Friday, March 31, 2006

Letter to the boss

This is the letter I have written to my boss about the proposed change in our curriculum from Reading and Language Arts classes to a combined class due to problems with student scores on the state mandated Math test.

Dear Sir:

You have always been willing to listen to me whenever I have had concerns or questions. I greatly appreciate working with you for that reason. I have two ideas that may help improve our students’ ability to perfom on the State test without combining English and Reading. I hope that in the renewed spirit of camaraderie and support for one another after our hurricane experiences that these ideas could and would be seriously considered.

I've tried to think of what could be done with a minimum of change for all parties concerned, and tried to think of what the specifics of the problem are and how to simply and effectively address those problems.

My first idea would be to shave 2-3 minutes from each class and put that at the beginning of the day as a home room, and this would be the time we do announcements, pledge etc, and the all classes do 10 minutes of remedial math. I cite this as an idea that has worked at Local Private School. Granted they do Kumon, but we could something that meets our specific needs. In some ways it would be similar to a D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read program;) a program that has done wonders for reading across the country.

My second idea is for all teachers to do a math bell ringer activity. A simple reviewing of the basics as a bell ringer activity. I've been told that a while back all teachers were doing more writing so that writing scores could improve, it is apparent that idea worked. I know that if we all work together we can make major differences with minimum adjustments.

Why do I feel these ideas will work? Because I am convinced that a basic cause of the low scores is a student weakness in the basic fundamentals of mathematics. Students must have a strong foundation in the basics of any learning field in order to build upon them and progress to the higher level skills. We also know from research, that in small doses we frequently get a greater return and lower student “tune out”.

As I have started working with my 6th grade students to help them with math, I have noticed that it is the basic facts they do not know. They do not know what you and I would call common sense information, like the number of square inches in a square foot, the number of minutes in an hour, a basic decimal to fraction equivalence, such as .25 =1/4. I have noticed for all of the years that I have taught here that many students have trouble doing basic mathematics, and cannot figure out what their grade is even in simple ratio form such as 18/20. Because of these observations, I feel strongly that adding more minutes of the current curriculum will not solve this dilemma. I believe that improving upon the basic skills will go a long way toward improving the math scores at our school.

Let me review what I have observed and felt for the last four years as the math department has experienced frustrations about the test scores:
Year 1- We were on block schedule, and double blocked students for math, apparently that did not work and so we made a change.
Year 2- We had smaller math classes, and made yet another change to
Years 3 & 4- acceleration classes; and are those not working?

It is apparent to me that simply adding time to extend math a few more minutes is not going to fix this problem. We have students that currently take two math classes because of acceleration, so I fail to see how an additional eight minutes per class (or whatever the actual breakdown is) will change this situation. The issue is more complicated than simply adding extra time for math.

Now my emotional part. I feel great frustration at the thought of combining English and Reading into one class period. I do not want to see the successful Reading and Writing program that we have built here lose anything. When the seesaw tips the other way and we are dropping in Reading and Writing, will we make the time adjustments back? I very much doubt it.

It feels to me as if it does not matter that the department that has the most to lose has much say in this.I do not feel that any one subject should control the curriculum of the school. I am willing to help out teachers who are struggling to prepare students to take a test that in my opinion is not age appropriate nor testing on what matters in the real world. As we as an educational community look for solutions we should not forget the training teachers on campus have received from those who have researched this problem. Let us look to their knowledge and training for better answers.

I have been doing some Internet research on this problem and found that sometimes schools focus so strongly on test scores that many options are taken away from students such as fine arts and physical education programs. By taking away these programs from targeted students, those programs, as well as the students, lose. Often these programs are the most successful portion of these students’ school day. Currently, a district in Maryland has their remedial students taking three Reading courses, two Math courses, Science and Social Studies. For their remedial students there will be no P.E., no art, no choir, no band.

The current discussion regarding the combining of Reading and English makes me feel as though Reading and Language Arts are not considered to be as important as Math, simply because we have this discussion every year! I know your heart is with Math because of your background, as mine is with Reading and that you want what is best for all concerned. As you can see I have very strong feelings about this, only because I want what is best for the kids, as do you. I appreciate you taking the time to read this and I hope you will consider these options I have proposed.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday Ramblings

In most things I am a conservative, but I am quite liberal in others which usually surprises people who have made assumptions about me based on my religious beliefs.

