Wednesday, March 18, 2015

No Crying at Work

Oh, David, you made me shed a tear. Thank you, for all the teachers who work their butts off with no accolades...

The Perfect Person for Imperfect Circumstances

Can't wait to read the book.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

On Unaccompanied Minors


As the immigration protests continue in parts of the Southwest, I remember all the students that have passed through my classroom who have made the journey to the United States, much like the unaccompanied minors whose presence is being protested today.

I remember Jose who as a 6th grader, missed his mother every day while trying to act bravely in the South Central L.A. neighborhood.

Or Elena, who hated her mother for not bringing her over sooner.

Or Rocio, a brilliant student who arrived to a family with an abuser in the household.

More recently I remember Elizabeth, who began crying as we read Enrique's Journey in our elective class, during the part where the migrants die during the border crossing, never to be heard from again. "That's what happened to my mom," she sobbed.

But having heard this sad tale over and over again could not prepare me for the details shared with me by another student, who I will call Melinda. She has given me permission to share with you.

It was during a free-write assignment as we were discussing Markus Zusak's  The Book Thief. In this assignment, students were making personal connections to Liesel, the young girl who was taking a journey to flee Nazi persecution. I asked the students to write about a journey of change, either physical or mental, that they had taken. These are Melinda's words:

My journey to the United Stated was the worst experience of my life. I never thought I arrive here. I imagine die during my trip. I remember everything like it was yesterday. I did not want to come to the U.S. because I knew it would be difficult and horrible but I had to because I couldn't no live more over there :( I lasted a long time to get here, around three months. When I was crossing for the desert I had to pass many horrible things. I saw many human corpses and death bodies. I saw when the vultures were eating them.

I walked a lot. I got tired and one day when migration was looking for us, everyone had to climb into the mountain and when I was climbing I fell on a cactus and I got many thorns in my body but the most painful was one that got in my leg. I couldn't walk anymore because my leg got swelled and when I stepped it hurt so much. But I had to walk because i didn't want migration to take me.

Then one night when I was sleeping a man tried to rape me but I cried so hard for everybody could hear me and he hit me but the people came and he left. Then when we were walking we passed for an ant nest and the ant runned quickly into my body and biten me. It was horrible experience that passed in the desert. I completed 13 days over there but then migration got me and I went to some jails and then I went to a teen place for two months. Then finally I had the opportunity to get out and live with my mom. But I still going to courts. I hope everything going well with my case.

The issue of immigration and compassion is something I will never understand. Does anyone really believe immigrants like Melinda would make the treacherous journey and to arrive to flag waving Americans who accuse them of being diseased and violent if they really didn't have to? What happened to our Judeo-Christian values of compassion for the poor, the burdened, the vulnerable?


We teachers have students of all backgrounds in our classrooms. And while Washington tries to figure out if it does or it doesn't welcome immigrants, the Melindas, Joses, and Rocios will continue to make the journey into our classrooms, into our society. I, for one, will welcome them.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Another day, another holiday break

Time is flying. This has got to be the fastest semester on record. There were lots of challenges at my school, of which I think we dealt with successfully:

Breakfast in the Classroom

Good idea? Maybe. Implementation? Shabby.

Should it be the school's responsibility to make sure children eat a breakfast? I really don't think so. The free lunch program that was in place offered all of our students free food to protect from hunger, but wasn't popular because the food was/is pretty bland. So now the teachers are called upon to use their position of authority to coax (coerce?) students to eat. In the classroom. Creating uncleanliness. Causing pest infestations. Yuck.

The food served is 90% carbs: waffle, pancakes, muffin, granola bar. Only the bean burrito, offered every other week on Wednesdays has protein. Not a good idea for all of our diabetic or at-risk students, of which our Latino and African-American population is a part of.

When the room gets dirty, there is no clean up crew. Teachers buy the mops. Teachers buy the wipes. We sweep the floors. It's hard to validate your choice to go into education vs. say...law or medicine, knowing my fellow lawyer and doctor friends are not mopping up milk bombs lobbed into the classroom by random kids.

Common Core

Guess who was drafted to be on the Common Core implementation team? Yup, you're reading her blog. It was a struggle to balance my personal opposition to the Gates standards with my personal expectation of professionalism. I tried to look at the positive when developing the professional development for them. Fortunate to be on a team of talented teachers and coaches, we gelled the standards with local initiatives to create a cohesiveness that educators often yearn for. Our new principal was supportive of our decisions as a committee and gave us the leeway to be creative in our thinking. The response from weary teachers was mostly positive.

U.S. History

Are the debates of Hamilton vs. Jefferson more interesting than the attempted Mongol invasion of medieval Japan?

