzles over getting a list of words. I think these puzzles help them practice and help them feel successful as they progress. The puzzles are small at the beginning and grow as the body of work grows.

Other puzzles can be created, though I tend to stick with the crossword puzzles (called criss-cross puzzles on the site). Give it a try, and maybe your kids might like them.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

PR Disaster

I was at Safeway last week, and a parent approached me with a look of concern. I don't have one of her kids in my classes, but she recognized me and decided to ask me a question: "why did the teachers decide to cancel Open House?"

I was shocked to silence, a rarity for me. I didn't know what to say because I didn't know it was canceled.

I told her the truth: "I didn't know it was canceled. When did this happen?"

She said, "I got a mailing today." She then went on to explain how she enjoys Open House to see who her son's teachers are, the environment in which he learns, and how difficult or easy it is for her son to get to his classes.

Of course, she wanted to know who made the call, but I really didn't know. She said she'd call the school.

By the way, this was one week before the scheduled Open House night.

The cancellation was never mentioned at a staff meeting (we had two last week and one this week), and it still has not been discussed at all.

Apparently the Boss Lady decided to cancel it because of a soccer game and a volleyball match. However, we still have not been provided the opportunity to discuss the way this was handled.

A group of parents went to the school board and complained, and the Boss Lady was grilled for all to see. Ouch!

P.S. I found out yesterday from a parent--after mailings went to the community--that our parent-teacher conferences are now changed as well. I'd say that's 0 for 2 in the communication department.

Friday, September 21, 2007

20% Increase

Last year I made vocabulary a focus in my English classroom, beyond the simple literary terms upon which we English teachers focus. I decided I was tired of 65% averages on quizzes. I figured I must be doing something wrong, so I used my Masters classes as a way to better my teaching (fancy that!). I even told the kids they were part of a study, which they enjoyed.

Here's what I do now.

Mondays (40 minutes)
1. The previous week's practice work turned in (puzzle and charts)
2. A vocabulary quiz over the previous week's words
3. A crossword puzzle with the new words (and the old ones)
4. A chart where students create sentences for the each new word
5. A chart where the students draw a picture for each new word

Wednesdays (15 minutes)
1. 3-5 students write their sentences and pictures on the board (each student gets a different word)

Thursdays (15 minutes)
1. 3-5 students write their sentences and pictures on the board (each student gets a different word)

Fridays (10 minutes)
1. Students brainstorm synonyms for the words
2. Synonyms listed on the board

Lastly, I have the students spell the words, match them to definitions, fill in blanks in sentences, compose sentences or stories, share their pictures and explain how they are appropriate, and more. I have some of the traditional quizzes, but I also try to mix it up a bit and the kids seem to appreciate it.

We get to practice the words, talk about them, connect them to images, apply new words to situations, and generally share ideas. It's great!

They also like the routine we've created because they see their immediate successes. Now averages range from 85-90% on the quizzes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Have You Ever...

Have you ever wanted to do this?

Listen To This

This guy sits in the first row of my first period class. Yeah, it's a commercial, but it's true all the same.

Do you have this kid in your class?

Great Day Times Two

Today was my lucky day!

First, I got a note from a parent asking what I was doing to her daughter. She said this is the first time she's enjoyed an English class. Not only was I honored, but I was surprised. We're studying A Tale of Two Cities, which is not normally a fan favorite.

Secondly, I was asked to attend a union meeting with a few of the local big-wigs, but this meant I had to get a sub for the second half of the school day. Not only did I get my favorite sub (and her grandson is in my class--odd, eh?), but when I arrived at the meeting they told me I was mistakenly invited and I should go enjoy my afternoon. They already paid for the sub, so woo-hoo!

I'm now caught up on my grading!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Class Size Update

I just learned some new information about why our classes are so big. The special ed. department stopped servicing 38 students in English, so those students were added to English with no additional support. Not only that, but those students were placed in groups of 9-10 into four classes taught by two teachers.

This completely changes the dynamics in those classes and creates an additional burden on those teachers.

