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Great Moments in Teaching: When It Had to Be You

Teachers who work with a large population of Asian students occasionally describe a student as “not getting the memo”.  High achieving or just hard working, the bulk of eastern and southern Asians all got the word: school is important.

Taio, who has been in my ELD class for a year or so, is a tall, plump fifteen year old who spent all of last year on his phone. I’d take it away, and he’d just sit impassively. Miko mentioned last year that the kid had said I talked too fast, which amused us both, but when I mentioned to Taio that I’d try to talk more slowly, he was shocked and got out his phone for Google Translate. “I like your class very much,” the text said. Huh.

Taio would do work sheets, and occasionally write a sentence or two. But he hated to talk and would sit, sullenly staring at me, as I gave out sentence starters again and again.

Another conversation with Miko, asking if we needed a parent conference. “His dad is the only one here, and he works three jobs.”

I sighed. “How are these basically indigent people getting here from China? And why come here, with rents what they are?”

Miko shrugged.

Taio improved  with the new school year. The class was motivated, I had some curriculum, and last year’s experiences gave the returning students a bond that build more camaraderie.  He was still on his phone every chance I gave him, but he participated more, would occasionally speak unprompted, and even wrote brief paragraphs. But he still hadn’t had any kind of breakthrough, and while he wasn’t at all unintelligent, I couldn’t get a sense of his abilities.

I assess all my ELL students in their math abilities. You would weep at how commonly they are placed above their skill level. Just today, a new student from Pakistan arrived. Because he’s a freshman and it’s second semester, he was placed in Algebra I. But he has no idea how to use negative numbers, and no understanding of fractions.

Now, I’m not faulting the registrar–I have no idea how these decisions are made. It’s just that ELL students spend close to half their school day having no idea what’s going on in their classes. Teachers often have no idea how to adjust their curriculum to meet ELL needs, and still grade the students using the same standards. We put them in “sheltered” history and English classes but we only have one each of those a year. We finally started a sheltered science class, which is very popular. Other than that, ELL students take electives: art, PE, photography, cooking. We don’t yet have a sheltered math class. Most ELL kids with any math ability are put in mainstream classes. The problem arises with those who don’t.

I’d assessed Taio last year and earlier in the fall. He knew algebra basics, and was taking our non-freshman algebra course. His teacher, new to the school, told me in October that Taio was doing very badly in his class, but Taio told me he was doing great. He had a B, which isn’t that spectacular for a deliberately easy course (taught by a teacher who was having a horrible time managing his class). But it was a passing grade, which was better than two of his other classes, so I quit wondering.

Then Taio made a big mistake. We were playing Wheel of Fortune: I form them up into teams, come up with a puzzle, they spin an online wheel for points, and guess. The teams are grouped so that weaker students can watch stronger students mull over their choices. I wish I could remember what the phrase was, but they were down to just the tricky consonants. Taio was on a team with two strong English speakers who were moved to ELL 2 just a week later.He rarely participated in these games, but I noticed he was watching closely, and suddenly I saw him say, softly, “K”.

As it happened, “K” was a missing letter from the puzzle–which I can’t remember, but I do recall there were only two letters left, both of them difficult.  The other two didn’t hear him and were discussing other options.

I looked at Taio and said, softly, “Louder.” He smiled, and shook his head.

“Hey, guys! Check with Taio.”

Taio’s teammates looked at him. “K”. They shrugged. “K”.

“Yep.” I put in “K”, and Taio, unprompted, guessed the puzzle.

Why, the little weasel. He’d been holding out on me.

I started watching him closely and realized that Taio simply didn’t like to speak English. He understood far more than he let on. I discussed with this with Miko, who agreed but said he could not figure out how to motivate him to work harder. He’d passed Algebra with a C, but was failing Miko’s class for not working, and his art class as well.

A few days later, after the semester had ended, I saw Taio’s algebra teacher, an Indian gentleman new to American schools, in the copy room, and asked again how he’d done.

“Oh, terrible. He’s in my Discovering Geometry class now, too. Never does anything, zeros every day.”

“That’s so weird. Taio’s not a liar, normally, and he tells me his tests are all A.”

“Oh, they are. He does well on the tests, but no classwork. On his phone all day, doing nothing.”

I stopped dead in my tracks and said–literally–“Wait. What?”

“Yes, he’s fine on the tests, but no homework, no classwork, phone all day. Same thing now. He got an A on the test, but no homework all week. He has a D.”

“So….he has an A average on the tests, but because he does no homework or classwork he gets a C.”

“Yes. Is that a problem?”

In less than a day, I’d contacted Taio’s counselor, had him moved from Discovery Geometry to freshman Geometry. This is  much harder than our 10-12 Geometry class and it was taught by Chuck, which gave me pause. So I emailed Chuck, hoping he’d reassure me. Instead, Chuck wrote:

As you know, Geometry is requires vocabulary and syntax (if/then). My experience is that Geometry does not appeal to most EL students because it requires language skills. Geometry provides students the opportunity to practice, but most students who are not motivated and/or not confident typically won’t put themselves out there when verbalizing logic is required.

I crossed my fingers and hoped this wouldn’t make things worse. Miko thought it was a great idea, even better since the change meant Taio was in the sheltered science class instead of PE, which he hated.

Unfortunately, he still failed Science. However, he’s passing Chuck’s extremely rigorous  Geometry class with a B. He’s talking more in my class. Taking lead in class discussions.  Passing Miko’s class, which he wasn’t before. He’s even talking to Giancarlo, a Guatemalan, teaching him Chinese and learning a little Spanish. He asks me for help with math homework. So now I have to go talk to his science teacher and see how to get him moving.

Usually my “Great Moments” series are about exciting classroom action. This is just a story about a Chinese kid who doesn’t want to be in America and hates school. He ‘s a loner who doesn’t even use school hours for socializing.

But Taio understands what I was doing when I put him in that geometry class. He knows I put myself on the line to make school something both interesting and challenging–but doable. I’m not sure he’s working and trying for his own sake. He just doesn’t want to let me down. Good enough. It’s a start.

The thing is, it had to be me–more precisely, it had to be an ELL teacher with the math knowledge to instantly realize that a new math teacher didn’t understand he had a student who was bored silly.  It had to be an ELL teacher with the knowledge of the math sequence who could make a recommendation to a counselor and have the standing to back it up.

I love having all my credentials, but it’s usually for the flexibility and variety they give me. Every so often, however, they provide insights that move me millions of miles further down a problem path.

As an aside: you ever notice that ELL discussions by outsiders always focus around immersion vs bilingual education?  Neither method is going to get high school ELL students anywhere past pijin. It’s irrelevant.

 

Food for thought.

 


Getting Smarter, or Getting Better at Using Smarts?

Influence of young adult cognitive ability and additional education on later-life cognition

Or, as Stuart Richie says:

Cool new PNAS paper about potential educational effects on IQ.

Previous work: control for age-11 IQ, still find edu-IQ correlation later in life.

This paper: control for age-20 IQ, correlation is gone. Suggests education has limited influence after age 20.

IQ measurement doesn’t interest me much, but IQ development or change over time does, for ego-driven reasons. As long-time readers know, I have a very high IQ (I qualified and participated in a research study for 3SD+), but my spatial abilities are very weak and I was stymied in advanced math (past algebra 1)  until, in my early 40s, I learned how to compensate using logic. I also was late to learn how I learned; my brain won’t acquire new information unless it’s tagged with all sorts of meta-data. Learning new concepts was so laborious that in my teens, I simply assumed I was incapable of learning; not until I was faced with job-related challenges  did I learn how I learned. My verbal skills are extraordinarily high, although it’s hard for me to compare to others because my particular combination of smarts would have required a more thorough classical education, which I don’t have.  I read 1000 wpm and can acquire extraordinary amounts of information through inference, which of course can sometimes lead me astray.

So. In 2001, I took the GRE and got 790V, 640Q, 690A. It was the last time the Analytical section was included. 640 quant was the 65th percentile that year, 690 analytical was in the 85th percentile–some logic games are brutally spatial. Anything over 700 Verbal is in the 99th percentile. I was very proud of that quant score.

In 2008, I took the GRE and got 780V, 800Q. (I’m still annoyed by the 780; if I’d focused in more, I might have gotten a double 800.) 800 Q is just the top 4% in any given year, but it’s probably more accurate to call it a top 10% score.

According to this GRE IQ estimator, my original GRE V+Q of 1340 is 99.452nd percentile, and my second GRE V+Q of 1580 is 99.993. But (forgive me IQ estimators), any IQ based on combining V+Q makes no sense, because an 800V-640Q  is considerably more difficult to achieve than an 640V-800Q, so how can they be identical, IQ wise? Plus, the decimal point specificity is just goofy.

Looking at my quant score alone, in seven years from the age of 39 to 46, I jumped from just above average in math to pretty close to 2SD.

Did I get smarter, or did I simply learn how to use my existing intelligence?

The quant section of the old GRE was extremely g-loaded. I used to tutor for the test and ran into dozens of people who’d majored in college in math, knew more calculus and all that nonsense about vectors and matrix determinants and ordered ring fields than I’ll ever know, yet scored in the high 600s. Which is not to say that it wasn’t relatively easy, just that lots of smart people would occasionally miss questions because they were more about g than math competency. The new GRE combines both. I can’t find an online GRE practice test, but I did the problems on the ETS site, and I think I’d still get in the top 10%.

The GRE Math Subject test is what used to be called an “achievement” test. God, testing lingo has changed so dramatically in so little time. g is involved in the sense that a certain level of intelligence is required to learn the material. But a 120 IQ who’s taken calculus and number theory would outscore a 145+ IQ  who has not.

