How many papers does it take an English teacher to grade before he collapses?

For the first time in several years, I feel exhausted.  Fatigue is normal for the first few weeks of the school year, returning to work after an extended vacation.

It takes a month or so for a teacher to get his “sea legs.”  Then, a certain comfort level sets in, and the teacher locks into a rhythm that can carry one through the rigors of a school year.

Well, after eight weeks, I still haven’t found it, making me think about Father Time.

Similar to an athlete whose body can’t work or heal as well as it ages with a lot of usage over the years, I must be experiencing the cumulative effects of being in the game of education for over 28 years which is why I’m still seeking my footing.

Besides, without disparaging my colleagues in other disciplines, the work of the English teacher is formidable.

I have four classes of 10th grade English: 35, 36, 36, and 32 in numbers.  This means that every time I give a test or assign a paper, I am collecting 139 handwritten papers—all with unique printing; some legible, some not.

Within the past two weeks, I have graded 139 tests and 695 one-page essays.  No wonder I am having stomach problems.

I often ask myself, do I really have to work so hard this late in my career?   Why push myself?  I certainly do not get paid by the pound of papers I take home.

If I were to add up all the days off I have had in close to three decades, easily one-third of the days were mental health ones, where I just needed time to breathe, time not to assign any more work, time to get through the pile of papers that like a landfill can easily rise as tall as a mountain.

GUSD used to support English teachers with two programs to help ease their paper load.  One was the lay reader program and the other was paper grading days.

The lay reader program worked like this.  Teachers would farm out class sets of essays to college students majoring in English.  Instructions would be given to the student evaluators to correct all grammar and spelling errors.   Within days, the essays would be returned, and the teachers would then focus on more specialized areas such as organization and content.   Not having to fix mechanical mistakes saved time on the grading.

Additionally, the District used to allocate a certain number of substitute days, labeled paper grading days, to each secondary school with the idea of relieving the teacher from the classroom in order to grade essays.

Both of these programs were wonderful not just for the assistance given to teachers in getting their work done, but the recognition by GUSD that English teachers do have a higher amount of student work to evaluate than other teachers, an acknowledgment rarely given.

Unfortunately, several years ago funding for both programs stopped.  Yet, English teachers’ assigning writing did not.

The bulging briefcase I bring home every night and every weekend remind me of what I need to do before I read a book, watch a show, write this column.

Overwhelming?   There must be a stronger word for it.

I know colleagues who give multiple-choice tests and envy them a bit.  Within minutes, their grading is done, the numbers of correct answers printed on a silver platter.

Others like me who have students write detailed responses written in multiple sentences with supporting evidence have hours ahead of us to read handwritten work and to evaluate the merits of each response.

Ultimately, teaching requires faith that what one does is going to benefit young people.   I still believe I’m doing the right thing.  Even if it kills me.

 

Why I Did Not Renew My National Board Certification

Back in 2003, I earned my National Board certification.

If you don’t know what that is, you are not alone.

Established in 1987, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) is an independent, nonprofit organization working to advance accomplished teaching for all students.

Its noble goal was to elevate the teaching profession to the level of doctors and attorneys by offering teachers a PhD of sorts.  And, like the bar exam, create a certification process rigorous enough so that not all applicants would pass on the first attempt.

The certification process requires videotaping multiple classroom lessons and writing dozens of pages analyzing student work and reflecting on one’s practice.

While sometimes grueling, I found the process more rewarding and relevant than the work I did for my master’s degree.

Plus, the NBPTS encouraged school districts and states to reward those who earned certification with a bonus, something unheard of in the teaching profession.

Many did reward teachers, though to varying degrees.  North Carolina was a standout in the country, giving five-figure annual bonuses.

GUSD provides some additional money, but expects the National Board (NB) teacher to work extra hours, which makes no sense.   Teachers with master’s and doctorate degrees receive annual stipends without having to work more, so why should NB teachers do so?

Also, the district never promoted the practice by offering to pay for part or all of the $1,500 fee to go through the process (when I applied the fee was $2,300).

The goal of NBPTS was to have 100,000 board-certified teachers by 2003.

