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My Week, Part One

Sunday

I did some gardening, digging up a few rows to plant green beans from seed. I started my garden earlier this year, a reaction to last season’s late start, so tomatoes, peppers, and squash are already in the ground, lettuce and onions flourishing in the raised bed. Saturday night, I spotted a spectacularly huge artichoke in my five foot tall perennial that my housemate brother prepared for our enjoyment–from garden to plate in 45 minutes. Really, the only flaw was we had no eggs so I couldn’t whip up a Hollandaise. Still, it was sublime, and had inspired me to keep up the garden labor.

After that, I went to work, getting there at about 2:30. Grades were due the next day, and I was going to be out of the office for the calculus textbook selection committee. My classes only go up to pre-calc, but two of our calculus teachers were preparing their students for the AP test and besides, they hated committee meetings. The non-AP calculus teacher, Wing, was in China, leaving only Hank, the department chair, and me as upper-math options. Hank teaches Stats, and Monday was my birthday, so I thought it’d be nice to sleep in a bit and get out early without guilt. Plus, I like textbook selection committees–a bunch of free textbooks. And one of these days I want to teach non-AP calculus.

I was at school until 11:00 pm. First, I had to finish grading the Algebra 2 tests. Then I had to enter all those tests and the trig class’s tests and review grades. After submitting the final results, I had to prepare for the sub, which was irritating because most subs are a waste of time. I’ve found one sub who is better at math than I am, which is amazing, and one sub who’s an experienced teacher and at least gets kids working, which is a great second best. But neither was available on short notice, so I’d get an incompetent who’d sit on her phone all day, which sucks. But I was getting free textbooks.

Then I had to put flyers around campus, which I’ve never done before. A month earlier, I had seen an email from a district coach about middle school robotics and had emailed him, asking for information about Arduino or robotics activities for high school. As co-director of our school’s chapter for a well-known technology competition, I had discovered how many kids were interested in programming and robotics and was determined to start a club on either or both next year, independent of the competition. The district coach had forwarded my mail to a city government guy who had a grant to encourage community science projects, and was hooked up with a huge project to use technology to collect data about our local environment. (I can’t be specific here.) Next thing I knew, I was given $2000 for a six week project ($600 for me, $600 for another teacher, $800 for expenses!)  that would kickoff with a demo of the technology for interest students. Highly educated people from prestigious universities would be coming from out of town to give the demonstration. I told them that I was completely on board but couldn’t guarantee two things: first, that we could complete any technology project in six weeks towards the end of school and second, my biggest fear, that anyone would show up for the demonstration. I told them that I was pretty sure that I could get two or three kids, but even that was just a hope.

They reassured me: no problem, if no one came, they’d show me and we’d map out next steps. So I’d talked it up in classes, and in the after school club, and now I was putting out flyers, but inside I felt like an 8 year old terrified that no one would show up at Chuck E. Cheese for my birthday party.

I got home at 11:30.

Monday

My birthday. I woke up feeling slightly stiff from the garden labor, which was odd. Mattocking, which is basically a stand-up sit-up, can wreck a back without proper support, but all I’d done was turn over soil with a shovel, which shouldn’t have done any damage.

The calculus committee was much more interesting and relevant than I thought it would be, renewing my determination add calculus to my preps. First step, though, was much more pre-calculus than I’m currently teaching, which for reasons I’ve mentioned will be difficult.  I got six textbooks.

I had a doctor’s appointment with my allergist, who yelled at me for not starting my allergy and asthma regime in February, leaving it to March which allowed the congestion and breathing problems to take hold. I agreed, but pointed out that her regime had me in much better shape than I’d been in years past–save for last year, when I followed it from February on and never had an attack. Seriously, I don’t say this much, but this doctor actually helped me with a real health problem. Usually they misdiagnose me or tell me I’m perfectly healthy despite routine 20 second bouts of deep, unproductive coughing and the wheeze of a lifelong smoker.

For dinner, my mother and stepdad took me out to a Brazilian steakhouse.

Then I went home and found my password for H&R Block.  They bought the prior company I used, although I can’t remember what that was. It’s like with banks: stay with any bank long enough and you’re a Bank of America customer.

When I grade, I do the key and group the tests one day, maybe grade a couple. Then I come back later to do the rest. Similarly, with taxes, I always take one day to get all the forms in order, the login found, get started until I run into a roadblock and quit. Then I come back certain all the small stuff is handled. So Monday evening, I found all the tax forms dumped in my mail crate, logged in, started putting in information. H&R Blocked seemed to think I owed $4,213, which was unnerving. But then I couldn’t find my investment INT-99 forms or my rental property year-end report, so I shot off some emails and went to bed.

Tuesday

Tuesday morning my back seemed fine, much less stiff. The substitute’s note said that all my kids ignored her and had been on their phones all day. One girl left without permission and came back an hour later.  I yelled at the kids, banned phones entirely in every class with some pre-emptive removals just to reinforce the ruling, told everyone they’d have a test or quiz on Wednesday.  The  pre-calc test wasn’t even started, of course, but righteous wrath must out.

Our school has instituted an interesting innovation for advisory. Instead of 30 minutes with one of our regular classes, teachers create lessons on any subject they like, and the students sign up. This is a wrap-around of RTI–basically, what do we do with the kids who aren’t in intervention?–and is thus far pretty successful, two weeks in.

Today I was offering “ESL Word Games” for the first time. I put the kids in teams and play a variant of “Wheel of Fortune”. Surprisingly, some native English speakers were enrolled; apparently, our study halls were overloaded. So I assigned two of them as team advisors and one of them helped me come up with clues.

The session was a huge success. the advisors took their jobs seriously and had a great time giving hints and suggestions. The kid working with me thought up “WATCH READY PLAYER ONE” with the clue “something you do in your free time”. The kids figured out the movie name fairly quickly, but were driven to distraction by “watch”, which stumped even the native speakers. Great lesson, great learning experience, the ESL speakers had a ball, and the native speakers said they wanted to come back.

I stayed at work until 9:00. But there was a bright spot.

Got home and mostly finished my taxes. That $4,213 tax shortfall held all the way through to itemized deductions, which was confusing the hell out of me because all of my passive rental losses were rejected. Then the web application informed me that, since I’d reported $10,551,000, I would need $791,325 in medical bills before I could start to deduct qualified expenses. That’s when I realized that the $4,213 I thought I owed had a comma after it and was in fact four plus million dollars.

Note to H&R Block: If a teacher reports an eight-figure income, suggest they entered a comma instead of a period.

Result: $1056 refund. Yay.

Wednesday

It took me five minutes just to get out of bed. Why did it take my back three days to react to a bit of digging?

Easy day, generally, with three tests. Which was good, because while standing and walking was manageable, and sitting was pretty easy, moving from standing to sitting or vice versa took two or three tries and caused considerable agony.

The next two days would be busy. Thursday was the technology demonstration that had so much potential if kids would just show up. Friday was the second  half our our technology club competition. While the other contests had been held a couple weeks earlier, the Arduino project showdown had been delayed and moved from a Saturday to a Friday, due to the limited number of entries–just seven.  Three of those entries were from our school. That is, we had three groups of two to four students who had been working on Arduino projects since November, all of them learning to code for the first time, developing prototypes, writing project reports.  We’d done well in the other competitions, taking a first and two thirds. We had high hopes for the Arduino kids.   On Friday, Bart, my partner in crime in the technology club, and I were taking these nine students to a town I hadn’t even heard of, 90 minutes away if there’s no traffic, but there’s always traffic.  The organization would pay for us to rent a van. Our principal would pay for us to miss fourth block.  I would drive, because Bart considers time spent behind a steering wheel a usually unnecessary evil.

With all that on deck and a screaming back, I vowed to leave early and actually got out at four, after printing an algebra 2 handout I’d need. On my way out I ran into Will, a senior and a talented writer who wrote great stories for our school paper. I invited him to the kickoff tomorrow, saying whether he was interested in technology or not he could run the blog showcasing our progress, as a significant goal of this six week pilot was showing other schools how to get started. His involvement in this high-profile project would definitely be useful when applying for internships. He promised to think about it.

Went home, finished filing my taxes, and went to bed early.

Thursday

At nine in the morning Bart, my partner in crime, texted me in a panic, telling me that the director of the technology competition had assumed we weren’t attending the Friday competition. Why? Well, no good reason, really. The real crux of the matter was that the students were two weeks overdue on submitting their project reports. Why? Well, because the date wasn’t on the competition sheet, and the director had only sent out one note with the due date, as an afterthought on another email and we’d missed it. But our students were registered, right? Well, no, they weren’t because the student database was constantly out of date and Bart had kept asking for a clean copy and also, frankly, because Bart is terrible at deadlines. And no, I’m not blaming Bart because I’m terrible at deadlines which is why I gave the job to Bart, along with two-thirds of the stipend.

