Saturday, June 25, 2011

A forceful anti-HOA argument

One of the best arguments I have heard against HOAs. Not talking about Neighborhood Associations here, just HOAs:

...HOA assessments are "forward looking". The homeowner did not incur debt, the HOA corporation incurred it. The homeowner has little control over the debt that the HOA racks up. The HOA seeks to pay for its debt by assessing the homeowners. There is no "principal balance" or term. As long as the HOA exists, it will continue to run up expenses. The HOA assessments are perpetual. Homeowners are burdened by a lien securing payment of future HOA assessments which last into perpetuity. There is no sum certain that the homeowner can pay to terminate the lien even though the debt has yet to be incurred. HOA assessments are more akin to illicit taxes by a corporation that has not been delegated governmental taxation authority.

A note on a house (or anything else) can eventually be paid off. HOA assessments are ever-increasing and never ending. HOA assessments are never "done"...

It's from this post in this thread.

Friday, June 17, 2011

RISD: wrap-up

I have one more piece to write about the alternative certification
situation but will let that age until later this year.

For practical purposes this is the last post in the RISD series.

-= to RISD =-

Please ensure there are enough desks and books for the students. Pencil
sharpeners are mandatory, not optional.

RISD is (in both reality and reputation) a good district. If you do
not get a handle on thug behavior the reputation and reality will
suffer. It's chiefly a cultural issue: kids who have no exposure to
academic culture will wreck the academic environment critical to
top-notch learning. You cannot afford to tolerate serial misbehavior.
Publish high expectations for student behavior and ENFORCE it with vigor.

Principals: please walk your hallways. Schools with "wandering groups
of thugs" problems can be vastly improved by having principals walk the
hallways and deal with wandering/roving kids. Berkner: if you need
help with this talk to LHHS. The new P there is kicking butt and taking
names. Wandering and hallway disruption is greatly reduced.

-= to the teachers =-
Thank you for your kindness and professionalism toward me. I appreciate
the opportunity to work with your kids on days you were away. Thank you
for your words of encouragement.

-= to support staff =-
Custodial staffs: you rock. Keep up the good work. Especially you,
Carlton. If everyone was like you the world would be a friendlier,
gentler, and better-run place.

Inclusion assistants: please stay in the classroom when you see there
is a sub. I can count on ONE HAND the number of times an inclusion asst
stayed with the kids instead fading away with of "oh.... you're a sub.
I have... uhhh... a meeting. Yeah, a meeting" or similar. You are
needed most when sub is there. Please stay and help. To those that
stayed: thank you.

-= to the entire staff at Christa McAuliffe LC =-
I don't know how you do it day after day. If I were a praying man I
would include you in my prayers every day. It is a shame the rest of
the community is unaware of the work that goes on there, the constant
and compassionate effort to provide structure for at least one aspect of
troubled young lives.

-= to the students =-
Thank you for being creative, funny, and brave. Thank you for asking
insightful questions for disassembling the answers.

Worth singling out: The Pre-AP class English class (at Westwood?)
parsing A Christmas Carol was one of the most fearless and thoughtful
student discussions I have ever witnessed. You rock.
Runner-up: Law club students at RHS. I look forward to your running
the world.
Classes like this restore my faith in humanity.

To AP students: thank you for your work ethic and civility. Having an
AP class somewhere in the day's schedule was like being handed a
delicious blue raspberry Slurpee on a hot summer afternoon. How does it
feel to the best part of another person's day? :-)

-= to the parents and community =-
Remember to talk to your kiddo about how school is going: fears,
successes, failures, joys. Friends. Crushes. Talk to the teacher. If
your kid's educational success is being hindered in any way then do
whatever it takes to remove the obstacle. There's nothing more important.

written offline and synced later

quick and dirty

I am aware that my recent posts are rougher than usual: typos,
fragments, etc. This email-to-blog mechanism and the time of day I'm
doing it means I'm trading off quality for timeliness. Hopefully some
of it's worth reading.

Also the timestamp on the emailed blog entries is wrong, some
combination of the timeshifted nature of my offline email and timezone
on my laptop. Or something.

submitted by email

Thursday, June 16, 2011

RISD: how to get good results from a sub

This quick/dirty post is intended to be a tickler rather than a specific
set of requests. I'm shooting for "Oh, that's a good idea. I hadn't
thought of that."

I think of subbing like a relay race: teacher hands the baton off to
the sub. Sub runs around the track and hands the baton back to the
teacher. No drops, no drama, just the best possible education for the
students no matter who's in the classroom that day.

Here we go. I'd polish/extend/rewrite this and make and actual
checklist or template if I were still in the subbing game. I'm not so
perhaps someone else can take it as a jumping-off point.

-= checklist for the particular assignment =-

Ask before placing an assignment; some subs work in more than one district.

