Monday, August 01, 2011
Monday, June 13, 2011
Thursday, February 17, 2011
I finished a chapter about whether the hiring process in the teaching profession is flawed. There certainly seems to be some problems there.
Ideally a school should be able to hire and fire the teachers they decide are best for their institution. Instead they are beholden to a series of agreements and laws that force them to conduct much of the hiring and firing in the early spring, months before the school year begins and the actual demand for teachers in known. They are also unable to keep the teachers they want and remove the ones they decide are a poor fit, or are not producing enough. Instead they are forced to eliminate the most junior teacher without any other consideration. I heard recently that in one state the "teacher of the year" was pink-slipped because he was the most junior. If a school is forced to fire the best teacher the state has to offer because of a union agreement, or state law, then something is wrong.
It creates a system in which the school that just made an effort to find the teacher they decided was the best for their school through a rigorous hiring process is forced to release that teacher at the end of the year, just in case they will no longer need him because they will be unable to release him in the fall. Furthermore they cannot release another teacher who may have grown complacent or even belligerent and spiteful. Nope, the school is forced to release the teachers they recently sought after and gladly placed in their classroom. Imagine baseball teams releasing their most recent draft pick to save money rather than the player who has not produced for the past few years and his past his prime. A team owner would likely not make that decision, but schools are forced to do exactly that. They cut the newest teachers who are energetic, and full of inspiration and insight from their recent studies, even though they are inexperienced.
I would like to see some change in the way in which teachers are hired and fired in our schools. This may seem simple but it will not be easy. It will pit teachers against each other, but this is already the case so until we address this problem it will continue. President Obama mentioned getting rid of poor teachers and encouraging new and enthusiastic ones, but so far I have not seen a change. I was worried when I heard him make the point in his campaign that he did not know how much influence the union had over education. This is not the whole of the challenge, but it would do well to allow schools to have more influence over their own staff.
This was a sonnet I wrote for my wife on Valentine 's Day. For whatever reason, I have been writing them again. I like sonnets. Most of my students hate them and complain about having to write them for English class, but I try to redeem the form for them. They can be a little challenging, but I like the challenge of having to force poetry into a concrete structure. Anyways…here it is.
They say that today I should love you more.
Somehow this day, they call the day of love,
Supposed to increase my love from before.
They know all about what love is made of.
Two dozen roses can surely melt hearts.
Or loads of fancy chocolates perhaps.
Men don't forget to get them lovely cards.
Diamonds may be forever, but I'll pass.
Sure roses are red, but soon they'll be dead.
Candy is sweet, but how much can you eat?
Cards are great, but can't keep you warm in bed.
Jewels wonderful, until the bill you greet.
But none of these can say any better,
More than today, I'll love you forever.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
I recently watched "Hot Tub Time Machine," which was plenty funny even while using a silly concept. It was cute, had some good dry humor, through some bare boobs in to draw the 15 year olds and so was probably not the worst movie I've ever seen. For me it reminded me of how much I hate time travel as a plot point. It is one thing if you are trying to use time travel to make some sort of philosophical point. I like Christmas Carol, and Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, both which bend the rules of time, but when you use it to correct only to get the writer out of a corner he backed his self into, it is really annoying. Star Trek did it with their recent movie and it pissed me off. In Star Trek 4 they went back in time, but it was to correct a problem in the future. They went back and then forward again, and didn't travel around randomly changing the plot and course of the story as they went as well as the characters who are affected every time a change is made. It just seems lazy to me. It doesn't allow the reader to predict what might happen and not in a good way. Readers like to anticipate the next page, and like to be fooled, but also like to believe that the plot is possible. With time travel all of that is removed. You can't predict what might happen because rime travel is not based in normal human understanding. Even for the science fiction reader the plot and characters can get too complicated to follow. So I vow to never use time travel as a literary tool. Except that I have a story that features it a bit…ok, I guess you can use it, but don't expect me to like it. And "Hot Tub Time Machine" was still funny even if the idea of traveling time in a hot tub with drunken naked men is dumb.
Friday, November 26, 2010
Another excerpt from my current project on reforming education. I have finished the second chapter now and am about 7500 words into the book—a pretty good start.
So perhaps the teacher education programs are at fault? The state has gone to great pains in creating a number of standards, regulations, requirements and paperwork for a prospective teacher to accomplish but is it really helpful? Are there new teachers who are qualified or are they lacking.
It seems there is a bit of both. While I don't knock the state for its efforts to try and account for every teacher and their training, it does not seem to be making much of a difference. In fact, there have been some teachers run off because they had been teaching a subject for a number of years without the proper qualifications. Many of these people left the private sector and became teachers. Some were engineers who taught physics, or former missionaries who taught Spanish. Others were chemists or biologists who desired to teach in order to pass on the skills and expertise that they possessed. Some of them quit teaching because they were unwilling to jump through the hoops. They knew they were good teachers. Their students knew they were good teachers, but they did not have the proper credential, and rather than do what was required in order to continue their job, they left the classroom.
