the twit


    voicing concern

    (this blog is in reference to my experience in/frustration with my every-other-satuday classes at ole-miss for the teacher corps. primary audience, mtc instructors/administrators. however, i hope it's readable for mtc members and others. i apologize for the lack of context, but it's long enough as is.)

    - i'm in total agreement with jake about the relative unclarity of our classroom objectives, as well as the overwhelming sense of a lack of preparation/direction in classroom procedings.

    - as for last week's rebound of "we're digging a little deeper," and "we're taking it to the next level" in regard to the purpose of the STAI lesson plan requirements, this was uncomfortably countered a few minutes later later with "some of you may ask 'why?' [...] well, just put it down" in regard to the same topic. my concern is that "why" is exactly the forum for "digging a little deeper," and that i have no real sense of why listing in a lesson plan the procedures for both a teacher and a student adds any realistic insight to the practice of teaching - beyond the level of one being called to offer minor contextual arrangements of that practice. sure - all these "wait until you're older" maneuvers probably correlate with an indirect richness over time and experience, but so many things in this program seem cripplingly indirect, contingent, and peripheral - merely setting up and head-nodding at rote performances in spaces where analyis, growth, and reflection should happen - and do happen upon an individual's coming to terms with the langauge of the task at hand - but doing nothing to promote, inspire, direct, explain, or prompt that analysis, growth, or reflection than deferring to the strangely ironic argument of inexperience - that is, if the purporteed richness of these lessons is always dependent on the alibi of time, then why are they being presented to a group of people for which time is exactly their definitional limitation? so, by being presented with a veiled, referential, inaccessible text of substance ("we're digging a littler deeper"), and a castration of the inquiry necessary to provide that substance ("just put it down"), all i seem to be left with is a sense of inefficiency as a teacher - by mythical definition of my rookie status - which continually runs up against a smug ingroup/outgroup dismissal of any analytical engagement with those practices. so, while i can surely perform by mimicry with those tools (re: the toolbox metaphor of the summer) i've been handed down from above, i am contintually been prevented any connection with their purpose, meaning, construction, adaptability, or limitation. to run with the image: just keep hammering at that nail, and - by the way - here's a hammer with a shiny new handle by a guy named howard gardner; it's clearly better than the last one - don't you agree? well, sure, but why am i hammering again?

    - the continued response to all this is: wait until the next class. wait until germaine's methods. wait until doctor mullins. wait until you're older. wait until you're ready. there is clearly a reluctance to "theory" by the teacher corps, but this seems to be more on the definitional lines of academic politics - the production of the hyperlinguistic, the detached, and the critical versus the dataplay of the watery psychological, the name-branded, and the "studies show" - than as a reflection of classroom reality. we are continually shown theory, fed theory, asked to repeat theory (in fact, everything we've been show is some name-tagged theoretical trend or other), but prevented from absorbing or repsonding to it. bloom's what have you and skinner's views on pigeons are are highly theoretical approaches, and yet are passed off with bizzarre and reductive "practical" credence by the questionable logos of psychology-as-science, and in their dissemination become detached and meaningless hoops for all of us to jump through in our lengthy self-promoting process of not being ripped to shreds in the classroom - all the while neither thinking of the classroom as a visceral, complicated system of systems, nor as an series of articulated, empirical humanness (re: the theory vs. not-theory polemic), but as a weird, meaningless plug-and-play of instruments, models, and tools - all - in fact - deriving from some rich, valuable thought or other, which is nevertheless forever locked away in the promises of a more meaningful future, for which we must merely survive long enough in order to attain, for which we are provided tools explained only in form.

