Statistics and crime map…
Mar 02 Published in Remembrance, Reflections by Purple
This is a continuation of my journal from my 2001-2002 school year. Please read the previous posts to give this entry context.
Return to the Education Factory
The first problem was finding the essays. I’d anticipated a stack on the desk, but they were nowhere to be seen. The substitute hadn’t left any feedback. I journeyed to the office to see if he’d left them there. No luck. I sat and thought. Finally, I realized that since I’d asked him to have the students store the essays in their writing folders between the first and second day of testing, that he may have had them put their final drafts there. I was relieved to find them, and felt proud of my brilliant deduction, although I had to go through every folder to extract the essays.
The prompt for the essay was: Write about a weird or unusual person, place or animal you have observed. Describe what you saw using specific details to help your reader see this person, or animal through your eyes, and explain the effect or the impression the observation had on you.
Brandon, in my fifth period class, inspired three essays.
Some of my students were really sweet and glad to have me back. Someone had put on the board, “We miss you, Ms. Hansen.”—3rd period. I’ve grown quite fond of that class. They told me that my hair was sticking up and one girl asked for a pass to go in search of gel so we could fix the problem.
On the other hand, Amanda didn’t miss me. “When do we get to have that sub again?” she asked pointedly.
When we had our spelling competition to review for the test, she didn’t want to play.
She knows how to lift the corner of her top lip into the nastiest sneer.
Lupe excitedly showed me two books on witchcraft, amazed that she’d found them at our school library. “They tell you how to worship the devil and everything.”
With this mid-year, district-wide writing assessment, teachers are asked to correct one another’s papers. I’ve arranged to exchange papers with Mark, the aforementioned young skater teacher. He also has five sections of freshmen, so it’s an easy trade.
I set up a meeting for him, Jonah, and I to meet at lunch to calibrate our scoring. I put out an invitation to other English teachers, and two other colleagues joined us. I ran multiple copies of a paper written by one of my students still designated an English Language Learner. We all scored it on the district’s rubric and then compared and discussed our scores. It’s an excellent process. It’s also reassuring since we gave similar scores.
However, during the discussion, Mark said, “After all the preparation I’ve done, I’d be disappointed if one of my students turned in a paper like this.”
That made me feel bad.
I could see clearly how much Jose, the student, might have benefited from a lesson on transitions before the assessment. On the other hand, I’m sure some other student would have benefited from more time spent on detail development. I could see that many of my students had things we worked on—interesting titles, introductions leading to theses statements, a bit of dialog, etc.
A person could infinitely prepare the students, but to do so, what gets cut from the curriculum? I wonder how much time Mark spent on the unit. I wonder how much of the teaching will transfer to the essays. I look forward to seeing how his students’ essays compare to my students’.
I tossed and turned last night. Part of the anxiety stems from thinking about work. Should I make a bid for the job at Aptos? It would be such a big change after nineteen years in one place. Even though I know a lot of the teachers there and think they have a stronger English Department than we do, I’d still be the newbie with little sense of the politics and whom one sees for what.
I have to weight the stress of being new against the stress of all the meetings and looming changes at WHS. My room is also a factor. If I can stay in the portable, it is the nicest work environment I’ve ever had. Even if they’d promise me my own classroom at Aptos, I wouldn’t want to teach in another dingy space. At least if I have to return to my old classroom at WHS, it will have new flooring and paint.
Five sections of freshmen is a good schedule, but who knows what I’d be teaching next year with the restructuring plans. And even when I have five sections of freshmen, I usually search for some diversion for second semester. I’ve had a student teacher for the last two years and the year before that, I had a release period to link freshmen curriculum to the standards. Teaching Romeo & Juliet all day is grueling. If I went to Aptos, the position is freshmen classes and Creative Writing. I taught Creative Writing for years at Watsonville and with my background and interest, it is the perfect class for me. However, when I split a contract a few years ago, another teacher took over Creative Writing and he has first claim to it now. Moving to Aptos might allow me to resume teaching Creative Writing. On the other hand, the class should culminate in a publication, definitely more work for me. And I think of how jealous my husband is of the time I spend on schoolwork now!
There’s a part of me that asks, “Why make a change now, when the whole school will split in a couple of years when the new high school is completed.”
I don’t even expect the state investigation of our school to amount to much. Due to our state’s huge budget deficit, the result of the dot.com collapse and the energy crisis manufactured by the likes of Enron, money for schools is being slashed right and left. I expect the State to discover at any moment that it has no money to enforce its Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999.
Monday, February 25, 2002
The High School Exit Exam is rapidly approaching and I am infinitely thankful that this year our school is testing only the sophomores who didn’t pass last year. I’m out of the loop; my students are out of the loop.