Put in the job if you say you want that date. Your sub has no way to
hold that date open for you, and Subfinder will keep calling to fill
that date with "you WILL substitute ... ". This can go wrong in many
ways. Defuse all the disastrous scenarios by posting the assignment as
soon as you can practically do so.

Please make any copies necessary beforehand. If the copies were handed
out previously, assume a certain percentage of absences then or losses
since then. If the sub does need to make copies please provide the
copier code.

Reschedule any parent/teacher or contractor meetings.

Accurate, recent attendance sheet visible somewhere. If kids go by
names other than that on the role, please indicate.

If you have a seating chart, please look over it to check that it is
passably accurate.

-= general checklist for all assignments =-
Most of these can be done in advance by making a sub lesson template
that includes stuff that doesn't change.

Important phone, numbers, schedules, duties, room numbers. When
mentioning other teachers please include first and last name (room /
telephone number would be gravy). "See John if you need help" can be
cryptic if first names are not given on door placards.

Let the sub know where things are: pencil sharpener, loaner
pens/pencils, nearest bathrooms, copy room, lounge.

I encourage teachers to provide a lesson that is likely to take the
entire class period. A test is perfect because all students are
engaged on a graded, solo activity with generally-understood rules.

Consider making any assignments due at the end of class. "Turn it in in
tomorrow" (or, worse, when the teacher gets back) is immediately
translated by problem students as "nothing to do; goof off".

If there are special needs students please give the sub a heads up:
Billy is allowed to use the bathroom at any time and for any reason.
Todd goes to reading pullout on Tuesdays. Julie takes her tests in
another room. Freddy has Tourette's which manifests thusly...

If your students are allowed some exception to school policy please tell
your sub. "Kids are allowed to listen to iPods after they turn in their
test, " or similar.

If kids are allowed to eat lunch in your room (particularly kids who are
not your students) please let the sub know. Otherwise the sub may leave
the room during lunchtime and kids will be unsupervised, or may lock the
door leaving students in a lurch and wasting their lunch time. Advise
where they are to throw away their lunch garbage (preferably not in the
class trashcan, for the sake of kids in later classes).

"teacher lets us" . If there are things you allow the students to do
(get things out of your desk, use the classroom phone, go to the
bathroom without a pass) please say so.

Duty: please indicate what is to be done on any assigned duty periods
and where it is to be performed. If there is no duty in an off
periods but the sub must vacate for a traveling teacher, please give

Classroom phone charged, functional, and available to the sub.

If you lock your desk (which is fine) please make sure the sub will not
need anything that is inside the desk: paperclips, staples for the
[empty] stapler, classroom phone (!), remote controls (!), audio
controls (!). I have seen this go wrong in many ways.

Ensure emergency materials are in place: green/red placards with room
number, etc. I have been in three lockdowns; in 2/3rds of the rooms
the emergency information was not visible. I ended up making green
placards out of materials found in the room.

Testdrive any A/V equipment before you leave, particularly if 1st period
is expected to use it. There will be no room for error.

written offline and synced later

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

RISD: how to be a good sub [in progress]

[to be corrected and updated as I think of stuff]

These are my own peculiar opinions and, as always, Your Mileage May Vary. I do not claim any special insight or talent but most of my sub assignments were scheduled ahead of time by referral and by teachers who had used my services before. This may or may not be indicative of some success at the job.

Getting the job

Calendar management is critical for subs. Similar to contract workers, we have to both work and find the next day of work. Both paper calendars and electronic calendars are fine, but you must always have it with you. Teachers will stop you in the parking lot, hallway, lounge, etc and ask if you have such-and-such date open. These are your customers. Your ability to know your availability right then and there is crucial to collecting jobs.

I did my calendar in Google Calendar, and cut/pasted straight from Subfinder into the calendar entry.

If you have a choice, Subfinder online is preferable to Subfinder by phone. You can see multiple entries and it offers you the jobs instead of slamming it into your schedule with "you will substitute for..." and forcing you to cancel something you can't (or won't) take. This is particularly important for folks that sub in more than one district.

A note about "save the dates". Subfinder has no way for a sub to hold a date open for a teacher who has not put in an assignment. If a teacher does not put in the assignment soon, one of several things things can happen, and most of them are Bad:
  1. Subfinder will continue to call for that slot and say "you will substitute for..." and fill the slot. Teacher is unhappy with sub for not saving the date.
  2. Sub marks date unavailable in an (unsuccessful) attempt to hold it open for teacher. Teacher cannot enter assignment for that date since it is unavailable. Teacher is unhappy with sub.
  3. Sub either remembers the date or marks in the calendar as a "possible"; declines further assignments for that date. This can go right in exactly one way and wrong in so many ways; I won't go into them here.
  4. Sub doesn't remember it's a possible and takes another assignment. Teacher is unhappy with sub weeks later when s/he finally tries to put in the assignment. Note: this usually happens immediately before the assignment. Like the day before.
  5. Teacher decides s/he doesn't need the assignment but doesn't tell the sub, who keeps declining assignments for that day. Sub is unhappy and/or doesn't get work (and doesn't get paid) for that day.
Having an oral agreement about an unposted assignment is a Bad Idea. Get the assignment in. I found best results by saying something like: "I do have that day open now. Please put the assignment in as soon as you can; Subfinder doesn't have a way to let subs hold any particular date open." It's true, and it's important. Interestingly, it does allow teachers to offer a job to a sub ("you have been requested for...") on a particular date. The converse would be useful.

