Friday, February 18, 2011

Washington DC

Well it has been about a week since I last updated my blog and a ton has happened. Last weekend I was in Washington DC for the Teach For America 20th Anniversary Summit. At the summit there were speakers such Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klien, Geoffrey Canada, Randi Weingarten, and Malcolm Gladwell. There were a ton more whose names I just don’t remember off the top of my head. The weekend overall was amazing. Most of the sessions that I went to were looking at the future of education and education reform. I feel even more riled up about everything that is going on in our nation right now in education and the major hurdles that we have to face. (I’ll come back to this whole education reform topic in a minute).

The summit also gave me the chance to meet up with a number of friends who I haven’t seen in quite a while. Beth Lewis (TFA Mississippi Delta) and I spent most of the weekend together. We laughed quite a bit about our experiences so far as teachers and were able to commiserate about some of the more painful moments. Beth and I have stayed in contact largely because of Teach For America. It was really great to also hear perspectives from her friends working in the delta about education in America. I also ran into Joy Bacon (TFA Baltimore) and had the opportunity to catch up with her as well. The school she is currently working in will be shut down at the end of the school year. My final Whitworth buddy in DC who actually isn’t a part of TFA is Sarah Tunall. She and I shared some great Chinese food. Sarah was my Whitworth small group leader four years ago when I was a freshman. It is amazing to see what God has done with us both throughout these years.

Well now I will go back to my frustration over the giant screw up that the education system is currently. I left the summit with a bit of momentum. I wanted to be a little bit more open in my opinions about the education system and specifically tenure. I practically had my head bitten off this afternoon by a number a teachers at my school for saying that I was opposed to tenure. One of the teachers actually said, “I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a bad teacher.” Well I beg to differ, but I most certainly think that there is such a thing as a great teacher, a satisfactory teacher, and an awful teacher. Just because we don’t have a perfect system of measuring teacher success doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ry. I know that if I sit in two different teachers’ classes who are teaching the same subject that I could determine which teacher I would rather have my kids learn from. In my mind that shows, while subjectivity can play a role, that we do have the ability to tell if one teacher is better than another. I know that I want my kids to have teacher who will prepare them for the future. While there are many things that teachers may do that cannot be tangibly assessed, I know that in the ways a teacher can be assessed they should be, Student outcomes have to play a role in teacher evaluation. Note that I said a role; I do not mean that they should be the only factor. Students, fellow teachers, and principals should all be able to play a role in teacher evaluation as well.

In the national news Wisconsin seems to have taken center stage this week over education reform. While the focus of the problem in Wisconsin is budget cuts, teachers across the country are aware of what is going on. The government is trying to take a significant amount of power away from the unions. While I do believe that the unions play an important role in protecting teachers rights, they have taken things to such an extreme that I don’t think we will be able to make forward progress until the unions power is broken. For too long they have dictated the terms of education and maintained a system of failure. While every teacher should be protected, students should be protected above teachers. I would rather see a few good teachers thrown under the bus in a faulty system than see any student forced to deal with a truly horrible teacher. There needs to be an easier and more effective way of removing teachers. Teaching children is a privilege, not a right.

This morning I was told that three of the students in my long term class, kids who I am supposed to have for six or more months, were sent upstate due to staffing shortages in their housing set up. I am extremely concerned about these students because they struggled with their transition to our school and have been making significant progress. I don’t want that progress halted by a system that failed them. I am praying that they have been moved into a good situation, but unfortunately chances are they have been sent to a place that will be extremely detrimental to their learning. We have winter break this week and I am hoping that we have them back by the end of the break.

On the topic of break, I am on a plane right now flying to Austin, TX. Our in flight film is the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” I was thrilled to see how many people on the plane were watching the film. Towards the end I got up to go to the bathroom and saw a number of people crying. While I don’t agree with everything that the film portrays, I think that it is far more accurate than the propaganda that the teachers unions spew. I am going to add a post soon that has copies of the emails that I have received from my union rep so far. At this point any time that I get and email from him I know that it is going to be something that I strongly disagree with. Some of them are really fun to read though. They are filled will all sorts of inflammatory language.

