Friday, February 26, 2010

Volunteering......But I Wish I Was Teaching

I've known I wanted to be a teacher practically my whole life, at least since I was in elementary school. Every year that went by, I would fantasize (weird, I know) about what I would do differently if I were teaching the class I was in. When I was in second grade in New Mexico, I would steal my teacher's worksheets, bring them home, force my brother to do them, and then grade them. When I was in fourth grade in Tennessee, I remember my teacher telling us the story of the Trail of Tears (Andrew Jackson's removal of the Cherokee from North Carolina and Tennessee to Oklahoma) and learning that I was in love with history. I became enthralled with the American Civil War, bought tons of books/videotapes on it, and stayed up with my dad every Tuesday night to watch the Ken Burns documentary on it. During one spring break, I spent every day watching Glory and Gettysburg over and over again. I would make my mom buy me white boards and chalk boards so that I could bring neighborhood kids into the kitchen, lecture them on the Civil War, and then give them quizzes over the material. I would get out my calculator, decide what their grade was, and if it was failing, I would do the lecture again and give the quiz a second time (giving kids multiple opportunities to succeed before I was even ten years old!). It's no surprise I was that obnoxious kid (the kind I can't stand in my own classroom today) who answered all the questions in sixth-grade social studies class.

Anyway, the point is I LOVE teaching. It's what I've been preparing to do my whole life, and since I went into early retirement, I've been missing it. I've been looking for jobs here and there since I quit, and a lot of them seem really cool. I've thought about being a hall director at Georgetown or going to take the foreign service test for the state department or attempting to get a job on the hill. They all seem like kick-ass jobs, things I would love to be doing, but when it comes down to it, teaching and education is the path I've chosen and it's not something I'm anywhere near being ready to veer away from. I want back in the classroom. (Anybody want to hire me? Just kidding.....kind of....) So I decided to find as many opportunities to volunteer in schools as possible while I'm without a job.

This week, I've been doing a little tutoring with the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) over at Deal Middle School and Wilson High School. I thank one of my readers for this connection (thank you - awesome idea). It was a nice opportunity to get back to working with kids, which is totally where I belong. I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with a few students who I felt I was really able to help. The kids were GREAT and LAYC seemed to have it's stuff together.

Here were a few things I found noteworthy:

This was put up by the obviously super-organized teacher whose classroom we were tutoring in over at Deal. It's typical of what's expected of teachers in DCPS classrooms. Essential questions, standards, SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) objectives, AND (something I wasn't expecting) IB questions. Apparently Deal has a middle-school IB program going on, which I was really impressed with. You generally hear that Deal has a good reputation, but I've also heard from some teachers that it's not quite all it's cracked up to be.

Here's some more evidence that the IB program is at least in effect on the classroom walls. Can anybody from Deal comment on how the IB program is actually going over there? What does it look like in a middle school? I didn't even know that was an option.

Here are the data wall and word wall (you'll notice that the data wall only ever has math and reading on it because those are the only things DCPS really cares about, which is such a great way to measure student progress - see previous post in order to determine whether I'm being sarcastic). These are required to be on the walls of all the teachers at my former school as well. I must admit, for all the stuff my administrators lied about me being bad at, my bulletin boards would have been valid cause for complaint. My word wall and data wall were worthless. I never found time to update them. Kudos to this teacher.

After tutoring, I was beat by a twelve-year-old in this game. What's it called? Much easier to play than I originally thought, but not so easy to win.

What struck me at Wilson was all of the kids playing Counter-Strike on the library computers. You would have thought you were in a PC Bang in South Korea (for those of you unfamiliar, a PC Bang is like a gaming tavern where people pay to play computer games with lots of other patrons - incredibly popular in South Korea). This was sort of a problem because there were probably twenty computers and maybe seventeen of them were being used for gaming, which meant that the students who actually wanted to use them for homework didn't have all that much access. I asked about this and was told that because anybody is allowed in the library after school, they can't stop the kids from doing what they want on the computers. I was also told that the administration has attempted to uninstall the games but the students just come back in and install them again. I would think you could hire an IT guy to take care of this problem pretty easily. It was kind of hard tutoring students on the computers when the kid next to you was getting so worked up about keeping his hostages alive.

One other thing I noticed while I was out at these schools: they're significantly more ethnically diverse than I've seen elsewhere in DCPS. I'm pretty new to DC. Can somebody fill me in here? I've heard that the schools west of the park are generally much nicer. Why is that? I assume there's a much larger middle and upper class out there? Gentrification? or has it always been that way? Again - I'm new and know next to nothing about DC neighborhoods. I apologize for my ignorance here.