Before you’re too hard on us, keep in mind that this organization had changed the dates of both competitions, including putting one date right at the end of spring break, which made for brutal logistics and lost us several competitors whose parents belatedly realized that their kids would be out of town that day. Also keep in mind that the director understands we’re teachers, with other actual jobs, and is extremely nice on due dates.

I now had something much bigger to worry about than whether anyone would come to my birthday party.

So I’ll stop there, since this is pretty long.


“Get Out” a scathing satire? Get Out.

(Note: this is outside my “all things education” brief,  but squarely in my “most folks in the media simply don’t understand what diversity means anymore” zone, so it’s a wash.)

I enjoyed this movie far more than I  expected based on the rapturous reviews, which promised a scathing satire on race relations in America cloaked in a horror film an  exquisite comedy of manners,   an alarming portrayal of white racism.  As is so often the case, the movie’s creator doesn’t come near to achieving his stated goals. Jordan Peele isn’t the compleat observer of American mores that he–and many others–think he is, so his movie fails to uncover the “insidious qualities” of white liberals.   This is just a nice, tight horror film with some clever touches and a few non-fatal flaws.

The revealed plot (do not read if you have not seen):

Dean and Missy, a neurosurgeon and his hypnotherapist wife, have developed a means of personality transfer, probably at the instigation of Dean’s father. Missy can submerge an individual’s personality to “the sunken place”, suppressing his or her ability to control his body or mind. The helpless host is then surgically implanted with an invader’s brain matter, giving the invader’s personality full control.

Dean and Missy’s two children, Jeremy and Rose, procure the hosts.  Rose serves as honey pot, taking several months to woo a new lover and then “bring him home to the family”, which includes Walter and Georgina, the family’s “servants”, and always takes place the same weekend as the family’s yearly party, conveniently enough. Except Walter and Georgina are actual hosts for Dean’s parents, who invaded the bodies when their own wore out, and the party guests are actually bidders for the new host.

Jeremy brutalizes and kidnaps his victims off the street. There’s no fake party, no need for Walter and Georgina to pretend to mow the lawn and make the beds.  Rose’s method seems unnecessarily time-consuming; I don’t see why they don’t just send Jeremy out twice as often.

The plot is revealed through the eyes of Rose’s new unsuspecting prospect, Chris, a young photographer with mommy issues. He avoids his fate because his cellphone uses a flash, his best friend is a TSA agent, and because once aroused, he is capable of ferocious self-defense.

Notice how easy it is to describe this story without ever mentioning race. The tale hangs nicely without knowing that Jeremy only kidnaps, Rose only entraps, black people. It doesn’t suddenly make more sense, closing some puzzling plot loophole.

In fact, the interpretation as offered up by Jordan Peele and his following in elite circles makes the movie absurd.

Given a surgical procedure that implants their consciousness into another body, guaranteeing virtual immortality, rich white people would say “Great! Now find me a cute/buff white body that no one will miss.” (They’d also demand a plastic surgeon get rid of the scars.)

Rich white people do not want to be black. Nor do they want to be Hispanic, southern or eastern Asian, of course, but Peele’s horizons don’t extend that far.

Happily, the movie itself makes no such claims. The movie portrays members of this weird, creepy organization who want to be black. The (largely pointless) video forcefed to Chris makes  no mention of race. We only learn that the Armitages limit their procedures to black folks through Chris’s discovery of Rose’s photo album, coupled with Jeremy’s takedown of Dre.  Jim (the only authentic rich white guy to be found in the film) confirms that only black people are hosts, and he makes it clear that the “organization” has some sort of fetish on the topic.

That these particular white folks aren’t normal is supported by the party scenes themselves. Look, I worked almost exclusively for rich white people as a tutor for four years, including  for folks who have been at one time or another on the Forbes 400.  Rich white liberals from the boomer generation on down just aren’t that gauche. The Armitage guests are creepy,  touching hair, feeling biceps, asking about his sexual prowess.  Their cars are all wrong, too.  But my experience isn’t necessary here. Only idiots with critical faculties completely removed would see these cultists as typical rich white folks.

And here’s the thing: the movie thinks so, too. What else is the point of Jim Hudson, played by the always note-perfect Stephen Root? Jim isn’t a cultist. He’s the real thing: a rich white bastard  in all his authentic, heartless glory. He says so expressly in the video, but we don’t need to be told. At the “party”, Jim is the only one who treats Chris like a human. He’s a rich white bastard, but he’s no racist.  More importantly, he’s not a cultist.

I kept wondering throughout why so many critics–and Peele–invoked the Stepford Wives until I realized that they were referring to the cheerful black servants Walter and Georgina. Just as the men of Stepford turned all their womenfolk cheerful, sex-ready, and compliant by making them all robots, so too did Dean and Missy turn black people into servile peasants, eager to please their masters.

But Walter and Georgina aren’t servants. They’re just pretending to be servants for Chris. Walter and Georgina are Grandma and Grandpa, pretending to be servants to fool Chris. They are fully empowered players in this horrific game, welcoming the bidders to the new auction, messing with Chris’s phone, doing everything they can to kill Chris when he escapes. All we’re seeing is the facade. Homage to Stepford, certainly, but Walter and Georgina aren’t even remotely parallel.

Of course, the entire “servants” fakeout is a giveaway of itself. Rich white people don’t employ blacks as servants. That’s what they have Hispanics for, and why so many white elites resist any sort of immigration restriction.  Maybe people were so eager to see racism that they missed the obvious, but  I was instantly skeptical. Liberal white guilt about black servants reigns supreme; no Obama liberal would have them. By the time Walter was chopping wood–I mean, really. Chopping wood? For what, exactly? –I’d called the plot twist. Walter was a white guy in a black man’s body. Betty Gabriel, singlehandedly responsible for every jump-scare in the film, impeccably represents as a little old white woman who can’t quite get comfortable around “colored people”.

So I already had the plot figured out 30 minutes in, which left me plenty of time to wonder not only where the Hispanic maid was, but where the Hispanics were, period. The Northeast, where I’m told this movie takes place, has more Hispanics than blacks. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, even New Hampshire have a higher percentage of Hispanics than blacks. Yet there isn’t a Hispanic to be found onscreen, not even in the police station. Maybe one walked by the TSA guy and I missed it.

At least there’s a Japanese guy bidding for the right to invade Chris, but that seems to be just one more homage to Rosemary’s Baby. Besides, Asians bidding for the right to be black? Look, I can believe in a cult of weird rich white people with a black fetish. (Cf Rachel Dolezal and Shawn King.)  But Asians, particularly  “fancy” Asians , are racist to levels that your average neo-Nazi can’t even conceive of.

But that’s all beside the point. The movie was fun and the performances note perfect.  None of Peele’s ideological agenda made it on the screen. Race just adds a delightful, even gorgeous, frisson of subtext. The cops laughing at the worried friend are all black, although how this casting does anything but make a joke of Peele’s grand designs is left for better minds than mine. Best of all is  Peele’s use of the “black boyfriend”, with Chris constantly worried about making the wrong impression, overreacting to seeming insanity–maybe this is how white folks do things. Then the finale–oh, the finale. I don’t enjoy watching violence, but Chris’s escape is ferocious righteousness that simply wouldn’t have played as well with any other race.

As for flaws, Everything Wrong with Get Out in 15 Minutes or Less picked up most of the flaws I found with the actual movie, as opposed to my complaints about the absurd interpretations. I’d add that Alison Williams would have been considerably more terrifying if she’d maintained her loose, “all American” persona after the reveal, rather than becoming a freakazoid terminator. How scary would that have been, coming after you with a shotgun?

Another nit:   Richard Herd, playing Roman Armitage, was born in 1932, just the right age to be Bradley Whitford’s dad, but just four years old when Jesse beat the Germans in 1936. A Jesse Owen contemporary would have been 60 years old when son Dean was born, and unlikely to be alive when the grandkids were born, much less old enough to lure unsuspecting African Americans into sexual relationships to bring them home for invasion.

Why not Harrison Dillard? He won in 1948, tied the existing world record just like Jesse Owens did. And he’s alive. Using Dillard as a plot point would have been more realistic, less trite, and maybe even brought the spotlight to a neglected black athlete.

So Jordan Peele may have had lofty goals for his little horror film, but thankfully they aren’t to be found in the actual movie, at least not for most white viewers, at least not for those who live in more racial diversity than the average reporter or movie critic. But Steve Sailer  was uncharacteristically harsh; he seems to have seen the movie Peele wanted to make. (I totally don’t see the Alvy Singer parallels).  Mine is–as always–a minority view.


