About Me

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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

We Have An Ice Day Today

When I got to the school this morning, I found that it had been called off. Evidently, the district made the decision at the last minute. I was happy to work a little white at the school on my grading, but soon after I got there, we were told that the building was closing, so we had to go home.

People often make fun of us on the Southern Plains for how we handle winter weather. One thing that is often overlooked is the fact that our winter precipitation typically takes the form of ice, the worst kind of precipitation. Those who get theirs in the form of snow certainly have challenges, but NO ONE handles ice well, certainly not while driving.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

School Wide Assembly Kicks off "Heart of a Champion" Character Education Initiative

Some of my students showing off their "Elevators UP OKC" T-Shirts
Today we had a school wide assembly put on by "Elevators Up OKC," an initiative sponsored by Coca Cola to foster character education through the "Heart of a Champion" program. We had a radio and TV personality named T-Rock MC the proceedings. Also in attendance were OKCPS Superintendent Karl Springer, Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, 5 members of the OKCPS school board, two of the Thunder cheerleaders, and executives with Coca Cola.
Oklahoma City Public School Superintendent Karl Springer and Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Jari Askins attended the event
from l to r, Oklahoma City Public Schools board members Gail Vines, Phil Horning, Lyn Watson, and David Castillo
Students Cheering during the assembly
Our students took it all in quite well and seemed to have a good time.
One of the Thunder cheerleaders giving out free tickets to an OKC Thunder game
I am one of the teachers who is responsible for teaching the "Heart of a Champion" curriculum. Wish me luck. The first character quality I am teaching is going to be "Committment."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Prayer for Justice for All

God of all humankind. God of many names, honored in many ways.

Your prophet Amos told the people of his nation, "Hear this, O ye who swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail. . . . I will turn your feasts to mourning and your songs to lamentations."

As your prophets long ago called their nation to repent of theirs sins against your justice, may our nation in our time hear the call for us to repentance of our sins against those most in need of justice.

Lord, forgive us.

For we have failed to pay many workers a livable wage, so they and their families, including their children, must live in poverty in our land of wealth and plenty.

We have treated health care, not as the human right it is, but as a commodity for our profit, making money from basic human needs, causing medical care to become so expensive that 40% of all American companies now offer no health benefits at all for their employees.

We have denied the workers of this great land their right to free association by allowing those in power to harass and intimidate workers who wish to form unions, even to the point of denying them their constitutional right to organize at all leaving them weak and vulnerable to those in power.

We have denied our fellow Americans their right to dignity. For Lord, when we try to call human rights, "special rights," we merely seek to justify our fears, our prejudices, and our exploitations.

Lord, forgive us our sins, for we have truly done what we ought not to have done, but, what is worse, we have left undone those things that we ought to have done.

May we not grow weary in our labors to brings about your justice and mercy to our land. For in these times, your work must truly be our own.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mayflower Congregation Church--Sermon Highlights: Rev. Scott Rennie, Guest Minister

Jesus the Sower
Note: This Sunday we had a guest pulpit minister at Mayflower, Rev. Scott M. Rennie of Queen's Cross Parish in Aberdeen Scotland, a congregation of the national Church of Scotland. As noted in the welcome printed in the church bulletin, Rev. Rennie's call to Queen's Cross was the first time an openly gay minister was called by a Church of Scotland, or Kirk, parish. His calling was the subject of a landmark case before the General Assembly of Kirk in 2010. The Assembly resolved to allow his call to proceed.

Guest Minister: Rev. Scott M. Rennie

Title of Sermon: WASTED GRACE

Scripture Lesson: Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23 (Jesus' Parable of the Sower)

Sermon Highlights:
The sower in Jesus parable was not your stereotypical thrifty Scot. He sows his grain indiscriminently throwing it on good soil and bad, even on the road itself. The sower reminds us of God who is gratuitously generous with His favors and blessings.

Some times Life seems to be a tale of wasted energy. We seek to help people who never seem to improve their living. We work for justice in our community, but justice does not come.

Whenever we sow the seeds of the kingdom, we never know where those seeds will take root. We do not always see the difference we make. We must work in the spirit of faith and hope.

We must imitate God's gratitous generosity and live in the hope that our efforts will one day take root in our world.

Personal Reflection: This sermon spoke directly spoke to me. Those of us in Oklahoma concerned about social justice often feel none of our efforts will pay off. We look at those who represent us in Washington and in our state government, and we see how they seek to deny all efforts to heal our environment or bring about real health reform.

It is difficult to labor in such poor soil, but labor we must and have faith that we will help bring about justice for all.

