Saturday, September 30, 2006

Dr. Suit

Disclaimer: Dr. Suit is a fictional character. No real person working for the school system would ever be this insensitive to a lowly classroom teacher.

Dr. Suit comes to the teacher's cafeteria every day. He surrounds himself with a gaggle of women, some of whom hang onto his every word. Dr. Suit loves seeing himself in this position. He sees himself as an individual superior to everyone around him. This semester, Dr. Suit has a Junior Suit following him around. Last week, Dr. and Junior came to the cafeteria and low and behold there was a teacher sitting in his seat! He thought nothing of asking this teacher to move. Even when this teacher explained that the cafeteria was the only place in the crowded building to work, Dr. Suit tried to get the teacher to move, suggesting the library and moving to a different table. This teacher held firm. The table in question was occupied by the teacher first and there was no way the teacher was going to move three stacks of books and papers to accomodate Dr. Suit's lunch request. Now, I am sure Dr. Suit and Junior Suit went back to their office and wrote some diagnosis for teacher, labeling teacher as some sort of psycho, but, who cares. The Suits are really the sick ones. Teacher held the table and got the work done. Now if teacher had the same resources as Dr Suit, an office with a telephone, a desk, and a secretary, teacher would not need to work in a smelly, noisy cafeteria and people in suits could have as much space as they wanted for lunch.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Program Changes

Today is September 28 and I just got a new student put in my M&C class. She had been sitting in an M#1 class until today. Poor kid. This weak math student has now missed three weeks of the semester and is far behind. We are just about finished with factoring and she hasn't even started learning the process. The sad thing is she and I are the only ones that care. I'm sure our principal doesn't. After all, he and the AP's all got performance bonuses last year.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Today I watched an African American girl wait for a Chinese girl and a Hispanic boy to walk to class. I watched a Muslim girl tutor a Jewish girl in math. I got an e-mail from two former students,one a WASP and the other Hispanic--they were sitting in the college library doing calculus problems together, trying to remember what they learned in my class last year. A Korean boy tutored an Irish boy. I listened to a girl proudly discuss her gay uncle and his partner. I realized just how great the kids in the school I teach in are. They look at each other and see indiviudals just like them. They don't see race, nationality, religion or sexual preference. Too bad we haven't figured out a way to carry these values into adulthood. These kids could finally bring peace to the world.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Annualization of Classes

My school came up with a brilliant idea last year--annualizing all the students programs. This would make it much easier to program students for the spring term. What the powers that be did not take into account is that many kids pass the first term of Math A, afterall, they have been doing order of operations, signed numbers, and equation solving since elementary school. They run into major problems in the second half of the term, where the work is much more difficult. These students then fail and because of the annualization, must repeat the entire year from the beginning. They have lost an entire year. They are put in a class where they know most of the work because the hard stuff doesn't start until the spring. Often they become discipline problems or cut class. Even if they want to learn, many times they are in classes that the strongest teacher has trouble controlling. These kids are destined to fail. We need to go back to letting the students repeat the one course they fail. I used to think annualization might work in an English or history class where each topic taught is discrete and what you are learning doesn't necessarily depend on what came before. I only complained about annualization because I felt that the kids that knew nothing by January had no chance of succeeding in June. Math topics are not independant of one another. I wonder if a kid would have to repeat whole year in these subjects too? If that is the case, we must scrub this program.

This topic is especially important to me because I am teaching M&C this term. It is the third term of a four term sequence (ending in the Math A regents.) I have three students in my class that I know passed the first term and failed the second. They should go back and retake the class from the beginning, but I don't want to do this to them. I made the decison (with the help of a non math AP) to let them stay. If they pass, they will be given credit for the class they failed. I'm worried because if they fail, they will be another year behind and their graduation will be endangered. I hope I made the correct decision.

Monday, September 18, 2006


A school offers 2 classes with 100 students in each and 10 classes with 10 students in each. The average number of students per class is found by following: (100 + 100 + 100)/12 = 25 students per class, not bad. Or, is the average found this way: (100 + 100 + 10)/3 = 70 per class. I wonder which method Mayor Mike would use. As an educator, I know which method is better. As Mark Twain said, "There are lies, damn lies and then there are statistics."

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Shoes Before Socks?