In Which Ed Explains Induction

So I’m at a Starbucks with my mentee, Bart. Bart looks like  Jared Leto playing Jesus. Many piercings, tattoos, big puppy dog eyes, long brown hair. We have been friends since his first day as a teacher, when I showed up in a (successful) effort to offer assistance, and I’m now mentoring him in his second year of induction (third year as a teacher.)

Some context: it is 6:15 pm. We both began our day at 7:15 am for a mandatory  75-minute staff development meeting, and not the sort where you’re surreptitiously grading papers while listening to required procedural instructions you’ve heard eight years in a row. No, this is intense department negotiations on curriculum and pacing. Interesting, but high intensity, and no checking out. Then our normal day.  Then we supervised our twice weekly, 90-minute sessions with about twenty kids working on science projects. Now we are at Starbucks, working on Bart’s induction project.  I don’t normally do the “teachers work long days” whine, but it had, in fact, been a long day.

Bart’s a great teacher, much adored by his students. He has his own idealistic values, like he still assigns homework because he wants kids to want to do it. I smile indulgently at such foolish romanticism. The guy spends hours working on lesson plans, writing extensive notes, building meaningful lessons and assessments. Not too much time–he’s not silly about this stuff–but he is a thoughtful person developing his practice, and he is in fact a really good teacher.

Induction is designed to engage and encourage new teachers to think productively about their practice. Bart and I had, up to this time, spent many hours in fruitful conversation, valuable to both of us, designing a year-long induction plan that interested him and would deepen his teaching experience.  He turned in his plan early, asking for feedback. I was pretty confident he’d be praised–my last mentee had done far less work under a different system and had done very well.

But alas, it was not to be. The induction administrator returned Bart’s plan politely, saying it showed real promise, but required a bunch of nitpicky changes.  In many cases, her changes expected Bart to be very detailed about the results of analytical or exploratory work that hadn’t yet happened.

I was very concerned. Bart thought the whole thing was absurd. So we were spending a few hours retooling his plan so that the wording pretended to comply with her demands. My years in corporate America have given me a thorough grounding in this task as well as an acute fear of failure; Bart has no such protection.

“What is the point of rewording all this?”

“Satisfying a bureaucrat without, you know, sex or money or drugs involved.”

“But why? I mean, why do we even have this induction nonsense?”

“Well, it all started with the achievement gap.”

“Induction will fix the achievement gap?”

“Of course not. Nothing will fix the achievement gap. So while there were some early successes, things mostly stalled out about twenty-thirty years ago.  Meanwhile, we started spending far more on education–bilingual education, increased academic requirements, special ed. Increased teachers–while our pay is about the same, we’ve had way more growth in teachers than in students. Many people noticed we had nothing to show for it, but no one seemed to notice that we are making far more demands on our students.”

“Completely unrealistic demands!”

“Of course. ” (Note: my original history here: The Fallacy at the Heart of All Reform on this topic is still one of my favorites.)

“But what does this have to do with this crappy makework?”

“Well, back in the 80s, when the Nation At Risk declared that we were destroying our country and Russia would win…”

“A Nation at Risk?”

I sighed. “That’s right, you went to one of those online ed schools. It was this huge report written by conservative Repulicans arguing, basically, that American high schools are destroying the country by making school too easy. So that began a wholesale upgrade of required high school courses–except, of course, many kids weren’t capable of learning advanced material. Schools tried tracking, but they were sued out of it in diverse districts, leading us to try things like differentiation and group work and resulting in the wide range of abilities you see in your classroom today.”

“Anyway, back in the 90s, it finally began to occur to folks that not all kids were ready for this material, but rather than change the requirements, they started a big push for “readiness” at the middle school and elementary school level. This is where charters had a lot of success; it’s how KIPP made its bones. Turns out  that if you cream highly motivated kids of average ability and push testing, you can bump test scores, and back in the 90s, everyone screamed that oh, my lord, this is proof that our public schools are disasters and teachers are morons.”

“Did they have success in high school?”

“No, but of course higher test scores in elementary scores would lead to  better high school performance.”

 

“That’s idiotic. High school is much more difficult. So is that when credential tests began?”

“Well, high school teachers have had difficult credential tests going back to the 70s, a fact conveniently ignored by reformers. High school teachers are well-qualified, so we already knew that boosting teacher cognitive ability doesn’t lead to higher student test scores. But what means these pesky facts in face of enthusiasm and certainty? It’s when credential tests for elementary and middle school teachers began, though. (You can read all about it here.)”

“But induction isn’t a credential test.”

“Yeah, I’m getting there. Because, as you’ve no doubt anticipated, a wholesale increase in teacher cognitive abilities didn’t have the desired result–although it did result in a huge decrease in black and Hispanic teachers, once the fraud ring was discovered and broken up.”

“Fraud ring? Like taking tests for teachers?”

“Yep. Long story. Never mind that, while the evidence for smarter teachers getting better results is fuzzy,research shows a much stronger link for achievement if teacher and student race match…”

“Teacher and student race? You’re kidding.”

“Nope. Particularly low achieving blacks. Sucks, huh.”

“Jesus.”

“Where was I? Oh, yeah. Anyway, at some point in there progressives and conservatives found something they could agree on. It was ridiculous to assume that teachers could just….teach. They sit in ed school, which is widely agreed to be a waste of time…”

“Mine was.”

“…and do a few weeks of student teaching, and suddenly, shazam. They’re teachers! Once all the professionals sat and thought about that, they decided it was stupid. After all, these professionals had insanely great test scores and got into terrific schools, but teachers, who have our nation’s kids’ future in their hands!–go to crap schools, have low SAT scores, and then we just put them in a class. This has to change. Some of them are terrible. Some quit. Let’s  invest in their success!  Give new teachers more support. Improve student achievement.Blah blah.”

“Ah. Here’s how induction comes into it. But hasn’t it always been that way? I mean, we’ve always just put teachers into a classroom. Were they smarter? I’ve heard that in the old days teachers were smart women who couldn’t get other jobs, and now we’re all idiots.”

“In fact, teacher ability has been pretty constant. While it’s true that fewer really smart women become teachers, a whole lot of reasonably smart men did, along with the existing reasonably smart women.”

“And you’re right. It has always been this way. In the very early days, teachers were taught content. But for sixty years or more, prospective teachers have spent a year or so thinking and reading about pedagogy, six to ten weeks student teaching, and then entered the classroom.”

“All so America could invent the Internet and go to the moon.”

“Win World War II, outlast Communism, make AIDS a manageable disease, and elect a black president. But yeah, faced with the choice of accepting cognitive ability or pretending that teachers are ludicrously unprepared for the classroom, it’s an easy pick: spend billions on a useless training program for new teachers.”

“And so here we are.”

“Well, be happy Linda Darling Hammond didn’t get her way. She wants teachers train for three years after graduation before getting a job. And she’s a liberal!”

“What the hell? Here’s what I don’t get. Teaching isn’t that hard…well, it is hard. But it’s not hard in a way that training helps. It’s incredibly difficult but….exciting.”

“Well, of course.  Teaching is a performance job. Teachers have an audience. And as any actor can tell you, facing a hostile audience is a hellish proposition. Facing a hostile audience every day, eight hours a day, can’t long be borne. Facing a hostile audience of 30 or more children? Sane people run screaming if they can’t do the job.”

“So teaching has its own quality control built right in.”

“Exactly. If you are completely inept, you will quit or be fired in the unlikely event you made it past student teaching.”

“But you’re not saying everyone is a great teacher.”

“No. Everyone who continues teaching is at least an adequate teacher. And beyond adequate, no one can agree on the attributes of a great teacher. Manifestly, great teachers aren’t necessary. Adequate to good teachers are sufficient.”

“But we could do better. I mean, I would have loved to have talked to you before I started work, to get a good idea of what I was facing.”

“You wouldn’t have believed me. In fact, you didn’t believe me! Remember when I gave you that assessment test to give your kids the first day, and you were shocked because it was pre-algebra? These were geometry kids, you said. They’d finish it in 20 minutes. Um, no, I said, they’d need at least 45 and my guess more. You were polite, remember? Like who is this crazy loon.”

Bart was chagrined. “My god, you’re right. I doubted you back then. And then the test took them an hour and the average score was thirty wrong.”

“You still doubt me! You shouldn’t, of course, but teaching is hard to believe until you do it. Which is why induction is a waste.”

“Well, at least they pay you to do this. I do it for free!”

