Saturday, June 1, 2013

Fox News in the Henhouse

Given the news that 40% of American households are now headed by a female breadwinner, the ever-reliable Fox News put together a panel of (male) pundits to deplore the destruction of society as we know it. As usual, women are implicitly held to blame for this state of the nation.

Among the gems averred by the Fox panel was the sage commentary that in nature, males tend to be dominant. Really? Try telling that to a pride of hard-working lionesses as they set out on a hunt, leaving the male to relax and groom his mane, which he’ll need should another male approach and attempt a territorial usurpation. On that point, I won’t argue, Fox. Males are definitely the “kings” of territorial warfare.

In many animal species, in fact, the males’ only contribution to the family is, well, sperm. The mothers are left to do WHATEVER it takes to raise the young, sacrificing themselves to the good of perpetuity. The news that 40% of households claim females as the predominant breadwinners tells us one thing – that the vast majority of mothers will do whatever it takes to feed, clothe, and raise their children. The aging Women’s “Liberation” movement merely makes this somewhat possible, though still difficult. 

A working mother myself, I also count as friends and colleagues a large number of working mothers. None of us pretend that we prefer time on the job to time with our children. All of us acknowledge that it is – at least partially – our responsibility to care for the nascent lives we’ve brought into the world.  

In some cases, the fathers of these children also accept partial responsibility. In other cases, sadly, they disavow this obligation, or hold that it is only the case if the planets align in such a way that they can easily perform their duty. Mothers rarely wait for such a magical alignment of the planets. Their primary concern is food and a table to put it on. So, Fox panel, bully to you if your families are perfect models of an “appropriate” social order. You’ll pardon the rest of us if we get on with the business of living.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Teacher 911

A nation looks at the bombing suspects in Boston and asks itself: Is it religion? Is it negligent parenting? Is it the chaos of cultural upheaval? Is it an innate evil that gripped those young men? Maybe we will never know what toxic cocktail produced such a callous disregard for life and limb.

But as a teacher, there is something else I read into the stories as they emerge. I see a kid who was captain of his wrestling team, and I know that there is a coach who poured his heart and soul into nurturing the good in this kid, and that coach is grieving. I see a kid who had a scholarship to college, and I know there are teachers who saw potential in that kid; who taught him, wrote him recommendation letters, and who tried their best to nurture the good in him, and those teachers are grieving.

Every day we pour everything we’ve got into ground that is sometimes fertile, but often rocky, and we just don’t know where seeds will take root, where they’ll be hopelessly quagmired in problems too deep for us to overcome, or where they’ll be violently cast aside. Every day the job is tough, but I salute those coaches and teachers who tried to turn a life in the right direction, even when they cannot succeed.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Mrs. English Bottoms Out on the Race to the Top

The national "Race to the Top" requires a new system of teacher rating. Recently, Mrs. English got her copy of the new teacher rating system, and was she ever bemused!

Let’s see, she said, 25% of the rating that will ultimately determine whether or not I get a raise – ever – is based on whole school data. Hmmm…exactly what does that include, she wondered.

Reading further, Mrs. English saw that one of the categories that fed into the school data would be student attendance. She recollected a phone call she had recently made on that very topic.

Phone: Ring, ring.
Mrs. H (mother of student): Hello?
Mrs. English: Hi, Mrs. H., this is Mrs. English, John’s teacher. John hasn’t been in first period for a couple weeks now, and I’m concerned about the impact on his grade and on his ability to pass the state test he’s required to pass for graduation.
Mrs. H: Well, John just doesn’t want to get up in the morning. He usually gets there by second period.
Mrs. English: Doesn’t like to get up? That’s funny; I’m ECSTATIC when my alarm goes off at 5:15 each morning.

Oh, no, actually Mrs. English just imagined that last line.

So, what other categories will this 25% include, Mrs. English asked herself. Hmmm…it looks like those state standardized tests will be a big part of the formula. 

Mrs. English recollected another conversation she had recently taken part in upon running into one of her students on the afternoon following the test.

Student: Mrs. English, I don’t know why you stressed that test so much. It was easy!
Mrs. English: So, you did well?
Student: Well, I wouldn’t say that; I fell asleep half-way through.
Mrs. English: Are you crazy?

Oh, no, actually Mrs. English just imagined that last line, too.

Mrs. English sighed, but being nothing if not tenacious, she urged herself to read on. Let’s keep going, she thought; some of these categories must actually evaluate the teacher. Let’s see, another factor will be how many students score 3 or 4 on the AP exam. Mrs. English thought back to a recent in-service where Principal Smithers had addressed that precise topic.

Principal Smithers: Folks, we’ve been putting too many limits on students who should take AP. AP classes are a good challenge for ALL students. Let’s stop advising the kids who can’t yet read at a high school level or can’t write a coherent paragraph to avoid AP! Give them the challenge! They may surprise us. Sure, they won’t score 3 or 4, but they’ll still be aware of what a college curriculum entails.
Mrs. English: Are you out of your mind?

On, no, of course Mrs. English did not say that.

Mrs. English took her copy of the new rating system, crumpled it into a ball, and dropped it into the recycling bin where it rattled against the empty plastic sides. The students had all dropped their paper scraps on the floor.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mrs. English Gets a Gun

Mrs. English was teaching her class one day. 

Mrs. English: So, class, Hawthorne’s diction here is quite precise. Let’s look closely at this passage and…

Bobby: Mrs. English! I was sharpening my pencil for the third time, and I just saw a bad guy coming down the hall!

