Category Archives: Teacher Life

Middle Schools Are Evil

A study recently published in Education Next looks in depth at what the authors’ call the “Middle-School Cliff,” or the significant drop off in student achievement for students entering middle school in 6th or 7th grade. The authors’ compared the test scores at stand-alone middle schools to the achievement of peers attending K-8 school.

Our results cast serious doubt on the wisdom of the middle-school experiment that has become such a prominent feature of American education. We find that moving to a middle school causes a substantial drop in student test scores (relative to that of students who remain in K–8 schools) the first year in which the transition takes place, not just in New York City but also in the big cities, suburbs, and small-town and rural areas of Florida.

The authors’ attempt to find a cause for this “cliff,” and drew blanks on every explanation except “school culture.” They could not find any significant differences between resources, cohort size, or educational practices, but did find that principals reported higher instances of violence and feeling that teachers were inadequately meeting the needs of the students. This study gives credence to a recent movement by districts and charters to create more K-8 schools and make the transition to high school a one-time disturbance in a child’s education.

Where I teach, in a rural Louisiana parish, the parish split the schools between K-6 and 7-12 grade classes. When the split was made promises were made to parents that the “gold shirts,” our 7th and 8th graders, would remain separate from the rest of the student population – a promise impossible to make at a rather small school. The bulk of our disciplinary issues come from the aforementioned “gold shirts” and the school struggles year-after-year with the steep drop off in achievement by our 7th and 8th graders.

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Someone Got a Call Home

TFA, iPads, and Daily Kos

An iPad, with a TFA Logo, The Downfall of the Great American School

News nerds, like myself, sometimes like to set up Google News Alerts for various things important to themselves. My Teach For America news alerts let me know each day what newspapers and websites are talking about TFA across the nation. I highly suggest this for people too lazy to actually type words into Google.

Imagine my surprise when I see TFA pop up on Daily Kos – the venerable elder statesman of the liberal blogosphere. Even more interesting, this blog post was specifically titled “Defeating Teach for America at the Apple Store — A Small Victory.” Of course, this post is referencing Apple’s recent donation of thousands of iPads to TFA teachers across the country.

The rest of the post is one person’s rant against the perceived affront to education that Apple, a private company, has perpetuated by donating refurbished versions of its product to a non-profit. I will have to let you read this rant, plus watch a really informative video, on your own because I flat-out refuse to spend the time and blog space going through, paragraph by paragraph, and refuting a webpage full of crazy.

There is one quote I need to pull out and emphasize, which I think gets at the root of what annoys me so much about this post. While on her quest, this blogger quixotically called Apple to inform them that their “campaign was a fraud and that Apple was giving legitimacy to an organization proven to do real harm to children.” (Emphasis mine)

You are allowed to rant via blog. This is about what 90% of the internet is all about. Unfortunately, I MUST respond to the statement that TFA is PROVEN to do REAL harm to children. Without providing any evidence to support her claim she lets this ridiculousness underlie the entire premise of her rant, therefore invalidating any sort of argument she is attempting to make.

As a quick response… I want to go over a sample of four studies, amongst many, that refute the idea that TFA does HARM to students. I will start with an opinion (like I teach my children) and then back it up with evidence (like I teach my children).

Teach For America does not harm children. My evidence…

1) From Tennessee – a study that shows TFA teachers often outperform veteran teachers in many subjects.

2) From the American Educational Research Association – a study showing the retention of TFA teachers in their placement schools.

3) From the Urban Institue – a study that shows TFA teachers are more effective, on average, than TFA teachers in most subjects – especially math and science.

4) From Harvard – a study showing that the characteristics screened for in the TFA selection process have a measurable impact on student achievement.

I am sorry Daily Kos diarist, you may have free rein to rant and post ridiculous YouTube videos, which probably took up valuable lesson planning time, but you are not allowed to your own ridiculous and unsubstantiated facts.

PS – Apple did not end their campaign due to this woman’s efforts, like she wants you to believe, they finished it and started handing out iPads to TFA teachers across the nation.

Posted from my (TFA) iPad.

Websites I’ve Used This Year (Teacher Resources!)

by  necs2010

Not the same TFA…

Since a new crop of 2011s is entering TFA I thought I would put together an index of the resources I’ve used so far this year. This is by no means complete… the internet has been amazing to me this year.

Current TFAers… if you want to add anything (especially in the math and science categories)  comment below!

