Data Obsession

In the 2011-12 school year, my school district was ranked #7 in the biggest 200 Texas Public School Districts, according to the Texas Education Agency’s Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS). If we had graduated 16 more students that year, we would have earned the #3 spot.

Take a moment to absorb that.

In our pre-school staff convocation, the information above was the main topic of discourse… obviously.  Because numbers never lie.

A few minutes ago, I got off the phone with another teacher in my district.  He informed me that this would be his last year teaching, and when I asked him why, he responded, “There is no success.”  He told me that, if you look at the numbers, he isn’t a very good teacher.

You see, a few years ago, he was certified as an AP English teacher.  His students did so well that year on their AP exam that in subsequent years, more and more students were added to his AP classes.  He told me that many of them don’t want to be in AP English.  That many of them don’t want to read books.  And if you know anything about AP English classes, you know how much more difficult they are when you hate to read.

Now comes the inevitable question: Why are those kids taking AP classes if they don’t want to do the work?

Well.  Let me tell you why.

Because it looks really good on paper.  “Oh! Forty percent of your students are taking AP classes?! That’s amazing!  How dedicated they must be!”  Not.

So, when he told me that he doesn’t think that he’s a good teacher, I disagreed with him.  I told him that the things that really matter can’t be counted.  The response I got was that as soon as I become an administrator, my views on that would change – I’d be brainwashed, just like the rest of them.

So, tell me… are data-driven administrators killing schools?

Sequels, Spin-offs, and Other Such Disasters (Part 2)

Good morning, friends!

Today, let’s talk about the fine art of the Spin-off novel.  In case you’ve been hiding under a rock since the 70’s, a spin-off is a novel that takes a character or subplot from another novel and creates a new story around it.  The most classic example I can think of for this would be the Star Trek novels.  In 1967, Bantam began publishing adaptations of the original TV series written by James Blish.  Since then, if you go to Amazon and search “Star Trek Books,” about 11,000 titles appear from a ton of different authors (I lost count at 100-something).  Talk about milking it!  Star Trek has a huge fan base from the 70’s, as well as new Trekkies who come aboard all the time.  I have 15-year-old students who saw the most recent Star Wars movie and have been hooked.

#trekkie #fangirling

More recently, however, novel spin-offs happen on a smaller scale, but achieve the same result of “milking it.”  Some of the most famous and current Indie examples are Abbi Glines’ Sea Breeze series, Kristen Proby’s With Me Series, and Olivia Cunnings’ Sinners on Tour and One Night With Sole Regret series.   What we see with most of these is a tertiary character from a novel who becomes the main character of another novel.

sea breeze Collage

While I definitely prefer an unplanned or unexpected spin-off to an unplanned sequel, I definitely think there are some general guidelines that can make or break the effectiveness (and sales) of such a book.

1.  Let it Stand Alone.

If you want your Spin-off series to be successful, then each novel in the series should possess the ability to be read as a stand-alone novel.  Your readers shouldn’t have to stress over which one came first, or have to read that one in order to understand the current one.  This allows you to spend less time covering back story or refreshing our memories.  Creating each novel as a stand-alone helps it feel less like a sequel and more like a new novel.

foreveralone

2.  Let it Be Original

If it feels too much like the same storyline (same conflict, same resolution) as the other books in the series, then it won’t hold the same appeal as the first.  Right now, especially on the Indie Romance scene, it can feel like Groundhog’s Day.  If you’ve read one, you’ve read them all, so to speak.  As a reader, I’m always on the hunt for those gems that stand out just a little bit.  Olivia Cunning hooked me with the bisexual spin in her most recent book in the Sinners on Tour series.  Abbi Glines is not so good at the shockingly different plot, however.  Most of her books seem to follow the same plot recipe, but where she hooks me is with the characterization.  All Most of her virginal/innocent female protagonists are different enough (or have different enough backgrounds) to be interesting.

