Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Fourth Day

All continues to go well with the sixth graders. We introduced them to eChalk and helped them log-in to their accounts for the first time today. For the first time in my teaching career, the vast majority (I would estimate >85%) of the students say they have internet access at home. And these are poor kids in the Bronx: the times, they are a-changin'. I had each of them write down their address and password on an index card so that I can keep a file of all their information; this is easier than resetting passwords electronically every time someone forgets theirs. We noticed that one girl chose as her password, "Ihate[school name]." When I asked her what this was about, she told me a long and complicated story about using reverse psychology to pick a password that her friend would never guess, because her friend was teasing her about picking an obvious password. I don't know the girl well enough to know if this is the truth or an imaginative story, but it's not a good sign when a kid writes down that they hate school - on the fourth day! Hmmm. She's very bright, high test scores, eager to participate, but she also was defensive and argumentative when I asked her about the password.

We had a plethora of visitors today - police officers continuing their investigation of the stolen laptops, IT people to fix some problems with the remaining laptops, three people from the school we are modeled after (each visiting independently for a different reason!), and - surprise of surprises! - the Regional superintendent & her entourage. She does not usually visit unannounced. We have nothing to hide and everything to be proud of, and I respect her a lot for dropping by a school to see things firsthand, but the fact remains that she doesn't usually just drop in - something's afoot.

We may be nearly out of science teacher limbo, but I don't want to jinx it by getting too happy.

I met with the AP, Principal, and other grade team leaders to discuss many things - it was one of those meetings that started out as a casual conversation and turned into a real meeting as more of us got sucked in.

One thing we are all a little puzzled by is how to work with our struggling teachers. As I have described many times before, we have some new teachers who are very reflective, ask for help when they need it, see where they are and where they want to be, and are always growing and improving. These teachers need support, but it's fairly easy to provide. There are others, however, who don't seem very reflective, who don't ask for help, and who don't seem to have either a realistic sense of their strengths and weaknesses or a clear vision of how they want to teach. Perhaps because we are all naturally reflective people who hold ourselves to extremely high standards, we are not sure how to proceed.

My two cents in this conversation were that I feel the need to be more direct this year, rather than kind of hinting broadly about areas of concern. I suggested that the first step is to arrange regular times for observation - both observation of the new teacher by an experienced teacher, and observation of experienced teachers by the new teacher. That provides evidence which can be used to start conversations. For example, one teacher uses a lot of sarcasm and a general tone that is over the heads of most middle school students. Some just shut off because they don't "get" her, and others shut off because they feel insulted. Either way, it seems to the rest of us that she doesn't project a sense of compassion - but how do you tell someone this? I suggested that by observing her, you can start with concrete examples: "When you made this joke, I don't think the students understood that you were joking, and I saw a few of them stop paying attention." Then you can discuss it and maybe set up a time for the teacher to observe someone else who is really good in that particular area - in this case, using humor in the classroom and setting the appropriate firm but compassionate tone. After a really targeted observation, you can talk more about what the teacher saw and whether they think they can use it to develop their own teaching.

Another topic was how to begin to apply what we learned at Confratute. We gave the students interest and learning style inventories this week, and we took a look at some of their answers. We saw so many children whose needs we are not meeting. One girl had a lot of behavior problems last year, which usually began during group interactions. Her learning style inventory was almost entirely tipped towards independent projects! This made total sense to us. She's very bright and creative, but working with other kids just isn't her thing. So what to do about it? Another boy expressed interests in crime scene investigation, working with DNA, predicting the weather, and "solving the mysteries of the ancient world." My experience with this boy is that he expects to interact with adults as a peer, and can blow up unexpectedly when treated patronizingly. Now, he obviously is NOT a peer of his teachers, and he needs to work on being respectful no matter what, but at the same time, he is right to demand more challenge. Now we have a starting place. The more we looked through their packets, the more we saw needs unmet and challenges for what we do and how we see these children.

Finally, my AP told me that she looked into getting our test scores back and was told they would not be released until November. It's hard to explain why this bothers me so much. I guess it's just a little ridiculous to give me and my colleagues two weeks to grade the written parts (a dozen pages per test!) by hand while teaching full time - but to allow the state almost six months to scan the bubble sheets and calculate the final scores. One of the justifications for this test is that it can be used to help improve a school's science program. That can still happen in November, but it would be better if we had part of the summer to think about it. Also, the first part of next year's test is given in January. Plus, a passing science score can supposedly substitute for a failing score on a math or reading test, allowing promotion to ninth grade, but the students will be several months into the school year before scores are known. This certainly communicates something about how much the state values science and social studies education. And most of all, it's a failure of accountability in a testing program that is supposed to be all about accountability. End of rant. I won't bring it up again until November, I promise.

Tomorrow is our family celebration... the end of orientation. Next week, the real first day of school.

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3:12 AM  

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