    - after this rant, then what? and, "why" the rant - to make a meta-turn? well, let's call a spade a spade. either our saturdays are well-dressed instructions on how to fill out the STAI instrument in order for us to fulfill the NCATE (sp?) requirements, or they're not. if they are, then we shouldn't pretend otherwise, and utilize our time best so that we can just replicate the form (perhaps time in the computer lab to do the research we are hastily and unclearly assigned, or time to create rough drafts of STAI requirements while also communing in subject areas, or other exercises focused on fulfilling requirement standards that we don't particuarly need to be read to us every other saturday). if our saturdays are not this glorified STAI fill-in-the-blanks, then perhaps our objectives should be to come out of saturday with something that will help on monday, and not merely on a contingent or force-fit, force-fed level. right now, everything seems so artificial, detached, and/or jargon heavy to have anything to do with the 120 kids i'm responsible for every day. the irony is that all these silly instruments, models, and tools were developed to exactly manage this sort of repsonsibiliy - but if i have neither access to the theoretical, analytical, or scientific foundations of these objects (and a 2-page off-the cuff essay on top of a week of survival teaching won't cut it), nor any dedicated, direct venue for creating personal value for and articulation of these objects (this may be a more amenable approach for the anti-academic ethos of mtc), these are wholly and laughably obsolete on monday morning. all the bloom's in the world will do nothing for my performance in the classroom if i have no investment in their value, nor reason/time to develop such an investment.

    - at some point we should start to give serious thought as to whatever it is we're doing or want to be doing in the classroom, and how and why we may be able to attain these goals. i'm part of a class of 27 brilliant, dedicated individuals who seem more than willing to invest intellectually and creatively in their approach towards the classroom (else they wouldn't have signed up for this insanity), and it seems there is an institutional glass ceiling that's severing the hoops of saturday from the frustrations of monday, as opposed to infusing the discoveries of saturday with the desires for a better monday. what it will take to help produce a meaningful, relevant connection - i don't particuarly know - but i do know that whatever's happening right now is completely insufficient, and at times depressingly counterproductive.


    rock you like an overused cultural metaphor

    e-mail cut-and-paste session, dealing with katrina's effect on jackson, and returning to school after the storm.

    here's a post-katrina status e-mail i sent on sept 5:

    when katrina made its way to jackson on its trek north through ms, it was still a level 1 hurrricane. fortunately, jackson was on the western side of the eye, so - while we did get hit by a hurricane - we were spared the brunt of the storm. i had the rare opportunity of sitting on my porch and staring in awe as 60-80mph winds tested the trees in our neighborhood.

    in the aftermath, 97% of jackson was without power (mostly due to fallen trees), and about 2,500 structures withstood some sort of damage (again, mostly due to fallen trees). strangely, my friend ari's house was in the lucky 3% with power, so my roommate and i bagged up our refrigerator and headed over to his place for a lot of trivial pursuit and air conditioning. within 2 days, our house got its power back (right now, about 20,000 jackson houses are still in the dark) - and this morning the boil water alert was lifted for the whole city.

    as for the schools, all of last week was cancelled - as no one had power, and the roads were littered with fallen trees, power lines, etc. this week, we'll start on thursday if we're lucky, but we've got to deal with the gas shortage (no gas in jackson for a day or two last week, then 4+ hr lines at the stations that were open, and now a little easier), the fact that the district lost a lot of food when the cafeteria freezers/refrigerators lost power, and the perhaps thousands of gulf coast refugee children that need to be accomodated for the near future.

    as for post-post-katrina status, sent this evening (sept 18):

    the thursday-friday school week after the hurricane were my two worst days of teaching, by far. students had been out of contact with classroom behavioral norms for quite a while, and it was like day 1 - but with less direction/preparation.