Also, we did not get an extra class (we normally get one class per 32 students), and special ed. did not lose one. We take on additional load with no help, and they have less to do with fewer students. Grrr.

I've been asked by a couple teachers to follow up on this with the union on the grounds of workload, burden, and number of special ed. students per class (we usually limit this to 2-3).

This does not serve the students well at all.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Break

I'm going golfing today. No work today. Posts will be forthcoming, probably this weekend.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Students are More Than Numbers

My wife sent me this. From where, I'm not sure.

Pack 'Em In

I attended a meeting today with one of the assistant principals about the size of classes around the building and in English in particular. We have six classes around the building overloaded. In English we have 15 classes overloaded, all Freshmen and Sophomores.

The district has decided to simply add a credit retrieval class during the day to take 30 students out of the Sophomore English classes. This means that instead of those students getting instruction from a teacher for the Freshman English class they failed, they will sit at a computer with an online program to complete.

Here are my concerns:

a) The core classes are still massively overcrowded. Class sizes have risen from an average of 26 to 32 in five years.

b) The students in the credit retrieval class will not be instructed by a teacher but learning from an online program. We have data showing this sets them up for failure because they don't get the aligned curriculum, so they often fail the next course in the sequence. The online courses do not have the rigor and do not align with our curriculum.

c) The teacher conducting the credit retrieval is a math teacher, not an English teacher. Regardless, he won't be assessing student work anyway; the computer company does that. Essentially he just helps students keep going, so the kids get no extra help.

d) This is a stop-gap measure hoping that fewer students enroll next year.

Besides hiring more teachers I'm not sure what the answer is, but I know this isn't it.

The cynic in me says to let the state test scores drop this year to get the district's and community's attention, but this would hurt the kids. When teachers work extra hours with the larger classes and keep the scores up, no one feels compelled to intervene. However, we're reaching a breaking point.

Next Monday's final student count meeting will be interesting.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

New Followers

This first week of school has been beyond hectic. Course schedule changes, moving rooms, sharing rooms, copier problems, meetings, and more have slowed our progress this week. No worries. I just keep plugging away.

Still, with my Sophomore Honors class we got a bit behind my intended schedule. I wanted to finish our French Revolution background Thursday, read Chapter 1 of A Tale of Two Cities as a class Friday, and have the students read the first 4-5 chapters this weekend. Well, there were so many interruptions from the front office and questions about the revolution from the kids, we didn't get there.

Halfway through the period on Friday while we were going through my French Revolution presentation, I decided to change things up. With five minutes to go I asked all of the students to pass forward their reading schedules (I give one with every major reading) but keep their books. The students looked a bit confused but did so. Then, from the back of the room, one student cried out "Yea, awesome!" Slowly little light bulbs appeared over the heads of the students.

I just decided I wanted to complete this unit well, rather than fast. I always tell new teachers that the ability to adapt and to revise one's plans are the marks of a good teacher. A few students at this point still had quizzical looks on their faces until I said, "don't read this weekend. Enjoy your weekend and I'll make a new reading schedule."

I think I have a following.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Fear and Loving?

No loathing. A little fearing and then loving the class.

My Honors kids looked frightened yesterday and I've heard that I'm intimidating at the start of a class, so I thought I'd shake them up.

Today I informed my new Honors students I'm know as the "GPA Buster" and they better get ready. Silence. A deafening silence followed.

I then gave them a quick quiz over the syllabus provided yesterday, a series of seven true/false questions. I read the questions, and they simply wrote their answers on their papers. I then instructed them that they would correct their own, "so no one should miss any of the answers." I paused. Smiles and giggles started quickly and soon spread throughout the room. Understanding!

After "correcting" the quiz I told them this was a lesson: they would have to be prepared every day when I ask them to do something. We then had a quick contest to see who could shoot their balled-up quiz into the recycling box from across the room.

Now I had them. No one was stressed any more.

I need them to know I am not out to destroy their grades. They have to ask questions, be inquisitive. They can't worry about points; they need to learn. If they don't do well on an assignment, they need to redo it. I'm there to help them.