“Yep. Teaching is pay to play. Anyway, it’s seven. Let’s send this off and hope it pleases the bureaucrat.”

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

(It didn’t. The bureaucrat demanded more nonsensical changes. I wrote a cranky note.)

 

 


Realizing Radians: Teaching as Stagecraft

Teaching Objective: Introduce radian as a unit of angle measure that corresponds to the number of radians in the length of the arc that the angle “subtends” (cuts off? intersects?).  Put another way: One radian is the measure of an angle that subtends an arc the length of the circle’s radius.  Put still another way, with pictures:

How do you  engage understanding and interest, given this rather dry fact?  There’s no one answer. But in this particular case, I use stagecraft and misdirection.

I start by walking around a small circle.

“How far did I walk?”

“360 degrees.”

“Yeah, that won’t work.” I walk around a group of desks. “How far did I walk?”

“360 degrees.”

“Really? I walked the same distance both times?”

“No!” from the class.

“So what’s the difference?”

It takes a minute or so for someone to mention radius.

“Hey, there you go. Why does the radius matter?”

That’s always an interesting pause as the kids take into account something they’ve known forever, but never genuinely thought about before–the distance around a circle is determined by the radius.

“Yeah. Of course, we knew that, right? What’s that word for the distance around a circle?”

“Circumference!”

“Yes. And how do you find the circumference of a circle?” There’s always a pause, here. “OK, let me tell you for the fiftieth time: know the difference between area and circumference formulas!”

“2Πr” someone offers tentatively.  I put it up:

6bitcircform1

“So the circumference is the difference between this small circle” and I walk it again “and this biiiiigg circle around these desks here.” Nods. “And the difference in circumference comes down to radius.”

Pause.

“Look at the equation. 2 Π is 2 Π. So the only difference is radius. The difference in these two circles I walked is that one has a bigger radius.”

“So the real question is, how does the radius play into the circumference?”

“Well,” it’s always one of the better math students, here: “The bigger the radius is, the farther away from the center, right?”

“So then…you have to walk more around…more to walk around,” some other student will finish, or I’ll ask someone to explain what that means.

“Right. But how does that actually work? Can we know exactly how much bigger a circle is if it has a bigger radius?”

“A circle with a radius of 2 has a circumference of  4Π. A circle with a radius of 4 has a radius of 8 Π. So it’s bigger.” again, I can prompt if needed, but my class is such that the stronger students will speak their thoughts aloud. I allow it here, because they can never see where I’m going. See below for what happens if they start with spoiler alerts.

“Sure. But what’s that mean?”

Pause.

I pass out pairs of circles, cut from simple construction paper, of varying sizes, although each pair has the same radius.

“You’re going to find out exactly how many radius lengths are in a circle’s circumference using the two circles. Don’t mix and match. Don’t write annoyingly obscene things on the circles.”

“How about obscene things that aren’t annoying?”

“If you can think of charmingly obscene comments, imagine yourself repeating them to the principal or your parents, and refrain from writing them, too. Now. You will use one of these circles as a ruler. All you have to do is create a radius ruler. Then you’ll use that ruler to tell me how many times the radius goes around the circumference.”

“Use one of the circles as a ruler?”

“You figure it out.”

And they do. Most of them figure it out independently; a few covertly imitate a nearby group that got it. Folding up one of the circles into fourths (or 8ths) exposes the radius.

radian1

Folding up one circle exposes the radius.

It takes most of them a bit more time to figure out how to use the radius as a ruler, and sometimes I noodge them. It’s so low-tech!

radian2

Curl the folded circle around the edge of the measured circle. 

But within ten to fifteen minutes everyone has painstakingly used the “radius ruler” to mark off the number of radius lengths around the circumference, and then I go back up front.

 

“Okay. So how many times did the radius fit into the circumference?”

Various choruses of “Over six” come back, but invariably, someone says something like “Six with and a little bit left over.”

“Hey, I like that. Six and a little bit. Everyone agreed?” Yesses come back. “So did everyone get something that looks like this?”

6bitcirclewradius

“Huh. And did it matter what size the circle was? Jody, you had the big two, right? Samir, the tiny ones? Same difference? Six and a little bit?”

“So no matter the circle size, it appears, the radius goes into the circumference six times, with a little bit left over.”

No one has any clue where I’m going, usually, but they’re interested.

“‘Goes into’ is a familiar term, isn’t it? I mean, if I say I wonder how many times 2 goes into 6, what am I actually asking?”

Pause, as the import registers, then “Six divided by two.”

“Yeah, it’s a division question! So when I ask how many times the radius goes into the circumference, I’m actually asking…..” The pause is a fun thing. Most beginning teachers dream of using it, but then get fearful when no one answers. No. Be fearless. Wait longer. And, if you need it:

“Oh, come on. You all just said it. How many times does 2 go into 6 is 6 divided by 2. So how many times the radius goes into the circumference is…”

and this time you’ll get it: “Circumference divided by the radius.”

“Yeah–and that’s interesting, isn’t it? It applies to the original formula, too.”

6bitcircform2

“Cancel  out the radius.” the class is still mystified, usually, but they see the math.

“Right. The radius is a factor in both the numerator and denominator, so they can be eliminated. This leaves an equation that looks like this.”

6bitcircform4

“The circumference divided by the radius is 2Π. Well. That’s good to know. Does everyone follow the math? Everyone get what we did? You all manually measured the circumference in terms of radius length–which is the same as division–and learned that the radius goes into the circumference a little bit over six times. Meanwhile, we’re looking at the algebra, where it appears that the circumference divided by the radius is 2Π.”

(Note: I have never had the experience where a bright kid figures it out at this point. If I did, I would kill him daid, visually speaking, with a look of daggers. YOU DO NOT SPOIL MY APPLAUSE LINE. It’s important. Then go to him or her later and say, “thanks for keeping it secret.” Or give kudos after the fact, “Aman figured it out early, just two seconds before figuring out I’d kill him if he spoke up.” Bright kids learn early, in my class, to speak to me personally about their great observations and not interrupt my stagecraft.)

And then, almost as an aside: “What is Π, again?” I always ask it that way, never “what’s the value of Π” because the stronger kids, again, will answer reflexively with the correct value and they aren’t the main audience yet. So the stronger kids will start talking yap about circles, and I will always call then on a weaker kid, up front.

“So, Alberto, you know those insane posters going around all the math teachers’ walls? With all the numbers?”

“Oh, yeah. That’s Π, right? 3.14.”

“Right. So Π is 3.14 blah blah blah. And we multiply it by two.”

6bitfinal

That’s when I start to get the gasps and “Oh, MAN!” “You’re kidding!”

“….so 3.14 blah blah times 2 is 6.28 or…..”

“SIX AND A LITTLE BIT!” the class always shouts with joy and comprehension. And on good days, I get applause, too, from the stronger kids who realized I misdirected them long enough to get a deeper appreciation of the math, not just “the answer”.

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

So a traditionalist would just explain it, maybe with power point. I don’t want to fault that, but I have a bunch of students who would simply not pay any attention. They’ll take the F. I either have to figure out a way to feed them the math in a way they’ll remember, or fail more kids than I’m comfortable failing.

A discovery-oriented teacher would probably turn it into a crafts project, complete with pipe cleaners and magic markers. I don’t want to fault that, but you always get the obsessive artists who focus on making a beautiful picture and don’t care about the math. Besides, it takes forever. This little activity has to be 15-20 minutes, tops. Remember, there’s still a lot to explain. Radians are the unit measure that allow us to talk about circles in terms akin to similarity in polygons–and that’s just the start, of course. We have to talk about conversion, about the power that radians gives us in terms of thinking of percentage of the entire circle–and then actual practice. I don’t have time for a damn pipe-cleaning activity.

As I’ve written before somewhere between open-ended, squishy discovery and straight discussion lecture lies a lot of ground for productive, memorable teaching. In my  opinion, good teachers don’t just transmit information, but create learning events, moments that all students remember and can use as hooks for further memories of learning. In this case, I want them to sneak around the back end to realize that  Π is a concrete reality, something that can actually be counted, if not exactly.

 

Teaching as stagecraft. All the best teachers use it–even pure lecture artists who do it with the power of their words (and an appropriate audience).  Many idealistic teachers begin with fond delusions of an enthralled class listening as they explain math in terms that their other soulless, uncaring teachers just listlessly put up on the board. When those fantasies are ruthlessly dashed, they often have no plan B. My god, it turns out that the kids really don’t find math interesting! Who do I blame, myself or them?

I never had the delusions. I always ask my kids one simple question: is your life better off if you pass math, or if you fail?  Stick with me, and you’ll pass. For many, that’s a soulless promise. To me, that’s where the fun starts. How do you get them interested? How do you create those moments? How do you engage kids who don’t care?

