Stayin’ alive! Stayin’ alive! Stayin’ alive!

Ah! ah! ah! ah! Stayin’ aliiiiiiiiiiive!

 

I bet you were singing that Bee Gees tune in your head!

And I’m staying alive! I made it through the school year in one piece. But maybe a little more burned out than I first realized.

My last post was in MARCH! About Ash Wednesday and giving things up for lent and procrastinating with distractors such as The Real Housewives of (anywhere in the country), trashy TV.

The blog nagged at me, after I lost momentum in March (apparently). But I spent all of my free time writing. Just not on the blog. Or on the novel/short story I’d like to someday begin writing. But on my National Boards for English Language Arts, Adolescence and Young Adulthood.

Holy crap. That was a lot of writing. And a lot of editing. And a lot of videoing myself teaching. And a lot of editing my videos of myself teaching. And a lot of writing about my videos of me teaching. And Holy crap. It was a lot.

But I submitted two days before it was due. And I took my written exam last Friday, before I left for our district’s last AVID Summer Institute.

I think I passed. I sure hope I passed. But I won’t know for sure until they release the scores in November. 5 months from now!

But I promise I won’t wait that long to post again.

I wish I really had written more last year. We did some amazing things at school and in class. Last year was my first year as Bilingual Co-Coordinator at school and the first year we had a PD committee, which I also sat on.  And those two things were certainly educational experiences and I wish I’d captured some of that. But nonetheless, there will be plenty to write about again this year!

I’m teaching AP Literature and Composition again at the 12th grade and I’ll also teach the AVID elective at 9th grade for the first time! This is the first time since I started teaching that I won’t have an English 11 class. It’s almost bittersweet. I love the curriculum and I’ll miss it but it seems like the last few years have largely focused on test preparation for the myriad standardized tests required for graduation. I feel like even if I had to struggle with test prep, I’ve tried to provide my English 11 students with enough strategies that they can be successful in 12th grade and hopefully college.

And this is the big question that I’m working out now: What level/strategies do my AP Lit and Comp students need to be successful in college?

In the past, I feel like I’ve focused more on content and composition, that I have on specific, applicable, reading and writing strategies. And I think that was a mistake. Yet, many of them are already efficient readers and writers. I just need to up the ante, so to speak.

I’m looking forward to starting the new school year and writing about the new school year. But first, I’ll be sure to finish and enjoy my summer vacation!

Ash Wednesday

I’ve decided to write a personal post.  About Ash Wednesday. I’m sitting at my dining room table, looking longly across the room at the cosy couch that I’ve given up for Lent and that’s all I can think about.

The couch.

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By the way, this picture is entirely staged.  I had to clear the table off before I took this snapshot.  Our table is the “drop zone” for everything that enters our house, it seems.

But the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, I tried to figure out what I would give up this year.   And after my third straight hour of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (my guiltiest, guilty pleasure) it dawned on me.  The TV and even more, my couch.

So I decided on Wednesday morning, on my way to school, that this is what I would give up.  And in its place I would add more prayer, and use my time more wisely so that I’m not President of the Procrastination Nation.

So all day I fasted, like I should.  And after getting up at 5 am that morning to do Zumba in my living room, and working like a madwoman all day, I thought I would pass out during mass, as I shut my eyes during prayer.  But I survived and received the blessing and reminder of our mortality in the ashes.

But after Mass, Hubbs and I went to dinner and we started talking about what we would give up for Lent.  And I joked that since my stomach really hurt after fasting all day, that I would give up fasting.  He looked surprised.  And then started to list all of the food he had eaten that day and said, “It would have been nice to have a little reminder that I should’ve fasted.”  To which I replied, “To each his own.”  And this seemed to make sense.  Not all Catholics fast.

But then I started thinking.  And I realized (after the gears in my head started to grease up with the wrap I was eating for dinner) that it really is my responsibility to remind him of these things.  Being still new to the Catholic church, it’s a lot to keep straight.

And I remembered the analogy our priest made at our wedding to a marriage being like climbing up a steep hill; in life, we will sometimes walk beside, drag behind, or push ahead our significant other.  And in this case, I probably should have reminded Hubbs to fast.

Can blogs have an identity crisis?

I feel as if this blog already has an identity crisis, in its early development stages.  And here’s my question, is a blog just born knowing if it’s personal or professional?  And how can you tell?   Are there signs?

Like today, I just want to write about Ash Wednesday and my husband.  But that’s not a professional topic.  So should I include that or just buy one of those fuzzy pink journals with a lock on it, like I had in middle school and scribbled all sorts of silly stuff.

Really?  Can someone tell me.

