Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Top Ten Tuesday

An interesting web week…watched a lot of humor on YouTube, as well as a lot of math videos for my algebra class. Here’s one on exponential functions in real life – earthquakes.

A tour of the Google Data Center – colorful, just like the logo!

How cool are these! From Alisa Burke – stone sugar skulls!!

This from Letters of Note is heartbreaking. A reminiscence of the Pam Am explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Interested in education issues? Harriete talks about a show opening that deals with standardized testing. If you are at all familiar with the bell curve, you’ll appreciate one of the art works.

This juggling is fabulous!!!! One ball, who knew?

A whale of a tale, from the Great Whale Conservancy – beautiful story.

Put Johnny Carson and Dom DeLouise together, along with some raw eggs, and it’s just hilarious! They don’t make ’em like this any more!!

If you are not familiar with Design Seed, check out the interesting color combinations – some colors I would never have thought to put together.

And finally, if you haven’t visited Craft Gossip, you need to put it on your lists. Posts every day, and then some! Lots of great craft ideas to try, especially for and with kids.

That’s it for this week. Send along great links that you find out there on the web!

Thoughts on Themes in History

I’m working with my college student on preparing for a history exam coming up on Monday, from World War I through World War II. That’s a lot of ground to cover. My student was complaining about how boring the class lectures were.

Sheesh. When are history professors and teachers going to learn that history is a “story,” and as such can be absolutely fascinating. It’s probably a good thing I was never good at lecturing when I first started teaching, because I approached all history lessons thematically: what did we learn from the past. Even today I am astonished at how much I still learn through well-researched historical fiction. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long while.

First case in point: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, the second in a trilogy of the Civil War. This book focuses on the Battle of Gettysburg, and Shaara writes from hours of research of letters and diaries. I will never look at Gettysburg the same way again. This three days in July could have been avoided, could have changed the course of this country. It is a truly powerful story.

“He went back along the low stone wall. The dead were mostly covered now with blankets and shelter halves, but some of them were still dying and there were groups of men clustered here and there. There were dead bodies and wounded bodies all down the wall and all down through the trees and blood was streaked on the trees and rocks and rich wet wood splinters were everywhere. He patted shoulders, noted faces. It was very quiet and dark down among the trees. Night was coming. He began to feel tired. He went on talking. A boy was dying. He had made a good fight and he wanted to be promoted before he died and Chamberlain promoted him. He spoke to a man who had been clubbed over the head with a musket and who could not seem to say what he wanted to say, and another man who was crying because both of the Merrill boys were dead, both brothers, and he would be the one who would have to tell their mother.” (p. 232)

Jeff Shaara, the son, has also written a very power set of books about the American Revolution. Here’s his description of the reading of The Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress, from Rise to Rebellion.

“‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…'”

“The words reached out to each of them, the delegates, those above in the public seats, out beyond the walls of this one simple building. The words were carried by rider and post, copies posted in every town square, in every courthouse, every state house, every assembly hall. Like a great stone dropped into a vast deep pond, the impact of the Declaration of Independence would flow out in waves that would reach far beyond the colonies, far beyond the people who had brought it to life. The words would spread beyond the great ocean, would reach the halls and stout buildings of a government that would still not understand, would still pretend to own the spirit of these unruly people, would insist that crushing that spirit mean crushing the people and whatever sham of an army these outrageous rebels would dare to mount.” (p. 528-529)

I’m reading The Fall of Giants by Ken Follett, about the years prior to and after World War 1. Again, extremely well researched and based in fact. World War I was an exercise in incompetence. When you begin to read about the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia, and you see how everything came to a head in war because one or two men in charge would not compromise at all, it is eye-opening. Very much looking froward to the second book in the trilogy.

“Fifty thousand casualties, of which twenty thousand are dead,” Da went on. “And the battle goes on. Day after day, more young men are being massacred.” There were sounds of dissent from the crowd, but they were mostly drowned out by the shouts of agreement. Da held up his hand for quiet. “I do not say who is to blame. I say only this. Such slaughter cannot be right when men have been denied a part of the decision to go to war.” (p. 517-518)

And finally, from today’s history chapter on causes of the Great Depression, frightening in its accuracy:

“In addition to irresponsible speculation, income disparities and rampant use of credit also destabilized the economy. The income of the wealthiest one percent of Americans doubled, while the income of the bottom third only rose 6 percent. Income tax cuts returned money to the wealthy but did little for the middle class or the poor. While rich Americans could keep on buying washing machines, refrigerators, radios and cars, the bottom two-thirds found themselves stretched to the limit. By 1929 American factories, like farmers, were guilty of over-production. Manufacturers cut prices and then reduced their output. They laid off workers, who in turn cut back on their purchases. Borrowers stopped paying their consumer loans, leaving banks and stores with millions in bad debt.” (p. 871-872)

When you read those words, how can you find history boring? Can’t you see the direct connections? Why not a discussion that has to be fact-based to involve every student? If we continue to relegate the teaching (or reading ) of history to a minor subject that is considered boring by most students, when will we ever understand how we have gotten to where we are?

