Saturday, October 08, 2011

Young AmeriTowne

I was subbing in a fifth grade yesterday and for social studies, they worked on a curriculum called Young AmeriTowne.  It is a curriculum written for 5th and 6th grade age students (10 through 12 year olds), that helps teachers teach about business, economics, and free enterprise.  I was only there for one lesson - the penultimate lesson before they take a field trip to the bank site, which has been set up to simulate a town, in which their "shops" are set up.

For the lesson I saw, the students in four 5th grade classes were sorted into various shops.  The shops in my room dealt with travel, containers, a market, and investments.  Students, who had applied to work in those shops had assigned roles, some of which they had applied for with job applications.  The project managers ran the meetings for their shops and the accountants prepared the financial information.  The students decided on such things as the shop name, the shop logo, advertisements for the radio, newspaper, and television.  They applied for a loan to start up their business when they get to AmeriTowne, and the accountant wrote out salary checks, so they would get paid when they get to the site. 

So much for the basic design of the project.  What impressed me most was what happened when the project managers took over the management of the projects.  As a substitute teacher, I knew less about what they were doing than they did, so I basically just wandered around the room, watching and listening to the progress of their meetings.  Most of the groups had fairly strong managers, but sometimes other students seemed to be very helpful to the management, too.  The accountants, who presumably had been chosen for their mathematical confidence, seemed comfortable in their roles, but occasionally they seemed stronger than the project managers.

The program says that it helps to teach leadership skills, and, if the day I was there is any indication, they are correct.  The project managers had a long list of objectives for the session and they seemed to figure out how to get their teams working on them.  There were enough jobs and things to do that each person could be involved.  There were a few passive students, who seemed uninvolved or disinterested, but in general, I was impressed with the interest and task-oriented behavior.  The groups varied in size from four students to six or seven.  The group with only four students was very focused and hard-working, but they were the last to finish, because there were fewer students to do the work.  The other groups were done sooner.

All in all, I was impressed with the program.  I have often thought that schools need to include more economics in their curricula, and this is a good start.  I have seen other methods of doing this, including classroom based shops or economies, but this is one of the better examples of economic curricula.  I liked the level of active involvement for every student.

I wonder a bit about the cost of the program.   Another teacher said that the program cost each student $25.  I am not sure how the money was raised.  This school was in a relatively wealthy area of the school district.  I wonder if the program could be implemented in the much less wealthy school I had been in the previous day.  That school was less than 5 miles away, but had an entirely different demographic.  I hope that isn't part of the lesson:  the richer kids get to learn about economics; the poorer kids can't afford it.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Differentiation - It Isn't Enough for HG+ Kids

Yes, I know differentiation is the acceptable mantra for educators these days.  I know I am supposed to tout the virtues of differentiating for every kid in the classroom.  I know that, if potential principals see this, I will not be considered for full time jobs.  But, I also know that, as a sub, I see very little of it.

For anyone who actually reads this, but who doesn't know my background, I will briefly say that I have taught in four states: Massachusetts (private schools), Illinois (public and private schools), Alaska (public and charter schools), and Colorado (public and charter schools).  I have taught, either full time or subbing, in at least a dozen school districts, dozens of schools, and hundreds of different classrooms.  I have gone through extensive training on differentiation and gifted, differentiation and special education, and differentiation in general. 

I have seen very little differentiation in action.  Some teachers will differentiate spelling lists.  Some teachers will have different levels of book groups.  Some teachers will pair up with other teachers and group the students for math classes.  But, if we are talking about meeting the needs of kids outside of the middle of the bell curve, there is very little for those outlier kids.  It can be done - I have seen 3 or 4 teachers who could do it.  I laud them.  But, in general, it isn't happening.

And, I think it is time that educators who are interested in meeting the needs of HG+ gifted students admit that differentiation, as it is practiced (or not practiced) just isn't enough.  It isn't consistent enough, it isn't broad-based enough, and it isn't at the correct level.  The further the gifted student is from the class average, the less appropriate any differentiated accommodations are.

Differentiation is a great thing to train teachers to do.  It is effective to have the things that I mentioned above: leveled math, book groups, leveled spelling, different expectations for writing, etc.  It just isn't enough to meet the needs of the highly, exceptionally, and profoundly gifted students.  And I think it is time to stop pretending that regular classroom teachers can teach all students.

We know that inclusion has worked for a lot of kids with learning disabilities, but we also know that their special teachers, special classes, and supporting aides still have their jobs.  In fact, there are loads of jobs advertised for special education aides.  We know that differentiation isn't enough for these kids.  The simple fact is that they need more support than this.  Why don't we acknowledge the same for the highly, exceptionally, and profoundly gifted students.  The regular classroom teachers just can't meet their needs.

Again:  The regular classroom teachers just can't meet the needs of the highly, exceptionally, and profoundly gifted students. This was true before the great school budget problems; it is even more true now, with class sizes creeping up to ever higher numbers.  It is unfair to classroom teachers to continually demand more and more of them.  They already have more responsibilities and less time than they need in order to be maximally effective.

This rant is targeted mainly at elementary schools, but also somewhat at middle schools / junior highs.  By the time the kids get to high school, we mostly stop pretending that a single teacher can teach all levels of ability in a single class.  AP Calc AB is not differentiated and no one expects that AP Calc teacher to prepare lessons for students who might want to take the class, but who haven't yet mastered algebra.  Nor is the algebra teacher expected to teach calculus to the one kid in the class who is ready for AP Calc AB.  It just doesn't make sense.

For those of us who are interested in the HG+ kids, I think it is time to stop saying that differentiation can solve all of their educational needs.  It isn't happening.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gifted - Percentage or Absolute?

When children are identified as gifted, the method of making such a determination sometimes uses a percentage of a given population, e.g., the 95th percentile of the children who take this test or the upper 8% of the students in this district on a specific measure.  Sometimes, what is used is a standardized and normed intelligence test, such as the WISC IV or the Stanford-Binet 5.  I have been pondering this lately and I have some thoughts about this.

Many people feel that giftedness brings with it special personality and emotional characteristics that are less prevalent in the general population, specifically, intensity and emotional sensitivity.  If this is the case, then the percentage measures might need to be adjusted.  Take, for example, a university or high tech community.  There might be a larger percentage of gifted children in the schools in those communities, since favorable genetics and a favorable family/societal support system might both contribute to higher realization of intelligence potential.  This might mean that, if the school uses the IQ test cut off, a larger percentage of children might be identified as gifted than would normally be expected.  Instead of the usual 5 to 8 %, I have heard of percentages even as high as 25 % of the local population.  The question is, should all of these children be identified?  Should all of them be served?  If the emotional and personality characteristics are taken into consideration, then I would argue that, if we think that those are valid criteria for identifying gifted people, then all of those students need to be identified and served.

But I have also heard it argued that only the upper 5 to 8 % of the students in any given population need to be identified, because the needs of those below that cutoff can be taken care of in the general classrooms.  From this perspective, the level of learning in the classroom is typically aimed at the average ability level of the students in the class.  If the population of students is above average, then the learning activities in the classroom will be target above the average of the standard curriculum. 

Lately, I have been more convinced of the social and emotional differences of, especially, highly gifted children (and adults, for that matter).  I think, regardless of percentages, all highly gifted people need differentiated support systems.  Perhaps the academic needs can be based on percentages, but all students in the highly gifted group need to be offered counseling and mentoring appropriate to their intelligence level and not necessarily their prevalence in the population.

Cancelled Jobs and Job Shopping

I hate cancelled jobs.  I accepted a half-day job for this afternoon and conscientiously set my other two school districts to unavailable - and then the job was cancelled.  This time, I also turned down an additional morning job, because the two jobs were only 15 minutes apart and, since this was to be a new school for me, I wasn't sure I would be able to drive between the two schools and get there in time.  So now, there is nothing for today.  Sigh.

One thing that is new to me this year is that the jobs are also available online.  That means you can check the web sites for each school district repeatedly and find jobs that may be available.  That is an advantage, if you want to spend hours on the computer, pressing the search button every few seconds - every 15 seconds, in the case of one school district.  But it also means that it is harder to get a called out job, since there are probably a number of people just sitting at their computers pressing the search buttons.  It is very boring.

