Category Archives: Teaching

They’re HERE………….well, some of them anyway……..

I stopped by the Principal’s office today for a quick social visit. I had no big agenda or concern. His door was open and I knocked to say hello.

I noticed, lying on his table, some interesting looking books – very pretty sprial bound books with the words “3rd Grade Math Module 5” printed on them. I asked if I could take a look. They were emblazoned with “engageny” and our local BOCES logo. The engageny caught my eye and asked if I could take a look. I was told “Sure, but just so you know, it IS scripted.”

UGH………..well, I already knew that because I’ve been to the engageny website looking for Primary Grades Modules. Not that I WANT them, but I do know that they’re coming and I do know that I’ll be asked to be trained to in “unpacking” them. You can visit engageny for yourself see a Third Grade Module here

So, I flipped through the “Teacher’s Guide” to find the scripted parts:

T: What is the length of the first string shown?

S: 4 cm

T: Correct.

I am NOT kidding when I tell you that is EXACTLY what is in the Teacher’s Guide! I laughed and said “Well, you know, we need that because TFA teachers need that, and now Buffalo has fallen, so who knows where they’ll show up next.”

So, here’s the deal………..our district can buy these Teacher Guides for $14 and the Student books for about $8. Not a big deal, actually, when you consider how small we are – but there are MANY MANY Modules for each grade! And………there are MANY MANY Modules for Math AND ELA! So, it gets a little pricier.

This led to a discussion of the “PreK-12” book list that is also available at engageny. (Have I mentioned before how much I detest that website?) I have printed that list – it’s about 170 pages long! You can take a look at it for yourself:  p-12-ela-text-list The premise is that all of NYS will be on the SAME PAGE on the SAME DAY! So, who is getting rich publishing all these books that are now apparently required?  And, by the way, if our BOCES is printing these suckers up, why do they cost us anything? Plenty of RTTT money and each school’s COSERS go to BOCES now! Shouldn’t this stuff be FREE?  Additionally, BOCES has told us that they will NOT buy the multiple copies of the books that are ‘required’ even as they train us all to use them!  Wow – the cost of implementing the Common Core just skyrocketed – well beyond what we’ve spent on all the required TESTING!

My next question was “When do they expect to have any Primary Grade stuff available?” The answer: before September! Let’s get just a little more vague shall we? So, Primary Grade teachers will, in all honesty, have to be trained in the summer – something that the District cannot COMPEL me to attend and something they would have to PAY me to do since I am, after all, ONLY a 10 month employee.

I do not LIKE the CCSS – in fact, I rather despise the CCSS. I don’t believe that just by saying “Well, if we ask them to do more, read more complex texts, and expect it – they’ll do it.” This is pedaled as one of the big LIES of the CCSS – you know, we teachers just haven’t been expecting ENOUGH of our students. The truth is……….no matter what you shove at them, if they aren’t ready – they won’t be able to do it! I could have expected to have my infants talking and walking and toilet trained at 6 months – but that sort flies in the face of what we know about babies right? Same thing – if they aren’t developmentally ready, it’s not going to matter how sweetly I ask them to do something! I can tell them and their parents all I want that this is the expectation, but if they aren’t ready for the concept, it won’t matter.

So………..when your child enters PreK, K, First or Second Grade next fall………just know that his or her teacher has NOT had the ‘required’ material nor has the teacher had adequate time or training to have a CLUE! We will be “building the plane while we fly it”. Would YOU put your child on that plane? I know I wouldn’t!

We’re Only HUMAN

It’s been almost a year since I attended the first “Occupy the DOE” in Washington, DC. I had been feeling pretty good about my own personal “activism” in the past year. That is, until earlier this week when I read a comment on some Facebook page that basically insinuated that unless teachers quit, walk out, strike, or refuse to give standardized tests we are NOT fighting hard enough.

I’m not saying that all of those aren’t good ideas and have merit – but for many of us, that type of action is not an option. Why? Well, many of us are the sole or major income earner for our families. AND, believe it or not, we have kids who need homes, food, clothing and college educations if they choose.

People like me are doing what we can where we are. We are the ones earning the “bad” reputations in our schools. We are seen as the trouble makers, the ones who question everything and the ones who are stirring up trouble. We are the ones passing copies of model opt out letters around our schools in plain envelopes to our colleagues.

We are at school resisting Pearson Test Prep workbooks. We are doing what we know is “good for kids” to the best of our ability. We strive to make our students’ learning meaningful and downplay the “tests”. We are working at breakneck speed to keep up with all the mandates, tests, ridiculous evaluations and standards that are thrown in our laps with a simple phrase : Just do it!  We resist when and where we can – by not giving the Pearson homework, by talking to parents about children and not about test scores, and by approaching our School Boards imploring them to make a resolution against high stakes testsing.

