It’s Not All That…..





I work in a smallish/medium sized urban school district. In recent years, the school budget has been cut so to eliminate instructional technology teachers and the staff holding up the technology infrastructure hangs on by their collective teeth. We are not an affluent community; no PTO is holding a raffle to raise funds for Smartboards or laptops or anything else as a matter of fact. The not-a-recession has hit this community – and thereby the budgets – fairly hard.

In my own classroom, I have one old iMac “jellybean”. It no longer gets operating system updates or browser updates. CDs make an interesting hum when spinning in the drive. The “teacher/desk” computer is 2 years old; I’ve taken it off my desk so the kids – all 24 — can be a crack at using it in the classroom. For my own technology use, I brought in my old (6 years) Dell laptop. Because it is my own personal property, the District won’t allow it to access the school network or the Internet.

Getting the picture? Technology just isn’t pretty in this urban district.

I used to feel pretty sorry about this, but an article in the Times and Boston Globe this weekend is causing me to rethink. Here is a link to the Times article about a Silicon Valley School where technology is not part of the infrastructure of a student’s learning.

Think about it. When do you use technology? Is it a tool for getting work done? Or is it entertainment/edutainment?

I think there’s probably room for both types of applications in education. And while I certainly would appreciate having some hardware that wasn’t purchased before my students were born, maybe the application of technology needs a revisit.



The Layered On Effect

Maybe this post needs a subtitle: Right hand, please call the left hand!

Yesterday my colleagues and I spent the day in training for a new program being used in third and fourth grade – Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading. From what I can see, the program has many merits. And of course, there’s the little matter of students and science instruction.

For many years – I’m going to say 8 or 9 now – our elementary schools have been without a science specialist to help guide teachers and students in teaching science.Those positions were eliminated during budget cutting – along with library and computer specialists in the latest round of fiscal roulette. With state standardized testing in Middle School showing our kids’ science test scores in the toilet (can we all say a big DUH here?), there is a renewed interest in teaching science in the late elementary grades.

All good, right?

Here’s the challenge. There is no time in the day to implement this program unless we are allowed to give something up – isn’t that always the way? 90 minutes of reading instruction + 90 minutes of mathematics instruction + 60 minutes of writing workshop and don’t forget breakfast, lunch, recess, specials and Morning Meeting. Where will new hour for science come from?f

I can see a couple of options – but for every option tossed on the table for discussion, there is an alternate roadblock. If we take time from math or reading instruction or writing instruction, our students will most likely lose some of the gains we have made. The new program is developed in such a way that I don’t believe it will fit into the structure of Daily Five – something I’m committed to philosophically AND pedagogically.

Will this program become just another layer of stuff we are required to do? I hope not. What I do know is that I can’t cram another hour into a school day without something giving.

Hopefully it won’t be my sanity that gives.

Will I Ever Learn Not To Read the Sun?

The local newspaper, the Lowell Sun, seems to just love to stir up the locals  by telling about half the story – if that.

Normally I don’t read this rag – reading inflammatory and sensationalized news is not how I care to spend my reading time. However, this morning, we were having a discussion about who was running for elected office in Lowell (outsider, can’t vote, but still interested); I heard that there were candidate statements on the Sun’s website and went searching for them.

However, I was stopped by an article claiming that the UTL – the local teachers’ union to which I belong – had categorically rejected a 3% raise offer made by the school committee at the last negotiation session. I stopped dead in my tracks as I read the anonymous contribution by a school committee member who a) asked to remain anonymous and b) was violating executive session by speaking to a reporter.

What kind of a moral compass must someone have when that same person has agreed to the rules of executive session, but violates that trust by speaking to a reporter and “sharing” — by sharing I mean telling only the part of the story that makes one look good to the electorate? Is there an agenda here?

The Sun tried to get a comment from the UTL  president who took the moral high ground and would not comment. The reporter also asked another school committee member who also refused comment citing executive session. Thank goodness for people who operate under acceptable behaviors and do not hide behind “anonymous” super secret conversations with a reporter.

As a union member, I know that this is not about money alone. That much has been shared with the general membership. There are other issues – issues that probably wouldn’t sit too well with the regular Sun readers if their employer tried to pull the same stunts. But I do not know the exact conversations – I am not a negotiating member, am not privy to detailed conversations held under executive session, and even if I were, I would not stoop to violating those executive session expectations.

Too bad anonymous didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to say what they wanted to say without the cloak of anonymity.

The local paper posts what suits them in order to sell newspapers.  Their agenda is their agenda. And I don’t have to read it – even online. Will I ever learn that?

