Tuesday, September 30, 2003

I must like my job....

because even though I started out the day feeling grouchy as heck, I was able to greet my colleagues with a smile by about mid-morning! And my lesson wasn't even going that well.... Anyway, the reason for my grouchiness was two-fold: a sense that I have been spending too much time on the internet lately instead of doing other important stuff (like practicing the guitar or running), and the fact that I woke up at 6:40 this morning, exactly 5 minutes after the ideal time to leave the house and 5 minutes before the latest I can leave with any hope of being on time. BIG adrenalin rush. Left the house 15 minutes later, arrived at school only 10 minutes late. Grouchy as heck, at first.

Lab Report Update: All done! (Except 4 or 5 handed in late).

Monday, September 29, 2003

Response to "Why the Bloomberg/Klein Educational Reforms Will Not Work"

Yesterday, I published an article by Professor Alan Singer, of Hofstra University. Today, I will respond to some of his ideas from the perspective of someone inside the NYC school system. I don't completely disagree with Professor Singer, nor do I completely agree with him. I would love to know what others think!

Singer writes of the city's new coordinated curriculum:
Unfortunately, it is being presented to teachers as a series of scripted directives to be followed by them and the kids. The things that make learning fun and contagious - art, music, dance, drama, sport, play, an appreciation of diverse cultures, friendship, investigation, speculation, the discovery of new things, and the give and take between human beings, are being squeezed out.

"Scripted" is a relative term. In my experience in Region 1, the curriculum has not seemed particularly scripted. Basically, they want us - especially math and reading teachers - to use the so-called "Workshop Model" for each lesson. [I am going to get my materials on this later and explain in more detail.] I don't see this as "scripted." While it is not currently exactly the same way I typically organize a lesson, it is not far off, and I feel confident that a good teacher can adapt to the new format. The elementary school with which we share a building uses Success For All - now that's a scripted curriculum!

I also think that many - though not all - of the things Singer lists as being squeezed out can still be integrated into the curriculum by a good teacher. For example, the students actually have a good deal of freedom of choice in the books they read, which was not true in the curriculum models used by many schools before the reforms. In those programs, the kids read stories from a textbook; now, they choose their own books. There is also nothing stopping a good teacher from helping students cultivate friendships, learn more about their own interests, or consider diversity.

The Arts are in danger of being ignored by our schools. Definitely. And having seen how kids respond to drama classes, I think it's a tragedy.

Singer continues:
In the middle schools and high schools, failure will be compounded as students are forced into extended remediation sessions. Locked into double period blocks of preparation for standardized reading and math tests, they will fail to learn the same things they failed to learn in the past. For lower performing students, perhaps for the bulk of them, not only will the arts be shunted aside, but probably also social studies, history, literature and the sciences.

This is all true. It is not new, however. At my previous school, the students already took 2-3 periods of Communication Arts per day, and often 2 periods of Math as well. This was well before the current curriculum reform, and I know from speaking to colleagues in other schools that it was true in many places throughout the city. It was probably true that the students did not do better on the standardized tests when they got 2 periods with the same teacher, doing the same stuff, than they would have with only 1 period per subject per day. (It would be interesting to see a rigorous study of that, actually... I couldn't prove that the extra time in a subject area made no difference, I just suspect it.) To imagine how awful the double periods can be, imagine sitting in the same seat, in the same room, with the same teacher, studying the same extremely frustrating subject, for 1 1/2 - 2 hours each day! Most adults would rebel. And other subjects, including subjects like Science and Social Studies which will soon have tests of their own, are neglected. Worst of all, the kids who could probably benefit most from trying something new & possibly discovering a talent - those who are doing poorly in academic subjects - are the least likely to get any "enrichment" subjects like Art or Music.

More to come....


One of my students saw this (or an incident very similar to it): In the Bronx, Little Pity for a Beaten Cabby. She broke down in tears this morning. The principal spoke to her, then took her down to the school psychologist. By afternoon, she was outwardly cheerful again - kids are very resilient - but just imagine.

How Strong Are Magnets?

Such a fun activity today! We did a mini-lab, measuring the strength of magnets. Basically, each group of kids balanced a tongue-depressor across two plastic cups, then put a magnet in the center of the tongue-depressor. They bent a large paper clip into a hook, and hung it underneath the tongue-depressor, attached only by the magnetic attraction. Then they put washers onto the paper clip, one at a time, measuring how many washers the paper clip could hold. They repeated this with 2, 3, 4, and 5 magnets, then graphed the results.

Everyone had a blast. Kids did their own little experiments with the magnets as they worked, discovering many interesting things: that they could use the repellent force of magnets to make the tongue-depressor fly off the cups, that their jewelry would stick to the magnets, that you could use one magnet to make another magnet "dance" on the table top.

The main point of this experiment, besides exploring magnetism, was to identify the independent and dependent variables, and which factors needed to be held constant to make the experiment work. I am looking forward to more experiments like this in the next few weeks!

On the other hand, one of my students stole two of my magnets this morning. I trust my students and have never had problems with theft in my new school (I had occasional problems in my old school). The VAST majority of students are honest, and I am very careful about my materials and set a tone of taking responsibility for them. They know that I will know if things are missing, and the fun will stop. Nevertheless, during first period I let a student distribute ten magnets to each table. At the end of the period, a student came up to me and said, "Oh, by the way, we only had 8 magnets at the start of the period, we were trying to tell you." Now, it seemed a little suspicious, but I couldn't be sure. Then, we were lined up in the hallway and another boy "found" a magnet dropped by the boy in front of him. First he named names, then he retracted. At this point, I gave the class a lecture about trusting them, but needing all my materials... if they accidently took any magnets, please return them, no questions asked. Nothing. I mentioned the incident to a colleague. Sixth period, she spotted a magnet in the hands of the same boy who had probably dropped the first one in the hallway. Hmmph. He will be sitting in another classroom doing book-work for the rest of the week, until I get the point across. Very disappointing.

Lab Report Update: 85 down, 25 to go. Handed them back in three out of four classes today. Final drafts due Friday.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Why the Bloomberg/Klein Educational Reforms Will Not Work

This article was sent to me by Jeff B., one of my original readers. I have lots of thoughts on the article, so I wanted to respond to it. When I could not find a link to it on the internet, I wrote to Professor Singer and received permission to publish it. You read it here first! My comments will follow in a later post (probably not today).

Lab report update: 50 down, 60 to go.


