Tag Archives: teaching

Vote No

I’m done with apologizing for my eventual pension and benefits. I fulfilled the educational requirements for a professional career, received a state license, and have worked more than two decades in public education to provide students with necessary intellectual and practical skills.

It’s been a privilege to get to know so many young people and quite frankly they, along with my colleagues, are the best part of my job. Despite what your impression may be, it isn’t always easy to be an educator. The hoops we’ve been forced to jump through in terms of testing and professional evaluations have stolen hours upon hours of time that could be better spent teaching and providing our students with opportunities for growth and individual attention. Bureaucracy has always been, to me, the Achilles heel of education.

In less than ten years I will retire and receive a pension and yes, Fred LeBrun, you can call it generous. I’m really sorry that you, Mr. LeBrun, work for a company that doesn’t do the right thing for their own employees, but I don’t believe that means I don’t deserve to have a good quality of life in my later years. In fact, I think it’s really unfortunate that every person in our incredibly wealthy country can’t look forward to having the same.

It seems to me that our collective efforts would be better spent working together to provide all Americans with an existence that allows for a stable life rather than attempting to eliminate teacher pensions through an opening of the New York State Constitution. We need to stop accepting the ever-widening wage disparity in our country and come together to demand health care and retirement benefits for all citizens. We’ve earned it.

Vote on November 7th – and don’t forget to address both the front and the back of the ballot.

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Telling the truth – in Albany

We are living in scary times, friends. I don’t know about you, but I feel anxious about the state of our country and the relationships we have internationally. It seems like a long time since I’ve woken up without having to wonder what kind of outrageous statement or action with which Donald Trump has greeted the new day. It simply doesn’t always feel good to be an American in 2017.

Last Friday, though, was a bright spot in an otherwise dark time thanks to the New York State Writers Institute. Their schedule this fall is fantastic and the symposium they hosted over the weekend was absolutely tremendous. Although I was able to attend only two sessions of the event, I walked away with a glimmer of hope and a new sense of pride in my city. Bravo, Paul Grondahl and the NYSWI.

A few observations about the panels I attended:

  • The participants* were smart.
  • The audience was interested and mostly respectful.
  • Page Hall was packed.
  • The time went remarkably fast.
  • It was affirming, inspiring and reassuring.

Check out the rest of their schedule of events. There’s something there for everyone – and it’s free.

*Participants included moderator, Bob Schieffer, Douglas Brinkley, Franklin Foer, Amy and David Goodman, Maria Hinojas, Harry Rosenfeld and Tim Wu.

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Filed under Albany, Education, Events, Local, News, Observations, Recommendations, upstate New York

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day – John David Anderson

Reading is the least expensive vacation I’ve ever had.  Sometimes I go to the future and other times to the past, but the destination isn’t the important part to me usually. It’s just getting away from now.  At a time when I sometimes feel physically assaulted by the daily news, a low budget escape is exactly what I’m looking for in a book, even when the book’s conclusion is not the one for which a reader would be hoping. Hey, after November 8, 2016, I’m kind of used to that anyway.

I won’t reveal too much of the plot of this YA title, but it’s essentially the story of 3 boys and the teacher who taught them far more than they ever expected.  It’s at times outrageously funny and heartbreakingly sad, but most of all it’s a book that reads as real. If you’re lucky, you once had a Ms. Bixby in your life. My favorite quotes are below.

Ms. Bixby sighs the Teacher Sigh. The one they must give you as you walk out the door with your teaching degree.  Equal parts exasperation, disappointment, and longing for summer vacation.

When I suggested she brush up on her astronomy, she seemed offended, saying that she probably knew things that I didn’t.  I told her that was highly unlikely. Then she asked me who the lead singer of Led Zeppelin was. I told her zeppelins could not be made of lead due to the obvious weight issues.  She said “Case closed.”

Change is the only constant.

Topher is a constant, like pi or radical two.

