Friday, August 31, 2007

Rollling Black-Outs and Education?

Eleven thirty-five a.m., just sat down to lunch in the cafeteria with about one hundred-eighty students and fellow teachers, and the room was suddenly plunged into darkness. As you can just imagine, the squeals and screams that erupted were deafining. Just another "CUC Rolling Blackout".

After getting them to quiet "a little", we finished lunch and went back to our already heating-up classroom. There we stayed, my students and I, trying to learn and teach in that environment until almost two p.m.. Does anyone do their best in an uncomfortable environment?

Some schools contacted CUC, found out it would be out longer than two hours, and let their students go home. We could not contact CUC, because phones are tied to power. This meant that we just had to endure. One cannot teach computer, use the overhead projector, or a Power Point presentation if the power is off. This can make teaching very dificult! It is not always easy to come up with enough creative teaching methods to fill two hours in the dark. CUC and the schools have to find a better solution to "keep the power on" for education's sake.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Staffing an issue in the States as well

Here is a story from the New York Times about the sorry state of teaching in the U.S. It focuses on the number of people leaving the profession, and the difficulty in staffing qualified teachers in math and science in particular, and even more so in low performing districts.

The retirement of thousands of baby boomer teachers coupled with the departure
of younger teachers frustrated by the stress of working in low-performing
schools is fueling a crisis in teacher turnover that is costing school districts
substantial amounts of money as they scramble to fill their ranks for the fall
term. Superintendents and recruiters across the nation say the challenge of
putting a qualified teacher in every classroom is heightened in subjects like
math and science and is a particular struggle in high-poverty schools, where the
turnover is highest. Thousands of classes in such schools have opened with
substitute teachers in recent years.
Teaching students interested in learning is a total joy -- the frustration of the discipline problems drives most people out of the business. Of my current crop about 3 in 4 are really there to learn within reason, and 1 in 4 are there to deprive the other 3 of that opportunity. I'm better than most at keeping that 1 in 4 on task, but it is exhausting and demoralizing to have to do so all the time.

Also, when I went into this field I was single, and I was being paid enough for me. I didn't look down the line so much. I don't have a big money complaint with things here now, but when I look at the salary guides for the states that aren't much better, and being aware how much more expensive things like housing and car insurance are there, plus all the other options that don't exist here that grab at your money, I wonder how I will be able to make it work. I could easily be one of those people who have to get out that are described in this piece.

I'd be curious to hear from my teacher readers if they expect to be in this profession 5, 10 or 15 plus years down the line.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Teacher Student Ratios

On Monday, August 27, 2007, an article in the Marianas Variety mentioned that PSS has the highest teacher student ratio in the country. The official ratio is 24:1. I would like to know how PSS came up with that ratio. They must be counting counselors, librarians, cooks, custodians, office staff and administrators as teachers to get numbers so low and completely off the mark. The smallest class ratio I've had in 3 years is 28:1. I have colleagues in the 7th grade with 32 students per class (for science !!!) and some high school teachers have 32 to 35 students per class. Lets be honest about the ratios and maybe the legislature and the community might start to notice how much PSS needs financial help. Hopwood had to do without 6 teachers this year and our librarian is in a classroom. Ironically, PSS earmarked several hundred thousand dollars of grant funds for literacy at the middle schools this year. That money is targeted for the libraries. What good is having a library when you don't have enough staffing to run it properly. Our Library Aide is very capable and good at her job, but she can not effectively serve 1,200 patrons all by herself. I teach science at Hopwood and my room was built for 24 or less students. I asked to cut the long, built in tables this summer to accomodate larger class sizes and was turned down by the Capital Improvement folks at central. Seems they know best how to manage an overcrowded science lab full of high energy, hormonal teenagers. I have 6 students per group because of the table configuration and ideally, each group should only have 4 students. Mondayitis has reached epidemic proportions!!! Last week 8 teachers were absent and none on Tuesday. Today 6 were out, and I'll wager a can of 'teacher tea' that tomorrow we'll have 0-1 people out. I lost my prep today. I had to teach language arts and the teacher didn't leave a lesson plan. Absof#cking Fabulous!!!

