Friday, September 27, 2013

Sent Home with No Job

I took a job at a school a LONG drive from where I live. I got there and they told me that there was already someone in the room to sub. The teacher had called her and she had accepted the job - only instead of accepting the job officially, she just listed herself as "unavailable", which meant that the sub caller COULDN'T call her - and I took the job instead. So when I got there, they sent me home. They do have some rules and I could have insisted on the job, since I had the job number. But when the teacher had asked for that specific sub and she was already there, I didn't feel like insisting.  They did offer to find me another job, but I am too picky to take any old job that they can't find anyone else to do. That part is my own fault. I have been stuck sorting mail, filling in for study halls and detention rooms, shelving books, and photocopying and I just don't care to do those things.  And, since I chose to leave, I did 45+ miles of driving for nothing - not even mileage. They have lots of other jobs available for today, but they aren't ones that I would normally take, so I am back home. Too bad for them. 

Subbing is the pits. Sometimes. Several people have suggested to me that I find a different job.  I have actually looked into doing so, but my computer skills are not current enough to get a decent job in IT.  I am overqualified for jobs I could be hired for and underqualified for jobs I would be interested in.  I actually enjoy subbing on good days.  I just wish there were more good days.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Teachers' Own Spelling and Grammar

Yes, it is a pet peeve of mine.  Teachers make a HUGE number of spelling, grammar, and usage errors, when they write (or word process) their notes to me, their sub.  But I have to admit that the funniest error was a teacher who spelled his own name wrong in large letters at the top of the note.  I know it was wrong, because he spelled in correctly several other places in his room and on his materials.  Names are usually spelled the same in all locations. 

I know I make a large number of typos.  And I usually don't see them until I hit send or publish.  And, I know teachers are often in a hurry when they write the sub notes.  So, I usually cringe and just go on, but it worries me a bit, when I can see that teachers really don't know the difference between "whose" and "who's", or "their" and "there", etc.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Re: Things We Should Stop Doing to High-Ability Students

Original article by Tamar Wyschogrod 

I have a couple of minor complaints about this article and some major comments. 

First of all, a minor complaint:  in the second paragraph, I think high-ability is equated with high-achieving. They are IMNSHO different things.  I don't object to the use of high-ability to equate to "gifted", but high-ability does not necessarily translate to high-achieving.  And high-achieving does not necessarily translate to high-ability.  That last statement needs to be explained a bit more.  While it does take a certain amount of ability in order to achieve highly, in most of the things required for school, a modest amount of ability combined with hard work and support from parents, teachers, or peers is sufficient to result in high-achievement, or at least noticeably above average achievement.

Secondly, crappy differentiation is crappy, because it is difficult, takes time, and is politically a hard sell with kids.  I have written quite a few times about the problems with touting differentiation as the solution for high-ability students.  Check the tag if you are interested, but basically, it simply isn't enough for HG+ students, teachers can't do it (conceptually difficult), and teachers don't do it (not enough time).  

I haven't ever addressed specifically the last point of the above paragraph's opening statement:  differentiation is politically a hard sell with kids.  There are a few kids, for whom getting something different is such a relief that they don't care how their classmates view it.  There are also a few kids who take getting something different to mean that they are somehow better than their classmates.  But, IME, a lot of the students react to getting something different with either embarrassment or reluctance.  They might be embarrassed because they are afraid that their classmates will take the view that they are "stuck up" or they might be embarrassed that they are singled out - "out"ed, as a smart kid, when they were just trying to "pass".  And, there are a lot of high-ability kids who look at differentiation as just more work for them to do (as the author points out).  Given a list of options for projects, they choose the easy ones, even though they aren't very challenging, because they are less work.  Not all high-ability kids WANT higher challenge work.  

Now for the rest of the article.

Group Projects.  Yes, in general, these are the bane of the high-ability students.  This comes largely from the teacher-training recommendations for group constitutions - one high-ability student, two average students, one low ability student.  High-ability student can sometimes cajole one average student into helping, but oftentimes ends up doing most of the work.  What does the low ability student learn?  That s/he is too dumb to help and it is best to just clown around so that the others don't notice.  One teacher inservice that I attended said that group projects aren't themselves the problem.  It is the make-up of the groups.  She recommended never including high-ability students with low-ability students.  Her recommendation: groups of four should have similar abilities, e.g., one or two high ability students and 2 or 3 moderate ability students.  That way, the lower ability groups can't get away with doing little or nothing, and the teacher might be able to adjust the project so that they, too, learn something (differentiation).  

