Posts tagged ‘Education’

August 31, 2011 For College

by Vince

Considering college and want the best fit for you? Here is ConnectEDU:

This won’t just help the brightest, most driven kids. Bad matching is a problem throughout higher education, from top to bottom. Among all students who enroll in college, most will either transfer or drop out. For African American students and those whose parents never went to college, the transfer/dropout rate is closer to two-thirds. Most students don’t live in the resource-rich, intensely college-focused environment that upper-middle-class students take for granted. So they often default to whatever college is cheapest and closest to home. Tools like ConnectEDU will give them a way to find something better.

August 29, 2011

School superintendent gives up $800k in pay

by Vince

This guy’s story is amazing (the full article is worth reading):

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Some people give back to their community. Then there’s Fresno County School Superintendent Larry Powell, who’s really giving back. As in $800,000 — what would have been his compensation for the next three years.

Until his term expires in 2015, Powell will run 325 schools and 35 school districts with 195,000 students, all for less than a starting California teacher earns.

“How much do we need to keep accumulating?” asks Powell, 63. “There’s no reason for me to keep stockpiling money.”


Powell’s answer? Ask his board to allow him to return $288,241 in salary and benefits for the next three and a half years of his term. He technically retired, then agreed to be hired back to work for $31,000 a year — $10,000 less than a first-year teacher — and with no benefits.

“I thought it was so very generous on his part,” said school board member Sally Tannenbaum. “We get to keep him, but at a much lower rate.”

His move was so low-key, his manner so unassuming, that it took four days after the school board meeting for word of his act to get out to the community. There were no press releases or self-congratulatory pats on the back.

Yes, what he did was great and the money he kicks back these next three years will, as mentioned in the article, go to the S.D. However, don’t be fooled by this. He will still get a six-figure retirement that rises with cost of living. That reform may be beyond his own control but it is what it is.

(thanks V.S.!)

June 29, 2011

Chris Christie’s Gubernatorial Smackdown

by Vince

I just love this guys comments.

June 4, 2011

Charts on College

by Vince

Ezra Klein provides some points on the above and below:

The bottom line, however, is that fewer than 5 percent of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher are unemployed, while more than 14 percent of those who haven’t finished high school are unemployed. You really want to bet that there’s nothing causal going on there?

I know of maybe one friend (and many more people I knew of in college) who shouldn’t have gone to college, but we should remember this:

This seems like evidence that students are being ill-served by the cultural stereotype of college as a period of enjoyment and exploration that precedes entry into the “real world.” College, rather, is a period of preparation for the real world, and if you don’t take it as such, the real world can make you pay and pay big.

May 27, 2011

The American School System

by Vince

Joel Kline has an excellent article on the current state of American schools. You cannot mention American schools without including it’s unions. He delves into that subject and exposes some hard truths that even I as a certified teacher am alarmed to hear.

As we all hear day in and day out, America is falling behind when it comes to equipping our upcoming generations with the skills they need to get quality jobs and ultimately compete in the global market (the part about the global market always makes me chuckle. Can you imagine this being ingrained into teachers heads as they work with elementary and middle school teachers?)

now our technological progress is advancing more rapidly than our educational attainment. From 1960 to 1980, our supply of college graduates increased at almost 4 percent a year; since then, the increase has been about half as fast. The net effect is that we’re rapidly moving toward two Americas—a wealthy elite, and an increasingly large underclass that lacks the skills to succeed.

This division tears at the very fabric of our society. Nevertheless, there’s little national urgency to fix its underlying causes. Unlike a bad economy, poor educational achievement creeps up on us. Right now, if you were running for office, would you be more concerned with unemployment or education? Also, unlike terrorism, an educational crisis has a different impact on the powerful than it does on most of society. Their children, who are in private schools or elite public schools, receive a decent education, so it’s hard to get them fully engaged in the broader national debate. Plus, unlike in health care, for example, where we perceive the quality of care to be good and worry instead about controlling costs and covering the uninsured, in education, despite massive increases in expenditure, we don’t see improved results. That leads too many people to suspect that poverty is destiny, that schools can make only a small difference, and that therefore we’re unable to fix this problem, regardless of its seriousness. So why try?

This, along with some other common gripes, Klein digs into.

