Thursday, December 04, 2003

Looking For an Excuse

How many times do you hear white people complaining about being mistreated or "discriminated against?" I'm sure the answer isn't zero, but I'm sure it isn't anywhere near the number of times you could figure for similar claims from people of other races and/or ethnicities. The latest case here doesn't _really_ involve me, but it disturbs me nonetheless. One of our program coordinators got a call from the parent of a black student essentially calling him and everyone else in our program a racist. Since I am a teacher in the program and she referred to "your staff over there", I assume that it means that her blanket comment applies to me as well. I'm flattered and personally impressed by my skill when I can be involved in such a grand conspiracy to keep the non-whiteys down with as little effort as being employed and consuming oxygen.

Allow be to bore you with the details as I understand it. Part of our program involves a senior research experience where the students are given the opportunity to participate in an internship with local companies and universities that have agreed to mentor students. This is only our second year of developing this program, but it has gained quite a bit of steam indeed. Some of the kids are resourceful and ambitious and seek out mentors themselves with a little guidance while others rely on us to help them out a little, or in some cases, a lot. For perspective, we went from needing to place about 25 students over two semesters last year to having to place about 90 kids over two semesters this year, about half each semester. This should seem monumental to any observer and we have been able to manage with the diligent work of a few of the people in our program.

She placed limitations on her son's opportunities when she said he would not have permission to leave campus for his internship. I know some salaried employees are able to telecommute, but how many interns have you heard about doing the same? I thought part of the point was to experience the work environment during an internship. We still managed to find an internship where he would be developing a web page for some mentor. A suitable task considering the limitations. You don't have to be at a place of business to develop their web page as long as you use other forms of communication to get feedback, right? Besides, how many programmers are people you want to chat with by the water cooler? Ok, I apologize for the stereotype.

The problem is the kid doesn't have the best sense of self-motivation. Without that boss being over his shoulder, he dropped the ball and performed quite poorly, from what I hear at least. The work done for and via the internship is crucial to two courses taken to accommodate the internship, a methods of research class and the actual internship class. In short terms, he ended up putting himself in a double jeopardy situation from a grade perspective. Now that we're only two weeks away from the end of the semester, the mother finally gives a rat's ass about what is going to be showing on his transcript. Now that it's way too late to consider alternatives, the mother expresses her displeasure with the selection of his internship. In almost her exact terms, it was "you have given him a sh!tty internship because he is black." I'm paraphrasing here, but the accusations also included that all of our black students had "sh!tty internships" and that we set them up for failure. Keep in mind that he is the only one I know about having a dire situation from an academic standpoint. Keep in mind that I hear that the other black kids had pretty decent gigs, not that his was bad in the first place. Keep in mind that students are encouraged to seek out their own opportunities first, use us last. The mere fact that her statement implies that we have "given" anything discriminatory supports my personal belief that all people who pull the "race card" are wounded by our overall society's acceptance of the notion of entitlement. Apparently, from her perspective, the students in our program are now entitled to an internship and it had better end up working out in 100% of the cases, regardless of input from the student during the internship attainment or sustainment periods.

Where does the idea of personal responsibility fit in in all of this? Sadly, I don't think it does. One of the major faults with entitlement programs is that they tend to entitle the recipients to relieve themselves of any sense of personal responsibility. Hell, everyone would love to have it all without having to work for it. Unfortunately, not as many of us realize that the free lunch is really more expensive than it's worth.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Conflict of Interest

The typical student around here seems to know quite a bit. Granted, that bit may not be about anything remotely academic. They know lots about fashion, sex, drugs, celebrities, their favorite music groups. Ask them who the current Vice President of the USA is and you'll hear one of two things: the stereotypical cricket chirping or the marbles in their skull shifting.

Daytime television is brain rotting garbage. Being on holiday last week, there were times when I was at home with the television on. Flipping channels sans cable, there were several options. Trashy talk shows, trashy soap operas with totally implausible plotlines, reruns of Full House on the SuperStation, and Mr. Rogers on PBS. My wife and I chose the latter. I wish more people did as well. We suffered a great loss with his death this year. He had a great quote near the end of the episode. "You can't learn until you want to learn." I think that sums up my high school teaching experience quite well.

And today, Thomas Sowell writes, "Whenever people talk glibly of a need to achieve educational "excellence," I think of what an improvement it would be if our public schools could just achieve mediocrity." Too bad that requires effort, thinking, and an attention to something other than MTV.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003


Checking the e-mail, I have a spam e-mail with the subject line "Stop all S pam qudsadkc". Not a direct quote on the letterage, but close enough. I get a sneaky suspicion that I would get more instead of less if I replied.

Of course, I would love to help some deposed ruler of Djibouti transfer funds through my bank account so maybe I should reply!