It’s not enough. It’s never enough.

But it’s a good way to start.


This Great Election

This is the first election day since 1992 that I’ve really enjoyed. 1992’s election was exhilarating and in many ways a set up for this one. Bill Clinton back then gave a master class in how far a politician could go if he lacked shame and had a message the voters cared about. In 2000, I thought Gore ran a poor campaign over the summer, and the recount was a little too much evidence that our court system is just a reinforcement of our political system. I was just pleased it was close.

2008 radicalized me. I didn’t mind Hillary much back then (she was against driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, remember that quaint old restriction?), and the media’s anvil on the scale for Obama in both the primaries and the general was just nauseating.

I quit watching or reading about politics from late October 2008 to the Obamacare fights of 2009. And when I came back to it, I stopped trusting any media. Going on Twitter in 2012 further reinforced my understanding that even the ones who write in a seemingly neutral and unbiased style are, in fact, predictably liberal with tremendous disdain for half the electorate. For a news junkie living squarely in the mainstream, this comes as an unhappy shock.  (This time around, Sean Trende and Jack Shafer, two of my favorites, have been the most disappointing re the disconnect between the bias in their tweets and their carefully cleaned up columns, Josh Kraushaaer the one I still have illusions about so dammit Josh, don’t screw it up. Michael Goodwin, Mickey Kaus, and Byron York have, in their various ways, been solid gold treasures.)

Anyway. One thing I did learn from 2008 was that outside of progressives, white voters aren’t very interested in the presidential election issues. It’s been clear to me for a while that the public, particularly the GOP base, was not getting the candidates or the issues they wanted. Two elections in a row, I thought it likely that white voters were staying home, not bothering. Two elections in a row, I thought that the GOP was ignoring its voters in favor of ideas that no one really wanted–from immigration to education to social issues to entitlements. (I never thought of trade, sorry.)

Then came the 2012 autopsy, in which the GOP said hey, we need outreach to Hispanics in order to win back the presidency. Not to blacks. Noooo, the much-vaunted Party of Lincoln didn’t even think of blacks, didn’t think to find the common ground between their base of working class whites and the many blacks (and non-immigrant Hispanics). No notion of using immigration restriction as a uniter. Nope. Their money men wanted cheap labor, and they all figured that the 2012 loss could be used as rationale to argue against the base’s desire for restriction.  “See, we’d love to end H1B visas and implement e-verify, but we gotta do outreach!”  Because that’s how you grow the economy, with lots of businesses making money off of cheap labor. Good for the stock market. Meanwhile, of course, the GOP wanted to double down on blaming schools for failing to educate kids–that’s why they need immigrant labor, because teachers suck!

So I wasn’t excited about 2016, what with all the talk about another Bush, hints of returning to the autopsy plan, even after Rubio got his ears pinned back.

And then came Trump, down that damn escalator.

He never had to win to make me happy.  I wanted the message out there.  I wanted another politician to defy conventional wisdom, to refuse to step down or apologize, to insist that the people be given their choice. I wanted someone to show the popularity of issues the media and elites considered completely unthinkable, to force them into the debate. The Overton window has shifted feet–yards, even–back in the direction of sanity.

But GOP elites are trying to bargain their way out of reality. They  think fondly of a world where Rubio–the GOP’s version of bland, teleprompter-ready Obama–could have won if Kasich and Christie had dropped out because golly, he gave a good speech. Or Cruz–whose voice is so awful I change the channel when he shows up–could somehow win over enough swing voters.  Or they blame the media for giving Trump air time, forgetting that the airtime was devoted to blasting Trump for insensitivity, for “racism”, and demanding the public share their opinion. Instead he won more votes every time he refused to back down.

If you want to rebuild the GOP, start by asking a Trump voter what the key moment in his success was. Most will point to his refusal to apologize for his June 16 announcement. NBC dumped him. Univision fired him. And he didn’t back down. He didn’t play the game. He didn’t apologize, mend fences with the media. That was……well, huuuuge in the world of Trump’s base.  He snarled back, and got more popular.

What we’ve needed in America is someone willing to defy the media and the elite. Someone who had the money and message to succeed despite blasted disapproval. This forced the media and the GOP leadership to realize that all of their power relied on their ability to shut off the microphone. Take that ability away, they got nothing.

I don’t lionize Trump. I think he tried for years to win approval from the same elites who despise him now. I’m glad he chose to run. I’m glad he showed them, through the people, how wrong they were.

Because unless the polls are dramatically wrong in Clinton’s favor, Trump is not going to get destroyed. If he loses, it will be be a margin less than McCain, possibly less than Romney. With few ads and even fewer experts to advise him–the experts being the one class who still needs elite approval.

All he had was a message.

Next steps: win or lose, Trump voters need to see that class, not race, is the way to grow their ranks. This Sheryl Stolberg story on the decimated black working class that see no hope from Hillary but hate Trump–they’re the first step. I believe that African Americans can be convinced that our immigration policies are incredibly harmful to their interests: in jobs, in education, in reducing their political viability. Working class Hispanics, those of long-standing in this country, are also a great opportunity for actual outreach.

I’m not sure where it goes from here, because very few Republicans in media or leadership have any interest in rebuilding. Most of them believe that surgical removal of Trump voters is not only necessary, but simple. Laugh at them.

It’s all the meme these days for the media to talk about how horrible this election has been, how dispiriting it’s been to true believers in democracy and American greatness. That, again, is one reason why we all hate the media and elites, for failing to realize how exciting many of us are by the opportunity to vote our issues.

To all of you out there in Trumpland, I hope you share my sense of joy in this campaign. Watching everyone in power realize they had no power to stop Trump and his message.

If our side loses, it wasn’t because the media won the narrative. Entire publications were dedicated to convincing the public of Trump’s evil nature. They failed. They weren’t able to frame this election, because in their framing, Trump is unthinkable, a fascist racist misongynist who’ll start nuclear wars. But “unthinkable” doesn’t include close to half the country’s support.

If we lose, we’ll lose because we don’t yet have enough votes. Trump’s important qualities are alienating. I believe they were also essential. There was no moderating, no winning approval, that wouldn’t likewise end his ability to sell his message. And the conservative wing of the party has had it their way for so long that they can’t conceive of voting for a candidate they aren’t crazy about. That, too, was a non-negotiable constraint.

But moving forward, I believe this can be fixed. I believe the media  and the GOP will find it impossible to shut down these issues. I believe we’ll get more compelling candidates. I believe we’ll find a way to win more support.

If not, well, at least we had the chance to try.  That’s more chance than I ever expected.

Go Trump!


A Clarifying Moment

This semester has had several  unmitigated professional plusses: (1) my schedule is now ELL, trig, algebra 2, and pre-calc. (Cue Sesame Street.)  Last year, I briefly (and oh so irrationally) considered resigning because I only had two preps. Four is better. (2) I’m actually helping the school out in a pinch by taking this ELL class. Feels noble and self-sacrificing….(3) well, no, scratch the self-sacrifice, given the  33% pay bump for the fourth semester in a row, with next semester the fifth. You would be shocked to learn how much I make extra a month. Score. (5) I’m getting a new professional experience with no risk.

On the other hand, I’ve set a new benchmark for exhaustion. Work rarely tires me out. But for the first time in memory I’m mentally zonked by my schedule. Enjoying it, yes. But not only am I finding myself thinking longingly of Saturday and sleep,  but I’m often teaching my fourth block from a chair. I’ve been puzzling over the cause, because nothing about four preps should in and of itself be so draining (for me). As I wrote this,  I suddenly realized that club adviser should be added to the list. Then I’m an induction  mentor. And oh, yeah, an administrator voluntold me to co-lead a science/engineering after-school program, which is getting kind of ridiculous. I don’t do science.

The after-school program gave me some insight into my state of mind. I’d been MIA for the first few meetings, for good reasons. I’d done the several hours of weekend training, met with my co-lead (also my mentee), but had just not gotten dialed into the weekly sessions.  I’d been mentally shying away from even thinking about that two afternoon commitment, on top of everything else. But once my first meeting started, I was hooked and charged, working with the kids.

I suddenly realized that this is how I’m facing every single class, every obligation (save the induction meetings, which take place at a local liquor store with a great beer bar): mentally shying away from each instance until I’m in the moment, when it’s an electric shock of fun and joy. Which, for me, is a sign of incipient burnout. I have cancelled one road trip entirely over Thanksgiving, and am rethinking the best way to achieve two others. I may even fork out plane fare, which is a big concession. Semester two will be better, just two preps.

