Friday, May 30, 2008

On a roll this morning...(long)

I took today off, because I have a job interview in SF this afternoon, and because I'm just too wrecked after this week to do another day. Busy now getting the old school out of my system.

Tamara writes:

Is there somewhere on your site that explains the start up that you're in? In
general I believe in small schools and new ways of approaching education. I'm
part of a brand new school next year and am quite excited.

In general, I have to say that I think small schools are not at all a bad idea. (Since I am no longer in the start-up, I guess I should change the header for the blog).

George C. Moonbat's charter describes a small high school based on authentic communication, and respect for the individual child. Kids are divided into homerooms where they stay with one homeroom teacher for four years, and have a regular place to check in. We have classes on study skills, and every year each child takes a class in which they create and carry out a community service project. As students progress, they are given more autonomy, and allowed to design their own course of study. Students spend increasing amounts of time in a study-hall like environment, where they may work or engage in other community-based activities at their discretion.

Doesn't that sound SUPER? (I don't mean to be sarcastic. It does sound super, and it was this that led me to the now-regretted moment, weeks before my wedding, unemployed and out of my mind, when I turned to Jeckle, and told him that for a project like this, I would work my tuchis off.

He took me at my word. Now I have no tuchis, (not that I ever had much, I was always flat-butted), and I'm unemployed again in a matter of weeks.

What went wrong? Honestly, a lot of things, some of which I can blame Heckle and Jeckle for, and some of which just fall under "acts of God".

We didn't get the student body we were planning on. Or at least not the one I envisioned. I was envisioning a multi-cultural cast of characters, bright but not necessarily cut out for a big high school, funky but willing to engage with new, innovative ways of learning.

We got kids whose parents were willing to try anything. We got kids who were supposed to go to special education schools with classroom assistants who do take-downs and restraint, but their parents tried us instead. (OK, just a couple of those, but you know? It changes the tenor of a classroom.) We got kids who'd failed everything for years and didn't care. We got tough girls from North Richmond who didn't like my tone of voice when I said 'please sit down'. We got kids who slept all day in every class. We got druggies. We got bipolar. We got every learning disability under the sun--and many of them were not diagnosed.

Most of all, we got kids who expected the teacher to make learning 'fun', and if it wasn't fun, wouldn't work. Academics, by definition, were not fun. (I missed my remedial reading class, years back, who would work like crazy if I promised we could watch "The Color Purple" on Friday.) We got kids who didn't listen to anything anyone said--I mean literally, they would sit in class and ignore you. Not intending to be rude, just why listen while some chick talked about literature? And they didn't want to talk in class about anything academic. I had two kids, first semester, who would argue with each other about literature. The day Aviva and Yochanan went at it about whether Of Mice and Men was racist, it was a beautiful thing--but the other kids told them to shut up, because it didn't matter, and they should stop arguing and wasting time.

They didn't have the academic skills, for the most part, for me to teach at grade level, let alone at the high, independence-fostering level the administration wanted. Behavior was AWFUL. The all-school meetings we'd envisioned were chaos, because no one could get the kids to sit down and SHUT UP so their elected representatives could talk to them.

So, the emotionally close homerooms were hard to create, and the grades were rock bottom, and the portfolio-driven student-run parent meetings didn't happen, and the teachers were quitting.

Also we had no janitors, but that was another problem.

Now, we had partly modeled ourselves on another alternative high school in the Bay Area, which emphasizes 'freedom to fail'--that the student is free to decide not to attend class, not to take advantage of opportunities, and not to succeed academically before they are ready to take that step. I think we admired this in theory, however in practice...

We went to the opposite extreme. We hired tutors for after school tutoring. We called parents, first every time a homework assignment wasn't turned in, then every week. Grades were online, constantly checked and rechecked. Make-up work became a way of life. It turned very sour.

They started too soon, I think. The charter passed in June or July, and they managed to open the doors by the end of August. I think another year, and some substantive planning would have saved a lot of broken hearts.

Also, I think they should have hired better to begin with. X and Y were poor choices, chosen more for being able to talk the politically correct talk than for being useful to a start-up school. Maybe I was a poor choice as well, but at least I stuck the whole damn thing out, soup to nuts.

Acccchhh. I'm getting in the shower now.


Fern Chasida said...

Is an hour too long a commute? My daughter goes to a nice small private school in Sunnyvale? What do you teach?

tamaraeden said...

WOW...look what I done did ;)

I do appreciate your sharing because, like I said, I'm part of something similar. I swear I need to blog it again more thoroughly.

Basically though, I can tell it's starting much different than Moonbat. It's part of LAUSD but is exploring (which means we will) go Pilot. Pilot schools are a model out of Boston where we are still part of the district, still part of the union, but have autonomy over budget, curriculum, staffing, scheduling, and that sort of thing. We of course will have serious accountability to the district but we can become the public school we want and not what the district dictates. There are many other ereally cool benefits.

The principal and two APs have been building and planning for more than six months. They have made community and business partnerships, they have shared ideas. We already have meetings and are writing our proposal for pilot status. There are about 20 of us basically volunteering our time for this cause because we believe in change in education. We won't even open until September and many of us have met, 8 of us travelled to Boston to explore pilot schools, we've even all met up for happy hour.

And I LOVE the people I'm working with so far. Heck! Even my assistant principal asked where we could order food I can eat when we have meetings. I keep kosher but will eat at vegan restaurants. There's a great Thai Vegan place near my new school so she will order for me from there.

That was far long!@ I'll post soon enough about the new school :))