Category: What Teachers _Really_ Think


This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

This is a poem that one of my more “creative” seniors told me that he wrote, almost verbatim, as his answer to free-response Question 1 on this year’s A.P. Microeconomics exam. When he posted this on Facebook, I was torn. Do I lament the fact that he’ll probably fail that exam, or do I commend him for the prowess of his poetic work?

“I squander my abilities
Until I see that, still, a three
I could achieve, or even four
If I had tried and studied more
… You might have guess that I’m the best
At Lit, I know I nailed that test
And yet, I did like zero prep
And so, I thought that I could rest
When Econ came around at last
Alas! I’m such a stupid ass!
Now I won’t pass, and I’ll be asked
By parents: “why’d we spend that cash?
You’re far too brash! You’re bound to crash!
You’re crazier than John Forbes Nash
But lack his passion!” God, I’m bad
At judgement, plus I boast and brag
To know one else except myself
And so I manage to compel
Myself to constant laziness
It’s quite a gift, but now I’ve missed
Like fifty por ciento on
This test my peers went mental on
I guess that they were right at last –
I’m such a stupid ass!”

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

I’m not a resident of Wisconsin and am not incredibly familiar with the issues involved in the Scott Walker recall, but, based on what I do know, I’m very much rooting for him to survive tomorrow’s recall vote – precisely because of the union issue.

Now, there is a place and a role for labor unions, and there were times in the Industrial Revolution era when they were really the only practical means for workers to escape what was outright exploitation. But, while our economy has changed, too many unions have responded by essentially acting as little more than interest groups whose ultimate goal is self-enrichment (or, to be more precise in many cases, the enrichment of the union leadership and not necessarily the rank and file!). Private-sector unions (which, in some cases, have been allies of Governor Walker) have to keep their demands somewhat realistic and practical, knowing that their own welfare depends upon the financial solvency of their employer. But, it seems to me that the growth of public-sector unions has removed this check of “reasonableness”, for they don’t look at the financial solvency of government in the same way that a private-sector union must view the financial state of a company. It really does seem, here in CA as well as in WI and probably many other states as well, that the public-sector unions often do view government as an entity that is ALWAYS able to grant what they demand (and that if government doesn’t do this, then it is simply because anti-union people are in charge).

When I hear of teacher unions here threatening strikes against districts that simply and objectively don’t have the money to give them what they want, it makes more clear to me that these unions really do need to accept the fact that public resources are NOT unlimited and that no government can simply raise taxes, sell bonds, or divert funds from some other function in order to give them what they seek. I also have a HUGE problem with public-sector unions engaging in partisan political activity and donating large sums of money – collected largely from union dues – to political campaigns or causes, especially in states that don’t have right-to-work laws. If I am forced to join a union in order to have a particular job, then should my union leadership take my dues and donate them to, say, the Democratic Party without giving me any say in the mattter? Unfortunately, this is commonplace.

Personally, I would support requiring public-sector unions to abstain from partisan political activity, just as we have laws that regulate the political activity of individual civil servants, for such unions are comprised of people who work on behalf of the public as a whole and are paid from public tax revenues.

So, I am hoping that Walker survives, if only to send the message that public employee unions have a responsibility to protect and promote the public trust and cannot count on being able to manipulate the system to protect their own interests at the expense of those of the public who employs them.

I say all of this, of course, as a public employee myself.

My husband, who arrives everywhere five years and one month before I do, was just allowed access to this year’s A.P. scores at 1 p.m. today and spent several hours updating his career spreadsheets. He posts:

In the category of “I’m starting to feel old”, I calculated that I have now taught 969 students just in A.P. classes in my career, and they have taken, for my classes, a combined 2,317 A.P. exams.
___

I think he should have one of those old-fashioned McDonald’s signs installed in his classroom: “x number taught since 1996,” along with testimonials (which are legion) that “College history was a cakewalk after taking your A.P. Euro class” or (today’s contribution) “My parents took me to the casino for the first time and I didn’t enjoy it at all because I knew how the machines were rigged from taking your A.P. Stats class.” Oh, yeah, and “Thanks for ruining ‘The Wizard of Oz’ for me, Mr. J.” A [Peter] class is not a class unless he ruins _something_ for his students. šŸ˜‰