I got 13 right out of 56. A 390. I wonder how many people get an 800 on the GRE General Quant and a 390 on the GRE Math? That’s a terrific illustration, really, of the difference between achievement and aptitude.  I knew none of the number theory, only some of the stats, none of the integral questions, but all of the limit and derivative questions, and random other stuff.

Every single one of the questions I answered correctly was using math I’ve learned in the past fifteen years.  Had I taken the test in 2005, I would have gotten zero correct. I took AP Calculus as a senior, remember none of it.  All the math I know today is from my tutoring days or my time in teaching.

Did I get smarter, or did I simply learn how to use my existing intelligence? Here, it seems clearer than in the first case. The GRE Quant (old form) is definitely an aptitude test, which makes my big score jump odd. But acquiring new knowledge isn’t the same as having a higher IQ. Right? (asking seriously). I could do much better on this test if I studied up on integrals and 3-dimensional systems. Hold that thought.

To contrast, I took the GRE English Literature Subject Test, all 230 questions. For me, this test is diametrically opposite the GRE Math Subject test. The latter requires actual math knowledge. But the English Lit test is about 70% interpretation, 10% terminology (literary terms) and 20% content knowledge (knowing the plot of Ben Jonson’s plays, or familiarity with Matthew Arnold’s poems). I missed 56 questions, scoring a 650, in the 86th percentile (although I’ve always distrusted the scoring on English lit tests). Two of the misses were analysis and both were careless errors I’d never make in a real test. All the other missed problems were content knowledge–not anything I’d forgotten, but things I’d never learned. My English degree wasn’t terribly rigorous, but what I learned thirty five years ago, I remembered. I recognized Shakespeare’s writing in a sonnet I’d never read before–ditto Donne and Milton. I even guessed my way through Derrida and Foucault. But Wiliam Caxton, Nikki Giovanni–eh. Never heard of them. I read a lot of Faulkner short stories, but avoided his novels. And so on.

Most of the high difficulty questions (less than 30% answered correctly) were literary analysis, and I nailed them. The only hard questions I missed were three content knowledge (obscure authors) and  one grammar question. The rest were in the 45-65% range, which is typical when the test is covering a broad range of material and no one knows everything. I think I could probably learn my way to a 700, but higher than that would require more interest in literature than I have.

So the GRE Math subject test requires specific knowledge, while the GRE Literature subject test allows people with high aptitude to do very well, even if their specific literature content knowledge is weak.

There aren’t many forty-something folks taking GRE Subject tests, but doesn’t it seem likely that it’s more common for someone to develop math content knowledge later in life than it is to suddenly develop excellent reading skills? Which suggests that reading comprehension, verbal ability, is more hard-wired to cognitive ability than math is. That might explain why math test scores have improved more than reading scores, generally. For all the wailing about math achievement, we do better at teaching students to improve their math abilities than we do at making them better readers.

From the study abstract: “Education does improve cognitive ability”

It does? That seems backwards to me. Cognitive ability improves educability.  If all we had to do was educate people to make them smarter, I wouldn’t have this blog.

Does education actually make people smarter, or does it just teach them how to use their existing intelligence?

I have no answers, so I’ll stop here.


Education Reform with Beer and Bourbon

Tis my wont to recount conversations with colleagues and students by assigning them pseudonyms similar to their real names.  However, the debates I describe here weren’t with work folks, but two public figures, each quite well-known in their own field. Identifying them would not only compromise my own pseudonymity, but also be a bit too much like (heh) talking out of school.   Simply assigning them similar names might help someone figure out their identities as well.

Therefore, I’ve chosen to name the two men for the booze imbibed whilst debate was underway.

My first sparring partner is very well-known in education reform circles; anyone who reads or writes about ed policy would at least know his name. We met in a pub, a good one, and went through easily four rounds before dinner crossed our minds. And so he is Beer.

The second man is more famous than the first in any absolute sense. He’s frequently on TV where his name is met with applause, and writes for a major political magazine. If I described his achievements even in the most generic sense, most Republicans would be able to identify him. I met him in a bar with other fans, after he gave a speech (not at the bar), and Maker’s Mark was flowing free, so he’s Bourbon.

Bourbon doesn’t talk or present like an elite, but his educational resume reads like one. Describing Beer’s educational history would give away his identity, but suffice it to say a simple google doesn’t give up his alma mater, although he has one. Beer spent some time teaching K-12 in high poverty schools. Bourbon has not taught K-12, poverty or otherwise.

Beer’s views are difficult to predict, save his primary cause, which I can’t describe because it would instantly identify him. Bourbon, who is not involved with education in any real sense, holds utterly typical conservative views: choice, more choice, and more choice still, vouchers good, unions suck. In both cases, I knew this going in. I’ve read both men’s work for years.

As to my own participation, the setting with Beer is right in my zone. We talked for easily three hours. I had plenty of time to lose track, retrack, restate, dig deep, hop around, zing his boss with a clever tag (he laughed).  I was at my best.

Bourbon, on the other hand, was a celebrity giving time to fans. I was one of many. He was generously sharing his time with everyone.  It was a good time for an elevator speech, and, er, well. I write something under 1000 words, it’s a big day. Short enough for three floors, I don’t do. Paradigm-shifting takes time and in this case I’d never really expected education policy to emerge as a topic. So I don’t know what sort of impression I left. At my best, for better or worse,  people remember me. I’m not sure Bourbon would.

Wait. Trump-voting teacher,  three credentials, thinks charters and choice are overrated and expensive.

He’ll remember me.

Anyway.  While I enjoyed both encounters tremendously,  I’m writing about them because both Beer and Bourbon made comments that helped me to see past the end of this era of education reform. Both men, in the midst of discussions about various education policy issues, waved off an issue that was a foundational basis for the modern education reform movement.

In Beer’s case, we were discussing his ready acceptance of cherrypicking charters. Because charter school attendance isn’t a right linked directly to geography, as it is for public schools, charters can be selective. There are academically selective chartersimmigrant only charters, Muslim-run charters. Despite all these obvious cases, the major public argument is about the technically open charters (KIPP, Success, other no excuses charters) and whether or not they are secretly selective. The research is pretty conclusive on this point, much as charter advocates deny it.

But Beer shrugged this off. “I want charters to skim. I want them to be selective.”

I was taken aback. “I mean, come on.  Go back to the mid-90s when charters started taking off. The entire argument for charters was ‘failing public schools’. The whole point was that the failure of public education was located in the public schools themselves: unions, bad teachers, stupid rules, curriculum, whatever. Charter schools, freed from all those stupid laws, but open to everyone, could do better automatically simply by not being those rules bound public schools. Now you’re saying that they can’t actually do better unless they skim, unless they have different discipline rules.”

“Yeah.”

“But….that won’t scale.”

Shrug.

“And you’re going to increase segregation, probably, since if charters can skim then they’re going to focus more on homogeneity.”

Shrug. “I want as many kids to get as good an education as possible. Skim away.”

I don’t want to continue, because I don’t want to get his arguments wrong. And for this particular piece, the shrug is the point.

So now, on to Bourbon who was waxing eloquent on the uselessness of unions, one large one (with which I am unaffiliated) in particular.

“They’re losing kids because their schools suck. It’s not money.  They’ve had billions. They want more, more, always more. Charters just do a better job and don’t whine for money.”

“Well, charters get to pick and choose their kids. But leaev that aside, charters aren’t ever going to end public schools. Catholic schools in inner cities have been almost obliterated. and even  private schools are getting hurt bad by charters, with declining enrollment. Once you offer basically private school at public prices, then many people who would otherwise pay private are going to go for the free option.”

“That’s fine.”

“Wait, what? You’re arguing in favor of a government policy that kills private enterprise?”

“Sure. Well, I reject your premise that private schools are being hurt all that bad by charters. But if so, so what?”

I can only imagine the look on my face. “So you’re arguing against free markets and private enterprise?”

“No that’s what I’m arguing for. Free markets. Parental choice.”

“But no. You are arguing for public schools to be able to act like private schools. That’s government intervention. If the public option allows discrimination and selectivity,  there’s no need for private.”

“Great.”

“But then you’re moving all the teachers from the private market into the public market–meaning higher salaries, higher pensions, more government costs. And because these are basically private schools, so you can cap–so there will be even more teachers, thus creating shortages, driving up salaries, driving up costs.”

“So?”

“SO?”

I wasn’t mad. I was genuinely perplexed. Again, I’ll stop there, because I don’t want to recreate any part of a debate that I didn’t have down cold. In this case, as in Beer’s, I am certain that this was my understanding of Bourbon’s position, and I’m at least reasonably sure I had it right.

Like most teachers, I see the modern education reform movement (choice and accountability legs) as being fueled by two things. Funding the effort were billionaire Republicans or elitist technocrats, the first dedicated to killing the Democrat fundraising monster known as teacher unions, the second dedicated to upgrading a non-meritocratic profession. Nothing personal, that’s just how we see it.

But on the surface, where it counted, the argument for education reform focused on “failing schools”, caused by incompetent and stupid teachers, creating a horrible racial achievement gap because lazy teachers didn’t believe all students could succeed.

[Note: The actual arguments were often more nuanced than that, with many choice advocates like Cato and Jay Greene arguing for all choice and no accountability, and others arguing that all students, regardless of race, deserved the education of their choice. But the bottom line sale, the one designed to gain the support of a public who loved their own schools, was the let’s get poor kids out of failing schools pitch.}

A while back at Steve Sailer’s blog, I wrote a short synopsis of the rise and fall of the modern education reform era, and I probably should rewrite it for here sometime. I’ve also written at length about it here, notably “Good Teaching” and the Failure of Education ReformEnd of Education Reform?, and Charters: The Center Won’t Hold.

