Wednesday, April 13, 2011

And THIS is why I teach!

Today was a very very good day. I started my poetry unit today and had the students listen to and read "The Road Not Taken" to give them an idea of how different poetry sounds when it is spoken aloud. When I asked my kids about the poem I got two just jaw-dropping interpretations. The first one was from an honors student who compared the poem to a Biblical story about the road to Hell and the road to Heaven. I've read that poem so many times I've lost count and I've NEVER made that connection. Then one of my regular kids comes up right after class and tells me that while she was listening to the poem she heard the first line and realized that her desk was both yellow and wood and then made the connection that students have two choices. They can choose to do the work, or they can choose not to do the work. Again, total jaw dropper! I love teaching poetry for just this reason, the kids come up the coolest most original ways of looking at poetry.

In addition to that, my 6th period class showed me just how much the respect me. Near the end of class there was a fight in the hallway, I saw the crowd and because of the yelling and the size I thought it was a full fledged brawl and not just a couple of kids. As I shot out of the door I told the kids to 'stay in the room'. Now most of the kids on the floor ran out to see the fight, which was just a couple of girls fighting. Most of the kids... but not mine. They stayed in my room and were back in their seats when I returned.

I simply looked and them and thanked them for doing as I asked.

And THAT is why I teach.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

You were not selected...

With those four words I now find myself without a school to call home. Oh, I'll be where I'm at until June, but I no longer consider myself a part of that family, and before you start writing about how I'm going to short change my students, relax. I plan on staying loyal to them and to teach the hell out of my poetry unit and to prepare them for the spring final. My loyalty is to them and them only. And no, I am not going to burn any bridges with the administration of the school either. If they need a sub during my prep, I'll cover for that teacher and that sort of thing.

Will I be taking many souvenirs from my school? Why the hell do I want all those reminders of my failure to measure up? How would you feel if you knew you were in the bottom 50% of the teaching staff at your school? The only things that will come with me will be a coffee mug, my BSU shirt and my rejection letter. The mug I'll take because I can put pens in it. The shirt because it was a gift from the club adviser and has no school name or logo on it, and the letter (which I'll have laminated) to remind me never to feel secure in my position again.

I'll be honest, I thought that I would be a 'One School Guy'. I'm not, nor was I ever a nomad. I don't get those teachers who constantly move from school to school. I figured that since I had gotten off probation my first year, and had received good reviews both years, I was pretty safe. After all, how many teachers actually want to teach at a Title I school? And of those, how many want to teach 9th graders, especially at a school that has had such low test scores for such a long time? The answer is not many, so you can understand that I got a bit complacent and lazy.

When the turn around was announced I had my application in as soon as I had answered all the questions and I felt comfortable in the interview, but I also had this feeling of dread that I would not be selected. That feeling was confirmed Friday afternoon when I got the letter via e-mail. That part I don't mind, at least I knew right away to start looking for another (very scarce) teaching job. In addition, I have my resume updated and Monday I'll ask a couple of people for letters of reference.

Finally, I have a rule about shirts etc., when I leave a position. If I leave on good terms, then I don't mind keeping a shirt or hat assuming that it's OK with my former employer. I still have a Xerox shirt and jacket from my 4 years working for them. I also have my shirt from a middle school where I subbed from late February through the end of the school year. But when I get fired like I did here, everything goes back to my employer, or gets donated to Goodwill. Is it immature? Probably, but that's how I roll.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Job Joys... Not

So today I had my interview with the principal to see if I am among the 50% of the staff who will stay at my school next year. A turn around school is one where the test scores have been low for so long that drastic changes needed to be made. So if the principal has been there more than three full years they are out and the new principal has to interview everyone who wants to stay (teachers, administrators and support staff) and then they can keep no more than 50% of the current staff. Our principal had not made three full years so she can stay but you could not pay me enough money to be in her shoes right now. There were three high schools that fell into that category in the valley.

I think I did pretty well but I'm not sure it matters at all. Our district is going to be $400 million short for next year and even if the deficit is much smaller than what is projected then lots of teachers are going to lose their jobs. That has already happened to one of my friends who got surplussed at her school because they lost some teaching positions. And to make it even worse for her, she is expecting another child.

