Wednesday, May 30, 2001

A Look at Math in Language Arts

Let's say I give a writing assignment to students, a major report or essay. Suppose I spent 15 minutes reading and assessing this student work. This is not unreasonable for an assignment a student worked a long time on. Let's say I have 150 students. Five classes a day, 30 students per class.

How long will it take me to grade this assignment?

Approximately 37 1/2 hours.

This time for grading cannot be found during the school day with meetings, phone calls, planning, etc. Any wonder why teachers don't give research assignments or in-depth writing?

My students asked me why I didn't just flip through the pages to make sure it was there and then grade on the fact that it exists. My answer was that I've never taken the easy route and that their hard work warranted more attention than that.

Teachers have been asking for smaller classes for a long time. Teachers want to do a quality job teaching. Why are we never given the conditions and tools we need to do the kind of job that needs to be done?

Monday, May 28, 2001

Our Life Is...

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” - Marcus Aurelius

“You can’t depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.” - Mark Twain

Sunday, May 20, 2001

Stop Blaming Teachers

Teachers are not to blame for students being promoted to the next grade unprepared. Most people are unaware that a student can fail 3 out of the 4 major subjects (language arts, math, science, social studies) and still pass to the next grade!

Yes, this is true! Here's the way it works:

If a student fails one subject, it is ignored and the student moves on to the next grade.

If s/he fails two subjects, one is ignored, one is made up in summer school, and the student passes to the next grade.

If three subjects are failed, one is ignored, two are made up in summer school, and the student passes to the next grade.

Note that summer school is only about 32 days. It is ludicrous to think that in 32 days, a child can make up 180 days during the regular school year.

Students know this system. Most who fail have chosen to fail by not putting in the effort during the year. It's sad that we have seen students this year with 13% averages. It is difficult to earn such a low average.

It's impossible for a middle school student who is trying to have an average this low. There are enough balances in classes, that teachers give struggling students alternative ways of showing their effort and improvement. If a student is a poor test taker, most teachers count other work enough that failing tests is not enough to cause a student to fail the subject.

I say it again. It is impossible to earn such a low average if a student is trying.

Now, back to the 3 out of 4 and you can still pass...(And I haven't even mentioned "social promotions" and special "deals" that are made with students.)

What are we teaching this generation?

1. No matter how little you do, no matter how little effort you put into your work, you can still move on.

2. Party and have a good time during the school year. You can always make it up in 1/4 of the time during summer mornings and still have the rest of the summer to enjoy.

Don't blame us teachers for not preparing students. Teachers are doing their jobs. We are trying to hold students responsible for their actions. The system is not backing us. The school system is not holding students accountable for their actions.

What the school system is doing is a crime. Students are receiving the wrong message about what it takes to succeed. No wonder businesses are griping about the lack of work ethic among their younger employees. This new generation of employees are merely showing what they have learned from school!

Friday, May 18, 2001

Marge, It Takes Two

“Marge, it takes two to lie. One to lie and one to listen.” -Homer Simpson

“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.” Mark Twain

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” - Alan Kay

Thursday, May 17, 2001

It's a Shame

Today students are completing a reading/writing long-term assignment. The first two classes have been very good and I was able to have individual conferences with most students as I checked their progress. It feels good to do real teaching and feel that I'm making a difference. The problem is, there are too many students to be able to work one-on-one with each one during a class period. I want to give all students the time they deserve. It's a shame.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Period 7 has a few student "viruses" that spread "infection" among the entire class with students who have low resistance to disruptions. Some days I wind up spending all my time disciplining and not teaching this particular class. Although an average level class, they are not willing to try to tackle problems independently. In fact, they are unwilling to even pretend to work some days. The students who are out of control at home, continue their rudeness and disruptions at school. It's a shame that some students who might have done well in my first or second period class are learning much less as a result of placement in my seventh period class.

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Reading Aliteracy?

The No-Book Report: Skim It and Weep

More and More Americans Who Can Read Are Choosing Not To. Can We Afford to Write Them Off?

By Linton Weeks

Washington Post Staff Writer

Monday, May 14, 2001; Page C01

Jeremy Spreitzer probably wouldn't read this story if it weren't about him.

He is an aliterate -- someone who can read, but chooses not to.

A graduate student in public affairs at Park University in Kansas City, Mo., Spreitzer, 25, gleans most of his news from TV. He skims required texts, draws themes from dust jackets and, when he absolutely, positively has to read something, reaches for the audiobook.