One of the general threads in this article is the type of career many teachers want and how far removed their desires are from other normal jobs:

The school system doesn’t want to change, because it serves the needs of the adult stakeholders quite well, both politically and financially.

Now to the unions. The American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association have roughly 4.7 million members. That is a lot of money and pull. As the union connects to their political counterparts, one of their goals is to keep the union members happy:

And what do the members want? Employees understandably want lifetime job security (tenure), better pay regardless of performance (seniority pay), less work (short days, long holidays, lots of sick days), and the opportunity to retire early (at, say, 55) with a good lifetime pension and full health benefits; for their part, the retirees want to make sure their benefits keep coming and grow through cost-of-living increases. The result: whether you work hard or don’t, get good results with kids or don’t, teach in a shortage area like math or special education or don’t, or in a hard-to-staff school in a poor community or not, you get paid the same, unless you’ve been around for another year, in which case you get more. Not bad for the adults.

Also worth noting, the legal process is equal to jumping through hundreds of hoops just to fire a teacher.

Klein also digs into the pension system that really hits many districts hard:

None of these pay increases makes sense. Why pay someone more for simply working another year or for taking a few courses? Starting last year, Mayor Bloomberg refused to give teachers in New York a raise, because he was facing budget cuts. But the overall pay for teachers still went up nearly 3.5 percent automatically, simply for longevity and college credits. (According to a Department of Education internal analysis, the average NYC teacher works fewer than seven hours a day for 185 days and costs the city $110,000—$71,000 in salary, $23,000 in pensions, and $16,000 in health and other benefits.) And why give all teachers making $80,000, or more, a 10 percent raise? They’re not going to leave, since they’re close to vesting their lifetime pensions. By contrast, increasing starting salaries by $8,000 (rather than $4,000) would help attract and retain better new teachers. But because of seniority, we can’t do it that way.

Consequently, elected officials have had every incentive to make extraordinarily optimistic assumptions about the pension plan—or to simply underfund it—so they can put as little as possible into the reserve. Unfortunately, but predictably, that’s exactly what has happened: most states “assumed” they would get an average 8 percent return on their pension reserves, when in fact they were getting significantly less. Over the past 10 years, for example, New York City’s pension funds earned an average of just 2.5 percent. Now virtually every pension plan in America that covers teachers has huge unfunded liabilities. A recent study by the Manhattan Institute estimated the total current shortfall at close to $1 trillion. There’s only one way to pay for that: take the money from current and future operating budgets, robbing today’s children to pay tomorrow’s pensions. In NYC, for example, the portion of the overall budget set aside for education pensions went from $455 million in 2002 to $2.6 billion in 2011, most of it for teachers. Not surprisingly, retirees remain politically vigilant, and vote at much higher levels than active teachers in union elections (50 percent versus 24 percent in New York’s last UFT election).

Klein also compares schools lack of incentive to make their product (education) better to their practical monopoly-like strangle hold on their niche (which also keeps many charter schools from starting up):

Accountability, in most industries or professions, usually takes two forms. First and foremost, markets impose accountability: if people don’t choose the goods or services you’re offering, you go out of business. Second, high-performing companies develop internal accountability requirements keyed to market-based demands.

Public education lacks both kinds of accountability. It is essentially a government-run monopoly. Whether a school does well or poorly, it will get the students it needs to stay in business, because most kids have no other choice. And that, in turn, creates no incentive for better performance, greater efficiency, or more innovation—all things as necessary in public education as they are in any other field.

Klein had a few good takeaway points:

…we unions talk reform, but firing incompetent teachers will never be a real part of that.

Change is possible. In New York City, it took a mayor willing to assume control over the system and risk significant political capital. It required time—Mayor Bloomberg and I had more than eight years together, while most urban superintendents serve for about three and a half years. It required taking risks, knowing that not every change will work out and that your critics will focus mercilessly on those that don’t. But most of all, it required building community and political support.

McKinsey estimates that the benefits of bringing our educational levels up to those of the highest-performing countries would have raised our gross domestic product by about $2 trillion in 2008.

