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, 2016

Feeling Stymied

Today A came to class and plopped down in her usual seat. Her friend, MK, was not in school today.  Often A and MK play off each other chatting, laughing, and cutting up creating a major distraction to any attempt to teach or learn. 

Yesterday, I had to have MK move to a different desk because of this, and then, when she continued to disrupt, had her removed by an administrator.  MK has now been referred to the 11th grade administrator and likely will be suspended for a few days, probably in-school. 

So not only was A missing her ally, she found out that I developed a new seating chart.  She had to move from her accustomed spot to a new one. Student typically resist this, as they do most anything that takes them out of their comfort zone or seems to make them cede power to any adult authority. 

A, at first, said that she would not move. I told her that if she did not, I would have to have her removed by an administrator as I did her friend.  Probably mindful of this, she responded by getting up, moving to her new seat, and putting her head down on her desk. Her head remained there despite my efforts to get her engaged in the lesson.

This kind of passive/aggressive behavior is typical of many students at our school.  If they cannot refuse to cooperate overtly, they find other ways to refuse cooperation. It is very difficult to counter this short of getting administration involved. I decided not to do so in this case.

One reason I did not goes to the fact that I am uncertain, in many cases, if this was passive/aggressive behavior against me, or if this was some other problem either psychological or physiological. Another student, who I have found to be sincere, told me that A had not been feeling well today.  As a male teacher, I am hesitant sometimes quiz female students too closely as to why they may be unwell. I am quite familiar with the problems association with the menses and the reluctance of female students to discuss them with me. Also, our students sometime fall victim to depression or other emotional maladies.

In any case, I was stymied by A's refusal to participate in this lesson. During my planning period, I tried to call her parents, but I reached a dead in there.  I had two numbers available to me, both were "no longer in service." This is a common problem for households in poverty. Despite the best efforts of the federal government and others, many of our families lack available means of contact.

So, I could not do much with A today. I sent an email to her administrator asking for help with her. Perhaps between us we will come up with a creative response.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"You're Doin' Too Much"

"You're doin' too much." Has become the Catchphrase of the Year in our school.  Typically this is delivered with an eye roll and hand wave.  It is said whenever a student gets caught doing something wrong such as being tardy to class, talking when the teacher is trying to deliver a lesson, being up and around the classroom when they should be at their desk, or on their device texting or listening to music.

Most often it is said when a teacher or administrator is assigning consequences for misbehavior, such as in this bit of recent dialogue:

"MK, this is the 3rd time you have been talking to A when I told you to stop. I warned you that if you did it again, I would move you to another desk.  You have 15 seconds to move to this desk." (I point to a desk up front.)

" Mr. Green, you doin' too much."

"Doesn't matter, you have 10 seconds to get up and go. Or it's a detention."

"I'm not the only one talking. You doin' too much."

Of course, what the student is saying is something like. 'I don't think you're being fair.' (We never are.) 'I think I should be an exception.' (They all are.) 'I don't think we should have rules.' (They are all beyond this.)

Of course, this is the world of the teenager where any older person is boring and stupid, and any authority figure is singling them out for special punishment.  Added to this is the fact that for many of our students, encounters with authority figures like police, judges, and administrators are frequently unpleasant, even threatening.  A friend of mine pointed out to me that our kids often do not feel that we are on their side. We are merely enforces of the system that keeps them in their place.

I continually explain to them that I am not their enemy. That what I wish for them is success in life.  That from the viewpoint of those in the outside world, the one they will be joining very soon, we teachers and administrators, rather than "do too much" are not "doing enough" to prepare them for that larger world. 

Most of the time they do get it. Those who don't face very bleak futures.

Monday, January 25, 2016

All Hail the CFA

Today, I gave my English III classes their CFAs. That acronym stands for "Common Formative Assessment." The idea behind it is that I map out what my objectives will be for a particular unit, say, as it was in this case, "figurative language and sound devices in poetry."  IOW, metaphors, similes, hyperbole, alliteration, and everyone's favorite ONOMATOPOEIA. (I always get a 

out of saying that. snark, snark)

Anyway, I give the test to discover how much my students know about the objective. When I get the results, I decide if I need to teach the class the objective. (In Education Talk, this is called "whole group remediation. It is a law in education talk that "Thou shalt not use a one syllable word where five syllables will do.")
Or I might pull kids out of their electives and do small group tutoring. (And yes, this is given the title "differentiated remediation."  You get the idea about the syllables by now, don't you.)