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The Phone

If there's one thing I hate more than anything else, it's calling parents. Actually, I hate calling anyone I don't know. That includes the pizza guy. I get very nervous on the phone when I don't know the person on the other end. Have I ever had a bad experience? Not that I can remember, but for some reason, it causes a great deal of anxiety for me. So, in suit, I hate calling parents.

We have a stupid rule that you can't fail a kid unless you've tried to contact a student's parent/guardian. Never really been a problem for me with the magnet and AP kids. I had a few calls, but not particularly a whole lot. Maybe it was cockiness that got the best of me, but that castle quickly crumbled when I started teaching the "on-level" kids. That's a euphemism for the low achievers. So low in fact, that I have to call 18 sets of parents. That's out of 71 students, so approximately 25% of my students. I'd say my expectations are too high, but when I consider that those 25% probably do about 10% of the work I assign I start to think it's not really my fault. A common response from some of them is "I don't know" when I implore about the whereabouts of their renegade textbooks. Apparently, there must be a black market for high school chemistry textbooks.

As much as I hate the answer, I wonder how they even got to my class. From their attitude, it's obvious that the reports of grade inflation are true. Are some students capable of learning without cracking a textbook or taking a single note? Absolutely. Are these? Absolutely not. They seem to be under the delusion that they can. I don't think they got there by themselves. Is it necessarily the teachers? I thought so until last week. We had a "vertical teaming meeting" with the teachers from the middle school that feeds into us last week. From their reports, the kids move on to high school even if they get failing grades. Social promotion is more important than education anyhow, right? And by the way, a vertical teaming meeting can roughly be defined as a total waste of time. If the kids knew the stuff they claim to have taught, I might think it was worthy of my time to meet with them.

So, back to my main point, I get to call at least 18 phone numbers, not knowing what to expect from the other end. I heard that I might be able to send a sort of postcard or something. That would be a nice alternative. Then, they could contact me if they were actually concerned about the education of their child. Unfortunately, I don't get the feeling that will be the case for a lot of them.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Underachievement Gap

For once, I agree with something Cynthia Tucker writes. I would say that a signignificantly higher proportion of my black students qualify for underachiever status. Most of them are the ones that are "too cool for school." And with role models like Kobe Bryant and 50 Cent, why should there be any motivation to actually get an education? Besides, a government education is guaranteed!! If you aren't passing classes, it must be because the teacher isn't accountable or their tests are too hard. It couldn't possibly be because you sit and do nothing day in and day out while still expecting to pass a class.

The other day, a student said that I singled out his poor behavior because he is black. I responded that he was only saying that because I am white.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Education for Dummies

I think I have the solution to America's failing schools issue.

Supposedly, our nation is rooted in the idea of democracy and an economy based on capitalism. A quick look at any government school system, by even the untrained eye, quickly reveals that these so-called "American ideals" are being violated. In a "survival of the fittest" economy that we are supposedly training students to survive in beyond the walls of these sacred ivory towers, the government education system counterintuitively creates an environment that seems rather socialist. Let me explain. The idea that everyone is equal is the driving force behind current graduation requirements and education standards. It seems that the powers that be have decided that in order to graduate from a public institution, everyone needs 4 years of math, 4 years of English/lit, 3 years of science, etc. At the very same time, leading educational researchers preach to us that there are about 8 different learning styles and at least 8 different "intelligences." While we educators are supposed to be accomodating for these 16 different niches, the very administration that encourages these ideals also sets these ridiculous equal requirements for all students nonsense.

After being in education for 4 years, I have almost come to the full conclusion that not all students are willing or capable of demonstrating basic algebra skills, writing chemical formulas, balancing chemical equations, and I could go on for days here. For some, it's an issue of laziness and for some it is the complete lack of capability. However, our "education standards" require these and other ludicrous benchmarks as a demonstration of success. Keep in mind that this illusion of success is often accompanied by the inability to maintain even a minimum wage job, a complete lack of basic reasoning skills, poor productive social skills (the minimum required to obtain most decent jobs in the absence of affirmative action), and a general absence of common sense (such as being smart enough to wear a condom). While some standards make perfect sense, such as a physical education and health, government, etc., the idea of equal everything for everyone is utterly nonsensical.

Somewhere along the last few decades, the term vocational has become a nasty word. A word reserved for the dumbest of the dumb. If you can't hack it in academia, you need a vocational track. And we all know that the classrooms are filled to the brims with the Einsteins of the future. To be honest, I disagree with this stigma that has become associated with the vocational arts. My decision is based on two principles: 1) the very multiple intelligence theory that is touted in all of the most basic of education courses, and 2) the common sense idea that no matter how many engineers, managers, IT professionals and doctors we might think we need, we're still going to need our drains unclogged when the toilet overflows at 3 AM. I know several plumbers that earn a significant amount more than I do, not to mention mechanics, computer repair techs, nurses, and probably even some janitors.