Finally, Al Shanker spoke in 1993 about the school system:

 We are at the point that the auto industry was at a few years ago. They could see they were losing market share every year and still not believe that it really had anything to do with the quality of the product I think we will get—and deserve—the end of public education through some sort of privatization scheme if we don’t behave differently. Unfortunately, very few people really believe that yet. They talk about it, and they don’t like it, but they’re not ready to change and stop doing the things that brought us to this point.

Paul Farhi offers a contrarian (but much shorter) opinion.

May 23, 2011

The Budget Crisis View Of Pennsylvanian Schools

by Vince

The impacts are stark:

  • About 31 percent of districts are considering cutting full-day kindergarten next year, compared with 1 percent that eliminated it this year.
  • About 86 percent of districts anticipate seeing class sizes increase next year, compared with 17 percent increasing this year.
  • 91 percent of districts don’t plan to fill empty positions next year, and about two-thirds plan to lay off instructional staff.
The full report (pdf) is worth a read.
May 17, 2011

Reading Materials

by Vince
  • Gifted students (I found out recently that they have GIEP’s) do not make many quantum gifted leaps once in gifted programs. I have found from personal experience that it can be just one more task to differentiate lessons for gifted students (my choice, not the students fault).
  • The type of relationship we form with a hard copy of a book is different than the one we form with a book on a Kindle.
  • Finally, a run-down of GOP hopefuls and reactions from bloggers.
April 6, 2011

Improvements in Schools and Money: What makes a difference?

by Vince

Some say that more money has not healed the epidemic known as the broken educational system in Pennsylvania (and nationwide). We shall see what impact less money has on the system in the Keystone state.

March 20, 2011

What Do Teachers Make?

by Vince

Well, that is one way to put it.


March 11, 2011

The Case For Not Focusing

by Vince

Jonah Lehrer makes it. If you follow his blog, he from time to time posts articles on this very topic:

The takeaway is that we need to broaden our definition of “productive” thinking. For too long, we’ve assumed that every thought process that isn’t focused attention is a waste of time. We’ve trained our kids to believe that the only way to succeed is to stare at the blackboard, to fixate on the lesson plan. But that’s wrong. Consider this recent study, which makes me sad: In 1995, psychologists at Union College surveyed several dozen elementary school teachers. While every teacher said they wanted creative kids in their classroom, they were mistaken. In fact, when the teachers were asked to rate their students on a variety of personality measures – the list included everything from “individualistic” to “risk-seeking” to “accepting of authority” – the traits mostly closely aligned with creative thinking were also closely associated with their “least favorite” students. As the researchers note, “Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity.

This is a point of interest to me for two reasons. I personally strive to be creative as an individual and I believe it is important for my students to be creative as well. I will admit that I am not the best at providing an environment for that in my classroom (my most recent project – comparing Thomas Jefferson to John Adams on a poster – felt lame). Thankfully, I have the freedom too revise and do differently next time.

March 6, 2011

The Task Of Canning Bad Teachers

by Vince

It isn’t easy. But the time may, in my opinion, be worth it. The litigation may cost $20,000 but it should show without a shadow of doubt that this teacher isn’t deserving to teach. The alternative: a shorter process or an instant canning? The latter may be a more daunting threat to us teachers, especially if coming from a educratic-type principal reaching out for that carrot dangled from one of the various educational organizations demanding “satisfactory” scores or “punishment”.

February 27, 2011

Weekend Re-Up

by Vince

It seems as if my first week was so long when in fact it was only three days of teaching. We had off Tuesday because of snow. Each day has built on itself and I have grown to feel more confident in running my own classroom. The support from my colleagues and MJ has been just what I’ve needed but I won’t lie, its still an ongoing adjustment.

Subbing, to me, is not work. I show up, give out the class “orders”, sit back and read. Now, I am constantly up, checking up on whats going on, and taking on more duties as a full time teacher. Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t in my mind a lazy sub who did nothing – but it was much easier than this.

In the end, I hope that this proves to be worthwhile for me and the kids.

PS – Thanks Charles for the post!

February 18, 2011

Understanding the Wisconsin Teacher Showdown

by Vince

OTB provides a great gathering of voices and information in relation to the Wisconsin quagmire for the inquisitive reader.

February 18, 2011

Enter Your Classroom…

by Vince

That I will on Tuesday. I accepted a job as a long term substitute for a history class in a local middle school. It goes until the end of May. Time will tell if it turns into a permanent position.