Why the Bloomberg/Klein Educational Reforms Will Not Work
By Alan Singer, Hofstra University

In August, a New York City Department of Education spokesperson expressed concern that the general public did not seem to buy into the mayor and school chancellor's reorganization plan. The problem was supposedly a communications failure. That same week the department announced a decision to hire thousands of parents as school-community liaisons. Apparently, one of their primary tasks will be selling the reforms.

However, the real problems are not being addressed. The Bloomberg/Klein educational reforms are based on faulty premises and will not work. The most obvious changes, the dismantling of the community school districts and the imposition of centralized mayoral control, were intended to make educational reform go smoothly. But what is the substance of the reform? There are basically three components: a more standardized curriculum, top-down management, and investment in smaller experimental schools.

Few educators dispute the value of better coordinated instruction and the actual reading package for the lower grades allows for flexibility and seems to make sense. Unfortunately, it is being presented to teachers as a series of scripted directives to be followed by them and the kids. The things that make learning fun and contagious – art, music, dance, drama, sport, play, an appreciation of diverse cultures, friendship, investigation, speculation, the discovery of new things, and the give and take between human beings, are being squeezed out.

In the middle schools and high schools, failure will be compounded as students are forced into extended remediation sessions. Locked into double period blocks of preparation for standardized reading and math tests, they will fail to learn the same things they failed to learn in the past. For lower performing students, perhaps for the bulk of them, not only will the arts be shunted aside, but probably also social studies, history, literature and the sciences.

The heart of the Bloomberg/Klein plan is a business organization model that is autocratic and has little relevance for the education of people. It has not worked for the delivery of electricity, health care or gasoline, and it will not work for schools.

It treats education as a commodity to be produced efficiently and delivered for the lowest possible price. In this model, children are raw material to be manipulated and if resistant, discarded. Teachers become little more than cogs in a machine, part of a delivery process. Parents are seen as consumers who should be instructed on how to purchase the best pair of jeans, sneakers, or schools- assuming such schools are actually available to them. School-based administrations become middle managers instead of educational leaders. Their job is the unquestioning enforcement of arbitrary directives. If you want to see how this model works in practice, look at the beginning o f Charlie Chaplin’s classic movie, Modern Times. In factory-like schools run on a business model, no one gets treated like a human being.

The better educated and more savvy parents will never accept this kind of education for their children. Would Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein or Caroline Kennedy? To keep these families in the public school system, their children will attend specialized academic schools or new "designer" programs in the experimental, and well-funded, mini-schools. To maintain an air of equity, high achieving minority youngsters, or those with the most pushy parents, will also be channeled into these programs. While they are being presented as models for the future, they are little more than oases in an educational desert. Most youngsters will remain in overcrowded, under-funded, mediocre remediation centers.

Genuine school reform means recognizing that there are no quick fixes for the schools and that it will take money and probably greater attention to social inequality in American society. Numerous studies have shown that the surest way to improve the educational performance of students is to raise the socio-economic status of families. In the meantime, some proposals make more sense than others.

Our schools must treat children, teachers and parents as human beings. They must acknowledge and respect individual differences, not try to pound square pegs into round holes. This means focusing on teaching children, not learning packages. It means convincing students of the value of learning, not forcing them to complete what appear to them as meaningless tasks. This approach to reform means involving teachers in planning and decision-making, not just giving them directives to implement. It means treating parents as partners in the education of children, not obstacles and the subject of blame. It means providing parents with support through parenting and literacy classes and instruction on how to help children learn, instead of using them to deliver corporal punishment when teachers cannot engage their children.

We already know what can work. The best private and suburban public schools augment student achievement through enrichment programs and by building teams of teachers, administrators, counselors, support personnel, and parents that coordinate instruction and address the needs of individuals. Even in the most troubled inner-city schools, informal teams of teachers have always figured out ways of working together to improve education for their students.

The Bloomberg/Klein reform plan cannot work because it ignores the reality of the life of young people and their families, what we know about how adults work and children learn, and broader social inequality. It is a prescription for disaster.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Makulu Science Mystery!

This Makulu Science Mystery - Lights Out! - was made just for my students by the awesome crew members of the Makulu II, who are sailing around the world helping kids learn about geography, science, different cultures, and more. Thanks, Reach The World!

Lab report update: Ten down, one hundred to go.

Friday, September 26, 2003

110 Lab Reports.

'Nuff said.

Custodians Complain

The NY Times describes a dispute between the school custodians' union and the city: School Custodians Object as City Hires Private Firms. I don't know what the exact terms of the custodians' contract are, but of course, the city needs to honor existing contracts. That said, the custodians have little to complain about. I wrote at the start of the year about the amount of work teachers do to get their classrooms ready, including scrubbing mouse droppings out of cabinets. The Times article mentions that the contract lists a very limited set of tasks that custodians are supposed to complete. At our school, they sweep the floors and empty the trash daily, fix broken stuff (eventually), mop during vacations and at other times if something spills, paint during the summers, polish the floors during summer and winter vacation, and a handful of other things. Walls are only allowed to be painted once every 5 years. Things they do not do: wash windows ever (at least in my experience), clean closets or cabinets or light fixtures or radiators, all of which collect grime even when you try to keep them clean. Now, we get along well with our custodians, because we treat them well. We are friendly, we say please and thank you, and we make sure our kids keep our rooms clean. The custodians have figured out that once they do something for us, it stays done. So they are generally pretty helpful about stuff that needs to be done. I trust the custodians that I work with now, but in other schools there have been scandals where custodians were caught stealing things like paper towels (in bulk) and reselling them for their own profit. So, I have little patience for the complaints of a union that represents people who do very little and get paid quite a lot for it. One custodian at our school actually walks around singing made-up songs like "that b*tch can shove it... I'm gonna sweep my floors and go cash my check... I get paid more than she does...." The b*tch in question is the building principal.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

School Violence

Another school shooting: this time, one student dead, another seriously injured. The shooter was convinced to give up his weapon by a teacher and a coach. I wonder if I would be brave enough to try to talk down a student who had just shot two other children. I wonder if my relationship with the student would allow me to do so.

I am not, on a daily basis, concerned about such an incident happening at my school. We do not have metal detectors, nor did the much larger, much more chaotic middle school where I used to work. In my experience, students themselves deal with all kinds of threats of violence at school, but it very rarely escalates to the point where guns could be involved. Much more common are verbal harrassment, small scuffles, and fistfights. Knives are much more likely to be involved than guns - last summer I met an old student of mine (still only in seventh grade) hanging out on the steps of my new school, a 3-inch blade hanging from his belt. I have seen few incidents of violence against teachers, although it certainly happens. No student has ever tried to attack me.