Friday, August 24, 2007

"OLD" and "NEW"

In the process of getting through the first few weeks of school, in a new grade and a new room, I have had to go through many things! Old text books had to be gone through and remarked with new room numbers, and new text books had to get their initial markings. We have been told that ALL teachers will be getting brand new Laptop computers within two weeks. I hope that we get to keep the old ones for classroom use, to give students greater access. We also have some old policies and some new areas of concern. My materials also had to be gone through to see what would apply to this group of students. I, like most teachers, am a pack rat, always afraid to throw something away, because I might use it next time.

Through all of these transitions I hope that the administration keeps putting the focus on student performance, not on which department is getting the most funding or on trying to keep the funding equal! I know, understand and appreciate everyone's right and responsibility to keep the culture alive, BUT, WE ARE HERE TO TEACH ENGLISH! I hope that we can throw out old ideas of seperating english or language from everything else. Without knowing english, one cannot read in english. All subjects depend on this! To learn any language there are two levels. First, the spoken language, and then the written language. PGFC, NJFL, NFL, and Thespians all embrace both these two areas and should continue to be funded in full! No other program in the CNMI gives all ages the opportunities that these students are recieving. Some have even recieved scholorships to college from these worthwhile programs.

I hope that like many things both here and in the states, that PSS does NOT throw away the programs by discontinuing the funding of accedemically linked programs that benifit our students both now and in the future!

Please leave your concerns or comments! Remember, our Board members are reading!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Get back to basics

I suppose this is a post that might get me in trouble, but oh well, I'm honest and I'm calling it like it is, and I don't give a damn who it upsets. I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that this school system as it exists now is an abysmal failure. Yes we're worlds better than other mini Pacific Islands in the region, if we look at them as the competition, but we're still not even in the vicinity of up to par in a globally competitive way. I dealt with the finished product, seniors, for four years, so I know exactly what students look like leaving the system, and it isn't pretty. I tried to fill in all the gaping holes as best I could while I was there with seniors. Now I'm with freshmen and trying to establish good habits, which is harder and much more exhausting.

What is clear to me is that teachers system wide simply do not emphasize the basics enough. I would say a full half of the seniors could not write two sentences clearly differentiating plurals and possessives. I mean given instructions, and examples, and days of instruction, a student could not write: "There are ten cats outside my house" followed by "The cat's tail is long and white" consistently if asked to do so. Forget about the wrinkle of plural possessive, that blows the situation up even worse. I suspect they were doing it the wrong way for so long it became ingrained. I wonder if the teachers were correcting these things.

If I had a nickel for every "his my friend" I've seen in a paper, I'd be buying Google tonight. Tense, subject/verb agreement and other mildly confusing subtle word differences like your/you're, its/it's are a train wreck. I've been working on these issues since school started this year, and a considerable number of students still can't do it consistently. Perhaps I suck as a teacher, I don't know anymore, but I'm growing weary and demoralized by this state of affairs -- already. The parents need to get involved. I've never really seen any involved, at least among the students that most need help. They seem to think that parental involvement is strictly an elementary school function. It isn't.

I routinely get sentences without punctuation or capital letters or simply giant uni-paragraph essays. I emphasize the correct fashion pointing out the most common problems almost daily, but it doesn't seem to matter much. I look over 120 of these displays a day, and it wears me down saying the same thing 50 times a day. Of all the classes, Language Arts needs a size reduction, but it is the largest class across the board -- exactly the worst thing possible.

World awareness is even worse. I've had people tell me that Toronto was a city in the country of "Europe," and that "Baby Ruth" was the first African-American in Major League Baseball. Students think the governor is in charge of every last detail of a civilization including the price of gas, and many can't give you a ballpark time period for World War II.

Teachers have a near impossible task here, I know this all too well, but I can say for sure they aren't ensuring mastery of the basics. It has to stop. A student at the very least upon graduation should be able to read and understand literature as simple as the Saipan Tribune and write in at least a reasonably grammatical fashion. They aren't right now, and it has to stop.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Just Another Manic Monday

There were seven teachers absent today and the Principal. One of our Vice Principals resigned last week. The bells are off too. Every time the power goes off or surges our clocks speed up. Today, some bells didn't even ring. I reset my trusty Transformer Watch with the first bell each morning. Today, Hopwood is 5 minutes behind the clock on my computer. By 3rd Period, the bell was 7 minutes early! So I reset my watch again.