We received a letter from our superintendent stating he’s asked the board to approve his “recommendation that a number of certificated employees be provided a notice of “possible lay-off” or “reassignment” for the 2002-2003 school year.”
He, of course, lays the blame squarely at our feet. He acknowledges the “slumping state economy,” but implies that these possible cuts are due to the need to increase salaries.
What impeccable timing. The young teachers are pumping new blood into our lethargic union. The grumbling is starting to be heard. It’s been enough to inspire me to rejoin the union. (I’ve been a disenchanted, non-paying freeloader for the last few years.) My husband says that threats of lay offs have always been business’s first recourse when faced with union demands.
After school, I went to an osteoporosis center to get my bones scanned to establish base line data. I measured five foot seven. I’ve never been five foot seven in my life. Since I don’t believe I’m still growing, I attribute the half to three-quarters inch growth to yoga.
February 27th - Xochitl and John Steinbeck’s birthday
Popo was standing outside the classroom door doing my shtick with a twist: “Free education! Free education! Better run!”
We sang happy birthday to Xochitl. Even though she looked down, she beamed with pleasure.
The days have been warm and with our tin roofs, the room is hot in the afternoon. We’ve been using the AC, but Amanda whines and insists upon having the doors and windows open instead. I think part of her problem is that her body runs hot and she comes to class right after PE, so she’s really overheated. She claims the air conditioning gives her a headache. I’m not fond of air conditioning myself, but the room is unbearably hot and stuffy without it.
The masks for Romeo and Juliet were due today. The students were excited to show each other their creations. All in all, though, they are driving me crazy. Tomorrow they go back to an alphabetical seating arrangement.
We’ve been working on summaries with materials I stole from Kate Kinsella. They summarized an article on Shakespeare yesterday and tonight they have to summarize an article on the centennial celebration of Steinbeck’s birthday.
The students bombed on the first Shakespeare quiz. I told them ahead of time enough of the questions so that if they bothered to review at all, they should have passed! Sometimes their lack of motivation is flabbergasting.
They were certainly excited, though, when we started to assign parts for the play!
Thursday, Feb. 28th
Wednesday I did a formal observation of Jonah. Today I met with him, his other master teacher, and his supervisor at the university for a conference. I also turned in a proposal to our Site Council, asking them to pay me for two days of curriculum writing during the summer so I can make packets for the teaching of autobiographical incident and observational essays. I want to do this for myself, but I plan to share the materials with all freshmen teachers.
Sixth period received their new alpha-seating chart. They were not pleased.
I realize my own culpability in how unmanageable they’ve become. Lupe, for instance, now sits at the back where her blurting and interrupting is obvious. When she sat right in front of me, I indulged her because I could quickly and quietly deal with all the questions spilling from her.
When I’d hushed Lupe for the second or third time, she said, “But I just want to talk to you.”
Act I, scene i
We shoved the desks out of the way. One side of the room is labeled Capulet on black, the other Montague on green. The Capulet characters donned strips of black butcher paper as sashes or armbands or headbands. The Montagues did the same with green. They armed themselves with wooden swords. And the fun began.
Raymond came alive as Romeo. He’s not a terribly good reader, but he’s completely “into” the acting. He tries hard to gesture and to put inflection into his voice.
The students are full of advice and questions for the production.
Right in the middle of trying to get through scene i, Elizabeth wants to know if we’re going to have “different scenes?” I think she means will we change the sets.
I shush her.
“Well I just want to know,” she protests indignantly, as though “Romeo” and “Benvolio” aren’t talking in front of us and I’m not trying to direct.
Upstaged by the Scruffy Youngin’
I’m reading the essays from Mark’s students. They are clearly better organized than my students’. The work he’s done on transitions and on providing them a standard five-paragraph essay frame really shows. I feel bad that I didn’t take a few more days, at least to teach transitions, before having the students take the assessment.
I will congratulate Mark. On the other hand, I have to give myself some credit. My students’ introductions are every bit as good and the color of their details is probably better, partly because they learned dialog writing at the beginning of the year and have had the skill continually reinforced.
Also, even though students can score better on the rubric having been taught a set five-paragraph essay format, I do start feeling like if I read another second paragraph of the body that starts, “Even though my ______ is _____, he . . . “ that I might vomit. However, I still think Mark was the wise one to teach them the frame. I wonder how we can give students a guideline without having their writing become this inorganic, formalistic: introduction, support/example, support/example, support/example, conclusion.
I also find the observational essay type rather odd. It’s a hybrid of the informal narrative mixed with the scientific expository. The form Mark has taught lends itself to a more purely expository mode. By following the frame, his students are often overlooking the obvious. For example, in the introduction a student will have a clear thesis such as, “The weirdest person I ever met is my friend Javier he is careless, helpful and he dresses funny.” The student will proceed to develop a paragraph on each point in the body, but he will fail to describe Javier beyond his clothes.