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, February 29, 2016

Tomorrow--Another Day, Another Test

Tomorrow all juniors in our school will take the SAT. I suppose that this has something to do with getting our students "college and career ready," the new mantra of education gurus. 
Pretty much the way all teachers feel these days

I am expecting that some students will seize the opportunity given to them to qualify for college; however, for the most part, several will blow off the test and be finished in 5 minutes of what is going to be a 4 hour test.

I just hope they remember to bring their No. 2 pencils!


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Benchmark Testing Day 2


2nd Hour: 5 students with their heads on the desk during the test at one point. Many students finish their portion of the test in less than 5 minutes.

3rd Hour: 3 students with their heads on the desk despite all my efforts to get them up.  All 3, DC, TB and ML, did the same thing yesterday. They obviously are not taking this test as seriously as the powers that be in the district administration expect them to. Another student, JB, also puts her head down. Normally, JB is a good student, but the test has tired her out or bored her to sleep. I don't know what I can do.

4th Hour: This is the AP class, yet even here, I have to go to a couple of students and get them going on this test.

6th Hour: The problem here is mainly students talking and carrying on. It's the female students this time.  But there are a couple of napping students: CB and AH.

It is nearly impossible for teens to remain silent and/or alert as they need to do during high stakes testing.  This type of testing goes against nearly every characteristic of adolescents. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Giving Benchmarks


Today I gave the school district "benchmark" tests in English III. These are designed to find out how much the students have learned so far this year.

Good luck with that.

Students dislike taking these tests as much as I dislike giving them. The first thing they want to know is if these tests will count for a grade. (Yes) Then they want to know how many questions there are on it. (63) Then they want to know why they have to take them along with the other tests we make them take. (Hard one to answer, but it comes down to knowing what we still need to learn.)  Then they go about trying to sabotage the process.

This is what happens during 2nd hour.

Some, not all, just try to rush through as fast as they can.  Some, like SR, just sit and groush. Of course, SR sits and kvetches about almost everything.  I often wonder why she can't be more like SM who is continually bright and sunny most all of the time. (See, I told you that I'd put you in the blog.)

F keeps her phone out although she has been told that she has to put it away for the test.  She acts as if she can't hear me, so I have to call for an administrator to takes her out of class. He brings her back about 5 minutes later. She is now contrite and will do what I say.  She is one of the best at playing the Passive/Aggressive game.

FM comes in about 30 minutes late without a pass. When he finds out that I will assign him detention, he goes back and gets a pass marked "Excused."  I think that he should be counted absent, but when I ask an administrator about it, he says that the excused pass excuses everything. He is not able to start the test, so he will have to start from the beginning tomorrow. 

None of the students finish today, so we will have to do this again tomorrow. 

3rd hour.

DC and ML keep their head on their desk all during the test despite all my efforts to get them to at least try and get started.  The rest do pretty well because I let them know if they get at least 25 of the 63 questions done, they can get their beloved phones out and do whatever it is so vital for them to do for the rest of the hour.  

I have had to resort to bribery.

4th hour goes well. That's the AP Language class

6th hour

This is very small class, and I would think I would have few problems with them. However, this is the class of my comedians. Particularly 3 boys who seem to go everywhere together.  I call them, among other things, the 3 Amigoes, and sometimes Moe, Larry and Curly. (I have other trio names that I pull out from time to time.)

They more or less feed off of each other along with some of the girls in the class.  Usually I just go with the flow, and we make it through the period in good spirits. However, when we need to buckle down and take things a bit more seriously, the hijinks get in the way.

Example, (from one of the girls), "Mr. Green, do boys get bloated?"
"Huh?"
"Do boys get bloated?"
"Mr. Green, she is asking if boys get gas."
"You need to do this test. It's important."
"Mr. Green, I am about to pass gas."
"Just go out into the hall, then."
"Okay."
Of course, by this time flatulence has become the topic of the day.

I get them through the exam okay, but I wonder how much "useful data" has been generated through all this.



Sunday, February 21, 2016

Bubble-in Test Week


Tomorrow we will begin the district benchmark tests, which will take about 3 classes to complete. I have never found these tests to yield much in the way of useful data because many of the students do not take them seriously.  

We keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results.  I have heard that that is a good definition of some type of mental condition.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Love is thicker than Blood

From Left to Right: Stephanie, Devin & Skylar
I missed school on Friday in order to travel up to Tulsa for a funeral.  The woman being memorialized had raised Stephanie who was living with her when she passed away at age 90. Until the memorial service, I did not know her name, Doris Leoma Tincher, until the memorial service. To us, she was always "Grannie" because that is what Stephanie called her.