Sheesh.

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday

A really interesting artist, I saw his portfolio on Behance. Alberto Seveso…..doesn’t it look like the most luscious silk?

From Bill Moyers comes a really interesting graphic on social media as our main source of news.

From Cool Hunting comes TED-ED – what looks to be some REALLY great lesson plans and ideas for teachers to really expand what’s happening in the classroom.

From Joen Wolfrom – the most used colors in the world – Tones.

From Letters of Note comes a very timely letter from one of my favorite authors,  John Steinbeck. Very interesting in light of what is happening in current affairs in Arizona. “American Democracy Will Have Disappeared.”

Also from Letters of Note, the incomparable Harper Lee, with words that ring true today:

“Early-1966, believing its contents to be “immoral,” the Hanover County School Board in Virginia decided to remove all copies of Harper Lee‘s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, from the county’s school libraries. As soon as she was alerted, Lee responded perfectly by way of the following letter, written to, and later published in, The Richmond News Leader.
Also sent, as mentioned in the letter, was a contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund — a project set up by the newspaper in 1959 to highlight/compensate for “official stupidities,” and which subsequently gave away copies of the banned book to all children who asked.”

From the 365 Project, another set of gorgeous pictures.

End of the Rainbow by Richard Tyson

4 No-Cost Etsy Shop Promotions from Handmade-ology….since I didn’t get much on yesterday’s marketing post.

From Cool Hunting – really cool tables from the Milan Design Show. Love the texture and grain lines in this first one.

And finally, some pictures from a place most of us know nothing about…..except as a country in the news, Iran. These are gorgeous. From The Best Article Every Day…..

Be sure to look at all the pictures – Iran looks to be a very beautiful place.

And that’s it for this week – let me know what you find surfing over the next few days!

World Peace Day – April 28, 1972 – 40 Years Later

Forty years ago I was teaching at Baldwin High School, on the island of Maui. I was adviser to a student group called Pacific and Asian Affairs Council. In September of my second year teaching, two of the students, Claudia and Dawn Otsuka, came to me with an idea….have a day-long celebration devoted to studying peace. We started planning then, and on April 28, 1972, we held World Peace Day. Along the way we raised money through a 9-mile Walk for Peace, lobbied the state legislature to make April 28 an official World Peace Day, convinced the school administration to cancel regular classes in favor of peace activities, and planned a weekend of events for PAAC groups around the state.

It was quite the undertaking, and as the adviser, I learned a lot. In the name of one of the students I wrote to our Congressional representative, Sparky Matsunaga, about coming and being the keynote speaker – and he accepted. I lobbied the mayor’s office to get the parade permit for our Walk for Peace. Students participated in the peace walk in droves, raising $2000 (in 1972 dollars) to support activities. We lined up the mayor, the governor, pro athletes….as I was rereading some of the articles, I am amazed at what the students were able to accomplish.

Two major lessons: students will rise to the expectations set for them. The whole high school participated in activities that Friday, listening to speakers and attending small group activities. The PAAC group handled so many various little details, creating slide shows, hosting students and faculty members in their homes, speaking to groups, preparing materials, providing entertainment. When you have school groups coming from Kauai, Oahu, and the Big Island to Maui for two days, there are a lot of little important details. They spoke to the state legislature, giving them meaningful arguments for a declaration for a World Peace Day.

The other lesson was a surprise to me. In 1972 we were still at war in Vietnam. I fielded phone calls saying what the students were doing was a communist plot. So many negative phone calls about a communist plot in Peace Day. We had no hidden agendas beyond talking about the need for peace. But to many people, peace was perceived as being against the government and against the Vietnam War.

This was the beginning of my understanding just what students could do when motivated by an idea of their own. The involvement of students from the very beginning of an idea (in fact, their idea) led to ownership on their part. In the years since then, I have often asked teacher and administrative groups, as they are sharing something “new” with us, where the “student voice” is. It’s always missing, and I still get looks along the lines of, “Yeah, like the kids will really want to do that.”

But they do, and part of what is wrong with education today is that students are not really involved in major decision-making.

Yet on one sunny Friday and Saturday in April, 40 years ago, a group of high school students made their mark at the state and local level with World Peace Day. The following year, they followed up with an environmental conference held as a student United Nations event. PAAC members, I salute you. You did well.

Linda Lemke Moran, Baldwin High School, 1970 – 1973

Done the old-fashioned way, on a  mimeo…..

Written by a fellow teacher at Baldwin, John Bose, a veteran of Korea.

The fine print gives the text of messages from the Congressional delegation, among others.

And the next year’s event, the Model UN Conference on the Environment:

PS – peace is still ever elusive…..

Some Ramblin’ Thoughts….

Ai, yi, yi….the brain is overflowing with thoughts about all kinds of things in life right now – some artistic, most not. First of all, we are having to move….again……..Since the new neighbors moved in the beginning of December, it has been horrible living under them. Stomping feet at all hours of the day or night, running/barking dog, absolutely no consideration for the people underneath them. Including a domestic dispute complaint one Sunday night that was so loud we had to go and stay in a motel.