3.  Let Them Be Bad

One of the best pieces of writing adv

ice I’ve ever received was: “Don’t be afraid to let your characters make very bad choices.”  If ever there was a great spin-off plot, it began with a tertiary character, in his or her own story, made a seriously big mistake.  The master of big mistakes, in my opinion, is A.L. Jackson.  Her characters not only suffer for years from their mistakes, but she spins such a dark tale that we suffer right along with her characters.  While many of her novels are stand alone, they could easily have spin-offs, which I would gladly read.  More to the point, what I’d like to see in a really good Spin-off is the Bad Guy/Girl from another book in the series as a protagonist.  Emily Giffin touched on this a little bit with her Something Blue, but I wouldn’t have really called Darcy an antagonist (although she was annoying as hell).

4.  Leave the Past Behind

In a successful spin off, we don’t need to hear or see the characters from the other books unless they are vital to the current plot.  My students read the Bluford High books a lot (as they are high-interest/low-reading level), and in those we see many of the same characters that carry over, but only when necessary to keep consistency.  If in one book character X is in character Y’s math class, then he/she should be there in the next book as well, unless it’s a new school year.  The same applies to adult fiction.  I don’t want to hear all about Rush and Blair in Abbi Glines’ spin-off of Woods in Twisted Perfection, and so far (I’m halfway in at the moment) I have only heard Rush mentioned once.  Thank you, Abbi!

Obama approves.

5.  If It Ain’t Broke…

There are a bunch of spin-off/adaptations/sequels out there based on Pride and Prejudice.  Unless you have something truly unique (like ZOMBIES) to add to the plot, then leave it alone.  (But you can always add ZOMBIES… because… ZOMBIES!)

 

there’s no such thing as good enough

As a veteran teacher and future principal, one of my favorite mottos is “when you lose heart, quit teaching.” A teacher who doesn’t have the desire to continue growing, learning, and caring for his/her students is the most damaging force in a classroom and a school. It can take years to get it right, but even beyond that, it takes a lifetime of learning and improving right along with the ever-changing student population. In teaching, there’s no such thing as “good enough.”

As with any job, it’s easy to get comfortable. To get into a groove and forget why you even started to begin with. So, in teaching, it’s important to constantly reevaluate and reflect. I can remember vividly my first couple of years and picture the glaring mistakes I made. But I can also remember the things I learned from those mistakes. The moment that a teacher stops learning from those mistakes is the moment that they should leave teaching behind. That’s the moment they can either become hypocritical and disillusioned, or can make the choice to go in a different direction with their lives.

I don’t care if you’ve been teaching for five years or fifteen, if you have just lost your passion for teaching or never had any to begin with… if you don’t care, why should your students?

Broken Boy

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One of my students was arrested today.  It happens a lot when you teach delinquents, so why has this one got me in tears?  This one is broken.  He’s angry and volatile and hurting from the inside out.  Others here may know it, but they see it differently.  They look at him in handcuffs with tears running down his face and say, “Well, good.  That’s what he needs – to be scared straight…” But what I see is this broken child going into a system that doesn’t want to fix him or those like him.  Fixing them is too expensive.  Therapists cost money.  So, instead, they learn from their peers.

What these kids learn in jail is not how to be stronger, but rather how to act stronger.  They learn how to react aggressively to hide their fear, because fear is seen as weakness.  They learn to hate.  They come out even more damaged because now they have a reputation and while their homeboys might pat them on the back for it, society discards them like we would a violent Pit Bull. Like a violent Pit Bull, this boy is violent because he was taught to be.

What boys like him need is rehabilitation.  They need someone to help them learn to pick up the pieces and allow them to be afraid so they can overcome those fears in a healthy way.  This one in particular probably needs treatment as a danger to himself.  All I can do is pray that he gets it in time.

Maybe I’m just too sensitive, acting like a momma hen and treating them like I would my own.  Because, at the end of the day, they aren’t.  There are days I think that if only I could take them home with me for a while and show them that the world is not always cruel, then maybe I could bring them a sense of peace.  And if that peace was allowed to take seed and grow inside them, then maybe we could break the cycle.  But I can’t.  Because I’m just their teacher.

So today, I watched while he struggled against the officer, threw himself against a wall and had to be restrained on the ground. I wanted so badly to shout at them to let me calm him down because I know I could if they’d let me. But I didn’t. Because I can’t.  I am just his teacher.