Stephanie, pictured above in a photo taken at Christmas in 2013, is our daughter though she is not a blood relative.  She, at one time, was married to my wife's son, and it was through him that she and her wonderful children came into our lives.  We call her daughter Skylar and her son Devin our grandchildren.  I never had children of my own, but somehow I have in my elder year been graced with having a daughter and two grandchildren.  Our love for each other has bound us closer than mere blood often binds parents and offsprings.

Something else I discovered yesterday was that this was not the first time that Stephanie had this type of relationship because she was not of the same blood as her grannie.  Stephanie and her mother married into Grannie's family.  Soon afterward, her mother left Stephanie to be raised by Grannie and her husband, whom I never recall meeting.  Love was also in this case the family tie that Stephanie has enjoyed.

Stephanie gave a moving tribute to Grannie through a poem she wrote.  I will try to publish it soon.


Skylar working at the stables
Showing off her riding award
Skylar riding



Six years ago, Skylar came to live with us. Skylar is mentally handicapped and is not ashamed for anyone to know this.  Yet she functions at a very high level for one in her condition. In addition to being Grandma and Grandpa's memory, "Did you remember to take your meds?", she works at some riding stables out west of Piedmont and has taken part in several riding competitions. Devin lives in Tulsa and works downtown at, JoMama's Pizza, one of the restaurants in the Blue Dome District.  Their lives have enriched ours more than can be measured.

There is a saying that "Blood is Thicker Than Water."  To a certain extent, this is true.  You feel a bond and in many cases an obligation to those with whom you are related.  But as the relationship between Stephanie, Skylar, Devin, Cat, and me proves, Love is often thicker than even blood can be.

Grandma & Grandpa love Stephanie, Skylar, and Devin more than we can express.  You are truly a part of us forever.



Thursday, February 18, 2016

More Charter Schools in the district?

We got a report today that our district administration wants to convert up to 9 schools into charter schools. They might as well say to the Centennial students, "You really don't matter."

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Our Reading Club


I have tried to have a reading club at the high school for several years now.  A big part of the problem is finding the time for the club and getting the interest of the students.

At first, we had a fairly large club going with around 20-25 showing up once a week.  It started out as a Steampunk Reading Club.  
Me with my Steampunk hat discussing Steampunk books with some students.


We have dwindled down to 4 or 5, and we don't read Steampunk only. We read mainly fantasy books, usually Urban Fantasy like The Maze Runner or Mortal Instruments.

As I said, one problem is time.  Most of our students have to ride on buses to get home, so an after school reading club is out of the question.  That leaves lunch hour which for the high school kids is divided into two lunches.  I also have meeting with my Professional Learning Community (PLC) made up of the high school English teachers.  

Right now, we are reading The Golden Compass which is part of a trilogy entitled His Dark Instruments by Philip Pullman.

This book has many of the marks of Steampunk. It's an alternative history that features both real technology and magical devices.  I've enjoyed reading it. I will find out tomorrow when the group meets for the weekly get together to discuss our reading.




Sunday, February 14, 2016

Scalia, Prof Development, Student Testing, Valentines, and a teacher in search of a topic


I don't really have a topic in mind today, but I thought I would just sit down and see if anything at all happens.  


I could write about the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia's death and the implication it has for the Supreme Court, Pres. Obama and the 2016 election, but that's getting all sorts of coverage and commentary. I don't really have anything to add to it other than we now have a chance to bend the Moral Arc of the Universe a bit more towards something like justice. 

Scalia never really understood that in order to approach the realm of justice, one has to change directions from how it was understood in the past to how it should be understood in the present and projected towards the future.  His idea of justice was something that had been revealed and to make any changes was to deviate from that revelation.

I could also write about the fact that tomorrow I will be in school, but my students will not.  February 15 is "Professional Development Day" in the district. Often this is a time where we listen and somewhat participate when an educational "consultant" comes in and tells us that we have been teaching our students all wrong.  

A few of us will be doing that this time round because the district has something in store for their particular field of teaching.  However, most of us will be working on our CFAs, remediation, and data reviews.  This is actually a pretty good thing because it means we will have time for all the stuff that fills up our planning periods, after school time, and often our evenings and weekends.

I will also be preparing to 

Give Another Test!!!!!
Specifically the

The Oklahoma Public School District has decided to give all juniors in high school the SAT on March 2nd just as we did the ACT back in 1st semester.  So we have to train on how to give it on Monday.  