So what does management say? There’s nothing they can do….dogs bark, that’s what they do. Dogs run, that’s what they do. It’s their apartment, they can vacuum when they want (including at 3 AM)……management has done nothing. We finally got “doctor’s notes” about the stress and inability to sleep, and we are out of here. Our days of apartment living are done. We drove through one neighborhood about a week ago and saw a “for rent” sign – we’ve never seen anything available in that neighborhood unless it’s the occasional home for sale. This is perfect, meets our three conditions: more space, better light, and a total price not over a set amount. So we’re set to move the 29th…..the same day we just found out that management is replacing carpet in the stairs near us, so we won’t be able to use the stairs for the movers. Between tomorrow and the 28th, we plan to move a lot of boxes and set up things that we can. So it will be a crazy two weeks….but that’s how our lives seem to go.

Why is it we are living in such a culture now of rudeness and incivility? Drivers in Tucson have got to be among the worst in the country. When we went cross-country two years ago, we got out of Arizona and saw none of this – no changing lanes unexpectedly, no creeping along. In fact, east of the Mississippi, it’s like we were in another country. All we are asking for is some peace and quiet to live our lives, do good when we can, and be kind to people we meet. We’ve lived in apartments long enough that we know how to walk with a soft step. Turns out laws – both state and federal – keep apartment managers from taking more action against tenants who create disturbances. Management has to be very careful not to violate any freedoms…like putting people with children – or pets – on bottom floors. That takes away their rights. Well, we’ve been in this complex over a year, perfectly content, until new people move in. And now we are the ones paying the penalty. Well, not when it affects our health.

And now to the news…..oy, so much there. Hearings on contraception, and nary a woman in sight to give her views. A photo of our soldiers with the symbol of the Nazi party. Trying to plead ignorance that they didn’t realize the symbol had other meanings. Well, that’s what comes from not being able to teach American history in any depth. History of any kind has lost ground since NCLB and having to teach to specific tests. And in Arizona, now the state legislature wants to make teaching anything “controversial” grounds for being fired as a teacher. Arizona is more and more the sewer of this country.

The Arizona legislature is debating the availability of guns on college campuses. Yeah, that’s going to help. Which brings me to the latest going round on Facebook and YouTube of this one father’s response to his daughter’s gripe about her parents. He proceeds to verbally rip her a new one, which she probably deserved. But when he takes the gun to the computer….well, I disagree with the message that sends. A brick would have accomplished the same thing.

The Personal Excellence blog has been running a fitness challenge that I have been participating in, in an attempt to ramp up my physiucal activity. It also has coincided with my beginning practice of yoga. I LOVE yoga. Working one-on-one with a trainer us really helping. Now I have to get over this cold so I don’t keep having to screw up my breathing. I have progresses enough in three weeks that I now have some flow patterns that I can do on my own at home. Celes, who runs Personal Excellence, has some great stuff available to peruse.

Check out Fathom Events. Last night we went to the local movie theater and saw a behind-the-scenes tour of the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit at the National Gallery in London. Absolutely amazing, with lots of in-depth analyses and looks at curating this type of exhibit. This is the second event we have been to, and we are looking forward to many more. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to Phantom of the Opera plays on February 28. You can believe we’ll be there – great seats, up close and personal, and way cheaper than theater tickets.

Reading a really interesting book, Quiet by Susan Cain, about introverts and extroverts. Explains a lot about me, and it’s very interesting to see that the amount of extrovertism expected in today’s society isn’t necessarily productive. I recommend the book. From the description:

“At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society–from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.”

May you have a quiet weekend!!

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday Thoughts

As I have written over the last month or so, the shootings in Tucson really affected me, especially the fact that we had almost headed over to the Congress on Your Corner but we had a doctor’s appointment instead and decided to do the next one. I wrote here about what it was like for that following week at school, helping kids process the shootings and the hate from the Westboro Baptist Church directed toward our school.

I studied history and political science in college, at the height of the Vietnam War. I was a drug-free hippie who believed in freedom of expression and the peace movement. I loved seeing trends and themes in history, and then when I taught Advanced Placement US History, I kept discovering things I hadn’t known about our country. I followed that up with reading Howard Zinn’s A History of the American People. That is a pretty amazing book. You can follow The Zinn Education Project on Facebook.

Throughout January, into February, and particularly March and April I sank into a real morass of despair, looking at everything going on in this country and the lack of civility in understanding. I “unfriended” some folks who’s attitudes I felt were very destructive. I would listen to the news and start yelling at the television, reminding the screen about all that came before. Needless to say, I accomplished very little….

I have since gotten myself on track with enjoying life through a couple of – what turned out to be major – changes. No more news. I read the headlines each morning from the local paper on line, and I read the headlines from Al Jazeera English, each time amazed at what is going on in the world that we have no idea about in this country.

Stay away from movies that will P*** me off, like Sicko. There is nothing I can do. I understand the situation, and I cope as I can, but there’s no point getting upset.