So the modern education reform movement will probably be dated in the future from either 1991 (first charter) or 1995, the year when the Public Charter Schools Program began, through the early heady days when people were allowed to say that KIPP was ending the achievement gap, the 1998 Higher Education Act, which advocates thought would kill ed schools, through No Child Left Behind,  onto New York becoming an all choice district, to Hurricane Katrina allowing the New Orleans’ conversion to an all-charter district, Race to the Top waivers, Common Core, and then the unspooling: Adrian Fenty getting thrown out of office on account of Michelle Rhee (who has apparently left education entirely), Common Core opposition leading to a massive repudiation of all forms of federal accountability, teacher unions rising in red states after Janus was supposed to end union power entirely, and the wholesale rewrite of the ESEA that wiped out most of the reforms won during the Bush/Obama era. Education reformers understand these are dark days, even though the mainstream media appears to have no idea anything happened.

Charters are ed reform’s one happy place. For the moment, they are still popular. Why not? They are, as I say, private schools at public prices.  Although everyone should look carefully at California, which is considering not only giving charter control to districts, but also restricting TFA and other alternative teacher programs.  Taxpayers may finally care about the issues that didn’t trouble Bourbon.

But as so much else falls away from their grasp, it’s instructive to see both an ed reformer and a conservative shrug off aspects of charters that the original case argued strongly against. Charters were supposed to weaken teachers, but unlimited charters coupled with strong federal laws will only increase their scarcity. Charters were supposed to improve the achievement gap for all kids, but now they’ll just do so for a lucky few.

Or am I missing something?

Anyway. They were great arguments, and have given me much to mull. My thanks to Beer and Bourbon–both the men and the booze.

***********************************************************************************

I met some other cool people at the Bourbon event, and at some point in the evening, I mentioned I write a blog.

One guy said, “Wow, that’s dangerous for a teacher.”

“Indeed, which is why it’s an anonymous blog.”

“Really? I read a blog written by an anonymous teacher from this area who voted for Trump.”

I laughed. “Well, if that’s true, then you read me, although I never say what area I’m from.”

“It can’t be you.”

“I’m crushed.”

“No, no, I just mean…it’s not you.”

“OK, then I’d love to know who it is, because as far as I know I’m the only anonymous teacher blogger, Trump voter or otherwise, from this area.”

He got out his phone, brought up his Twitter account, and clicked on a profile. “This you?”

And reader, it was.

First time I’ve met my audience!


Song Blue

Song spins are fun for English learner classes. So Monday, right after Scott Walker had just died, when I was reminded of the only hit of his I knew (remember, my tastes are relentlessly mainstream), the lyrics suggested a lesson.

“OK, listen up. Listen to this song once through.” While they listened, I printed out the lyrics, although I’m not sure that’s any better than putting them on the board. Huh. Next time.

“Take a look at the lyrics, now.”

Loneliness is the cloak you wear
A deep shade of blue is always there

Chorus:
The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore
The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky
The tears are always clouding your eyes
When you’re without love, baby

Emptiness is the place you’re in
There’s nothing to lose but no more to win

Chorus:
The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore
The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky
The tears are always clouding your eyes
When you’re without love

Lonely, without you, baby
Girl, I need you
I can’t go on

Chorus

Hooriyah can’t write an intelligible sentence and her reading skills are shaky, but what English she has is always ready.

“Loneliness is like being alone?”

“What is a cloak?” Matias puzzled.

Pro-tip: Pictures are far more useful than words to give definitions. The kids instantly make the connection without additional words to confuse them. I google “cloak”, click on “Images” and eight kids go “ahhha”.

“But how can clothes be alone?” Hooriyah asked.

I wrote “metaphor”.

“When you listen to songs, read poetry, read literature, you will see different ways that the artists use to communicate feelings. One of them is a metaphor, which is a way of comparing.”

“So…wearing lonely?” Vanessa squinched her face doubtfully.

“Yes. Imagine being so lonely, so without people, that you are surrounded in it.”

“Like a coat! And a coat is a cloak!” Matias again.

“Yes, a cloak is even more of a coat. You know, look at the picture. It covers even more of your body. So everywhere around your body, is loneliness. It’s not just in your head, in your heart. The song saying the loneliness is so painful, it’s like a real thing. The next line uses the color blue.

Taio frowned. “Chorus?”

“It’s a ‘k’ sound, not ch like cheese. Korus. What do you notice about the chorus?”

“Again and again.” Taio has, hands down, the best grammar and best vocabulary of my eight students. Vanessa is next. Both of them simply hate to talk.

I enjoy this activity so much because it carries itself along. Hooriyah was already mulling over the chorus. “So if the sun does not shine, then it’s night time.”

“But the moon isn’t rising,” I observed.

“Then it is not night…and not day?”

“Can it be day without the sun?”

“Yes, but it’s…what’s the word? Clawdy?”

“Cloudy! Good. What is a day like when it’s cloudy?”

Silence, so I google me up some cloudy days for clarification.

Vanessa snapped her fingers. “That’s gray!”

“Yes. No sun and no moon turns the world gray.”

Curiousity finally spurred Taio to venture a query. “The sky is blue when sun shines. But blue means sad, when sun isn’t shining.”

Huh. “That’s a great point, Taio, and I never really” I remember waving my hands shaping my thoughts, “I never had to explain the difference before. We talk about feeling blue, a cloak of blue, singing the blues. But yeah, you’re right. The color blue isn’t really sad. Just the….feeling.”

“Oh,” said Taio, still confused. “Like…song blue?”

“Hey, yeah. It’s a blue for songs. For poems. For words, in English. But now, think about someone you love very much. Your mother, father, grandma, sister, brother–family. Think how you would feel if they died.” I paused for a second to google translate to the newest students, Geovany and Jorge. This lesson was mainly for the more fluent kids; I was just keeping the new boys in the loop.

“Can you think how sad, how horrible you’d feel? What color would you call that?”

“Black,” Matias said, with no hesitation. Vanessa nodded.

Hooriyah, “I would feel very, very, terrible. So black, yes, that makes sense.”

Now Taio was really confused. “White is for death.”

“Oh, that’s right, Chinese wear white for funerals. Arggh.” I tap my chest with my palm. “Black is about feeling. Feeling death. Not what you wear. How you feel.” Taio nodded, getting it.

“Now I get to complicate it more. Bad grief, bad sadness, is black. But the world, when you feel so sad, well,…”

“THE SUN DOESN’T SHINE!” Hooriyah clapped her hands! “I GET IT!”

“And the moon…..” I prompted.

“Doesn’t rise!” Vanessa shouted.

“So blue is feeling sad and black is horrible loss, and the pain means you feel like the sun doesn’t shine and the moon doesn’t rise. And so we have a third color–or lack of color, which is….?”

“Gray!”

“Yes! Now look at the next verse. What does “empty” mean?”

“Nothing inside.” Taio held up his water bottle, turning it upside down.

“So being sad and black and gray is like being in an empty place,” Sanjana spoke up for the first time. She’d been watching carefully, but although she’s been in America twice as long as any of the others, speaking English comes very slowly.

“Think about the next part: nothing to lose and…”

Matias frowned. “But if you can’t lose and you can’t win then what happens?”

“Nothing!” Hooriyah again.

“Sanjana, what do you think? How is having nothing to win and nothing to lose part of the song?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on. Play along. See, Geovany and Jorge are waiting for your answer.” Silence.

“So you know why you’re not speaking?”

She grinned. “I don’t know the answer!”

“So are you worried you’re going to lose? Lose what?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing to lose!” Vanessa jumped in.

“In English, ‘nothing to lose’ can sometimes be a good thing because it means taking risks, taking a chance, has no bad side, no down side. So if you want to reach for something, try to get something…”

“…but the song says you can’t win.” Taio pointed out.

“Yes! Exactly. You have nothing good in your life, nothing that you can lose. But there’s no way to win.”

“It’s just like the sun and the moon.” put in Sanjana.

“There you go. The two verses are saying the same thing. They are reinforcing. Reinforcing…to make stronger. To make the meaning stronger. Even the tears. What do tears normally do? Jorge? When you cry, what happens?”

Jorge read the Google translate and looks at me like I’m crazy. “Lagrimas?” He mimed tears falling on his cheeks.

“YES! Perfect! The song doesn’t say tears falling from your eyes, but clouding your eyes. And clouds are….”

“GRAY!”

“More reinforcement, see? When artists use words to build a picture in your minds and hearts, that’s what creates…poetry. Songs. And part of knowing English, of knowing any language, is understanding the deep meanings of words. Of knowing not just blue, but song blue.”

And with that, I put on a second song, one I’ve played each year of my ELD class:

Song sung blue
Everybody knows one
Song sung blue
Every garden grows one
Me and you are subject to the blues now and then
But when you take the blues and make a song
You sing them out again
Sing them out again
Song sung blue
Weeping like a willow
Song sung blue
Sleeping on my pillow
Funny thing, but you can sing it with a cry in your voice
And before you know, it get to feeling good
You simply got no choice
Me and you are subject to the blues now and then
But when you take the blues and make a song
You sing them out again

Song sung blue

We go through the lyrics every year, but while they always love the song (even little Geovany tentatively sang along), this year I had the fun of seeing them realize that “Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” was a case of a Song Sung Blue, and take joy in their knowledge.

