Category Archives: The Education of America

Back to School in August?

I teach high school English and we are already back to school.  What the flip!  It is August.  We’re not suppose to be back in the classroom; we’re suppose to be at the beach or swimming in a pool or hanging out with friends and sipping cool refreshing drinks wearing sunblock and large hats.  It is the best part of the summer.  The hottest time of year means NO SCHOOL!

Wrong.  I have already worked my first week of school.  Met over 180 students this week and I am exhausted.

The first week of school the kids are pretty sedate.  I think it’s just because they’re stunned they are being forced to sit in rows and try to stay focused while learning about anything cuz its August.  There are one or two kids in each class that seem like the already hate me.  So I must be doing something right.

Do you want to know why schools all over the United States are beginning in August?  Please select the best answer:

A.  Parents want their children to start school in August.

B.  Students want to start school early.  Some students want to get rid of summer vacation altogether.

C.  Teachers want to start school early and want over 40 students in each class.

D.  School administrators decided it would be better for testing especially for Advanced Placement exams.

*If you selected “D” as your answer you are correct because we all know how important taking tests are in life.   There is probably evidence that proves stealing children’s summer memories away from them and forcing them to sit in classrooms that do not have air conditioning must be not only good for the student but so wonderful for the teacher.  (I know I always learn better when I am sweating and my thighs stick to my chair.)

Only 177 school days to go…

 

Giving Tuesday in Ms. Zamorano’s Classroom

 

After about four months of working together -mostly “them” against little o’me- my classes seem finally in sync with the level of  intellectual effort that they must demonstrate since the semester is almost over. (Only 12 more school days left.)  They weren’t perfect but they delivered today.  As a matter of fact they pleasantly surprised me by their current project which required them to do charity work for those less fortunate.

The reason I chose this particular assignment is so I don’t go insane surrounded by a bunch of self-involved teenagers.

Our journey began September 30th when each student needed to pick a charity that focused on helping other children.  Then they needed to make sure they completed their charity work by November 30th!  Today we began their presentations and my students gave my hope.  They worked at churches to help box gifts for boys and girls of various ages or they helped feed the less fortunate at a local soup kitchen.  Some students helped raise money for Operation Smile or even made blankets for Project Linus to give to children.  My students produced power points that were top notch and some kids even used their video editing skills that looked professionally produced.  I was thrilled by their charitable projects and that they were totally running the “show” so I could be an audience member during their class presentations…and just when I thought I knew my student’s abilities one group took my breath away.

Karly, Monica and Lily decided to do their charity work for an organization that does laundry for financially struggling people.  Monica shared how a family of four spends approximately $1,200 a year on laundry expenses.  Then Karly said, “we helped this woman but she only knew Spanish.  And since Lily is in Spanish level four she talked with her…and the woman told us how she is working to put her daughters through college.”

“Yeah, and she started to cry thanking us for being so nice to her but she said she just wanted her daughters to have a better life so she doesn’t mind working” Karly added.

Oh, god.  They had a real life moment that hit me hard.  How simple.  Karly, Monica and Lily stood in front of the class sharing their experience and I never had heard of this organization.  I was so proud of these girls.  They understood that this made a difference in another woman’s life.    Offering to pay to do someone’s laundry is a perfect form of charity for kids to see how just something as simple as doing laundry can make a difference.

A seemingly ordinary assignment of charity becomes an unforgettable experience for me.   I shall never look at laundry the same way.

 

 

 

 

Congrats Grads!

Congratulations you did it. Sure you did something that millions of people have done before…yes you still should feel accomplished…cuz you did it.   Finally after years of perfect attendance and straight A’s you’ve graduated.

So now what’s next? A new career. A new chance at becoming the you you are meant to become.

Sure you may be walking away from college with a diploma and some debt. On average $35,000 dollars worth of debt. Congratulations class of 2015 you are the most in debt grads EVER!

