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Friday, August 29, 2008

First Full Two Weeks Complete

How long until summer vacation again?

Never mind.

This was a good week, though tiring. I need this three-day weekend. Mom and Dad are coming to take us to dinner tonight, which will be fun. On Monday, I will take Maxine to the lake, leaving Horyon at home to rest. She needs to get over her morning sickness soon, because Thursday she leaves for Korea for a whole month. It's a long enough plane ride when you're in good health and dragging Maxine with you, but with constant urges to revisit your previous meal it would be downright miserable.

At this point I can't say for sure that being a Jr. High teacher is what I want to do for the rest of my life, or even for this next chunk of my working life, but I am not ready to quit, either.

I have learned a few things talking to my fellow teachers and dealing with students, though. I know that many of you reading this are teachers, but for those of you who aren't, I may have to fill you in on President Bush's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy: In a nutshell, students are tested regularly, a couple of times a year. Overall scores for the entire school are compared year to year, and each school is expected to make a certain amount of progress each year. If that progress is not made, federal funding for the school is cut. The basic idea behind this is that teachers who do well are rewarded for doing well, and teachers who don't do well can be canned.

There are some problems with this idea, but it is revolutionary in a couple of respects: First of all, teachers are actually being held responsible for all students that come through their classroom. Responsible in the sense that our jobs are on the line if our kids don't improve as they work their way from first grade through high school graduation. This is such a common sense thing that you may have assumed it was true all along, not taking into account the idea of having tenure. NCLB pretty much trashes the idea of tenure, though it may be a challenge to deal with older teachers who have been "grandfathered" in.

The other revolutionary aspect is found in one word I used in the previous aspect: ALL. As in ALL students are tested. This means that there is now a big disadvantage to sending a kid out of the classroom, whether to time out for a period or two, or ISS/OSS (In and Out of School Suspension). If our salaries are hinged on the grades of all of our students, then we have to keep the trouble-makers in our classrooms, otherwise their grades go down.

If you are my age, or even a little younger, you knew kids who got through school spending a huge amount of time out of the classroom, dealing with the principal. And what can I say? My first inclination is to let a kid fail if he (or she) wants to. That's how I did it when I taught college kids in Korea. But NCLB has made mandatory what many teachers did naturally: it requires us to give students motivation to do well when that motivation is not being supplied elsewhere.

Sound familiar? It should. That's very likely what your parents did. It was no surprise to me that there are parents who don't teach their kids that school is important, but it did surprise me how that manifests. Example: a kid was called to the office this past week. His mother was here to pick him up. He came back before class was finished. With a haircut. It was shocking enough to make me include it as a sentence fragment right here in the Roblog. This was Ashley's class, in which I am a para, so we got to "What the hell?" about it without having to tell the story.

My guess? Mother works evenings, kid has football practice, the weekends are too inconvenient. So pull him out of math class for a haircut. What message does the kid receive? Being in class is less important than getting a haircut.

So now on to the problems with NCLB. First of all, is cutting funding really the best way to get results? Remember, we're trying to steer an awfully large ship that has been heading in one direction for a very long time. There is not much flexibility built in. It seems to me that if teachers were to use this method on their students we would spend a lot of time holding their heads under water. And that is my minor gripe.

My next gripe is one of statistics: What are the chances that each class in a school (all 7th graders, or all 9th graders for example) is exactly the same in ability as the same class from the previous year? I hate to ask a question to which I don't know the answer, but the anecdotal answer seems to be "Not likely." I'm sure that if you have a large enough student population they start to become indistinguishable, one from the other. That would not be the situation at any Jr. High School I've ever been in. Some years you have a large handful of bright students that pull the average up, and some years you have a couple of classes made up of kids who have learning disabilities and/or serious behavioral problems. However much progress you make with problem classes, they just aren't going to look as good next to the clever classes, and it isn't anybody's fault. Unless you are NCLB, in which case you judge that the teachers are responsible because they haven't worked hard enough, so you threaten to take away funding the next year. If you are the school being threatened you have no choice but to hope and pray that the next year's class will balance out your round of bad luck.

Here's the real downside to this aspect of NCLB: If your school has a reputation for working well with problem kids, and getting results from them, more of them will go to your school! Naturally! Guess what that does to your chances of having a class with a higher percentage of at-risk and low-performing kids? Never mind the simple effects of geography. We don't like to admit that there are some neighborhoods that have more money than others, and that some neighborhoods are more likely to have parents who are not as supportive as others, but it is true. Think that doesn't have an effect on test scores? Think again. NCLB paints every school with the same brush, not taking into account the different populations by geography and time.