My message to them, before starting a review of the French Revolution in preparation for Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, is: if you are stressed out about this class, you're doing it wrong. I think they believe me.

Teenage Wasteland

Today in my American Literature class we started reading Anne Tyler's "Teenage Wasteland." It's the story of a teenager who begins to change his appearance, hang out with new friends, and his grades drop. Of course, his parents don't approve. The ending of the story really has no victor, and the kids love to debate who's most at fault.

Tomorrow we'll listen to "Baba O'Reily" by The Who and compare and contrast the song with the story (lyrics and rhythm). It's a great opener for kids who "ain't really into school," as one student told me yesterday.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Class Begins!

Today was great! The kids came in with good attitudes and adjusted to large classes and schedule changes like champs.

I played a game with the class based on Tri-Bond board games. We sat in groups of 3-4, and they competed with 10 quick puzzles to solve. We completed multiple rounds in each class, and the students enjoyed this much more than simply going over rules. Plus, I get to see them in action and get to know them.

My new class, the College in the High School class (Survey of Americn Lit.), started today and the kids looked scared. I actually had to laugh a bit, to myself of course, but it was funny. They have homework tonight--vocabulary and an introductory letter--and we start reading Fools Crow by James Welch this week. Hitting the ground running!

My only concern today was class size. Mine ranged from 28-35. The district keeps saying Freshmen are the biggest at-risk group we have, and our fearless leaders aren't afraid to "do whatever is necessary" to help them. Of course, this means Freshman English class sizes are the second highest in the school (only Sophomore English classes are larger). The average Freshman English class is filled with 32 students. What a disservice!

The Department Head and I met after school to discuss how to reduce some class sizes if we get an extra teacher this week. That was a good conversation.

Unfortunately, we have to reduce the College in the High School classes by 6 students since they are not allowed to be over 32 students (now we have 34, 35, 33). My suggestion to her was to remove the superintendent's daughter and the two most prominent families' kids. If that doesn't spark some changes, nothing will.

Wound a sacred cow, and the whole village notices!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Better Late Than Never

I'm not a fan of country music, but I especially don't enjoy the promotion of ignorance as in Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman." However, I really admire her for deciding to get her high school diploma.

I watched This Week with George Stephanopoulos this morning, and Gretchen Wilson explained that she now wishes to earn her diploma because of her daughter. She realizes the long shot her success is and realizes now she would have "tended bar" for the rest of her life because she wouldn't have had an education. She wants her daughter to see her as "smart."

Now I don't believe a high school diploma is the cure-all she makes it out to be because the same program this morning also explained that 25 years ago the difference in one's income with a college degree versus a high school diploma was 30%. Now that difference is 70%. I know Wilson wasn't speaking about economics when she spoke of her daughter, but the disparity is growing, and I hope Gretchen Wilson encourages her daughter to attend college rather than rely on the diploma.

By the way, Wilson also offered the local high school a deal. If the high school officials allow her to walk during the graduation ceremony, she will play at the prom for free. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


I also started my union duties having attended my first official executive board meeting. Wow! I have quite a bit to learn! I think I doubled my knowledge in that first meeting alone.

Yesterday I approached one of the new hires to inquire why he did not join the local union. Turns out he harbors some hard feelings against the union, but I think they are misplaced. We chatted and he decided to join the union, and he attributes his membership to our rapport. That feels good to know, but I'm learning that hard feelings between some of the teachers and the union are somewhat prevalent.

Now I have a lot of work to do to help smooth out some of these feelings. I don't feel that I need to become a recruitment officer, but I do want to maintain a level of respect and to foster more positivity between the high school staff and the union. After all, I want to represent the staff's interests while supporting and defending the contract.

A Good Start

School begins on Tuesday, but as everyone knows the duties begin much earlier. The opening meetings are over, but other aspects of my job are underway.

We won our first football game last night. I can't say this is the most talented team we've fielded, but it is one of the most positive, industrious groups I've seen since moving here. This is also the first year our head coach has only kids from his own system; last year we graduated the remains of the previous coach's system, and now we have a team united under a single philosophy. It should be a fun team to watch because the head coach wants to create positive citizens as well as players.