This week I will be visiting friends in Texas, California, and Colorado. I’m sure updates from time with friend will follow.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I love theater

Well theater has taken a new place in my life. I joined a program that is designed to fill seats in theaters. The basic premise is that for a show to go well there needs to be a decent sized audience for the actors to feed off of. When the theater is concerned about having a large enough crowd they contact seat filler companies and offer them tickets to the show. The reality is I paid $135 to be a part of the program for a year. Now whenever they are offered shows it only costs me $3.50 to go see the show. I think this is a pretty sweet deal. Now in general they aren't Broadway shows, but the off-broadway and off-off-broadway shows are also pretty good. In the past week I have seen six different shows (one was not a part of this program) and so far five out of the six that I have been to have been pretty great. Tomorrow I get to see a show called The Divine Sister which is a musical that incorporates all of the major Hollywood stories about nuns. This should be pretty amazing, but I figure that I may become too much a of theater buff. I don't know if I am going to be able to leave NY because I 'am a sucker for great cheap entertainment. At $3.50 a ticket I might as well just pay the money to sit somewhere warm.
Another great thing that has really hit the ground running is after school tutoring. Now, at my school the kids don't actually have a choice as to when they stay after for tutoring. It is actually great to get extra time to spend with them on math because just one period a day is not enough, but I also don't complained about getting paid for staying with them. According to union contract I make $42 an hour. Uncle Sam takes his chunk, but it is still a pretty penny. I now call this my theater fund.
On the topic of the union yikes. If you haven't yet heard me talk about what a terrible idea tenure is then you are probably lucky. Essentially the union protects teachers rights at all costs. By rights, I mean that they pamper to whims of teachers and 'protect' them from anything that could possibly be seen as a threat. The cost to fire a teacher by the district is about a quarter of a million dollars because of all the legal hoops that they need to jump through. The unions oppose alternative options to for education reform and then claim that since we don't have a proven alternative we should stick with the status quo even though it is failing our students. Well if you don't give something else a try it obviously cannot be proven. The same attitude is how they approach tenure. Since we don't have a proven way of removing ineffective teachers when their are budget cuts we should just stick with the system that we currently have which is to get rid of the newest teachers and keep the older ones. Now maybe I am just naive, but if I was running a company and I had to cut costs and remove people from the payroll I would probably remove the people who were least effective. While I understand concern over people being removed for inappropriate reasons, I in no way think that justifies a system that bases decisions solely on how long a teacher has been in the system. Just because you were tenured doesn't make you a good teacher or even an acceptable teacher. It basically means that you didn't screw up so badly that you were placed in serious jeopardy during your first three years as a teacher. Woohoo. This coming weekend I will be in Washington, D. C. not home :(, for Teach For America's 20th anniversary conference. I'm actually really excited to get to hear some of the speakers and to run into other folks that I know who are in TFA. Well that is all for now.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

It has been too long...

Well I’m back and we will see how I do at keeping up with this blog, I do know from personal experience that it is frustrating when my friends don’t update their blogs, so I guess I should lead by example. Maybe that is just the teacher inside of me. Well the last time that I updated this thing I was in Boston with friend from TFA. Thanksgiving in Boston was amazing and I also had the opportunity to meet up with Lihn Aven a friend from Whitworth who is working on a PhD in Biology there. Seeing such a great friend after more than a year was really great. I feel as though I am learning much more about how to relate to friends from a distance now than I used to be able to. I guess it is sort of a necessity to do if I really want to maintain friendships.

Thanksgiving was really great break simply because it gave me a chance to recharge before heading back into the classroom for three more weeks. I was very pleased to discover that I reentered the classroom with a vigor that I didn’t have at the beginning of the break. That isn’t saying that I was stoked to go back into the classroom. I actually really wanted to stay in Boston or head home, but once classes resumed I felt that being in my classroom was where I belonged. It was really encouraging to feel that I missed seeing my students.