"I am fairly lazy when it comes to certain tasks," says Spreitzer, a long-distance runner who hopes to compete in the 2004 Olympics. "Reading is one of them."

As he grows older, Spreitzer finds he has less time to read. And less inclination. In fact, he says, if he weren't in school, he probably wouldn't read at all.

He's not alone. According to the survey firm NDP Group -- which tracked the everyday habits of thousands of people through the 1990s -- this country is reading printed versions of books, magazines and newspapers less and less. In 1991, more than half of all Americans read a half-hour or more every day. By 1999, that had dropped to 45 percent.

A 1999 Gallup Poll found that only 7 percent of Americans were voracious readers, reading more than a book a week, while some 59 percent said they had read fewer than 10 books in the previous year. Though book clubs seem popular now, only 6 percent of those who read belong to one. The number of people who don't read at all, the poll concluded, has been rising for the past 20 years.

The reports on changes in reading cut to the quick of American culture. We pride ourselves on being a largely literate First World country while at the same time we rush to build a visually powerful environment in which reading is not required.

The results are inevitable. Aliteracy is all around. Just ask:

• Internet developers. At the Terra Lycos portal design lab in Waltham, Mass., researcher William Albert has noticed that the human guinea pigs in his focus groups are too impatient to read much. When people look up information on the Internet today, Albert explains, they are "basically scanning. There's very little actual comprehension that's going on." People, Albert adds, prefer to get info in short bursts, with bullets, rather than in large blocks of text.

• Transportation gurus. Chandra Clayton, who oversees the design of road signs and signals for the Virginia Department of Transportation, says, "Symbols can quickly give you a message that might take too long to read in text." The department is using logos and symbols more and more. When it comes to highway safety and getting lifesaving information quickly, she adds, "a picture is worth a thousand words."

• Packaging designers. "People don't take the time to read anything," explains Jim Peters, editor of BrandPackaging magazine. "Marketers and packagers are giving them colors and shapes as ways of communicating." For effective marketing, Peters says, "researchers tell us that the hierarchy is colors, shapes, icons and, dead last, words."

Some of this shift away from words -- and toward images -- can be attributed to our ever-growing multilingual population. But for many people, reading is passe or impractical or, like, so totally unnecessary in this day and age.

To Jim Trelease, author of "The Read-Aloud Handbook," this trend away from the written word is more than worrisome. It's wicked. It's tearing apart our culture. People who have stopped reading, he says, "base their future decisions on what they used to know.

"If you don't read much, you really don't know much," he says. "You're dangerous."

Losing a Heritage

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them."
-- Mark Twain

One thing you can say for illiteracy: It can be identified, nailed down. And combated. Scores of programs such as the Greater Washington Literacy Council and the International Reading Association are geared toward fighting readinglessness in the home, the school and the workplace.

Aliteracy, on the other hand, is like an invisible liquid, seeping through our culture, nigh impossible to pinpoint or defend against. It's the kid who spends hours and hours with video games instead of books, who knows Sim Cities better than "A Tale of Two Cities."

It's the thousands of business people who subscribe to executive book summaries -- for example, Soundview's easy-to-swallow eight-page pamphlets that take simply written management books such as "Secrets of Question-Based Selling" by Thomas A. Freese and make them even simpler.

It's the parent who pops the crummy movie of "Stuart Little" into a machine for his kid instead of reading E.B. White's marvelous novel aloud. Or the teacher who assigns the made-for-TV movie "Gettysburg" instead of the book it was based on, "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara.

There may be untold collateral damage in a society that can read but doesn't. "So much of our culture is embedded in literature," says Philip A. Thompsen, professor of communications at West Chester University in West Chester, Pa. Thompsen has been watching the rise of aliteracy in the classroom for 20 years, and "students today are less capable of getting full value from textbooks than they were 10 years ago."

He adds that these aliterate students are "missing out on our cultural heritage."

That literature-based past included a reverence for reading, a celebration of the works and a worshipful awe of those who wrote.

To draw you a picture: Where we once deified the lifestyles of writers such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, we now fantasize about rock-and-roll gods, movie starlets or NBA super-studs (e.g. MTV's "Cribs"). The notion of writer-as-culture-hero is dead and gone. Comedic monologuists such as Jay Leno or David Letterman have more sex appeal than serious fiction writers. The grail quest for the Great American Novel has ended; it was a myth after all.