The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.

You can’t always pinpoint the moment everything changes.  Most of the time it’s gradual, like grass growing or fog settling or your armpits starting to smell by midafternoon.

There’s a difference between the truth and the whole truth.  That’s why they give that big spiel in court, when they make you place your hand on the Bible and promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Because they know if they don’t, people will try and sneak around it. They will leave out the details, skip over the incriminating stuff. Keep the worst parts to themselves.

You have to slay the dragon to be the hero. Not easy to do, but at least you know what you’re dealing with. Dragons are easy to spot…but there are no such things as dragons. It’s never that clearcut. Sometimes the thing you’re fighting against is hiding from you. It’s tucked away. Buried deep where you can’t see it. In fact, for a long time, you might not even know it’s there.

You know how, in movies, everything comes around full circle and you’re back where you started? Turns out life isn’t like the movies. Life doesn’t come all the way back around again. It’s not a straight line either. It angles and curves, shoots off a little, twists and turns, but it never gets right back to the place it started. Not that you would want it to. Then you wouldn’t feel like you had gotten anywhere.

Live every day as if it were your last. The truth is – the whole truth is – that it’s not your last day that matters most. It’s the ones in between, the ones you get the chance to look back on…They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest.

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Testing boundaries

Last week I attended a meeting sponsored by the NYS Alliance for Public Education. The forum discussed current controversies and issues in public education including the Common Core Learning Standards, teacher evaluations, Governor Cuomo’s 2015 Education Budget and the NYS assessments given to elementary students in grades 3-8.

My interest in attending the meeting was more personal than professional, I have a child in 4th grade who will be expected to sit for multiple days worth of testing later in spring. At this time I am actively seeking information about the credibility of the exams and the impact they may have on my child, his teacher(s) and his school. His experience with the tests last year began the very first week of third grade when he came home from school talking with concern about the assessments he would have to take 7 months later. The very same tests which we wouldn’t even receive the results of for more than a year after that first conversation.

The presentation was professionally delivered and informative. I left with a sheaf of papers and the commitment to do a bit of research before making a final decision regarding my own child’s participation in next month’s assessments. A day later, I saw this document shared on Facebook and immediately became outraged. A friend of mine (who has been involved in the news business for more than two decades), suggested I look at the document a little more critically. I mean, is it feasible that a big testing company would really be monitoring the social media accounts of millions of students?

Apparently, the answer is “yes.” I suppose all it would take would be a bot of sorts to troll hashtags focusing on things like #Pearson and #PARCC, right? Geez, Pearson could probably spend some of the $108 million they were paid by the state of New Jersey to actually hire a person or two to monitor Twitter and other social media platforms, if they chose to.

I’ve spent an almost combined 40 years being a student and teacher. I remember excitedly taking the CAT tests, confident in my abilities to demonstrate my knowledge. Sitting down with my sharpened #2 pencils in the cafeteria felt like a special treat, not a stress inducing threat. I’m not opposed to testing in theory, but the commercialization of education, complete with a single vendor who provides curriculum, assessment and remediation for those scoring poorly on tests doesn’t sit right with me. I think we’ll pass on the tests this year.

A couple of other related posts to read:

Bob Braun’s Ledger
Diane Ravitch’s post

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Filed under Boys, Education, News, Schools

Feeling testy about NYS assessments

imageHow much do you know the mandated state exams administered to elementary school students in New York State? What do you know about these tests and their significance? Have you heard about Assemblymember Jim Tedisco’s bill proposal to allow parents to “opt out” of the required tests? If these three questions were on a test you were taking right now, how would you do?

As a teacher and a parent, my interest in these exams is pretty intense. Although there was initially the threat of my being required to test my population of students, I don’t have to administer tests in my “subject” area because I’m a secondary (grades 7-12) librarian and we have been given an alternative assessment rubric. At present my annual professional performance review (APPR) doesn’t include a student test component.*

That fact that I am currently exempt from delivering tested curriculum does not mean I am unaffected by the exams. I see the impact of these tests on my colleagues, my students, and of course, my own child. Last year, when my then-third grader came home the first week of school talking about “the tests,” I was dismayed. This year, I’m disgusted.