Many people give lip service to the fact that we test students too much, but in reality each year students take more and more and more tests.  I think sometime in the future students will take a new test each day of the school year. Then we REALLY will be teaching them.

I also could write about the fact that I had a wonderful Valentine's Day weekend with my wife.
We stayed in a nice hotel together, had a great meal at a fine restaurant, and enjoyed one another's love.  I am very fortunate to have found and married my wife Cat.  I tell folks that when I found her I won the lottery, and I really mean it.  My only regret is that we did not find each other sooner, but I think it happened when we were truly prepared for each other.

Well, I really don't have anything to write about, so I will just close and wish you all a Happy President's Day.

Only 7 More Days Till Spring Training Begins!!!!!



Saturday, February 13, 2016

Orderly classroom or "School to Prison Pipeline"?

Actually 3 days this time
It was a rough start to the week, but I got through it. I began the week battling another bout of depression, but I decided that I would work through it rather than take another day off and lose another day of instruction for the students.  I got through it by doing a few things I read about in articles on depression: listening to music, went for evening walks, got to bed early, read some good books (Walden for one). 

The week went fairly well with the students, and I thought that this would be one of the good ones.

However, on Friday, things turned confrontational with some of my students.  The objective for the week was to write an essay comparing and contrasting two similar stories: one by Langston Hughes, the other by yours truly.  The Hughes story was "Salvation", a story about a time he was in a revival service and was pressured into saying that he was "saved", which he felt was a lie.  My story "Camp Meeting" was about a time I attended a week long camp in north Texas where I began to question the evangelical experience for the first time, which led to my present attitude to evangelicalism altogether.

Some students make it impossible for the rest to learn

The problem came when several students refused to follow the class procedures I needed to get them started on the project. These include no "side-bar" interpersonal conversations, raise hands before talking, put away electronic devices and ear buds, and pay attention to the instructions.  Several of the more rowdy students began passive-aggressive behavior (raising hands and speaking out without permission). Others were outright defiant. All together about 6 or 7 students had to be escorted out of class for the rest to proceed in peace.

So, was this another example of the so-called "school to prison pipeline?" Or was this my attempt to save students from a bleak future by creating a classroom environment in which authentic learning could take place.

What do you think? 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Remediation

One thing we are big on this year at Centennial is the idea of remediation, which means taking students who are struggling with learning the objectives, pulling them out of other classes (typically electives), tutoring, and retesting them to see if they have "mastered" the objectives.

For example, I gave a Common Formative Assessment (CFA) on the objective "figurative language and sound devices" in poetry.  Most of my students knew what devices like metaphor, hyperbole, alliteration, and, everyone's favorite, onomatopoeia are by definition. Most could also match a list of examples with the devices they represented. For example, most could look at a sentence such as, "the sun beat on my head with angry, hot fists" and identify the devices as personification.

However, when presented with poetry that contained these devices, they had trouble identifying the figure of speech or the sound device being used.
Which one is it????


Even more difficult for them was describing the effect of the device. 
Here is a poem from a Glencoe supplemental publication to be used to prepare for the Oklahoma End-of-Instruction test for English II:
Purchase
by NAOMI LONG MADGETT
I like the smell of new clothes,
The novel aroma of challenge.
This dress has no past
Linked with regretful memories
To taint it,
Only a future as hopeful
As my own.
I can say of an old garment
Laid away in a trunk:
“This lace I wore on that day when. . . .”
But I prefer the new scent
Of a garment unworn,
Untainted like the new self
That I become
When I first wear it.

Here is a question for this selection:

What does the speaker mean when she says, “This dress has no past /
Linked with regretful memories / To taint it?”

A The speaker does not have a past that could be spoiled by the dress.
B The speaker does not know anything about the person who made the dress.
C New clothes are good because they do not remind us of the past.
D A new dress is good because it has never been worn by another person

The correct answer is "C", but many of my students would choose "A" or even "D" because they would either speculate on the speaker, or they would choose the answer that they would associate most with new clothes.

So what I will need to do is to teach them to be active readers of poetry and other texts as well. My students don't do that. If the answer is not obvious, they get frustrated because their imaginations do not work that way. 

Tomorrow, I will have about 8 students who are designated for remediation. I will have to remediate about 15 more before I am finished. I will report on how it went.




Thursday, February 04, 2016

Teacher Mandates

Well, the good news is I was able to return to class this morning feeling my usual chipper self without any depression hangover.  And classes went fairly well.  I got to thinking about all the requirements and mandates I have to deal with in my profession, and I came up with a list that is probably not complete as it is and will be increased as we move towards end of the year testing.