Now our district happens to have one of those really cool contracts where it's LIFO. That means 'last in, first out', AKA it's all by seniority. So I busted my a$$ to get off probationary status last year and I did well on my observations and review this year and it doesn't mean spit. This is one of the reasons why public education sucks in my state. Once you get seniority all you have to do is to get decent reviews and then bump teachers who have less seniority than you when times get tough. So there are two dates I have to worry about. The first is next week when I find out if I'll be 'staying' at my school and the second in is May when I find out if I got bumped.

This really sucks...

Update #1: I will be looking for a new position next year. I was informed that I would not be coming back to my HS next fall. Now what the hell do I do?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Muslims, Christians and Jesus

This was a very interesting book to read. Written by Carl Medearis, it talks about how to talk to Muslims about Jesus without turning them off to the good news. It explains the 5 Pillars of Islam and points out a multitude (I lost track at 80) of verses that mention Jesus in a positive light along with a correlating Biblical Verse.

The book also talks about the things that Christians do that turn Muslims off to Jesus. One of the most interesting things about the book is how focused the book is on Jesus and not the Christian faith and it's not hard to see why. It's not Jesus that turns people off it's the way we follow (or don't follow) him that turns them off.

Reading that book gave me insights into the Muslim faith that I didn't have before and answered some questions that I did have. It was far more instructional than watching blowhards on the news argue about whose religion is better.

For Jesus it was never about religion, why do we keep forgetting that?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why is this OK?

So today at lunch I found out one of my male students called a female teacher 'sexy chocolate' during our mentorship class. Needless to say I didn't take that news real well and seriously chewed his ass out when I saw him before class. I told him that if I caught or heard him doing something like that again I would call his grand parents, write him up for sexually harassing a teacher and personally walk him to the dean's office. I also made him go back to that teacher and personally apologize to her for that comment. WTF?

Why is this OK? It's not the first time I've heard female teachers get hit on at school. Last year one kid told his teacher that they needed to get together because he could 'teach her things'. Are their home lives so bad that this is an acceptable behavior? Do the parents have so little control that they let their sons do this at home? My parents would have ended my life if I had done this in high school and not figuratively either.

Tomorrow I am going to address this issue tomorrow with all my classes to let them know that they need to add this to the list of 'things you just don't do'. What's sad is that I even have to do it at all.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

HS Students Hungry For History?

Normally people would see that and say... "uh, not a chance!" and I don't really blame them. I learned far more about history and military history from reading books on my own than I did in any history class I took. However, I'm confident that the reason that most HS kids don't like history is that most of the books... well suck.

I say this for two reasons based on my own observations. The first reason is that when I do a mini lesson on big historical events like 9/11/01 or Pearl Harbor the kids always eat it up. Both days I got great written responses and comments from the kids about how they learned something that day. The second reason is that I have this tendency to put historic WWII aircraft on my desktop and when I project them on the screen 'by accident' I always get questions about the plane and it's historic importance.

The first one I did was a P-38 Lightning, my personal favorite. The P-38 Lightning was made famous when it shot down Admiral Yamamoto and America's top ace Richard Bong (40 Kills) flew a P-38. It was fast and had it's 4 .50 caliber machine guns and 1 20mm cannon in the nose for a very concentrated blast of firepower. Can you say 'swiss cheese'? I knew you could. It's extremely long range made it perfect for the Pacific Theater in WWII.
After having that image on my desktop for a while I then found a picture of a P-47 Thunderbolt with the bubble canopy that is currently gracing my desktop. I always forget just how flipping big that airplane is, and I don't know about you but I'd rather not get in the way of it's eight .50 caliber machine guns! The 'Jug' as it was called was also great at attacking ground targets as well as taking on enemy fighters. Another interesting thing about both of them is that they used superchargers to maximize their performance.

If only the history teachers could actually add things like this into their curriculum and not worry about offending anyone. War is part of history and when students get to see images like this it piques their curiosity and then you have them. I'm not sure what will grace my desktop yet, I'm thinking about either a B-25 Mitchell or maybe the B-17 Flying Fortress. All I know is that I'm glad to give them a bit of history in addition to literature.