My solution? Somewhere around the beginning of the 9th grade, an evaluation has to be made for each and every student. This evaluation should probably be based on more than some standardized test, but realistically probably cannot be. However, based on this evaluation, a decision is made about whether you will be allowed to continue in academia or whether you will go to a technical/vocational school where you will learn a trade. In either case, if you want to screw around, go ahead. It just may affect your ability to continue your educational pursuits. Not cutting the mustard in academia? Guess you're on a vocational track now. The sad part is that before learning a trade became a task of the social undesirables, the goal of education was pretty much in line with this seemingly foreign concept. Just look at the schools of 30 years ago.

My proposal may seem a bit extreme, especially to those who are veiled under the illusion that our schools are doing a fine job and still suffer from the delusion that every person is capable of becoming the next President of the United States. And while it may not be the easiest solution or a perfect solution, some shift towards a system that realizes that individuals are different and that individuals are responsible for themselves and their actions should be on the agenda of every American citizen. The problem is that we have sat back quietly for too long while public schooling has become some sick, watered-down entitlement program instead of the glorious, fabled land of opportunity that everyone still seems to expect.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Hide and Seek

Have you ever done that thing where you put something in an extremely logical place and then when it comes time to remember where it was you can't seem to find the same algorithm that drove that logic the first time? I have spent my entire life perfecting this exact skill.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Indoor Pools

The pipes in my chemistry room had been groaning and knocking intermittently for several weeks. I mentioned it to several of the custodians asking if it was a problem. It has been my first year in the old building so I really had no idea if it had always been like that. Not to be a killjoy, but I was under the impression that pipes reacted like that when air was rushing through them.

So, on Thursday, the pipes started serenading us again but it seemed somewhat different this time. This time, instead of the few seconds of rumbling, the noise sounded more like a steady tapping noise. Not being anywhere near a prison or the Goondocks, I assumed that it wasn't being caused by any underground travelers. Finally, after about 10 minutes, the knocking and groaning subsided and I was finally able to bring my class back to order. Apparently, noisy pipes are more interesting than my noisy windpipes. Several minutes later, a cryptic announcment came across the PA requesting the presence of a particular class. Then, a few more minutes later, we were informed that we were without water because the main had broken and flooded the old gym with several inches of water. The gym is set into a hill so it was an obvious destination for low viscosity fluids. To understand the "severity" of the issue, bear in mind that our school has been the home of the state champion basketball team for two consecutive years.

So, the entire school spent over half of the day without water. In a move that still reeks of poor decision, the admin decided that we could still continue on with our daily schedule. Of course, with no flushing toilets or working sinks or water fountains, this was an obvious choice for anyone with an advanced degree in education administration. The middle school across the street agreed to allow our students to stand in ridiculously long lines just to perform the most basic of biological functions in a sanitary manner. I did still manage to get a bit of teaching in, but I had to scrap my idea to have a lab in AP Chem and I stumbled through an ill-prepared introduction to intermolecular forces, not that it means much to the average reader.

I suppose the situation has one positive outcome. Now, when the upperclassmen sell passes to freshmen for the pool under the gym floor they won't be guilty of false advertisement or representation.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

$0.25/hr Optimistic?

So, it's 9 PM and I finally get a chance to do my own work. We had an "early-release" day today where the kids go home early so we can have some fun and exciting staff development. Let me interpret. We sit in the library and perform high-skill tasks such as grading writing samples with a rubric and/or get talked at on how to grade writing samples with a rubric. This has been the topic of our last 5 or so at least. Apparently, teaching illiterates how to write Shakespeare is one of our school goals. I'd like to see the English, History, etc. people trying to teach science or math. On second thought, the kids are already bad enough at those subjects.

After the exhilirating yet educational meeting, I got to ride the Big Cheese with a handful of kids down to ol' Ma Tech for a Technology Enrichment Session for the robotics club. Another 4 hours down the tubes. Why do I do it? It's good for the kids, I guess that's all that matters. Finally back in my room and now I don't feel like doing a damned thing. Well, except for this I guess. I've always been the best at time management. The greatest challenge of each day is trying to trick myself into forgetting I've been here since 7 AM.

I hate that a great deal of teachers are 8-3:30'ers. Not that they aren't doing work at home in a lot of cases, but the image is that that's all of the work that they do. That perpetuates the stereotype that teachers don't really do work. Unfortunately, it is true in more cases than I would care to know about, but... For me today, after classes it's robotics, tomorrow it's planning for two presentations I got volunteered to do next week, yesterday it was academic bowl, who knows what on Friday? Not that I'm complaining, I wouldn't do it if I didn't feel like it was beneficial.

