180 Days: Day 110–Testifying

I spent today out of the classroom testifying before a state arbitrator. Why would I be testifying before a state arbitrator? The California Teachers Association goes before a state arbitrator annually to prove that they indeed follow the law with regards to agency fee payers by doing their duty of fair representation. Our local was one of three chosen at random from all locals across the state. And since I was president the year in question before the arbitrator, I had the privilege of testifying about our local and how we represent members and nonmembers alike. I have to admit that I was a little nervous at first, but luckily it turned out to be a less intimidating task than I expected.

What is so ironic is that this is probably the last time that the arbitration will need to happen–depending on the outcome of the Supreme Court Janus vs. AFSCME case.

I hope that my students did a better job with today’s writing than they did with Monday’s. More than likely I will be cleaning up lots of loose ends again. Par for the course…

“Testify” by Russell Crowe and The Ordinary Fear of God (formerly Thirty Odd Foot of Grunt)



180 Days: Day 109–Clean Up Crew, pt. 1

I had 40 minutes to clean up yesterday’s mess of students’ attempts at developing an argument while getting them ready for yet another substitute teacher for tomorrow. I have grown to loathe Tuesdays for the hectic pace and shorter classes. And when I miss Monday and Wednesday, then Tuesdays are even crazier. I really hate being away from my classroom. Making sure that my students have all they need to engage with the material while I’m not in class is exceptionally important to me. I don’t believe in giving students busy work while I’m gone. I want them to have a version of what I would normally give them.

Today, we discussed the essays they attempted to write yesterday. And I use the word attempted loosely. Most just wrote a short paragraph to turn in rather than the analytical essay they were assigned. I started by dissecting the prompt with the students. Rather than saying that they all just blew off the assignment, I first wanted to know that they understood the prompt. So we dissected it. Most students didn’t understand the prompt fully, but they did know enough to get a solid draft if they had really applied themselves.

Then we dissected a few student samples together–a what to do versus what not to do for tomorrow’s prompt, which should be easier in that it will not be connected to the literature. But it will be harder in that it requires students to develop an argument when they may or may not know information about their subject.

But tomorrow is a clean slate.

“Clean” by Depeche Mode


180 Days: Day 108–When Monday Is a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Sick Day

I woke at 4 a.m. throwing up. I can only guess food poisoning as I hugged the bowl and heaved for three hours while trying to write sub plans between heaves. Today is a day I would much rather have been in school for sure.

Needless to say, I ended up talking to the sub via phone as I lay in bed curled in a ball to explain those fragmented sub plans. Thankfully she held down the fort well while I spent most of my day in bed. I’m one of those teachers that go to school even if I don’t feel 100 percent because I’m typically out of the classroom for so many other reasons–and I hate the extra work that preparing for a sub loads on my shoulders, and the time away from my students giving them help and well-designed lessons. But some days it just can’t be helped. Today is one of those days.

“Sick Boy” by Social Distortion


180 Days: Day 107–Finish Line=Crossed!

My sophomores looked at me stunned today–in every single class. We finished Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar today. At the end of the film/play, they all looked up to me and said, “That’s it? That’s the end?” I halfway think they wanted it to go on longer. But only halfway. I think they wanted to see Antony and Octavius have it out, but I told them that was another play for another day.

But I was excited to see that my students enjoyed the film/play enough to want more. There will always be the typical complaints that Shakespeare is hard to understand, but most of the kids at least understood the basic gist of the story. Our next steps will include more close readings of key passages of the play, some analytical writing, then the grand finale–argument writing.

But for today, we will celebrate that we finished the play and that it was the end of the world as the Roman’s knew it. What a great Friday!

“It’s the End of the World” by REM


180 Days: Day 106–You Spin Me Right Round–Tutorial Day 2

Days like today are why teachers always have bladder infections. I didn’t have a single second to myself. Even my lunch period, the 30 minutes I typically horde to myself, was spent with a colleague who needed some union representation. Why was today so much worse than any other day? Two words: Intervention Period aka Tutorial.

As I explained in my post from two days ago, my grade level team is using our two 30 minute intervention periods to reteach students who had difficulty with making inferences from short reading passages with at least 80 percent accuracy. So today’s tutorial session, coupled with my snack period and lunch periods being eaten into only to have my evening filled with more union duties leave me one tired teacher. I guess I wouldn’t feel so disgruntled if I felt my efforts really made that much more of an impact on the lives of these few students who are receiving this extra time. I have yet to feel that the extra workload is nothing more than working harder rather than smarter. When the teachers are the ones doing all the extra work while most kids just sit in study hall, I have to question the efficacy of this program. I can only hope that as the rollout of this program continues that it will eventually allow for more students to engage in the tutorial time and that we teachers can figure out how to better manage the workload being heaped on us.

Even though my head is left spinning after days like today, I still am thankful for the time with my students. Their crazy teenage antics are what keep me sane.

