180 Days: Day 26–Remember the Last Thing Best

I enjoyed my day with my students and we worked from bell to bell with no problems. My sophomores reviewed the elements of narrative while my seniors analyzed George Herbert’s metaphysical poetry and worked on John Donne poems for homework. We are about to launch into longer pieces in both classes. My sophomores will be reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, the story of our local hero Louis Zamperini. My seniors will be reading Hamlet by Billy, the Bard, the story about the tragic Prince of Denmark. We are about to move into a few weeks of redundant read, respond, discuss class periods. But the students will fall into a rhythm despite the upheaval of days off and test days in the past week, and the chaos of homecoming this coming weekend. The plan is set, and the kids are excited and ready to go.

So what I remember most about today is not my students being on task and asking questions and taking notes and reading and discussing. What I remember most is what I did last–attend an intervention team meeting to discuss what my data analysis of attendance data shows. And what it shows is that too many students are on track to miss far too many days of school this year–nearly 300 students of our 1,800 students are on track to miss at least 10% of the school year. And over 50 students have tardiness issues–and I have one 49 minute period a day to track them down, document, put them on contract, hold meetings with their parents who postpone meetings over and over again or just don’t show up, document some more, check up on how they are adhering to their contract, escalate to the dean for Saturday detention if they are not making the necessary changes to attend on time and regularly.

Sometimes the sheer numbers are overwhelming, but when I do have a success story, I feel vindicated by it all. Luckily, this year, I have a new team of administrators who are helping me, supporting me, guiding me, helping me to reshape my role as an advocate to be more successful. With their support, I’m already having more success than last year. When I feel inundated or buried by the sheer numbers, I remind myself that I may not be able to reach all of them. That won’t keep me from trying though. I will continue to work with them and for them to ensure they are in class, they are safe, and they are learning. Showing up is half the game because you can’t win a game that you don’t play.

“It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi

The most “Carpe Diem” song imaginable…

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180 Days: Day 25–The End of the Longest Short Week Ever & Other Musings

For a week that started with two “teachers’ meetings” days and one day of testing, my mind sure is mush at the end of the day today. And I have a fantastic day with my students. They were engaged, asking questions, keeping me on point, making me remember why I love my job. But when the bell rang at the end of the day, I could barely wait to exit. I just wanted to go home and take a nap–the long 48-hour variety.

But I did overhear an interesting comment from a student today that I feel sums up the society we live in–for better or worse… “I didn’t go to church this last weekend because I went to get a tattoo instead.” 0_o

I had to pause at how married we are to our appearance, to our identity, to caring for the physical self over the metaphysical self. When I heard it, I knew I had to commit it to memory and use as a writing prompt with my students. I want to hear what they think it says about us them as a generation, about us as a culture, etc. I’m not a particularly “churchy” person, but I found this young person’s choice of getting inked over spending time nourishing their soul could curiously mean so many things beneath the surface. Maybe this student finds getting ink as a spiritual experience. Maybe they find spiritual nourishment in places other than church. Maybe they are just that vain. Whatever the reason, I found the statement thought-provoking enough to remember on a day I’d rather be asleep.

“Rose Tattoo” by Dropkick Murphys

 

“…This one means the most to me

Stays here for eternity

A ship that always stays the course

An anchor for my every choice

A rose that shines down from above

I signed and sealed these words in blood

I heard them once, sung in a song

It played again and we sang along

You’ll always be here with me

Even if you’re gone

You’ll always have my love

Our memory will live on…”

 

“Another Tattoo” by Weird Al Yankovic

180 Days: Day 24–BLUE THURSDAY on the State Level

Last Thursday, I wrote of how Thursdays evenings after school are typically dedicated to my participation as a local union leader. After I posted last Thursday, a person who had come across my blog attempted to shame me for my union advocacy. This person accused me of hurting children because I am a union leader. This person’s misplaced anger–and many more like her with far deeper pockets– seem to be winning the policy battles in this country though. So I have to wonder, as children are left behind in for-profit charter schemes, why a person would attack me for fighting for equity and access to a quality education for all. I have to wonder how I’m hurting children by fighting to ensure that every child has a qualified teacher in their classroom. I have to wonder how fighting for the majority of funds to go the classroom is harming kids. Of course, I know I’m not harming kids. My students may not always like what we are studying and they may not always agree with me. But they know that I am fair and will give them a safe space to explore and take risks.

