Through the NYCDOE Looking Glass

04/03/2012
A positive-edge-triggered D flip-flop

A positive-edge-triggered D flip-flop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First the NYCDOE says it is going to close 33 schools because they are low performing.

But, for no apparent reason, it changes its mind about closing seven of them, but not the other 26, even though some of those 26 perform better than the seven on a variety of measures.

Then the NYCDOE says it is going to ban about 50 words from standardized exams because those words might upset students. After all, students who daily face dangers in their neighborhoods that most of us cannot imagine might get distressed if the word ‘dinosaur’ appears on an exam.

Once again, it changes its mind – this time after a public outcry – and says it is okay to use those words after all.

So either it is all right to damage students or the words were banned  for no reason. Take your pick.

Tonight the NYCDOE is conducting a public hearing to discuss whether to shoehorn a new K-5 elementary school into the building that currently houses the middle school where I work, as well as the pre-K and kindergarten classes there’s no room for in the elementary school across the street.

Most of my colleagues think that no matter how many parents come and say it is a bad idea because almost all of the classes in the school already have more than 30 students and putting the new school in will mean the middle school will have about 50% fewer classes, the NYCDOE has made up its mind and the new elementary school will take precedence. I suspect that is the case.

If the girdling occurs, it will have some major, perhaps fatal, impact on our library’s existence and my job as librarian, but I am not worried.

The NYCDOE has a very bad record of sticking to its decisions, most likely because the decisions appear to be made on a whim, and whatever they decide is like – pardon the phrase – pissing in the wind. Everyone gets wet, but especially them.

Meanwhile, after making such a big case about the public’s right to know about those teacher ratings, you know, the ones filled with errors and based on spurious information, our mayor is refusing to make public a report critical of the City’s 911 system, particularly the revamp done during his administration because it failed during a snowstorm.

Which is your position, Mr. Mayor? Does the public have a right to know or doesn’t it? Or is this just one more case of a flip-flop, a particularly self-serving one at that?

No, don’t answer. What you say doesn’t mean what it appears to, and it is all rather confusing.

That’s the idea, isn’t it? Keep everyone confused and pretty soon they’ll just give up trying to understand.

That’s when it really gets dangerous for us.


I Don’t Know and I’m Not Ashamed To Admit It

03/30/2012

I’ve done a lot of different things in my life and I ask a lot of questions.

Curiosity tears down walls

Curiosity tears down walls (Photo credit: Rosa Say)

As a result, I know a lot of stuff. But no matter how much I know, there is far, far more that I do not know. There is so much that I don’t know.

Today my not knowing was repeatedly displayed to my students. Due to an unusually crowded evening schedule this week I am even more tired than usual, but that isn’t why I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Actually, I knew that I didn’t know; I just don’t know how much I don’t know.

Third base.

Here are some of the things I didn’t know today: How prisoners give themselves tattoos; how audio tracks get attached to digital videos; and how to take the write-protection off a flash drive that somehow got write protected. Our tech guy also didn’t know that one; I didn’t ask him about the other two.

I can’t wait for opportunities to show my students how much I don’t know. Most of them think I’m pretty smart for an adult, but they’re between 11 and 14 years old, so they’re not surprised that I don’t know a lot of stuff.

They’re just surprised that I admit it.

Its been about 45 years since I was in middle school. Even though those were my favorite school years I still remember one teacher who, whenever one of us would ask a question he could not answer, would chastise us for not sticking to the lesson and for having too much curiosity.

Too much curiosity?

101 Uses for a Dead Cat

101 Uses for a Dead Cat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may have killed the cat – I remain a skeptic – but it is a wonderful thing for a human to have. My curiosity is what I like best about myself.

The best tool teachers have is curiosity, theirs and, especially, their students’. Its been about 15 months since I moved from being a classroom teacher to being the librarian in the same school. I’m working harder but enjoying it more. Today I finally figured out why: I don’t have a heavy, mandated curriculum, no scope and sequence, no texts, no tests and no timeline.

I have the freedom to go where a student’s curiosity takes us.