With fifteen minutes left, I introduced them to “Here Comes the Sun” and watched them grok the symbolism all on their own.

I swear, sometimes I’d do this for free.

 


Bob, Gwen, and Lines of Best Fit

I have no excuse for this article. Except the new Fosse/Verdon ads are showing up. Also, consider “lines of best fit” a descriptive, not technical, term.

“Hey, Gerardo. Take a look at this.”

Gerardo, my new TA, reluctantly removed his air pods. Like all my graders, he’d been my student for three classes before asking if I could take him in third block, but the rest of my TAs were chatty folks. Gerardo grades with fantastic efficiency, but the rest of the time he’d really rather be somewhere else working on his English essay.

“What the hell…heck is that?”

VerdonFosse1

“Well, this is an image from a famous dance. I took some images from it and started comparing movement lines for fun.”

Gerardo shot me a look. “Fun? You’re so weird.”

“Yeah. But it beats grading. So take a look. What do you notice?”

“You mean, what are the red lines telling me?” Gerardo did look, and think. But shook his head. “I don’t see anything.”

“Who’s taller?”

“What, that’s a trick question? The guy is.”

“Yep. The guy is Bob Fosse, one of the most famous choreographers in history, and Google says he’s 5’8″.  The woman is Gwen Verdon, his wife, and she’s 5’4″.”

“So what does….wait a minute. Gerry looked again. ” You’ve got the other lines at their butts and knees.”

“Yep.”

“And they’re, like, the same.”

“Exactly. So what does that mean?”

“She has to have really long legs. Yeah, I see it now. Look how far below her shoulders are. Her body’s a lot shorter.”

“Good! Try this one.”

VerdonFosse2

Gerardo was interested, now. “Okay, I get this. Her hips are way, way out. His aren’t. But what’s the line for…oh, I see. You have the lines right on their hips, and there’s all this space between her body and the line. But the line goes right through his body. So that means…he can’t push his hip out as far.”

“Nice. Now here’s two at once. What do they have in common?”

FosseVerdon3FosseVerdon4

Gerardo was hooked, now, leaning into my desk closely. Ideally, my trig students were getting some work done, but we were pretty intent on this.

“Okay, so the top red line on this one is about their height…it’s the same. How is that happening?”

“Good catch.”

“Their knees are lined up, their heads are lined up…wait. Their…what, hips? His is lower!”

“Look at his feet.”

“Oh, wow. He’s got way more give in his feet. So he’s using his feet to push up while his knees are bending down. Oh, you have it circled in the next one. So he’s able to bend down to her height on his toes using only his knees.”

“It’s unusual, because she’s clearly more flexible than he is in the hips, but he’s got very bendy feet. Try this one.”

fosseVerdon6

“Okay, those vertical lines are showing the distance.”

“Yeah. Later on I do slopes to show the difference.”

“What, you’ve got more?”

“You could always grade.”

“No, no. But on this one, I can’t figure out what it means. Her leg is straight up and down. His is all bent forward…oh, I see. He has to bend forward, to do that thing with the shoulder. But she can keep her whole body straight.”

“Neat. Next up.”

fosseVerdon5

“Oh my god. How does she do that with her leg? And she’s almost straight up. She is straight up. He’s kind of tilted just to try and get his leg up nearly as much. Not that I could lift my leg more than an inch.”

Despite his complaints, Gerardo had moved far in to check out the pictures.

fosseverdon7

“He’s way higher.”

“Yep. Fosse was a jumper.”

“But the other lines show his leg is below his waist. Hers is above…hey, she’s lower than he is in the air, but her leg is higher–not just relatively, but like higher than his. ”

“How about this one?”

FosseVerdon8

“These are getting easy. She’s standing straight up, while he’s having to bend to get the same results. And this one, she’s got the flexible hip thing going, while his is straight.”

fosseverdon9

“Here I was trying to show that she is turning faster. But I honestly don’t know if that’s a problem, if they’re supposed to time it perfectly, or what. I was just trying to show the turn.”

FosseVerdon12

“Yeah, you can see he’s barely started when she’s halfway around.”

FosseVerdon13FosseVerdon15

“So he’s having to bend to get the same positions that she can do standing straight up. What part of the body allows that?”

“Hips, definitely. Knees? Good question. Here’s a sequence of three that probably look strange, but it’s like a fake exaggerated run.”

FosseVerdon16FosseVerdon17FosseVerdon18

“Jeez, her leg is at 90 degrees, and her body is tilted over. What is she holding herself up with–just her foot?”

“And some pretty impressive legs and abs, I’m thinking.”

“He’s solid on that one, too. But in the next ones, her body is practically an L.  He’s balancing. Like throwing his weight forward to get his leg up. In the last one, he has his leg up as high as hers but tilts over a bit to do it.”

“Well, keep in mind that on relative terms, she outranks him. Gwen Verdon was probably the best dancer ever seen on Broadway, and the rest of the best were trained by her. In her prime, no one was better at that time. Fosse was a groundbreaking choreographer and an excellent dancer, but not in the same league as a performer or star. I know nothing about dancing, so I can’t tell you how the two of them are rated by others, nor do I have any clear idea of who was “better”.

“So this was a long time ago?”

“Yes, Damn Yankees is sixty years old. Try this group of pictures of a sequence of two jumps.”

FosseVerdon19FosseVerdon20

“He’d have been a damn good basketball player.”

“I know, his vertical jump stats had to be amazing. ”

“You know what else? And you didn’t red line it, so maybe I’m getting good at this. He’s the one who’s straight up. She’s the one bending to balance and get more flight.”

“Whoa. I didn’t catch that. You’re right.”

“Unless maybe the middle picture is just her on the way down?”

“No, I caught the first two on the way up and the last one, after they’d switched sides, at as close to peak as I could. That’s another sign that he’s much more comfortable at jumping than swinging his hips.”

“Well. As it is for most guys.”

“Ha. True.”

FosseVerdon21

“This is obvious. She’s got a straight leg, up and down, and then just a tilt of her body. He’s tilting his body one way to get the hip out, then the other way for the…whatever you call it, the show. Hey, you know, this really is a good use of slopes.”

“Thanks.”

“What the fuck…oh, sorry. What is happening with her leg!”

FosseVerdon22a

“I love this one, because it’s related to the reason I became fascinated with this dance.”

“But man, look at it! He’s at his highest point and she’s got a whole additional gear yet!”

“And the funny thing is it makes Fosse look almost clumsy, which he wasn’t. Not many male dancers could do anywhere near as well.”

“How come you got so interested in this dance you’re breaking it down image by image?”

“My interest was first.  I made the images for math class, but much later.   I was watching a documentary once years ago where Gwen was talking about this dance and how Bob Fosse was always yelling at her to jump! because she can’t fly like he does.  I’ve been watching musicals my entire life, but I never really considered comparing dancers. When I was a kid, I always wondered why Cyd Charisse was brought in to dance with Gene Kelly…”

“Who?”

“Remember that movie we watched with Princess Leia’s mom at Christmas?”

“Oh, and then  she died! Yeah, the musical about silent movies. That was good.”

“So you remember how in the big dance number at the end, it wasn’t Princess Leia’s mom?”

“The brunette lady with the legs.”

“Exactly. I used to wonder why they brought her in. But when I grew up, I realized it was because Debbie was a  movie hoofer, while Cyd Charisse rivals Verdon as the best there is. So when I found the dance on Youtube, I analyzed the whole dance and noticed differences that went both ways.”

“You do that with a lot of dances?”

“No. Most famous dances with men and women aren’t doing identical steps–and most of the ones that do exist are tap dances.”

“So you made these pictures?”

“I was having trouble sleeping one night and  watched Cabaret, which he directed. That got me thinking about this dance, and wondering if I could capture their differences in a way a student could analyze.”

“For class?”

“Yeah, maybe. It was just a whim.”

fosseverdon23

“How does she hold that balance? Even for a second? I mean, he looks good, but normal.”

“Here’s another spin. This time, it goes from a spin into her going on the floor into a goofy tug and him pulling her by the leg. I should say that some of their spins were perfectly synchronized. I was more curious as to what it meant.”

FosseVerdon24

“Ha, I like that little arrow you put! He just jumps like it’s nothing.”

“Wanna see the actual dance?”

“Wait. That’s all the pictures? You mean, there aren’t like, five hundred?”

But Gerardo watched the clip closely, despite the clear implication that I’m a tad, oh, obsessive.

“OK, I get it now. If I’d watched this first, I’d say they were completely identical. But looking through those pictures lets me see the differences.”

“Thanks. Now. You’ve been a really good sport, but can you do me one more favor?”

Gerardo looked warily skeptical. “What?”

“These pictures are from a recreation of that dance from a new show coming out on their lives. I don’t have any red lines drawn, but do you notice anything?”

FakeFosseVerdon2

He snorted. “Yeah, right, like I’m going to see any  differences…wait a minute. Their hips and knees aren’t even. She doesn’t have the long legs.”

“And?”

Gerardo sighed, but complied. Suddenly he leaned forward, and smiled. “Got it. He’s the one dipping his hips! She’s holding them straight.”

I startled him, and the class, by thumping my desk. “I am justified.”

“What?”

“That’s the whole reason I asked you to look through those pictures. Because when the new trailer came out, all I could think was hey, they’ve got it backwards! and I wanted to have someone else know. Thank you, Gerardo. I’ll give you an A.”

“All TAs get an A. Is the guy a better dancer than the lady, or just more flexible?”