Tonight, I spent five hours at a state level union meeting (yes, I arrived home after 9:30 p.m.) where we discussed the Supreme Court’s impending repeal of union rights this session. We also discussed what we see happening in our state, other states, and territories in the aftermath of catastrophic storms, fires, and massacres. We honored our fellow educators who lost their lives, were injured, or are facing post-traumatic stress after the Las Vegas mass shooting. We shared information on how to help them, as well as help our colleagues being affected by fires in both northern and southern California. We reiterated how to help fellow educators and students in hurricane-torn states and territories. And we discussed the legislation and policy issues our State Council will work on next weekend–including looking at statewide-office primary elections.

I am not ashamed to say I work to keep education a field for professionals. Just ask states where the shortages are so bad they are having to hire people without credentials to put in classrooms with our children whether they feel their education and expertise is valued in their communities (I started my teaching career in a deeply red state that has cut education to the bone–but I have family and friends who both teach and have their children in the school system there). K-12 education is a field dominated by women–except in the administrative ranks (nearly 80% are women). So I consider my work a fight for gender and pay equity as well. Fields that require education, expertise, and skills should be paid commensurately. Yet, we continue to be painted as overpaid babysitters by those who have never spent time in the pressure cooker that is the American education system. According to a 2014 report, between 40 and 50% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Nearly half a million of our nation’s 3 million teachers move or leave the profession each year.  This is a systemic problem in which I have worked long, hard, and against the odds to help solve. I hold the philosophy that I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I want to work for the change that I seek. I do not want to stand on the sideline and just accept whatever injustice–to just acquiesce. I will work; I will organize; I will fight for my students, for my colleagues, for my profession, for my community, for the future of our country. Access to quality public education for every child is that important to me.

Nevertheless, I do not always agree with my union. But I do value the democratic process followed by my union. And if I feel union leaders are getting out of line, it is my duty to call them out on it. At my union’s state level, we have organized groups within the State Council that launch efforts to remind our elected leaders who they work for–they support opposition candidates and pull items for discussion and placing substitute motions on the floor regularly. They question. They vet. They ensure we do not rubber stamp. This is democracy in action–the kind of action that I also wish to see in my local community, Sacramento, and in Washington, DC.

Next week, I will probably continue to reserve at least part of my Thursday piece for my union work, because I will not shy away from a naysayer or two who would rather hurl “shame” my way rather than engage with me and learn about what I believe and why. I still refuse to believe we are so fractured in this country that we can’t even have a conversation anymore. I see my students wade through conflict and figure out how to resolve issues or seek mediation. They typically cut through all the political BS because they can see the simplicity of the bottom line. My students continue to give me hope. And they are why I continue to fight for a professional, well-paid workforce committed to effectively educating them and helping them develop into the creative thinkers we need in today’s world.

“Solidarity Forever” led by Utah Phillips

 

180 Days: Day 23–Wednesday, Hump Day, Testing Day, Anything but Teaching Day

I spent the first four and half hours this morning prepping and administering a college preparatory test to my fifth-period class. All of my students participated in today’s “College Day” in some way. Each high school student in our district (four comprehensive high schools) participated, though the individual schools were given latitude as to what program to offer at each grade level.

My high school qualifies as a Title I school, meaning more than 40% of the students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch. My high school has the highest percentage of English Language Learners in the district as well. We teach students from many nations speaking 26 different languages. We teach a large and growing number of homeless and foster children as well. Despite the challenges that our students face, we have committed to offering them a four-year plan that will enable them to exit high school to enter the continuing education or career of their choices. This day was designed to help students find and develop a pathway for their future plans.