NO

But I will stick it out and finish teaching this dry history until I can return to where I belong: the medieval world.

Washington DC Program

With 45 students on the roster this year, the goal is to raise $500 for each to supplement the cost of the trip. We were close to our mid year goal! What a difference experience makes when raising funds. It takes lots of planning and work. But taking these kids to DC makes it worthwhile. Abraham, the student below, traveled with us last year. High schools and colleges like to see students participate in these extracurricular activities, of which there are woefully few at me school. The other two major ones at my school are the marathon club and a trip to Catalina Island. There is also MESA and they do a good job.

Private School Scholarships


Every year we try to expose families to the possibility of private high schools. Our kids certainly have the brains and talents. But it takes a tremendous amount of effort to make this dream a reality. Over the last  years we have sent almost a dozen students to private school on over a million dollars in scholarships.

It doesn't stop there. We tell the kids it is their duty to return to the academy and inspire the younger generation. They take this work seriously. They all come back. They all make presentations. They all help. Our school and community benefits tremendously by their efforts. Which is why these talented brothers were here on the last day of school after a grueling semester at Carnegie Mellon and a local private school.

This year, we have a good chance of sending a student to Marlborough girls school. We are keeping our fingers crossed. Our candidate is amazing and that is where she wants to go.

Another day, another holiday. I can kick back with this Chardonnay, my family and friends, and say my job here is done. For now.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Greatness By Design





What if...money were not an obstacle?


What if...teachers, professors, advocates, parents, elected officials, and scholars all came together, sat at a table, and hammered out a vision for what a quality public education system should look like?

What if we looked at both experienced-based and research-based best practices to create a blueprint to a new and improved school system?

Then it would look a lot like the Educator Excellence Task Force that released its visionary report today, called Greatness By Design.

I won't go into the details because teacher nerds everywhere will read each juicy page, like a George R.R. Martin novel, but suffice it to say I was quite proud to be a part of the illustrious task force that produced the report.



Highlights for me included:

*a teacher leadership pathway for teachers who want to help more than just their own class of students. Down the road there might even be a certification in this!

*a call for incentives for districts to spread highly qualified teachers such as NBC's equitably. This hits close to home, as for years I was the only NBC at both schools where I worked.

*a sunsetting of current teacher prep programs who would then re-apply for accreditation/certification based on higher standards of performance

*an evaluation system that firmly rejects VAM as a high-stakes, summative measure (it can be used in formative evaluations only, along with other measures). I'm proud to be a part of a team that supports research-based practices when it comes to evaluating teachers.


An obsessive focus by non-career educators on teacher evaluations  discounts all of the work that it takes to produce quality teachers in the first place. They must be recruited. They must be trained. They must be supported. They must be compensated sufficiently to attract top-tier candidates. And there must be room for professional growth. If all of this were in place, a final teacher evaluation would be a simple acknowledgment of the great work teachers would already be doing, by design.

Greatness is within our reach.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Students First NY Smears Those Who Support Due Process

Twitter is not a good place for in-depth conversation or debate, so I appreciate having a place to express my thoughts from the point of view of an educator of 20 years in an urban community in Los Angeles.

The last three years have been comprised of fighting a battle against corporate reformers who would institute harmful policies in school with little to no input from seasoned educators. These folks are well-heeled and with deep pockets, and have editorial boards in their cell phone contact list.

I'm just a teacher and unpaid blogger.

Oh, I was also the Teacher of the Year for Social Studies in the state of California in 2009, president of my local Social Studies organization, National Board Certified twice over, and have traveled to China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia on fellowships and education delegations to study schools in those countries. And I read. A lot.

So when tweets come across my feed maligning folks who I know have the students' best interest at heart, it is necessary to respond. Such was the case this evening when Class Size Matters activist Leonie Haimson was slimed by Students First NY:

Having been particularly involved in monitoring the state of Senate Bill 1530 in CA about curtailing due process rights for teachers accused of sexual misconduct, I immediately recognized the political maneuvers Students First NY was engaging in:

  • Do you support sexual predators? Yes or no?!
Well who is going to say yes? Automatically the question is phrased so there can only be one answer. This divisive, polemic approach to education is the reason corporate reform organizations are not supported by those of us who actually do the work in schools. We are teachers and we can think critically. We teach our students to do the same. We can identify straw-man techniques on sight, and have the reasoning to figure out the purpose and intent of such statements.

Students First NY revealed the man behind the curtain when called out:  Micah Lasher, executive VP at the org. This 28 year old is described as cunning, competitive, and shrewd. He only revealed his name after tweeting for hours with those who expressed concern at the circumvention of established due process being proposed by Michael Bloomberg, details which can be found here.

