A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Hooray! Evaluation time again! This time my administrator came in on the day I had a raging sinus infection, but c'est la vie. I really didn't care because frankly, the Cornelius door is ALWAYS open.

Anyway, the kids tried their very best to make me look good (bless their little hearts!), we had a great discussion, and I showed up the next day for my post-observation conference.

She was very complementary. Very. She actually said that she believed I was the best teacher in the department (which isn't true, but is still very nice to hear). But she was pretty insistent about it and cited numerous examples. For well over half an hour, and I was pretty embarrassed, let me tell you. She said she actually stopped scripting because she got lost in the lesson and was actually learning.


(There always is one, isn't there?)

The reason I mention the complements is to discuss what was written down.


Boilerplate language: "Ms. Cornelius is competent in her knowledge of subject matter." "Ms. Cornelius works with other staff members."

If she really thought that my teaching was that awesome, it would be nice to see her testify to that. And you know the etymology of the word, "testify," don't you?

( In the ancient world, men swore the truth about something by putting their hand on their testicles. Thus, they were "testes- fying.")

Our administrators have apparently been completely warned against saying anything complementary NO MATTER HOW STRONGLY the administrator believes that complements are in order). The top ranking on our evaluation forms is "meets expectations."

So, in other words, our evaluations are NOT actually supposed to indicate any real evaluation.

Yes, and Arne Duncan wants me to roll the dice on merit pay, right? I can already tell you what would happen if that were instituted in my district. Either NO ONE would get merit pay and raises would actually disappear except for the superintendent and his staff, OR the nattering nabobs of nepotism that haunt the office and the eight-legged administrators (those with a staff member so far up their administraors' keisters that they look like they have eight legs).

I know I am a good teacher. But I would like my written evaluations to honestly reflect my strengths. The administration has been instructed to write these non-evaluations so that they can later fire us at will with no evidence that we were ever anything but "adequate."

It's actually insulting.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

The (Mis)adventures of Yo-yo Boy

One of the things the Petty Bureaucrats Who Think They Know All don't get about teaching-- among many, many, many, MANY things!-- is the emotional care and guidance teachers expend upon their students. This part of the student-teacher relationship has very little to do (in an obvious way) about test scores and yet it cannot be ignored.

One of my students is Yo-yo Boy. Yo-yo Boy's dad and mom are not in the picture, but YYB does have a cousin and her husband. YYB has some issues: he will lie absolutely to your face, he will steal anything not nailed down, he has a trillion excuses and a healthy self-pitying martyr complex for any failures on his part, he is absolutely mesmerized by the presence of female persons without having the minutest idea of how to appropriately interact with them. Worse, he is a victim of the rankest social promotion on the part of a neighboring school district that I have ever seen-- to the extent that he was (non)functionally illiterate when we first got him in our high school. Yo-yo Boy has bounced around from home to home, school to school, suspension to suspension.

It is my happy duty to teach this young fella. It is also my happy duty to impart the following wisdom, in the order in which it occurred:
1) Ms. Cornelius does NOT want to know the color of your underwear, and neither does anyone else.
2) Grabbing the derriere of a young lady you do not know does NOT enamor her of you and will indeed get you suspended.
3) The secret to passing a class is to... get this!-- do the assignments, study for tests and quizzes, and pay attention in class.
4) The preliminary secret to #3 is to bring a pencil, your assignments, and a book to class every day. Without fail.
5) Dudes do not carry purses in our neck of the woods, so having one in your possession will cause you to get jugged for stealing.
6) Do not mouth off to the people providing you with shelter or fight with their own children, or you will get thrown out of the house, even if they love you.
7) You are not a bad enough mamma- jamma to make it on the streets for even five seconds, so pay attention to #6.
8) You will get fired from your job if you do not show up on time, so yes, Ms. Cornelius counts tardies. Plus, you do not be engaging in #2 or #5 so that you then violate #8.
9) Ms. Cornelius will cross-check every single thing you tell her, so don't even bother to lie.
10) If you do not understand, ask.

Sadly, Yo-yo Boy violated #6 one too many times. I do not know if I will see him again.

Or he could turn up tomorrow.

