Monday, November 26, 2012

It's Still the Teachers' Fault

It’s been a helluva year already. This is why teachers don’t blog. Worn out, beat down, scared. I don’t even have time to keep up with intelligent discussion of teacher issues going on in blogs or the WaPo because I am overwhelmed. Not all teaching positions are the same. Mine this year is very difficult and demanding. Nuff said.

But running across this: “ Letter from disgusted teacher: ‘I quit’” in Valerie Strauss’ blog reminded me of what I already know---there are throngs of disgusted teachers hanging on by a thread. This is especially true in DCPS where the thumbscrews on teachers are continually tightened. Yes, DCPS administration will argue that they provide bonuses for highly effective teachers, blah, blah, blah. But ask teachers what they would really like and it’s not bonuses. It’s support instead of doubt, it’s time instead of continuous “training.” It’s Special Education co-teachers instead of excuses. It’s smaller class sizes instead of more videos for us to watch on how to be a better teacher.

My pathetic message for now is this: DCPS, stop making your teachers feel inadequate, mistrusted, overwhelmed, and incapable of reaching unrealistic goals. Stop offering bonuses to principals, teachers, and who knows who else until all classrooms are properly staffed, especially with the Special education services that we legally are supposed to offer. Principals, stop telling us we just have to deal with what we have, that “downtown doesn’t care—they just want results.” Stop with the Master Educators who simply instill fear and loathing in just about all teachers and reinforce the mistrust I already cited.

DCPS, your teachers are good, caring, professional people but in many, many places across the city you are demoralizing them and will drive them out of the profession. That’s not a recipe for success but for turnover. But turnover may be par for the course. Many of our top leaders use the District as a stepping stone to higher positions while those of us in the classrooms continue the fight, as long as we can stand it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Proving What Else Doesn't Work?

I hate being so negative, but it is May. The time of the year when we look around and see that things are still dismal. Graduation rates are low, truancy rates are high.

Our Chancellor and central admin have to do something, something bold. That’s what her predecessor and partner did. Came in, busted things up, grabbed a broom but really just left things a mess.

Now we’ve got a catchy new plan called the “Proving What’s Possible” grants. But first we’re going to “excess” over 300 effective teachers in the District. Immediately making these effective teachers feel like castaways and reminding all others that next time, it could be you. Nothing builds a teaching force like that. Perhaps the reduction of positions is helping to fund this new grant program? It’s hard to tell, even for Bill Turque, the WaPo reporter who has tried to find out where the money is coming from.

Read about that here: How is DCPS paying for ‘What’s Possible’?

But back to the grants. “So, struggling school, you may have lost a few teacher positions but here’s some money to…do…something…with. Let’s hear your ideas. And you’ve got about 4 weeks to finalize your ideas.” Sorry, but that’s not much time when you are already up to your elbows just trying to keep your school together. This kind of scenario is sure to breed some flimsy grant ideas. And you throw it to principals who, well, how can I say this, in many cases haven’t developed many good ideas in the first place.

So principals will cobble together some ideas that sound nice and the District will waste money. Kaya will be able to blame the schools and principals since she gave them the power and money to implement….something. This begs the question: does this mean our central administration is devoid of real ideas to support and change poor performing schools?

I hope we, the taxpayers, get to know:

a) where the money came from
b) what are the specifics of the plans being funded
c) whether they were successful, as judged by an objective evaluator

These grants are supposed to “leverage time, talent, and technology.” (I can just see them coming up with these catchy phrases, I’m having visions of “The Office.”) As a colleague said, “We’re banking our reform on a literary device.” [Alliteration – time, talent, technology.]

God, I hate being so negative. To make up for it my next entry will contain some constructive ideas!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Running of the Bulls

In Pamplona, Spain each July you can see the running of the bulls. In May in Washington, D.C. if you are paying attention, you can see the running of the F's into D's. This involves what we call “make-up work” and “packets.” Obviously “packets” implies many assignments because these students have allowed themselves to get so far behind through one main method: absenteeism. There are also those who show up on a semi-regular basis but just don't finish work.

This is true for all grade levels but the game reaches a new level of intensity if the student is a senior. Let's call our senior Billy. The question is, after Billy has made it so far, do we really want to stop him from graduating?

You don't hear these exact words but the message is clear: “Lighten up and give him a packet! We really need to get our graduation numbers up and aren't we all tired of seeing Billy in this building?”

This pressure comes from the student and from the administration. Billy will come to you and say: “Mrs. (administrator) said I should ask you if there's anything I can do to get my grade up to passing.”

Another ploy used is to have Billy retake the Final Exam he failed. And I mean the *same exact Final Exam*.

If you don't play you are seen as uncooperative. If you do play you contribute to the rot of the system.

A similar scenario is often played out at the beginning of each athletic season but the serious running of the F's takes place in May.

In Spain they run in front of the bulls but here we walk behind, and you know what you get walking behind a bull.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Neighborhood Schools: an Endangered Species?

Dispatch from a neighborhood school...

(And a reminder that my comments are based on experience at the high school level only.)

It's been another grueling year in the trenches of DCPS. Of course, saying “DCPS” doesn't mean much because the range of schools is so vast. You've got your A List that includes School Without Walls, Banneker, Wilson, etc. Then you've got the whole world of charter schools, and then somewhere blowing in the wind are the dying breed—the neighborhood public schools. I teach in one of those.

We should have Lady Liberty in front of the school because we truly do take those unwelcome everywhere else. We have a large concentration of students in group homes and cycling through the city's juvenile detention center.

