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.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Teacher Evaluation System That Rube Goldberg Would Love

Rube Goldberg Machine
Today our district explained our Teacher/Leader Evaluation (TLE) process. At least that was the objective of the "lesson" we were given. (We're all about objectives now that we are following the Marzano---ALL HAIL MARZANO--system.)  I am not certain that the lesson was completely clear for everyone.

But here is as much as I was able to take away from it.

Basically, there are three parts to the system (like Gaul in a way). 

First there is the Marzano (ALL HAIL MARZANO) part, which is 50% of our evaluation.  We will be evaluated on how well we are doing on the "Domains" that Marzano (ALL HAIL MAR--well, you get the joke) has established as the practices of effective teachers, things like posting learning goals, classroom management, assessing student progress, and so on. 
All Hail Marzano, the new God of Public Education!

Ok, fair enough. This provides an effective model for classroom instruction, though most of this is pouring new wine into old wine skins. In other words, it's stuff we have been doing in one form or another just given new names. 

Then it gets a little weird.  The next part of our evaluation comes from student performance. How well students do on their high performance tests.  This accounts for 35% of our evaluation, and it makes teaching a high poverty student body a very risky prospect indeed.

  But we are told to have no fear, that all is well.

Our student performance evaluation will be based on the Value Added Model (VAM).  What this bit of magic professes to do is PREDICT how much a teacher should be doing to bring his or her students up to speed and evaluates how well the teacher did. The model takes in factors like how much time the student is with a particular teacher, how that student has performed in the past, how well the student should be doing if he was with a teacher given how the student has performed in the past, family factors (I swear that during part of the presentation that fairy dust, unicorn horns, and the Elder Wand were involved), and so on.
The creator of the VAM

And now it gets really weird.  There is still 15% of our evaluation left.  And that part is up to us, sort of.  We then have to come up with 
Actually, that is OAM or "Other Academic Measures." Here we select a couple of things we feel we should be evaluated on that are appropriate to our teaching area.  For example, if I were to teach Advanced Placement English, then I might choose as a part of my evaluation how my students did on the AP exams.  Or if I taught music, then how my students did in competitions.  So in all, 50% of my evaluation could be centered on student performance.

Of course, all of this is really a first impression, but the impression is that this system is rather complex and rather subjective.  I fear that due to this evaluation method, teachers will more and more choose NOT to teach in schools that are already low-performing because of the inherent risk factors involved in an evaluation process that rides on whether or not those students, despite their socioeconomic backgrounds, respond to the teacher's best efforts.  The schools with the highest need will be the ones that the best teachers will avoid at all cost.

I fear that this is a train wreck in the making.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Practice of Teaching

Today was the last day of the Centennial Teacher Academy, a five-day professional development teach-in done by folks from the Marzano Research Laboratory and the Pearson Corporation.  Much of it, especially for those of us returning to the school, was stuff that has been covered over and over again. However, we have many, many new teachers to our building and students. Should be interesting to see how they do when they finally meet our students.

Tomorrow, all teachers in the district report back to our schools for 3 days of work in our rooms and an introduction to procedures, rules, and "how-to"s.

Tomorrow, we will have an introduction to our evaluation process which the district will use to rate our effectiveness. So far we are not being rated on our test scores, but I am sure that is coming.

This will be my 20th year as a public school teacher.  I believe that I have about 4 more years to go before I am eligible to retire with full benefits. I have never had a year where I felt I was a 100% effective teacher.

Perhaps that's a good thing because I know more than anyone else how much room I have for improvement. Teaching is, after all, a practice just like the law and medical profession.

I am still practicing to be a teacher.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

SiddharthaSiddhartha by Hermann Hesse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Siddhartha is Hermann Hesse novel exploring Eastern religion and philosophy, particular the teaching found in Buddhism. The book was written in the 1920s, but not translated into English until 1951 upon which it had a big influence on the Beats and hippies of the 50s and 60s.

I read books like this to gain what knowledge and wisdom I can find in them. In this book I gained a better understanding of Buddhism, and I appreciated one of the central themes of the book, the holiness of everything. However, I find that I can only go so far with that because for me there are actions and choices that are good and evil. Slavery is evil, always has been evil (even though there are verses in the Bible that seem to contradict this.) Justice is good; it is impossible for a society to be too just.

However, I do believe that our understanding of what is good and evil is limited because, as St. Paul stated, we carry our knowledge and judgement in "earthen vessels." Therefore, it is imperative that we gain as many different perspectives as we can to help us transcend our limitations.

That is the primary reason I like reading such a wide variety of ideas and opinions so that I can fill my vessel of understanding to capacity.

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I Really Love My Job

I feel that after the last couple of posts I need to clarify something. I really do love my job.  Let me emphasize that: 

I Really Love My Job!!!!!

