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My 07-09 Education Writings

Free laptops for everybody....
It has been like Christmas at public school 248 for the last few days as the school board arrived baring gifts, and expensive gifts at that. Every teacher at my school recently received a brand new Lenvo r500 think pad (cost $1408.99 at buy.com) and if that wasn’t enough every room has been outfitted with a Lexmart 453 laser printer (cost $488.20 at OZdirect.com) and I have to tell you they are awesome. Furthermore I am very grateful for having received them as they will without a doubt come in very handy.
You may be wondering why in these tough economic times my school is getting laptops (about 120) and printers (100 or so) well I’ll tell you.

Reason number one is that teachers in 2009 in Duval County have to be connected to the internet, this is a fact. We are supposed to keep both attendance and grades on line, now how teachers, (including me for the first seven years I was a teacher), managed just using attendance and grade books since the beginning of teaching is beyond me. Furthermore the county has created learning schedules and curriculums for most classes that can only be found on line. Silly teachers for years having to get by with just their creativity, education, experience, intuition, resourcefulness, ingenuity, instinct and knowledge. Well not any more, now all we have to do is read a script and follow a schedule.

We use our computers for a lot of other different things as well. The internet has great resources for teachers if we can somehow make them work with the learning schedules and curriculums. We also use the internet to connect with our peers and the parents of our students. And without access to computers we wouldn’t be able to do these things.

The laser printer is likewise very helpful, now after we create worksheets, tests and study guides we can print them out in a third of the time. Also these new printers are hooked up to the network so we aren’t limited to just what was on the computers the old printers were hooked up to.

Thank goodness the school board took away our old laptops and replaced them with brand new ones. Please read that again, thank goodness the school board took away our old laptops and replaced them with new ones.

That’s right we all already had laptops.

Now I am not just a malcontent nitpicking looking for something to complain about and don‘t get me wrong, I am very appreciative and I am going to use the heck out of my laptop and new printer (I am using it right now), just like I was very appreciative and used the heck out of my old laptop and printer. I didn’t have these things my first few years of teaching and very few teachers did; laptops and printers are definitely useful and important tools.

Furthermore I completely understand that these were probably given to us as part of some essential we can’t live without multi-million dollar deal to upgrade this or repair that and that the school board didn’t go on buy.com or OZdirect.com or even go down to the Best Buy and purchase them, I get it. Though at the same time I don't get was so critical that it had to be upgraded now, what was so critical that it couldn’t wait, and none of my colleagues were hazarding any guesses either.

But what I also get is that for the last few months the school board has been preaching doom and gloom about a catastrophic budget shortfall approaching 170 million dollars, instead of taking the laptops and printers could we have said thank you for offering them to us, but could you save a couple jobs instead..

Did something happen? Did things turn around? Has the school board gotten word our district like the nation’s banks and automobile industry is going to be bailed out? If so can we have a heads up please all this worrying about my job, the county, my students and the state of Jacksonville education in general has been quite draining.

Or do we still have the same plan, which in case you forgot is as follows.
The school board is making plans to cut out art and music programs, reduce physical education in elementary schools and after school tutoring programs, unfilled positions will remain unfilled or will be staffed with substitutes. Many teachers are in danger of losing their jobs, worse case, and those that don’t will loose pay raises and benefits, best case.

I don’t think we have a new plan because ironically enough five days after
I got my new laptop and the same day they hooked up my new printer I and all the other teachers in the district received a letter from our superintendant, the same superintendant who received a hundred thousand dollar raise when he accepted his promotion. In his letter he outlined all the painful budget problems facing the county, just so you know nowhere in it did it mention how we had money for new laptops and printers, let alone upgrades or refits.

This brings me to reason number two as why we got the new laptops and printers; in Duval County, the powers that be will get so excited about technology, they will forget about providing paper and pencils. They will celebrate the few successes like Stanton and Paxon but will fail to acknowledge all the misery and hardship those successes placed on the neighborhood schools. They will try to make square pegs fit in round hole solutions, like requiring all students to take two math’s above algebra1 and ignoring the need for vocational programs as they attempt to prepare every student for college whether they want to or attend to go or not.
They will try whatever is the theory or program of the day in an attempt to improve things but will ignore the basics, which is to bring discipline back to the classroom and to allow teachers to teach. Finally instead of taking responsibility for how things are they attempt to justify their jobs by sending down edicts from their ivory tower (which is on a very expensive plot of riverside property I might add) and passing the buck to anybody but themselves.

I have an idea for cutting the budget let’s start with those who got us in the mess in the first place. Though I have to tell you I really love my new laptop, I just hope I have a job next year so I can use it.....

Graduation
In the next few weeks thousands and thousands of Duval County Public high school students will be graduating, and even more will be participating in graduation ceremonies. These students have worked hard and achieved much; accept for the ones that didn’t really achieve anything. This chapter of their lives has come to a close and their next chapter will begin, except for the thousands who will be stuck on the same chapter because they are not really graduating. Many of the graduates will go off to college, join the military or look for a job as they figure out their next step except for the ones who didn’t receive a high school diploma but instead have handed to them a certificate of completion or a special diploma instead. I wish them all well especially the second group, because they are really, really going to need it.

It is not a commonly known fact but many of the students who will be walking across the stage in the next few weeks, shaking hands, smiling, won’t actually be receiving a high school diploma; instead they will be receiving a certificate of completion. With this certificate they won’t be able to join the military, they won’t be able to go to college and if they do find a job, let’s say their opportunities for advancement will be limited. Where a roll of paper towels won’t look as good in a frame it most likely has more practical value. I have heard estimates ranging from ten percent to a third of all students participating in graduation ceremonies here in Duval County won’t be graduating with a high school diploma.

That means up to a third of all students are basically knee capped before their adult lives have even begun, and we wonder why we have a serious crime problem, we wonder why we can’t attract more businesses and many just wonder when things went so terribly wrong. I’ll tell you when, it started when as a community we decided it was okay to fail so many of our children.

Students get certificates of completion instead of high school diplomas mainly because during their high school careers they didn’t pass all or parts of the f-cat. A student could have a passing grade point average and still not graduate with a high school diploma, furthermore there is also no combined grade point/f-cat score that allows students to pass. Also if a student does well on the S.A.T. it doesn’t matter, but you know what does matter, it matters where they went to school.

If a student attends a private school they don’t have to take the f-cat to graduate with a high school diploma. This means you could have two students with identical ability, for that matter the same g.p.a and socioeconomic background as well and if the public school kid can’t pass part of the f-cat they don’t get a diploma. Again this means the public school student can’t go to college, they can’t join the military and they probably needs to keep their job and life aspirations low, this is very different from their private school counterpart with the same ability, for them it’s the sky is the limit.

Capable special education students are in basically the same boat; though we call the nearly worthless piece of paper we give them a special diploma not a certificate of completion. Many of them do to their disability aren’t intellectually capable of graduating; this is not to say we don’t let more than a few of them down. Instead of giving those capable the extra resources and intensive remediation they need, we give them watered down academic classes and hope something sticks. Ironically enough many of them are required to take the f-cat it just doesn’t matter if they pass it or not, after all they aren’t working on a ‘real diploma”.

You might be wondering what the difference between a certificate of completion and a special diploma is; well sadly you are going to have to continue to wonder because nobody I asked could tell me.

Now just because a young person graduates with a certificate of completion or a special diploma this doesn’t mean they are finished, if they wanted to go to college, join the military or have opportunities for advancement in most jobs. It just means they are going to have to spend the next few years taking GED classes. This means for the enterprising, motivated “sort of graduate” their life is just temporarily put on hold for a few years or however long it takes. Though I never understood why more students don’t drop out and start working on their GEDs sooner, after all you don’t need a certificate of completion to start working on it, and if they started working on it sooner, it stands to reason they would be done sooner.

I tell capable students in my classes who are graduating with special diplomas all the time to study and work hard, to get as many academics as you they can because it will help them when they start taking GED classes after they finish school. I am not allowed to tell them to drop out and to start working on their GED. Unfortunately most of my special ed. kids can’t afford their best option. A lot of them come from hard working Westside families that even if they applied for McKay scholarships couldn’t afford to send their kids to private schools where many of them could graduate with a regular high school diploma.

Why do we let students who are technically not graduating walk or participate in the graduation ceremonies? I think there are a few reasons. First of all I think more than a few of them and their families have no idea they aren’t graduating with a diploma. Next if we didn’t let them walk we would have hundreds if not thousands of families complaining and protesting about what was going on, perhaps even clamoring that the system be changed and we can’t have that can we? Finally it’s kind of a nice gesture, after all the students should get something after spending four years of their lives in high school, I mean it shouldn’t have been a complete waste of time.

We could however do a few things to help out.

We could offer a take the f-cat course to seniors who haven’t past the f-cat. Most teachers already teach just for the test anyways. Let’s stop playing around and just tell the kids what they need and how do get it and then feed it to them for a year.

We could offer GED courses in lieu of senior courses for students who haven’t demonstrated they can pass the f-cat. If they are at school we can at least monitor them and they can at least be working on something that may positively impact their lives.

We could allow students to graduate with regular diplomas if they had the appropriate grade point average and just make passing the f-cat a requirement for attending college. This means we would have to allow students to be able to take the f-cat once they have finished their high school careers. There is precedent for this. Teachers can teach for up to three years out of field without certification, during this time they can take the certification test many times if they keep failing it, they just have to wait thirty days in between; this is similar to lawyers who have to take the bar several times before they can practice law. It stands to reason if we gave students more opportunities to take the test more would eventually pass it. We give teachers and other professionals lot’s of opportunities to pass certifications (which is basically what the f-cat is) why don’t we offer students the same chance.

We could demand the legislature make graduation be dependent on a combination of f-cat scores and grades. Many graduate programs use a combination of grades and GRE scores, why can’t we do the same. Why does this one test hold so much sway on children’s futures?

How about giving capable special education students, intensive remediation, smaller classes and insist they take regular education subjects. At the very least this would make them even more prepared for the GED when it came time for them to take it.

Finally where is the magnet school for the student struggling to pass the F-cat why don’t we pour our resources into their development, like we do for the advanced students? I can take a guess but I don’t think I am allowed to say we don’t care enough about them enough to make that extra effort.

In the end I think it’s nice we let the certificate of competioners and special diplomaers walk with their graduating classmates, after all in a little while they won’t be seeing much of each other anymore. You see soon after graduation they will be traveling in different circles, one circle will be filled with opportunity, the other well I don’t think I allowed to say what that one will be filled with.

