Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why Goodness Perpetuates Goodness. Or, The Good Fight, Part 1.

Chula Vista High School, Home of Champions, my Alma Mater, finally has a new theater. And it is gorgeous. It has catwalks and rafters and a professional lighting booth. It has a dance room and a recording studio. Chula Vista is the home of the School for the Creative and Performing Arts in the South Bay, and this theater is at least 15 years overdue. Maybe 30. And like any new baby, it needs a proper name.

There has been a movement brewing via facebook, word of mouth, and email, and largely driven and sponsored by the lovely and talented Barbara Schroeder, to get the building named after my legendary drama teacher, Jack Tygett. If you don't know who he is, I'm not going to wax poetic here because then this might be a book instead of a blog. But watch this.  (Plus, Sam Cavanaugh is in it, so that's win). But needless to say, Jack deserves this honor. And the 170 people that belong to his Facebook group agree with me. Even the local media has caught on. I thought we had it in the bag. Until. Well, until the Other Side showed up. 

I don't want to disparage the Other Side, other than to say they were a very contentious MINORITY. They were loud and long-winded and sort of overly sensitive. They really wanted to slay Goliath, except the Giant in this case (if it's Jack Tygett) is more like the Jolly Green Giant. Lovable. Awesome. I know many people that dislike genuinely the man that the Other Side supported, but I don't know a single person that could possibly not LOVE Jack Tygett. He's joyful. He's energetic. He IS Chula Vista SCPA. 

So rather than focus on the Other Side, I am just going to point out the good parts of the Good Fight. The library at Chula Vista was filled to the brim with Tygett supporters. The public speaking part of the agenda lasted 2 hours, and Tygett supporters far outweighed the Other Side, at least in terms of numbers. There were tears shed. Yearbooks opened. Hugs exchanged. It was probably better than my High School reunion (and cost much less!). I was filled to the brim with warm and fuzzy feelings. 

Why? Why did so many people show up? Why do a disproportionate number of Spartans become teachers? Because that kind of Goodness is self-perpetuating. Because teachers like Jack (and Mr. Neil, and Mr. Naismith, and SO MANY OTHERS) create people who want to teach. Because when you do good, it drives others to do good. I won't say Jack inspired me to teach. That seed was planted long before then. But people LIKE Jack inspired me to teach. And Jack inspired me in so many other ways. 

And we won, sort of. For now. The committee was oddly political (maybe this shouldn't surprise me) and kept wanting to compromise with The Other Side. I think this had far less to do with their argument, and far MORE to do with the fact that they had people on the committee. But, ultimately, the compromise that was reached meant we were able to honor Jack in a meaningful way. And this makes me happy. The Jack Tygett Performing Arts Center. Has a nice ring to it, no? 

I know the SUHSD School Board will do the Right Thing and, at the very least, follow the committee's recommendation. At best? Maybe they'll take the less political road and actually give Jack his due. Every Spartan knows he deserves it. 

And, as I posted on Facebook, it felt good to fight the Good Fight. So many of my fights feel defensive lately.Don't cut this, give that back. Stop decimating my classroom and selling off the rafters.  It felt good to put some Good back into the world. To focus on the POSITIVE aspects of education. And if there is positivity in education, Jack embodies that. 

And I'm feeling a little more recharged for the defensive fighting, too. I miss Berkeley. I'll keep you posted. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

It's all too much

Lately, I haven't been blogging, largely because I've been working. I've been grading around the clock, meeting yearbook deadlines, and trying to balance that with what little personal life I can eek out. I want to write, I want to blog, but lately my spark is dim. My fight is dying. So I am going to write an epic opus about all the weights upon my shoulders, and let the world sort it out.

I think I'll start small and get bigger. Our school site is in danger. Our district wants to cut our buses, as part of the budget cuts for next year. Over 1/2 of our student population is bused in. Let me tell you about the school where I work. It's a K-8 school, which already makes us special and unique. In my opinion, K-8 schools are beneficial for middle school students because it encourages them to be role models, to cultivate their nurturing sides. They also are better because a small school environment allows for me to be in close communication with my colleagues and the parents, and it is therefore easier to catch problems and support students. In addition, our school offers a unique magnet program--language immersion in either Spanish or French. By the end of 8th grade, our students are all bilingual and biliterate. Thanks to busing, our demographics almost exactly replicate the demographics of the district, making us one of the most diverse schools in terms of race, socioeconomic status, and neighborhood. But if our buses are cut, our school can't stay viable. It will close. And not only will I lose my position and my students their school, but we will also be losing one of the most exciting and successful educational programs in the district.