I’ve yet to find a person more interesting to talk to than Peter. He is “the most interesting man on earth,” not that bearded old guy guzzling Dos Equis. Sheesh, the least that dude could do is get himself a bottle of Mission Street Pale Ale and sit himself down for a lecture on the history of Italy (my favorite lecture of Peter’s)! šŸ™‚

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

It blows my mind that Michigan, of all states, may pass a right-to-work law. I hope that it does, of course, just as I wish that California had such a law. At times in our history, unions have done great things for workers, especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when most legal protection for workers did not yet exist. But I really do believe that we need to get over this notion today, left over from those earlier years, that unions are somehow sacred, like churches, and that their moral virtue and necessity are thus dogmas that cannot be questioned. Any objective study of unions easily reveals that they are often led by people who are personally corrupt and whose own agendas clash with the real interests of their rank-and-file members. And, of course, their unabashed and aggressive political partisanship – regardless of the views of their individual members – shows a basic lack of respect for who their members are and how they think.

I work in an occupation that is largely unionized, and it sickens me to see teacher unions in other districts in this area openly preferring that cash-strapped districts lay off large numbers of younger teachers rather than make what are actually small cuts in benefits for those teachers who keep their jobs. How does that constitute the kind of defense of workers that unions claim to universally support? It seems to me that, while they serve some useful function today, unions have largely become a new sort of oligarchic elite, comprised of people who wish to restrict further entry into their field (lest the “pie” of wealth have to be split too many ways) and who are led by political activists who often enjoy rather lavish lifestyles as they steer union policy towards whatever will most benefit themselves and their political bedfellows (see: the Hostess collapse). Activists who oppose laws like the one that Michigan may soon pass couch the debate in terms of moral struggle, but what the union leaders are really afraid of is a dramatic drop in their personal clout and status.

Apart from all of these considerations, what Michigan is doing is simply a matter of practical sense. The fact is that states with right-to-work laws are doing a better job of attracting and keeping businesses (and hence jobs) than those without, and states like Michigan need to join the former crowd if they wish to catch up.

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

People complain that the cheating policies of schools like Harvard are too strict, but the real problem is that our high schools have policies regarding academic dishonesty that are moving further and further away from the policies students will encounter in college and which don’t really teach the students much at all.

Here at [my school], a student who cheats, on the first offense, gets a zero on the assignment (which, in most classes here, doesn’t have a huge effect by itself on the student’s final grade) and some detention (which consists of eating lunch in a classroom where one can socialize with the other inmates – unlike at [my previous Jesuit school], students in detention here need not complete any work whatsoever). On a second offense, students are supposed to be suspended, but enforcement is iffy and suspension is basically a vacation. California law requires public schools to give suspended students the opportunity to make up all missed work for full credit, so there really is no “bite” to it at all. Most public high schools out there have similar policies. And then these same students end up at universities where a first offense can mean forced withdrawal from school for a semester or more.

Students who have reached adulthood should certainly know better than to cheat and should know what “cheating” is, and so I have little sympathy for those who are busted for this at the university level, but I do believe that our high schools need to do a much better job of preparing students for this sort of thing and of sending a clearer message regarding the gravity of academic dishonesty. Granted, we don’t have the same ability to kick students out as a university has, but certainly there should be some punishments with a bit more “kick” to them.

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

Today is our annual, mid-year full day of faculty meetings, and the first two hours consisted of a presentation called “Teach Like A Champion” by some so-called “teacher coach” who works in the teacher prep program at [the local state university].

First, she talked to us as if we were elementary school teachers or even, at some points, elementary school students. In trying to illustrate how alternative pedagogical methods could be devised, she forced our biology teacher to come to the front of the room and sing a rap song about cell division. She put forth the usual, worn-out mantras from the 1980’s and 1990’s about how students should be teaching each other in the classroom, though apparently “cooperative learning” as a term has given way to “learning clubs” (I had never heard this term before, but apparently it refers to groups of three or four students who teach each other during class).

