Week Seven: Summer Is Ending

This post is week 7 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

Professional Learning

Check-in on where you are in your summer learning journey and your overall professional journey.

But first, a song about summer: it’s almost through.

“We’ve been having fun all summer long … but summertime is almost gone.”

I continue to read through the many books about mathematics, pedagogy, cultural awareness and sensitivity in the classroom, and more. Many times I share quotes on social media; occasionally I write a review for my blog. I find that writing is an important part of my professional learning as we teachers are not vessels to be filled, but painters facing a canvas. We have learned from masters, we have learned from the mistakes of beginners, we have suffered from the abuse of self-appointed experts who would never dare to pick up a paintbrush themselves, but our learning is never complete until we begin to paint our own pictures.

I am soldiering through the online PDs I must do and want to do.

Florida used to require teachers to write an Individual Professional Development Plan. I’m not sure if the state still does, but my district continues to require it. We call it the ‘ippy-dippy.’ A year or so ago, the district decided they didn’t like the sound of that. They now admonish us that we should say, “EYE-PEE-DEE-PEA.”

Of all the foolish things a district will try to intimidate veteran teachers about, that one deserves an honorable mention.

But I digress.

I have not done my usual activities over the summer. I have done the minimum that I must (analyze test scores), grind away at PD that I won’t have time for when the school bells ring, and try to figure out why my district threw half of its high school mathematics curriculum away in favor of free internet sources when said sources have not delivered on their promises.

Although the bathing suits won’t meet dress code, doesn’t the rest of the visuals depict well the annual safari teachers go through every year? The play list will move on, enjoy.

So where am I on my professional journey? The last school year was tough, very hard. Discretion will prevent me from discussing it further. But I needed some time away.

Last night, for the first time this summer, I finally felt the last of the tension and stress drain away. I’m ready to go back.

That is how I would like to end this post. I have five more years until retirement arrives at the last. I really can’t check out until then. But, what would I do in retirement? I hope to continue my service in my city’s public schools as a volunteer math interventionist, working with struggling students one, two, or three at a time. We don’t have interventionists in my district; we know we need them, but the money isn’t there.

But this summer’s journey has also pointed out the importance of teacher self-care. We have to stop killing ourselves.

Take care of yourself, teachers. Make those doctor appointments, leave the stress in the building when you go home, love your significant other and your family. Dead doesn’t help anyone and no one will engrave it on your tombstone.

Grumpy Old Teacher is sure that Hot Lunch Tray already has the last prompt in mind for Week 8, but still is going to recommend that it be about self-care.

Teachers, how do you take care of your physical, medical, mental, and emotional health during the school year?

Know When to Hold ‘Em: A Big Bluff

The latest in the half-cent sales tax referendum to fund the reconstruction of Jacksonville’s schools comes in this news story: the School Board is investigating the hiring of an outside law firm to litigate the many roadblocks the mayor and City Council, driven by the Civic Council, a non-elected, secretive group of wealthy and their toadies in the city, have thrown in their way.

The school board is not about to fold. And now, because Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) knows you want it, here’s the song.

But the Civic Council, a/k/a Charter storm troops, are already counting their money.

GOT woke up this morning thinking about the sales-tax referendum and for some strange reason, this image popped into his head:

Dogs Playing Poker by C.M.Coolidge Door Mat - 60"x36"
I see your half-penny and raise you 20%.

What if the superintendent of schools (Duval County, FL: a/k/a known as Jacksonville) called the City Council’s bluff? They keep demanding answers to questions that have already been answered. What are they really up to?

A fellow blogger reports the strong, yet true words of a school board member for a city council on which he served until term limited.

GOT would love for the superintendent to call their bluff.

“We are closing two schools this year. The Florida Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, demanded that we turn them over to a charter school, despite the fact that the law, Florida statutes, give us a choice of charter, an external manager, or closing the school.

“Maybe school choice isn’t really a choice. We only get a choice if we make the choice that has already been chosen for us.

#Chartrand #CivicCouncil #RonDeSantis #RichardCorcoran #FLDOE

“Today I offer you a choice. Beyond the two schools we must close this year, we have at least 20 schools near the same point given the current Florida statutes.

Image result for dogs playing poker
Can dogs really hide aces up their sleeves? Pineapples don’t have sleeves. Wait, what? No, dogs don’t have sleeves either. Someone impartial really needs to regulate the deck.

