Saturday, March 12, 2016

Five Question Challenge: Puck and Snug Say, "Game On!" #SOL16 Day 12

March marks the ninth annual Slice of Life
Story Challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.
*Today, Puck and Snug, my two pound puppies, are guest bloggers

Puck: Normally mom writes this blog, but she's packing for Hawaii, so we're here to help. 

Puck & Snug: A couple of days ago Chloe, who helps Deb out at the Coffee with Chloe blog laid down a challenge to answer questions in the Five Question Challenge, which Deb says she heard about from Michelle at One Grateful Teacher, and which mom says Dana did over at HuffEnglish

Snug: Mom's not very good at these things, so we decided to raise our paws and volunteer to write today's post. 

1. What has been your biggest struggle this school year?

Puck & Snug: We got pretty used to lots of walks last summer. Mom would take us after heading to the gym. Uncle Greg, mom's brother who lives in the basement because he can't live alone, would take us on a walk during the day; and dad would take us at night. Then mom had to go back to school, and Uncle Greg got a job. Now we have to wait for someone to come home and take us walking.  

Puck: After mom broke her toe at NCTE, she has really had a hard time getting up at 5:00 a.m. and going to the gym.

Snug: That night class mom teaches for ISU on Tuesday night means I don't get my teeth brushed until 10:00 p.m., and that's way past my bedtime. 

2. Share two accomplishments you are proud of this school year: 

Puck & Snug: OMG! The biggest thing she accomplished was that consulting gig. She had to do so much curriculum writing. She ended up with close to 300 pages of material for that AP Lang and Comp app! 

Snug: My campaign against the squirrels continues to be successful. Can I count the squirrel we delivered to mom last summer when she was working with that kid. She was surprised, shocked, and mortified when I dumped it on the floor. 
Mom made a pic collage! She' really proud. 
3. What are three things you would like to accomplish before the end of the school year?

Puck & Snug: That's a toughie because it's pretty close to the end of the school year. Mom gets out in May, and we can't wait. One thing she wants to do is finish this blogging challenge without missing a day, and she wants to have her AP Lit and Comp students prepared for the test; they're all taking it, and mom's a little worried because this is her first time teaching the class. 

Puck: I really want to train mom to fetch the ball from under the couch the way I get dad to. I like seeing mom and dad crawling around on the floor. Playing Hide and Seek with my toys is my second favorite game. Playing Fetch is my favorite. 

Snug: I'll continue working to keep the squirrels, dogs, cats, birds, deliverymen, and neighbors organized. It's tough and I get weary of sitting in the window barking all the time, but it's my job, and I'm tenacious.

4. Give four reasons you remain in education despite today's rough culture:

Puck & Snug: Well, mom is pretty close to retirement, so she might as well stick it out. She likes the kids and likes working with the young teachers. You know, she has several colleagues she taught. There's Melissa in the library; Camille, who also teaches English; Katie, who teaches special education. Mom says she really likes Robin, the new debate coach and also enjoys having her colleagues' kids in her classes. 

Snug: Mom likes books. Sometimes I think she likes books better than she likes me, but that's silly. Getting to teach the AP Lit and Comp kids means she's had to read some new books, and that keeps her on her toes. 

Puck: "Im ready to play ball!"
Puck: Dad says he can't see mom not working. He should talk. He's 68 and still working. I wish he'd stay home and play ball with me and take me for runs. 

Puck & Snug: Mom says as long as she's not burned out and as long as she has fun and challenges teaching, she'll stay. That means she'll stay until she reaches the Rule of 90. 

5. Which five people do you hope will take this challenge by answering these five questions? 

Puck:  Mom told dad that since this challenge has been around for a while, she might be the last one doing it. That's okay. 
Snug: 'Can't a fellow get some peace around here.
I'm trying to take a nap!

Snug: I'd like to see some squirrels try it. I think they've all gone nuts and won't have much to say. Maybe Just Cat can try. I doubt Ace, that silly beagle who doesn't know which house is his knows what a blog is, so mom may be right. 

