Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Memories of Teddy

Today is a day to remember Teddy Kennedy, so I thought I'd add my own moments.

I was an intern at the American Federation of Teachers during the 2004 presidential campaign. The AFT was visited by all of the Democratic candidates. At some point, Ted Kennedy came by to give a pep rally about the importance of the national union's work in the campaign. He brought along his dog, who I believe is the same breed as Bo Bama? The effect was electrifying and animating.

Earlier that year there was a rally outside the Department of Labor (under Secretary Chao). My intern buddies and I were sent with our AFT paraphernalia to increase the presence on a cold, rainy day. We happened to be standing a few feet from the podium, behind the speakers. With no warning, Ted Kennedy walks out of the Department of Labor building, strides up to the podium, and delivers an eloquent speech based on nothing but a few notes on a paper napkin. (I was close enough to read them!) He said, "If you work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, you should not have to live in poverty in the United States of America!"

His vision was compelling, and his way of expressing it simple and clear. I feel lucky that I had the chance to be so inspired by him, at least for those moments.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

First day of staff development before school starts, therefore my first day as "lead teacher." Can't express how woefully underqualified I feel for the job. Exhausted from leading sessions today and trying to get things in order. Trying to figure out strategies for managing stress better BEFORE school starts - if today's any example I have a long way to go.

Came home and was cheered up by this:

Friday, August 14, 2009

We can't afford to ignore it.

A district not far from my school was just ordered to award $25,000 to a student as a settlement in a case of harrassment by a teacher. She had been making repeated comments about his perceived sexual orientation.

Most disturbing part:
Despite his complaints, and a resulting investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, the district recently rejected a local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) advocacy group's offer to help train staff in the district's recently revised policy on discussing sexual orientation. Until February district policy directed staff members to refrain from discussing homosexuality "as a normal, valid lifestyle" in health education classes.

"There are so many advocacy groups out there that you could have one for every social concern there is," said Michelle Langenfeld, associate superintendent of the district, which is the state's largest with more than 40,000 students. "What we've tried to do is create policy around a neutral stance, focusing on respect, appreciation of diversity, responsibility, integrity and compassion."
I could see some of my coworkers saying something just like that. We've had serious issues with students who are gay or perceived as gay at our school, and some of our staff members don't seem to think that it's a problem. The students need a lot of guidance, but what kind of message do they get when their teachers make comments about the way certain students dress? How is a student supposed to react when their teacher tells them they think gay students are receiving special treatment?

When I brought this up with my school leader yesterday, suggesting we take it seriously, she was offended at the suggestion that it could happen in our school.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Is college for everyone?

One of the most commonly searched phrases that ends up sending people to this site is "college isn't for everyone." I guess it goes to one of Chris's posts about his experience in an after-school program.

Edutopia now has a poll up on the question "Should all students go to college?" As of this minute, 63% of 176 respondents answered "No. College is just one of many paths students can take after high school, and is by no means the only road to success."

I was actually one of them. But I hope I don't send the same message to my students that the teachers in Chris's school did.

As the career coordinator, I try to put college on the agenda of every student - particularly those who'd be the first in the family to go, and who haven't really considered it. I do all I can to keep the possibility open: I have them take the PLAN test in 10th grade; I arrange college tours and bring in speakers as often as I can. I offer college and FAFSA workshops throughout the year.

I do my best to help kids make an informed decision. But I would not push college on a kid if it wasn't his or her choice. I believe kids when they tell me they don't believe college is for them. And I let them know that after they graduate, if they ever do decide to go, they can always come to me for advice and a recommendation - I will always be their career counselor.

I try to send the message that any of them could succeed in college (given the proper support), but that I believe and trust their decisions.

Does that make sense?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Don't Panic

Dwight D. Eisenhower Radio and Television Address to the American People on the State of the Nation
Sometimes you feel, almost, that we can be excused for getting a little bit hysterical, because these dangers come from so many angles, and they are of such different kinds, and no matter what we do they still seem to exist. But underlying all of these dangers is one thing: the threat that We have from without, the great threat imposed upon us by aggressive communism, the atheistic doctrine that believes in statism as against our conception of the dignity of man, his equality before the law--that is the struggle of the ages. ...

I don't mean to say, and no one can say to you, that there are no dangers. Of course there are risks, if we are not vigilant. But we do not have to be hysterical. We can be vigilant. We can be Americans. We can stand up and hold up our heads and say: America is the greatest force that God has ever allowed to exist on His footstool.
I'm waiting for Obama to make this speech.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Among the thugs

The word "thug" needs to be eliminated from the English language.

A Google News search of the word shows why.

When I did it, stories about Michael Vick came up first ("thug" is usually used in connection with African Americans), then stories about teabag protests allegedly encountering (working-class) union "thugs," then more stories about black athletes.

It's not the neighborhoods

Caveat: I have not read the whole study. That said ...

"Four in five black children who started in the top three quintiles experienced downward mobility compared with just two in five white children."

The Pew Charitable Trust studied black children in the top 60% of income who lived in high poverty neighborhoods as opposed to low poverty neighborhoods in the 1980s and determined that poverty in the neighborhood increased downward mobility by 52%. Neighborhood poverty explains between 1/4th and 1/3rd of the downward mobility gap between blacks and whites.

While 59% of whites from the bottom two quintiles were upwardly mobile, only 25% of the black counterparts were. When the poverty rate of black children’s neighborhoods dropped by 10% in the 1980s, their family income was nearly $7,000 greater in 2005.The implication, of course, is that we must reduce concentrations of poverty in neighborhoods as well as schools. But "even today 30% of black children experience a level of neighborhood poverty - a rate of 30% or more - unknown among white children. - John Thompson

I wholeheartedly agree that our society must reduce poverty across the board, especially when it is shown to affect some people disproportionally.

I disagree with the blog poster's implication of "it's the neighborhood", meaning the neighborhood is the problem in student achievement. The image he chooses to accompany the post is particularly uncalled for.

First of all the study only says that coming from a high-poverty neighborhood accounts for 1/4 to 1/3 of downward mobility in achievement. The rest is unexplained (in this blurb, anyway). What about the structural racism a child experiences from the moment he enters school?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Dollars and incentives

So I'm getting my thoughts together for this World History class I'm teaching. Last night I talked with a veteran teacher who taught AP Euro for many years, then World History for his last few before retirement. In his district, there were cash incentives for the school, then for the teachers if kids passed the exam, and since he was particularly successful, he benefited from the policy.

Today I read about a program targeting minority students in New York that rewards students for passing AP exams:
The program awarded a total of $825,000 this year. A student from Flushing High School in Queens earned $3,250 for passing four tests.
It's something to ponder, and you have to wonder about the unintended incentives and disincentives created in these systems.

Unfortunately, it's purely a mind experiment for me this year. Due to our budget, my students will have to be motivated by the love of learning and/or the ambition to earn some college credit.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Paeon to Ben Franklin

Oh, Ben! In college we learned to revere the man, so I was excited to find this in the New York Times today.