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

Related:

Yesterday, Friday afternoon, just minutes from beer and sushi, I was waiting for some pre-calc students to finish a test when in walked

“Hui! My lord, I haven’t seen you since…” and I stopped there, just jumping up to shake hands, because the last time I’d seen Hui, nearly three years ago, he’d been choking back tears as he told me his SAT scores.

Hui had been a junior in my first pre-calc class, where he struggled. (Based on my results with him and other similar stories, I slowed down instruction dramatically in subsequent precalc courses.)  He wasn’t a student I was particularly close to, but the next year, he stopped by and asked if I could give him advice about the SAT.  I wasn’t sanguine. He tested terribly in math, and he spoke, read, and wrote English at perhaps a fifth grade level. A top state university was his goal. Asians with impeccable scores and transcripts face routine discrimination by college admissions staff; the notion of an underprivileged Chinese lad whose abilities weren’t best captured by standardized tests simply does not compute in that world. I tried as gently as possible to prepare him for this likelihood, but didn’t push the issue, and twice a week, he came to my classroom after school for half an hour or more,  steadfastly working through test sections and trying to make sense of the questions.

After his test date, Hui asked me if I’d look at his personal statement. I gave him several tutorials in self-promotion.  Hui’s weak English suddenly became a remarkable achievement  when considered in the context of five years in America and two parents with limited education and less English. He was reclassified quickly (probably too quickly), which allowed him to take a normal schedule and qualify for admission to a state campus. Play up that achievement, I told him, and put your scores in context.  Hui had started a new draft when he came to my room one day, devastated: he’d received his SAT scores and they were as low as I’d feared.

His despair has remained a memory I flinch from–although at least in this case the recoil wasn’t for my poor handling of things. I didn’t try to console him, didn’t point out the local community college was very good (it is).  Hui accepted my heartfelt sympathy as best he could, nodding tightly, eyes filled with tears. He left my room, and I don’t remember another conversation, although I’m sure we ran into each other in the hallways.

“So how’s college?”

“Good. I want to get a degree in economics. I’m planning a transfer, getting everything in order, and…” Hui paused.

“Oh, hey. You didn’t just come by to say hi!”

Grin and a ducked head. “I’m want to apply to the same school as….. as last time. Could you look at my personal statements? They are short answer questions, so it won’t be one big essay.”

“Sure! You’ve got a good shot at transferring. I’m glad you’re trying again. You want to mail the responses?”

“They’re on my Google Drive. Do you have time?”

I sighed. “I do, but only until these last three are done with their tests, because then I have beer awaiting.”

I flipped through the short passages. “Hey, your writing has improved tremendously.” That wasn’t empty praise; his writing was still obvious an product of an English Language Learner, but the deficiencies now were….well, not infrequent, but not constant, either. Far fewer grammar errors, allowing me to focus on style issues.

Passage one needed a complete rewrite; Hui focused entirely on describing courses in his desired major. I told him to branch out. Passages two and three were nicely done, with only a few grammar and style edits. Passage four….

Passage four, in response to “what significant obstacle have you faced and how has it affected your academic progress” or something like that, was a lovely little explanation of the struggle he faced as a child who came to America at the age of ten, with two parents who still, to this day, speak no English.  Not just vague assertions, either, but entertaining, brief comparisons of verb tenses and articles that presented tremendous challenges to Chinese speakers, and finishing up with his constant efforts to remedy his gaps with books and films.

I looked over at Hui, who was watching me closely, and don’t tell anyone, but I was choked up. “You kept my notes from last time.”

“I didn’t need to. I remembered them. They really helped to think of my English as…something I’d achieved, rather than just something I do really bad at.”

“You should finish with a sentence to that effect.”

“OK.”

He left after wangling my phone number out of me, but promised to try email first. A student finishing up his test said “So can I come back to you for college admissions help after I graduate?”

“You better.”

I tell this story for two reasons. First: I write quite a bit about Asian immigrants , the corruption that China is introducing into US college admissions, the continual obsession with grades   and resumes with little interest in underlying knowledge, the pressure the parents put on the kids, and the  my concerns that they’re not here to become Americans, but to take advantage of a system not set up to defend against them. Inevitably, someone takes offense and argues that “they aren’t all like that”. Yes.  Even the ones who are like that….aren’t. I know that better than most.

But I tell this story in large part because I didn’t instantly think to write it up. I was just sitting around last night thinking of the three posts I have in the hopper, and trying to get the energy to finish one of them, when the events of the day popped into my mind and I thought it might make a good story. Then I realized it made a great story. Then–in the moment of this essay’s title–I realized the reason it didn’t instantly present itself as a great story is because this happens to me all the time.

A month ago, I was sitting in a Starbucks when I noticed the kid sitting next to me was a trig student from last year, now attending a graphics arts program. We were chatting when his pals showed up, all past students, and they sat down for half an hour and told me about their lives, exchanging funny stories about my classes. Two ex-students came back just this month asking for some help in their college math course. Every year, a few students make coffee dates, just to chat. Still others just stop by my classroom and say hi.

What a tremendous, amazing job I have. Teaching feeds my love of drama, my ability to think on the fly, and my love of intellectual challenges–and gives me tremendous independence. Then, it turns out, I live in my students’ memories.  I am Chips, not Browning.

In Clan Teacher, pay is substituted in part with ego gratification–and don’t think it’s not a fair trade. I’m a cranky introvert–you don’t think it matters to me that I send kids out into the world with Memories of Me? Good memories, of course–and yes, like all teachers, I worry about the damage, the memories I might cause through a careless word or ill-considered retort. But  I don’t demand perfection from my own performance. I am satisfied. I can try to do better.

So I’m not telling this story because it revived my flagging spirits, reversed my burnout. I’m telling you about Hui because it’s a glorious part of business as usual.

Which means I have to rest up, take this mild burnout seriously. Maybe take next summer off. (Yes. Laugh.) Get home earlier, particularly when I feel too tired to get up from my desk.

Because I never want to lose the sense of joy I get when remembering they actually pay me for this gig.

 

 

 

 

 

 


ELL isn’t Language Instruction

I’ve only taught English once in a public school (a humanities class), but I’ve been teaching private instruction English for a decade. Language instruction it’s not. I took French for a few years, and vaguely remember having to study verbs, and verb forms. Something about subjunctives. Unlike my father, I’m terrible at all new languages that don’t tell computers what to do.

I thought teaching English as a language was more structured.  Start with common verbs, the “persons”–I eat, you eat, he/she eats, they eat. Then common nouns. Then put things together? Isn’t that how it works? In other languages?

But then, French teachers speak English. Or Russian. Or whatever their students’ native language is–and a French teacher’s students only have one native language. You don’t see French teachers in American classrooms playing to a class of Punjab, Chinese, Spanish, and English students. Nor is the French teacher expected to be utterly ignorant of Punjabi, Mandarin, Spanish and English–yet still teach the students French.

Yet here I am with six students, only two of whom have even minimal conversational English, with four native languages. I’m not supposed to teach them English like a French teacher teaches French. Nor am I supposed to teach them English or anything else in Spanish, Punjabi, Chinese, or French as it’s spoken in the Congo.

American schools have never taught the English language.  Many education reform folk–and most non-experts–glorify immersion, our original method of handling language learners. Dump kids in, let them learn the language. That worked, right? Well, maybe not. Lots didn’t learn.  They just dropped out. As Ravitch the historian (not the advocate) observed, America’s past success educating immigrants has been dramatically overrated. (The immigrants’ children did well, but why we can’t expect that today is a tad Voldemortean for this essay.)

Giving additional services to non-English speaking students  became a public education mandate with Lau vs. Nichols.  But after the Chinese Lau, the case history shows that all major bilingual court cases involved Hispanics.

First, the Aspira case built on Lau, as  New York City signed a consent degree to provide bilingual education to limited English Puerto Rican students until they could function in regular classes. This led to a de facto mandate for nationwise bilingual education, and created the infrastructure of support. Not the curriculum, of course. (Ha, ha! Heaven forfend!)

One of those court cases was also one of the heads of the hydra known as US vs. Texas , which has a long, controversial history much of it not involving bilingual education. But at one point presiding judge  observed that the “experts” were appalled that Hispanic ELL students had only to reach the 23rd percentile in order to be reclassified as fluent.  The kids would only be doing better than 1 in 4 kids, wrote the judge, which simply wasn’t enough to perform adequately in mainstream classrooms. The judge never considered that black students aren’t given all this additional support, despite similar or worse test scores. We still don’t.

