English Exercise

Picked up several books at Camelot (used book store) today. Among them was Sue Grafton’s W is for Wasted. Looking at the list of her titles in the Kinsey Millhone series, I was reminded of an exercise I used to assign my seventh graders back in those days when I taught spelling, vocabulary and grammar. (May they never return.)

I’d have the kids write sentences using the words for the week–real imaginative, huh? Some of the sentences had to use two or more of the week’s words. For example: outlaw, evidence, innocent, alibi. Although the outlaw had an ironclad alibi, the evidence showed that she was not innocent and that her accomplice had given perjured testimony.

They could change nouns to adjectives to verbs to adverbs, etc. I also gave them a chance to stump me by “throwing” a bunch of words at me and seeing if I could do it on the fly. I don’t remember ever being stumped, but that could be memory’s ego talking. I do remember stretching things, especially when they’d have me do the whole list, mixed up of course, in a single go.

Well, here goes: The alibi the shapely burglar used was insufficient to save her from becoming a corpse as the deadbeat hodad’s board had evidently hidden a gumshoe of homicidal intent who was bent on blowing away the less than innocent as she passed judgment on the killer whose lawless sense of malice acted as a noose around the neck of the outlaw Pauline who realized that her continued existence was in peril as she was the quarry of the bullet ricocheting off the seawall which in its lack of silence was trespassing the pacific surfline and catching her in the undertow of its vengeance and wasted away her life in the uncaring sand.

Ah, well, the Angels won–on to Chapter 4.

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 .


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.


A Memory

Yesterday I received a postcard in the mail from my high school (Class of 1968) and decided to visit the website.

It was a nice looking site and easy to navigate. The cross country team did well at Mt. SAC and the Fall Open House is this next Sunday. Mandatory attendance for all students. But I made a mistake and looked at the Alumni section and looked at the memorials. I found that an old friend had passed away.


He and I attended the same elementary school. If I remember correctly, his father was an egg farmer/rancher. I learned we were going to high school together on the first day of school when I boarded the bus two blocks from home; he was already on board, living farther away from the school than I. It was a technical high school with the usual academic classes and two and a half hours of shop (I was in Drafting and he was in Machine.)

After he got his driver’s license, I rode to school with him. What a car. He had a black Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 and could lay rubber in all four gears. It was great fun going to school and we picked up a couple of other guys on the way; I even got to drive it a couple of times.

At the time Arcadia was all, or almost all, white. Our high school it now seems was about a third Mexican/Chicano/Latino (I don’t remember what term was in use all those years ago.). Lo and behold I found out that Izzy was one of them. I had had no idea that he was a member of a different ethnic group. And, I hope that it wouldn’t have mattered had I known. Sunset

I wish now that I hadn’t lost touch with him; he was a nice guy. The world is poorer without him and so am I.


Retirement at last (or too soon?)

My first official day of retirement was June 15, 2012.

I spent one year in kindergarten, eight years in elementary school, four years in high school, four years to get my BA/teaching credential and twenty years later I got my MA. I taught junior high/middle school (Industrial Arts, History, English, Computers, Yearbook) for forty years.


My 40th year in junior high
My 40th year in junior high

My life no longer answers to bells (except for my wife’s alarm clock). No more thirty minute lunches; no more ten minute bathroom breaks. No more “potty duty”. Heaven. Brooks and Red, in the Shawshank Redemption, had difficulty adjusting to their newfound freedom when they were paroled; I have had no difficulty adjusting to mine.

For the first time in fifty plus years my life is no longer governed by the schedule set by Education.

I get to have coffee, take a walk along the beach, have some more coffee and breakfast, read the papers and do my crossword and Sudoku puzzles. Heaven.

Friends ask how I like retirement. I tell them that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be – it’s a lot better.

My wife still teaches and I still work high school games during football season (public address announcer), but there is no longer any pressure or tension. No testing, no discipline, no homework, no parents, no administrators (or lesson plans and color-coded seating charts). Ahhh.

When I retired, I told my wife that I wasn’t going to do anything for a year (this blog is as close to work as I get) and then decide whether I wanted to get another job. Maybe, substitute teaching. I don’t think so. This freedom is enjoyable and addictive; there is no dearth of activities; there is no boredom; there is no yearning for something meaningful to do. I like this.

Or, maybe, I do have a “job” – causing jealousy and envy in others.