Check it out!
Before I left for my honeymoon I had heard about this amazing new podcast called All The Brians. I supposed I think it's amazing because it's a very specific topic that I happen to be a part of. That being said, I had a great time chatting with the host, Brian Alexander, for about an hour touching on two major topics: education and travel hacking. If you are interested in the education portion, just listen from the beginning. If you are interested in the travel portion, begin at timestamp 47:55.
Check it out!
My wife and I returned from our honeymoon last Sunday. It was an amazing five week experience that opened our eyes to more of the world than seen before. It truly is amazing what is out there: the culture, the nature, the food! If you want to know more about the specifics, check out my travel blog. I'll be putting up a lot more pictures and analysis there.
When we returned I started reading more of the news than I had for the previous month. I was pleasantly surprised to see an article in the newspaper featuring a recent decision regarding the Vergara teacher tenure case that made headlines two years ago when Judge Treu of the LA County Superior Court struck down the California tenure laws as unconstitutional. As was promised, there was a long legal battle and other lawsuits cropped up along the way.
The main gripe folks in California had was that teacher tenure was retaining low-quality teachers and so was unconstitutional due to every child's right to a high-quality education. Personally, I find this article quite fatuous because it leaves out a very important consequence of having these laws: high-quality teachers want to stay in the profession. While I haven't read the entire paper, a graduate of Duke University named Dana Fenster spent two years as a Teach For America corps member after writing about the benefits of high-quality teacher retention under a tenure system. When teachers feel like they have more protection they are willing to experiment with their craft, usually leading to better results. Of course, not all teachers are made to teach longterm, but by focusing on the low-quality ones Judge Treu was forgetting how retention is often a better focus.
Back in April of this year a California appeals court actually ruled against what Judge Treu said and reversed the lower courts decision, allowing teacher tenure to stand. This was obviously a happy day for members of teachers unions across the country. As a teacher about to apply for tenure myself I was happy to read about it last school year.
Finally, the California Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the appeals court ruling will stand. Translation: teacher tenure in CA is here to stay.
Of course there will be more lawsuits and concerns in the future but for the moment I am happy to report that my welcome-back present was one that will benefit millions of students across the state and most likely the country.
The end of the year was tough and full but ended quite well. In the end, the vast majority of my students passed my class so I didn't need to worry about too many conflicts with my administration over grades. As it turns out, they learned!
So now I'm knee-deep in summer mode which, unfortunately, many people seem to think means I am doing nothing for school. Of course, I'm not spending hours every day focused on school and work but I am not completely idle. On a daily basis I am trying to prep for teaching Geometry next year for the first time in five years. I am going through the curriculum we use (College Prep Math) and realizing how wonderful it is and how much better it will be for me than when I taught Geometry back in Philadelphia without any supporting curriculum except for old books that relied on t-chart proofs. So I am spending about an hour each day (except Saturdays) working out what my students will be doing come September.
And I am also relaxing. Why? Because teachers need it. And, because honestly, we are paid only for 10 months worth of work!
My honeymoon begins in 8 days and I'm excited to experience a world trip with my wife of a little more than a year. And I'm going to be posting a lot on my travel blog (www.gateb3.com) so check it out! I'll try to keep up with some education news and post here as well.
Every teacher knows that the end of the year brings all sorts of motivation to our students. Those who want to get the high GPAs are grabbing at straws to get higher grades while those who have done very little work the entire semester are finally coming in for extra help. it brings to mind the phrase, "your emergency is not my emergency" more often than not.
That being said I always try to offer extra support at the end of the year through review guides for my final exam, providing more "office hours" to students who need extra help, and checking my email more frequently for those with questions. Despite that, students still fail and still blame me for it. And it sucks.
What I really want to focus on with this entry, though, is how teachers are often pressured by the education system around us (schools, districts, tenure policies) to inflate grades in order to increase passing rates. Yes, I understand that there should be some leeway and students who need a 65% to pass but only have a 63% should get the benefit of the doubt. But I have a hard time granting that students who come in late to class daily or consistently disrupt and complete no work are deserving of that leniency.
It is often an internal and external conflict of mine when this takes place because I want to make sure my students are prepared for their next years of high school and if they fail, perhaps there is some legitimacy that I did not do enough to ensure their success. But the onus is on them as well. I know many will call me callous for putting responsibility on them but I think it is valid to do so and am happy to discuss further.
In the end, I doubt I'll have to make too many changes to my grade book and hopefully will get an accurate picture of what my students know and remember. More importantly, I hope whatever grades they get in the end they understand as coming from them and not being doled out bye an unfair teacher.