Today in class, we reviewed what we learned last week about nutrients, digestion and nutrition, by playing a game that Sally found on the internet. In the game, the students create an assembly line to represent the digestive system. A 'food particle' represented by a small ziplock bag with candy (nutrients) is inside a larger bag with corn starch packaging foam and shredded paper. That bag is inside a larger bag with the same filling. The 'teeth' tear open the bag and saliva (water) is added. The food particle is passed down the esophagus, where the food is squeezed and in the 'stomach', acids (water) are added and the food is squished some more. In the 'small intestine', pancreatic juices (water) are added and the bag is squeezed some more. Then the bag with the nutrients is removed and given to the 'blood', to be delivered to the 'cells'. The 'large intestines' mop up the excess water from the table and pass the remaining waste to the 'rectum' which poops it out into a garbage can.

During each class period, there are 6 teachers on prep. If someone is absent, the teachers on prep sub and we rotate days so we don't lose our prep every day. Since 7 teachers out today, the counselors had to sub too. So Doug printed out a word search on careers and had the students look up different types of careers in the library. I have to sub today for Bilingual. In the past I've taught Spanish, since some of the words transfer. But today, I was going to just show a movie, when a miracle happened. Someone brought me an activity for the students to do!!! I don't know if the teacher prepared it in advance or someone else did, but that made my day a little better.

Anyway, the Bangle's song, "Manic Monday", is going through my head.

Just another Manic Monday
Wish it were Sunday
Cuz that's my Funday

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Exciting PD's ?

Another first day of state level professional development(PD) down. I do not need every year to hear the mission and purpose of PSS. We all have that memorized by now! I also think that we all know that things are not the best, and we do NOT like to or need to continue to keep hearing about it. What I think we all would have appreciated, was more information on what they are doing to do to make it better. Better PD choices would be nice.

An example of a GREAT PD was the one offered by Florine Hoffschnieder(Please excuse me if this isn't spelled write!). The workshop was a writing institute that all would have benefited from! It was an extension of an intense writing workshop put on this summer. Even a Bilingual teacher shared how it was helping her students learn how to write.

Did you attend a workshop worth mentioning? If so, please leave a comment! If you know of one that you atended or heard about in the past let us know! Maybe we can start recomending ideas to Ms. Jackie.

Enjoy you second day of PD's. Remember, be on the lookout for GREAT ones!


Friday, August 10, 2007

Teachers / Victims ?

After a month of meetings, moving classrooms, setting up a new classroom and more than a month of problems with CUC, I'm finally able to set down and write for just me.

In a Letter to the Editor, last week, Richard A. Pierce stated that "Victims are entitled to our compassion, but not if they have chosen their own misfortune." In teaching, both on this island and off, teachers do not set themselves up to be the victims, but are becoming the victims.

The Legislature and PSS(Public School System) continue to take advantage of teachers. They take whatever teachers are willing to give to this island and to their children, without consideration of what it costs to the teacher. Teachers have to buy everything for their classroom. This year, even trash bags! What's next? Toilet Tissue? Well guess what, we are almost there!

Teachers did not go to four years of college, sometimes much more for their masters and beyond, and keep up with the latest and best practices in education, just to be taken advantage of! No! No teacher ever went into education because of the money. They go into it for the joy of sharing information with their students and seeing those "lights" go on when a student "gets it". But, enough is enough!

How can the legislature give themselves a raise, keep public access from their records, etc...? How can CUC continue to waste electricity-by putting in not one, but four cameras in customer service, by having the third floor so cold that they need to wear long sleeves to work, hire more employees-even though there is supposed to be a hiring freeze on, etc...?

But, teachers keep getting told there is NO money to hire more teachers, there is NO money to buy supplies, they have NO right to complain or question, etc...! How much more do teachers have to contribute before they are accepted as a part of the community and are treated equally?

I hope and pray that teachers here will wake up and assist ACT NOW CNMI to make working conditions better for all of us! This is as close to the forbidden word of "Union" as we will ever get. So, all teachers ACT NOW !

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A scam on PSS and the taxpayer

I'm happy to be a liberal in the sense that I distrust and despise all the scams and influence of corporate America. I'm certainly no fan of the religious right, either. I find that title of liberal a lot more appealing than that of conservative, despite the demonization of that word over the years. I do, however, loath the politically correct, watch what you say, be hypersensitive to all, branch of liberalism. By definition, conservative means against change, and the world I live in is way too messed up not to want change.

Well, here is one thing I suppose I'm not so liberal about, and it probably will cost me money for saying so. There is a scam going on in this island right now. Yeah, yeah, one of the many. This one is kind of new.

