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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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On (finally) Winning a Chess Game at Barnes and Noble

Tonight, I went to the Barnes and Noble at 61st and May Ave. to play chess.  A group of chess lovers have been meeting there for several years now, and I have played there off and on, mostly off.  In all that time, I've have never won a chess game and didn't expect to do so that night.  In fact, I didn't do so on my first game against a young man who was somewhere in his teens or twenties. (When you are like me, a few weeks away from 60, the young can be anywhere from 12-35 and still look basically the same.)  His name was Caleb and after about 30 moves or so, I had to resign in the face of overwhelming odds. (My king and rook versus most of his armed forces.) 

About mid-way through our game, we were told by the manager of the bookstore that the chess club, which had been meeting the the store coffee shop, had been given a "reserved" area back in the store.  So after Caleb had whomped me, we took our boards and pieces to the "reserved" area.  This turned out to be about half a dozen plastic picnic tables and some folding chairs. 

Caleb wandered off to find more worthy competition while I set up my set on the rickety table and dusted off a couple of chairs.  Soon a man named Eduardo sat down to play me.  Edurado was somewhere near my age. (When you are nearing 60 this can be anywhere from 35 to Methuselah.) I remembered playing Eduardo a couple of years ago. (He didn't.) I had never won against him (see above).  But tonight, for the very first time, I DID.  I managed to push a passed pawn to the back rank and used the pawn's promotion to capture his queen.  From there, I pushed my advantage on to victory!!!!!

He politely requested rematch to which I happily agreed. I figured that he would have a chance to even the score, and we would part on equal terms.  But I proved lightening could strike twice in the same place because this time I used two knights to drive his king into a corner where I achieved checkmate FOR THE SECOND TIME IN THE SAME KNIGHT (ere) NIGHT.

By this time, I had to get home. ("School night," I explained.)  So I left Barnes and Noble with a winning record for the first time in my life.

Of course, I will be back.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Teachers Propose Reform. Will Anyone Listen?


Today, I participated in a workshop at put on by my union American Federation of Teachers that focused on our response to the No Child Left Behind wavier the federation Department of Education granted the state of Oklahoma.

In the waiver, the state Department of Education establishes the policy of giving a letter grade, A-F, to all schools in the state.  Furthermore, it established a list of "Priority Schools" that the state could take over because these schools are deemed failures in educating children.

Oklahoma Centennial Mid/High School, where I teach, is on that list.

According to the waiver, the state could leave the school under district control because the school is already sufficiently implementing school improvement measures. The also has the option of running the school itself or turn the school over to an outside entity such as an educational corporation or charter group.  In the last two cases, all staff in the school would be subject to a performance review and any protection previously afforded to those staff by the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the district would be null and void.

The workshop is an attempt by the union to have a say in any school reforms the district or the state may wish to adopt under the waiver.  In the workshop, we discussed teacher and administrative evaluations, parent/stuff contracts, teacher performance incentives, teacher peer assistance, and so forth.

There is no guarantee that any of our suggested reforms will ever be enacted.  Past practice does not offer much hope in that matter.  Teacher suggestions, particularly those offered by their union typically do not receive much notice from the powers that be whether they "be" in the district, the state department of education, or the legislature. 

But we have to try something. I will publish the results of our efforts and try to get them out to anyone who will listen.

I'll see what happens.

Monday, February 27, 2012

On Having My Teaching Judged By a "Boring A**" Exam

Today my students took their English 11 district benchmark exam, the one the district will judge our school and me on how well we have educated our students this year.  I had the students from my time block 1 English 11 class, a pretty good bunch of kids.  They, for the most part, took their time and, I think, did their best.  One young man, however, arrived half way through the allotted 3 class periods time set aside by the school for the students to take this important exam. Nevertheless, he finished the exam, though I suspect he rushed through it to get it out of the way.