I watched while they twisted his arm behind his back and led him out of the building.  And, when all I want to do is give him a hug and calm him down, I can’t.  Because he’s shackled in the back of a police cruiser. And I am just his teacher.

I ask the officer to roll the window down, and I watch this broken boy sob, refusing to look at me, and I tell him, crying myself now, that I’m here for him, and just do what you’re told so it doesn’t get worse, and I love him, and it’s all going to be okay, I promise.  But it’s a false promise.  Because I don’t really know if it will.  And I may never know – I don’t even know if I’ll ever see him again.  Because I am just his teacher.

——–

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March 1, 2013 – Update:

The boy in this story was suspended from school for three days and ticketed for the incident that got him arrested.  While suspended, he was arrested again and has been placed in a Juvenile Justice Corrections facility.  Not at all where he needs to be….

His mother is asking that he be detained until she can transfer him to his father’s custody because she “cannot control him any longer.”

teaching integers…and more

Whoa, hold up!  Detour time!  I know this is totally changing the direction here for a minute, but I have to share something for my teacher friends… Do not be scared of the math.  There’s other stuff below it.

Today, with my seventh grader (singular), I’m teaching adding and subtracting integers. And we had the following “conversation.”

Student: “Can I use a calculator?” (Reaches for calculator.)

Me:  “No.” (Sigh.) “No, you may not.”

Student:  (Crestfallen face.)But! (Tweenager whiney/grunting noise.)  Negative numbers are HARD, Miss!”

Me:  “I know, Love, but that’s why we have these!”

And I produce my plastic baggie of Integer Tiles…

photo

Yes, that is a classroom iPad. Commence jealousy in 3, 2, 1….

After the initial introduction to the visual set up of “I have this many negatives and this many positives,” and “what if I have one positive and one negative?” and “some of them cancel out,” and “so what’s left over?” we can usually move on to solving these problems without the tiles.  But let me tell you, they help SO VERY MUCH when you’re introducing a kiddo to negative numbers.  I also use number lines, but the tiles seem to help more with the concept of canceling.  It’s also an allowable accommodation for the state test.

So, after they have the visual representation down, I spend some time going over the problems with them verbally.  For example:

1. -6 + (-6)  becomes “I have 6 negatives AND six MORE negatives. How many negatives do I have?”
2. 12 – 23  becomes “I have 12 positives and 23 negatives.  How many negatives can I cancel out?  How many negatives are left?”  (I teach them to look at the number as a positive or negative based on what sign is in front of it – it helps later when they get to solving for variables in algebra.)

Eventually, they will get to the point where they are reading the questions that way for themselves.  What’s interesting in my district right now is what I’m seeing with our current group of middle school students.  About four years ago, all of our elementary schools switched over to using “new math,” rather than teaching math the “traditional” way.  Which means that they are teaching division and multiplication in a way that I am having trouble comprehending.  It’s a program called Connected Math, and focuses more on investigation of real-life situations that represent the mathematical process being taught.  Which is awesome!  Theoretically…

Since our current 7th graders were in 3rd grade during that shift, they experienced some of the “traditional math” and some of the “new math,” and I’m noticing that they are really struggling with what we are studying in middle school math right now (which means they will struggle in high school, and be in remedial math classes in college, and isn’t that what everyone’s complaining about?! *end rant*).

We also use Connected Math at the middle school level, and every lesson also begins with an Investigation – which is difficult to do with only one student and impossible to do with 15 delinquents, but I’m sure works wonderfully in regular schools (?).  Anyway, the kiddos we have in middle school now are Lost with a capital L, and I can totally understand why.

When you learn {insert any mathematical operation} one year and it’s the old way, then the next year it’s the new way, but mom and dad at home use the old way while my teacher uses (or tries and/or is learning to use) the new way or maybe you moved from another district that doesn’t teach it this way and… Well, it is a Very Confusing Concept to learn.