I am getting to the point, where I wish I didn't want to teach.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Subbing - Pay and Conditions

I have been thinking a lot about how much substitute teachers get paid and how little respect they get for the work they do.  I wrote on Facebook that I think it is a bit of an insult that subs only get a fraction of what regular teachers get. If a sub worked every single school day at $100 per day, his/her total salary would be $18,000, with no benefits, no guarantee of work.  While it is true that subs don't usually have to do lesson plans or give grades or talk to parents, they do have to be prepared for different curricula, different schools, different kids, the constant challenge of change and uncertainty.  I am lucky I don't have to depend on it for all of my income. 
I am proud of the work I do. It is hard - in some ways that are similar to the difficulties for regular teachers and in some ways unique to the job of substitute teacher.
In response to my comments, Shaun Hately said that subs in his part of Australia typically make the same salary as a beginning teacher, around $33,000, which is a LOT better than the $11,000 to $12,000, which I about what I earned in the last two years. And, of course, in the US, health care is made available through employment, and subs are technically self-employed. They don't get any health insurance, unless they buy it as an individual (which is VERY expensive) or get it through a spouse.

Sure, subs could work during the summer at a different job, but summer jobs are also increasingly hard to come by - and also rarely provide health insurance. It is demeaning to work so hard and still not be able to take care of oneself.
Subs have to deal with a number of issues that regular teachers do not.  See the first paragraph of this post and the previous post for sources of stress for subs (discipline, procedures, work parameters, and curriculum content).  Both subs and regular teachers have to deal with disciplinary issues.  Big differences, though, are that regular teachers are there to teacher correct behaviors in a consistent manner.  That is, after all, what discipline should be about.  Subs, on the other hand, have much less long term influence.  They can use the school's administration, the threat of reporting to the regular teacher, and standard discipline techniques.  But there is often uncertainty about how effective these might be.  I was once subbing in a classroom, where a student took apart a small manual pencil sharpener.  This can be done relatively easily, with something strong enough to be used like a screwdriver.  The student then used the razor blade that was in the device to cut things.  Because I was afraid that he might begin to use it to cut other students, I removed it from his desk when the students went out to recess and took it to the principal.  She seemed relatively unconcerned.  I was not.  I still think this had the potential of being really bad.  On the other hand, when the same student, a few weeks later filled a drink bottle with water, paint, and glue, and I again took it away from him and told her, she seemed much more worried.  Apparently she was more worried that the student planned to deface the school than she was worried that the student might deface other students.   
My cousin, who is also a sub, mentioned that the advantage that subs have is that they don't have to go to meetings and they don't have any worries.  This is only partly true.  This past week, I subbed all week for a math teacher, who was presumably sick.  When I accepted the job for the first day, it was described as "basic math" at the high school.  Since I am good at math, I was confident that I could teach that.  But, when I got there, I found out that the teacher had taught basic math last year.  This year, he was teaching two geometry classes, and 3 calculus classes.  And, there weren't any standard lesson plans.  There were assignment sheets for the AP Calc AB and BC classes, but there were no assignment sheets or lesson plans for the geometry classes.  Because I was worried about no lesson plans and not being able to keep up with the calculus classes, I DID worry.  And I worried more and more, as 1 day turned to 3, then 4, then 8 days.  I tried to do some calculus at home to refresh my memory, but I was simply too exhausted from the teaching day to do much. Therefore I'd say, it is a mixed bag on the worries front.  1 day, usually is fine, but when one day stretches into 8, it becomes a bigger concern.  And you don't know when that will be the case.  
In this case, I felt confident about one day and OK with 3 days.  I think it is much better for the students and for subs, if the sub who first takes a job stays for any additional days.  It is hard for a sub to follow another sub, which I have done a couple of times.  The degree of uncertainty about discipline, procedures, and lesson content all increase when a second sub takes over for the first one.   
And, the longer a subbing job goes on, the more the additional worries become similar to those of regular teachers.  Some of the standard subbing worries do decline, too, as the sub becomes familiar with the students, the procedures, the work conditions, and discipline in that situation.
I do find subbing fascinating, but, make no mistake, it is hard work - different in some respects from the work that regular teachers do, similar in other respects.  I just wish that some respect for the job would rub off on the subs.

And Again

Monday night I got called to sub for the rest of the week - four more days.  It is now Saturday and I made it through the week.  From what I heard, he will be back on Monday, so I am hoping I am done.  Eight days in all.  It really wasn't that bad, but it wore me out.  First of all, I have had a year off without having to work and, even though it was frustrating in many ways, it wasn't exhausting.  Subbing full time is exhausting.  The exhaustion stems from several sources:  discipline, procedures, work parameters, and content.

Discipline:  this is always a challenge for subs.  With younger kids, they are often upset that their teacher mom is gone and purposely act up a bit, so that the substitute won't stay and replace their teacher mom.  With older kids, it is the chance to gain popularity points by being a clown or annoying the sub in any of many "subtle" ways.  One class I was in this year, a high school math class, while the class was quietly working on the assignment, every so often, a boy would say clearly, "Penis".  I think the game is to see how long they can keep it up, before the sub tells them to stop.  Sigh.  Another high school class:  the kids were using patty paper to explore translation, rotation, and reflection.  One boy took a tape roll and taped paper to his face.  The question is always, how much to try to ignore and how much to intervene in.  With the classes this week, relatively older students, I chose to ignore some of the childish behavior, but eventually had to intervene in some of the most egregious instances.  Luckily, so far this year, I have taught essentially good kids, who are just being silly, immature, whatever, because they can.  Unlike some of the schools I have been in, they aren't threatening or dangerous - just obnoxious.

Procedures are also a source of stress.  How does this school organize the day?  Is there a dress code - for students and/or staff?  How do you get copies made if you need them?  Where do you park, so you aren't ticketed?  How is attendance done?  What are the hall rules?  What about students leaving the classroom for the bathroom, their lockers, a drink of water?  How often is homework handed in?  Where is it put?  And dozens of other questions.  This past few days, one procedural source of stress was the fact that subs in this building are not issued keys for the day.  The faculty restrooms are supposed to be locked, so there isn't a locking mechanism on the inside of the door.  But, since I didn't have a key, I couldn't lock the door - meaning anyone could open it.  Not having a key also meant I couldn't get into the room with the teachers' desks, their supplies and the microwave and the room where the other teachers ate lunch.  It also meant that I couldn't get into the computer lab for the lesson I was supposed to teach there.  There are work arounds to all of these problems, but they take more time and energy than just using a key would take and they make the sub feel helpless and like a second class citizen. 

Work parameters:  these are similar to procedures, but more specific to the teaching part of the job.  Are there lesson plans?  Are the materials for the lessons available?  What happens if the lesson plans are absent? take too long? don't take long enough?  What if the teacher doesn't specify what to do about homework?  Is grading homework part of the lesson or left for the teacher?  What can you do if the students don't understand the lesson at all?  What if you discover that the teacher has taught a previous concept incorrectly?  This has happened to me at least twice.  The lesson I remember best was about scientific notation.  The teacher had taught that scientific notation used the significant figures and one decimal, then powers of ten for the rest of the notation, e.g. 1234.5 X 10^8, which is incorrect.  It should be 1.2345 X 10^11.

This last example overlaps with another source of stress for subs: content.  What if the content is unfamiliar?  There isn't a lot of time to prepare for teaching a lesson.  What do you do when you know you aren't quite prepared enough?  What if you are called to teach Chinese, because there is no one else willing to take that class? And you don't know any Chinese?

In the end, I did OK.  I wish I had been more confident with the calculus, but maybe it is OK to let them know that this is hard stuff and you don't always get it right the first time.  And, on the last days, I did have a bit of fun.  I had brought in my Escher stuff for the geometry classes to look at and two of the students in one of the classes were very interested in it.  So I let them take two of the models of Kaleidocycles and assemble them.  They had a good time doing them and the other students were impressed, so, on the last day, I showed the geometry classes how to make tri-hexaflexagons.  Some of the calculus students wanted to do them, too.  I love it when something really ignites their interest.

I also like the Geometer's Sketchpad lesson I developed.  It wasn't any great shakes as far as content or process, but I was proud of the fact that I developed it rather quickly and did so in spite of only having briefly used the software on one of the previous days.  And, it was a valid thing to do at that point in their studies.

