Thursday, January 26, 2012


Tuesday was a pretty good day. Ok, it was AWESOME! Our school got to play host to Rami Even-Esh aka Kosha Dillz. Rami gave 9 - 30 minute workshops with most of the 7th grade. He looked really tired by the end of it...but then gave a 30 minute concert to the kids. He has tons of energy!

The kids seemed to like it and the school has gotten a lot of positive feedback and questions. I'm hoping we can do more stuff like this.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Michelle Rhee

In my humble opinion...most education reformers today are "band-aiders"...the ones that think they can fix the problems of education by putting a band-aid on it, thus "fixing" the problem. These people look at education and say, "well, that's easy, here's what you do....". And viola! It's done!

Michelle Rhee wrote an article in the paper this week. The more I hear about her, the more I'm starting to think that perhaps I should run far away screaming from her brand of reform.

In her article this week she, first makes education seem like a means to an end...just a way to get people educated so they can just get a job. Personally, I believe we do more than that. Teachers don't just know their curriculum. We are the listeners. Kids actually come to us with issues and problems. We help them talk through their thoughts and issues...we sometimes try to make them better people. We understand that these guys are just pegs we're trying to put into holes...they are complicated and have issues just like any other human being.

My second issue with the article and the biggest issue, is with her belief that teachers should be paid based on students' performance on tests. I don't know how I can get people to understand how ridiculous I think this idea is. I still have not yet found a universal analogy that helps everyone understand this I just stick with one from the past. "Why hello, Doctor So-and-so! It's so nice to see you. We called you in today to let you know that as of next year, we will be basing your pay on how many of your patients have above average teeth (or blood sugars, or cholesterol or blood pressure). Have a wonderful day!" I'm sure the that medical profession will be happy to just turn over their pay raises to their patients.

My final issue with Ms. Rhee is her belief that charter schools are the end all be all. Studies are beginning to come out about how well charters are doing. For the most part, their outcomes are no different from the public schools. I'm sure that there are some exceptions to this...but most of the testing scores aren't any different and it seems that these are supposed to be the "savior" of the educational system. To me...they're just more expensive.

I'm still waiting to hear something coming from reformers that makes me sit up and take notice...not just shake my head and think, "here comes another one"!

Thursday, January 19, 2012


So - our new unit is in full swing. We've got kids rotating through all four of us and we're working with ALL the kids. I've been really happy to meet the entire 7th grade and find out new things about all of these kids. We still have some things to work out and hopefully next year, it'll be even better when we do this.

Right now we have some good things coming through the building and school. From January 17th to the 30th, we are hosting a Holocaust exhibit addressing the group of Jehovah's Witnesses and their persecution in Nazi Germany. It's a cool panel exhibit and we may even have the capability to skype with one of the people the exhibit talks about. I've been able to get some publicity for this and have been really happy with the response from the media. I even had my 15 seconds of fame by being interviewed on tv.

We've had a student panel come in and talk to the students so these guys could practice interviewing skills. All of the panel were former students that had gone to Meredith and Hoover. The kids liked this because they could relate somewhat.

We just recently - this week - had two people (Adam and Mary) come in from our city paper, the Des Moines Register. The two journalists spoke about how to write a good feature story - leads, hooks, etc. The kids got to hear how these guys come up with stories and why they chose the career they did.

Next Tuesday - the 24th - we have another person coming in. Rami Even-Esh is a Jewish rapper and hip hop artist. He's going to work with the kids in 30 minute workshops and then do an assembly. We were even asked by another school if they could send some students and teachers to see what is going on.

I'm so excited about all the stuff we're doing together as a Literacy team. I've been really appreciative that I work with such a group of creative people. Yea, I'm pretty lucky.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

oh boy....

So, I'm still wondering if our governor is actually listening to us or just doing a really good job pretending....I believe it's the second option. He's really not doing a great job of that though...kind of reminiscent of his prior term as governor. On Friday he dropped his plan of how he is going to help the state of Iowa become better in education. There's a lot to this, I won't cover it all, but just a few things that popped out to me.

First, the teacher training program. I actually find this to be the best part of what he's talking about. It's a way to really train those that want to be teachers to the best of our ability. My one question is how to fund a year of student teaching. If we could set it up like an internship - students could possibly afford the full year it would take to do the student teaching. Otherwise having the state possibly fund half of it could also be a possibility. Now for the weird part. After talking about how there needs to be a rigorous teacher training program, he mentions an alternative certification program. This seems to be the exact opposite of what he's proposing. Why make it easier to obtain the certification if we're wanting strong teacher candidates....?

The second part that I thought was interesting was the Educator Evaluation. I think it would be interesting to see how the "scaled" evaluation could be used instead of the "meets/doesn't meet" evaluation that the administrators administer now. But it's going to come down to the administrator. As it stands right now, I'm still not sure if all administrators are correctly using the evaluation process. When I was being trained on this for my Administrator Masters, I thought it was pretty clear. But we have those administrators that either "go after" the staff or don't seem to have clue one on how to correctly use the process to help their teachers.

The last piece was the "Value added Measures"...isn't that just a fancy way of saying Assessment Based Teacher Pay? I still wish people would understand exactly what this is. It's like saying to a dentist, "your pay next year will depend on the cavities of your patients". I wonder if dentists would go for that.... Sometimes I wish people would realize that I don't sit in my room just drinking coffee and hoping that the kids will just get their education out of thin air. Also, and maybe this is just me, but I don't really think that Terry's daughter, who teaches as well, said, "you know what dad, that's a great idea! Make my salary based on how well my students do on a test!" If she did, we need to forcibly transfer her to Des Moines Public Schools and she if she still believes the same way after a few years here.

This year I am again getting frustrated when giving a pretest to see what skills the students have before we start a unit - I have a student write on his test..."this is just a pretest....I don't care". It tells me that we're testing these kids a lot. They're frustrated and not really wanting another test to tell them that they can't do something.

During this unit my literacy team is trying something different....I talked about it in the post before this one. I can say our first week was kind of rough...but I think it's going to work out. The students like being able to move around, seeing how other teachers teach and having time to get up a couple of times in a 90 minute block of sitting. I think when we're done and have the projects done - it'll be very cool. I'm still very optimistic about how this unit will turn out and our interactions with the kids and each other. I'm trying to also be optimistic about the educational system in general - but the more we try to fix it...the more tired I get.

Anyway, I need to go back to my cushy job...the one where I've been grading papers for the last hour, only to take a break to blog. I still have about 2 more hours left....

Sunday, January 1, 2012

new year...

Tomorrow we're starting a new year. We're also starting a new unit in Literacy. In this unit we're all finally working together as a Literacy team. This has been a want/need of mine for most of the year. The actually feeling of all being on the same page, working together and even grading together.

Each of us gets to play to a strength of ours. One of us is doing the writing part of the unit. Alicia is a whiz at using writing frames. She differentiates so well when she's teaching writing. I love what she can do. She's able to push me in different ways when we're teaching writing. She and Justean will be such a great team together.

Terry will be working with fluency and vocabulary. He has a such a big vocabulary himself that I believe he'll do a great job working with the kids here. Because he's such a wealth of knowledge, I've really wanted him to really work with us in doing rotations and collaboration.

I will be working with the comprehension of the some way. I have already gotten our novel unit done...questions and all. I'm still working on projects that these guys can do that we can display and show what they know and how they're doing.

I'm really excited about this year. The first two months should be really good. I'm hoping that at the end of the week or the month, I can report back and say some truly positive things.