Do not ask me why they did not begin with Kinder/First grade classes and build up from there when they made The Switch.  Do not ask me why they decided to begin the program in middle school when there was no proof that students got it while they were in elementary.  Do not ask me these questions because I do not want to tell you that I think it’s because this program was The Newest and because If It Is Expensive Then It Must Be Great.  Because it really is a Not Bad system that was Not Well Implemented.  But they didn’t ask me. They never do. Why is that?

don’t worry, Ryan, I don’t get it either….

Sigh.

Anyway… While my kiddo was playing working with Integer Tiles, I looked around my room and realized that it is a HORRIBLE mess, and I thought that I should clean up and make it look presentable for when The Almighty They come and ask me my opinion on the state of the district and What Would I Do differently….

Ha!  HA HA!

So nevermind.

Angry Birds… I mean… angry Moms

One of my students was sent home yesterday because he came to school out of dress code. We have very strict rules about uniforms and such, as we are a disciplinary school. He’d been warned several times in the two weeks he’s been with us, yet refuses to follow the rules. Sending him home was typical practice for our administration.

Now, Angry Mom has gone to the school board demanding that we are discriminating against her son.

I understand her need to advocate for her son, and if someone really was being discriminatory, I would be right there next her. But our school is designed in a way that provides safety and security, which many of our students only feel within the walls of our building. Many of our kids aren’t even safe at home. Kids crave structure, even if they rebel against it. Don’t we all?

I desperately wish Angry Mom would understand that we are not only teaching math, science, history and English… We’re teaching students to be responsible, well-mannered, contributing members of society. We are teaching them to get along with one another, and give and earn respect appropriately. We are there to help, not hurt.

Enabling her son this way is teaching him that a loud, angry voice is the way to try to get what you want…

Her anger isn’t directed at me. But I have the feeling that one misstep could put me in the firing line.

This is what education has become.

In Which Negativity is Like a Tumor

I had my first dose of dealing with a negative co-worker while being in a leadership role yesterday.  I wanted to sit down and write this right after it happened, but the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in my teaching career is to never say (or write) anything while upset.  So I slept on it.

This year, I’ve been put in charge of small group meetings with our middle school pod (about 12 people).  I facilitate the meetings and act as a liaison between my pod and our principal.  One of my pod-mates is a very cynical, pessimistic person when it comes to change, as he’s been teaching for nearly 30 years and is somewhat stuck in his ways.  He resents having to attend our bi-weekly meetings.  He’s a good teacher (usually), and he genuinely cares about his students.  He’s just not good at keeping his comments and complaints to himself.

So, as I was leaving yesterday, he and a group of other staff members (not all part of our pod) were standing near the front door.  As I walked by, he made a comment about our pod meetings being awful.  I stopped, looked him in the eye, and said, “Thanks,” then continued walking out of the building.  A good friend and co-worker happened to be listening too, and I’m sure he got an earful from her after I left.

When I got to work this morning, there was an apology e-mail in my inbox, and he also made the effort to walk by my room and apologize in person this morning.  I accepted his apology, but I still felt that I needed to let my principal know that it happened because it was not just between he and I, but other staff members as well.  My principal, of course, was very supportive and ensured me that I was doing a good job.

This wasn’t the first time Mr. Negative has been brought up to them, and I’m sure it won’t be the last before he retires (which could be very soon).

Was I right to inform the principal?  Did I react appropriately?  I don’t know.  I’m always looking back at these kinds of exchanges and analyzing what was said and what I could have said or done differently… I’m usually a really positive, optimistic person, and I don’t often let these things get to me – especially since I know that’s just his personality.  But it really did this time.

Any advice on dealing with Mr. Negative?

Until next time…

Being Thin: a brief historical Pop Culture analysis

Ok, so something I don’t often do is discuss body image…

And why not, you ask? Well, because I’m a firm believer that if you point to an issue and talk about it loudly for all the world to hear (er… read), then it becomes part of your identity. I do not want to be “that chubby girl who writes that blog.” Because, really, I have pretty good self-esteem – even for someone who has been overweight forever and rides the lose/gain roller coaster often.

