Wednesday, April 30, 2008

get that out of my face

Three days of state testing. This time, science. I'm proctoring in the LGI (that's Large Group Instrucution / Institution). Fifty two kids. Yesterday, during the first test, one of the students used his test book to draw an extremely large image of female genitalia.

Then, he was all work, all business; like he needed to draw a really big vagina before he could settle down to the task of testing.

But he was too on task; taking too much time on a set of test questions that should've only taken him minutes to complete. He's that smart. Probably could be #1 in his class; worst case, with minimal effort, #4. He's that smart.

Testing is a joke for him; a big political cluster-fudge developed by morons, distributed by fools, and proctored by mental midgets.

So there was little to no surprise that the forty minutes of "on-task" writing turned out to be less-than scientific.

Oh, the vagina stories! Labia haikus. Uterus-inspired sonnets. Reports from the vulva. And every poem, every story, dealt with some form of visitation, from guests alive to guests plastic.

Needless to say, he refused to take the second test today. I doubt he would spend as much time crafting such vibrant, detailed prose about male anatomy.

I will miss you, vagina-drawing boy, but in truth, that sentiment is as sincere as your approach to every facet of school.

In the meantime, I'll think about the other fifty one students. They deserve as much attention, as much support, and as much positivism that I've seen heaped upon you over the years from every one in this building.

There's only so many times you can shove a vagina in our faces.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

from noble to professional

Sometimes, I feel that Dan Meyer, a coast away, is hovering around my building. And then, with Legolas accuracy, he delivers an opinion that seems to confirm my aforementioned assertion about his omnipresence:
I aim at professional work in a job which doesn't demand professionalism. Daily, I leap at and sometimes clear a bar which exists only in my head, in the work ethic I have self-imposed, a bar which in reality hovers shin high. Can I tell you: the friction between what my job asks of me and what I ask of myself is spectacular.
A great many conversations over the past few days have dealt with curriculum development, professional responsibility, and inevitably, ego. Off the charts, running amok ego.

Nothing brings out the notion of 'surreptitious autonomy' than an administration promoting a standards-based, aligned curriculum upon its staff.

I like Dan's innate and explicit belief that teachers should push themselves into a 'professional' realm of instruction that mirrors the rest of the working world.

Additionally, I surely don't have a problem recognizing that this job...

1. Is a profession; and therefore, we should honor the notion of 'professionalism', not 'nobility'.
2. Makes us employees, governed by employers, and they can demand quality work, conduct, etc...

I think too many of us forget the second point.

Sure, you can close your classroom door, but you're still bound by a professional hierarchy.

Friday, April 18, 2008

don't hire Chinua Achebe, hire Ewan

Ewan is indelibly linked to dog shit. Try as he might, he can not distance himself from a pile of dog feces. Times are tough for Ewan, but he isn't aware of his current plight.

But his father is. You see, his father took a moment the other night on the family computer to check up on his son.

Ewan's dad checked the history in the web browser.
All clear.

Ewan's dad took a peek at his son's Facebook.
Good to go.

Ewan's dad searched his son's name in Google.
Holy dog shit!

Turns out, the second link contained the following snippet:
Ewan points to the notion that art for art's sake is just another piece of deodorized dog shit.
Perturbed, Ewan's dad clicked the link, but finds himself staring at a new screen with a message that the site he is trying to access is private.

Ewan's father is furiously curious and curiously furious, and summons Ewan before him. Ewan explains that the private site is his English class wiki.
"Why are you using your full name?"

"I'm not. My teacher told us not to. My username is UinEnglish."

"Well, you clearly used your name in the wiki. I mean, that's how I found this."

"Dad, that doesn't make sense. Our teacher told us the site is private."

"Then tell me how I can search your name in Google and find this? What if someone else searched you in Google? What would they think if they saw your name and a sentence you wrote that claimed art is dog shit?"
The next day, Ewan's father contacts the English teacher. Sounding eerily similar to Will Richarson, Ewan's dad wants to know:
...what are you doing to help students shape their online portfolios so that when their future employers or future mates run the search, what they find is not just a lack of negatives but a potential plethora of positives?
The conversation is professional and calm. Resolutions and modifications begin to take shape.

Resolution / Modification #1 - Private isn't so private after all
The English class wiki is private, but it turns out that the content in the site isn't private/invisible to Google. And Ewan did use his full name when he added content to the Chinua Achebe Quote Analysis page. From now on, Ewan will continue to use his 'really clever' username whenever he posts to the wiki.

Resolution / Modification #2 - Be your own best editor

Ewan didn't say that art for art's sake is purified dog shit. Chinua Achebe did, but Ewan forget to add some really important punctuation; punctuation that would have illustrated that he was quoting Achebe.