I also linked the photos to the original sites so you can see the bigger images and to give them their due. Taking a ride on a war bird like those is totally on my bucket list!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

WTF? The March Edition

Maybe I should make this a monthly thing since there is a plethora of subjects worthy of a genuine 'WTF?'. This month's edition is thanks to my students who thought it would be a good idea to flash gang signs in my class when there was a guest teacher covering for me while I was proctoring the proficiency tests. One of the kids wrote 'F*** Crabs' in one of my textbooks. 'Crab' is an insulting term used for the Crips. I found this out when one of my students from that class came by after school and pointed the tagging on the book out to me. I asked her point blank about the gang signs and she said that they were indeed flashing signs in class. WTF? Did they think that everyone else in the class was just going to STFU and not say anything? So I had to email the deans with all the important information to see what the next step is. If what I heard is true then both those kids will at minimum get suspended and possibly expelled from school. We have a serious gang problem at my school and any gang activity is a one way ticket to behavioral school.

The other piece of news is that my school is going to be facing a major staff change next fall. Fortunately our principal won't have to leave but it will suck to lose half the staff. I've already started filling out the application to return next year. I love that school and don't want to leave. I do know that some of my fellow teachers will not be back next year. I just hope they make the right choice. It should be interesting to see what happens.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Comedy Corner

My teacher is sooooooo dumb...

'how dumb is he?'

He's so dumb that I can sign into class and then split without him ever knowing I'm gone!

It looks like the joke's on you moron... and that goes for your two friends as well. I use the sign in sheet to keep track of who is there, but I also look around the classroom to see who is there and who isn't. And when I am handing out progress reports and I call your name because you signed in... Well you get the idea. I had to write up three more students today. Two of them were the butt of their own joke today and the third left class 20 minutes early. All three got dean's referrals and two of the I am going to try and remove from the class.

The one thing that really angers me is a lack of respect and thinking that I'm really that stupid is really, truly disrespectful. Should be interesting to see what happens next week. The dean's office didn't look to happy when I told them what happened. There are advantages to working with the dean's office after all.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


I was bouncing around cyberspace recently and ran across these two videos. The videos pretty much speak for themselves and they've become known simply as RvD.

And here is the second one.

The second one took place about three years after the first one. You do see a 'clone' at the end of the first RVD. It was an inside joke about his love of making clones in videos. The website is here.
It includes FAQs and a video interview with the two combatants. It's pretty cool what these guys came up with. I guess the force was strong with these two.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Romeo and Juliet

The play stays the same but the students don't. I shouldn't be surprised that this year's students wouldn't react the same way that last year's did but I am.

Last year's kids were a bunch of romantics, apparently I have a more bloodthirsty pack of kids this year. Many of them didn't really get into the first two acts because there was no violence, but they're way into Act III where both Tybalt and Mercutio both end up in the morgue. Last year the kids were not super shocked by the dad's anger when Juliet didn't want to marry Paris, but this year they were really shocked by how angry and how abusive he was with her. I am, however, worried that they are not taking this test as seriously as the first one and that they'll bomb this one. This happened with the second Odyssey test last fall and I can already see it coming. I guess they didn't learn their lesson the last time around. My honors kids are just starting the play so it will be interesting to see what they think of Romeo and Juliet.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The mess in Wisconsin

I wasn't going to comment, I swear I wasn't, but I simply have to put in my 2¢ worth. I've looked at the bill and the protesters and I'm just tired of the whole thing.


To the 'teachers' in Wisconsin who called in 'sick'...

How dare you. How dare you betray your students and violate the terms of your employment contract because you have to donate more money to your retirement and health care plans. How dare you decide that you are more important than the financial well being of your state. In case you didn't notice your state is short about 3 Billion dollars over the next two years. What would you rather have? A smaller paycheck or classes of 40 students plus? Do you really think no teachers will get laid off if you win this battle? How dare you forget that your paycheck comes from the taxpayers. I hope that your employers not only fire you but revoke your licenses to teach. You are a disgrace to your profession. And that goes for you 'doctors' who fraudulently wrote sick notes for those same 'teachers' I hope you also lose your license to practice medicine. Maybe you ought to retake your ethics classes one more time since you obviously didn't pay attention last time around.