I hope the regular teacher is satisfied with the work I did for him.  I guess I shouldn't worry about the geometry, at least, since he didn't tell me what to do.  I did stuff that was helpful and consistent with what they should have been learning at that point.  He may be less satisfied with the calculus.  But I did what I could.  So that is what he gets.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Math Again

Then, I was called to come back for two more days.  The second day, also a "block" day, was calculus - AP Calc AB (2 classes) and AP Calc BC (1 class) - and this was described as "basic math" - haha.
There were no explicit lesson plans, but I did find fairly complete assignment sheets for the calc classes.  Thursday I was supposed to give a quiz to the calc classes and then go over some basic techniques of finding derivatives.  Since I had been running around trying to find lesson plans, finding the quiz, and then copying the quiz, (each of these required walking back and forth through a very large building), I was late to the first hour class, which was freshman seminar.  And it was in a different room from what it said on his class schedule computer printout.  Fortunately, it was co-taught by another staff member, and she saw how frazzled I was, so she took the class and let me go back to the classroom.

I spent the next few minutes trying to make sure I could do the assignment after they finished the quiz.  When the first calc class came in, I took attendance and gave them the quiz - a two page quiz about applying the forward differentiation formula, the backward differentiation formula, and the symmetric differentiation formula.  While they were working, I was desperately trying to figure out the lesson.  He uses a book they don't have for proofs and their own book for the assignments, so I was a bit confused.  And I didn't notice for quite a while that the students were completely flummoxed by the quiz.  They could graph the functions using their calculators, but they had no idea how to use the formulas - which they did have in their notes, but which they could not make any sense of.  Since I had assumed that the quiz would cover things they had just done, I hadn't looked at the quiz and couldn't really help them.  One girl did seem to know what to do - and she volunteered to explain it, but by then, they were completely unable to listen to explanations.  So, I collected the quizzes and told them that I would figure out what to do about that later.  For now, we would just go on with the lesson.  They were not happy, but it was the best I could figure out.

The next class was the BC class and they seemed to understand the quiz much better (same quiz).  Once they were working and a few had finished and turned it in, I could look at the quiz and figure out what it was that they were supposed to do.  It really wasn't that terrible - they just needed some help getting started.  The lesson for the BC students was similar to the lesson for the AB students, so I could do that part, too.

Finally, the third calc class, another AB class, came in.  I put the formulas on the board; gave them some hints about how to use them, and let them work.  This class went MUCH better.  They still weren't very sure of themselves and many got the answers completely wrong, but they had a better handle on how to attack the problems, at least.  And I had done the lesson twice by then, so it went fairly smoothly.

The assignment sheets had a description of what he planned to cover in class and what their assignment would be.  That isn't exactly a lesson plan, but a lesson plan probably wouldn't have anything different.  So it was fine.  The problem was me.  It has been a very long time since I have done any calculus and it takes me longer to do the proofs and problems than I would have hoped.  The BC kids were pretty much OK with just a short intro and then just letting them work.  But the AB kids needed more help.  I don't think they understand the proofs at all.  In fact, I think the proofs just make them more confused.  It is almost as though they need to do a few problems to see if they can follow the formulas, and then, once they understand the formula, maybe the proof would make more sense.  Backwards, I know.  It would be interesting to see if this way would work better, though.

Friday was a so-called regular day - with all 7 class periods.  For first period, I apologized for not understanding that the quiz would be so confusing for them.  I then gave them the same type of help I had given the last class the previous day and let them re-do the quiz.  This went much better.  I then gave them a shortened version of the lesson for the day.  Not a great lesson, but it was the best I could do and it seemed to be enough.

The rest of the calc classes went pretty much according to the outline in the assignment sheets.  So they were fine.  But there still wasn't a plan for the geometry classes, so I just did the next lesson after the one we had done on Wednesday.  It was on translations, rotations, and reflections, and that is a fun lesson to teach, so all in all it was an OK day.

Then, on Saturday, I got called to sub again on Monday.  Since it isn't a good idea for students to have different subs, one right after another and since this job was a bit more challenging that most, due to the lack of explicit plans, I took the job.  And, I went back today.  It was another "regular" day, with all 7 periods, so I had all 5 classes.  By now, the calc classes, especially BC are getting a bit tired of me.  They have done a lot of the material before - this is mostly review - and I am not doing it especially well, compared to their regular teacher - and they can tell.  The AB calc students are still learning the material and those classes went OK.

With the geometry classes, though, I just did some more work with translation, rotation, and reflection.  The 2nd hour class was really pretty good, but the 6th hour class was goofy.  There were 3 guys in the class who were acting more like 6th graders than high school students.  That part was frustrating.

So, all in all, I survived 4 days of "basic math" (not!) and it wasn't terrible.  I hope he is well for tomorrow, though.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Lost and Found

OK, so yesterday, I was in the library of the high school for a half day.  They told me I could put my purse in a cupboard in the work room, which I did.  I put my driving glasses on top of my purse.  But, when I got to my car at the end of the day, I had forgotten to get the glasses.  So, I returned to the library and checked the cupboard.  No glasses.  I looked around a bit more, as I was SURE I had the glasses when I got to the school.  Still, no glasses.  So I went home, resgined to the fact that I probably need to get my eyes checked again anyway and might need new glasses.  
But, then I got a sub call to go back to the same school the next day.  And it was math.  I generally like teaching math, even though this said "Basic Math".  Well, at least it would be easy (haha - see post below).  And, I could check again for my glasses.  Meanwhile, I checked the car seats, front, back, and under.  And lo, and behold, I found....
THE U-HAUL KEY that I had lost a full year ago, when we were moving from Alaska to Colorado.  The key that had caused me so much grief - from everyone teasing me about how I could possibly lose a key on a giant key chain, when we hadn't even gone anywhere yet.  I laughed about that most of the way to the school.
Then, while I was waiting for the secretary to check for sub plans, I went back to the library to check once more for the glasses.  Yay!  I found them on the floor, under the counter where the purse was stored.  $300 saved.  (although I probably still need to get my eyes checked)
But, at the end of the day, I left my emergency sub notebook in the teacher's room.  Sigh.  Found: 2; Lost: 1.
So, when I got a call this evening to return for the same teacher tomorrow and Friday, I took the job.  I am not particularly happy about no sub plans, but maybe I can get my notebook back.  
Is this a sign of old age???

Subbing - High School Math

I had one job recently that was designated as "Advanced Math". It turns out that the teacher actually taught algebra 1, algebra 1 advanced, and algebra 2. OK, so today I took a job that was described as "Basic Math". Guess what this teacher teaches: Geometry and AP Calc AB and AP Calc BC. BASIC????

And the "best" part was that there were NO LESSON PLANS and little help from the other teachers, including the department head. Fortunately, it was a "block" day, with only the geometry classes.

So, the above are taken from my Facebook status postings.  Here are the rest of the details:  the sub message said that the job started at 7:30.  Since I am never sure if the time they give me is the time I am supposed to be there or the time the kids actually show up in class, I got there early:  around 7:00 am.  I checked in at the office and she gave me the map of the school, the bell schedule, the attendance lists, and his class schedule.  Unfortunately, this school doesn't give out keys, but the custodian unlocked the room very promptly.  But I couldn't find the sub plans.  I asked the teacher across the way and she checked her email: no sub plans.  I checked with another teacher, she said to check in the office (a LONG walk from the room).  So I did.  No sub plans there, either.  But, never fear, the whole math department was having a meeting in a room right next to mine and they would take care of it.  Only none of them had the plans either.  So they called the teacher.  He said that one of the assistant principals had the plans.  Only it turns out, he said a different assistant principal had them.  Only he didn't have them either.  Finally after an hour and a half, still no sub plans had been located - and the students started arriving.  

In between waiting for people to check with this and that person for the plans, I had tried to figure out where the students might be in their book.  Last week's assignments were on the board, so I tried extrapolating from that to where they would probably be.  I found a page that had a math game and a couple of puzzles, so maybe that would suffice.  Fortunately, there were two aides in the first class.  While the man went to look around to see if he could figure out what the assignment might be, I taught the students Sprouts (the game in the book).  The kids said that they were supposed to finish an assignment in the computer lab, but I had no key to the computer lab.  Across the hall to find someone who might have a key; down the hall to the department chair - she had a key.  Into the computer lab: Geometer's Sketchpad.  I have seen it before, but haven't used it.  Kids have, so they get busy: inscribing and circumscribing circles and triangles.  Fortunately, they seemed to know what they were doing.  Then when they finished, we went back to the classroom to work on the assignment the aide had found (where, I have no idea - no sub plans were ever found, that I know of).  But the rest of the hour went fine.  I could do this assignment.  Yay.

The next hour, was his planning period, so I went back to the computer lab to see if I could do their assignment by myself.  I could do most of it - so that was good.  Then kids started coming in when I thought it was lunch time.  Turns out, they had a different lunch schedule from what I expected (I have no idea why I expected it, because no one had told me which lunch schedule he had.).  At any rate, it was another geometry class, so I just did the same thing we did in the first class: Sprouts, computer lab, assignment.  