We come home from a day at school – where many of us talk all day to colleagues about standardized testing, CCSS, reforms that are not good for kids – and we power up the laptops to check our favorite “anti-reform” pages and groups. We share articles, we comment on blogs, some of us even write blogs.  We eat, sleep, dream and live the opposition to reform and high stakes testing every single day. We do our best to encourage and enlighten our friends and families. We often do this while our spouses wonder if we will ever SHUT UP about it or  while our kids wonder if we’ll ever give up the laptop for homework.

Some of us have been “targeted” by administrators. Some of us have been told that we shouldn’t attend anything having to do with opting out. Some of us work in one district and opt our kids out in another. Some of us feel the need to use fake names so that we can air our feelings without becoming “targets”.

Most of us have days when we just feel too defeated, too worn out, too much like we’ve been pounding our heads on a brick wall and maybe, just maybe everything would be better if we just quit.

BUT……..don’t forget that second wind!

Just when I think it’s not worth it – when I read a comment that vilifies teachers – I find a parent blog or post that puts the wind back in my sails! I read about another school district that has no problem with students who opt out and a Superintendent who actually supports that action. I read about parent groups forming and holding information sessions. I read shared documents and advice. I find teachers, like me, who are doing what they can.

When I see a child sitting at a computer monitor staring at a meaningless, useless STAR Assessment question, I know that I have to continue to FIGHT in whatever way I can! When I hear the stories of 3rd graders sitting and crying because NYS embedded field questions in last year’s tests, I know I have to FIGHT! When my Occupy The DOE 2.0 T-shirt shows up in the mail, I am reminded of how many more are out there fighting and I know I have to keep FIGHTING!

About that test…………..

As a first grade teacher, I do not give NYS ELA and MATH exams. (YET!) I expect that I will be giving some sort of STATE or NATIONAL exam before I retire in 5 years.

I do give “tests” in my classroom – I have always assessed my students. But now, my first graders – some of whom were 5 years old when the year started are tested 3 times a year using the following:

STAR TESTS :They take either Early Literacy or Reading depending on how many sight words they know which means I had to assess their sight word knowledge in September. They also take the Math test.

DIBELS: Keep in mind that the DIBELS tests are timed – they have one minute for each of the following portions on which they are tested: Initial Sound Fluency, Letter Naming Fluency, Phoneme Segmentation Fluency, Oral Reading Fluency, and Oral Reading Retell.

RUNNING RECORDS: My students are expected to be reading at a LEVEL K by the end of first grade, and a LEVEL D and the start of the year. We use the Fountas and Pinnell leveling system, and got our benchmarks from Lucy Calkins’ Reading and Writing Project.

Sight Word Knowledge: They are expected to know 75 words by November, and 175 by June.

Math Fact Fluency: They should be “fluent” in addition and subtraction to 10 by June.

This year, also for the first time, I am REQUIRED to give letter grades to my students in ELA, MATH, SOCIAL STUDIES, and SCIENCE.

I dutifully put my grades into the electronic grade book (of course, that DATA is being compiled into a state-wide and possibly nation-wide database) and the report cards are printed. Three times a year, I send home a separate report with all of the above mentioned testing DATA on it.

So, when circumstances present themselves, and I need to meet with parents, what do I talk about? Well, it’s NOT that TESTING stuff! All that data tells me is what that child did at one moment in time. When I talk to parents, we talk about the WHOLE CHILD. In fact, that’s the only time they’re going to hear about social and emotional growth and development because that is no longer included in any report I send home. We talk about our shared hopes and concerns.

I watched all three of my children take NYS exams in ELA, MATH, SCIENCE and SOCIAL STUDIES. Every summer we would wait and wait to get the test report in the mail. While my children typically scored a 3 or 4, I usually threw those reports out and told them “I’ve seen your report card, I know how you’re doing. Don’t let one or two tests define you.”

Now, I’ve watched as my two oldest have applied to and been accepted at the universities of their choice. I’ve watched them both take and retake the SAT. I once again told them “Don’t let one test define you.”  Interestingly, the NYS Regents Exams, which we’ve always been told are so important, aren’t even considered on college applications!  I’ve listened at University Open Houses and always asked “Are the SAT and ACT OPTIONAL?” For the most part, I’ve been told yes.

So, PARENTS, about that test………….it doesn’t matter!! There is no one test that should EVER EVER define your child! Your children, my children……..all children are so much MORE than a TEST SCORE!

Where do you eat your lunch?