Where we once drew our mass-cult references from books ("He's a veritable Simon Legree"), we now allude to visual works -- a Seinfeld episode (not there's anything wrong with that . . .) or "The Silence of the Lambs" (the movie, not the book). A recent story in Salon speaks of "learning to read a movie."

Where we once believed that a well-read populace leads to a healthy democracy, many people now rely on whole TV broadcast operations built around politics and elections. Quick, name a Wolf Blitzer book.

Non-readers abound. Ask "Politically Incorrect" talk show host Bill Maher, who once boasted in print that he hadn't read a book in years. Or Noel Gallagher of the rock band Oasis, who has been quoted as saying he'd never read a book. You can walk through whole neighborhoods of houses in the country that do not contain books or magazines -- unless you count catalogues.

American historian Daniel Boorstin saw this coming. In 1984, while Boorstin was serving as librarian of Congress, the library issued a landmark report: "Books in Our Future." Citing recent statistics that only about half of all Americans read regularly every year, he referred to the "twin menaces" of illiteracy and aliteracy.

"In the United States today," Boorstin wrote, "aliteracy is widespread."

Several of the articles in the report alluded to the growing number of non-readers. In one essay, "The Computer and the Book," Edmund D. Pellegrino, a former president of Catholic University who is now a bioethicist at Georgetown University, observed: "The computer is simply the most effective, efficient and attractive form for transmittal of processed information. Added to the other nonbook devices like films, tapes, television and the popular media, the computer accelerates the atrophy of the intellectual skills acquired for personally reading the books from which the information is extracted."

Reading for Bliss

Kylene Beers has talked about the evils of aliteracy for so long and so loud, she's losing her voice. Today she's in the lecture hall of Oakton High School bending the ears of 100 or so middle school teachers.

If someone graduates from high school and is aliterate, Beers believes, that person will probably never become a habitual reader.

One of the few academics who have written about the phenomenon, Beers, a professor of reading at the University of Houston, says there are two types of reading: efferent and aesthetic.

Efferent, which comes from the Latin word efferre (meaning to carry away), is purposeful reading, the kind students are taught day after day in schools. Efferent readers connect cognitively with the words and plan to take something useful from it -- such as answers for a test.

Aesthetic is reading for the sheer bliss of it, as when you dive deep into Dostoevski or get lost in Louisa May Alcott. Aesthetic readers connect emotionally to the story. Beers believes that more students must be shown the marvels of reading for pleasure.

On this late afternoon, she is mapping out strategies for teachers who hope to engage reluctant middle school readers. Teaching grammar and parts of speech, such as dangling participles, is the kiss of death, she says. "You don't want to talk about dangling anythings with middle-schoolers," she says in her Texas drawl. And the room laughs.

Aliteracy, she continues, is no laughing matter. Using an overhead projector, she explains that aliterate people just don't get it. Unlike accomplished readers, aliterates don't understand that sometimes you have to read efferently and sometimes you have to read aesthetically; that even the best readers occasionally read the same paragraph over and over to understand it and that to be a good reader you have to visualize the text.

To engage non-reading students -- and adults -- she proposes reading strategies, such as turning a chapter of a hard book into a dramatic production or relating tough words to easier words.

She writes the word "tepid" on the acetate sheet. Then she asks the audience to supply other words that describe water temperature. "Hot," someone calls out. "Freezing," somebody else says. Others suggest: cold, warm and boiling. Beers arranges the words in a linear fashion, from the coldest word, "freezing," to the hottest, "boiling." "Tepid" falls in the middle of the list. This method, she says, will help reluctant readers to connect words they don't know to words they do know. "Aliterates," she tells the teachers, "don't see relationships."

Apparently, teachers don't always see the relationships either. Jim Trelease is concerned that teachers do not read. The aliteracy rate among teachers, he says, is about the same, 50 percent, as among the general public.

There is some good news on the reading front, according to Trelease and others. The Harry Potter series has turned on a lot of young readers and megabookstores, such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, are acrawl with people.

But there is plenty of bad news, too. Lots of aliterates, according to Trelease, say they just don't have time to read anymore. "The time argument is the biggest hoax of all," he says. According to time studies, we have more leisure time than ever. "If people didn't have time, the malls would be empty, cable companies would be broke, video stores would go out of business. It's not a time problem, it's a value problem. You have 50 percent in the country who don't value reading."