All in all, it really wasn't such a bad day.  But, I accidentally left my games notebook in the classroom.  And, they called me to come back for Thursday and Friday.  I would have said no, except, I think it is important to have kids have as few subs as possible, and I need to get my notebook, and, if there are no sub plans tomorrow and Friday, I at least am familiar with some of the routines and can possibly figure stuff out.  

Enough excitement for one day.  Now the funny part.  See next blog entry. 

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Not Young, Gifted, Bored, but Young, Gifted, Lazy

I was reading about a book with the title of Young, Gifted, and Bored by David George.  As I typically do (and I suspect a lot of people do, when they see a book with such a title), I thought of myself, in relation to the title.  When I was young, would I have described myself as Young, Gifted, and Bored?  I was certainly young and gifted, but I am not sure that the description "bored" would have fit me as well.

As background, I have to explain that I attended a two room school for elementary school.  Upstairs was Mrs. Jones, Elsie Jones, to be precise, with the Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders.  I don't remember much of her class, except that a couple of us were allowed to work in a small art room on the north side of the classroom, that had an even smaller walk-in art closet on the east side.  I remember eating paste.  So maybe, I was bored.  But my mother tells me that Mrs. Jones had me read to kids when she needed to keep me busy.

I do remember the downstairs class better.  Mrs. Morse, Marie Morse, if I remember correctly, taught the 3rd and 4th graders.  Our 3rd grade class consisted of 9 girls and 1 boy.  The next class up had 9 boys and 1 girl.  There wasn't such a concept of differentiation at the time, but I think my teachers did what they could.  They realized that I was very smart, but there weren't many outside resources available to help me much.

Personality-wise, I was a very agreeable child.  The third of four children in my family, I was often the peacemaker.  I felt uncomfortable when there was conflict around, so I did my young-self best to avoid conflict.  What I learned was not boredom, but rather self-doubt.  Everyone else seemed fine, so I should be fine, too.  I also learned to be lazy.  Why should I work hard at something, since it came relatively easy to me?  I was one of those seemingly all-around gifted children, who could pretty much do anything that I tried.  There were a few things I wasn't particularly interested in - I couldn't see the reason behind throwing a ball back and forth and calling it playing catch, for instance, but, in general, I did what I was told, especially at school.  It never occurred to me that I was learning to be lazy. 

My fifth grade year was spent in a different school with a fabulous teacher.  I can't remember learning to work hard there either, but the class was so interesting, it didn't much matter.  It was my sixth grade year that was the problem.  This was long before the concept of middle schools, but the number of children had exceeded the capacity of the local elementary school, so the 6th graders were sent off to the junior high school.  By then, I had learned that everything was pretty easy and I didn't have to work very hard to learn anything in school, but I also didn't have as fascinating teachers.  And, then, indeed, boredom did set in. 

My point in all of this history, though, is that, yes, boredom was eventually a problem.  But an even bigger problem, for me at least, was that I had already learned two important things:  I was good at most things that I tried without working very hard at them and that working hard at something (which other kids had to do) meant that you weren't very good at it. 

For me, it took until college, before I found out that you were really supposed to learn how to work hard at something, so that you could master it.  I discovered that I wasn't very good at memorization, but I had no tools to help myself learn how to cope with the necessity to memorize a lot of information.  I had learned that I was good at most things without really working hard, so if these now were things that I had to work hard to learn, then I must not be as smart as I was always led to believe I was.  I floundered, especially in classes that really did require hard work.

Since then, I have had several university courses and jobs where I had to work incredibly hard to do well.  I can work hard and I have mastered some of the strategies of learning, when the work is difficult.  But I wish I had had to work hard much earlier in my life.  I think it would have made me more confident in myself.  And I think it would have prevented some of the effects of Impostor Syndrome:  I must really not be as smart as I thought, since I actually have to work hard to get this. 

Why do I think it would have served me better to learn, while still young, that hard work at something doesn't mean that you are bad at it?  I look especially to my daughters.  The older one is a gymnast.  Through her gymnastics, she learned a LOT about challenging yourself, about goal setting, about trying difficult things and eventually mastering them.  She is much more able than I to work through difficulties without giving up.  Both kids were in academic settings where they, in spite of being exceptionally gifted, had to work at learning.  The younger one was a swimmer, and participated in quite a few sports.  I think the fact that they were in an exceptionally difficult high school helped them learn what I didn't learn until college:  skills to use when learning is difficult.  And, the personal attitude that, if things are difficult, that doesn't mean that you have finally reached too far for your abilities; it just means that you have to put in some additional effort. 

The Colorado Department of Education, Again

And now, I have found out that my application for endorsement in computer information science will be or has been returned to me.  The reason: Other.  I don't yet know for sure what the reason is, but I think it is probably because there was one last form to fill out - a form that was supposed to be filled out by me, vouching that I have all of the relevant skills, and then co-signed by my school administrator.  The problem is, that I don't have a school administrator, since I don't have a regular job.  As a substitute teacher, I don't have anyone who can vouch for me.  I may have a master's degree in computer science, and recent coursework, and past experience, but I don't have a current administrator.

And, now I understand the Department of Education's strategy.  They are trying to reduce their workload by making it a) extremely onerous to even file for an endorsement and b) put so many obstacles in the way of endorsements that most people just give up and decide to do something else.

And I am just about at the point where I want to give up.  I have subbed for 4 days this school year, 3 for one teacher and 1 for another.  Maybe I will just stick with subbing.  There are advantages to subbing:  I can still attend my World Affairs Discussion Group at the local branch library, which I have greatly enjoyed.  And I don't work myself into a frenzy, as I have done with past full time jobs.  There are disadvantages:  I don't actually get to know kids very well and my influence on them is minimal.  But the biggest advantage is that I won't have to deal with the Colorado Department of Education any more.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Colorado Department of Education

So, the long sad saga of certification in Colorado continues.  A year and a half ago, when I knew we were going to move to Colorado, I started the certification process to teach in Colorado.  Since I had taught in Colorado in the 1970s (yes, I am that old - sigh), I submitted an application in March of 2010 for renewal of a lapsed license.  It is not easy to fill out an application for a teaching license in Colorado.  It is a long and complicated form.  The renewal for a lapsed license was, at least, a bit shorter.

A couple of months later, I received notification that I had filed the wrong application.  They couldn't find any record of my having been certified in Colorado.  I repeated the information that had been submitted on the application and they told me, they would have to look up the information on microfiche, since it was too old to be available in their current system.  Later, again, they said that they had found the information, but that I had had a provisional license at the time and, in order to make it current, I would have to take a class on Working with Retarded Children (or some similar title).  Since courses designed to teach teachers to work with special needs populations are no longer titled like that and since I didn't want to take more coursework, I asked if there was an alternative, given that I was also certified to teach in Alaska and Illinois.  They said I could file an out of state application, instead of the renewal one.  Which meant starting the application process all over again, except for the fingerprinting.  This time, I had to have every place I had worked verify that I did, indeed work there.  And, I had to submit official transcripts of all college work I had completed.  Given that I have taken classes at at least 10 different institutions, beginning in the 1970s, much of my education and experience took place quite a few years ago, it is a rather long and complicated process to get all this done.  Finally, the application was complete and submitted.

Meanwhile, I decided, as a backup to file an application to substitute teach, thinking that that would be faster and would at least let me work in the fall of 2010.  I also filed an application for the regular teaching license.  Both of those were filed in September.

But, the Colorado Department of Education is so backed up that the subbing license, which was indeed a bit faster, was only issued the second week in December.  This was AFTER most of the school districts in the area stopped accepting new substitutes for the school year.  Thus, I missed out on subbing for the whole year.  At my age, that is no minor thing, as I am nearing the age when some people retire.  Then, finally, toward the end of December, the Colorado license arrived.  Only it included only half of my endorsements.  In Alaska, I had been certified K-8 Elementary Education AND 5-12 Information Technology.  In Colorado, they had only given me the endorsement for K-8 Elementary Education, without asking which one I preferred.

I suppose it could have been worse.  If they had asked, I would have gotten the Elementary Education certification first, but I was not impressed that they didn't ask.  From May to December, it had taken 7 months to get my certification done.  But at least now, I could start applying for jobs.  Only, of course, then there was this big recession thingie.  And no one was hiring.  And, if they were hiring, they wanted endorsements in something other that what my certificate said. 