Puck:  This was a lot of work. Let's play ball and have a treat!

Snug: This was a lot of work. Let's have a treat and take a nap. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

J. A and Kathryn Albertson Foundation Fails Idaho #SOL16 Day 11/31

Grey clouds loom over the horizon. A barren landscape lines a desolate road leading into the coming storm. This ominous mood sets the scene for an anit-public school campaign bent on destroying public education in Idaho, the state where I live and work. This narrative is funded and created by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.  

The DON'T FAIL IDAHO campaign offers one more blistering critique of public education from an organization with an agenda. The Alberson Foundation wants to increase the number of students attending charter schools by 20,000. They also want to foist more public funds into vouchers. 

To reach its goal of dismantling public education, the Albertson's Foundation is funding a campaign against teachers and students. We are enduring an ad campaign on radio and television that depicts four children being kicked off a school bus and left to survive on their own in the desert. The subtext of this ad is clear to all but the most naive: Idaho educators are failing the children, abandoning them like so much refuse on the side of the road. 

To arrive at its conclusions, the Albertson Foundation uses SAT scores. These scores fail as predictors of college success. Every junior in Idaho takes the SAT, as mandated by the state legislature, itself anti-education. As Don Coberly, the Boise superintendent, eloquently explains in a letter to his staff, the SAT is not the best predictor of college success. A student's grades, taking dual credit and AP classes, and taking professional-technical classes offer a clearer picture of a student's potential for success in college. 

My school has a graduation rate over 90%, and that's as the high school in our district with the largest SPED population, including a self-contained classroom. We also serve as a feeder school for the Ft. Hall Indian Reservation and have an increasingly economically and racially diverse student body. A number of our students are classified as homeless, but we work to serve these students. We also have more students taking classes for college credit through ISU's Early College Program than any school on the eastern side of the state. 

In her important TED talk Nigerian writer Chimamana Ngozi Adiche warns us of THE DANGER OF A SINGLE STORY. As Adiche argues, we are "impressionable and vulnerable in the face of a story." But there's a danger when all we hear is a single story. We begin thinking the single story is the only story. 

We are living in a time of a single education story. It's a narrative claiming public education is a failure, and diverting public funds to for-profit educational enterprises will salve all that ails schools. Kuna superintendent Wendy Johnson offers a competing narrative in which she identifies false statements made by Don't Fail Idaho. 

Thirteen superintendents in my area, Region V, penned and signed a letter challenging the DFI campaign claims. "If the 'Don't Fail Idaho' organization continues to drop those students in the desert, rest assured that our districts will pick up those remaining students and place them at the doorstep of their pathway to a successful future."

The course of educators and patrons challenging the DFI narrative is strong, but we've been fighting the good fight for public education a long time, and the road is lonely, and the path is rugged, and we have been left on the side of the road, left alone in the desert to survive on our own without the support of the monied and powerful. The J. A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation fails Idaho. 

Edited at 6:06 p.m. to fix a clarity problem.

Thanks for joining me for the Slice of Life March Story Challenge sponsored by the team at Two Writing Teachers. Thanks, Stacey, Beth, Anna, and all who work with and for us to educate children. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

No Subs Available #SOL16 Day 10/31

The ninth annual Slice of Life Story
Challenge is sponsored by the fabulous
team at Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, TWT
I have over 200 sick days accumulated, and I'm planning to convert these days to medical insurance when I retire in a few years. I'm lucky in that I rarely get ill, and I've had no long-term illnesses during my career. However, occasionally I need a sick day. Unfortunately, we regularly have a shortage of substitutes in my school.

Last week I began experiencing severe cold symptoms, which became worse with each day. I didn't take a day off because I knew we had no subs available; however, by the time Monday arrived, I was too sick to work. I called in via our automated system and was fortunate enough to to avoid the "there are no subs available" message. 