Anyway, as a result of that court case,  many if not all of states require ELL students to be proficient on achievement tests before they can be reclassified.  Proficient.  Often above average. Not basic. Different states have different procedures, different standards, but “proficient” is usually mentioned. And remember that ELL is only nominally concerned with teaching non-English speakers, since ELL students are primarily citizens.   Kids are asked  if  English is the only language spoken at home. Those who say “no” get tested, and if they don’t test proficient, they get tagged ELL and stay ELL until they do.  Schools don’t care–arent’ allowed to care–if the student came to America yesterday, a decade ago, or through a womb.

As I’ve written before, in math as it is in English, elementary school “proficiency” is much easier to acquire than the skill required for high school. It is thus much easier to test out of  ELL elementary school, regardless of original language, than high school. Most elementary ELL students test out after two or three years. Those who don’t make it out are categorized “long-term ELL”, meaning they’ve been ELL for over five years and never made proficient. Left unsaid is that kids need a certain cognitive ability to hit those test scores.

Thus by high school, over half the long-term ELL students are US citizens, split evenly among second and 3rd generation Americans who consider English their native language but have  lower than average cognitive ability or some specifically verbal processing issues. These are the kids who weren’t able to meet the relatively low elementary school proficiency standards. The other 44% are foreign born kids who couldn’t test out in the first five years.  It’s unlikely that either group is going to escape ELL in high school.

Consider: the primary reason for sheltering ELL learners once they’ve achieved functional fluency is to avoid kids being stuck in long term ELL. But there’s no solution to the “problem” of long-term ELLS, save accepting it as an artifact of an entirely different attribute.

If you’re following my dispirited trail of musings, you might be wondering if the elementary school proficiency levels are so low, then shouldn’t some of the kids who escape ELL status early run into trouble in high school?”   And to quote Tommy Lee Jones: Oh wow. Gee whiz. Looky here! Many Reclassified ELLs Still Need English-Language Support, Study Finds and points out that this finding is consistent with past research.

If you aren’t following my dispirited traill of musings, you’re thinking this has nothing to do with my assigned task of teaching English to one African, two Chinese, two Mexican, and one Punjabi student.

Sorry, I’m just explaining why I don’t teach English language instruction in an English class of kids who don’t speak English.

ESL and bilingual education from its earliest days was never intended to instruct students in the English language. It was actually a means of directing funding to close the Hispanic achievement gap for English speaking Hispanics which–it was believed–was due to inadequate academic instruction in English.   ELL’s purported objective is to provide support to non-English speaking students until they are proficient. Its actual  purpose is, first, to define a category that reports the academic achievement of  primarily Hispanic US citizens of lower than average cognitive ability–the better to beat our schools up with. Second, the classes gives the kids something to do until immersion gives them enough English to be mainstreamed, or at least into a higher ELL class.

So just as before, ELL teachers don’t provide English language instruction. Kids don’t come to America with a six word vocabulary and take English 1, followed by English 2, then English 3, and then AP English because hey, now they’re fluent.

When I express the concern   that I’m not teaching the kids English, I’m just giving them vocabulary and grammar enrichment in a sheltered English class, other ELL teachers and the admins nod their heads approvingly and say “You’re doing a great job!” Because ELL is not about teaching the English language.

Then I look at these six kids–and really, they’re terrific. In an ideal world, I’d never question my assignment. They’re a joy to teach and I’ll do my best for them. But only one of them is a citizen. Collectively, they are consuming one third of three English teachers’ schedule–that is, one full-time position at our school is dedicated to giving language enrichment to five non-citizens. All across America you’ll find thousands of these sheltered classes, for kids who just got here and instantly given free and guaranteed access to small classrooms and support in lessons that may or may not teach them the language, but gives them something to do in school until their English gets good enough for academic instruction. Which will–again–happen outside these classes, because lord knows, we’re not involved in language instruction.

I think of the millions of citizen kids. Of the bright high schoolers who could use challenging enrichment, maybe digging in deep to a Milton sonnet because they have the ability to do something more than fake their way through interpretation in carefully modeled  Schaffer chunks.  Of the many citizen students from the bottom half of the cognitive scale who didn’t check the “another language spoken at home” box and thus are not given additional time and money….not to get higher test scores, but just spend time with a teacher reading them a story and talking about vocabulary and context at a level they can enjoy. Every day. Of the many citizens from the bottom half of the cognitive scale who are told for their entire k-12 education that their native language isn’t, in fact, their native language.

Of course, whether or not we should be spending this kind of money on non-citizens never comes up. All we ever debate is whether we should use immersion or follow Krashen’s dictates and instruct every 1 in 20 kids in their native language. See, dedicating one full English position to six kids is the cheap version, the one favored by conservatives and most taxpayers. Bilingual advocates want native language instruction, which would further reduce class size from six to one or two, in every language we run into in our public schools.  Of course, we don’t have enough qualified teachers in each language, but since we can’t have perfection, at least  it’s a great way to boost employment in immigrant communities. So not only do we spend more resources on the kids, but the schools often provide more employment to the communities. As for citizens, well, you know, being bilingual is important. You should have studied more.

The entire debate about bilingual education vs. immersion is a canard. Of all the many education debates that aren’t as they seem, none wastes as much time,  money, and resources as that of the ludicrously named English Language Learner.

No one is asking whether we should be doing this at all. Well. I am. But then, I’m no one.

Someone, somewhere, will furiously argue that I’m “pitting brown students against each other”.  No. That’s what ELL does. And not just to kids of color, either.

Cynical? Scratch the surface of any ELL program and see how far off I am. Don’t listen to what they say. Go look at what they do.

Not sure if this piece has a point.  In math, I don’t have to think of this too often.

At the end of the day, I remind myself that I like the job, the boss folks like what I’m doing, and regardless of what you call it, this is a hell of a lesson.

 


Writing a Tweet Storm Chain

Here I offer a practice that will bring all of us Tweeters together as one. Discovery zealots or zombie-denying traditionalists. Content knowledge worshippers or skeptics. Math, English, or history teachers–or those of you who, you know, do that other topic. Immigration restrictionists or citizens, not Americans.

Twitter will be a happier place if its users learn that tweet storm are not as effective as tweet chains.

Others have come before me, but they were writing for early adopters, the ten percenters. I wasn’t an early adopter.

Like other innovators of the obvious, I began with a question: How the hell can I write more than one tweet without forcing everyone to read backwards? And irritants: numbering my multiple thoughts. I could never remember what number I was on–or worse, not bothering to number at all. Yes, I know there’s an app somewhere, but since I didn’t like making everyone reading backwards, I didn’t want that solution anyway.

Lately, I’ve seen the nested retweet, as used here by Megan McArdle and Mickey Kaus, but while this approach does link the tweets, they are still presented in backwards order and also gives readers the feeling they’re spiraling in an endless loop. I recommend against.

At some point I noticed elegant chains of comments, such as these put together by Ed Asante and Spotted Toad and wondered hey, how can I get in on that?

And the answer is: Reply.

Just hit reply on your own tweet. Remove the moniker. Twitter still treats the tweet (try saying that three times fast!) as a reply, and chains it to the original, which also appears as a reference point to show that the new tweet is part of an ongoing series. Better yet, click on any tweet in the series, and they all appear, in order, going back to the first.

Bam. No need to number, no need to use some sort of tweet deck to organize. It’s all kept track for you. Twitter isn’t the easiest interface, and certainly not designed for archival, but if you want to dig up an old series, you can just “Reply” to the last tweet and it chains perfectly. Then, to draw attention to the whole series, use retweet.

Examples: Here’s one of my earliest tweet chains, just to show how late to the game I was.

David Frum, who I linked in an image of above to show how NOT to do it, at very nearly the same time used the more elegant chaining method, so I’m not sure why he’s still stuck in the old ways (perhaps it’s an app).

If people reply to a tweet chain with another tweet chain, you get a nice elegant conversation, like this one between me and Billare, on whether the canonization of the Khans and their appeal to emotion is unseemly. And here’s Dan Meyer not chaining, but showing how to reply to tweets in the chain fashion, so you can easily follow the conversation.

I usually stay out of technology issues. In my former techie life, I was unusual in resolutely avoiding power user tricks. I value flexibility over speed, and since I was always entering new environments with new rules, I wanted to get functional as quickly as possible, not whine about how this new program or operating system wasn’t as cool or powerful as my way better one.

But tweet chains have really enhanced my use of the platform. Furthermore, I’ve now twice written essays after organizing my initial response on Twitter–and given how hard it is for me to start pieces, that’s no small thing.

In any event, I needed to prove again I can keep a piece under 1000 words if I try, and wanted another July piece to keep my count to three. Hopefully, another one comes tomorrow.

So if you see someone laboriously numbering their tweet deck or retweeting a chain, send this along.