I know that most girls who weigh what I weigh have poor body image. But certainly all of us do not. If you were to browse around Pinterest or Tumblur or any social media sites, you will find a wealth of images portraying beautiful women who are not rail thin (check out Girl With Curves or my Pinterest board b-YOU-tiful ). I’m also crushing on The Mindy Project on FOX, because Mindy Karling is gorgeous AND curvy, and her character, while wanting to lose weight, doesn’t let it stop her from being awesome. “Fat” Amy in Pitch Perfect is pretty awesome as well, although I’m not sure I’d call her a good role model for young girls.

In the media, however, we are inundated with images of models who are very thin. That, to me, does not promote a healthy lifestyle. It seems like just the opposite end of the spectrum from obesity.

What about MY body?

Getting closer, but this is an ad for skin firming cream…

Our Bodies: History in the making…

How did we get here? My theory is that we are on a pendulum. In the 1800’s, curves were desired – women wore corsets, bustles, and hoop skirts.

By the 1920’s Depression Era, mass weight loss took us the other way on the pendulum, and clothes had straighter lines, and fewer embellishments. It was finally okay to show legs, too.

When the 1950’s rolled around, women brought back the corset and poofy skirts, creating desired curves. The War was over and it was okay to indulge in fashion again. Which also made Marilyn Monroe an acceptable icon with her “size 14” frame and D-cup bras.

By the 1970’s, Feminism made it okay for women to wear pants and go without the constricting undergarments of our predecessors. It was a come-as-you-are age, and fashion worried more about fads (bell-bottoms and Afros), than shape.

Women in the 1980’s began dressing for the workplace, which was still new. It was almost required that your pant- or skirt-suit was baggy and shapeless. In fact, everything was baggy and shapeless. Except for the Spandex (and I’m not even going there). In some circles, it was even okay to have a big butt – Baby Got Back – 1986.

It’s not until we get to the late 1990’s that we start seeing the super-skinny models and actresses. Jennifer Aniston and Shannon Doherty were the icons of pop TV, and both lost weight to try and fit the “skinny is better” image of their shows. I remember reading about Calista Flockhart’s eating disorder when I was in high school. That, to me, seems like when the downward spiral really began. Actresses and models just got smaller and smaller using any means necessary. It was a trend. A fad. Just like Slap Bracelets and Nike Airs. And, unfortunately, some trends take longer to die out than others.

What really bothers me is the effect this trend is having on young people. My generation grew up thinking that to be popular meant being skinny and that fat was bad. It’s why I was bullied in school. It’s why Jennifer Livingston is still being bullied by strangers. And it needs to stop. We are a culture who puts a lot of stock in appearance. We do judge the book by its cover. We all have prejudices and stereotypes. Tabloids, magazines and E! TV aren’t helping things, either…

Oh, really? That must be why she’s a Weight Watchers spokesperson.

I think most parents want their children to grow up in a better world, but what are we doing to make the world a better place? What are we teaching children by allowing the media to continue the “skinny is better” trend? What does it say about our society that we put shows like Honey Boo Boo on TV so that we can make fun of those people? What happens when it’s your child who’s picked on because he or she happens to be overweight? Are you as fed up as I am?

Amen, Sistah!

I think that to fix the problem, we all need to promote positive body image. Children need to know that it’s okay to be different than their friends. They need their parents and teachers to be the models, not the media. I’m not a size 4, and I’m okay with that. Does it mean I don’t want to lose weight? No – I’m working on that, actually. But I don’t need my students to see or hear me with bad self-esteem because I don’t fit into the “thin trend.” I’m also not going to walk around in a “FAT AND PROUD” T-shirt. What’s wrong with just being okay with being who I am?

Teach your children well. That is all.

Until next time….

******

See Also:
Curvy Boards
curvy girl revolution
Love Yourself Campaign
Love Your Body
Love Your Body – NOW Foundation
10 Fun Ways to Love Your Body

On the loss of a teenager

Friends,
One of the high schools in my district has suffered two major student losses this month. The first, a star senior football player, died unexpectedly in his sleep for unknown reasons (although drug use is suspected). The second, a freshman, took his own life this past weekend.
Prayers or thoughts for those families would be welcome, but more importantly, be sure to tell the people in your life that you love and honor them. Because you just never know…

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