This position I accepted literally fell into my lap. It wasn’t posted on the school districts website as an opening. I heard it through the internal grape vine and went ahead, introduced myself to the principal, and inquired about the possible opening. He called for me the next day, wanting me to come in and talk. That we did and we finalized it all.

I have been offered similar positions in the last few months and either turned them down or was not chosen. They ultimately didn’t fit for me as this position does. This school is great; an interconnected faculty and a  friendly and eager student body make it a joy to work for.

Now the obvious question must arise: how much will I be able to blog if I now have a full time teaching job? My answer: I don’t know. I will see what my lesson planning load looks like as well as my overall schedule. I surely won’t forget about this blog and the loyal readers who check it every day for thought provoking content.

So here I go, ready to enjoy this three-day weekend (with fantastic weather in the forecast) and prepare to enter my classroom on Tuesday.

December 8, 2010

Chris Christie and a Teacher

by Vince

Christie is THAT GUY.

December 2, 2010

Book Review: Shame of the Nation

by Vince

I finished reading this book last week before Thanksgiving and had a brief conversation one night with a friend about some of the material. I had chugged through four of Kozol’s books in a short period of time. The Shame of the Nation was the hardest for me to get through. It was about 380 pages and quite

dense at points. I promised him I would do my best to retain some of my questions and share them somewhere.

I saw a review for SOTN on Amazon before I finished the book and it made me think a bit more about the content. Here is a segment of the review:

“Kozol’s solution to all the problems facing urban schools is simply to fund them at the same level as the wealthiest suburbs. There is no examination of whether that funding target is appropriate, which is a very important question. Perhaps the ritzy suburbs are spending too much and wasting money on frills such as lavish sports facilities and so on. It’s one thing if the residents in that community are willing to pay for those frills but quite another to ask the overburdened taxpayer to provide the same to all schools.”

Kozol does confront the issue of money spent in comparing districts. Those he sees at the finer white schools sometimes say that money doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t matter (these more affluent schools spend almost double on each student) then why don’t these schools bring their spending down to Harlem or inner city Philadelphia levels?

This book, along with the cultimation of all in his previous books material whizzing through my head, has me thinking about school standards plastered on classroom walls. I was teaching today and in one class where I had three boys completing reading remediation I was discussing the differences between inferences and conclusions. I explained each through examples drawn from the vast museum of posters on the wall (this seems to be the trend in many classrooms). I found, of course, a school standard poster on the wall. It was above the white board and almost level with the clock. These posters are quite detailed so their font was very small. I asked the students if they ever read the posters in their room. They simply responded “no”. I wondered out loud if these standards posters were on the wall just to look good for higher ups coming in because I didn’t expect a student (or the teacher) to serendipitously read them as they were in the middle of class.

While I am on state standards, Kozol points out in SOTN the educrat language in these documents.

The teacher cannot simply say, “I read an early lyrical poem of William Butler Yeats with my third graders and discovered that they loved it.” Instead, she must position what she did within a recognized compartment: “I used a poem of William Butler Yeats in order to deliver Elementary Standard 37-A,” or something of that sort, which she must then identify by naming the intended outcome for the reading of the poem, which might be something as specific as “the recognition of analogies” or, depending on grade level, “understanding meter in an unrhymed poem.”

I reflect back now and remember having almost fit into that mold. My lesson and unit plans were full of educational jib jab laced with standards that I had to dig up and include for proper format. I never felt that these standards were caging but they were a bit much at times.

To top it off, how often are these standards written in educational jargon so at distance from reality? Now for SOTN, I had to have a dictionary most of the time near by so to look up words. His words, however, did not consist of educational jargon that went over my head but were simply words a normal literature grad from Harvard College would be expected to have in their repertoire. I believe Kozol goes deeper into this interesting subject in his book Letters to a Young Teacher but this can be attributed in part to those in power wishing to turn teaching from an art into a science. The “art” of naming every single solitary cognitive event within a school is disheartening, pompous, and a waste of sophistication. These “instructional lists” include such terming as “authentic writing”, “active listening”, “accountable talk” et al. How often these words are actually used in a real manner is beyond me.

