Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Strapped for teachers, Detroit district looks to controversial teacher training programs

Rough times continue for the Detroit School District. The new great hope for the district has come in the form of their new superintendent, Nicolai Vitti. He comes with impressive credentials, but he's taken on quite a task. This is a district that is and has been plagued by poverty, corruption, lack of fathers in the home, corruption, student truancy, corruption, poorly maintained buildings, corruption, lack of supplies, corruption, a teacher shortage, and . . . um . . . one more minor issue . . . oh yeah, corruption. 

If he can turn this district around, I for one, will be in awe of this man. Right now though, all the district seems to have is Mr. Vitti and hope. They've had bouts of hope previously, but that hope has always been dashed.

Right now, according to this Chalkbeat article, Mr. Vitti and the district are working on hiring teachers. That is not going to be easy. Conditions for teachers in Detroit are not so great. And they've lost thousands of students. Of course, that means they don't need as many teachers as they would if so many parents had not abandoned Detroit for suburban districts. In fact, it's those Detroit students who have kept at least one suburban district afloat that would have otherwise disappeared. By taking in so many Detroit students who have brought various negative behaviors and pathologies with them, this suburban district regularly loses some of their best students to other districts further on up the road.

From the article:

Faced with a daunting shortage of certified teachers, leaders of Detroit’s main district say they may have no choice but to hire educators with minimal classroom training, including some who have been certified by a for-profit online teachers college.
It’s still early in the summer hiring season, and the district hasn’t begun to announce new hires. But on Tuesday, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti will present a wide-ranging hiring plan to the Detroit school board, sending a message that the district must consider all its options.The plan instructs staff to look high and low for new hires, including from alternate certification programs like Teachers of Tomorrow, an online program that was approved to certify teachers by the state Legislature last year“We prefer to hire teachers who have participated in traditional certification programs,” Vitti said in a prepared statement to Chalkbeat, adding: “However, in the short term, we need certified teachers to fill vacancies and to reduce class size so we will consider hiring teachers from alternative programs. They are certified.”An intractable teacher shortage in Detroit has had dramatic consequences for the city’s students, from classrooms crammed with 40 children to students who go for months without a certified math or English Teacher.
On its website, Teachers of Tomorrow promises prospective teachers that they can help address these issues. Under the tagline “Every student deserves a great teacher!” the company promises “competitive salaries” and the chance to work with a "diverse student population."

On the one hand, Detroit is desperate enough to seek teachers from "non-traditional" programs that may or may not be slightly shady. On the other hand, traditional teacher training programs from the big-time universities don't adequately prepare teachers. 
Explicit phonics being ignored, teachers are not taught effective strategies to teach literacy. Add to this the fact that because so many teachers don't want to work in Detroit, Detroit has to take whom they can get. While Detroit does have some excellent teachers . . . um . . . let's just say . . . there are others. 
Also, I'm not sure that the offer to work with "a diverse student population" is such a great selling point. Diverse? Diverse how? In what way are the students "diverse?"
Personally, I hope Mr. Vitti succeeds. Many before him have failed, but who knows, maybe he is up to this impossible job. My advice though, would be - once you get those new teachers in the door, have them trained in a good solid Orton-based language arts program.
Of course, that's always my advice.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Marzano, Are You Kidding?

The name Robert Marzano showed up a lot in my final teaching years, mostly in the form of articles copied and passed out to all of the teachers in the school or in the district. We were supposed to read them in order to learn how to be better teachers. It seemed that every article we were given to read had Marzano's name on it. That must have been one heavy educational dude I was ignoring.

Because I always wanted to know what manner of bovine waste was being passed down to us from above, I usually attempted to read these articles. I'm almost sorry to say that I never even made it through one of them. I can't even recall what they were about, but they didn't seem to be much help. Much of what is being passed off as school improvement these days involves data, testing, testing data, data from the tests, and cosmetics.

Yes, we're told, posting the learning target for each subject daily will improve students' scores. Oh, did we say posting? We meant posting and reading each learning target to the students. Oops! Forgot! And have the students recite the learning targets back to you. Oh, and one more thing; have them repeat the learning targets in their own words. We'll let you know if there's anything we have to add to that.

Meanwhile, don't forget to update your data wall.

But - oh yeah - Marzano. I should have assumed that some teachers and especially administrators who had either forgotten what the classroom is like or who were never classroom teachers would accept the word of an "expert" with no classroom experience. I discovered years ago, that those who carried the educational day, the ones who advance the farthest, were the ones who can talk a good game, who can exaggerate their classroom success with a straight face.

