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.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What I did on my first real day of vacation.

There are calendar dates like July 4th or December 25th, there are seasonal dates like the equinox and solstice, and then there are psychological dates where we feel that something has begun or ended.

Today, for me, was the first day of teacher summer vacation.  We were officially through with school on June 2nd. However, that was a Saturday. Saturday we are always out of school whatever the time of year. The same goes for Sunday.  Monday was "sortof" vacation but it was tempered with the fact that the next day, Tuesday, we were back at school for a 3 day teachers' workshop. Friday was recovery from Tuesday through Thursday, and then it was back to Saturday and Sunday.

Monday was the first day that was completely our own, our true beginning to summer vacation where we could do whatever we wished (within the bounds of legality) for however long we wished.

So I read books, that glorious pastime that all true English teachers lust after but never get to fully indulge. I read history books, Young Adult books, political books.  I am in my version of heaven.

Hope you are getting to enjoy your summer too.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Percy Jackson & The Olympians, Book Three: The Titan's Curse

The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #3)The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the 3rd in the Percy Jackson and The Olympians series. In this, Percy searches for his friend Anabeth with the help of Artemis' huntresses who are searching for the goddess of the hunt. Percy's quest sembles the labor of Heracles: fighting the Nemean Lion, dealing with the Erymanthian boar,and finally, because the Titan they are fighting is Atlas, he holds the sky on his sholders.

Percy wins because he rejects the idea of being Heracles showing that he is growing as a man as he completes each quest.

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Saturday, June 09, 2012

Attended the Smith-Stuart Reunion in Edmond, OK

I attended a reunion made up of relatives from Cat's side of the family. These were from her mother's family, the Smith's and Stuarts. Enjoyed myself a lot. 
The reunion was at the Bickham-Rudkin Park in Edmond, a very lovely place

We bid on some gifts that were brought to help finance more reunions
Some of Cat's relatives

Some of the prizes for the bidding

And, of course, I managed to get in a game of chess or two.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

A Day of Good News and Bad News

Today Cat and I got good news and bad news.

The good news is that the Performance Task training we finished today was some of the best professional development training either of us have ever experienced.  A good deal of the credit goes to our excellent trainer Suzy Page, a very down to earth type of person who has real world teaching experience, in urban schools in Memphis, Tennessee  no less!

Suzy helps a participant develop a performance assessment

We ended our training today by developing performance tasks. In a performance task, a student is given a problem related to the Common Core State Standards for which they will produce a writing or a product that shows that they have mastered the standard's objective.  

For example, one writing standard calls for the student to produce a narrative that demonstrates they understand how characters react to a given situation. One of the reading standards requires them to do character analysis.  My performance task incorporates these objectives.

Native American Coyote figure

My performance task calls for the students to read and analyze the character known as the "trickster" who appears in the myths and tales of all cultures. The trickster is an animal or a person who survives by his wits as opposed to his strength. Think Bugs Bunny or Huck Finn.  In my performance task, the character they will analyze  is Coyote, a common trickster figure in many Native American cultures.  My students' performance task is to create their own trickster character and have their trickster solve a problem using the skills that the figure possesses.  I hope to use their writings in an anthology of student work we will create during the year.

Now for the bad news.

Cat and I had hoped to visit my folks in Washington state this summer. On Tuesday I took our PT Cruiser into Hibdon's Tire for an oil change and a diagnostic once over.  The car is still at Hibdon's and the bill currently stands at over $2000! It seems that the car needed new struts, had oil in the brake line, and needed a new master cylinder.  So, we will be staying home this summer with maybe a few short trips here and there.  

I bought tickets to see the Kansas City Royals play at home, so one of our trips to will be to Kansas City where everything is up-to-date, I've been told.  Play Ball!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

How I'm Spending My Summer Vacation

This week Cat and I have been attending a 3-day teaching training workshop put on by Pearson Education. The workshop concerns how to use "performance assessment" in teaching students the new Common Core Standards for education that the state of Oklahoma will implement in a couple of years.

Performance assessments are a way of determining if our students are "learning by doing."  We are learning about the Common Core Standards by analyzing the standards, developing lessons and creating performance rubrics.

So what do teacher do on their summer "vacation"?  We go to school!

Suzy Page,our excellent workshop leader
Some of our work during the workshop
Some of the other teachers at the workshop
A workshop discussion (showing the back of my wife's head)
Suzy Page makes a point

Sunday, June 03, 2012

AFT-Oklahoma The President's Report: 4 Myths of Education Reform

Today, I attended the annual convention of the convention of the American Federation of Teachers-Oklahoma, Local #8034. This is the state organization for Oklahoma's AFT members.  I serve as an executive officer for AFT-OKC, Local #2309. (I might add that I, as are the rest of the officers in the AFT do this unpaid lest anyone throw the charge that we are "fat cats" living off the dues of our members.)