Christmas break was also quite a blessing even if it was a little bit too short. I’m not sure who in the DOE suggested that Christmas break shouldn’t start until December 24th, but I strongly disagree with them. Christmas was the first time that I was home since June. After a very long flight, I was met at the airport by my entire family (including my brothers in law) who were all blowing noise makers and holding balloons. I love my family even if I was a bit grouchy after such a long day. Being home reminded me of all of the important relationships that I left behind and how much I miss them. I don’t think that I have has as productive of a break ever. I had the opportunity to meet up with friends and family and had a minimal of downtime without being completely overwhelmed. After a wonderful Christmas eve service I was able to visit with friends and then go hot tubbing. Christmas day consisted of family celebrations with both my mother’s and my father’s sides of the family as well as meeting up with Scott Meek that night. The next morning I was able to visit with Amanda Shagren and Hillary Haddow. I don’t even know when the last time that I saw Hillary was. More time with family and a great overall day. Josh Westeren, my childhood best friend and I were also able to catch up a couple of times over my days back home. We realized that it had been more than a year and a half since we had actually been in the same place at the same time. Other friends who I was able to visit with included Kimmy Stokesbary, Jen Beck, and Beth Lewis.

On the 27th I began a road trip up to Sylvan Lake Canada with my brother, sister, and brother in law. We got off to a pretty interesting start in a ditch due to snowfall and trying to pass the snow plow. Normally I dislike driving long distances, but I found this trip to be great, I think that was partly because I slept through most of it, but also because I was thrilled to be able to spend so much time with my family. I like my new brother in law significantly better because of the time I was able to spend with him. Something that I learned in Canada, was that for me home is where my family is. I really don’t feel as strong of a connection with my home as I used to. All through college I would have considered home Fircrest, but I no longer really care about where I am as much as I care about who I am with. I see this change in mindset also coming around in part because of how much I see Stacia making Canada a home. She has friends and family there and I realize that the important thing is the relationships, not the location. While in Canada I also had the opportunity to go ice fishing. What an experience, driving a truck out on the ice, spinning out on an atv, and setting up a campfire in the middle of the lake aren’t really things that I have ever done or even thought about doing before. It all came to an end sooner than I would have liked, but I guess we have to get back to real life sooner or later.

Coming back to NYC was bitter sweet. Overall I was prepared to come back and I am doing well in the classroom. I received a number of comments from friends who appreciate all of the quotes I have put on facebook. I have compiled a list of those quotes here. I’m sure my students will provide me with significantly more.

-"Mr. Hamilton, I don't know how to do this." Me- "I don't believe you." Student- "You know me too well Mr. Hamilton."

-"Mr. Hamilton, there are too many steps to this problem. You should make some of them disappear?"

-"Mr. Hamilton, why are you so prepared today? When you have everything set up in advance it is almost like you expect us to do work."

-"Mr. Hamilton, you must be a real party animal when you aren't in school." "What makes you think that?" "Cuz you love math too much."

-"Mr. Hamilton, I refuse to do this work because it is too easy. I will not do any work until you give me something that I can't do."

-"Mr. Hamilton I see what you are doing...that is real sneaky of you trying to convince me to finish my quiz when I already did more than I was planning on doing."

-"I be walking in and all my shorties get up on me." 4'10" 6th grader.

- "Yo, it was the cop's fault I'm back here. He chased me instead of everyone else."

-3 new students today. "I am Mr. Hamilton. Welcome to class." Response..."you can call me Mrs. Hamilton." Yikes!

-"I don't have a crush on you no more Mr. Hamilton. You give out too much homework." Apparently two days in a row of homework is overwhelming.

-"Mr. Hamilton...why to do we always have to do work in your class?" I responded, "Well we need to learn and it is my job to teach you, plus teaching can be fun. When you get a job you need to show up and do your work everyday even when you don't feel like it." He then said, "I wouldn't ever hire some like you for a job. You too perfect, I couldn't trust you."

