Question Time.

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This post, and any others like it that I feel like making, has comments screened so that you may be able to ask me questions or offer any suggestions you might have for topics on this blog.

(Anonymous suggestions/replies are okay, too.)

I will address such replies/topics as soon as my brain allows.

Graduation

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Today is a day that high school students and parents look forward to with anticipation and a sense of accomplishment--GRADUATION! Unfortunately, the ceremony I attended today was a fiasco in more ways than I can count. Graduation is a time for celebration, of course. However, it is also a solemn occasion that allows students to be recognized for their hard work and acknowledges what lies ahead for them. The parents today ruined the ceremony for most of the participants and had several of them in tears. I personally was cursed at; the principal was called names during the middle of ceremony; parents were using airhorns and yelling so much that the graduates' names couldn't be heard. The ceremony would have finished 35 minutes sooner without the interruptions. Before the ceremony, parents were bum-rushing the door to get in without tickets and some of them even took the police officers to task for not supporting them. All in all, I will NOT attend another ceremony like that for any reason. There were several faculty there who had never attended before and I am sure that they got just a "wonderful" impression of what was supposed to take place. I will write more about this after I have a chance to reflect and sleep on it. I wish my students well but what a mess!

End of Year

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At this point, I was hoping to be able to reflect on leaving the profession having trained a replacement that I felt could carry on reasonably well. Unfortunately, due to economic conditions, that is not the case. I still have a house to sell so that I can retire and live on what I will make. I am not bitter about it however; just disappointed. I can still look back over the year and see what has happened and what will probably happen at my own school and others.

We are now in the midst of the great staffing shuffle/debacle/whatever. Teachers leave every year--that is a fact of life. They go back to school, get married, retire, get fed-up, want a change of scenery and on and on. So from about the end of April until the beginning of the new year, there is a competition for the best of the crop of new teachers or transfers from other schools. Over the past five years, I have had the glorious pleasure of doing interviewing for these positions along with a couple of my co-department heads. Some years we are allowed to directly hire; others, just take resumes. I always find it to be an interesting experience but this year it has just been depressing. The system is closing down several schools and the staff at those schools have to find a new position on their own. I have seen people who have been productive and effective instructors for 15-20 years who now have no clue where they will be working next year. In previous administrations, they would have been assigned to schools and teachers with less seniority would have been surplussed but not this year. I don't know exactly why but seniority appears to no longer count for much. This causes another problem in that most of these senior teachers don't want to go back into the more challenging classrooms for many reasons--some valid; some not. I honestly can't totally blame them. They have worked hard to perfect what they do and sometimes their training precludes them from teaching the lower level classes. They have specialized (as we all were encouraged to do) and now they are suddenly obsolete. Add to this mix, a large group of good quality foreign-born teachers who have been recruited over the past few years and a group of career-changing teachers that have already been contracted for and you have a group of teachers too large to fill the few positions that are actually available. My school has a few positions available but not the number that we normally do and a couple of them are specialized and will be hard to fill even with the number of candidates out there.

To that end, let me share some tips for getting a job at my school at any rate. I don't know if all people interview like this but it works for us. I like to read the resumes; of course, I want to know the training and experience the person brings to the table. But I am looking for the "spark" and, no, I can't quantify it exactly. I know it when I see it. The people who come to the interview with the "I am the best you will ever see" attitude don't have it. People who act like they are doing us a favor by interviewing don't have it. People who can't tell me why they want to teach usually don't have it. Now don't get me wrong. I have had people tell me that they are now going into teaching because there are jobs in the field. Those folks don't bother me; they are honest. They also had usually considered being a teacher before and it is not a totally stop-gap position for them. This round of interviews have given me far more of the no-spark people. Maybe it has to do with all of the turmoil in the job situations in the system; I don't know but the "spark" people are few and far between.

I am off for today. I am enjoying the three-day weekend as I have been swamped with senior activities and I am in need of extra rest. Hope everyone's weekend is restful and relaxing.

Hi

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Well, I am still in the teaching mode and tomorrow I will be in the hiring mode. I am losing four teachers for the coming year and can only replace three of them--budget cuts. I am thrilled to be able to rehire one of the teachers who I lost last year over certification issues and two teachers--quality and competent--who lost their positions through school closings. The hiring fair tomorrow has the joy of trying to place all of those teachers/staff members who have lost their jobs through reorganization and/or school closings. I feel for these folk but some of them should just find jobs outside of teaching. The reason some of them are where they were is because a classroom just didn't work for them. Why put them back in a place where they couldn't function to begin with? Makes me want to scream. The Peter Principle is alive and well in most school systems particularly in administration. I see it time and time again--assistant principals and principals who were never good as teachers but who seem to think that they know exactly how to deal with students because they took admin classes. Ha! This is what has happened when we made the move not to promote from within and rather hire administrators by their certification status. When I first went into teaching, principals and assistants could move up from the teacher corps and then get certified. Not now. Now you get people with degrees who maybe spent 2-3 years in a classroom and are authorities by virtue of their degree. Not that extra training isn't necessary but let it be in budget making, learning to negotiate legal issues and stuff that isn't normally dealt with by a teacher. No administrator should be allowed to become one without having spent 10 years or so in a classroom. That would be far more beneficial. Have a good weekend and wish me luck with the finding of competent teachers.