While each incident of violence is a terrible thing, I think it is important to keep school shootings in perspective: they are rare! Much more common is low-level, degrading violence prevalent in many city schools. Even the way administrators, teachers, and students speak to each other can be violent in nature, full of threats of violence, nasty or frightening in tone. In my old school, a teacher hit one of my students, in my classroom, in front of me. Punched him. Yes, he was a thug, and undoubtedly he'd been bothering some of her girls, as she accused him. But this was a child who was in the sixth grade for the third time and still could not read, whose mother came in to meet with teachers while obviously high, a boy who I could tell had a very sweet heart inside a really tough, scarred exterior. I was working with him, just on the basics: not cutting class, calming down the violence, getting a little work done. This tough thug came running into the room and hid in the closet when the teacher came after him. In one blow, this teacher undid what little progress I had made in gaining his trust. I reported the incident to my assistant principal, who said the teacher could lose her license over this, and that as a new teacher, I had nothing to gain from going after the license of someone who had been teaching at that school since before my birth, and that she would have a serious chat with her. The sad truth is that she was right: going after this teacher's license would have led to my ostracization within the school, hindering my effectiveness for all my students. It wouldn't have helped the boy whom she hit. And in the end, she might not have even lost her job. But I still feel terrible about colluding in allowing this woman to continue teaching.

There is much more to say on this subject, but I don't feel up to saying it right now. Here is a link to some statistics about children and violence.

Textbooks and Teachable Moments

Today's Lesson: Using Your Textbook - and, of course, basic background on atoms, electrons, and protons. Have you seen a middle school science textbook recently? They are packed with facts. The vocabulary and sentence structure is pretty advanced. And they sometimes assume knowledge that they have not yet taught, such as the section we read today that refered to the fact that opposite charges repel, although that information is not presented until the next section. Children don't necessarily know how to use a textbook - how to understand the different levels of titles and headings, how to use the sidebars to supplement and guide their reading, what to do when the text refers to a diagram, how to use the glossary. So, we read a page of the book and went over all these nuts-and-bolts elements of textbook reading. I only have one class set of textbooks, as I prefered to spend my budget on hands-on materials. I use it sparingly, and provide support for the kids' reading.

For kids who have not yet learned much about atoms, just one page contained a huge amount of new information - we easily filled a period discussing the nucleus, the different particles, and the difference between an atom and an ion. Very simply, an ion is an atom with an imbalance of charges, thus, a net positive or negative charge. Ions are the reason that water will conduct electricity when it contains salt: the salt and water molecules break up into charged ions: Na+ Cl- and H+ OH-.

Yesterday, we finished our first real experiment: the students designed circuits to test whether various objects could conduct electricity. We finished off by testing whether water could conduct electricity. We tested beakers containing water only, water plus a spoonful of salt, water plus two spoonfuls of salt, and so on. The first time through, none of the solutions conducted electricity. The kids were surprised - doesn't everyone know that water conducts electricity? Why else would you have to get out of the pool during a thunderstorm? Why the elaborate warnings on hair dryers? We came up with some theories: maybe there's not enough salt, or not enough electricity. The latter turned out to be true: when we combined two batteries, the light shone dimly. We experimented further, and found that six batteries made the bulbs shine brightly. Oooohhhh! The kids exclaimed in unison when the light came on. Fantastic! I seized the moment and suggested that a group could follow-up on this experiment for a Science Expo project this spring.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

A Perspective on No Child Left Behind

The NY Times published an article today describing overcrowding at a middle school on Manhattan's Upper West Side: On Front Lines, Casualties. The principal comments that his regional office has not been able to help him with the overcrowding problem and even hinted that he should retire if he can't handle it. If his contact at the Region 10 office really responded to this principal in such a way, then I'm glad I'm not in Region 10! So far, I have found the staff of Region 1 very helpful - and at least sympathetic when they cannot change something.

The article goes on to describe how the school's programs are dreadfully overcrowded due to last-minute transfers under NCLB - except the programs for gifted, mainly white, upper-middle class students:

"What makes the situation at Booker T. so heartbreaking is the very children No Child Left Behind is supposedly helping, poor minority children, are the ones being hurt most by the transfers and overcrowding. And the school's gifted students — mainly white children of professional and middle-class parents — attend classes that are exempt from receiving transfers."

Food for thought.


Have I mentioned my sitemeter addiction? Yes, it's true. I loooove watching the little number at the bottom of the page go up. I know I have a problem: one step down, eleven to go. But, in the meantime, enable me. If you like my blog, pass it on. Just remember, if you're one of those people who knows ... my true identity ... please help me maintain anonymity: refer to me only as "the friz."

And, um, have y'all still not noticed the little "respond" links at the end of each post? Respondez, sil-vous-plait! (if only to correct my probably-incorrect French spelling). Or perhaps my writing is so boring and obvious that it does not inspire a single thought in any reader's mind. Alas!

Banned Books Week

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes about how schools respond when parents object to popular children's books: Popular books and classics make "challenged" list.

My school has two seventh graders whose parents have asked that they not read the Harry Potter books. They are to do alternate assignments if those books are discussed in class, and are not to be allowed to choose them from the classroom library. Both students come from born-again Christian families, who object to the magical themes in the books. We have agreed to take Harry Potter books away from these kids if we see them reading the books, and to allow them to do other work when Harry Potter comes up in class. One boy is pretty mature and very smart. His parents discussed with him their reasons for limiting his reading, and he understands and acquiesces. Of course, this very maturity probably means he could read the book without being taken in by the references to witchcraft, but that's just my humble opinion! The other boy is very immature, has lied about many things on many occasions, and has tried many times to read these books "under the table." His family is very strict, but doesn't discuss their reasoning with him... instead, he gets punished physically for misbehaving.

It was interesting for me to find so many religious conservatives among my students and their families - when I started teaching, I thought New York was liberal, and issues like this (and evolution vs. God) only came up in places like the Bible Belt. Boy, was I ever wrong! I think it has made me more accepting to have to accommodate these families' needs without infringing on the rights of other kids in the class.

The Discovery Channel Presents... Recess

Bowl games started early this year, with the Montana State University vs. SUNY-Albany lunchtime football special. Yes, the two seventh grade classes decided to face off on the playground. We could barely contain their excitement in the lunch line. Sit down! Stop screaming from one table to another! It sounds like fun, but if it ends in a fight.... Just don't get so excited that you end up angry. The game itself went well, even on pavement, with no clear yard lines and sixth graders racing through, immersed in their own play. I suspect it will continue tomorrow.

Nature videos say play is practice for adulthood. Young lions practice stalking each other through the tall grass. Young birds try out the tricks of flight. Young humans practice... chasing the girls and hitting them with a foam ball? chasing the boys while dodging double-dutch games? hopping on one foot on numbered squares? tossing objects through hoops?