That didn’t happen.

By 2007, only 60,000 teachers achieved certification.

Ten years later, the number is finally above 100,000, equating to just over three percent of total teachers in the country.

One catch, though.   Unlike a college degree which once earned never needs renewal, the NBPTS requires teachers to renew their certification every 10 years—at a cost of $1,250.

That I did not do, yet still view myself as a National Board certified teacher.  Once earned, no fee should strip that designation away.

This past summer, NBPTS was soliciting board certified teachers to work over the summer at the professional rate of, get ready, $25 an hour.   My electrician charges me $100 an hour.

The Princeton Review pays high school graduates $22 an hour to tutor, yet the NBPTS pays just three dollars more for a teacher with a college graduate, a fifth year of college earning a teaching credential, and national board certification.  It doesn’t make any sense.

Which is why I contacted NBPTS President and CEO Peggy Brookins.

Here is a portion of the letter:

As much as I would like to work with other noted educators around the country, I wanted to let you know why I am not submitting an application to do this work:  the low remuneration of $25 per hour.

What surprises me is of all the organizations to spotlight high quality teaching talent, one would think that the NBPTS would be the one to recognize the importance by compensating NBCTs adequately, commensurate with their expertise to the field of teaching.

I never received a reply.

Imagine that.   The head of the organization that purports to lead the charge for the best and brightest in the land, yet has no time to respond to one of its own.

Beyond higher pay, NBPTS’s hope was for those in charge of running schools to view NB teachers as resources, experts in the field of education.

I would like to tell you about all the exciting opportunities my school district offered me in helping them shape education policy and set curriculum standards.   But I’m still waiting.

 

Support Student Journalism

Often what makes school enjoyable for students are the friends they have there and the classes and teachers they like.

And the same goes for teachers.    The highlight of my work day is the students and the journalism program which I have helmed, going on 25 years.

My teaching career would not be half as fulfilling without a front row seat to the amazing work of these teenagers.  If the ideal learning environment is for students to do everything on their own, then those who work for Tornado Media should be required viewing.

In addition to producing the school newspaper, students manage a website, produce a weekly video announcement show, and a magazine-style TV program that airs on local television.

They inspire me with how they take charge of managing their peers, facilitating meetings, organizing monthly calendars of deadlines, laying out pages, editing articles, producing videos.   Most of what I do is trust in them to do the job.  And they take off.

When there is a rally, the students are there capturing it.

When there is a concert, the students are there recording it.

When there is a playoff game, the students are there covering it.

And when a student has lost his life, the students are there memorializing it.

Whether it is yearbook or photo or drama or marching band, the classes which are categorized as electives are mandatory for those students who take them, often the one period of their entire day where they can do something they truly enjoy.

That is why it is essential for schools and districts to support these programs. Unfortunately, as money has tightened over the years, our budget has shrunk; this year cut 20 percent.  What this means is that instead of publishing eight or nine issues this year, we may have only five or six.   To print even a small 8-page newspaper costs nearly $600.

Staffers try selling advertisement in the paper and on the web, but it isn’t easy and any results are not enough.

These are the type of students and programs that school officials should be championing.  But they require financial support.

To provide a professional work environment, these students need computers configured with up-to-date software, cameras, tripods, and cordless microphones—all expensive equipment.

For the past 89 years, these student journalists/historians have chronicled the school’s history. Without their contributions, such a record would be lost.

They search for stories to write and record such as a girl on an all-boys ice hockey team, an artist exploring controversial themes about comfort women, a water polo team with a “miracle on ice”-like season, a young man who designs clothes and puts on a fashion show, an alumnus who walks the perimeter of the campus each morning as the unofficial greeter to all students and staff.

These subjects and what they do would fade away were it not for them being printed in a newspaper or videotaped for the web.

For those of you interested in supporting Hoover High School’s journalism program, visit us at adopt-a-classroom.org or gofundme.com/help-our-journalism-class.  You can also mention our name at the Chipotle in the Glendale Galleria on Saturday, Sept. 23 from 4-9 p.m.