Suspension Centers
The editorial praising suspension centers for misbehaving school children elicited a response from me; it was me slapping my forehead exclaiming, “Are you kidding me!” In addition to sending them there why don’t we pat them on the back and give them a big bag of gumdrops too?
Being suspended is supposed to be a punishment, have we forgotten that, has our touchy feely, politically correct society gotten to that point? If done correctly suspensions can have several positive outcomes. If disruptive children are sent home for a few days it gives the other students an opportunity to have a positive learning environment and teachers an opportunity to teach. The teachers lament is, if little Johnny or little Suzy wasn’t here I could teach, most students that get suspended are little Johnnies and little Suzies. Bottom line, the suspension of an unruly child often gives other students a chance to learn and teachers a chance to teach.

More importantly however is a child’s suspension gives a parent an opportunity to act like one. I knew if I was ever suspended from school there were far worse punishments than that waiting for me at home. Too many parents have abdicated their responsibilities or left it to the schools to discipline their children, well society isn’t supposed to work like that, parents are supposed to teach children how to behave and schools are just supposed to teach.

If instead of sending them home all we are going to do is send them to a suspension center which sounds like a glorified coddling center to me what’s the point in suspending them in the first place? Where is the punishment? If schools are to become the discipline tool of the family let’s not play around and let’s do it right. If we don’t it’s only all of society hangs in the balance and if you think I am exaggerating or using grandiose terms for effect, just read the crime report or law and disorder sections of any paper.

Discipline has become a huge problem in many of our schools as evident by another teachers lament and that’s the inmates are running the asylum. When we don’t give children consequences for their actions, and remember for a consequence to be effective it must have meaning, we are in danger of creating more problems down the line. Violent, disruptive and disrespectful children often become violent, disruptive and disrespectful adults. When a student gets to the point they need to be suspended it rarely is the first problem the school had had with the child. Furthermore many students who are suspended are often the recipients of multiple suspensions, this is because suspensions aren’t consequences to them and now inexplicably we are watering down suspensions further with suspension centers.

I personally don’t expect the suspended student to learn anything from not being in school, all I expect is now I will have a few days of peace where I can make sure my other students do.

Instead of going to a voluntary suspension center for a few days something that will unlikely make a difference, why not send the repeat offending child to an alternative school for nine weeks. A school where there is no P.E. or art, no talking in the halls or in the cafeteria, for every day you miss a day is added on and for every bad day you get an extra week. We can have character education and social workers there and then they can get those services for more than an easily forgettable few days. Then let’s make the parents responsible for getting them there and hold them accountable when they don’t. Why not do something that will matter, that has teeth, that will make a difference, because if we’re not going to do that then what is the point, and friends what we are currently doing isn’t worth of a hill of beans to far too many.

If students know going to an alternative center is a real possibility how do you think this will affect their decision making process? Furthermore as I stated above, students who are suspended are often those students who are repeatedly in trouble, after nine weeks away from their friends in a very restrictive environment how much repeat behavior do you think they will have? I’ll tell you how much affect a three day suspension has on many of them, it’s none.

To be honest though I don’t think it should stop there. Once you turn fifteen if you get in two fights in a year thanks for coming but instead of taking the risk you might assault someone else you can go home and be your parent’s problems for a year. Threaten or hit a teacher welcome to the alternative school for the rest of your academic career. Get caught at school with drugs (I recently had an 18 year old student return after just three weeks) feel free to reapply next year.

I don’t particularly like the idea of having these students on the street, but to be honest keeping them in the schools scares the heck out of me and has a detrimental effect on the other students. If a kid comes to hang out with his friends or to see what trouble they can find, it’s time to tell them they are no longer wanted because keeping them takes resources away from the kids that want to be there that have an opportunity to do well. In other words a few bad apples are threatening to spoil all the apples in the cart.

Ask your son or daughter if they know any students who are always in trouble or who never do their work, I bet many of them will know a handful. If a teacher has to constantly deal with disruptive children then that’s time taken away from your child. I hope your child just doesn’t need that little bit extra to be successful.

We have to wake up, by coddling these children, by not giving them real consequences for their actions, by sending them to suspension centers, which are voluntary by the way, we are courting more tragedies. I say more because we already have tragedies in our streets daily. Young people are committing and being the victim of crimes at a terrifying rate and it’s just a matter of time before this violence invades our schools more than it already has. Do we need a student or a teacher to be gunned down in the halls before we stand up and demand something meaningful be done.
In the last few weeks at my school there have been several vicious assaults that probably wouldn’t have taken place if the perpetrators would have received real consequences for past behavior. I say again we are courting tragedy, I just hope it’s not me or one of my peers, or your son or daughter that it happens to.

Suspension centers are those ideas that sound good in a vacuum, that are created by far off academics or people brainstorming around coffee and doughnuts, not by the teachers and administrators in the schools on the front lines, and I mean front lines because with some of these students it’s like going to battle daily. Suspension centers are like putting Band-Aids on bullet wounds which we will have in our halls and our classrooms if we don’t start doing something.

Letter to the Editor
Mr. Wood’s recent article about both the success and failure rates at R.V. Daniels and Susie Tolbert reveal perhaps the biggest problem we currently have in our school system. We are stealing from the "have not’s" to pay for the "haves". Before we create special accelerated academic schools, shouldn’t we make sure all students can read or are functioning on their grade level? Wouldn’t society be better served if all students could read? Not just have some who can read really well, while others just barely.

When we provide some students extra resources, (which is what we have done with the creation of the magnet schools), we are taking away from students that may need extra resources to be successful.

We often hear about the need to preserve the magnet programs that ultimately serve only a small proportion of our students. My questions are: Where are the magnet schools for children who need intensive remediation in reading? Where are the magnet schools for the students who can’t pass the FCAT? Where is the consideration for the regular and average student who are constantly dismissed as if they don’t matter? Well I think these kids should matter and they would be more successful if they had extra resources too.

I do think academic magnet schools can be a good thing. Yet, in these trying economic times, we must prioritize. Before we give the students that would attend magnets the extra resources, we should be required to ensure the students that can’t or won’t go to them are provided for. Since we are not, we are creating different classes of students. A first class group those that attend and succeed, and a second class group that doesn't. That may be all right with Mr. Woods, the school board and a few parents of students who attend the academic magnet schools, but that doesn’t make it right.

I’ll close by asking if you know how many magnet high schools and F high schools the surrounding counties have. Well the answer is the same, none.

Do the right thing
The apocalyptic 178 million budget shortfall predicted earlier this year for the Duval County school board was narrowly averted, now we will just have to cut a devastating 44 million dollars from our budget, and remember this comes on the heels of us cutting our school systems budget for the last few years. I can imagine our representatives in Tallahassee high fiving each other putting their arms around each other like they had just won the championship or like they had done something good and noble; instead I believe they should have put their heads down and snuck home in shame, though in my opinion our representatives in Tallahassee aren’t the only ones that should be feeling this way, like they haven’t given helping education their all. Let’s examine what they actually did before we breathe a sigh of relief and continue through our day with the thought that education here is saved.

First the school board still needs to cut forty-four million dollars. Most of this will come from people losing their jobs. The legislature used one-time money (the federal stimulus) that they will not get again to plug the holes in this year’s budget; this means they are hoping this economic downturn is a short one. I sure hope their crystal ball is better than the one I used to predict last Saturdays lottery numbers. They waived the class size amendment paving the way for super large classes as opposed to the just large classes we have now. They have allowed districts to use money designated for capital projects, such as building and renovating schools and outfitting them with technology, to be used to pay peoples salaries and the light bill. I guess it’s a good thing we won’t need any new schools or new technology, oh wait if we want to be competitive and have first class schools we will. Finally they did nothing to improve us from fiftieth place in education spending, but then again I guess somebody has to come in last, besides our bottled water is still tax free, friends that’s right it appears as if bottled water is more important to the legislature than our children.

This is what our legislature did; shall we get our tax free bottled waters and start dancing in the streets?

In reality they haven’t stopped the crisis, they have just staved it off temporarily, I mean unless you are one of the hundreds of people here in Duval County and thousands throughout the state who are going to lose their jobs or you’re a student again both here and throughout the state who has been continuously short changed by the legislature. We have stood back and waited for Tallahassee to do what is right and above is what we have received.

A commonly used definition of insanity, is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different outcome, well friends us sitting back and waiting for Tallahassee to do the right thing is what psychologists call, “bat-sh*t crazy”. The next time the legislature does the right thing as far as education is concerned may very well be the first time. Remember this is the same legislature who has consistently cut spending to education and children’s programs and who has used lottery money, which was sold to the public as an education enhancement, to replace education money, which means as lottery sales fell so did education funding. They did this so they can fund their and special interests pet projects.

The legislature is either unwilling or doesn’t know how to do the right thing, and it’s time we the citizens of Jacksonville said enough is enough, if they’re not going to make education and our children a priority then we are. It’s time we said, we don’t agree with you Tallahassee that education is not important and we feel that preparing our children is one of the, if not the most important job a community has.

We could do two things that would immediately help out our district. First we should follow the model of several south Florida districts, and pass a once cent sales tax with the money being solely dedicated to children and children’s issues. I am not just talking about schools. We could have more before and after school programs, juvenile justice programs, and mentoring and tutoring programs. It is a long known fact that prevention works much better than intervention and is ultimately cheaper as well. Some of the money would go to schools but in reality our children need so much there are other areas much of it could be spent in.

Next we should waive schools electricity bills. Every year the district spends millions and millions of dollars on electricity; this is one public entity paying another public entity for services. This saved money could pay for athletics, teacher training, the arts, or smaller class sizes, all things that are being cut or disregarded now. The JEA needs to tell our children we’re going to let you have lights in your classrooms for free and we’re going to let your computers run for free. For years them being exempt from property taxes has cost schools, it’s time they started doing their share.

If we did these two things we would have more control over what happens to our children, instead of letting their fate be in the hands of a legislative body some three hundred miles away that up to this point seemingly hasn’t cared about us or our children. Remember it was only recently that they started to fund our schools at the same level they funded the schools in south Florida. For far too long northeast Florida has been the step child of the state and again I say enough is enough, but it’s going to require us to do it, for us to stand up and say we’re not going to take it anymore.

Now that you have my take let me sit down and brace myself, brace myself for all the, we can’t throw money at the problem to solve the problem, rebuttals.