Our freshmen worked on a four-year plan. They worked with a program our school has long purchased called Naviance. Within the program, the students examined what post-high school options are available to them and then they set some goals. They learned what classes they would need to take in high school to go a University of California school or a California State University school. They learned what local community colleges and technical trade schools have to offer as well.

Our sophomores, my sophomores, took the Pre-ACT exam. The school purchased the exam for all the students so that they could have exposure to how the ACT works and receive feedback from ACT on potential careers based on how they answered questions on the pre-test questionnaire. It took forever to administer, but the majority of my fifth-period students, the ones I administered the test to, took the test seriously. Only two students seemed to finish every section in five minutes–obviously playing “connect the dots” or “the answer is C.”  After the long morning of testing, I didn’t have the heart to teach them a new lesson and put them a day ahead of everyone during our regularly scheduled class that afternoon, so we had a study hall day, and they worked on an essay that we are writing and received extra one on one help with it. Most of my students wanted to know more about the test and how it would help them–like taking the PRE version usually results in higher scores on the real version, etc.

Our juniors took the PSAT. Our sophomores used to take this test, but this is a more appropriate place being that taking the PSAT during the early months of their junior year automatically enters the students to potentially qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. It also helps them to prepare for taking the SAT later this year if they choose to pursue applying for admissions to a four-year university.

Our seniors had three options today. They could take the ASVAB (Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery), a test designed to help students find a vocation. They could tour the local community college. Or they could work with senior teachers on their college admissions essays in a workshop designed to help them be more successful on the applications for admissions. Most of my seniors worked on their essays, but a small handful took the ASVAB. Overall, their feedback was positive.

So while I was busy, running ragged, and tired by the end of the day…while my students’ brained were mush…it has been a successful “College Day.” At least at first blush. We will see how we handle next steps when scores come in, freshmen relook, reaffirm, and recommit to their plans. We will see how successful our seniors are in their quest for admissions to the schools of their choices. We will see if all our students keep the Eye of the Tiger…

“Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor

 

180 Days: Day 22–The Friday Before A Four Day Weekend

Being the only standing between my students and a four day weekend makes me really unpopular, especially when I make them write essays in class. But that is just what we did. I committed to keeping the students on task and focused on their lessons since I would not be seeing them for almost a week. My students would have a four day weekend, while my colleagues and I would come to school for every kids’ favorite days–“teachers meeting” days. Upon our return next Wednesday, each high school in our district will host a college day.  So I had to make today count since I won’t be seeing my students again until next Thursday. So my sophomores wrote the first drafts of a personal narrative while my seniors continued to analyze Renaissance poetry.

Sophomores: Today’s lesson focused on reviewing the Show Don’t Tell strategies my 10th English Team Colleagues and I deemed to be the most essential to successful narrative writing. We looked at a model of a personal narrative that I wrote regarding some boys from my high school days who wore skirts to school to protest being unable to wear shorts. We quickly reviewed proper dialogue punctuation and purposes for usage in storytelling. Then I gave them a prompt centered on our unit’s essential questions. And amazingly, they worked quietly, asked phenomenal questions, and accomplished quite a bit of writing on a Friday before a long weekend.

Seniors: My seniors worked in teams to define the metaphysical poetry movement compared to the carpe diem poetry movement (also called Roundheads vs Cavaliers). They identified key literary devices and notable poets within the movements–like Herrick, Lovelace, Marvell, Herbert, and Donne. Then we watched a couple of modern poets to emphasize the idea of conceits, or extended metaphors, in poems. We watched Taylor Mali and Billy Collins deliver poems with a humorous twist but both extending metaphors throughout the length of their poems. And my students learned what a Poet Laureate is. Now the real test will come next week when we apply the knowledge of these conceits to works by Renaissance poets.

Overall, it was a productive day which could have been far more difficult than it was. And I’m thankful that my students felt engaged enough to play along.

