Monday, May 02, 2011
posted by Q6 at 12:34 PM

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011
posted by Q6 at 2:33 PM
The conductor spoke up. "I don't think we had any business being sent off on a siding, that switch wasn't working right, and this thing's not working at all." He jerked his head up at the red light. "I don't think the signal's going to change. I think it's busted."
"Then what are you doing?"
"Waiting for it to change."
(Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged)

I recently discovered that some local school districts were accepting applications for Assistant Principals. One, in fact, is a district that I've tried several times to get into. I've certainly got the credentials now to be competitive, if not the favorite, in such searches. And I'm not even gonna send in my resume.

As much as I'd like to change things up for myself career-wise, I've decided that this just isn't the time: the economy's just too precarious to be placing myself back at the bottom of the seniority chain of another district when I've got ten solid years in my current placement; I've got two kids (one 17, one 19) who will still need the security of a working father as their needs for medical insurance, college tuition, and a safety net continue; and if I'm going to make a serious change of career I may as well make the one I want, which is out of the education field altogether, and I'm not ready to do that just yet.

I think the big question is this: Is this red signal I'm staring at going to remain red? Do I wait for it to change, or do I change what I'm doing to compensate? A large part of me believes I can tough it out, that it can't remain this bad forever, and that I can just do my job, smile, and bide my time until conditions improve. (Those who read this blog probably know that the field of education, particularly at the administrative level, is nothing if not political; that makes it unpredictable and, at times, dangerous.) I can't say for sure that I'm making the right decision by staying put and going with the status-quo-flow of things, but I don't have enough security in place to try something risky just yet.

Because I blog anonymously, there are things about my specific community, school site, and school district that I cannot share, lest I give myself away and share information and opinions that would place my employment in jeopardy; let's just say that there are large issues at all three of those levels that cause many of my colleagues to look over their shoulders from time to time to make sure that the 'Professional Grim Reaper" isn't on their heels. Myself included.

I know that it's probably safe to proceed even though the signal is red. I'm just not ready to take that chance just yet.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011
posted by Q6 at 9:20 AM
It's been nothing but complants today. You'd think that the two week holiday break would have mellowed people for a little longer; instead, it seems the urge to complain has just been incubating with no release until now.

Students with attendance problems and low grades want permission to attend another school's dance.

Parents want the teachers to "lay off" their kids and give them extra chances to do things they've deliberately blown off.

Teachers want the computers to start doing more of their jobs for them.

Me, I've just come back from what I considered to be a refreshing (if quirky) holiday break. I spent more thime than I usually would have visiting other people, but I still got to spend time writing, reading, playing with my new toys, and hanging out with the love of my life. I'd have thought that the urge to run screaming from my job would have abated somewhat, but here I am only three days back, and already I'm again thinking about how to change professions.

Looks like we ALL got back into the swing of things in record time.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
posted by Q6 at 6:34 PM
There are lots of things wrong with education today. Lately, and not at all in a good way, I find myself asking, "Why?"

I guess my first criticism of the current educational paradigm came when I started teaching High School English in the inner-city. The novels I was "forced" to teach (although standardized and aligned curricula was still years away, required reading lists were well established) included The Outsiders and The Scarlet Letter. The first, written about teenagers in the 1960's midwest, would only be mildly accessible to students in 1990s South Central Los Angeles; the second, written in the late 1800s about events in the mid-1600s, made even less sense to me. Classics, yes, agreed -- but aren't these the books people are supposed to read AFTER they develop the ability and a passion for reading? I came to a simple conclusion: we're doing it wrong.

I taught them, of course. I was a young, new teacher interested in keeping his job. Fortunately, the rules did not forbid me from teaching additional works, so I added Stephen King ("Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption") and John Grisham (one year, The Runaway Jury; another year, The Street Lawyer). And wouldn't you know it? Both the interest as well as the discussion were greatly heightened with books that the students were able to access: modern literature, written today, about today. In time, I think, those students would learn to enjoy reading enough to take a bite out of Hawthorne or Fitzgerald or Hemmingway or Austen.

Years later, as a secondary administrator, I see student after student running at top speed toward a brick wall. What is the purpose of high school, these days? I know a [more frequently disgruntled each day] colleague who is not at all fond of high school athletics, who describes the student athletes' school lives as working day in and day out to achieve nothing more than putting a ball through a hoop or into a net. Lately I see AP and Honors students working like mad to satisfy college entrance requirements and I wonder if there's any difference at all between the two?

Of course, once I start to doubt the logistics (or even the legitimacy?) of the educational system, similar thinking seems to come out of the woodwork. (It's like buying a Volkswagen Bug, or becoming pregnant: as soon as it's relevant to you, it's suddenly everywhere.) There are blogs and movies and more movies and Internet videos that make the same arguments, and I'm left wondering where it's going . . . and why I can still stomach being a part of it.

I see the current education system as a large tunnel, a one-way road through an enormous mountain. It has parameters, it has a course to follow, and once you emerge on the other side you can make turns, choose your own direction, or even blaze your own trail. And as wonderful and noble as that all sounds, I use the tunnel metaphor because it includes some very serious setbacks.

Example: a tunnel, though it keeps you on track and on course toward a goal, blinds you to everything outside the tunnel. If there are better roads, or landmarks of which to take note, or scenery to enjoy, it makes no difference inside the tunnel.

Example: a tunnel keeps you focused on one goal, and one goal only -- the light at the end. So what happens when someone comes along and tacks on four more years of tunnel extension, calls it college, and makes it a [more or less] required part of your journey? It's not like you can turn back.

