Archive for October 2007

Are All Schools Like This?

October 31, 2007

First, the background. I told my kids early last week that we were going to have a test yesterday, Tuesday. Around last Thursday I realized we needed an extra day, so I put it off until Wednesday, today.

Then, in a faculty meeting Monday, I found out that also planned for this Wednesday, the day of my test, was: 1) A fire drill; 2) An awards assembly, and; 3) A Halloween dance during school hours for all the good kids. The result would have been about one complete class on Wednesday; all the rest would be eaten up by the activities. Hence, I once again postponed my test.

It’s piss poor management, in my opinion, to tell everyone two days before it happens that the whole day of classes is shot. But even worse is what actually occurred. Had things worked out as “planned” sure, I would have had to postpone my exam, but at least I would have gotten a day off from the classroom. That, however, was not to be.

The fire drill was supposed to occur during second hour, and after that, we would go to the assembly. Figuring we would only have about ten minutes of class, I was going to zip through the answers to the study guide I had given them yesterday and then wait for the fire drill. Only the fire drill never happened. And the assembly that was supposed to start half way through the class actually started at the end of the class. What this means is, first, I could have given them the test, and second, that I had to create an ad hoc class. Not that I do not have emergency activities in my desk, but I did not want to use them because I kept expecting the class to end. I did not want to start something when I had been told that the class would be cut in half. Very frustrating.

So we went to the assembly.

At the assembly, we, students and not-in-the-inner-administrative-ring-teachers both,  discovered that on Friday all the perfect attendees and honor rollers will be going on a class trip to the fair. What the rest of the students will do, no one knows. Am I going to have six classes with only half my normal number of students? Or three class with the normal number? Or am I a chaperon for the trip? I guess I’ll have to make three different plans for Friday, because chances are I won’t know until my first class starts.

Also at the assembly, upon arrival I am told that not only am I in charge of presenting a certain award, but that I am also responsible for the honor roll club, and that when I present the award I am supposed to tell them how to join and what the club us all about. Having never heard of the club prior to that moment, all I did was call the kids’ names for the awards.

Finally at the assembly, the principal canceled the dance, because the kids were too loud. OK, I thought, that means I will now have a sixth period class. No big deal. We can review for the test.

That’s what we did. Then, with about five minutes left, we find out via the intercom, that the dance is back on. It was to occur during seventh hour, my planning period, so I did not care one way or the other. Soon these kids would be out of my room and I could get some paperwork done. Only the intercom then told us to release the pre-approved good kids for the dance, but to hold onto the unruly non-dancers “for just a bit.” Wanting to know if I needed to give them something to do, or just chill for a minute, I buzzed the office and asked how long “just a bit” was. The reply? “I have no idea.” Long story short, I spent my planning period baby sitting the discipline problems who were too bad to go to the dance.

That was my day. I understand that teaching middle schoolers requires flexibility. They are middle schoolers after all. But today’s problems were caused by adults. The most frustrating part? The ones who caused the problem would berate me for being a cry baby if I complained about how the day went. Oh well, just more proof that if those who can’t do, teach, then those who can’t do or teach, become the administration.


My Favorite Part Of Teaching

October 30, 2007

Is making the kids write lines. Not really. But it is fun.

You can hit them with the standards: “I will be quiet in class” fifty times, or “I will remain in my seat” twenty five times. Or make it more tedious, like copying the definition – all five versions – of “quiet” fifteen times. Humor is good, like making a child who complains about the quality of the teacher write “Mr [Teacher] is awesome.”  When they give you that infuriating “I dunno” look and shrug as you ask them a question, you can reinforce the need to pay attention in class by making them write the answer. E.g., Writing twenty times “The Articles of Confederation did not create an executive branch.” A similar approach works when you call on a student to read and the student has been daydreaming and thus does not know where to begin: Copy that line twenty times. One of my favorite uses is when a student asks to go to the bathroom. I tell them they can go, but only after they’ve written “I will use the restroom between classes” twenty five times. Nine and a half times out of ten, the student refuses, and I therefore know that the need was feigned.