Resolution / Modification #3 - Don't trust a snippet
The search results that came back from Google don't tell the whole picture. Even though Ewan forgot some much-needed punctuation, his next sentence stated:
When Chinua Achebe described art for art's sake as nothing more than waste, he de-values the same type of free expression that afforded him the opportunity to craft his writings.
Surely, no one, Ewan's father or a potential employer, would have an issue if more context had been visible.

Resolution / Modification #4 - Don't hire Chinua Achebe

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


In the dark ages of the early 1990's, I attended the University of Hartford. Sometimes, I participated in "leadership conferences" (read: willing to wake up on a Saturday sans hangover). Here's a letter I wrote to my future self while "learning to lead":

Dear Future Ken (If you still go by the identifier 'Ken', as I presume life in the 21st Century will become wholly digitized. If so, please use the following greeting - Dear 10-0110-Kappa),

I know you're going to be disappointed when you receive this self-crafted note from your younger self. The use of hand-written notations will tear at your binary spirit. Looking upon lined paper will remind you of deforestation (remember trees?). But most disheartening is that when you read this, you will have dreadfully fulfilled your younger self's self-fulfilling prophecy:

You are a teacher.

Go ahead, look around the room you're currently sitting in (yep, I know you'll be seated, too). Eerie, isn't it? The pin-point acumen I have in mapping out the space between this letter's creation and your reading of it. And to think that folks say that young people "don't have a clue".

Now, putting aside your paltry salary (And I bet you'll be paying for health care as well. Even teacher's unions will prove powerless against a majority of taxpayers ponying up the bulk of their own coverage.), I'd like to throw you a compliment (cherish this, because you'll learn that they're few and far between in a teacher's career):

You're a good teacher.

Not Teacher of the Year good. Not likely to appear on Oprah good. But good. Quietly doing right for your students. Carefully taking more time to think about instruction and relationships than on handouts and assessment.

And don't listen to everyone who wants to wave the tattered flag of assessment in your face. There's not a number in the world that ever accurately conveyed the worth of a child. You and me, we're evidence to that.

You've been teaching now for 15 years. It's 2008. Do you live underground or above the Troposphere? Whatever you do, stay out of the Mesosphere (can you say, 'burn, baby, burn'?). What are some of the new inventions? What are students like? Don't bother trying to write me back, I'm just using this space to kill some time. The presenter tells us we're supposed to write for 20 minutes.

Dad has a portable phone. I imagine that they'll keep gaining ground. I mean, people love things that are portable. I have my Walkman with me right now. Odds are, your students will love music just as much as you did/do (Wow! It can be confusing writing to your future self.).

My friend Mike (you guys still friends?) has an Apple computer. Beats the crap out of my Toshiba Word Processor (graduation gift? My high school graduation gift?? Good grief, please tell me that you're still pissed off about this one!). Sometimes, I just sit at his desk and type and type and type and then I print everything. Nothing beats a dot-matrix printer.

I have a feeling that you'll have a computer. And I'm certain your school will have a bunch. I mean, we did have a computer class at Abington (remember making your name appear all over the screen?). Maybe they'll be in classrooms. Say goodbye to bookshelves.

Are you thinking, what's a 'book'? Haven't seen one in years. Are people reading anything? Or is everyone watching television? Have you been on The Real World? Or better yet, who hasn't?

I'm watching a lot of television these days, and I'm averaging 1.2 movies per week. You better be a good teacher, because you're already up against a massive army of mixed media. Maybe when you read this, classes will no longer be 47 minutes. Maybe they'll be 2 minutes at a time, 23 times a day. Jump cut. Fade in. Fade out. That's what the future of education is all about.

Finally, future self, I want to impart a couple things about teaching that have stuck with me. I think the current student in me has experienced enough instructional practices to make some informed recommendations.

I'm super-gluing the following to my conscious just for you:
  1. Say 'hi' to every student in your classes...every day. Then, ask each student a question. Questions don't have to be about course content. Kids love to talk about themselves. Heck, I'm 22 and I love to talk about myself (oh, and write to about ego). Ask 'em something like, what's your favorite hot food served cold?
  2. Do more than teach. Don't 'honor thy contract'. Instead, 'honor thy students'. They need more than a teacher; they need a presence.
  3. If you're going to narrow down your course to 'what's important', then tether yourself to 'theme', 'symbolism', and 'allegory'. Students bring plenty of these three from their own lives. Use your content to explore the myriad of experiences embedded in their Schemas.
  4. Stay current. Already, I get made fun of for referencing The Dark Crystal, so imagine using that one on 21st Century adolescents. Can you say 'Gelfling meat'?
  5. It's okay to make kids run hills, literally and figuratively. It's not a punishment; it's exercise. It's conditioning. It's life. Uphill. Up hills.
If you're anything like me, you'll figure all of this out for yourself long before you read this. If any of the aforementioned kernels is out-of-the-box new, then you've probably out-stayed your welcome. You're due for a change.

But I think that would be a shame. I can't see you doing anything else...except having children; lots and lots of children.

