180 Days: Day 124–When the Data Says Redo

I had to substitute in two roles today: as sophomore team lead in our professional learning community meeting and as a senior English teacher for a colleague at district training. As the sophomore team lead, I was reminded just how much our team is like a herd of cats–constantly changing our minds and having to be redirected. I felt like I was standing by with a squirt bottle in hand.

Imagine my surprise when the seniors I watched as a one-period substitute teacher behaved better than the adults…but at least I felt the outcome of our team meeting forced a much-needed dialogue about how skewed our data had become because of student nonparticipation. So we opted to redo the assessment altogether in the hopes of gaining a clearer understanding of just what help our students really need when writing the counterargument portion of an argumentative essay. We bantered back and forth about what to do, how to do it, and when, but we did end up with the outline of a third assessment tool that hopefully is more targeted than the prior two.

And even though I really, really, really got no break other than lunch today, I felt it was a productive day in which we actually took into account what our data told us. We stopped and refused to make the assumption that 40% of our students just didn’t care. We had to make the assumption that the 40 % were struggling with the concept of counterargument to the point of not doing the work. We wanted to collect data from them regardless. So backing up, taking a look at our assessment strategies, and re-doing it all just made sense. Now let’s hope that the common assessment we give on Friday this week yields the information we really need to move forward.

“Sanctify Yourself” by Simple Minds



180 Days: Day 118–Parity & Dignity

I spoke at the school board meeting this evening. After a busy day at work with my students, then a committee meeting, picketing with parents, and then being greeted by the fire marshal called by our school board to divide all of our protesting teachers into three different rooms at the board of education meeting, it all made for a long day.

Our school district keeps finding ways to peeve parents and teachers. While I did speak for my 3 minutes during open communications, my message of lost parity and dignity fell on a board that sat stone-faced if they even bothered to look up. In all, five parents spoke and four teachers. The five parents all delivered strong messages to the board about keeping teachers in the classrooms rather than pulled out for 20 days a year for professional development, about respecting the voices of all stakeholder groups, about the lack of dignity they have shown the parent and teacher groups over the past few months. I can’t thank these parents enough. I was lucky enough to speak with a number of them one on one. They have very real concerns about the district and their children’s education–and they do not think the problem is their children’s teachers.

While it was a long day, it was empowering to be surrounded by so many eloquent community members and teachers all advocating for our children, our classrooms, and our profession. It was a long day to start a week that will feel long as we roll toward spring break, but it’s all worth it to me as the anger and frustration that has boiled over and fogged things up the past few months is beginning to clear. I’ve long understood the district’s gameplan, but now I have a much clearer big picture of where my colleagues and community are at and it’s reaffirming.

“From Despair to Where” by Manic Street Preachers


180 Days: Day 116–Arguing the Other Side

Well, after skimming through two sets of arguments, it is obvious my students need some help with writing a counterclaim, refuting that counterclaim, and rebutting it. So I chose to write two claims on the board that I knew would capture their attention. My sophomores faced the two claims divided into pairs to research and prove the claims. The catch–they were claims with which the vast majority of the students would disagree. Today’s exercise was an exercise in examining both sides of an argument thoroughly. After yesterday’s failure at the bargaining table, it’s an exercise from which we can all benefit. Knowing and being able to prove multiple perspectives on an issue is a difficult skill set to develop, but it is deeply important for getting along with others in the world around us.

After they worked to prove the claim, they then had to take time to disprove the claim. After which, we spent time examining which argument was easier to prove and which was a stronger argument based on their findings. Then the students had to write the counterargument portion of the essay. I provided a teacher model for them (based on a totally different claim), and light bulbs started going off–now they seemed to understand what a counterargument looks like and began attempting it. Their counters served as a ticket out of class for the day–and gave me even more insight in helping them practice applying their newfound skill.

“Times Like These” by The Foo Fighters


180 Days: Day 115–A Colossal Waste

Today our bargaining team met with the state mediator for 15 whole minutes. That’s all it took for the district to shut us out again. Today’s meeting, which took six teachers out of the classroom and 14 administrators out of their offices, was nothing more than an exercise in futility. That’s 6 x $140 for sub coverage. That’s 6 x the time each of us took in preparing lessons. That’s 6 x the time our students had away from their teachers. All so the district could check a box on their way to attempting to impose what they want, all on their way to act outside the law rather than work with their employees. We are now no longer at an impasse. The district is moving toward a process called fact-finding, an arduous process, all to grab a future year’s calendar–and nothing to do with securing highly qualified teachers in every classroom, lowering class size, ensuring a solid curriculum and texts for every child, or reaching out to the numerous stakeholder groups within our district. It’s too bad that our school board and district head-shed have become so myopic–and forcing teachers into a corner over something so inconsequential for our kids. The school board has misplayed this calendar politically so badly that teachers refuse to ratify a calendar out of fear that the things listed above (class size, etc.) will not be addressed without this one bargaining chip. We certainly live in extraordinary times.

Luckily my students were writing on a prompt today that they would all want to write about–school uniforms. I can’t wait to read through their papers in the morning and see if any took the side of wanting them. Reading student essays will be the reward from a day lacking in shared mission from my employer.

“Wasting Time” by Collective Soul


180 Days: Day 114–Half Day Heaven

Another day of being well-prepared walking in on the morning made my busy half day run smoothly. The second half of my day was an event though. The good kind. The family kind. I took my kid brother to see his rock n roll hero in concert for his birthday present. So today felt good because I did right by my kids at school, my colleagues, and my family.

My day starting in collaboration time…

Then I spent time sitting in meetings advocating for a colleague…

Then I spent time with some of my sophomores and tested the day’s lesson before the sub arrived.