In addition to its adaptability and effectiveness, a major benefit is that writing lines keeps the child in class. I hate sending kids to the office. The kid will miss the remaining instruction time. I look like I can’t control my kids. And the “discipline” they will receive is usually to either sit and stare at the wall for the rest of the period, or else run errands for the administration. Writing lines, on the other hand, is truly unpleasant plus the kid remains in the class and can continue his work as soon as the lines are done.

Old fashioned it may be, but writing lines is the most adaptive and effective disciplinary tool I know. If the child is being disruptive, it shuts them up while they’re working and reminds them of the rules. Meanwhile, the unpleasant nature of the task is a disincentive to future misbehavior. You can use it for any situation. So how about fifty times for “Writing lines is great.”


October 30, 2007

It’s been a week since the last post. In that time: 1) We’ve had a special out of town guest at the house; 2) The babies turned one, with all the festivities, and; 3) We bought a house.

Pics will be coming soon.

Not Quite Sure What To Think About This

October 23, 2007

We had some standardized test consultant come to the school today. Every teacher traded some of their classroom time for a chance to listen to her. Near the end of my time at the font of the wisdom of all things scantron, I received instruction in a teaching method guaranteed to get all my kids to pass the BIG TEST. As proof of the method’s effectiveness, the consultant told me that she got it from a teacher in another parish who used it and everyone in that teacher’s classes (except the special ed kids, of course) had passed, and that was in a school in which all the kids were black and on the free lunch program.

What she was doing was telling me that the program was so good it could work in the worst of all school situations. Why though, did she use poor black schools as the illustration? 

The really bad answer would be, I guess, that this consultant honestly believes that black kids are inherently dumber than other races. In other words, she was telling me that if this method worked on those dumb blacks, it will work on anyone.

Or she could have thought that I was such a racist that this was the best way to impress on me the greatness of the method. Given that I’m not a racist and that she doesn’t know me from Adam anyway, this probably is not the answer.

The most likely answer is that she is just using “black and poor school” as a proxy for “really bad school.” As a general empirical matter, that’s probably accurate. Still, that a paid consultant could so casually use this proxy bothers me. Why? I don’t know. Probably because I’m sure there are excellent poor black schools. Maybe also because even though it may be factually correct that most poor black schools are bad schools, for some folks it’s too easy to accept that fact. Not just accept that it is accurate – “well sure the black schools are worse, they’re black schools” – but also too easy to accept as the way it is, and nothing can change it. In other words, though the the proxy may be generally accurate, there are less poisonous ways to describe bad schools than “poor and black.”

The Secret Identities Of Fox Sports Reporters

October 21, 2007

As I watch game 7 of the ALCS, I’m wondering if I’m the only person who thinks Fox Sports reporter Ken Rosenthal looks like Bob the Enzyte Guy.



It’s the ridiculously toothy grin. Really. Watch the game, next time they cut to Ken on the sidelines, you’ll agree with me.

I’ll also note that I think studio host Jeanne Zelasko is TBN luminary Jan Crouch with a little less makeup.


And Jeanne:

Again, you really need to watch the show to get it, but I’m serious, when she starts yapping on the pre-game, I half expect Kevin Kennedy to throw in a few amens.

“One Piece At A Time”

October 21, 2007

I don’t work on the GM assembly line, but like Johny Cash’s pieced together Cadillac, my newest bike didn’t cost me a dime.

O.K., it did, but that was about ten years ago when I bought my Diamondback Outlook new for a couple hundred bucks. A beginner’s bike it was, and though I rode it hard for a while, I soon outgrew it and bought my current mountain bike, which is lighter, stronger, faster, and all around better. After that came the roadies. Along the way the ‘ol D-back ended up in the back of the garage, gathering dust. When we moved back to Shreveport, I came thisclose to leaving it on the curb, or dropping it off at Goodwill. Sentiment, however, forced me to pack it up and bring it with us.