Kozol brings up a great closing point when thinking about standards and outcomes:

By giving every particle of learning an official name, we strip it of uniqueness. By forcing it to fit into the right compartment of significance or meaning, we control its power to establish its own meanings or to stir the children to pursue a small exhilaration in directions that may lead them to a place the experts haven’t yet had time to name. Fascination and delight, no matter what lip-service we may pay to them, become irrelevant distractions. Finding “where it goes” and what it “demonstrates” and how it can be “utilized” become the teacher’s desolate obsessions.

Much of this educrat/formal talk is present in suburban public schools but also very real and obtrusive in urban school settings. Much of this, in short, is meant as the most direct and sure-shot way for educating those who need clear direction. To unpack my somewhat vague previous sentence, I will use an example from a day of mine teaching. I had a sub-academic class beginning Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Much of the teaching was without emotion. That isn’t fully the fault of the curriculum; the teacher himself admitted to lacking in emotion. The kids were treated like juvenile criminals that needed to be corralled, kept under control, and on a clear path. Mind you, there were no behavioral problems, instances of calling out, or even a clear sense that they weren’t getting the material. Never mind that because, well, most people disregard that, and look to the general direction this is pushing the students. In many urban districts Kozol visited, college was never mentioned as an option. Many of the classes and academic paths were pointed towards business (low end jobs) and the working world. Many of the classes Kozol visited were hyper obsessed with being a manager. The “pencil manager”, “line manager”, “book manager” were jobs enlisted to all aged students, elementary and up.

Back to the class I saw reading A Christmas Carol. A few classes after that, I taught that remediation class and had a fully scripted lesson. It was all found in a book, with every cue written in for me. Sure, I followed most of them but I sure deviated when the time fit. Many of these scripted lessons are meant for a reason. The high turnover for teachers in inner cities brings in many quick unqualified teachers. If they are not fully qualified and if teaching must be done (which is meant for the kids sake but is such a sorry approach I can’t help but sarcastically laugh) there is a program all mapped out for the “substitute”.

Kozol goes at No Child Left Behind. He notes that this law brings testing and standards and “accountability” out the ying yang but it does nothing to address inequalities in funding between urban and suburban schools (for infrastructure, per pupil spending) or the racial isolation blooming apartheid. Authors such as Tim Wise are critical of Barack Obama for letting race and apartheid go unspoken of. Race is such a hot topic that it burns when left untouched and when dug up.

One incredibly neat (and important) educational benchmark is the 1973 Supreme Court decision that holds to this day our education as not a fundamental right. How many citizens, students, and teachers do not know this? I don’t know, but it is sure shocking. Education sure is a fundamental right for it is essential for one to live out their first amendment rights. However, the majority in the case didn’t think so because education is not explicitly spelled out in the Constitution. Justice Thurgood Marshall mentions that “the right to procreate, vote, and criminal appeal are not guarenteed in the Constitution, yet they have been afforded special judicial consideration because they are to some extent interrelated with constitutional guarantees.”

Kozol continues on the path of educational funding: “the top 25% of school districts in terms of child poverty receive less funding than the bottom 25%. In 31 states, districts with the highest percentage of minority children also receive less funding per pupil than do districts with the fewest minority children.” Kozol has charts in the books appendix detailing this in several cities. It just doesn’t make any fair sense. One final note: “when children are shortchanged financially, of course, the individual per-pupil penalty that they incur is greatly magnified because a child is not educated individually but in a class of 20, 25, or 30 or more children.”

This book provided me great thinking material that coincided with my varying teaching districts. It was, as I said, tough at points to get through. I felt that it ran on at points but I appreciate that aspect now because it really hammered home the points of inequality in race, funding, and the true state of shame many schools are in today. I appreciate Kozol’s points on charter schools; they were initiated by fundamentalist racists bent on segregating schools and many of these “new age / tech” type schools today are applied to in advance predominantly by white denizens (they are the ones who know about them early on and aren’t discriminated against by the enrollment tests) and thus advance a segregated agenda.

I will be taking a break from Jonathan Kozol books for a bit but I hope to pick up his other works in the coming year.