“Let us have the half-cent sales tax. We will prioritize (as you demand) the rebuilding of schools whose grades place them in danger of leaving our control. We will rebuild those schools and then turn them over to a charter operator of your choice!

“Currently, that is the IDEA charter school chain out of Texas.

“Yes, we will build it and they will come.

“We will take those schools, rebuild them, and turn them over. The charters will not have to compete against us; we will disappear from those neighborhoods. They will have free rein.

“But the charters must agree to the following provisions in their contracts with the Duval County School Board:

  1. They will maintain the neighborhood boundaries for every school we turn over. That is, they must accept every student that lives within the school boundaries. Parents who move in during the school year, say in January, the charter must accept their children and enroll them. Counseling out children for any reason will be a cause for negating the charter contract.
  2. They will provide services for every IEP and 504 plan for every child. Again, counseling out parents by saying, “We can’t do that,” will be a cause for negating the contract. They must take every kid and do their best as every traditional public school in the district must do.
  3. The district has already provided the campus. The charter must agree that the district will provide transportation, meals, and maintenance for the buildings and accept that the district will subtract the cost of doing so from the state formula of allocation of district funds that they receive.”

How can a charter-lover resist? They get everything they want and all they have to do is live up to their promises.

8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge

WE have reached Week #6. Grumpy Old Teacher has caught up at last, but he still has a bad case of the grumps.

This post is week 6 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

The lead-in: ” You have considered your role as both a leader and follower, and know the optimal conditions for learning. How are you planning to implement change this coming school year? How will you make it fit within the overall goal of your school culture and goals, but be true to your vision?”

The recap of prompts:

  • Week One: What are your professional learning goals this summer?
  • Week Two: Ponder your professional past. What has made you the educator you are today?
  • Week Three: How are you both a leader and a follower in your career?
  • Week Four: What are optimal conditions for learning, for you, and for students?
  • Week Five: What is your big, hairy, audacious goal for next year?

Plan to Change

How are you planning to implement change next school year?

A bad case of the grumps or a pattern emerging? GOT is wondering now where these prompts are going. What is it with the superhero, super teacher trope and why are we going there?

First, let GOT quote from Hot Lunch Tray the statement of the website creator:

I am Penny Christensen. Originally from Western Michigan, I have taught and lived in Florida, Georgia, and Michigan. I am a lifelong educator, I am still not sure what that will look like in the future for me. I have formally taught 4th-7th grades, specializing in mathematics, science, and content literacy.

After teaching for 11 years I moved into the Technology Department in 2009 as an eLearning Specialist. I help educators implement educational technologies. This technology integration thing is just like acquiring any literacy, one should acquire it and then not need people like me to help. Let’s see.

I have some firm beliefs:

  • public schooling can be an act of social justice
  • doing well in school does not mean doing well in life and vice-versa
  • teachers can at any given moment be the one who makes THE difference and they will rarely recognize that opportunity so always be prepared
  • standardized testing is data, just like my BMI
  • a person is smarter when they access people from a variety of places and backgrounds

So GOT did a search. He is glad to report that Ms. Christensen has been blogging for about 10 years and her interests are in instructional design and internet learning, specifically, how the tools made possible by technology will enhance student learning. Completely absent from anything is even the slightest whiff of reformy connections.

With that out of the way, but still wondering where this is leading, GOT can answer the latest prompt: I retired my cape. It’s hanging in a museum and I have no desire to put it on again.

Looks good on the stand. I’m going to leave it there.

How will I lead change in my school? I don’t intend to. Change, real, lasting change is most often organic. It comes not from edicts or forced conversations, it comes not from faculty lounge harangues or wearisome professional development meetings, it comes not from canned programs or purchased programs. Real, lasting change takes place in the hallway when teacher A sees something teacher B has accomplished and says, “How did you do that?”

I cannot control my school. I cannot make people do better even if I thought I had all the answers. Spoiler Alert: I don’t.

But I can set the tone in my room. When I close the door, I can create a learning environment that makes children eager to learn, even math.

To answer the prompt, that is what I plan to do this year. Be the best teacher I can be. If others seek me out, then maybe I will have played some part in effecting change in the school.

But the superhero teacher? That person doesn’t exist and we should stop putting that expectation upon people who are doing the best they can in very trying circumstances.

Week Five: Big Hairy Audacious Goal

This post is week 5 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

What goal is so powerful that you are compelled to move toward, yet respectful of its immensity?

Big Hairy Audacious Goal

What is your BHAG for next school year?

