The ups and the downs.

I read this article, “Where Have All the Teachers Gone” today.  In particular this stood out.

“An analysis just out from Georgetown’s Edunomics Lab argues that boosting class size for great teachers would save money that could then be funneled into bonuses for those educators taking on a larger load. The savings would come largely from a reduction in the overall teaching force, angering teachers unions and their allies.”

Calm down teachers unions.  What sane teacher would boost their class size for extra money?  I don’t want you to pay me more for added time or kids, I want less kids for the same pay.

Today was really rough. I had a hard time keeping the simmering anger down and when I got cut off on the bridge and there was weepy country music in the background, I couldn’t help but start to cry out of self-pity.  Amidst the excuses and trying to empathize with two students who made it hard today, I harshly told myself that maybe that time of the month was approaching.

But there comes a fault where it just can’t be my fault.  As I neared the last light before my house, I glared at the blinking red hand and railed against this piloted “rotations” system going on in my classroom.  I’m told that the light is closer than I think and I’m doing better than I’m giving myself credit for.  But at the end of the day, nothing feels worth it.

I try to concentrate on the rest of the kids.  The laughs.  The miniature successes.  And how with a rotations system, I can finally give some of my higher kids extra attention too.  But what do I do about little Bo Pete who stares at me blankly.  How many more emergency meetings are we going to have on differentiation and outlier students?  I’ve heard the science teacher explain her differentiation piece three times now in three meetings with I’m sure the same audience.  I’ve heard us voice the same issues.  Kids know that all they need to do in my class is work hard.  If I have Mr. Freshly-Tested-Out-of-His-IEP and Ms. ELL/IEP/Missed-class-because-of-broken-leg thriving, what’s the excuse for the kids who claims that “I get him in trouble” or “nothing will change” or “it’s because others distract me”?  How do  I respond to ridiculous requests like, “when I’m distracted, let me go for a five minute walk, let me listen to music, seat me somewhere else, seat me near a friend?”

Do I reward you because you, as a fourteen-year-old, can’t hold it together?  Sure, go on your five-minute walk.  Then come back and be more confused than before.  And then get more frustrated!

Or sure, go ahead and listen to music.  Oh wait, you don’t know what’s going on because you’re spacing out even more?  I’ll take time out of my lunch break to help you out.

Oh sure, sit with your friend who’s going to “help” you.  Wait! Now you’re both throwing things at someone else at the table?

Give me a break.

And while I’m juggling kids, there’s people who promise help and never deliver. That’s even worse.

And I promisepromisepromise you, I have it really good here.  How do I deal?  Money’s definitely not what’s going to sweeten it.

What’s interesting though, is that when kids are rotten, something sweet happens with the school.  And when school things discomfit me, the kids are pretty sweet.  I’m thankful for a happy end of the day.  Now onto the massload of emails concerning students I sent to the office, a failed conflict-management, and phone calls home.

So about that…

So in my last post, I was really frustrated. And I still stand behind it.  But we got $60K awarded to our school, so I’m pretty stoked!

What I’m nervous about is all the asks and hidden strings tied to money.  Yet at the same time, I’m glad and thankful for the opportunity to pilot exciting ways to actually help children move.

Does technology really help children move though?  We did a guided conversation about what excites us about technology and where are our reservations lie.

For me, I think I honestly have to answer with what excited me about technology.  I really liked the idea of teaching my kids marketable and relevant skills for the 21st century.  The idea that students could choose different paths and personalize their learning was cool as well.

But after a year of trying to effectively implement this in my class when we did have many resources and programs, I have so many more reservations.

Are we trying to replace quality personal instruction with technology?  The stakeholders on the tech side would definitely say no.  But then, it leads to my next less hyperbolic reaction.  These programs are basically all pilots.  None of them are as adaptive as they claim.  They’re not that interesting.  And it eventually turns kids off learning!

What if we pilot something and it doesn’t work?  In a sense, these roll-outs are basically experiments.  Just as in grad school there’s an ethical review board, someone needs to go out and see what’s ethical for our kids.  Of course we mean well, but what if parking someone in front of a so-called adaptive math program for 90 minutes a week is actually not as effective as hiring another person to work with that child for 30 minutes a week 3 days a week?

Anyway, I don’t entirely dislike the groups that give money, even though I said so.  I think I was just frustrated that the same group that could fund us might also fund another school just because it SAID it was doing good things.

I guess I just wish there wasn’t so much inauthenticity or lack of accountability.  Blergh bloop.

Dear “Education Innovation Grant Donors”, I really really really dislike you.