Since I have more college courses than anyone in their right mind would ever want, I decided that I would have a better chance of getting a job with more endorsements, specifically those in the STEM fields, since those seemed to be in higher demand than elementary education.  So, in March, I filled out the application for additional endorsements.  This, again, is a much more complicated process than it needs to be.  Since I wasn't sure which endorsements would be most useful, I filed for all of the endorsements for which I thought I would qualify (mathematics, chemistry, biology, computer information technology, and gifted education).  I figured if they were looking at all of those transcripts, it would be much easier for them to just do them all in one fell swoop.

Wrong.  I just got an email, telling me that I can only ask for one endorsement at a time.  This makes no sense to me.  I can see that they might want me to pay for each endorsement, but why do they need a NEW application.  Why can't they just charge me the $80 for each endorsement that I qualify for and want to add.  But I guess that makes too much sense and might help too much to get rid of their giant backlog of certification requests.

So, now I have to decide which endorsement I want.  Math seems to be in the highest demand, but I have the shakiest qualifications for that.  I have the hours, but just barely and since some of the courses have unusual titles, I am not sure if they will count.  I can be pretty sure of getting an endorsement in Computer Technology, since I have a Master's degree in computer science, but my degree was from quite a while ago and most people hiring in that area want to see more recent coursework - and I only have one recent relevant course.  I have more than enough hours and expertise in chemistry, but I am not really that interested in teaching at the high school level.  The endorsement I really want, for personal reasons, would be the one in gifted education.  But there are very, very few jobs in that area.

There are other complicating factors, which are too boring to detail, but the bottom line is that now it will take even longer to get the certification and endorsement stuff finalized.  In the meantime, at least I can sub.  Unfortunately, there are so many people subbing now, that actually getting subbing jobs is also problematic.

Maybe I should just work at McDonalds. 

Three Days in High School - The Staff

Whenever people ask me what I do, I, with a distinctly apologetic voice say, I am just a sub, a substitute teacher.  People who have never done this kind of work frequently react to that statement with sympathy - perhaps even caused by my own apologetic voice.  Being "just a sub", makes me feel lesser.  I know how hard it is - to go to different classes, with different students, different rules, different co-workers, different lesson plans, different equipment, etc.  I should be proud of the work I do and I am.

But sometimes I feel like I am invisible.  Sitting with a group of teachers eating lunch, and no one talks to you.  Asking a question and getting the shortest possible answer that isn't rude.  Contributing to a discussion and getting no response.  Other teachers aren't rude, but it is one of the hazards of being a sub, especially a new sub in a new district.  Teachers are too busy with their own thoughts and concerns and the subs are rather like place-holders.

Interestingly, the administration and the custodians have been, IME, consistently nice.  They talk to me, they smile at me, they act like they are glad I am there.  And, once I get to know a school or a specific department, the teachers start to treat me like I am a real person.  I just wish that they would do so a bit sooner.

Three Days in High School - Behavior

I was in a high school in one of the best places to live in the USA.  So the behavior of the students must be taken in that context.  In general, the behavior was, to my relief, pretty good.  I just have a few quibbles.  The problem with allowing iPods and calculators while the students are working is that iPods frequently lead to sharing of the ear buds, and trading ear buds, so a friend can hear this great new song, and playing the music loud enough so that even people without ear buds can hear it.  Then there is the problem with calculators.  Calculators in math class can be very appropriate.  But then, there are the kids who didn't bring their calculator, who want to use their phones instead (which they NEVER forget to bring).  And once the iPods and phones are out, then come the game apps.

I will admit that I didn't stop them.  The teacher had written in his plans that iPods were allowed and that working together was allowed.  And with a 98 or 99 minute class with not enough to do to cover the class time, it was probably good that they had something to amuse them while they sat through the final 30 minutes of class.

But it reminds me again why I do not like block classes.  I suppose if I taught art or science, I would love them.  Finally, enough time to get materials out and do an experiment or get substantial work done on an art project, AND to clean up afterwards.  But for math and foreign language, I don't like them.  98 minutes is too long for one lecture and practice session; and most math teachers don't have lesson plans that split the time into different activities.  For foreign language, I can envision things that would fill up the time in a valid activity - working on skits in small groups, for example.  Maybe in math class, they should plan similar activities - make a poster illustrating today's math idea; watch a math video about the concept.

The last day, I brought with me some math puzzles, and a few kids really enjoyed them.  Perhaps if I were a regular teacher and not a sub, I could develop that part of the lesson more.  It was impressed upon us in sub training, that we were to follow the lesson plans given, even if we thought they were terrible.  But I think beefing up my own bag of tricks for what-to-do-when-the-lesson-plan-has-been-accomplished-and-there-is-still-30-minutes-left would help.

Three Days in High School - Dress Code

OK, so I am getting up in years, but I really have nothing against the human body.  It doesn't bother me to see statues of nudes or paintings thereof, of either gender.  And I am a swimmer, so I regularly see women scantily clad in swim suits and naked in the showers.  And, furthermore, I acknowledge that it was hot in the classroom.  With 34, 28, 34, 37, or 33 students in there at a time, and located on the south side of the building, with air conditioning that doesn't work (and clocks that don't work), how could it be anything BUT hot.  BUT, I must admit that some of the things the high school girls wore, or more precisely, didn't wear, make me uncomfortable.  There was a cut-out t-shirt, with huge arm holes and a low neckline, showing virtually ALL of the denim-colored bra underneath.  There were several off-one-shoulder shirts, again with huge arm and neck holes, where you could tell exactly what type of bra the young woman was wearing and exactly how well endowed she was.  Strapless bras, with off-the-shoulder cover ups; multiple different colored bra straps.  VERY tight fitting or low cut t-shirts, that, again, left nothing to the imagination.  And the shorts, barely covering the bottom.  No to-the-arm-tips length requirement.  I think there might have been a no-midrift-showing requirement, as that was the only thing that seemed to be well covered.

Boys (young men) notice - how could they not.  The "dress code" says only, from what I was told by another teacher, that the dress should not be distracting.  Well, I think it is distracting.

Boys for their part seem to make their statements with hats.  In spite of the heat, there were, of course, the ubiquitous baseball hats, but also winter caps, including one that you would expect on a ski slope and one fit for Alaska with ear flaps and a strap that goes under the chin. 

Yes, I think acceptance has gone too far.  This attire is acceptable at the beach, at the mall, at home, on the sports field; it is not fine IMO in school, in church/synagogue/mosque/kiva, in a business work environment.  There is a distinction.  I think we need to help children make it.

I am sounding SOOOO old.

Monday, August 15, 2011

New Blog

I have split my blog into two blogs.  This one will deal with everything EXCEPT the book annotations I write on Goodreads and other comments specific to books I am reading, want to read, or have read.  It also includes annotations of audiobooks.  I know there are only a small handful of people who even look at these, but I find it interesting for now, so I will continue.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


At my age, I should be feeling accomplished, sure of myself, comfortable in my own skin.  Am I the only one for whom this sureness is so elusive?

Friday, August 05, 2011

Second Follow-up to International Conference on Gifted Adults

I have been pondering the talk on the stages of life of gifted adults.  I have the notes somewhere, but I am not going to look them up right now, because what I want to talk about is the problem of getting stuck in a stage.

Background:  When my husband and I were first married, he was in grad school, working on a Ph. D.  I got a job as a secretary for a brokerage firm, and later as an assistant teacher in a private school.  We put off having children until he could finish his Ph. D. and we would have a bit more established home.  After he finished grad school, we moved to the mid-West, and we both started our careers.  We had been married for about 5 years, when we decided we would start a family.  But it was much more difficult than the horror stories of unplanned pregnancies back in high school would have had us believe.  I won't detail all of the problems and heartbreak of infertility, but the relevant thing is that we were in the stage of our lives where we wanted to have children and we were unable to do so.  Life went on, but I felt like I was stuck in the stage of trying to establish a family and I couldn't progress further in my life, until this issue had been resolved.  It was such an important stage of life for me, that I simply couldn't move on with any other aspect of my life, until I had reached closure with this stage.  Eventually, after 7 1/2 years, we did get pregnant and we eventually had two daughters.

But the key thing I want to emphasize here is that my progress as a person was stymied by the years of infertility.  It effected every aspect of my life at that time.  And, now, I feel caught in another one of these stage of life traps.

