Posts tagged ‘CHS’

Recommended

A pivotal part of this teacherly job hunt has been the collection of recommendation letters. Urban School District prefers what is called a “closed placement file,” which means that my letter writers sent their contributions to a neutral third party (in my case, the university career center) who then sends the letters to districts on my behalf. I am not permitted to see the letters; the idea is that the job hunter will then be unable to cherry-pick the “best” letters for his/her packet. (Hopefully, an applicant would know who will write strong letters, thus rendering this precaution somewhat arbitrary.)

In my case, most of my letter-writers voluntarily offered me personal copies of their letters. In fact, two of them showed me drafts and asked if there was anything I would suggest, and one wrote his letter while I sat in the next chair. (That was uncomfortable – but a good idea; he was able to ask me clarifying questions that helped him focus his letter.)

Ultimately, I asked for and received letters from my mentor teacher, my university supervisor, the principal of CHS, one of my favorite education professors, and one of my favorite English professors. I was fortunate enough to be able to read all of these letters except the principal’s; my mentor spoke to him, however, and indicated that the letter would have been a strong one.

Today I went by CHS to take care of some business in preparation for summer teaching, and there was a folder waiting for me from one of the assistant principals. I opened it and found an unsolicited letter of recommendation. It’s clearly not a form letter – in fact, it indicates a level of familiarity with my work that I hadn’t realized the AP had. It is a very nice, very strong letter. Perhaps my favorite line comes near the end:

I strongly recommend her for a teaching position and know that this is the kind of person that gives back to people and the institution way more than she ever takes.

I would definitely like to think that this is the case. I’m the sort of teacher who really buys into the school culture; you’ll see me at games, performances, graduations – and not because I feel obligated, but because I enjoy them. I wear school colors, adopt the mascot, pay attention to matters of school politics and development. I love to build programs and events. Most of all, I genuinely love the students and care about them as people. I’m so interested in who they are outside and beyond the classroom. The hardest thing for me is when the kids walk out of the room at the end of the year, and I am uncertain if I will ever know what becomes of them.

Anyway. I am just blown away at the AP’s gesture. It always makes you feel good to get a strong recommendation letter, but this goes above and beyond that. For a busy assistant principal to take the time to write a lengthy personal letter, under his own volition and without my request – that says something. It makes me feel really good that he noticed me, was pleased with what he saw, and wants to help me find a position.

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June 5, 2008 at 5:46 pm 1 comment

Pomp, Circumstance, and Two Districts

I was invited to attend CHS’s graduation, as a teacher, which meant that I got to promenade ahead of the graduates and sit on the floor for the ceremony. Although I taught sophomores, I had gotten to know several seniors through their relationship with my mentor and was happy to witness their big day.

No graduation ceremony is very interesting – including, in my experience, one’s own graduation ceremony(s) – but I enjoyed the new perspective on the occasion. Someone mentioned to me that I must be especially dedicated (her comment had a perhaps imagined undertone of “are you trying to suck up?”) but the fact of the matter is that I honestly think it these moments are so important for young people – and it seems important to me to share in that. Goodness knows that the high school diploma no longer holds the value it once did, and it seems to me that a kid has to go out of his/her way to not make it to graduation; regardless, this is the one rite of passage remaining for American youth, and one shouldn’t underestimate the potency of these rites.

The following week I went with Mr. Bees to CeHS’s graduation, which we attended as regular guests. Unlike me, Mr. Bees has been teaching seniors and has developed relationships with about 150 of them. It was heartwarming to stand by him as one after another gowned senior approached him afterwards with warm exclamations and the occasional declaration of gratitude.

I went to high school in Suburban School District, although not at CeHS, and their version of the graduation ceremony was more like my own than CHS’s. At CHS’s graduation ceremony I had been gratified to find that the people had apparently “grown up” a bit since my own walk across the stage. There was very little showboating on the stage, no inappropriate footwear, appropriate levels of respect paid to speakers, and only two airhorn blasts. From where I sat, it appeared that the vast majority of the audience stayed in their seats for the entirety of the ceremony. While some students received uproarious applause from their large families, there was no one who didn’t receive a round of applause. Every teacher seat was taken.

Then I went to CeHS’s graduation and discovered that things hadn’t changed so much after all. The national anthem and superintendent speech were drowned out by audience members bellowing their graduates’ names. Airhorn blasts punctuated the role call at regular intervals, deafening the unfortunate spectators in front of them. After every name was announced, another group of spectators stood up and walked out of the arena. At least two graduates were wearing the kind of light-up plastic heels more traditionally seen at strip clubs, and there were a startling number of male graduates sporting bare legs and dirty tennis shoes. At least half of the seats in the teacher section were empty.