South Korea has long been under the spell of English mania. There are English tutor schools, called hagwons, about every ten feet in Seoul -- along with coffee shops, karaoke rooms and computer rooms. I mean this pretty literally. Rick Vaughn is there right now and can attest to that fact. I worked at two well known hagwons before moving to Saipan and enjoyed my fun, yet going nowhere, jobs there. These hagwons are English conversation schools that all age groups attend, usually early in the morning or in the evening after work, and they are more businesses than school. Some of the teachers at these schools are good, but most have no qualifications at all, are clueless about teaching and are there for cheap beer, Asian girls, to pay down college debt or simply just to travel. In order to practice real world conversation with, in their usual preference, "white Americans," preferably young and female, but definitely young, Koreans flock to these schools, and pay $100 to $200 per month for this talking privilege. I had a British friend/co-worker who was once instructed to teach English with an American accent.

Right now, the CNMI public schools are being flooded with Korean students. I don't believe they have family or businesses here. They are here to graduate an American high school, which gives them a better chance to get into an American college. Two years ago, given my Korean experience, I attempted to start a Korean Club at SSHS. The mere 20 Korean kids in the entire school had some kind of rift in their community, so it never happened. That community has grown enormously since then, and it seems to have exploded this year. Right now I have 20 Korean students in my class alone. You will hear more Korean spoken than Chamorro or Carolinian on our campus. Koreans are obsessed with getting an American education. Many pregnant Korean women fly to the states, or here or Guam to get American citizenship and get their male child out of required Korean military service, which is a cruel joke. The South Korean government pulls these young men out of college after their sophomore year in college to mostly stand around some military base and do little as soldiers. They give them free cigarettes, which leads to an unhealthy addiction that is hard to break. These young men don't get to start their real adult lives with their chosen career until age 26 or later, and women shy away from men in their early 20s because they'll hardly get to see them for years. I always felt bad for these men about this scenario.

I found out today that the school system here is not allowed to ask the registering student about their immigration status. The student could be here illegally, or on a tourist visa, and PSS can't ask or find out. This is according to a counselor I talked with about this issue today. I think it is likely young school aged Koreans are coming in on tourist visas and just enrolling in the schools since these students usually make a trip to Seoul after a few months and start the CNMI Visa process again. The parents are seldom, if ever, actually living here. They are paying for a home stay program. Many of these students have little to no English ability. The high school language arts classes are wildly packed, and frankly, Korean families on this island are running a home stay program for a great profit, and they are shifting the education burden on the already overburdened and underfunded Public School System. I consider it a scam.

This English education as I see it is hardly in the interest of the Korean student. The English classes aren't ESL classes. I don't teach the class like I'm teaching a bunch of Koreans who hardly know the language, and to do so is unfair to the other 25 local kids who need me to bring them up to speed on skills they are already lacking. I have more than one student who doesn't know word one of English, has no idea what I'm saying and just looks at the sky for 80 minutes. He was ushered in like cattle by some Korean guy who announced that he's a junior, but he's really bad at English, so he's in freshmen English, as if I'm teaching at a hagwon. There really isn't much I could do for this person even if he was the only student I had, which he decidedly is not. In Korea, this type of student would work with a Korean bilingual teacher to bring them up to a level to be ready for a foreign teacher and more advanced English. PSS isn't about to do this.
What's happening is a scam that rips off the CNMI taxpayers. It's not good for the Korean students. It's not good for the local students. It's not good for the teachers. It's only good for Korean families getting paid a lot of money to look out for some Korean kid shipped off to a strange place for "free" English lessons on the backs of the CNMI taxpayer.

I know and like a lot of Korean people. I've probably interacted with more Korean people than most Koreans. More Koreans on island is good for me because, toot toot, I consider myself about the best suited person on this whole island for Korean ESL, and this post probably precludes me getting any more students for that purpose, but this is a scam going on right now, so I'm going to say something about it.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

First Day

One day weeks are a waste of academic time and effort. But hey, its the first day and I had no control over the schedule so, I made the best of it. That's my job. Sometimes I call it MacGyver Science, MacGyver Teaching, or the underpaid superstar! Teaching is like acting, you are on the minute the kids enter the room and keep performing until they leave. It's not like the government jobs at the Courthouse where they can sit at their desks, chew pugua and have the doors on computerized timers lock at 4:15 to go home. We have 4 Troops to Teachers at Hopwood this year. I think being deployed to Iraq is the perfect training for entering PSS. Or it's like being in the Peace Corps with better benefits. I had my homeroom all day. We played games, did team building activities, turned reviews of the handbook and procedures into a scavenger hunt and had fun.

