A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Friday, December 20, 2013

Pulling back the curtain a little bit

This week, with holidays around the corner and a full moon rising, many students tested their limits. At the water cooler, a young teacher confided, "I hate kids, I don't know if I can take it anymore!"

My response to lunar forces driving animal spirits to distraction was to schedule conferences and tutoring sessions over the holidays, both as a veiled thread, and a promise. By strategically contacting parents of my most intractable, most at-risk students, particularly those who I felt were under-performing the most, I hoped to gain leverage and earn "street cred" with the rest of the class, who have been dominated by a few, who have been purposefully making it an untenable learning environment. In short, I went rogue!

Today, for about two hours after school, I conferenced with Pablo and his father Salvador in the conference of a tower apartment. I smiled like a Chesire Cat as I gathered all of the materials from the 2nd quarter that Pablo had not turned in, in preparation for our showdown.

I have been telling students that everything they need to be successful in math is in their "playbooks," and that we teach how to run the plays in class. I showed Pablo and his father how to access the online textbook, an expensive, intelligently organized, but vastly underutilized resource developed by Pearson, the author of most state testing materials.

Pablo has been unwilling to learn fraction and decimal operations in class; yet, with a little effort, knowing I had dropped by his partner-in-crime's house and hoping to avoid the same fate, Pablo scored an 80% on a test concerning Modeling Algebraic Equations and Algebra Vocabulary. The concepts tested were equations; expressions; terms; signs for operations, equations, and inequalities; constants, variables, and coefficients. With evidence that the routine 20% and 30% scores reflected more of a refusal than an inability to learn, Salvador and I began to unravel all of Pablo's lies. Pablo has been "playing us," I concluded.

I helped Salvador understand that Pablo has been hiding all of the progress reports I have been sending home, plus his Interim Grades. Pablo had been telling his father that math is easy when his father has asked about homework, then getting on his X-Box.

On Christmas Eve, I will conference with Peter and his mom at their apartment, and will hand Peter's mom his progress report, which Peter had left behind in my room because it has mostly F's, instead of bringing it home. Last week, another Special Education teacher found Peter's Interim on the floor, which had an F from Mr. McDuff, his history teacher. I hand delivered it to his house around the corner. Peter's situation is different: when recently asked what is 3+3, he answered 16. Peter is probably one of those students the system has designated a "slow learner" -- low IQ, but not so low as to be in an a classroom with students who have and Intellectual Disability. Peter lacks "cardinality," i.e., does not automatically count on, but rather generally starts back at zero. Peter knows almost none of his math facts, and has no grasp of fact families.

On Thursday the 26th,  On Thursday the 26th, I will be dropping Kendall's project materials off at his apartment at about 5:30 pm, which he conveniently "forgot" to take with hi. I will help him get started on his project which is worth a large part of his grade. More importantly, I will be helping Kendall with fraction and decimal operations, which, like Pedro, he has flatly refused to learn, despite automaticity with many simple multiplication facts.

Three students, Pablo, Peter, and Kendell, have been wasting much of our class time, so it has been most pleasing to me to personally hand them the work that they have not been doing during class time, and getting their parents to agree to keep them busy learning what they should have learned in class over their vacation.

Here's how I got through to Salvador that we have a major problem with his son Pablo:

December 20, 2013

Hi Salvador,

When I stop by your apartment later today to conference with you and Pablo, I have some positive things to discuss, but I cannot stress enough how critically important it is that Pablo take control of his behavior when he returns from the holiday break. He needs to go forward in 2014 with the right attitude. Pablo’s success on the last test was remarkable because it showed what he can do when he pays attention and makes a minimum of effort. I need more focused behavior from Pablo, less disruptive behavior, less negative language, more learning.

I want Pablo to understand that my reasons for reaching out to him are twofold:
1.       I need to be able to teach
2.       He needs to be able to learn
One of my most important responsibilities is to enforce the Code of Conduct so that everybody can enjoy a classroom environment where teaching and learning can take place. If I were to record everything that Pablo has been doing to disrupt the class environment on a daily basis, it would get ugly. I don’t want to do it.

I prefer a more positive, more patient approach, and am sure that is the approach that my administrators want me to take. What I am saying is that I need to do everything in my power to help Pablo understand that he needs to control his behavior. If between us we can’t get it done ourselves, I will consider it a personal failure. I don’t like to ever fail.

If you and I fail, I will be left with little alternative but to move forward with a complaint about Pablo to Mrs. English. Pablo needs to understand that this is not a joke, this is serious. I am not sure that Pablo understands the seriousness of our situation.

Hopefully, this intervention on behalf of Pablo is successful, Pablo decides to more consistently make decisions that benefit both him and the class, and in 2014 Pablo becomes a success story.


Mr. Kurland

Opening line ...

