Polski3's View from Here

Quote of some personal revelence: "Is a dream a lie, that don't come true, or is it something worse?"

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Union Dues

The latest edition of the NEA TODAY (April 2005) just arrived. As I always do when such a publication arrives, I eagerly read it from cover to cover.....NOT. I do, however, when I have time, look through it to see if there is anything worth reading and if there are any upcoming tv shows that might be of interest. AHHHH. this issue has some NEA dues spending data. According to NEA Secretary-Treasurer Lily Eskelsen's report (page 48-49), NEA's pot of money grew by over one million dollars, as a result of net revenues exceeding expenses. (Are we in for a dues reductions ? In my 21 years of forced union membership, THAT has never happened.) The report included an interesting pie chart of "Your 2004-2005 Dues Dollars". According to this data, teachers who are associated with NEA were assessed a mere $137.00 in NEA Dues. It is broken up into the following categories: Governance, ($7.30), Administrative Support ($24.86), Contingency ($1.19), Improve Teaching and Learning ($12.13), Legal Support ($16.28), Leadership Development and constituency Support ($3.20), Legislative and Ballot Initiative Action ($10.55), Partnerships and Public Relations ($9.78) and Support Strong States and Locals to Protect Member Interests ($51.71).

I find some of the comments for each category to be of 'interest'. For example, The 'Leadership Development and Constituency Support' included "Minority and Women's Leadership Training". I am not considered a person belonging to a 'minority' group, nor am I female, yet, my dues money is being used for NEA sponsored activities that as a member, I am not allowed to participate in. Under the category of 'Support Strong States and Locals to Protect Member Interests,' this included spending my dues money for "to Recruit and retain members'. Wait a minute ! I was NEVER recruited to join NEA. IT WAS FORCED UPON ME. I HAVE NO CHOICE. To 'Improve Teaching and Learning', some of my dues money is being used to "provide strategies for school improvement and raise student achievement'. How is this provided for NEA members? Through the ambiguous 'news' articles that appear in NEA TODAY ? In my 21 years of teaching, if I wanted any 'strategies for school improvement and raise student achievement' from NEA, I had to pay for the NEA publications they produce and sell. I do not recall ever receiving anything from NEA as to helping me do my job in my classroom. The final comment about my dues dollars is regarding 'Goverance'. The statement reads: "Implement an inclusive, engaged governance process that fosters member participation and democratic decision making....." I have NEVER even gotten a chance to vote for the President or any other officer of NEA. This is democratic decision making ? Or am I reading this wrong? Maybe it means that those NEA officers in power have MADE A DECISION that any DEMOCRAT running for public office is automatically the best candidate for that office ?

From my paycheck, every month, is deducted $81.00 for union dues, that is, $810.00 annually. I know my local dues are $61.00 annually, now I know NEA is assessing me $137.00 annually; this means that I am assessed $612.00 by CTA ! And now, CTA wants another $180.00 of my hard earned dollars! Other bloggers, such as EdWonk and RightontheWestCoast have commented on this proposed theft of teacher money. I will say more about it later.

Thank you for reading my blog. I welcome your comments!

"Just smile and say thanks"

I did something that I cannot usually do on a weekday morning; go out for coffee. But, tis Spring Break and I can go out for some coffee from our towns small 'Mom and Pop' combo coffee shop/bookstore. There are often an eclectic assortment of people in and out of this java/book place. As I was sugaring my coffee (price reduced by answering correctly the daily trivia question), a young man in a bright orange T-shirt with his hair shorn very short on the sides of his head and the long hair on top of his head slicked back into a pony-tail, spoke to me. "Aren't you Mr. --, you taught at -- (the Jr. High where I teach) ? "Yes," I answered him. He nodded and told me he'd been in one of my science classes. "That was awhile back" I said. I asked his name, he told me, but I didn't remember him. There have been thousands of kids passing through my classes since he was a seventh grader. And, they tend to change a bit over the years. I asked him what he was doing now; he said he was working and had two kids. With a quick glance of his watch, he said he had to get to work. I said to "take care." As he was leaving, he reached out his hand, we shook and he told me, "Ya know Mr.--, you did good for alot of us, thanks." I just smiled and said "thanks for telling me." It was a good way to start my day.

Thanks for reading my blog. I welcome your comments.