I got my termite infested door replaced this summer and will make due with long, un-moveable tables that seat 12 students (a much, much too big group at one table) in a room designed for 20 students (there are 30 on my roster for each class for a total of 180). I have my homeroom kid's names memorized.

I covered up the sinks with plywood last year, because they were recepticals for garbage and betel nut. I asked to cut the tables, remove the sinks and make them moveable, thus making my room more ammenable to 30 students. Capital Improvements said, "well, we spent several thousand dollars, 15 years ago building that room as a lab and we don't see how remodeling the tables would be a good idea". Okay, no offense, but I'm the fricking science teacher who has 30 students in my class! God Damn It!!!

It's all right, I'm flexible, I make do. I painted the walls a cream that matches the cream on all the walls outside, because the school had left over paint. Last year I got 5 gallons of pink for $10. It was the only color ACE had. I'm not a fan of pink but it was better than grimy walls that hadn't seen anything but gecko poop and termite wings for 5 years until I took over the room. So I feel a little renewed. I covered my luevered windows with old carpet padding from my old apartment and magenta (again pink!!) butcher paper. Now its the battle of adhesive tape v.s. humidity. We know who will win. I'll be constantly retaping, borrowing Mario's ladder, or precariously climbing up on chairs, utility sinks and book shelves, to smack the paper back up on the wall. My floors need waxing, but Ronald, who does the waxing for extra cash to make up for his measely wage as a parapro, is off while his wife is in the hospital. He offered to donate sick leave to Doug last year when Doug missed 4 weeks of work. We graciously refused because I knew he'd need it more than us.

I am an optimist. I have PDA's enroute to create a paperless classroom. I also ordered some probe ware. Don't know where that is at the moment.

I painted "Science Never Sucks" on my door. The security guard came and told me today (Sunday) that someone had vandalized my door. I smiled and explained it was me who painted it and pointed to the printed sign on the inside of the door that said the same thing. I think he only saw "science" and "sucks".

Near the end of the year last year, my team took our students on a field trip to the Kagman Watershed Education Island and Tank Beach to do a cleanup project. Then we went to ChaCha to watch Hopwood 8th graders challenge Cha Cha 8th graders in a game of softball. Three 7th graders stowed away on my bus. Imagine my dismay, anger and frustration when these totally unfamiliar faces got off the bus at the watershed park. I drove them back to Hopwood and lectured them about how irresponsible they were, blah blah blah, posed empty threats about them being on my team next year, blah blah blah.

Guess who's in my homeroom?!!! I had a lot of fun with those boys on Friday (wicked Mr. Burns esque grin on my face).

Final observation from the first week:
The CNMI Civics and Economics book refers to African Americans as Negros.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

First Day Down

With the first day behind me, class size was smaller than promised for the moment! But, there is suspision that it will change next week. We'll see!

For me, things went without a hitch, sort of. After a week of changing classrooms and grade levels (again) and with the help of two to three high school students, my classroom was ready when twenty of my twenty-two students showed up on Friday.

My questions are: "How can any parent send a student to school without a pencil and paper?" and "Why did we start on a Friday?".

I had a number of students show up to school without anything. I know the economy is bad, but do parents not know or realize that schools do not have supplies for their kids? It is also not my job to supply their child with supplies either! With pay cuts for teachers and cuts in supply budgets, parents are going to have to step up and take part in their child's education! This means getting the supplies that are needed. The supply list that I sent home this time was longer than usual for several reasons. One being, I'm not buying alot of things, since I have to buy even my own trash bags for my classroom. The second reason is that they sent us to two two-week workshops this summer and according to those workshops the list of supplies are needed. You see, when the principal comes to evaluate us, we have to be emplementing the procedures described in the workshops.

I also had a hard time starting on a Friday, just to turn around and be gone for two days. Someone at the top has never had to teach or this would not happen! It is proven that when implementing anything new children need to have consistency! Comming one day and taking two off makes it hard to get them to understand and remember anything(for any age group)!

Fellow teachers, How was your first day? Please share your comments! See you at professional development!