Like Beers, Trelease believes that youngsters should be encouraged to read aesthetically. Reading aloud to children, according to Trelease and other reading specialists, is the single best way to ensure that someone will become a lifelong reader.

"Even Daniel Boorstin wasn't born wanting to read," Trelease says. "Michael Jordan wasn't born wanting to play basketball. The desire has to be planted."

Surfing Through Grad School

Trelease and Beers and others are scrambling for ways to engage aliterates. For all kinds of reasons. "What aliteracy does is breed illiteracy," Beers explains. "If you go through school having learned to read and then you leave school not wanting to read, chances are you won't put your own children into a reading environment."

"What you have to do is play hardball," says Trelease. He suggests running public awareness campaigns on TV. "That's where the aliterates are."

Trelease says we should try to eradicate aliteracy in the way we went after tobacco. We should let people know, Trelease says, "what the consequences are to your family and children if you don't read."

"Aliteracy may be a significant problem today," says Philip Thompsen. "But on the other hand, a narrow view of literacy -- one that defines literacy as the ability to read verbal texts -- may be a significant problem as well."

Many of the messages that we have to interpret in day-to-day life, Thompsen says, "use multiple communication media. I think it is important to realize that as our society becomes more accustomed to using multimedia messages, we must also expand our thinking about what it means to be 'literate.' "

Olympic hopeful Jeremy Spreitzer plans to become a teacher and maybe go into politics someday. For now, he's just trying to get through graduate school.

He watches a lot of television. "I'm a major surfer," he says. He watches the History Channel, A&E, Turner Classic Movies and all of the news stations.

"I'm required to do a lot of reading," he says. "But I do a minimum of what I need to do."

But how do you get through grad school without reading? Spreitzer is asked.

He gives an example. One of his required texts is the recently published "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community" by Robert Putnam. In the book, Putnam argues, among other things, that television has fragmented our society.

Spreitzer thumbed through the book, dipped into a few chapters and spent a while "skipping around" here and there.

He feels, however, that he understands Putnam and Putnam's theories as well as if he had read the book.

How is that? he is asked.

Putnam, he explains, has been on TV a lot. "He's on the news all the time," Spreitzer says. "On MSNBC and other places. Those interviews with him are more invaluable than anything else."

© 2001 The Washington Post Company

A Lesson in Empathy Today

Today students had a chance to role play as Timothy and Phillip.

In The Cay, by Theodore Taylor, Phillip and Timothy are stranded on an island after their ship was torpedoed (WWII). Phillip was going home to Virginia from Curacao with his mother who thought things would be safer there. Timothy is a worker in the boat. After spending some time afloat on a raft, they land on a deserted island. Timothy, in his 70's, is a black man from St. Thomas. Phillip is an eleven-year-old white kid who has learned prejudice from his mother. He is dealing with his new blindness from an injury when the boat was torpedoed, his fear of being alone and his distrust of Timothy.

The scene the students played was when Timothy tried to teach Phillip how to weave mats. Phillip says he can't because of his blindness and Timothy insists that he does. He is trying to help Phillip become more independent and self-reliant. Phillip doesn't appreciate it.

After students had a chance to be Timothy as teacher and Phillip as learner with handicap, we discussed what they experienced and how they felt. I entroduced "empathy" to them and related it to the classroom also.

I know that no one learns empathy from one classroom lesson but I'm hoping that the experience may give them a new direction of thought sometimes.

Too Little Too Late

Today I had a call from a parent of another failing student--failing all year. She was concerned about his last assignment and wondered whether (in the last couple of weeks!!) Tim had a chance of passing. Not to mention that he still does nothing in class. No further comment.

Teach? I'd Love to!

Teach subject matter? I'd love to do that but there are so many other matters to deal with.

Seventh period today, several girls were a few seconds late to class. I didn't make an issue of it. The class was even more talkative than usual. I put Mike out in the hall because he was trying to be class clown again. Meanwhile, Katie and Krista, the few seconds late girls, began with, "I have to go to the bathroom." Since they had just come from the same hall and had five minutes to use the bathroom, I refused to let them go. Les, our permanent sub, then said that Mike was misbehaving during his time out in the hall. I told Mike to go to the office. Then Katie walked out saying she was going to the bathroom anyway. Now long after that, Krista walked out saying she was going to the bathroom. When they returned, I sent them to the office. I wrote referrals on all three of them. When I checked in the office, the two girls had never shown up in the office.