Looking even closer at my tunnel metaphor, I can't help but think that some of the problems we now have to deal with -- concerning not only educating young people but just concerning young people in general -- are not just a burden to the educational system, but a direct result of the system.

Example: ADD/ADHD can be described (and, for all I know, has been described) as the educational equivalent of claustrophobia. If we go back to the tunnel analogy, consider: students who "have a difficult time concentrating" demonstrate that they are not comfortable or able to focus while in the tunnel. As there is no other option to travel this particular road but through the tunnel (at least, no generally accepted way), it becomes necessary to alter the brain chemistry to the degree that it can function within the tunnel. When did ADD/ADHD begin to become prevalent? Well, it would be stupid to assume that this condition, which most agree is nothing more that the specifics of brain chemistry, arrived so recently in our evolution as the early 1990s, but that's exactly when this particular condition of brain chemistry was named and treatment for it was developed. So what else happened around that same time to bring things to the forefront?

Every system -- be it eco-, socio-, or otherwise -- has what's called a "carrying capacity," which is a term that describes the amount of consumption that a system can sustain and remain viable. If the system is under it's carrying capacity, there are plenty of resources to go around (and then some); if the system is at its carrying capacity, there are only just enough resources and we'd better not waste any; if, however, the population of the system exceeds the system's carrying capacity, there is fierce competition for the available resources, and those who go without are not sustained. I believe this is what happened with the college system beginning in the 1990s: colleges and universities, plagued with insufficient seats for those who wanted them, began to exceed their carrying capacities. Before this, as far back as the 1800s and as recent as the 1970s, not eveyone went to college and there were ample post-secondary resources for those that wanted them. Today, the mantra has changed: "You GO to fucking college." The university system, unlike the compulsory K-12 public education system, is neither designed nor funded to accommodate everyone, has exceeded its carrying capacity, and we now find ourselves with a problem (the "problem" being that you now need a 4.3 GPA in order to even be considered for entry, which is mathematically, staggeringly asinine). Where some people once stayed out of college by choice, we now find many who are left out against their will ("their" being a stupid term to use to describe the will in question, as many are going to college at the behest of parents, societal pressures, or economics -- their own desires being last, if present at all, in that list). Those students who, so long ago, would not have opted for college -- and now must -- find themselves needing medication in order to fit through a tunnel of that length and duration.

Add to all of that the transition we made from the Industrial Age to the Information Age, a transition that many seem to have either missed or intentionally ignored, as we haven't really changed the education system since the transition and have made few (or overwhelmingly misguided) efforts to prepare students for the radially different workplaces the 21st Century will have to offer them. (Some would suggest that calling this the "Information Age" is, in and of itself, unwise -- I observed a 12th grade AP Literature class the other day as they analyzed a poem: not one of them knew what a "bog" was, nor could they describe some other simple thing. For children born into the "Information Age" they seem to lack the requirements for the title.) I shudder whenever I hear someone say that the students we're currently teaching must be prepared for jobs that don't exist yet -- how the hell are WE supposed to prepare them for something like that?

And so, at the end of it all (and if you're still reading, thank you for putting up with all of that), I find myself asking, "Why?" Why do we continue to turn the crank on an antiquated educational paradigm? Why do we push so hard, so far, so fast? With all the technology, knowledge, and expertise at our disposal, why can't we figure out how to slow down? Why can't we have a 21st Century Period of Enlightenment that enables us to change our focus and relieve the pressure?

Why do we do all of this, again? And why don't we do it differently?
Thursday, September 09, 2010
posted by Q6 at 2:36 PM
Today I had a short daydream about quitting my job. I didn't even give my boss the satisfaction when I pretended he asked, "Can we talk about this?" I imagined myself casually replying, "Nah. No need." And when he asked, "May I ask why you're quitting?" I simply replied, "Does it matter?"

Only a moment's peace, but a needed moment.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
posted by Q6 at 2:07 PM
In an attempt to improve communication on our campus, a box will be created--with a lock on it, no less--for teachers and staff to submit complaints and concerns . . . about anything, but primarily about the administration. Moreover, a committee will be formed (union reps excluded) to sort, prioritize, validate, and communicate these complaints.

You need a moment to roll your eyes. Go ahead; I'll wait.

As I understand it, we're dealing with a teaching staff that lost faith in its administration/principal quite a while back. Some of those who have complained in the past feel they've been punished in various ways (difficult schedule changes, finding problems, etc.) and now everyone keeps their input and problems to themselves, fearing reprisals. Since transferring here last summer I've managed to keep myself out of the mud fight for the most part.

Nontheless, I hope no one asks my opinion of our new complaint box. As much as I want to be/seem a team player, this is a stupid move. It makes a very bold, very public statement, one that is insulting to every adult on campus: we have become incapable of talking to each other. In fact, we have actually invented ways to avoid talking to one another. This box represents the first brink in the large wall we are about to build between us.

I suppose I can understand how the fear of reprisals has sparked a need for the anonymity of those who would lodge complaints; there's got to be a better way than this, though.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
posted by Q6 at 10:52 AM
The more I listen to teachers, the more I hear about this same problem over and over again: the obsession with grades. Both students and parents, it seems, are guilty of idolatry when it comes to grades. The end of the Fall semester brought with it the semi-annual begging and pleading to have mathematical scales tipped, debating over grading authenticity, or wishing for a visit from the Extra Credit Fairy. (The use of online grade reporting doesn't help; publish gradebooks on the web and suddenly everyone is a math whiz.) The grade rules all--so much so that the students pay attention to little else.

Posit: Students are able to log on to the Internet and see the teachers' gradebooks in real time.