And I'm sooooo sorry that you won't be able to negotiate your working conditions and that you might end up getting fired at any time. That's called reality in the private sector. Before I taught I spend about 20 years working from every sized company and I knew that I could lose my job at any time. Hell, one time I got fired because an employee transferred in from another state and they needed to find a work station for him, last hired first fired. And it's not like there won't be competition for your services with all the different school districts in your state. If you don't like how you're treated at one place then take your services elsewhere.

I'm out of pity for the lot of you. Suck it up or find another job, preferably one in the private sector, a cold dose of reality would be good for you.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Honors or Not?

One of my jobs as an Freshman English teacher is to make recommendations about which English and History class my students should take next year. Last year I was way to nice to students, including my honors students and sent kids to Honors English, Honors World History and AP World History who didn't deserve it.

This year I was very selective. Only about 12 kids have the option of AP History and of my 66 honors students, 11 didn't make the cut and will be taking regular English and History classes. Of my 76 regular students only 5 will get to move up to honors classes and 1 will do AP History.

Of course students and parents may challenge my decision and some will. But I am comfortable that I made the right choices. If you got either a C or a low B last semester you have no business in an honors class, especially if the same teacher teaches it next year.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is one of those required texts that 9th graders at my school must read. I was admittedly nervous about teaching it last year and was pleasantly surprised by how well it went. Once students were able to get past the language, they really enjoyed the story.

Probably the smartest move I made (and repeated) was to show video clips from both the 1968 and 1996 versions of the play. And just out of curiosity I always ask which version they like better, last year it was about 60/40 old version. It's one of the essays they can write about on the test (Acts I & II). This year I was shocked that the old version won by about 85%/15%. I thought that the older version might be more popular but I was not expecting it to be this big a difference.

Another cool thing that happened this year was when one of my students connected the crow in Act I to Romeo and Juliet dying. I'll be honest, I never made that connection. Not that I never talked about it, I mean I literally NEVER made the connection between the use of the crow and the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, and I've read and watched the play several times. The best part is that while this student is one of my favorites due to her wonderful work ethic and smile, English is not her strong point. I was so excited I gave the essay to her TOR (teacher of record) so she could see it as well. And one of my students who is reading about the 6th grade level only missed one question on the scantron half of the test.

These are the days that make teaching the greatest job in the world. The fact that only one student failed the test out of the three classes who took it doesn't hurt either.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Power of Words

For some odd reason the area I work in has asked that the word adequate be used in performance evaluations. I bring this up because while the district may think that adequate might be just fine and dandy for evaluations, every time I saw it on my evaluation forms (three) I was left wondering what the hell I did wrong that lesson, especially when my AP (Assistant Principal) gushed about the lesson to me when it was over. After talking it over with my neighbor who felt the same way I did, I emailed my boss and asked him if adequate was good or bad. He reassured me that it was a good thing and given his druthers he happily pick another term to use.

And people wonder why Nevada is ranked #49 in the USA in education? Obviously someone does not understand the real connotation of the word adequate. It may mean 'fine and dandy' but in the real world it means 'barely good enough'. Well that's the polite version anyway. Either the people who made this change were never English teachers and are therefore ignorant of the stress they are creating, or that creating stress was the goal all along. Someone at some point should have mentioned that using the word adequate in a review normally bodes ill for the employee who is involved.

That would be your tax money at work people...

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Black History Month

I have mixed feelings about these things. I really do, is it really necessary to have a month dedicated to Black History, or Hispanic Heritage? But, since my HS wanted to know what we were going to do for BHM, I decided to dust off an old lesson I had not taught since I was an apprentice at the Andre Agassi school.

Right now my honors kids are reading 'Letter From A Birmingham Jail', and I am glad I did it. Most of them didn't have a clue as to what real racism was, or why Dr. King was held in such high esteem. Happily I can report that now my honors kids understand both, especially because they also listened to Dr. Kings's 'Mountaintop' speech, which is the one he gave the night before he was assassinated.