Fun Fact:
Total education debt–including federal and private education loans–will tally nearly $68 billion this year for graduates with a bachelor’s degree and their parents. Thank goodness our country spends 80 billion on prisons.

In the meantime, we’ve spent over $700 billion dollars in Iraq. Another $800 billion dollars give or take in the Afghanistan War. Our country has spent over 1.7 TRILLION dollars on WAR in your life time! No biggy.

I know some of you -sitting here- aren’t even aware our country is in war cuz you’ve been too busy studying important things while your poor mom works two jobs –getting paid less than her male colleagues. And if your a person of color you’ve been busy obeying our militarized police force while staring down a barrel of a gun for a parking ticket.

Listen class of 2015, whatever you may do in life, no matter how bleak let summer blockbuster movies provide you with the required wisdom needed to survive these tough times.
So GRADS:
If something chases you…RUN!

You have NO strings.

If there’s an earthquake we are all screwed.

And George Clooney really thinks you CAN change Tomorrow!

Except if you’re a woman you can only change tomorrow 77%

Congratulations Grads we’re depending on you to not screw up.

American Dream Price Tag

If you are willing to do just about anything to earn a higher grade in school you should stop and figure out why?  Why are you so bent on earning the highest grade in all of your classes because I have yet to be persuaded that this  is the way to go in life.  Sure I get it some of you may come from families that anything less than a A is shameful.  On the other hand I cannot get over how kid’s in high school cheat willy-nilly in upper level courses at a higher rate than kids enrolled in general level courses.

Ultimately sure schools may boast of their growing Advanced Placement programs available while at the same time their student body throws the dice to see how long can they cheat using notes, technology, whatever means to earn a higher score they are more than happy to do so but here is the part that is a real eye opener:  student’s do not feel shame for cheating for higher grades they view it as something everyone does so there is no real problem since everyone is doing it.

So in a system that is predicated on grades that represent a student’s academic intellectual ability ultimately this model is easily corrupted and all along the real lesson is economic.  We are creating a culture of cheating because it is for a worthy cause: college tuition.  Would we have rampant cheating if the cost of college tuition in America wasn’t creating a whole group of monetary indentured slaves who leave college with mounds of debt and no real job opportunities!

There was a time when adults still lived at home it was because they were fuck ups but now it just means they graduated college and hoping for the American Dream to be less pricey.

California Gold Ribbon Loser

This school year has made me a stronger woman and a better educator.  I am one of the few lucky professionals who work at a terrific school with most if not all of the amenities you would hope to find in a public school.  We are such a dynamite high school we’ve been recognized by the State Superintendent of Public Education. Tom Torlakson announced this past week that my high school made the short list for the California Gold Ribbon Schools Award.  Yeah, pretty hot.

“These schools are academically successful, vibrant, and innovative centers of learning and teaching,” Torlakson said. “They provide great examples of the things educators are doing right—embracing rigorous academic standards, providing excellence and creativity in teaching, and creating a positive school climate.”

I’m was on cloud nine when I heard the news but then our school district announced during contract negotiations they intend to extend our instructional day by 15 minutes and their thinking about giving us a  whopping 2% raise…maybe.  FYI Los Angeles Unified School district just settled for a 10% raise (5% this year and 5% the following year)!

But I’m hopeful because as soon as our superintendent received the good news that we received the coveted Cali Gold Ribbon Award he sent all the teachers a big basket of “cookies”.  Yummy for my tummy but worse for my purse–if you get my drift.

Our school district officials evidently are not aware that hardworking educators need money to afford life.  The cost of living has gone up 11% and the school district is only offering 2% increase and maybe retroactive even though we’ve worked nine months without a contract.  I’m no math afficiado but that just doesn’t add up especially when I’m a winner!

Cheaters Race to the Top!

Have you ever cheated on a test? Come on. You can tell me.
Are you one of the people that cheated on your drivers license test? Some of my closest friends cheated on this simple test.