Some children prefer the company of adults to that of other children. These are the kids who bring books to lunch, then stand against the wall reading, or stand next to me and chat. Or the ones who come up to me again and again with interesting or random questions: Is it true that lightning never strikes the same spot twice? How much do you weigh? Did they play hopscotch when you were a kid?

Other kids are the athletes, and take football or basketball very seriously. Still others hang out near the fence, as far from the teachers as possible, huddled in cliques, hashing out the latest she-likes-him-but-he-likes-that-other-girl dramatics. This year, we have several groups of committed rope-jumpers; I promised them I will jump one day when I'm not in a skirt.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Pizza Party

Our first incentive today: a pizza party for the kids who did all (or nearly all) their homework and were well-behaved during the past two weeks. We keep track of this through a point system - we have a clipboard for each class which a monitor gives to the teacher each time they go to a new subject. The teacher writes comments on it if any kids have problems. At the end of the week, the homeroom teacher calculates each student's point total. They start with 50 on Monday, but lose 5 for a missed homework, and go to a zero for the second missed homework. Talking on-line, arguing with other students, speaking disrespectfully, or fooling around in class can also lead to lost points.

This is a new system which we are experimenting with this year. The students will be able to "spend" their points at a school store, to be stocked with school supplies and random trinkets. Also, student point averages will be used to determine who is eligible for school-wide incentives, like trips, parties, movie days, and so on. We needed to start the year off with an incentive so they would quickly feel the effects of misbehavior, so we ordered a bunch of pizzas this afternoon and let the kids who had an average of 45 points or higher attend the party during the last period of the day.

The other kids stayed in their regular classes. My group was a whine-festival... I definitely didn't enjoy it! I just hope they learn from this and work harder to hold on to their points!

Monday, September 22, 2003


Teachers are people, too: our relatives pass away, long and loving relationships end, family members get chronic illnesses, and all the other sad transitions of life take place from time to time. Each person deals with this differently, some becoming angry at the world, grouchy with students and colleagues, others desperate to go home and sleep, still others pushing it out of their minds during the school day, using the busy-ness of the school day to get through a few more hours. But in a tiny school like mine, we all feel the impact of each other's personal heartbreaks (and joys, fortunately!). How can a school community get through a tough time like this? My heart aches for my colleague today.

What's Wrong With a Little Professionalism?

Why are teachers so often the worst students? My school is grouped with a few other small schools for assistance from our AUSSIE consultants, including Monday meetings. While I and the other teachers from my school do our best to engage in the activities and discussions planned for us, most of the teachers from other schools actively resist participation. I was excited to find myself grouped with four other science teachers today, but by the end of the 40 minute meeting, two had walked out, one was doing payroll paperwork, and another had said only one sentence the whole time. Only one other teacher in my group made any effort to engage in the activity, which was to look at science texts and examine the language elements that make them difficult for students to read. Science texts are full of dense, fact-packed prose, scary new vocabulary, and allusions to graphs and tables which the students may not know how to interpret. It should have been easy to look at a few examples and discuss ways to help students negotiate reading about science. Nevertheless, we had zero participation. It drives me up the wall.

No, the activity was not fabulous nor the best use of our time. However, teachers certainly know that you get more out of a lesson by engaging in it, that it goes faster when you participate, and that it is downright disrespectful to refuse to participate: we tell our students these things all the time! This kind of behavior gives all teachers a bad name. If we want to be respected - and paid - as educated professionals, we have to act like educated professionals. Even when that means making the most of a so-so professional development presentation.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

No Cow Left Behind

This was in my inbox today... It was written by Kenneth Remsen, a school principal in Vermont.

Get in Line for "No Cow Left Behind"

As a principal facing the task of figuring out all the complexities of
the No Child Left Behind legislation and its impact on education, I have
decided that there is a strong belief that testing students is the answer to
bringing about improvements in student performance. Since testing seems
to be a cornerstone to improving performance, I don't understand why this
principle isn't applied to other businesses that are not performing up
to expectations.

I was thinking about the problem of falling milk prices and wondering
why testing cows wouldn't be effective in bringing up prices since testing
students is going to bring up test scores. The federal government
should mandate testing all cows every year starting at age 2. Now, I know that
it will take time out of the farmers' necessary work to do this testing
every year and that it may be necessary to spend inordinate amounts of money
on the testing equipment, but that should not distract us from what must
be done. I'm sure there are plenty of statistics to show what good milk
producing performance looks like and the characteristics of cows that
achieve this level of performance. It should, therefore, be easy to
figure out the characteristics necessary to meet this standard.

We will begin our testing by finding out which cows now meet the
standard, which almost meet the standard, which meet the standard with honors and which show little evidence of achievement. Points will be assigned in
each category and it will be necessary to achieve a certain average score.
If this score is not achieved, the Department of Agriculture will send in
experts to give advice for improvement. If improvements do not occur
over a couple of years, the state will take over your farm or even force you
to sell.

Now, I'm sure farms have a mix of cows in the barn but it is important
to remember that every cow can meet the standard. There should be no
exceptions and no excuses. I don't want to hear about the cows that just came to
the barn from the farm down the road that didn't provide the proper
nutrition or a proper living environment. All cows need to meet the standard.

Another key factor will be the placement of a highly qualified farmer
in each barn. I know many of you have been farming for many years but it
will be necessary for all farmers to become certified. This will mean some
more paperwork and testing on your knowledge of cows, but in the end this
will lead to the benefit of all. It will also be necessary to allow barn
choice for the cows. If cows are not meeting the standard on certain farms,
they will be allowed to go to the barn of their choice. Transportation might
become an issue but it is critical that cows be allowed to leave their
low-performing barns. This will force low-performing farms to meet the
standard or else they will simply go out of business. Some small farms
will probably go out of business as a result of this new legislation. Simply
put, the cost per cow is too high. As taxpayers, we cannot be expected to
foot the bill to subsidize farms with dairy compacts. Even though no one
really knows what the ideal cost is to keep cows content, the Legislature will
set a cost per cow. Expenditures too far above this cost will be penalized.
Since everyone knows that there are economies of scale, small farms
will probably be forced to close and those cows will merge into larger

Some farmers may be upset that I proclaim to know what is best for
these cows but I certainly consider myself capable of making these
recommendations. I grew up next to a farm and I drink milk. I hope you
will consider this advice in the spirit it is given and I hope you will
agree that the "No Cow Left Behind" legislation may not be best for a small
state like Vermont.