Dear Education Innovation Grant Donor,

I really dislike you.  You come into cities, districts, and states with your shiny, quiet offices and fancy titles to dangle all this money right out of our reach.  It’s quite easy to get this money, you say.  All you’re looking for are schools that are serving their kids, being innovative, thinking outside the box, providing 21st century skills.

You lie.

What you really mean is you want us to be like [insert some school you love here].  What you really mean is that you want us to flood our classrooms with yet untested technologies from partner* companies.  What you really mean is that you will look at the numbers instead of delving deep into what’s actually happening at a school.

You’ll give a school a gold star just because their data appears stellar (high test scores, abnormally high college acceptance rate, serving low-income population), without actually looking at how they’ve achieved it (paternalistic disciplinary practices, no extra-curriculars, no college graduations).  You’ll give us lofty ideas and advice (try montessori, try flipping the classroom, scale your model, blow up your model) without a clue as to how implementation would work. You’ll encourage us to pilot, pilot, pilot without acknowledging that in reality this is experimenting on kids who don’t have any other options.

You are a parasite disguised as a benefactor.

You don’t actually know what teaching entails.  You have a vague notion of what success means.  You think that all you need are good managers and consultants to help you get your innovative grant donor-ing group to do well.  You think that your two years of teaching experience and grad school has earned you the right to march into our buildings and “consult”.  You think your ideas are news to us and that they will help us turn things around.

And guess what?  You have so much money, that we are willing to listen, meet, pander, and spin our schools at different angles just so we can get some.

Because we don’t really have a choice.  Do we?

In truth,

Junia

*aka, you serve on their board or payroll

ADHD: What do you do when a kid won’t take his meds?

So I’ve always been pretty finicky when it came to meds and IEPs (Individual Education Plans for Special Education).  If I have students with prescriptions or IEPs, I’m going to work with the family, but I initially was never one to recommend any of them.  I was of the camp of there’s other ways to learn (honestly, shouldn’t every child have their OWN Individual Education Plan?), and that meds might address the symptoms but not the root.

Furthermore, things like ADHD are tricky.  Is it overdiagnosed? Is it because he’s a boy and a minority? Is it because he’s especially rambunctious? Is it because he just lacks self-control? Is it puberty?

To add to the mix, I have two kids with ADHD diagnoses who concentrate like crazy when they’re on their meds. Yet at the same time, both (girl and boy) express that they feel different, that they don’t like the feeling, and this year, the girl is SUPER successful academically and socially (as opposed to previous years where apparently, she was quite the handful), but the boy is really fighting the meds.

He says he doesn’t like it because it makes his stomach hurt, he loses his appetite and he doesn’t want to get skinny, and he just doesn’t feel the same.

I used to talk to him about “how can we work on other strategies when you forget to take your meds” but now I’m just like dude! take your meds!  It’s insane .. just.. the impulsive things he pulls when he’s not.  And I don’t realize he hasn’t taken them until it’s the final straw and I need to send him out to do work on his own.

I’ve called mom a lot and I feel horrible as I listen to her resigned, “Okay maestra. Voy a hablar con el.”

I don’t really know what to do.  He really hates taking them, and I really hate being the “enforcer.”  It’s harder because I have him for two hours and my class is reading and writing!  It’s less standing up and moving around etc.  (And when we DO have moving activities, he’s jumping on a kid or writing lewd things on school property).

When he is on his meds, he concentrates but never smiles.  It feels wrong.

“Not only do I want you to be successful, I want you to be happy.”

I just finished a conversation with Cloud.  She is so hard.

I also have Kitty here.  She is so hard too.

Then I think about Storm.  so hard.

You know, these girls all have legitimate reasons to be hard though.

As I type, I can feel the wetness still on my sleeve from Cloud’s tears.  Januarys are hard for her.

“Because of your dad?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, you don’t have to tell me about it.”

And then we hugged, and I spoke my heart into her head.

Links Dump! Because today is interesting

Being Bored Makes You Brilliant!  This article is about the time people spend on smartphones and how rarely people are bored.  And yet, it is in boredom that  brilliance happens!  An iOS app (Moment) is mentioned and a challenge (less phone time) is issued.  Oh yes and a video (of people in NYC on phones) is shown.  As a new smartphone owner, I prided myself in not being connected.  But lately I’ve gotten the hang of Instagram and…