November 16, 2010

Book Reviews: 3 Books by Jonathan Kozol

by Vince

I just finished reading a third straight book by Jonathan Kozol. I went in this order: Amazing Grace, Death at an Early Age, and Letters to a Young


I heard about Kozol from a friend of mine about two years ago. He is a numbers theorist at my alma matter who had first hand experience working with students in poverty stricken Appalachia. His students were white and contrast in skin color to Kozol’s students of color in the inner city. Regardless, I still see poverty as poverty. I will come back to this point in a bit.

I only started to read these books by Kozol because I had them around our room and I was meaning to read them. These books have turned out to be great gifts and have been excellent to have in this season of teaching.

First up, Amazing Grace. I had a hard time chugging through this book at times. I thought that out of the three I read, this one was the most depressing. A large chunk of the book relies on his first hand interviews with students, teachers, clergy, older community members, and families within the South Bronx. Seeing the gripping effects waste plants located in this community have on the respiratory systems of those who live near by is sickening. His stories and first hand encounters shows the dark side of de facto segregation in NYC.

In Death at an Early Age, this was Kozol’s first book, published in 1967. This

book originally was written out as notes on envelopes. He later wrote it all out and eventually made it into a book. This book documents his first year teaching in Roxbury, Massachusetts. His experience working in the de facto segregated Boston school system is eye opening. He was well aware of the corporal punishment used against students and much against it. Kozol brings to light the well guised racist feelings by some of his colleagues. Much of this guise is ultimately rooted in a separate but equal ideology. Kozol was ultimately fired for reading to his students a poem not on the approved curriculum list. This poem, however, was by a Negro who spoke in a “slang” very similar to those of the children in the city, which the school district wanted to “break”. The superintendent plainly told Kozol that he couldn’t read any literature by Negro authors who talked about suffering. Ironically, there was no issue when Kozol read to his students a poem by Robert Frost, who was not on the approved list and was even praised for presenting his students with such “cultural material”.

Finally, Letters to a Young Teacher was Kozol’s correspondence to a young teacher named Francesca. Kozol frequently stopped in to her class and observed. He then would follow up with lengthy letters. This book was neat for it is rather contemporary compared to the two previous. Letters deals with the issues of vouchers, high stakes testing, the lack of space for creativity in such classrooms, and the many differences in style and spending per student between urban and suburban/private white schools.

Across these books, Kozol approaches education as a universal good that is meant to be shared, provided for others, and valued both individually and collectively. He is Jewish and has a large respect for churches. He goes at Washington and corporate “experts” who overuse and abuse educational lingo laced with excessive syllables.

I found his books extra accessible for me because of my recent time subbing in the inner city. These books, the stories, their insights, and the general loving approach to teaching have all driven me to a new sense of feeling alive in the classroom. One issue I had with these books is that the notes in the far back are not cited in the chapters. I would of liked to of seen symbols to check a citation in the rear of the book.

“Visitors from outside these neighborhoods who witness confrontations often make the unkind observations that “these students act like animals.” But if you treat them like animals, herding them along for squalid feedings like so many cattle rather than providing them even minimal civility, its not surprising to me that they act accordingly.”

In the above quote, Kozol describes a mega-school in L.A. that houses 3,600 students but is meant only for 1,800. The school goes in shifts for lunch, starting at 9:30am until 2pm. He mentions that many of the students are not hungry yet at 9:30am and get rather rowdy come noon time. Some are known to even leave school to get food and not return.

“Many of these kids cannot constructively participate in class discussions because they have never learned in elementary school to ask dissecting questions or to analyze or criticize complex ideas.”

Kozol attacks here the standardized test craze that is so common in urban schools. Sure, suburban schools prep for these tests but so much of this craze gets embedded in urban schools to the point of wondering if this all would fly and be acceptable for suburban parents of students.

I am on now to Shame of a Nation by Kozol. These books remind me that as a teacher who cares for kids, and by kids I mean kids of all colors, even sometimes more so for kids of color (because racism twists poverty differently for blacks than whites, in my opinion), I am not alone in my passions. I care for hearing students stories, hearing about their families, asking how they came to America, their views on their school, their neighborhood, and life. Generally speaking, I am the white guy who grew up in the suburbs who really doesn’t know anything about inner city living or school. I am mostly there to listen.