These quotes show some fun and shocking moment in my room. I have had some not so perfect moments as well. This past week one of my students attacked one of the Department of Justice Staff during my class which followed in a fight that was quite unnerving. Along with some destroyed furniture the fight shook me back into the reality of how dangerous some of my students can be. I am glad that I am here trying to allow them opportunities to have a future that differs from the choices they have made in the past.

I love the excitement of NYC. In the past month I have been to see American Idiot, Chicago, and Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. Yesterday I was given the opportunity to see an orchestra along with a famous pianist play in Carnegie Hall. At this point I guess these types of things have become normal. I will end with an invitation to come visit me. I love having guests.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Still enjoying life...

Well this past week has been great. My parents and my aunt visited me. Getting to spend time with family really is great for boosting the spirits. It also meant that I had the opportunity to see a number of Broadway musicals. Thursday night we saw Promises Promises with Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenowith. It was absolutely amazing although I never realized just how short she is. Friday we saw the Broadway version of Elf. It was a ton of fun and thoroughly enjoyable. Saturday we was Chicago and Million Dollar Quartet. Overall there was quite a lot to take in, but I loved every minute of it. The best part by far was having family from home coming to visit. My parents were able to see my school and meet my co-teacher. It also didn’t hurt that instead of eating in all weekend I was able to eat out at some pretty great places. We found a wonderful little Indian restaurant right next to my apartment that I will definitely be visiting again.

This week in class has been pretty low key considering last week ended with a student punching a staff member in the face. Since it was a three day week and only half a day on Wednesday for classes we focused more on review than learning new material. I had a student explain to me his theory on how algebra was created by teachers to make busywork. I then set that as my facebook status. The best part is the first person to comment on that status was my old algebra teacher who I probably used the exact same line on. I also had a student who decide to make vulgar sexual noises all of the class period. That was one of those moments where I had to choose whether or not to address the issue. I did originally, but when it continued it I decided to focus positive attention elsewhere. He was convicted the week before and finding a way to invest him in the class was challenging. I also had a student ask me why we do work every day in class. My response was that we were in class to learn and it was my job to teach him so that is why we have lessons every day. He said that I should try taking a day and not doing a lesson. To which I replied, “Do you think it is ok for me to show up to work and not do my job? Who would want to have an employee who doesn’t do their job?” He then stated, “I couldn’t trust someone like you to do a job Mr. Hamilton. You are too perfect.” Well I’m not sure if I should take that as a compliment from my student or not. It is however slightly disturbing to think that he thinks you can go to work and some days just decide not to do anything. We are going to have to work on that. Students quiz scores this week were up significantly which is exciting.

I am in Boston for Thanksgiving with a friend from TFA. It is great to be out of the city and in a home. I’m sure I will have more to say soon.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A week in the life of...

So this week has been filled with new expreinces. I saw a pregnant clown on the way to work the other day. I can't say that I see the subway as the best place for a clown to hang out but who am I to judge. Grad school has been fairly low key. In my classroom however it has been a busy week. All four of my math classes are now at different points due to varying student abilities as well as the constant influx of new students. We have been studying perimeter and area with the middle school and the high school classes are at various levels of solving linear equations. I have a new student named Sirlancelot. Yes that is his real name on his transcript. Yikes! What loving parents. We also had a student punch a staff member today in one of the classes so tension is a little high for some of the students. My parents and aunt flew into Newark last night so I get to spend much of the weekend with them. :) One final thought/peice of advice. I found the greatest tv show on hulu. It is called Murder One and it was filmed back in 1995. The show is set up like any good cops and lawyer show except the entire season is focused around one trail which makes the whole thing much more intriguing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Back to the blog

I wouldn't have expected gas to be a problem in an all girls class. But hey, I guess everyone does it. So I fail epically at updating this blog. Here are the things that have gone on in the past few weeks.