Yet another foray into the medical labrynith

It’s a time of year that I dread and a time that is necessary. I am a breast cancer survivor. A yearly mammogram is not an option, it is a necessity. Some bean-counter in a medical or insurance facility, far far removed from real humans can designate my mammogram as a “screening” all they want. It is a stress-filled hour when I relive the moments 20 years ago when I first learned my body had betrayed me. For me, it is an hour of fear.

I rely on the reassurance of that first radiologist reading to quell the demons that cause my mind to race ahead with the what-ifs. What if they find something? What if it IS cancer again? What if I have to endure chemo again? What if I don’t make it? Maybe this is self-indulgent. It is what it is on mammogram day.

This year, the empathetic technologist offered that I could wait – even though I was “just” a screening – for the radiologist to read the mammogram. I understood that waiting would mean that there could be others ahead of me; I had a book, no problem. She even came into the waiting area about 15 minutes later to tell me that there were a couple of people ahead of me. “Not a problem” I responded.

Imagine my surprise 5 minutes later when another technician – who seemed to be overseeing the Friday afternoon events, asked me to step into a next door room. With her finger shaking at me, she told me I shouldn’t even be there, that I might have to wait another 45 minutes. There were people ahead of me. If you’ve ever been called into the principal’s office, you know exactly how I was feeling.

I explained I understood that, I had no intention of bumping other patients and I didn’t mind waiting. Apparently that was not satisfactory because the next thing I was told was that it was late, the facility was closing soon and that my mammogram may not even be read. I shouldn’t bother waiting. Has the medical world changed so drastically that even the doctor is “on the clock”?

This insensitive woman then went on to lecture me about making my appointments early in the week and early in the day. That did it.

I cannot come during the day, I teach. I also don’t care to have anyone outside of my family speculating about my personal health issues (already experienced that when I was on chemo) so I do NOT make medical appointments during the school day.

The fact is, my original mammogram – the one when the cancer was found – happened in June, right after school had gone on hiatus. Due to our crack medical system in this country – the one where yearly means 365 days + 1 and where diagnostic facilities are so overloaded that you cannot schedule appointments conveniently, my “yearly” mammogram has slipped from year to year until it is now 3 months later.

So when I get accused of princessing up because of the time of my appointment interferes with getting the weekend started, I take offense. Lucky for me, my internal medicine doctor is in the same building. I was able to walk up to the office and, reduced to tears and barely able to speak, told my story.

I hate that my one bout with serious illness has changed me so that every change in health, every “routine” diagnostic sends me into a panic.

Is it possible that our country’s medical system has become so insensitive that professionals on the front lines become so concerned about quitting times, that they don’t notice the human in front of them.

Has the US healthcare system been given the assembly-line, CEO, best business practices overhaul? I am afraid of the answer.

Opening the Newspaper Can Hazardous to Your (Mental) Health

Caught a news article in today’s Boston Globe – which you may or may not be able to read depending on whether or not the Globe is instituting its $16-a-month subscription fee.  Here it is, just in case: State aims to test its youngest students (October 2, 2011).

I’m relieved to hear that this is not an “early MCAS”, that kindergarten students won’t be tossed out of kindergarten (really? that was on someone’s radar?), that Kindergarten students won’t have to fill in bubble sheets or write essays.  If the Globe article is correct, the assessment will be used to determine what resources early childhood students may need. And while this is laudable, I agree with the Boston Public Schools director of Early Childhood education – we already assess students quite a lot – in Boston’s case, there are 14 other assessments; is there really a need for another? It appears the answer is in making the state eligible for grant funding offered through RTT…. hmmm, is that reason enough to put 5-year-olds through another battery of tests?

The Globe article continues to point out that 3rd grade MCAS scores are flat; that scores in high-poverty cohorts haven’t improved much.  Well, there’s a shock; and here’s a factor that won’t require anyone to test a 5-year old. Poverty and the traumas students deal with are a gigantic factor in whether or not students in the urban school districts cited as not performing can test as well as more affluent peers.

You see, when you come to school hungry you can’t think. When your family has been kicked out of your apartment, when the power is turned off, when the world around you is one big sh**storm, you probably won’t do well on a standardized test. Dare I say that test-taking may not be the most important part of your day?

Until we get serious about providing a social safety net for those who are most vulnerable, you can test kindergarteners, third graders and any one else you want. The results will be the same – and all that will be accomplished is that a company who writes and provides scoring for a test will get rich.