Monday, March 28, 2005

More Ideas to Share

Here are a couple more ideas I'll share about what I do in my classroom to try to help my kids learn.

supplemental materials: Over the years, I have built up quite a collection of supplimental materials for teaching social studies and science. Much of it is sitting in boxes in my garage, because right now I am not teaching US History or Science and I am one of those people who find it hard to 'get rid' of stuff I think I might someday need. Anyhow, some of the supplimental materials I use for teaching World History include the "Choosing Your Way Through World History" stories, published by the Walch Publishing Co.. Many of these interactive stories fit in well with the California Soc. St. Standards and help students realize the decisions they make may have a very real impact on their lives. In many of these stories, if the student makes the 'wrong' decision, they can end up dead. I assign my students to explain why they are making the choice they decide upon, take notes as they read as to the real history found in the story and analyze the overall effect/impact of their decisions on the outcome of "their" story. There are sets of stories for both World History and US History. I also use some of the Interact activities for Medieval Europe (CHRISTENDOM) and Japan (WARLORDS OF JAPAN). These activities are varied and can provide both core material and fun activities for students.

Maps and Geography. Here is a shortened version of one activity I assign when we begin a new unit. I give my students a blank sheet of paper with a blank outline world map on the back. The instructions are simply to create a map of 'A' (such as The Major Physical Geographic Features of China, Saudi Arabia, Europe, etc). On the blank outline world map, they simply need to color in the region we are studying and label it.

For my mainstreamed and EEL kids, I provide a list of the geographic features that should be included and text page numbers where they can find maps that contain the data they need to put on their map. Many students turn in some very nice (and geographically accurate) or at least adequate maps. Of course, some of them turn in maps that more resemble a Picasso painting than a map of the region we are studying. (Those students then get the outline map with lines to label the important geographic features).

I hope you are enjoying your Spring Break. I am, although I didn't sleep in very late this morning. Thanks for reading my blog and Your comments are always welcome here!

Thursday, March 24, 2005


My teaching day FINALLY ended. I hate days like today, our schools 'field day'. The morning was fine, kids got to rotate through a variety of games, buy snowcones and other junk food sold by student store and a campus club. BUT the afternoon was pure hell. We classroom teachers are expected to entertain these sugarhypered little demons for three hours. They were upset that their teacher did not provide them a class party. No video I had was worthy of their viewing. After two hours and just before screaming and strangling one of them, I finally got them to be quiet enough to ask them if they wanted to go outside with my soccerball. YES ! most of them screamed. Out we went. It was definitely better than what would have happened If we'd stayed in the classroom.

After school, I went out to Costco to get a ham for Easter Dinner and some other misc. groceries for the family. While filling up my car at the gas pump (cheapest gas in town, today was $233.9/gallon), a retired teacher (my h.s. drivers ed. teacher and a former member of our county board of supervisors)
pulled up next to me. "Hey, you knew John K., didn't you," he asked. "yah," I replied. "Did you hear he died yesterday, dropped dead on the way home from a golf match?" No, I hadn't heard. "Shit," I thought, John wasn't that old. He'd just recently retired as a teacher, administrator and coach a couple of years ago. For fun, and because he love golf, he was coaching a local h.s. golf team. According to our local newspaper, he was driving his golf team home from a match when he began to feel sick. He pulled the van over and his kids called 911. John's aorta ruptured. He died.

What is it with many male teachers after they retire? Ken M., taught h.s. chemistry and earth science and was a local uniserve rep. Bob H. retired from teaching junior high, began to have problems then was diagnosed with ALS, and died horribly six months later. Glen A. retired from teaching junior high math and died within two years. Bill S. taught h.s. business education, retired and was soon to die too.

Ken was father to one of my best friends and was like a Dad to many of us. Bob loved chess, models, history, literature, attending Shakespeare plays at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego and a host of other things; a true renaissance man if I ever knew one. He was also a walking partner of mine. He didn't live in a house, he lived in a museum and library. I could go on about these guys. All these guys were active after they retired; sitting around watching TV was not their idea of what to do in retirement. None of them made it to age 65, except John. He was 65. I am of an age when many people I have know a large chunk of my life are dying. I hate the topic of death and do not deal with it well. I tend to get morose and moody. Watching ones relatives, friends and others pass away or die is depressing. I guess it gets worse as one gets older. I wonder about my Aunt Virginia. She was the oldest of her siblings. She's had heart surgery, outlived three husbands and seen all of her younger siblings die. She just keeps going and going and going. She doesn't teach anymore, but she still has her law practice in Chicago. Are males, especially male teachers, just destine to die sooner ? Such is one of lifes questions to begin Spring Break. If I was prone to drinking, I think I'd probably get ripped tonight. But, I don't do that.
Rest in Peace John. And Ken, Bob, Glen, Bill and some others.