So, I gave the CFA to my classes, and since students finish the quizzes at different rates, I had a nice little vocabulary assignment for them to do to finish up the class.  

Actually, it was a fairly easy day for moi, but I don't feel as if I did any great amount of teaching.

Why do we do this?  Well, for the state tests, of course. The objectives we select come straight from the Oklahoma End of Instruction (EOI) Blueprint, which tells us the objectives that will be on the EOI given in April and the percentage each objective will occupy on the tests.  

In other words, we look at the blueprint, look for those objectives most tested and make them a part of our units, which we assess through our CFAs.  Got it?  If it ain't on the test, we ain't teaching it, at least till we get through those EOIs. 

Forget about the broad range of literature our students will never encounter. Forget about the sweep of American/English/World Literature that our students will never connect. Forget about the creative applications that they could be making on their own with what they have studied.  


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Good News Post

This is a stock picture, not a Centennial Student
QL transferred to our school in the middle of last semester. She was put in a class that had several very poor, disruptive student, and she got involved in several of their antics.  I asked for some help in that class, and she was one of the students I asked to have moved to a different class.

Our wonderful counselor got busy and moved QL to a different hour for the beginning of second semester.  QL came back with a new attitude in the new class, and so far she has been a very good student.  She makes sure that she does her class work. She helps me do things like pass back graded work.  She even lets the other students know that she is not getting involved in disruptive behavior.

I always like being able to call parents with good news as I did with QLs mother.  I know that sometimes the teenager will rise to the surface, but it's been like I'm dealing with a different young woman.

Good things do happen at Centennial.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Students, Teacher, Administrators, and Cell Phones: A Study in Consequences

I promise I won't try to use this blog to report on all the bad things my kids are doing.  They actually do many very good things like the blood drive we had at school sponsored by the Student Council that had around 40 donors.  We have a lot of class acts in our school.

I do want to say a thing or two about cell phones.  As do many school districts, we tried to ban the use of cell phone in places other than the cafeteria during breakfast and lunch. This became a continual battle where we were constantly telling our kids to put up their phones, stop texting in class, get rid of the earphones so they can hear the lesson.  It was a never ending struggle. Many teachers simply gave up and allowed students to have phones out, especially during work times. This created a "[school] house divided" on cell phone policy. 

Then we tried a compromise.  Students could have cell phone and ear phones in the cafeteria, while going through the halls, and during allowed times in class.  We created "Red" times and "Green" class times.  During Red times, students had to put their phones away or face down and take out their earphones, so they could get instruction from the teacher. Then during "Green" times, phones and earphones could be used. We even have laminated, letter sized posters with red on one side and green on the other.  This is still our policy.

So before I begin my lesson, I hold up the red side and tell them, "Now, you are all under Red." When the students do things like work on problems or answer assigned questions, I flip the card around to green and allow them to get out the devices to which they are hopelessly addicted. The problem comes in the time used to go through this procedure, and in the fact that some/many/too many students ignore it altogether and continue indulging in this distraction. 

We have tried to assign consequences to those who violate the procedure.  I used to put an envelop on their desks if they had a phone out "under Red." The idea was that they lost the privilege of having their phone out for the rest of the class, even when "under Green."  Those who did so were assigned further consequences, usually lunch detention. 

It worked for a while, but not long because the consequences for violating the procedure soon broke down.

And there is the rub. Students, for the most part, ignored the detention consequence.  Theoretically, ignoring lunch detention would mean a more onerous consequence placing the student into in-school detention, or In-School Intervention (ISI).  This meant that the student was referred by a teacher to an administrator who would assign ISI by means of a written document called a "referral." In the real world, administrators were overwhelmed with referrals due to the sheer number of students who feel that they can ignore the consequence and not be punished.  So this procedure was abandoned.  We are still working on its replacement.

And that pretty much sums up most of the problems with have student misconduct.  Sooner or later it becomes up to the administrators to deal with the problem, and they find themselves snowed under.  There is much finger pointing and blame laying that traditionally goes on between administrators and staff, but it has been my observation that in 21 years in an urban classroom, the problem of how to successfully meet out consequences that alter student behavior has never been solved.  I have read books, heard anecdotes, and been to workshops where those who claim to have the answers speak of scholastic El Dorados where students change from sulky, defensive, passive-aggressive teenagers into model scholars. But it has not happened in my experience, and I do not think this has been for lack of trying on anyone's part.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Self-defeating Student Behavior

Too often our students are their own worst enemies. Today there were several examples of that attitude and behavior.

