Sunday, June 24, 2007

Trip P.S.

Besides the training part, I forgot to say that there was actually a fun part to last week's trip. Aaron flew down to meet me on Friday night! After a week by myself, I was very excited to have company, and jumped around like it was Christmas. We went out to dinner at a fancy French restaurant (because it happened to be open at like 11), and we slept in and missed the continental breakfast. Ha ha.

Then we drove up through San Francisco and went over the Golden Gate Bridge, which I took several photos of (but they turned out blurry and terrible). It was still pretty cool, and we went into Sausalito--which apparently is not just a kind of cookie! There is a cute little boardwalk that we walked up and down, and we had pizza and ice cream for lunch. Yay :)

Anyway it was a very nice, detoxifying end to the week. Plus I got company on the ride home :)

Professional Development

So I did not "post more during my trip," as I had thought I might. But here's a recap:

I attended a week-long educator training seminar called "Schools Attuned," which is based on the work of Mel Levine. The basic idea is to look at students (and your own lesson plans/assignments/teaching) from a "neurodevelopmental perspective" and be more specific and symptom-based rather than label-based when adapting instruction and providing accommodations/interventions. What that means in English is, rather than saying "this kid has ADD" (which may or may not be true, is different for every kid, and isn't that practically helpful), you look at specific aspects of attention, memory, language, temporal-sequential ordering, spatial ordering, social cognition, higher order thinking, and neuromotor function. Say the kid has attention problems. Then they have these specific "components" under attention to help you narrow down the problem: is it sleep/alertness problems? trouble starting projects? trouble maintaining attention/follow-through? trouble planning things? trouble thinking about long-term vs. short-term? trouble self-monitoring? etc. All of these things have specific little education names, and once you learn what they all are it actually does make kids' specific difficulties a lot easier to talk about. You also get this strategy resource binder (which is worth its weight in actual gold) which is symptom-based: If a kid has trouble with sequential ordering of information while reading or processing directions, you can try these 12 things. If a kid has trouble with short-term memory specific to vocab words, try these 85. Brilliant.

It was pretty tiring, though. Even though I got out of the training each day at around 4 pm (approximately 10 hours earlier than I get out of a typical day at my school), I was pretty brain-fried by that point in the day. Since I was in a different city, I would then amuse myself by walking around the quaint little downtown area, reading in the sunshine (beautiful! around 80 degrees), and eating at restaurants and even, once, the ice cream store. I could justify all of this because I was out of town and couldn't cook, but the trip cost approximately six million dollars. My school is paying for half. Hopefully they will pay for half of the food, too.

Anyway, an intriguing and informative week, and I feel smarter and optimistic about what I'll be able to do with my students. For once it wasn't filled with a bunch of teachers wanting to talk about their own situation and going off on tangents that are not relevant or useful, and that was very much appreciated. There were about 13 teachers there total, and we got to talk a lot and go out to lunch. Fun and inspiring - what a treat it is to be around gifted and excited teachers. It did depress me greatly, though, because I know I can't hire people like that to teach at my school and even if I could they would end up quitting because the stupid management would not let them be creative or bring in their intelligent and helpful accommodations. I have been thinking a lot about this, because the management was whining about how inept many of our instructors are at that recent Idiotic Friday Meeting (TM), and because I will have to hire almost an entire new staff for next school year. Which sounds far away but is really, as I realized during the training, only about two months.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Dilemmas in Teaching and LISTENING TO BULLSHIT

So, as you may or may not know, I work for this school that offers all one-on-one instruction* for credit (and sometimes tutoring). We had a meeting this morning to discuss the English curriculum, which has always been retarded. The idea is to make it more academically vigorous, more well-defined, and more consistent so that our teachers (who invariably have worked there less than six months, since we pay so shitty) can adequately teach it. So that some of the kids, you know, learn something.

Now there is an interesting dilemma. We teach to the individual student, which means that we assess them when they come in and we teach them where they're at--even if they're in the 12th grade but they really only read at a 4th grade level. Maybe they have some learning disabilities, maybe they've had terrible life experiences, maybe their little self-esteems are all broken from previous school failure. (Maybe, once in awhile, they're just f**king lazy. It's true.) Anyway, it's a tailored curriculum, and it's adapted directly to meet that student's individual needs. I love that, and it's why I work there. I did not, for once in my life, just get this job because I needed a job to pay the bills. I found a company that did what I wanted to do, I walked in and told them to hire me, and they did. So this is something that matters to me.

However, when you have to grade a student in a particular class, say English 10, you have to give him a grade based upon some reasonable standard of what "English 10" should be. You don't give them A's just because they tried really hard, or because their terrible paper is still a huge improvement from their godawful paper before that. I feel strongly about this side of things too. You can't just come to my school and buy an A for your kid. A kid can work really hard but do C work in Geometry. Not everyone that takes Geometry can get an A in it. I did, but then I worked my ass off all the time. I am pretty smart, but I studied really damn hard in school. I should get A's. (And I did get A's.) You can have a grade for effort, and we do--it's 10% of the grade, quality and attitude or something. But a kid that reads at a 4th grade level and writes a 2-paragraph paper because that's what level his/her writing skills are at--that's appropriate instruction. But that is not an A in English 12! If we send them out with a transcript that says "English 12 - A" that is misleading to colleges, to other high schools they might be attending and, in all honesty, to that student. I am not alone in thinking this. Our director of education is very vehement about this point.

However the important thing to know is that our school does not actually have any standards. If you ask them for some (so that you can adequately grade a student, or understand where they should be at in the first place), the insane owneress will get all pissed off at you and attack you for not "believing in the mission of individualized education." She just generally misinterprets everything anyone says anyway. But this was just stupid. Her husband also went off about how he always found literature classes boring anyway, and that we should allow the kids to read things that interest them. This is a great idea, to a point. Except that all that interests them is Paris Hilton and wasting their parents' money.

After my ridiculous meeting, I went to volunteer at the autism clinic. This was a hell of a perspective shift, as the workers there were celebrating little victories like how this toddler had gone up to some other kids and said, without prompting, "I name Jack!" (I-->My). This represents very big progress for an autistic toddler. The teacher (and doubtlessly the kid's mom) were just about beside themselves. Then I started thinking how much I wanted to hug all the moms of autistic kids, and how brave and patient they are, loving kids that don't recognize your emotions or respond to them--that don't hug you or connect with you or, sometimes, even talk to you at all. That's a tough job.

I started getting all overwhelmed and thinking about my purpose in life. I had to go home and eat a leftover burrito.

*that is, when the money-grubbing owners aren't forcing teachers to double, triple, or quadruple up their students in order to make n x $80 an hour.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


So I went out to dinner with The Guys last night and then we went to the pub for one drink. I always figured I was pretty good at math, but last night I realized I apparently do not know that 1 does not equal 4. So I had 4 drinks and stayed up until 2:30. Then I got up at 6:30 to go to work and teach trigonometric identities. Even though I do not, as you may recall, know math.

Another interesting discovery: Pepsi One for breakfast + teaching trig identities = awake and feeling fine. Airbear's discovery: sleeping in until 12 because of hangover = headache all day. Ha.

Anyway I worked 8:30 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. today and I am tiard. More updates next week while I am down in California and bored at night without any hooligans to hang out with.

Good night!