Please consider giving what you can to ensure they continue telling the story of the school, the story of their lives.

On behalf of my students, we thank you for any donation.

 

Time for High Schoolers to Put on Their Big College Pants

“Who was absent yesterday and needs the handout?” is not a question a teacher of high school seniors should pose.   In less than one year, how will these students function on their own, choosing courses, purchasing books, transporting themselves to college?

We baby students.  Too much.  Too often.

Chancellor Timothy P. White of the California State University (CSU) system made the right call earlier this month proclaiming that starting in the fall of 2018, incoming freshmen will no longer be given placement tests in English or math, nor will those who struggle be enrolled in remedial classes.

The decision is based primarily on the length it takes a CSU student to complete a degree, and the extra money students have to expend by remaining enrolled beyond the traditional four years.

Currently, over one-third of freshmen are enrolled in these classes; CSU’s four-year graduation rate stands at 19 percent.

Between now and then, each campus will figure out a plan on how to ensure that these students will succeed through other means.

The larger problem that no one wishes to address is that these recent high school graduates are not ready for college.

Several of them are suspended on a rickety bridge between 12th grade and freshman year resembling an Indiana Jones cliffhanger:  who will make it to college and who will not.

Those of us who work at the high school level need to look in the mirror and question our methods and expectations.

Much teacher training is spent on how to scaffold and differentiate lessons, breaking down hard concepts into smaller chunks which eventually handicaps the lower ability students and frustrates the higher ability ones.

Some of this work fits earlier grades.   However, come high school, more should be asked of students.

Each grade from kindergarten through 12th should purposefully be organized to ensure with each passing year, teachers hold the students’ hands less while the students gain more control of their learning.  That way, by the time students cross the stage and hoist up the diplomas, there is true meaning behind that accomplishment.

An integral aspect of attending college is being mature enough to handle the extended freedom and independence.

Schools get the concept of “college prep” wrong.   While applying the phrase to upper grade coursework, college prep actually begins in kindergarten not high school.   Every grade, every class should prepare students to further their education beyond 12th grade, be it college or learning a trade.

High school seniors should not still be working on how to write an effective paragraph.   These kids will fail in their first quarter of college.

This past summer school, one Glendale administrator urged teachers not to fail students.  Having failed classes during the regular school year, these students were given an opportunity to retake them by only being taught 60 percent of the curriculum.  Yet some still couldn’t pass the class.

Administrators and teachers who wipe clean the ‘F’ are not doing these students a favor for maybe the only real lesson that student will have learned in summer school is that a person needs to work at something in order to receive credit.

If that lesson is not learned at the high school level, then a four-year college is not the right option for that individual.

President Harry S. Truman had a famous sign on his desk while in the White House:  the buck stops here.

Those of us in public school need to adhere to standards; passing along students who do little to no work or show little to no grasp of subject matter is real failure.

 

Hello Dolly vs. Groundhog Day: the Classic Musical vs. the Classless One

Whenever I visit New York, two items are always at the top of my to-do list:  eat fantastic food and see exciting Broadway musicals.   The food rarely disappoints (Peter Lugar Steakhouse and Katz Delicatessen); it’s the musicals that sometimes can be a crapshoot. To hedge our bets, my wife and I try to see one classic and one new one each trip so that at least the tried and true show will not fail.

 

This summer we went to see Tony Award winner Bette Midler in “Hello Dolly” which has received rave reviews since the revival opened in April.   Premiering in 1964, Jerry Herman’s classic remains so even 53 years later.   Hummable tunes, colorful costumes, imaginative lighting and set design, and a chorus of singers and dancers.

 

The new musical we saw was “Groundhog Day” based on the 1993 Bill Murray comedy about a man who keeps waking up to the same day over and over again.  Since our teenaged sons had seen the film, we thought this would get them excited to see the musical version.

 

Even though the film was rated PG, we live in the age of “The Book of Mormon” so I researched “Groundhog Day” to make sure it would be appropriate for my kids.

 

After multiple sources verified it as family-friendly, I bought the tickets.