I told the class that tomorrow, I was not talking to them. They are to come in, sit down, be quiet and work.

Monday, May 14, 2001

School Testing

A posting from George Curtis from MDK-12@UMDD.UMD.EDU:

I have this old political cartoon on my wall from THE BAY TIMES newspaper on the Eastern Shore it shows a large pig on a scale. There is a picture of a farmer and a scientist standing next to the pig.

The farmer say, “Weighs the same as an hour ago...maybe if we feed him?”

The scientist says, “No...No...No...Just keep testing him until his weight increases.”

The bottom of the cartoon reads, “If agriculture were run like the Department of Education.”

A posting from Peter Donahoe which appeared 5/10/01 on MDK-12@UMDD.UMD.EDU:

It might interest you to know that Maryland’s eighth-graders, on average, appear to know a little less math and science than eighth-graders elsewhere in the United States and a lot less than children in many countries, including Hungary, Bulgaria, Australia and Slovenia. I’m not even mentioning places like Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, which lead the world in math and science?

A 5/10/01 posting on MDK-12@UMDD.UMD.EDU from Jim Morrow wrote:

I’m REALLY surprised... especially with all the testing that Maryland does..Maybe we should start giving the tests weekly.. I’m sure that if we give the tests often enough our results will improve..

This is the article from the Washington Post:

Maryland Math, Science Learning Dip, International Test Shows

By Karin Chenoweth

Thursday, May 10, 2001; Page HO21

It might interest you to know that Maryland's eighth-graders, on average, appear to know a little less math and science than eighth-graders elsewhere in the United States and a lot less than children in many countries, including Hungary, Bulgaria, Australia and Slovenia. I'm not even mentioning places like Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, which lead the world in math and science.

I know this because Maryland participated, as if it were a separate country, in an international test of eighth-gradestudents in 1999. So we now have important data to help us think about what children should know and how our schools are doing. The 1999 test was a repeat of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) administered four years earlier.

Because of TIMSS, we realize that American fourth-graders know, on average, as much math and science asmost in the world, while our eighth-graders are about in the middle of the pack and our 12th-graders can barely compete with students in the poorest and least developed countries.

The 1999 retest, known as TIMSS-R, was done partly to test the notion that some special characteristic of fourth-graders who took the test in 1995 would keep them at the top. No such luck. Kids who performed so well then were just average in 1999, seemingly on the same downward path as their older brothers and sisters.

This confirms much other data indicating that something begins to happen in our middle grades that retards the pace of learning for most kids. It isn't that they aren't learning math and science, but they tend not to learn as much as children elsewhere in the world, as evidenced by how the 38 participating countries did.

If Howard County had participated as a separate country, it probably would have performed better than the whole of Maryland. Part of the reason lies in demographics. In general, the wealthier the jurisdiction, the better its students did on TIMSS-R, and Howard is wealthier than most of Maryland.

All of the 13 states tested performed at about the national and international averages. But the wealthy school districts in those states performed much better and the poor ones much worse.

The biggest exception was probably the Michigan Invitational Group, a collection of diverse school districts that demographically match the rest of Michigan. Those districts have been working closely with the National Science Foundation to develop high-quality math and science programs, and they performed much better than Michigan as a whole.

This is an exciting finding because it demonstrates that attention to teacher training, a strong curriculum and high-quality materials can make a significant difference in student achievement. Howard can also look at neighboring Montgomery County for an idea of how it would have performed. Montgomery County was 10th in math in the world and 26th in science.

Like Howard, Montgomery has been pushing more students to take algebra in eighth grade. About 40 percent of eighth-graders in both counties take algebra, compared with about 33 percent statewide. So my guess is that Howard County, like Montgomery, would have been in the top 25 percent.

All of the participating states and districts deserve a lot of credit. It isn't every school superintendent who wants his or her district judged against world standards, and all who agreed to do so should be applauded for their intellectual courage. This is especially true for urban districts that participated.

It is tough, for example, to explain to parents in Dade County, Fla. (Miami), why their children scored way below national and international averages. But Dade, and Rochester, Chicago and Jersey City, which also participated, are determined to help their kids learn at high levels, and this is one way they're proving that.

The TIMSS-R provides a rich source of information about our expectations of children today. For example, American kids performed badly on a rather simple problem asking for the area of a shaded rectangle within a parallelogram. Only 34 percent of Maryland students and 45 percent of Montgomery students answered correctly.