“You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” by Dead or Alive


180 Days: Day 105–Catch Me Up If You Can

Progress reports for quarter 3 are due tomorrow. And my students had essays due today. In spectacular quarter 3 fashion, most showed up with very little accomplished on their essays. So today became a review of the essay prompt, going over a couple of strategies to help find proper textual evidence and quotes to integrate with that evidence and a writing/revising session in class. Oh, and a chance for me to input grades onto the computer to have progress reports ready to go.

So I spend today circulating class to answer specific questions one on one, then input a few grades, then repeat. Circulate. Input. Repeat.

But I did finish grades today. And I did feel that I accomplished something. And I received at least some form of writing from almost all of my students. And something is better than nothing when I’m trying to assess just what my students can do in the realm of literary analysis. Most students do not have a lot of confidence in their writing, even the writers who are actually pretty darned good. So today is a day that lets me catch up while letting them explore what they want to say with a guiding hand.

My students are writing about power struggles in Julius Caesar, and we are more than halfway through the text now. Caesar has died. Anthony has turned the Romans against the conspirators. We only have war left. So students should be able to effectively pull from the opening three and a half acts of the play as evidence for their power struggle prompt. Not to mention they’ve had four days to think about how to best answer this question. Sometimes they just need a set of eyes on their thesis or a peer to review what they have written for reasons why their thesis is true. Today was that day. Thankfully.

“Catch and Release” by Silversun Pickups


180 Days: Day 104–Extra! Extra! No Extra!

Today my sophomore collaborative team hosted struggling students to review strategies for making inferences during our school’s newly established tutorial RTI (response to intervention) period. So today I essentially taught an extra class with extra students (not my students) with no extra pay or time to prepare.

I will definitely be working with our negotiations team to ensure that teachers are somehow compensated for this extra workload that so far has born nothing but more work for teachers in our district–and by compensation, I don’t necessarily mean money. Maybe it’s providing time. Or maybe it’s fitting this new period into the daily class load language. Ultimately, it is a problem that needs to be addressed by the district–and we teachers are more than willing to be partners in finding solutions that work for our students because this current way just isn’t cutting it.

The research behind RTI periods shows them as being far from a magic bullet for identified kids. Our local data has been hit and miss as well. I wish that the data really did show that his helped our lowest achieving students, but so far all it has done is show me what I already knew about these students–that they need extra help. Yet I can only offer that help based on an assessment of a specific skill at this time. I can’t pull students into work with them on their essay this week. Or to work on close reading skills. Or to give them time to make up that test they missed when they had the flu. This time is so strictly targeted that it’s limited in the help it offers.

I would still recommend that each of these students seek guidance from tutors outside of school. I would recommend for those that qualify for study skills classes to take them. Yet here were are spending 60 minutes per week (that’s approximately 2,400 minutes per instructional year) focused on this narrow sliver of students. This week my colleague and I are sharing 21 students identified as approaching (but not “meeting”–and yet not “not meeting” either) the standard for making inferences.

I had 12 students while my partner took the remaining 9. At the same time, the rest of our kids do f***all whatever else in another teacher’s room–a teacher who is basically assigned to babysit while they supposedly work on homework from their classes. These 12 students I am “tutoring” are not even my own students. My three students are part of my colleague’s 9. So when those kids come to me, I don’t know what their strengths or weaknesses are. I don’t know what behaviors to expect from them. I just try to cram 30 minutes of a new lesson on old material on them.

Ultimately, I wrote the lesson. I contacted all 21 kids telling them which teacher to report to for their lesson. I taught the extra lesson and the extra kids. And I did all of this without any recognition from my employer that this extra workload redistributes 2,400 minutes away from 96% of my students to work with this 4 % of kids with mixed results all while redistributing my planning time away from my regular class load as well.

I can only hope that the exhaustion I feel at the end of this day pays dividends because I’ve been going without a break all freaking day. I think I’ll just collapse into a comatose state for the rest of the evening and try not to think about doing this all over again come Thursday this week.

“A Hard Day’s Night” by The Beatles


180 Days: Day 103–When Monday Is Monday Again aka Dreaming On

This week will feel long, but it will all be good in that I can finally power through the rest of Julius Caesar with the kids this week and feel like I’m accomplishing something.

Despite feeling long because we have our fifth day back, it will indeed be a long week because I have to teach two tutorial periods this week, as well as help organize our team’s collaboration time, conduct union meetings, attend PLC Leadership meetings, pull kids aside to place them on attendance contracts, set up parent meetings with said kids’ parents to review said contracts, and sit in on teacher evaluation meetings as a teacher advocate. And none of this approaches the lesson planning, the grading of papers, the inputting of grades into the computer as progress reports are coming due this week–and most important of all it doesn’t include the best time of the week, the time I spend with my students. Weeks like this epitomize all the things that make the teaching profession so difficult–all the time spent doing anything and everything but teaching.