Last September I taught an extremely bright ninth grade algebra class. They knew most of the basics, such as order of operations, signed numbers and equation solving so I concentrated on giving them plenty of enrichment, while still teaching the basics to the few kids that needed the review. I remember coming to the lesson on solving literal equations, such as ax + b = c (solve for x). I was shocked when I saw the majority of the class didn't know anything about only combining like terms and tried to add all the variables together. It was only when I took a real close look at the curriculum that I realized the lesson on combining monomials (like terms) came in the following semester. These poor kids were learning the math completely out of sequence. For anyone not knowing much about math a good analogy would be putting on your shoes and then putting on your socks.

If the powers that be are really serious about improving the quality of math eduation in this country then they must revert to the old algebra, geometry and trigonometry that was taught before 1980. Only a good foundation in the basics will insure success!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Horse Shoe

The powers that be have decided that students will learn much better if the chairs in a room are arranged in a horse shoe rather than traditional rows. I'm a semi- traditionalist. I like my students to be able to see the blackboard. I like to be able to walk around the room and see what they are doing, as they are doing it. I like it when there is a little bit of space between them so that if someone had onions for lunch, their breathe will not offend their surrounding classmates. I don't mind if the kids don't sit in rows. I let them pull up a chair wherever they are comfortable. If that means I have 8 kids sitting across the front so be it. If the aisles are a fire hazard we just won't call the fire department.

I did try a horse shoe arrangement once. I happened to be sharing a room with a new English teacher and since she was new, decided to go along with the principal and use the horse shoe. I didn't want to make it hard for her by rearranging chairs. My class that period was pretty small and well behaved so I figured, what could be bad? I learned the answer to this question very quickly. First, students that usually did not talk in class, became quite talkative. Second, and even more important, the students were way to far from the blackboard and had a hard time seeing what was on the board. While the middle of the room is great for lecturing, and I will be the first to admit that I do enjoy lecturing and putting on a show, it is too hard to keep moving from the middle to the board, which is so important in math.

I'm not against the horse shoe if it works. And it does work in many classes, just not in all. If a teacher is teaching for over 20 years and has been successful, why change? If it's not broken, don't fix it! That is the way I feel about the seating arrangements in my classroom.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


JD is one of my former students. I remember him as being a cute kid, friendly, bright and extremely hyperactive. It was hard to keep him focused on what he was supposed to be doing. Most of his teachers did not like him. He disrupted class and had had a nice sized file in the dean's office. Eventually the school decided there was nothing that could be done with him and his mother signed him out.

Not all of JD's teacher's thought he was a bad kid or even disliked him. I know I am one of those and I know a few others that shared my sentiments. The school I teach in is just too big and does not have the proper resourses to reach out and help someone like him. Term after term he was permitted to go on with the same kind of poor behavior. I got to know him through a trade of difficult students. The teacher I got him from emphasized his good qualities and traded him in the hope that he would do better with someone else. (The boy I gave her was later arrested for carrying a weapon in school.) She always had faith in him. I met JD's mother when she came to sign him out of school. She struck me as a good woman and a mother who did everything she could to help her son. She had tears in her eyes because she just didn't know how to help him anymore. The effect his expulsion had on her clearly affected him. Maybe if our school had guidance counselors with smaller case loads someone could have reached him and helped. If our classes weren't so overcrowded maybe more teachers could have seen the good in him and helped him succeed.

Don't get me wrong. I am not defending his actions. He is being held as an accessory to the murder of an innocent little girl. There is no excuse for this and he deserves to be punished to the full extent the law allows. I just think that maybe something could have been done to prevent this tragedy. A little girl died, but two mothers lost their children that day and that is something no woman should ever have to do.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Teacher Won't Shave Until bin Laden Caught

EPHRATA, Wash. (Sept. 12) - After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Gary Weddle began following the news so closely he forgot to shave. After a week he decided not to shave until Osama bin Laden had been caught or killed.

Nor has Weddle, 46, who expected the al-Qaida leader to be caught within a month or so, trimmed his facial hair in the succeeding five years as he went from substitute teacher to science instructor at Ephrata Middle School.

At the start of each school year he gives students a brief explanation of his beard, which stretches more than a foot long and has started turning gray.

"I still get emotional over the families who lost loved ones. I just don't feel there's any closure on this until they get that guy," Weddle told The Wenatchee World for an article published Monday. "I don't have to know anyone personally who lost family in 9/11 to understand the devastation that he's responsible for."

His wife Donita hates the beard, while their three daughters, who attend Eastmont High School in East Wenatchee, don't mind and "mostly their boyfriends think it's cool," Weddle said.