In this country, we tend not to teach geometry until high school. In Singapore, where geometry is woven into the math curriculum more consistently, 83 percent of eighth-graders got the right answer.

There's a lot more information that can be mined from the TIMSS-R, because students, teachers and principals were also surveyed about interesting issues. For example, if anyone thinks that kids today don't realize that it's important to do well in school, forget it.

More than 95 percent of the 3,317 Maryland students surveyed said it's important to do well in math, science and language. But 98 percent also think that it's important to have fun and 84 percent to be good at sports. While students also overwhelmingly said their mothers thought it important that students do well, only 76 percent said their friends do.

This contrasts sharply, for example, with what students in Singapore believe about their friends. That might be one small factor in why Singapore's eighth-graders lead the world in math.

Here's another interesting fact: 40 percent of Maryland's math teachers report that they majored in mathematics and an additional 35 percent in math education, fairly comparable with the rest of the country.

But here's the kicker: 92 percent of Maryland's eighth-grade math teachers say they feel well prepared to teach eighth-grade math. This high level of confidence, and the lower level of training, contrasts sharply with that of the top performers in the world.

For example, in Singapore, only 66 percent of eighth-grade math teachers say they feel well prepared to teach eighth-grade math although a higher percentage of them were actually trained in the field. It appears that the more you know, the greater your appreciation of the complexities of the field -- and the less confident you may be that you are prepared to teach it.

By the way, if your kids complain they have more homework than others, they now have some evidence. According to surveys filled out by teachers, 73 percent of Maryland eighth-graders are assigned math homework three or more times a week. That compares with 63 percent of eighth-graders nationwide.

TIMSS-R provides a wealth of information, and I've only skimmed the surface. For more, go to, where half of the 300 test questions are posted. It's kind of fun to see how you and your kids stack up against Singaporean and Japanese students.

Homeroom, which appears every other week, is a forum for you. Send questions, opinions and issues that you would like to see discussed to Homeroom, The Washington Post, Howard Extra, 10490 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Suite 650, Columbia, Md. 21044. The fax number is 410-772-2330; the e-mail address is To see previous columns, go to, click on the Education page and look for Homeroom under Education Columnists.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company

Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Professional Truth

My daughter Lauren graduates Memorial Day weekend. I called in to take off a personal day on Friday, May 25 since she graduates 10 a.m. Saturday and we want to celebrate Friday night. (We have a telephone call-in system where you spend a long time navigating through one menu after another by pushing certain number on the telephone after the computer voice has droned on for too long.) I was reminded that it's against our contract agreement and I can't take a personal day the day before or the day after a holiday. I would have been docked pay for that day. So I called in and canceled. Then I called in sick for that day. The contract doesn't say anything about not taking a sick day then. When I was so sick in January (6 days) I was required to bring in a doctor's note because I had gone over three consecutive sick days. We're a long way from being treated like professionals.

Too Little Too Late

There are 20 days left in the school year. In the past two days, we've seen parents of four children who are very concerned that their children are failing. It amazes me that none of these parents were heard from the entire school year, in spite of a number of E's on their children's report cards for the first three marking quarters. Not only are they showing concern too late, but they are blaming the teachers and school for not notifying them.

Where have these parents been?!!!!

Students take home one interim report and one report card each marking quarter. The parents were notified six times!!!!

When we reminded the parents of this, they retaliated by saying their children were not reliable in bringing things home and that it is the teachers' responsibility to make sure their irresponsible children do what they are supposed to do. They also are demanding that we call them every time their children don't turn in homework or misbehave. I'm sorry but with 140 students every day and more than a full day, there's no way we even have time to do this if we were so inclined.

The climate is such that everything is the responsibility of the teachers. If students don't learn, it's because the teacher is doing something wrong. If students misbehave, it's because the teacher is using the wrong techniques. Of course, we are very limited with what we can do. We can't touch them. Detention only Tuesdays or Wednesdays and then too many times parents hear one side of the story and tell their child that they don't have to serve detention for that nasty teacher.

Nothing is going to change in education until students are held accountable for their role in their own education.

It Never Stops

7th period. Mike has been told 8 times to stop being rude and keep quiet. Now he's pushing desks in the row and bothering students in front of him. More reminders. It continues.