    things calmed last week, and i'm getting closer to having systems that work: systems for classroom management, systems for planning lessons, systems for conducting class. at this point, it seems absurd that we as a culture romanticize the incredible burden of teaching as a "vocation," or "calling," instead of restructuring the teaching culture/process so as to not nearly kill young teachers, and/or desensitize a large number of those that survive. that is, i'm not particularly convinced that the honorableness of my intentions or actions eclipses the intensely uphill battle i'm facing on nearly all fronts. it seems more reasonable that this situation gains a lot of its mythic value as an act of cognitive dissonance - which may go a long way in setting up the widespread reluctance to change or self-criticize that is observed in many areas of education, and is a wonderful counterbalance to teaching's strange cultural currency: as an afterthought of a profession [do we honestly think of teachers as professionals?], as a low-priority economic space in the public sphere [look at the state/local/national budgetary struggle and/or dismissal over education; look at salaries], and as a highly feminized social performative [agreeable, primary and middle school teaching is most strongly seen as a women's job space, while post-secondary education is seem as a more masculine sphere, with high school is somwhere in the middle. yet, even at the level of the post-secondary, the analytic and creative intellect are vastly de-masculinized when divorced from property-accruing production. consider the social concept of a nerd, or the effeminate poet, which are stigmatizing agents more or less meant to protect the physical, unthinking/feeling predominance of the phallus (thinking being something above and beyond the effort level of "common sense"). an interesting historical enacting of this is the late-19th century struggle to establish the study of literature (i.e. not classics) as a respectable academic pursuit (i.e. a man's work), which resulted in a highly rationalized/scientified approach to the value of a poem or novel. this was enhanced in the post-wwii g.i. bill world, where a bunch of all-american boys wanted their god-given bachelor's degree, and a bunch of tweed coat/dandy professors had to teach them percy bysshe shelley and jane austen. and along came gertrude stein...]

    (i imagine the citizens of "anonymous" will jump on me for the above. i'll start you off: "how dare you ____________")


    required mcblog: mtc fall 05, edse 600 blog 1

    Evaluate Your Classroom Management Plan

    What changes have you made to your plan now that you are in the classroom? What parts of your plan worked/didn't work? Has your philosphy of clasroom management changed?

    at the level of operation, the plan is as follows (philosophy of classroom management will be dealt with at end). comments will follow each section, in brakets:

    I. Classroom Rules
    1. come prepared for class - mentally and physically.
    2. do your own work , unless directed otherwise.
    3. when in Math class, do math.
    4. do not interfere with the learning process.

    [I.1. i've yet to interperet this with any consistency, so possible breaches have yet to receive much response. i did, however, work this rule into my gradebook - as i collect my students's binders from time to time and check for proper organization/completion. in terms of management, i should either (a) spot-check, (b) respond to repeat offenders, or (c) develop a more easily measurable/observable rule.

    I.2. although students responded with a muffled chorus of grins when i mentioned how serious i was about academic dishonesty, my first quizzes seemed to run smoothly - calm atmosphere, few wandering eyes (i called out the ones i saw, and had mentioned that (a) if you need to look off of your paper to think, look up [thanks to the teacher corps person who i stole that from], and (b) i'm not going to get into arguments of interpretation, i'm just going to mark down a zero), no questionable answer patterns in work shown. however, i'm nowhere near establishing a system for checking for academic dishonesty on homework. at this point, i'm just going to promote/encourage honesty, and keep on moving.

    I.3. perhaps my most comically observed rule. i've put a blue crate in a corner of my room, and have labelled it the "not-math" box via a piece of paper displaying the words "not-math," and an arrow pointing down to the crate. if i see items out on students desks that do not pertain to our math class (agreeably, most objects have something to do with math in the abstract, and my kids are more than intelligent enough to use this angle to no end), they go in the crate for the rest of the block. i've gotten radios, novels, photo albums, notes, and projects for other classes. students respond with a mixture of humor and respect. after a few weeks, desks have been pretty clear of not-math.

    I.4. my most elastic, most used, and most functionally vague rule. seems to be a catch-all for disruption, and it focuses on the shared classroom environment - not just my pedagogical desires for hegemony. it's elicited my most spontaneous policemen, as students quiet each other because they want to learn.]

    II. Consequences
    0. verbal warning
    1. loss of choice for friday activity
    2. detention
    3. detention, letter home
    4. office referral, call home, possible parent/teacher conference

    severe clause: office referral, call home, possible parent/teacher conference

    [*added, after students - in a brilliant move - insisted that i give a warning to the individual from whom i confiscated my first cell phone (not allowed at jim hill) - because that was the first step on my discipline ladder (well, it was a "zero" step, but it was a good defense nevertheless) :

    School Policy Clause: Disciplinary actions dictated by school policy (e.g. food/gum restrictions, cell phone prohibitions) will be dealt with according to mandated action, though violations will also be eligible for Mr. Molina’s consequences.