“Well, they’re both actors, not dancers. But Sam Rockwell, who’s playing Fosse, has danced in almost all of his movies and you can see he’s really loose-limbed, with hip action. Michelle Williams famously recreated one of Marilyn Monroe’s dances and got nominated for it, but it may or may not be significant that they cut away during a lot of the dips and weaves. Or maybe these few seconds aren’t representative, of course.”

(Note: I didn’t bore Gerardo with this picture, but hey, this is my blog so I’ll bore you. Here’s one example:

MichelleMarilyn

Williams, on the right, has to turn her entire body back to kick backwards. Monroe, who had been well-trained to use her body in dancing, can turn her head and neck, kick her leg back–farther, no less– while keeping her body straight.)

I’d like to tell you that Gerardo then asked me dozens of questions about movie lore, but instead he went back to modern music on his air pods. But I felt better for the validation, and got some grading done. While I told the story uninterrupted,I did take some time for student trig questions, pesky though they were.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, “Who’s Got the Pain” is a throwaway number from “Damn Yankees”. For years, it was considered a time-waster and often cut out of TV broadcasts. But dancers and choreographers treat the scene like the Talmud, studying it endlessly. And over time, “Who’s Got the Pain” became known as the only time Fosse and Verdon danced together in a production movie number. Definitely watch the dance all the way through if you’ve made it this far into the read.

 


Lawton Chiles Middle Academy: When the Cop Shows Up

Our school has a ritual, a long-standing one. We start the announcements with the pledge. For the first five years of my employment, it was an enjoyable thing. Everyone stood up. If a kid didn’t stand up, the teacher exhorted him or her jovially, and the kid stood up, whining. It took less than a minute.

Cue Colin Kaepernick and his foolish, self-destructive campaign. Many football players started “taking a knee”, which was fine. Stupid, but fine. But then other kids would just refuse to stand up.  Teachers would, as usual, exhort the kids to get up, and they usually would. Until a parent got the superintendent involved, and the superintendent sent out a note saying that under no conditions could a teacher require a student to stand up. These kids, by the way, are not even remotely interested in the NFL and why Kaepernick is taking a knee. They have all sorts of reasons from “I hate Trump” to “The flag’s racist” to “I just want to sit and look at my phone”.

To me, that’s bullshit. It’s our school ritual. If we can’t tell the kids to stand, or kneel, and the kid is allowed to sit on his or her phone during the Pledge, then what’s the point of the Pledge? So I take phones away from kids and they go screaming to the admins, but the admins are firm, so far–the teacher can’t tell you to stand, but the teacher can take your phones.

Most of the time it’s been ok, and I’ve gotten around it, but this semester I’ve got a class of kids who literally refuse to stand. Just 12 of 35 get up at all. That’s far too many to police, so now I just say the Pledge with the kids who stand and randomly remove phones, which keeps that violation in line.

Most teachers in our school agree; I’m not alone in arguing that if we can’t enforce minimum behavior for a school ritual, one that’s been going on for decades, then a) that’s a bad thing and b) we should stop the Pledge and “let the Commies win”, as a particularly right of center student of mine used to call it.

I used to be annoyed at the Pledge for “under God”–as an agnostic, I think the rebuke to non-believers is a deliberate slur that came out of the anti-Communist era and would still be happier if the phrase was dropped. But in today’s world, with an immigrant population that increasingly takes America for granted, the Pledge had become an enjoyable ritual until Kaepernick and the NFL ruined it all.

If schools are not allowed to insist that students simply stand or kneel respectfully during the Pledge, then it should be dumped. At this point, I hate the first five minutes of class, and have asked that the Pledge be dropped from announcements.

All that is prelude to this story about a Florida kid “getting arrested for refusing to say the Pledge”. Key details:

  • This was a substitute teacher.
  • The substitute teacher was a Cuban immigrant.
  • The kid refused to leave the room without disruption.
  • The kid was arrested for threats.

So the media headlines are, essentially, lying. The kid was not arrested for refusing to say the Pledge, unless the police want to speak to Jussie Smollett for buying a Subway sandwich.

The shocking part, to me, was the teacher’s comment to the kid, until I read well into the newspaper stories. As is usually the case when demographics conflict with the narrative, the media holds back or delays release of demographics. So it’s well into the story before you learn  the sub, Ana Chavez, is an immigrant, while the kid in question is, I think, a non-immigrant African American.

We come, once again, to the clash of “Who/Whom?”. Normally, immigrants can say things that white Americans can’t, so Ana Chavez probably thought she was secure in her ability to criticize a snotty little kid who wouldn’t stand for the flag. Notice that she actually put her comment in the report!

But no one warned Ana of the dire fate that awaits the loser of a narrative clash. On the plus side, Ana Chavez is a common name, so she can leave town and sub somewhere else.

The administrator decision to remove the student from the classroom isn’t surprising. We have a nationwide sub shortage. If the sub had said “remove this kid because he’s wearing a blue shirt that’s hurting my eyes”, he probably would have removed the kid and took him to another room saying “Sorry, don’t worry, this is no big deal.” Maybe dump the sub, maybe not, depending on the scarcity, the sub, and the kid.

What I don’t understand, and can’t without more information, is why the school resource officer was called in.  I can think of two possibilities off hand. First, the administrator came, the kid refused to go, and then the SRO showed up. Second, the administrator and the SRO came together, and I can only conceive of that occurring if the student was utterly out of control–or the substitute teacher made it sound that way.

Then I looked up the school and considered a third possibility:  Lawton Chiles is a fairly rich, very high-achieving middle school (supposedly ranked 11th in the entire state) and is also 15% black, with  most  blacks scoring proficient on state tests. Perhaps they don’t have many discipline problems, so the dean and SRO are twiddling their thumbs waiting for each call. Unlikely, but I offer it up.

However, this part seems quite clear:

The student was asked more than 20 times to leave the classroom by the dean of students and the school resource officer intervened, asking the student to leave the classroom and the student refused, the police say.

Police say the student eventually left the classroom and created another disturbance, making threats while he was escorted to the office at the school.

They didn’t walk into the room and arrest him. They asked him to leave. More than twenty times. Many, many school officials read about the events at Spring Valley and learned their lesson well. They made no effort to physically force the boy from the room.

Eventually, the sixth-grader did leave, probably making threats. But it took a long time, and during that time, that student had directly disobeyed a police officer. Once he left, he apparently made more threats.

Do I think he should have been arrested? Absolutely not, on the evidence.

But my primary reason for writing this short piece is to remind people, once again, that the underlying issue becomes irrelevant once a cop shows up. Students–particularly  black students, it seems–need to learn a fundamental truth: don’t treat a cop like a teacher.  The minute the cop walks into the room, the facts on the ground shift unalterably.

I wish more of the media coverage would focus on this, which is of course a foolish dream. The media wants to convince everyone that schools are racist, that black children are deliberately put on a school-to-prison pipeline because of white teachers’ intolerance and bigotry.

Perhaps consider this: the Lawton Chiles Middle Academy case is a big step up from Spring Valley. The dean and the SRO acted with restraint in removing the recalcitrant student from the classroom. Perhaps they arrested the young boy because they can’t allow students to holler violent threats with impunity. Whatever their reason, reports make it clear they didn’t just charge in and lock the kid up.

Perhaps people should tell Dhakira Talbot, the boy’s mother, that while she might wish the school had handled things differently, her most pressing responsibility is to tell her son that no matter what he feels about the flag, or his unjust treatment, he must understand the facts on the ground once a cop shows up to talk to him. Obey the cop. No matter what. Things will get straightened out later.

They can tell her white parents tell their kids the same thing, if it helps.


Not Really Teaching English Once More

Have I ever gone through the steps that led to my teaching ELL?

Year 1

Back in August 2016, the day before school started, my principal walked into my classroom, which he rarely does, and I said, fearfully, “you’re not taking my pre-calc class, are you?” because I rarely get to teach precalc and principals only walk into your room when they’re asking for something you won’t like, and the only thing I wouldn’t like was losing my precalc class. The other upper math teachers complain, which isn’t fair, because the state tests show my kids do as well as theirs on average (their top kids do reeeeeeally well, but the rest of the kids do horribly, while my top kids do well, but everyone else does respectably.)

But no, he wasn’t taking my precalc class, he was taking my prep period. The non-tenured mostly ELL teacher who was on track to for termination in the upcoming year had taken a new job with less notice than is legally allowed. It’s not well known, but teachers aren’t allowed to quit without some degree of notice, usually between 30 and 60 days, unless the district gives permission. Otherwise, they won’t be able to teach anywhere else in the state. My principal and the English department felt the rejected teacher should be allowed to take a new job under the circumstances. English teachers hate taking extra preps, but they scrounged up two volunteers and suddenly, someone remembered I have an English credential.

So with no notice, I started ELL instruction. I had four classes planned for the following semester. But despite an ongoing hiring campaign, no one would accept the job. With a whole bunch of juggling,  Bart was handed one of my trig classes and I taught ELL the entire year. That was year one. Articles: The Things I TeachNot Really Teaching English,ELL isn’t Language Instruction

I expected it to be an anomaly. I loved the kids, and my first, large, ELL class remains my favorite both for the students and the experience. I’m currently teaching Marshall and Kit (from the Things I Teach), both of them juniors, doing well. Juan, Anj, and Tran are all academic rock stars, with several AP classes (including English) to their credit. But the political and instructional aspects of ELL bothered me tremendously, and I was happy to be out of it.