The best of teams create leaders and exemplary citizens, and I feel our head coach is off to an excellent start.

My wife's cheerleaders also looked great. They sent groups of girls down the sidelines to involve parents, and they kept the (normally apathetic) crowd louder than usual. She, too, looks to be starting a great cheer season before her competition season begins.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Last Day of Meetings

What I learned today during our final day of in-service trainings:

- Our attendance policy is entirely punitive. No incentives encourage or reinforce positive behaviors. Last year the policy did not change student behaviors, so the detention times are now doubled. I think the person in charge does not understand that the student behavior is a symptom of the disease: the students' attitude towards school. We need to cure the disease or else the symptoms will continue.

- We used an entirely ridiculous decision-making model and discussion process, but somehow came out with a result the majority supported. The admin team gave us two hours to create a new (though previously) state-mandated culminating project. Instead of starting with the end-goal in mind and working backwards (you know, like teaching), we threw random ideas (time to use, resources, etc.) onto paper and then voted on it. The decision: give the project to social studies, who wanted it, to embed into their senior classes. We still don't know what the product will be. We just gave the work to someone else.

- Lunch was pretty good: wraps.

- My department rocks my socks! We worked together for an hour and completed every item on our agenda with time to spare. I am so fortunate to work with 19 other language arts teachers who can discuss issues and not individuals, debate dilemmas and not personalities, and create solutions and not add more difficulties. Our new journalism teacher said to me, "we have a great department leader. This department is amazing. You all just love your jobs." How cool is that?!

- Our cheerleaders truly want to unify the school and change the climate. They created over 120 signs, one for every teacher and visible staff member in the building, which welcome back each person by name. I know I'm biased because my wife is the cheer coach, but I actually believe these girls are serious about their mission and can make visible and lasting changes. This is not last year's squad.

As I said the other day, "I can't wait for classes to begin!" Can you tell I'm excited?

It's Me

I took a personality test! Take your own here.

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Mind Can Absorb...

The mind can absorb what the rear can endure.

That's the lesson I learned today in the meetings we had today. We sat. And sat. And sat. They lectured.

Now, I must be fair. We had an excellent guest speaker who discussed the hope teachers foster in their students. He was articulate, humorous, well-prepared, practiced, and relevant. He was the highlight of the day.

Then the administrative team emphasized the importance of relationships. I absolutely agree that the relationships built between students, staff, and administrators create much of our successes. They spoke very well in this regard because I wholeheartedly believe they are correct.

However, it was also obvious that the admins have no idea how to teach the teachers how to create better bonds with students. It's not that they don't want to do so. They just aren't successful at creating relationships themselves. This inability of theirs translates to an inability to model or instruct the teaching staff to build these relationships.

I really wish the admins would model effective teaching techniques by differentiating their lessons to the staff and would use techniques other than lecture. They are our leaders in education and, in my opinion, should be the models of excellence in teaching.

We did play a "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" game using a special PowerPoint template which could be a great approach in my classes. I'm going to request a copy of the template.

Quote of the week: "I don't know the question, but here is the answer."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Grading Thoughts

(continued from yesterday)

I really started to question what grading means and how grading should be conducted in my classroom. Here is where I am now:

1. Not everything turned in must be graded. Sometimes I just check to see where the trouble spots are by taking quick notes on a pad after reading through student work. Student work is not done for points, but for learning. This is something I pound into the kids' heads from day one.

2. Standards-based rubrics are used with every writing assignment. Each rubric I use is based on the Six Traits of Writing, and the categories are consistent with every writing I assign. The students should be familiar with the rubric before beginning an assignment and should know their grades when they turn in the assignment. All they have to do is to check the rubric to know their score before I even see it.

3. I use categories in every class I teach. For example in one class, I have 20% of the overall grade as tests and quizzes, 20% for literary analyses, 20% for assorted classwork and homework, 15% for vocabulary, 10% for mastery tests, and 15% for the final. This means no one assignment or skill set in a class dooms a student. However, students must be well-rounded to receive the top scores.

