Monthly Archives: November 2007

If you can’t admit you were wrong,

then teaching’s a dangerous profession for you.

Thus, I want to revisit the school report cards issue.

I posted rather quickly upon their release that I liked the ideas of a growth model and of peer group comparisons – and I still do. Because schools should, for fairness’ sake, be compared to similar schools (though also to everyone, at least on an informational level if perhaps not on an evaluative level, because we should all aspire to provide a world class education and world-class achievement for our students regardless of their backgrounds). And because it’s my job, as a teacher, to make sure my students grow at least one grade level each year that I spend with them. Of course, not every kid grows exactly one year academically in every school year – but I do think it’s something to shoot for. At least to have the kids who gain a year outweigh the kids who slide. Wouldn’t you want that for your own kid?

But after reading (belatedly, thanks to the end of the marking period & the holidays) Eduwonkette‘s analysis (primarily), I have to say that while I still support these IDEAS, they do not seem to have been implemented well in this case. And they are just two among other problems that have been pointed out as people with more time available took a close look at the report cards. There are serious questions about the comparability of one year’s test to another, for example, which call into question the accuracy of so-called growth measurements. Oof-yahhh, as they say in Turkey.

Narrative approaches do seem more useful in describing and evaluating schools.

Tangentially: I know someone who works at a school where they do not grade students, but provide narratives for each student they teach. Class sizes are a lot smaller, it being a private school, but it still amounts to a ton of work for the teacher. But it pushes him: he has to get to know each of his kids, as a person and as a student. He has to keep notes and observations throughout the term for each child, to help provide evidence and jog his memory when he sits down to write. There can’t be any of those kids who don’t stand out in any particular way – he has to know them all. Would you want to provide evaluations of this sort in lieu of grades (assuming smaller class sizes necessary to make this possible)? Why or why not? If you’re a parent or have thought about parenting – would you prefer your child to get traditional grades, a mix of narrative and numbers, or all narrative?



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Possibly not the most exciting blog post in history.  Nor the most artfully written.  Consider yourself warned.

Robotics: We scheduled two additional practices.  Not that much progress has been made in the last few practices, for a multitude of reasons, some technical, some behavioral, some motivational… but the kids got really excited on Tuesday and worked really hard.  We made a plan for presenting to the judges even though we haven’t really been successful at doing the research project, and now those kids are writing a play (and it’s pretty hilarious so far).  The programmers are continuing to do good work but got stymied by the slow progress of the builders.  We had a joint meeting and I sort of forced (er, coached) them to make some decisions about design and then stick to those decisions and work on troubleshooting rather than paradigm-shifting every time something goes wrong.  As a result, during our first extra practice session today, they actually had a robot that they could test with the programs and fine-tune.   The Bronx Tournament is December 8th at Lehman College, just in case you’re interested in supporting the future engineers of NYC.   Bring earplugs and a camera.

Science: God help us, we will finish levers & pulleys next week.  We’re writing our second lab reports of the year, focusing on writing clear, step-by-step procedures and on analyzing data, and it’s going well.  Lots of work for me, though.  Then it’s a brief unit on energy and the old Rube Goldberg Machine project, and then we get vacation!

Data: We collected – we being my school – tons of data this year so far, in every class.  Each department decided what forms of data to collect.   I’ve found it incredibly helpful to keep records of my kids’ progress by question or by rubric category for each major assignment.  The TFA kids (er, teachers, just ’cause I’m getting old doesn’t mean I should also get patronizing) are required to track by performance standard.  Some part of me resists that; perhaps it’s an overriding feeling that I don’t teach in neat little standard-based packages, but I still get my kids to master the standards.  Still… the data we collected in Science seems marginally useful on the school-level, despite it’s value at the classroom-level.  Would tracking by standard help?  Am I becoming a dinosaur, content with what I do already and resistant to change?

Some interesting questions did arise because one teacher had students who knew 70% of the material on the pre-test, and only 75% on the post-test.  First issue: are we wasting that student’s time teaching a lot of stuff s/he already knows?  Or is it a test-taking skill rather than actual in-depth knowledge?  Do assessments based on the 8th grade ILS exam really capture the depth of what we teach in class?  If not, should we try to align our assessments and our teaching by changing one, the other, or both?  Second issue: Did that student  learn essentially nothing during the unit?  Eek.

