Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Someone finally commented on my new blog (besides my family). To celebrate, I think I'll go register on another one of those blog search engine things.

Monday, April 28, 2008


I'm continually impressed by the level of professionalism in my new district. The evaluations that I'm used to are sort of on-the-fly, pop in when the administrator has a minute. Most of the actual evaluation write-ups at my former school seemed like gobbledygook...good for a first year teacher, when the administrator spends a total of 30 minutes observing all year. Bad for the school, though.

Out here, I've had a formal 60-minute lesson, two informal 20-minute observations and countless walkthroughs--where the administrators were looking for a couple specific things. When the principal wrote up my evaluation, she actually knew what she was talking about because she's familiar with my teaching.

This should be how it is done everywhere, for a couple reasons. First, our evaluations actually mean something, and they can be taken seriously. Second, if there is a problem with a teacher's performance, steps can be taken to help that teacher improve. At this school, the administration takes a serious stance that they won't let children fail (that could be a whole other post) and I'm sure that the same policy applies for teachers.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

15 to 1 seems like a joke

A recent post by Dennis Fermoyle has me thinking about class-size reduction as I have experienced it in Nevada. By law, our student to teacher ratio is supposed to be 15 to 1 in grades K, 1, 2 and 3. I have 22 students in my second grade class this year. I can only imagine the kind of work I could do with a third less students!

I taught at a Title I school here in Nevada for several years. We had a group of kids who, because of how the numbers fell, were always privileged with very small class sizes from first grade until fifth grade. They were a testimony to the benefits of class size reduction, especially for second language learners. These kids, as fifth graders, were bright and intuitive. They were critical thinkers. They were months ahead of fifth grade classes before them. We had been advocating for finding a way to reduce class sizes at that school. These kids were our proof that smaller classes work.

In our state, when the school runs out of room they start "teaming" classes, which means putting two classes together with two teachers in one room. They have the nerve to call this class size reduction. Tell me your class size is reduced when you have 36 bodies in one room. I took it for granted that this was common practice until I traveled to Long Beach with my site improvement team to check out an award-winning Title I school. If you're a visiting teacher coming from an overcrowded school, the first thing you do is count the number of desks in the room. We asked a third grade teacher how it was possible to have only 20 desks in the room.
"Our class-size reduction calls for a 20-1 ratio," she said.
"That's nice," we said, "but what about when the 21st student enrolls?"
"They bus him to another school."
After we picked our jaws up off the carpet, we realized that here was a district that was serious about maintaining small class sizes.

I don't know much about bond issues or how new schools get built. What I do know about is working so hard, year after year, teaching huge groups of kids with the greatest academic needs.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Do elementary school teachers blog?

It's time to go to bed. I set out tonight to find a good elementary school teacher blog. Why are all the education blogs written by high school teachers? Do they have more time on their hands or just more interesting things to write about? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy them. Especially this time of year. I read three blogs about parents' sudden interest in their kids' grades (with graduation looming). We don't worry about that here. My darlings have been pledging to "get ready for third grade" for 150 days and I think they are about "ready."

Speaking of ready. I'm ready to be no longer teaching second grade. I just found out I'm getting the fifth grade position next year and I'm practically salivating over the social studies standards. I took second grade in order to teach closer to home (45 minutes closer) and, while I've grown to kind of love them this year, it will be nice to not have teeth falling out in the middle of language arts.

I'm working on ways to promote this blog. It would be nice if someone besides my husband were reading it!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Attitude and the Achievement Gap

I taught in an inner-city school for the first five years of my career. As the special education inclusion teacher, I had the chance to teach with a lot of people, rather than next door to them. Moving from class to class, I gained some degree of insight into other teachers' abilities and attitudes. There seemed to be three kinds of teacher, generally speaking. a) talented, dedicated teachers who pushed kids hard and expected them to achieve, b) newbies (like me, at the time), who were optimistic, but inexperienced and mostly not-great, and c) experienced teachers who just didn't believe that "these kids" could learn.

The first group are some of the finest educators you will find, though I think they rarely get the kind of recognition they deserve. Inner-city schools have a disproportionate number of newbies, I think for obvious reasons, and we could discuss ways to keep more talented people in those hard-to-staff schools. But it was the number of teachers who believed our students incapable of achieving that really troubled me. I heard comments like "For a lot of them, sixth grade will be the only graduation they have," and "I don't have time to teach writing daily," in the same breath with "They may only succeed at art and P.E."

Teachers who come to school with this kind of attitude are setting their kids up for failure. They let them off the hook. They give easier work instead of making grade-appropriate work accessible. They clutch their list of excuses and believe that it excuses them from having to make kids achieve.

I know firsthand that there is a list of reasons that learning is much harder for kids in poverty and second language learners. Most of which, educators have no control over. We need to set aside those things which we cannot control and take charge of the things which we can control. We can't make sure a kid is in bed at a reasonable hour but we can make school engaging enough to keep her interested. We can't make the parents learn English or help a kid with his homework, but we can emerse his little butt in the language and print and use proven language aquisition strategies all day, for every day that we have him.

It's a lot harder to teach in an inner-city school if you're doing it right. Teachers who don't believe that these kids can achieve ought to move on and make room for someone who is up to the challenge.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Let's see how this works

I decided to jump right in. It is my first post of my first-ever blog. Who will read it? How will they even know it's here? I'm sure I have interesting things to say, but now I'm drawing a blank. This must be what writer's block feels like--type, erase, type type, erase. I guess I should just post this, then my first time will be over with. If you stumbled upon this bit of late night rambling (and actually read this far), could you let me know. I'll write something interesting next time.