My husband asks, “Does anyone ever fail the drivers test –cuz it seems– like anyone can get a license.”

I say we are a culture who is perfectly cool with cheating and getting away with it is how you get ahead. Right. One doesn’t have to look very hard to find examples of rampant cheating, lying, breaking the rules and never having to face justice! Unless of course you’re named Martha Stewart. She’s a convicted felon.

This past week in Atlanta, Georgia 11 educators — mostly African Americans that worked in impoverished communities–are now facing up to twenty years in prison for A. cheating on standardized tests, B. racketeering C. all of the above. They are taking the fall for a broken system a.k.a. No Child Left Behind that encouraged cheating especially at poor schools.

Two facts about No Child Left Behind:
1.  The end goal was that every child would be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Yeah, that didn’t happen and
2.  No Child Left Behind really meant no child left untested.

FACT: States on average spend 1.7 billion dollars a year on standardized testing. 1.7 billion dollars a year what a scam!

University of Georgia law professor Ron Carlson said, “It has to send a message to educators and broadly across the nation. Playing with students test scores is very, very dangerous business.”

Yeah but starting an illegal war, torturing and bragging about it is A+ okay. Or if you’re Wall Street no worries. See banks are too big to “nail” right?

We get it. We get it. There is a two tier legal system. One for regular folk and one for the billionaires that continue to increase their fortunes on the backs of the working class and the working poor.

Good thing these 11 educators will soon be sent to the big house! I’m glad they threw the book at them…educators. Now I’ll be able to sleep a lot better knowing that JP MORGAN CEO Jamie Dimon is still a free man!

Standardized Testing Kills Critical Thinking!

Do you have a number two pencil and proper I.D.?  If you do then you can take a seat for the next three or four hours and take a test that is primarily concerned with if you can test well.  If you can then the educational doors of opportunity supposedly will open up to you-if of course if you have money to afford it.

But what if you just don’t have what it takes to demonstrate your true intellect when posed with multiple choice questions?  Answer: Take more assessments but get rid of pencil and paper and replace it with online tests!  Voila.  All of your educational woes will be resolved with technology right?

I see the great advantages of utilizing technology in the 21st century classroom. However when class sizes are actually increasing to 40 teenagers per class period and then more of the educational budget is focused on the purchase of computers, lap tops, iPads, not to mention the money that will be invested in more test prep products and then of course all technology becomes outdated quickly, it is evident technology is an infinite money pit and the corporations know it.  And when kids still can’t pass the new fangled online diagnostic tests  at least they will be able to attend college- after serving in the military complex –so that’s a good thing especially since we are in a constant war spreading democracy.

51H0LraOuBL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_We have to commit to manageable class sizes in elementary and high school level courses otherwise our students LOSE and corporate America wins.  Every parent and student should make their voices heard and shout at the top of their lungs “WE DEMAND SMALL CLASS SIZES!”

You might say, “Hey Miserable Liberal class size doesn’t matter.  Teachers need  to stop being lazy and teach.”

And what I say to that is, “I don’t like your tone and class size does matter.  You obviously have swallowed a stupid pill.”

According to our very own President Obama:

“As the White House report (Investing in Our Future) makes clear, class size reduction has been strongly linked to higher achievement, higher levels of engagement, and higher rates of attending college. Yet here in New York City, our youngest students are suffering from the largest classes in 13 years, despite the fact that surveys show that class size reduction is the top priority of parents, year after year. As a city and a nation, we must do better.”

Yes we must do better !  And the first step is: demanding smaller class sizes.   We are going to need a bunch of really smart people to solve all the problems the stupid old people in power have created through their fucked up greed.  Yeah, that’s right I’m talking to you Koch Brothers and the Walton Family and all of you slimy bank CEOs and Standard & Poors since you are owned by MacGraw Hill (one of the biggest educational standardized test makers and all the bullshit that goes along it).

Ezra Klein wrote for The Washington Post that “Standard Poor’s didn’t just miss the bubble. They helped cause it.”  And now S&P evaluates and rates schools and school districts.