Kitchen:  I am making at least six different dishes – all finger food – for a fancy party on Saturday.  For this, I treated myself to four new high-quality (higher, anyway) pots & pans.  They are beautiful, gleaming aluminum.  Question: How do you store fruit tarts made a few days early?  Freezer?  Fridge?  Airtight tin?

Gym: Sometimes the gym is just what’s needed.  I still find the whole environment a bit strange, though… the lighting… the machines… the outfits… the TV.  Using that much power to work off extra consumption (which, to be fair, is not everyone’s reason for being there).  I try to avoid the treadmill so I can avoid the inevitable, Why am I not just running outside, seeing some nature, and saving myself $72 per month?  Still… can’t argue with endorphins.

Books: How to Thrive as a Teacher Leader is fantastic.  The experiences described and the solutions and strategies outlined feel so relevant and helpful.  If you are in a non-administrative leadership position in your school and feel like you could use a little check-in, I highly recommend this book.

Differentiation: The group in my CMSP class who compacted out of the multiplication unit are working on learning about base systems, mostly independently.  So far they have mastered binary numbers and are preparing explanations of how to add, subtract, multiply, and more using binary numbers.  This stretches their understanding of what borrowing and carrying and place value are really all about.  One girl figured out how base-5 would work.  I gave them some starter worksheets, a small amount of instruction, and then five challenges, of which they must pick 4 and prepare short essays with example problems.  This is how they earn a grade for this unit.  Meanwhile, the other kids are learning multiplication much faster than they otherwise would have (I suspect – it’s hard to prove but certainly going faster than addition and subtraction).

Addiction: It’s a good thing Starbucks only sells peppermint mochas for about a month.  Because this drink?  It’s like crack to me.  And almost as expensive.  *sigh*


Filed under books, confession, education, food, randomness, robotics, science, teaching

Why teachers can never pick their noses in public…

I was standing in the dry cleaners waiting to pick up my clothes when the guy at the counter indicated that someone was in the window.  Sure enough, I turned around to see a lanky teenager grinning his head off and waving enthusiastically.  Problem: I have no idea who the kid was.  So either it was a mistaken identity, or a joke, or, most likely, a really quick moment with a kid I haven’t seen in years and would have recognized given a moment to take a good look at him.   This is going to happen more and more often, I think… and I confess to being terrified that I can’t remember 90% of my former students’ names… not that I don’t remember them, it’s just that they change, and I don’t see them anymore, and there have been hundreds of them.

(by the way, I did NOT pick my nose… it’s just a catchy title)

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High stakes questions

1. If I were to give up blogging altogether, would I…  

A. take a break and end up right back here, writing about teaching?

B. start a different kind of blog, perhaps more personal and less about education, or maybe about stuff I cook, or maybe about life in NYC?

C. do an artsy kind of thing before disappearing altogether?

D. replace blogging with knitting, learning guitar, and perhaps a paper journal?

2. Should restlessness lead to…

A. a new job, same career, same city?

B. a new job, different career, same city?

C. a new job, same career, different city?

D. a new job, different career, different city?

E. same job, same career, same city?

F. grad school?

3. Is the right person out there?

A.  Sure, but you’ll never meet.

B.  You’ll know him when you see him…

C.  You already gave up on him.

D.  You know him now.

E.  Nope.  Luckily spinsterdom is less stigmatized than it used to be… 😉

4. The energy you give your job is…

A. a sign of your commitment and ambition.

B. a sign of an OCD personality.

C. fine when you’re young but needs to be tempered as you get older.

D.  pretty average for someone in your demographic in NYC.


Filed under blogging, confession, New York, randomness, teaching

The things that can break your heart…

like finding out that one of your students who receives services for an attention disorder, and is kind of disruptive but really good-hearted, has a chronic illness that causes him/her great pain and from which s/he is expected to die… that in fact, s/he has already lived far, far longer than expected.  I haven’t cried at school in a long time, and I didn’t cry, not really, because it was parent-teacher conferences and I couldn’t look like I’d been sobbing my eyes out – but tears came to my eyes.