During 1st hour, the students were doing some silent reading in one of our AP Literature test preparation books.  I wanted them to get some idea of what it was like to do the AP essay exam. Everyone was reading rather nicely, quietly, and the lesson was going well.

Suddenly, there are a rapping on my classroom door, not a gentle rapping like that of Poe's raven.
Gently rapping raven

This was more Sheldon trying to hurry up Penny.

It was TT, for whom nothing matters other than what she feels she needs at the moment. She kept knocking and knocking on my door more and more loudly.

She had been sent by one of the counselors to get a student. Who it was and for what reason I never found out.  I was simply upset that the nice momentum we had going in the lesson was shot. 

I walked over to let her in, but I guess I wasn't quick enough for her lights. She began to complain loud enough so that the whole class could hear her through the door, "Come on, Mr. Greeeennnn!!!". 

When I did open the door, I wanted to tell her how she should come to a teacher's door while class was in session, with a bit more decorum.  My umbrage took her a bit by surprise as I began my complaint.
No, not that kind. Besides, it's spelled differently.

However, it did not take her long to revert to her accustomed behavior consisting of trying to talk back. When I wouldn't accept this, she turned on her heals and with a wave of the hand in my general direction, stomped off back to from whence she came. 

TT was in my AP Language class, but she was so disruptive, that I had her moved to regular English III so that those left would have a chance to learn at the demanding level required by AP. She will never be convinced that she had done a single thing wrong, and that all teachers are "weird" and they "do too much." This is a favorite complaint of students meaning that we are trying to bring their behavior up to a more constructive level.

More happened today, but I will write about this tomorrow or the next day or so.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Messed Up Day

Today was a wreck, and it was not the kids fault.  In fact, they were great!  My technology, though, had it in for me.

A bit of background. We have a lot of technology in our school. I mean, a WHOLE LOT of technology that is supposed to make learning engaging, interactive, and a lot of other edu-speak cliches. Actually, its pretty good WHEN IT WORKS. When it doesn't, as Keith Jackson used to say, 
A district IT guy came in on Wednesday to work on my laptop.  He installed some stuff and then left. I was in an after school meeting. The next morning, I found out that he had logged in under his name, and I spent a few futile minutes trying to log in under my name. When I got around that, I found that I could not open up my program to take attendance.  Then I discovered that my laptop and the Smartboard I use to display videos, Power Points, witty memes, whatever, the two were not speaking to each other.  

All this time, the kids were behaving quite well. No conflicts broke out. Everyone played nice. I heard several expression of sympathy and pity.  Some of the kids I have had the most trouble with were on their best behavior.  I will have some nice parent contacts to make tomorrow.

Finally, with a cry for help sent to IT over the help line, the tech issues got worked out. But if this should happen again, I know what my response will be.
Just kidding, maybe

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"You're the Mad Hatter of Teaching." KK

I had a good day today with the usual sort of problems and opportunities. I had a student tell me the above statement.  I take it as a compliment. She said that I did not ever give her a real answer to a question, just another question or idea for consideration.  It's probably the hardest thing for a teacher to do, move the students to think for themselves.

Anyway, here is what today's learning was all about:

AP Lit: Finished King Lear.  One student said, "Everybody in this play dies!" Yep, that Shakespeare for you.  Bill kills.

AP Lang: Rhetoric. We read a speech by a US Congresswoman complaining about fellow House members texting, tweeting, and tapping on their phones and I-Pads.  I guess we teachers aren't the only ones facing the electronic menace.  We used a graphic organizer called SOAPS to analyze the speech.  English teachers will know what this is about. I may explain it some time to the laity.

English III: Dramatic Monologue Poetry, specifically "Lucinda Matlock" from Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology.  This is a part of a series of poems of people who lived and died in the town of Spoon River.  They tell us from the grave what their life was like, and what we need to learn from them. Lucinda was one of the happier ones. She lived into her 90s, was married, had kids, took long walks out in nature, and then passed on when it was her time to go. The kids could learn a thing or two from her.

As far as this day went, not bad.