My favorite part of the speech is when Dr. King is talking about getting stabbed in NYC by a crazy lady (is this Palin's fault too?) and relating how if he had sneezed, the blade lodged in his chest would have pierced his aorta and he would have died. This report made into the NY Times and a 9th grade student then wrote Dr. King a letter saying how happy she was that he didn't sneeze! (she also mentioned that she was white) This got his audience and my class laughing at her earnest innocence. I found it interesting that out of all the letters he had received after the attack (including ones from the President) that the one that he remembered most was the one from the girl. I guess we should not be surprised at this because he was, after all a man of God, and not after the fame and fortune that he received.

I am also doing some biographies this month as well for all my classes, including William Wilberforce, Dr. Condolelleza Rice and Bishop Tutu. It might make a welcome break from Romeo and Juliet for my regular classes.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Spring Semester

Well, the first semester is behind us and now we're on to semester 2. Honestly I like teaching more in the spring than I do for the winter for a few reasons.

1. Romeo and Juliet. While this will probably make eyes roll and groans abound, I do enjoy teaching Shakespeare. Now understand that while I admire Shakespeare and understand his importance in Western Literature, I don't worship at the altar of 'The Bard'. I've only read 4 of his plays and only a handful of his sonnets.

What I enjoy is watching inner city 9th graders not only understand R&J, but really get into a play that is more than 400 years old. I enjoy opening their eyes and ears to the power of the written word. I like teaching them about the symbolism contained in the play, and I hope that I get another moment like last year when Romeo proposed to Juliet and I had a student audibly go 'Oh!... ahhhhh' when she understood what had happened. I love it when I get a kid like last year who averaged about a 19% all year... except for Romeo and Juliet when he averaged an 81%. I like it when hardened kids get sucked into the romance and tragedy that is Romeo and Juliet. And no, there are no Shakespeare posters in my room, hopefully there never will be...

2. Poetry: What irritates me about HS poetry is that it's really PiNO. Poetry in name only. Sure they talk about rhyme schemes and meter, and even bore er teach kids about a few important poems and poets, but seriously? Is that the BEST they can do?

Needless to say I ignore the garbage in the textbooks and created my own month long introduction to poetry unit. Gone are the idiotic poems and half-assed explanations. Instead the kids get to learn about the poetic form and what makes a ballad a ballad. I show them what rhyme schemes are and why they matter. I teach them the difference between major forms of poetry. We listen to poems being recited over the speakers and then learn about poets and poems.

When they are done, they know what the difference between a ballad and a heroic couplet is. They know why pastorals are important and why Shakespeare and Marlowe used blank verse to write their plays in. They get the joy of reading fun poems like 'The Tale of Custard The Dragon', and see the emotions behind poems like 'Warming Her Pearls' and 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night'. They also learn about Haiku and Tanka poetry.

Finally they get to write some of their own poetry. They must write a haiku, a tanka, a ballad and a heroic couplet. If they want extra credit they can give any of the forms we study a try. I don't really do much with meter or the really technical part of poetry for a couple of reasons: I don't care and I don't want to bore them to death.

3. Extended teaching time! By this I mean no vacations. I like vacations but honestly November and December are wasted months because kids are always on vacation mode. They are either getting ready for a long weekend or just coming back from a long weekend. It's impossible to really teach because you can't build any momentum. I like having a long stretch where I can really just go for it with my teaching and not worry about long weekends and extended breaks.

4. Summer vacation! When you look at reasons 1-3, would it surprise to you find out that I'm pretty much wiped out when summer break starts?

Before I forget, I wanted to mention something funny that happened this week. My honors students are reading 'Letter From A Birmingham Jail' before they start on Romeo and Juliet. The teacher across the hall from me asked me for a copy of the letter so he could read it over the weekend. Mr. J., who is black came up to me on Monday and said this about Dr. King... 'Dr. King's got a little thug in him doesn't he?' I laughed about it in agreement. Mr. J. was impressed with the courage and backbone that Dr. King possessed and was surprised by his willingness to call other religious leaders on the carpet and properly chastise (well chew them out) them for their lack of support for the cause of civil rights.

I'll never look at Dr. King the same way again.