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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.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Teaching in a New Paradigm


Teachers are going to have to come to the realization that we are teaching in a new paradigm. The calls for teachers to be accountable for their students' academic progress, regardless of where the students are in their intellectual abilities, regardless of how much home support the students have, regardless of the socio-economic environment in which the students live, are becoming more and more insistent.

We no longer control the narrative about schools. Our insistence that accountability must be a shared responsibility is being drowned out by those who insist that we show immediate and measurable results for our instruction. Any attempt to call attention to the myriad of other factors involved in the educational process of our students are dismissed as an attempt on our part to avoid responsibility for our actions.

The fact that students, particularly those in urban schools, fail to perform well academically is taken as being self-evident. And where there is failure, there must be blame. And since teachers are the ones who are most responsibile for education, they are responsible for the failure. Or so the current narrative goes.

I do find it curious that when educational and political pundits tell their stories about "failing schools" their examples are nearly always urban schools. Few tell tales about the "failure" of suburban or even rural schools. Inner-city students are the one's "Waiting for Superman" to come save their from being "crippled" by bad schools, burned out teachers, and those horrible teacher unions.

In other words, those students who lives are most crippled by poverty, crime, racism, and other forms of injustice, are the "victims" of public education.

The truth of the matter is that our students are victims of a systemic failure, a failure of our political and economic system to provide for them the means by which they can realize their full human potential. They not only are short-changed in their schools, they also are victimized by inadequate health care, unequal justice in the courts, poor housing, crumbling infrastructure, lack of job opportunities, and all the social ills that attend poverty like drugs, crime and violence.

Our students are burdened by our failure to realize the American promise of "justice for all." Any true solution to the problem of education must occur as a part of our broader attempt to realize true justice, not merely justice of opportunity, but geniune social justice, including justice of enablement and empowerment. If students have little prospect of a meaningful and dignified life after school, then how can we expect them to take advantage of the educational opportunites school provides?

The New Paradigm the United States of America needs to be promoting, the narrative all Americans need to be telling is story a fully nation where "justice for all" is more than a rote mantra said during The Pledge of Allegiance. Our story must be one of justice.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Teachers' Due Process in the Crosshairs


Once again, the Oklahoman is taking on due process rights with another article in the paper about how hard it is to fire bad teachers. Teachers must recognize that the due process system we now enjoy will be greatly altered by this legislature.

We had better be prepared to engage the Republicans who now control nearly all aspects of education at the state level in a discussion on reasonable changes to the present system because if we are not at the table, we will surely be on the menu.

It appears from the article that the only teachers' organization that is trying to get to the table is the AFT. AFT 2309 president Ed Allen is quoted in the article.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Editorial in The Oklahoman About Centennial HS

OCHS
Today's editorial in The Oklahoman is about Centennial HS where I teach. The article upon which it is based is fair and balanced. Megan Rolland did a good job of presenting the complexity of what we face at OCHS.

Unfortunately, the editorial is not fair at all. The writer simply hounds the school for "failing" its students, and suggests that the district should jump in and make major changes right away. Of course, the writer has the luxury of not coming up with any substantive ideas.

Our students need help at Centennial, but we won't fix a broken system by smashing it. We have students who cannot function in a normal school environment. They make learning impossible for their fellow students. They need a different environment where they will thrive. Failing students need to be in required tutoring classes with trained teachers who can meet their individual needs. These needs cannot be met in a class of 25-30 with a teacher who has a workload of around 140 students.

These things take money, and money is the last thing Oklahoma seems to have for its students.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I have bronchitis

Went to the doctor today. The diagnosis is that I have upper reportorial bronchitis. So, I'm on a regime of antibiotics and expectorant. Just in time for the holidays!

Another Day, Same Old Cold


This cold keeps hanging on. Yesterday, we did a lot of stuff in preparation for becoming foster parents. Mainly, we shopped for a new bed. We ended up getting a combo bunk-bed, futon arrangement that I think will do nicely.

I have made an appointment to see the doctor this afternoon.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Oklahoma Centennial High School

OCHS
The Oklahoman ran a article about the school where I teach this Sunday. It's a fair piece. I get quoted quite a bit. I hope that the school gets some attention of the right sort through it.

What we need is a place for those students who are unable to perform in a regular high school environment so those who want to be there can learn.

"Oklahoma Centennial High School: Succeeding in a Place of Failure"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Taste of Failure


I got the result of my National Board for Teacher Certification entry, I did not pass. My school was 233 and passing was 275. I have two more years to try to get things in order, and I plan to go for it. I am a bit down not, but not out.

(Of course, the fact that I am fighting a cold right now doesn't help matters.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's a Great Life, If You Don't Weaken

The Original Flag of the State of Oklahoma
Oscar Ameringer, Oklahoma social activist

(I gave these remarks as a part of the worship service at Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City. Every Sunday, one of the lay people give a brief message as a part of the "Prayers of the People" segment of the service. These were given the Sunday following the election in which Republican took over nearly all functions of the state government in Oklahoma.)