First let me agree with a couple of your points and I know what they are because I have heard them over and over. I agree that here in Duval County we have been misallocating our resources for decades. We dole out money to schools equally even if the needs aren’t equal. I agree we need to make wiser choices when we are spending our money. We have wasted money on Americas Choice, Advanced Placement tests, unvetted superintendants and dozens of other education fads of the moment only to be quickly replaced by newer ones. Furthermore our leadership needs to start being concerned with all of its students not just the few who attend a couple magnet schools no matter how successful they are. The surrounding districts have as many failing schools as magnet schools and that is none. I agree that there are issues aplenty here in Duval County, but the answers to these problems are not to just hope it goes away or to blame teachers.

If we can make sure children are properly cared for and supervised, if we can make sure they have the resources they need to be successful, if we can provide them opportunities to be mentored or with summer and after school jobs, if we the adults of the community will take responsibility for them, then we can dramatically increase the chance they will be successful, that they will be contributing members to our city and our city will grow and prosper because of it. The thing is all this requires money, money we haven’t been spending, money we haven’t been investing.

The way I see it our options are limited. We can continue to hope Tallahassee does the right thing, the equivalent of doing nothing, or we can take responsibility and do what is needed, the equivalent of the right thing, after all doesn’t our city and don’t our children deserve that we at least do that.

He made an 89
I was lying in bed very tired but unable to sleep, this despite the fact I was up later than usual. I had brought home some papers to grade and other paperwork to complete; oh I am a school teacher at a local public high school. Sadly I am constantly behind on my paperwork, which is a huge component in modern teaching. There is an amazing amount of it, and this greatly frustrates me, but as a teacher this is just one of the many things that I have to do, often when I am not at school on my own time. As I lay there a bit frustrated I replayed the day’s events in my mind, when suddenly I remembered, that one of my guys had made an 89 on their test. This wasn’t the highest grade in my class but it was perhaps the most significant.

The first nine weeks if he came to class, he rarely did his work, and when he did come I used to hope he would sleep as his main aim did not seem to be to learn but to make my life miserable and prevent other students from doing so. I tried everything I had in my bag of tricks to reach him. I tried to be tough, I tried to be his friend, and I tried different rewards and consequences as well but nothing seemed to impact his negative behavior.

After a particularly bad blowup almost a semester into the school year I took him outside and asked, no demanded and with my voice raised to know what his problem was. He looked me right in the eye and told me, I didn’t know him, I didn’t know where he came from and I didn’t know what he had been through. I looked him back in the eye and with my voice much lower said, okay tell me who you are, tell me where you came from and tell me what you have been through. Then I let him talk and I didn’t interrupt him,
I didn’t say a word until he was finished.

It turns out he grew up three blocks from where I grew up, his mom worked all the time and his dad had disappeared years ago, and when he finished it turned out I didn’t just know him, I was him. We grew up in the same neighborhoods, I was raised by a single mother with no father, and I went to Ed White just like he did. I told him I think he may literally be sitting in the same seat I did when I went there while he was in my class. But more than that I opened up to him and I also told him there was a time when I felt like the world was against me and I had a chip on my shoulder too.

I then said to him, “look, we have all had it tough, we all have a story, we all wish some things were different, but we can’t control what happened; the only thing we can control is what we do next. You have to decide do you want to be another Westside kid going nowhere, what a lot of people think you are already, or do you want to prove them wrong and show them that you are somebody who can accomplish whatever you want to.”

The bell rang and he shrugged his shoulders and headed away. I took a deep breath and went back into my class, relatively sure there was nothing I could say or do to get through to this kid.

He didn’t show up for about a week and to be honest and I know it sounds terrible but I was okay with it. In lounges and offices throughout the district so many teachers lament if only little Johnny wasn’t in my class I could teach, or little Suzy was absent today and I was able to get things done.

When he finally did return to class, I prepared myself for our daily dance, except it never came. He sat quietly in his seat and did his work. I thanked him and said good job as he turned it in. When he left I was puzzled, what was that all about I thought, wary that this day was an exception and at our next class he would be back to his usual unpleasant self.

Except at the next class he sat in his seat and did his work again, and this time he even asked a few questions and he repeated this behavior for the next few weeks. His grade slowly started to rise, I even asked his other teachers about him and they told me his grades and attitude had improved in their classes as well.

I even saw him in the library after school getting extra tutoring, and he wasn’t alone, along with him were dozens and dozens of other students, there by choice working to improve themselves. At first I would walk by him shaking my head a little dubious of this miraculous transformation, but then later with a smile on my face immensely proud of his turn around, which brings me to today.

As the students turned in their tests I grade them one by one and when I got to his I was thrilled to see he had made an 89. This was the same kid that during the first semester had received several test grades less than 20. I called him over to my desk and showed him his grade, and I was surprised because to be honest he seemed a little disappointed. I thought I would have done better Mr.G, he said. Are you kidding me, I replied, this is awesome and I am so proud of you. Like most tough guys do he just nodded his head and headed back to his seat.

The day continued and I had numerous other successes, so many of my students want to do well, but sadly I had a few failures too, as nothing I do or anything I try seems to be good enough to reach a few of my kids. At home while talking to my friends I found myself speaking about just those few tough moments; the memory of my student who had worked hard and turned things around had escaped me, that is until hours later as I laid in my bed unable to sleep.

But isn’t that how it always is, aren’t the dozens of successes we have throughout the day often overshadowed by the few failures. That’s kind of how I felt as I went home and I know other teachers feel the same way, which I find just a bit sad. You see, and let there be no mistake, in schools all throughout the district there are thousands upon thousands of success stories daily as teacher after teacher positively impact the lives and make a difference with so many of their students.

I think there are so many things that aren’t working in schools right now. There is an unruly ten percent or so of students, bad apples that are threatening to spoil the apple cart, I believe no child left behind should be we are leaving a few behind until they straighten up. Education needs more resources, primarily because more than a few families have abdicated the responsibility to teach their children how to be responsible citizens and if they can’t get that at home it has to be at school because if not then where? I believe teachers are buried in paper work and burdened by rigid learning curriculums and schedules that have to be followed exactly and to me these things are the enemy of creativity, initiative and flexibility, three essentials that effective teachers need.

Furthermore, I personally don’t believe we have effective leadership from One Prudential drive, their square peg solution to academics doesn’t fit for so many of our round hole students, but the school board insists the schools try to make them fit anyway. Then there’s the f-cat, dwindling resources, community involvement that borders on apathetic and so many other things that daily tell me to sell my house, get a garage apartment and work in a coffee house, and I would in a heartbeat except for...
… except for all the students and that’s the vast majority of them, who come to school every day with the desire to learn, with the hope of being successful and with dreams of doing things with their lives. It’s for them and the teachers who I work with, some of who feel the way I do, some of who probably disagree, but regardless they roll up their sleeves and show up every day. They don’t do it because they are always appreciated and they definitely don’t do it because it’s easy or they get paid enough, they do it because they care and they want to make a difference where they can.

I sometimes compare teaching to having a fight with your significant other, gosh you love them but sometimes they drive you crazy. I believe there are more than a few things wrong with education but I believe there are a few right things too and perhaps the most important among them is my student who made an 89. ....

Friday Night Lights (article version)
I don’t get it, will somebody please explain it to me. Jacksonville’s schools, which mean Jacksonville’s children, are facing 170 million dollars in cuts, yet I don’t see any public outrage. There is no clamoring in the streets and no shouts that something has to be done. All people seem to muster is a barely audible sigh and a shrug of their shoulders. Don’t people know how catastrophic a 170 million dollar shortfall will be or is it they just don’t care.

The district will be expected to provide the same services it did this year with 170 million less dollars, and this as prices have risen and things have gotten more expensive. Could you do the same with considerably less money? Well the legislature, the city council and by extension us through our inaction think its okay that our schools and our children do. I hope people’s sitting around on their hands isn’t because they think that this is just a canceling of additional monies as often budgets increase as costs do, because it’s not, it’s a reduction from the amount of money our schools and our children received this year, which was already less than the amount of money we received last year.

Let me describe to you what 170 million dollars in cuts is going to look like, and please don’t think I exaggerate for dramatic effect. Dozens if not hundreds of teachers and support staff will lose their jobs. Those that remain will have their raises canceled and benefits reduced. Programs like art, music, physical education and many other electives will be eliminated as will field trips, extracurricular activities, most supplies, teacher training and after school programs. Services for the disabled will be curtailed and social work, librarian and nursing positions will be cut.
Finally the state will waive the class size amendment for Duval County and many classes will have forty or more children, the state will have to so because there is nowhere else left to take money away from. These are some of the changes your children and the district are facing if nothing is done.

In effect education in Jacksonville will become fewer already over worked teachers doing more for less without supplies servicing more kids who will have fewer options. Is that the future you want for our schools and our children, don’t they deserve better. This friends is a recipe for disaster.
Which brings me back to the part I don’t get, shouldn’t people specifically parents be outraged by the prospect of this? Why aren’t they in mass writing letters or calling their elected officials, why aren’t they filling to the brim the school board and city council meetings demanding something be done or asking how they can help? I know these are tough times for a lot of people but what’s more important than our children? I ask you again, what is more important than our children; perhaps just one thing, football.

Every Friday night in the fall thousands of local children will suit up and play the game of football, they will be watched by tens of thousands of fans and coached by hundreds of teacher/coaches and these games all will cost the district money and when you include all the other sports, the costs are in the millions; millions of dollars that could be used to fund needed reading and after school programs, to save teachers jobs and a whole host of other things that will have to be cut if we stand idly by and nothing is done.

I played sports while in high school and I believe they have been and can be very important to the development of many children. As for me they kept me off the streets and gave me a purpose, I felt like a member of my community when I played and they taught me about things like discipline and team work. Furthermore I developed a work ethic by playing sports as I knew if I wanted to be successful I needed to work hard to do so, and I with all sincerity say cancel them all, cancel every single one of them if it saves one art teacher or one music teacher their job or if it allows a group of third graders to have PE. once a week.

I urge the superintendant and the school board to let the citizens and parents of Jacksonville know that before one teacher looses their job, before we assign one class to have more than forty students, or before we get rid of any art, music or physical education program we will get rid of all extracurricular sports including football.

This would be an unpopular decision, but leaders often need the courage not to just do the popular thing but to do the right thing as well. Before jobs are lost and necessary academic programs are impacted, extracurricular activities should be cut, because even though they are important and do serve a function in the end they are extra, it’s right there in the word.

Nobody wants to see this happen but the school board, Jacksonville’s teachers and students need the parents and citizens of Jacksonville to understand there is a pending disaster on the horizon; that parents have to get involved before we are forced to endure the impending financial crisis.
We need them to let the legislature know it’s not all right that they continue to slash the education budget and set our children and schools back. We likewise need parents to let the city council know we want them to pass similar measures to the ones that have been passed in south Florida and other places that invest in our children. We need parents to do it because neither the legislature nor the city council is listening to the people on the front lines and in the trenches of education and that’s the teachers.