    II.0. as i feared, it took me a while to get off of a mushy dependence on this non-consequence (which is why i marked it "0" from the get-go), and actually assist the management of my classroom by actively disciplining. i spent a good week or so trying to get kids to calm down and stop talking - and i was doing this by patience and overdistributed warnings. the result was a shakey 5 minutes of productivity, then a return to disorder. to get out if this mess, i began to give explicit warnings ("X, you've been warned," or "X, this is your warning") when a student was literally on the starting block of the discipline ladder. this elicited a better response, and was a more comfortable transition point into actual disciplinary action.

    II.1. this consequence means nothing without a lived example of a friday activity, so it's a wash until students (a) know what may be taken away from them, and (b) value what may be taken away from them. also, i've been uncertain as to whether or not i should treat this as a class-wide consequence, or as one that acts on an individual. the former seems to risk punishing the innocent, but the latter needs a good sytem for recording offenders, and alternate - somehow "not fun" - activities to do on friday.

    II.2. detentions have been my most trustworthy opening salvo of real consequences. a class seems to reign itself in pretty quickly when you start backing yourself up with paper contracts that bind a student to 30min of your undivided attention. however, of the 15 or so detentions i've handed out, about 6 have served (immediate office referral for no-shows), and a significant amount of the rest simply hand back the detention with a smirk or scoff - at which point i have no problem sending them to the office, for an understadably harsher fate.

    II.3. i kick myself every day for this: i've totally dropped the ball on parent contacts. i can give you plenty of excuses (last week's was a hurricane), but it's all bullshit at the end of the day; i need to get on the phone and establish a relationship with these homes. then i'll be in a position to work with guardians to deal with discipline issues.

    II.4. i've got a great asst. principal of discipline. i'm blessed for that. he's backed me up on the kids i've sent to him, and students seem to respect/fear him. one thing i've picked up on, though: always check up with the disciplinarian after you've written a kid up (do this at lunch or before/after school). because, students are more than intelligent enough to leave your class with a referral, walk around the building for a while, and return to your classroom with a story and/or a forged signature. i've caught a lot of students by just asking my disciplinarian if he saw X or Y this morning; it's a simple safeguard, and extremely effective.]

    III. Rewards

    1. verbal praise/acknowledgement
    2. positive call home
    3. display of work

    4. math games/puzzles
    5. creative/expressive projects
    6. Alice activities/party

    [III.1. kind of like the happy side of II.0 - as much of a non-reward as it is a non-consequence. nevertheless, i let students know if they've said something on the right page - and i'm not too discriminatory with my engouraging tag of "brilliant" in response to a creative thought/attempt.

    III.2. again, i fail on the homefront.

    III.3. i fail here, too. seem's like i'm more of an asshole than a fun guy. hopefully this will equal out in time. i've got various visual projects in infant stages, and student work will find its way to my wall.

    III.4. my saving grace during the first days of school (the ones when the schedule isn't totally up and running, and you don't know what to do with your kids for a whole 95 minute block) was this deck of playing cards with math puzzles on them. i've developed it into an Alice activity for my fridays. good way to work logic/reasoning in through the back door. although, it's sad that russell and whitehead - two mathematicians/philisophers who proposed that all math could be reduced to logical symbols, and (do to the impossibility of the proposal) failed - have been reduced to the sideshow mathematical thought.

    III.5. fail. this will somehow tie-in to III.3. two things i have done (though don't get to the creative/expressive level): a linear systems assignment that dealt with cell phone plans; a reality-check assignment that dealt with degree status and income level, and math literacy and debt.

    III.6. Alice is still alive. this blog post is already way too long, and i'm not going to go into explaning Alice in full. suffice it to say that Alice is short for Alice in Wonderland, that "lewis carroll" was the pen name of a british mathematician named charles dodgson, that i've got this crazy idea (as do plenty of other people) that the things we find interesting about Alice are mathematical things, and that i'm designing a bunch of projects/activities around the Alice theme.]