Consequence: Students will monitor, scrutinize, and calculate exactly what is needed for a desired grade; or they will use the data as evidence when challenging a grade.

Result: Students will focus as much or more on the calculation of their grades than on the actual learning in class.

Conclusion: The students' focus must be shifted away from grades if effective learning is to take place.

Of course, to shift the focus back to the learning and away from the grades we need to re-examine our entire approach to grading. After careful consideration, I've decided upon the best place to look for a decent model:

Canada. Vancouver, to be specific. And I don't mean their schools.

Consider Olympic athletes: they train for [at least] four years for three weeks of competition. There may be some minor competitions along the way, but nothing that has any impact on the actual Olympic games--that comes much later. Everything during that training period is geared toward one goal: to make excellence automatic, so that it can be done perfectly during the actual games. It's all about training, it's a discipline meant to bring about excellence, and it's not judged in its final form until the three weeks of competition. The Olympic athlete focuses on the training and the sport the entire time. They don't settle for something that is "good enough," they work to be the best. As educators, we need to find a way to infuse that ethic--to train, to focus on the learning, not the grade--of striving for excellence.

Here's what I propose as an "Olympic" model for curriculum planning: make the final exam worth 90% of the final semester grade*, then schedule everything as "training" [preparation] for the "games" [final exam]. Granted, it does require quite a lot of backward planning; in fact, it may not be a bad idea to let students know at the outset what they will be asked to do and required to achieve during the final exam. Feedback will need to be genuine, but it should only be feedback as it pertains to the final exam requirements, just as all Olympic training pertains to performance at the games. There may be some minor grading along the way, but nothing that would be worth trying to calculate, scrutinize, or manipulate. By taking everything else away, all the students can possibly focus on is the learning.

When I shared this idea with my wife, she remarked that it seemed unreasonable to judge the whole of a semester's worth of preparation on a two-hour final exam (people do crash, endo, melt down, or otherwise have a bad day). My reply is this: it takes three weeks and numerous rounds to determine an Olympic athlete's rank in the games; why should this curriculum model be any different? The final exams relative to this kind of approach should last about the same, in my opinion: a battery of tests and exercises which, if the student has trained properly, should not be difficult. If anything, this method would be more equitable than the Olympic games, since there really is no limit on the number of gold, silver, and bronze medals available.**

It's an idea, at any rate, and admittedly it's not without its complications: the parameters for the final exam would need to be worked out well in advance, and the planning would need to be exhaustive. Parents would lose their minds, having nothing to keep score with as the semester progressed. How this would impact colleges (other than admitting hyper-prepared students) is anyone's guess.

Since the transcript grades--the ones reported at the end of each semester--are the ones the students (and parents, and colleges) care about most, let all/most of the actual grading occur there; until then, remove all other distractions and focus on training. Without grades to worry about, they may actually learn something.

* . . . or 95% or 100%, I don't care. The point is to make mid-semester grade calculation either impossible or meaningless, so that the focus can't be anywhere but the learning.

** I know, I know. It sounds a lot like the framework for an AP class: all the assignments and exercises designed to prepare for one big test at the end. Ironically, it's the Honors and AP students who are most guilty of scoremongering and ignoring the learning.
posted by Q6 at 10:46 AM
I haven't blogged for quite a while, adn there are several reasons for this. One is that I can no longer find the Carnival of Education I once submitted to; another is that I'm having time issues (which I'll probably get more into on my personal blog); yet another reason is that I'm a little worried about posting things while working at this school. Things are different here--more different than anywhere I've worked to date--and the grapevine/gossip fence/rumor mill is on some sort of nuclear overdrive. The result is a bit of professional paranoia, and I've found it best to keep silent for a while.

That is not to say that I don't have things to say about education, general things that aren't site or district-specific. Perhaps, then, I should make an attempt to start over, or to steer myself inot a more general posting methodology. In any event, let's have this post be the marker that reads "Healthy Educational Debate Beyond This Point." If I have any readers left, maybe they'll weigh in.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
posted by Q6 at 5:30 AM
I spent part of lunchtime today supervising near the school's rows of bike racks. We've had a bit of theft from this area since school began, and I've sometimes thought about radical ways of curbing the problem. (My tendency toward radical solutions, of course, brought about by some of the books I've been reading lately, including The Power of Less by Leo Babauta and In Pursuit of Elegance by Matthew E. May.) One of the less elegant, obvious solutions include caging the bike racks, overmonitoring them, and opening them only at dismissal; but it takes manpower, it takes time, it creates additional procedures and policies, and it's difficult from the standpoint that our campus has about three different dismissal times for various subgroups of students. Another inelegant solution involves video cameras; but those are expensive, require footage monitoring, and are more reactive than proactive (the presence of cameras doesn't stop people as much as we'd like to think).

The inherent problem with theft is that the true violation of law isn't a physical one, it's a psychological one. The second most elegant solution to theft is a state of mind: "That item does not belong to me, therefore I must not touch it." Were everyone like minded (or even mentally conditioned) in this regard, one would be able to park his bike anywhere he were allowed, unlocked, only to find it unmolested and untouched at the end of the day . . . or even the next day.

I heard a story once--one that I'm sure isn't true--about an American aerospace worker doing some consulting work in Turkey. On his walk back to his hotel one night, he sees a paper bag in the middle of the sidewalk. He kicks it off to the side, and out spills piles of cash. Thinking this isn't something that should just be laying about, he takes it to the local authorities and explains how he found it--only to find himself dragged into a side room where they remove his shoes and cut off his big toe. When it's over, he demands to know why he has been treated this way. The police chief replies, "It was not your bag to kick."

