Photo Albums

Mom between two friendsThis last summer I found several of my mother’s photo albums “hidden” in a cabinet in her home in Minnesota. She passed away in 2000 and some of these photos I’d never seen. One of the albums “My High School Days” contained pictures of her as a young adult in the 1930s and 1940s. Unfortunately, my mother did not label her photos with names and dates.Mom in Death Valley

Some of the pictures are of her and others in uniform; they must come from 1942-44 when she was a WAVE and stationed at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Others are pictures of her with May, her best friend from grammar school in Warroad, Minnesota.

MomI never knew my mother as a young woman; she was thirty-eight when I was born (dad was forty-one) and most of my memories are as she looked in her fifties and beyond. Looking at her in these photos is almost like being introduced to a new person. The same is true of the pictures of dad and my sister, Joyce.May and dad

May Acre was my dad’s first wife and died young, leaving dad as a single parent. Mom married dad after she came to California following the war; that was in 1948 and I came along two years later.May and dad

When I’ve finished scanning in all of my photos, I’ll get around to fixing the scratches, folds and other markings which mar these sixty and seventy year old pictures. I’m also putting together an electronic album for my sister; I don’t know if she has copies of these pictures or not. If not, I hope they’ll be a pleasant surprise. May's parents & May, Joyce and DadMay, Joyce and Mom

1.2.2013

Fitness, Testing and Evaluation

LA TimesThe Los Angeles Times this week came out with an article on a tentative agreement between the L.A. Unified SD and the teachers’ union to use student test scores to evaluate the performance of teachers – http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/11/la-unified-teachers-union-agree-on-teachers-evaluations.html .

and

Friday’s Orange County Register contained an article by Scott Martindale about students failing the California Physical Fitness Test – http://www.ocregister.com/news/students-379296-percent-school.html

To me, these articles are related. Both of them revolve around issues which seem to be societal in nature rather than the responsibility of an individual – the teacher. Orange County Register

The Register’s article on fitness seems to realize this as there is nothing about relating a student’s performance on the test to his or her physical education teacher. Weight and fitness are rightly seen as problems which cannot be attributed to or overcome by individual teachers. Although if we are going to hold English, Math and Science teachers responsible for the test scores of their students and, at least partially, evaluate them based on their students’ test scores, shouldn’t we hold physical education teachers responsible for their students’ scores on the physical fitness test? (I have no idea on how we use student test scores to evaluate teachers of other subjects.)

But, rather than using standardized tests to evaluate teachers, I’d like to see subject matter pre- and post-tests used to do the evaluations.

Seemingly ages ago I gave my social studies students pre- and post- geography tests. These were fifty question multiple-choice tests of my own design. They covered the geographic knowledge and skills related to being able to understand the seventh grade social studies curriculum. I gave the test to them at the start of the academic year and at the end of the academic year. The first test did not count on their grade, unless it was higher than their first grade report average; the test at the end of the year counted on their last grade report, regardless of their score.

These tests allowed me to see whether or not my students learned what I thought they should learn and, what I needed to do better at teaching. 

If you are going to evaluate teachers based on the test scores of their students, you should base the tests on what the teacher is supposed to have taught the students.

Here is the seventh grade curriculum. Test to see what they know at the start of the year; test again to see what they have learned. Did the students learn what they were supposed to have learned; did the teacher adequately teach what he or she was supposed to have taught? Evaluate the teacher based on factors that the teacher can control; do not evaluate the teacher based on factors beyond that teacher’s ability to control.

Don’t evaluate my ability to teach seventh graders how to use Word, Excel and Powerpoint by the girl who just came from Poland and doesn’t speak English (The counselor says she can just sit at the computer and type.); don’t evaluate my ability to teach seventh grade social studies on the student who reads at less than second grade level and speaks Spanish at home because neither of the parents speak English (“Joe, we don’t have anyplace else to put her; just put her next to another student who speaks Spanish.”).

An individual teacher cannot solve society’s problems; he can do his job and teach what he is supposed to teach – evaluate him on how he does that job. And, when he has time, he’ll do what he can to help those who need it most, even if he can’t speak their language.

12.2.2012

History

The Future becomes the Present;

The Present becomes the Past;

The Past becomes History;

History becomes Legend;

Legend becomes Myth.

So much of what we know about the Past has become lost in Legend and Myth. And much of it is a mixture of relics, oral histories and should have beens.