An Algorithm Teaches Math!  Okay, basically, it’s 100 kids in a gym-like classroom with partitions and 15 teachers and assistants and a computer.  I like this article because the grain of salt is in it.  It’s another approach at Blended Learning, and I can see this style definitely being issued because honestly, at a certain point “disruptive innovation” is not about getting the most quality but getting a “good enough” for the most amount of consumers.  Sadly, in this case, consumers are our students (aka, our future) and “good enough” is not good enough!  Anyway, off my platform.  This article is INTERESTING in its descriptions, caution, and qualifiers!  And again, creativity and critical thinking gets the boot.  sigh.   (ps: spoiler alert: blended learning is not cheaper)

East Palo Alto v. Silicon Valley – This article will take multiple sits as it’s super long.  Yet it’s very nuanced and covers the history of the more implicit racism at play from the 50’s and onward.  Having lived here for 5 years, I recognized a lot of buildings and areas and ideas that I took for granted.  We studied A Raisin in the Sun in high school.  I wonder why although we touted diversity, we were never pointed to the glaring pink elephant right over the bridge.

Speaking of the 50s…

Photos of Korea in 1952 – Korea.  Because the war was still going on.  These are photos from Captain John Randolph Coupland III from the US Army.  It reminds me that in order for any country to be “fully developed”, they need to go through the awkward “developing” stage.  It causes me to admire the Korean spirit in how they are always so determined and so FAST at trying to accomplish.  It also causes me to mourn because it’s so broken with totalitarian brainwashing in the north and mindless consumerism in the south.

“Ms. Kim, we could tell you were mad”: A Case Study with No Answer

I was pretty stoked.  Finally, after 4 months, I was finishing up our first class novel, and had a pretty nifty review tool: jeopardylabs.com.

In my first, more difficult class, I had a few obstacles in first just explaining the game, and then dealing with one drama-queen team that literally moaned, “I want to quit,” “Can I go to the office?” “I hate this game” *every time* they lost points.  Then they would get all goofy-happy as soon as they gained points.

It was so tight seeing kids explaining why the stories they picked fit different themes, and how engaged they were in opening their novels and pulling out textual examples of figurative language.

Also, my vice principal, my principal, AND the classroom support person all happened to be doing a walk-through today.  How fantastic.

So, I was excited to do this with my second (calmer, more engaged) class.  The instructions went well, and.. I felt that things were moving.

Then, Gaston… oh, Gaston (that’s actually the perfect pseudonym for him), was not on his meds today.

He was going crazy when we were going over our grammar rap (thank you flocabulary), but I just thought he was being expressive and excitable.

During the jeopardy game, he was super wired.  And then he writes, “Wassup sexy” on the back of my whiteboard.  I wonder why he’s making suggestive facial expressions to other students, until I see it too.  I pull him and another boy aside (because that boy also had been using the red pen).  They both deny it.  Gaston calls me sexist and makes pretty rude faces and postures.  I can feel my body getting hot.  My face normally never gets hot.

At this point, I stop the game.  I tell them to sit.  I don’t give them a reflection.  I just put them in different, empty seats.  Some students complain, “It’s just two kids,” but I am not in the mental frame of mind to continue.  I quietly explain the rest of the study guide, and then start us on the homework.

I feel awful.

After school, I make both boys sit:  “Cut the crap, and tell me what happened.”

“What did you say?”

“Cut the crap, and tell me what happened.”

“Are you allowed to say that?”

“Crap? Yes.  Isn’t this what it is? Crap? Lies?  Who did it?”

“I did.” Oh. okay.. then.

I let the other boy go, and we talk.  It’s interesting to see how much more accustomed I am to being calm.  This whole time, I kept my voice under control and I even spent the first few minutes establishing that 1) I know he’s not “bad”, 2) that he’s a “tryer” (“Do you know what do I mean by tryer, Gaston?”), and 3) I know he didn’t do what he did to be mean or hurtful.  Then we talked about what he did wrong.

After school, a girl nonchalantly remarked, “Ms. Kim, we could tell you were mad.”

“Oh you don’t know the half of it, Braids, I almost cried, I was so mad.  I mean.  I felt bad.  But we’re not perfect.  I couldn’t go on, I couldn’t just put it to one side and keep the game going, you know?”

“Yeah.. it’s just, I guess we’re used to Gaston and everything.  Anyway, we could see you were mad.”

“Yep! That I was.”

I am at my wits’ end.  He didn’t take his meds. I called home and used my broken Spanish to explain what happened and then to say that until we reach a more permanent solution, he needs a written confirmation saying he took his meds before he’s allowed in my class.

But you know, as I write this and think, I feel a bit more accomplished than I did a few hours ago.  I am better at controlling my temper, students are quicker to listen to me, and I make solutions work for me.

Ugh. Silver lining, the necessity of anyone in the teaching profession.