Still, it remained unused, broken down, and stuck in the back of the garage. Then I received this month’s issue of Bicycling, featuring an article entitled “Your Fifth Bike.” The premise of the article was that most readers already have at least four bikes, but that everyone could use another bike. With that, I am in accord. The article then offered suggestions for that next bike. Being a school teacher supporting a wife and two kids, all I could do was look longingly at those suggestions, for instance, the carbon fiber 20 pound Scott Scale 10 hard tail mountain bike, which retails for more than I paid for my mini van: $5,250.00. Then I read a little inset to the article that began “You may already own your fifth bike.” The inset said many readers probably had an old clunker laying around, and a great way to rejuvinate that old steed was to make it into a single speed. “That’s me and the D-back” I thought, and having the afternoon free, I immediately headed out to the garage.

The bike looked bad. From a crash some time or another, the cranks were bent. The shifters and break levers dangled from their cables because I’d swiped the handle bar for the stoker’s spot on the tandem. Pedals long gone. No seat. Frayed and worn out cables for the breaks and derailluers. But I had plenty of spare parts laying around, and anyway, most of this operation involved removing stuff.

So I got to work. First I removed the derailluers, the shifters and all the associated cables. That by itself made a huge improvement, leaving the bike much cleaner and allowing its own beauty to shine without the clutter of eighteen speeds worth of cables, aluminum, and plastic. Next up, I replaced the upright stem with a more aggressive ITM race stem. Then to the stem I attached the road handle bars that were on the back of the tandem. On to those, I attached the rear break. The break got new pads and new cables. The seat is an old racing job.

Then it was time to make the bike a single speed. I took off the old broken cranks and chainrings and replaced it with an old Shimano 600 (Biopace!) double. Next I got really dirty cleaning the chain and the cassette. Then I removed the big ring from the crankset, leaving me with a 42 up front. As for the back, I don’t have a lock ring tool, so I had to leave the whole cassette. That also limited my choice of rear cogs. On a single speed, the chain has to remain in a straight line from the front to the back. Hence, rather than being able to pick a cog by size, as I could if I’d been able to remove the cassette and replace it with an individual cog, the only cog I could use was the one in line with the front. Still, it worked out well. The gearing would probably be a bit too easy if I was using this for serious riding. But for my planned use – towing my kids in their bike trailer and just cruising around town – it will be fine. In other words, the drivetrain is done, unless for aesthetic reasons I decide to remove the rear cassette and replace it with a single cog.

And that was it. Just like the article promised, in one afternoon of tinkering with an old bike and used parts, I made myself a new bike. I still have a few things left to do, new tires and maybe some bar tape, but otherwise it’s ready to roll. I took it out yesterday for a test run, and it was great. What makes it truly sweet is that this was my first bike, and when I got it about ten years ago, I lived about half a mile from where I do now. Lots has happened to both of us in that ten years, but now we’re both happy. All we need is that bike trailer.

Oh, yeah, here’s some pics.

It’s not going to win any beauty contests, but it’s looks cool in its own way:

Another angle:

My Shimano 600 crank and Biopace chainring:

The ITM stem and the roadie bars:

Now an honored member of the garage:

Finally, if you didn’t get the title to the post, watch this:

DWI Madness

October 18, 2007

The title of the story in today’s Shreveport Times is “Appellate court upholds conviction on charge of attempted DWI.” When I read that, I thought that even though I’d never heard of such an offense, it looked reasonable. I mean, you could justify criminal charges on the following facts, as stated by the appellate court in its decision:

“For example, a bar patron who has thrown back drink after drink may announce that he is about to drive home. The bartender warns him that he is in no condition to drive. The patron waves off the warning with the proclamation that he is certainly drunk but he drives while impaired all the time and it is not a problem. While he is struggling to get his key in the door, the police arrive, having been called by a concerned patron of the bar. Attempted DWI sounds like the right charge under this hypothetical scenario.”