The fact that Florida is 50 out of 50 in per pupil spending and the legislature expects to make more cuts should indicate to all of us that they don’t care about students, but I have to believe the parents and citizens of Jacksonville do, they just don’t know how bad it will be. I have to believe that because the thought that they do know but just don’t care is too terrible to contemplate.

Again I don’t get why more isn’t being done, but it’s time the citizens of Jacksonville got it and realized how dire the situation is and realized that things are only going to get fixed if they stand up and demand that the powers that be do something, that cuts an inaction will no longer be tolerated. If they don’t then we all may lose something that is very important. They say in the south football is king, well if local parents and citizens don’t do something it may just become a memory on Friday nights in Jacksonville.

Paying Lip Service to Education
The following is what we are facing if we don’t do something to stem the financial cuts we are about to make to local education and please don’t think I exaggerate or write for effect, the consequences could be dire.
After dozens if not hundreds of teachers and support staff lose their jobs, those that remain will have their raises canceled and benefits reduced, next we will get rid of programs like art, music and physical education, then we will eliminate field trips, extracurricular activities, most supplies, teacher training and after school programs, furthermore services for the disabled will be curtailed and social work and nursing positions will be eliminated, then finally we will increase class sizes to forty or more children. These are the changes we are facing if nothing is done.

Our state legislature and our city council say they care about our children and they want them to have a first rate education, furthermore they say they recognize there are huge problems facing our system. The fact that they acknowledge this and then do nothing about it makes the pending financial disaster all the more maddening. It makes many of us believe they are just paying lip service to education, which means they are saying one thing and then doing another.

The local and state governments routinely create coalitions, panels and study groups. Then they have findings and make reports, but don’t let this fool you. One of the reasons they do so is to distract us from the problem, to give us the illusion that they care about it and somebody is doing something, but the sad fact is the problems are getting worse and worse, not better. The Duval County School Board made cuts in education last year and the year before, and if we somehow survive this upcoming year with no relief from the legislature or city council, we will have to continue to make more cuts each year for the foreseeable future. Friends the school board has already cut away the fat and started working on the meat and once that is gone all we will have left is the bone.

We have had to make these cuts because the state has provided less and less funding for education and our children. It seems the value of children and their education isn’t what it used to be. The situation has gotten so bad that if nothing is done the children of Jacksonville and that’s who I am talking about, will be facing an unmitigated disaster. It’s also sad when you realize that very few people are standing up to fix the problem and to make sure that our children are taken care of.

The Duval County school board is facing a one hundred and seventy million dollar short fall, read that again, a one hundred and seventy million dollar shortfall. Our schools will have that much less money to spend next year to provide the same services we provided this year. That’s wrath of God money.

We can sit here and blame our current administration and school board, and they do bare some of the responsibility, but blaming them does not fix the problem, we can voice our dissatisfaction with them at the next election, but until then we shouldn’t be comfortable to just sit back and let our children suffer, and we shouldn’t be willing to cancel or curtail many of their futures, which is what will happen if we do sit back and do nothing.

Instead we should be willing to dig into our pockets and pull out the few dollars apiece it would take to fix the problem, and Jacksonville it is up to us, the legislators in Tallahassee have already let it be known that the children of Florida aren’t important to them, and if you need some proof of this how about the fact that Florida ranks fiftieth out of fifty in funding children’s education. If that’s not embarrassing I don’t know what the meaning of that word is.

The state of Florida would much rather give tax breaks to people who own more than one home and who rent out luxury boxes than fund education. Friends this isn’t a new thing either, remember the lottery which was supposed to supplement education, well it quickly became a way to pay for it as education moneys were diverted by the legislature to pay for pet projects and tax breaks which for the most part only negligibly impacted the average citizen of Florida.

Our legislators in Tallahassee should be ashamed of how they treat education and Florida’s children, we are already fifth in the nation and they are proposing even more cuts, how even in these difficult times is that even approaching something that is acceptable. One reason besides apathy and ignorance is that somewhere along the way tax became a dirty word, well nobody likes taxes but they are necessary. They allow us to pay for the things we can’t do individually like properly educating our children, which may be society’s most important job.

A one cent increase in the sales tax would solve many of our problems and cost the average citizen just a few pennies a day, and isn’t a quality education, and the welfare of Florida’s children worth that. Sadly nobody in Tallahassee seems willing to step up to do what is right, instead they seem too interested in keeping the status quo for a wealthy few rather than helping out the masses. This shortsightedness may have dire consequences for the state of Florida but it doesn’t have to spell doom for Jacksonville.

Folks we can step up without them, we can say even if Tallahassee doesn’t care about our children, we the citizens of Jacksonville do. Other cities in Florida have decided they wanted to make a difference for their children and that they were no longer willing to wait for our state government to do the right thing, it’s time we followed their lead. They have passed special taxes where the money collected would just go to education and child services. They also put time limits on these measures allowing them to be revisited every couple years, which means the tax is not permanent and can be repealed if circumstances change. A couple years back we passed the better Jacksonville plan to pave our roads and upgrade our infrastructure, along the way we got a new library, arena and baseball stadium, my question is aren’t our children at least equally worthwhile and isn’t it time we invested in them as well?

Let me reemphasize what’s going to happen if nothing is done to fund education even at the minimum levels required. If we say what is about to happen is okay and make the catastrophic cuts required to balance the school systems budget, and don’t think for a moment that eliminating 170 million dollars from the budget (just next year alone) isn’t catastrophic.
As I stated above education in some form will go on, but it will do so only after dozens if not hundreds of teachers and support staff lose their jobs, we get rid of programs like art, music and physical education, we eliminate field trips, extracurricular activities, most supplies, teacher training and after school programs, we curtail services for the disabled, eliminate social work and nursing positions and we increase class sizes to forty or more children, this is what will happen. I may be biased as a teacher but I happen to think our children deserve better than that.

Finally everybody says they care about Jacksonville’s children and everybody says they want them to have a first rate education, furthermore everybody seems to recognize there are huge problems with our system, now instead of just realizing it and talking about it, it is time we did something about it. If we don’t all we are doing is paying lip service to our children and education. Friends instead of that I believe it’s time we stood up and did the right thing and do what needs to be done, and folks we have to because if history is any guide then we know the state Legislature and city council won’t.

Watching Rome burn
I read with stunned amazement the article where Stephen Wise said he planned to introduce legislation requiring science teachers to discuss intelligent design when they taught evolution, this is reminiscent of Nero playing the fiddle while he watched Rome burn.

Does Mr. Wise and the rest of the state legislature not have any idea what’s going on in education and what the proposed massive spending cuts will do to it? Unless the Florida legislature or the Jacksonville city council, both of which seem willing to sit back and watch education go down in flames, or the people of Jacksonville demand they do something, the Duval County School Board is faced with making 170 million dollars in cuts for the next school year alone.

This means dozens if not hundreds of teachers and support staff will lose their jobs, those that remain will have their raises canceled and benefits reduced, schools will get rid of programs like art, music and physical education, they will eliminate field trips, extracurricular activities, most supplies, teacher training and after school programs, the services provided disabled children will be curtailed, social work and school nurse positions will be eliminated, and many classed will swell to forty or more children, because the state will have to waive the class size limits or the cuts the county will have to make will be even more catastrophic.

Instead of worrying about what is taught in science class, maybe it’s time he started to worry if we will be able to afford to have science class.
Don’t worry if the legislature doesn’t do anything Jacksonville, you see Florida is already an embarrassing fifty out of fifty on per student spending, make that fifty out of fifty in how much we care about children, at least in that regard we can’t get any worse, and if intelligent design, not saving our schools, is the only thing on Stephen Wises mind, well it seems we can’t do any worse than him either.

Superintendent Pratt-Dannals
I read your note on next year’s budget cuts; it was frightening and it’s truly dizzying the hole we are about to find ourselves in. I then thought what can I do, maybe write a few letters, and tell anybody who is willing to listen about the counties plight, but to be honest I didn’t think that would accomplish much, and I imagine where the scope might be smaller, I would just be duplicating the same things you are doing.

So I then thought to get anywhere with the legislature or with the city council we need to get parents involved and at a greater level, we need to get them to write the letters and making the calls, we need to somehow mobilize and motivate them on a massive scale.

To do so I think you need to let parents know that we are on the verge of loosing something that is more important to them than science classes and after school programs, and that’s athletics. Put on the cutting block all sports, let the citizens of Jacksonville know to save necessary education programs, electives and extra curricular activities will be the first to go. Let them no there will be no more football on Friday nights unless the budget crisis is adverted.

If the people know that they are about to loose Friday night football and that it is the legislatures fault, I believe this will motivate people to get involved, highly motivate them.

Just so you know, I love sports and I think they are important I was a three sport letterman at Ed White when I went there, heck I am all their wall of fame and my students delight in letting me know how retro I looked.

Bur sir the bottom line is we need to get the parents fired up, motivated, passionate and involved, which I believe they will become, if they are going to loose something which they love and let’s face it in the south football is king.

While at work.
While at work today I saw three young ladies beat up another. During the fight they pulled hair from her head and bloodied her face and foot. I am not a prison guard.

While at work today I got hit in the head while breaking up a fight. I am not a referee.

While at work today I saw two young men rummage through a purse that had been dropped and they did so in the full view of several staff members. I am not a store clerk.

While at work today I read an e-mail about a gun that was recently confiscated there. I don’t work at a call center or at one of the big banking or insurance complexes.

While at work today I wondered if we got all the guns that were here but then I thought, I bet we aren’t even close. I don’t work for the police.

While at work today I was cursed out not once but twice, I was told to mind my own expletive business when I asked someone to get to work and called a mother expletive when I asked someone what they were doing. I don’t work at a gym.

While at work today I had somebody burst into my room to yell at somebody who was in there with me. I am not a doctor or a lawyer.

While at work I got frustrated because I didn’t have up to date materials and supplies. I am not a painter.

While at work today I got disgusted with the lack of civility, respect, and dignity. I don’t work at city hall.

While at work today I was surrounded by apathy and noticed an extreme lack of effort, I don’t work for the department of motor vehicles.

While at work today, there were moments when I didn’t fee respected and I didn’t feel safe. I am not a soldier.

While at work today I wondered how many lawyers, bankers, sales clerks,
computer technicians, construction workers, politicians and paramedics, how many white collar and blue collar workers alike can say they had the same type of day as me. I would guess not many.