Of course, my elegant solution to theft--touch only what is yours, or what you have permission to touch--is already part of a social contract that few pay any attention to anymore. And while others are looking at cages, locks, and video cameras, I'm trying to find a way to combat several hundred years of "ignore your fellow man" conditioning.

For the most elegant way of solving theft, in my opinion, try looking HERE.
Monday, September 14, 2009
posted by Q6 at 11:03 AM
I haven't felt like this in over five years.

Well before my current relationship (now a marriage) began, my personal life was in a severe state of disarray--to the point where panic attacks, several a day, were a normal part of my routine. The panic attacks were frequent enough, not to mention unpleasant, to consume every waking moment of my life. It took some time, some introspection, and quite a bit of effort to get my life to foresake the panic attacks and move on to a state of mental peace and harmony.

Ah, those were the days.

I will not be spending much time ranting about the conditions and dysfunction of Phoenix High School; while this blog is anonymous, bloggers have been outed and dismissed, and I need this job. (Though in light of the first week of school around here, it might not be the worst possible of outcomes.) Suffice to say that my opening week with students went well, but learning to tiptoe around my new boss is a little more nerve-racking than even I had planned, and I had planned for quite a bit. In the end, I know that at some point I will need to stand up to the guy, and when that moment happens I hope I come out of it with nothing more than flesh wounds.

(Writer's note: I began this post several days ago. Since then, things have become incrementally better. I'm still a bit nervous when it comes to meetings and such, but I'm trying to take steps to cement myself in the school enough that I can better bounce back from whatever fallout may occur at some point.)

All in all, I still feel like I'm getting through this by the seat of my pants, and it's not a good feeling. Little by little, day by day, I'll get there.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
posted by Q6 at 9:29 PM
I'm back from a summer of relaxation, commotion, and confusion. Didja miss me?

When last we left off, our hero (that's me) was being transferred once again to another campus. (For those keeping score, that means that in this district I've been at School A for seven years, School B for only one, and now I'm starting my first year at School C.)

A blogging friend and former colleague of mine has created a pseudonym for his school, and I think that may be necessary here. I may not blog a whole lot about the site itself--I don't want to get found out and fired, after all--but it'll be easier than typing "School-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named" all the time.

Therefore, I now work at Phoenix High School. This is not related to the City of Phoenix in any way (especially not since the campus is, like, six blocks from the beach); the school is just completing some construction--which will still continue for the next month or so--and the name may be physically appropriate given that the new buildings have grown from the ashes of the old. This blog is devoted more to concepts and educational theory anyway, so it shouldn't be a problem.

Remember, though, that my prior two schools in this district employed me as a middle school assistant principal. I'm now the AP at a high school.

I'm going, as they say in baseball, to the show.

I caught my wandering, daydreaming mind today--in the midst of the first-day-back-for-teachers-so-let's-hold-a-big-old-meeting meeting--drifting toward a large cloud of insecurity. I've always wanted to be a high school AP, I've been training to be a high school AP, and I've dabbled a bit in the duties of a high school AP, . . . . but am I ready for this? I'll be the sole administrator incharge of discipline for a campus of over 2000 students. I'll be in charge of campus safety, technology, and attendance. These are all tasks I've handled before, so it's clear I have some experience.

I think my main problem is that I must now perform for yet another principal, one whose perspectives, attitudes, and managerial processes I've not yet completely learned. It's kinda hard to impress someone you don't know how to impress.

After speaking with my family about it over dinner, I discovered two things. One is that I have a professional strain of first-day-of-school jitters, nothing more. The other is that there was once a time in my life--not as long ago as some would think--where this feeling of insecurity was the norm and confidence was rare; it's the opposite now, and it's a great feeling.

As my son suggests, let my Dr. Pepper hat's embroidery be my guide:
"Be You: Do What You Do."
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
posted by Q6 at 11:35 AM

I realize I haven't been posting a great deal lately; the fact of the matter is, simply, that since the move to my new school site NOTHING noteworthy has happened to me, and I've been doing so much reading that I haven't had anything to blog about. So I'm gonna hang up the "Gone Fishin'" sign until things start ramping back up in mid-August.

When I get back, though, I'm gonna need some input on an approach to school discipline I'm thinking about putting together. I'll also have some interesting play-by-play about my new assignment, other things going on in the district, and more submissions for the Carnival of Education.

Enjoy your summer! I know I'm gonna try to.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
posted by Q6 at 8:54 PM
Finally, a chance to blog.

It's been a while, and quite a few things have happened about which I would like to blog. Perhaps with the summer "vacation" now here (administrators work year-round, but it's slower) I'll be able to get to some of it: happenings at my current school, happenings at my former school, and things I've seen in the news about which I have opinions.

But first, I think I'll bring you up to speed on my transfer.

Two weeks ago I was officially told that I'd be transferring to a high school next year--told by the Assistant Superintendent, a man who, apparently, it would kill to say something nice about me to my face. Earlier this week I met with the principal with whom I'll be working. Fortunately I didn't get blindsided by anything; this man's been running this particular high school since before I joined the district, and I've heard plenty of stories (some good, some bad, some unbelievable, some mildly worrisome). I honestly don't know how much I'll get to post about this new assignment--the principal likes his people to be loyal, play things close to the vest. I'm reminding myself that this blog is anonymous (those who know my secret identity: consider yourselves reminded). My new school made the paper three times this week over some athletic issues . . . fortunately, that won't be my department.