In addition, we are looking at layoffs. I am lucky enough to be safe in my position, but our school is losing amazing teachers that really have helped to make our school what it is. One of our PE coaches has spent tireless hours working on creating sports opportunities that our students have never had through school before. He emails me from the library as he sits with my problem students, making sure they are writing their essays. We have fought year in and year out to get him, but the district wants to take him from us again. And again.

The district is cutting Palomar, too. For one week a year, our 6th grade  students get to get out of the classroom, experience hands on Science instruction, see parts of San Diego they never get to see otherwise, and meet students from other schools, learning to get along with others and break down barriers. Outdoor school programs are beneficial to our students in so many ways, and without witnessing it first hand, you can barely even imagine. Things like this are being cut because they are being considered non-essential. But I think we are losing a grasp on what essential really is. My students will never remember or care about the test-prep lessons I am forced to teach. They will never benefit from 2 weeks of bubbling in circles on multiple choice questions. But they will never forget camp. And those staff members at camp being layed off? Amazing, dynamic, brilliant and innovative individuals that our short-sighted district can't even find a way to keep.

And then. Well, then there's the educational climate in this country. The media telling me every day that I make too much money (how is it that I can barely make ends meet, then?), that I am ruining education, that I am the reason our country is in this handbasket. The teacher hate is exhausting. And I don't even have the strength to fight it anymore. Am I supposed to be writing letters to the state? What, exactly, should be my focus? They've cut everything from us. We have no supplies, no support staff, no resources. And yet, supposedly, everything from war to plague is my fault. How am I supposed to fight that? We're being crucified. We're your scapegoats, and it's really sad that you have to pick such good people to be your scapegoats.

And you know why we don't fight it? Because YOU are not our priority. My time is spent lesson planning. Researching counseling and mentorship options for my students. Grading essays. Organizing spelling bees. Teaching. Working on the yearbook. Creating rich experiences for our students. YOU are not important to me. But you are not-so-quietly, not-so-subtly, creating such a hostile workplace that I can barely function. And you know who ultimately suffers? Well, we all do. Because those kids are going to grow up to be your leaders, your doctors, your politicians. Your teachers, too, if we don't completely destroy compulsory public education in this country. And when they are crippled by the world you've created for them, you will suffer. That's the bottom line.

We can't fight this fight alone. We're too tired. We need parents, community members, and kids who think that this is bullshit to fight back with us, however you can. Write the state. Write your school board. Blog. Speak up when the assholes bash teachers. Write to the media. We can't do this alone, and public education is being eaten away, bit by bit. Soon it will be too late to fight it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Technology geniuses. Technology challenged.

This one's for Brandon.

Here are things in technology that kids are good at: 

  • learning a new program
  • hacking past any blocking/filtering software
  • figuring out other people's passwords (especially default passwords)
  • navigating any new device
  • anything related to any social-anything, 
  • If it involves a way to communicate or to play a game, they can do it. 
Here are things they suck at:
  • emailing attachments
  • uploading anything to anyone 
  • spell checking
  • navigating through websites in a purposeful way
  • evaluating credible information
  • evaluating the safety of anything, anytime, anywhere

Friday, February 18, 2011

Something stinks in Wisconsin...and it ain't the cheese

The anti-union movement in this country is coming to a head. In Wisconsin, the Legislature is primed to vote on legislation that, among other horrendous things, would limit collective bargaining rights to wage increases, and limit wage increases to inflation.

In other words, unions would be dead.

No more bargaining for fair and safe working conditions.

No more bargaining for benefits and healthcare.

You could only bargain to get what is already rightfully inflation based wage increase. Is that something that we should even have to bargain for?

If you read my earlier post about the National City strike (which was thankfully averted at the very last minute) you already know that I'm pro-union. Not just pro-teacher union, pro-union. Unions are GOOD, people. GOOD. We are able to work under these safe and humane conditions (40 hour weeks, health care, workman's comp, etc) because collective bargaining made that happen.