Stay positive. I am working with the Co-creating Our Reality site, and I am amazed at just how happy and relaxed I am becoming, Of course, retiring from teaching didn’t hurt…..

Create art. I am finally getting back into the creative spirit, and I think as I create more, not only will I feel better, but I will begin to get some of my frustrations out into art work.

Enjoy people. Given my background and being very shy, I tend to stay away from a lot of socializing. That is changing. I am meeting more people, going out with friends more, having people over, and the like. I’m enjoying sitting on the couch in the afternoon with hubby (35 years this Saturday), streaming something from Netflix that we can enjoy together, and not hve to worry about marking papers or doing lesson plans!

Ooooh yeah, I’m gonna love retirement!

10 Things I WILL Miss About Teaching

While retiring is going to be a joy, there are definitely some things I am going to miss about teaching. So here goes:

1. The Kids. Even the class from H*** this year had its good moments. The kids keep me young, they keep me laughing, and they’ll believe just about anything you tell them. Case in point: Nicole a year ago asking me where zombies go when they die. Despite my trying to get across to her that zombies don’t exist, she kept asking, saying “Hypothetically.” So I finally answered “They go to algebra heaven.” And she was fine with that answer.

2. The challenge of teaching so many different subjects and learning so many new things. Over the years it’s been high school American History, AP US History, psychology, literature and writing, grammar, earth science, basic math, middle school social studies, elementary gifted programs, middle school math, and finally high school math. I’m a walking Jeopardy board.

3. Mathematics, particularly algebra and geometry. After some dismal experiences in high school, I have relished understanding the ins and outs of algebra and geometry, and I will miss the opportunity to continue to improve my explanations of how algebra really works.

4. The Kids. I am in touch through Facebook with so many former students, and I just love watching them grow and have families.

5. Student theater. I did this for 15 years, thanks to one of my first mentors, Sue Ann Loudon. From Carousel to Oliver to Music Man to Peter Pan and numerous small plays in between, I loved every moment, and I have the pictures and tapes to prove it. But that’s a job for someone much younger.

6. Conferences, especially when paid for by the school districts. I loved my time with the art partnership with the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. A great time at the ASCD conference both in Baltimore and Anaheim – and if the principal had approved our plan for taking kids to the Getty, so many more would have benefited. To think it all started with the National Association of Gifted and Talented in Portland, and included being in DC the night of – and day after – the 2000 election for the International Dyslexia Conference.

7. The creativity of planning a successful lesson. When it goes right, there’s nothing better.

8. Being “on stage” and having a good time with the kids during lessons. There’s all the voices and chants and little dance moves, the quadratic formula to the tune of Jingle Bells, and all the videos.

9. The “Big Projects.” All the plays, World Peace Day in April 1972, Model UN in 1973, the Shakespeare Festivals with 150 kids, the Learning Lab, and many more.

10. The Kids and making a difference in their lives. It took me a long time to realize that this is what I was meant to do.

10 Things I WILL NOT Miss About Teaching….

I will no doubt spend some time in reflection over these last 40 years in some form of public education. I found an interesting editorial I had written about 8 years ago that I will probably recreate here. Mostly this week it’s been about things I am not going to miss.

1. Short lunch periods. Some of the schools I’ve been in had 20-minute lunch periods, which makes it tough to have any kind of a leisurely lunch, especially when you factor in having to use the bathroom and set up for the next class after lunch. I still eat fast at lunch; it’ll be a hard habit to break!

2. Lack of accountability on all parts. Teachers – there are so many in the profession who shouldn’t be there. I find myself at times taking shortcuts just to survive the daily grind, and I lose sleep over it. Students who do not take responsibility for their work and behavior. Parents who let kids get away with anything they want. Makes me scared for the future….

3. Spending most of Sunday doing lesson plans and marking papers for the coming week. I don’t see myself getting depressed anymore on Sundays, trying to get ready for the week and resenting upwards of 8 hours spent on paperwork and lesson plans.

4. The next “new thing” – everything old is new again….Professional development, for the most part. If I had stayed, I would be taking Essential Elements of Instruction for the third time in my career – doesn’t matter that I can prove I have taken it already, and that I use the information when I plan classes. I am also spared Restorative Practices and Circles……

5. “Teenage drama.” Especially from the girls. Oy, teenage girls and cat fights and gossip. Perhaps not as bad as middle school level, but I have to keep telling myself the frontal lobe is not completely developed…..

6. Sagging pants on the boys. Do you realize just how stupid we think you look? And grabbing your crotch to hold your pants up makes you look even more like an idiot….

7. NCLB – good ole No Child Left Behind, that has managed to remove any joy from learning completely. I can prepare kids to pass tests with the best of them, but that isn’t an education.

8. Bathroom on a bell schedule. I gotta tell ya, bathroom breaks with 90 minute classes? No wonder teachers don’t get all the water they need in a day. If we save it till we get home in the late afternoon, then we’re up several times at night.

9. Unresponsive school districts and wacko state legislatures (yes, Arizona, I’m talking about you…). This is the worst time in my career for teacher-bashing. I’m tired of no support, large class sizes, out-of-date technology, especially when we are evaluated on how we use the technology.