4. Students must, orally or in writing, explain why they receive the grades they get. This way they have to understand what they did, how they can improve, and how they got to the grade they received (metacognition--don't you love Marzano?).

5. Students can and will redo assignments in which they receive low scores. Just because it takes one student longer than another does not mean his/her grade should suffer.

6. Writings may be graded for very specific items (say, only organizational structure or just content or simply voice, etc.) without grading the rest. This way a focus is created instead of grading what has not been taught in my classroom.

7. Students will grade as much as possible--yes, their own writing as well. I hand out colored pencils, and we make corrections and suggestions as we go. I grade (sometimes check off) these based on how well they participate and go through the processes.

8. The processes are as important as the final product. Since these are fledgling learners just beginning the complexities of writing, they must first learn processes before being held completely accountable for final products. Eventually the final product is the vast majority of a score, but only after I have fully prepared them.

9. I write down at least one positive comment for every critical suggestion. Praise must be given. No product is unworthy of any affirmation.

10. Accommodations are no problem.

11. Eventually, students must be able to show a skill independently. Without independence, the skill is not learned (ingrained?).

12. Not completing an assignment is a zero until completed. However, students must complete the assignment within a week of the due date to receive credit. There are some exceptions to this, but I determine these on a student by student basis. I don't like the zero grades, but I don't have an adequate solution as of yet. I may give partial credit if a student can explain the desired learning, proving he/she knows the skill or information--haven't decided this one yet.

I have considered an academic citizenship or work ethic grade instead of zero scores for missing work, but I have not figured out what I would want this to look like.

This is how I go about things in my classes. There are more pieces of grading minutiae, but these are the basics.

How badly am I doing?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

DrPezz's Grading 101

I posted on a blog by Tense Teacher about some of my ideas on grading. When I first started teaching I put 20-30 minutes into each paper I read. I had positive comments, suggestions for stronger arguments, possible examples to consider using, grammatical and syntactical errors noted, sentences restructured, and word usage problems labeled. I did a great job!

My host teacher looked at me and said, "Who are those comments for?"

This stunned me. "They're for the kids, of course" was my reply.

"No, they're not."

I didn't get it. I furrowed my brow and must've looked lost because he continued with "you wrote those comments as if you were rewriting their papers. If they do what you just told them, the papers will be yours and not theirs."

I thought about that for quite a while, not really knowing what to do differently. The education gurus in college don't tell you how to do these things. Maybe a post for another day is what the education departments at universities don't teach, but today grading is my focus.

So...the first question I focused on was: what purpose is served by how I grade student work?

I can't say I formed a perfect answer, but this did lead me to decide how I wish to grade my students, why I grade the work, and what should be graded.

To be continued...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Good News

Here are my reasons for being in such a good mood:

- I vented in my previous post,
- my classroom is finished,
- the custodian responsible for our area last year is with us again,
- I'm having dinner with two of my favorite people (retired teachers),
- two students contacted me today saying how excited they are for my class,
- my parents arrive tomorrow,
- the sun is shining in a clear, blue sky,
- my dog is snoring loudly (which makes me laugh every time),
- I bought a new book to read (historical mystery - I forget the name), and
- I just need to make some copies to be ready for the first day (Sept. 4).

Besides all that, I've lost 20 pounds since Spring Break! Woo-hoo!


I've mentioned the Boss Lady and my avoidance of her, so I guess I should explain my feelings. We're very different people, and we approach the same issues from opposing viewpoints. Here are my (biased?) perceptions based on my observations and experiences.

First, I believe high school students and staff should be given trust until that trust is broken. I treat everyone as having a clean slate and freely trust until I have a reason to be suspicious. I believe in the inherent goodness of the individual and that giving responsibility to people helps them grow.

However, the Boss Lady seems to begin with a belief that everyone should be viewed as a threat to her power. Questioning a policy for clarification or suggesting an alternate path is seen as a challenge to her authority. I get the sense that she is somewhat insecure, so she has paranoid, defensive responses to questions and suggestions. Her posture becomes aggressive, her countenance hardens, and her answers become terse. She must make all decisions and must be a part of every committee or discussion.

