Monday, September 09, 2013

Flying Pigs Edition: The California State Legislature passes a bill with which I wholeheartedly agree!

Ever heard of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA?  This is federal law signed by President Obama last year in the dead of night that gave him authorization to have any American arrested without cause and held indefinitely.  Quite a violation of several Constitutional Amendments and the writ of Habeas Corpus if ever I saw it.

In response to these clearly unconstitutional provisions in the NDAA, I'll be dipped in sh** if the California State Senate passed by a bi-partisan vote of 37-0, and the California State Assembly passed by a bipartisan vote of 71-1, a bill that tells President Obama and the rest of the federal government that the aforementioned provisions of the NDAA will not be allowed to be enforced or executed in the state of California.

The only question now is if our illustrious Governor, "Moonbeam" Jerry Brown, will sign the bill into law.

OK, also, I would like to know who that one member of the Assembly is that voted No.

Was it something they ate? A description of my class from Hell

I had a such a good school year last year.  The overall behavior of my classes was stellar - my worst behaved class was better than many of what I considered well-behaved classes from years past.  We had not yet been hit by the threat of Common Core standards and our school had not yet plunged into becoming an International Baccalaureate (IB)/Middle Years Program (MYP) candidate school - all of which I disagree with my school taking part.

To top it off, I have the Class from Hell this year.  That would be a group of 33 Eighth Graders who descend upon my classroom like a bunch of Greek Harpies for 7th period, right after lunch.  They are especially hard to take because my classes before lunch are quite mellow and eager to learn, or at least eager to let me teach.  Not so with this 7th period class.  They are the worst behaved class I have had in at least 6 years, and possibly the worst I have ever experienced.

The class periods at my school are a scant 41 minutes long, and a couple times now, it has taken up to 15 minutes of dealing with talking, laughing, blurting, and general noise making (much of it of the anonymous kind) before I could even begin to think about trying to teach the day's lesson.  Since the school year began in mid-August, I have suspended five different students from my classroom, and all five have come from that 7th period class.  I have not suspended one student from any of my other five class periods.

A typical challenging class can seem like it is chock-full of troublemakers, but when you sit down with the seating chart, you usually come to find out that it is only 3 or 4 knuckleheads with whom you are dealing; the rest of the 30-or-so students are behaving themselves.  Not this 7th period class.  The other day, I sat down with my seating chart, and came to the conclusion that I have at least 11 hardcore knuckleheads, with another 5 or so sitting on the fence, ready to misbehave if any of the hardcores feel like giving me a hard time.  That is at least one-third, and up to one-half of the class!

There are several reasons that I can think of for why this has happened - some of it specific to this particular class, and some it systemic to my school.

1.  Any secondary grade teacher will know what I am talking about when I say that sometimes, you just get a bad combination of students who are grouped together in a class period.  A class may be made up of individuals, but collectively, those individual students gel into a certain personality that can be one of positivity and productivity, or one of disruption and disrespect.  This 7th period class is of the latter.

2. This class comes in right after lunch.  God only knows what kind of screwed up food these kids just got done eating:  food full of high fructose corn syrup, excito-toxins like monosodium glutamate (MSG), food coloring, preservatives, caffeine, and whatever else, I can only guess.  They have filled up on the crap that they eat, and then they come to my class hopelessly hyped up.

3.  Many students at my school have figured out that we teachers really can't do all that much to them in the way of consequences.  One of the students from my 7th period class that I kicked out the other day, yelled out twice as he sauntered out my classroom door that he was going to get me fired.  This came a day after he threatened another teacher who kicked him out that the teacher better not call home.  Has anything happened to this student beyond the classroom suspensions meted out to him by the other teacher and me?  Nope.  Our administration does everything it can not to suspend students from school in an effort to keep our suspension stats lower; especially when it comes to our black students, and yes, this student full of threats is black.  And this hesitation to suspend black students is not just conjecture on my part.  At our big staff meeting the day before our first day with students, one of the agenda item over which there was much hand wringing was the disproportionate suspension rate of our black students.

4. Lack of support or outright hostility from the adults at home.  I have called home on every student I have suspended from my classroom, along with a couple other disruptive students who have come thisclose on several occasions to being kicked out.  The grandmother of the student who threatened me acknowledged that she doesn't know what else to do with him, however that didn't stop her from telling me that talking back "runs in the family," and that, "he really is a good boy."  Additionally, the grandma told me that one of our vice principals was "out to get" her grandson near the end of last school year.  Uh, no, actually.  I looked up the referral logs on this kid from last school year, and he was a holy terror last year, too.  But this sense of victimization runs rampant among the parents (or legal guardians) of these students.  Another student who I just suspended from class today, and for a second time overall, has no phone number that works, so I have yet to be able to talk to a parent.

Meanwhile, there are 20 or so well-behaved students in that class who every day sit in silent agony as I am forced to deal with their belligerent classmates who appear to have every intention of disrupting my attempts to teach, and the students' attempts to learn.  It is these poor students for whom my heart breaks.  

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Is it too much to ask to know a country from a continent?

I teach World and U.S. History to 7th and 8th graders.  During the first couple of weeks of school, I hit them pretty hard on reviewing basic geography... for good reason.

It seems that every year, the students I receive - who were in 6th and 7th grade last school year - know less and less of what they should be expected to know by the time they reach these grade levels.

I mean seriously, how difficult is it to memorize the names and locations of 7 continents and 5 oceans?  And yet, by and large, my students haven't.  You can say that they are young yet, and shouldn't be expected to know this, and that is what I am there for... but you would be wrong.  They should know this basic information by the time they have reached middle school - and don't get me wrong; many have learned it.  But not nearly enough.

For example, last Friday, I put a two-part Bellwork question up on the whiteboard for the students to complete upon entering the classroom:

A. What are the three largest countries on earth in land size?
B. What are the three largest countries on earth in population?

I chose students randomly to see what their answers were; I did not choose volunteers with their hands raised.  I only wish I had a dollar for every time a student answered with Africa, Asia, South America, and North America.

As you can see, they don't even know the difference between a country and a continent.  I would even take a timeout and go over with them - multiple times - the names and locations of the continents and discuss the difference between a continent and a country, and when I asked for more answers to the Bellwork question, it was as if they hadn't listened to a word I said, as their guesses were again Africa and North America.

Kids used to just automatically know this stuff, but nowadays, it is almost as if ignorance is not only a sought condition, but an exalted one.

Remember, I am responsible for their state test scores!

By the way, the answer to A. is Russia, Canada, and the United States.  The answer to B. is China, India, and the United States.