In March 2016 the New York State Board of Regents met and decided on new regulations to be upheld by all New York State teachers and teaching assistants. According to the meeting there were a few important changes that have confused a lot of people. If you read on their news website, it lists all the new information but does not compare it to the old. My intention is to do that here to the best of my ability.
Here is the text from the NY State Education website that as of this posting has yet to be updated with the new rules.
Professional Development for Certificate Holders
As it stood before this change the major things to know were:
Those rules have now all changed. With the adoption of Subpart 80-6 (what a descriptive name, no?), now it seems the following is in effect (with some caveats, of course):
This all comes into effect on July 1, 2016 so if anyone has not completed the old requirements they will get to bypass them and essentially get a "reset" of the clock. The five years starts again on the registrants birth month of the 2016-2017 school year (so since my birthday is in April, I will register before then and start documenting afterward).
While on my Facebook newsfeed this afternoon I was intrigued by a post from a friend of mine still teaching at my last school in Philadelphia. In it, she describes a strange occurrence in the School District of Philadelphia.
Apparently, today Superintendent Hite sent an email out to all staff expressing desire for them to refer any leads they might have for teaching in the city. I think my friend expressed the correct amount of shock and chagrin - it is an truly fantastical idea that teachers in Philadelphia would feel that their own voice would be the catalyst to ensuring the vacancy rate of Philadelphia schoolteachers reduces to zero (something that hadn't even happened by April!).
Teachers in Philadelphia are working on an expired contract that has been pushed deeply by the current administration. Luckily, recent arbitration and court rulings have been in their favor (notably: Non-teaching assistants winning back pay and the State Court limiting the School Reform Commission's power). But to think at this point that a long-term position is a viable option by teaching in Philadelphia is a hard sell. A private firm that was hired to fill substitute positions was not even able to decrease vacancy rates at all and is being dismissed.
I hope the leadership of Philadelphia schools takes a hard look at the path they are on and starts asking teachers not to refer newbies to a district being chopped up by pro-charter interests, but to help rebuild what is currently there.
CNN recently released a new poll showing again that teens have an unfortunate addiction to using their cellphones at all times of day. While it is unsurprising as a teacher to read about this (and probably unsurprising to the rest of the country as well), it is something to be wary of for the next generation. Probably the most important piece of research to come out of this article is something I have read a few times before:
The dopamine in our brains is stimulated by the unpredictability that social media, emails and texting provide.
Our brains crave unpredictability - it's not only a curiosity but also a biological fact. For tens of thousands of years the human brain developed while trying to stay alive through hunting, foraging, fighting off animals, and more. These situations are fraught with unpredictability and therefore exciting to the neuronal pathways.
As our development has continued, however, we have become creatures of comfort and routine - something that can help us put effort elsewhere but we need to consciously focus that effort into things like hobbies, activities, and interactions with other people. What teens tend to do (perhaps because of the easier access and a parent's desire for quiet) is use their phones. Social media use is the most pervasive things I see in the school in which I work and it scares me sometimes how connected some of these students need to be in order to feel comfortable or confident in themselves.
I have students tell me that I'm acting "too much" when I ask that their phones are put away during class yet the way I see it, they are not only losing the information from a class they need to graduate, but also losing the ability to focus their concentration on something, even if it's not as "entertaining" as they think.
I can only hope that if and when I become a parent that I am able to consistently retain this interpersonal interaction with my children and foster it amongst my community.
I have been lucky enough to be informed of a list of free museums for teachers during spring break. During the past two days I've taken advantage of that and visited four of the list below. As we know teachers often don't get much in the way of positive reinforcement from the outside community so I am glad that we get this temporary perk. I highly recommend you visit these sites - they are interesting, informative, and maybe will spark some ideas of how to incorporate more of New York City into our curriculum.
The Anne Frank Center USA
Fraunces Tavern® Museum
Museum of American Finance
Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust
Closed Saturdays and for Passover on April 24 and 29, with early closings on April 22 and 28.
The Skyscraper Museum
Wall Street Walks
Free walking tour for NYC Teachers. Use discount code NYCTEACHER when booking.
When I started graduate school in 2008 I took out the largest sum of loans I had ever taken - more than $20,000 worth (this is on par with what the NY Times said was the average student loan debt at the time). It was a very large number to me (although lower than what many others had to take out) but I was not daunted by it since I had heard of the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. As a brief summary: as long as a recent teacher education program graduate works in Title I schools for five consecutive years of their teaching career they can get certain amounts of Perkins and Stafford loans forgiven and/or cancelled (terminology differs by type of loan).
Amazing, right? That's what I thought. Then, unfortunately, I hit the bureaucracy.