If you are getting a day off or working in another ISD, mark that day unavailable in Subfinder ASAP. This will prevent you from overbooking. If you think you have the day off, check Subfinder first to make sure you really do...

Preparing for the job

Know where each school school is. If I had not been to a school before I visited the location the previous night.

Know when the school opens. Do not believe the hours given in Subfinder.
There is at least one school (Westwood, IIRC) that the wrong time for assignments. Reporting at that wrong time would mean kids would be in a classroom with no teacher... I reported this oversight in 2009. No, they didn't change it or at least not by the time I turned in my badge.

Check the job in Subfinder the night before. Sometimes weird things happen in Subfinder and you won't know unless you look at it.

Have your sub gear.
  1. Your badge. I taped my Subfinder and Oracle ID numbers on the back since many sign-ins require both.
  2. Your calendar
  3. Pencil, pencil, notebook for you to use.
  4. A pencil sharpener. The pencil sharpener situation in RISD is dreadful. You simply cannot count on there being a functional sharpener in the classroom. It's ridiculous.
  5. Pencils and pens for students to borrow, if you are so inclined. Be aware you will not get most of them back, at least not in usable condition. I picked up pens/pencils I found in the hallway and used those as loaners.
  6. a water bottle. You will often be unable to get to a fountain.
  7. lunch, preferably one that needs no preparation or utensils as you cannot count on there being anything available. A sandwich in an insulated bag is nearly perfect.
  8. your phone, on vibrate. Teachers will call you directly for assignments.
  9. business cards with your phone and email on it. These can be very cheap, and are easy to hand to a teacher who wants you for a job. You can put your Subfinder ID on it.
  10. headache medicine of choice :-)
  11. clipboard (optional but useful). Holds all the various sheets of paper together. Also, tape front office and SRO phone numbers on the back as you will need them and they will probably not be posted anywhere.
  12. timer - I've used standalones and an app on my phone. Really useful. Students will accept the timer's notification that time is up.
  13. I carry earplugs because the fire drills at JJP are so frequent and the alarms so painfully, ear-distortingly loud. It's terrible. Kids are walking around with their hands over their ears. Having earplugs allows me to keep hands free and completely focused on student safety instead of OH MY GOD MY EARS ARE DYING. I have walked on the tarmac behind an idling 747 in the Middle East before, all engines spun up before takeoff, and it wasn't as loud as JJP fire alarms. You can hear them driving by on Coit with your windows rolled up. I swear alarms that loud have got to be an OSHA workplace violation.

Doing the job
Show up as early as you can, as soon as the doors open. This will allow you to find the classroom, find someone to unlock the door (you usually won't have a key), and look over the assignment.

When you get to the classroom there are several things to do. Most require time and are easier without students underfoot so this is another reason to arrive early.
  1. Find the lesson plan. This is job one upon arrival. Get your paws on the lesson plan. Usually it is on top of a stack of paper on the teacher's desk but might be in a Sub Folder if a school uses that procedure. It might be face down, under things, or in unusual format. Worst case scenario: there isn't one. Start talking to nearby teachers; maybe they have it or know something about it. Pray the teacher makes a flyby right before class starts with the lesson plan. 2nd-worst case scenario: lesson plan exists, but is a line or two scrawled on yellow legal pad paper and says something like "the kids know what they should be doing." (both of these situations are Giant Red Flags and in my experience happen more often in coachs' classrooms for some reason).
  2. Look over the lesson plan. Read it all the way through. How many different classes are there with different plans? What are they working on and when is it due?
  3. Post info on the board: including your name (they will ask), the date (they will ask), and maybe even what time the period ends (they will ask), the assignments/activities (they will ask) and when they are due (they will ask). Having this info on the board acts as a prompt when you tell the class what is going to happen. Some will also refer back to the board later if they forget.
  4. Find the emergency information about evacuations, green/red sheets, etc. I have been in two lockdowns in RISD and in both cases the mandatory green/red sheets and other emergency info were not visible in the classroom. I improvised both and left this info for the teacher.
  5. Find the phone and see if it works and is charged. Put it on the charger.
  6. Find any A/V gear you need, including the remote and test it. You will likely have to figure out various input/output switches, remotes, and other stuff. Queue the media you need. Trying to figure out how to start a film while a class erupts in chaos is a special kind of hell; better to get it figured out before 1st period.
  7. Look at the boards, walls, and doors for additional information the teacher may have left. Classroom-specific rules are often posted.
  8. Find the stapler, pencil sharpener, paper clips, hole punch, extra notebook paper, etc. The kids will ask you where these things are even though they are in the classroom each day and this is your first time there.
  9. Make sure you have attendance sheets. If they are not present (check the sub folder, too) you will have to get them from an admin person in the front office. Another reason to be early.
  10. If you have time, do the assignment before the kids get there. This helps spot errors, problems, confusing terms, etc, before the kids see it. It will help you help the kids. It actually does many other subtle and useful things but I will leave this for the sub to figure out. Try it. I think this is the most important non-classroom-management thing I did. It's a point of distinction between teaching and babysitting.