Then I sat in another meeting advocating for another colleague…

Then I spent time with my seniors finishing up their gothic novels.

Then my sub arrived.

I may have only been at school for a half-day, but I fit a whole day’s worth of work into those few hours. And luckily my sub for tomorrow was my sub this afternoon, so we were able to go over all the plans before I left.

Then I was off like a lightning bolt to pick up my brother and drive to the concert venue to see Noel Gallagher. We arrived right as he did. Watching my kid brother geek out at seeing his rock hero up close made all the extra work worth it. I also paid close attention to the themes of Gallagher’s set through the evening. I went to hear great music and left with a lesson idea about cohesion and theme. The typical teacher in me is always looking for a new way to approach teaching a lesson. And Mr. Gallagher did not disappoint.

“AKA…What a Life!” by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds


180 Days: Day 113–One Hour Short of Monday aka Planning Pays Off after Spring Forward

Thank goodness I had the foresight to lay everything out for this morning. I’m so exhausted from the weekend conference and the spring forward that having my day ready to go made my life much easier. Everything from copies to make, to parents to meet, to attendance contracts to sign…I was ready to rock n roll this morning.

My sophomores spent the day completing timed writings/common assessment for argument writing while I circulated, worked on the next two day’s lesson plans, and repeat. My seniors worked in their literature circle groups to present their gothic novels to the remainder of the class. Overall, it was a productive day that left me with two days worth of lessons and substitute teacher plans, copies made, and a new batch of attendance students ready to track down. Planning certainly paid off today; let’s hope it pays off for the next few days as well.

“Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” by Cage the Elephant


180 Days: Day 112–When Friday Lasts Three Days

I felt all organized at the end of the day today. I have all my master copies ready for the copy room on Monday morning. I have three new attendance contracts ready to sign on Monday morning. My students have a plan page in hand to plan what they will write on Monday in our common assessment argument essay–pertaining to whether teachers should be allowed to conceal carry guns in the classroom. I can only hope that my preparations will pay off on Monday morning, as my brain is sure to be fried. I’m heading to downtown LA for a weekend conference, so I can only hope I will walk in Monday morning and can pick up right where I left off today and feel ready to go. Not to mention, we lose an hour springing forward for daylight savings time this weekend. Monday promises to be one of these types of days:


Or one of these types:


So making Friday a little more hectic with hopefully be worthwhile.

What tonight and this weekend promise to be is certainly not a party though. I will be up early and be sitting at a table of other union organizers all weekend. I will be reminded how to reach out and build relationships with my colleagues. That might seem easy to most, but most people do not work in a room with children all day and spend very little time in the company of other adults. It never ceases to amaze me how isolating teaching can be and that it takes an effort to venture outside the classroom and engage with the other adults on campus. So I expect that this conference will help me sharpen my skills on that front–stepping outside my room to talk to my colleagues as they pass in the halls, leaving my room at lunch to seek out a peer, ensuring that I use my conference time to speak with other adults about our practice, our experiences, our shared core beliefs. We are all in this together.

“Last Friday Night (TGIF)” by Katy Perry


180 Days: Day 111–Clean Up Crew, pt. 2

What do I loathe almost as much as being out of class? Bad reports from substitute teachers. And my sophomores just do not seem to care about my stern warnings. So their lackluster attempt at the essay they wrote in class yesterday just earned them more work on the back end. I had to take a few moments to share my pearls of wisdom: do things right the first time and you won’t have to make time to do it over again later. I don’t care if students get the “wrong” answers the first time. Sometimes we need to get it wrong in order to learn how to do it right. But ultimately, we should always give our best, do our best, be our best. It’s about acting with integrity–doing the best job even when no one is looking.

So rather than be angry, I had to take a deep breath. Or two. Okay, maybe three. Then I looked at the work they produced to formulate the first half of today’s lesson–what were they missing from their arguments that they wrote (and I use that term loosely) yesterday. I selected a couple of student samples to use as models for revisions and to use as a guide for our second attempt at writing arguments. Which leads to the second half of class–where we spent the remainder of the period looking up information on gun control vs gun rights. We talked about the importance of knowing about what you are writing about and when you don’t know about it, look it up. Writing about what we know is much easier than making it up as we go. And the best way to become a better writer is to read more and more–and study the craft of the writers that we read.

“Your Life Is Now” by John Mellencamp


180 Days: Day 117–Happy Haka Day

My school’s annual Multi-Cultural Assembly was today. It’s typically the biggest day of the year for our students.  Over 26 languages are spoken at my school, so today is a celebration that highlights so many of the cultures represented at my school. Students dress in their cultural garments and perform traditional dances and music. Whether it’s a Chinese fan dance or a Tahitian hula, my school’s kids have got it going on in this annual celebration of our school’s diversity. They entertain as well as touch the soul.

Two of the most anticipated performances include the Haka and the Filipino stick dance  (as seen on the school paper’s Instagram page).

The best thing about this day isn’t the fun dances and songs though. It’s the sense of school pride. It’s the affirmation of who these kids are at their core. It’s the camaraderie developed by students from differing cultures joining in other groups’ performances.

I have one student who is new to the school this year. He is hard to impress, but even he admitted that he’d never been to a school that actually celebrated their differences and diversity so openly. His prior school was also richly multicultural, but he said that they did not have a similar commemoration. I like to think that this assembly, which ends a weeklong series of events every March, is one of a kind, though I somehow doubt it. But that makes it no less special in what it accomplishes–a week of fun, togetherness, and fellowship.

“Haka War Chant” composed by Kai Hartwig


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)