Friday, September 30, 2011


I just said that to make it sound like I work for a railroad company.

I subscribe to an ACTFL listserv for world language teachers.  Much of the time, it doesn't really add anything to my instruction; it's mostly people asking for help in doing work I'm not interested in doing yet (recommendations for exchange programs and the like), asking for recommendations on master's programs, or complaining about vendors trying to sell things on the listserv.  Really, guys? 5 posts a day for 3 weeks on the ethics of trying to sell Spanish books to Spanish teachers?

But on this morning's, one of the members asks an interesting question.  She wants to know how people are integrating Common Core into their world language classrooms and what the standards are.  I'm going to answer her in full over the weekend, and also hopefully secure her permission to re-post her question here.

But, in the meantime, the short answer is that there aren't any Common Core standards for world languages.  However, the standards for ELA look a lot, a LOT, like the ACTFL standards for world language.  Since the Common Cores are designed to encourage cross-curricular work, pairing the communication skills learned in, say, Spanish class can and should be used to explicitly reinforce the ELA standards.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Doodling in math class

This is from the Bloggess.  (I'm not going to link to her page because it's chock-full of language and themes I don't want to associate my mild-mannered and above all professional blog with.)

Any comment I could make would only ruin it.  View in good health.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Guess I'm not done talking about it yet.

So I was just going to make a snarky drive-by comment on the dwindling popularity of merit pay as states face huge deficits (due in no small part to the bad bets of a few madmen in New York), and then get on with enjoying my Fair Day by writing curriculum and maybe playing pirate video games.  But I'm having trouble moving on.  So, for what it's worth, a few more thoughts.

There is no way this looks good for the reformers who pushed it.  At best, it was a bad bet on a motivating system that all available research suggested wouldn't have the stated desired effect.  A generous interpretation says that reformers* genuinely believed that merit pay would have an increased effect on teacher efficacy, and that their position is being undercut by current circumstances.  In this picture, as soon as the financial situation of the various states (and Washington, D.C.) improve, the merit pay will be back up and running, barring further research that says it won't work.

At worst, this indicates that the political proponents of merit pay aren't even willing to fund their own educational priorities.  That means that anything even remotely controversial or expensive, like mandatory universal pre-kindergarten education or 10.5-month school years, are all pretty much DOA.  Forget about expanding the Kalamazoo Promise country-wide.  They're not going to pay for what they believe in; they certainly aren't going to pay for anything else.  So they hope education reform will happen by itself, for free, or perhaps paid for by the Gates Foundation.

Because of the flavor of the political nature of corporatist education reformers, I suspect it was just a bait-and-switch for teacher pay and benefits.  "We can't afford to pay you a starting salary of $30,000, so how about $25,000?  But if you work hard, you can earn merit pay up to $32,000!  No, wait, we can't afford to pay your merit pay.  But your contract says that you're okay with a base salary $25,000.  So that's what we're going to go with that.  Okay?  Okay." 

Alright.  Now I'm done.  I think.

*"Reformers" is a hard word for me.  I'm an education reformer; I'm reforming education by continually trying to be a better teacher.  I wish the system were more supportive of those changes.  The word in this context means "people who have no particular expertise in education but want to rearrange the system anyway."  All of their ideas aren't bad, but merit pay is.

"Nobody could have foreseen..."

...that the merit pay hype would die off due to lack of funding.

Oh, wait, it looks like somebody did.  What was that, 2008?

For my English students, a reading assignment.  Why is my lede misleading as to the content of the EdWeek article?

And a bit of meta-blogging.  I've just told Blogger to post my labels at the bottom of my blog.  The good news is, the only people ever likely to see them is me.  The bad news is a lot of my labels are one-off jokes.  I learned the art of labeling blog posts from the oft-imitated, ne'er-duplicated Neil Gaiman, after all.  I can't find a way of making a tag cloud just of tags that appear more than once.  Any help from the universe on this one?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What's this about then?

Privatizing teaching.  Who thinks this is a good idea?  Why? 

The Michigan Republican party, that's who.  As to why, I couldn't tell you.  It didn't work with maintenance staff, and you don't even have to have a degree to be a maintenance worker.  It didn't save money, it didn't improve efficiency.  Why, it's almost as if there's something here that isn't best served by race-to-the-bottom, get-more-while-paying-less mentality. 

It's going to be incredibly ironic (not to mention frustrating) if the only way we can have what we think of as a public school is to start a charter school.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Various items

Uncle Arne gives a speech.  I agree with basically everything he says, or at least everything in this bullet-pointed version as published.  I think the "doctors and lawyers don't work nine months a year" line is a little glib, but I am broadly in favor of increased school time.  

*Fun with Blogger stats, updated.  So in my post marveling over Blogger stats, I was amazed that I had people coming to my blog after searching for auto mechanics.  Well, it turns out that I actually wrote a post about auto mechanics.  'Course, it wasn't about auto mechanics.  Further, it turns out that the person who got here looking for auto mechanics left a comment on the blog.  It got caught in the spam filter.  S/he asked for advice on how to find auto mechanics.  Poor devil.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Good wisdom, vol. 2

The sooner you learn that it's okay to fail, the more enriching your experience as a teacher will be.  You will embrace your failures as opportunities for new beginnings.