Fast forward many years, our daughters are now grown and living on their own.  We moved to Alaska for my husband's work.  I, after spending some years as a teacher, a grad student, a computer programmer, a grad student (again), a computer support person, and a teacher (again), looked for a teaching job in Alaska.  Jobs were hard to get, but I subbed.  I even got a full time job for a semester, but had to resign with health issues.  The move to Alaska was to be for only one to six years, and, after six years, we moved, this time to Colorado.  Due to certification problems in moving states and the bad economy, once again, jobs are hard to get.  I am much older now, but again, I feel trapped in a stage of life BEFORE where I "should" be.  I should be settled in my work, feeling very accomplished and fulfilled.  Instead, due to changing jobs (and even careers) so often and moving, I am stuck in the stage where I am trying to establish myself and my personal effectiveness. 

And, now I am wondering what happens when a person gets stuck in a stage of life that really doesn't fit the actual age and maturity level of the person.  It is a different kind of asynchrony.  I don't think my experience is unique to gifted adults, just as the life stages mentioned at the conference are probably not completely unique to gifted adults, but I wonder if getting stuck in an asynchronous life stage is a different experience for a gifted adult.  Does it lead to more acute emotional sensitivity, more feelings of loss of self-worth, more depression?  I don't know, but I do know it gives me a stronger sense of what it must feel like to be an asynchronous child.  In a sense, a child's asynchrony goes in the opposite direction - they are "stuck" with interests and abilities AHEAD of their chronological years; I felt/feel stuck in stages BEHIND my chronological years.

Both are painful.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Demoralization of Unemployment

I moved to Colorado in September of last year.  I began the process of getting certified to teach in Colorado in March of 2010, as soon as I knew for sure that we were moving.  I finally obtained all the materials I needed for the complicated application process and submitted my application in May of 2010.  Even though I submitted the application well in advance of the school year, the process of certification in Colorado is so slow that it was only in December that I finally received my teaching certificate - and then it was only for one of the areas that I had been previously certified to teach in Alaska.  So, I had to begin again the lengthy process to get additional endorsements added to my certificate.

Meanwhile, the deadline had passed for most of the school districts in the local area to hire substitute teachers for the year.  Thus, I have been unemployed for over a year now.  At my age, this is simply no longer trivial.  I am 61 and people doing the hiring don't want someone this old.  They don't want someone with as much education as I have (too expensive) and all of my experience, unfortunately always seems to be in the wrong areas.

I am finally hired to sub in at least two local school districts, so I will be working some (I hope) in the fall.  But meanwhile, I have learned what being unemployed does to someone's self esteem.  In spite of a number of significant accomplishments over the years, in spite of really good recommendations from people I have worked with and for, in spite of knowing that I am smart and capable, it feels pretty terrible to be looking for jobs and not getting any.  Fortunately, my husband has good jobs and plenty of work, so I am not hurting financially.  It is only my ego that is suffering.

Friends of mine who are near my age have retired and I guess I could to.  But I WANT to work.  I feel like I still have a lot to offer, if only someone would let me offer it.

All this is a long way of saying that I am getting closer to imagining how difficult it is for someone whose family really NEEDS the income from a wage-earner, but who cannot get a job.  It is discouraging to apply for job after job after job and get little or no response.  People tell me that they have 100 applicants for this job or 300 applicants for that job.  But each time you apply and get nothing back, it is another blow to your self esteem.  How can you even get it together to tout your accomplishments if you do get that precious job interview?  After so many months of discouragements, I can hardly even remember the significant things I have done.

I will be OK, but I feel bad for many people who really won't be.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Subbing for Beginning Teachers

A number of years ago, I made the comment to a principal I was talking to that I thought that all new teachers should be required to sub for a couple of years, before they were given a full time teaching position.  There are quite a few reasons why this is a good idea.  First of all, it gives the new teacher a chance to get more experience.  The big advantage of this is that the teacher is typically encouraged to broaden his/her experience, in that jobs in the narrow range of expertise that s/he developed during student teaching are limited in number.  If s/he opts to sub in a broader range of areas, this can be advantageous in a number of ways:  s/he gets to see a broader view of the curriculum - both what might come before the age range s/he is most comfortable with and what comes after.  This gives added depth to his/her understanding of how the curriculum at his/her chosen grade level fits in with the overall curriculum.  S/he gets to know a broader range of students and their typical behaviors and needs.

Another significant advantage is that the teacher gets to see a broader range of schools and even, in some cases, different school districts.  I subbed several times at a Montessori school that had students in grades pre-K through 8th grade.  I had never had direct experience with Montessori schools before and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this particular school.  Not all schools, even in the same school district, are run the same.  It helps to know what the teacher feels most comfortable with.

It is also interesting for the teacher to see different teaching styles - even within the same school.  Fundamental things like room organization, the arrangement and availability of supplies, and daily time scheduling are quite different from classroom to classroom. 

All of this experience can lead to more confidence for the beginning teacher once s/he has his/her own classroom.

The key drawback is that you can't live on sub pay.  Typically, subs get paid around $100 per day.  Given that the school year is (at most) 180 days, the maximum amount a sub would earn is $18,000.  Given that there are teacher inservice days, parent-teacher conference days, and other non-working days, the typical income is usually much less than this.  And, there are no benefits - no health insurance, no sick leave, no vacation leave.  This means the new teacher has to have some other way of being covered, especially in terms of health insurance.

I have just applied to sub in three different school districts near where I live.  I have no idea yet whether that is too few or too many.  But I do know that a LOT of the new subs at the substitute training sessions are new teachers.  Jobs are scarce this year and many of them are signing up to sub, hoping to be hired on as regular teachers eventually.  Meanwhile, they will get some good experience, even if they are grossly underpaid.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Follow-Up to Re-Framing Gifted Education

I suppose I should also add that we did, in the end, let some students who were borderline ready, but had good grades take the class.  They usually had to work very hard to keep up, but usually managed to do so.  We also put a few kids in the class, who were not good workers, but who were mathematically ready.  Most of them did just fine.  They still weren't good workers, but they kept up with the class. 

But the most interesting student, for me, was one who was more than mathematically capable, but who couldn't be bothered with homework.  He struggled a bit, because, in algebra, you really do need to work the problems in order to understand them.  But he also became fascinated with a piece of software we had called Green Globs and Graphing Equations.  The algebra class was held in the computer lab, since I was also the computer teacher, so we had easy access to the computers.  I used several computer programs, but Green Globs was the one that fascinated him.  The idea was that the computer would put several green globs on an x-y coordinate system and you had to write equations that would hit as many globs as you could with the fewest equations.  Your point score was higher the more globs you hit with a single equation.  As far as the class went, we mostly did linear equations, but I showed him some more types, parabolas, sines, etc.  The equations could be adjusted with parameters and once I showed him how to do that, he was hooked.  He loved tinkering with the parameters on the equations.  And I enjoyed watching him, the kid who in the past wouldn't have been in the class.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Re-Framing Gifted Education

I have been thinking about this idea for a long time and I am still trying to work out whether and how it might make a difference.  It began, I think, when I was teaching algebra to gifted 8th graders in a tiny public school in Illinois.  Before I was hired, a few students each year were identified by the 7th grade math teacher as being ready for algebra.  She based her assessment on their mathematical understanding and their grades in math class.  Grades in math class were heavily dependent on doing homework as well as doing well on tests.  I was interested in finding out if there were a more objective way of deciding who was ready for 8th grade algebra and found that there was an algebra readiness test - a fairly short test that would indicate which students had the mathematical understanding necessary for success in algebra.  I guess already I was thinking that grades don't always indicate whether a student has the appropriate mathematical understanding and readiness.  Perhaps it was from personal experience.  I have not always been the hardest worker, partly because I usually didn't need to be.  I got good grades up until college without having to work much.

At any rate, I did begin giving the tests to students who the math teacher thought were possible candidates for the class, including a few "lazy" ones, who seemed to understand the math she taught, but who were less than diligent in doing their homework.  And, as might be expected, the students exhibited quite a range.  Some were clearly ready, had good mathematical understanding, good grades, and good work habits.  Some were clearly not ready.  Either with or without good grades, their mathematical understanding wasn't good enough for taking algebra what was then "a year early".  Then there were those in the middle: two groups (no clear dividing lines, though).  There were some who were mathematically ready, but whose grades were less than stellar; there were some whose grades were solid, but whose mathematical understanding was shakier.  What to do with them?

I argued for including the kids who were mathematically ready, whether they had good grades or not - and this is where my thinking about the issue really took off.  The math teacher argued for letting those borderline students choose whether or not to participate in the algebra class.  With the kids who were hard workers, but only borderline ready for algebra, I could see letting them try.  But why should we let the kids who were mathematically ready for algebra take the easy way out and stay in 8th grade math? 