Crappy Differentiation.  Already discussed.

Contests instead of Curriculum.  I like contests.  They can be interesting and motivating for gifted kids.  But I agree that they are no substitute for curriculum.  But just regular classroom differentiated curriculum isn't good enough.  It isn't challenging enough, it isn't (usually) at the correct level, and it isn't consistent enough.  High-ability kids need real and regular work.  It isn't fair to make the average kids work hard at learning and let the high-ability kids coast.  They don't learn good work habits.  They don't learn how to react to difficulties.  They don't learn how to learn.  That is why I am actually opposed to gifted advocates insisting on touting differentiation.  It isn't working.  High-ability kids need classes designed for their abilities.  The easiest way to do this is by structural changes - subject acceleration, whole grade acceleration, grouping across multiple classes, and possibly cluster-grouping.  I am still uncertain about cluster-grouping, because, as a sub,  I have yet to see it in action.  

Ignoring Their Achievements

This isn't a biggie with me.  I think schools are doing better at touting achievements of high-ability kids.  Yes, in some cases, it still feels like tokenism, but this is one area where I think schools have been reasonably responsive.  

Low Standards

It seems like, in many classrooms, there is a race to the bottom.  We don't want the low-ability kids to feel bad, so we teach lessons where all kids can achieve.  We don't require good spelling in science class, because there are kids who simply can't spell well (true, even for high-ability kids).  We don't check social studies tests for correct grammar, because it is a chore to even get them to write in complete sentences, let alone write a paragraph that is longer than two sentences.  We make tests so that everyone who learns the material can get an A.  (relevant discussion on LinkedIn Math Education).  And most importantly, we don't give teachers enough time to hold kids to higher standards.  You can't teach kids to write well, if, every time you ask them to write, you have to spend hours and hours of your own personal time - not planning time - grading those papers.  30 students X 3 minutes per paper ==> 1 1/2 hours of grading for one paper in one subject.  That is the ENTIRE planning time for 3 days.  

Thanks for some interesting food for thought to Tamar Wyschogrod.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Biggest Mistake

This is going to be a very personal post, so if you are only interested in general observations, this one isn't for you.

Many years ago, when I was 15, I spent the summer at the Foreign Language League program in Mayrhofen, Austria.  I loved learning a foreign language and I was good at it.  So, the following year, with the support of my parents, I applied for and was accepted as a foreign student with Youth for Understanding.  I spent my year, which was actually closer to 14 months, in Germany with a family of three girls and had a wonderful year.

My American parents were conservative Republicans.  They were supporters of the war in Vietnam.  They voted Republican in virtually every election.  My maternal grandparents were also religious and staunchly Republican.  I even got to see some of the Republican presidential candidates when they came to Iowa.  Politics isn't really my thing, but what I heard growing up was mainly Republican rhetoric and Methodist religion.

I have also enjoyed singing for most of my life.  I played violin in my high school orchestra and in the Des Moines All-City orchestra.  Like most teenagers, I also listened to popular music.  One of the popular songs at the time was The Ballad of the Green Beret - a very pro-soldier, pro-war song.  Imagine my surprise, when I found out that the song had been translated into German, but in German was a very anti-war song.

The family that I lived with wasn't wealthy.  The father was a baker and the mother worked in the bakery.  But, interestingly, they were much better informed about politics than I was.  They actually discussed politics and important news events among themselves.  Reading the newspaper and discussing its contents were regular parts of the day.  They weren't religious, although some of them were members of the church (you had to sign a formal document withdrawing from church, otherwise you were deemed a member of the church).

So, I discovered that interested and informed people could have completely different opinions about the world situation.  I discovered that good and moral people didn't have to attend church to maintain their righteousness. 

After I returned to the United States and went to college, I tried briefly to be religious again, but my politics had changed.  I was no longer a Republican and I protested the Vietnamese War.  And over the many intervening years, I have remained much, much more liberal than most of my family and I am now non-religious - close to being a secular humanist.