The kicker is that I can level with these kids. Kozol mentions this, either explicitily or implicitly in these three books, that the majority of urban students are not “animals”. I have taught dozens of students who are great kids and well behaved. Sure, there are poorly behaved kids and even those who are disrespectful, but that is surely there in the white suburban schools I have been at.

November 9, 2010

Forget Politics: How I Was Assaulted By A Student Today

by Vince

I have really enjoyed my new desire to blog lately. However, as I walked in today to my sister and brother in laws house , my sis in law said that I should forget about blogging on politics and tell about what life was like to be Vince today.

I subbed today in a school district that in my opinion needs a lot of work. That is not to say that every other district is peachy and perfect, but this district, from the top down, seems to have some major flaws. I can also speak about this district because a very close relative of mine use to be employed by them for a handful of years.

Anywho, I had a tough experience at one of the middle schools in this district and I took a few week break from subbing with them. I took up todays job because 1) it was an English class which seemed somewhat do-able for me and up my ally and 2) I didn’t have a sub job lined up yet for today.

I drove in to work and chatted with my Dad on the phone about the recent mid term elections, his work, the Bush tax cuts, and our weekends. He was planning on going to his plan B for work today; it was windy out so instead of doing leaf clean ups, he would cut grass.

I parked in the assigned spot for the teacher I was covering for. I walked in a bit early, before all of the commotion and noise of a Monday high school day began. I made my way to my room and was even escorted up by a boy I will call Arman who knew I was not fully familiar with the school’s layout. He made his way along my side, saying “hey” or “what’s up?” to mostly everyone we passed. He even made little connections with teachers and other students based on the t-shirts they wore or that they packed a lunch. As we pulled up to my classroom, I thanked Arman and gave him a pound (handshake) and turned to Mr. H, the teacher I covered for. He was glad to see me and explained to me his already clearly laid out plans for the day. We were to read chapter 6 in To Kill a Mockingbird and complete a worksheet for homework. A simple day.

I had to teach 4 classes today. Each had trouble to their own degree with starting. How do you start your class up on a Monday and read To Kill a Mockingbird? How do you convey to your visual students your name when the chalk and markers are locked up by the teacher so that no one can steal them? How do you give the simple and brief instructions when some of the students are turned around and speaking street Spanish? Well, I try and take my time, pausing where I have to and waiting for at best a mostly undivided class.

Each class had a handful of students who didn’t have their books. They either had to share with one another, boringly listen, or fight off putting their heads down to sleep. The ones who did read along were often attentive and wanted to read a few paragraphs out loud. I would interject here and there, asking questions about Jem or Dill, just to check that they were following along and connecting some dots. I would even stop the reading and break into mini-lectures on racism and privilege after Dill and Jem contemplated taking a risky walk at night or delve into the definition of a cherub (description of Dill’s face).

Some classes provided more fertile grounds for discussion. I believe only one class didn’t have me throw out a cursing student. It wasn’t until 6th period, my last teaching class of the day, that things went very wrong.

This class seemed tough to get going and in order. I don’t know if they had just come back from lunch or were ready to go home. One student, who I will call David, came in to class loud as ever. His voice towered over his normal sized body and really carried a lot of disrupting power. He wore a pair of nice glasses and within 30 seconds of entering class, they were taken from him twice. As much as he may seem a victim already, he dished out jokes and cutting comments to anyone within breathing distance of him. It came to pass that he lost his glasses for the third time and thought someone was hiding them. I tried to start class regardless because I couldn’t find them. He continued to disrupt class and made that plan of me starting fruitless. I told him to take a breather outside and he just stormed out, mad and distraught that he possibly lost his expensive glasses which his grandmother had bought him.

As David was gone, I encouraged a few students to read a bit of chapter 6. Most of the time, students would read fine but would be talked over by a fellow student. David returned and knocked on the door. He knocked because I locked the door from the inside to prevent random students from disrupting the already uncohesive class. I stepped outside and he asked if he could come back in. I asked him why I should let him back in. As he and I continued on this conversation, I partly had to keep control of class as I was halfway out the door. I told David to go downstairs and get someone to come up to class and get back his glasses.