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Nominate an outstanding math or science teacher…

Maybe your child’s teacher?  Or a colleague at your school?  Or your own teacher from back in the day, if he or she is still teaching?

The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) is the highest award a kindergarten – 12th grade mathematics or science teacher may receive for outstanding teaching in the United States. This award is given to outstanding mathematics and science teachers from each of the 50 states and four U.S. jurisdictions (Washington D.C.; Puerto Rico; Department of Defense Schools; and the U.S. territories as a group: American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands).

As enacted by Congress in the 1983, the President makes up to 108 awards each year. The 2008 call for nominations marks the 25th year of the program. Please support exemplary mathematics and science teaching by preparing to nominate a teacher for this award.

In 2008 Elementary teachers (kindergarten – 6th grade) may apply. The nomination is due February 1, 2008 and the application is due May 1, 2008.

In 2009 Secondary school teachers (grades 7 – 12) may apply. The nomination is due February 1, 2009 and the application is due May 1, 2009.

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Short term problems with long term solutions…

As promised, I kept my sixth graders – all of them – in for recess today, as a consequence of their bad behavior on Friday.  I basically lined them up in the cafeteria – we couldn’t go outside due to wet weather – in the same way they line up to come upstairs each day.  I lectured them on WHY I need their cooperation – long-term benefits of making the most out of every minute of their education – and then, when even I was tired of the lecture (and having trouble keeping my train of thought), we practiced responding to signals, like counting down from five or a raised hand (I don’t like this one as it is so similar to a Nazi salute, but it seems ubiquitous in schools and our teachers use one, the other, or both).  It was artificial.  They did pretty well, but you’d better do well when the stakes are more days of lunch detention and you know that within the next minute or so, the signal for quiet will be given and you will be judged on your response… like I said, artificial.  But I really believe in (a) making expectations crystal clear, and (b) if we’re gonna talk the talk of “teaching them to act the way we want” then we have to walk the walk and practice the individual skills like we would an academic subject.  Will it make a difference?  We’ll see… I’m not naive enough to expect a rapid turn-around but… maybe a little improvement?

My CTT class was AWFUL, though, later in the afternoon.   I mean awful like, if-this-is-how-the-rest-of-the-year-is-going-to-be-I-want-to-jump-out-a-window AWFUL.  Loud, unpleasant, cursing, insulting each other, unfocused, unproductive, unresponsive, copying each other’s homework, the whole shebang.  I’m not the most positive teacher on earth but I try to find behaviors to praise, and at least to phrase my negativity in a productive, corrective way, but they evaporate my pool of patience so quickly!  I took the time to have quiet conversations with THREE students in the first few minutes of class, about their behavior upon entering the room, but no sooner did I move on to something else than those students continued their disruptive behavior.  One student started fussing about needing 10 seconds of quiet – and all I could do was acknowledge that I, too, wanted that more than anything on earth, because nothing, nothing could get done as it was.

Meanwhile, in grown-up land, the paper wars have begun again.  By this I mean the limiting of copy paper along with statements about how we’re using too much.  But what I see are teachers arriving 40 minutes early to school to have enough time to prep for their classes, finding themselves stymied by the lack of paper, and becoming increasingly demoralized.  I really think a start would be to assess what is being copied and why and decide together on some reasonable guidelines based on what people actually need rather than a “look how fast that box disappeared” reaction.  If limitations are really necessary because of lack of money, fine, but include us, take a problem-solving approach rather than a punishing approach.  In the meantime, I’ve tried to handle it by advocating on behalf of the other teachers and myself,  with some success although I suspect the issue will rear its head again.  And my plan for getting work done today was totally undermined by the forty minutes of my prep spent copying something that I planned to do during the forty minutes I had available before school.  *sigh*

Sometimes it feels like I just keep running head-on at a brick wall.  No, scratch that, make it a CONCRETE wall.  Bricks would probably have fallen by now.  Still, I know this post sounds really negative, but I still have a “let’s fix this” attitude when I’m not ranting on my blog.  It’s just that the fixes take time, and we’re struggling now


Filed under New York, special education, teaching