Big, hairy and audacious? Or unrealistic? Grumpy Old Teacher can think of many goals he would like to achieve (along with the necessary efforts of many others):

  • The resignation of Betsy Devos.
  • The startling admission of Bill Gates: “I didn’t know what I was doing and I’m going to stop now. Sorry for the bother.”
  • The end of standardized testing because, as officials in all 50 states should admit,”We already know the income level of the parents. We don’t need an annual test to find out.”

But the Dollar Shave Club and its competitors don’t have enough razors to send me for those hairy beasts. Maybe we need to be more in line with reality.

GOT will complete his 62nd journey around the sun in a few weeks. Along the way, he has learned that above all goals must be achievable.

“I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts … I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” (Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien.)

GOT’s sights are set much lower because they must be less grand in order to fulfill the job from which he earns his living.

Goal Number One: Replace the curriculum resources stripped away when the school system decided to put off its textbook adoption cycle for two years, but not extend the current contracts with the publisher.

In replacement, we will use free, online resources, some of which are not yet available. For example, GOT has extensively used the publisher’s online math platform for practice problems and assessments. He has found that the best way to get kids to practice math as they need to is to make them spend the first 30 minutes of each 90 minute class on the platform.

That way, there is no cheating, no looking up answers because GOT is supervising the work, and GOT is available to answer questions and show solution techniques. As he is fond of telling the students, “I don’t live in your bedroom. (That’s a creepy thought.) If I assign this as homework, I’m not there to help you when you need my help.”

The platform will be unavailable. GOT has no idea yet how to replace it. The district says the free, online alternative will provide something, but GOT has checked over the summer and it is not active.

So Goal Number One, while it may not seem big and hairy enough for the prompt, is to find effective alternatives as the year progresses.

Or, to put it another way, the adoption/non-adoption of new curriculum means that classroom teachers must find their own resources for their students. Goal Number One is to locate these resources and reconfigure what I do to maintain instructional excellence.

Goal Number Two: Continue to work toward establishing restorative practices as a better way to establish a school culture and climate of mutual respect and appropriate behavior.

The short of the story is that, when done right, restorative practices are effective in improving student behavior and reducing ineffective traditional punishments.

Many people will argue with that, but the only reason restorative practices are controversial is because, far too often, they are not done right. The supports needed are not in place. Community is not emphasized. Punitive action and repairing harm are seen as a dichotomy rather than two separate arenas that reinforce one another when used appropriately.

As summer draws to a close (it’s only mid-July but in my state, teachers will report for a new year in only two and a half weeks), GOT hopes teachers have used their time well, especially for self-care and rest. The general public does not realize that most teachers work the equivalent of a full-time year in the compressed space of 42 weeks for a 10-month salary.

No other profession does that.

The Lead Learner

This post is week 4 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

Lead Learner

What are optimal conditions in which to learn, for you, and for students?

Good Guggamugga, what a lead-in! The most pressing issue in my city is the School Board’s plan to replace or renovate its outdated facilities that are literally crumbling into the Florida landscape.

Not even video shown on local news, pictures in local media that are shared widely on social media, and pleas from teachers, principals, and district administrators, to say nothing of the children themselves. are moving the hard hearts of my city’s politicians, who are only concerned with promoting charter schools at the expense of losing the public schools.

Classroom ceilings held up by wooden two-by-fours, broken air conditioning that allows room temperatures to climb into the mid-90s, dangerous portable classrooms that offer no protection from lightning during a storm or are breaking in two as the ground sinks under part of it … mold, broken athletic showers, the problems are lengthy and a solution has been long delayed.

This is the summer blogging challenge from another ed blog: Hot Lunch Tray. I doubt this is the response they had in mind.

HLT asks about optimal learning conditions? In my city, let’s start with classrooms that won’t fall on the heads of children as they try to learn.

Week 3: Following and Leading

This post is week 3 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

Leader & Follower

How are you both a leader and a follower in your career?