That's just part of the teaching life in a real public school, where testing is sometimes the least measure of our worth.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

This is amazing.

How would you like to be a teacher for 55 years?

How would you like to be a principal of a middle school for 48 years?

Madeleine P. Brennan maintains Dyker Heights Intermediate School 201 in Brooklyn as something of a time capsule.

Female secretaries, guidance counselors and assistant principals are asked to wear dresses or skirts; teachers may wear slacks, but not dungarees; men all wear ties. The marble staircase shines; the hallways are painted a classic pale blue. Each year before Christmas, there is Rhinestone Week, in which Mrs. Brennan encourages staff members to rummage through their grandmothers’ things for old costume jewelry to wear.

But the prize artifact of the past is Mrs. Brennan herself, who has been principal of the school for 48 years, longer than most of her teachers have been alive — longer, experts believe, than any other principal in the country. When she first arrived to work at this imposing brick building in March 1963, John F. Kennedy was president, ZIP codes were not yet in use, and the nearby Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was still under construction.

She has outlasted more than a dozen schools chancellors, who made what she described as “little changes here and there,” and watched a student body dominated by the children of Italian immigrants transform into one that is 45 percent Asian-American and 18 percent Hispanic.

But as the city embarks on an overhaul of its middle schools, Mrs. Brennan believes that what works remains the same. Consistent rules and consequences. A dedicated, hard-working staff. A calendar stuffed with activities like a Shakespeare fair and an annual musical. Sincere care for your charges.

“Teenagers fascinate me,” Mrs. Brennan said in an interview in her pin-straight office. “They are peculiar ducks, neither fish nor fowl. And you have to love them to really work with them. If you don’t love them, you are up a tree.”

Read the whole thing.

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Monday, November 07, 2011

The Herritage Foundation thinks I'm overpaid.

According to this report, sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, et al., teachers are overpaid.

Here is an analysis from Time magazine via Yahoo News that summarizes the report. The claim that teachers are overpaid is based upon the following assumptions:
1) Teachers have lower cognitive ability-- or to put it another way, IQs.
Really? I'll put my IQ up against that of Joseph Coors (one of the original founders of the Heritage Foundation) any day. And I know plenty of mentally negligible people who work in the brewing industry.

2) Public school teachers get paid more than private school teachers.
Right, and private school teachers also are often not certified, or many of them would teach in the public schools.

3) People entering teaching from other fields get an average 9% raise over the pay from their previous job.
How does this prove anything other than the fact that people indeed usually try to move into a new profession in order to make more money than in the profession they are leaving behind?

Apparently, they also calculated "vacation" into the benefits that makes teachers over paid. There's always that misconception hanging out there. So let me try to explain this simply: Teachers get NO paid vacation. Part-time UPS drivers get more paid vacation than we do. We have unpaid summer breaks, during which times many teachers work second jobs or work for free on planning and preparation for the upcoming school year.

The whole thing is laughable.


Friday, November 04, 2011

The soundtrack of my life, after Steve

Transitions playlist

Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs. You helped me fill my life with music. All Things Must Pass.

Greg Laswell, How the Day Sounds
George Harrison, All Things Must Pass
John Martyn, May You Never
Gillian Welch, Dark Turn of Mind
Imogen Heap, Wait It Out
Iron & Wine, The Boy With a Coin
The Civil Wars, 20 Years
Joni Mitchell, A Case of You
Jude Cole, Right There Now
Fountains of Wayne, All Kinds of Time
Ingrid Michaelson, All Love
Madeleine Peyroux, Dance Me To The End of Love
The Jayhawks, Tampa to Tulsa
J. D. Souther, Faithless Love
Jackson Browne, Fountain of Sorrow
Jonatha Brooke, No Net Below
Jennifer Warnes, It Goes Like It Goes
Jane Siberry, The Life is The Red Wagon
Kate Bush, This Woman's Work
Joan Baez, Simple Twist of Fate
Fleet Foxes, White Winter Hymnal
k. d. lang, Simple
The Antlers, Shiva
The Wailin' Jennys, Calling All Angels
Jane Monheit, Somewhere Over the Rainbow

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