At the moment I seem to be suffering from priority paralysis. There are so many things I want to be doing I’m having a hard time latching on to any single one of them. Blogging is one of them and I have a summer’s worth of stuff on my mind which I will not be getting to now or, in most cases, ever. But starting this after ten minutes of looking at the blank screen may be my first step on that long proverbial journey.
I’ll start with “The Teachers Wars” a book I think I will order. No. I just did order it. Fortunately I found one listed as unused like new and with shipping it only will cost me $6.88. It should arrive in a week and perhaps by that time I will have finished reading Dark Horse the Autobiography of Wendell Wilkie.
This is good. Thinking about books and ideas gets my juices flowing. A week ago I couldn’t sleep for hours one night of my weeklong Wisconsin soujourn with my grandsons and thought about the connections between the many books I’d been reading recently. I roughed out a blog post mentally which I’m still tempted to write. But I’ve got those other priorities to dip into each requiring a step for their continuing journeys.
As for The Teachers Wars it was mentioned yesterday at 709’s opening day teacher inservice at Denfeld High. I spent the day there – a very worthwhile day. At the end I wondered why it took me three years to attend such a day. Well, the Administration didn’t encourage that kind of participation in the past and I was preoccupied with our school board wars. That would be worthy a book too. Maybe I’ll write it someday but that would be priority 21.
The first thing that struck me was looking at all our employees sitting in the Denfeld Auditorium – Everybody, not just teachers, was being inserviced – a nice bit of democracy if you ask me. It was a sea of white European faces. That’s a worrisome fact in a district which has a growing number of minority students who suffer a stunning gap between their academic success and the students who look like all the staff.
After this there were four sessions for staff the first being a “cultural sharing” which was grouped by school or geography. The Superintendent suggested that I wouldn’t alarm too many people if I attended the meeting of the staff who work on the second floor of the Administration Building HOCHS (Historic Old Central High School). The idea was, I gather, that we would share our families cultural values: lefsa, sourkraut puritan work ethic and the like but most of the folks in our group talked about the things in their families that were important traditions. I had promised the Superintendent that I would be a “fly on the wall” and not say anything but I figured after most of the others had spoken I ought to explain how my family had been political in order not to seem stand-offish. I mentioned my Dad’s giving his parents lists of candidates to vote for and my Mother’s family long discussions about politics and history.
For the next three sessions I attended sessions for the three divisions of our schools. Elementary teachers, Secondary teachers and everyone else.
I’ll blur my impressions together. I got the sense that our elementary teachers were every bit as concerned about class size as I thought they were. I also got the impression that they have had so many new directives thrown at them that they are gasping for air. Imagine someone happily juggling three tennis balls and someone else helpfully tossing them two more to juggle. The sessions was about grading changes that we made last year. We got rid of A,B,C and D’s and replaced them with 4,3,2,and 1’s. How about zero you ask? I’m not sure I have an answer for you. I’m not sure its an option anymore just a reality we no longer acknowledge a la No child left behind. And, yes, when I asked, everyone seems to treat the numerical grades as stand-ins for the discarded letter grades. Was that not predictable?
I stopped in at a session for social studies teachers and only recognized one from my earliest days on the School Board. He was my son’s teacher at the long gone Woodland Middle School. I also noted how thinned the ranks of the social studies faculty was. The Teacher’s Wars of the past decade apparently concluded that social studies was not a particularly valuable subject. If Santyanna is right we may have more election year’s like this one to look forward to.
Finally, I went to a session on “formative” assessment. I’ll explain it this way- its not a “summative” assessment. Or to elaborate in non jargonese – Its like a quiz to a final exam except its not necessarily a test.
I intend to spend a lot more time in our schools this year to make up for a couple of really crumby years on the school board. I had several teachers tell me they were glad to see me and I heard this as well from Art Johnston and Alanna Oswald among the board members who spent the day at Denfeld. When Teacher’s Union President, Bernie Burnham, sent all the School Board members a thank you email for showing up I replied to it with an assurance to her that it had been our pleasure.