If I read one more quote from the Washington Post editorial board or any other “expert” about how to fix our failing schools that says we should look to what successful charters are doing I will lose it. Do you know what our students say when we ask them how to improve our school? “Kick the bad kids out.” You know what? They're right. Removing the 5% that destroy the academic culture of the school would have a huge positive impact. No, it would not solve all the problems but it's a start.

But where would they go? Alternative placements. DCPS is sorely lacking in its ability to provide alternatives for teens who can't or won't function in a normal school setting. From what I hear from our dean of students, DCPS is making it more and more difficult to suspend students or to send them to Choice (where students get sent when they have no more choice and they've repeatedly caused trouble at their original school).

So we let the troubled troublemakers come to school and ignore the adult authority figures who are supposed to run the school. Then at the end of the day, or earlier if they don't want to be there all day, we release them. Is it any wonder that they cause problems in the community? They haven't had to respect an adult all day.

[I'll save the other main reason for failure-truancy-for another day.]

So, kick us while were down. Put us on the list of low performing schools. Threaten to close us down. Blame the teachers. And keep sending us the students that have nowhere else to go

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Going Washington Postal and other True Facts

What is it with the Washington Post? No matter what damning evidence emerges - the fake Baltimore miracle, or now Erasuregate – the Post Editorial Board, like a loyal dog, continues to stand by Michelle Rhee’s “reform” of D.C. schools. The Post editors have this harebrained idea that only she stood for reform and that there are people who are against reform. Call me na├»ve but is there any sentient being who does not want and see that DC public schools need to drastically improve!! Good, now we can all agree that WE ALL WANT REFORM!

Now that we have that out of the way we might get to how we can improve DCPS. (I am going to try to stop using the word “reform” since I feel it has lost any real meaning.)

I have a few ideas. One of the greatest challenges I see is a lack of quality leaders at the school level. Okay, I'm talking about principals and assistant principals (AP's). There, I said it. When you look at my building and see who works late and puts in the extra effort, it ain't the AP's! Maybe they're getting so much done during the day they don't need to work late? It's true, I don't know what's going on in those offices. And please, I'm not advocating that everyone always work late but you get my point.

But really, what is administration doing all day? Shut down the offices, get out into the halls, deal with students, and problem solve instead of hoping the problems walk on to another part of the building. Of course a principal could push these kinds of ideas but that would take strong leadership from the Principal. Clearly I'm ranting about my particular school. I wonder how it is at other schools? I’ve heard that my school is not unique in this area.

To sum that up, a lack of dynamic administrative leaders is a real problem. But does DCPS seem to value and support the school leaders, thus encouraging quality people to seek admin positions? Heck no, not in the last five years or so.

This month I realize why I never started a blog before. Frustration becomes paralyzing. There are so many things to bitch about where does one start? Ridiculous practices repeated over and over? Students' lack of motivation? A continued effort to push kids through to graduation just to have numbers?

By this time of the year, if one is honest, you have to admit the wheels have come off the wagon and the whole damn thing is broke down. There's a crisis going on and people just want to GATHER DATA! Man, if my house is burning down I don't need data, I need water!

Dear DCPS, you can stop gathering data. I'll give you some facts: 
Fact 1: Attendance sucks and truancy is a serious problem. What is the leadership of DCPS doing about it? I don't see any strategy. And if I can't see it as a classroom teacher, then it's not happening.

Fact 2: Parental involvement is dismal. What is the leadership of DCPS doing to change this? If I can't see it as a classroom teacher, then it's not happening.

Fact 3: Teachers are not supported. Just one example: no resources other than a textbook and a workbook. Why can't we get supplemental materials at different reading levels? Books that the classroom teacher can choose?

Fact 4: Student misbehavior is accepted. How do we build a culture of academics when students are allowed to disrupt class or walk the halls? Downtown doesn't want to deal with the mess so pressure is put upon the school to “keep a lid on it.” Yet we don't have an In-School Suspension program?

I would like to start a radical new school reform movement, it's called COMMON SENSE. I wonder if it will fly?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

DC Edu-Speak Light Bulb Jokes

It's almost Friday and it looks like I've made it through another week.  To celebrate I am going to lighten things up with my own "educational humor."  And yes, I know that is an oxymoron.

I believe I got this idea from an Xtranormal video on Mr. Teachbad's blog (see link under "Blogs to Check Out") and decided to add my own.  Please add your own creations if you wish.

How many …........... does it take to change a light bulb?

1. How many Master Educators does it take to change a light bulb?

Just one but they've never done it in DC.

2. How many teachers does it take to change a light bulb?

They can't, until a Master Educator tells them how.


3. How many teachers does it take to change a light bulb?

One, but at the moment we're out of light bulbs (and copy paper, and printer ink, and ….)

4. How many Assistant Principals does it take to change a light bulb?

Just one, as long as it's in their office.

5. How many SROfficers (police) does it take to change a light bulb?

Two, but it has to be on the first floor, preferably near the lobby.

6. How many Principals does it take to change a light bulb?

One, just as soon as they get done talking about how bad their teachers are.

7. How many Security officers does it take to change a light bulb?

They're not allowed.

8. How many Chancellors does it take to change a light bulb?”

“Those incompetent, lazy, union teachers broke the light bulb.”

9. How many School reformers does it take to change a light bulb?

“First we need to reinvent the light bulb.”

10. How many Instructional coaches does it take to change a light bulb?

Three because it must be done in a cooperative group.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Cartoon Version of Rheeform on Youtube

 A funny and accurate cartoon based on the unfunny actions of our former "chancellor."  Watch and weep.  (Not sure who made it, I received it via email listserve.)