Changing my Name

I decided to change the name of my blog. I found that some people were looking askance at the whole "cold-hearted demon" thing. I guess some people didn't find it as funny as I did. Anyway, there must be some new name for me this year. I just haven't had the pleasure of being called something bizarre.

I have, however, stumbled across several student conversations that were bizarre. Actually, they weren't, but you know what it's like when you walk into a conversation and the punchline is being said. Some that I've heard so far:

"And that's when the Asian woman in me came out!" said by a senior describing a bad shopping experience. I'm still not sure what she meant by this, but it sounded really strange walking up to it.

"It's full of spit. Human spit." Mumbled by two sophomores describing the envelope sealing device they were using. It was really filled with water, but they were trying to convince another student that the best way to seal envelopes was with human spit, so the device must be sealed with it. Again, it sounded really strange.

Oh, the cat is Rings. He's the watch cat at my mom and stepdad's place. I just think he's the sweetest thing, but he hates other cats.

BBC NEWS | Health | 1918 killer flu 'came from birds'

Didn't anybody ever read Stephen King's "The Stand"? Remember how, in the story, something like 94% of the world's population died in a matter of months because of a killer flu-like virus that escaped the confines of a government research facility? Okay, maybe I'm over-reacting a bit here.

As a history teacher I have, over the years, read quite a bit about the 1918 Pandemic. I know that scientists have been alarmed by that particular strain of influenza since the beginning and have gone to great lengths to try to recover tissue samples that contain the virus (even, according to one story, transporting Alaskan tissue samples on a commercial airliner). Scientists wanted the virus so they could make sure they could stop it.They have worked for years to make this discovery and it is truly a miracle of science ( and a lot of hard work). Still though, the virus is back. Will scientists continue to manipulate the genetic structure of the bug? What could they create?

You just woke me from my nap for what?! Leave me alone! Posted by Picasa

Watch it, I'm possessed! Posted by Picasa

Summer is nearly over

It's such a sad time of year. Summer vacation is almost over. There seems to be a general impression that teachers have three glorious months off in which they have no greater responsibility than eating bon-bons and watching "Jerry Springer" on television. I don't know any teachers who do that.

During this "vacation" I have attended five workshops/meetings totaling two and a half weeks' time. I have attended additional meetings to plan for a workshop that I am helping to facilitate. I have written and submitted a proposal to present at a statewide educational conference in Spring 2006. I have worked to update my website (Garden of Learning) and have been working on revising my curriculum to make it more relevant to students and exactly aligned to state standards. I have had to purchase and arrange furniture in my classroom to accommodate the new computers that were purchased for the yearbook class that I will be teaching this year. For the past week, I have spent "school hours" at school working in my classroom and meeting with administrators and support personnel.

Don't get me wrong, I have had time for two weeks of vacation with my husband. We've also managed to catch two baseball games. I also took several days to travel with my mother to visit my sister who lives in the LA area. It's not all work and no play (though sometimes it seems like it).

The point that I am trying to make is that teachers don't just sit around all summer despite what the general public thinks. We're busy year-round with school "stuff."

Oh, and one more thing. Teachers don't have three months off for summer. We have nine and a half weeks (though some states and districts have a shorter summer break even on a traditional school year calendar).

You wish you had my job, don't you? Posted by Picasa

I love office relaxing. Posted by Picasa

What is this?! Posted by Picasa

Baby Cat Amelia Posted by Picasa

Amelia Posted by Picasa

School Beating and Media Blitz

Yes, that was my school you saw on the news this week. You know, the one with the taped beating in the boys bathroom? Yup. That was us. How do I feel about it? Let me tell you.

First, I have to say that we don't have many fights on our campus. Really. This year we've had maybe four that have even garnered attention by those not directly involved. We have had a couple of severe beatings on campus in the past four years. I don't know that this one is the worst. Fights are never a good thing, but they do happen. Beatings are never a good thing, but they also happen. What made this incident unusual was the fact that the video was posted to the internet. According to students, other incidents had been taped as well, some maybe even posted, but somehow the media never got hold of it.

Thursday I arrived at school at 6:45. There was a satellite truck already in the parking lot. The reporter was interviewing our principal inside the administration building. More showed up during the day. When I left at 4:30 that afternoon there was still a satellite truck on campus. Near as I can guess, the following channels visited: 2, 4, 5, 7, 11, and Telemundo. That's a lot of coverage. I had been hoping the coverage was for our "Every 15 Minutes" program (the one to discourage drinking and driving), but it wasn't. Reporters were more interested in a beating.

