Defiant Students Rule

If you have ever thought of becoming a teacher, beware.

No one has your back.

Not administrators, district officials, or, more assuredly, the state of California.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom made sure of that by signing into law SB419 which further undermines the authority of teachers in managing defiant students.

After three failed attempts under former Gov. Jerry Brown, State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) succeeded in having the more liberal governor ban “willful defiance” suspensions in all public and charter schools grades K-8 ensuring that unruly students remain in the classroom except for only the most egregious infractions; defying the teacher is not one of them.

Teachers are no longer permitted to send out bad kids even if they continuously disrupt the learning of others, giving them carte blanche to continue interfering with the education of the good kids.

Often cited are statistics showing suspension rates among minority children are disproportionately higher than other groups and therefore a violation of their civil rights.

Special interest groups point out examples of children being suspended for such minor acts as chewing gum in class as proof that the predominately white teacher population is racist.  However, economic issues may play a larger role in determining child behavior.

Now the anti-suspension needle has moved all the way to the point where the message to teachers is quite clear:  keep all students inside your classroom no matter what.

The other message seems to be that teachers are not to be trusted in handling students in a classroom.   Politicians in Sacramento know what’s best.

In recent years, anti-suspension programs such as restorative justice and PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports) have infiltrated the agenda at faculty meetings statewide.

Since then, suspensions rate have declined, but how does one know if it because of  these programs or because teachers under intense pressure know that they don’t have the option of removing troublemakers?

Keep in mind that misbehaved students receive a disproportionate amount of attention from teachers who have to spend time reinforcing behavior matrices, scheduling restorative circle time, documenting everything, contacting parents, etc.

Teacher time is better spent on designing lesson plans and evaluating student work than serving as pseudo-therapists.

State Sen. Skinner said in a statement that “ending willful defiance suspensions will keep kids in school where they belong and where teachers and counselors can help them thrive.”

However, by keeping these kids in classrooms means that the other kids, those who always behave and obey authority figures, won’t thrive.

Just keeping a misbehaved child in class does not mean that student is listening or learning.

It is the good kids who get trapped in toxic environments with kids who come from unruly households where there is no discipline.  Where is the ACLU’s defense of their civil rights?

The system has to bend over backwards to accommodate the hooligans instead of the hooligans having to learn how to modify their behavior.

Gov. Newsom, would you want your children attend school with these disruptive students?  Of course not.  That is why the people who make the laws send their children to private schools which don’t have to abide by the laws they make; his children attend a private Montessori preschool.

The best support for a teacher is to remove the disobedient child so instruction can resume for those who are obedient.

All teachers know this including the former governor.

After vetoing a similar bill just last year, Brown said that “teachers and principals are on the front lines of educating our children and are in the best position to make decisions about order and discipline in the classrooms.”

Those who do not work in classrooms should not impose their will on those who do.

Life Begins After 60

“Put another candle on my birthday cake, I’m another year old today.”

For those of you old enough to remember Sheriff John, that was the song he sang on his children’s TV show that aired from 1952 to 1970.

It’s a song I think of every time I have a birthday as I did on April 1.

In my family, the biggest April Fools’ joke was me being born.  The story my mother always related was that her doctor told her I was to arrive on April 4th.   When I came early, he told her, “April Fools!”

Actually, I always liked that I was born on a special day of any kind since my father was born on Christmas.

I was lucky to have a few memorable birthday celebrations.

There was my sixth birthday held at a themed restaurant with a live “damsel in distress”-type of revue with food delivered via a model train.   After the show, all children celebrating a birthday were invited on stage to shake the hands of the actors.  The man playing the villain hid popcorn in his hand so when he shook mine I felt the crunched corn.

At age 11, my party took place at a miniature golf course on Magnolia Boulevard near Catalina Street in Burbank.  I didn’t enjoy myself though because I had the worst score of all my buddies.

The most unusual birthday was my 16th which wasn’t a party at all since I was hospitalized with a skin condition at UCLA Medical Center.

For my 50th, my family arranged an overnight trip in Palm Springs where we ate dinner at the Bing Crosby restaurant (no longer there).

Then last year, we went to the horse races at Santa Anita.  (Good thing we didn’t do it this year, right?)

I feel lucky that my health is good despite how old I may appear.  Just last weekend a man thought I was my 15-year-old’s grandfather.  Look, I know I’m no spring chicken, but I’m not Larry King either.