Procrastination Nation

The Avett Brothers are one of my favorite bands.  Most of their music (except the weird stuff they sprinkle in here and there) take me back to my time at UNC Chapel Hill, listening to them at Cat’s Cradle, the Great Hall, and various festivals and shows ‘round the state.

And as I’m writing this, I can’t but help think of one of their lyrics:

I haven’t finished a thing since I started my life,

Don’t feel much like starting now.

I couldn’t find a decent video but I suggest you listen to that dang song.  His voice is so low and mournful at the start.

And by searching for the song in vain, writing this post, dreaming up one hundred other things I’d like to be doing, RIGHT NOW, I’m procrastinating.  I’m not finishing my grading and instead I choose to tell myself I’m really just taking a break from Extreme Grading.  Because I need one.  Because I deserve one.

But what I really need to do is change my thinking about my thinking, as I should, according to this College Humor video about procrastination (which I cannot for the life of me directly embed) that I stumbled upon somewhere on the internets, while I was undoubtedly procrastinating.  (But should I really be following advice from College Humor?)

And after watching,  I realized that it’s a daily, hourly struggle to overcome my present bias.  I need to think of what Future Me will want (to hang out with friends this weekend), instead of what Now Me thinks it wants (to watch 100 straight hours of Real Housewives).

And Geez, that’s hard.

So, I’ve started integrating two things into my regular schedule.  The first is to make my weekly to do list to ensure I get everything done that I need to.  And people, let me tell you in my infinite martyrdom, it’s a lot! I am the Language Arts department chair and co-cordinate the Dual Language program at school, in addition to teaching AP and regular English classes.

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Making this weekly list has really helped.  I check it every day.  I mark my meetings each day, deadlines I may have, assignments I’m teaching, and assignments I’m collecting.  Then I make a list of all the materials I need to print and copy in order to get these things done.

But I also need to daily remind Future Me to kick Now Me’s butt. Because after I get all of the million-an-one other things done, it’s really easy to tell myself, “You’ve worked really hard. Grade tomorrow night instead.” So to squash these Now Me voices, I plan for the fun I want to have in the weekend with Future Me, in an attempt to motivate Now Me throughout the week. (This is starting to sound as if I have a bit of a personality disorder.) So I also make this calendar, emphasizing the weekend and I hang it up in front of my desk all week long:

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This is how I kick Now Me into gear; I illustrate the work I’ll need to do throughout the week, in order to get to the weekend with less grading, on a separate and less daunting calendar.

You see, I teach AP literature and WOAH that is a lot of grading throughout the week.  A lot.

And I’m not complaining because frankly I could just schedule fewer essays, to the detriment of my AP and regular students.  But in truth, I like grading.  I like to see what my students can do with the tools and texts I give them.

They’re brilliant!

And please excuse Now Me, as I need to get back to grading so that Future Me can have some fun this weekend!

Hubbs and I joined a monthly Adventure Club here, in which they email you a location, you meet, they tell you what the adventure is for the day and you do the adventure.  This weekend, our instructions are to dress warmly, wear comfortable athletic shoes and in layers.  Sounds like we’ll be outdoors.  I am so very excite! (As Hubbs/Borat so eloquently says.)  I’ll keep you posted!

Getting Grittier

Recently, I’ve heard and read a lot of discussion about “Grit.” How to teach it, grit as a predictor of academic and personal success, and that grit just still isn’t enough.

And while I largely agree with Angela Lee Duckworth’s research, I still see how it might be shortsighted.

 

I agree that we need to teach grit but maybe not to all students.  Maybe only to those who haven’t needed grit to survive.

I have often heard the phrase “Learned Helplessness,” as it seems to plague this generation of students.  And I remember a couple of years ago, my Professional Learning Community often discussed how students must learn to persevere through texts, questions, and problems they cannot easily understand or answer.  Instead, my colleagues suggested that they look to teachers to give them the answer, to tell them what it means.  And this behavior, they argued, applied to all students.

In this way, I agree with Duckworth. Students must have grit to persevere.  But coming from an educational background that pushed Critical Race Theory, as an important component of teacher education, I cannot wholly agree with what she suggests.

Grit will get you far.  But perhaps only so far, in a system that calls for standardization and does not account for the socio-cultural background of students.  Or of students with special needs.

In my state, there are essentially two different requirements for graduation at this point.  Graduating requires that students persevere through  coursework, 25 required graduation credits in core and elective classes (last I checked) and take an AP, online, dual enrollment class at a local college, or distance learning course at our Continuing Education campus.  This also precludes many students from fulfilling this graduation requirement: students with limited or no access to the internet, students who do not have a car or whose family does not have a single car between them, students must work during the day to support themselves or their families, and the list seems to go on and on.