“The Lanyard” by Billy Collins (former Poet Laureate of the United States)

“She’s So Cold” by The Rolling Stones (a Carpe Diem/Cavalier style modern song)

I’m so hot for her, I’m so hot for her
I’m so hot for her and she’s so cold
I’m so hot for her, I’m on fire for her
I’m so hot for her and she’s so cold
I’m the burning bush, I’m the burning fire
I’m the bleeding volcano
I’m so hot for her, I’m so hot for her
I’m so hot for her and she’s so cold
Yeah, I tried re-wiring her, tried re-firing her
I think her engine is permanently stalled
She’s so cold she’s so cold
She’s so cold cold cold
Like a tombstone
She’s so cold, she’s so cold
She’s so cold cold cold like an ice cream cone
She’s so cold she’s so cold
I dare not touch her my hand just froze
Yeah, I’m so hot for hot for her, I’m so hot for her
I’m so hot for her and even so
Put your hand on the heat, put your hand on the heat
Aw c’mon baby, let’s go
She’s so cold, she’s so cold, cold, she’s so c-c-c-old
But she’s beautiful, though
Yeah, she’s so cold
She’s so cold, she’s so cold
She was born in an arctic zone
She’s so cold she’s so cold, cold, cold
I dare not touch her my hand just froze
She’s so cold, she’s so goddamn cold she’s so
Cold cold cold she’s so cold
Who would believe you were a beauty indeed
When the days get shorter and the nights get long
Lie awake when the rain comes
Nobody will know, when you’re old
When you’re old, nobody will know
That you was a beauty, a sweet sweet beauty
A sweet sweet beauty, but stone stone cold
You’re so cold, you’re so cold, cold, cold
You’re so cold, you’re so cold
I’m so hot for you, I’m so hot for you
I’m so hot for you and you’re so cold
I’m the burning bush, I’m the burning fire
I’m the bleeding volcano

180 Days: Day 21–BLUE THURSDAYS

I am in my 15th year of union leadership in my current school district. I’ve come full circle in the roles I’ve served in on the board of directors: local rep to state affiliate’s council, local association treasurer, local association president, and now back to local rep to state affiliate and treasurer. I am the bargaining chair and active on our organizing team and political action team as well. My personal philosophy of working to be part of solutions rather than part of the problems has formed the bedrock of my service to my colleagues and my profession.

To honor union history, we focus our union meetings and activities mostly on Thursdays. We wear our union color, blue, to show our solidarity with one another in our message, our goals, our defense of our profession. So today I wore my blue Rosie, the Riveter shirt. And I attended our board of directors meeting after teaching narrative writing and Renaissance poetry all day. Our meeting lasted over two hours, and a small group of us continued to work on board business for an additional two hours. Our bargaining team just reached a tentative contract agreement with our district managers. We knew there wasn’t much to get other than language and small token raise that doesn’t even approach the annual increase in the cost of living, but we got something. Convincing our membership to ratify the agreement in the next task at hand.

With unions under constant attack and scrutiny, my fellow local leaders and I struggle to understand how people would rather complain than act to make their work lives and students’ class lives better. We struggle to understand how they would rather be given a fish rather than taught to fish. We struggle to understand how much discomfort has to be suffered by our peers before they will act in their own better interest. As much as I believe in the Iron Rule of Organizing (do not do for others what they can do for themselves), I acknowledge that we may be at least a generation away from people who are hurting enough to act on it. But that won’t keep me from soldiering on.

“Soldier On” by Oasis from their 2008 album Dig Out Your Soul

 

180 Days: Day 20–Clubs Flush

Research has long shown a positive statistical correlation between participation in extracurricular activities and success in school (success being defined as “consistent attendance, academic achievement, and aspirations for continuing education beyond high school”).  The National Center for Education Statistics says, “Extracurricular participation was positively associated with … success indicators among public high school [students].”  This week has been a busy week overall with non-classroom duties.

So I don’t mind that this week felt like a non-stop action adventure movie due to the heavy non-classroom duties. My lunches three days this week are filled with club meetings. I advise two student clubs; each requires meetings with club officers to build each meeting’s agenda, then the meetings themselves. Luckily, the club officers are on their game.They know how they want the meetings to go and do a great job of putting the piece together. And between the two clubs, I get to have positive, non-academic time to mentor nearly 100 young leaders that I don’t normally see in my classes.