Nearing the End

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I know that time flies as you grow older but it seems to me that my life has gone to warp speed. Just yesterday it was January and now we are close to finishing April. My life continues to take turns and a large number of them are tied to the drama unfolding in the political life of Baltimore City. Schools are closing. I don't think that all of the schools need to remain open but there really doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason as to the choices. Then there are the budget cuts--omg, how can any principal be expected to run a school when the budget gets set, spending is set and then the money is frozen? Money leads me to another topic. Alumni associations have, in general, been very supportive of the schools in Baltimore City; some more so than others. The bigger schools have large and effective associations that use the monies they raise to supply items that are not covered in a normal budget. Problems arise when the associations do not agree with the agenda of the principal or other leaders in the school. Then the money is often withheld as a form of punishment but who really suffers? Certainly not the teachers or administrators but the students who don't get to participate in things that should be part of the school year. I really hate the politics of alumni associations but I see that, for some schools, they are the only way to make up budgetary shortfalls. I better move on from this as my blood pressure will soar as a result of a recent confrontation.

On a happier note, my daughter was just accepted into a graduate program in linguistics with emphasis on ESL training. It is something that she wanted and it took what seemed forever for her to be accepted. I knew this was the direction she would go in and I am very happy for her. However, she is happy and feels as though she has a great deal to contribute to this type of program. She is a wordaholic and loves the history of language. Good luck to her!

Retirement

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I am unsure of what to think about retirement. For the record, I am planning to retire this year even though it will be an early retirement for me. I am not doing it purely because I want to get out of teaching. I am starting another life in another state and teaching just doesn't figure in to the equation. However, as the time gets closer, I am more and more convinced that I am making the correct decision. Don't get me wrong--I still love my work but the obstacles to success are getting higher and higher every day. The morale in my school is awful; the students are fighting every day; the administrators are frustrated; and the support from the central office is a rapidly diminishing commodity. I am always amazed that people continue to come to work under such conditions and do as well as they do. Right now, I feel for many of my co-workers who believe that no one supports them and that no one cares about how they are doing in the classroom. Many of them are fearful for their safety and every day I hear horror stories about what students do in the classroom and how they get away with it. I did a formal observation last week and, during the class, about half of the students were using cellphones and not paying attention. Mind you, this was an honors class. The teacher had an excellent lesson and the students completed the assignments but I had the feeling that they really weren't giving it full attention. Unfortunately, the teacher did nothing to stop the cellphone use and, I believe, has adopted the idea that the struggle for control over essentially minor rules is just not worth the struggle. I listen to the younger teachers in the building who believe that many of the rules in place are not worth trying to enforce and that enforcing them is too much effort. That in turn leads to a further breakdown of order and chaos throughout the school. I am a firm subscriber to the "broken window" plan of law enforcement--take care of the small crimes and the larger ones will diminish. Younger teachers don't seem to grasp that idea and allow things to happen in the classroom that lead to further behavior issues. I have given up on this strategy however and that is another indication that it is time to go. You know what I won't miss about school--the noise. Loud student voices, loud principal voices, loud teacher noises, and, last but not least, loud parent noises. I am looking forward to having some quiet and reflection which used to happen in classrooms occasionally. More on this later.

Doldrums

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For those of you who are young in age, the doldrums are a period of time in which everyone and everything is in limbo and no one is in the mood to do anything energetic at all. February is the month in which everyone is tired of cold weather, crabby students and going to work on a daily basis with minimal sun and/or warmth outside. This combination tends to make for a volatile mix that leads to students fighting and adults behaving like they have lost all sense of reason and logic. In the past week, my school has had about 10 major fights resulting in suspensions. Most of them were involving students who under most circumstances one never hears from. Sad, really. When even the better students in the school turn to violence to solve the issues around them, we then know it is time for some major attitude adjustments. I don't (and probably never will) understand how fighting solves any issue that students have. I believe that the reason for the violence is not defending honor but repressed anger. Anger at their family, their environment, their school and themselves--all are fair targets for anger. How have we, as a society, allowed all of this anger to build up? And now, let's add the deteriorating economy and bleak job prospects and another level of frustration. I wish I had the answers. I don't. I can only hope that someone who is in a better position than I am will make an effort to deal with some of these issues so that we can start bringing some hope back to these students and the society as a whole. Good luck to all of us.