Secondly, I don't believe the Boss Lady understands my job. At all. I teach English, which is a discipline I describe as non-linear. Skills come from many directions at once and are combined and synthesized all at once. English does not work like math, the subject she taught. English does not always work linearly like algebra (to which she compares English). It's just a different way to think.

She wants to restructure English by eliminating the honors classes, ELL courses (non-English speakers), and some special ed courses by putting everyone in the same courses. We would lose everything created--with community support and involvement--in the last 20 years. When the community gets wind of this, they will explode.

Thirdly, the Boss Lady was caught calling our department derogatory names after we explained how her restructuring ideas would destroy our programs. She openly complained to a support staffer in the library that the "whiners" in English are just "selfish." I don't think calling us names to anyone is acceptable, especially to one of the non-teaching staff in the building who must work with us.

I don't believe she respects the vast majority of the staff. I feel patronized by her and feel that she only respects those who follow her without question. Having worked with her one-on-one, in small groups, and with the entire staff, I feel I have a good grasp of how she views us.

I don't think she is evil, the Dark Side using the Force to conquer the universe, but I do think her paranoid defensiveness and callousness make her ineffective. In my nine years here, this is the most divided the staff has ever been, and we are viewed as a dysfunctional school by the district office. It didn't used to be so.

Since I am in a new union position I hope she and I will be able to work together effectively, and I want to believe she will be more effective uniting the staff. She was quite cheery when I ran into her today. Unfortunately, my hope is not the same as confidence.

P.S. Our bond failed.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Here is my to-do list for Friday:

- Get to school by 7:30
- Finish putting up my wall hangings (the "happy wall" is finished - yea!)
- Send out union notices (need to set up a meeting with the building reps to coordinate who will represent which faculty members)
- Avoid the Boss Lady
- Meet with another teacher about my first time as an adjunct professor in the high school (my new class - woo-hoo!)
- Lunch! (and avoid the Boss Lady)
- Finish my online history course (I'm almost finished with the final project)
- Dinner with a retired teaching couple I love
- Prepare for my parents' visit

I'm on the local union's executive board as the high school's main representative. The previous one is now in another union position, but he was (unjustly) attacked by the Boss Lady because he would not allow violations of our contract to go unnoticed. He would ensure that proper procedures were followed, which did not allow Boss Lady to cut corners or slight staff members and programs. This, of course, means I am now in the crosshairs of the Boss Lady, and I'm curious when she will let me know I'm in her sights.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to this year. I've got kids already (we start Sept. 4) e-mailing me, teachers coming in early to ask questions and collaborate, and the union president showing me the history of the current issues. I'm learning lots and getting giddy to begin.

Today I read all of my notes and cards from kids, which really gets me motivated. I keep everything and fill my wall behind my desk, reading each card and note as it's posted. I love seeing all those smiling faces on the wall. What a way to get me inspired. At least I know I had a few successes. :)

Let's do it!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The First Day

Since my school corrects schedules during the first week of school, it is quite difficult to begin teaching until the second or third day. This means I don't go over the classroom expectations until the third day of class.

Last year I decided that the first day would just be a fun day to help me get to know the students. I set a game show in my classroom with which some of you may be familiar.

We played The Match Game.

I loved that show as a kid. I used to laugh and laugh until my sides hurt listening to the banter and the answers to the crazy clues. The host, Gene Rayburn, really made the show what it was. His wit and rapport with the celebrities made this show just plain fun.

I collected actual fill-in-the-blanks from the show and had the students in teams. We competed against one another with some modified rules. It was great! We bonded a bit, I learned names, and the kids left feeling positive.

Before we played I showed them a five minute clip where insanity ruled and hilarity ensued, but what really blew the kids' minds was that I downloaded the 70s theme song and played it while they came up with their answers. Of course, they thought I was a nut but what a blast! They talked about it all semester.