I'll be handling Campus Safety (with the help of three security officers who, according to my soon-to-be-predecessor, aren't all that helpful), Activities Oversight (I'm told the Activities Director is great, but her assistant is not), and School Discipline. Four grades of it. I'll be the only AP working discipline--and THAT'S the part that's got me scared the most. It's going to be a lot of work, it's going to be labor-intensive, and I'm apparently not going to have a whole lot of competent people to back me up. What's more, I don't think my new boss is going to give me a whole lot of time to prove myself.

The only fact easing my mind at the moment is that the person I'm taking over for has been doing this for two years, and it's not like she's a quivering puddle of goo or anything. So maybe it's something I can pull off after all.

I'm still a little worried, though.

* Hitchhiker's Guide fans know what I'm talkin' about.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
posted by Q6 at 6:58 PM
Now that State testing is over it's time to enter the home stretch. Tonight's Open house isn't as well attended as I'd like, but since it's only my first year here, I didn't really know how to gauge attendance. (But I'm OK with a low turnout--it's been a busy day: playing border collie for the 8th grade panoramic picture, a minimum day schedule, a marathon--and landmark--IEP meeting, a retirement celebration at the district office, then Open House.)

(Insert sound of changing gears here.)

There's reason for anticipation: I'm supposed to be getting a call tomorrow from the district brass about my assignment for next year. I don't know where I'm going, but I've learned to embrace change. (The irony here is that I'm supposed to help chaperone a field trip to Disneyland tomorrow, so I may miss the call.)

Stay tuned.
Friday, May 15, 2009
posted by Q6 at 6:01 PM
If I were a California State Legislator, I would be laughing my ass off.

This week the Los Angeles Unified School District's teachers' union, after failing to stage a one-day walk out (the contract says they can't), decided to stage a number of protests today. Over 700 more teachers than normal called in sick, and several of them were arrested for sitting in the street outside district headquarters and stopping traffic. The court-denied one-day strike, and today's unorganized sick-out removed almost three thousand teachers from the classrooms--teachers who were protesting . . . . wait for it . . . . the removal of teachers from the classrooms.

Now, look: I was once a member of UTLA, so it's not like I'm playing armchair quarterback here. Anyone who knows me (as a former teacher and current assistant principal) knows that I am all for the teacher, that I believe that teachers should have as much as possible, that there should be as many of them as possible, and that they should be paid better. (I even raise the hackles of the district leadership, I'm THAT MUCH for the teacher.) I think the whole thing served both camps: the teachers showed us what it would be like with fewer teachers in schools, and the politicians saw that they were perfectly OK with the results. The pols have been saying that all along. They don't think they have any choice.

The reason I don't think this was the brightest move has less to do with the walk-out and the protests, but because this comes on the heels of some very powerful criticism two weeks back from the L.A. Times. They ran a few stories about teachers who should be fired/released from contract/let go and haven't been. One feature chronicled the daily routines of a few teachers who are "housed": they're on contract, being paid, and either doing crossword puzzles at their desks or doing them from home. They can't be in the classroom; complaints against them are still under review. Of those who wrote in about the articles, many were outraged about the protections that teachers enjoy; only a few successfully identified those protections as having been put in place and enforced by the union.

And here's where I have my problem: if teachers are allowed to unionize (and I believe they should) and guarantee certain protections for its members, then they should do a decent job of policing their own. The contract should not only include such protections, but should also state--blatantly or implicitly--that the union will do everything possible to deliver a quality workforce. And if teachers' unions are defending the jobs of teachers known to violate laws (of society or of nature), we have a problem.

To be clear: I don't have a problem with unions. I have a problem with unions who protect themselves without regard for or at the expense of the students and schools. Perhaps if everyone were on the same page about who should and shouldn't be a teacher, needed funds wouldn't be wasted on lawsuits and housing. Maybe if the teacher workforce were policed from within as well, then all the spending would be meaningful, produce results, and convince others not to cut budgets. Hell, even if it appeared that the union was helping to save money, that might mean something.

I once worked at a school where a teacher was drinking on the job. All day. Every day. Teachers noticed. Students noticed. That teacher's job performance was visibly affected. And that teacher still works there, two years later, despite the efforts of site and district administration to remove that person, thanks to union protection.

If I were a California State Legislator, I probably wouldn't be listening, either.
Saturday, May 02, 2009
posted by Q6 at 6:07 PM
I have unofficial word from a district higher-up that I'm changing schools again at the end of this year. There's no word yet on where I'll be moving, but most educated guesses seem to be pointing toward one of two high schools (NOT the high school at which I once worked).

My current office is decorated in a very minimalist fashion, fortunately, so this move shouldn't be too terribly difficult.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
posted by Q6 at 6:48 PM
If you've read this blog for a while, you know that I got transferred to a different campus this year. (If you haven't, let me bring you up to date: I got transferred to a different campus this year.) As we head into the month of May, most site administrators are all asking the same question, over and over: "Have you heard anything?"

More administrator shuffling is about to happen and all we have to go on is rumor at this point, which is odd because these moves are usually decided upon and announced by now. This isn't any longer a question of "if" moves will be made, it's a question of "who" and "when." One intermediate school site is losing an administrative position (from 2 assistant principals to one), and someone's already been let go at a high school. It's now just a question of shuffling people around. Yes, it would make sense to just take the intermediate odd-man out and place him in the hole at the high school. Done. Finito.

There are, however, a number of mitigating factors that make the whole thing much more complicated--really, what in a school district ISN'T complicated? There are rumblings that the district brass plans to make some principal changes in the future (or sooner--more on that in a moment), and might want to place APs at certain schools with the intent of making them the heirs apparent for the principalships. That would shuffle quite a few people, and might even reverse one of the changes made last year. Moreover, the budget crunch thing has got everyone battening down the hatches and putting people where they'll do the most good with the least amount of expense or worry. I guess if we're all going to bury our heads in the sand we should make sure someone's feeding the dog and bringing in the mail as needed.

