November 2005 Archives

High school English teacher Fred the Fish delves into a critical issue in education policy: Is anyone else distracted by the colored rubber bands on your students' braces? I have trouble concentrating when they talk. I think I might have a seizure as the colors flash by. (Are we doing anything today?)...


We knew that schools were having a tough time hanging on to young teachers, but in a thoughful post on the difficulties of new educators, Mr. Lawrence shows just how desperate the situation can be: I know one young teacher (23?) who's actually trying to get pregnant just so she can get some time off. I know another who I see around town—and gives me plenty of information—and is trying to get into grad. school full-time just so she can quit teaching. Mr. Lawrence believes that part of the reason for young teachers’ unhappiness is that they "leave...


"They begin returning in October," high school teacher Erica Jacobs writes. The swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano? No, she's talking about former students. They are returning graduates of high school, walking the halls in search of former teachers, former classrooms, former teammates, and possibly in search of the ghosts of their former selves. Sometimes they are the class stars with 4.0 GPA’s and the lead in the spring musical. But more often than not, they are the disaffected ones who liked your class okay, but hated school in general, and forgot to turn in assignments. Or slept ...


In a moving post, TMAO, a junior high teacher in California, reflects on hearing that a former student of his is in jail after a stabbing incident. The news has hit him hard since he had watched this particular student go from resistance and failure to academic success in his class. Now his faith in the power of education is shaken: We failed this kid. We have enjoyed unprecedented success on my campus, and made great strides, but we failed this kid. Not in the way that speaks of falling through the cracks, or being allowed to not-learn. Somehow we ...


JHS Teacher, in her 9th year teaching -- you guessed it -- junior high school in California, discusses maintaining the difficult balance between having the freedom to teach the way you want to and ensuring every kid learns what they need to learn. What we all but Ms. G. decided was that no matter how we teach Response to Literature, or Literary Devices or whatever, we will use the short, multiple choice quiz from the Holt book for each section... It's not a bad way to make sure we are all teaching the same thing, even if we do go ...


Since so many teaching blogs are filled to overflowing with (valid) gripes about administrators, it was refreshing to see Mr. AB, a Teach for America educator from California, lavish what sounds like equally well-deserved praise on his principal. R--- is an almost daily helping presence in my practice: mediating conferences with behavior problems, making parent phone calls in Spanish, translating letters home, providing needed materials, observing in and offering constructive feedback on my classroom. It wasn’t until I discussed R--- with my mother and with other teachers that I realized how exceptional he is in this respect. My first ...


Hobo Teacher writes of spotting someone he takes to be a new or soon-to-be-teacher at a car dealership (where he had gone not to buy a car but to partake of the free drinks and cookies and, apparently, grade papers). How did he know she was new to teaching? Easy: Besides looking rested, she was reading a textbook about teaching methods. As if there is a recipe. You're teaching, not making a quiche. How do these books get written? After a teacher gets fed up and quits, do they go and write a book about how they thought it would ...


Accident-prone elementary teacher Pigs describes her latest classroom mishap. I was conferencing with a student about their writing, and I tend to abuse personal space when kids are at my table. Their little story was really quite amusing, and I wanted to laugh to demonstrate my enjoyment of their craft. Since it was a quiet writing time in my class I tactfully kept my mouth closed and did the church laugh. You know, the slight blowing of air through the nose whilst smiling with mouth? Yeah. Well, I puffed a dry little crusty right onto their paper. That's right. I ...


Noting the persistence of racially tinged incidents at his school, A History Teacher talks about what he's tried to do in his classroom. Tolerance is an ongoing theme all year long, but in both my courses I spend a considerable amount of time in one unit exploring this issue. In U.S. History it comes during the Civil Rights unit and in World History it takes place in my Holocaust unit. A couple years ago, to my amazement, I actually had a student argue that the facts I was teaching regarding the Holocaust were wrong. He claimed the Holocaust was ...


Ms. Frizzle shares a high point from a recent professional development day at New York's American Museum of Natural History: The highlight of the morning and perhaps the whole day was when astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson came out to say hello to all of us. He is everything I need my children to know about: an African-American scientist, a product of the NYC public schools, charming, a good speaker, a populizer of science, funny. I think I may invite him to be a science expo judge. He will probably say no, but maybe he will know of other people who ...


Teacher Magazine blogger Hanne Denney writes of preparing for a formal classroom observation by her principal. She says experience has taught her not to be too sensitive about criticism, but still, she worries that things could go awry: I won’t be offended if she proffers criticism, unless it is something beyond my control. Like the fact that things don’t stay plugged in the wall, that the room is incredibly hot and lacks ventilation, that there are two students with emotional challenges that sometimes need breaks and diversions, or that the student who’s been absent for a week ...


Administrators sometimes like to call bits and pieces of documented student work "artifacts," presumably because they provide direct evidence that their kids are learning. But at Ms. Smlph's school, the name fits because they're apparently dug up at the last minute. At the end of the meeting, our school's three administrators, one of whom was only a PE teacher two weeks ago, stood up and plead for "artifacts," useless pieces of evidence they could stuff into a binder to present to the school district. It turns out this binder was supposed to be at the office at noon yesterday, and ...


As the handwringing over the New York City teachers contract continues, NYC Educator offers up a, shall we say, modest proposal. Suffice it to say that it has something to do with bringing some legitimate businessmen into the discussion. Naturally, I abhor violence. But why can't we have a mobbed-up union boss? And please don't lecture me about discrimination, because mobs now come from all over... Screw the cutesy television commercials that say how hard we work and how unappreciated we are. They cost us bazillions in dues, and just make the Daily News that much more vicious when decrying ...


Former Massachusetts teacher Diane Weir reacts to news of a high school student with a GPA somewhere north of 4.0 being turned away from taking a fourth AP class out of concern that she might be taking on too much. I realize that not all students could maintain such a high GPA with that sort of workload, but no student should be denied the chance to try. We wouldn't tell the athletes that they couldn't play a sport each season, even if we knew that they wouldn't play each equally well. Why then would we limit the scholars from ...


High school English teacher Erica Jacobs admits that she often believes she knows exactly what each student in her class is thinking. And every year, all it takes is a simple writing assignment -- to write an Hamletesque soliloquy that answers the question "who are you?" -- to remind her it's not true. What I find each year is that the adolescents who seem predictable in their yearning for independence and longing to burst free from the constraints of class, homework, high school, and home, are also longing to break from the constraint of conformity. When I read their soliloquies ...


Ms. Cornelius weighs in on Proposition 74, the controversial ballot measure in California that would lengthen teachers’ probationary period from two years to five and generally make it easier for schools to fire ineffective teachers. In her view, the measure avoids the real problems (and the real culprits): Incompetent teachers should be fired. ... But increasing the lagtime for tenure is only one tiny piece of the puzzle. Unspoken is the fact that those [incompentent] teachers were hired by someone, observed by someone (supposedly), and rehired by someone. Bad teachers do not pop out of nowhere. I don't see laws addressing ...


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