Dr. Mark Naison posted this yesterday on the Facebook Opt Out page:

“Just received confirmation from a former student that during training, TFA tells is Corps members not to interact with veteran teachers at the schools they are placed in and not to eat in the Faculty Cafeteria because those teachers are “jaded.” ”

If there were really any more proof needed that TFA and its privatizing buddies were out of touch with real education, real teachers, and real schools – we have it here!

I have not had lunch in the Faculty Room in over 2 years. This is not because I don’t enjoy the company of my colleagues, it’s because the policies of  Race to the Top have destroyed  collegiality  among teachers.

It used to be, once upon a time, that the Faculty Room lunch was a place to get to know the newly hired teachers in your building, to share a laugh, to talk about how to address students’ needs, how to motivate students, to share successes, to get advice, to be PEOPLE that cared about one another.

The Faculty Room was the place where sympathy cards, birthday cards, get well cards and retirement cards were left for signing because everyone went there. It was the place where you could find a lively debate about politics, the Oscars, the Grammys, the Tonys, the Emmys, educational practices, sports teams, or even simply which is better – coffee or tea! It was a place full of loud voices, shared laughs, and sometimes quiet tears. We walked in knowing that there would be “friend” there.

Now, the Faculty Room is a ghost town. The newspapers still litter the long tables, but most days they are still perfectly folded at 3 PM. If not for a copy machine, a soda machine, and our mailboxes, I would hazard to guess that someone would be considering making it an office!

Why has this changed? Do we suddenly care less about one another as people? NO! We have been bombarded with policy changes that have made us competitors and not collaborators. School administrators may say that they have encouraged and even developed Professional Learning Communities in the name of collaboration for the benefit of our students, but the reality is that each of us stands alone at evaluation time with the scores of our students looming overhead. In fact,  think about this – our lunch times have even been scheduled (in many cases) to PREVENT us from talking to someone who is not in our PLC! We are encouraged to use our lunch time to meet with our PLC – under the guise of a “relaxing atmosphere in which to discuss student outcomes and analyze data.” Talk about an appetite suppressant!

If we’re not meeting with our PLC, then most of us are sitting at our desk with a cup of yogurt, or a piece of fruit reading the emails that have been piling up in our inboxes or working on our SLOs or grading interim tests, or collecting “evidence” of our professionalism or communicating with parents. Conversations about our “real lives” happen in quick snippets between classes or after school in classrooms with the doors closed – lest it be discovered that we are NOT analyzing data. Cutting us off from one another is a means to an end – the END of a school community, the END of public education.

We have lost our way as a collective group of people who will “see us through”. We don’t have the “group history” that once had.  We have been forced into a world much like The Hunger Games – kill or be killed………all for the enjoyment of those in the Capital.

I’m So Tired………..

I’m not just tired……….I AM EXHAUSTED!

  • It’s observation time for me and that means aligning a lesson to the Common BORE Standards, completing all the required paperwork, preparing the lesson, and using a prep period for my Pre-Observation Conference. Let me make this very clear: I am NOT opposed to observations at all! In fact, I wish that my Principal had the TIME to stop in my classroom on a regular basis and get to know my students, me, and see us all in action – even on my worst days. I am opposed to a contrived “dog and pony show” simply for the purpose of getting a “good” score.
  • I’m TIRED of hearing that teachers will NOT live in “Highly Effective” – only visit there once in a while, and on the other hand being told that EVERY SINGLE ONE of my students should be a pre-determined level if there is any hope of them doing “well” in school and on state tests.
  • I’m TIRED of watching GREAT teachers retire at their first chance because they just can’t take the beatings any more. Teachers with 20, 30 years of experience who still have plenty of “good years” in them and who WANT to teach are kissing it good-bye because of constant demoralization.
  • I’m TIRED of watching NYSUT play catch-up with their “Listening Tours” and “Member Action Center” begging members to inform them of the problems with CCSS, APPR and excessive testing. You know, if they had LISTENED to begin with – they would have heard us screaming to NOT give in to King Andy’s ridiculous demands.
  • I’m TIRED of the stories of parents being intimidated by NYSED and School Administrators when they decide to OPT their children OUT of unnecessary high stakes tests!
  • I’m TIRED of the outright THREATS coming from Albany, Commissioner King, and Governor Cuomo to hold back funding increases for schools that don’t just jump on their bandwagon.
  • I’m TIRED of engageny.org being touted as the “go to” place for CCSS aligned lessons, learning modules, and information, only to find that ONE UNIT of MATH for second grade is a scripted 300 page mess. There are NO ELA modules for PRE-K – 2 yet, and those trainings are set for AUGUST! Way to go NYSED – leave us hanging and then use your incompetence to somehow prove that teachers of young children aren’t “up to the challenge” of implementing CCSS.
  • I’m TIRED of school budget battles where programs for students and teachers are the ONLY things cut.
  • I’m TIRED of being encouraged to present material to my students that is developmentally inappropriate – for crying out loud – LET THEM BE KIDS!!
  • I’m TIRED of Response to Intervention – a process that has, in effect, withheld services from a student that I KNEW in October needed services – because we had to have DATA to prove what I KNEW about 6 weeks into the school year.
  • I’m TIRED of my years of experience and my Master’s Degree counting for NOTHING!
  • I’m TIRED of watching another district – this time Buffalo, NY – inviting TFA in while qualified and properly trained teachers sit waiting for the chance to TEACH!