10. Whining students. No more “do we have to?”, “that’s too much work,” “I didn’t do it” and ad nauseum.

Ah, retirement!

Revisiting China – Part 1

One of my projects as a result of our recent move is to sort and organize slides and pictures: one because of the need for the extra space, two to eliminate anything that still has smoke from our fire 20-plus years ago, and three to find a way to enjoy all these memories. Now that I have a home for “recycling” slide mounts and boxes, I am ready for this project. Slides are sorted into a slide box we had been given years ago and never used; there’s one drawer of China slides and a second drawer of personal slides. I’m starting on the China slides.

How to organize? One of the most impressive memories from this trip in 1978 (before normalization of relations with the US) was the visits to the schools, so that’s where I am starting. Some background: I was teaching middle school science at the time in Phoenix, Arizona, when I became involved with the US-China People’s Friendship Association, a group working to bring about normalization (the recognition of “Red China”) as a legitimate country. This has been a passion of mine for years, since early high school, and especially influenced by a book by William Lederer (senior moment – lost the name) about the “truth” about Chiang Kai-Shek. I won a number of debates in high school based on the strenghts of my pro arguments, which didn’t make me any more popular. Oh well, I WAS right.

In 1978 I was selected as one of 20 people from the western part of the United States to travel for 3 weeks in China. I had never been anywhere, and China was at the top of my travel list. I was in heaven! I was gone for nearly a month, have a full notebook of interviews and impressions, and probably well over a thousand slides (all of which are being weeded down to the best. Each place we visited (fron Guangchou – the “old” Canton” to Beijing) we were able to meet and ask questions. I was in charge of all the school stops, since I was the only teacher in the group. It was the most amazing adventure.Our first visit was an elementary school, and the playground looked suspiciously like the typical US school ground. Teachers were wandering around, organizing activities, like tug of war. Notice the blues and grays for colors, especially on the adults. We were there at the end of the Cultural Revolution; the Gang of Four had just been imprisoned. Bright colors were a “western” problem, and we had been asked in doing our packing to look at basic browns, blues, and grays for colors, pants, no dresses, to respect the Chinese. We only saw bright colors on the children, until we hit Tokyo on our way back – our senses were literally assaulted with color.

If you notice make-up on the children, it’s because many of them were going to be performing for us during our visit. We were treated to amazing displays of arts and athletics, and at the time China was not a player in sports on the world stage. We all know that has changed.

I was particularly taken by the blackboard at the end of the playground, with all the announcements. It was pristine; no damage, vandalism, or the like. One of the questions I asked at our first meeting with the teachers and administrators of the school was how they dealt with vandalism. I ws asked to rephrase the question, and then asked to define vandalism. The teachers looked at each other, not understanding the word…or the concept. The reply was “why would anyone want to destroy what they need?” Why indeed….

We saw all types of entertainment, from the little singers, singing songs of leading the good life according to Chairman Mao….

…to guymnastic displays of all ages. Look carefully at their equipment. Floors covered with skinny rugs, bare walls – nothing like we would expect for building athletes.

Some performances were more formal. This was a group of young ladies performing basic magic tricks for us, and they were very good. Stage presence was something I remarked upon at the time, and I still think it’s pretty amazing how poised they all were. I know how difficult it is to develop that in young children during theater.

This dance/song number talked about importance of water and work to develop a good cotton crop.

This is the classroom that sticks with me so many years later. Sixty students in the classroom, no textbooks in sight. If you look closely, you will see double-digit multiplication problems on the board. No paper visible among these second graders. Students would raise their hand with a solution they had worked out in their heads, be called upon, come to the front of the room, and respond. We don’t even begin teaching basic multiplication facts until third grade….

We had certificates made up of our trip before we left the United States. We brought along a Polaroid camera to take pictures of our hosts and the group, which would then be affixed to the certificate. This is still one of my prized possessions. (I’m second row on the left….)

The children crowded around us to watch the picture develop – absolute magic!

Shanghai, as well as most other cities, had what were called Children’s Palaces, a place for students to go after school for more activities. A good many of them were focused on the arts, but many others were practical. Here’s one of our group members playing – of all things – Chinese jump rope.

Lots of musical instruction, as well as impromptu concerts for us.

The needlearts are very strong in China at that time, especially needlepoint.

Lots of martial arts demonstrations….

…and every where we went we were sent off to applause. For so many people we were the first Westerners they had ever seen.

Ballet had been banned during the Cultural Revolution, so it was encouraging to see this, and then one evening a classical ballet performance.

This is going to be wonderful, retracing this amazing trip. I will be culling the best of the slides to put together in a photo book so that I can look at these images more often. I’ll post more as I proceed with this project…and a glimpse of a China just beginning to modernize and embrace capitalism.

On Rethinking Retirement……

Today was the first day of two for professional development on Understanding by Design, or UbD. The staff at the school all has to have this training as part of our three-year plan, and I was resisting this because I’ve read through elements of this on my own, as well as tried to apply some of the “big ideas” to a museum project several years ago. I am here to say today is causing me to seriously rethink retirement – the day was amazing, and I do not say that lightly about professional development.