I finally go behind him, catch him in the middle of the act and pull him and his desk back with a jerk. He is surprised and the class is awed at the strength of their language arts teacher. Mike is now threatening to sue me for whip lash.


Unseen dangers lurk. At the end of last week, Carol (science teacher) entered her room in the morning and noticed gas controls were turned on. She flicked the light switch which was not a good idea because a small spark might have set off an explosion if enough gas were in the room. She discovered that it could not have been an accident because several had been turned on. She quickly turned them off and left the room. By that time, she was feeling alarmingly dizzy and called her husband and doctor. The advice was to keep moving and NOT to go to sleep. She had to work the gas out of her system.

The gas had been on all night long. The police were not called. The fire department was not called. The building was not evacuated. MSPAP testing continued that day with no interuptions. Is there a message here?

There was no clue as to who had done it until the next day when one of her students bragged about it. He was taken to the office and given three days suspension. Many are outraged at the lack of punishment over such a serious matter. It should be considered as serious as bringing a weapon to school because of the potential for dangerous consequences.


Tuesday. Excitement 6th period. I was in the hall on hall duty when one of the students came out in the hall with blood running down her face. Another student had thrown an eraser (chalkboard variety with wood) at her and gashed her head. I sent both to the office and got eye witness accounts. Then I sent the best communicator in this below average class to give a description to the vice principal.

Details: Amanda was busy doing her assigned classroom chores. Mike said something to her that she didn't like. She threw a pen at him. He retaliated and threw the chalkboard eraser at her, causing injury to her face and narrowly missing her eye.

Mike was back in my classroom before the end of the class period.

Monday, May 7, 2001


It's Monday. Another week. It's near the end of the school year and many of the kids are choosing to do no work and to bring no books. During 7th period I asked Nicole to "please" clear the aisle and put her things under her desk. She responded, "That's called walk over it." I sent her out on a referral. Average class.

Sixth period, Tiffany was bent on loudly announcing the latest rumors to the class and when I told her to stop and be quiet, she continued and announced to me that she had told the class anyway. Below average class. I changed her seat. When I reminded her to get started with her work, she sat there, didn't open her book and continued talking. I sent her to the office.

Fifth period. Above average. When I came in from hall duty, Ken said his books that had been on his desk had disappeared. His notebook was found under my desk but his class novel was gone. I talked with Zach who had found his notebook. He said he didn't do it and didn't know where the novel was. I checked all the numbers of everyone else's books and they were not using Kevin's. Somehow, between 6th and 7th periods, it wound up on a chair in back of my room. I took it to him in Phyllis's class. This class doesn't usually do this and I'm going to talk to them tomorrow.

After school today we had a stress in-service that was really an infomercial given by a chiropractor. I believe in chiropractors but resent the way this was done.

Sunday, May 6, 2001

To the uneducated...

"To the uneducated, an A is just three sticks." -A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

"When I was fourteen years old, I was amazed at how unintelligent my father was. By the time I turned twenty-one, I was astounded how much he had learned in the last seven years." - Mark Twain

"Life is an opportunity, benefit from it. Life is a beauty, admire it. Life is a dream, realize it. Life is a challenge, meet it. Life is a duty, complete it. Life is a game, play it. Life is a promise, fulfill it. Life is sorrow, overcome it. Life is a song, sing it. Life is a struggle, accept it. Life is a tragedy, confront it. Life is an adventure, dare it. Life is luck, make it. Life is life, fight for it." - Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers. - James Thurber

Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Teaching About Gun Safety

Legislation about teaching gun safety in the schools: Bill HB791 has passed both the Maryland house (98-33) and Senate (33-11). To find out more about this bill go to:

From MSTA about teaching gun safety in the schools:

(Casey Newton, our ActionLine editor)

The General Assembly did pass a bill that would require the teaching of gun safety from K to grade 12. Each County board would adapt the program to their own jurisdiction but the program must meet standards set by the Department of Education. The bill allows a single source to provide the curriculum, including the NRA's Eddie Eagle program, etc. MSTA has written to the governor to request his veto of the legislation. We object giving the NRA access to our students; such a program adds considerably to teachers' workload; and the part of the bill that allows schools to take their junior and senior high students to a firing range to learn the safe way to handle firearms, is in our opinion, ludicrous. The bill signing is not for another couple of weeks, so we'll see what he does. We hear he is inclined to veto it, but a letter to him from you and
others could help convince him.

(Diana Saquella)