Year 2

Then almost exactly a year ago right now, an AVP walked into my classroom just a week before the first term ended, just as I had convinced myself I was actually going to get the pay cut of a normal prep period, to ask me if I’d help them out by teaching the ELL Connections class. She didn’t say why. In fact, I’d asked the principal a month earlier to confirm that there’d be no additional class coming my way, and he assured me there were no plans to use me. Which, well, wasn’t true. He couldn’t mention that he was in the process of firing the primary ELL teacher, the 20 year expert, which he achieved in three months from start to finish, including investigation. They collapsed two of her courses into one, and gave me the other.

The second year (2017-2018) wasn’t particularly enjoyable. The kids had hated the fired teacher, and had enjoyed three months of substitutes and movies. None of them had any particular interest in learning English. I had two Chinese boys who wouldn’t (and won’t) stay off their phones, one Afghani girl who liked (and likes) to cause trouble, a German girl who was seriously pissed off at her dad for bringing her to America (I hear she’s forgiven him), a Mexican boy from my previous year who went from being the weakest student to the second strongest simply because all the others moved on, a Salvadoran girl who was friendly and helpful and hardworking unless she wasn’t, and three Guatemalans who chattered constantly in Spanish, generally refusing to even try to speak English.

Simply getting them to enjoy being a class, to tolerate each other, took a long time, although I’m pleased to say that the Disney/dead animals day was the turnaround I took it for. But as far as actual progress in learning English went, there was none. In fact, I didn’t spend much time teaching them English at all, not directly. I taught content in other areas and got them thinking and talking, which trust me was more than enough of an accomplishment. But even if I’d wanted to teach actual English, I had no curriculum.  No books. All the stuff from last year disappeared from my old room (I was using the previous teacher’s room, until the kids asked if we could just stay in mine).

One significant improvement over the year before, though, was Miko.

Miko was a science teacher with an English credential. But he loathes the new state science curriculum. So he volunteered to be the permanent replacement that I’d been temporarily, and now he’s an English teacher with a science credential. He likes running things, he likes after-school activities, teaching drama, cheerleading, stuff like that. You might have noticed that between the two of us, we could open a school. He could be in charge, even.

So after the 20 year expert got fired, Miko was put in charge, and made changes that I’d advised the year before. He reduced the infuriating “three English classes” requirement, arguing as I had (but more successfully) that just two classes would give students needed time to build credits towards graduation. He was considerably more aggressive about moving students up into second year, ending the absurd practice of forcing highly educated students who read English at a 9th grade to learn “cup”, “stand”, “pencil”, and “sit”.  And, as a guy who likes to be in charge, he took a very hands-on approach to the kids’ status, so I had someone to talk to about behavior problems and frustrations.

I apparently impressed him, too, because he asked me to teach two courses of ELL in the next year (2018-19). How to put this politely? I demurred, saying that I’d be happy to help out if another teacher quits (hahahaha! What are the odds?), but that math was my bag, thanks.

I didn’t see much need for me. The other, brand new, ELL teacher was let go. The ELL specialist (non-teacher) was leaving and we’d hired a new one. The principal decided to use experienced English teachers, non-ELL, to take over the classes rather than try to hire new teachers again.  So Miko would teach first year and Connections, Karinna, who taught AP English, would pick up second year, and Joanne, also an honors teacher, would take third year.  A full-fledged ELD department would be created, with Miko and the newly hired ELL specialist, and Karinna and Joanne in both.

So I left for summer thinking I’d be teaching two precalc classes, or even three, which I’d strongly requested, maybe a trig or algebra 2. Four blocks again, definitely–the 33% premium now for nine semesters running!–and no ELL. Alas, no history either. We’ve been hiring up in that area, so I won’t be teaching US History possibly ever again. Sad.

While I wasn’t crazy about the kids, I still felt the year finished productively, given where I started. At the time, I felt it was a good way to leave the topic.

Year 3

We teachers were notified of our schedule for the year by email, from yet another AVP, the week before school started. My note said:

  • Trig
  • ELL 1
  • Algebra 2
  • Algebra 2

WHAT THE HELL! I sent off a cranky–too cranky–note to that AVP and hurt her feelings, which wasn’t my intent and I apologized later, saying I wasn’t blaming her. I was just pissed off, having been reassured that my agitation for more pre-calc had been heard.  Why no pre-calc? Well, because one of the pre-calc classes was second block, and they needed me to teach ELL. OK, we’ll get back to that. Why no pre-calc? Well, because Chuck had though the fourth block class was mostly juniors and seniors and better suited to me than Wing, who got the pre-calc class. I gave her a look, and she thought it a good idea to give that pre-calc class to me.

Now, why was I teaching ELL again?

Well, the newly hired specialist had quit. Not quit, but gone…oh, I don’t know, fishing. I don’t remember the details. Off to another school somewhere. But we needed a specialist. So Miko stepped up. Told you, he likes to run things. He is still teaching the Connections class, and his drama class, but being specialist takes time, so he gets a block off. And so, here I am. Out of the tree, but still in the car.

I told Miko I wanted curriculum and a reasonably homogeneous class. I eventually got curriculum. I’ll discuss the class another day. But for all the frustrations, this year has been much more enjoyable. Miko is in charge, and moves over-qualified students out of my first year class at a gratifying pace. I have a curriculum with textbooks and workbooks, as well as an online program. We have an over-arching framework that allows us to focus in on kids who need a particular skill. For example, second and third year students who needed grammar focus get additional time in small group instruction, while others got practice time listening to long, involved stories and answering questions about it, just like they would in “real school”.

We’ve had several days of professional development which has been reasonably useful. And having a small department that allows us all to discuss the craziness that is ELL policy has been most cheering. I’m part of a group, one that considers me valuable as opposed to a dangerous renegade, which is a pleasant change.

Note well that the school hired two ELL teachers and fired both of them, then fired its 20 year expert, then hired and lost a specialist–all in less than two years.

I say again–hiring, not firing, is the pain point.

Here’s irony: As a math teacher, I am longest-standing ELL teacher at my school. I speak no languages other than English, yet I am the designated entry class for students who speak no English at all.

Apparently, I’m pretty good at it.

 

 

 

 

 


What I did in January instead of writing

Until 10:00 Thursday night, I really thought I’d get in one post. But then I fell asleep.

Making January the only month in the seven years of this blog that I didn’t get in a single post. I shoot for four. Half the time I make three.  But every month I make one or two. My writing has just fallen off a cliff. Just 28 articles in 2018.

I’m not less interested. I’m just finding it much, much harder to write.

So what did I do in January?

Well, I spent a lot of time researching two different pieces on direct instruction. A movie gave me some interesting insights and more data to research. I read Zig Engelmann’s book again. I tried and failed to organize a way to discuss either article.

I found out how to search the ACS for high school demographics by state (to keep it manageable, I made it populations of 400+). These are stats I’ve wondered about even before I started (and abandoned) Everybody’s Second Favorite. Dick Startz spurred me on with this rather anodyne wail about integration in public schools (which he confuses with opportunity). So that led me to make interesting charts like this: CaSchoolsraceprofNYSchoolsraceprof

But while that was interesting, I was already halfway through January and this takes more time than I had.

I also spent some time at the DMV. My brother has two cars, but he carelessly allowed the registration on one to expire, and then he ignored the followups, and then he ignored the warnings, until he started to worry about how much it would cost. So he bought a new used car from a friend for cheap. The other car was parked at the curb until the city labeled it as unregistered and threatened to tow it. By this time, the battery was dead, so he put the batter from his other car into that one–and it started right up.

“Aww,” I said. “It missed you. You should get it reregistered.”

Until then, he put it in the driveway, where the city can’t get it. But the driveway is my spot–and a non-trivial amenity I pay for with my higher rent. He gets the bigger part of the house, despite paying less.  A lot less. I’m not bitter. I make more.

But it’s now well over a year later, and I want my damn driveway back. It’s often hard to park in the streets; people can (and do) park right in front of the house. So I made an appointment for him to find out what it would cost to reregister a car that hadn’t been paid for in three years. I told him about it and everything.

And I knew he’d forget, so I made a second appointment, on a Saturday, for me. So when he forgot, I spent an hour or so with a surprisingly nice bureaucrat finding out how much it would cost. The answer was much better than feared. My best case was $500, worst case $2000. It was $625. Plus a smog test.  And a battery. Plus by now the tire’s flat, so he needs to fix that. Still, about $1000 to get a second car that he could give to his kids. He’s got the money. He owes me $800 that he has in an account. He doesn’t live large. I told him he could pay me later if he’d get the car done.

It’s 3 weeks later. No fixes. I told my nephew that if he got his dad to fix the tire and buy a battery, I’d pay him $20. Hasn’t happened yet.

I’m sympathetic to people who avoid. I did it for years. Still do. And I want my damn driveway back.

Anyway. That took some time.

Then I read Robert Pondiscio’s article on, among other things, killing education myths and remembered very apt parallels between that particular myth and an Asimov short story. That’d be easy to write. I looked up the text, and promised myself I’d get it started.

But first I opened my mail. That’s….not something I do often. Let me give you an example. At the bottom of the large box of mail was a letter from my financial manager’s company alerting me to a $2500 account that hadn’t seen any activity for three years, and was in danger of being put into the state account. Please notify us before it gets sent to the state. The problem was, the form letter was from December 2017. So I had to call the office and admit I hadn’t opened the letter for over a year, but everything was okay and my money wasn’t at the state, right?  His assistant called me back, chuckling, to assure me that it had been issued in error and my money was safe.

Another half day gone. Then I thought about some Great Moments in Teaching articles I’d postponed, or one on my pedagogy for number sets. Multiplication is the Death Lord. Things like that.

But the major time suck was….