Anyway, I'm headed out of town on Saturday to do a long-anticipated road trip with my mother (who lives in Las Vegas) up to Vancouver and back as sort of a brief vacation from the most stressful five months of my life. When I get back to DC in mid-March, I'll be hitting the job search full force (I think). In the mean time, if anybody knows any awesome schools in NV, CA, OR, or WA I should visit while I have the opportunity, let me know!


  1. The marble game is called MANCALA! ;-) My kids love it!

  2. It's simple - Ward 3 is almost exclusively white. A lot of the parents send their kids to private schools, also in Ward 3. So there are a lot of out-of-boundary kids in the public schools. Also, the boundaries were expanded to include more kids. Places like Wilson and Deal have all the white kids whose parents have opted for public education and other kids whose parents wanted them to get a better education "west of the park." If those kids act up, they can be sent back to their neighborhood school just like kids in charter schools. Those schools also get more ethnic diversity from lower level embassy staff who live in the area near the embassy’s but can’t afford private education.

    Those schools have more money in their private, parent-funded coffers because the parents are more involved in their kids’ education and have more money to give.

    If all the white kids in ward 3 started going to their neighborhood schools, you wouldn’t see so much diversity. DCPS enrollment would also increase. Some people say the moves to change the successful arts programs at Hardy middle school and Ellington (both in heavily white areas of ward 2, adjacent to ward 3), but are all about pushing black kids out and neighborhood kids in to expand the tax base - i.e., get more white people to stay in DC instead of leaving for the suburban public school when their kids are school age.

    Also keep in mind that the NAEP scores for white kids in DCPS are the highest in the country. Yes - the highest. The same goes for AP and SAT scores. So somehow these kids are getting an excellent education from the same bad teachers that supposedly populate DCPS. However, it’s not the least bit surprising if you believe all the research that says family socio-economic status is the strongest determinant of academic success. Whatcha gonna believe? School reform rhetoric or academic research, common sense and your own eyes?

    Of course, they shine at DC-CAS, too. Go to the OSSE website http://www.nclb.osse.dc.gov/index.asp and you'll see that white kids in the same classes with other ethnic groups often score much higher. And they get into the best colleges.

    By the way, it’s not just non-wealthy whites who send their kids to the public schools. In some families, one of the kids will opt for public school and another will not – just based differences in personality and interests. Also, many of the parents are highly educated themselves, very liberal and “believe” in public education. They want their kids to have a rich, diverse educational experience and they get in the public schools in their neighborhood without sacrificing quality.

  3. If you want to see this dynamic in it's nascent stages, check out the elementary schools around Capitol Hill/Hill East which are in varying stages of accumulating similar parent groups and to varying degrees are looking towards the "West of the park" schools for models of parent engagement, and as programs. "If they can do it or have it, why can't we?"

  4. You sound like the kind of person who would enjoy graduate school to prepare for college teaching. Most of these students are kids too and you'll get more professional respect for teaching them.

    With the amount of teacher-bashing going on right now, I think the best contribution young people can make to the profession is to turn away from it until citizens show a little more appreciation for what teachers do, especially teachers in districts like DC.

    In the meantime enjoy your rest and continue to share your stories with people. Oftentimes while expressing ourselves, the road to take becomes obvious.

  5. Re: Counterstrike on the Wilson library computers. You would think that the IT guy ON STAFF would take Counterstrike off the network, especially as it is a major distraction in almost all classes.

    Also, you might think that the librarian would not allow computers to be used for such non-academic purposes.

    However, in both cases you would be incorrect. This is because at Wilson there is almost no control over the students, they pretty much do what they want to do. The halls are filled during classes with kids just wandering around and hanging out.

  6. Hmmmm - I have to say I did notice a lot of kids in the hallways during class while I was there, and I saw a lot just hanging out in the room next to the LAYC office not doing much.

  7. Filthy Teacher please post this on your blog from Washington Post. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dcschools/2010/02/iso_former_dcps_teachers.html

    ISO: Former DCPS teachers

    For a story on teacher attrition, I'd like to talk to educators who have voluntarily left DCPS within the last three or four years. I'm looking for both veterans and novices. If you're interested, please get in touch with me by phone 202-334-9294 or e-mail turqueb@washpost.com.

  8. I heard the principal at Wilson was tough on discipline - is this not the case?

  9. Regarding ward 3 kids, let me add that once they graduate, they've come back from their ivy league colleges to tell their DCPS teachers that they match their fellow ivy leaguers academically and are far ahead of them socially and politically, having seen "everything" in DC public schools. They've benefited from brilliant teachers, weathered mediocre and bad teachers and seen good management and bad management. They've participated in crazy politics and effective politics and learned how to interact with people of varied ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds -- all as teen-agers.

    That's quite a good education, wouldn't you say?

    And it's available right here in DC, west of the park, at tax-payer expense.