Kenneth Remsen is principal of Underhill School in Jericho (VT).

Saturday, September 20, 2003

The Quiz-O-Matic Grader

I sat down at a coffee shop around two pm this afternoon and graded quizzes until about six. My boyfriend, V., was with me, working on a computer model for his financial industry job. By the time I had graded 117 of the quizzes, I was ready to gag if I ever saw another... which led to him proposing that computers should be able to grade quizzes for me, thus saving my time for more meaningful tasks, like whining about how much work I do on the weekends. I said that a computer could probably grade the definitions and fill-in-the-blanks questions, but could not effectively grade the open-ended questions or the diagrams. He suggested that it could probably do the open-ended ones through some kind of intelligent word, context, and grammar check. The thing is, the answers that eleven and twelve-year-olds come up with could stump the smartest grammar checker - not to mention many humans - but that doesn't make their answers wrong! Well, what about making fewer of your questions open-ended, he asked. I thought it would be better just to hire more teachers (or get us secretaries!) so that we'd have fewer papers to grade and could continue to ask meaningful open-ended questions on quizzes and homework. Come to think of it, an assistant would be just great. Especially if she or he would report back to me on the types of misconceptions and mistakes that were common among my students so I could adjust my teaching accordingly.

The quiz grades were as expected: the seventh graders rocked my world and did very well, but the sixth graders struggled a lot more. Hopefully, they will do better on the second quiz now that they know what to expect.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Ahhh, Friday!

My feet ache. Ache. My own middle school science teacher used to tell us that he could keep in shape as long as he stayed standing while he taught. And he was a "chalk-and-talk" teacher, who taught on the first floor and pretty much just paced back and forth in front of the chalkboard.* I teach on the sixth floor and constantly circle my room, weaving in between tables and hopping over backpacks. Plus there's the fifteen minute walk from the train station to my school in the morning, and frequently also a walk on the way home. Who needs a gym?

I have an intern! His name is Alfred,* and he is helping out with Reach The World, especially the technical stuff. He's going to come up with a digital video project for my students! I won a digital video camera and editing software in a grant from DonorsChoose. Problem is, I've never used a video camera, let alone editing software.... I didn't really expect to win the grant, which I wrote just before Oprah featured DonorsChoose, because it cost more than most grants on that website. But just after school started, they notified me that the grant had received funding (be careful what you wish for...). So, it's great to have Alfred here to help out with the DV project and more. He is funded by the Institute for Learning Technologies at Teachers College.

Gave my first quiz today, on our vocabulary words from the last two weeks, plus basic circuits. I haven't graded it yet, but I think the seventh graders did okay, while the sixth graders had a rough time. I make them memorize the definitions of the vocabulary, because everyone should practice the skill of memorization at least occasionally. The six definitions every two weeks are pretty much the only memorization they ever do in my class. The rest of the questions are fill-in-the-blanks and short answer. After one or two quizzes, everyone should start doing well, because the format is very similar each week. I drop the lowest quiz grade to take into account the adjustment period and other problems.

I have my quiz routine honed to a fine point: When you enter my class, you take out your agenda, silent reading book, and pen, and put them to one side of your table. I hand out the quizzes and you work silently. When you finish, you flip over your quiz, put it in the center of the table, then open your agenda and copy down the homework. Finally, you close your agenda and read silently until everyone else finishes. This routine keeps everyone busy and quiet and prevents anyone from needing to rummage in backpacks or clutter the table with notebooks. I walk around, consult on questions, and watch that eyes are not wandering.

This school sounds nice: Small Bronx High School Now a Model For Others.

Some students can read and write in English well enough to graduate, but not well enough to pass the ESL exit test: 2 English Tests Speak.


Thursday, September 18, 2003

Blackout Stories

To motivate the students about our study of electricity, I assigned a 2-3 paragraph story about their experiences during the blackout on August 14th. Students who were not in the US during the blackout were allowed to write about another time when they lost power, or about the overall importance of electricity in their lives. The stories they wrote were very revealing: while people in Manhattan drank beer and wine at restaurants and bars, hung out with friends, threw block parties, and generally reveled in the unexpected holiday, many of my students in the Bronx heard gunshots and witnessed robberies of local stores. To be fair, many of them also reported informal gatherings in front of apartment buildings, but the atmosphere in the South Bronx seems to have been more frightening than it was in Manhattan. I write this because during the blackout, as the radio reported that there was no increase in crime, I thought about my students - were they safe? I couldn't imagine things going so peacefully in a neighborhood where there are gang shoot-outs and robberies from time-to-time even with the streetlights on. For specific crime statistics, visit the 42nd Precinct and compare to the trendy Lower East Side (9th Precinct), or the family-oriented Upper West Side (20th Precinct).

Turns out that at least two of my students got stuck in elevators, several were on their way to Rye Playland, and one or two experienced medical emergencies in their families before the power came back on. A few wrote about frequent - but brief - blackouts experienced in the Dominican Republic or Bangladesh, where they have visited relatives. Another 2 or 3 commented that not being able to watch TV or play video games meant that they spent time talking or playing with their parents - and they appreciated that time.

Here are a few quotes from the homework files:

"There was a big problem with a few people on my block. A fight that involved knives and I had front row seats."

"What surprised me is that they always blame something on Osama bin Laden when they're not sure."

"I continued the day just like any other except that I was in camp. I got dirty in the mud slide after I got in the lake. ... Everything was going well until I felt like showering at exactly 4:00 pm. When an assistant told me the showers weren't working. What! I thought in my head. This can't be happening."

"That night of the blackout it was a shootout through the whole night, but by that time everyone was inside (that I know)."

"Good thing we had the Y2K warnings for the year 2000, or we wouldn't have propane lamps."

"I was surprised about not having electricity because that day was when I realized that the United States is really lucky to be able to use computers and all those electronics. ... I feel like the blackout changed me because now I don't turn on all the lights and I don't abuse the electricity because one day it could all go away and that's when you feel thankful for what you have."

By the way, I'm home early today because my bathroom is having a sink transplant, due to a nearly-fatal case of sewer gas. I did all my teaching in the morning, then left after lunch, but I still felt weird walking around my home neighborhood in mid-afternoon... sort of undercover or something.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Educational Security?

My school was broken into for the second time this week. This time, the school was under surveillance, and they caught the robbers. The school already looks like a fortress - metal grates over all the windows, concrete walls, heavy metal doors, and chain-link fence all around. Nevertheless, there have been about 5 break-ins since I started working here 13 months ago. Thieves usually go for computer and other electronic equipment - we lost a VCR two summers ago. Sometimes, like when an Assistant Principal's laptop was stolen just days after she got it, we suspect it's an inside job. Or at the very least, that someone from the school has been talking to the wrong people. In this case, I don't know the details about who did it or what was stolen. Nothing was missing from my room or my immediate colleagues' rooms.