What truly disgusts me is that we never get coverage for the great things that our students do. We have an award-winning school newspaper, an awarding-winning band and orchestra program, nationally ranked students in judo, track, and cheerleading. Every year our theater and dance productions sell out! Our basketball team went to the state championships two years ago (okay, that is another story for another time). We have students who have been admitted to and will be attending Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, SFSU, Sac State, UC Davis, UC Riverside, Sonoma State....the list goes on and on. We have an 85% pass rate in English on the high school exit exam and a 77% pass rate in Math on the high school exit exam (remember the state average is around 50% for both). We have a higher API/AYP than other other comprehsive high school in our district. We've got great kids, but the community never hears about it.

Recent surveys have shown that many adults are afraid of teenagers. Teens are these alien beings; something to be feared and loathed. I don't understand it. When you look at what teens can do, why are adults afraid of them? My guess is that most adults don't spend the time to get to know teenagers. Try it. They are interesting people. Frequently, they are more interesting than some adults.

I have talked to many in my community who are afraid of our students. They believe our one high school to be a dangerous place. I don't find it to be dangerous. I have invited them to visit my classroom and visit my school. No one has ever taken me up on the offer.

I have two challenges. First, I challenge media outlets to report on good things that students do once in awhile. Second, I specifically challenge the media to come see what my students will be doing as a service project for one of our elementary schools.

Okay, this is enough for now. I am getting angry all over again. If you read this, please keep an open mind next time you have an encounter with a teenager.
That nickname was given to me by a student. Yes, I know. Some people are shocked. I found it amusing. Why? It's one of those things that happens in a classroom. A student gets really frustrated or excited about something and something goofy just pops out of their mouth. "Cold Hearted Demon" was this year's. My first year teaching, my students found out how old I was. Naturally, sixth graders are shocked to find out adults are over 20. Francisco blurted out "Wow! You're an old fart, aren't you?" He was mortified, as were his classmates. They held their collective breath to see what would happen. I busted up laughing. I laughed so hard I cried. They were relieved that I could be so liberal about the whole thing. Same thing happened with "Cold Hearted Demon" this year. Collective breath held. I laughed so hard I cried. I still give the student a bad time about it.

Little bitty star jasmine in the backyard. Posted by Hello

This is a rose too. I love flowers. Posted by Hello

A rose is a rose Posted by Hello
This week I was handed an article from Newsweek about the provision in the No Child Left Behind Act that requires high schools to provide the names and address of their students to the military.

Don't get me wrong, I am not anti-military. I was in the service. Our military is necessary and it does a good job. The military is NOT a bad career choice as long as one is fully informed. One can learn valuable skills and serve his or her country by signing up for military service.

Over the last several months, several seniors have complained to me about the recruiters who keep calling even after the student says they are not interested and have already chosen their college for next year. The students seem to be disturbed by the actions of the recruiters.

I really didn't think too much about their concerns until I started hearing rumblings that it was because of the provision in the No Child Left Behind Act. Then this article came out.

The long and the short of it is this. Check out Military Free Zone. The site has some good information about what the military can do and has the opt-out form that students and parents can sign and turn in to the school. The owners of the site have an obvious agenda and it doesn't necessarily agree with my own opinions, BUT students aren't told they have an option about getting calls from military recruiters.