--Lisa M. Dabbs, M.Ed.; "Twenty tips for new teachers."  Quoted in Edutopia News e-mail

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day!

Jenison, MI: "Unprecedented" teacher concessions will help districts halt layoffs, save programs.

In completely unrelated news, the US doesn't pay its teachers as well as many other places in the world, and its teaching cadre suffers for it.

The importance of context

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." --Abraham Lincoln

I read this quote and I loved it.  But because I'm a pretty skilled reader, and because I've seen Lincoln quotes abused and even fabricated before, I wanted to know more.  So, after a very little digging (it was the first non-"inspirational quote" site that came up on a google for "Lincoln quotes about labor"), I found this website, the Library at Northern Illinois University's Historical Digitization Project.  And in context, the quote means something different.

Lincoln is addressing an agricultural society in Wisconsin, a Northern state--the very definition of a Northern state, in 1859.  He's not talking about labor vs. capital at all, he's talking about how we get people to work; he's talking about free labor vs. slavery.  The coup de grace is that he's not coming down unambiguously in favor of labor.  He's outlining in broad strokes two different positions on the issue.  Pro-labor people (like me) like the above quote because it sounds like he's saying that money is less important, and entirely dependent on, work.

But consider this quote:

"Labor is available only in connection with capital –  nobody labors, unless somebody else owning capital, somehow, by the use of it, induces him to do it."  --Abraham Lincoln.

This seems to be in favor of capital, although if looking at it closely, the assumption clearly collapses into absurdity.  But this comes from the same speech, before the "labor" quote. Lincoln's not so pro-labor all of a sudden, eh?  He's not coming down on the side of pro-labor in this speech.  He does, however, come down on the side of pro-free-labor.

But it's still a fun quote to pull out this Labor Day.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fun with Blogger stats

Okay, so probably everybody does at least one of these.  Possibly more, if they find something interesting.  But if you'll forgive the self-indulgence, I thought I'd share some of the stats, not because of anything great about this blog, but because of something extraordinary about the world we live in.

This blog has been viewed over 3000 times by people who aren't me.  My average blog post has about 5 non-me viewers; the median is probably 4.  A few of them have as many as 20.  This isn't a huge readership, but it's a much bigger readership than the notes I used to write in the margins of my notebooks when I was studiously not thinking about my anthropology lecture; really, the blog is just a more complex, better polished version of that.

My readership comes from all over the world.  People from Russia, Singapore, South Africa, and Vietnam have all seen this blog.  Who knows how useful to them it was, but they saw it.  18 people from the Netherlands have been here.  18!  (Hallo!)  I have 6 followers: a few educators, my wife, one person who would, for his/her own nefarious purposes, follow anyone, and a couple of people I can't tell anything about.  I know I have at least 1 regular reader.  I don't believe he's following me under an alias, but he might, I suppose.  I don't know why he would choose to comment under his real name, then, but the ways of the mighty are mysterious.

People get here in all sorts of ways.  Lots of people get here by searching for "Never work harder than your students" or some variation thereof; if I'd known that was going to be my big traffic driver, I might have worked harder on those posts.  (But not harder than my students.)  Some people get here by searching for "kohn vs marzano."  Some got here by searching for notes on "Art and Science of Teaching," a few by searching for "components of a lesson plan," one guy got here by searching for "lesson plan for i am (and i mean it) not going to move."  I think it must be a book; it's not one I've heard of. 

Someone got here by searching the phrase "do we take the whiteboard for granted".  I wonder what they intend to do with the answer to that question: lead a whiteboard awareness campaign?  Replace all the whiteboards in their school with chalkboards?  Anyway, if the person who searched for that phrase is still here, the answer to your question is "yes." 

One poor soul got here by searching for "site:blogspot auto mechanics."  I wonder what I've written to make any search engine ever think that this was a valid result for that search.  I think about the searcher must have felt when s/he got here; all they wanted was instructions on changing the light bulb in their Mazda 6 (answer: you probably can't in later models; you have to take the whole front end of the car off.  It takes 2 mechanics over an hour.) and what they got was a diatribe against, say, Michelle Rhee.  How disappointed they must have been.  I take comfort in the speed of the internet.  At least their disappointment was lingering.  I like to think, though, that the confusion lasted for a while.

As I said at the outset, none of these things are meant as self-congratulations.  I didn't earn any of those things.  My miserable scribblings, more pre-writing exercises than drafts, and certainly not published-quality works, do not deserve to be taken seriously by educators from Florida, California, India, Russia, Germany, and Singapore.  More people have been exposed to my thoughts through this blog than through my teaching career, and that's shocking and humbling.  The digital world is a strange and wondrous place.  It's true that you never know where the road is going to take you when you walk out your front door, what adventures you'll be whisked away to.  The less explored corollary is that you never know, when you put out the welcome mat, who will show up at your door.

So thank you, dear reader, and to the people who wanted instructions on replacing the timing belt in their Ford F-150, sorry about that.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thursday night marimbas

Title: Two Mexican dances for marimba.
Performing artist: David Hall.
Album: Saudação
Composer: Gordon Stout.