According to “The 500 Pound Gorilla” by Alfie Kohn, “The explicit findings of these reports concern whether this district is doing better than that one. But the tacit message – the hidden curriculum, if you will – is that test scores are a useful and appropriate marker for school quality. Who has an incentive to convince people of that conclusion? Well, it turns out that Standard & Poors is owned by McGraw-Hill, one of the largest manufacturers of standardized tests.”

What a coincidence right? Even Woody Allen thinks that relationship is a little incestuous.

 

Technology Over Teachers!

$3.6 Million Dollars for iReady?
iReady assessment program is the magical answer to all our educational concerns.

What would you do with $3.6 million dollars and it had to go towards public education?

Recently our school district paid $3.6 million dollars on a new program– iReady –to help track each student’s progress throughout the school year in English/Language Arts and Math.

Students in elementary school on up through twelfth grade will begin to take this assessment program that promises to provide results that can be immediately implemented in the classroom.  In only six (most likely 12) online hour sessions each student will be evaluated on their ability and then provided with “something” to support their ongoing academic goals.  See technology and online programs for student use   sounds like the very best solution to all of our educational problems!   Right!

Hey kids look at how much fun staring at a screen can be!
Hey kids look at how much fun staring at a screen can be!

Um, I’ve been teaching for over 25 years and I’ve got an idea of how to improve student’s academic performance:  Hire more teachers to instruct students!

Just hire strong experienced teachers.  That is the real answer to all of our educational woes.

Sure, it is not a sexy new technologically advanced answer;  its a real “old school” answer.  A common sense type of answer that Eleanor Roosevelt would love and Henry David Thoreau would applaud and Cesar Chavez would support.  Viva!

In the meantime I will be a loud mouth about how ridiculous all this money is being spent on a product that actually takes me away from my classroom not just once or twice but I will lose 12 hours of classroom instruction so I can be told what are my students areas of strengths and weaknesses.  Oh and I bet I will have to be out of the classroom another full day so I can be trained on how to utilize this program that truly undermines my classroom instructional experience with my students.

Just this week I had to stop my instruction while in the middle of discovering why Oedipus Rex is having such a difficult time of it in the land of Thebes.  We stopped reading our classical literature so kids could sit in front of a computer monitor select their favorite cartoon character and take a test that has absolutely nothing to do with what is happening in my classroom and/or their lives.  It is enough to make me stab my eyes with a number two pencil.

To be continued…

 

 

Out of Touch Bureaucracy

Congress is still on their summer break and I am concluding my second week of teaching ninth and tenth grade students.

“I have one hundred and seventy-two student“, the Spanish teacher shares but in English.

“Oh, wow that must be nice,” the AP English teacher chuckles, “I have a hundred and ninety students.”

I sit and say nothing.  I did the math.  I figured things out.  Right now I am around one hundred and sixty-five students.  That is fifteen students less than last school year.  Fifteen less student is a dream come true.

Our school district’s Superintendent visited our classrooms, you know so he can keep in touch with the commoners.  The principal escorted him from one classroom to another.  Stopping to see if students are learning.

“Oh when he came into my room I told him that my classes are way too  big and that I had over thirty-eight kids in most of my classes.  And guess what he said next…

Oh I hope he said, “we will cap your classes at thirty just give us one week to balance the numbers and if necessary hire more teachers.”

But instead he said, “Well thats great for me.”  Meaning our school district gets money for each new student.

“But you don’t get more money.  These students are not new to our district. ”  The exchange was exasperating .

It is obvious our school district’s well paid superintendent is clearly OUT OF TOUCH and obviously has a limited personality.  He equates large class size as “great”.  But who actually benefits from large classes?  The students?  The community?  The instructor?  Who?  Who can thrive –while learning new skills– when there are literally not enough desks or space in the classroom?

Now excuse me as I attempt to memorize 168 student names.  Yikes!