What’s weird is that I have now outlived my father.  It made me wonder about famous people who I have outlived as well.

Here is a partial list:  Joan of Arc (19), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (35), Marilyn Monroe (36), Vincent Van Gogh (37), George Gershwin (38), Martin Luther King, Jr. (39), Edgar Allan Poe (40), Elvis Presley (42), Nat King Cole (45), Judy Garland (47), William Shakespeare (52), Jackie Robinson (53), Abraham Lincoln (56), and Virginia Wolfe (59).

When thinking about their contributions, I feel quite inadequate.  However, there is still hope for those of us over 60.

Dame Judi Dench has received seven Oscar nominations since she was over 60.

Mahatma Gandhi was 61 when he did his famous Salt March protesting British rule in India.

Colonel Harland Sanders was 62 when he began franchising Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was 64 years old when she published her first book which inspired the popular TV series “Little House on the Prairie.”

Noah Webster took 26 years to finish his dictionary when he was 66 years old.

Benjamin Franklin was 70 when he signed the Declaration of Independence.

Nelson Mandela was 75 when he was elected president of South Africa.

Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses began painting at age 76.

Astronaut and Senator John Glenn at age 77 was the oldest person to travel in space.

Also at 77, Frank Sinatra’s “Duets” was the second best-selling album in the country behind Pearl Jam’s latest release.

So, to those of you in my age range, to quote from one of his songs, the best is yet to come.  And that’s no joke.

Mortality: The Ultimate New Year’s Motivator

The most chilling part of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” comes near the end when the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come points Ebenezer Scrooge to a tombstone with his own name on it.

It is this final vision that does its job in making Scrooge realize he better change his ways before he dies if he wants his life to have meaning.

The idea of coming to terms with one’s own mortality and using that knowledge as motivation to make the most of each day is powerful.

Scrooge declares that “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”  And just as with New Year’s resolutions, people have the best intentions to do good in the world and for themselves but often life’s daily happenings can derail them.

It takes a strong constitution and willpower to keep goals on track.

My life-changing moment wasn’t a ghost but a dead body, when at age 11, I witnessed my grandmother in a coffin. That startling image slapped me in the face with the sinking realization that life does not last forever.

I remember many times afterwards lying in bed struggling to get to sleep thinking about the eventual void in our future.

It accounts for the nervous energy I have and the impatience I display knowing that time is short and why I make lists all the time.  Lists of errands to do each day, and lists of goals to work on each year.

In a way, death drives me to get things accomplished.

Of course, the number of years a person has to live can’t be predicted, though many internet tools claim to guestimate one’s lifespan with a high level of probability.

Based on the Social Security Administration’s Life Expectancy Calculator, I can expect to live another 24 years at my current age.

According to life insurance companies Northwestern Mutual and John Hancock, I have another 32 years.

Death clock.org actually gives a projected day of death and graphically places it on a tombstone like the Dickens’ tale.  I have only 13 years left with them.

On poodwaddle.com there is even a clock that continuously countdowns one’s life.

The iconic images each December 31st of an old man representing the year that is ending and a baby representing the new year to come symbolizes the death and rebirth in all of us.

Each passing year marks a slight death for that is one year that will never come back.

However, with the utterance of “Happy New Year” comes yet another opportunity to reboot, redouble our efforts to be better people.   Even if “life happens,” there is always hope that some of what we set out to do will occur.

If each person does something positive once a day, by next year, that would amount to 365 positive actions.   That is a lot of contributions for one person.

One day a tombstone will have our name on it.   And no matter how much money we have or how healthy our eating and exercise habits are, we will die.

Abraham Lincoln once said that “in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.”

Here’s hoping that in 2017 you make the most of what days we have to do good for ourselves and for others.

 

 

How do you explain the Paris attacks to a youngter?

When my 12-year-old son asked me why the French flag appeared on Google last Friday, I knew I had to muster the best of my parenting skills to carefully answer his question.

This led me to thinking: With the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, just how much awareness should children have of what is going on in the world?

Ginny Goodwin, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and the director of Burbank’s Family Service Agency, advises that parents consider a child’s age and maturity when discussing these events.

“Withholding information needs to be considered [including] limiting television viewing and protecting them from images” especially for youngsters, Goodwin said.

For more social media savvy teens, parents should “answer questions and help them process their fears and concerns.”

“Children need to feel secure, that adults have some control [and that] our country is working hard to protect all of us,” added Goodwin.