So what do I do, and where do I work? I am a school teacher at a public high school and today was a pretty typical day, but not just for me but for thousands of my colleagues as well. The really sad thing is a lot of students, who want to learn, who want to succeed, who deserve better had a much worse day than I did.

Have you ever wondered why we have an epidemic of violence in our street unlike never before? Have you ever wondered why we have a hard time first attracting and keeping more first rate businesses and companies? Have you ever wondered where civility, courtesy and respect went? Have you ever wondered why so many of our schools are failing and why graduation rates are are so abysmal?

I’ll tell you why, it’s because we don’t care about our schools, and we don’t care about education and worse of all we don’t care about our children.

Now we say we do care, and we shake our heads and sigh when we hear the news reports of violence, failing schools and the loss of opportunity our city experiences, but then we turn away, I imagine hopeful our elected officials will take care of it. But all they really do is form committees and initiatives. But these things are designed to distract us, to give us the illusion that somebody in charge will eventually do something that the care, but they don’t and I can prove it.

Ask yourself a question, do you think things are getting better or worse. If you answered yes welcome to the group that is called everybody thinks that.

In the end it’s the citizens of Jacksonville that need to stand up and say we care; we want things to be better and that enough is enough, if things are going to change it will only happen if we demand it, because if not us then who.

Like other municipalities that are tired of seeing their children hang out on the street corners with little hope and even less opportunity, that have seen their crime rates rise and their graduation and achievement rates drop, we have to step up, even in these tough economic times, we have to tell our government we want to have a first rate education system, and then we have to do what it takes even if it means digging into our pockets to make sure it happens.

Jacksonville doesn’t have to agree with Tallahassee and their decision not to care about education, just because it’s okay with them that Florida is fiftieth out of fifty in spending on children it doesn’t mean it has to be okay with Jacksonville.

Our school system desperately needs programs that give students extra tutoring in reading and writing, and programs that teach skills to the students not interested in college, such as vocational or trade programs. Likewise teachers need to have manageable classrooms and adequate supplies to be able to properly educate our children. Again just because the state of Florida puts educating our children below tax breaks for people who one multiple houses and luxury boxes it doesn’t mean the citizens of Jacksonville have too.

Times are tough and everybody understands that, but if we continue to underfund education, the needs of our children, do we think things are just going to miraculously fix themselves? When something in your house breaks does it miraculously fix itself, or do you have to spend the money to get it working again. Well if we as a city don’t start sacrificing then it’s many of our children’s future that will be lost, and it’s our city that will continue to suffer.

We have to decide whether we care about the future of our city or we don’t and we do that by deciding if we care about our children or we don’t, and the first step is to follow the lead that several other cities have done and that’s step up and stop just saying we care and start acting like we do.

Version II

I’ll tell you why, it’s because we don’t care about our schools, and we don’t care about education and worse of all we don’t care about our children. Children without boundaries grow up with a false sense of how things are. Children who don’t receive consequences for their actions do not learn from their actions. Friends we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to take back our schools and our streets; if we want things to improve, we need to bring discipline back to the classroom.

Teachers want all students to do well if not we would have picked different professions; professions where we are not routinely disrespected unappreciated and threatened, however the sad thing is not all students care about learning. They don’t come to school to do so; they come to school to hang out with their friends or to see what trouble they can find. So many students have no idea what being respectful and courteous means, or even what making an effort means. Instead they feel entitled and as if they can do whatever they want whenever they want.

It’s no coincidence the city has had an increase in burglaries and violence perpetrated by young people. You rarely hear about honor students being arrested for carjacking or valedictorians arrested for robbery. It’s always, they had a few problems in school, which is often code for they were always in trouble and/or we can’t believe it took so long for them to get caught. There is a direct correlation between students who constantly misbehave in school and students who commit crimes in society. Who knows what would have happened had they children been disciplined or received meaningful consequences for their actions. Let me ask you this, Why don’t you commit crimes, or curse out your boss, why don’t you steal or vandalize things, is it because you know it’s wrong and part of that knowledge came from whenever you misbehaved you received consequences for your actions?

While we are trying to save a few of the bad apples the whole cart is in danger of being spoiled. Students that fight should be removed if not arrested; students that don’t come to learn, just to hang with their friends or to see what trouble they can find should be expelled. Teachers lament all the time if little Suzy or Johnny wasn’t in their classroom they could teach or they rejoice when they are absent. Think about this if a teachers spends just ten percent of their time disciplining the continuously unruly few that’s 18 days of instruction that is lost, and how much better do you think some students would do with that extra time and believe you me, a lot of teachers are forced to spend a lot more time than ten percent.

If some families are abdicating the responsibility to show their children how to be responsible respectful citizens, then we have to do it in the classrooms and the schools because if not there then where else can they possibly learn it?

Are violent streets, low graduation rates and failing schools not enough? Do we need a tragedy does somebody at a school have to be killed before we wake up and do something? No child left behind should be we are leaving about ten percent of them behind until they shape up; we have the other ninety percent to think and care about.

Version III

I’ll tell you why, it’s because we don’t care about our schools, we don’t care about education and worse of all we don’t care about our children and by we, I mean our school board doesn’t.

I can almost understand why some of our student’s act the way they do and it’s because the school board has conspired to rob them of both hope and opportunity. The school board has become so enamored with the positive press that Stanton and Paxon bring to the district that having so many failing schools and a high dropout rate have become okay with them.

Their solution to try and make every school like Stanton and Paxon despite the fact the students at the other schools are different has failed and failed miserably. They even stack the deck against the other schools. Stanton and Paxon (along with Frank Peterson and Douglas Anderson) hand pick their students and then are able to drop students they don’t like or who don’t do well, also since we pay to have students bussed away from their neighborhood schools, these schools get a disproportionate amount of resources. How do you think the other high schools would be if they had they had more resources and could pick and choose their students? Perhaps better.

Duval counties policy of preparing every student for college is also so unrealistic it borders on the delusional. Lots of students have no desire to go to college it’s a struggle enough to get them to come to high school. We need to prepare them for life and that means having vocational programs where we teach students skills.

It also means we have to have a realistic curriculum. That means any math over algebra1 should be an elective but right now students are required to take algebra2 and another higher math in order to graduate. You knock it back down to just algebra1 and I bet we can sit back and watch the graduation rate rise. And don’t think for a second this will set kids back n any way if they want to go to college.

I have two bachelors degrees, and all it took was 7 credits of math, college algebra and statistics plus a one credit stat class. I took general math as a junior and no math as a senior and I currently teach at the public neighborhood school I went to. I can’t remember when I last used algebra to solve an everyday problem, can you, what about algebra2 or some higher math? The reality is for the most part none of us are using it or are ever going to use it, but we require high school students to learn it anyway. Wouldn’t the academic time be better suited to learning something they may use once they graduate? I am not saying do away with higher math classes just make them electives for students interested in those subjects or who want to do math based jobs or take math based majors when they graduate.

Maybe we should take the additional resources we use on magnet schools and use them to help students struggling to read and write on grade level. Maybe the advanced math classes should only be required of students attending the academic magnet schools not the neighborhood schools. That’s if we wanted to keep the magnet schools.

Do you know how many high schools in the surrounding counties are failing, if you guessed zero then you are correct. Do you know how many magnet schools they have in the surrounding counties? Well if you again guessed zero you are correct there as well. Strangely enough their math graduation requirements are less than ours as well.

Why should a student be expected to behave when he or she doesn’t have hope? Why should students listen to us if they feel their futures are ending just as they should be beginning? Why does our school board insist of trying a round peg in a square hole solution? Why don’t they provide a realistic curriculum that serves all our students not just the few at a couple magnet schools? The only answer I could come up with is they don’t care about our schools; they don’t care about education and worse of all they don’t care about our children. But if I am wrong and I hope I am it’s time they started showing it.

I am part of the problem....
It definitely won’t make the news, but Duval County failed another student today, though they are not alone as I failed another student today as well. I am not talking about failed in the sense we gave them a bad grade, and F, I am talking about it in the sense we let them down, we set them back, we have just made the rest of their lives more difficult.....

If you aren’t already fired up by the county failing students (the second version) something they annually do to hundreds if not thousands of them, don’t feel alone because sadly very few people are, and if that’s the case then don’t get fired up about me failing this last one either, as she definitely won’t be the last one I let down. I teach a special education science class at Ed White high school and I am part of the problem.

Don’t get me wrong, everyday I come to class prepared to teach. I roll up my sleeves and jump right in it’s just as my peers do, unfortunately like many of them I also feel like I am chipping away at a mountain with a plastic spoon. Teachers and students alike are handicapped by the FCAT, unrealistic graduation requirements, a lack of discipline and other policies and procedures mandated by the district or state that don’t make sense, nor do they seem to be in the best interest of us or the children.
Everyday so many teachers who want to do well, who want to help the students in their charges do as well as they can go to work feeling like the deck is stacked against them and stacked very high.

My group of students has what we call varying exceptionalities, which means we group, educable mentally handicapped, emotional handicapped and students with specific learning disabilities together. Not only do I have students from all three categories in most of my classes, but I usually also have all four high school grade levels represented as well, and then during a few classes I am expected to teach a few different subjects.

All of my students including those that are capable of doing so much more are on what’s called a special diploma track. When they graduate they won’t receive a high school diploma, instead they will get a certificate of completion, which has more in common with three squares of toilet paper than it does with a diploma.

A lot of my students could achieve so much more if they were in classes with low teacher pupil ratios (two of my classes have more than twenty students in them) and received intensive remediation in reading, writing and math, in fact if those services were provided I may just be able to find a rocket scientist or two, but the powers that be don’t think they those things are important, so instead I am turning out students who at best after many years of dedicated service might make it to lead associate at a box retail store, if they aren’t jailed, living on the streets or on welfare that is.

Instead of giving my students what they need, what would make sense and prove beneficial to them giving their circumstances, I break open my fifteen year old text books that recently talked about an exciting new technology called laser discs, and has used the twin towers in several examples, and try to introduce them to topics they should have learned about years ago, but aren’t nearly as important when considering the fact many can’t read or write or do math on any level approaching their grade level. I have a friend that teaches fifth grade science and I am amazed at how often what the two of us are teaching overlaps.

This year had been amazingly frustrating, instead of teaching them the water downed science that I am, I felt I should be teaching them to read and write properly, or running a G.E.D. prep class as my students who may have aspirations of doing more will have to take it one day, that’s it had been amazingly frustrating, right up to the moment it became down right depressing.