 

Anytime I am about to attend a live performance of a musical or an opera, I listen to a recording of it beforehand to get familiar with the story and the lyrics, and so I bought the “Groundhog Day” cast recording.

 

I knew I was in trouble when in the second number “erection” was used.   The language went down from there, literally and figuratively.  The producers turned a PG film into an R-rated live performance.  Finding a clean piece of entertainment these days is as hard as finding a piece of watermelon that actually has a taste.

 

In addition to the requisite four-letter words that a modern piece of entertainment can’t be without, here is a partial list of the sexual and scatological references that are put to music:   nipples, pubic hair, masturbation, foreskin, enemas, semen, defecating in one’s pants and swallowing vomit.

 

It was as if the composer was paid by the number of off-color word and bodily functions he could fit in a Broadway show.

 

Hardly any of the 17 songs were clean, or memorable for that matter.  I’m sorry, but hearing pretty voices sing ugly words does not sound good.  All the parts of the body in the key of C doesn’t change the fact that they are singing dirty words.  Also, it does not reflect well on the composer who goes in the gutter for rhymes instead of creating more imaginative word choices.

 

The filthy language also will date this musical quite quickly.

 

Clearly, what I consider family-friendly and others differs greatly.  Just this week Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote a piece on an 85-year-old grandmother who once she saw herself dancing on the huge video screen at Dodger Stadium, decided to pull up her shirt and flash her breasts (thankfully in a bra).  To me, that behavior should not be cheered, yet I recognize I may be in the minority.

 

Meanwhile, “Hello Dolly” without the obscenities remains timeless.  And that is why it is a classic. “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” “It Only Takes a Moment,” and the title song stay in your mind long after leaving the theater.

 

I doubt that in 2037 there will be a revival of “Groundhog Day.”  Unlike the main character who continues to relive Feb. 2, no one should relive this musical.

Trump is no Boy Scout

Further proof that the words dignity and Trump will never form a complete sentence was his inappropriate remarks last Monday at the Boy Scouts’ National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia.

Trump hijacked the scouts’ largest event occurring every four years and put the focus on his favorite subject—himself.

Addressing 35,000 scouts ages 12 through 17, Trump claimed there were 45,000:  “You set a record today.”  He still overestimates how many people come out to see him, and wanting others to believe wherever he appears, large crowds and long ovations break records.

Trump spoke for 38 minutes not caring that this venue was not the place for his stump speech.

Promising to “put aside all of the policy fights” because “who the hell wants to speak to politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts,” Trump proceeded to do just that.

Within minutes he veered away from the teleprompter remarks, always a cover-your-eyes moment, and resurrected his favorite audience-pleasing targets:  health care (“killing this horrible thing called Obamacare”), the media (“these dishonest people”), and election day (“was that a beautiful date”).

It didn’t help that some of America’s best kids behaved like a Jerry Springer audience chanting the jingoistic “USA, USA.”

He highlighted members of his cabinet, some present on stage, who were Boy Scouts, curiously overlooking Eagle Scout and Attorney General Jeff Sessions who was not there.

He joked about getting rid of Health and Human Resources secretary Tom Price if Obamacare isn’t repealed, using his old chestnut, “you’re fired.”

When meaning to say “American success,” out came “American sex,” quite a Freudian slip considering Trump’s mindset.

When he boasted that President Obama never came to a Jamboree, Trump turned to the cabinet members behind him where they guffawed about the comment, public servants joining in the mockery of a former president in front of an impressionable audience.

Actually, Obama did record a 94-second greeting in 2010 for the Boy Scouts’ centennial.  Understanding his audience, Obama eschewed politicking and instead celebrated scouts in history, including those who aided during World War Two.

Obama could have gained their favor by mentioning his scouting days, something Trump would have exploited to no end, but he didn’t.

Meanwhile, Trump rambled about real-estate builder William Levett who “bought a yacht and a very interesting life” intimating, what, that he was a ladies’ man?

If I couldn’t make sense of this story, imagine how a 13-year-old absorbed it.

The speech dragged on for so long that Energy Secretary Rick Perry can be seen in the background using his phone.