Essential Teacher Resources

http://www.tfanet.org/ – TFA’s answer to October of your first year.

http://betterlesson.org/ – A TFA Alumn’s attempt to make TFANet better. Sign up… some of the stuff is helpful.

http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3755565 – Scholastic has already done what I am doing right now… still you know me so therefore mine is better.

http://freeology.com/graphicorgs/ – Need to print off a graphic organizer right now for that class in 43 minutes? Freeology.

http://www.louisianaschools.net/ – helpful if you need a headache and heartburn at the same time.

Writing Resources

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If I were governor…

by nolateacherlady

I asked my kids to write a story about what it would be like to run for governor, and what they would do if they won. Some of what they wrote was really wonderful.

Candidate M.K. If I were governor, I would stop all the wars. I would make everything free. I would free the countries. I will make a rule that you get paid every time you come to school. I will make B.I. (Behavior Intervention) illegal. I will make a rule that they can’t wear uniforms. I will make a rule that kids can do whatever they want. I will make a rule that recess is longer.

Candidate A.B.

If I were governor, I would let the kids play in schools and play in class. I would let them not have school on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and October. And when the kids get 100% on their test, the teachers have to give them 5000 dollars. And the kids can hit the teachers.

And I can let the teachers have parties when the kids are gone.

Candidate T.C.

Campaign is when I do speeches to people. Then all of the people vote called primary. Then I win as a governor, called a general. I will give homeless people cars, money, homes and good. Campaign, primary, general. No smoking, no drugs, no drinking beer, no cursing.

Candidate M.W.

I will help people with houses and the 3 steps campaign, primary and general. I want to do speeches for my city, and making my whole life so I can trust my heart and see if people vote for me, and become an awesome and cool RENEW student. We have a dream, a dream that can help people who are lost with no mother and father and raised a child, and get him a new home so he is safe and sound, and that means I will help your dream come true, so we can be safe and sound. I just want to help people and pets so they have a home for each other and I mean all of us, so we are family. We trust our heart. The end!

Candidate K.C.

I will give the longest speech. I will stop the meth ring (I’m praying this is a typ0). And give free houses to the homeless (campaign). Then go to the small election (primary). And I will win the big election and become mayor and I become governor, I’ll let everything be free.

Candidate J.G.

I will let the African people move to Louisiana so they can not do all of the work, and they can be free. The African people and I will put an animal in the country so that their family can come together. And I will make an animal center and put a baby lion cub and wolf cubs and train them to be gentle and the kids can pet them. I will give people food so they can vote for me.

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oh hi, i do exist.

by nolateacherlady

Tomorrow I will be bringing in my guitar to serenade my children and teach them that sound is vibration.They will be making sound waves with their hands to show whether the note is high pitch or low pitch. We will make our own instruments out of rubber bands and it should all be jolly good, educational fun.

Had you asked me on Friday what I was planning to do on Monday, my answer would probably have been quitting my job in hopes that I could find employment as a bagger at Breaux Mart , or as my mom jokingly suggested, consider a post at Hooters. I weighed the costs and benefits in my mind, and told her that it seemed like a good idea.

This job is the most difficult thing I have done in my life, because it never stops. To be good at it, you have to constantly be ‘increasing your effectiveness’ –  in TFA speak. Basically, that means you could literally never stop working and there would still be more you could (and should) be doing to invest and educate your students. I have trouble seeing where to stop and what to prioritize – like my health or my sleep or my sanity. When you don’t prioritize these things, you suffer for it. When you do prioritize these things, you fall behind in your work and feel nagging guilt and building stress. This, for instance, is the first time I’ve stopped to write and reflect since I began working two months ago.

And there are moments (when a student will threaten to beat me in the head with a pencil sharpener, or rip the socket out of the wall during a Powerpoint presentation, or call another student “Africa”) when I completely lose myself in it and just want to throw my hands up in the air, scream something obscene, flip a table Jersey housewives style and run from my classroom to any undisclosed location.

Okay, so you might correctly point out that I signed myself up for this. But no one can imagine what it’s actually like to be a teacher when they’re signing their name on the line to join TFA or TeachNola or CityYear or any first year teaching position.   And not a single person I’ve spoken to had anything very positive to say about their first few months of teaching, so my experience is nothing unusual, it seems. It can only get better, and the stakes are high. If I slack off one day, my students don’t get that day back. And they are so behind that I can’t let that happen. So the race is always going, and I can never justify stopping to breathe.

I will get better at this. Tomorrow, the goal is just to teach the kids and go to the gym. If i can write today for the first time in months, then maybe I can pull it off.

Wish me luck….