It started when I got a new student right before winter break, she moved here from Michigan. I thought it a bit strange she came on the last day of class, but if you met this girl you might think it fit her. A little quiet and introspective she often writes in her journal when her work is finished deciphering the latest song lyrics or pondering the make up of the world. I asked her why she had come on this day of days (all we were going to do was watch movies) and she replied she didn’t want to have too many absences and since she was here she felt she should.

She has dyscalculia a math learning disorder that makes learning higher maths very difficult if not down right impossible. Except for her math classes and my science class, which I am sure they just threw her into she has all regular education classes.

Despite her above average I.Q. her disability and the absurdity of the situation, one size fits all graduation requirements, has served to seriously set this girl back in life just as it is beginning, and the thing is nobody seems to care, that she is going to earn a special diploma. I was told that for any student not in one of the work programs to graduate with a regular diploma they had to have algebra I and two other higher maths, if they couldn’t pass them regardless of disability they had to be on a special diploma track, though if they renamed it worthless diploma track that would be more accurate.

She’s not the only one, at my school for the most part we don’t even try to put capable, with accommodations, modifications and a differentiated curriculum special education students in regular education classes at my school, students that with help and accommodations could pass most subjects. After all if we don’t think they can pass the advanced math classes required what’s the point.

Here is the thing, when I was in high school, I took general math II as a junior and no math as a senior, if I were in school right now, I would be on a special diploma track, I would be graduating with a piece of paper that wasn’t worth the ink printed on it. In case you were wondering I have two college degrees from the University of North Florida, and my two degrees required a total of 7 credits of math, that’s two classes and a lab. Let me ask you a couple questions, how many of you would have received a special diploma based on our counties present requirements, how many members of the school board would, also how many of you recently used algebra II in your everyday life, and how many members of the school board do you think did.

In our mad rush to catch up with the rest of the world in math and science, despite the fact as far as I can tell we still lead the world in technology and scientific breakthroughs, I wonder how many students we are leaving behind, I don’t know the exact numbers but I know for a fact we are leaving more than a few behind in portable one at Ed White high school.

Why are kids that can barely read and write learning about the Revolutionary War and the cell, again? Why are we forcing students to learn higher maths that many who if they even go to college will not need or use again. Why are we trying to fit every child who is individual and has different needs into a one size fits all curriculum. Why do I get up everyday and go in despite the fact I know I am not giving my students what they need, despite the fact that I know I am part of the problem?.

I don’t have a good answer to any of those questions; maybe you do, because the school board doesn’t seem to have any good answers either.

Mr. G, Mr. G, Mr. G
Mr. G, Mr. G, Mr. G the student said over and over as he simultaneously raised his hand, not even giving me a nanosecond to react before he started calling my name. Yes, I replied, what can I do for you?

We had just finished a test, a test that covered material that we spent weeks going over and drilling for, a test where I gave the students a study guide which was remarkably similar to the test, remarkably (wink, wink) similar. A study guide we reviewed for a week to make sure they had all the correct answers too. A study guide that I pleaded with them to study for just ten minutes a day not including the fifteen minutes I gave them before I passed out the test.

Furthermore as a bonus I put all the answers to the study guide, thus all the answers to the test on the board. I placed them there to "help with the students spelling." We had just finished that test, where despite all of above I was getting numerous scores in the 40-50 range on… We had just finished that test… sigh…

I until recently have always been a, if your students are doing poorly you should reevaluate your teaching techniques kid, but as I said that is until recently, because quite frankly I don't know how to teach these new students how to care, or to think about the future and I definitely can't force them to make any effort or show concern for anybody but themselves. I am teaching the children in the check out line, who throw tantrums and whine until they get what they want and then look at their parents with eyes filled with entitlement and contempt.

I need to use the phone Mr. G, he didn't so much as ask as he told me. This is the same student who is routinely defiant and disrespectful to me, this same student who has potential, he just routinely refuses to make any effort, the same student who also routinely tells that the white race, and I am part of that vast conspiracy is keeping him down. Though since as a teacher with a mortgage and student loans to pay back I am a little more than paycheck to pay check and since I am a teacher which has to decide what between my dryer, my refrigerator and my car what to fix, I am not sure if I agree with him. I would like to tell him I am to busy just treading water to hold anybody down, but I don't, instead I just smile and nod my head and say I am sorry you think that way because I am here to help you. Did I mention this is the same student who has been a thorn in my side since the beginning of the year, and who battles with me over the smallest of requests as if I was demanding an internal organ, well here he was now asking me a favor.

I looked at him, and pretended to think for a moment, because in actuality the decision had been made, I am a bit of a sucker when it comes to my students and if they ask something reasonably of me I try to comply, not that, that concept is even remotely recognizable to many of them. Now they don't come to me very often for favors as I am pretty strict in my room, something that is hard for me as by nature I am pretty laid back, but as I said above they usually get their way, if there request is reasonable that is.

Teaching is a lot different from what I used to which was working in special needs camps, there my main job was to play, a job I did very well, those kids wanted to be there and appreciated adults who showed them care and attention, where a lot of kids as school view school as a punishment or a place to see their friends or fight their enemies, of which since I ask them to take care of their responsibilities and to be respectful (the only two rules my room has) I have become one, but I digress.

Back in my class room I kind of grumbled a bit not wanting him to think for a second that he was going to get his way. I forced a smidge of a sneer and shot back in a dead pan voice, what for. He went into this long schpeel about how another teacher was supposed to bring him something and he was afraid they would forget and it was so incredibly important that he had to call them to remind them.

I sat there silently for a moment, we were done with the test and all I planned was for us to finish the movie Twister (we have been studying weather) until finally saying, all right just this once. He walked over to the phone picked it up, then stopped and looked at me, do you know so and so's extension, he didn't so much as ask me as he demanded I tell him. I shook my head and replied; no I do not know it. At first he acted like I was lying to him (I presume more of me keeping him down) but after a bit I think the realization that I wasn't lying to him, hit him and hit him like a ton of bricks. He hung up the phone as if he was throwing a football at the ground and headed back to his seat.

Despite everything I still looked at him sympathetically, even though I can be hard like I said earlier it's not my nature to do so, though teaching has taught me to suppress my natural instincts, if I could I would literally within reason do anything for my students. I also know that a lot of my kids have had it tough, they have single parent homes and live in the poor section of town, growing up they have not had it easy, hhmm kind of like I me.

So I called him over to my desk, it took three requests for him to acknowledge my presence, before he finally begrudgingly headed over. When he crossed the room to my desk I began to write him a pass.

At first he looked very disinterest as if my presence was burdening him, but then he noticed I was writing something and he didn't as me so much as he demanded to know, what I was doing. Well, I said looking up, I am writing you a pass so you can take care of your problem; you see despite all my experiences my natural giving instincts had taken over. Oh no, he answered back, as if I was forcing him to do some arduous task, I don't want to walk down there, it's too far.

I did a double take, what had been incredibly important just a few moments earlier to him had now become to far away, and mind you this was perhaps a four minute round trip. Really, I said, trying to conceal the fact I suddenly felt like a loser for trying to help him, for being tricked again. Fighting back a sigh I said, well I guess it's not that important. I then asked them how much he had studied for the test, telling them him grade wasn't as high as I hoped it would be, it definitely didn't reflect his potential, and I believed he could do better. My go to speech the one I use a dozen times a day.

He shrugged his shoulders' as if he didn't care what I said, no check that he shrugged his shoulders because he didn't' care what I had said and then headed back to his seat making a crack about my lineage and ethnocentricity under his breath as he walked away.

As he did so I watched him and realized our roles were reversing, you see he had become the teacher and I had become the student, and the lesson he was teaching me was no longer to care.

The game has changed: part one teachers
Since I started teaching nine years ago so many things have changed. Take for instance how creativity and initiative which have been stifled and all but eliminated by one size fits all learning schedules and curriculums. Then there is the amount of directives and requirements which have increased where at the same time the amount of resources has decreased. If to you both those seem counterintuitive to how these things should be, imagine how teachers those people in the trenches feel. Here in Jacksonville over the last nine years the powers that be have tried to reinvent the education wheel over and over, trying everything but the simplest and most obvious of solutions, and that's returning discipline to the classroom and creating realistic curriculums which serve all our children not just the few that go to Stanton and Paxon.

In my opinion all current teachers and students have it tough, and it's not just because of the high expectations which are being piled on us, we are okay with high expectations, it's when they become unrealistic when both groups should start having concerns. Though if you ask me a significantly large group of teachers and students, a group I belong to have it even tougher.

I am a special ed. teacher at a local public high school, every day like my regular education colleagues I roll up my sleeves and attempt to educate the children who are in my charge, I do lesson plans, I give out progress reports, I accumulate data, I prepare them for the f-cat or their particular assessment tool,

I also have parent teacher conferences, in short I do everything that they do. Furthermore for the most part my classes aren't any smaller than theirs as I have over twenty children, that is twenty children, classified as disabled in most of my classes. Seems pretty fair right, well it's not.

In addition to all the duties that I have in common with regular education teachers I am also expected to be able to differentiate my curriculum having different assignments for different students. I am expected to be able to teach several classes at the same time. I personally also have an independent study health class going on simultaneously in four of my classes; other special ed. teachers have been known to teach English and math at the same time. I am expected to write IEPs which are massive reports that determine students funding and what they are to be taught once their old IEPs expired, something that probably shouldn't be a teacher's responsibility, did I also mention these are legal documents that I, the school and the school board can be sued for. We used to write the IEPs at the end of the year so they could be used at the beginning of the following one but now they expect us to write IEPs all throughout the year, which means funding and goals can change at random times. About half of the IEPs I am writing are for students who aren't in any of my classes, who I have either not met or don't have any regular contact with, I have to give progress reports for these students as well. Once the IEPs are written I then have to set up and have meetings with the student's families, any relevant organizations, the student and their teachers. If an IEP is done right it takes between 6-8 hours over the course of the year. I have to write 27. I have to write FAB/BIPs massive behavioral reports that require me to assemble teams and take months to write, that I have no training to do. Did I mention I have to do all these things in addition to all the things that regular education teachers do.

I do all of this for the same pay, the same benefits and the same amount of planning time. This is where things start to get a little unfair. Let me illustrate this point by telling a little story.

While preparing for class I received a call asking me to attend an IEP exit meeting (the teacher who was writing the IEP was at a workshop) and even though it wasn't for any of my students, being an amiable sort, I agreed. I went to the meeting, it was for a regular ed. student who not only had I never met before but I couldn't recall if I had ever seen before either. I sat quietly at the end of the table and when a few sheets of paper were passed to me, I am not even sure what they were, I signed them, five minutes later without saying a word my job had ended and I was heading back to my class. This can't be the best system we can come up with.