One of our seventh graders was "jumped" on the way home from school yesterday. He was walking alone through a park and was attacked and robbed by some students from another school. He's taking it pretty well, under the circumstances. Suffice to say, my school is not located in a very safe neighborhood. We told the children to walk home in pairs or groups, if they can't take the bus.

Columbia University has started a special school for students of its professors. The school, described in What would teachers do if they had the chance? This., also enrolled 50% of its students from the neighborhood, selected by lottery. It is a sign of the need for more innovative, safe, small schools that over 1700 parents from the neighborhood applied for only 100 spots this year.

Jana, another student-teacher-blogger, mentioned me on her site, Hedgetoad. I really like her site's aesthetic... so much prettier than mine! I just learned how to put titles on my posts today. Maybe in a month or two I'll figure out images!

In response to the question about the "letter order" paragraph below, I don't have a source for it; it was emailed to me and is, I suspect, just one of those forwards. I liked it because although it is very true (you can definitely read the paragraph), I can't imagine anyone thinking that's a good reason to give up proper spelling! Incidentally, I just noticed at least one spelling mistake - one word in that paragraph includes a wrong letter. Anyone else find it?

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

A friend sent me this:

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in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is
taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pclae. The rset can
be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is
bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a
wlohe and the biran fguiers it out aynawy.
Our first hands-on science activity of the year, today! It was a basic lesson on constructing a circuit from a lightbulb, battery, and wires. The kids love electricity. I like it, but it's not my strongest subject - I am more of an Earth Science and Biology person, but as a middle school teacher, it's only a matter of time before you wind up teaching all three subjects (Earth, Life, and Physical Science). I am, at heart, a generalist, not a specialist, which is one reason why I teach middle school instead of high school. Middle school science introduces so many new and fascinating topics to the kids, which they love and I love. But I digress.

Today was a perfect example of trying to balance inquiry - letting kids explore a topic for themselves - with structure. As it's the beginning of the year, I am still heavily in "training mode," teaching the kids how things work in my classroom and our school, how we behave on line, how we handle materials, how we follow directions, how we take notes, and on and on and on. Thus the lesson plan was to have the kids explore the many ways to make a circuit out of the materials provided... but the real lesson was much more step-by-step.

It was also a revelation to see how much quicker the seventh graders understood the material - we had lots of those "lightbulb" moments (pun intended!) when I asked them why a switch turns the light on and off. The sixth graders struggled with this much more, and needed to be walked through it. Lucky for me, I see the sixth graders five times per week, but the seventh graders only four. That should be enough time to keep them in roughly the same place in the material.

The reason they are even getting the same material this year is that I started the seventh graders on Earth Science in the sixth grade, only to wish later on that they knew about atoms and molecules. So, this year's sixth graders are getting Physical Science to make sure they know that stuff before Earth Science, and the seventh graders are getting Physical Science because they didn't have it last year. Both will get Life Science in 8th grade since the 8th grade Intermediate Level Science Exam is 60% Life Science, so it makes sense to teach it right before they take the exam. Hope I didn't lose anyone there!

Okay, personal confession: I am addicted to the little counter at the bottom of the page. I love watching the numbers change. So I was very excited to see all these new visitors in the last 24 hours... I hope you liked what you read and will come back! But, I can't help but wonder.... why is no one using the "respond" feature to tell me what they think? Is it because they haven't noticed it?

Monday, September 15, 2003

Hey! I got a shout-out on another teacher's blog: So you want to be a science teacher... Jeff is just starting his student-teaching in rural Oregon. Our blogs are very similar, both in appearance and the kind of content included. I found his post on 3-ring binders particularly true!

While I'm on the topic of other teachers' blogs, please note the links I've added in the column to the right - I'm looking for more blogs by teachers, and I'm sharing some of the resources important to me as a middle school science teacher in NYC. I think teachers should share resources & experiences as often as possible, so please send me the link to your teaching blog or must-see websites.

This afternoon was our first meeting with our AUSSIE Consultant. These consultants are part of the changes to the Dept. of Ed. here in the city. Each school is supposed to have a literacy and a math coach who are themselves trained by the AUSSIEs, but since my school is a collection of smaller "programs," we are working with the AUSSIE directly. Many of the AUSSIEs really are Aussie, as in, Australian. They are former teachers and administrators who will be helping us implement the new Balanced Literacy and Mathematics curricula. While children are children everywhere, it is still a little odd to have a few hundred advisors arrive from halfway around the world to help us improve our school system - and it must be really bizarre for them to find themselves immersed in a new city, new country, and enormous, chaotic school system, trying to give us advice.

Adding to the irony is that while Australians come to the US to help us improve education here, experts from the US are in Iraq trying to overhaul their education system: Educators confront daunting task in Iraq (Contra-Costa Times). They have to help teachers and students deal with the trauma of war, take the pro-Saddam propaganda out of the textbooks, convince students, parents, and teachers that the schools are safe, and replace hundreds of Baathist Party teachers with politically neutral or pro-democracy teachers - among other things. And teachers there are getting a raise from just a few dollars a month to between $60-300 a month. Whatever complaints I might have look pretty meaningless when I think about teaching - or learning - in an Iraqi school.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Write a paragraph answering the following questions. Would you like to sail to foreign countries? Why or why not? If so, which countries would you like to visit? Why?

"The limit I ever traveled was to South Carolina to reunite with my family that I haven't seen since I was five. Five Years old is a long time."

"I would go to Erat [Iraq] to see how they are living, After the war."

"It has been my dream to visit a rainforest but unfortunately I've only been seeing rainforests from the television."

"I never judge things before I know how they are. Just a couple of months ago, I tried out sushi. Before I tried it out, I did have this sort of icky feeling about trying out raw food. It turned out that I hate sushi like completely but still I tried it."

"I definitely wouldn't go because you can't play video games on a ship."

"I heard other countries don't respect girls or women."

"I would like to see and smell the fresh open sea."

"I would like to fly to a foreign place! But first guess what-where I want to go to. You will feel very, very cold. Well... Nope not Alaska! Antarctica! Wanna know why? Well, You know lots of scientists are trying lots of ways to find new animals, organisms, or life. So I would go to Antarctica, then I would try to find something never seen or discovered. Then I would give it to the scientists. They would study it and find out it's a new discovered animal. I would become famous and rich! See it all comes together!"