Thanks for reading this blog. I welcome your comments.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

In my Classroom: Some Ideas

OK, I have mellowed out a little bit since my last post. I shall get back to positive things tonight. I have mentioned that I'd like to have some communications and sharing of ideas about being in the classroom. Abigail at social studies teacher (see my blogroll for a link) is sharing some great ideas for classroom teachers. I'd encourage any classroom teacher to check it out. Likewise, here are a few misc. tips I'd like to share for those readers who are classroom teachers:

a.] Dealing with work for absent students can be a pain and a hassle. I have been doing a
couple of things to make it less of a hassle and pain. If I hand out anything, I put the name
of the absent student on a copy of whatever it is I am handing out and stick it in a folder
marked "MAKE UP". When they return to class, I give them their copy of the handout,
worksheet, or whatever was handed out. Secondly, my junior school uses a daily planner. I
post my lesson plans on one of my bulletin boards and if a student is absent from class, they
can copy the lesson plan they missed into their daily planner. I will include in my lesson plan,
any DOL's, IMO's, Critical Thinking Questions, Quick Writes, TWPS's notes, Packet table of
contents, assignment due date reminders and other important data from that class day that
they need to know.

b] Teacher made quizzes and tests. For multiple choice questions, I will either make the
question a fill-in-the-blank question or statement completion and they have to write in the
correct answer, or, if I assign a letter choice for each of the answer choices, I try to have
what I call "no doubt" letter groupings. For example, if there are four letters being used for
four answer choices, I will never have a 'c' and 'e' letter choice together, a b and d, a u and
v etc. With my junior high students, many of whom are ELL, RSP, or maybe just slightly in a
hurry, dyslexic, or just having one of those "I am mutating into a teenager" days, not having
to argue with them over what letter they "meant" to write saves problems for both of us.
For example:
"The _?_ connected the Huang He with the Chang Jiang and helped improve transportation
in China."
a. The Great Wall of China b. The China Canal
c. The Grand Canal f. the Imperial Highway
For most students, there should be no confusion as to what letter represents each answer
or for a student to write the letter of their answer choice and have it look like another letter
of another answer choice.. Another grouping might be using g, h, i, and k. I would not use
i and j with each other. Likewise, I don't use m and n together either.
With True and False questions, I always have the kids use a + for True and a 0 for false.

c] Reading novels that are not necessarily history. Our school has an Accelerated Reader
program. I encourage my students to note social studies things as they are reading; any
history that is in their novel, geographic features and such. When they finish the novel, they
can turn in their notes and a short write up about the social studies they learned from their
novel and receive extra credit for it.

d.] I get a number of students mainstreamed into my classes every year. In many of their IEP's
it requires some differential instruction and testing. To differentiate their testing, I will
usually offer them fewer answer choices for multiple choice questions. For example, if there
are usually four answer choices to pick from, I will have only two answer choices on their
copies of the quiz. Word processor programs make this so easy to accomplish. Sometimes, it
is more work to accommodate these RSP kids, but hey folks, that's the law. I have also found
that having only three answer choices for a question helps my ELL kids; the fewer choices
make for less deciphering into English for them. Now as for my higher achieving kids, they
often have fill-in-the-blank, short answer questions and several "false" statements that they
have to rewrite into a "True" statement. These false statements may also contain spelling,
grammar or other English language usage errors that have to be corrected in their
rewrite. Once in awhile, I will throw an essay question at them. These kids often complain
and whine that "they get the HARD quiz/test," but most of the time, most of them rise up to
the challenge and do well on it. It is often worth more possible points than the 'regular'
quiz/test too, and they like that boost in their grades. Most parents have expressed
appreciation for their child being challenged in a non-GATE class. (our school only offers
Language Arts GATE classes.

I think I will end this post here. Hey, its all positive, I hope. No complaining or ranting about lack of administrative support or discipline, CTA being an undemocratic organization and their stealing more of my money, ignorant parents, etc. etc. Be assured, more ranting will come in this blog.