I later saw the colleague I covered for and told him I went to the meeting for him but I didn't know the student. He shrugged his shoulders and said, neither did I.

The system Duval County has in place for exceptional student education is a car wreck, an unmitigated disaster, and the worse parts of the bible all rolled together for teachers, sadly it's much worse for students.

End part one

No good news
I imagine many people at One Prudential Drive, the location of our school board building, looked at the news of Jacksonville's graduation rates rising to 65% and the drop out rate sinking to 3.3 percent as good news (75.4 and 2.6% are the sate averages). And it is to a degree. Yet, consider the good news we might have received had the representatives on our school board actually cared about all the high schools and students here in Duval county rather than just the few students who attend the magnet programs or who take advanced placement classes, also imagine the good news we might have received had the people at the top, the people making the decisions, had actual knowledge about what current students need to be successful, because they seemingly don't in either case.

Here are some facts you might not know: Duval County students need 28 credits to graduate. In every other county in the state of Florida students need 26, let me repeat that, "in every other county, students need 26, in Duval county they need 28". We require an extra math and science requirement. One of which is Algebra II. Think about this: how many of us actually need or use algebra II in everyday life. This enhanced curriculum might be okay for the motivated student who plans to attend a four year university upon graduation, but think about what a huge burden this is to the student who is just marginally interested in school or doesn't plan to further their education when they graduate.

Continuing high school students take eight ninety minute classes a semester (four one day then four the next) in Duval County. The majority of the rest of the states school districts (practically all who have higher graduation rates and lower drop out rates than we do) have a schedule that consists of either six or seven classes taken every day. The school board may give you several reasons why our schedule is so radically different from most everybody else's; but the only reason you should believe is this one. The schedule we have is in place is here just to benefit our students taking Advanced Placement classes. The powers that be want Advanced Placement kids to still be taking their A.P. classes at the end of the year when the test is given; rather than having some of those classes come to an end after the first semester, which is what would happen if we had a traditional schedule. Our current school schedule is in place solely to benefit ten percent of high school students, to the other ninety percent of kids it's a detriment; which group does your child fall into.

Furthermore did you know a full time class load in college is four classes and unless you are taking a once a week night class, those classes will be between fifty and seventy-five minutes long, considerably shorter than the ninety minute classes we are currently making our students take. Which further begs the question, why are we subjecting high school students with quick attention spans and raging hormones, including students who aren't taking A.P. classes, and ESE students to a schedule that is more arduous than what college students take. This is beyond me, so if somebody out there could explain it to me I would appreciate it.

As for the people making these decisions, have you ever wondered how many members of our school board have been teachers? The answer is four and not one of them has been in a Duval county classroom in at least ten years. (Brenda Priestly Jackson, Nancy Bonner, W.C Gentry) and several of them like Stan Jordan who was an educator thirty years ago, have been out of the classroom even longer. Betty Burney, Vicki Drake and Tommy Hazouri have no teaching experience. Good thing they're not on the American Medical Association board, overseeing doctors; because just as procedures for heart surgery has evolved over the past ten years. Teaching students in the year 2008 is COMPLETELY different than teaching in 1998. I found it odd that three of the former teachers we do have on the board left the field to become lawyers only to later return to education, though I also thought this might explain a few of our problems as well. Even though some of the members were, at one time, long ago either in a public school as a student or actually taught in a public school; I think we can all agree the problems facing education today are vastly different from back when. Now I am not saying being a current teacher immediately qualifies you to make education decisions, but what qualifies the school board? It shouldn't just be winning a popularity contest.

Perhaps it's time we turned to the people in the classroom, the teachers who are there day in and day out; maybe then we would have policies that were both fairer and more realistic. At least fairer than several new policies implemented by the school board that directly affects them such as increased data collection, learning schedules, curriculums and formatives, which often make teachers feel overburdened and underappreciated. Furthermore many teachers feel as if their creativity and initiative are being snuffed out by the same policies.

Current teachers just might have a better idea what it takes to do a good job, they might know what works and what doesn't, and many would agree what we have in place is not working, well not working for everybody anyways, because if your student attends Stanton and Paxon you might not recognize that there are problems facing the rest of the counties schools, and that our current system is unfair. If the teachers were more involved in the decision making process instead of just supposed to carry out mandates handed down from an ivory tower, then perhaps we would have received some real good news when the graduation and drop out rates came out.

The school board shouts to whoever will listen that we are preparing our students for university and beyond. The problem is many of our students don't want to go to the university. They want to be mechanics or plumbers or electricians. They want to join the military or peace corps or work at a job for a few years to earn money. It's hard for young people to decide what to do with their lives. We are doing the vast majority of students who our currently attending high schools in Duval County a great disservice, by preparing them just for university, what happened to preparing them for life?.

The school board has let the success of the only two schools they seem to care about, Stanton and Paxon, dictate how they treat the rest of the county. The problem is the rest of the county doesn't have the same students or the same problems that those two schools have. Isn't it time that we said enough? Isn't it time we said the students at Ed White, Jackson, Forrest, Lee, Ribault, Raines and the rest of the schools mattered too? Notice, for example, the counties around us (Clay, St. Johns, etc) don't separate the 'cream from the crop' like we do. Their high schools are ALL good. There are no F high schools in those counties, plus their graduation rates are higher and their drop out rates are lower and that's good news for them, it's good news we here in Duval County deserve but don't have, and I think I know why.

Just please
The following is the rough draft of an article I am working on, suggestions, comments, soup?

I was having a conversation with my class the day after the election on what they thought might change in the nation after Barak Obama was sworn in as president. My plan was to discuss several different topics, like the economy and the war, but I cut it short after we discussed education.

"Nigger please" my student started, forcing me to do a double take with my eyes, as I wondered to myself, was I the "nigger" he was saying please to, after all he was answering my question and speaking directly to me. As the grandson of fair skinned Italian immigrants, I am probably one of the most pasty white people out there, heck I even cut off my curls as soon as they begin to poke out, I couldn't imagine it was me, now if he had said, dego guinne or whop please that would have made sense, not that I had much time to think about it as he continued. "Nothings going to change just because Obama was elected, the black schools are going to still get F's and the white schools are still going to get A's, the school board don't care about us (black students I presume)." I did another double take, you see up to that point I didn't realize the school I was teaching at was a black school, I graduated from the school I work at, and I thought it was just ethnically diverse, but I also knew something my relatively astute student didn't realize and that was our school district didn't dislike just black students, no you see there actions seem to indicate they disliked all students and teachers aren't high up on their list either.
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I have long thought the distribution of resources between the fab five, (re: rich or white) schools and the failing five, urban (re: poor or black) schools was inadequate and unfair. Now don't get me wrong I understand that there is a stygian like formula that assigns a value to students and that the schools recieve a budget based upon the amount of students it has, which on the surface sounds fair, except for the fact that it is not. You see like some students need extra attention and extra tutoring, some schools need extra resources, they need extra help.

We cringe when we read that so many of our high schools are failing and that drop out rates are reaching unprecedented heights, we demand something be done, that someone be held accountable. Then we don't do anything and refuse to accept the fact that we the adults in the community are who should be held accountable. Children just don't fail at school, they fail in their neighborhoods and homes as well. Our community sits back and hopes that the six hours five days a week that our school has the children they can make a difference, but with some children you may as well wish upon a star, because you're going to have the same results.

The schools in the affluent neighborhoods or the magnet schools that are attended mostly by motivated children from involved families don't need the same resources as the failing schools need. There level of need for smaller class sizes, social workers and after school programs doesn't approach the need that the failing schools have, but that doesn't stop us from how we divide up the pie up giving pieces to everybody whether they need it or not.

It's also not about the quality of the staffs at the different schools not by a long shot. You see every school throughout the district has dedicated teachers rolling up their sleeves struggling, fighting to make a difference, no it's about the depth of the problems the different schools face. Students and staffs at the magnet schools face a whole host of different issues than the students and staffs at the failing schools, but that's not a factor when we decide how to distribute resources.

The thing is the school board just doesn't not care about the kids at the poor black, err urban high schools, no they seem to dislike all high school students in general. When I was in college four classes in a semester was considered a full time load, well that's half the amount of classes the typical high school student here in. Duval County is taking. High school students are on what's called a 4x4 A-B block schedule, that's they have four ninety minute classes one day and then four completely different classes the next day. Even if the students have two electives on their schedule that's still six academic classes they are required to take in a semester. Six sets of homework they have to do, six sets of tests they have to study for and take and six set of papers they have to write.

Some students are also taking sequential classes at the same time, like English 1 and 2, or two math classes. They had fallen behind and this is the system the powers that be have determined is the best way they can make it up. One of the reasons we do it this way is the powers that be want to accommodate the small amount of students who take Advanced Placement classes, as those tests are given in the spring. Take a guess where the vast majority of students who take advanced placement classes go. If you guessed it wasn't the urban: re poor and black schools you are smarter than who ever came up with the idea for an A/B block schedule. "Nigger please" which I was begging to understand meant, your're crazy if you thought things would cahnge or in this case if guessed somebody else.

I could also go on and on about the folly of having students sit in the same class for ninety minutes at a time. That's way too long to engage these children, very few have the attention span and I am not just talking about the students. In college classes were fifty minutes a week if I went three times or an hour fifteen if I went twice and I have to say I usually started fidgeting about the thirty minute mark. I go to movies and I start looking at my watch after about an hour. As adults how many tasks do we attend to for ninety minutes at a time and if we do so do we do it back to back to back to back which is what we expect our children to do.

What's the school boards answer to all this and why students in the county are failing or dropping out, why it's to blame the teacher of course. Teachers have now become automatons who spend more and more of their time doing paper work. Creativity initiative and passion have been replaced with learning schedules, curriculums and formatives. I am not sure if burying teachers with mountains of paperwork is the answer unless the question is, how do we drive teachers away from teaching. Don't get me wrong I am all about accountability and performance I just think it's time the powers that be at One Prudential drive were held accountable for their performance.

I considered telling my student. I feel you my friend, I am as frustrated as you. I hate that I don't have any supplies, that my books are out of date and I spend nearly as much time on paperwork as I do teaching. I hate seeing my colleagues beat their heads against the wall because they don't feel as if they are getting anywhere, their passion and initiative muted by the new learning curriculums and schedules, with all of being burdened with a schedule (A/B 4x4 block) that is almost universally reviled, but most of all I hate that we, the school system, and the community are failing you and so many more children like you. That we just play lip service to what should be the most important institution, the most important job our society has and that's educating our young and if you think differently I believe my student would have responded with a "nigger please." Yep I considered saying all that but I didn't, instead I just asked him to watch his language. You see some things never change.