Classroom Management

This is actually the most important thing. Teaching kids can be like herding cats on the best of days. Throw in a few thugs or several unfocused kids and it can get messy in a hurry. I have had many, many teachers tell me subbing was the worst job they ever had and would never, ever do it again.

Here is my general approach to classroom management:
  1. Try to be mindful that most kids are doing ok and it's 10% of the kids that disrupt and take 90% of your attention on bad days.
  2. Make it clear the idea is for the class to follow the teacher's lesson plan; the sub and the classroom will work together to make it happen.
  3. Interact with students based on the behavior they present. Leave expectations and biases (including expecations based on past experience with the student) at the door.
  4. Respect the students. Show respect and concern and most will reciprocate.
  5. Be tough but fair. Have high expectations together with compassion and flexibility.
  6. Use "proximity" in subtle-to-less-subtle ways
  7. Identify disruptive students as soon as possible and learn their names. This overlaps a good bit with with the thug problem I've been discussing, but thugs are only the most disruptive in a set of disruptive students.

Pre-emptive strike
The disruptive kids will usually out themselves even before class starts. Knowing their names is the only real leverage you have with the wildest kids because they think there may be repercussions. The hardest cases don't even mind the possibility of getting in trouble. But here's a field guide to spotting disruptive kids.
  • Running in the room before class
  • pushing, hitting, or tripping kids before class
  • yelling in the hallway or classroom. Not talking about normal "kids are loud and laughing in the hallway stuff", I mean yelling at the top of the lungs, yelling at people in different parts of the school or other end of the hallway.
  • being ecstatic that there is a sub. Running up and down the hallway telling everyone "we got a sub! we got a sub!"
  • having no school materials at all. No pencil, nothing.
  • being tardy, particularly tardy in a group that comes in together
  • You may find fashion choices that correlate closely with disruptive behavior but I will leave those as an exercise for the sub. Fashion changes so swiftly that anything I say here might be outdated from semester to semester.
What to do with this information
The trick is to A) remember who is who, and B) figure out their names.

The process I finally ended up with is writing a short clothes-based description down on the attendance and pairing it up with the students name as I figured it out. So a kid with wild behaviors wearing Rangers shirt and shorts might get an entry like this:
Rngrs/shorts -
which would later be expanded to something like
Rngrs/shorts - Charles
and erased off the attendance later before turning it in.

Some methods for learning the student's name:
  • their friends will use it, usually loudly. Sometimes in an unwittingly useful manner like "Ooooh Charles, you always late to class!" as Charles comes through the door late.
  • written on their folder, in the unlikely event they brought one

  • written on their clothes, necklaces, bracelets, shoes
  • written on their ID, in the unlikely event they have one on and it is arranged so you can see it when passing
  • written on their assignment, in the unlikely event they write their name on it
  • written on their folder, in the unlikely even they brought one
  • written on seating chart, in the unlikely event 1) it is correct; and 2) the disruptive student is sitting where they are supposed to. Disruptive students are the main reason for implementation of a seating chart, and they are by nature the most likely to violate the seating arrangement if the teacher isn't there to enforce it. The well-behaved kids will keep their assigned seat no matter what; they are, after all, well-behaved. Sometimes you can look for the missing kid in the chart and pair that up with the seat of someone who is absent or where a seat is not indicated to have student there

Using the student's name in an offhand, natural manner during guidance/correction results in stares of disbelief from the kid and about a 50% chance of reduction in disruption. Often they will ask "how you know my name?".

The teacher lets us
Students commonly report that "the teacher lets us" do some particular thing which either 1) sounds unlikely; or 2) is expressly against school policy.

Sometimes you can tell you're getting played by a conniver. Other times you can tell the teacher really does make some kind of exception (e.g. ipods after turning in test on Fridays).

My approach to this matter is twofold: deny the request as it is against school policy and the teacher has left no guidance to make an exception) and indicate to the kids you are sympathetic to their legitimate loss, if any.