Here's my big gripe: NCLB puts pressure on one third of the parties responsible for the education of children, the teachers.

The first neglected group is the administration. Administration at the building level are pretty much in the loop. Their jobs are on the line because NCLB targets individual buildings, not entire districts. The superintendent of schools makes seven or eight times as much as a first-year teacher (in Lawrence, anyway). Guess what penalties are leveled against him and the school board by NCLB when schools fail? None. It is up to the cities to deal with these problems, which makes it a political matter. The ones who are better at passing the blame come out clean, and keep their jobs. Their higher-paying jobs. Their jobs that directly impact education without having to deal with the messiness of being in a classroom.

This manifests in some subtle, but telling ways. Our 7th grade math book is a lovely piece of work, with units focusing on practical application. It's an incredibly real-world approach that would be fun to teach, and might give kids a sense of how math is used in a variety of careers. The problem with it is that it flies boldly into the face of NCLB. And like a bird flying boldly into the face of a brick wall, it comes out bloody and unable to fly. Here on the ground, we teachers have to make up for it by redesigning the curriculum as we go, skipping around in the book, pulling resources from elsewhere, and spending TIME that could be spent focusing on students. I am fortunate that my coworker, Edith, does spend time on it. We also have a list of topics and chapter references from a group of math teachers in another building to draw upon. Nevertheless, anything that draws a teacher's attention away from their students is a waste of time. The purpose of administration is to minimize wastes of time. My understanding is that the administration for Lawrence Public Schools is better than many at this, but my point is that they are not held accountable by NCLB. Not here, nor anywhere else in the United States.

Teachers are the first in line to help students climb the ladder of success. (Sorry. If I think of something less cliche I'll throw it in later.) Administration need to be in there doing their part. The third column supporting our students is, of course, parents. Most students are in my classroom for about 50 minutes per day, five days a week, only when school is on (and they are not out getting a haircut). And this for one school year only. Compare to how much time they spend, and have spent, with their parents.

Unfortunately for some of our students, they spend more time with me than with either parent. I accept that reality. Still, most of our students spend time with their parents, and their parents pass on their attitudes about education, studying, and working. So why does NCLB ignore this reality?

I could go on and on about how most of President Bush's policies ignore reality, even to the extent of publicly claiming that they create their own reality, but my focus here is on NCLB and how to fix it.

What is the one surefire, guaranteed way to make parents take an interest in the education of their children? Before you go on to the next paragraph, try actually thinking of an answer, and let's see if we can agree on this. Go ahead. Think. What gets everyone's attention?

Yeah. I was thinking "money" too. Remember those tests that students have to take, and upon which school funding is based? What motivation do students have to do well on that test? They can be grouped like this:

The "good" students: Will always do their best on a test, even if it is not attached to the grade they get in class.

The "pleaser" students: Will do well on this test if their teacher asks it like a personal favor.

The "screw-you" students: Don't care. About their grade, what their teacher wants, what anyone wants. In fact, if the "screw-you" student discovers that scoring poorly on this test will have a real, negative impact on the school, they may intentionally score poorly. Hey! Power trip!

So how do I as a teacher motivate an s.y. student? I have to earn their trust. I have to catch them up on skills that they may have skipped over in previous years, because an s.y. student is not created in one year. I have to make them believe that they can do well. That's all. If you are imagining me sitting down and having a one-on-one with a scruffy kid, making a connection that is the beginning of trust, thank you for your faith; but don't forget to imagine the other 15 kids in the classroom going nuts, talking about boys, ignoring the assignment they've been given, and doing their best to listen in on my conversation, making the scruffy kid feel uncomfortably un-cool. So much for making a connection.

Right now the government gives people a tax credit for having dependents. All you have to do is have children. What if the amount of that tax credit were performance dependant? Imagine this: After test time, the parents get a notification of their child's test score, and with it a check. The amount the check is for depends on their child's score. Cap it at, say, $500, maybe an even grand, perhaps making that a sliding amount dependent on family income. After all, the kids from rich families will probably get this check passed on to them completely, while the poor families will need that money to pay bills. Let the percentage of that $500 be equal to the score the kid made on the test, adjusted for officially documented learning disabilities.

Do you think it would change parents' attitude towards their children's education? The beauty of it is that you could pull it right out of that tax credit for any children of school age. It would require some serious public education, but if this is a priority then it needs to be addressed.