Marriage is more than a piece of paper and "I do's". It is about commitment, respect, and trust. I am married and have been for many years. Without trust, there is no relationship. I am not opposed to "gay" marriage. I am opposed to the term marriage. But having said that I wish there was a legally recognized commitment that gay couples could enter in to. I am not opposed to gays adopting children, or single parent adoption. It goes back to that idea of commitment.

Abortion. In the cases of rape, incest, birth defect and to preserve a mother's health I believe a woman should have a choice. As simply a form of birth control, no. When does life begin? At conception, when an egg is fertilized. That change is the beginning of life. I believe in adoption.

Having written the above paragraph, I am not opposed to assisted suicide in the cases of the terminally ill, or not using medical machinery to extend life. Death is a part of life and there comes a time in all lives when we die. I do not think that being hooked up to machines for the long term is a life. I am not opposed to those machines assisting lives, as in dialysis, or oxygen, or other things, so please have a living will. Make your choices known while you can express your opinions, and share those thoughts with your loved ones.

There are three types of family in my book. First is the family that one is born into or adopted into, second is the family that one marries or commits into, and third is the family that one chooses. These are the people who cross the line from friend to family, and fulfill the same roles and responsibilities one would expect family members to be involved in. I have family in all three categories

Fashion, I am more conservative about fashion. I am not a fan of the current male fad of busting a sag. I do not want to see what underwear others are wearing. If I can tell you what the boxers look like, hitch up them britches. I have also seen too much skin on people who ought not show so much skin. Imagination is not a bad thing

Education. It is a life skill and is needed by all. I don't think one can argue with that statement. Motivation is not there for too many of today's students. I see kids who cannot add, subtract, multiply and divide. I see kids who choose not to learn. I see learned helplessness and that frightens me.

Movies and Television. I love a good story, and those are harder and harder to find. I want to use my imagination, but too many movies and television shows leave nothing to the imagination.

Israel, I am pro-Israel. I've been there and loved it.

Tolerance is a good thing and we ought to be more tolerant and less violent. We have the right to express our opinions, and sadly it seems that only the radicals are heard. A friend teaches social studies and does a class activity in which groups of students have to "create" a set a government. The students learned that the loud ones are the ones that gain leadership, not the ones with the best ideas.

Public servants, like police, firefighters, nurses, teachers, and a few others are taken for granted and shown more disrespect than anyone should have to tolerate. These are hard working people who chosen difficult professions. Yes it may be their job to do, fill in the blank, but show some respect for where would our society be without those hard working people? As my mother had said "in a mell of a hess".

Well those are my thoughts, you can agree or disagree; these are my opinions that I have reached through the experiences of my life.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Understanding Others

Prayer is something I have done since I was a little child, the now I lay me down to sleep kind; I learned specific prayers as a teacher at a Catholic school, and of course the prayers of my heart. So what is prayer? It is communication with a higher power. The idea of communication is a two way street so to speak. I've been to Israel and was deeply influenced. I just finished listening to Walking the Bible.

As a result of many things I've made a decision to study about Islam. I see what is going on all around me and I want to have a better understanding. I've been reading The Everything Koran Book by Anwar. As I have read that I have found much to agree with, and some that I do not agree with. I have gained a bit of a better understanding of another culture.

As I read I see they have many ideas we would do well to learn from and incorporate the appropriate attitude about those of other faiths. We should learn and study and look for the commonalities. I have not read the Koran, at this point I still need more background knowledge. At this point it is still easier to read about.

I can easily agree with the concept of prayer, the frequency of prayer and the need for prayer. I agree with many of the concepts about marriage and family. I agree with much that I have read. I find that according to the philosophy of Islam I am to be treated as a believer, not a Muslim, but a believer. A believer is a person who believes in one God, and is a part of the judeo-christian philosophy. There are more things, but those two are basic.

Ramblings of an insomniac

It chaps my hide to be tired and yet the brain will not go to sleep so I'll ramble

I just saw Whale Rider and really loved that movie. I highly recommend it.
I also watch King Arthur which I also enjoyed, and then did some serious research into the Sarmatian culture. Really neat stuff.