It is a basic philosophy of our country that we are stronger as one. Our very own Pledge of Allegiance states that we are "indivisible." What this anti-union movement seeks to do is, in fact, divide us. They claim it's necessary for budget cuts. The anti-union movement is using the bad economy as an excuse to roll back decades worth of progress on working conditions.

We can no longer sit idly by. I don't know exactly what we can do, other than fight the lawmakers in this country by speaking out. Speak. Be heard. Or you're next. They're coming for you.

Monday, February 14, 2011


I'm raising funds for my birthday camera, if anyone wants to help. How does this relate to teaching? I intend to take it to Europe. I take pics of my students ALL THE TIME. I teach yearbook. That's enough, right? Plus, think of all the shiny pics I can post here, for you!

Don't feel obligated. I'm also trying out this widget for potential future use. If you are actually one of my birthday people, and you'd rather not give $, I'll put together an Amazon Wish List. I'd also like things for the Europe Trip, as well as accessories for the camera!

Friday, February 11, 2011

I believe in red pens

Aaaah. New grading pens. My favorite. Specifically, I like the Pilot G-2 retractable with red ink. It glides across the paper, doesn't smear, and shines like a beacon of knowledge through a 7th grade paper of fog.

There is a movement out there, part of this special, special snowflake mentality, that says that grading with red pens hurts students' feelings. They say you should use purple, or blue, or maybe just give everyone As. But I reject this notion. I embrace the red. (I feel the need to give some credit here where credit is due. I came to my love of red ink, in part, through Carol Jago's Papers, Papers, Papers. That woman is a genius)

For one thing, red is visually stunning. It contrasts with the pencil or black ink, and stands out boldly against the white paper. It keeps parents and students from claiming I did not, in fact, slave over their essays at length on my day off work. And it is our cultural color to say "Stop! Don't do this anymore!" There is nothing quite so jarring as receiving an essay back that looks as though it's bleeding.

And, I suppose, that is why people think we should be using sparkly pink gel pens to soothe our students' battered egos. Never let them know what failure feels like. Stroke their heads and tell them that their crap smells like lilies. But it doesn't. It smells like crap, just like mine. And sooner or later, they will have to learn this. They are not special snowflakes. They are citizens of the world. A world that is both beautiful and amazing and rewarding and fucking hard. Sometimes you won't get the job. Sometimes you won't get the girl. It does them a disservice to act like this won't happen, and keeps them from learning coping skills necessary to be successful and happy in the world.

So I sing praises to the red. I wish I could carry a red pen with me everywhere and correct menus, signs, and other public writing. (I do, in fact, usually have a red pen in my purse. I am afraid if I start using it, though, I'll get run out of town).  I want to annotate facebook. I want to paint the town red, just to show you where you're misusing commas. I want to bleed out the bad grammar and poor vocabulary. I want to rid the world of homophone fail and unnecessary quotation marks.

If there's anything this world needs more of, it's red ink. So I sing your praises, Pilot G-2. My tiny weapon in a grammar-less world.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

To Do List

It's really a shame when an escape day like Disney Day is interrupted by text messages and voicemails and more text messages from colleagues. Without going into all the reasons why I am feeling overwhelmed with work, here is my to-do list.

Grades Are Due Feb 21--

  • 7th grade narrative rough drafts (about 75 of them)
  • 6th grade book reports (25)
  • 6th grade narrative final drafts (25)
  • 7th grade book reports (75)
  • 8th grade persuasive final drafts (12)
  • late work
  • overflowing basket of class work
In addition 
  • fund-raise for Europe trip
  • prepare myself for Europe trip (this is a whole other to-do list)
  • plan for STAR writing prep (which I don't teach) 
  • plan for Portfolio Prep (which I do) (also, this involves finding appropriate video clips) (also, it's likely this weeks lesson will be observed by the special tour)
  • clean my classroom and make it presentable for special tour on Thursday
  • make sub plans for Monday
  • put in sub job for Monday
  • plan out 8th grade essay 
  • review benchmark exams before Wed
  • figure out who is going to 6th grade camp
  • buy 2 copies of Eagle Strike and 5 copies of The Devil and his Boy or whatever it was
  • upload yearbook photos
  • plan 8th grade Parent Exhibition Meeting
I'm sure there's more. But I have to go read papers, now.