Plus, they had to think! Imagine that on the first day. The answers they provide have to be clever and usually humor is encouraged. Here are a few examples of sentences they must complete (keeping in mind they have to match their classmates for points):

"Hey, did you hear about Carla the Cannibal? She went to McDonald’s and ate ____________________."

"In the delivery room when Ugly Edna was born, she was so ugly Edna’s mother asked for a _____________________."

"Sid said, “I’ve got the world’s toughest banker. Last time I asked for a loan, he wanted my _______________ as collateral.”

This year I want to try a different game but am not sure what to play. It doesn't have to be from a game show, but I want something fun.

Any suggestions?

Behind Schedule

I got up at 6:30 this morning, packed the car, and headed to the school to start organizing my classroom. Unfortunately, the custodial team is behind schedule and just waxed the floors of our hallway. I guess they were pulled for other duties last week according to one custodian, so now they have to catch up. I'll try again tomorrow.

Our custodial crew is awesome, by the way. They are courteous, personable, and industrious. The gentleman who is assigned my area asks daily what I need and often asks how his work is; it's always exemplary! His son was a student of mine about five years ago, and we've always been able to chat and help one another out.

I think I need to start the year with a plate of goodies or something for the crew.

If I could offer any new teachers out there some advice: treat the support staff well. You will need their help frequently.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Training with the Admin. Teams

I went to my first training as a member of my union's executive team, and I learned more about the administrators than I did about the evaluation process to be used this year.

It was a singular experience. I realized the following:

- my school's administrative team is way behind everyone else's. I believe there is a paranoia behind every decision they make and question posed to them. I sensed a CYA mentality first and foremost.

- my district's administrators don't like to follow through and don't meet deadlines. There was an emphasis on going through every step when "trying to dismiss or discipline an employee."

- all of the administrators who wanted to be noticed were also the ones who sounded the least competent. I got a feeling of desperation and inadequacy from four who just wanted to voice all of their good ideas. I felt bad for them.

- more will be asked of the teachers in my building, and they won't get the credit. During informal conversations sprinkling the room, I heard administrators share their new ideas, all of which will give them gold stars without having to do the dirty work.

- our bond will probably fail. I did not know that the building administrative teams held such a responsibility for getting people out to vote for the bond, and the number of people voting may not be enough to qualify the passage of a bond despite a favorable vote. They are desperate.

- I get a new evaluator! He's actually a friend of mine, even if he does now work for the Dark Side, and we will truly be able to share ideas about teaching. He was a great teacher and could help me improve.

- our overall evaluation process is a good one.

I still don't see a future growth of trust to occur in my building this year. I hope I'm wrong, but what I've seen--granted, a limited view--does not seem to indicate a real change in attitude or approach. What I've also heard from others in meetings with our administrative team is that more deadlines and duties are about to be announced at our first building meeting a week from tomorrow.

I am also curious to see how the union and the district administration works together. Traditionally, we have had a strong and positive relationship. I don't anticipate this will change.

My goal with my new union position is to be positive, to remain quiet as much as possible, to learn lots by listening (I love alliteration), and to understand my role.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

My First Meme

I guess I'm an official blogger now. I was tagged by Mimi, so here I go:

1. I am a good teacher because...I know all of my students can succeed and will if I make the right connection with him/her. I'm passionate about my subject and want to pass this on, though I know not every kid will have my passion, but I just know every kid can feel success with something in my class. We start with small successes and proceed. Upon that, we build.

2. If I weren't a teacher, I would be...working as a personnel manager or managing a theater. I love working with people, and I have managed a theater previously while working through school. I have to work in a social job. No cubicles or closed-in offices.

3. My teaching style is...organized chaos. Numerous activities are occurring at once with lots of interactions between students. I like being able to give each group of students a gentle push in the right direction and watching them go. If they aren't enjoying themselves, something is wrong. I don't mean to say all we do is necessarily fun, but they should be making the best of things and making connections with one another.

4. My classroom is...organized, maybe overly so. I can tell you where anything is at any given moment. However, during the period things are a mess, but we clean up real well. I am often teased for being so organized with everything in my room. I even hang things on the wall with a plan, even if others don't realize it.