Just is expensive, and it's only going to get pricier.

Hugs and kisses,


Monday, April 7, 2008

momentarily 21 again

Talked briefly with my friend on Saturday about possibly going out to watch the Final Four basketball games.

Today, I had a quick IM exchange to let him know that we really didn't miss much.

turns out those games were "less than exciting" anyhow.
yep. and i had a pretty good fever
if it makes u feel any better, I was up until 2 AM!
so it was just like a night out for me.
surrounded by ladies,
dim lights,
HD TVs (okay, one),
bottles full of drinks,
lots of undergarments,
moments of brief nudity,
oh...and I went to bed by myself.

Friday, April 4, 2008

you run the place, smarty-pants

Congratulations, you're now in charge.
Of what?
Of this most majestic bastion of learning.
Did I just lose some vote or something?
What? Are you kidding me? This is a great place. I mean, look, there are brand new interactive white boards waiting to be installed in classrooms. How many schools would kill maim destroy beg to get their eager, educating hands on them?
Six? Seven?
Tons! Hundreds! Thousands! And you have all of these. So go, get a-runnin' and put these puppies in play.
I'm gonna need a screwdriver. Possibly a drill of some kind.
Whoa! Hold on there, Mr. Tool Belt. Don't you think you should train the would-be users before you install them?
I'm in charge, right?
Sure, you're in charge.
Then hang those boards up, pronto! Install then educate! 'I' before 'E', that's what they say, right?
You might anger some of your teachers. Those boards, quite literally, will eliminate their instructional space.
They'll just have to deal. Adapt. Assimilate.
Well, you run the place, smarty-pants (weeps softly, crafts letter of resignation).

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

what if you can't stop?

Damian lives up Route 611. Not far from me at all.

Damian blogs over at apace of change. His post about behavior is not far from me at all.

Damian curses a lot, but he's working on curbing that behavior.

According to Damian:

Generally speaking, human behavior can be boiled down to attempts to serve one of four major functions:

  1. It feels good (self-stimulation)
  2. It gets us out of having to do something difficult or unpleasant (task escape/avoidance)
  3. It gets (or keeps) us attention (um… pretty self-explanatory, I think)
  4. It reduces pain or stress (yeah, this one too)
I don't disagree, but as I commented on his post:

What if you’re a compulsive hair puller? You suffer from Trichotillomania? What then?

Most likely, it satisfies #1, arises b/c of #s 4 & 2, and gets the wrong kind of attention from #3.

But what if you do the behavior b/c of some event 14 years ago? What if you still haven’t found a way to address that event?

Isn’t it possible that cursing could be a better alternative?

Because what if you began noticing your 1 1/2 year old twirling his hair? What if you noticed your 1 1/2 year old pulling threads from blankets and coats and eating them?

Would you curse your way through this one?

Or would you cry and feel like you’ve already screwed up your kid?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

'ownership' is a literal term

Do your students take ownership over content? Can they problem solve?

Here's the best lesson idea I've seen in quite some time.

Talk about problem-solving!

Talk about integrating technology in meaningful ways!

Talk about collaboration and social-networking!

Talk about:
what can happen when a tech-savvy victim gets tired of waiting for help!
This is the story of Jesse McPherson:
burglars...ripped McPherson's flat-screen TV off the wall and nabbed his Xbox 360 and Apple PowerBook.
Jesse McPherson takes ownership over his content:
...McPherson began his own sleuthing. He did a Google search of neighborhood pawn shops, visited the closest one and learned that someone had come in right after the burglary, attempting to sell McPherson's computer.
Jesse receives some corporate love:
Comcast gave McPherson a nex Xbox. He accessed its internet connection. A man purporting himself to be the thief demanded that McPherson buy his own Xbox back.
Jesse works to solve his problem.
McPherson had reached out to police with what clues he could gather. He...obtained a digital photo of the guy with his laptop from the pawn shop's surveillance system...

...he posted his tale of woe, along with the digital photo and one of the Xbox voice messages, on a blog post that he submitted to
The power of social-networking takes over:
Within hours, the post sparked reaction from people around the world, who formed their own investigatory team to solve McPherson's case.

Using the Xbox profile of the person who had contacted McPherson...they then used an array of technologies to uncover much more info about the guy.

Photobucket. YouTube.

...McPherson's supporters flooded the kid's online accounts...demanding the return of McPherson's stuff.

One avenger, from England, even posted a recording on YouTube of a phone call he had with the kid's furious mom...

...a reporter from New Zealand, gave McPherson's story major headline treatment.
In the end, McPherson and his merry mob prompted the return of his belongings (except the TV).

The story has a fairytale ending for Jesse, and a rock-solid example of collaboration in action for anyone who loves phrases like 'collaboration in action' and 'ownership over content'.

But here's the point:

Trying to increase student ownership over content is an admirable, albeit cute endeavor, but at the end of the day, the student better have a receipt.