However, it’s easy to say that if these kids had “grit” they would be successful in school.  They would pass the required classes and graduate.

I argue that these kids already HAVE grit!  They already “live grittily,” as  EdWeekly suggests we should teach our students in this article.  They show up at school, hungry or not, maybe even after sleeping under an overpass that night.

And regardless of the students’ circumstances, the second graduation requirement, which is seemingly more insidious, is being hotly debated in the NM Legislature session, as we speak.  And that is the gauntlet of standardized tests that students must pass before graduating. They must take and pass the Standards Based Assessment in Math, Reading, and Science.  They must also pass an End of Course Exam in Social Studies and Writing.  There now exists an alternate demonstration of competency, which I can barely follow.  And it looks something like this:

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It’s just insane, the use of these one-shot exams to determine competency. Although, according to that complex matrix, in some subjects, students can simply “exhaust” all attempts to take the test and then can use their passing grades in the content course to fulfill the testing requirements.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?

I’m scratching my head too.  And this is exactly my point.  Graduation is limited to passing a set of tests that are culturally and linguistically biased against students of color, students learning English as a second language, and students with developmental and cognitive disabilities.  How can “grit” help them pass.  Help them to be the first in their families to graduate.

This is where I believe “grit” will only get you so far, in a system seemingly stacked against certain students.

And this is the truth.  And the kids get it.  This, I think, is why some kids play the system, asking for answers instead of working for them.  They don’t see themselves in the system.  And some students believe that no amount of “grit” will get them there.

The option to opt-out, until it happens to you.

After months of waiting to be heard, the New Mexico legislature is back in session and (we) teachers are ready to exercise our voices!

There are many topics up for debate in this session, some of which were discussed in a recent NY Times article, and least of all include the confirmation of our Secretary of Education Designate (Hanna Skandera), increased “under the line” spending, and merit pay for teachers.

It’s a scary time to be an educator in New Mexico.

But the suggested bill that I am most interested in is the opt-out bill: SB34, proposed by Senator Keller.

For the first time this year, 50% of teacher evaluations in my district are determined by student standardized test scores, according to the Value Added Model.

My eye literally started twitching as I typed that phrase: Value Added Model.

The VAM has been hotly debated across the country, which Diane Ravitch has dubbed the “Value Added Nonsense,”  as early as September of 2012!

I’ll explain, using my personal experience.  The majority of the classes I teach are AP Literature and Composition and each year I teach a section or two of Regular English 11.  I have some of the most amazing and brilliant students in these classes.  (I know all teachers say this BUT I really mean it!)

The state VAM formula requires that we only use scores from the classes in which we teach 90% of our students.  Great for me! Right?  Those are the high-performing AP students.

Wrong.

50% of my evaluation will be determined by their growth on our (newly developed and un-vetted) English 12 End of Course exam—which, by the way, means absolutely nothing to them for graduation.  They must show growth from the previous year’s (newly developed and un-vetted) English 11 End of Course exam—which was required for graduation.

Here’s the catch.  What if these kids did their absolute best on last year’s exam?  Which I know they did, as it was required for graduation!  And now how are they supposed to show growth from last year to this year?

Beats me.

Furthermore, the state has made it clear that while students may use their AP scores (of a 3 or better) to fulfill the standardized testing requirement for their graduation, I may not use their test data as part of my VAM score.

I’m still waiting for someone to explain that to me.

And when my colleagues and I attended a town hall meeting last November, we asked for clarification as to what would happen if all of our students opted out of the test, at our urging.  And our Secretary of Education Designate’s response was that it would be “unethical.”

Unethical! 

To suggest that students opt out of tests that are administered solely for my supposed benefit—to prove my worth as an educator.

 To prove that I have ADDED VALUE to their education.  

It makes me absolutely sick.

And now for the KO punch.  A student told me that he was opting out of the English 12 EOC in my class, a decision with which I whole-heartedly agree.  As he told me this, a colleague standing nearby piped up proudly, “That’s thanks to me!”  She had already explained to him how to opt-out of testing this year, as he had already fulfilled the  graduation testing requirements (which have quadrupled in the last two years).

And here’s the conflict that I cannot reconcile.  How can I urge my students to opt out (as I so badly want to) when I need their data to prove my “worth” as an educator?

And my eye is twitching again.

But I don’t think there is an easy answer, other than maybe to go to the doctor to have my eye looked at and to pray the rosary that the NM legislators gets their heads on straight and give the boot to Skandera. Oh, and to exercise my teacher voice!