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Archive for March, 2010

Fighting Classroom Boredom

[Editor’s note: Ms. Socrates is a first-year 10th-grade science teacher in a school in Brooklyn. She blogs at Teacher’s Diary where this post originally appeared.]

It is a frequent occurrence in many 10th-grade classrooms: A lesson is underway, when suddenly, from the back of the room, comes the exclamation that no teacher wants to hear: “Miss, your class is so boring!”

Midway through my first year of teaching, I’ve been really getting into improving as a teacher. I’m excited about trying out new techniques and receiving criticism on my teaching. I have learned to detach myself much more from the day-to-day incidents and distractions in the classroom. However, no teacher likes to be told his class is boring, especially not one who is consciously trying to be the best teacher possible. As a first-year teacher, I know I could be more engaging at times, but hey, at least I’m giving it my all!

Since the beginning of the school year, I have dealt handily with comments about my breath, my hair and even my handwriting, never batting an eyelash. But for some reason, the boredom comments always throw me — either into rage or despair. More »

A Multiple Choice Question

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?What’s most disturbing about the crude politicization of Texas textbooks and curricula by the Texas State Board of Education?

[a] The removal of United Farm Workers c0-founder Dolores Huerta from Texas social studies textbooks because she is a democratic socialist, despite the fact that even the Ladies Home Journal has recognized her as one of the 100 most important American women in the 2oth century?

[b] The defense of this exclusion through a comparison of Huerta with Helen Keller, who “exemplifies good citizenship.” [Keller was a life-long socialist.]

[c] Pulling the children’s literature classic “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” from the literature standards because its author, Bill Martin, has the same name as the author of a text Ethical Marxism. [The Board must have been worried about all of the possible MLA papers. Just imagine it: “The Bear As Other: The Fetishism of Commodity Relations in Bare/Bear Racial Identity.”]

[d] The influence of the Texas State Board of Education “know nothingism” on textbooks across the country. [Texas authorizes textbooks centrally to create a large market which then shapes how textbooks are written and published across the United States.]

Spinning Faster Than The Magic Teacup Ride:
Charter Management on New York’s Race to the Top Application

With last week’s announcement that New York was a Race to the Top Finalist, shocked charter management bosses were attempting to explain away weeks of argumentation that a failure to capitulate to their agenda would keep New York from achieving that goal. Spinning faster than the magic teacup ride at Disney World, Peter Murphy of the New York Charter School Association absurdly postulated that New York’s initial success will have a negative impact on education funding. This insight came from the same crystal ball which had Murphy prophesying that New York’s RttT proposal was too weak to become a finalist not two weeks ago. Joining Murphy on the magic teacup ride was Thomas Carroll, the proprietor of the Brighter Choice charter schools recently exposed for denying admissions to students with special needs; Carroll had been madly promoting his list of RttT finalists — sans New York — a few days before the announcement. Charter management’s hours organs — the puerile tabloid and Wall Street press — were called in. Fresh from its visit to Disney World, the Daily News decided that it would take a “magic spell” to win funding. And the usual coterie of anti-union bloggers were brought in for reinforcements. All in all, it’s a sight that would leave any teacher with her feet on the ground quite dizzy. More »

Let the Games Begin!

[Editor’s note: Mr. Foteah is a second-year teacher in an elementary school in Queens. He blogs at The World As I See It, where this post originally appeared.]

Olympic ringsInspired by some ideas I found on the blogosphere as well as the thoughts culled from interactions with my colleagues, I recently launched an exciting new vocabulary enrichment program in my classroom.

It started after I did some nifty reorganization that opened up the area in the front of the room, reduced the amount of clutter near my desk, and afforded me space to institute the new charts we’d be creating. I told the class, when they came in, to look for the changes in the room, and they all seized on the area I hoped they would: the newly empty board, on which I had drawn the Olympic rings and written “Something special is going here.” For period three, they may have noticed, all I wrote on our flow of the day was “Something special.” More »

New York Teacher

New York TeacherHighlights from the March 4 issue of New York Teacher:

Tensions were high as parents, students, teachers and community members from PS 30 and Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy 2 faced off at a public hearing on Feb. 22 over Department of Education plans to site the charter school in PS 30’s building.

Former city councilwoman and now charter founder and operator Eva Moskowitz has a relationship with Chancellor Joel Klein that any school leader would envy. It goes way beyond Klein appearing at her school functions when requested; it goes beyond her successfully enlisting his support for $1 million in funding from the Eli Broad Foundation.