Mayflower Congregation Church--Prayer of Confession

Peace Pole at Mayflower Church
Lord of Life, we come to this place to worship because we are the children of grace. We are drawn to the light of this room because this is the beloved community. The seeds of grace have fallen here and have taken root in us. We know that often the world chokes out those seeds, and we allow the seeds of cynicism to take over. Give us strength and courage to tend this garden, and then to be the change we wish to see in the world. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, our Teacher and Lord we pray, Amen.

Friday, January 22, 2010

RIP Sandy Pilcher

Zaddie "Sandy" Mae Pilcher died Tuesday. She was my wife's birth mother. Sandy was born in Idabel in 1934 to a family of migrant workers. Sandy worked in the fields harvesting crops with her migrant family as a child. She worked hard all her life at low-level jobs which included working for Dairy Queen, a magazine distribution company, and a nurse's aide.

Sandy raised two other children in addition to my wife, Cat. Ramona, who was stricken with polio at age 2, and Cheryl, who lives in Tulsa and works as a registered nurse.

Sandy worked hard all her life. She now gets to lay her burden down and enter into her rest.

Cat and I are in Tulsa for her memorial service.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Perversion of Dr. King

Mark Twain noted, “The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them.”

I am reminded of this quote whenever I read how conservatives try to use part of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" against any attempt to realize social justice for African-Americans through the type of collective action we have available to us through federal legislation and governmental policy. Conservatives fixate on the line from King's speech.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
They try to argue that all government policy which attempts to help those in need is a violation of what King stood for.

This sort of King "proof texting" ignores that fact that King worked for economic justice as part and parcel of his work for political rights. In fact, his last act was to take part in a sanitation workers' strike in Memphis. Dr. King felt that some attempt had to be made to address the economic injustices that fell most heavily on people of color in this country.

Conservatives have not only tried to adopt King as one of their own, they have also tried to pervert King's essential message.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

No Learning Without Discipline

Many different education "experts" have lately been focusing their attention on the role of teachers in student achievement. The mantra goes that the teacher is has the primary responsibility for student learning. These experts, most of whom are years removed from real classroom experience (if they ever had any at all), tell us that we cannot just "teach" our lessons, we must see to it that our students "learn" them.

I do understand that as teachers we cannot simply lay out the lesson for students in any way that suits us and leave it at that. (However, this is quite typical of the schools in other countries with whom we Americans often compare ourselves.) I also am well aware of the fact that it would be irresponsible of me to shift blame for my short-comings as a teacher on the students and other factors beyond my control. I further realize that the one factor in my classroom I completely control is myself. So I do accept personal responsibility for my students' education.

However, I am also aware that education cannot take place in a context of disruption and chaos. When students choose to disrupt my class and deny other students their opportunity to learn, I must have some means to end that disruption. Often, this is beyond my control no matter what classroom management techniques I may choose to employ.

For example, suppose a student continues to carry on "sidebar" conversations in my class. I can admonish the student and warn the student about the consequences of further disruption. If the student continues, I can direct the student to sit in a different part of the room. The student at this point has the choice to comply or not. If the student does not comply, then I must have the student removed. I can direct the student to go see an administrator. (Some administrators in the past have denied me this option.) If the student does not, I have to call for someone to remove the student. Even if the student complies, the student may continue the disruption. Ultimately, it gets to the point to where the student must be "referred" to an administrator who is often overworked by teachers like me who have gone through the disciplinary process and have a large stack of referrals on his/her desk that must be worked in through a long, painstaking process.

The fact of the matter is, we have many students in our schools who simply lack the needed behavior skills to participate in a traditional educational setting. We need to provide some type of alternative setting for these students otherwise we cheat them, and even more, we cheat the majority of the students in the class who equally deserve and opportunity to learn in an orderly education environment.

I will be writing on this more in the coming days.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I Really Do Like Being a Teacher

I want to clear up any misunderstanding anyone who happens on this blog might have about how I feel about being a teacher. I really, really, really like being a teacher. I couldn't imagine myself being anything other than a classroom teacher.

I enjoy interacting with the kids in my classes. I see that they have so life and poetential. They think know so much, but they don't even have the questions they need.

I like the fact that I am able to, in some measure, lead the life of the mind. I enjoy living in books. I enjoy being able to spend time studying stories, poetry and drama and all the time getting paid for it.

Most of all, I enjoy feeling that I am doing some good in this world. I work in a profession where I spend my days trying to make a group of people's life better. I am not the only one who does it for them, but I am one part of their future.

Of course, that creates a big feeling of responsibility on my part because what I do now will have consequences for the future. But I like this kind of challenge.

So whatever I might say about what goes on my my classroom, I really enjoyed being in my profession. I enjoy my school. I enjoy my kids. I enjoy being a teacher.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mixed Messages for Teachers

Yesterday and today, our high school students were sent to an assembly and informed that the high school would be enforcing a required attendance policy for last semester's grades. Students who had more than 7 unexcused absences would be given a failing grade regardless of the grade the teacher posted for them. This caused a rather big uproar from students who felt that if they had received a passing grade in class, their attendance didn't matter. The fact that they could attend after school or Saturday school tutoring this semester to make up attendance from last semester did little to mollify them.