To be fair to the state, the new requirements were made clear and there was ample time given to complete them, but for some it didn't matter. Perhaps they only had a few more years of teaching left in them anyways before they took time to spend with grandkids and travel, but for whatever reason some left.
I don't think that this is really the problem however. Still part of me thinks that there is a lack of proper teacher training. Now any veteran teacher will tell you that things were simpler when they began and that keeping kids alive and busy was the main objective, but still there can be some improvement.
The state knows this too and is trying to compensate for the lack of training new teachers arrive with by offering a mentoring program at the schools themselves. Even knowing that and knowing that some credential programs are not as good as others, I still feel as though the schools of education are not the problem. Most seem to be doing what they, and the State of California, feel is best to prepare a new wave of teachers. After all it is not an easy thing to take a recent college graduate who has spent her entire life as a student and get her to the other side of the classroom in one year. Teaching is a challenging occupation that takes years to master and so they might be doing the best job they know how.
In the end I can excuse the schools of Education from blame, and certainly hope we can refrain from "blowing them up." The problem must lie elsewhere, so please allow me to continue exploring my own journey to nail down the problem.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Another excerpt from my current project on education:
I was in my first year of full time teaching trying to teach a group of 15 and 16 year-olds modern world history. Whether I succeeded or not is a matter for debate, but at one moment I thought about giving up. In my 8th period, the last class of the day, I had an exchange student from Germany, who in spite of learning history in a language that was not his first managed to score higher than any of my other students. Hans, was somehow an object of desire among the female students in spite of the fact that he was highly arrogant and sarcastic. At one point one of these female students decided to ask about exchange programs even though such a question was significantly off topic, not that such a thing was unusual.
Maria's hand shot up and without waiting for me to call on her she began, "Hey Mr. B?"
Figuring that she wanted to know something about World War 2, the topic of the lesson I responded, "Yes Maria?"
She perhaps did not really even know what we were learning that day since she had spent most of the period chatting with her cousin and the exchange student. "If I want to be an exchange student, to say…England. Do I have to learn the language?"
I paused stunned by the question, but trying to spare the student's feelings I calmly answered, "Maria, they speak English."
He faced did not betray proper understanding of my answer and sure enough she wanted some clarification, "So I don't have to learn it?"
I decided to try and clarify further so I repeated, "They speak English in England."
At that point a few students had cued into the fact that this young woman was making a fool of herself. Her friend, upon hearing the laughter decided that she was in on the joke so she tried to pile on to Maria's embarrassment by adding, "Duh, of course you have to learn the language."
By now most of the other students were aware of how ludicrous this line of questioning was, but for me, I had not figured out how to get through to her without making fun of her so I repeat louder and slower as though it was a matter of volume and speed that caused this young woman to fail to understand me, "They speak English in England."
Still the girl looked confused. At last I had a new idea, "Maria, they speak English. You speak English." She nodded was the confused look fixed on her face, but I had no more time to try and illuminate her.
It was at that moment that I decided maybe the students I was getting had missed a few steps on their way to my class.
Sunday, November 07, 2010
Here is an excerpt from one of my current projects, on education:
I had some interesting interactions in my program that caused me to pause and try to make sense of the field into which I was heading. I was unable at the time however to gain proper perspective. One of the situations was in my class about how to teach second language learners as we call them. California especially, but other states as well have a plethora of students from a number of countries, speaking a number of languages. This poses a challenge for the teacher obviously because in any given class there may be a large proportion of students who did not grow up speaking English, and who's parents also do not speak the common tongue of this nation. In my student teaching experience, I taught a group of students who were entirely made up of second language learners. It was interesting trying to teach about the history of 20th century America while my students had trouble understanding .
Anyways, my professor was a woman who hailed from Argentina, but had since gained a college education in the United States through a doctorate program. She was the mother of two high school students at a local school. There were several things that bothered me about her and the class. The first was that she was never on time. It was normal for us students to be assembled in the class before she arrived and then took a few minutes to set up. She dismissed this as cultural, explaining that in Argentina no one is ever on time. Interesting. The next thing that piqued my attention was that she regularly denounced the American education system as unfair for immigrants and even extended it to the nation as a whole. I found this difficult to swallow as she herself was the product of the American college system had held lofty degrees and positions in education. Furthermore she drove a luxury SUV and her daughters attended what was commonly accepted as the bourgeois high school in the area. She was always adorned with jewelry and dressed in fashionable clothes. She seemed to embody the American dream and not the American nightmare she was selling. I was getting confused.