    Philosophy of Classroom Management

    - Learning - to a large degree - is a process of interpersonal/intrapersonal discourse.
    - A successfull classroom management approach should be able to frame a group of individuals within a physical space in a way that encourages such discourse, and is at the same time able to deter individuals or groups from leaving and/or disrupting the moment of the learning environment.
    - The moment of the learning environment is a moment of intellectual activity, and the classroom manager is responsible for promoting this activity within an individual, and directing this activity towards productive and cooperative goals.

    [No substantive changes. My critique of my plan seems to maintain this philosophy.]

    required mcblog: mtc fall 05, math hw #1

    (note: i seem to have lost track of when i'm supposed to do these things by, and which one's i'm supposed to do. i have a "course outline" in front of me - listing assignments, accompanied with some notes [the first one - assigned for 8-20 - says "labor day weekend"] - but i don't remember if we'd already done these responses in class, or if i was supposed to transpose them onto ye olde blogge. either way, i'll occasionally post my mtc assignments, as directed [or as best as i can understand that i am being directed]. along those lines, an assessment of my classroom management plan will come soon.)

    1. think of your secondary teachers of mathematics. hopefully at least one of them was a motivating factor in leading you to become a teacher of mathematics. list the characteristics of that teacher that helped you learn more about mathematics.

    strangely enough, a primary motivator for my becoming a math teacher was long-felt tension between the general lack of quality mathematics instruction that i recieved before high school, and the impressively efficient education i recieved to "catch up" before college. the experience (or non-experience) led me to wonder as to how well or not well math was being approached in general as both curriculum and culture.

    regardless, i entered high school at a basic level of 9th grade math, and - upon initiative and encouragement - exited on the higher end of the BC calculus spectrum. furthermore, while i encountered a few crazy-eyed inspirational sorts of instructors along the way, i'd be more truthful in my attributions if i credited my staying afloat to a more modest, thorough sort: mr. matsumoto.

    i had matz for 1.5 -2.5 math years squished into 1 school year: alg ii/trig and limits/pre-calc. that's double the class time and double the homework - all coming off of a jump-start into alg i and geometry. and - like i said - he wasn't the most energetic, or inspirational (as least in the here-and-now sense) teacher in the world - but he was patient, clear, and convincing. i learned what i needed to learn to get where i needed to be if i wanted to take calculus, and that was that. granted, i had a hell of a time in BC with a total nutjob of a teacher, but i couldn't have stayed afloat without the foundation i'd built in what seemed to be a surprisingly small amount of time.

    so, yeah, a list:

    - modest
    - thorough
    - patient
    - clear
    - convincing

    2. do you think you could/should become a clone (as far as teaching is concerned) of the teacher you described [above]? why or why not?

    well, sure. actually, i'm torn about whether i should break out the red pants and the wild eyes just yet - because it seems that the kids in most of my classes would benefit more from thoroughness than what could be a misfed off-the-wall creativity. so, i actually seem to prefer the mr. mats coolness and rigour. then again, i may be projecting my own high school outlook onto my own high school students, as i seem more prepared to open the pandora's box of mathematic creation with my calculus students (then again, i've also putting a halt to it there because there's so much pre-calc they don't seem to be functional with). then again, there has to be some motivating force for absorbing all of this thoroughness, and although i seemed to be providing one for myself by dreaming of jumping into BC calc, these kids may need a little magic primer to get them to digest. then again, at the end of the day, it always seems that the relative need for functional mathematical literacy preempts the luxury of baffling oneself with mathematical poetry. then again, what may be preventing the worth of literacy is the lack of poetry. then again, i'm sure it's somewhere in the goddamn middle, but i'm choosing to get there by starting on mr. mats's side of the table, and inching my way into the mad hatter. so, we'll learn the rules before we learn what it can mean to break them.


    parry 2

    “The children of Mississippi need teachers who have high expectations and who actually believe in them.”

    before i pick up margaret from the jackson int'l airport (up an running even with some of the roof missing) - a moment on "expectation" (we'll worry about belief later, i guess).