Friday, September 12, 2003

Guest speakers today, Josh and Ashley from Reach The World. They are part of a small crew circumnavigating the Earth in a sailboat called the Makulu 2. They do internet projects with our classroom and about 20 others throughout New York City. Since they left the boat in France and returned to the US to visit their families over the summer, the crewmembers are visiting classrooms this week before returning to their journey. They showed slides and gave a short presentation. The kids had all kinds of questions prepared in advance: Has visiting all these other countries changed you? What do you do if it's your birthday and you're on the boat? Which places do you like best? Where does your waste go when you flush the toilet on the boat? What do you eat on the boat? What happens when you don't speak the language of the place you are visiting?

Thursday, September 11, 2003

This morning, our scratchy PA system played a recording of America The Beautiful, as I stood in my empty classroom with cool, clear sunlight flooding the empty desks and the clean tile floor. September 11th will probably always be a chilly morning that turns sunny and warm, the sky that absolutely pure blue with a few still clouds. I will probably always be standing in a classroom, only a few days into the school year, just getting to know the children. It won't be long before the new sixth graders will have been too young to really know what was happening on Sept. 11th, and it won't be long after that before the new sixth graders won't even have been born in 2001.

Two years ago, I walked into my AP's office to silence, a few teachers gathered around a radio, the news that the Towers had been attacked, were burning, were collapsing. I could not remember whether my boyfriend worked in the Trade Center or not, or which building, or what floor, or his phone number, or really anything helpful at all. Two minutes later, the bell rang, and I walked into a double-period (90 minutes) with a class that had, only a few days into the school year, already begun to be my "difficult" class. A few minutes later, parents started arriving, and the principal began listing the names of students over the loudspeaker: Please come to the main office. Later, as more parents arrived, and more, and more: Please come to the auditorium. Please come to the gym. I can only imagine what the students thought, as they had no idea why they were being called out of class by the dozen.

I tried to continue class - I certainly couldn't tell them the truth right then, even if I knew what it was - but was interrupted over and over again by the loudspeaker. One student, Raheem,* was cutting up. He asked to go the bathroom, but I said no, not the way he was behaving. I really thought he was pulling a fast one, trying to cut class. Near the end of the period, other students told me Raheem was crying. He had wet his pants, and was humiliated and angry. I imagined my friends in San Francisco in danger. I imagined our country at war, right then. I told Raheem I was so sorry, that we would call his mother to bring him new pants. I imagined trying to explain all this to his mother. Finally, finally, lunchtime came, an AP helped me find extra pants for Raheem - it was all a blur, walking around the school, everyone stunned and busy, asking for pants for a completely unrelated crisis. Lunch ended, and a dozen children came back to my homeroom class. By now, they had heard a little of what was going on... I tried to answer questions, without giving any misinformation. In the end, I told them I thought we should just read a book, so I picked up Harry Potter, sat down, and started reading, in my gentlest, gentlest voice.

Media people have been asking whether New Yorkers are "over it" yet: today the memory of that other morning overcame me and I found myself holding onto the closet door as a deep sadness tried to pull me down. Are we over it? It is now possible to forget for a few hours the significance of today's date, then remember it again, forget again, re-remember. After the moment of silence today, there were children with bad colds and nosebleeds, an argument between a student and a teacher, visitors from the Regional Office... schools go on, full of moments that have nothing to do with history but great immediate significance. Yet, there are times when the day is clear and warm and the sky is the bluest blue, when I look out the window and realize that I have no idea what is going on even a few miles away, that on any day, no matter how beautiful, the next terrible thing could happen.

Raheem's mother never brought up the wet pants. I like to think that maybe, when he's grown up and thinks back on that day, Raheem will be a little forgiving of me.

*Names of students are pseudonyms.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

One of my friends - who just started teaching high school biology this year - has more than 500 students. She has three regular classes of 30 or so, whom she sees everyday, plus many classes that she sees once or twice a week for labs. In about 2-3 weeks she should reliably know the names of all the students in the three regular classes, but I wonder if she'll ever know the names of all the others. And how can you do a good job teaching someone when you don't even know them by name? Good grief!

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

I went out with the kids at lunch today. We have a big, empty, blacktopped school yard with a couple of basketball hoops in one corner. The kids just race around, toss a football, gossip, and play double-dutch. Funny thing is, the huge chainlink gate on the edge of the yard was open all throughout recess. When I came out with the kids and saw it open, I started to close it, but some other people told me it needed to stay open. I wasn't all that concerned about my students leaving, as they like school and want to be here. A couple of them joked about trying to sneak off to the store, but they know the kind of trouble they'd be in if they ever cut class.... I was concerned about the students from the elementary school that shares our building - they are pretty wild, and don't have that many teachers watching them during recess. It wouldn't be difficult for a little one to accidentally wander off or purposely run off through that big gate. Thus, I stood guard duty all throughout lunch. I think the reason behind the open gate was that parents were picking up their half-day kindergarteners at an exit that can only be reached through the yard. Still, it seems kind of strange to pay a security guard to watch the front desk but leave the schoolyard gate wide open.

I actually enjoy lunch duty once we are out in the yard. The cafeteria is dingy and loud, but on sunny days I like talking to the kids in a more relaxed setting. I got a chance to catch up with some of my seventh graders who wanted to talk about their summers - and, I think, just enjoy the company of an adult. When summer started, they were all so eager to go, but they really missed us! (Some will even admit to having been slightly bored this summer....)

Today was the first Tuesday of the year, which is significant because the Chancellor has mandated an extra 50-minutes of instruction on Tuesdays. Teachers stay for an extra 50-minutes of professional development on Mondays, but on Tuesdays, teachers and students stay for one additional class. It is wreaking havoc with some parents' work and day-care schedules, but I suppose they will get used to it. My extra period is a chess class. In a few weeks, a teacher from Chess-In-The-Schools will come in on Thursdays, and then I will let the kids just play chess on Tuesdays. Today we set some chess class rules and guidelines designed to protect my delicate eardrums from the clinking of dozens of chess pieces, the crying-out of "check!" and "checkmate!", and the heated conversing about who will play white and who will play black.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Over the long, calm, restful summer I completely forgot this essential truth: I never get any sleep on Sunday nights during the school year, no matter how early I go to bed. And so, last night, I lay in bed, tossing and turning, waking up every hour or so in morbid dread that I had slept through the alarm (or possibly the whole day). By the time 5:45 am arrived, it was almost a relief to get out of bed for real, no more false alarms, groggy as I might have been.