The whole principal thing is interesting, actually. A couple of months ago the district announced that there would be no principal moves for next year; not long after that, the sh*t started hitting the fan. One high school principal (one who can't retire too soon, in the opinion of most) has his teaching staff gunning for his head AND he's not reacting to his testing data to the district's satisfaction. A second principal actually defended his crappy data to the Assistant Superintendent, and a third principal is facing not only an angry teaching staff, but an ACLU lawsuit as well (this one's also, apparently, taken to yelling and screaming at those both below and above her on the chain of command, which isn't making matters any better). So there may be a few principal changes in the making--or at least in consideration--after all.

This is the part of the blog post where the image morphs into a dream sequence.

What if they ask me to step up to interim principal? Or principal? Or one of the Assistant-Principal-On-Deck-for-Principal spots? Am I ready for such a move? Do I want to give up more of my time to my job? Am I reading too much into the idea? If last year's administrative shuffle has taught me anything, it's that I serve at the pleasure of the district. I guess I'll go where they put me.

At this point, I'd just like to know where I'll be next year.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
posted by Q6 at 12:49 PM
Educators have grappled with the issue of student motivation for decades, and I'm no exception. I've been working all school year with lower-income seventh and eighth graders who, were it not for the constant prodding by the school staff, couldn't be bothered to walk upright let alone learn anything. As many of you know, I spent seven years before that working at a school site where most were competing for some of the best universities in the world and were motivated to do much more than the minimum requirement.

Why are the two groups so different? I refuse to believe that either group of students has enough forward vision to anticipate what they'll need to accomplish. I know that every parent wants the best for their kids (though I admit that the latter group probably has parents who are better at expressing it and more empowered to give rewards). I know that both groups have an equal chance for success (not for the all the reasons that Malcom Gladwell explains in Outliers, though I'll get to my review of that book in due time). So why is the motivation missing from my current students? What am I missing?

About a year ago an unoffical black mark was put on my record. It was said that I didn't believe that all kids could be successful. (This apparently came from an interpretation of something I said at some point, though I couldn't tell you what it was I said that gave people--including some district officials--this idea.) It's a misunderstanding I've tried to clear up since it happened; I honestly don't know if it's worked.

Here's what I do know: Every kid CAN be successful, but not every kid WANTS to be successful. We can deal with different definitions of success and this statement is still true. Some students set the bar too high, some set it just high enough, some set it far too low (by any standard), and some don't set a bar at all. It's like having given someone a gold brick only to discover he's been using it as a doorstop.

So I'm left with this overwhelming feeling of frustration because I can't get these kids to care enough about themselves to do well. It's a terrible feeling that comes from watching young people blow off the opportunity to succeed--not miss it, but actually turn it down--and I try not to let it get the best of me. Chuck Palahniuk put it best in Fight Club: I really wanted to put a bullet between the eyes of every endangered panda that wouldn't screw to save its species and every whale or dolphin that gave up and ran itself aground.

I wish I could figure out a solution to that problem. Of course, if I could, I'd probably be writing the books instead of reading them.
Monday, March 23, 2009
posted by Q6 at 5:47 AM
So I posted a rant not long ago about using business books and manuals in education, and my frustration that (a) they don't really cross over, and (b) education isn't important enough to have it's own section of the bookstore. That rant is partly motivated by a general sense of urgency in my profession, but it also affects me personally.

My boss--the principal of my school--LOVES these books. He can't get enough of them. He reads two or three a week. He copies chapters out of them and hands them out at meetings. He's always talking about them (and he's the kind of guy who never remembers if he's told you something or not, so I get repeats). And his new favorite book is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

I read Gladwell's Blink, and I thought it was insightful. I didn't think it was written for specific audiences (like business or education), but that didn't stop people from trying to apply the concepts to everything they did. I [am almost sure that I] skipped The Tipping Point, for no other reason than people told me it was too similar to Blink. My boss now goes on and on about Outliers--and fine, I'll read the damn book. What worries me is that according to him, it's about what the traits that make people successful; and to listen to his examples, 90% of these traits are beyond the control of the individual (like what month of the year you were born). I don't want to read 300 pages of "Here's what makes successful people tick, but there's nothing you can do about it" or "These are the things you didn't do for your kid and now he's irrevocably screwed up."

I'll read the book, but I have to finish the one I'm on now (The Power of Less by Leo Babauta) and read the next one in line (Fool by Christopher Moore). Then I'll read it, boss.
Friday, March 20, 2009
posted by Q6 at 10:16 AM
This week provided my first opportunity to hear a music concert by students at my school. It was . . . well, it wasn't what I expected. It wasn't bad, really, given what our music teacher has to work with, but it wasn't what I was used to.

At my prior school works a man of music who teaches his students along classical lines, but has the benefit of teaching students who either take the class seriously, have additional lessons on the side, or who have been playing the instrument(s) for a number of years. His concerts are just under two hours long and include instrumental, jazz, and vocal--up to ten numbers in each section, at times. I always made a point of going to his concerts, partly because I enjoyed the students and the program, partly because I prefer the arts over athletics.