From the trenches,

Friday, September 26, 2003

Thomas Sowell writes about the barriers to entering the teaching profession. I'd have to say after reading it that I tend to somewhat agree with the first few paragraphs.

I took some of the most ridiculous classes in graduate school for my M.Ed. My most memorable was the certification-required Exceptional Children course (EXC 2010). The gist of the course was "memorize all of these retarded laws for special ed students so you can dumb everything down to be compliant." Please notice I said the laws are retarded, not the students. I'd say that about 80% of my classes fit into the "not meeting my expectations for graduate school" category. The other 20% consisted of the part where I paid to be a teacher (student teaching) and two courses I had with a good instructor.

I also had difficulty arranging my own interviews despite having what I would selfishly call an impressive resume with a degree in polymer chemistry and a minor in geochemistry from a respected engineering school and graduating at the top of my graduate school class. I went through the dance and applied with the county office before sending a letter and resume to my then top choice school. I tried calling the principal, I tried calling the department head, I e-mailed, I re-sent a resume. About two months after I accepted a position at another school in the system I finally got a letter in the mail from the principal stating that I would need to apply with the county first. I tend to forget that government works with extreme, unbridled efficiency.

I haven't read the book recommended in the article, nor do I have any intentions to do so, but reading the article reminds me that I have long professed that pretty much anything can be proven with statistics. With the right manipulation, the same set of data can be made to justify or refute any claim. It just depends on how you phrase your conclusions.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

We have this ridiculous woman that runs a free (to the students) tutoring service at my school that gets on the horn almost every morning and afternoon and tries to speak ghetto/hip-hop slang announcing times and such for the tutoring sessions. I guess the kids talked her into doing it and apparently it met with decent results last year because she keeps on doing it day after day, like some type of Pavlovian response of sorts. It's quite annoying, but often times humorous, at least when the kids have convinced her to say something that has subtextual connotations that she obviously doesn't understand. For example, last year, she became infamous for the phrase, "we got you covered like a jimmy hat." I was in the hall when I heard it so I couldn't tell if I heard what I thought I had. Then, the uproars of laughter from throughout the halls confirmed my suspicions. I suppose her message wasn't too inappropriate. I would have been racked to figure out a way to encourage seeking help with studies while increasing safe sex awareness in the same sentence.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

I'm taking the advice of a good friend and started a new "blog" dedicated to providing my personal insight into the high school education system, world events, and of course, the random neural meandering.

To introduce myself and without being too specific, I am a high school science teacher in the lagerst metropolitan area of Georgia. I teach pretty much anything that isn't life science. Never had much personal interest in living organisms beyond the essential hands-on anatomy lessons, and I mean essential!! I'm married and have no kids of my own. I must claim about 80 children that don't belong to me every semester and that seems to be more than enough for me. I'm in my mid-20's and genetics has already started getting me back for not studying it more seriously by deciding which mamallian features I can retain upon my increasingly reflective cranium, but it isn't too bad yet. I received a real degree from an engineering school before obtaining a Masters degree in Education, one of the biggest shams of my entire life. Let's just say that getting a 4.0 in graduate school was cake compared to the work I had to do to earn a 3.5 in undergraduate studies. For an idea, from 15 hours per lab report per week to one 10 hour "project" all semester. Now I've been teaching in a public high school for about 3 years and I've probably experienced most of what it has to offer, especially the glass ceiling that's reached after just one year. And I just love my 14-hour work days. Luckily, the wife travels for work so I don't have to sleep on the couch.

I try to keep up with current events, mostly from the Internet because I don't have cable and the system at school only provides obviously left-leaning media sources, not to mention those constant idiotic "polls" and Wolf Blitzer's ability to make even the word "sex" sound boring and uninteresting.

Obviously, I have my own opinions about pretty much everything. I don't claim to have the right answer every time but I am willing to do a little research to figure things out. In person, I'm seem boring at first because I think too much before speaking but those that really know me know better. I have the personality quirks that make us all interesting people. I relate well with the guy on Curb Your Enthusiasm with all of his "rules," but I never really liked Seinfeld that much. I am horrendous at keeping up with old friends and even worse at returning phone calls. I probably have ADD as a result of growing up in the Nintendo and MTV generation but I manage to cope without prescription drugs. I claim to be Libertarian but still tend to do things like vote for maintaining an increased sales tax rate that will hopefully keep my property and ad valorem taxes decently low.

Hopefully, that's enough of an introduction. I'll add comments and links as soon as I don't have a lab to prep when it's already almost 9 PM.