    i have a serious problem with what expectation purports to effect, as well as the underbelly of the well-meaning mantra of "high expectation." as with my hair-splitting on the concept of encouragement, my worry is a worry about reality. and, to the extend that a mouthfull of postructuralists will parade in with statements like "all worries are worries of reality," or "there may not be anything real or non-imaginatory about the reality that you're trying to face up to, so let us have our balloons": my worry is that the projections of reality that i'm critical of are ones that are highly dissonant with a probability of functional actualization. that is: these myths of reality are different than those myths of reality on the grounds that these myths are observed to be true in the sense that they offer a more or less consistent explanation of the world, and those myths are observed to be false on the sense that they fail to match up with lived experience or even a plausible trajectory of lived experience. in other words: how does expectation negotiate the real? how does it re-emphasize the non-real? or, how sure are we of the playing field upon which we’re drawing our expectations?

    expectation goes hand in hand with structures of power. in fact, the profession of an expectation is a projection of a power-relation (most of these are innoccuous, of course: "i expect you to wear pants"). however, this is exactly the space where i'm afraid of expectation (especially the wonders of high expectation) getting a bit too heavy-handed. for, in a world articulated by expectation, the terms of success are controlled and managed specifically by he or she who expects, and underdetermined by he or she who performs. this becomes a problem in many instances, but i'm particularly interested in the case where a separate, internally consistent articulation of performance, or utterance of subtance, is nevertheless brought forward by an individual or a culture, and disregarded due to its failure to reciprocate with the predetermined scope of expectation or high-expectation. at the end of the day, an overemphasis on expectation may curtail an individual’s ability to observe performance, especially the type of performance that is relevant to the performer but cannot be expressed in the expectation language of the expecting individual.

    response 1: so we’re not supposed to have expectations?

    i haven’t said this at all. i’ve said that i’m skeptical of expectation. i’m more worried about understanding the terms of success and performed success as articulated by a group itself, before i begin to have any confidence in what i can reasonably expect and how i can reasonably expect these things from them. however, even though i’m going to most definitely develop expectation systems as a reaction to my experiences – we are creatures of pattern – i’m more or less determined/committed to try my best to not put too much weight on expectation, and rather focus on observing and responding to things as they are, and not merely in reference to how i expect them to be.

    with expectation, a performance by an individual or group is ontologically bound to either (1) fail expectation, (2) meet expectation, or (3) exceed expectation. with (1), the person doing the expecting is more worried about the absence of his or her own terms rather than the presence of what has actually been performed – and in the event that his or her own terms are irrelevant, he or she is at a huge risk of eclipsing substance with petty frustration. with (2), the person doing the expecting is more or less complacent about the success of the expectation model, and there’s a risk of not analyzing or being critical of its terms because the exchange is smooth (which may allow a long obsolete expectation system to go overlooked, because – while it fails to produce anything worthwhile for relations outside of its boundaries, or fails to distinguish those things being produced from the arbitrariness of its own scaffolding – it still gets the results that it wants). with (3) you run the risk of patronizing a group or individual by again measuring the performance with your own terms; again, the person doing the expecting may be vastly under-evaluating what does exist by being more or less surprised that there are performances that may exceed his or her pre-analysis of a group.

    response 2: that’s not what that person meant; you’re just force-fitting it into some rehashed academic (or, gasp, post-academic) jargon.

    often, there’s a huge disjoint between what a person intends to say, and what is actually expressed by the words used to convey that intent. i find the space between these two linguistic forces to be rather important. while i apologize that i’m more or less over-writing my way into this space, that does not mean that it does not exist. that what i wrote about at length above about the word "expectation" is not what a person meant by using the word "expecatation" is exactly my problem with the fact that words like “expectation” have been watered down to the afterthought of rhetorical reflex. it is a word of powerful consequence that translates into large scale behavioral trends that are hardly analyzed enough – which is why we’re saying words but not meaning that we’re saying them, or at least not worried about the effect of their meaning.

    i’d go on – i’m sure – but it’s my bedtime. anyway: how's that for second-rate cultural theory?