Sure, I have things I want to teach, but I get to allow the students’ interests, the students’ questions, their wonders and their curiosity determine when and how I teach those things. I get to let my students’ education be what mine has largely been, bottom up, driven by the learner’s curiosity and passions instead of the top-down pre-determined, marketplace-driven curriculum the rest of the teachers have to deliver.

I bet we could solve a lot of the dropout problem, raise academic achievement and reduce behavioral issues if we can only get the rest of the school to teach the way a good librarian, and even this one, does.

We’ve tried all the other ways. Isn’t it time to try something different?


Paranoia in Education Strikes Again!

03/26/2012
cover shot of Children of Paranoia

cover shot of Children of Paranoia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I work for a paranoid school district.

It doesn’t trust students.

It doesn’t trust teachers.

It doesn’t trust administrators.

It doesn’t trust parents.

It doesn’t trust the public.

It is afraid that students will learn things that aren’t in the curriculum.

It is afraid that students will learn things that haven’t been approved in advance.

It is afraid that its teachers are not capable of teaching responsible use of the internet.

It is afraid that its teachers are not capable of teaching responsible use of social media.

There is a lot of good educational content on YouTube and YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let students access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let teachers access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let school administrators access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let principals override the filters that prevent access to those and other useful websites.

This can only be because it does not trust us. Any of us.

It does not let students, teachers or school administrators access Facebook in school, even though there is a lot of educational content on Facebook.

Even though we are required to teach students how to use social media responsibly.

Soon we won’t even be able model social media use for students.

The City is going to ban teachers and students from interacting over Facebook.

It doesn’t trust us.

Not at all. I bet the City would love to figure out how to stop teachers and students from interacting in the supermarket, the Laundromat, the shopping mall.

Heck, they’d probably even like to find a way to keep us from interacting in the classroom. Everyone knows how much trouble we can get into there.

There is an old adage that says you should treat people the way you want them to be. If you want young people to act like adults, treat them that way. That’s what I try to do in my library.

But the NYCDOE treats me and my colleagues like little children.

They are illogical.

They are insulting.

Or am I being paranoid?


Meeting a Different Student Need

03/18/2012
English: A painting of a teardrop I did.

Image via Wikipedia

Something had happened but I had no idea what.

An announcement told students and teachers not to move to their 7th period assignment when the bell rang ending sixth period, it was being extended…indefinitely.

I had the high-level 8th grade class, the ones I taught social studies to when they were in the 6th and 7th grades. I’ve written about them before

. We’re comfortable with each other and used the extended time to talk about the high schools they’d be going to in September.

The halls were strangely quiet as we’d been told not to give any passes for any reason during this time.

Like many, if not all schools these days, we have procedures to lock down classes if an unauthorized person gets past security, or if anyone has a gun, but those codes had not been given. It wasn’t even a drill.

We waited.

Finally, after about a fifteen minute delay, everyone moved to their 7th period assignment. I still had no idea why we’d been detained.

That is when the four 8th grade girls came into the library sobbing, wailing, and shaking. I feared the worst, that someone had died, perhaps even a student. The girls were so distraught they couldn’t talk. Finally one calmed down enough to tell me that the boyfriend of one of these girls had gotten so upset about something that girl said to him that he had punched his hand through the wall of the cafeteria. In doing that he had sliced the back of his hand open and was bleeding profusely.

An ambulance arrived to take the boy to the hospital. Only after that, permission to move to 7th period came.

The girls were deeply upset. All four had witnessed the punch. One of the girls, a hold over, older than the other by a year or two, said she’d never seen a boy cry before but the puncher was crying while the nurse and an assistant removed his hand from the wall.

The girls worried that the boy would bleed to death. I said it was highly unlikely, but they told me of pools of blood in the cafeteria. Again, I reassured them, telling them that the body has a lot of blood, can afford to lose a pint or two. I also knew from my frequent blood donations that a pint of blood looks like a really large amount.

Middle school is a difficult time for most students. Bodies are changing, emotions are expanding, interest in members of the opposite gender grows, accompanied by worry about one’s own attractiveness. At the same time, there is little time in their school day to ease up, to reflect, to react to trauma.

Not one of those four girls is a reader. They’ve never checked out a single book in the 12 school months I’ve been the librarian. I don’t have a strong relationship with any of them. Still, they came to the library when they needed a place to react, to emote, to be comforted and reassured.