The train was full of teachers on their way to their first days. You can always tell who the teachers are, especially after the train reaches the Bronx. Teachers are the ones balancing a cup of coffee, rolled up chart paper, a giant Staples bag, and a pocketbook or briefcase fairly bursting at the seams with papers. And somehow they still have a hand - or at least a pinky finger - left to grab the bar in the center of the subway car. Things that I have brought on the subway for educational purposes: one dead lobster (on ice), multiple bags of dirt and rocks, four live goldfish, a dozen crickets jousting in a terrarium, and a partridge in a pear tree. Okay, not the partridge.

One of the first lessons I learned as a new teacher was the importance of being arbitrary.

Old Ms. Frizzle: "Should you write your name on the left or right side of the page? Um, it doesn't matter, either way is fine." The result: no name at all on the page. Constant battles over the heading.

New Ms. Frizzle: "This is your heading. You need to copy it exactly. If you don't have your heading on your homework, I won't give you credit." The result: a zero or two, then perfect, consistent headings all year. No more time spent on the issue.

I try to be arbitrary in ways that do make a difference. For example, today I wanted the students to label their folders with their full name, homeroom, and Science, all in the upper-right corner. This is useful because then I can just flip through the pile of folders and see each student's name when I am handing them out or looking for something. But oh my gosh did I forget how long it can take to get 30 eleven-year-olds to label folders correctly! My colleague walked by and heard, "Everyone point to the upper-right-hand corner of your folder. Good. Now write your full name - that's first AND last - in the upper-right-hand corner...." Fifteen minutes later, the folders were labeled. Whew! I'm exhausted!

Friday, September 05, 2003

The last day of preparation. I really didn't do too much work in my room today, but spent most of the day preparing several documents: a teacher handbook (required under the new reforms), clean copies of teacher programs and class programs, class lists, and a lunch duty schedule. We set up our staff mailboxes, which was very, very exciting. I kept telling people, "It's in your box!" "Check your box!" Maybe my next job should be office manager.

A few things have gone missing during the past week or so. What with so much moving, it's very hard to tell whether they've just been misplaced, or someone walked off with them. AWOL are a small vacuum, one class-set of "Motion, Forces, and Energy" textbooks, and a box of dirt. The textbooks are middle school level and the school that we share our building with is elementary school, and anyway I have a good relationship with their science teacher, so it puzzles me why anyone would have taken those books. Also, much more valuable stuff was in the room with them - why would you choose 30 physical science textbooks and a box of dirt over a bunch of microscopes? Still, three days of searching for them has turned up nothing.

One of our students came in to help out and talk a bit this afternoon. He brought his violin and played us a few pieces. He has only been playing for a few months, but he can play several real songs, like "America the Beautiful." This is a very motivated boy with a chaotic family life who has talked his way into free violin lessons, a free violin, and two free summer camps. He also taught himself French from a set of language tapes. I bought those for him after I saw him trying to learn from a French-English dictionary. Anyway, the violin was really out of tune this afternoon, so the songs sounded pretty dreadful. Another teacher who used to play the violin taught him how to tune using one string as a reference. By the end, real music was coming out of that instrument! He was so proud of himself.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

I woke up today with serious nausea but made it to work anyway. Sure, teachers get lots of free time in the summer, but we hate to miss school days! Even when the kids aren't here yet. Basically I spent the whole day cleaning and organizing my classroom. I moved into a new room this year, because we decided to put all the sixth grade homerooms on the fifth floor and the seventh graders on the sixth floor. By the way - no, there is no elevator. The dumbwaiter works if we're lucky, but you wouldn't want to ride up in it.

A show of hands, please: Who among you spends 2-3 days on your hands and knees scrubbing dust, gum, graffiti, and mouse droppings out of the cabinets, corners, and furniture when you move into a new office? Ah, I see some teachers raising their hands! Yes, that is what I did today. No, I have never heard of my investment banker or doctor friends cleaning their offices themselves - and I am not talking about a quick sweep or dusting off the filing cabinet, this is real scrubbing. I'm not even going to think about the health risks of some of the stuff I cleaned out of those cabinets today.

When teachers talk about "not getting paid enough," I don't think it's just the money we're talking about. It's the quality of life. At this point, if you're young and single, you can definitely live on a beginning teacher's salary. God help you if you are a single mom, but for most of us, the money at the start is manageable, at least in NY. It's a different story once you've been working for a while: you get your masters, maybe even your Ph.D., and take dozens of supplementary courses, but after teaching for 30 years you're just barely making double the starting salary... no matter how good you are. But the unmentioned problem that fuels many of the complaints, in my opinion, is the quality of life as a teacher. You've spent as much time in school as any other professional, and you've got the student loans to prove it, yet there you are spraying 409 on your shelves on Sept. 4th.*

My first year of teaching, I was moving into a room "vacated" by the previous science teacher. I had been emptying one shelf after another, sorting the useful from the garbage from the "huh?" when I reached into the back of a deep, dark shelf only to pull out a squishy, yellowed package of......


Dead fish intended for dissection. Probably had been dead as long as I'd been living. Luckily, I'm a science teacher, so I just giggled and threw them out.

Finally, here is a New York Times article about the changes to the NYC school system. I am one of the hopeful.

*If you don't change rooms and you take care of things during the school year - and any other teachers using your room also take care of things - then you might not have to do so much the next year.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Getting along is hard to do. With so much on our shoulders - moving into our classrooms, organizing hundreds of books, learning about the new curriculum, interviewing eleventh-hour applicants, programming and re-programming - my colleagues and I get grouchy. Someone doesn't say hello before making a request for help moving furniture. Someone else leaves a regional workshop early to come help out, only to be sent back to the workshop. We all get territorial about rooms, furniture, and supplies. Being honest about what's bothering us only gets us so far... once everything is out on the table, then what do you do with it?

Monday, September 01, 2003

Tomorrow is my third first-day-of-school this year. Two weeks ago, my school had a week-long teacher orientation while everyone else had summer vacation. We spent the week planning orientation for the students, figuring out teacher and student programs (ie, class schedules), and moving into our classrooms. We also set goals as individuals and as a staff: to improve test scores, integrate technology into our lessons, create a safe and caring school culture, conduct high-quality professional development, and communicate better as a staff. The next week I had my second first-day-of-school, since the students came for their orientation. We met the new sixth graders and welcomed back the seventh graders, and all students participated in setting goals for the year, learning about leadership, and learning the rules and routines that make our school tick. Tomorrow is yet another first-day-of-school: the first day for teachers throughout the NYC system. The students get a week off, while we attend workshops introducing the new math and literacy curricula. Next week, Sept. 8, is my fourth first-day-of-school and the first day for all students in the system, except ours, of course, who will be back for their second first-day.