So I say something like this: "I understand you are usually allowed to [do whatever activity in question]. Because your regular teacher is not here I will make a judgement call and not allow it. " {mass groans and complaints}
"HOWEVER, I will note for your teacher that I disallowed it today in case s/he wants to have a make-up for this loss."
This makes it more clear to the kids that I want them to get their special dispensation when the teacher returns. And it short-circuits the problem if the kids are (shall we say) presenting inaccurate information.

some final thoughts about subbing
Pick your battles, both in the classroom and when accepting jobs. You don't have to take every job. There are about a dozen teachers' classrooms and two entire schools in RISD I wouldn't return to. If I wanted to be a minimum security prison guard I would have been one. (Actually, I did apply to teach prisoners in an actual prison but there was a guard posted in each room to handle the wilder students.)

It is almost never helpful to give a student an answer, as much as they say they want it. It is immensely helpful to help them learn how to figure it out themselves. Teach a man to fish, as they say.

As crappy as subbing can be there are moments of glory, of joy, of near-spiritual satisfaction. Being there when it goes "click" in a kid's head is amazing. It's like watching your own kid take first steps, or say the first sentence. Listening to young people have real differences of opinion and working them out appropriately. Watching kids be brave and take academic chances. Failing and starting again. Having kids say "you ought to be a real teacher."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

RISD: grafitti and textbooks

A recent comment about tax dollars reminded me to post a couple of pics. I am not saying we need to squeeze RISD for money. I am saying that all new students and parents coming into the district need to understand how seriously we take education and our investment in education. Destruction of taxpayer-funded property is unacceptable. This is effectively the same thing as I said about the SVC: educate newcomers and let them know how we do things. If they persist in breaking the law, prosecute them with vigor.

Reminder: the schools are generally well-maintained and the custodial staffs are worth singling out for praise. They are professional and respectful around your kids.
The issues depicted below are not a maintenance problem.

Another reminder: these pics are exceptions rather than the general rule. All the textbooks are not destroyed, but books (and all other school property) are treated roughly by thugs and disrupters.

I think this shot was from LHHS. Does it make you want to increase your taxes? How much do you think a textbook like that costs? Picture your kid using a text with part of the index ripped out, or racist comments written on it with sharpie.

One time in a junior high a quiet, sweet, well-behaved student came up to me and said while doing her assignment she found her text defaced; the vandalism was exceptionally crude (and I am hard to shock). She wanted me to know she had found it and not written it. I told her I was sorry she was exposed to that kind of filth and that it was not aimed at her. I traded that text for one on my desk. That is when you want to hug a kid but don't, lest you end up on the 5 o'clock news. Reassuring words have to suffice. But that's definitely a time when you would hug your own kid who had just been exposed, suddenly, to bad things in life. I left a note for the teacher with a sticky indicating the page.

Grafitti is an interesting problem. It ought not be cleaned up by maint until the SRO (school resource officer, the school police) have seen it. In the cases below I reported the vandalism to the SRO in the next free period.

This was up in Berkner for at least a week. D-hall stairway IIRC. Since I'm not there (or not in that hall) every day I don't know when it comes down. I /do/ know when I see it again after I report it to the SRO.

Not so bad, right? Maybe not worth a blog entry. I mean, the vandalism is irritating and having to clean it up on the taxpayers' dime is obnoxious, but whatever.

This one is a bit worse and is actually in a classroom, and was there for at least 5 weeks. Also in Berkner if you are keeping score:

This one also in the classroom. Don't remember how long it was up:

I have not talked yet (IIRC)about the rough treatment substitute teachers receive because that would sound like personal whining. If you are interested in how subs can deal with challenges they face then stayed tuned for the How To Be A Good Sub post coming later. But I will give you a little taste.

In between classes I stand at the door to great and guide students. I usually have my clipboard with me, but once at LHFC I left it on the teacher's desk. When class started and I retrieved my clipboard it had this sticky attached:

It's hard to read in the phonepic but the sticky on my clipboard reads: "I like it in the butt". Now, it is not clear if the student was indicating they like it in the butt or if it was meant to indicate I, the sub, prefer it that way. Regardless, try to imagine a scenario wherein
1. affixing that note
2. to a sub's property
3. on the teacher's desk
could be an appropriate act. Now imagine a sub picking up the clipboard, and reading that note while addressing the class. For bonus points, imagine your kid sitting in junior high with a kid who is willing to leave notes about anal sex for the teacher.

Some random thoughts

Gang-related grafitti is quite bad in the bathrooms in both jr high and high schools.