They came to the library when they needed to feel safe.

Earlier that same day one of the veteran teachers, and not one who has been particularly friendly to me, came in to use copier, looked around, and thanked me “for making the library look and function like a library again.”

New books, organized shelves, new decoration on the walls, automated checkout and an online catalog have made the library a more active, more dynamic, and a more attractive place. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in little time and with almost no budget.

But what pleases me most is one of those things that will never show up on any evaluation of how I do my job. There’s no standardized test for it and it is not on any principal’s observation form.

I’ve made a safe place for students.

Nothing is more important than that.


Teacher Ratings: We Blew It!

02/27/2012

We blew it.

By ‘we,’ I mean the entire NYC education community. 

Teachers, administrators, chancellor Walcott, we all blew it.

We were handed a very teachable moment on a silver platter. And we blew it. Big time.

We knew it was coming: we should have been prepared.

We had the opportunity to nail it, but we blew it.

I’m talking about what everyone involved in teaching in NYC is talking about: the release of teacher ratings based on standardized tests given over the past few years. The ratings release my union, the UFT, spent lots of time and money trying to prevent when we should have embraced it, embraced it because it offered the teachable moment to end teachable moments.

Here we were given everyone’s attention, a focused and huge student body, and we didn’t take advantage of it.

We should have done what we claim to do best: teach.

We should have taught the lesson on what statistical validity means, or the lesson on how a large margin of error renders data useless.

We could have taught the lesson about how one test on one day does not necessarily – okay, doesn’t at all – show what any one student or any large group of students know, don’t know and are or are not capable of doing.

Or the one about how the findings of a test designed for one purpose, even if it does that purpose really well, are not capable of determining the causality of those initial results. That’s an easy one: a thermometer can measure how hot it is (what a student knows) but doesn’t tell you anything about the efficiency of the sun (what the teacher does).

We could have done so much to make our community smarter, more capable of determining when something they are being spoon fed is BS, more able to know what is and isn’t true.

But we didn’t.

We blew it.

Maybe we really are bad teachers.

All of us.

Even the chancellor.


Please, son, be anything else. Anything.

02/20/2012
English: teacher

Image via Wikipedia

I love my son.

He is a high school senior about to decide what college to attend. One of his criteria is which school to which he’s been accepted has the best program to prepare him for his chosen professional goal.

I very much want my son to be happy in his work because if he is it will not seem like work.

He wants to be a high school English teacher.

I am trying very hard to talk him out of it.

My son loves to read and read at a high school level in fifth grade.

His current English teacher has him co-teaching a couple of lessons in the class. No other student is doing that.

Another of his HS English teachers told my wife and me “the greatest gift I could give my profession would be for your son to become an English teacher.”

Heady stuff, indeed.

My son could possibly be a very good English teacher. That is why I am trying to talk him out of it.

These days, very good is not good enough.

That’s the illogic of the new teacher assessment deal that NY Governor Cuomo pushed for and that the spineless NYSUT (NY State United Teachers) agreed to. Under this plan a teacher rated excellent by his principal and by other local teacher assessments would be rated as ineffective if his students did not show growth on the one day state tests are administered, even though those tests are only supposed to be 40% of the teacher’s rating.

How are we supposed to teach math when our governor and the state teacher union agree that 40% of X is larger than 60% of X?

No matter what else the teacher does, no matter how good he is on the other 179 days of the school year, he cannot be rated as anything other than ineffective if the test scores don’t go up enough. If that happens two years in a row he can be fired, even if he has tenure.

Indicted murderers are presumed innocent until judged guilty by a jury of their peers.
Tenured teachers are presumed ineffective, despite acquittal by their administrators.

How can I let my son become a teacher under a system that is as illogical and as unfair as the one his father will be working under starting next year?

Oh, wait. I’m a librarian. I don’t have students whose test scores can be compared year-to-year. No matter. The school’s total overall test scores will affect my job rating, whether or not most or any of the students come into the library and whether or not I have any influence on their performance on those one day exams.

More logic. Impressive.

Kid, I love you.

Become a mortician, a lawyer, a barber, or an accountant.

Pick rags for a living.