He said he would keep the beard, untrimmed, as long as bin Laden remains at large - "even if I get buried with it."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Teaching Math Today

Today's math curriculum is a disgrace. I just finished tutoring a bright tenth grader who was struggling with basic ninth grade factoring. The poor kid always worked hard and always got good grades. In fact, he got a 94 on the Math A regents. The problem is that he was never really taught any math. He was never taught or required to factor complex expressions and the little that he was taught was never reinforced. This boy has the potential to go on in the math and science fields but our schools are doing him a major injustice by not preparing him properly.

I plead guilty to also teaching this sham of a math curriculum. I encourage my students to use a calculator, rather than forcing them to learn how to perform operations with signed numbers and fractions. I show them how to work backwards from the choices when the questions are multiple choice so they can get the correct answer without actually knowing how to do the problem. I used to be a better teacher. Because the school system now wants everyone treated as an equal, our better students are being cheated. I am watering down my curriculum to get more to pass. I really don't want to do that but I have no choice. The poor kids in some of my classes don't want to take algebra, geometry and trigonometry. Not only don't they want it, but it has no relevance to anything in their lives. I want these kids to graduate. Even to work in Mc Donald's, they will need that piece of paper that declares them high school graduates. It is just too hard to teach to both ends at once. My classes all have 34 students in them. I just don't know how to reach them all without hurting some of them so I opt for a middle of the road approach.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Principal Intimidates The Young

I just heard that the principal of my school called some of the young teachers and asked them to come in a day earlier than everyone else, to work for no pay or compensation to work with him on plans for staff development. These young teachers, fearful of getting on his bad side and perhaps losing their jobs agreed. He should be ashamed of himself for putting young teachers in a position like this. Although no one threatened or forced them to show up, they really felt as if they had no choice but to do as asked. It is scary that the Bloomberg administration is giving these demagogues more power every year.

Friday, September 08, 2006

I Love Teaching

I'm lucky. I love teaching. I REALLY LOVE TEACHING. I know that sounds hard to believe, when all I do is bitch and complain about my school, but I do love teaching. I love to stand in front of a class and watch the faces of my students as they finally get it!!!! I love the way last year's students run up and hug me in the hall and complain because I am not their teacher this year. I love getting hugs from kids that I could not pass. I love it when a kid says "Don't retire, we need you." I am tier 1. I found out that I could actually be bringing home more money retired than I am bringing home now. I don't care. At this point in my life I cannot imagine not being Mrs. XXXXXXXXXX. I can't imagine not sitting on the floor outside the cafeteria or math office working with a bunch of kids. I don't care if the principals of the world want me to retire, I'll go when I am ready. I'm not ready to leave the thing I love!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Mr. Principal Wastes Class Time

Once again, Mr. Principal is on the loudspeaker non stop. He is reminding the students that there is no more night school so they better pass everything. I don't think there is a 9th or 10th grader anywhere who says "I think I will cut class and do no work now so that when I am a senior I can take 9 classes during the day and then go to school two nights a week. And if I am really lucky, I might be able to go to Saturday school as well." I know that the kids in my classes are turned off by his long, demeaning announcements. I've heard many of them say "Why doesn't he just shut up and let you teach?" If he really cared about their education, he would keep his announcements to a minimum. He would do the Pledge without announcing a guest orator. He would do away with his brain teasers

I Hear Music

School has started and so has the loud, overbearing music that our principal insists on playing between periods. While I agree that the music is a nice interlude, I find it instrusive when I am in the middle of working or if I am teaching a double period class. It wouldn't even be so bad if he played some soft, classical music. It would be nice to expose the students to things they don't usually listen too. Phone conversations could be carried on while this music is being played and conversations would not be interupted. I don't know how many times I have had to tell parents to hang on while the music played. I can't count the number of times I couldn't answer a students question after class because I couldn't hear it over the music. I have been rudely disrupted and distracted while I intensely marked papers or wrote lessons and this music came on. I think when I retire, I will walk into his office with a big boom box, preferably while he is on the phone or holding a meeting and see if he still feels the same about music.

Friday, September 01, 2006

September 1, 2006

I'm really happy that we started school before Labor Day this year. We spent this morning in an auditorium that smelled from polyurethane and watched pictures of the principal's trip to Japan. We saw pictures of children with face masks, pictures of children with buckets and mops cleaning their classroom and pictures of children swimming. We also saw lots of pictures of the principal enjoying himelf. I learned so much. I am sure it will make me a much better teacher this year.