As I went back into the classroom, a boy in the back of the room had a pen thrown at him by a girl sitting caddy corner to him. He threw something back at her and they then started off cursing at each other. Then then stood up to curse at each other and then pronounce the detail penalty on one another. I told them both to leave the class. I told the boy, who I will call Ephren, to go downstairs first before Shannelle (the girl he was fighting with). Ephren walked to the front of the room and sat down in a desk. I asked him to leave but he refused. I walked up front and tapped him on the shoulder and pointed towards the door. Again, he refused. I tugged on his arm and told him to get out. He spoke next, looking at the class, that I shouldn’t f*****g touch him. I equally responded by telling him to get the f*** out of the room. He got up, stood eye to eye with me, and asked me at least 5 times “what are you going to do?” He and I were about 8 feet from the door and I gently pushed him towards the direction of the door, to get him out of my face and towards the exit. He caught his balance and cocked back and swung at my face. He first connected with my cheek and I instantly grabbed him and slammed him up against the door. As I held him, I looked around to see a boy come up and neutrally break us up. I asked for someone to open the door and as it was opened, Ephren exited, swung, and connected with the side of my head. He ran out and from what I gathered left the school building.

David was just coming back up the stairs with an administrator to help find his glasses. His glasses just happened, beyond my knowing, to of been on my desk the whole time. The admin he was with took over as I talked with my neighboring teacher and had him call for assistance. Instantly, hall monitors and the principal arrived and walked me downstairs. As I was in the nurses office icing my face, the fire alarms went off and we received a report that a bomb threat was just called in to the school and administration building.

I am thinking to myself: how slim is the possibility for these circumstances to align in one single school day? I begin walking towards the exit with the principal as they evacuate the entire school. We walk by special education students who needed to be wheel chaired out into the cold. We walk up the stairs of the front of the building and into the office. The principal and fellow staff coordinated plans for tracing the call, sweeping the building, and following procedures for terroristic threats. In comes the superintendent. She sees me icing my face and apologizes for such things happening. She implores me that such things should never happen to teachers and she again apologizes.

I sit in the office for roughly an hour, sitting and listening to the rhythm of the fire alarm, watching new faces come in and out, and seeing how a school works together in the case of such a threat. I eventually make my way through the school and am all but done for the day. I contact my employer and have faxed to them a medical report. I pack up my things and get ready to head out for the day.

I walk across the busy street and head towards my cars direction. I parked in a specific spot assigned for the teacher I covered. I reach the row up against a wall and do not see my car. I wonder: do I have brain damage or is my car really not here. I double check the number and finally connect the dots: my car has either been stolen or has been towed.

I head back in to the high school, the very place I want to leave completely for the day and just head home. I ask if they have towed anyone today. I eventually realize my foolish mistake. I had parked across the street in a lot that was divided between government parking for county and city workers. I had parked there before and received a warning. This time, I was towed. I didn’t remember to not park there and just somehow forgot about that simple fact. I get the number of the towing company, call up for directions, and miraculously hitch a ride with the same admin who came up the steps with David to help find his glasses. This admin was heading in the same direction and was willing to help me out.

I arrive and am slammed with a $125 towing fee. Ouch. Thankfully, they had a handful of left over Halloween candy in a basket and I loaded up. I get my 1994 Toyota and turn the key in the ignition. I find my way back home, call up my Dad, and hear his support and comparison to having a car of his towed in 1977 that, adjusted to inflation, cost more than mine did today. He and I are very alike; we tell some stories with an overkill of detail for no reason.

I get home, finally, and am greeted by my wife and the warm house and residing family. They don’t ask how my day was because they knew from me telling them bits and pieces earlier. All they say is to forget about blogging about politics and to tell about the day in the life of Vince Giordano. And while I am at it, enjoy some light beef soup and grilled cheese. All of those ingredients – family, warmth, and food – heal my wounds.

October 15, 2010

7 Skills students need for their future

by Vince

Dr. Tony Wagner, co-director of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group has identified what he calls a “global achievement gap,” which is the leap between what even our best schools are teaching, and the must-have skills of the future: * Critical thinking and problem-solving * Collaboration across networks and leading by influence * Agility and adaptability * Initiative and entrepreneurialism * Effective oral and written communication * Accessing and analyzing information * Curiosity and imagination

October 15, 2010

Animating the Change in Education

by Vince