UPDATED MAY 18

  • I sat at the Commencement Ceremonies of American University last Saturday and watched a young graduate with 2 degrees (in Political Science and Environmental Studies) win “The President’s Award” – the most prestigious award given at Commencement be applauded for “continuing a committment to public service” by signing up with TFA. I am tired of watching qualified EDUCATION MAJORS march across the stage wondering if they will get a chance to teach.
  • I am sick and tired of school district leaders who say “if one more teacher retires, we’ll be in really great shape financially.” WHAT THE HELL? Since there is no plan to replace the teacher, apparently financial concerns trump educational concerns.
  • Our district has a plan to move teachers into different classrooms. This wouldn’t be the end of the world, and I’m quite certain that it happens to lots of teachers every year, but in our little school – this is rare. This proposal – which was sort of dumped on us – is now up for debate and modification, but that means one more after school meeting where we will be asked to “leave our emotions at the door”. Sorry, but we aren’t robots – we have valid, developmentally appropriate concerns that have, so far, been brushed aside because they don’t fit with the “PLAN”.
  • As it always goes in our PreK – 12 school, I’m tired of the students in grades 7-12 being released from school on June 10, while the elementary kids come for full days until June 20. That, in itself, isn’t a horrible idea. However, we elementary teachers have the same amount of “work” to do – which could now include packing up our entire classroom to be moved while having students in those rooms all day. I’m tired of giving my time away for free – like somehow because I teach first grade, I don’t need time to complete grades and reports and folders and portfolios and pack without students in my room.
  • I’m tired of hearing that “PreK – 2” modules MIGHT be done by September, and being told that is what we’ll be using next year – and having no training (except training that I could volunteer to attend in August).

 

Why I MUST Occupy

I am going to Washington DC to join other activists at Occupy the DOE 2.0 because:

  • Try as I might, I cannot gain a lot of traction here in my little town. I talk and talk and talk, but for the most part, I feel like I’m talking to myself. Oh, my colleagues “get it”, but with declining enrollment, looming observations, and all the meetings and paperwork – they just don’t seem as fired up as I am about the current state of public education. I need to go to re-charge my activist batteries and return home energized to keep talking.
  • My students DESERVE better than the paced curriculum that NYSED is pushing on them. THEY do NOT need a teacher reading from a script, but a teacher who takes into account their individual differences and does her damnedest to make her classroom where each of them can progress at their own pace.
  • Our NATION deserves better. We cannot allow the likes of Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, Mike Bloomberg, Bill Gates and Andrew Cuomo to control the narrative about what “good teaching” and “good learning” are. We have to STOP the Race to the Top!
  • I will have the opportunity to be surrounded by like-minded people who are informed, passionate and looking to organize in a way that my Union doesn’t seem willing to do.
  • I have to show my own children the importance of standing up for those who need help – whether they are children in rural communities or urban areas, I have to be the voice of the voiceless. My own kids need to know that being a citizen means you look out for others, and you speak up when you see injustice.
  • It’s just the right thing to do…………I hope you join me.

http://unitedoptout.com/event/occupy-doe-2-0-the-battle-for-public-schools-read-all-details-here/

Evil Ways

This was originally recorded by Willie Bobo in 1965, and the song was written by Bobo’s guitarist Sonny Henry. Bobo was Latin Jazz percussionist who was a big influence on Santana and played on some of their tracks in the late ’70s.

My apologies to the songwriter,but this tune has been bouncing around in my head screaming to be updated to reflect Education Reform.

You’ve got to change your evil ways, Andy
Before your nose grows too long
You’ve got to change, Andy
And every word that I say is true
You got me runnin’ and racin’ all over school
You got me writing, and typing and running myself down
This can’t go on, Lord knows you got to change, Andy

When I get to school, Andy
My room is dark and my computers are down
You’re hangin’ round, Andy
With Bill and John and-a who knows who
I’m gettin’ tried of waitin’ and foolin’ around
I’ll find somebody who won’t make me feel like a clown
This can’t go on, Lord knows you got to change, Andy