Another teacher had my 7th time block class, the one with several problem children in it. He reported to me that a couple of students appeared to wait till near the end of the allotted time and then rushed through marking answers at random. Another had her head down on her desk nearly the entire period. Three or four times he went over and admonished her to get her head off her desk and take the test seriously.  The last time he tried, she didn't bother to lift her head. She simply looked up at him and closed her eyes.  However, she handed in a completed answer sheet at the end of the testing period.

My point is, how can we as a school and I as a teacher be fairly judged by the results of this test when some of the students don't take it seriously at all.  After all, this is not, by their reasoning a real test. It's just, in the words of one student, another "boring a** exam" he is made to take much against his will. Yet these exams are taken very seriously by the power that be in our district and our state.  It is even possible that my career could be adversely affected by an exam that my students just blow off casually.

It doesn't seem fair somehow.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tomorrow my students at their district "benchmark exam" that will test how much they have learned this year. In reality, these exams are teacher exams because when adminstrators look at them, they judge teachers' efforts in their classrooms. 

So, we'll see how I'm doing.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Speaking Christian

I spent most of the day moving stuff around.  My family has doubled.  Cat's sister moved in with us and Skylar our "granddaughter" has been with us a year and a half ago.  We are trying to move stuff out of both their rooms (which formerly were used as a den and a study). 

One requirement has been for us to give away several books that we have had for years, some of which neither of us have read.  It is a bit depressing to think that there are many excellent books that you will never get around to reading. And when you have them on your shelf year after year, you feel guilty that you did not sit down and read them.

Such is the life of bibilophiles. 

However, right now I am reading some interesting books. Each year during Lent season, our church does a book study. This year we are studying the book Speaking Christian by Marcus Borg. 




Borg writes about how the language associated with Christianity has become distorted and meaningless in our time. His desire is for us to see words like sin, salvation, redemption, righteousness and so forth in their historical meaning and to understand what those words mean to us in our time.

I've read Borg before and have always enjoyed his writings. So I am looking forward to our study.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Snitching, Chess, Moving and the Six-Foot Beard

In my junior classes we analyzed an editorial by Leonard Pitts in which he calls those in the African-American community who promote what he calls the "Stop Snitching" culture "weak and cowardly". I always manage to get a lively discussion out of this essay and today was no exception. Even my typically rowdy 4th hour class were engaged in the instruction.
On Monday we take the 3rd quarter (and final) district benchmark exams. This is the one that will be used by the district to make judgments of our school's progress. I hope that my students will take this exam more seriously than they typically do. It is hard to get them to realize the seriousness of these tests and the forces that are moving behind them. To them, it is just another boring exam that they are forced to take. They have been taking the state EOIs more seriously since these tests determine whether or not they graduate.
Had a interesting incident at The Village Library Chess Club. A man named Jim came in for the first time with a woman named Barbara. Jim introduced himself as a chess lover of long standing. However, the most remarkable thing about Jim was that he sported a 6 foot long beard, which he had tied up in short bundles. His beard sort of reminded me of an Edward Lear limerick I learned as a child.

Jim promised to come back, and I will get more of his story later. He played a couple of games with the kids there, which was a real help.
We will probably spend much of this weekend moving stuff around, trying to get our two new family members, Cat's sister Romona and our granddaughter Skylar's rooms set up for them. This means getting my desk, our two computers and the table they rest on, out into the living-dining room area. It will be a moving experience.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why Teachers Weep