Understanding by Design is a three-stage program to develop more meaningful curriculum that is effective, engages students, and promotes enduring understanding, as Howard Gardner would say. We spent the day on Stage 1, unwrapping the curriculum in order to plan for the end result. Duh. In 20 years of doing student theater, I always did what I call “backplanning,” but NOT ONCE did I think to apply that skill to my classroom teaching.

As we continued through the day, I kept seeing lights at the end of the tunnel, answering for me ways to fix what I am unhappy with in my algebra classes. I do too much direct instruction, I don’t have the kids do enough inquiry, and they aren’t engaged enough or see algebra as a meaningful course of study. I actually wanted to read through standards and try to cluster some of the performance objectives so the planning  makes more sense. The warm-up we did would make more sense than the (to be honest) drill and kill I usually do for practice (and, really honest, management…). In fact, I have some ideas for small group bell work for next week to extend some of the understanding.

All through the day I was (and still am) very conflicted. I am planning to retire in two and a half more years. I have been dealing with some health issues that may make me retire early. Plus, I realized if I go the full years more I will actually end up hurting my retirement benefits, as there hasn’t been a raise, and nothing is in sight. Two and a half years would cut off one of my higher salary years. So I am looking at numbers.

But then I sit in a workshop and get truly excited about trying some new strategies and ideas for teaching algebra, and I don’t want to leave. Retirement is an ending, as well as a beginning. I started teaching 40 years ago this September, and while it is probably time – age-wise – to go, it feels like “the end.” I don’t think I’m ready for closure, even though I want to seriously expand my art work and licensing. I’m not sure I can “let go” of 33 years of teaching, when I still feel like I have a lot more to offer. I still love this stuff – workshops, class management, curriculum, and all. I miss the teaching teachers that I used to do. I have all these skills and experiences (and endorsements) from all these years, and I’m not sure I can give it up…..

So just when I think I am coming to decisions, something happens to change it all. Darn you, Dr. Larry….now what do I do?

Thursday Thoughts – Major Rant and Sergeant Pity Party

Those of you who are readers of my blog (and thank you for those who emailed me to see where I was!) know that I struggle with being a teacher and trying to develop an art business. Well, let me warn you now, this is both a rant and a pity party, so pass on if you’re not interested. It’s just that I have found my blog a great way to process what’s going on in this overactive head of mine.

Saturday saw me admitted to the hospital with chest pains and shortness of breath. 72 hours later and one fairly incompetent doctor I am released with absolutely no answers beyond “it’s probably stress.” Between family history and my own history of lung clots, these symptoms were something I couldn’t ignore. I had been feeling poorly the week before: lots of bloating (and knowing I wasn’t putting weight on), tiredness, anger, and frustration. While I am in the last three years of teaching, I really want to be retired, and that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

Friday last week was homecoming at our high school, and as I watched the band and pom line and cheerleaders parade through the halls, I felt a little teary about what I would be missing when I do retire. I can remember back – way more years than I want to – to marching band (in fact, the first kiss happened in the uniform closet of the band room…). I do love teaching, and I am positive that this was my correct life’s work. But I am tired, especially with all the changes to the field in the last 15 years. This is certainly a job for young people – or at least younger that their 6th decade.

Couple that with being in Arizona, the second poorest state in the country, with a state legislature that wants to disband public education, no budgets and large class sizes. As much as I despise NCLB, I recognize for me that the emphasis on curriculum development and standards has helped me teach. But I also know that the end-all of test scores has been a death knell to thinking and creativity. Kids need to know what they “will get” for learning something. The complete joy of learning is totally gone. No more reading a book because it sounds like a great story. No more pursuing an idea to see where it will take us.

Now I have always had a problem with the less-than-competent in my field, and I take criticism of teachers very personally. I had my share of bad ones, but there were more good ones than bad. I am so fortunate right now to be in a great school with very supportive administrators and a lot of really fine teachers. But I’m tired….tired of constant papers, lesson plans, students who can’t be motivated, pressure to improve test scores, and probably the biggest – a living wage.

This is year 33 for me, and I still make less money than I did in Vermont some 16 years ago. That to me is criminal. Part of the stress is trying to live on the income, especially when the school district decided to put everyone on the same pay dates, and we have to go for three weeks at the end of the summer without a check….that has totally screwed up finances for the start of this school year. We had to borrow to pay a life insurance bill before the end of the grace period. After all these years as a public employee, things should have gotten a little easier.

And yes, I am well aware that I still have a job in this economy. Which is killing any attempt I am making to build an art business. I have been very productive art-wise this year, and readers for years know I tend to be very fallow during the school year. Not so since January of this school year. I have completed a couple of large pieces, and I spent a lot of time this summer working on marketing. Now I did a lot of reading (as I always do…) about building an online business, and I must say I did everything suggested that I could afford to do.