At the Feb. 24 Panel for Educational Policy public hearing, Harlem Success Academy 2 got the green light to move into PS 30 in Harlem. Fifteen additional schools, including 12 other charter schools, also got the go-ahead to move into or expand within existing district school buildings. More »

“Blowing Up” Public Schools:
Palling Around With The Rhetoric Of Violence

In Sam Dillon’s interesting New York Times column on Diane Ravitch and the controversy created by her new book, Checker Finn declares that Ravitch is a “conservative,” while he is a “radical.”

“Diane says, ‘Let’s return to the old public school system,’ ” he said. “I say let’s blow it up.”

As a stalwart, if somewhat superficial, critic of all things post-modern, Finn must know that words have meaning, and the way in which we use and misuse them has an impact on the real world. It is remarkable that someone who has dedicated a lifetime to opposing the Sixties in all of its dimensions, good and bad, would indulge himself in the very same sort of rhetorical excess and rhetorical violence that defined the dark side of that decade.

When one reads the rhetoric of a Finn on schools, it brings to mind the “revolutionary” assaults on the family which were prevalent during the Sixties. Without question, the patriarchal family needed to change, with the rule of the father giving way to an order of gender equality. But the notion that the family itself needed to be abolished was a profoundly mistaken and destructive one: children need the stable and secure families to grow and develop.

The same is true of schools. There is much in our public schools that needs to change, as we move from a factory model system to one aligned with a knowledge economy. But the notion that schools should be “blown up” and destroyed rather than changed is a mindless and destructive concept, one that ignores the consequences of such “revolutionary” ideas on the young people who attend those schools. Young people need stable and secure schools to grow and develop intellectually.

AFL-CIO Condemns Obama And Duncan On Rhode Island Mass Firing

The full statement can be read here.

We are appalled at recent comments from President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan condoning the mass firing of the Central Falls High School teachers.  These comments are unacceptable, do not reflect the reality on the ground and completely ignore the teachers’ significant commitment to working with others to transform this school.

The comments are particularly disappointing in light of the recent state report, which found that the high school’s reading and writing proficiency have gone up 22 percent and 14 percent respectively over the past two years.  None of these facts is reflected in the comments from the Obama administration.

The affiliated unions of the AFL-CIO condemn the actions of the Central Falls superintendent in unjustly terminating the employment of the dedicated teaching faculty of Central Falls High School.  We stand in support of the Central Falls Teachers Union in its fight to improve the teaching and learning in Central Falls schools, preserve the rights of its members and keep the teachers where they belong—in the school, working with the students and making progress on academics.

Sign The Petition Against Rhode Island Mass Firing

You can find it here.

And you can read about all the details of what is happening here.

Stop Scapegoating Teachers, AFT Tells Obama

Here’s a report of the exchange on the NPR News Blog.

From the AFT statement:

President Obama’s comments today condoning the mass firing of the Central Falls High School teachers do not reflect the reality on the ground and completely ignore the teachers’ significant commitment to working with others to transform this school. We know it is tempting for people in Washington to score political points by scapegoating teachers, but it does nothing to give our students and teachers the tools they need to succeed.

What’s even sadder is that the firings and the President’s comments come in spite of a state report written last April that focused on the high school’s reading and writing proficiency, which have gone up 22 percent and 14 percent respectively over the past two years. Nowhere in the report is there any criticism of teachers’ efforts, skills or dedication to their job or their students. The report does, however, point to problems with constantly changing programs and the instability of school leadership. The report reinforces the fact that, today, teachers are being blamed unfairly for the schools’ problems.

“Because so many programs have been abruptly terminated, many teachers desire a formal program evaluation system to ensure that the strengths and weaknesses of programs are properly examined in the future before changes are made or new programs are implemented. Students share this concern,” the report said.

As for next steps, the report said, “Take the time to celebrate as a learning community the accomplishments, successes and positive changes that have taken place over the past few years.”

Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System is a tour de force. We will not recount the book’s argument here, although a couple of thoughts inspired by the book will follow in a separate post. Readers of Edwize need to read the book for themselves, as one can only fully appreciate the power of the argument in its original form. You can purchase the book from a unionized and employee friendly bookstore here.

Diane has agreed to do a virtual book tour appearance here at Edwize, in which she will answer questions inspired by the book from our readers. Send your questions to QuestionsForDiane@uft.org.