English: Jewish rag picker, Bloor Street West,...

Just don’t become a teacher.

It just isn’t a good job anymore.


Ever Wonder What a School Librarian Does?

02/02/2012

This is the list of librarian duties in a current posting for a six-month contract at a private school in NYC, with the possibility of it becoming a permanent position. I am not going to mention the school If you want to apply for the job, email me: educationontheplate@gmail.com.

University of Michigan Library Card CatalogPosition Summary: Under the supervision of the Executive Director, the librarian will establish and maintain a comprehensive library cataloging and tracking system for the _______

School. (Six Month Assignment with the possibility of becoming a regular position).

Duties and Responsibilities:

Administers the library media program, developing policies and procedures to assure efficient operation and services.

Administers set up and maintenance of automated catalog and circulation system.

Selects, purchases, and processes new materials to assure a current and balanced collection representing diverse points of view.

Classifies catalogs, and circulates library material and instructs students and staff in the use of the library system.

Maintains circulation and collection records; provides regular reports as needed.

Establishes an on-site mail, email and fax reference assistance system used by staff and volunteers.

Establishes a circulation program for the children’s collection.

Coordinates, develops, publicizes children’s collecdtion and story time program.

Establishes a process to assist teachers in selecting books to incorporate into classroom discussions and coordinates story

time readings for school group.

Assists with development and management of library systems; books, periodical, catalogs, slides and othe special collections.

Establishes protocols and policies to train, coordinate, supervise and manage volunteer assistants.

Conducts orientations; assists with managing book sales, art previews, benefits and other special events.

Assists in management of online catalog and other electronic resources.

In conjunction with the Reading and Language Specialist, actively promotes reading, library use through such activities as storytelling, booktalkd, display, publications, reading programs and special events as needed.

Develops bibliographies, display, bulletin boards to support school thems, extend classroom learning and to promote interest in reading.

Participates in library planning and implementation processes.

Acts as the information leader in the school.

Info symbol

Image via Wikipedia

Performs other duties as assigned.

Qualifications;

Masters Degree in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from an American Library Association (ALM) accredited program.

New York State (NYS) certification as school librarian.

Proven work experience in library science.

Experience with technical services procedures using Windows-based computer systems, databases and electronic resources,

Some experience working with children services and programming.

Ability to interact with staff and volunteers in a busy environment and shared space.

Strong organization, problem-solving skills and attention to detail.

Excellent verbal and written comunication [sic] skills. (ed. note – presumably including spell checking)

Physical demand include loading, lifting and carrying boxes of books for sales; moving furniture to rearrange reading room for library events and regular moving of books and periodicals in routine management of library collections.

I’m tired just reading that. Of course, I’ve already put in a full day as a school librarian.

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Getting Out of the Building

01/26/2012

Teachers generally spend very little time with other adults. I spend less than most teachers.

HomePic-Teacher

In my school, when a teacher wants to talk to a colleague he or she can just walk out of the classroom and into a colleague’s next door. When I want to talk to a colleague I have to go down a hallway and up a staircase to get to anyone’s classroom.

Or I can just wait for someone to come into the library to make copies and hope I’m not busy with students at that time.

When I want to talk to another librarian face-to-face I have to leave the building.

That is why this weekend is so important to me.I’m spending this weekend in Philadelphia at the Science Leadership Academy, a fantastic high school, where Educon takes place the last weekend of January.

Educon is a different kind of conference. It is not free, like one-day EdCamps, but it is not expensive like the multi-day extravaganzas like the ISTE, ALA, or AASL conferences. But that is not what makes it special.

At Educon there are sessions but they’re conversations not presentations. I’ll be with about 400 other educators of all kinds: classroom teachers at every level, music teachers, art teachers, special education teachers, professors, theorists, advocates and even a few librarians in this school all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday. Educon2.3 conversarion

I can walk into one session and, if it doesn’t captivate me I can walk down the hall a few steps and go into a different session. I hardly ever do that. Oh, I’ve walked out of a session or two but I never seem to make it to the next one without getting caught up in an interesting discussion in the hallway.