Referencing his election, Trump said “what we did is an unbelievable tribute to you.”  Wait a minute, most of the crowd hasn’t even reached voting age yet.

Then, out of nowhere he said “under the Trump administration you’ll be saying, ‘Merry Christmas’ again when you go shopping.”  It is July, right?

Trump told the scouts “you should take great pride in the example you set for every citizen of our country to follow . . . you inherit a noble American tradition . . . remember your duty, honor your history.”

If only Trump could have been in the audience hearing his own words pertaining to the presidency.  Trump needs to take great pride for inheriting a position only 44 other Americans were blessed to hold and honor their history as well.

Instead, he torches their legacy.

And he taints the spirit of the Boy Scouts’ oath “to help other people at all times” for back in 1989, the Trump Foundation donated $7 to the organization, according to the Washington Post.   This was when $7 was the membership fee and when Don Jr. was 11 years old.

Showing how even when it comes to helping others, Trump’s most important cause is himself.  And that is why Trump could never be a Boy Scout.

 

Making Pirates of the Caribbean Ride PC or Ruining Walt Disney’s Legacy

If you haven’t heard, Pirates of the Caribbean, the last ride Walt Disney himself personally supervised, is going to be changed for 2018.

The ride has previously been altered.  Pirates no longer chase women (it’s food they really crave), and Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow appears a few times to help take us out of the original ride’s storyline.

Now, it’s about to be butchered, further desecrating the legacy of Walt Disney.

The famous “take a wench for a bride” auction scene will be replaced with “surrender yer loot” where wealthy people stand in line to give up their possessions.  The famous redhead will transform into a pirate.

For those who feel that too much emotion is placed on preserving a ride, not a national monument by far, remember this.

Pirates of the Caribbean was “the final attraction which Walt saw basically to its completion . . . the pinnacle of his theme park career . . . perfect on every level,” according to what Disneyland expert David Koenig said in a documentary on the ride, often referred to as the “greatest theme park attraction ever made.”

That is why preserving it exactly as it was originally intended is so critical.   If Disneyland were a museum, this would be its Mona Lisa.

The auction scene in particular tickled Disney’s fancy.  In a 1965 episode of “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color,” he narrates a scale model of the ride, referencing this scene:  “here their shipmates are auctioning off the town’s beauties.”

The auctioneer pirate, which was the most sophisticated audio-animatronic built by Disney Imagineers at that point, was the only fully-dressed and operating pirate that Walt saw in a mock-up at the WED warehouse in Glendale shortly before he died.

Disney was pushed through on a dolly as if it were one of the boats to see the progress of the ride.  As mentioned in David Oneal’s documentary, “this test run-through of the auction scene would be Walt Disney’s last time working on any Disney theme park attraction.”

It would be curious to find out if Disney has had endless guest complaints about this scene or if just a few company officials were bothered by it.

Let’s face it, there is more scandalous female objectification in a Carl’s, Jr. commercial.

If you are going to ruin the ride, you might as well go all the way and drain all of the offensive material; in other words, the best parts.

Too many drunk pirates are seen in the ride.  Replace all bottles with baguettes.

The pirate who tries to have a cat drink rum can instead offer some Meow Mix.

The jailed pirates trying to get a dog to give them the keys so they can escape say “grab his ears” and “hit him with a soup bone.”  Delete these lines before the SPCA claims animal cruelty.

Change the signage on all the rum barrels to read “root beer,” then sell Pirate Root Beer in the gift shops and restaurants.

Do away with the burning of the town.  Turn it into a 4th of July firework spectacular (another thing that can be used by the marketing department).

And the dunking of the town magistrate is an act of water torture.  Replace him with the executive who approved this idea.

Of all the amusement parks, Disneyland is the only one supervised by Walt Disney.  That is why it needs to be protected more than any other park.

What I don’t get is how come a made-up fantasy of pirates’ lives holding an auction of women in an amusement park ride (emphasis on “amuse”) is viewed so inappropriately, yet no one seems to complain of billboards advertising cartoon excrement in “The Emoji Movie,” an upcoming PG-13 movie geared towards children?

It’s a small (minded) world, after all.