I’ve heard about a dozen different “facts” related to opting out of the tests. Things like “if less than 16 children in a given class or 95% of a building’s population take the tests the results can’t be counted against the teacher of the school” and “students must sit for the tests even if they refuse to participate, yet will be given a score if they so much as mark the answer sheet.” I just don’t know what is accurate information and, believe me, contacting NYSED with my questions is probably about the last thing I’d consider doing.

This Thursday, March 12th at 6:30, the Bethlehem Public Library is hosting a forum presented by the NYS Alliance for Public Education on the topic of the excessive use of testing in New York State. A portion of the forum will be devoted to Opt-Out and I hope that many of the questions I have will be addressed. If you have questions of your own this may be just the opportunity to get some answers.

*It also doesn’t include any evaluation of how I manage a budget, a sizable collection in multiple formats, or a facility (or two).

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Cuomo: failing to understand the problem

image: NYdailynews.com

Governor Cuomo  has released a report which concludes that many of New York State’s public schools are failing.  As I skimmed the lengthy document online, I noticed a consistency which, to me, was critical in understanding why these schools are struggling.  With only two exceptions (Amsterdam and Buffalo’s South Park),  the schools which have been deemed failing are attempting to educate populations in which the percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch and the percentage of minority students both exceed 50% of the total enrollment.  In most cases, those two figures both reside firmly in the 90th + percentile.

In my mind, this failure lies not at the hands of educators, but instead with the lack of services and support that New York State’s poor residents receive.  I’ve worked in an urban school district and witnessed the lack of resources provided to poor children by parents who are unable to do much more than get by as they contend with meeting their family’s most essential needs.  Of course, education is an essential need but try telling that to someone who never attained a diploma and is struggling to feed, clothe and shelter their family.

Why doesn’t this report include charter schools?  Since  the Governor wants to add an additional 100 charter schools to our state shouldn’t we be privy to how they’re performing?

This governor’s attack on public education and teachers must stop.  His focus on rigorous standardized testing  for elementary age children is developmentally inappropriate and my child will not be participating any longer.  Will yours?

I think it’s interesting that his report was published on Scribd, yet I couldn’t locate it on the state education department’s website.  Speaking of publications, if you’re not one of the few people who purchased a copy of Cuomo’s recent autobiography, you can purchase it online as an eBook.  I’m sure it is just coincidental that Cuomo’s administration backed a “bill that created a special sales tax break for online-only publications that charge for subscriptions,” like Scribd and for eBook publications.

Yep, New York State – the State of Opportunity.

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Censorship

image: anh-usa.org

It was bound to happen eventually, I suppose. The longer you live, the smaller the world becomes and the more likely it is that the individual spheres of one’s personal world will begin to overlap. Last night I helped train our new server at the Wine Bar. She is a former student. Sigh.

I obviously share a lot of my personal life and thoughts here, but it mostly feels anonymous. I don’t really know who reads this stuff and thus am often surprised when I meet someone in real life who knows about me or my adventures and antics. I do think, though, that I’ve done a decent job of keeping my day time school life separate from my night-time restaurant life. Until yesterday, that is.

I kind of pride myself about being ‘Me” wherever I am. That doesn’t mean, though, that I necessarily am comfortable being my blunt and sometimes bawdy self behind the bar with a young woman who used to attend the school where I teach. Must I now censor myself?

As I consider what I can  and can not say while in the presence of a former student, why don’t you take a moment to ponder the First Amendment and the right to free speech on a literary level?  Next weeks marks the  American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week.  While I figure out the best way to say what I want, you can maybe read a book by authors who have used their words to freely express themselves.

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