Read the information. If you need more information, ask. Make your own INFORMED decision.
Though I really enjoy the simulation (and the students do as well) it wears on me something awful. Playing the role of "The Leader" is much more stressful that I always think it will be. I worry that someone will take it too seriously and get themselves into some sort of trouble (i.e. breaking into my classroom...okay, it was by accident and all they did was overturn the desks and post propaganda). I worry that someone will be psychologically damaged by something that I say during the simulation (i.e. Me: So you are a member of a revolutionary group? She: I didn't say that. Me: But you admitted knowledge. She: Yes, I know who is involved. Me: Yet you did not inform the State of this traitorous act? She: Well, I wasn't sure.... Me: So you're a traitor. She: No!). The conversations go on and on as the students trip over their own stories.This year's simulation went surprisingly well. We had some outstanding players and some very sneaky players as well. As the years go by the students get more and more creative. I think my favorite story this year is from the banner-hangers and the desk-turner. In the dark of night the banner-hangers returned to school, climbed on TOP of my portable and began hanging their 2'x20' banner. While working diligently, they noticed a car driving up. To their horror the car stopped by the classroom and someone got out. Banner-hangers quickly flattened themselves onto the roof so as not to be seen. Desk-turner approached the room and began posting anti-State propaganda when he discovered, much to his surprise that the window to the classroom had not be securely fastened. He opened the window, climbed through, and using only flashlights began overturning desks and posting additional propaganda. Soon after, he left, but returned shortly after to double-check that the door and windows were securely closed. By this time the banner-hangers were nearly finished. All left without seeing each other, but, unbeknownst to them a SPY was on the hillside above the school with a video camera watching the whole thing. I have the photos to prove it.The simulation is all in good fun, but I do check to make sure that the students understand what exactly they were doing. They did. S understood that his friends would "die" (lose their points) if he didn't give up the names of the traitors. Tough lesson, but he got it. B learned that in a coup it might be best to do nothing lest one come out on the losing side and end up losing his or her "life" (points). S, M, S,C, and others learned that the State can be capricious. Overall, I believe that my students do begin to get an understanding of life in a totalitarian state within the controlled environment of the classroom (sometimes, I'm not quite sure how controlled it really is).It seems that this year most students felt positive about the experience once it was over. This is a change from previous years. Some liked the discipline. Some liked the challenge. All seemed to like overthrowing "the Leader" and installing a free and democratic society.

Thomas the Goat, Head of Production, Thomas the Goat Films Posted by Hello

What a life. Snoozing in the sun on a warm, sunny day. Posted by Hello
I've been hearing about blogs for quite some time, but never thought they were for me. Too public, I thought. Too Gen X or Y or wherever we are now (in other words, I'm too old for blogging). It's growing on me though. And that brings me to my next entry....

I am frustrated. I am concerned about the state of history and social science education in my district and in the state of California. Rightfully, my school district is concerned about student achievement, but I believe it is going in the wrong direction.

Beginning in the fall of '05, all secondary English teachers will be using a scripted program. Students will no longer be ALLOWED to read novels in their English classes because the scripted program doesn't have them. This doesn't make sense to me. Novels actually help my students understand the historical period we are studying. No longer will my students be reading stories of the period we are discussing in history class.Beginning in the fall of '05 many of the middle schools in my district will shuffle underachieving students to double math and double english classes in an attempt to improve achievement. Students will also take PE. Their last class will be split between one semester of science and one semester of history.

With test scores being so important to schools and districts nowadays, I find it difficult to understand the thinking of the powers that be. The 8th grade History CST will, in 2005, count for 7% of the API score for the school. Next year, it will be in the neighborhood of 13%. Apparently, our students are expected to do well on their test with only one semester of history during the 8th grade year. That is unless they get history during the second semester. Then they will have about 10 weeks of history before that all-important test.

I am also concerned with staff development. There are studies that show good history/social science instruction can help improve student achievement. However, in my district, there has been no money put into improving the skills of history/social science teachers in the past four years. Before that, development was limited to teachers in grades K-8. History/Social Science teachers could easily implement reading, vocabulary, comprehension, and writing skills into their curriculum. Many teachers just need help to see where this skill instruction fits into their lessons.I find this to be a frustrating time in history education.

We have much to teach. We have to ready our students for standardized tests. We are expected to hold our students to a high standard. We are not begin given the training or materials with which to help our students reach a high level of achievement. Where does that leave the classroom teacher?

MSNBC - Pro-Gun Group Suggests Teachers Should Be Armed
This teacher says, "I don't think so!" It would begin to look like the Wild West (though I've never heard that teachers in the real "Wild West" had guns in the classroom).
If we want to take better care of our students and recognize problems early, why not:
1. Decrease class size in all high school classrooms. Why not 20 students per class instead of 35 or more?
2. Decrease the maximum number of students per school. How can you get to know kids when you have 5,000 of them in a small space? There is research that backs school sizes of 600-750 for high schools.
3. Reinstate counselors into high schools. How many districts across this country now have "college technicians" or some other group that doesn't offer help of a personal nature?
4. Hold classes around the teen's schedule. In other words, start later in the day. Allow for jobs. Maybe evening classes would be useful for some students. Perhaps it would even be wise to allow some kids to accelerate their graduation when circumstances call for it.