I do not want anyone to think that because I write about all the problems associated with teaching that I would like to do anything else than being a teacher.  I may complain about all the paperwork, the regulations, the pressures put on my profession, but in the end, I enjoy working with the kids, love the feeling I get when the light comes on in their eyes, when they tell me later on that I helped them succeed in college or their career. (It happens and teachers live for those moments.)

I also love teaching at Centennial, with all the challenges that come with it. I feel as though the work I am doing there is important, is healing some wounds in our community. None of our students asked to be born in the circumstances they find themselves in. They did not ask to be born in poverty, to be born in a state where they may be hated for their skin color, to be born in dysfunctional families.  I need to remember this in my moments of frustration and work to heal and not further harm.

I love working with my colleagues who day in and day out commit themselves to the same work I am in.  Those who are not a part of the teaching profession, particularly teaching in an urban school, cannot understand the challenges we face and often make facile statements of condemnation.

I also like our administration.   Principal Johnson was brave enough to step into a tough situation.  She keeps challenging us to step up our game.  Reginald "Reggie" Smith and Andrew Pearson our assistant principals do their best to keep up with the demands of working with a student body whose maturity and social growth have been stunted by their poverty and culture. 

H. Charmaine Johnson, Principal of Oklahoma Centennial Middle/High School

I intend to write a good deal about the school this year, but whenever I write about problems the school or I am having, be assured that I do so out of love for the school and my profession.

Go Bison!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Feeling Overwhelmed

Drinking from a fire hose

Today was the 3rd day of the Oklahoma Centennial Teachers' Academy.  I feeling as if I am expected to get a drink from a fire hose.

We have been going over many classroom instructional procedures: learning goals (both simple and complex), lesson segments (each with "Design Questions" and "Elements"), protocols, formative assessments, tracking, and so on, each of which we have to build into our lessons and upon which we will be evaluated this year.

And that's just with the folks from Marzano.  Next we people from the Pearson Publishing Corporation get a crack at us.

We've been working on getting our first unit of instruction put together. I thought I had mine pretty well done, but during the last minute of the session we were told that we would have to add a new element to our planning. I feel like each year, sometimes each week, someone moves the goalposts further away.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Teaching to the Test

For the last two days I have been in the Oklahoma Centennial Teachers' Academy over at Langston Univ. in OKC. This will be my 20th year teaching in public schools in Oklahoma City. I began at old John Marshall High School in 1994. It is easy for me to remember the year because in the Spring semester of '95, the Oklahoma City bombing happened. 

There are many, many new faces in our faculty and staff. Somewhere around 35 teachers chose not to return to our school. I cannot speak as to what motivated them all, but several expressed a desire to get away from a school that has been given a "D" rating on the state's A-F grading system and is under constant scrutiny due to the fact that we were the recipients of a federal "School Improvement Grant" (SIG). This is the 3rd year of the grant, and we if don't show improvement, there may be serious consequences for our staff and administration. Right now, we are being schooled once again in the "Marzano" method of instruction. How well we do in following Marzano concepts as outlined in his many books including Classroom Instruction That Works and The Art and Science of Teaching will be part of our teacher evaluation.

So far we have been working together to get a unit planned for the first weeks of school.  In our Language Arts Department, we will begin with the short story and teach the students in how to read critically and identify story theme and elements.  I will be responsible for teaching the 11th grade and probably for helping students prepare for the ACT and other college entrance exams.  I will not be teaching as I have done in the past to introduce students to the scope of American literature, although American literature will form the bunk of the selections I will teach in fiction. Instead, I will be trying to prepare my students to do well on standardized tests.

At long last, the political forces have succeeded in getting me to teach to the test.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

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What Species of Reader Are You?--Infographic
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Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart (Magic Most Foul, #2)The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart by Leanna Renee Hieber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this book. Even better than Darker Still.

The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart find Natalie and Jonathan Whitby, Lord Denbury on the run. Natalie rescued Denbury from a spell that had his soul trapped in a painting while his body, inhabited by a demon, roamed the streets of late 19th Century New York City murdering young girls. There we have two gothic and steampunk progenitors: Oscar Wilde's A Portrait of Dorian Gray and Robert Lewis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

In this book, we get an added dose of Frankenstein as it turns out that Jonathan, as well as his mother and father, was the victim of secret group called "The Society" who seem to have several agenda including resurrecting the dead.

The main interest in the novel for me is how Natalie is developing as a character. A former voluntary mute, Natalie comes to more and more realize her strength and resourcefulness as she along with the clairvoyant Mrs. Northe and her friend deaf and dumb friend Rachel, who is in touch with the ghosts of the victims of the Society, uncover the group's plot and once again face down the demon who possessed Jonathan's body.

The plot is fast paced. The characters are multidimensional, the good not being wholly good and the bad, except for the demon, not wholly bad. Natalie and Jonathan have their moments of jealousy and even petty fights. The men involved in the Society's ressurection work are motivated by their grief for past loved ones. There are others with worse agendas, but they are only visited and, I assume, will play a role in future books in the series.

Recommended for horror, fantasy, steampunk, and gothic romance lovers.

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