Ebay is down, Etsy isn’t happening, my blog numbers aren’t up, nobody’s buying off the newsletter or the website, and I was rejected for a major art show. And there are all theses classes and techniques and supplies I want to try, with no extra money. We have to scrimp to buy fabric.

Don’t get me wrong, I have NEVER expected a free ride. I work very hard at everything I do. But I think it’s about time for things to ease up a bit. This summer I had a taste of what retirement will be – time to visit friends, work on art, write, all those activities that make my heart and mind sing. But it’s not happening right now. I look at people working full time on their art and I am so jealous. I want to do this NOW.

And that’s what’s stressing me out. Why can’t I build a business without having to wait for retirement? This is what I’m going to have to struggle with; what can I do in the time I have? While I love teaching, it makes huge demands on you emotionally and physically, and lots of weekends – and evenings – there is no energy for anything else, even a doodle. I haven’t written in the blog in 3 weeks, something I love to do. My brain is tired, my body is tired, and now I’m recovering from paying the penalty of stress.

Sure it could have been worse. I’m very thankful it wasn’t. But I need some breaks NOW….

In the meantime, I am attempting to prepare for Tucson Arts and Crafts Association holiday show on November 20. Every member says they do really well selling during the show…….hmmmmm, what about fiber? We’ll just have to see……

Work-In-Progress Wednesday – The Education System

I attended an interesting meeting after school today, a discussion about what makes an honors program at the high school. We brought up loads of ideas and good points to pursue further, but a number of things stuck in my mind – maybe it’s because I have been at teaching for over 30 years.

Point 1 – and I think the MOST important when it comes to learning – is that the JOY of learning is gone for students. Everything is assessment-based, to the detriment of actually learning. Students no longer know what to do with an idea that might be interesting, or a book to read that’s recommended just because it’s good. A number of years ago – and this was before the mess that is NCLB – I asked my fifth graders to choose a piece of science fiction and read it. I then spent 15 minutes trying to convince them that there was no assignment or test – they might just find the book interesting. It truly was a foreign concept. Nowadays it seems that students try to figure out just what they need to do to pass a test and get the grade. The actualy learning is way down the scale.

Point 2 – “regular” classes are now considered the “stupid” classes. This was a shock to me. I am three years into teaching at this school, and I know there’s a strong Honors/AP set of classes. For two years I’ve been working with the kids who had difficulty all through middle school with math. A good many of them didn’t belong in the support classes, and they would admit they didn’t want to do the work. Now I am teaching “regular” algebra classes, and trying to improve on the rigor in the classes. It never occurred to me that is was considered “poor form” to be in a regular class as opposed to an honors class. The big question is how to we provide an education that is rigorous and appropriate for every student? Given the class sizes this year, it’s even harder than in the past.

Point 3 – should there be requirements for being in an honors class? When I taught AP US History, I let anyone in who waned the challenge. My biggest class was 33 and most of them worked really hard in the class. When we looked at stats last year for our students who are exceeding on the #^$%@$# state assessment test, we found we had fewer and fewer kids who were excelling. Students were getting by. So requirements or open invitation? How do we get kids to take the challenge and want to do some appropriate and different work?

From the meeting I went to the chiropractor. This year is taking a huge toll on me physically: cement floors for very sore legs, white board writing which is throwing out my shoulder, long class periods that are messing with my bladder – this is definitely a job for young people. And then I listen to discussions, and I think that nothing ever changes, it only gets worse. I guess I really do recognize that it’s getting to be time to retire…I can’t generate the enthusiasm that I used to, even two years ago.

Education will always continue to be a work in progress, which is as it should be…..but we need to see some progress somewhere along the way….

Work-in-Progress Wednesday – Teaching

I fought the good fight today – I left for the first day back at school in a pretty good frame of mind, despite all my misgivings. Part of me had been dreading today, as it meant the end of all my art work for the summer. But I was reminded of a lot of other “first day’s back” in my career. I was struck by how exactly 40 years ago today I flew out of Vermont for my very first teaching job – at Baldwin High School on Maui.

Now I haven’t been teachng for 40 years – a few years off working for learning centers, but I thought back to that first job. I had a three-week methods course and 6 weeks of student teaching, with a recommendation to find another career. I was nonetheless the first person in my graduating class to have a job after college. And as my wonderful Poli Sci professor pointed out, how bad could teaching in Hawaii be?

I was fortunate to have really good mentors, because in all honesty I didn’t have a clue as to what should actually happen in a classroom. I focused on relationship-building with students. I had no idea about curriculum, but I did know I didn’t want to repeat mistakes my teachers had made. I didn’t ridicule anyone, I listened, I got involved in their problems. I learned a lot, not the least of which was about my experiences in the teachers’ lounge. After having lunch with “veteran” teachers for a couple of weeks, I started eating by myself, working on correcting papers – a habit I continue to this day. I told myself at the time I didn’t want to grow up and be just like those teachers, bitching and moaning all the time about teaching.

Fast forward to today, 40 years later. My tolerance level for incompetence and stupidity is in the negative numbers. Today was all meetings, and when I did have two hours, NOTHING seemed to be working. Here we are charged with teaching digital natives (students who have grown up with all this technology) using 21st century skills and equipment.