Mrs. English reaches for her concealed weapon, walks to the classroom door, and calmly dispatches the villain. The class erupts, as classes will do, with most students screaming and running to look out in the hall. Mrs. English restores order, and instructs the students to return to their seats.

Mrs. English: Now class, there are a few evil people in the world; think of Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter, or Iago in Othello, and when they come into our lives, we have to take matters into our own hands, just as George did in Of Mice and Men

Principal Smithers appears at the door.

Principal Smithers: Excuse me, Mrs. English, but as I was waiting for the janitor to clear up this mess in the hall, I couldn’t help but overhear your lesson.

Mrs. English (ME): Oh?

Principal Smithers (PS): Yes, while your literary analogies were fine insofar as they went, I want to remind you that the Core Learning Goals emphasize literary non-fiction, and this would have been a fine place to incorporate some of that. Perhaps the Bill of Rights or a presidential speech would have been a better illustration of what you were trying to get across.

ME: Oh, uh, perhaps you’re right, Principal Smithers, but as I was saying…

PS: Then too, Mrs. English, I noticed that your whole class went running into the hall after you took out the bad guy. This would’ve been a good occasion for purposeful grouping in order to facilitate differentiated instruction.

ME: Uh…

PS: Yes, If you’d completed an interest inventory at the beginning of the semester you’d know which students learned best from a hands-on experience of this type, and which students were best suited to relate to it through a different modality – perhaps drawing a picture, or exploring the experience through interpretive dance. Do you have time during your planning period today? I’d like to discuss this with you.

ME: Well, I have to grade 120 research papers, call the parents of the 43 students who failed to turn in the paper, and look for a working copier for tomorrow’s lesson, but…

PS: Good, I’ll see you then.

Later that day…

PS: So, while I’d give you an “Outstanding” for marksmanship – probably a testament to that in-service training we had on moving your chalk to the left hand while using your right hand to draw your weapon…What was the name of that session…Drawing while Drawing…something like that. Anyway,  I’d have to evaluate you as  “Progressing” in use of differentiated strategies. We’re offering training for that after school next Thursday. You can sign up online. So, Mrs. English, how are your own children?

ME: Well, with class sizes creeping up towards 40 students and the new standards in English, manners, and marksmanship to master, I’m afraid I haven’t seen them for a couple weeks.

PS: Mustn’t burn out, Mrs. English. You need to manage your time better. There’s an in-service training on that next Friday. You can sign up online. 

ME: Yes, Principal Smithers.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Cultural Disturbance

This week, we returned to school following the tragic shooting in Connecticut that targeted first graders and left a community – and parents everywhere – reeling. And, what was the result in our county? A “previously scheduled” lockdown drill and a rash of threatened copycats for the Friday before Christmas break. What kind of a self-centric outlook does it take to turn someone’s deep, heart-breaking tragedy into a personal bid for power? Clearly, some kids with too much time on their hands and compassion that was 10-sizes-too-small saw this as an opportunity to capitalize and perhaps get an extra day of vacation. 

In my school, just over 1/3 of the school population turned up today. In fact, many of my students were incredulous when told I was planning to attend.  I told them that: A) Like the government, I refuse to negotiate with terrorists; and 2) I am in possession of a logical mind. Even in the school that was targeted by an obviously delusional gunman, 25 were killed in the building. The loss of these young children, their teachers, principal, and guidance counselor is terrifying, awful, and tremendously sad. However, most elementary schools house hundreds of small students and the staff that teaches and supports them. In the midst of carnage, hundreds escaped. So, statistically, I’m probably still safer attending school than, say, crossing a busy mall parking lot. 

What disturbs me most? The horrible devastation in Connecticut of course, but a close second is the megalomaniacal mind that would seek to capitalize on a tragedy.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

You Can Pass the Buck, But I've Got Nowhere to Stow it

Last night, I dreamed I was standing naked in front of a class, teaching, when the principal came in to observe. For some reason, I didn’t feel self-conscious about what the students would think (let’s face it, to them I’m so old that there’s no titillation factor), but I did obsess about how the principal would take it.

My husband says dreams about appearing naked in public are really about feeling vulnerable, and that makes sense. Because, after an administrative reign that has seen 1/3 of the staff over-turned for newer models, things are still not quite good enough. So now, the administration has given us the Herculean task of finding all new ways of teaching – not our classes – but each of the 125 – 200 students in our total student load. Yes, every class from the lowest level to the highest needs an overhaul to prove that we are worthy of continued employment.

How, we ask, can we overcome deficits that have been 14 or more years in the making? That’s being left up to us, because the administration “doesn’t want to stifle our creativity.” In other words, like us, they have already tried every idea in their arsenal, but unlike us, they have somewhere to pass the buck.

But somewhere, in the inner recesses of my mind, I’m fully aware that I’ve got nothing left. Not even a stitch of clothes, apparently.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Dear School Board and Administration,
Okay, let me see if I’ve got this straight: This year you would like me to give up my team leader planning period, and in its place add:
1)    An additional class of students
2)    An action research project on a group of at least of my students that will be team graded (when we’re not working on revamping the curriculum)
3)    A calendar detailing the core learning goals I will focus on and how I will completely revamp  the curriculum in order to change its focus
4)    More differentiation in the curriculum you’re having me completely revamp
5)    Instant letters and web links on demand
6)    More parent phone calls
7)    Further graduate credits  because you’ve eradicated step increases for the foreseeable future
Okay, I’m probably missing something here, but I'm a little fuzzy since I can't do all this and actually have a, what's that its called? Oh yeah, a life.
Sleepless in the Schoolyard