It’s weeks like this that make me feel overwhelmed with the direction my profession has gone. But despite being overwhelmed at times, I’m just stubborn enough to not give up. I’m just headstrong enough to never quit fighting for what I believe to be a better vision of public education even if it doesn’t exist at this moment.  Honestly, I will keep dreaming on even when I’m running low on batteries. At the end of the day, I love my profession and will keep fighting for a more perfect free and public education for the youth of our nation.

“Dream On” by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds


His lyrics hit the bull’s eye:

“Oh me, oh my, I’m running out of batteries
I’m hanging from the ladder
The tears you cried are only meant to flatter me
That shit don’t matter at all, taking the shots as I fall
Watching the wheels that go round and round
Serene in the air ‘…”


180 Days: Day 102–Negotiations Update aka Purging Bad Fruit

It’s Friday. And instead of enjoying a happy hour drink with my colleagues after a long, short week of school, I spend the evening hunkered in with the negotiations team. Since our district has declared we are at an impasse, a state mediator has asked us to select a meeting time from a host of dates.

So we sit with our calendars in hand working to maneuver our teaching schedules and duties to accommodate at least one of the handful of dates provided. When we finally agree upon one of the dates, we move to the next two items on our agenda: what is our bottom line and what is our next step in an organizing plan to ensure our members have their voices heard as this process unfolds over the next few weeks.

So we come up with what we think is a solid recommendation for our board of directors about what we can accept in mediation to reach a tentative agreement and what we cannot accept in mediation leading us to the next stage of the process, called fact-finding. We ready our recommendation for next week’s board of directors meeting and move to the more important item–our organizing around the issue of settling our contract. We know we have a solid message–our district is trying to act outside of the law in order to avoid negotiations with us. Our district is trying to avoid including stakeholder input in their decisions that impact the families of over 23,000 students. The changes they are seeking in this bargain, we contend, would end in an unfair labor charge against us and them from the other locals in our district–and would end in parents feeling marginalized in a matter that they should have at least some input. So we develop our message of inclusion. We seek to end this bargain as soon as possible so we can work with the district and other stakeholder groups to make the choices of whether or not to change the one item (not money) that the district has taken us to an impasse for.

The hard part with all of this is that this one issue has become a political football. Once an issue becomes so politicized, its harder to build consensus rather than camps. And our district has spent the past decade building camps on this one issue. Unfortunately, part of their camp building has including throwing teachers under the bus over and over again. Anytime anyone from any side asks them about this one issue, they point the finger at us and say, “We have to negotiate it with the teachers and they won’t talk about it.” Well, we are going public with what we have been saying in negotiations for over five years now–it’s not our issue. It’s their issue. And they must be the ones that reach out to stakeholders and include all the necessary groups in the conversations as they are the employer, not us.

Sometimes this feels like a political tennis match instead of a schoolhouse. And it’s disheartening when something seemingly so small becomes so toxic that it distracts from the central mission of educating our youth by expending so many resources to take something that would probably be given with the proper outreach and inclusion. But that is the fruit that top-down, autocratic leadership bears. Maybe that fruit-bearing tree needs to cut down and thrown in the fire. Maybe its time for a good tree to bear good fruit, the fruits of consensus and common interest.

“Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” by The Smiths

“…I was looking for a job, and then I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now
In my life
Why do I give valuable time
To people who don’t care if I live or die?…”

180 Days: Day 101–Scholarships They All Deserve

Our local scholarship committee held its first meeting today to begin the process of determining winners of local scholarships from the 150 or so students who turned in applications.

Every year, a host of local organizations hand out scholarships to students in our area based on a number of different factors, such as financial need, scholarship, intended college major/area of study, leadership, etc. Our committee is tasked with looking at each scholarship’s criteria and selecting students to either compete for the scholarship or receive the scholarship (some groups are asking for a select pool of applicants from which they select the winners instead of us).

A group of about one dozen of us teachers and counselors sift through the information the students provide to us in their applications along and couple it with what we know of the students through our work with them. Most of us on the committee are committed to spreading as much opportunity as we can to our students. About 40% of our students qualify for free/reduced lunch, so we know that any little bit can help open doors for them in their post-high school experience.

At today’s meeting, our group awarded four scholarships and selected students to compete for four more scholarships. We have four more meetings scheduled this spring, but I don’t mind doing this extra work as helping any of our graduating seniors find a step up in life is payment enough for this expenditure of my time. The hardest part about serving on this committee is choosing winners because that means that there are losers too.  I wish I could ensure that every applicant received a scholarship of some sort–not in the participation trophy sort of way either. Each of these applicants has accomplished much in their high school years. Reading through these applications gives me hope for our future.

“Money” by Pink Floyd from Dark Side of the Moon