Grading. Jesus. Grading took over January.  I used to like grading. I still like it, really. A whole day of January winter break grading. Then more tests, more grading, rinse and repeat.I don’t know why it kicked my ass so badly this year.

I’ve taken on a lot of fascinating, challenging responsibilities at school that take time and energy. So when I get home, all I do is fall asleep.

In fact, I may be slightly burnt out. My job is fantastic, but I’m usually pretty energized in January. Not this time.

In celebration of my tenth year teaching, I won’t be working this summer. The original plan was 6 week tour of the English-speaking countries of Europe, but my father’s health has been going up and down, and I’d rather stay close. Hopefully, he’ll be up for some trout-fishing or a trip into Canada. Either way, I hope to buy a used SUV and tour the US.

I will try to write more. Hope that’s not a threat.

Hey, under 1000.

 


Direct Instruction Miracle? The Lewis Lemon Case

Back in February, I observed that Direct Instruction hadn’t failed because of teacher disdain, as Robert Pondiscio charged, but because educational leadership from superintendents on up through US senators had not only refused to support the program, but in some cases actively and systemically ripped out implementations that seemed to be successful.  As I said at the time, I considered it a real mystery.

So I dug deep into Zig Engelmann’s book, Teaching Needy Kids in Our Backwards System looking for an example of a success story I could independently verify. He goes on at some length about both San Diego and Baltimore schools, but not in any way I could pin down DI vs. Non-DI. Quite often Engelmann would cite a newspaper article as evidence.

The Ventura County Star carried an article on March 15, 2003, titled “Effective Reading Program Must Go”, which indicated that the only school in Ventura County and one of 109 in the state to receive a citation for achieving exemplary progress was forced to drop their [DI] program.

No mention of the school. Or the superintendent. Or the degree to which test scores increased. One gets the distinct impression that Zig….well, read about it in the paper. He uses virtually identical wording in this Edweek article. California keeps detailed, easily searchable records; with the name of the school, the specifics of the decision could be confirmed.

The exception is Lewis Lemon.LewisLemoncite

But then, as happened consistently through the decades, a new superintendent came in and demanded Lewis Lemon abandon Direct Instruction and adopt “balanced literacy”. The principal, Tiffany Parker, flatly refused. She was accused of cheating, so the students were tested again. They passed the new test.  The district actually had to give back Reading First federal funds because they dropped DI. Apparently, the district blamed the principal for informing the feds that the district was no longer using the program, and Parker was demoted. She sued, and settled.  If you google this, you’ll find a New York Times article, a New York Sun article, this Heartland article, and references to many Rockford Register Star articles by Carrie Watters, who from what I can tell now works at an Arizona paper. The Rockford Register Star archive goes back before 2003, and has other articles by Carrie Watters, but contains none of the many stories Watters did on the Lewis Lemon controversy. Even Joanne Jacobs’ blog entry on Rockford, “They Messed with Success” has disappeared, which had me really freaked until I learned she was had temporarily moved her archives.

The story made national headlines when the superintendent decided, in 2005, to force Lewis Lemon off of DI into “balanced literacy”, while the strong student performance of 2003 only got covered locally. The New York Times piece went into a bit more depth, mentioning that the fifth graders didn’t do as well. Also, the reports weren’t always specific. Was it math or reading? Or both? So I went digging for data.

If contemporaneous reports are scarce, the contemporaneous data survives. Illinois test scores comparing Lewis Lemon performance to the district and state by race are all online. Here they are, and please check my results:

2001–the year they implemented DI
2002
2003
2004
2005–the year they were forced to discontinue DI
2006

So now I’m going to go all graph heavy, like Spotted Toad. First up: the top level comparison of Lewis Lemon scores to the district and state level for both 3rd and 5th grade (reading down).

LewisLemonOverall

Note the big ol’ spike in 2003. Lewis Lemon 3rd graders had far more students meet or exceed standards than the district or state averages in that year. But then, third graders at Lewis Lemon outscored the district average  every year both before and after DI was implemented in  Notice, too, that the fifth grade scores aren’t nearly as impressive, but that both math and English show a spike in 2005, which is the year the third graders of 2003 would have been in fifth grade.  Then again, fifth graders had much better reading scores in 2002 than in any time after DI implementation.

Lewis Lemon officials blame the lower fifth grade reading scores on a less than perfect implementation, and students who were further behind. On the surface, this seems unlikely, given the high scores in 2002. But there may be other causes.

So I disaggregated, first by race. Here are black and white 3rd grade reading score scores compared at the school, district, and state level, broken down by achievement category.

Up first, 3rd grade blacks:

LewisLemonBlack3rdReading

Now remember, this is Lemon Lewis black students compared to other black students only (not the entire population). Blue is Lemon Lewis, and the more blue to the right of each graph, the better Lewis Lemon is doing. 2003 is the year of the Big Score. The blue clearly moves to the right from 2002 to 2003, and stays there for two years. Then it shifts back.In 2003, black students  at Lewis Lemon met or exceeded standards at 3 to 4 times the numbers that district or state black students did.

Third grade reading, white students.

LewisLemonWhite3rdReading

So this is interesting in a couple ways. First, it’s clear that in the pivotal year of 2003, white performance actually declined slightly. Fewer students failed to meet standards, but fewer students exceeded them. Not a lot. But there’s no tremendous spike in white student performance in 2003.

And then, something that has gone completely unmentioned: the white student population collapsed to below testing levels immediately after 2003. This explains some of the falloff of the graph above–if whites comprised a decent chunk of the high scores, then their disappearance would impact the overall “meets or exceeds”.

It’s not clear to me whether the DI implementation was reading only, or reading and math. The news accounts all focus on reading, but more than one account mentions improved math scores. So I’ll include them. Here’s third grade, African American.

LewisLemonBlack3rdMath

Here, Lewis Lemon was scoring better than blacks in the district and state before the DI implementation. The blue still shifts right, but it’s not as dramatic. In 2003, virtually every student met or exceeded expectations, but in every other year, both before and after the DI implementation, they were still doing very well.

Now white 3rd grade math:

LewisLemonWhite3rdMath

So in 2002 through 2003,  the school saw a good bunch of whites move from “meets” to “exceeds”. Unlike reading, third grade white performance saw a decent boost, but it started a year earlier. Whites at Lewis Lemon performed better than the district.

And now, the fifth grade. Reading, black fifth graders:

LewisLemonBlack5thMath

Scores actually declined in 2003. 2005, the year that the third graders from 2003 were in fifth grade, sees a slight improvement. But not much of one–more than half failed to meet standards.

Fifth grade whites, reading:

LewisLemonWhite5thReadingAgain, whites have their best year in 2002, and don’t show any particular spike. They also do better than black fifth graders (which is normal).

Fifth grade math:

LewisLemonBlack5thMath

Indifferent–except note the spike when the third graders of 2003 show up. It’s much more pronounced in math than it was in reading.

White fifth graders, to finish out.

LewisLemonWhite5thMath

So here’s one last way of looking at the data–compares blacks at Lewis Lemon to the whites at the school, district, and state level. Read down  on the left for 3rd and 5th reading, down on the right for 3rd and 5th math.

LewisLemonblktowhite

Once again a consistent pattern for  black third graders–big boost in 2003, slight fade in 2004, then tank. Black fifth graders see the boost exclusively in 2005, when the rock star 3rd grade class arrives,  holding on to their gains more so for math than for reading. Spike or not,  black third graders at Lewis Lemon do well in math compared to district whites from 2002-2005.

And here are the formal demographics reflecting the disappearance of white students from Lewis Lemon.

LewisLemonDemographics

That’s a stark drop in a short time. 47% or so from 2001 to 2003, and 50% from 2003-2005.  It may have just been a drop in new students, but the third grade and fifth grade classes ran out of whites at the same time–I’d have expected the fifth grade cohort to have more white students for longer, in that case.

So restating the observations:

  • Lewis Lemon black 3rd grade scores are stupendously high in 2003. The accusations of cheating were groundless, unless the cheaters carefully waited two years to boost the same kids’ scores when they hit fifth grade.
  • However, black 3rd grade scores at Lewis Lemon were consistently higher than black scores district and state wide, before and after the program.
  • White students saw no real benefit from the new program.
  • Fifth graders, white or black, saw no real benefit from the program. The one strong category, fifth graders in 2005, is the boost of the third graders from 2003.

Questions:

  • Is it possible that the 3rd grade class of 2003 was in some way extraordinary?
  • Were the white and black 3rd grade students practically (that is, for some legal reason) separated? Did the black students have a different teacher than the white students?
  • Did the white flight remove more high ability students? But even if it did, you’d expect the white kids to respond as well to DI as black kids,
  • Could parents “opt out” of DI?
  • Was the white flight out of Lewis Lemon exacerbated by the switch to DI? White students did not see the dramatic increases. Maybe they didn’t like the new regime?

Conclusions:

Well, it’d need a better analyst than me to evaluate the data. And if there’d been solid analysis and reporting at the time, we might have a better idea why the black third graders did so well. Clearly, the curriculum is a possibility for the higher reading and math scores.  But I can’t explain why subsequent third grade classes fell off in performance. And I really can’t figure why the white kids didn’t do well, unless it’s for the same reason that white kids don’t do KIPP.

Did the meta-analysis  include Lewis Lemon?

What I don’t see is a miracle. What I don’t see is  conclusive test evidence showing an obvious incremental increase in test scores at every level, in every demographic, or in every race. Given the actual, honest to god data, not a compiled version of it, broken down by both race and grade and score category, is easily available, I hope someone can go even deeper into the data and see if they find explanations or patterns that aren’t available in this surface level display of data.