In general, we often allow gifted students to choose whether or not to participate in gifted programs (in the lucky instance that such are actually available).  But even in the regular classroom, activities that are differentiated for gifted students (again, if they are lucky) are often presented as options.  A tic-tac-toe of activities for a given unit, where students can choose which activities they want to complete in order to fulfill the requirements.  Gifted students are rarely required to do the harder options.

But why not?  When we send a student off to the special education teacher, that student is not given the option of not participating.  That student is not given the option of not working.  The student is, on the contrary, urged to work as hard as s/he can.  In the regular classroom, average students are not allowed to choose not to do the assignments, just because they require them to work hard.  Why do we let the gifted students choose not to work hard?

Working hard is a life skill.  Struggling, failing, persevering, and finally succeeding are the keys to achievement, especially once you get beyond secondary school.  Why do we let the students with the highest potential fail to learn these skills?

What would it be like if we re-frame gifted education to assert that ALL students need to learn to work hard?  They need to learn to struggle with difficult material; they need to learn to persevere in the face of setbacks and failure; they need to get the satisfaction that comes from working hard at something and finally succeeding.  This is a fairness issue.  It isn't fair to require that most kids learn these skills and not require that gifted kids learn them.  It isn't fair to let the smart kids goof off and make the rest of the kids work hard. 

So when the teacher tells you your gifted child is doing great without really seeming to work very hard, you can say: oh, really, I would like to see you require my child to work harder.  Is there a way we can make his/her work more complex, in more depth?  And the teacher can say to the parents who wonder why your student is getting harder work, we wanted to make sure that all students in the classroom are working hard.  Do you think your child is working hard enough?  Would you like for your child to get harder work in some subjects?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax

Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex DifferencesWhy Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences by Leonard Sax

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that, when I am finished reading, I wish I had read more carefully.  While I agree in part with the author's premise - that boys and girls brains and physiology are in fact different and it would behoove us to take note of the consequences of those differences, rather than deny or subvert them - there is a lingering uneasiness that perhaps the author is a bit too biased in his analysis.  Separate was not equal in terms of racial differences; I am worried that separate will not be equal in terms of gender differences (or religious differences, or socio-economic differences, or gender orientation differences, or ...) 

Another thing that worries me is the chapter on teen sex.  I am really alarmed that there isn't more support for girls to just say no to the degrading practice of "hooking up" and other aspects of teen sex that are exploitative of girls' natures.  What are girls getting out of "hooking up" and how do we empower them to fight back against this?

There are several things I would like to see explored in more detail:  what exactly are the differences in teaching boys and girls?  The brief examples he gives are simply not definitive enough for me.  In one of the ending chapters, he very briefly mentions that girls used to be concerned with their character, but nowadays their self-esteem (in coed schools) is largely based on how they look.  Coed schools are so prevalent in the US, and I am convinced that this will not change soon, given the current economic problems and the impending drastic cuts in education, how can we deal with education and socio-emotional issues?

I have ordered his next two books from the library.  Maybe I will find out more from them.

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Not About Religion

There is a small part of me that thinks that what this country needs is more progressive women in politics and that I have the time now in my life to get more involved.  But there are two things I lack that seem to be required: a lot of money and a religion.  I can see the following dialog:

Reporter:  I can see from your Facebook account that you state as your religion "none".  I take it from that that you are not a Christian.

Me: I feel that my religious views should not be part of this campaign.  Do you have other questions for me?

Reporter:  Are you a Muslim or a Jew or an Atheist?

Me: I feel that my religious views should not be part of this campaign.  Do you have other questions for me?

Reporter:  Do you support prayer in the schools?

Me:  People can pray whenever and wherever they want, as long as it doesn't involve innocent bystanders.  It can be a completely private activity.  Do you have other questions for me?

And so on.

And the money thing is a problem, too.  My husband has a job, but I don't.  You can't get elected to anything these days without money.  Sigh.

Guess I will remain an unknown.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Public Health Care Option

OK, so maybe this isn't the most important part of the debate, but I am thinking about it now, anyway, so I am going to write about it.

Perhaps one of the reasons businesses are wary of the public health care option is not only because it messes with the insurance industry and the medical industry, but also because it changes the playing field for businesses in general.

Imagine what will happen when your health care is no longer tied to your job.  You can quit your job and go elsewhere and you still have the same health care that you had before.  You don't have to stay with a lousy job, just because you are afraid that you won't be covered somewhere else.  You don't have to take a job, just because it includes health care to cover you and your family.

For businesses, the benefits package doesn't need to include health care.  Maybe the benefits package will look quite a bit different.  Businesses could view that as a positive, but the prospect of losing workers might offset that plus.

The Birthday Concert, Part II

Laura, Alyssa, Marjorie at M's 96th Birthday Concert

Laura, Kathryn, and Marjorie at M's 96th Birthday Concert

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Birthday Concert

My mother turned 96 on April 6th.  Several months ago, I had the idea that I wanted to give a concert for my mother, with songs that she likes.  She is religious, which I am not, but I knew that she would appreciate having me sing the songs for her.

I have sung in choirs since I was young and sang in church choir.  I have sung in the University Choruses at both the University of Illinois and the University of Alaska, and, most recently, I have been singing with the Boulder Chorale.  I have also sung in the Fairbanks Summer (and Winter) Arts Festival - singing in the Women's Chorus, the Beginning Singing Workshop, and, most boldly of all, trying my courage with singing in the Cabaret.  I had even taken a few private singing lessons.  But, I had never had regular singing lessons until this past fall.  I am not sure why I started regular lessons, perhaps for something to do after I moved here, but I have enjoyed them.  My voice is lower than my mother's - I am an alto (technically a mezzo-soprano, I think), but I have also sung tenor.

At any rate, I invited my older sister, who plays piano, to take part in the concert.  She would need to accompany me and then play a few pieces on her own.  And, my younger daughter, who is just starting to play guitar, was also encouraged to come and sing.

Since we live quite far apart (with Kathryn in Connecticut, Alyssa in Washington, D.C., my mother in Alabama, and me in Colorado), it wasn't possible to practice together, but we all practiced pretty hard and long by ourselves.  And my mother decided she wanted to sing one song, too.

The concert was scheduled for some time around the 2nd week in April, since that is when Kathryn had spring break.  She and I flew into Nashville and drove down to Huntsville; Alyssa flew into HSV.  Kathryn and I practiced that evening on our brother's piano, but that was the only time we could practice together.  Sunday morning was the only chance Kathryn had to practice on the piano we had to use for the concert, but as she was practicing, one of the residents there complained about the noise, so she felt like she had to stop.

Kathryn had made programs for the concert, which, to my surprise, included two songs I hadn't been practicing (The Old Rugged Cross and How Great Thou Art) and left out two I had (Ave Maria by Schubert and the Camp Fire Prayer).  Since we didn't have piano music for the Camp Fire Prayer, we left that out, but we added in the Ave Maria, since I had been working pretty hard on that one. 

The concert was open to the residents, but we had purposely not advertised it much, as none of us is a professional musician and only I had performed in public much.  There were about 10 people who came, which was perfect - enough to make it seem like a real concert, but not too many to make us all extra nervous.  And all went well, including Alyssa's songs on the guitar, Kathryn's solo pieces on the piano, Kathryn's and my joint pieces, and Mom's song.  Mom even got an encore.

I recorded the concert on my computer, but I haven't figured out how to separate the songs yet.  I am hoping to make a CD for Mom to listen to now that the concert is over.

And now, the post concert let down.  The songs still run through your head incessantly, but the goal has already been reached, so it is time to look toward a new goal.  What should I work on now - songs for Cabaret at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival again - or something entirely different?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Introvert's Theme Song

I wrote a song last summer for the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. It still needs a lot of work, but here is the text:

I wander alone through my mind
All by myself, I'm just fine
It takes a long, long time to circle 'round,
Past all of those stray thoughts, I've found.

Dishes, kids,
The meaning of life,
Groceries, the bank,
The world and its strife,
Big and small, I touch on all,
The flotsam of my life.


My cats need feeding,
I need a new job,
My prescriptions are running out,
Straighten the house, don't be a slob,
Courage, persistence, instead of doubt.


Watch the news; call my mom,
Global warming, which country to bomb,
Solar, wind, or oil for fuel,
Pick up a package,
Drive to the pool.


I have music for the song, but I can't seem to attach it to this. 

International Conference on Gifted Adults, Part II

This is going to sound like another downer, but it really isn't. I am, by nature, an optimist. I tend to take most things with equanimity and make the best of them.