"Poverty, the sea,
embracer of forlorn fates,
Can't stop a hero!"

I was envisioning the opening line of "the book" that the Hernandez twins have been pestering me to write, about a journey in education based on the Odyssey, as it flashed silently across a movie screen. Toyed with the idea of borrowing some of Steven's character traits and history in constructing the hero -- would be a nice allusion to James Joyce to use Stephen as the name of a hero.

Door to door

Street smart, door to door
Pick yourself up off the floor.
Rise up, move on son.

There's a story here. Found a character to play the part of the Cyclops. About Kendall, I'll tell you more.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Dog walk reminders of Robert Frost and other worldly pleasures

Winter chill, woods deep
Snow on the ground, trudging feet

Miles to go, tired feet.

Mabel has not been getting much attention from me lately. Second quarter interim reports went out today, which has obligated me to prepare weeks in advance by sending out frequent progress reports in advance of interim grades, and contact most of the parents of the students whom I teach, whether by phone, by email, or at Starbucks. Pulling students for lunch or after school three to four days per week takes a toll on my energy level, which I have attempted to bolster with Marine D3 Supplements.

It's been awhile since I have engaged in the guilty pleasure of blogging about my odyssey in education. The Hernandez twins, Jake and Jack Hernandez, have passed me in the halls every morning, providing daily reminders, "The book, make sure you are writing everything down," reminding me of my rather unoriginal idea I shared with them one day, going off topic, of using Homer's epic quest and characters as a template for writing a series of episodes about learning about teaching. "It's all up here, just need some time at the beach," I typically respond, "This place gives me tons of material on a daily basis."

In second grade, at Taylor Elementary School in Arlington, VA, I was removed from one class at my mother's insistence, and placed in Mrs. Brown's class, with the smart kids I would suspect. Likely, I was uncontrollable in an environment where I was being forced to sit at a desk and follow boring arithmetic procedures. Boring repetitive drills! In all likelihood, my first second grade teacher danced the jig after getting rid of me, just like a room full of special education teachers, myself included, practically started cheering when a parent answered her cellphone after she failed to show up at an IEP meeting because she was with the movers. Thank goodness my mother intervened, and thank goodness Mrs. Brown was able to handle me.

Mrs. Brown's room had tables instead of desks. I remember that her room had much more open space than the other teacher's room, and best of all, as a veteran teacher, Mrs. Brown's classroom backed up to the playground. In Mrs. Brown's room, I dictated "The Story of Nature," which contained immortal lines such as, "Some tortoises each fish. All monkeys eat bananas," and "President Lincoln was shot at a theater, then came modern man." My anthology remains one of my most prized possessions. In Mrs. Brown's class, we had to memorize "Stopping By The Woods on a Snowy Evening," which I can still recite from memory to this day. Walking in the woods reminded me of Hemingway and Frost, I chuckled. as Mabel turned back quizzically.

The second quarter has been rough for Eddie, who at the beginning of the quarter showed up one morning at my door before 1st period and pulled up his sleeve to reveal some bruises on his arm. Eddie shared with me how he had had a fight with his mother the night before, and that she had beaten him, so I immediately found the counselor and asked him to share with her what he had just shared with me. That, of course, prompted an automatic call to Child Protective Services. A few weeks later, as I walked to my car at the end of the day, our school resource teacher and the counselor asked me to talk to Eddie, who was pacing in a room, after he may have taken a swing at my friend and fellow teacher, who may have grabbed his wrist first, to prevent him from leaving the room. I often share extra breakfast bars which I pilfer from the cookie jar, unbeknownst to my wife, who might flip if she realized that she has been helping feed my students. Whatever it takes.

Recently, Eddie came to my room to make up work from the beginning of the quarter  -- it dawned on me that the reason Eddie had not been doing the assignments was because he never learned his multiplication and division math facts. Apparently, Eddie had managed to get passing grades in elementary school, despite throwing chairs at successive teachers from 3rd through 5th grades, despite not knowing his math facts. Even the tutors which come from a local high school -- some of the brightest students in the nation -- I am sure did not realize that Eddie was able to do the math without automatic recall of multiplication and division math facts. He was getting by, with a calculator and street smarts -- fooling everybody! After my epiphany, I went through materials for teaching multiplication and division facts from 3rd and 4th grade, and came up with 4 levels of differentiated assignments for teaching multiplication and division in developmentally appropriate ways, complete with pre- and post-tests. While helping Eddie with a problem that involved multiplication with decimals, for a second day in a row at lunch, I showed Eddie Napier's method, partial products, and the traditional U.S. algorithm. Then, I showed him two tricks for remembering the nines. Eddie had an aha! moment when he did the finger trick! I held him a few minutes extra, then went with him back to US History, caught him up with what he missed, whereupon he scored a perfect score on his Early Colonies Quiz!