Here’s what else I don’t see: any reason whatsoever for that domineering control freak superintendent to rip the program out of Lewis Lemon. I’m not a fan of D, but reading about this blatant obliteration of something that worked for the kids has been depressing. Shame on the media for not digging deep at the time and finding out why.

So there you go. Real data on Direct Instruction. Have at it. Draw your own conclusions.

Happy New Year.


The Students of My Christmas Present

“What..?”

On time for once, he trudged into the class pulling a small pine tree behind him, a stand in his other hand. His chin was set. His curly hair braided in two plaits instead of flying all around his head added to his air of determination.

“It’s a tree.”

“I see that.”

“I wanna make it a Christmas tree. I want a Christmas tree with lights and decorations. I want to know what it looks like, and see it looking pretty every day.”

“So you’re taking it home?” He rolled his eyes in my direction, and I grinned apologetically. “Just checking. I guess it’s haram?”

“Extremely haram.” Faisal has most of the brains, four times the looks, but far less of the focus and drive of his older brother Abdul, now in his sophomore year of a top 50 university.  Not unknown to the administrators for all the wrong reasons, Faisal nonetheless has held onto a 3.5 GPA and, barring a last semester senior catastrophe, a decent chance at a good college.

And so I acquired a tree.  I showed Faisal how to put the tree in the stand, and we steal some water from a classmate.

“The vendor across the street gave it to me for free! He’s Yemeni, maybe that’s why.”

“No, I’d guess his generosity is due to the trunk bending sharply forward before it goes up.”

“Do you have the..the lights? The things you hang on them?”

“Ornaments.” I looked sideways.  “You are expecting me to decorate?”

Faisal has a charming grin.

The tree was an instant hit with all my students, even sitting in the corner unadorned, as it did for a week. Someone noticed that the tilt kept pulling it over, so we snuck outside and grabbed some painted tiles from the garden to weight the stand down.  Students volunteered from their water bottles to keep the tree hydrated. I took three days and a weekend to bring in lights (one day to find them in my garage, one to pull the box down, one to sit by the door to be forgotten, weekend to put them in my car so I couldn’t forget them), another two days to bring in the ornaments.  Then one day four top students finished a quiz early and I assigned them “light” duty.  I have a huge collection of gorgeous ornaments, some hand-blown glass, others hand  made, some just utterly beautiful, that they all oohed and ahed over. Faisal got to select his favorites.

The vocational cooking teacher teased me for taking nearly a week to complete the tree, but she readily agreed my end product was far superior to the one her student put up in 30 minutes–and I still had it done two weeks before break. Each morning, I turned the lights on to twinkle cheerily throughout the day. Very festive. I have these old plastic window coverings, one with Santa peeking around the corner, one with bells, and on impulse taped them over my door windows, where they hung, unmolested and unbroken, for the better part of two weeks, the kids carefully closing the door without tearing them.

Four of my nine ELD students are either Muslim or Hindu, and they haven’t been here that long. I carefully explained “secular” as opposed to “religious”, reassuring them that the tree was in celebration of the former.  The other half of the class is Catholic, either Guatemalan or Filipino, so were surprised to learn that not everyone celebrated Christmas as a religious event. My math students needed no clarification. Our school is wildly diverse, but that’s never stopped us from openly celebrating Christmas. The kids sell mistletoe messages and Christmas wreaths through December.

I regret not capturing a picture of the tree at school, completely decorated. I’ve learned that it made any number of appearances on Snapchat and Instagram, as my students bragged about their Chrismassy room.

My family of origin has always centered celebration on Christmas Eve. For 45 years, December 24th means cheese, beef, and occasionally chocolate fondue.  When we were kids, we’d then go to bed and have Christmas in the morning. But once we hit our teens and late 20s, we’d just open presents Christmas Eve so we could sleep in. As we grew up and moved out, we turned Christmas Day into family unit, keeping Christmas Eve for fondue with everyone.

My ex and I did Christmas big. We both loved the holiday, both bought each other lots of gifts, bought other family members multiple presents, shopped together and separately.  I love presents. But it wasn’t just the presents. We had a party once, I remember, and always made plans to see friends or do something fun.

We divorced when our son was not quite three. Because of our fondue tradition, my son always had Christmas Eve and morning with me, then went to my ex’s for two or three days. So on Christmas Day, I was alone.

I wasn’t miserable. I still loved the Christmas holiday, even if the 25th was always a bit of a letdown.My son and I would always decorate, get a tree.  We’d drive around looking at lights, go to see It’s A Wonderful Life or Wizard of Oz at the revival theater. But after the divorce, I always felt as if I were watching others experience Christmas, rather than experience it myself. A good chunk of my loss was simply the presents. I’m not materialistic the rest of the year, but by god I like people buying me presents at Christmas. However, the larger sense of loss was due to the realization that while my family of origin is big, my own family unit was just two–and when my son was gone, I didn’t really have a family unit at all. Just me.

The post-divorce change in Christmas was as nothing compared to its utter disappearance after my son finished high school.   Before Faisal dragged that little scrubby pine into my room, I hadn’t put up a tree since 2005. My son would still come to fondue, we’d still have Christmas morning, but without him around during the lead-in, what was the point?

That amputated Christmas threatened to disappear entirely once he moved three states away with his girlfriend and eventual wife. I once had fond notions of visiting for Christmas and opening presents with my grandkids, but my ex and I have spent no small amount of time commiserating with each other about the truth of the maxim “A son is a son till he takes a wife, a daughter’s a daughter the rest of her life”. I am truthfully not bitter about this, although I would certainly have it otherwise. My son has a woman he adores, an excellent job he enjoys, two beautiful, loving children , a mortgage, and a marriage certificate (acquired in that order).  I have done my job well. Peace.

My son’s absence forced me to stare down a (hopefully very long) telescope looking towards old age wondering was this it? I’m going to be someone who doesn’t do Christmas? Will I just start peeling away holidays as I have fewer people to celebrate with? I’m still blessed with both parents and family of origin nearby, but the disintegration of my Christmas Day–now getting perilously near why-bother status–made me realize that I had to change my mindset and perhaps my practice as I move towards a time when family will be fewer and farther away.

So for the past few years, I’ve made a point to experience Christmas as a family unit of one. A married couple I’m close to often invites me over for dinner, where I have a wonderful time even though, god help me, she’s a terrible cook. I can dress up a bit, talk to people, drink wine, and mark the year’s passing. Sometimes I’ll go see the holiday film at the revival theater. I often go to a Starbucks, write, talk to people at the store or on the street, seek out a neighbor to chat.

I resumed putting up outdoor lights three years ago, slowly finding uses for the big pile of lights I’d acquired earlier, and then actually buying more. I love Christmas lights so much. And they’re outdoors, so it felt more like contributing to  neighborhood spirit, rather than decorating an empty nest. For three years now, coming home and seeing the house all lit up has been most cheering.

While I expected my new “experience” of Christmas to be limited to outside lights and activities,  Faisal and my students have reminded me of all the happy ornaments locked away in my garage, sitting there unused and unenjoyed. I have treasured the shared cheer of my classroom tree. If I ended my Christmas tree practice because there was no one to share it with, well, then, why not continue to have a tree at school for the season? So I will. When I told my students, they applauded.

I wonder if Julia Ioffe can possibly conceive of a Muslim Palestinian American  begging for a free tree, lugging it into his most familiar teacher’s room, simply because he wants to be a part of one of the best holidays ever created. Would she demand that he, too, see Christmas entirely in terms of Christ? Could she not see it as assimilation of the best sort, appreciation for what American culture has to offer?

I received an additional gift of recognition, one that involves the second best Christmas Carol. The finest is, of course, the Alistair Sim version, which you should run out and see right away, before Christmas season officially ends. But Patrick Stewart’s version holds its own very well.

One scene in particular has always resonated with me, and only recently have I understood why.  I’ll try to show it with pictures, but the difference is easier to see in action. Here’s Ebenezer before his transformation, sitting in front of his fire:

sadalonescrooge

His body language is all crunched up, his face is tense (granted, Marley’s said hello). Here he is after the three ghosts have visited:

happyalonescrooge

He’s alone both times. But in the second, he’s not eating dinner, shoveling it down as a utilitarian act, scrunched and sullen. He’s just sitting, enjoying the fire, with a nice drink. He’s experiencing Christmas, alone and happy.

I wasn’t Scrooge before, or now. I’m just an introvert who is perfectly content to be alone most of the time, but didn’t know how to celebrate Christmas if I wasn’t part of a  big family unit. I faked it–and faked it well–for a long time, but I’m learning how to keep the day in the spirit I’d like.

Faisal’s determined desire for a Christmas tree, and my students’ happy participation in creating one,  had one more surprise in store for me. When school ended for the year, I carefully took off all the ornaments, wrapped them up and put them back in the box. Next was the lights..but I stopped. I’d planned to put the tree in the dumpster but instead wrapped up the cords and carried the whole tree, lights and all, to the front seat of my car. I only felt a little bit silly.TreeatHome

I’m looking at it now, shining brightly in the front window. Maybe next year I’ll have two trees–one for school, one for home.

This year my friends had to delay their Christmas dinner until Thursday. So my brother and I ate standing rib roast, which cooked to rare perfection, and I made lemon meringue pie for dessert.  I’ll be rewarding myself with a hot toddy (Makers Mark) when I finish this.

I always give thanks for my students, past and present, and am grateful I’ve got many more students to enjoy in years to come. But this year, to students present, I thank you all for showing me how to bring back one more piece of my favorite holiday.

Merry Christmas.