State AFT President Clifton "Skip" Ogle
During the convention our state president,  Clifton "Skip" Ogle, a retired teacher, most recently from US Grant HS in OKC, have his annual "State of the State" address.  His report, while acknowledging that there had been many challenges to our profession was basically optimistic.  We have found that if we present our concerns in a reasonable manner, there are members of the Oklahoma legislature who are willing to work with us.  He did, however, note that there are many "school reform" myths legislator's have about public education in generation and educators' unions in particular. He analyzed 4 of these myths:

  1. Teachers, unlike other professionals, are not held accountable for the results of their teaching. Ogle noted that teachers are evaluated for their classroom performance, but this myth oversimplifies the complex process of education. Teaching involves creating changes in complex human beings, our students, and that the responsibility for the success of those changes relies on a variety of individual and social actions. He compared this to a doctor who has a patient who smokes.  We would not hold the doctor accountable for the patient's inability or outright refusal to quit smoking, nor would we hold a minister accountable if one of his parishioner's was caught in an embezzlement scandal.   
  2. Taxpayers have not gotten their money's worth because large amounts of money have been spent on education with no improvement. Ogle noted that we have seen gradual improvement in education, but not nearly as dramatic as our critics seem to feel is called for. He noted that politicians and teachers seem to operate in two different time.  Politicians operate in media time where results must be achieved quickly or they do not happen at all.  Teachers operate in practitioner time where results are achieved after a long and complex process. It has been said by many that a teacher never truly knows what her influence is nor where it will lead her students. I know that many of my teachers' lessons did not reach their full effect until years after I was in their classrooms. I may not be aware of some of the ways I was influenced by them.
  3. Teachers' unions do not want to fix the staus quo. We only care about protecting our members' jobs. A personal observation about the "status quo". Any teacher in the profession for any time knows that the "status quo" for teachers is constant change. Our teaching curriculum and methods are often the victims of the "latest, greatest" educational fad. Those of us teaching in the 90's remember the hurrah that was made over "Outcomes Based Education" and how quickly that "sure cure" for education ills faded away. Why don't we ask teachers what does and does not work in their classrooms?  Why do we spend millions of dollars in consultancy fees or paying for the hottest educational programs in search of a quick fix when we could just as well invest the money in hiring more teachers and more reading coaches who could give our students the attention they need to overcome the cruel handicaps with which so many come into our classes?
  4. Teachers broke education. Ogle pointed out that military failures are not blamed on "lazy soldiers" nor do we create "merit pay" to pay one soldier in a unit more than others. Instead, we seek to correct these failures by looking at our procedures and strategies.  He noted that while he was teaching at US Grant, the school board decided to change the attendance boundaries which resulted in two rival gangs going to the same school.  His students became more concerned about staying alive than they did about their education.  Grant soon feel under a federal mandate that required half of the teachers in the school to lose their jobs. That's blaming the soldiers for a failure of strategy.
Our union is deeply involved in education reform that believes that teachers are the answer not the problem. To that end, we have developed the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program where teachers who have been successful in the classroom come out for a short period of time and are tasked with helping "probationary teachers", those with 3 years experience or less, with their teaching.  PAR teachers are in my school at Centennial, and they have assisted several of our new teachers. The PARs also can and have recommended that some of these teachers not have their contract renewed.

The American Federation of Teachers feels that teacher based education reform is the most effective of all.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Record Day, Retirement, Reflection

Wrong Kind of Record
Today was the last teacher day in our district, known as Record Day. Record Day is the day for all grades to be turned in, all classrooms to be packed away, all receipt books to be turned over, all keys to be handed in, a time to wrap up the old term and look forward to a few days of rest, relaxation and recovery.
Right Kind of Record

We had a farewell party to some of our staff who are retiring.  Cynthia Boyd our Language Arts facilitator, Mr. Allen who taught horticulture,  and Marjorie Harris, an excellent high school science teacher had their last Record Day and will now enjoy a good retirement.  We will be losing some teachers who will, for one reason or another, be gone from us next year.

This year marked my 18th year as a public school teacher.  I likely will be teaching at least 5 more years before I can enjoy full retirement. It's not something I am particularly looking forward to, except for the opportunity I may have to do more traveling while spending more time with my wife and my new family.

I really do enjoy teaching. I don't know what else I could ever be happy doing.  I also enjoy being in the classroom with the kids. Administration has no appeal to me, nor does consulting or some other education profession that doesn't involve being in a classroom with a group of students. For all the struggles I have trying to reach them, I love being involved in their lives.

I hope I communicate that to them.  To quote that great social philosopher Carol Burnett, "I enjoy the time we have together."