There’s two big problems, though.

One, those facts are just what the judge called them: Hypothetical. The real facts in this case were very different:

Dew was northbound on U.S. Highway 171 when a trooper stopped him for speeding. The trooper noted a slight smell of alcohol and that Dew “somewhat failed” nystagmus and field sobriety tests. Just more than an hour after the stop, Dew registered a blood-alcohol level of .07 percent. 

If you’re unfamiliar with DWI laws and procedures, those facts mean that the defendant – Dew – may or may not have been drunk.

To start, field sobriety tests (FST’s) are subjective guides, at best. Mostly they are easily manipulated methods of confirming a decision already made by the officer. They don’t have clear standards for passing or failing, they’re often administered incorrectly, the conditions are usually less than optimal, many rely on bad science or common myths. So they’re inconclusive anyway, and even less helpful when the administering officer says the defendant “somewhat failed,” whatever that means.

As for the blood alcohol test, again, there are all kinds of possible problems, but there is no need to discuss them here. The problem here is that in Louisiana (and most other states) you’re guilty of DWI if you blow a .08. This guy blew a .07.

Of course, that he blew a .07 and hour after the stop does not mean he was sober at the time of the stop. All I’m saying is that these facts indicate this guy could just as easily have been sober as drunk at the time of the stop.

Yet, he’s guilty of attempted DWI. Think about that. What this ruling essentially says is that if you are even close to being drunk, you can be guilty of attempted DWI. Not like the hypothetical where the person is drunk and tries to drive but fails. No no, here, the person succeeded in driving, but failed to get drunk! The court is saying that even if the state can not prove the driver was actually drunk, it is enough to prove that the driver might have been drunk, because in that case, there was certainly an attempt to get drunk.

That sort of worries me. Where do we draw the line? If a person’s BAC is .06, is that enough to defeat a charge that the person attempted to get drunk? What if the person’s BAC is .05, but he has an unopened six pack in the trunk? Would that be attempted DWI? How about someone who has several beers over several hours, so that the BAC is .06? Would the number of beers be enough to prove that the person tried to get drunk, so as to be guilty of attempted DWI? Who knows.

To the second problem with the opinion. According to the article, the court created out of thin air the offense of attempted DWI.

Chief Judge Henry N. Brown Jr. dissented. He called the Dew case one of “first impression.”

“There is only one reported case of a defendant charged with DWI being convicted of attempted DWI “» and in that case, the defendant did not complain of any irregularity relating to the offense itself. There are no cases in which a defendant was charged with attempted DWI. We simply have no jurisprudential history in Louisiana to assist us in answering whether attempted DWI is a crime,” he states.

I do not know if that is accurate or not, but if it is, it bothers me. No one ought to be arrested and thrown in jail for crimes that did not exist at the time of the arrest. That just is not fair. I won’t even punish the kids in my seventh grade class unless I’ve given them fair warning that the conduct is not allowed. Surely we are entitled to the same notice when the consequences are years in prison.

My First Experience With Parent Teacher Conferences

October 16, 2007

A few observations.

One, it was anticlimactic. Based on the word from other teachers I was expecting fang bearing, fire breathing “my child is perfect therefore this “F” is wrong” parents. What I got, though, was folks who were more than ready to trust me. Well, me and the grade book. It’s tough for the kid to blame the teacher when the teacher can point to the collection of zeroes where the grades ought to be. It might be my fault if a kid does not understand the subject; it is definitely theirs if they fail to even do the work.

Two, the ratio of parents of kids with passing grades to parents of kids with failing grades was about three to one. Plenty of kids flunked my class, and most because they ignored my assignments. Yet I only had about five parents of flunking kids come to the conference. The parents whose kids made “C’s” were the ones most interested in improvement. I suppose there’s something significant to that.