5. My lesson plans...are online. I use my online calendar every day, making adjustments and additions all the time. I like that my students can click on my site and get the day's assignment. This goes for parents, other teachers, and the administrators, too. I like switching activities at least two or three times a period, so my plans are often quite busy and everchanging up until I teach the lessons. I make alterations on the fly and have to record these later online. Just because I'm organized doesn't mean I can't adapt. :)

6. One of my teaching goals have at least two activities per period to keep the kids' attention shifting to maintain their focus. Since I have a collaborative and social room, I need to keep the students focused on the business at hand, and multiple activities makes this easier.

7. The toughest part of teaching is...the administrative b.s. For example, this summer our English Department set up two days of summer work to make changes to the basic curriculum (better alignment, more student-friendly readings, sharing best practices, etc.) and then the district administration heard we had this time set-up, and they hijacked 3/4 of the time with their own mandates. We lost our collaboration time. I detest the paperwork assigned for inanity. I also don't like collecting data for the sake of data, which will sit in a binder gathering dust. Ugh!

8. The thing I love most about teaching is...working with the kids. They make every day worth it. The last days are my favorite when I can shake the seniors' hands and hug them and congratulate them. I get so excited for them! I get the "thank you" and the card and the hug and all is right with the world.

9. A common misconception about teaching is...that we don't work very often or very hard. People forget that we can't just walk in and begin. We prepare. We grade. We take classes during the summer. This is a time consuming profession. My buddy once said you only work 40 weeks. I told him I work more hours than him, and he laughed. I work 40 weeks and 60 hour weeks for 2400 hours. He works 50 weeks with 40 hour weeks for 2000 hours. He quit laughing at me. Another guy (we were playing hoops at the time) heard us and told my buddy that he didn't understand until he married a teacher. It's a time consuming job!

10. The most important thing I've learned since I started teaching...was to document everything. My best friend was almost fired based on two students lying about her and a lack of support from the administration because they believed the students over her (unbelievable, I know). After a long fight of about 8 months, she was finally proved correct when one of the two students admitted guilt. That was a tough lesson for everyone.

I will tag Seth, Brian, Mister Teacher, Mrs. Chili, and Brian B.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

My Snark is Prepared

Ok. I can admit it. I'm a cynical and sarcastic high school teacher at times. To prove this, I have prepared all of my snarky answers, which I can't say, but would absolutely love to do so from time to time:

Student:"What's my grade?"
Me: "Who cares? If you don't know, it's not that important to you. I want you to learn, not try to acquire points."

S: "I forgot my homework."
Me: "You're fired!"

S: "What'd I get on the final?"
Me: "You should've known when you took it. Did you know the answers?"

S: "Did you finish the grades?"
Me: "When my grades are posted, you'll know I'm done grading."

S: "Did we do anything important while I was gone?"
Me: "No, we took a holiday because you weren't here; we didn't want you to miss anything. Of course, we did something important! Otherwise, we wouldn't have done it."

S: "I'm going to be gone tomorrow. Will I miss anything (important)?"
Me: [See above but put in future tense.]

S: "Can I turn the assignment in tomorrow? [Enter excuse here.]"
Me: "No. I want it today. That's why today is the deadline. If I wanted it tomorrow, that would've been the deadline. By the way, you're fired!"

S: "Can I have some extra credit to boost my grade?"
Me: "No. There are two types of students who ask for extra credit: those who won't do it and those who don't need it. Besides, the entire idea of extra credit is ludicrous. It means you didn't do what you were supposed to do and don't deserve it."

S: "Is it ok if I [enter way to break a rule here]?"
Me: "No. If you had to ask, you know it's not ok. And now, you're fired!"

S: "What do I have to do to pass? I just want to pass."
Me: (Sigh) "Fulfill the requirements as stated on the hand-out you just received. Don't strain yourself while you're at it." (Oh, man! He'll be put in charge of something important some day--probably my pension.)

S: "I just want to do the best I can. I just want to learn."
Me: (Almost black out) "You get it. You understand why you're here. But, sorry to say, you're fired! You might take my job."