Urban School District (CHS’s district) and Suburban School District (CeHS’s district) are separated by few enough miles that children who grew up on the other side of my street attended the other district. They both have high-quality schools and teachers and a lot of community support. Personally, I would be quite happy to work for either district – I think that they both have significant strengths and comparable weaknesses. And yet, they are miles apart in many fundamental ways. There is something intangible there that made their two graduation ceremonies vastly different. The first felt sacred, important. The second felt like I must have missed the kegs on the way in. I am not at all sure what is going on there.

June 4, 2008 at 6:14 pm Leave a comment

Paycheck!

I got a job!!

Well, kinda.

I was in the right place (next to my mentor teacher) at the right time (the moment when the principal of our summer school learned that one of their English teachers quit at the eleventh hour) and now I’m going to teach a semester of ninth grade English this summer. It will last about 3 and a half weeks, mostly in June, two classes a day. The pay is awesome (around $23 an hour) and the experience is priceless. Plus, it’s at CHS. Mr. Bees will be in classes at the time anyway, and we could definitely use the money.

The first semester of 9th grade English is pretty cool. Short stories and poetry. I’m excited…

In other good news, both DR and BR recently expressed confidence that I will be able to get a job this year. Feels good to hear it from people “in the know.”

May 28, 2008 at 10:09 pm 3 comments

I am never assigning essays again.

I made a rookie mistake.

I mean, it’s not REALLY a mistake. I very deliberately set up my MND unit to include three assessment activities: a test (mostly multiple-choice), a creative project (acting as review for the test), and the district-mandated literary analysis essay.

The problem is, I finished the unit at the same time that I finished the “in charge of the class” portion of my student teaching. And progress reports are due next week.

And I have set myself up to have to grade 250 assignments in the space of seven days.

Thank gourd I am not teaching, because there’s no way I could get through this all if I was responsible for classroom activities, too.

I managed to whip through the tests pretty quickly, thanks to a wonderful thing called CPS software (which, if you aren’t using it, you should go kick yourself in the butt and go write a grant for clickers RIGHT NOW) and a minimalist “checklist” rubric for the three short-essay questions.

We had a stupid Career Center day on Friday, and I was able to make a dent in the creative projects. I’ve pretty much graded all of the board games. Now on to the tougher stuff, like “lost scenes,” music videos, and loosely organized mock-tabloids.

But these essays – yargh. I am limiting myself to 5-10 minutes per paper, and yet I have still only graded ten. Why? Because they are MAKING ME CRAZY.

Coincidentally, today one of my RSS feeds had something to say about grading essays. Rate Your Students is a… well, I guess it might be a therapeutic tool for angsty professors. You’ve heard of Rate Your Professors, I’m sure; well, a bunch of professors got irritated by that site and created a blog where they basically rant about their awful students. It’s sick, twisted, and often entirely hilarious.

Anyway, today a chemistry professor submitted this gem:

Grading my finals
is easy as pi: no essays.
I teach chem, not lit.

Calculate numbers.
Equations are right or wrong.
No partial credit.

Poor comp and lit profs.
Students cannot plagiarize
If they do not write.

Chem grads get jobs.
People think we’re useful.
Pay accordingly.

Well rounded? Hell no!
I did learn to write Haiku
by reading this site.

Sounds pretty damn good, actually. I was kind of thinking I might go the PE teacher route. How much lesson planning and essay grading do you have to do to make kids run stair laps?

April 27, 2008 at 5:55 pm 1 comment

Week in a Burkha

This is another long post, but I think it’s a pretty interesting story.

DR does a “semester novel project” each term with her accelerated classes. In the spring, the students choose and read three books, find a common theme (usually they choose books based on that theme) conduct research, and do some sort of combined written/presentation project. Many of these projects incorporate primary source research using surveys, experimentation, or tests. It is a fairly significant endeavor and makes up much of their second semester grade.

One of my students, a girl who recently moved to the US from Indonesia, is building her project around The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and one other book that currently escapes my mind. As part of her project she is researching the sociological effects related to the treatment of women in Middle Eastern countries; as part of that research she is chronicling her experiences this week, which she is spending in a burkha.