Right. None of the printers was hooked to where they needed to be. Plus, when you tried to print, it took literally (I kid you not) 7 minutes for the printer to accept the print command. The programs continued to freeze up – just a reminded that the public voted down the technology override last year. Computers need to be reimaged, wireless is not working well, laptops need to be distributed (I don’t work with a laptop at school, as the technology is so erratic, and I am tired of losing work and grades.) Pages wouldn’t open on the screen, and trying to make any corrections just didn’t work. The copy room is being moved Friday, so no printing of materials we might need for the start of school on Monday. A good many of us haven’t had out rooms cleaned at all, due to the fact the school was completely closed for a full month due to refurbishing the air conditioning – which is a good thing, as we live in the desert.

Most of tomorrow is meetings. I have to be ready for freshmen orientation on Friday morning, and I can’t get power points or documents to load up so I can work on them and be ready. Plus sometime in June my teaching assignment was changed for this year and no one bothered to email me about it….so 60 percent of my teaching schedule now is something that I haven’t totally planned for – as it was only supposed to be 20 percent.

So there I am, the veteran teacher bitching and moaning about the state of education. It is ironic that even after 40 years, nothing much has changed. I am trying to continue to learn and improve my work in the classroom – just because I can – and will – retire in 3 years doesn’t mean I can’t improve as a teacher. But shouldn’t we start to get some breaks?

Fibonacci Poetry

I love Fibonacci – I discovered his math sequence about 15 years ago when teaching in a gifted elementary program. I was reading the curriculum and was astounded that I had never heard of him before. Since then I am always astounded at how Fibonacci shows up in nature….and now in poetry.

I was pulling materials today to take back to school, and I rediscovered these poems, from my bulletin board of favorites. The task was to use the Fibonacci sequence and create a poem, with each line having the requisite number of syllables – 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 and so on. Just a little something different this week, as we get ready to go back to school

Here’s Elizabeth Kinn:

Mind,

Words,

Phrases,

Poetry,

Dances on the page.

Put together makes a meaning.

It’s from the full heart of a poetic writer’s soul.

A great mind full of creative twists ad turns makes a black pen whirl on a blank page.

Hre’s Sarah Walling:

Books

Are

The best!

They take me

From reality,

Places beyond imaging.

Enough subjects to let me read to jy heart’s content.

Boks are made to extend the imagination, made for the mind to travel away.

Here’s Rebecca Edmonson:

I

Love

Theater!

Best to act,

Dancing and Singing.

Characters and music change/

Putting on a new face and stepping out of the box.

The stage: a fantastic place to be yourself and just let loose in a different world.

We’re Number 50! We’re Number 50!


Just when you don’t think education in Arizona can get any worse, the state legislature pulls another stupid one. One of the state senators actually said education wasn’t important to business – getting good business in Arizona was what was important.

Yeah, I know….but it gets worse. We are facing a 16% to 18% budget cut for next year – which will basically cripple the district. Imagine having 35-40 kids in math class, all of whom failed math in middle school. Can you imagine the nightmare? We’ll have less monitors and one less assistant principal for a school of nearly 3000 students. No new texts, no supplies for next year, and 600 teachers cut district-wide.

Yeah, I know….but it gets worse. Our governor who managed to hold the legislature in line and not let them decimate education is now in charge of Homeland Security, and we have a bunch of bozos in the legislature. They insist on balancing the budget on the back of public education. At least the charter schools are facing some of the same budget cuts. Bus routes cut, support staff cut – and a new superintendent who is trying to bring this district into the 21st century – who can’t believe the turf wars and unreasonableness of the state.

Yeah, I know….but it gets worse. I do have a job, but no raise again this year, and I am looking at either losing my extra 20% of my contract with a class cut, potentially losing more in my contract due to a proposed salary cut if things get worse, and watching this affect my last three years’ earnings for my retirement. Yes, I have a job, but in 30-plus years of teaching I have never worked in these kinds of conditions. Vermont friends – you have no idea how wonderful it is back there!

Yeah, I know….but it gets worse. We still have to meet all of the state and federal mandates. In fact, we just had to sign on Wednesday (and the paper was due Wednesday PM – convenient for the board) that we approved the new 301 monies for the extra work we do (funded by sales tax), and without a 70% (I think) vote we wouldn’t get any money at all next year – and still have to do the work (and a “I didn’t vote” vote would count as a “no” anyway).

Yeah, I know….but it gets worse. Now the state is threatening to take away our “carry-over” money – savings we have worked to keep as a result of becoming more fiscally responsible. And ya know – not once has our state superintendent stepped forward to have his voice raised to support education (Well, maybe once – to tell us we were being too worried, and the cuts would only be about 2%). Better believe he ain’t getting re-elected….

At least I still have a job – I don’t know how effective I can be for kids who are terribly at-risk and need the best we can give them. No child left behind, huh? At least I know this year my students have learned math and now think it’s okay – still hard, and they’re not fond of it, but they know they CAN DO IT.

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