I've also decided that in a world that seems to have little religious tolerance for others I will do some serious studying of the Islamic culture and religious philosophy. I've read two books so far and have learned a lot. I was not aware the Muslims believe that Abraham built the Kaaba as a house of worship. That is just one piece of information that comes to my sleep-deprived consciousness.

I found far more things to agree with or even ponder than I thought I would. Muslims are supposed to honor Christians and Jews as people of the book, but we do not honor them by learning of their book. It will not convert me to Islam, but so far is helping me understand my own branch of Christianity .

I'm also reading the His Dark Materials trilogy and have found that to be fascinating as well. I wish I had more time for reading and research.

I have a wonderful husband, who loves me and I feel so very blessed. I work at a job I enjoy (most days) My children are healthy and happy and married. I have friends who will drive 6 hours to spend a couple of days together, I have other friends who I have never met, that are also a great support.

I just finished Inexcusable by Chris Lynch. Quite a good book, but sad, to see how this young man thinks he's a good guy and has a great family, but it starts falling apart. Good read and reach your own conclusions.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Joy of teaching and working with good kids

Today was a great day! In the grand scheme of things it was not memorable for most people; but for a group of students who competed in a Dramatic Arts Festival, it was a great day!

I coach the students who chose to do poetic readings. My kids did a good job. Each one progressed and matured as a reader and competitor. One half of my team received top honors, the other half received the 3rd level honors. I remember how they started and how they progressed. Most importantly they were proud of their performances . After they had finished they knew what they could have done to enhance their performance, but they felt satisfied with their performance.

It was especially touching to have them discuss what the other competitors did or did not do. I heard echoes of what I had used in coaching them. I heard things like "all you could hear was the sing song rhythm and not the words" or "they never looked up at anybody" or I didn't believe what they were saying it was just words". I wonder if kids listen to the right things and this group did!

I know that I really did very little, a suggestion here, a reminder there, a nudge to practice, but the hard work was theirs and theirs alone. I was impressed with all of the young people I saw compete. I was grateful I wasn't a judge, so many kids who had worked very hard to participate in this. So many hopes and dreams, and these were just first steps into their future.

The sacrifices made by so many for a small portion of the population, but it was worth it! To see the glow of a young girl's face as she received her ribbon for her performance. To know that she had achieved it, with help and support yes, but she did the hard work. It was glorious.

When I work with kids who are not afraid to try, to do something different, I feel optimistic for the future. These young people will grow up and make something of themselves, they will build their own roads of life and not follow an over-worn path. They reminded me again why I do what I do. It really was a great day!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A Trip to the dentist

I had to have a crown replaced. Now as I tell this story, please remember that I grew up in California during the 60's, but, my dad worked for the California Youth Authority and threatened my brother and I with the worst reform school in the state if we ever got in trouble. I was a good girl and stayed away from experimenting with drugs. I'm glad I did, but I have wondered at times what did I miss?

Well the last few trips to the dentist I've found out. I love nitrous, laughing gas. I feel safe, I am monitored by the dentist and am never alone. I feel like I have been digitalized, pixilated, segmented and yet at one and connected to the universe. Two feelings that are oddly in contrast and yet unifying.

Today as I sat in the dentist's chair, feeling pixilated and digitalized, I struggled to analyze what I was "seeing" with closed eyes the colors; how I was reacting to requests, open your mouth, how does that feel, bite down, what I could hear, the music flowed and yet was pixilated and digitalized. I also felt a loss of self control and realized that I was easily influenced. I responded almost without thinking. I felt very grateful to have a dentist I have known a long time and trust. I taught his daughter as well as the children of two of his employees.

I concluded I hadn't missed much by choosing to not experiment with a variety of substances. I dislike feeling out of control. I'll still choose to use the gas at the dentist's office, I'm never comfortable knowing my teeth are going to be worked on. I've had a couple of bad experiences with dentists. I'll settle for good dental hygiene and the gas when I need it. I can understand why people choose to alter their perceptions of the world; it was relaxing as long as no one had their hand in my mouth. I felt angry when disturbed, but also a little bored. I'm still a designated driver at heart and always will be.