It is somewhat extraordinary to have a burkha-clad student in my white-bread American classroom. For one thing, it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. When she indicated that she would like to do this, I was envisioning a garment along these lines:

black burqa

Instead, she arrived in something more like this:

blue burqa

It’s a beautiful color of blue with ornate stitching (if you click that photo you can see it) and it falls to her knees when she stands. Unlike the black burkhas, which seem to have openings for the eyes, her eyes are hidden behind a dyed-to-match fabric mesh. In indirect light her face vanishes entirely. This is apparently the Afghan variety of burkha, called a chadri; the bulkier black variety is more common in Yemen.

Although I hadn’t consciously decided to do so, I find myself mentally evaluating my experience of her week as well. The situation wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as I was expecting, for one thing. My kids, being sophomores, were remarkably accepting of the situation; I’m not sure if word had gotten around beforehand, but they really took it in stride.

The first day of the experiment was project presentation day, and my student (let’s call her Lisa) had spoken to me before about her options. She had chosen to memorize and perform a monologue from the play, but didn’t feel that it would be very effectively shared from underneath a sheet of fabric. The problem was that she was planning to do this Right, and couldn’t remove her burkha with males in the room. I thought about it, and realized that it might be a powerful experience for the other people in the class if the room were temporarily segregated.

When it came her turn to present, I asked all of the boys to stand up. (There are only eight in that class.) I then asked them to follow me into the hall, offering no explanation; when we were there, I told them that they couldn’t be in the room with the women right now and that I needed them to take a seat along the walls and be quiet until I came back to them. As you can imagine, they were pretty curious as to what was going on. I shut the door, covered the window, and acknowledged Lisa.

Lisa stood and struggled with the folds of fabric. As she emerged I realized that something unusual had happened. Lisa is a pretty girl, but as her face was revealed she looked somehow different – prettier, rarer. Kind of like absence making the heart grow fonder, y’know? Only here, absence (of seeing her face, even for only half an hour) made the face grow sweeter. Maybe it was all in my head, but I was so stricken by the impact it had on me that I forgot to listen to the first part of her monologue.

The following day Lisa arrived, a faceless turquoise pillar, and took her usual seat in the front center of the classroom. As I teach I get a half-conscious sense of empty desks, which I use to piece together my attendance when there’s a lull (I know, not very good practice, but there’s so much to do!) About halfway through the period I had a second to begin thinking about who wasn’t there, and my numbers weren’t adding up. Suddenly I realized that I had mentally marked Lisa absent – and that I’d literally been looking right through her all hour. I made myself look right at her and literally felt my eyes slide off of her. For the second time in as many days I was completely flummoxed by my unexpected reflexive reactions to Lisa’s garments.

Today I asked Lisa if I could take her picture while she worked on her test, and discovered a third interesting aspect of the situation. On a normal day Lisa is a quiet girl, but over the course of the past three days I’d heard her voice exactly once – when she took off the burkha for the monologue. Now that I had to ask her a direct question, I found it difficult to phrase my question and even harder to make out her response. I’m a very visual learner, and (if this makes sense) a visual listener; I find it hard to follow conversations when I can’t see the speaker’s face. Speaking to a mesh of blue fabric was exceptionally uncomfortable.

After I passed out the test, I asked myself what was making me uncomfortable other than simply not seeing Lisa’s face. That’s when I realized that something else was going on in my brain. Maybe it was the religious feeling of the garment, or just the girl’s courage, but I was treating Lisa with an entirely new level of respect and deference.

The sociological impact of a burkha is not, apparently, limited to its native lands. It’s a hardwired response – the cause and effect are not where I thought they were. I couldn’t resist my reaction to Lisa if I’d tried.

It’s gotten me to thinking. The burkha protects the modesty of women in a culture that (traditionally) views women as valuable commodities, a fiercely patriarchal society. And if you believe your woman to be precious, and if you believe your woman to be your property and only yours, then you put her in a burkha so that you are the only man who can ever see her. It’s like Smeagol and his ring – hide the treasure away, and when you do see it, it seems so much more beautiful than it would if it were “common.” In a society where women are inferior in status to men, you put women in a burkha so that they become invisible, so that the eye slides off of them and onto men. You hide their faces so that eye contact is impossible. And as anyone who has ever pulled the covers over their head knows, when you’re under there you are in a different place. You become quiet, inward-looking. You listen to things going on around you, but you don’t interact. So in a culture like this, you put the women away in their separate fabric “room,” and they slowly, inevitably withdraw. They are not a part of the man’s world. They observe, but they do not partake.

I’m fascinated to hear what Lisa shares when she presents her findings. I know that she has already been challenged by a principal (he wanted to know “is there some alternative way that she could have this experience? it is challenging for other students when one student wears non-policy-following clothing”; I would like to know if he has any suggestions for alternatives, and whether he has studied educational law in the last twenty years). I know that a student called her a terrorist on Tuesday. I wonder how her other teachers are reacting – whether they are talking to her, whether they are finding that she has become invisible in their classes as well, whether it affects them like it does me.

