Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Am I a marshmallow, too?

So, the third season of Veronica Mars came out today. I haven't bought it (yet), but I did go to the website and got myself a nifty Neptune detective badge.

This almost makes me feel better about hitting a deer and seriously screwing up my car last night. :(

Friday, October 19, 2007

Farewell to a friend

My mom and dad both had busy full time jobs when I was born (Mom at the Treasury Department, Dad at the Gwinnett Daily News), so when Mom was ready to go back to work she went through the newspaper to find a suitable baby-sitter for me. She found Karen, a wonderful woman who had three teenage children, no driver's license, and a blueberry bush in her back yard. Two years later, when my little sister came along, Karen agreed to watch both of us. That lasted exactly one day, after which it was decided that I would go to daycare and my sister would continue going to Karen's. Two years later, my dad died. We ended up moving to Snellville, my mom started her own CPA office in our house, I started school, and we saw Karen less frequently. We did keep in touch with her and her family - I spent one "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" at the mall with one of her daughters, learning all about managing a candle store. Karen moved to Europe with her husband, who traveled everywhere for work. My sister and I would receive a postcard and a doll from each new country they visited. My mom made half-hearted plans to fly us out to France to visit them, but we never actually went. Karen eventually moved back, but her new house was farther away and we didn't see her as often as we once had.

We found out today that Karen is dying. Her husband called to let us know that she has cancer. It's terminal, and they don't think she'll last that much longer. She's at home for right now. They have hospice workers coming over daily, and they give her lots of medicine to keep her out of pain. I'm really upset right now, and not just because her family waited so long to tell us that she's been so sick. I'm mad at myself for not going to visit her sooner. I feel guilty because there have been so many times that I've thought to myself, "I really should give Karen a call." My sister recently got engaged, and I know she really wanted to go visit Karen to tell her about her fiance. We had talked about going to visit her, but never actually did it. I feel really bad for her, because she was always "Karen's little baby" and I know she's taking this harder than anyone. We're going to visit Karen tomorrow, to say goodbye. It's a visit that's long overdue, but I'm glad that we have the chance.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Constructivism vs. the crazy lady

This weekend, I attended two teacher-themed conferences. The first, a middle grades summit, was held on campus. It was pretty interesting - I met Mark Springer, bought a copy of his book, Soundings: A Democratic Student-Centered Education, and attended a panel for Team QUEST, a multi-age team (6th, 7th, and 8th graders) in a Lee county school. The theme of the conference was "Democracy in the Classroom," so of course it focused on student-centered teaching. Since that's how I plan on running my classroom, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Of course, I generally enjoy conferences (when I don't have to present), so no surprise there.

But then, I went to the SPAGE-sponsored Classroom Survivor conference in Macon. I've had a day and a half to process what I witnessed, and I'm still shocked and appalled. The conference itself wasn't terrible, but there was one break-out session that just completely blew me away - and not in a good way.

After the keynote speaker, we were told to attend a session on classroom management techniques. There were three available (elementary, middle, and secondary), and I went to the middle grades panel. I'm thankful that another MAT student (Lisa) was there with me, because I don't think I could have gotten through it without her.

After everyone had taken a seat, the woman who was supposed to lead the session informed us that we were "very lucky" to have a "special guest" come and share her experiences with us. She then introduced us to "Miss Jan." "Dolores Umbridge" would've been a little bit more accurate. This woman walked into the classroom and informed us that we would be calling her "Miss Jan" and she would, in turn, call us Miss or Mr because that was how we showed each other respect. She also told us that our class would go "one of two ways: MY way, or NOT YOUR way." At this point, Lisa and I exchanged glances, as if to ask, "Is this for real?" I was sure that she would crack at any moment and tell us that this was her way of showing us what NOT to do, but alas...

She then proceeded to regale us with anecdotes about her "effective" classroom management. The two that stand out in my mind:
* After telling us that the most important thing to do was "praise, rather than correct," she told us a charming story about a disruptive young man in one of her classes. While the rest of the class was working on a project (and, I'm assuming, could hear everything she was saying), she called this young man to her desk and asked him if his favorite color was orange.
"No," he said, "Why?"
"Because when I go driving, I see a lot of men wearing orange jumpsuits working on the side of the road, and I think that's how you'll end up if you're not careful."
* She also taught Amy Carter, daughter of Jimmy Carter, and had another disruptive young man in that class. So she asked one of the ubiquitous Secret Service Agents to have a talk with him. The next day, before class started, the agent walked over to the boy's desk, pulled his vest aside so that his gun was clearly visible, and said, "We're not going to have any problems today, are we?"

Does anyone else see a problem here? Lisa and I were both horrified, but judging by the laughs "Miss Jan" got, we were the only ones. What really annoyed me, though, was that we found out at the end of the panel that this thing woman only taught for 7 years, and retired from teaching after her son was born...25 years ago. Also? Apparently, she taught elementary school, not middle grades. How on earth does that qualify her to teach us about current middle level classroom management? And how in the HELL does she still have her certification? Surely asking a Secret Service Agent to threaten a child is enough to get anyone's teaching license revoked...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Yet another reason NCLB sucks...

One of the requirements for my MAT program was joining a whole bunch of professional organizations, most of which have acronymic titles featuring the words "Association" or "Education." One of them (I don't remember which one, actually, but I suspect it was one of the organizations for English teachers) sent me a link to this article from the Denver Post. It talks about a group of schools in Colorado whose reading and math scores have increased significantly in the past four years - one school went from having 20% of its students proficient in reading and math, to having 80 - 90% reading and doing math at or above grade level. When I first read that statistic, I thought, "Wow! That's great. I wonder how they managed such an increase..."

I didn't have to read much further to find out:

Hiza [the principal], who gives kids little vouchers for candy in the hallways when she sees good behavior, did away with science, social
studies and most recesses to focus almost entirely on the basics.

Teachers spent roughly three hours a day on reading and two on math.

Science scores, Hiza acknowledged, have suffered in comparison. Only 22 percent of fifth-graders - the only elementary grade that takes science tests - are proficient.

"There's only so much time in the day," Hiza said. "This allows us to concentrate on ... reading well."

Seriously. NO SCIENCE, SOCIAL STUDIES, OR RECESS. This is an elementary school! What happens when they get to middle or high school and they haven't learned the basics in those subject areas? Off the top of my head, things I learned in my elementary science and social studies classes: inertia and structural integrity (we had an egg drop off the school roof in 5th grade, and it was awesome!); the state bird, flower, and flag of Georgia (brown thrasher, Cherokee rose, and the old red-white-and-blue version); and, most important of all, how to make Gloop. It saddens me to think that an entirely new generation is going to grow up without all that.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Unmotivational posters

You know those lame motivational posters that usually feature some poor kitten clutching onto a tree branch for dear life under the extremely helpful caption, "Hang In There!"? Well, mental_floss has found some unmotivational posters that are slightly geeky and pretty funny. My favorite:

Although, "CAPS LOCK: Are you ready to unleash the fury?" is also good, mainly because it reminds me of a guitar-playing Tom Green in Roadtrip.

See the rest here.