I can’t help but think how much more these students have their act together than I did at that age. I was exceptionally active in school, especially junior and senior years. Every time I grow impatient with students in my classroom for cross-talking, for not listening to instructions, for not writing down instructions or due dates, I think back to these kids in these two clubs and I find my hope in this young post-millennial generation. Clubs give students the ability to grow and transfer their academic skills in a more authentic setting that interests them.

Even though my calendar is flush with meetings, responsibilities, and the day-to-day efforts of teaching, I always remember my teachers who gave me the opportunities to be active in school and develop leadership skills. Now it’s my turn to pay it forward to a new generation.

“Be True to Your School” by The Beach Boys

 

180 Days: Day 19–Short Time

We adopted new bell schedules this school year to allow for grade level subject matter teams (I’m on the 10th Grade English Team) to have built-in meeting time weekly. We are just now starting to get the hang of the three different bell schedules that ring us into and out of classes each week. I can handle the different schedules and the intervention periods two days a week, but man, Tuesdays are brutal. The meetings are long. The classes are short. Lunch doesn’t hit until almost 1 p.m. I need to be the Energizer Bunny, but I feel more like Slowpoke Rodriguez (how’s that for an old ethnically insensitive Looney Tunes reference?).  I could pound Red Bulls all day and it wouldn’t help–except to keep me up all night.

The one good thing about short classes though–they are just long enough to do one or two mini-lessons. So my sophomores practiced punctuating dialogue. I gave them passages from modern young adult novels from which I had removed all the dialogue punctuation. They had to make sense of the text and properly punctuate it. They learned quickly that it was a harder task than it initially looked to be. They squinted at the block of text like they willed it to speak to them. Our debrief featured exclamations like, “I didn’t know how important the paragraph breaks really were. How do you know who is speaking without them?” “Wow, this is hard. It didn’t make sense and I had to reread it many different ways.” Needless to say, I hope the exercise convinced them to spare me the usual hours of trying to decipher their dialogue which usually is ill-punctuated–not because they don’t know the rules, they filled out the rules and shared as a class beforehand. These kids are taught the rules at a young age. They choose to not adhere to the rules. So we took a lesson in practicing how you want to play today. I’m looking forward to reading their next vignettes in the hopes that it’ll be an easier time of it, and that our short time today proves worthwhile.

My seniors analyzed sonnets and taught each other the meanings of these little love songs by Spenser, Shakespeare, Barrett Browning, St. Vincent Millay…The form was easy enough, but figuring out what they mean is a little more time-consuming than the 40 minute Tuesday class sessions. But with tomorrow’s longer time we address building good habits for breaking down poetry–with Ben Jonson.

So today, I taught bell to bell in each class period. I drove home. I crashed onto the sofa in a heap of crumpled, exhausted, sleep-deprived flesh. I turn off all news (I’m still heartbroken from yesterday). I turn on some music. I nap. I eat. I wash laundry. I try to feel normal. Even if for a short time.

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

 

180 Days: Day 18–When Bad Things Happen Outside the Schoolyard

It’s hard for me to know what to write today. Last night, after my son and I finished watching a late movie at our local theater, our phones buzzed into “notification” action (we are both political and news junkies). The first reports of a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas popped onto our screens. By the time I went to bed at 1:30 a.m. the death toll had climbed to more than 20. When I awoke at 5:30 the number had grown to more than 40. By the end of today, the number was over 50. The sheer size and magnitude of this mass shooting leave me sitting this evening in a state of shock in so many ways. So this post is not a post of outrage aimed at our government that continues to hollow out gun regulations. This is a post trying to put together a few words to describe the sense of loss.

