Friday, January 28, 2005

Create Your Own--Whaa?

Yesterday in my sociology class we started one of my favorite projects: Create Your Own Culture! My students are learning about the components of culture and, after we cover cultural universals, I have them create their own culture. The assignment has basic components like, People: Are your members of society human? If so, what is their ethnicity? or Education: Do they go to school? If so, for how long? What are the most important academic subjects? The list goes on to include many vocab words and sociological ideas. I love this project because of the sheer creativity involved.

ANYWAY, yesterday one of my students called me over. "Are we going to present these?" he asked. "I'm not going to require it. Maybe for extra credit," I said. "Good. Because mine might offend people." I looked down. His culture is called Rebel Island and allows only white people. I blinked. This young white boy is one of the only white kids in my class. "Ya, that might make people upset. You don't have to present that," I said.

I was immediately troubled because I didn't know if I handled the situation correctly. I was completely offended by his culture, but not surprised. As a teacher, do I have a responsibility to negate this kind of mentality? I decided not directly. Here is my reasoning:

1. Everyone has a right to their opinion. These rights are called civil liberties. He has the right to long for the South to rise again. I have the right to disagree.
2. My disapproval of his culture is not going to change his mind. Also, my job is to cultivate the growth of each child, regardless of whether I disagree with them. As long as he is getting the sociological concepts, it's not my place to out-and-out reject his ideas.

I don't know. I strive for my classroom to be a safe space and I am very strict about forbidding slurs of any sort. My students know that I'm open-minded and I'm not a fan of judging others. When I address the class, I address them as though they are not racist or homophobic or sexist. I think I handled the situation correctly, but a small part of me wonders whether I'm wrong.

I asked another teacher what she would have done and she offered this reply, "How boring would that be!"

unions, to join or not to join

La maestra is right, we can join unions in Texas. We aren't allowed to strike though. We're pretty much at the mercy of the legislature and the unions. I belong to a local union and the only reason I joined was because several teachers encouraged it when I began teaching. Why? To CYA. I heard that it's beneficial if someone is trying to unjustly fire you or you are accused of something... scary, huh? I think of it as a safety belt.

I'm not a fan of the really big, bureaucratic organizations. Sometimes I think they're just part of the problem. It's ironic that many unions, which are supposed to be voices of the people, become another spoke in the wheel and alienated from those people they are created to help. (Note: I'm not saying this is true of every union)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


as a teacher who works in a low-income school with strained resources, as a teacher who works at a school with the largest population of sped kids in town and a pretty high pop of esl kids, and as someone who works toward social justice on a daily basis, i find this fucking insulting.
i guess we teachers just aren't working hard enough and that's why our kids are struggling with taks. i guess i just need more incentives because i've obviously taken this job for the awesome health insurance, the super great pay, and the stress-free environment.

Perry: Pay Raises for 'Best and Brightest' Teachers
Governor Perry in his State of the State address at noon outlined his plans to give pay raises to only the "best and brightest" teachers and "incentives tied to student results." Excerpts from the speech:"We have many excellent teachers in Texas. I want our best and brightest teachers to be paid salary incentives as high as $7,500 a year when they rekindle the love of learning among children too often left in the shadows of success.” “Excellence should not be rewarded the same as mediocrity; otherwise, mediocrity becomes its own incentive. When money follows results, we will get more for our money.”“Achievement incentives work. With the right incentives, we can encourage more students to take our hardest course of study, the distinguished achievement program and improve student performance on the TAKS test. We should also reinstate end-of-course exams in subjects like algebra, biology, English and history, and allow schools to offer these exams on an optional basis, with incentives tied to student results."
Here's what he had to say about "bad schools":"Successful charter schools should be emulated across Texas. But those that fail our children, and worse yet, those that enrich fly-by-night operators, should be shut down without delay. I’m tired of bad charter schools obscuring the work done by the good ones.”“We have more than 660,000 students who have limited proficiency in English. Many show up for class several grades behind. We must provide meaningful progress incentives for schools that serve mostly disadvantaged student populations. The challenges these schools face are difficult but not impossible. Let’s meet this challenge with new resources, proven teachers and higher expectations.”“At the same time, bad schools that refuse to change and chronically fail our children must not be allowed to do so without consequences. And we must have zero tolerance for those that tamper with test results."

Monday, January 24, 2005

Round I

Madhatter returns dangerously low test scores. Explains to class that she weeped as she graded them and then prayed to the gods above.

First period response: Silence.
Madhatter: Is anyone going to retake tomorrow? Anyone? Does anyone care about their grade?
One student raises his hand.
Madhatter: Oh good. Do you care about your grade or are you retesting?
Student: Retesting.

Second period response: Ms., you won't fail us. You care about us too much.
Madhatter wants to say: Try me.
Madhatter really says: Honey, my caring about your well-being does not directly influence your grade. Remember, you are the only person who can affect your grade. You decide whether or not you pass or fail.
Same student: Whatever Ms. You know you love us.
Madhatter wonders whether she's speaking Chinese.

Fourth period response: You can't collectively fail us. If we all fail then you'll get in trouble.
Madhatter wants to say: Look you little manipulative bastards, don't try to play hardball with me. I guarantee I'll win.
Madhatter really says: Actually, I feel that I've done everything I can to help you pass. I practically handed you the test the day before. I've tried retesting, tutoring, make-up work, dancing, pleading, shouting. I'm simply going to document this and send it to each of your parents and my boss. You. will. collectively. fail.
Fourth period response: Silence.
Madhatter thinks: They have no idea that I've bluffing.

I hate threatening my students but they really pissed me off. They need a major wake-up call.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

word of the week

The nearby English teacher and I were discussing our student's low vocab skills. She firmly believes that our students must have a larger, stronger vocab in order to improve their reading and writing skills. She has this great word wall that stretches across an entire wall of her classroom. I try to use large words with my kids and define them during our lectures or discussions, so I offered to use these crazy vocab words in my history class.
Last week I chose the word autonomous because it fit into our class discussion about the rise of modern European states as autonomous entities. "Today when you go to your English class," I said, "declare to your English teacher that you are an autonomous being!" (I have to admit, sometimes I worry that I'm using a word wrong.) Later that day one of my students popped her head in. "Ms. Madhatter, what was that word you told me to use? Annonnnnus?" "Autonomous," I corrected. "Great! I'm gonna use it on Ms. English!" I found out later that my little vocab whiz walked up to the English teacher and said, "I'm autonunn, wait, I'm au...ton...o..mous! Do you know what THAT means?" The English teacher looked at her quizically and said, "Yes, it's to be independent or self-sufficient." "Damn! I finally thought I'd know something you don't!" the student declared. Not the intent I had in teaching her that word, but at least I know 1 out of 150 students actually listens to me.