Was there a Great Flood such as that survived by Noah? Or was there a memory of a great flood among the peoples of the eastern Mediterranean area that was used by a writer of the Bible to teach a lesson?

Did the story of Atlantis have an actual historical basis, such as, the destruction of the Minoan culture owing in part to the volcanic eruption at Thera/Santorini?

Was there really a Trojan War as told by Homer? There is physical evidence for the destruction of a city at the site where Calvert and Schliemann believed Troy to be.

In The Rise of Rome Anthony Everitt divides his history into three parts: Legend, Story and History. I am finding the Story section to be quite interesting as it is a blend of fact, as we currently understand it, and fiction. How does one decide what is factual and what is not?

Physical evidence does not tell us the whys of things and the voices of those who lived two thousand years ago are long gone. Some of their writings survive, but what writer, including myself does not bring his own preconceptions, biases and desires to his writing? Ferretting out the “truth” is a fascinating adventure.

How will Future treat our heroes and villains, our stories and legends?

What will it make of George Washington and the Cherry Tree as told by Mason Weems? And, how about, tossing a coin across the Potomac? What will people believe about Washington if the Washington Monument and his head on Mount Rushmore survive into the far future but there are no writings or electronic media?

How do you write an accurate history of the 20th century if the only evidence you have are the writings of A. Hitler, J. Goebbels and, maybe, W. Churchill?

How do you explain the United States in the second half of that century if you have no knowledge of Joe McCarthy, Lester Maddox, Rosa Parks and the Vietnam War?

What will people several thousand years from now make of the 2000 election and its “hanging chads” – I think they’ll have a great chuckle.

Future – Present – Past – History – Legend – Myth. Will the story of the human race continue until it passes the point where we become Myth and that Myth becomes Forgotten?

11.27.2012

Voting

HB_FlagsThe Op-Ed page of the Los Angeles Times this morning had an article titled “Voting, California-style”. In this article Morley Winograd and Michael Hais advocated “a simple, online registration process” and “voting by mail” as two ways of increasing voter participation. I would like to add a third: extending voting hours or days.

My former car pool buddy volunteers to work at polling places near where he lives. Although polling places are open from 7 am to 8 pm, he works from about 6 am to about 10 pm. There are also other hours devoted to preparation and training. Extending these hours would mean added hardships to him and his fellow unpaid poll worker volunteers. It would also mean adding more volunteers and, possibly, paying them to work.

I have been voting by Absentee Ballot or Mail-in Ballot for the last several elections. I find it more convenient to fill out my ballot in the quiet atmosphere of my home than to go to my polling place, a fire station three hundred yards up the street, and then to stand in line and vote in a booth. I do, however, drop off my ballot at the polling place rather than mail it. (I used to drop it off at the polling place set up in the auditorium of the school where I taught.) HB_Sunset_3

One of the disadvantages to living in a country which covers several time zones is that when polls close in the eastern part of the country they are still open in the west. Votes are counted and reported in the eastern states while people are still voting in the west. If you include exit polling, the results of a national election may be “known” before millions of people have yet to vote. In their own minds at least, they are being disenfranchised. I would like to introduce some proposals to end this.

First I would propose that polls in all states open and close at the same time. Not the same hour, say, 7 am in the East, 7 am in the Central, etc., but at the same time: say, 7 am in the East, 6 am in the Central, 5 am in the Mountain, etc. They would close in the same way. If everyone opened and closed at the same time, there would be no results posted while anyone still hadn’t voted. I know that it wouldn’t do anything about exit polling and would create logistical problems.

My second proposal is related to the above and advocates having all polling places open and close as above but have them stay open the entire day – twenty-four hours. Nobody needs to rush to the polls before or after work.

Third, I would advocate making National Election Day a national holiday. Close schools and businesses and nobody would have an excuse for not voting. Don’t move it to Monday as too many people would make it a three-day weekend and not vote.

HB_Lamppost_Moon_1Or, and this is what I would really like to see, move the elections to weekends. Have all polls open and close at the same time and open for forty-eight hours on Saturday and Sunday. Can’t find time to vote over an entire weekend – I don’t think so.

Yes, I know, all of these proposals would cause problems and increase the cost of elections. I also believe that they would both increase voter participation and eliminate the perception of people living in western and Pacific states that their votes don’t seem to matter. I believe that the benefits of such changes far outweigh the costs and would be good for our country.