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There are times when you really feel like crying as a teacher. Today, we had a meeting of our teaching team called the "Professional Learning Community" (PLC). The focus was on two students who were failing in our classes. We brought each one in separately to ther room where our PLC meets to talk with him, and his parent if possible, about how we could help him turn things around. The first young man was a senior whose efforts and grades had taken a nose dive in the second semester. I'll call him Dejuan. Dejuan came in to the room where we were meeting, and we talked with him about our concerns. We got his mother on a speaker phone, and she told him in no uncertain terms that he had better change. He promised he would, and I prepared a list of make up work for him to do, which I told him and his mother would be available for him in my class later that day. He did not show up for my class to get his make up work. However, he was not the saddest case we had. The second young man, like Dejuan an African-American male, is a middle-school student, a 17 year old middle-school student. "Charles" does nothing in his classes. Charles puts his head down on his desk whenever he managse to come to class. The rest of the time, he wanders the halls of the school until an administrator or our campus police officer catches him and puts him in "In School Suspension" for the day. Charles was in the library when one of our team members went to get him. Charles delayed coming to see the team as long as he could. When he finally got there, he simply sat in his chair saying nothing. We tried to get him to respond, but he met our entries with a stony silence. The teachers who have Charles in their class (I do not) asked him what they could do to help him. Charles looked down and did not say a word. Finally, one of our counselors offered talk with him privately and took him to her office. When Charles and the counselor left, one of his teachers said that the behavior he had shown us was exactly what he does in her class. Charles is a special education student. The special ed teacher who has Charles as a part of his case load told us that he feels Charles needs some kind of alternative placement, but that his mother refuses to allow it perfering to see her son stay at our school where he will remain for a few years till he is too old to be our concern. The teacher who has Charles in her class told of another time she tried an intervention with him. She said that during her talk with him, he only said one word. That happened when she asked him the question, "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" "Dead," said Charles. And that was all

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

I went to my first Ash Wednesday service at Mayflower Church. It was very moving time of reflection on our earthly nation. This is supposed to be a time of sacrifice, when one fasts or gives up a human pleasure or indulgence. In my case, I am giving up carbonated beverages. This will probably do me good, if some of the reports on the negative affects of soda pop turn out to be true. It may become a change I will continue after Easter.

Teaching point of view and tone

Today in my junior class, I tried to further my students' understanding of how point of view in narratives affects our perceptions. We went back one more time to Toni Cade Bambara's story "The Lesson". I also put up some tone words on our "Word Wall" (Marzano disciples, take note)that named some of the attitudes that Sylvia, the story's protagonist, has toward Mrs. Moore, a woman trying to teach the children life lessons about economic justice. I then had the students pretend they were Sylvia's older relative and that she had written them a letter complaining about Mrs. Moore. They were to write her back about their perceptions of Mrs. Moore. I have not read all of their letters yet, so I've yet to assess how well they have learned their lesson.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My School Year

I have been neglecting my blog for several months now. I keep thinking that I should write something, but it's been very hard to find the time and the energy for it. It has been a difficult year. I'm having to learn a very different teaching method, and there are times when I am not doing a good job of using it. I think that much of the problem lies in the shear amount of time that has to be devoted to doing everything that is demanded of me right. Take for example today. We have been directed to use data gathered from the last district test, called benchmark tests, to discover where my students need extra help. I have chosen to focus one unit on point of view. I chose to use a story titled "The Lesson" by the African-Americana writer Toni Cade Bambara. I chose it because the story is told from the first person point of view of a young girl, named Sylvia, who is about 10 years old. Sylvia and her friends live in a slum in Harlem where a woman named Mrs. Moore has taken on the responsiblility of educating the children who live there. The story provides a good tool for teaching 1st person point of veiw with an unreliable narrator. Sylvia dislikes Mrs. Moore's attempt to show the children how wealth is unjusty concentrated in the hands of a few by taking them to the famous F.A.O Schwarz toy store on 5th Avenue, Manhattan. However, the reader knows that Mrs. Moore has the children's best interest at heart even though Sylvia and some of the others resist Mrs. Moore's efforts. Among the tasks I have been given my teaching is to use various methods to "highly engage" my students. I have used several, but still, when it comes to doing the work of reading and responding, the students, like Sylvia, resist my efforts. I have tried to use formative assessments to determine how much my students really have learned about the objective, but I'm still not certain that they know what they need to know. On top of this, I still have to do the business of classroom management, attending workshops and meetings. Fulfill various committee responsibilities. So, I feel that no matter how much I do, I'm still not doing the job I'm supposed to do. What do I do?