I had many absences in 2nd hour, 7 out of 23 on the role. That's a big problem with teaching my students because it seems as though I am always trying to get them caught up with the rest of the class. It makes it hard to do assessments over content, so I mainly test over skills, which really does prepare them for the state tests and test like the ACT and SAT. Language Arts education these days seems to be long on skills but short on content. The class was well behaved. Too bad I have to have so many gone to make it easier to teach.

In 3rd hour, the following student behaviors were noted:
T had his earphone on though he was told not to do so.
AT had his phone out most of the hour.
J was texting under her desk trying to hide it from me. (Seriously guys, no one looks down at his/her lap and smiles.)
I called C's home about his language in class yesterday. He complained a great deal.  We made a deal that if his behavior was good all the rest of this week, I'd call his mom and give a good report.
Y had her head down.  She does this nearly daily. I took her out in the hall (it's a co-taught class) and told her that she could not continue to do so. I would call her mom if she did again. She did not, today. I won't call mom if she does not do it again.
F had a phone that made an annoying sound when he got a text. I told him to turn it off. He claimed that he could not.  I took him in the hall and opened a locker I have for purposes like this. When he saw that I was going to lock his phone in my locker, he suddenly remembered that he could  turn it off. 

4th hour
This is AP Lang. The students were rather chatty. It made it hard to get through the interference and teach the lesson.  One student told me, "Mr. Green, you're a comedian." Not sure what she meant.

Lunch with my wife
I got some good news that several of my students did well enough on the PSAT test that they will be exempt from the state tests at the end of the year. One of the high school counselors told me, "Mr. Green, you're a stud muffin."  I do believe that she meant that in the intellectual sense. 

Department meeting.  
During 5th hour, we have a department meeting of the high school English teachers.  We are basically planning on how we will teach the skills and objectives that our students will face on the state tests. Everything in this education era goes back to the state tests one way or another.

6th hour
Smallest class. Biggest or at least most constant problems. A couple of girls think they are very funny and laugh at about everything the other says.  This time, at least, they got the giggles over a line from "Lucinda Matlock" where the speaker says that she goes out into the wood to gather "medicinal weed."  Another girl went up to the board to check some news on the bulletin board. She noticed one of the boys observing her backside and said, "Better stop lookin' at these cheeks cuz you can't have them." Nice to know that she has some standards

After school
I take part in an after school program where I have some kids come in and play chess. Only had two take part today. Hope I can get more.

That's about all for today.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Documenting My Class and What Really Goes On There

I have decided, at least for a while, to document what goes on in my classroom both in what I am teaching and the way I interact with the students.  I thought someone ought to tell what really happens here. I will not use any names, just some initials, perhaps even just one of those.

This semester I am teaching Advanced Placed Literature and Composition (AP Lit), Advanced Placement Language and Composition (AP Lang) and English III.

The topics for those courses today were:

AP Lit: Shakespeare's King Lear
AP Lang: The rhetorical situation, specifically Lou Gehrig's "Farewell Address"
English III: Poetic devices, specifically Edward Arlington Robinson's "Richard Cory"

Here are some of the incidents that came up in class today.

T had his earbuds in listening to his music. I had to tell him a couple of times to take them out.
J had her head down on her desk despite my attempts to get her up and engaged. She did little work.
X has been absent now for 4 days straight. Someone said that he is in the hospital.
C called a girl a "bitch ass" and told another to "shut your punk ass." I called his mom who said that she would address this problem.
J had her phone out, partly covered by her bag. When I told that she had to put it away and not hide it, she got defensive over the fact that I thought she was hiding it, which was not the point at all.
In another class, D had her head down on her desk and became upset when I forbid her doing it. She only partially finished her work.
D also had his earbuds in most of class.
I spent most of the hour doing work for another class despite the fact that I told her that she had to do the work in this one. She did not put up her work or do the work in my class.
Q likes to wander around the room when I am helping other students.  He did this several times.
M kept getting phone calls from her "father," and when I told her to put the phone away and not talk on it, she called me a "weirdo," her favorite term for teachers who tell her she cannot do whatever she wants in school.

We recently ended having lunch detention because it was not effective in altering students behavior.
If we give an lunch detention, it will have to be in our classrooms during our lunch hour. I don't share a lunch hour with most of these kids.
Our administration is trying to curb suspensions both in and out of school.
What am I to do?