Following:

  • Because I must, as every mathematics and ELA teacher must, I follow the dictates of an abusive test-and-punish system. I pull data from the testing students must undergo: district baselines, district interim tests that go by many names, and finally the Big Event itself. I do the analysis and I can even make a good prediction as to how any student will perform as I may be the only person in my state to take the raw score (% of questions answered correct) and match it to the reported state score. Mind you, I am not suckered by this game, but it is one I have to play.
  • Administration. While the collegial approach is best and the best administrators I have ever worked for use it, I respect their right to make the hard decisions for the operation of my school. I am glad I can have my say without repercussions. But in the end, it is the principal who must decide. I follow those decisions to the best of my ability.
  • As a blogger, I write my pieces and share them with the world. Like most, I write about the things that interest me or grab me. Many times, I run across someone else’s post that expresses my thought much better than I can. Rather than trying to outdo them, I give them the recognition they deserve. That is why, at times, you will find I posted something on my Facebook page that I did not write or I reblogged directly. It’s not a competition for fame. Everyone of us must do our part to save our schools and, as a team, we will go farther.
  • Teaching is collaborative work. I don’t know it all. So while others often follow my lead, I follow theirs when they have a good idea to share.

Leading:

  • I volunteer my time as most teachers do in one way or another. Currently, I sponsor an after-school activity and chair the Positive Behavior Intervention Support Committee at school. As I have studied and learned, I have shared with my colleagues and we are making a positive change in the school culture. It is only a few small steps now, but that is the way every large change begins.
  • Younger teachers seek me out for advice on how to handle situations in their classrooms.
  • This blog. Many teachers are afraid to say what they want. They tell me that they are glad I am saying it for them.

I have done many things in my career, but nothing has been as satisfying as being a classroom teacher. In the end, we have to answer the question by saying that we lead students in their development and growth, but to do that, we have to follow their needs and adjust our methods accordingly.

The Little Mermaid is Black?

And so the controversy begins.

Beauty under the waves.

We’ve seen and heard this controversy before. Somehow, to reimagine a story with non-white characters sends a certain portion of the population apoplectic.

Grumpy Old Teacher wrote about this in a previous blog post. Here is the rerun:

The Witches Were White

Now that’s a tease of a headline!

Yet it’s what I heard in the hallway–one of those moments when people don’t think they are being overheard.

A student was complaining about the movie, A Wrinkle in Time. That’s the movie for which I offered extra credit if students went to see it a few weeks ago.

I had a purpose for the movie viewing beyond the mathematical angle (I am a math teacher, for those who don’t know me.) I wanted students exposed to the interpretation of a well-known and much-loved story by an African-American female director and to see an African-American female in the lead role as well as supporting roles.

I wanted students to see a fresh and different perspective on the story and wondered if that would challenge their assumptions.

I promoted my offer with a movie poster prominently displayed on my hall bulletin board.

“The movie was terrible. [I am paraphrasing.] In the book, the witches were white. They had a black witch. She was a bad actor. They ruined the story …”

The student’s friend, to whom she was complaining, shushed her. He was trying to tell her to be quiet–don’t let her race-based complaint be heard lest it bring trouble.

Unknown even to her, the student’s complaint was race-based. She didn’t like the fact that there were black actors playing roles that she imagined were white characters when she read the book.

In a way, I rattled her worldview and that is part of the job of a teacher: make kids think more deeply about what beliefs they have absorbed from their subculture. In another way, it shows the challenge we have in building a better society.

The witches were white. I too have read the book and no, Madeleine L’Engle never specified a race for the witches. It is the privilege of the dominant race of a society that everyone, including the minority members, will assume that the characters of a book are from the race of the dominant race of the society.

Even if the book had said the witches were white but someone had a new vision and changed that attribute, why would someone complain?

People, we have work to do.

After my first year at my current school, my principal gave me a ‘needs improvement’ rating in one area: knowing the background of my students. That really surprised me because of all the teachers at my school, I am one of the few, a very few, who thinks about my students, who they are, and how their personal histories play into the dynamics of the classroom.

It took me a long time to figure out that what he meant was that I was not using data (test data.) Actually, I was but he didn’t know. When I showed him the research I did on my students, the rating changed for the next year.

I brought it up in my annual review meeting the following year: how it took me a while to figure out what he meant, that I was one of the most culturally aware (‘woke’ in the current linguistic coin) of his teachers. He replied that he did not think there was a problem regarding the interactions between white people and black people at the school.

For the record, my principal is black.

But we do have a problem, the same problem of all America, that when white and black people interact, the racial history of our country plays a role in how we hear and understand one another.

In my school system, in my county, in my state, a southern state with a complicated and difficult history of race relations, we don’t want to address this. We would rather pretend that the color of the skin doesn’t matter; we treat everyone the same. Nothing more needed.

Except we hear the whispers in the hall: the witches were white.

It’s time to stop the pretense. It’s time to stop avoiding the painful conversations that must take place if we want to move forward and establish a more just society.

The witches aren’t white. They are only what you imagine them to be.