    By the way, RE - until the 50's DC was a pretty white town. Then civic service offering decent wages and job security brought in a lot of blacks from the south and whites moved to the suburbs to get away from them. Whites also left when the schools were desegregated. Did you know that Goldie Hawn graduated from Anacostia high in the early 60's?

    Many DC neighborhoods changed composition back then - or at other times (e.g. Georgetown was run down in the 30's, the 14th and U area that was bombed out in the '68 riots is now "hot". Foggy Bottom was once a middle class black neighborhood.)

    In contrast, Ward 3 has always been upper-class white. High real estate values, low crime, high education levels.

  10. you could visit my school, it's pretty sweet. =)

  11. Haha - yea, I heard about that school. I think it's a must see.

  12. Please, please Reflective Teacher contact Bill Turque or any other teacher that have left DCPS, let's get our story out. See earlier comment on the Washington Post website. I already forwarded a reminder to him to contact you.

  13. Kings said...
    I heard the principal at Wilson was tough on discipline - is this not the case?

    Um... not really.

    I think to a degree his hands are tied by a lot of the paperwork requirements from downtown. However, kids are in the hallway a lot, there have been a rash of somewhat violent thefts, and the administration has clear favorites among the students, and the really troublesome kids pretty much can get away with anything non-violent.

  14. anon at 10:50 - thanks, but I still don't get it - are you saying paperwork requirements prevent the principal from dealing with hallwalkers?

    Could you be more specific?

  15. Anon at 2.16

    I worked in school in NE/SE border and we cook the behavior report. For several months, there was no clear directions from admins about WHO to send behavioral to in the office. The person receiving the reports was different from the one keeping records. Then eventually one report was settled on by admins,only teachers told that too many infractions were being recorded etc. So teachers stopped recording and reporting minor infractions. Hallwalking and skipping class etc should be recorded!!! However, when several incidents occurred with the same kids off campus the schools claimed that this was a out of the ordinary event as these kids had no records of misbehavior etc. However, the police reports did not back up this claim as the kids themselves revealed a history of misbehavior etc.

  16. The game is called Mancala. This post is not super brilliant, compared to the others. Much love, she who used to teach across the hall from you in sea.

  17. anon at 10:50 - thanks, but I still don't get it - are you saying paperwork requirements prevent the principal from dealing with hallwalkers?

    Could you be more specific?
    I was being kind of sarcastic (although it didn't come off very well.) He will tell you that when they try to discipline kids they are not allowed to suspend them unless they have multiple referrals in the system etc...

    So let's look at what has to happen for a student to get in trouble at Wilson.

    So let's say that I have a planning period and see a kid walking in the hall. I can ask the kid to go to class. Often he curses me out and walks away. I can then follow him until we happen across an administrator who knows who the kid is and tells him to go to class (no consequence for the cursing). At that point I can spend 10 minutes to write a referral that is ignored. If the kid decides to run away, no consequence at all because I don't know who they are.

    These referrals are given to the Dean of students, where some thing must happen to them, but no teacher at Wilson has any idea what that is, since there never seem to be any consequences and we are not informed when students are suspended (I know that they are being suspended because our suspension rates are up.)

    If the student is one of your students, you can't write a referral until you have called home and talked to the parent 2 or 3 times. After that you fill out the referral, which goes to the Dean of Students as above.

    However, there are students who are in the school every day and never go to class. The administration and security know exactly who they are, but appear either helpless or indifferent to actually making them go to class.

    As a result, in any given period you will have 30 or so kids walking around Wilson not doing a whole lot of anything, and if you comment on this the principal will be happy to tell you that if teachers were more responsible then kids wouldn't be in the hall. (Although it is unclear how or why this would be the case).

    A standard set of consequences in reality for a kid at Wilson who is walking the halls is.

    1st-4th Offences- Told to go to class
    5th offence (or on a day where the administration decides it needs to "clean up")- ISS (which is just a hangout)
    6-8th offences- Saturday detention. However, since few students bother to attend that they get suspended for not attending.

    Please note that this can be accelrated rapidly if the kid annoys an administrator, then it is straight to suspension.

  18. Anon at 1249: I think that's a perfect explanation of what probably happens in most DCPS schools. It was certainly the case in my school. But we always hear that Wilson is so much more on top of their stuff than other schools, so this is good for people to know about.

  19. yes, thanks anon 12:49 for the detail, sad though it is.

    I know that Rhee's vision of Wilson was supposed to be "the model urban high school."

    It doesn't look like it's turning out that way.

    If only teachers would be more responsible! (sarcasm)

  20. Another "New Leader" hard at work.

  21. Rhee made it very clear over a year ago that discipline was the teacher's responsibility. If there is a fight at our school the first thing our administrator asks is "where were the teachers" or "who were the teachers". The students aren't blamed nor are there consequences for their actions. idiotic.