In the meantime, I have two photos to share: the Midsummer Night’s Dream test, in action.

lisa1 lisa2

April 23, 2008 at 9:01 pm 4 comments

Mrs. Bees vs. Wonder Mother, Part II

Part I can be read here.

Third quarter progress reports went out. The following day we had an email from the twins’ mother – 1,289 words (that’s two pages single-spaced) of “questions” about Yin’s grade. By “questions” I mean, of course, barely concealed attempts to intimidate DR into changing his grade. She had some erroneous information gathered, apparently, from the boys’ friends, and was under the impression that I had given class instruction on the format of that essay on Thursday as well as a set of required guidelines. She had also been told that other students hadn’t been penalized for late work. Yin had evidently given her the impression that he was forced to miss additional class instruction in order to write his explanatory letter, and that his letter was in some way an argument for his grade rather than a requirement for ANY points. He also, apparently, neglected to mention that “turn it in by 5 for full credit” bit.

The email was sent to DR’s email account (which I check) and there were several thinly veiled comments about my integrity and teaching ability. Here’s one:

[Yin] is devastated by this grade and is extremely disappointed that his explanation provided in his letter that he wrote for Ms. Bees on Monday was not valued.  Personally, I am curious about the due date policy that was applied for this assignment, since one entire section of the assignment was based on instruction that occured [sic] while the boys were out.

[DR], could you please check the accuracy of this with your student teacher and clarify the situation?  I trust my sons in their honesty…

Her email was littered snide quotation marks around words, such as This grade is totally out of character for him, as are the sequences of events leading up to ‘earning’ this grade.

The kicker, however, was the email signature. It identified the author as Dr. Wonder Mother, Principal of a prestigious magnet school in the district.

DR was aggravated. I was mildly perturbed; after all, what person trying to get hired wants a principal coming down on them? However, I felt that this was a clear case of misunderstanding, so I carefully and calmly responded (making it clear that I was the teacher and that Wonder Mother could address her concerns with confidence to me).

Before sending the email, however, DR and I sat down with Yin and asked him about his grade. We asked if he was unsatisfied, and he acknowledged that he was disappointed. We asked if he felt his grade were unwarranted, or if there was anything he could say in his defense. [Note: This was an extremely laidback and non-confrontational conversation.] He told us that he guessed he deserved the penalty, that he understood that he’d actually gotten a good deal with his 50% vs. 0%. We offered him the opportunity to redo that last essay as if we really HAD just assigned it while he was gone, but he declined.

I sent the email.

I received a response the following day. The tone of this email – 601 words, this time – was rather different. WM thanked me for my thoughtful reply, acknowledged that she was still concerned, and then launched into Concerto for World’s Tiniest Violin. She told me how Yang had gotten to the computer first, how it was 2 AM before Yin was able to use it, and how Yin was such a perfectionist that he couldn’t bring himself to turn in an incomplete effort. She also told me – with evident pride – that it was unsurprising that Yin wouldn’t advocate for himself, as she had taught him never to “talk back” to his teachers.

The best part, at the end of the email, went like this:

Yin and Yang will both continue to do what they have always done as students and that is to enjoy learning, try to always do their best and to be respectful to their teachers.  You will see them doing quality work for you and turning in assignments on time…. as they have always done except for this one occasion where circumstances made it impossible. You will not see any difference in either of them on that regard. The difference that resulted from this lesson is behind the scenes.

 

Yang told me that maybe he doesn’t want to be on the engineering team if it is going to be so difficult to get make-up work in on the first day back from when they return. He had already given up all of his extracurricular athletics this year, tennis, track and cross country, so that he could keep up with the homework load.  Now he feels that he needs to drop the one thing that he does for fun when he isn’t focusing on pure academics. Yin isn’t sharing his feelings, but he has been sitting and going through his project repeatedly since getting home this afternoon.

 

So, perhaps Yin will pull his grade up again… and perhaps not….but truly the grade is the lesser concern now.

DR and I were taken aback by the blatant attempt to guilt me into changing the grade. The way WM ended the email made it seem that no response was necessary, so DR and I decided to do the sensible thing and let the matter drop. (It’s so much easier to do this in the age of email!)