But... (and, face it, you knew that was coming) there are times when pain takes precedence over optimism. What I think was missing at the conference was significant acknowledgement of pain, and practical steps to deal with it.

Yes, pain was mentioned, briefly for each stage of adult development. I brought it up myself when we were discussing Annemarie Roeper's message to us. My mother is 96. She is increasingly deaf and frail, which is an insult to what she perceives of her former self. Her most significant pain is that she doesn't have anyone to talk to. Annemarie alluded to this problem as well. And, as I said in the conference, my mother refers to her assisted living facility as "jail". I know they try and my mother isn't always the easiest resident to deal with (perhaps an understatement of gigantic proportions). But we need to look for practical ways we can help the elderly gifted deal with their pain.

Two other brief allusions to pain were also mentioned: the difficulty of finding a life partner and the pain of losing people in a relationship, either through divorce or death. I happen to know two young people in the 20 to 35 age range, who are not only gifted, one highly gifted, and who are also either gay or lesbian. Imagine how that complicates finding a partner. Which part of you do you hide?

And what about the pain of losing someone in a relationship? I have been married for nearly 40 years, so I don't know that particular pain, but it certainly isn't a cake walk. What are some tools of self defense that we need to make it through that experience?

Or the pain of losing or quitting a job? Which I do know quite well.

I am not spiritual - sorry, Patti - so it takes me longer to find the kernel of that message that can help me. And I believe my pain right now COULD actually be addressed in that dimension. But some of the other ways of coping would also be of interest.

Yes, I know that this was the FIRST International Conference on Gifted Adults. The most significant intellectual piece for me was the delineation of the different stages of adult giftedness. And, I know that many of us tend to be optimists, at least outwardly. But being in the throes of a difficult transition right now, I am particularly sensitive to the pain side and need to take a closer look there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

International Conference on Gifted Adults

I suppose I shouldn't write about this at all, because it was actually a fabulous conference. But I spent most of the day there crying. And it wasn't because I suddenly realized that I was gifted and that all of my strange idiosyncrasies could be attributed to that. No, I have known for a long time that I was gifted. Ever since I was tested while I was in elementary school and later when I went to full time gifted classes.

No, the reason I was crying is mostly because, in spite of it all, or perhaps because of it all, I feel like such a failure. Here, I was supposed to be in the self-actualizing stage or maybe one of the other stages that made each life stage seem like a new adventure. And I feel stuck back in trying to figure out who I am and what I want to do with my life. I have been a secretary, a teacher, a grad student, a computer scientist, a teacher (again), a biology researcher, a teacher (again), a grad student (again), a computer support scientist, a biochemist, and finally a teacher again. And maybe not in all that order. But I haven't lived up to any of the expectations I had of myself when I was young. I don't feel successful in any of my careers.

And, now I am unemployed, overeducated, old. I feel like I have a lot to contribute, but no one seems to want my contributions. I even had to work HARD to give away my children's book collection - 1112 books, that I finally managed to find a home for.

Unemployment and job seeking is painful. Each new rejection says you aren't wanted. And, though I can understand the reasons - my skills aren't exactly what they need and they have a huge number of people to choose from - rejection still hurts. Every time.

And this is the stage of my life when I am supposed to have figured it all out and feel that I am fulfilling my true self.

I certainly hope this isn't my true destiny. I don't like spending most of the day crying.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Montessori Schools with the Upper Grades

I have never taught for more than a week in a Montessori school - that is my disclaimer. I have subbed in a Montessori charter school for a total of about 3 weeks. Since I am mainly interested in the older elementary students, my experience with Montessori has only been with the students who would have been classified as being in 5th and 6th grades and in 7th and 8th grades.

I went into the Montessori school for the first time with curiosity, but wariness. I had looked into enrolling my own children in a different Montessori school many years before this experience and had decided against it. That Montessori school would NOT allow children to do imaginative play and my daughters were especially enamored of imaginative play at the time. I am not sure how many times my older daughter pretended to lose her shoe, as Cinderella did, and gleefully shouted, "Oh, I almost forgot!" as she pretended to hear the clock chime midnight. [Or the permutation of that event, where instead of losing her shoe, she lost her towel after her bath...her ball gown gone.] I just couldn't imagine barring her from imaginative play. So we pursued other alternatives. But my impression of Montessori schools from that school search and from my readings when I was pursuing my education degrees led me to believe that the Montessori method could be rather restrictive - proscribing some types of creativity and prescribing fixed interactions with materials.

But still, I was curious, so I accepted a subbing job at the school. I was impressed with several things, even as the school began. There were two classrooms next to each other with full time teachers and nearly full teacher aides. The classrooms were arranged with a meeting area, usually a couch and several comfortable chairs, a window seat bench, carpeting, and enough space for the 24 students in the class. Outside of the meeting area were various sized wooden tables, some of which could accommodate only two students, some designed for 4, and some that were pushed together for a larger sized table that up to even 12 students could sit at. The walls were lined with books and materials. Coats and boots were left in the hall. Pencils and markers were common property, as were paper, tissues, and other supplies. Each student had two large three-ring binders. One seemed to be for current work and the other kept as a portfolio.

The day there began with a message to the students on the white board easel, a math problem, and a list of things for the students to start working on - typically beginning with making a list of things that they planned to accomplish for the day. The teacher discussed the day's plan for each student and signed each one as the day began. Students conversed a bit and then gradually started on their work.

The typical pattern of the day was to work all morning, with an interruption some time during the morning for a math class, clean up and meet to discuss things just before lunch. Recess and then lunch, followed by either an additional work time or a group activity time. This meant large blocks of time where the student could choose what to work on, with various constraints.

One of the things that still rather discomfits me is the word "choice" as it was used in that school. In the classrooms that I was in, the curriculum was broken into 3 week blocks, where certain activities in each of the disciplines were to be accomplished. The different activities that were required to be done were called "choices", presumably because the student could choose which one to do on which day and at which time, but, in essence, most of them were not really choices, as I think about them. The task was prescribed, e.g., read this and figure out a solution to the problem presented or learn these vocabulary words. Sometimes there were optional ways to demonstrate the accomplishment of a task, but usually, there was very limited amount of what I would call choice, i.e., a student could NOT choose to not do a particular task that s/he didn't like.

So, what do I think? I liked it much better than I expected to. The environment was respectful of both students' and teachers' needs. There was a snack area, where students could get a mid-morning snack whenever they wanted (only 2 people in the snack area at a time). There was a chart by the door to indicate when students had left the room for work, the rest room, or a physical activity (also one of the prescribed list of activities on the list). The aide from one classroom or the other would accompany the students to the gym or outside, depending on the physical activity on the list and how many students wanted to do the activity at the time. The classroom was busy and productive.

The negatives - I saw little differentiation of the activities, with the exception of math. And two students seemed to be floundering a bit. I suppose it is actually good that I only saw two students really floundering, but it is interesting to me to ponder why they were floundering. One student who seemed to have difficulty seemed to be both lazy and unsure of himself. He always worked with a friend and usually the friend was doing the lion's share of the work. If there was a way to accomplish the task with minimal effort and minimal quality, that was the way he did it. He avoided anything that was difficult or required significant effort. He was way behind in finishing most of his work. When the regular teacher and I discussed him, it was clear that this was a recurrent pattern. He wasn't unable, just unwilling.

Another student had difficulty for entirely different reasons: many of the tasks were simply too complex or too difficult for her. She required a lot more support in just about everything than any of the other students. This, even though it was done tactfully, seemed to set her apart.

And there were still conflicts between and among the students. Although the behavior in the classroom was, in general, excellent, there was still some emotional bullying, necessitating some teacher intervention.

The teachers in the school made some tough choices. One was to do without "specials" teachers for music, PE, and library, which are standard in the rest of the school district, in favor of aides for each classroom.

I would be interested in trying this out for a longer time. I would like to see if it actually does facilitate accommodating students at their own levels, and would thus be a model for inclusive gifted education or even inclusion of special ed students. From what I could see, there were only very mild learning difficulties with the one student. There were two very advanced math students in one of the classrooms, so I do know that mathematical prowess was accommodated. I could not see evidence of any other advanced provisions, but I freely admit that this might have been less visible with reading/writing, and to some extent social studies and science.

An aside: with no formal music classes, that subject may have been considered short changed, but the upper grades did put on a musical every year and at least one student, who was an outstanding singer, chose to attend this school and was extremely supportive of it, even though he had to go outside of school to get his music instruction.