The casual observer might justifiably wonder why students who had missed so much time in the course of a school semester could have had a passing grade at all. Teachers, especially those in urban high schools, know full well how this can happen: teachers are encouraged, often required, to find ways to pass students by all available means.

This is all a part of the many mixed messages teachers are given by those who set our educational policies. At the same time we are pushed towards finding ways for students to pass and get their credits towards graduation, we are also admonished in countless way to "maintain high standards", "create a climate of excellence", "develop demanding expectations." As much as we would like to feel that high standards and student success are entirely compatible in some ideal sense, the truth is that often these goals are at odds with each other.

For example, suppose I want my students to study one of the plays of Shakespeare, Macbeth for example. I can prepare my students for the play, acquaint them with the arcane language and mystifying conventions. I can have the students read the play individually, in small groups, or as an entire class. Have them act out parts from the play. I can show videos and discuss the actors' interpretations of the characters. However, in the end, if some students wish to sabotoge all my best efforts it does not take much for them to do so.

And here is where the crux of the matter lies: how do I respond. If I truly were to maintain high standards, I would demand that they make some effort to climb the scaffold I have prepared for them. Lacking that, they fail. However, the other message of making it possible for all students to succeed kicks in telling me that I have to give my students "multiple opportunites" to succeed by retaking tests, extending homework deadlines, or giving alternative assignments. If students have be diagnosed with learning disablities, then I must make "modifications" which essentially dumb down the requirements for the unit. High expectations give why to middling realities.

I know how important it is for our students not to fail school, not to fall down on their road to graduation and all the opportunities this opens up for them. For our students, a missing diploma is a one-way ticket to a lifetime of marginal living, grinding poverty, and/or prison. That does not stop me from the constant,nagging guilty feelings I that my standards are lacking as I attempt to create pathways to that all important high school diploma.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Had a Good Day Today

Yesterday, my assistant principal came to observe my class as a part of my evaluation. She came during my most difficult timeblock, and the students were just awful. I felt ashamed and wondered how she felt about my ability as a teacher. I tried to do everything I knew to get the students to behave, quit talking, and pay attention to the lesson. Nothing helped.

Today, she presided over the meeting of my Professional Learning Community. She turned to me and said, "Mr. Green, I want you to send any disruptive student you have in that hour to see me. I will help you take care of them." I felt as though a ton a bricks had been lifted off of my shoulders.

Today, I sent four students to her because they didn't respond to my directions. The rest of the class quieted down. And they learned the lesson.

I am sorry that such extreme measures have to be employed on the few so that the rest can benefit. Four students were sent out with at least one suspended, but the twenty who remained in the room benefited from their absence.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Back in School Today

William Blake
We were back in school today after an unexpected 4 day break due to an Artic cold front which came through the state late Wednesday. We still have enough snow days that we are looking at being out for summer during the last week of May. However, we still have the rest of January, February, and even March to get through.

I am teaching my seniors some of the poems from William Blake, ones from his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. I am trying to get them to become aware of who is talking in the poems, or the Speaker, and the Tone of the poems. Blake's a good one for that because he adopts different personas in the poems from the two books.
Mark Twain
My Honors English 11 is getting ready to study The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I gave them the books three weeks before Winter break, so they have had about 6 or 7 weeks to do the reading. I am under no illusions that they have done so.

My regular English 11 has had the novel also. They are even less likely to have done the reading. I am not sure what to do with them except to have them read certain passages and get through the book best they can. Today we went over words they are likely to see on the "End of Instruction" (EOI) test. I had to use my loud voice to get through to them. This is the biggest problem I have, getting them to be quiet and listen to me long enough to get any sort of learning done.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The School Semester Begins

We are starting a new semester today. I like the fact that we end our first semester at the beginning of Winter Break, and then begin the new one after the break is over.

I had problems with several of my classes being very talkative and not paying me much attention. I had to make about a half dozen home calls. I am worried that my senior classes will figure that they can just coast their last semester in school. I had to remind them that it was still possible to fail their 2nd semester, which would deny them the opportunity to graduate at the end of the year.

I am not teaching two nights a week at Rose State College for the first time in several years. I am doing this because I have to get busy on my National Board certification.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

End of the Holidays

I am of two minds when the holidays end, and we go back to school. I am a bit sad to see the leisurely days go by. However, I am glad to get back to doing the work that I love. Moreover, I always feel as if a great peace settles over the land after the rush and stress of the holidays finally end.

I plan to do a lot of blogging about what is going on at school, especially about my work on the National Board for Teacher Certification.