The first thing I learned was the there is a big difference in how the two types of loans are forgiven. While Perkins loans are lower, they actually get cancelled quicker through chunking. The Stafford loans are a lump-sum cancellation done at the end of the five years. Some might think this doesn't matter that much, but since many are paying back their loans while waiting for cancelling, the difference can be substantial.
For my Perkins loan, I submitted the official form year after year (making sure to retain scanned copies before mailing it in). It was through this process I learned that they are very serious about their date formats. The first time I submitted, I had written "April 15, 1985" for my birthday instead of 04/15/1985 and it was rejected. I was so surprised when it happened but their bureaucratic machine demanded consistency and my writing in the name of the month must have confused them so.
Luckily, after I learned quickly, I just submitted the same form at around the same time every year and after five years of partial cancellations, I received a letter in the mail saying I had fulfilled my full Perkins requirements. During that time I never had to postpone loan payments because they were never requested. When using this method, they automatically put the payments on hold until you have the entirety forgiven (or paid off).
My Stafford loans were the biggest headache - and mostly because I taught in Philadelphia for four years (in three different schools). First: they were not paid off in chunks and the payments did become due six months after I graduated. Instead of paying, however (since I knew even with the interest I would still have all debts forgiven after five years) I elected to go into forbearance. This allowed me to not have to pay the loan off immediately, but did capitalize any interest gained over the five years. It added a few hundred dollars to my bill at the end, but since it was below the threshold for me, I was fine with that.
Second: the big headache came in verifying my teaching in Philadelphia. I first learned that to fill in the Stafford forms was a very specific process. I received a couple of rejections due to missing check boxes and/or incorrect date submissions (despite me actually putting the date in correct format). It was truly aggravating.
The key thing that each person needs to find out is what the District definition of "Chief Administration Officer" is. In Philadelphia, that was supposed to be a centralized person who did it for the entire teaching population. Unfortunately, when I was applying for this program in 2014, no one had that job. So, I had to get the superintendent of schools to write a letter verifying that he was the CAO of Philadelphia at the time. With one more added year in NYC where my principal signed the document and I received a verification of employment through the NYC DOE forms, I thought I was good to go.
As it turns out, the one last thing I actually needed to do was to get the name and title of the verification person in NYC to sign something on the front of a letter, instead of the second page. That's right - I got rejected because the information required was on the second page of the letter! I found this so aggravating but followed through and eventually got my Stafford loans forgiven as well.
This process is the most aggravated one I've had to go through in the public sector thus far. I think it is way to hard to verify that I was a teacher in a Title I school and the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program seems to be there in name only to a certain extent. I only wish that it becomes easier soon to encourage more teachers to apply and get needed money they often use on their classrooms anyway.
Some may be aware that on Wednesday, March 2, a number of high schools in New York City offered the SAT to students within their school buildings, during their school day. The idea behind this is to increase the number of students taking the SAT as part of their college application process and, from what I saw, that worked.
According to the data, only 56% of the class of 2015 took the SAT at least once. From the test administrator in my school, we had 97% attendance for our Juniors who took the SAT on Wednesday. Our average daily attendance is a bit lower so this data definitely proves offering the SAT during the school day increases the number of students who will actually take the test itself.
That being said, this month the College Board altered the SAT to reduce the overall score back to 1600 by removing the requirement of the essay section and completely revamping how the rest of the test questions look: most of them require more reading than ever before. Even though the test has around the same number of words they have been combined into longer passages, making reading comprehension and persistence necessary skills for success.
The experience I had on Wednesday was fairly usual for my students during this test: those who had been able to sit and read for prolonged periods of time did better than those who couldn't. All of my students were really trying for a majority of the test, with the exception of a small group that gave up towards the end. My assumption is that their lack of persistence stemmed from lack of full reading comprehension skills and just general reading fatigue.
We attempted to prepare the students by offering the use of the Naviance Test Prep tool, but limited access and short periods of the day made it more difficult to use it. Some students found other mobile tools to ask quicker questions but most students did not have enough time for practice. We as teachers did not really get any structured support to help prepare them other than to point them in the direction of Naviance.
I think it is an interesting mixed situation to offer the SAT in a regular school day. It does increase attendance dramatically, but it also causes complications when friends are sitting near each other and joking around, talking, etc during the test administration. There is a fine line that can be straddled in order to make sure students stay in the room (instead of storming out) and making sure no one is distracted in the room during administration. I hope we get better next year when this pilot program goes citywide.
I am a math teacher in the New York Department of Education. I infuse technology and real-world problems into my curriculum in order to prepare my students for the future. I would love for people across the country to recognize we teachers can't do it alone. If you don't believe me, come visit my classroom!