Note: It occurred to me that while this is well under 1000 words, the advice itself is about 50. Only I could use 500 words when 50 would do. So here’s an image to pass on: twitterchaininstructions

Happy Saturday.


Wearing Anonymity

I wear my anonymity loosely. It’s mostly fine if you know who I am. It’s Google I want kept in the dark.

“Mostly” in that sure, there are people out there who would be very happy to see me lose my job, and I’d just as soon those people didn’t have the opportunity to put together a campaign to get me fired. While I have just recently obtained tenure (whooohoo!), I’m not at all sure that tenure would protect me in this circumstance. Despite all the whines, teachers with tenure are fired all the time. The administrator just has to want it. Just ask Natalie Munro, a tenured teacher who blogged about her “lousy” students and was gone within two years. I despise Munro’s behavior, but I believe her over the administration when she says she had no problems before her blog.

For the record, my school administrators think I’m terrific, and I admire their work. I have never knowingly said anything offensive or critical about my co-workers, bosses, or students. Even when I’ve disagreed with them, my disagreement has been couched as “choices are hard”. I love my current school and I’ve always loved all my students at every school.

But we teachers aren’t guaranteed first amendment protection, and the rules on blogging are very fuzzy. My administrators know about my blog; I hope they check in on it periodically, although that’s unlikely. None of that would save me if there was the wrong kind of fuss.

For this reason, I don’t tell people who I am without asking that they not disclose this information online. Gender, location, name, all left out of the discussion. Every person I’ve informed of my identity has complied with this request. The bulk of the people I’ve told were journalists. The rest were mostly professors or policy wonks. And this number is very, very small–no more than 15-20 people.

That means if someone out there in the wide world of the internet says “Ed Realist is Mark Murgatroyd from Chicago” or “Ed Realist is a San Francisco-based teacher who hates Asians” or “Ed Realist also posts as Lance Jackson” or “Ed is one of those rare women who speaks honestly about race and IQ”, that person did not get this information from me. In some cases, they believe they have guessed my identity but are speaking of it, wrongly, as a fact. In others, they read this information at another site from another person who did not get this information from me. In still other cases, they may have heard the information second-hand offline from someone who did get it from me, although I doubt that last one. I’m not important enough to discuss offline.

I’m not commenting about the accuracy or inaccuracy of the information. Nor do I want anyone to go out there and build a case for me being person X or person Y. I’m not saying “nyah, nyah, you can’t catch me, coppers!” My blog has gotten much, much bigger than I ever dreamed. I would have kept age, parental status, and a few other details back had I known. Anyone who wanted to build a logical case to strongly suggest that person X is me could probably manage it.

For this reason, I try very hard not to be coy, give hints, or deny. Someone claims I live in Location Y, I respond I’ve never mentioned my geographic area online. Someone claims I’m a man or a woman, I respond that I’ve never mentioned my gender online. Someone claims that I’m teacher X, I respond that I’ve never identified myself online. I like to think that’s why I’ve managed three years of anonymity, but then maybe no one has ever cared enough. I hope I’m still unimportant enough that this post won’t lead to speculation about my identity.

I would appreciate reader consideration when characterizing me and my work. I’m a teacher. I used to be a tutor and test prep instructor. Anything else I mentioned on my blog you are free to use, but try not to overstate.

If you’ve read someone comment about my gender, location, or identity, please remember they did not get this information from me. No reason to get into a pissing match, but a link to this statement would be appreciated.

If you think you know who I am: You might be right. So what? What is it you hope to achieve by posting about your guess? If you’re wrong, you could be hurting another teacher. If you’re right, then you could be putting me at risk of losing my beloved job. If that’s what you want, well, then I guess I can’t stop you.

But you didn’t get the information from me.


2014: Half a million satisfied page views

Yes, I have half a million page views. Not bad for someone who only has 650 Twitter followers.

My page views increased from last year, but not by a whole lot. I had 42% more views in the first half of the year, but was down 22% for the second half. As I mentioned, I had an insanely busy first semester, teaching two brand new classes (one not math) and mentoring two teachers. I only had 3 posts in November, and one lonely post in October. I’d hoped to write 72 posts (6/month); in fact I averaged just fewer than 4 posts a month, at 45. That accounts for most of the drop off.

But I also didn’t have the huge posts that I had last year. At the bottom of this post is a list of my top posts overall (1500 views or more).
Here are the top posts I wrote this year (over 1000 views):

Just a Job 2831
The Dark Enlightenment and Duck Dynasty 2527
Strategizing Horror 2027
Encylopedia of Ed, Part I: Things Voldemortean 1802
Ed Schools and Affirmative Action 1776
The Available Pool 1721
Timothy Lance Lai: Reading Between the Lines 1588
College Confidential and Brain Dumping the SAT 1575
SAT’s Competitive Advantage 1392
Reading in the Gulag of Common Core 1236
Finding the Bad Old Days 1224
A Talk with an Asian Dad 1156
Memory Palace for Thee, but not for Me 1128
Multiple Answer Math Tests 1086
Parents and Schools 1067
Math Instruction Philosophies: Instructivist and Constructivist 1022
Why I Blog 1016
Advanced Placement Test Preferences: Asians and Whites 1008

In all, 41 posts out of the 244 got over one thousand views in 2014 alone (not counting views from prior years).

Compared to last year, I had far fewer big posts. Compared to posts written in prior years, this year’s posts did far less business. Also, the disappearance of both Who Am I and About from my top posts means I had far fewer new readers.

I’m not bothered by this. First, I chose a bunch of esoteric topics. Fox, dammit, not hedgehog. Second, as I said, I had an incredibly busy second half of the year.

Third, when I did have time to write, I spent all the time researching. These pieces consumed well over hundreds of hours of googling and reading:

Only three of them made my top posts. Meanwhile, I knocked out The Dark Enlightenment and Duck Dynasty in 2 hours one very late evening and it hits second place. Again, I’m not complaining. If Steve Sailer or Charles Murray isn’t interested in a post, it’s unlikely to get big numbers on the first viewing.

I also didn’t spend much time on pedagogy this year, and that’s something I vow to change in the upcoming year. I have all sorts of topics that I don’t think of as much because I’m teaching advanced math. The following pedagogy posts got at least 1000 views, got more readers this year than last, despite being over 2 years old, and three of them made my top posts for the year:

Multiple Answer Math Tests, written this year, also got over 1000 views, and a lot of my older curriculum work gets close to 1000 views.

This reinforces a pattern I’ve seen for over two years: Google likes my blog, and teachers like my curriculum. Teachers are not a big part of my regular reader base, but they seem to find my work and if they didn’t like it, google would know somehow. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that teachers might be finding my pedagogy useful.

I am also reminded that the teacher tales, which I consider some of my best work, are not google friendly. Teachers really like my stories, but since they aren’t part of my regular base, they don’t often stumble across my work. I’m not sure how to address this—I mean, how often does someone think “Hmm, I want to google some fun teacher stories!”?

In the meantime, I thought my Teacher Tales from this year were very good. Hey. Maybe I could do a page. Huh.

I will update my Encyclopedia of Ed pages pretty soon–it’s clear they are getting some use, which is nice.

Finally, the second half of this year did see some disillusionment on my part. Not with teaching, or with writing, but with the realization of just how many people in education reform are poseurs, and yet are treated as experts simply because they’ve got an employer claiming they are. I thought I was cynical to begin with, but at this point I’ve become exhausted realizing just how many people are just flat out regurgitating opinions that their employer pays them to have.

On to year 4.

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Posts getting over 1500 views this year:

Asian Immigrants and What No One Mentions Aloud 8577 2013
Homework and grades. 3590 2012
The Dark Enlightenment and Me 3058 2013
Binomial Multiplication and Factoring Trinomials with The Rectangle 2524 2012
SAT Prep for the Ultra-Rich, And Everyone Else 2490 2012
Algebra and the Pointlessness of The Whole Damn Thing 2419 2012
Core Meltdown Coming 2317 2013
The Dark Enlightenment and Duck Dynasty 2527 2014
The Gap in the GRE 2213 2012
College Admissions, Race, and Unintended Consequences 2151 2013
Strategizing Horror 2027 2014
Philip Dick, Preschool and Schrödinger’s Cat 1818 2013
Encylopedia of Ed, Part I: Things Voldemortean 1802 2014
Ed Schools and Affirmative Action 1776 2014
The Available Pool 1721 2014
Teaching Algebra, or Banging Your Head With a Whiteboard 1640 2012
Timothy Lance Lai: Reading Between the Lines 1588 2014
Kicking Off Triangles: What Method is This? 1554 2012
College Confidential and Brain Dumping the SAT 1575 2014