But Lasher was not to be appeased. You either do or don't support the proposed policy, and if you don't, you support child molesters.  And not a single one of us seasoned educators who responded on Twitter could possibly have anything to add to the debate. It was yes or no. Side note: what percentage of teachers in New York actually get accused of misconduct? Less than 1%?

I cannot fathom the gall of someone who has not been in the trenches to all of a sudden portray himself as a knight in shining armor to come to the defense of students. Students First, get it? But what is happening in schools regarding sexual misconduct, both in NY and CA is negligence. It is lack of oversight by the administrators whose job it is to observe classrooms frequently and catch those unfit to stand before children.  It is not the job of the teachers or the union to "catch" criminals. How can we do our job of teaching children and monitoring our colleagues as well? There are days where I can't sit down for a minute to take roll because every second is devoted to instructing and monitoring my charges. You can't sit down. Sometimes, I turn off my class phone because I can't afford a 15 second interruption of my lesson. How, pray tell, am I supposed to leave my classroom and see what's going on next door? Who is getting paid triple six digit salaries to monitor teachers and isn't doing their job? Where are the senate bills for those people?

No amount of legislation or amendments will change the fact that misfits in work places exist because of the fault of management.

Why should the 99% of teachers who earn an honest living give up due process because of the actions of the 1%? No one wants criminals in front of children. Why then isn't there a focus on the screening process for applicants, lack of communication between law enforcement and school districts, accountability for administrators doing their jobs? Shouldn't the focus be on prevention rather than punishment? If you really wanted to put students first, you would be asking hard questions of principals, superintendents, and other leaders who failed to do their jobs.

Students First is led by Michelle Rhee, who in spite of working in schools for at least a decade fails to understand the basic principles of educating students: we work together. Students, teachers, parents, colleagues. The important job of educating children will not come to fruition if we do not support each other and let forces divide us. Can the education system improve? Of course. Rhee will not be the one to do it.

Rhee's lack of understanding was glaring when she taped shut the mouths of her own students, passed an evaluation system primarily based on test scores of students that led to rampant cheating in DC schools, attempted to circumvent an investigation, and just recently put out an ad that disparages schools, ridicules the obese, and some perceive as homophobic.  In a classic propaganda move, you put out a simple, emotional message and you repeat it over and over again. Classic.



Some would say it is not a lack of understanding, but a cold-calculated way to instill distrust, fear and contempt into the heart of the public to facilitate the privatization of the American public education system. That is a post for another time. But I will close this post with pictures, images of the Miramonte Elementary community that was ravaged by a sex abuse scandal. These are pictures taken from a community rally where teachers, students and parents stood hand in hand in a vigil, mourning the loss of innocence, protesting the heavy-handed response of the district. The parents of abused children knew who is responsible for the horrendous crimes committed against their children-the perpetrators and the administrators who failed to supervise them. A lawsuit has been filed against management, not the teachers or their union. Because they know who really puts students first.

All Miramonte faculty was removed from school after two teachers were arrested for allegedly molesting students.

A vigil comprised of parents, students, and teachers was held in front of the school in May,

"We are Miramonte." We are a community. We work together.

Student crying because his teacher was removed (photo credit LA Times)

Students, cry, sing, at rally to protest removal of teachers at Miramonte (LA Times)

The community knows what's up.


Friday, June 29, 2012

My Thoughts on SB1530 Bill in CA, aka Employee Dismissal Bill

"I think the teachers' union in this case was very clear: kill any bill that expedites the firing of teachers," Deasy said. "This was about adults' rights, not kids' rights."

SB1520 would have made it easier to circumvent teachers' due process rights when it comes to allegations of illegal conduct. This bill, political in my opinion, does nothing to protect abuse from happening in the first place. Below is my comment from the CBS new website.

"There is already a process in place for locating, identifying suspected molesters in schools: the classroom observation. Under current law, administrators are supposed to visit classrooms on a regular basis to prevent monsters from having access to students. It is clear that this did not happen at Miramonte. The proposed law did nothing to enforce the already required mandate of classroom observations. Now that would be real progress, a real solution.

Instead, this law only comes into play after the fact. After a teacher has been left alone to do as they want for years upon end. After the crime has already been committed. After lives have been destroyed. In short, this law was nothing but politics aimed at weakening due process rights of innocent hard working teachers who had nothing to do with the horrors that took place in that man's classroom.

If Dr. Deasy really wants to help the children why not hold administrators to the same scrutiny as he does teachers? He can fire a teacher on the spot, but what action has been taken against each and every administrator who has worked at Miramonte for the last 20 years and was derelict in their duties? What is truly shameful is the blind eye that has been turned at the responsibilities of management in the LAUSD where ethical lapses are business as usual all the way to the very top."

-Martha Infante