So there's my first two full weeks of school. I know. Not much about the classes. I'm just now starting to feel like I know my students well enough to write about them. They'll be up here soon, as anonymous as ever. I'll have to keep track of the names I make up for them so I don't get confused. That will be the least of my organizational issues, I'm sure.

Horyon and Maxine head for Korea on Thursday. I will miss them, but it will be nice to sleep without interuption, come home and not have to feed, shower and put Maxine to bed. These are duties that Horyon and I usually share, but the morning sickness has severely limited what Horyon can do. She barely gets through a shower by herself without spitting up, and Maxine makes it more difficult. I have been putting Maxine in bed, praying with her, then leaving the room for the last couple of nights. I poke my head back in if she is hollering something, but mostly let her cry. I'm finding that she actually gets to sleep faster that way than when I lie down on the floor by her bed. Of course, when she gets back from Korea I'll have to go through it all again, but I'm already planning to speed up the program. Hopefully it will register with Maxine that staying at Grandpa and Grandma's house is just different, and there's no point in crying about it.

They're staying for a month. In September I plan to focus on my teaching and on the class that I will be taking. Nothing else. The first month will undoubtedly be the hardest, and by the time my girls come home, I will have a routine that works. I will adjust it to make time for them every day. It will be tough, because I can no longer work at night. Waking up at 6 a.m. for me requires going to bed by 10 p.m. on a fairly regular basis. Planning for my classes is going faster than it used to, but it still takes time. By October it should be even smoother.

Can you hear the panic in my voice yet? Wish me luck.



Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Private Roblog

Hi everyone.

Feels weird knowing that the only people reading this are doing so by invitation.

I just wanted to point out that I am only allowed 100 readers. I sent out about 150 invites. Because I wasn't sure of which address to use, some of you may have received more than one invite. If you got two, please don't create two accounts! And if you can share with someone easily, please do so.

Once I've been at Central for a couple of years, I may open Roblog back up again. I think that once I have an established reputation, I will be somewhat shmear proof. We'll see.

The first full week has been rough. I'm tired all the time. I've been staying at school until past five o'clock most night, sometimes as late as seven, and once until nine. Teaching well is a difficult job, and the first year is always the worst. I've had a few first years, and this one tops all of 'em. Doesn't help any that we're dealing with morning sickness and Maxine, but the actual teaching and adjusting to dealing with large groups of adolescents has also been a serious challenge.

I had my first self-designed successful class today. It was my most difficult class, the Algebra kids. I'm trying not to celebrate too much, as I had an observer in the class, but it felt good for the class to go smoothly. Whereas before the flow of class has been constantly interrupted, today it felt more like interaction.

And today was a block day! On Thursdays we have only four classes, at about 90 minutes each. Granted, this class had lunch to break it up, but it's still a long time for kids to stay focused, and they did well.

Honestly, it's the first time since I started teaching (just a week ago!) that I've really felt that I could be a successful jr. high math teacher. I've always believed it, almost to the point of knowing it, but today I felt it. That is so important, because you can only push on with your will for so long, and so hard. At some point you have to have your heart invested in it. And now mine is.

All that said, I am completely unprepared for tomorrow, and I have to wake up in seven hours. So I will do a little work, then go to bed.



Friday, August 15, 2008

Semi-Random Pictures

I feel kind of bad; I made some guided lesson notes together for class today, and wanted to include some pictures of my family. So I went to Roblog to look for pictures. You gotta go way back. So here are some pictures from the last couple of months.
Horyon modeling an eggplant. We both sort of noticed that it kind of looked maybe just a little bit like her head.
Horyon and Maxine at the zoo.
Maxine and Sophia, raking in the big bucks selling lemonade. LEARN MATH=MAKE MONEY.
Maxine and Elanor having an impromptu jam session.

You can thank me later for not including audio on this one.

That's it for now. I'll get some more up later.



Hi everyone.

This weekend I'm closing down Roblog to public access. I believe that if you go to the address, you will be asked for account information. You will have to sign up for a Google account, and sign into it whenever you want to read it. If you already have a Gmail address, you can use that login here.

I'm not absolutely sure this is the best thing for me to do, but I can see that this year is going to be a tough one. I don't need the added stress of my students bringing up my private life in class. Because they will eventually find this if I am annoying enough to them. And I am sure that for some of them I am already that annoying, after just one day.

Sorry for the inconvenience.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I need to get to bed, but I would appreciate it if you Roblog readers could do me a favor:

Tell me, would it make me a less effective teacher if my students found this blog and read any or all of it? It seems inevitable to me that they will find it. The chances of any jr. high student reading all of it are slim, but they could take pot-shots, hoping to find something interesting. And if I ever really annoy a student (how likely is that?), they might take the time to dig up whatever dirt they can.