About a week later, the third email arrived. It was about a thousand words long and dripping with venom and cold rage. She, or her sons, had apparently decided that I was lying about the Thursday instruction. Her email told me, in carefully worded terms, that I was either stupid or lying and that this had caused damage to both sons’ grades. She expressed her dismay that Yin and Yang felt that “all avenues of consideration had been closed to them.” It ended with her “kind” offer to come to CHS to discuss the issue and educate me as to the errors of my ways, followed by eight different assurances that she had NEVER felt the need to pursue something with a teacher before and that she was NOT a demanding parent, but that I had just simply pushed her too far.

Furious at this point, DR replied to this third email. In it she repeated my assertions that instruction had not taken place and that the boys had had enough information to complete the assignment thoroughly. She pointed out that neither Yin nor Yang had expressed their concerns to us and that it was important for them to learn, as accelerated high school students, to advocate for themselves. DR said that of course we would be happy to meet with them, but that their grades were earned according to long-standing class policy – actually a kinder version thereof – and that she feared Wonder Mother wasn’t getting the full story.

The next day, Wonder Mother responded. I have rarely had the opportunity to read such a cold email. It opened with “This reinforces to my husband and I that we must meet with you” and then went on to list a litany of complaints and “evidence” in wording that suggested that the judge had already made his – or rather, her – decision. Wonder Mother told us in no uncertain terms what had happened in our classroom on a day when neither she nor her sons had been present. The level of condescension was Arctic.

It was impressive. And it was scary – not in a “yikes, now I have to meet with an angry parent” sort of way, but in a “wow, I’m looking into the face of evil” sort of way. It was signed by both Wonder Mother and Wonder Father.

We set up an appointment with the parents, the counselor, and the VP for the following Monday. The counselors and VPs indicated to us that Wonder Mother had already been talking to them, campaigning for herself behind our backs. Fortunately, after hearing our side of the story and reading WM’s emails, the administration was firmly on our side.

to be continued…

April 12, 2008 at 11:52 pm 1 comment

Dismal (I Think…?) Tests

I just finished grading a stack of grammar tests, and I’m a little bit worried.

We gave this grammar test to the accelerated classes a week before we gave it to the regular class. The regular class was a little bit behind on everything, and the schedule just worked out better that way. We prepared both class levels the same way, using DR’s grammar bell activities (basically worksheets that we went through together, let the kids complete, and then graded in class).

[Note: In my “how to be a teacher” classes, they really stress NOT using grammar worksheets. They seem to be fairly successful, however, and I’ve yet to see a really workable alternative. This is, nevertheless, part of my concern.]

This test covered nouns, pronouns, prepositions, interjections, conjunctions, transitive and intransitive verbs, linking and action verbs, adverbs, adjectives, direct and indirect objects, subjects, and predicates. It also covered things like who/whom, I/me, we/us, they/them, etc.. The test was multiple-choice.

The accelerated test results weren’t as good as I am used to seeing from them. Usually their average score is a low A. On this test, it was a middle B. The score breakdown for the entire accelerated bunch is:

  A: 36%
B: 47%
C: 16%
D: 1%
 

Not bad, all things considered. Just not up to their usual standards. Then again, grammar is tough for sophomores.

Then I get to my regular class. Again, they were prepped for the test in the same way – just more hand-holding, more drills, more explanations. Took it slower, treaded more carefully. And their test results are not at all good. I’m actually kind of surprised, now that I’ve done the math,  to see that the average score was a 72%. Not a single person in the class got an A. The score breakdown is:

  A: 0%
B: 31%
C: 27%
D: 35%
F: 8%
 

Basically, 43% received a D or an F.

What I’m wondering is… are these scores as dismal as I think they are? Shouldn’t SOMEONE have gotten an A? I’ve got some bright kids in there, but only one person got as high as an 88. Did I fail to prepare them adequately? Or have my expectations gotten skewed by the accelerated students?

And – assuming that these scores are lower than they “ought” to be – what should I do? I’ve considered bumping up my 88 to an A and shifting all of the grades up accordingly. That would give 27% of them A’s, and leave only 15% with D’s or F’s. Would this be an appropriate case for grade shifting? They do it in the math and science classes at CHS. Or would I just be a  grade-inflating softie?

Beyond the actual grade, which I have to decide upon in the next 48 hours… I am thinking of doing an activity where they have to go through the test, track their errors, and find the parts of speech they really screwed up. Then they would have to do extra activities – not the same worksheets, methinks – on those parts of speech so that they could learn them in time for the lovely upcoming NCLB standardized tests.

What do you think? Any words of advice? Suggestions? Ideas where I might have gone wrong?

March 27, 2008 at 7:55 pm 2 comments

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