11.23.2012

Education – Working Conditions

When people talk about education today most of the conversation seems to revolve around three things: standards (Common Core), evaluation (testing) and money. One item usually left out of the mix is working conditions – the working conditions of teachers.

Education Computer Class 1Teachers, at least here in California, have college degrees and state certification, i.e., credentials. A college degree should show that you have subject matter knowledge and a credential that you know how to teach. Of course, nothing beats experience; it takes time and experience to make a good teacher.

How do you keep a good teacher? A good salary and benefits are part of the mix but they are not the total story. I have known good teachers who have left education after only a few years and some who have taught for decades; they have left not because their salaries were too low or their health benefits weren’t adequate but because they could no longer deal with the conditions under which they were supposed to teach.

I don’t speak of the sweatshop conditions of the Industrial Age or Third World classrooms; I speak of things like “potty duty”, student-teacher ratios (overcrowded classrooms), homework and the like.

In my school district junior high/middle schools have seven teaching periods; teachers teach six periods with one planning/conference period each day. There is a ten-minute nutrition period following the second period class and lunch follows either fourth or fifth period (at least at my last school). Classes are forty-five minutes in length with four minutes between classes. (It was changed to three minutes this year.)

If a teacher has Nutrition Duty and an after lunch conference period, he or she has only three or four minute breaks between classes to use the restroom. You cannot leave your classroom with thirty-five to forty twelve to fourteen year old students unattended while you take a break. Yet, this is how we treat college graduates with advanced degrees and certifications in our schools. This is how we keep good, experienced people in our classrooms?Education Computer Class 2

When I began teaching in the 1970s, my woodshop and metal shop classes had load limits of twenty-six. (We had twenty-four work-stations.) When my friend Paul retired with me last June he had classes of up to forty students in his woodshop – six classes a day. (I subbed for him one afternoon when he had to go the doctor. Forty eighth graders with sharp hand tools and a dozen woodworking machines going at the same time. Never again – I did not understand how he could do it day after day.) My computer classes maxed out at thirty-nine students – thirty-nine working student computers. History, Science, Math, English and Foreign Language teachers also had classes of up to forty students. Music and Physical Education classes were much larger.

Times these class sizes by six and you get student contacts for every full-time teacher on campus, except for Special Education teachers, of over two hundred, and for PE teachers of three hundred, every single day. How long does it take to learn the names and faces of two hundred plus students, not to mention the needs and learning styles of each and every student? Yet, we expect our teachers to do this almost immediately.

As an aside to the above, a couple of years ago we were told to begin color-coding our seating charts. A GATE (Gifted and Talented) student was one color, a Special Education student another color, a 504 student another color, a CELDT student another color, and a fifth category, I forget which, still another color. These categories overlapped and a student could have two or three colors; I don’t remember any having four. This was when I began to think of retirement.

Above, I mentioned homework. I did not mean the homework given to our students; I meant the homework we expect our teachers to do. You cannot plan for six classes, especially if you are teaching different subjects and levels, and grade student work in just a forty-five minute planning/conference period. Back in the days when I taught six History classes, I did six to eight hours of grading/planning at home every week. This equates to an entire extra workday every week.

I shudder to think of the work done by English teachers. They teach writing. The only way you can teach writing is by having the students write. The teacher must grade their writing. Grade the writing of two hundred plus students during a conference period? RIGHT! If it takes one minute to grade a student’s writing, it takes five to six hours to grade all of your classes. Can writing be taught to a student who gets only the equivalent of one minute of feedback once a week? And, think of the time a teacher spends reading student work and grading if more work is assigned.

My wife is an eighth grade English teacher. She is grading papers in our living room right now, during her Thanksgiving Week holiday. She seldom has a day or night during the school term when she is not grading/planning; the same is true for most English teachers.

Education Joe in Classroom 2It takes time to train a teacher and time for that teacher to gain experience and become a good or great teacher. We cannot keep all of the good teachers we need without the wages which reflect the actual work that they do and working conditions which allow them to do it and keep on doing it.

I taught junior high/middle school for forty years. I did not retire because of salary and benefits. I did not retire because of the students – I still enjoyed the kids and teaching. I retired because I was no longer willing to put up with all of the other things with which I had to deal.

Do I miss it? I miss the kids; I miss teaching; I miss my friends and colleagues. I miss nothing else.

Those who can – do.

Those who can’t – criticize.

Those who understand – teach.