Prayers of the People 11-6-10

Some people, knowing who I am and what I am usually up to, have asked me about the election this week and why I think what happened did happen. My reaction is that our fears of each other won out over our love of justice for all. In other words, we are mighty afraid that someone is getting more than our fair share of the pie, and so we think that there should be no pie at all.

The next question I’m often asked is, “What in the world are we going to do now?” I’m tempted to say, “Well, Oregon is looking very good right now.” But to run now I think is rather weak. And as Oscar once said, “It’s a great life. . . if you don’t weaken.”

Oscar? Oscar who? (You ask rhetorically.) Well, Oscar Ameringer of course, Oklahoma Socialist. And yes, Oscar Ameringer, who nearly became mayor of Oklahoma City, was a real Socialist, unlike the Pseudo-Socialists you meet so often these days.

According to a biography written by my good friend and fellow union member, John Thompson, Oscar Ameringer came to Oklahoma from his native Germany right at the time of its statehood and helped to form one of the largest Socialist movements in American history. Ameringer fought for rights of the disadvantaged. He helped found the Oklahoma Renters Union to promote the rights of sharecroppers, and twenty-five years later his writings inspired the creation of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. In 1910 he led the fight against voting tests that disenfranchised African American voters. The opposition he and most Socialists had to World War I was used as a pretext for the American government to largely destroy the Socialist Party in Oklahoma and the rest of our nation, Ameringer died in 1943 in Oklahoma City.
Ameringer once noted that, “Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich by promising to protect each from the other.”, a statement that runs as true today as it did then.

Oscar lived in tough times, in many ways tougher than what we face now. And I think his advice to us would run something along these lines:

It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.
Keep on fighting. Keep on speakin’
Let your truth shine like a beacon.
Cause it’s a great life if you

12th grade reading scores show little improvement nationwide


I teach two honors English classes at Oklahoma Centennial. I have students enrolled in those classes who are very reading resistant. They tell me that they don't like to read, will not read, and don't care if not reading lowers their grades.

Mainly, this is a defense mechanism they use because they feel that they don't read very well. I have never felt comfortable doing handyman work around the house, and so I avoid trying to do it if possible. It's the same with those who lack reading skills.

I have found that by making myself do home repairs and improvements, I have gotten better. I need to convince my students that they can accomplish the same with reading.
"High school seniors still have low reading scores" from MSNBC.com

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I'm About to Become a Father


At age 58, for the first time in my life, I'm about to become a father, to a teenager. well, foster-parent to be exact. My wife and I are taking the steps to become foster-parents to a 13 year boy who attends Oklahoma Centennial whom I met through his participation in our school chess club.

The boy's home life is completely disfunctional, and when I discovered this, I talked over with my wonderful wife the idea of helping the young man out. I believe that he is the type of person who would do well if he had a stable home life. When I told Cat about the situation, she gave it careful consideration and agreed to take on this new responsibility.

We are traveling uncertain waters here and will need much patience and much love. I never had children, so this will be a very different experience for me.

I would appreciate your thoughts and prayers.

Republicans move to strip teachers of due process


From my friend, Skip Ogle, "[Oklahoma] SB 1 was filed by Senator [John] Ford today. It repeals trial du novo for teachers. Due process then would become a board hearing and that would be it. Career teachers would be treated the same as brand new teachers." We are seeing the first effects of the Republican takeover of Oklahoma state government. Ford represents the Bartleville area. I very much doubt this will be the only attempt to diminish over even end Oklahoma teachers' due process rights.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I've caught my annual cold


Today, the Petri dish we teachers work in caught up with me in the form of a cold. This happens pretty much every year. I'm luck if I only go through it once. It has happened as many as 3 times in a school year.

I don't like missing a class day for any reason. My classes lose momentum when I am out. In chess it would called losing tempo. Not much work, particularly meaningful work, gets done. All too often in our building, a colleague has to cover my classes for me since substitutes for the most part don't like to work at our school since the students become even more unmanageable that otherwise.

Today a student threatened me because I had the audacity to tell him to quit hanging out in the halls and get to class. He threatened to physically attack me, used profanity and walked up to me and yelled in my face.

Little will probably be done. Chances are he is a special ed student and on an IEP. If the public thinks getting rid of bad teachers is difficult, they ought to find out what it is like to rid the school of the students who make workings in urban schools a constant stress for teachers and a place where good students are cheated out of their right to a safe and orderly place in which to learn.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Teacher Stress


This year as been one of the most trying I have experienced in my 17 years of public school teaching. It seems like everyone is getting stressed to the max. Much of this comes from the fact that we are facing a sort of educational time clock on our efforts that comes from the fact that we face the real possibility of having our school closed due to low test scores.

We teach in one of the poorest attendance areas in Oklahoma City. Many of us face daunting tasks of dealing with kids with zero family support, kids who live in high crime areas, kids who face long odds of living successful lives. Each day is a fight to maintain order in our classrooms. Many students show little desire to master the material we try to teach. Yet we will be judged as being ineffective teachers if our students do not perform well on the state tests.

In other words, we could lose of jobs not for what we have done, but for something someone else has done who has little incentive to help us keep our jobs.

No wonder we are stressed.