Thank you for reading my blog. And like attending a workshop or inservice, I hope you found at least one idea that might make your teaching job a bit easier or more fun. I welcome your comments !

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Teachers Need to Talk, Trying to be Positive

One of the reasons I began to blog about teaching was to "talk" to other teachers. I hope to share ideas and mutual concerns. As many of you have seen at the end of each of my postings, I comment that I "Welcome your comments". I am very appreciative of those readers who have been leaving a comment or two. I believe we teachers can help each other and at least bounce ideas around for the mutual benefit of us and our students. For the next week, I am going to try to post positive things about what is going on with my teaching. I know I have not done much of that on this blog, it has mostly be a place to complain and write about the negative aspects of my current teaching job. Blowing off steam is ok too. Some people find writing soothing, calming and even threapeutic. I really don't know if it is soothing, calming or therapeutic for me.....if anything, it gets me thinking about what is going on at my school and that is not necessarly good.

So, here goes something positive. We are currently in our China History Unit. We are playing a "Silk Road Game" in which my students can form "companies", they have to buy silk, supplies (food, weapons) and transportation using "Yuan" (money) they have to spend based on their grade average times ten. They then travel west, either by the Silk Road or by sea. They can encounter problems; illness and disease, bandits/pirates, paying a 'tax' to a local warlord, ships leaking/sinking, weather, etc. (they roll dice to determine if anything happens). They do work on maps, problem solving (do you pay to be ferried across the Huang Ho or try to ford or swim it? What is good and bad about each of the options? Is there another option? Explain why you are chosing the option they pick, etc), keeping a journal about the trip, etc. I have a group of higher achieving students who are doing pretty well with the extra stuff I offer them. For my higher achievers, they will have the option of reading an article from the ATHENA REVIEW about ancient Khotan and the Silk Road, then indicating what they learned from reading it, if it was a challenge for them, etc. Most of my high achievers will probably do this optional assignment. Most of these kids seem to be involved in a competition of sorts with each other for having a "higher A+" in History that their high achiever buddies. The parents of these higher achievers tend to appreciate that their child is getting challenged above and beyond what the "herd" is doing. As for the game, yes, this creates some chaos in the classroom, but usually it is "good" chaos. Students get excited about rolling the dice for events, for seeing their competitors in the game suffer misfortune and getting a chance to do something a little different from the usual. This is also something that is a tiny bit more "hands-on" for teaching world history that the usual stuff. Sure, it includes some of the usual stuff, but in a different format.
Thanks for reading my blog ! Your comments are Welcome!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Sometimes Knowing Something is Not that Good....

I am a building rep. for my school site, that is, one of the two reps for the local teachers union. Sometimes, we find out things that are not too good about our fellow teachers, such as which probationary teachers or interns are NOT getting their contract renewed for the following year. There is such a case this year. Teacher W will not be back. This was Teacher W's first full year of teaching at our school. Teaching junior high is not a piece of cake during any school year, but this year has been one of the worse years for teaching at this school EVER. It mostly has to do with the lack of discipline in grade 7 and lack of administrative support for the classroom teachers.

Did Teacher W really had a chance? If any of you wannabe or new teachers are reading this, the outcome of losing this teaching job could have been different for Teacher W. Teacher W chose to do certain things against the advice of several of the experienced teachers, such as sponsor after-school clubs instead of working on what needed to be done for Teacher W's classroom/teaching job. Teacher W chose not to do some of the things the Principal suggested might have made a difference in Teacher W's classroom/teaching. Teacher W chose not to accept assistance from those experienced teachers on our campus, even after numerous offers to help. It is almost like Teacher W chose to commit professional suicide.

I see Teacher W almost everyday. It is almost like seeing someone who is dying. Here today, here tomorrow, but GONE next year. Teacher W has not spoken to anyone on the staff about their upcoming departure from our campus, at least not that I know of or have heard about. Callously (?), I can say that in my 21 years of teaching, many have come and gone, that seems to be the way it is in teaching. But, what irks me, is, so many 'lifelines' were tossed out to Teacher W, only to float away. Not a lunge, not a swipe at one. Maybe Teacher W just decided this was not the profession for Teacher W. I don't know. I hope they do well in the future. Teacher W is a nice person. A few years from now, Teacher W will mostly be forgotten at my school. Go in Peace, Teacher W.

Thanks for reading my blog. Your comments are welcome.