So I am considering making Roblog an invitation-only blog.

Feel free to email me with your thoughts, or post comments here if you want others to read them.



Monday, August 11, 2008

Busy, as usual, for not the usual reasons

Last week was district training for new teachers, including time in our classrooms. I had Monday off, but I spent a large part of the afternoon meeting with my building mentor, Edith. It was time well spent. She knows what she's doing, having spent many years teaching.

And let's face it, everything's harder when your wife has morning sickness.

Yes, you heard me right. Horyon passed her home pregnancy test a couple of weeks ago. She should have, as we studied pretty hard for it.

I want to apologize to anyone who may be upset that we didn't mention it earlier. At first we kept it under wraps because that's what you do in the first few weeks. Then it started leaking out. My parents. Our prayer/Bible study group. Our friends in the neighborhood. I just realized that we haven't really made any formal announcement, so this is it.

The baby is due next March/April. We have elected to refer to the baby, for the time being, as Bumbleweezle.

Bumbleweezle was one of my early suggestions for a name for Maxine, before we knew whether she would be a girl or a boy. Horyon asked if Bumbleweezle was a girl or a boy name, and I told her that was the beauty of it, it could be either. That didn't convince her.

I told her that it was an old family name. When she asked which side of my family, I fumbled just a bit and answered, "Both." That didn't do it for her, either.

She wanted a unique name for our child, a name that other kids in her school wouldn't have. She had to concede the point to me on that one, but she still refused to name our child Bumbleweezle.

She wasn't really a big fan of the name "Maxine", but when I finally told her that I would give up Bumbleweezle for it, she jumped all over it.

Still, for pretty much the entire pregnancy, we referred to our little fetus as Bumbleweezle, and the habit has returned. So Bumbleweezle is in his or her ninth or tenth week, we're not sure exactly. Whatever week it is, it's the part of the game where Bumbleweezle is continually hitting the buttons that make Horyon want to vomit. We couldn't recall exactly how long this lasted with Maxine, but Horyon was thinking about six weeks.

Throw into the mix, if you will, one more tidbit: I am once again training Maxine to sleep by herself. I've lost track of how many times I've done this. Three or four. This is one of those cultural imperative things, where I feel it is absolutely necessary to train kids to sleep by themselves in their own beds, while Horyon grew up sleeping with her family, sharing a bed, then a bedroom with her sister until Chaeryon moved out.

Circumstances have not been kind to me, but now circumstances are trashing both of us. Horyon has a hard enough time sleeping without a small person who wedges herself between us, turns perpendicular on us, and kicks. All in her sleep, of course. Imagine my surprise to discover that when I wake up getting kicked in the head, I wake up already angry. I wake up with a back-ache from struggling not to roll over on our most prized possession, and find myself drifting off of the course of a day.

So now I put her to bed, and have been for the past week. I've weaned Maxine of falling asleep with someone in the bed, now I need her to sleep even with no one on the floor next to her bed. I'll start on that soon, and am not looking forward to the crying and begging. I also expect Maxine to be upset about it.

On a last note, I need to make some decisions about what health plan to use, i.e. how big a chunk of my paycheck is going to be sacrificed to the actuarial gods. After taxes, insurance, bills and our mortgage, we could very easily end up living on whatever Horyon makes sewing. Don't get me wrong, she's very talented, but she's not up to being my sugar-momma just yet. Pray for us to make some wise decisions here, because, as the magical 8-Ball puts it, "The Future is Unclear."

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Class Wrap-up

Yesterday was the last day of class. We finished early, so a bunch of us went out to lunch at a Buffalo Wings place that was far too loud for conversation, but had great food.

We got our papers back. I got full points on every assignment. Since I don't think I ever seriously pissed off the teacher, I should get an A in the class.

When I first signed up for this, I was told that there was a 40% drop-out rate in this program. Since then they have done a few things to drop that rate, including having a face-to-face interview with applicants to see if they were just completely nutso. Judging by my experience this week, they still need to work a few kinks out of the system, but they've mostly got serious contenders.

I enjoyed the class, though not the drive. I ended up meeting a woman who will be teaching at Southwest Jr. High, just a few blocks from my home. She actually lives just down the street from us. I suggested that we might study together regularly, and she seems to be interested. I know it will make a huge difference for me, having someone sitting across the table from me working on the same stuff.

I need to get to bed. Tuesday starts in-service. I suspect that I will go back underground at that point, though I'll try to post here from time to time.



A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.