Of course, there is the usual stuff of coming up with weekly lesson plans, daily grading, establishing classroom rules, and creating syllabi.  In addition to those we have to:

Give a Common Formative Assessment (CFA)every two weeks or so testing a different objective

Grade the CFAs

Disaggregate our results into: those mastering objective, those not mastering the objective, those who have mastered/not mastered the objected who are English Language Learners (ELL) or Special Education (SPED) students

Provide examples of our CFAs for our immediate supervisors

Provide examples of our remediation material

Remediate those who have not mastered the CFA

Retest those who have not mastered the CFA to see if they now have mastered the CFA

Set our consequences for tardies

Administer consequences for tardies

Do the same for classroom disrupters

Submit work for students who have been placed in In-School Intervention (ISI)

Submit work for students who have been assigned Out of School Suspension if they are suspended for more than 10 days

Meet with our Professional Learning Communities (fellow teachers in our subject area)

Submit reports of our meeting

Contact parents concerning their student's grades, attendance issues, tardies, classroom behavior problems, and also make positive contacts as well.

Record and report grades

Make lists of failing students and contact their parents

Attend workshops

Enforce school policy

Participate in parent/teacher conferences

Participate in SPED Individual Education Plans (IEPs)

Make modifications for students according to their IEPs

Come up with strategies for students who struggle with learning the lesson objectives

Differentiate instruction in accordance with students' learning styles

Find methods to accommodate ELL students

Do morning duty at our duty stations

Attend workshops

Enforce school policies

You know. Maybe I have a reason for feeling a bit blue every now and then.



Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A Visit from an Old Enemy

Today my old enemy, depression, came for a visit.  I woke up at the usual time, 5am, and I could tell that I was in for a rough bout of it.  Moving around felt like walking in deep mud, talking felt like a chore, getting dressed felt like working in a low, slow gear. 

Depression is a family malady.  One of my uncle's nearly died from it, and I believe it shortened his life. Mine comes on slowly, and usually, I can get over it with a little effort, and by the time I get to school and get actively involved in teaching, it seems to go away. No such luck today.

I could really tell that I was in for an above average bout of depression when I felt happy to be held up by a freight train at the railroad crossing that is on the road to my school.  I needed some time to gather my thoughts.

After I got to school, I could not get going. I did not bring my chess games to the cafeteria as I usually do when I have morning duty like today.  I did not do well in my first two classes. I felt like I was teaching in a fog. 

Finally, I decided to let my immediate administrator know about my condition. She very kindly offered me the opportunity to go home once she found someone to cover my classes.  

I hate doing that, but I also worry that my presence could do more harm than good.  I am thankful for the way we look out for each other at Centennial. It's one of the reason I have chosen to remain there all these years.

I came home. Rested a bit. Took the dogs out of a long walk to get some fresh air. I think I am okay, and I plan to be there tomorrow. 

A psychiatrist once told me that the brain is an organ, and it gets sick just as other organs do.  So my brain was a bit on the puny side today.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

School to Prison Pipeline? A View from a Teacher

I am involved in several social justice groups and causes including my "social gospel" church Mayflower Congregational UCC, the AFT my teachers' union, the ACLU, and some other organizations as well.  One cause that has received much scrutiny in these groups is the "School to Prison Pipeline."  This is the claim that school policies unfairly target some students for harsh punishment like suspensions or expulsions, even incarceration where other students violating the same rules are not punished as harshly. Those who do receive unfair treatment are often ethnic minority students, LGBT students, and those students in Special Education.  These policies "channel" these students into our prison system. The prison industry, racism, underfunded and overcrowded schools, zero-tolerance policies, and even lazy teachers are typically blamed for the problem.

I can only report anecdotally about this problem as a teacher in urban education.  Today, I think, provides at least some insight into what really goes on when students are disciplined.  I would be interested in the opinion anyone who wished to comment on what happened today between me and a middle-school student and his hoodie.

I have morning duty in the cafeteria during breakfast.  I try to get there before most students arrive to supervise those eating there, usually around 7am or earlier.  I bring my chess equipment for those who enjoy playing a game or two in the morning.  Sometimes I will play with a student or two, but mostly I try to keep an eye out for trouble. 