There are times when Educon feels like a reunion. I see people there that I usually see only on Twitter or Facebook. Many of these people have been going to Educon since it started four or five years ago. This will be my third. I’ll also be meeting face-to-face for the first time some people I’ve known online for a few years.

I learn a lot in Educon sessions. I’ve become a more thoughtful teacher, a better teacher because of things I’ve learned there. Last year Educon came six weeks after I suddenly became a school librarian. What a joy it was to meet Joyce Valenza and Shannon McClintock Miller and to be able to converse with them one-on-one and have them to help me put my feet back on the ground and get my head above water (to mix metaphors). I was so needy that Shannon even gave me a big hug.

Odd, isn’t it? I’m willing to drive two hours or more to go to Educon but not to take the time to walk upstairs to visit with my colleagues at my school.

I’m not saying anything against my colleagues, many of whom are wonderful, warm, intelligent hard-working professionals, it is just that Educon is so much better. Instead of a five minute conversation between periods or over the copying machine, I get to spend hours and hours, breakfasts, sessions, lunches, dinners and even time having a few drinks with 400+ of others who, just like me, can’t think of a better way or a better place to spend a weekend.

I might even see the Liberty Bell.

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One Year as a Librarian, and What a Year It Has Been

12/18/2011

On a late Friday afternoon about one year ago my principal told me I was going to be the school’s librarian starting the next week.

At the time I knew nothing about being a school librarian and was taking over a disaster of a library. 

Three weeks later I enrolled in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Queens College. This past week I completed my 21st, 24th and 27th credits in 11 months while working full time. I’m very tired.

I reorganized all the books in the library, twice. I began automating the library, a process of putting barcodes on all the books and scanning them into our now online catalog. Oh yeah, I had to learn that software (and thanks to Shannon McClintock Miller for turning me onto it).

Five unpaid Saturdays were spent in 7-hour long training sessions to learn more about my job, I won a small technology grant. I presented at the NYC school library system’s fall conference.

My library was selected to be part of a pilot program of having a shared catalog and other collaboration with the New York Public Library.

English: A panorama of a research room taken a...

That meant learning another system of library automation software.

Oh, I’ve also been teaching information fluency skills, trying out two different website development tools, finding and sharing resources with my colleagues in my school and in my district.

In my free time, I taught a class at SUNY Empire State College, helped organize and run EdCampNYC, and managed to lose the last half of a 60 lb. total loss that I’ve managed to keep off.

So much for this year.’

Next year?

English: 2012 Calendar, sized as A4 page

I’ve got a lot more work to do.

I need to improve my teaching, redecorate the library and try to find the money for a renovation.

I need to finish my degree. After 27 credits in 11 months, thanks to budget cuts it will take me another 11 months to complete the final nine required credits.

I need to continue to weed old, outdated and damaged books from our collection and finish the barcoding and cataloging.

I also need to purchase books, magazines and databases with the twin foci of providing quality recreational reading options and better aligning the collection to our curriculum.

I need to continue to learn my job and continue to be thankful to all the members of my PLN, including my colleagues in the NYC school library system who help me do so.

Yes, I still have a lot to do, but right now I need to rest, to get to know my wife and son again, to take some time for myself.

I’ve earned it. Haven’t I?

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Oh boy! Now You Can Take the Tests.

12/14/2011
Standardized Test

Earlier this week I wrote a post called Standardized Tests, good for the geese, good for the ganders in which I challenged everyone who has anything to do with the setting of education policy to follow the lead of one stalwart school board member and take the tests they make students take.

Thanks to the Washington Post’sAnswer Sheet column I took an abbreviated version of the Florida 10th grade math and English tests. I did it at 11:30 at night after being up since 5:00AM, working a full day and taking five hours of grad school classes. You’re allowed to use a calculator and look up general equations like Pythagorean or the volume of a cylinder.

I don’t mean to brag, but I did it all in my head without a calculator and without looking anything up. I got perfect scores in both sections of seven questions each, all in about five minutes.

You can take the same mini-test I did or a sample of the Texas, California, New York, Virginia, Washington DC. or Maryland tests. Let me know which ones you took and how you did. And challenge your governor, your school board members, your state department of education administrators, and your president to relive their adolescence by taking the tests and making public the results.

This should be fun. It was for me, but I’m strange that way.

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