It seems that I'm better off for not reading Marzano, especially since, whether or not I knew who he was, my teaching career was made more miserable because of him.

There are many reasons Marzano’s tweet touched a lot of raw nerves.
First, those of us who have been in the arena for a while are predisposed to dislike whatever he has to say. Here’s a guy who barely taught, an academic who’d rather read studies written by other academics than remain in the classroom and teach actual kids, who writes books that are only possible because of the labor of other researchers (who at least visit classrooms), and who then has the audacity to tell teachers everything they’re doing wrong and what they should be doing instead. I’m not giving him the benefit of the doubt and neither are a lot of other teachers.
Second, the tweet reveals what most of us suspect: that he’s out of touch. It’s no surprise that a lot of the comments call Marzano out for not being a teacher. That’s a fair criticism. Don’t tell me how to do my job until you’ve demonstrated that you can do it.
From my experience, Marzano will still be required reading, and school administrators will still believe in him until he is replaced by the next educational guru whose advice and pronouncements will have as much effect on student achievement as Marzano - Zero.

And the circle goes round and round.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Why I Retired from Teaching

For the first 20 or so years of my teaching career, whenever someone asked me when I was planning on retiring, my standard answer was: "Probably never. One day my students will come in and see me slumped over my desk. They'll argue with each other, trying to decide whether or not to try and wake me, or wonder if they should tell the principal, or if they should just enjoy the day and let the custodian discover my body after school and alert the proper authorities."

That changed around my 25th year of teaching. I began thinking that I would stay 30 years and collect my full pension. I would still be young (relatively speaking) and I could pursue another profession that did not involve a roomful of children, many of whom were actively engaged in trying to stop me from doing my job. After all, I still had the option of around 12 weeks of vacation time per year. I could teach summer school for 5 four day weeks, which I did for a few years, and earn some extra spendin' cash. I also had enough sick days saved up so that I could take as many as I wanted to take without worrying about running out.

But no, I quit after only 29 years. The proper people were informed back in March. I filled out the proper paperwork - on and off line, was honored at a board meeting, and walked out the door for the final time last Friday.

Why not stick it out one more painful year? Here is the part where I begin to enumerate those reasons-

Well, that's what I was planning on doing. But why bother? Yes, there were issues. Every profession has its issues. What it comes down to is that due to all of the issues - it was time to leave. The school has changed. The profession has changed. Parents and children have changed. Government requirements have changed. I've changed. It was time.

Now that I will have the time, I may even update this blog more frequently.

UPDATE: For more information, go here.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Free Speech for Me But Not for Thee

I've been busy. That's my excuse. Back in October of last year, Charles Murray, spoke - that is, he tried to speak - at the University of Michigan. I started to write about it sometime in December. Here is what I wrote:

Yes, I should have posted this a while ago, like when the Detroit Free Press first reported it. But I kept having to do other things, so it languished. Others reported on it though. And the more I read about it, the worse it got. After reading all four of the reports, it seems to me that the original report in the Detroit Free Press was intended to minimize the disruptions caused by the junior fascists at U of M. They didn't debate Charles Murray. They harassed him and disrupted his talk. The anti-intellectual nitwits tried to shout him down. They put themselves in charge as the thought police. I doubt that a single one of them have ever read a single word he's written. Yet, based on the words of others who also wouldn't face him in a debate, decided that nobody had the right to hear what he had to say.
We know, based on stories of conservative speakers being denied the same rights as speakers from the liberal/progressive echo chamber on university campuses, that this sort of thing has become common. There are different rules for those who bow to and agree with the campus power structure - a structure which includes students and faculty - and those who don't.

Conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro and Ann Coulter are labeled as "divisive." They are "provocateurs." They engage in "hate speech." This means that they are in disagreement with current campus orthodoxy. And that must NOT be allowed! So they and the student groups who sponsor them are subject to different, more onerous rules. University administrators are all for free speech, or so they tell us - but! There is always a "but" that only applies to people like Shapiro and Coulter and others who are divisive, provocateurs, and promote hate speech. Campus fascists have redefined certain words in order to excuse their own fascism and fear of contrary opinions. It also conveniently let the rioters and disrupters off the hook. It's not their fault. How can they possibly take responsibility for their actions when they were provoked by a provocateur? Curse those Coulters and Shapiros for making peaceful, human rights respecting young adults into masked thugs!