Living in the greater Los Angeles area, Las Vegas is a short distance away–300 miles of good road (even if congested). My friends, family, and I travel there a number of times each year for a quick getaway. When I saw the venue across from Mandalay Bay and Luxor Casinos splashed on the news, I just couldn’t believe that my favorite places to stay and play are now a giant crime scene. I even have rooms booked at Mandalay Bay in the coming months. To add to the shock of the location, I have a number of former students and friends who were at the festival and/or live in Las Vegas. I spent the time between the end of the movie and finally passing out in bed trying to locate those I love. Luckily, my friends made it out–they were separated in the melée but reunited safely.

That was not the case for many in my community. When I settled in to read my email at the beginning of my school day, I heard crying in the hallway. One of my colleagues lost a friend and had just learned of it. By the end of the day today, we knew that we lost four people from our small beach communities area, and a number more were in critical condition or suffering non-life threatening bullet wounds. One of my sister-in-law’s friends (also a teacher) clings to life in ICU while her husband nurses his bullet wound to his wrist. Our fire chief was shot in the leg and came home to seek treatment because the trauma centers were so full in Clark County, Nevada. I’ve spent the evening sharing GoFundMe pages to help these folks out. I’ll reshare them again tomorrow. And maybe even the day after that. You can find the crowdfunding efforts publicized in most major news outlets too.

While I felt unsettled in just about every way today, the students eerily did not. They seemed oblivious to the world around them. I hope it to be a defense mechanism; it saddens me to think these kinds of mass shootings have been so normalized in their world it was barely a blip on their radar, especially when students a few miles away who lost teachers, school support employees, parents, and siblings. Mass casualty events like this are always hard to approach in a school setting, but it is even more difficult when the adults are in crisis working to cope with the mixed bag of emotions of losing loved ones or finding them traumatized yet safe. But we find our way forward by putting our heads down and plowing forward. And providing help to those that need it.

On a day so devastating, we at least have the healing power of music to pull us all together.

“I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty (live on 9/25/17 @ The Hollywood Bowl) RIP, Heartbreaker.

RIP, Heartbreaker.

“They Don’t Know” by Jason Aldean, from his 2016 album of the same title (he was closing out the Route 91 Harvest Festival when shots started raining on concert-goers)

 

180 Days: Day 17–Connecting the Past to the Future

I was worse than the kids today. Trying to stay focused on a warm, sunny late September Friday afternoon is hard enough. When it’s my birthday, it’s even more so. I could barely wait to get home and join my friends for happy hour cocktails and grub. But I love my students. I love my job. So I dug deep and sailed through a productive day with them.

Luckily, our subject matter came full circle and I saw light bulbs going off across the classroom all day. Students started connecting the dots from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s three ways to confront oppression to the NFL and Charlottesville–that fighting for social justice is still paramount in our society. For kids who spend more time staring at the 5″ screen of their phone than they do reading any headline news, it’s always nice to see the spark of understanding pop across their faces.

startup-incubator-bright-idea-aha-light-bulb-moment

Ultimately, I don’t care if kids don’t like me because I kept them working right up to the bell on a Friday afternoon because I do care about them learning about their world around them and understanding how our past shapes choices we make for our future. Transferring skill sets and knowledge, using those skills and knowledge critically, is a constant struggle for adults, much less teens. So asking students to do the hard work of thinking late on Friday is always a tall ask. Thankfully, they rose to the occasion. They stayed en pointe till the bitter end, er, bell.

A tall ask sort of like my past struggles to lose these last pounds of weight informed my choices tonight in food and beverage choices even though my birthday is a cheat day. I chose to partake in that flourless chocolate lava cake rather than sip a few extra adult beverages. I chose not to do both. I chose to work off the cake without a hangover and without being dehydrated. We all make choices. Our choices should be guided by our experiences and knowledge. I thirst for knowledge and understanding because of it–who wants to be the putz that makes the exact same egregious mistakes of history over and over again. William Blake wrote in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” So let’s just say, I’m wise enough to know better and decided to let myself eat cake.

wise-leaders-connect-the-future-with-the-past

“Birthday” by the Beatles (Paul McCartney, Live 2008)