Parents need to understand that their children may pick up on their own fears so it’s important not to share such anxieties within “earshot of children.”

I remember on the morning of the 9/11 attacks, my wife and I made sure not to watch television until we dropped off our two-year-old at his daycare center. When I picked him up that afternoon, I was aghast that the teacher and aides were talking about the planes hitting into the buildings right in front of the kids.   I told the center’s director about the inappropriateness of doing that.

LMFT Samantha Bookman of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Program at Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills agrees that “it is imperative [parents] be highly vigilant about what adult conversations are happening within earshot of kids and not show their anxiety in front of them.”

“They are always listening, even when they don’t seem to be paying attention,” Bookman said.

Additionally, since “children and teens have an under-developed pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain behind the forehead which calm fears,” explained Bookman, absorbing “scary information can be overwhelming and debilitating.”

The fears that exist today about unexpected horror that could happen in a flash harken back to what earlier generations must have felt during the Cold War with the potentiality of a nuclear holocaust hanging in the air.

Even today’s lockdown drills are reminiscent of the Duck and Cover drills school children practiced in the event of a nuclear attack during the 1950s and 1960s.

It makes one wonder when was the last time an American generation did not have the sense that the world could end or at least turn upside down in a moment.

I asked history professor Christopher Endy of Cal State Los Angeles this question.

“The 1920s and 1930s were the last decades when Americans felt free from fear of widespread catastrophic attack,” said Endy. When relations with the Soviets “soured in the late 1940s . . . Americans’ fears increased dramatically.” And have remained so ever since.

While we can’t control what course of action governments undertake to combat the threat of terrorism, experts say that the average citizen’s best action is to go on with normal activities while being vigilant.

“There is risk in our lives every day . . . but we forget about it so that we can live our lives happily,” said Bookman. “And guess what? We are almost always just fine.”

 

 

Teachers Need to be involved in Decision-Making

In the game of education, there are many players: students, parents, teachers, administrators, district officials, state and federal politicians.   Too often, the group that has the most contact with the students, the teachers, is not part of policy decision-making.

For example, sometime beginning in the late spring, the Glendale Unified School District went ahead with a major endeavor, signing a five-year contract worth $3.4 million with Massachusetts-based Curriculum Associates to use their i-Ready diagnostic testing program, evaluating each kindergartner through 12 grader three times a year.

What was quite startling about all this was how few of the major stakeholders were in the loop, including some administrators.

Glendale Teachers Association President Phyllis Miller said that GTA was not part of any discussions about this program as well.

Just as the Common Core standards seemingly came out of nowhere, so too has i-Ready that no one knows with certainty will benefit students.

The difference between the rollout of Common Core and i-Ready was that GUSD carefully involved teachers in introducing the new standards over a three-year period; the systematic testing came like a “Bam!” a la celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.   In the past, the district has piloted new programs before committing to them.   Not this time.

Product Marketing Director for Curriculum Associates Susan Arcuri claims that there have been positive results in Glendale.   It’s a mystery how she came to that conclusion considering testing has just begun.

Miller said that many teachers who have used i-Ready say that the test itself is taking much longer than what was expected.

Where I work, the reading test is currently being administered, taking two class periods to complete. If that holds true for the math test, that would translate to a loss of 12 hours of direct instruction in arguably the most important subject classes.

And don’t forget the time it takes school administrators to organize the computer labs and monitor the testing, time better spent elsewhere.

It’s understandable the district wants to do something to help students perform well on the new Common Core based assessments.   The idea of providing teachers with individualized data to help shape future lesson planning sounds ideal.   The problem is that it is not practical.

Any teacher watching an i-Ready presentation espousing its benefits could inform upper management of this.   How are teachers going to find the time needed to analyze the data and then to modify lessons to meet the needs of each student? If a teacher were at the decision-making table, these legitimately difficult questions would have arisen.

One would have to make quite a convincing argument that spreadsheets of colored graphs is preferable to lessons taught by a qualified teacher.

Often overlooked is the analysis already occurring in the classroom on a daily basis facilitated by the expert in that field, the teacher.   Teachers don’t need third party testing results to understand that a student has difficulty understanding a Shakespearean passage.   They discover it through their lessons and assessments.

I have had the privilege of having thousands of students spend time in my classroom. I’d like to make an impact.   But the effect I could have on a child gets further diminished with each hour of standardized testing.

Teachers are very possessive of the time they have with their students so there needs to be a strong reason to justify taking that time away.