It was a big shock to me a couple of years ago that my mother told me that sending me to Germany was the biggest mistake she had made in raising me.  I was too young, too vulnerable, too easily swayed to the "other side".  I understand that she disagrees with my liberal positions and especially my support for the Democratic party, but I have long since been an adult and to think still that I have been brainwashed by my experience in Germany makes me feel as though I am being seen as a child - incapable of making my own decisions in a reasonable manner.

I feel that my year in Germany was one of the best years of my life.  It was a turning point in helping me understand other cultures and other people.  It was a turning point in understanding myself - or at least an important beginning.

I am very sorry she regrets that I had this wonderful experience.  It feels very much like rejection to me.  And it is too late to salve it over.  My mother is now 98 years old and suffering from dementia - but she wasn't when she made those hurtful statements. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Firearms for Teachers - No

JS posted the above link on Facebook.  These were my comments:  

I just can't see teachers being able to spend enough time in order to be competent at the use of firearms. They are under time stress already - too much to do and not enough time to do it in. It is already a major factor in burn-out. 
And, if we are training teachers, shouldn't we be training them to teach, not shoot?
And, once again, I am going to compare teachers to doctors.  Would you expect your doctor to have to carry a firearm in the hospital?  Would you want her to spend many hours of her work week keeping her shooting skills sharp?  Yes, there may be doctors who enjoy shooting practice and who already keep up their shooting skills, but, for the most part, we acknowledge that doctors are probably too busy for this to be a requirement of their work life.  

This is the SAME for teachers.  They are way too busy already.  It takes regular practice to retain skills at shooting.  Without the regular practice and training, skills deteriorate - ask any police officer.  And, as in the above article, even trained police officers don't have a high hit rate.  Doctors don't have the time to train like police officers; teachers don't either. 

Saturday, September 07, 2013


OK, I get it that teachers are no longer teaching cursive.  That curriculum has been pushed out with the emphasis on the language arts block and the math block, leaving little time for cursive writing.  It is even a struggle to include social studies and science.  But this rant is aimed at teaching PRINTING.  I have subbed for 3rd through 6th graders recently.  In each of these classes, the MAJORITY of the students didn't even print correctly on their papers.  There was a mixture of capital and small letters, with B's and P's being the biggest culprits, but many other letters capitalized at random.  One student even wrote half of her B's correctly, but the other half incorrectly.  When I asked her why she didn't write them correctly, she said she didn't think it was important.

Another boy, who did the same thing said that he usually types things on the computer.  Ah, ha!  A clue.  Has auto-correct gotten to be so good that students don't even notice when they are typing the wrong thing?  Of course, on the computer, it is easier not to type capital letters at all.  MS Word will even correct sentences to automatically capitalize the first word.  Some students don't even seem to know that the word "I" is always capitalized.  And, they seem unconcerned by all of their errors.

The assignment for the 5th graders was to write up a science experiment.  Specifically, they were to write a conclusion, with three requirements:  1) they had to restate their hypothesis, 2) they had to include their data, and 3) they had to use complete sentences.  They could also state whether their hypothesis was supported or not and whether their experiment seemed to be reliable.  Only about 5 of the students managed to write a conclusion what was acceptable their first time around.  Many of the write-ups were almost illegible.  To be fair, it would have helped if the worksheet had included lines on which to write the conclusion, and it is the beginning of the school year.  Still, I felt justified, even as a sub, in sending them back to improve their written conclusions.

There are still times when students will need to use printing, as far as I can tell.  I think teachers should hold students to printing the letters with correct capitalization - and spacing, which was another problem I haven't even touched on.  One word would run right into another word and it was hard to decipher which word was which, because, frequently, both were misspelled.  Even the word "hypothesis" was usually misspelled - and it was there for them to simply copy.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Common Core Pre-Test

I have thought of a different way of viewing Common Core tests this year.  This is our educational system's pre-test.  We are seeing where we are now and where we need to go.  If we view it this way, it could be valuable to not have been able to teach what is on the test.  We can see where we are already doing fine and where we need to go.

There are, of course, a number of caveats with this.  We have to learn as we go.  We have to be willing to change the standards, change the test, change the implementations of the standards, and change the uses to which the tests are put.  There is unlikely to be enough money and time to do this well.  (See my previous post.)