At my current school, students have only the classroom time to learn; practice time at home is probably distrcted and not all it should be; and the students have no outside, formal training. The concert the other night included the beginning band, the choir, the jazz band, and the concert orchestra. There were fewer selections (the entire evening ran about 45 minutes), the acoustics in the gym were less than adequate, and the audience was . . . (perhaps "rude" is the wrong word) unaccustomed to attending music concerts--there was talking, there was moving about, there were distractions. At one point, I felt bad for the teacher (who was very upbeat throughout the whole thing, actually), and then I felt a little bad for the students who had worked so hard but clearly didn't get the audience they deserved, and then I felt glad that our school, where the students don't have much and still work hard to satisfy, had a concert at all.

And I missed my previous school's Maestro.
Monday, March 02, 2009
posted by Q6 at 2:51 PM
Budgetary issues being what they are in California, everyone in education gets nervous around this time of year. (For those who are unfamiliar with the education calendar, districts must notify you by March 15 if you're going to be released. Pink slips are called Reductions in Force, or RIFs.)

On Friday, I got a postal slip notifying me of certified mail. My heart sank, then leapt into my throat and did a little dance, then stopped altogether for a few seconds as I considered why I would possibly be receiving certified mail from "school district." In my mind, for a few minutes, I had been RIFfed. It was a very scary feeling, and my now-well-exercised heart goes out to all those people, particularly educators, who have experienced this feeling and have been left holding a pink slip at the end.

The district had not mailed me a ticket to the unemployment office, but my contract for next year (plus a note reminding me that my salary was being cut slightly for '09-'10 . . . that's a whole different story). I have a job, and I'm happy with that. I don't know if I'll be staying at my present assignment or changing campuses again, but I don't really care overmuch. I'm employed.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
posted by Q6 at 5:36 AM
School administration is, in my opinion, a world unto itself. We aren't exactly a business, per se, since the market economy has less to do with our strategy than the mindset of our students, parents, and staff members. And we're not exactly a service industry, either, since we don't exactly pipe electricity into your home or pick up your trash. So when we visit the bookstore, we tend to stop at the shelf and a half of educational theory books that Barnes & Noble graces us with.

For some, however, that doesn't seem to be enough. Each school year our district management encourages us all to read a specific book, and it's usually one aimed at business leaders, not educators. Several principals in our district--as well as those in other districts, I'm sure--read business manual after business manual in an attempt to bring the next "new thing" to their schools. It never occurred to me to find the answers to Education's problems in business rhetoric (since our worlds are so very far apart), but the teetering stack of such books in their offices suggest that the business-flavored Kool-Aid tastes pretty good.

A lot of the language--the jargon, specifically, more and more of which seems to be invented with each new book--spills over into meetings and conversations as well. District Leadership Team meetings in the summer will begin with a "Grounding Activity." A school site's plan for some change or other must become a "Living Document." Everyone must have a stake in the "Mindshare" of the district. Sheesh. If someone asks me what I've got going on at work, I usually have to include brief definitions and descriptions of the educationally-related terms I'm using and tasks I'm describing--and that's without any of the business lingo.

So is there really not enough edu-speak out there that we need to co-op the crap they're spewing in the business world as well? Or is the self-esteem so low in Educational Administration that we must behave like Fortune 500 wanna-bes just to feel good about or productive in what we're doing? I know one thing for certain: I wouldn't get to complain about this if there were more books published for educators about education and educational administration.

And that's where the REAL problem is: EDUCATION IS NOT SOCIETY'S FOCUS. It's not even a priority. The business and computer sections of bookstores take up almost a third of each store; most education manuals have to be ordered. I would think that even the dimmest of business bulbs would be able to apply their own basic theories to society: if you sell a certain amount of product, you must re-stock your shelves; similarly, if you see any number of business, government, or societal eggheads retire or pass away, you must re-stock society.

DO THEY REALLY THINK WE CAN PRODUCE THE NEXT GENERATION OF OUR COUNTRY'S BRAINTRUST ON HALF A BUDGET?!? The school system we have now is the same school system that produced millions of people who thought sub-prime mortgages were a good idea. Clearly our educational institutions have issues.

Without well educated people, problems don't get solved. Education is probably the best preventative maintenance program for society's ills; if spend some money now, if we spend some effort now, if we focus our attention on young people now we may not have as many of these problems later on. If we turn the first ten or twelve or sixteen years of life into a maelstrom of growth and development maybe we don't have as much of a crime issue, or a poverty problem, or an environmental dilemma, or a health problem. Maybe--just maybe--we can produce a generation of people which is not only equipped to solve such complex problems, but can prevent them as well.

We need to do something. As a school administrator I can't keep reading books about "profit maximization" and expect to get anything out of it.
Monday, February 23, 2009
posted by Q6 at 5:40 AM
That's right, folks. If you work in education anywhere--in California, specifically--you know that the budget problems meant certain doom for us no matter how it ended. Sure enough, after a month of procrastination and a week of elementary-school-level bickering, we have a budget. Whoop-dee-doo. They thought THEY had to cut spending? Watch the school districts continue their slashing and burning trying to get ready for next year. I'm sure that districts all over California are stocking up on pink printer paper, too--the RIFs are coming.

(And while I'm talking about state budget issues, I'd personally like to thank our Governor for working so hard to completely negate the Federal tax break I'm going to see starting April 1. That's damn nice of you, sir; I'm starting to wonder why I labored so hard over the decision not to vote for you. Gray Davis was no prize, but would we be here now if he'd kept his job?)

I know my district has been planning for this--we have an amazing guy in charge of our money--and that while we're going to be OK for 09-10, we're worrying right now about cutting up to $8 million to make 10-11 work. To that end, they have announced the consolidation of two campuses (which will eliminate a position or two, I'm sure), cuts in a couple of departments, and the elimination of two secondary assistant principals (which was expected and NOT a shock).