When we have no subs, our administrative secretary assigns the subs in the building to cover other classes during the prep period; she recruits teachers assigned student teachers classes to cover; she emails the staff and lists periods and teachers that still need covered. We're promised comp time when we cover a class, but with a sub shortage, it's hard to demand that time. 

I haven't "covered"many classes this year because teaching a night class at the university and having a consulting gig put extra demands on my time; simply, I need my prep. Conversely, I don't like to impose on my colleagues to cover my classes when I'm gone. 

I'm accustomed to dragging myself into work when I'm not 100% because I don't like having to delay speeches or having a sub listen to them. When I'm teaching Comm 1101 I can't have a sub evaluate speeches. 

Earlier in my career, subs were readily available. But as the teacher shortage has increased, so too has the shortage of substitutes. 

With alternative routes to certification the norm, and with many districts de-professionalizing teaching to the point that some states have abandoned the mandate that teachers have a bachelor's degree, it's no wonder that a trend toward classes self-subbing (read: students monitor themselves) has gained traction. A post on the Crumudgucation blog last summer offers a pointed critique of the problem of finding and keeping subs. 

Often the sub pool is depleted when we have chronically absent staff. I've noticed that subs get assigned to these teachers first, leaving those of us who rarely miss with multiple people covering our classes. I'm troubled by this because I'm someone who misses few days. 

Teachers know that missing school takes work, as a popular meme reminds us. 
I had a fantastic sub Monday and try to make my classes pleasant for the sub so that they'll want to return. But the substitute teacher narrative has changed. The sub shortage is one more example of collateral damage brought to public education by the failed education reformers. It's enough to make me sick. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Out of the Box, Onto the Stage #SOL16 Day 9/31

The ninth annual Slice of Life Story
Challenge is sponsored by the fabulous
team at Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, TWT! 
A guilty blogging pleasure I have involves visiting the Pondering Preschool blog and reading about the ways preschoolers learn. I'm frequently inspired to reflect on the learning in my own classes as a result. 

On Monday, Maureen shared about her students' play with refrigerator boxes, so I decided to share the ways seniors in my AP Lit and Comp class played with boxes during our study of The Tragedy of King Lear.

Shoebox staging offers students a way to think through and visualize difficult texts. It works particularly well with plays since the shoebox functions as a stage, and students literally block a scene onto the "stage" and share their learning with the class. 

My students worked with Act II, and I assigned each group a different scene, although when I use this activity in regular classes, each group stages the same scene and we make comparisons. 

One of my favorite things about this kind of play is watching and listening to students discuss the text. 

Another point of enjoyment is watching the students laugh as they experiment with the blocking. This laughter permeates the room, and it's as inherent when the kids work with a tragedy as it is when they study a comedy. 
During presentations we frequently stop to look at the text together and negotiate its meaning. Students know they can look to one another to offer support when they are unsure about a passage's meaning. 
In The Tempest Shakespeare writes, "a turn or two I'll walk, to still my beating mind" (4.1).  Through playing both inside and outside the box, as well as with the box, students step into learning.  Advice from The Tragedy of King Lear seems an appropriate way to close this post: 

Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest,
Lend less than thou owest,
Ride more than thou goest,
Learn more than thou trowest,
Set less than thou throwest. (I.4)

*This teaching method is one I learned at the Folger Shakespeare Library during the 2008 Teaching Shakespeare Institute. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Tuning Out the Teacher: #SOL16 Day 8/31

The ninth annual Slice of Life Story Challenge is sponsored by the fabulous team at
Two Writing Teachers. Thanks for stopping by, and thank you TWT! 

I tune out the teacher

when I'm bored
when I'm tired
when I don't want to listen
when I have something better to do
when I'm not interested in the class
when I don't like the subject
when the teacher never shuts up
                             won't stop talking 
                             drones on forever...

I slip on 
I put on
I plug in 
I listen to 
                             my music
                             my tunes
                             my jams


                           my headphones
                           my earbuds 
                           my headset.

I tune out when my teacher wants me to tune in. 