Berkner's school colors are, IIRC, green and white. Why does red (or blue, to a lesser degree) appear to be the color of choice for thugs? I have actually had to ask students to quit giving gang hand signs in class about 1x/month.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fwd: RISD: addressing the thug problem

Here I address a core problem facing teachers, administrators, and
your kids in the classroom. There are are more "macro" problems facing
RISD (budget shorfalls, etc) but those things do not occur in the

It is common to say that kids are less polite, more informal, more
easily distracted, and less academically engaged. That may be the case
to one degree or another, but those are challenges and not crises. I am
talking about behavior that has a devastating effect on the academic
environment. This, in turn, affects how your kid performs in school and
how s/he feels about school. This behavior is poisonous, corrupting,
immensely counterproductive.

I am talking here about self-described "thugs", "gangstas". Their
words, not mine. Thugs come from many backgrounds although patterns do
reveal themselves in places.

I will try to accurately describe the behavior of the thug from the
classroom teacher's point of view. If you think I'm exaggerating print
this off and give the description below to your RISD [student] to see how much of
this sounds familiar. AP kids might not see this stuff as much (see
below) but the rest sure do FAR more often than a taxpaying RISD parent
would like.

Our student spends the pass period sprinting and ducking in the
hallways, hollering at great volume. Extra points for hitting,
slapping, or shoving other students.

Our student is not present at the start of class.
He makes a grand entrance after class has begun, disrupting the
teacher's explanation of the day's lesson. This entrance could include
dancing into/across the room, hollering at some other student tardy in
the hallway, or hollering at a student in the same classroom.

After the initial stage of the entrance is complete the extended
wandering period begins. Wandering includes exaggerated, slow swagger
up and down the aisles delaying taking a seat as long as possible.
Bonus points for slapping people on the head, kicking desks, or knocking
items off other students' desks while traversing the aisle.
SuperBonus points for responding to teacher's "please sit down" request
with "I'm about to sit down" or the Kafkaesque "I AM sitting down".

This would be a good time to relate the list of school-related materials
the student brought with him: Nothing. No paper, no notebook, no
pencil. Maybe no ID. Definitely not whatever might have been due that day.


The class gets to work on the assignment, except our student who insists
he doesn't understand the assignment. I believe him because:
1. he missed part of the explanation because of his tardiness
2. he actually hasn't looked at the assignment. It is likely
face-down, upside down, or on the floor.

Another version goes like this:

Teacher: here is your copy of the assignment.
Student: (looks at paper for a moment) This too easy! We already done
this one!
Classroom: No, we haven't.
[a few minutes pass]
Student: This too hard! We don't know nothin' about this!
Classroom: Yes we do, we've been working on [whatever skill] the last 3
Students: [groans / curses / refuses to do the work]

Student continually disrupts working peers with horseplay, physical
aggression and wildly inappropriate comments. Frequently the comments
are so loud and so offensive they must be addressed immediately.
Saying these things in a workplace would likely result in "hostile
workplace" litigation.
Teacher: Focus on your assignment, and stop the conversation, please.
Student: [continues obscene yammering]
Teacher: [using proximity and more direct language] Use appropriate
language in school, and hold your voice down. It's time to work on your
assignment. You are distracting other students.
Student: (turning to teacher) I ain't talkin' to you, ni__ah! Don't be
listenin' to our private conversation!

The mind boggles. I maintain that one is unlikely to reform a student
with this response to guidance from authority.

The student has many tales about why he must leave the room: bathroom,
water, counselor, coach, clinic, "gotta do something", etc.

Or consider this testing scenario:
Teacher: we are having a test [provides normal test guidelines,
including having only a pencil on the desk, everything else under the
desk, no talking, etc.]
[students make progress on test. Some finish, turn in their test, and
ask for a bathroom or water fountain break. Teacher grants it.]
Student: I gotta get a drink of water.
Teacher: have you turned in your test?
Student: No.
Teacher: You can go after you turn in your test.
Student: Why?
Teacher: You cannot leave the room /while/ you're taking a test.
Student: [some other student] went [wherever].
Teacher: s/he already turned in the test.
Student: so can I go get a drink of water?
Teacher: after you turn in your test.
Student: You racis'. ("you are a racist" or "you are racist")

Boggle. What can you say to change the behavior of a student who
believes enforcing the rules equally for everyone is racist? Worse, how
do you change the behavior of a student who /pretends/ to believe that?
I think the latter is even worse. It's more manipulative. I

There is more. Tons more. But you get the idea and I don't to wallow
through the mire. Tired of writing this kind of negative stuff.


Student, having made little or no progress (not even writing his name on
the paper), folds up the work and pockets it several minutes before the
end of class. When encouraged to continue, he says "There is only [x]
minutes left; I couldn't do anything in [x] minutes. Student begins
finding excuses to get near the door: putting a book up, sharpening a
pencil (your loaner pencil he just broke in half so he could sharpen
it), etc. Hangs around the door. Starts /leaning/ out of the door,
signalling friends, hollering to anyone else doing the End Of Class
Early Escape Plan. If the teacher does not catch this move the student
may just leave.