I'm positive I'm not one of the APs who will be eliminated, but I'm 95% sure that I'll be changing school sites yet again. They're taking their time making those decisions, and I'm in no hurry. Stay tuned . . . and in these hard-for-education economic times, take care of yourselves.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
posted by Q6 at 5:08 AM
I'm noticing yet another disturbing trend among the young people with which I work: they feel they deserve high praise and accolades for ordinary, mundane things. I watched a student last week on the basketball court at lunch; he dribbled, he stopped, he took the shot, and then he beat his chest, looked at his teammates, and yelled, "Me, bitch!" like he just sank the winning basket in the NBA Finals. He didn't even make the basket. He barely hit the backboard with the ball. Still, he wants to be carried off the court on the shoulders of his peers.

Someone recently suggested to my wife (a high school teacher) that it's "now politically correct to praise failure; how could they understand [achievement] in a time where even the losing teams get prizes?" She's been dealing with Honors & AP kids who want to eek their Bs into As because they tried really hard. Me, I watched a student not too long ago kick a ball during PE. He kicked it against the outside wall of the gymnasium then spun to face his friends, throwing his arms up in triumph and expecting applause and congratulations. He wants praise for literally hitting the side of a barn.

I guess what bothers me most about the whole thing is that this is the sense of entitlement people seem to use later in life as an excuse not to work, not to parent, or not to care for property. I'm worried that their focus won't change, and that they'll eventually atrophy into those that we have to take care of because they can't take care of themselves. (A close second on my worry meter is that self-esteem-motivated praise ends up devaluing ALL praise, and praise can be a powerful tool when used properly.)

Of course, today I was reminded of why we started praising ordinary things in the first place. One of our students has been getting to school hours late on a regular basis, and today not even the principal and the police officer could get her out of bed to come to school; on the other hand, she lives in a one-room motel room with two parents who drink and party until 2 in the morning, so it's little wonder she's not functional until noon. Another of our students was worried about taking one of his finals this morning, and suggested to his father that he didn't want to go to school today; he arrived at school not long after receiving the beating his father gave him.

We motivate some kids to get to college; we motivate others just to get to tomorrow. Some of these kids get praised for little things because it's all they get a chance to do. Not all of them, and certainly not some of them . . . but a few--a very specific few--deserve the pat on the back for trying.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
posted by Q6 at 12:34 PM
Check out my new ride!

What you see is the 2008 Honda FCX Clarity, a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. This isn't the econo-box that was Honda's first generation; this is a full luxury version . . . this thing has ALL the bells and whistles of any luxury car on the market, but runs on ZERO gasoline. And the only thing that comes out of the tailpipe is water (I have the first car in the world designed to pee). The car of the future is here, my friends, and it's wrapped around me whenever I drive.

I'm sure that, over time, I'll be posting a lot about the new car, including photos (to be honest, I have to make sure I don't post anything proprietary, per Honda's wishes). For now, I'm going to post the answers to the four most frequent questions I've had in the last week:

1) How did you get one of these? (Usually asked, "How did YOU get one of these?") Honda's trying to put 200 of these on the road over the next three years (mine, I'm told, is one of the first ten--Jaime Lee Curtis has one, so I'm in a pretty nifty club), and their website asks interested people who live near one of the fueling stations to sign up. I did. Frankly, it's one of those things that you fill out and you know they're never gonna call--but they did. I've been speaking with them since November, and we got everything worked out. Despite what certain reviewers are saying, they're not just handing these things over to celebrities; they are, however, screening the potential lessees pretty carefully. Anyway, my answer to this question is, "I raised my hand, and they called on me."

2) Is it hard to drive? Is it hard to refuel? In both cases, no. I've never had a luxury car before, so I'm going from a stripped-down 2000 Hyundai hatchback to this. Driving a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle--basically, an electric car--means becoming accustomed to the acceleration, the gauges, and the mechanics of starting the car, but it's not all that different. I think that's the point, actually: to make the cars cleaner without changing the way we drive them. As far as refueling the car is concerned, it's actually easier to fuel with hydrogen than it is with gasoline. Once you know what you're doing (a simple 30 minutes of training), and once you've done it a few times, it becomes . . . well, kinda boring, actually. But that's better than needing a 50-page manual each time.

3) Is it expensive? Um . . . yes. Yes it is. Here's the thing, though: with the $600 per month lease, I'm getting all maintenance AND the comprehensive and collision insurance included (I just need to pay for the liability insurance and the hydrogen). That being the case, it's not really all that different from leasing any other big-ticket luxury car. On top of that, I get to drive around in a "limited edition" kind of car, and I'm not polluting anything while I do it. As far as the hydrogen itself is concerned, you have to learn the math of driving all over again (what with the new fuel type, the conversion of numbers isn't always easy--or possible). Let's put it this way: it costs me the same to fill this car's tank as it did to fill my last car's tank. So again, there's not a whole lot of change here.

4) Are you going to let your son drive it? Look, my almost-17-year-old son doesn't even have his license yet, and doesn't take the test until next week. I love my son, I trust my son, and I'm glad I sent my son to an expensive driving school--but unless there's a federal bailout package specifically for my liability policy, I don't see him driving it anytime soon (one of the guys from Honda--I'm looking at you, Tim--suggested that I let him take the test in my Clarity, for crying out loud). Actually, my son doesn't have his eye so much on my new car as he does my OLD car. He has dreams of co-opting that one. We'll see.

If I get questions, I'll answer them (if I'm allowed to, of course). In the meantime, if you need me, I'll be in my car.