No one who deviates from the orthodoxy can be tolerated.
A speech at Portland State University by James Damore, author of the infamous Google memo, was interrupted on Saturday night when activists reportedly smashed the sound system.
The former Google engineer is currently suing the Silicon Valley giant for firing him over the controversial ten page memo about gender diversity and the difficulty conservatives face at the company.The event was organized by student and journalist Andy Ngo, and his student group the Freethinkers. In response, the university organized multiple events to counter their panel.Live tweeting the event, Ngo reported that activists had staged a walkout before “smashing” the sound system, causing the microphones to not work for approximately ten minutes.
It wasn't enough for the university to offer multiple counter events, they also allowed student fascists to disrupt Damore's talk. But at least the disrupters at Portland and at U of M weren't "divisive." And nobody who destroyed the sound system at Portland State University was engaging in hate speech. And surely there were no provocateurs amongst the disrupters at either event.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Government Shutdown

Yes, I know, we are supposed to panic because the government was forced to shut down because our Congress couldn't come to an agreement over DACA. Of course it's Trump's fault. This kind of thing never happened under any previous president. Well, almost never.

Truthfully, I'd be more upset if my local 7-11 or Taco Bell shut down. I'd be hysterical if my favorite books store were to close. I know we are supposed to worry about the thousands of government workers who will not be paid, and the government functions that will not be performed. There are necessary services that the government provides, but if a shut down can provoke hysteria, maybe the government has grown too big and has taken over too many functions.

Just a thought.

I bet congressional paychecks will continue to be delivered, showdown or not, and even during the apocalypse.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Why I Quit Teaching

I haven't quit teaching yet, but I'm getting close. When I began teaching and for many years after, I could see no point to quitting. Even though there were frustrating times, there were also rewarding times. I told people that one day at the end the students would come in and find me slumped over my desk. They would have to decide whether or not to call anyone to haul my body away.

Things have changed since then, mostly for the worse. And it continues to get worse every year. I can relate to David Solway's reasons for quitting. I don't know if I can make it to 30 years to get my full pension. I'm close, but it might be worth it to save what's left of my sanity and self-respect to step away from the classroom and maintain a lower standard of living.

To put it bluntly, the administration is venal and unscrupulous.  Faculty is compromised and reprobate.  The student body is a haven for ineptitude.  Regrettably, the exceptions – for they do exist – cannot redress the balance.  What is perhaps most troubling is that the more reputable faculties and disciplines – math, physics, engineering, astronomy, medicine, law – are gradually but inexorably being eroded by the "social justice" meme and subject to extraneous cultural forces that are political in nature.  Even here, gender and race rather than scholarly accomplishment and talent are starting to predominate in hiring protocols.  These departments are slowly coming to be governed not by the principles of classical propriety, but by agendas alien to their mandates – agendas whose function is to promote the collectivity over the individual; so-called "human rights" over human excellence; and equality, however unearned, over freedom, however precious.  As a result, even among the purer disciplines, meritocracy will surrender to mediocrity.

There are different reasons on the elementary school level. Yes, the students come in with fewer skills than they once had. I'm not allowed to teach phonetically so there is no chance for many of them to improve. The paperwork requirements have become ridiculous and do very little toward actually improving students' literacy and math skills.

Perhaps I'll go into greater detail in a future post, but I see a new generation of barely literate, social justice warriors being created.

Friday, November 17, 2017


My smart board went out today.

It was working fine. The kids were doing the math I had posted on it. We were about to go over the math, when - it went dark.

I tried turning it back on. I felt around in the back in case there was a secret reboot button. Then I went across the hall to get the teacher who's used one at another for years. She had no luck. So I did the only thing I could do; I crawled under my desk, curled up into a fetal position, and whimpered softly - until students tried to talk me out. Then I covered my ears and began howling.

Well, not really. Actually I got out my teacher's edition and used a marker and white board to teach the lesson. It took a minute though. I have quickly become used to using the smart board. I have my math and English Language Arts lessons ready to go every day on that board. It took a minute to change my thoughts back to pencil and white board. It wasn't automatic. I'm a victim of technology. I depend on it to be there. I've been seduced.

The tech guys fixed it later that morning. It was a blown fuse, and various devices were off line in all of the rooms on my side of the hallway depending on where they were plugged in in the classroom.

But then -

The Think Central website went down while our students were supposed to be taking their weekly online reading test. Our Title person made copies of the tests for the entire grade level and the students took them with their pencils rather than on their laptops. They adjusted well.

Now I've got paper tests I have to grade. Online, Think Central automatically grades them for us.

Oh, the humanity!