Three, I really enjoyed meeting the parents. Seventh graders can be real turds. The best way to deal with them is to remember that each one is someone’s kid. I know how I feel about my babies, so I try to remember that someone out there feels the same way about each kid in my class. Tonight was a chance to meet those folks, and having met them, it will be easier to personalize the kids in the future.

Yes, There Is Such A Thing As A Stupid Question

October 15, 2007

Quite a few of them, in fact. Some are so dumb that the kids in my classes are prohibited from asking them.

Our school has this silly thing called bulldog bucks. They’re points the kids get for being good, or lose for being bad, and which they can use to buy stuff, like the freedom to wear non-uniform clothes on certain days. Losing them isn’t a big enough deal to deter serious misbehaviors, but it works for little annoyances, like the aforementioned stupid questions. What follows is a list of questions the asking of which will cost bulldog bucks:

a.    Can I have a pen/pencil?
b.    Can I sharpen my pencil?
c.    Can I have some paper?
d.    Can I have some money?
e.    Can I have some tissue?
f.    Can you adjust the classroom temperature?
g.    What time is it?
h.    How much time is left in class?
i.    What are we doing in class today?
j.    How many more notes are we going to take?
k.    Can I go to (the bathroom, the office, Mr. or Ms. Whoever’s room)?

The reason these are stupid questions is that the students ought to already know the answer or else do not need an answer. A,c,d, and e are all their responsibility. I have no control over f. There is a time for b, but not during class. Ditto k. G, h, and i are irrelevant to the learning process.

The reason I penalize them for asking the questions is to prevent wastes of time. They know the answer, so there is no purpose for the question. All it does is distract everyone from the lesson. Hence, I don’t want them asked.

Fixing Instant Replay

October 13, 2007

I hate it. I wish the NFL and college football would just get rid of it. Personally, I think mistakes by refs are part of the game, and that the number of truly results changing mistakes is extremely small. So small that the benefits of replay don’t outweigh its costs in delays and confusion. But I realize my view is a minority.

Still, even if you think replay is a good idea, I think you have to admit that it is both over inclusive and under inclusive. I’ll use today’s Alabama Ol’ Miss game for examples of both problems.

As for the under inclusiveness, in the first half, an Ol’ Miss receiver clearly fumbled the ball when hit by a Bama defender. Alabama recovered it. No doubt about it. The receiver caught it, got hit, dropped it and the Tide recovered. Unfortunately, because prior to the fumble a ref had already ruled the receiver down – which he was obviously not – the play was unreviewable. So you had a clear and obvious mistake on a play that would have resulted in a change of possession, yet it was exempt from replay. That makes no sense to me. Wht good is replay if it can’t fix an obvious material mistake like this one?

For over inclusion, we go to the second half. Ol’ Miss has a third and goal from Bama’s twenty. Pass is completed to about the twelve. Receiver fumbles. Ol’ Miss recovers at about the sixteen. Replay. Why? To make sure the ball should be spotted at the sixteen rather than the seventeen yard line! They stopped the game at a crucial moment in order to review a play that did not result in a score, a change of possession, or even a first down. Nope, they stopped it for the sake of one lousy yard. Waste.Of.Time.

O.K., so here’s my solution, in a few quick points.

One, make every play reviewable. That solves the under inclusion problem.

Two, to make sure only important plays get reviewed, do the following:

Each team gets one challenge per game. An incentive to save it for something important.

    Only plays that result in a score, change of possession, or first down are reviewable. The whole point of replay is to prevent a mistake from changing a game. Hence, the replays ought to be limited to truly important plays.

    Lose a challenge, lose a possession. Sorry, but losing a time out is not a big enough cost. Coaches ought to be really, really, sure the play was wrong before they make everyone sit through a replay.

    No “booth” reviews. The teams are the only ones with an interest in the outcome of the game. Hence, only they should choose what plays get reviewed.

    Anyway, those are my ideas. I’ll be waiting for Roger Goodell to call.