-= how teachers feel about this =-
I can't tell you how many times I've heard teachers say: "My class did
so well today. We covered /everything/. [thug student] was absent and
the class just sailed through the material. I feel guilty for saying
that but it's true. "

Think about that.

-= why RISD will ignore this problem =-
1. parents don't know what is happening
2. kids are so used to it that many don't realize a classroom does not
/have/ to be chaotic and intimidating.
3. MONEY. There are financial incentives that lead the ISD to want to
keep the kid enrolled, and enrolled in the district instead of placed in
JJP or other extreme remedies.
4. COR, RPD, and RISD have a unified desire to keep unpleasant things
hushed up. Makes us look great to all those young professionals Amir is
so obsessed with courting.
5. Fear.

-= What parents can do =-
Let your kid know that exposure to aggressive, inappropriate behavior
and language is not mandatory.

If your kid can/will do it, encourage them to take AP or other
academically challenging classes like physics and calculus. Thugs won't
go there.

Visit your kid's school. Get a badge and see what happens in the
hallways and the classrooms. If I'm making this stuff up, call me a
crank and sleep well. If I'm /not/ making this stuff up then the change
will need to come from you. I put in my two years and did the best I
could. If they'd hired me I'd still be in there fighting to get EVERY
kid the best education they would take. Thugs included. My own kid is in
college now so I have no direct stake in the game anymore. But I felt it
was my duty to share some of the concerns I have after spending time in
RISD classrooms. That chapter of my life is now closed.

I have a couple more posts then no more.

emailed in

Saturday, June 11, 2011

RISD: a deep breath before diving

This post, which will lay some groundwork.
Next post, which will be the most challenging and difficult for me

Then later this week two posts about subbing: one about how to be a
good sub and one for teachers about how to get results from a sub.

After that, not sure.

-= some scenarios to ponder =-
"Discuss amongst yourselves"
You have a box of puppies. There are ten puppies and you love them all.
One puppy continually injures, bullies, and annoys the others to the
degree that their sleep and feeding is not normal. The puppy destroys
any bedding you provide and anything else within reach. What do you do?

You are at a nice restaurant with your spouse. Customers at another
table are arguing loudly, discussing topics inappropriate for public
display, verbally abusing the staff and other customers, throwing things
on the floor and damaging the restaurant. What do you do? If you were
the manager what would you do? What is the likely outcome?

You are at a movie (drama, let's say) and the people behind you are
laughing raucously and talking so loudly that you cannot hear the
dialog. What do you do? If you were the manager what would you do?

You are at meeting at work and a co-worker continually disrupts the
presenter, wanders around the conference table and makes inappropriate
comments. What is likely to happen?

Your neighbor signals you to come over. You do, and he asks you to
borrow a tool. He really needs that tool; it is some kind of necessity
but he has lost or broken his. Within minutes you notice he has started
disassembling the borrowed tool or has already broken it. Only 25% of
the time do you get the tools back. What do you do?

You are playing Monopoly with a group of friends. One player
continually plays out of turn, takes money from the bank without cause,
and refuses to pay rent when he lands on a developed property. What do
you do? What is the likely outcome? Is it even a game as long as
disrupters are participating?

You live in a city. There are people roaming the city at night,
vandalizing and taking property. They are prone to casual violence,
both among themselves and to passers-by. What do you do as a citizen?
What would you expect the city to do?

-= what these scenarios have in common =-
These scenarios are intended to bring to the light our assumptions about
how individuals behave within a larger society, how we conform to
expectations or defy them, and how we choose to to deal with those that
disrupt shared systems.

I think the core idea here is that groups (cities, civilizations,
organizations or classrooms) are fragile structures and only function
when everyone plays by the same rules.

In first-world countries we call this "rule of law," and I suggest it is
a crucial difference between successful cultures and war-torn,
structurally/perpetually impoverished and murderous cultures.

I don't mean everyone has to be a clone or a Stepford wife or have no
personality; I do mean that any large group requires baseline
cooperation and it requires relatively few miscreants to bring it down
or greatly reduce its effectiveness.

-= what are you talking about? =-

I tell you that to tell you this: the majority of kids in RISD are
doing fine, and their behavior is fine, and they will be just fine.
There is a subset of the enrollment who are serially and seriously
disruptive and unresponsive to guidance. They disrupt your kid's
education the same way one jerk in a restaurant or a movie can run that
experience. They will greatly harm the academic effectiveness and
reputation of RISD if this matter is not addressed. First we talk about
it and someone has to bring up the topic. I'll do it in the next post.

But first a few biographical notes that may help you distinguish my
professional and civic concerns from personal preference or bias.

