Thursday, May 1, 2008


Did you shiver when you read the title of this blog? If you did, then you must be a high school teacher. Here's what the word means to me: Roughly once a month, I have to leave my classes to a sub so that I can go sit with an assortment of JK-12 English teachers in the Big Foot Area Schools Association office and spend a day doing about 1/10th of what I could accomplish if left to my own devices. It's not that I think all the work that we do there is meaningless--some, but not all--as much as it is that I don't think that the work is done efficiently. Twice this year, Nicole and I have had the opportunity to work on our own for a curriculum day, and we've accomplished infinitely more than we did on all of the full group days combined.

In the interests of irony, I thought I'd take you through the "highlights" of the dullest day of my month:

We talked a lot about reading inventories (that is, ways of measuring how well a kid can read). If you didn't know the difference between your DIBELS (pronounced dibbles) and your Jerry John's, you were lost.

I know that these kids are in kindergarten, but the assessment checklist for promotion to 1st grade cracked me up. Here are some of the questions: Where is the front of the book? Where is the back of the book? And the end of the page, where do you go? Point to the title. Point to a picture. Point to a word. Didn't we have to count to 100 in kindergarten? I don't remember being asked to "point to a word."

So, we're supposed to choose a benchmark for reading, writing, and oral language that we're going to collect data on next year. We did this months ago, and I'd forgotten about it until yesterday. Our reading and writing benchmarks were legit, but here's the oral language benchmark we're tracking: "Observes the appropriate etiquette when expressing thanks and receiving praise." So we're going to focus on teaching kids to say thank you and you're welcome. And you might think that that somehow indicates that we're not taking it seriously, but the fact that that's one of the options in the first place suggests to me that this is not a document that is meant to be taken seriously.

Speaking of the benchmarks, this was a good example of the colossal waste of time that is the curriculum day. We went through these things grade level by grade level, and the first couple took forever, so Nicole and I did nothing--I'm being 100% literal when I say "nothing"--for the first 90 minutes of the meeting. We listened to elementary school teachers talk about how they would collect data. Remember my 3:1 Theory of Meetings? There are 3 wasted minutes for every 1 minute of actual work that gets done at most meetings? You can quadruple that first number when you're at curriculum.

Kathy Karcher and Toni Bethke presented some information from a conference they attended. FACT: J. David Cooper suggests that struggling readers should have 90 minutes of reading instruction every day plus a possible 30-40 minutes of supplemental instruction. FACT: Unless they're identified as having a reading disability, our kids get 90 minutes of "reading instruction" (i.e. an English class) a day for 9 weeks. To quote Kevin Bacon, "These are the facts, and they are indisputable."

We also got a hand-out of "Captivating Choices: High-Interest Books for Reluctant Readers." Some great tiles: George Washington, Spymaster; Rats! The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich; Seadogs: An Epic Ocean Operetta; Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time; and maybe my favorite, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish. The only one on the list I've read: King Dork, by Frank Portman. You should all read King Dork, by Frank Portman.

We got Novak's for lunch, which is nice, but a) they brought the food to us, so we didn't get to walk down and eat there, which is always nice, and b) since we were in the BFASA offices, there was no ketchup for my burger. It was still okay, but if I'm going to eat something that's not good for me, I want to feel like at least I'm enjoying the experience. But when you're wolfing down a 1/2-lb. cheeseburger and it doesn't even taste that good, it compounds your guilt.

We read some really good promotion essays by 8th-graders. I have juniors who can't write that well. I'm being serious.

We heard the story of a date that an anonymous member of the committee had with some guy who took her out for dinner, then to a karaoke bar where he got up in front and sang "Folsom Prison Blues." Now, as you all know, "Folsom Prison Blues" is my second-favorite song. However, I cannot support the idea of doing karaoke on a first date. Especially if it's just you and your date. I could maybe--maybe--understand if you were out with a group of your friends. But I know this to be absolutely true: People who go out alone and do karaoke are the saddest people in the world. People who do it on first dates are next in line.

The day ended around 2:30, when we had to share where we felt that progress was being made, a question that always strikes me as funny in that particular context. I believe I said that I was looking forward to making more strides with the new English 11 curriculum, my subtle way of suggesting that I would rather be in the classroom.

And really, that's the bottom line. People always ask if I like teaching, and I always say, "From 7:25-5:00 every day, I love it. I am always going to be a teacher because I love teaching. But there's a lot to being a teacher that isn't teaching, and I could do without it." So there you have it. Thank you for reading my blog. (The correct response to that statement should have been: You're welcome. Did you get it? If not, there's room in Advanced Comp.)

Later gators.


Sara said...

I'm pretty sure that Charlie can identify the front, back, pages, and words in books, and he's two. And, he says, "please" and "thank you" a lot - as in, "I want the bat, please....thanks." So, is he ready for first grade? I knew he was a genius.

Stacy said...

I'm not a high school teacher, and I shiver at the word curriculum. And, we don't get cheeseburgers or hear about really weird first dates at our meetings.

BP said...

1. I know what DIBELS is. It is a terribly inappropriate measurement of early childhood students' literacy.

2. Jerry L. Johns' inventory is nice, but not in Spanish, so therefore not useful to me.

3. You think it's ridiculous that students are asked to identify the front of the book, the back of the book, where to start reading, and identify word vs. letter, but you were spoken to as a child. You had books at your home. There are lots of kids that never have those opportunities that you had, so it's important not only that we assess that, but that we teach that. And, you'd be amazed at the number of kids, even in first grade that have difficulty distinguishing between a letter and a word.

4. I also teach them to count to 100, read, write, speak, become lifelong learners, and interact with other human beings. It's an intense year.