Today, two middle school students were chasing each other, which can be dangerous in our very crowded cafeteria.  I told them to stop  at once.  One girl did, but the other boy tried to keep at it.  So I intervened and allowed the girl to go her own way.  I noticed that the boy still has his hood on, a violation of the school dress code. I told him to remove the hood. He refused to do so.  He tried to walk away from me still hooded. I followed.  I asked him his name. He refuse to give it to me and kept on walking.  I told him that all he had to do was remove his hood. He told me to leave him alone.  I followed him till met with the school principal who did know his name.  She told him to take his hood off. He refused her.  She then took him to the school office.  I am not sure what happened to him, but he likely was put in in-school suspension for defiance of authority. 

Now, someone might look at this incident and say that this was another example of the school to prison pipeline at work.  The boy was black.  I am sure other students had their hoods on that I did not confront. So from his point of view, I singled him out.  But should that have been a basis for ignoring his defiance?  

Some may even question why I made such a big deal out of a kid wearing a hood up.  Recently, we had some students get into the auditorium and a girl with them was assaulted.  The boys wore their hoods in order to escape recognition by our school security cameras.  So allowing students to wear hoods is at its heart a safety issue.

So, what should I have done other than what I felt I had to do?  All the young man had to do was comply, but his pride got in the way of any sense. 

Tomorrow I will be back in the cafeteria. I will be telling several students to take off their hoods.  I will be defied.


What should I do then?

Monday, February 01, 2016

Why Teachers Leave



Before I write about today's topic, I would like to report on a positive ending to the problem with student "A" who put her head down on the desk and would not remove it.  I was able to get a good phone number for A and made contact with her mother.  We had a good, constructive conference over the phone.  A's mother said that her daughter had been depressed lately over the death of a friend, but that she, the mother, would speak to her daughter and try to get her to correct her behavior. The last few days A has kept engaged in the class.  A has not been a model student in any sense, but she is at least active and doing work, though not often of the highest quality.  I will take one victory at a time.  

Now, I would like to address a problem that my state of Oklahoma seems to be now coming around to recognize: the growing teacher shortage. Right now, it is estimated that Oklahoma is short about 1000 teachers to fulfill all its vacancies.  This year nearly 500 "emergency certifications" issued statewide. This is a certification that allows someone without any teacher training to step into a school classroom and teach. If those folks are anything like I was when I began to teach for the first time in 1994, I pray for their sanity and health. 

I am neither a prophet or the son of a prophet, nor am I the 7 son of a 7th son, but I did predict at the beginning of the No Child Left Behind era that this sort of thing was inevitable. When teachers were to be judged by the performance of their students on standardized tests, and when those tests were the main measurement for the performance of a school in which that teacher taught, I knew that teachers would be getting out of the tougher schools, the tougher districts, and look for greener pastures or just wash their hands of the whole thing and walk away. In Oklahoma, we also have the problem of having just about the lowest teacher pay in the nation. We usually rank somewhere from 47 to 49 in teacher salaries while Texas' pay scales are somewhere near the middle of pack with teachers earning $8K to $10K more on average.  

We have some of the finest teacher training academies in the nation in schools like the University of Central Oklahoma, but their graduates usually go out of state to pursue their profession.  The Oklahoma City Public School District has had to go as far as recruit teachers from Spain in order to fill some vacancies.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that those teacher have struggled to deal with student behavior and are not likely to return or even finish out this year. 

This problem has come about from some very detrimental educational philosophies, particularly "blame the teacher" and "more money is not the solution."  I believe that the first one philosophy, that of saying that all that was needed to improve schools was to hire, train, and develop good teachers, is the most harmful because it blindly refuses to consider factors that are beyond any teacher's control, mainly the environment of poverty from which most of our student come.  

I have always been amazed that when critics of public education speak of the "crisis" in schools, the schools they inevitably speak of are those in the most impoverished urban areas.  Any attempt to point this out to these critics is pushed aside as "excuse making" or "refusing to take responsibility" or racism or just plain laziness on our part. A movie, Searching for Superman, was made with this philosophy at its center.  The result has been that teachers are searching for schools with a less toxic environment in which to teach, or they are leaving the profession altogether.

The problem of pay is more complex since critics can point to states with low overall pay, but whose students are high achievers.  Often these states, such as South Dakota, are primarily rural states with very low numbers of minority/majority schools. However,  most teachers I know would trade a raise in pay for a better environment with better student behavior. Few of us got into teaching for the money. We all want a place where we can practice our craft and not spend most of our time and energy managing student behavior.

This to me is the missing ingredient in dealing with low performing schools.  Today, we had a major disruption in our school when a male student assaulted a female student physically, striking her to the ground because he thought she took his phone from him.  That student, who has a right to a public education, should not be in a school classroom again.  But there is no place to put him.