Improv Everywhere event. So I participated in a giant flash mob in Manhattan which consisted of about three thousand people doing all sorts of random things in stores and in a park. There is a video of the event here: Sufficient to say, it was one of the most unique experiences of my life. Being surrounded by people I had never met before doing things that you normally wouldn’t do in public was a blast. We had a gift exchange and I received a brand new copy of Pan’s Labyrinth. After that we (Matt, Mollie, and Robbie a TFA friend) went to Brooklyn to see a program called digital graffiti. It had a hippie/bohemian feel to it. There were all sorts of extremely obscure art. One of my favorite things that I saw was a woman on stilts with long flowing white robes dancing in front of a projector that kept changing. A local gym was also open and had all of its bouncy equipment set up which was quite fun. All together it was a really fun totally free night out in NYC.

By the way…major props to anyone who reads through this whole thing. In other developments I now have a new roommate. She just moved in. Her name is Simone and she was born and raise here in NYC. Matt and I are both exited to see how things work out. (cheesy intro) When it comes to working out I have now joined a gym. The sad thing is my biggest motivation for actually working out is the fact that I am paying for it. I am only paying ten bucks a month, but it is still hard earned money coming out of my pocket.

For one of my three day weekends I traveled to Baltimore to visit my good friend Joy. She has been doing TFA there for the last year. It was really great to meet up with her and her friends and just have some fun relaxing. Every time that I get to see people who I know from back home I cherish. It is not that I don’t enjoy the people here, but there is so much that they don’t know about me yet and so much that they don’t know how to relate to that I do miss home quite a bit. (Home qualifies as both Spokane and Fircrest in my book).

My students are so great, even the ones who throw desk across the room and the ones who put holes in the smart board, because each and every one of them is just a kid who is looking for attention. While I do have some days where I am frustrated, for the most part I come home each day pretty happy with what we’ve accomplished. If only there were more time. The bummer about being the only math teacher at my school is that I students only get one period of math a day as opposed to the double periods of social studies and English they receive. I feel that especially with math the more practice my kids get the better.

I’ll try to be more on top of updates. I promise myself that now, but we will see when I write again. For anyone out there who is feeling bored for some reason you are more than welcome to give me a jingle.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Catching up...

Student quote of the week. "I'm gonna break you. You ever been hit by a dump truck?"
Well, it has been a while since I updated this blog, which is unfortunate because my intent was to update it weekly. We will see how that goes from this point on. My last update was immediately after my first day of school and boy have I learned a lot since then.
Our four day weekend gave me the opportunity to prepare for class somewhat, although I am quickly learning that there is no such thing as truly being ready for class. There are good days and there are bad days. A part of that has to do with me being adequately prepared and a part has to do with which students are in class on any given day and how they feel for that day. Since the first day of school we have had all sorts of excitement. There have been ten kids who I had who have now left and another seven new ones have been added. To put that in perspective, about 40% of the faces that I see are different. It will take me quite a while before I really understand this system. There isn't necessarily any notice of when kids are leaving which is sad. To go home one night so that I can work to create an extra extension for a kid only to show up the next day and have them gone is a real bummer. The other bummer is half the kids are gone every day anyway for court or some other appointment. It makes teaching math fairly difficult, but we are pushing on. The kids are so great though and I really do feel as though I am beginning to build a stronger rapport with my kids.
At the moment I am still the lead teacher in a math class which is technically illegal, but who cares about technicalities.
The past two weekends have been a little bit crazy. I started out with out many plans, but the NYC nightlife sort of got to me. I don't plan on getting home at 6:30am again anytime soon, but the life experience of seeing a fight (crazy dude with a cane) and dancing in a night club are things that really are a part of experiencing the city. Matt and I now have a couch ordered and on the way and a TV coming soon to round out the apartment. The final thing we need is a roommate who we hope to find soon. I am sorry I haven't been more thorough in updating my blog.
Just as a hint to those of you out there, I really do enjoy catching up with friends so give me a call. I am free (meaning I can put off lesson planning if you call) every day after 3pm except Mondays until 8pm. That is 3pm eastern time so if you have some spare time during your afternoon give me a call.