On Friday I listened to students in speech present "Paper Bag Speeches," an introductory speech activity. I give the students a paper bag and ask them to put three school appropriate items in the bag and share with the class how each item reveals something about themselves. 

Many of the students brought their earbuds, and I've used some of the comments above to compose the "poem," such as it is. In fairness, many students talked about music as a way to relax and deal with stress, but it's the "I want to tune out" theme that really made me think.

Why do students want to tune out when they are in school? We need to pose this question and answer it honestly. I'm saddened when students tell me a lesson is uninteresting or boring. 

In ninth grade my speech teacher Nydia May Jenkins reiterated the importance of making our speeches interesting: 

Don't bore your listener. Give them a speech they will really enjoy.

That's a direct quote from a handout Miss J. gave the class, and it has been my guiding principle in creating lessons. Even when I must teach a mandated text that doesn't thrill me, it's my job to find a way to make it engaging. 

However, we must also teach our students to be interested in school, but that doesn't mean only telling them to find the subject interesting. In speech I have an easier time with this because kids get to pick their topics. If they pick a topic that doesn't interest them, that's their choice to own. The best speeches grow from self-indulgence. For example, a student who was cyber-bullied researched that topic last trimester and presented her best speech of the course. 

The paper bag speech begins with kids hiding their items in the bag and slowly revealing each one. These items help me guide students in their topic choices, but I wouldn't be able to do that if the items remained in the bag.

Similarly, kids who hide inside  music libraries funneled into their ears via a set of ear buds might as well be squatting in a paper bag. The first step in helping them tune-in is to avoid allowing them to tune-out. 
Image via Google Search: Labeled for Noncommercial Reuse

Monday, March 7, 2016

Teaching Little People in a Big People School #SOL16 Day 7/31

Thanks for joining me for Day 7 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge. Thank you Stacey
and the team at Two Writing Teachers for all you do for all of us in this community. 
"Mrs. Funk, can you help me decide how to use this in my speech?" 

"Of course; let me see what you're working with." T------ showed me the screen on his Chromebook, and I understood immediately the problem as I read the headline: 
T------ had chosen to address his classmates on the challenges faced by little people. We had discussed the topic as an option when he asked for help choosing one, and after conferring with his parents, who are normal size, T------ had opted to speak about his life as a little person surrounded by big people. 

T------ is the first student with dwarfism I've taught, and I was surprised that he did not have a 504 plan that addresses the physical challenges, so I wanted to hear from T------ about his life in high school, especially since he's a ninth grader. 

From the moment he entered my room, I decided to treat T------ the way I do all other students; I expected him to participate in activities, so sometimes I had to make sure he didn't get "dwarfed" by students much larger; I had to make sure he could see when we learned physicalizing words as a way to memorize a poem. 

When T------ presented his speeches, his head barely peeked above the whiteboard tray, and at his desk his feet dangled. 

During his speech about the challenges facing little people, T------ spoke about the challenge of learning to drive, about not being able to reach sinks, about having to sit in oversized desks and at oversized tables. He talked about the fears he faces navigating the halls at our school. The halls are very crowded, and the footprint of the school is quite large, and many of the halls are narrow. All these issues make school a challenge for students but doubly so for T------. 

When T------ asked me to help with The Atlantic article, which he still wasn't sure he'd use in his speech, I offered to read it first. I quickly read the article and learned about how a little person's short legs and hip problems can challenge them sexually, but I also learned about the work of Dr. Marylou Naccarato, a sexologist who has written a document that advises little people about ways to have a fulfilling sex life. 

I made suggestions about how T------ could incorporate some of the ideas from the article into his speech and paid special attention to the sensitive subject-matter and to T------'s age. Ultimately, he opted not to include the information, but that doesn't matter because he's the one who will one day need the information most, and if he's typical of most little people, he won't feel comfortable addressing this topic. Maybe now he'll know that the unspoken is speakable. 

I and the students who heard T------'s passionate speech about life as a little person gained important knowledge that will enable us to empathize with those students who are small in stature and big in heart. We all grew a little in that moment.