Mid-Year

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This is the time of year when teachers and students begin to get a slump. There are no big holidays, exams are over for a time, the weather is generally yucky, and spring is too far away. Teachers get cranky because students are not doing what they are supposed to and students get cranky because they think that teachers are asking them to do too much work in and out of school. As a result, February is a month of short tempers, suspensions and in-fighting among teachers. This year has been particularly bad as the economy has made everyone jumpy and rumors of layoffs and downsizing appear everywhere even though the actuality of either one has not even been mentioned. As I look at the news about the schools and listen to the other teachers talk to one another, I am struck by the fact that I am not hearing much in the way of optimism. People are talking about leaving their jobs, about how they feel nothing is moving forward, about how they see more and more responsibility moving away from the students and on to the teachers. Let me give an example of what I mean. This week there was a particularly vicious girl fight in our area of the school. Girl fights tend to be more vicious as they will scratch, bite and other things. However, this one involved some girls who normally do not cause trouble and it took an adult sitting on one of the girls to break it up. All three of the girls were suspended for five days and a mediation meeting was scheduled on the day they are to return. The next day I got a phone call from the father of one of the girls who wanted to know if he brought her in could she return to school that day. When I said no and that she had to wait for the mediation, he became belligerent and said that his daughter couldn't afford to miss that many days of school, who did we think that we were to keep her out, fighting shouldn't be a suspendible offense, and on and on. When I told him that his daughter should have thought of that prior to starting the fight, he went on to say that it was the school's fault that she got in the fight to begin with. When I asked him why, he stated that the principal instigated the fight by not letting kids do what they wanted to do--like going out to lunch, walking the halls if they didn't want to go to class, etc. His opinion was that, if the students were just allowed to select what they wanted to do and when, there would be no problems. How do you argue with that logic? I have found that, in recent years, parents have abrogated their duties and now want schools to be the same way. No wonder teachers get frustrated. Not all parents are like this. Most of them want their children to be successful but the handful who don't care ruin it for the others. I don't know if there is a solution for all of this but I will probably be retired before anything is done in a positive way.

New Year

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I know, I know--blogging should occur on a much more regular basis but just like millions of others, for me, the period between Thanksgiving and year's end just seems to fly. Between personal things and school things, life just doesn't give up moving and writing is usually the thing that makes the bottom of the list. I guess that is why my memoirs will not ever make it into print--ha! I am looking forward to the new year with reservations. My personal life has many ups going right now but they will ultimately involve changes in my professional life and I am nervous aobut those types of changes. Teachers typically do not handle change well. Witness the two or three teachers in every school who, when they retire, have to throw out at least two trashcarts full of old memos and other accumulated materials. I will be the same as I have stuff that is in drawers I inherited from my predecessor that I have not made an effort to remove. Yes, I am strongly considering retiring at the end of the year. It will be "early" retirement for me which will mean that I will not draw quite as much money as I would if I taught for four more years but I will be alive to see it. Teaching has lost most of its appeal for me over the past two years. Instead of waking up excited at the prospect of what the day will bring, I find myself dreading what awaits when I walk in the door. More paperwork, more irritated administrators, more trying to get students to care about their grades--it just seems to have gotten more futile over this period of time. Add to that, a desire to have a life again with someone who enjoys being around me for me and the decision pretty much makes itself. I still believe that I am good at what I do but it is time for me to move on and let those who have more energy and more fervor take over. Sad but true and I don't want to become like other teachers in my building who could retire and stay on because they have nothing else going for them. Those are the ones who need to leave; the ones who people joke about when they remember school; I don't need that kind of life. So I will continue posting to let others know how it feels to move on as we all must. I hope that everyone has had a good holiday season and looks forward to whatever the new year holds.

Way Too Busy

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I had not forgotten the posting but, quite frankly, work has been overwhelming for the past several weeks and I don't see much of a let up in sight. So now I am going to write while I have a few moments to think clearly and reevaluate what has been going on with work. The past couple of weeks have seen an upswing in violence and general misbehavior in our system. Now behavior does always go a little off before the holidays but, this year, well, let's just say that the boiling point has been exceeded and then some. Teachers have been assaulted, teachers have gone off on students in totally unprofessional ways, fires have been set and, unfortunately, two people have been killed on school property. What has triggered all of this foolishness I am not quite sure. It would be wonderful if we could point to one thing and say "Get rid of this and all will be well." However, that is not the case. For the first time in many years, I am feeling a sense of hopelessness among even seasoned teachers used to the vagarities of urban school settings. We have been through budget cuts, staff layoffs, overcrowded classrooms, incompetent administrators--you name it--and weathered the storm. Now not a day goes by when at least one teacher and/or administrator says to me that this is their final year. More money, more recognition, new books, none of that would seem to help. The students come to school much more interested in carrying on the conflicts of the neighborhood than in learning anything at all. I have bruises from trying to restrain students from coming into an open area to get involved in a fight. I have had a parent tell me that she wants to home school her son because she knows that, if he continues to come to school, he will get in a fight every day and she is worried he will get injured or killed. She knows that her son is not totally innocent but she, like school staff, doesn't know what to do to get him to think clearly. I could lay blame on central administration--and some of it does go there--but it seems to me that there is a general breakdown with the students in terms of teaching civility at home and in school. Students seems to respect no one even themselves unless that person can hold his own in a fight or carries a weapon. I won't say that I have given up but the joy of teaching is rapidly being eroded by the tension of non-support and neglect.

I do hope that all have a good Thanksgiving and despite how I feel today, I still look back on my career with mostly good feelings.

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