-= standard English =-
I do not always speak standard English. At home, with friends, with my
wife, or when typing out into the ether like this at 2am I am liable to
get sloppy (let's call it "creative") and use salty language. I am told
that after a few beers a Texas drawl sneaks out. Still, my language in
front of students, teachers, administration is standard English. This
is how society operates: you talk one way with your friends watching
football on TV and another way in the church pew. This isn't hypocrisy;
it's decorum.

-= modest means =-
I have eaten my share of frogs, squirrels, and rabbits when other food
was not available. I have lived in more than one trailer. A more recent
datapoint: my total income last year was less than $11k. I share this
not-so-flattering information because I want you to understand I am not completely without experience or compassion.

-= one more tidbit =-
My first girlfriend's name was Bonita Jackson.

posted by offline email

Friday, June 10, 2011

RISD: how things have changed

I will start this series with a comparison of how things were when I
went to high school (mid-80s) and how they are now.

I think most of the changes are good. Kids seem to base their decisions
about who to befriend, shun, or date based on personal preference rather
than by race, class, age, language, etc. Boys and girls seem genuinely
comfortable around each other. Gender equality and racial is taken as a
given by most. Gay kids are probably the last group to be openly mocked
and even that is changing.

I realize the kids are probably farther along the tolerant spectrum than
is comfortable for parents. Fair enough. But these are generational
changes and the parents won't be around forever. Our kids will run the
world and it will be /their/ world.

The demographics of RISD are changing. I stood in front of a series of
class photos at one JH and the transition from Anglo to a variety of
faces is unmistakeable. In my experience in the classroom, immigrant
children (and children of immigrants) are doing fine. Do not fear the
/reconquista/. Texas has always been a syncretic frontier.

Your kids probably know more about Office programs like Word and
PowerPoint than you do. [edward tufte suggests this may not be a Good
Thing). Kids are entirely comfortable with online applications, but
will find any opportunity to sneak onto Facebook or mp3 streaming sites.
Ever had a dog that could find any weak spot in a fence? It's like that.

Texting is a cultural tsunami; the immediacy of SMS and ubiquity of
cellphones mean whole subsets of kids are finding opportunities to text.
Kids used to smoke in bathrooms; now they text. The most distressing
aspect is encroachment of textspeeak (IDK, 2, U, etc.) into homework,
quizzes, tests.

Teachers appear to be better prepared, academically.

A few changes have been less positive.

Teachers and the kids are trapped in seemingly endless cycles of high
stakes testing. The "Want to teach?" altcert billboards should, if
truth in advertising is important, read "Want to train kids to take

There is a marked decrease in classroom decorum; it is destructive to
the academic environment and is my single greatest concern for RISD. I
am not talking about "kids these days" fist-shaking stuff, but behavior
that would get adults arrested, sued, or fired. There is a real chance
that your kid is being cheated out of full academic opportunity by the
disruptive behavior and general wildness of poorly socialized kids in
their classroom. More on this in a later post.

Lunch over now; must run.

posted by offline email

Thursday, June 9, 2011

RISD: first things first

My role as a substitute teacher allowed me to see a good deal of the
district. I subbed in every high school, every junior high, the
alternative school (CMLC) and some elementary schools.

I had days with delightful kids and days when kids were taken away by
the police. Classrooms where I would want my own kid to be and
classrooms where I would never, ever consider placing my kid.

I had small, easily-managed groups and class sizes that were out of
control. Hint: when the teacher's note says "there are not enough
desks for the students so some sit at my desk or on the floor" it is
safe to say that class is too big. I had a 9th grade social studies
assignment at Berkner where there the largest class was 42 and the
smallest class was well into the thirties (38? 36? don't remember). It
is common to have more students than textbooks.

I spent time in schools that were nurturing and healthy (North JH, for
example) and schools that felt like a street fight or rioting minimum
security prison (Forest Meadow). How /do/ 7th graders get tattoos, anyhow?

I believe RISD is still a very good school district and is facing some
real challenges. I'll address this in a weekend post.

My next post will be about school might be different now compared to
when I (and maybe you) went to school.

posted by offline email

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Upcoming: RISD retrospective

Because of some dramatic changes in my work life I have been unable to
make any real updates lately.

Short version: the continued implosion of the national and state
economies has caused stresses on the ISDs. This resulted in hiring
freezes and attrition scenarios. It is a Bad Time for folks who were
subbing until they could get hired as a teacher. I subbed for RISD
until I ran completely out of resources. Sometimes dreams are deferred
and we have to man up about it.

I did successfully land a non-teaching job which allows me to pay my
bills and keep the house. I am grateful to have a job in this
craptastic economy. Anyhoo.

This may be a good time to take a look back on my experiences in RISD.
I've got a few posts sketched out; I hope they are interesting or at
least informative. I may ruffle some feathers, and I am conflicted
about how to constructively present some of the more challenging and
delicate issues. Hopefully I can shed more light than heat.

posted by email