At a few points, she took very direct and pronounced jabs and Catholic schooling and at Catholic educational philosophy, mocking the supernatural dimension of it quite openly, though her biggest complaint about it seemed to be that the Catholic school teachers she had when growing up were not all state-credentialed (yeah, the credential makes the teacher . . .).

The kicker came later, though, when she was trying to teach us how to “celebrate” right answers in the classroom, suggesting that we make a tradition out of yelling things such as “Yippee!” when a student does something well (yes, she used that as an example).

Finally, she told us that we should celebrate ourselves as teachers, and so she passed out cheap party streamers to all of the faculty and asked us all to blow into them. I, like about half of my colleagues, gave her the “This is so stupid” look and declined to do so. The sad part is that our teacher prep programs at the university or district levels have lots and lots of people like her working in them.

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

This is a gutsy and worthy move by the relatively-new bishop of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, despite the heavy flak he is getting in return. If Catholic culture and society in the U.S. are faltering in terms of faith and practice, the problem starts with education, both in the classroom and without. And it is a real scandal to have teachers in Catholic schools making clear to the students that they personally detest what the Catholic Church values and teaches. I’ve seen plenty of this firsthand, and I’ve seen what the results often end up being for Catholic school grads later in life. I know that some will chide this bishop for violating “academic freedom” and for interfering in the personal lives of teachers, but it is a simple fact that teachers teach through personal example as much, if not more in many cases, as through classroom pedagogy. Catholic schools have historically recognized this fact more than public schools have, which is why education in Catholic schools tends to be more “personalized” than in the Industrial Revolution-model public system.

As for “academic freedom”, it is a well-established principle of human society, here and abroad, that, if you wish to work at propagating a message for a business, organization, or church, you need to be on board with that message yourself. Does the U.S. military allow all of its members to speak their minds however they wish and live as they please in the name of preserving personal freedom? Of course not. If you can’t be in line with what the military stands for, believes in, and practices, then you need to get out of it. If a Honda salesperson were to tell customers that he personally considers Toyotas to be superior to Hondas and that those customers should be shopping for Toyotas instead, we would not defend that employee’s right to remain employed there on the grounds that his freedom of expression must be protected. And political parties do the exact same thing. When was the last time the Democratic Party allowed anyone who was openly pro-life on the issue of abortion to have any sort of prominent party position or prime-time convention speaking slot? Why would the Catholic Church – and its schools – not have these same prerogatives that we concede are common-sense in secular society? If you’re going to teach at a Catholic school, it makes sense that, on the major moral and ethical issues of the day where the Church’s teaching is well-defined and established, you be on board with it.

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

I’ve seen quite a few rather dire predictions and warnings about the Common Core nationally-designed school curriculum and its implementation. Quite frankly, having looked at some of the proposed Common Core standardized test questions, I don’t see much reason to feel threatened.

First, the standards themselves, like most current state educational standards, are vague and leave plenty of wiggle room for teachers who are creative and astute to continue teaching as they believe they should. My feeling has long been that teachers who feel constricted by standards often simply don’t look hard enough for ways around or through them. After all, there are always a whole lot of ways to say that a particular standard is being met in your class when evaluation time comes around.

Second, the types of questions that they are putting on the Common Core standardized assessments are going to be an absolute disaster anyways. What I saw of a free-response question on the high school math exam was significantly more time-intensive – and probably more difficult – than a free-response question on the A.P. Statistics exam. And the question I saw from the English 10 exam was longer and more difficult than a DBQ on the A.P. U.S. History exam. The scoring rubrics were just as bizarre, as if they don’t really know what they expect the kids to be able to do or how to evaluate it.

This is a classic case of bureaucrats deciding to “fix” education by making the standardized exams more difficult and then applying a knife to the throats of administrators to force them to meet those standards. But, the scores on these exams, I can tell now, are going to be atrocious, which is going to be quite an embarrassment for a lot of people, including those who designed this curriculum and these exams in the first place. It is an idea that will result in a lot of messy finger-pointing among disappointed bureaucrats in the end, but the scores on these exams don’t really matter to the students at all since they’re not part of a college application. Just another wacky educational “fad” to survive . . .

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