Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Tokyo subway and a CNMI classroom

The education commissioner takes a lot of heat. I don't know enough about how he does things to offer my thoughts on him personally, I'm not a principal, but he has always been cordial with me. I think he's doing his best and what he thinks is right. It's public record that two of the board members don't like him and didn't vote for him. The Variety editorial page has been harsh with him. He has instituted some policies that not all principals like -- so I've been told. He is also in an impossibly difficult situation with the state of the island's economy, and more so, the island's cultural aversion to accountability. The implementation of Praxis could have been handled better, but ultimately, don't you want your teachers to pass a basic skills test like doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants and other professionals? I know I'm in the minority on that viewpoint among teachers, at least the vocal ones, but that is how I feel. Doreen Tudela admitted stealing thousands of dollars as a school principal and hasn't been fired yet. That is what I mean by accountability.

Right now some fairly radical plans are being implemented. Principals will be teaching classes. Coordinators and specialists are teaching classes as well. Naturally, I suspect principals and coordinators will be getting the best students with the least disciplinary problems. Principals are overworked and essentially exploited here, this isn't a knock on them. But it is wrong to push veteran, entrenched teachers aside and out of their classes to make room for this plan, as I know and suspect is and will be happening. A coordinator is being brought in to teach AP History and AP Government at my school. I know him, I like him, he's a good man. I'm sure he is a good teacher, but he shouldn't be taking all the AP classes. After four years with seniors, I'm being forced to teach freshman -- something I find appalling. A new teacher was brought in to teach my seniors. This lack of respect for seniority is vulgar. If conditions allowed, like if I found out about this last year, I'd quit -- or at least transfer. Another veteran teacher at my school is being pushed out of his chemistry class for a newcomer. These things send a terrible message. They destroy already low morale and they are simply unfair.

A news story indicates the student/teacher ratio is 24:1. That number is no doubt technically accurate. It is also misleading. The typical CNMI classroom is more crowded than the Tokyo subway at rush hour during an Ichiro Suzuki autograph session. I doubt most of us have as few as 24 in our class. I had 32, 32 and 27 last year in language arts classes. That 24:1 ratio is skewed by special education, which has a very low ratio, and perhaps things like computer classes. In addition, some schools, like GTC, are significantly less crowded, while some schools are significantly more crowded-- notably the middle schools. My experiences as a teacher and parent with a child in the schools tell me that the massive overcrowding in the middle schools at a difficult age causes immense problems. There are inequities between schools. My colleague Angie Wheat wrote about this issue.

Education isn't valued here at all. I routinely see parents try to stop their kids from going to college, which boggles the mind. Parents and students all over seem more concerned with "passing" than learning, which is why college degrees -- even graduate degrees -- have been demeaned and diminished. In fact all education is grade focused, not learning focused. People will find out eventually if you're competent. Your diploma won't convince them otherwise.

The economy is in shambles with our flawed model, so none of this is surprising. In today's world in a first world economy, being educated isn't a luxury, it is a necessity for any type of quality of life. There simply is no excuse to cramming your children like sardines into dilapidated facilities, while we have an obscene abundance of elected officials with too much discretionary money, other wasteful bureaucracies that don't need to exist like the municipal councils, and a ridiculous public relations firm and lobbyist being paid thousands of dollars for things we could do ourselves or shouldn't be trying to do anyway. We are all to blame for this depressing mess. We are failing our children as a community and we should be embarrassed about that.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Equal Ratios and Equal Funding

There are two main problems facing our schools today! One is equal class size and the other is equal funding-or-funding in general. Solving these two problems would help the entire island.

The first problem is class size. I don't know about you, but I think there is something wrong when some schools can have 15-18 students in a classroom while the rest of us are told to expect 28-32 students. I believe that it is time to rezone our island! (I say "our" because I am starting my seventh year here and do consider this home.)

One thing I think is that all students need to be taught that racism is wrong, I think that this is one reason that they, the powers that be, do not want to rezone. Some will not admit it, but that is why they do not want rezoning. An example of this is when Hopwood tried bring students from the northern part of the island, the problems exploded exponentially. It would be wrong to put those students back in schools to the north, because doing so would tell the students and their parents that the rules are only for some but not for others. I think that zoning or should I say rezoning should be enforced. Rezoning would help to equal out the class sizes.

Something else to help aleviate problems in our schools, would be to fund schools equally. If you know a school has a more transient population or has consistently lower test scores, that school needs more funding compared to some school that has parental support and high test scores. Data shows that educated parents help their students at home and in turn the students do better on tests. Changing our funding strategy would assist those schools and students in raising their scores, which in turn would help PSS in general with the FEDs.

If the island, the legislature and PSS could address these problems then everyone would be helped, because we are trying to educate ALL the leaders of tomorrow. Not just a few!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More cuts in FTE's

Something is going on with a last minute purge in FTE's -- a mere week before school starts. Schools got a directive to cut more teachers. There is a pow wow on this at PIC on Saturday. Communications haven't been crystal clear on this one. Everyone feel free to chime in with what you know. I talked to one principal who wasn't happy about all this at all.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Let's have a discussion.

What is the biggest difficulty you face in doing your job as a teacher? What are the issues you'd like PSS administration, or your own school's administration, or even parents, to address.

Here is mine: The classes are too crowded. This is the number one issue. This might be easier to deal with in a class other than language arts, but LA doesn't lend itself well to 34 students. We also are losing our prep period, which exacerbates this problem. Last year was the one and only year of four we even had a prep period. The other problem I have is staggering apathy. I have seniors and I find their lack of intellectual curiosity disturbing. Motivation is a trying aspect, and it wears me out immensely, but to not do it is to get nothing done.

I also have many positives. My building is relatively new, so I don't have those problems. Our photocopiers work well. I'm not micromanaged by my principals. I have extremely few discipline problems. I'm actually satisfied with the salary scale. I won't get a dime more for six more years, but I'm at a competitive level with the mainland right now.

Feel free to discuss and comment in the comment section, or submit your own post.

An Introduction to this blog

This blog is intended to be a forum for CNMI teachers to speak up about their concerns and thoughts. Any PSS teacher can post. Leave a comment here and I will add you as a contributor to this blog. You can also email ACT president Betty Miller at with a request to be added as a contributor to this blog. Betty has been working tirelessly to unite teachers and give them the voice they should have. This is just another step in that process.

This blog will not be the official positions of ACT. It will be a place to debate and discuss issues on the island and in the schools that effect the teachers, staff and students here in the CNMI. I hope there will be many contributors, and please tell your friends and colleagues about this blog. Comments will be free and open. It is my hope that there will be a robust discussion on all education issues in the CNMI. You do not have to use your real name. Pseudonyms are common in the online world.

Not only do I hope to see opinions on CNMI educational issues, we can also help each other with tips on educational resources, classroom management techniques and areas of needed focus for our students.

This is not my blog. This is a blog for any and all CNMI teachers, and it will only be what you, the teachers, make of it. We've seen an explosion of blogging in the CNMI, and I feel this is a revolutionary technology for free expression and public debate. Enjoy it.