An e-mail about gun violence at one of our local high schools was recently passed to me, and as one of the frequently mentioned, either lauded for what we are doing or pursued to get involved, stake holders, that's member of the community I was, at the same time invigorated and appalled and disappointed.

The e-mail read as follows: We had a gun incident after school yesterday (315). An ex-student presently attending DBI was seen by one of our students in possession of a gun. He informed Mr. Green and Mr. Gray, who followed the student after calling 911. The student was later confronted by a police officer. Near the Mod1/Media center area, the officer did pull a gun on the student not knowing the extent of the situation. The student ran and was tackled by Mr. Brown near mod 1 (our hero) and tasered by the officer. The student was transferred to the sub station and arrested on several felony charges. I am personally thankful the students and faculty cared enough to get involved in solving this incident. The gun was not loaded. After talking to the police, he indicated that he had come to school to see his girlfriend. He did not have any prior arrests and appeared to be remorseful. The police did a threat assessment and will let me know more later.

The situation is disappointing as you never want to hear about guns in schools, but this is the society that we now find ourselves in. A society where guns are everywhere and readily available, a society where we can't afford to take chances or give people the benefit of the doubt, because doing so may cost a life, and a society where sadly the next tragedy is most likely just moments away. However it is also representative of the positive things we have going on too. At Ed White there is obviously an attentive, dedicated and rather brave staff. I tend to go the other way when I see a gun. There were numerous hero teachers involved if you ask me and it's invigorating to know that the people we have entrusted our children's welfare, care so much that they are willing to put their life and limb on the line. The really disappointing and appalling part is how the e-mail continued.

Referring to the above incident. Please remember what Mr. Pratt Danalls indicated to us at the beginning of the school year, about "US" being our own worst enemy when we talk to the public and our friends. This was sent to all the teachers via what is called the hot spot, what I have been told is a daily information sheet produced by the administration.

After I read this I felt slapped in the face; I was literally appalled to read this. Think about it if they want to cover up what was in my mind and probably many of your minds was a heroic, selfless acts, above and beyond the call of duty performed by several teachers, then what else are they covering up or are willing to. What else are they afraid that the public will find out about? As a parent wouldn't you want to know about these grave situations, if there is a gun at your son or daughter's school and if so what the schools are doing to keep them safe, but also wouldn't you like to find out about the character and dedication of your student's teachers, which here seems exemplary.

I can only suspect that the reasons they want to keep these events secret is that they must think our school system is failing and the powers that be don't know what to do about it. The must figure the public can't handle any more bad news, or perhaps they are worried that the public will finally want sweeping changes to root out the leadership that has led us to where we are now. Why else would they encourage or have this shroud of secrecy. In theory their goal is to provide a first rate education but there seems to be very little rhyme or reason as to how they are trying to accomplish this. To quote a recent political figure, it seems like they are trying to nail jello to a wall.

They fire superintendents mid term, and then reorganize over and over again, shifting the middle management around. They initiate learning schedules and curriculums which not only according to teachers stifle creativity and initiative but replace the last failed experiment to save education (school uniforms, Americas Choice, freshmen declaring majors). They have schools that are overcrowded and others that are under capacity and their answer to both problems seems to be "relax it is worse elsewhere". Resources are distributed unfairly to the magnet schools, while the neighborhood schools languish and fall behind. Our district can't retain teachers as most don't last five years leaving the field or moving to other districts where they feel valued and appreciated. Truancy is up, drop out rates are up and test scores, well they may be up too but it's just marginally or it depends on where you live, what schools you send your children to. Parents with children are applying for MacKay scholarships or fleeing to the suburbs in droves. Furthermore I can't be the only one who sees a correlation between our increased crime rate and our failing schools. These my friends are the problems we know about, imagine what we don't know about, if like the e-mail indicated the school board and superintendent have a policy that promotes secrecy, from "the public".

I am a citizen of Jacksonville and like most citizens of our fair city I want our education system to thrive, and succeed, and I am not alone in this notion. I believe all the members of the public, or the stakeholders as the school board likes to call us want this same thing even if many of us disagree on how to accomplish this. Hiding things from the public is not how we go about accomplishing this. They want us to get involved, and if we are going to have a first rate education system in our city we need to be involved, but the only way we can accomplish this is if the public and the district work hand and hand together, sharing both the good and the bad. Not having one side hide things away from the other.

I feel like the stake holders are Tom Cruise in A few Good Men, and the superintendent and the school board are Jack Nicholson. We ask them for the truth and they respond we can't handle the truth. But the thing is we have to know the truth if we are going to make a difference, if things are that bad the superintendent and school board need to climb to the roof tops and shout "We need help Jacksonville!!!" After all what's more important than educating our children, what can more adversely or positively effect a community, what, well the answer is nothing.

Mr. Pratt Dannalls, and the Duval county school board, please next time something like this happens, when tragedy is adverted and our teachers act heroically, let us know so we can celebrate them. Our city and children need roll models and since you are seemingly more interested in promoting secrecy its obvious there aren't that many down at one Prudential drive.

In case you are wondering I changed the names of the three teachers involved, they may want their secret kept. I hope eventualy it's not just me climbing to the roof tops and screaming "We have heroes in our classroom, they just need a little help." We definitly have more than a few good men, and ladies too.

It's all coming to an end
Being a science teacher is kind of scary. It was much simpler when all I taught was the color purple and the letter J, back then all I had to worry about was misspelling the word jaguar. Presently I am learning about things that make my hair curl, the few non-curly locks I have left that is. I have been learning about all the ways the world is rapidly coming to an end and friends it's not going to be pretty. Now I am not talking about global warming or the current financial crisis, pretty scary things indeed, but sadly things that are actually pretty far down the list. I feel like I should be holding a sign that says, "The end is near!"

First there is the super colider in Switzerland, which the paper reported had only a one in fifty million chance of creating a black hole that would destroy us all. That's the same odds some guy, sadly not me, had to overcome to win the lottery last night, thus proving fifty-mill to one does happen. A few weeks back when they were about to start it up there were stories about the colider in the paper daily, but since they had to shut it down for "maintenance" we haven't heard a peep.

I have also learned that scientists believe that during solar flares, the Earth is bombarded by cosmic rays (the same rays that mutated the Fantastic Four) that are carrying comet dust covered with space viruses. They believe that's what caused the Spanish flu epidemic of 1919 that killed 20 million people and other flu outbreaks that have happened throughout the years. Now every time I sniffle I consider the prospect I have an E.T. living inside of me and not the cute one from the movie and I shutter.

Finally I have recently learned that human evolution may have come to a halt. It seems back in the day evolution was pushed forward by virile men mating into their sixties and seventies with dozens of women and having hundreds of children. Present day society has eliminated this which means humankind is at an evolutionary standstill. Do you know what happens when a species stops evolving? I'll tell you, the species becomes extinct. Well friends, particularly you ladies out there, I can't do anything about the colider or the space viruses but this one area where I may be able to help out. So I say we stop this from happening.

Yes ladies, I am more than willing to volunteer my services, after all the fate of the human race may depend on it.

I nailed it
It happens, as a teacher I sometimes nail a lesson, that's I hit a homerun, sink a three pointer at the buzzer or get the girls number at the bar, where other times I blow a lesson, the equivalent of striking out, bricking my shot, or getting a drink in my face from the girl at the bar (was it my shirt). Today was a former day because while teaching the pandemic of 1918 I nailed it.

Talking about the Spanish flu started a little slow as one of my students asked "why's it got to be like that, why's it got to be the Spanish flu." To which I replied um, err, um, but after that I was off and running.

I explained how the Spanish Flu hit simultaneously in several different, distinct spots around the globe, Bombay India, London England, New York City, Lawrence Kansas and a small unnamed Alaskan fishing village. That it targeted mostly healthy, young people, folks that normally didn't get sick, while leaving the old and very young alone and how if you got it in the morning, you would most likely be dead by the afternoon. Finally I told my students how it killed 20 million people and that it disappeared nearly as suddenly as it appeared. I then paused to let these things sink in and then in as direct terms as possible, I let them know that these were the facts and they were incontrovertible. I didn't mention it but I thought, if only the Happening would have been about these facts then maybe we would have had a good movie on our hands.

After I explained what incontrovertible meant, we as a class went about the business of figuring out how this happened. Terrorism was thrown out almost immediately but since terrorism wasn't that big of a problem back then, it was dismissed. Something in the water was posed, but since Lawrence Kansas was landlocked that to was discarded. Next a human carrier was ruled out because of the distance between the places were the sickness started was too great and nobody back then could travel that far in a single day. After a lot of other possible explanations, some ridiculous, some sublime some remotely possible, a student suggested extraterrestrials. to which, after a dramatic pause, I replied, maybe.

I started, believe it or not that is the theory which is currently gaining traction. Scientists in England believe solar flares smashed into the earth, activating microbes the Earth picked up from passing comets, which in turn created the Spanish Flu, and perhaps other flu and disease out breaks throughout the years. I finished with, so yes friends we may have been visited by E.T., and he may have caused the pandemic of 1918, it just turns out he's not that tall.

I then looked at my students many of them who had their mouths open and I thought, man I nailed it.

A lack of discipline
I find all this debate about the high school magnet programs at Paxon, Stanton and Douglas Anderson and if we should keep them as they are both sad and laughable. Laughable because parents, the district and the media are missing the real causes of the differences between the grades and sad because the same entities don't seem to be doing anything to correct the real problems. The real problem is our neighborhood schools are filled with apathy and lack discipline, problems the magnet schools don't face. Take care of those two problems and I believe we could sit back and watch the neighborhood schools grades rise.

Where I think it borderline inappropriate to celebrate the successes the magnet schools are having when so many other schools are struggling the reality is, differences between our A schools and our D and F schools aren't that great and are definitely fixable. Where I believe it's true that the magnet schools play a role in the problems that neighborhood schools are experiencing by siphoning away some of the brightest and most motivated, who coincidently are often the students that are in the least amount of trouble, this definitely isn't the neighborhood schools biggest problem.

The differences between the neighborhood schools and the magnet schools are the neighborhood schools are filled with apathy and lack discipline. One set of schools battle these problems daily and the other set has received a pass. This is one of the reasons I would put the faculty of the F school I work at against any faculty in any magnet school in the district. Our amazing and dedicated group of teachers goes to work everyday, often unappreciated and then do great things with their students and that's while having to put up with the serious problems the teachers at the magnet schools don't have to. However it's not just my school that has a good staff, every school in the district has dedicated teachers doing their best to educate their students, a significant amount of who really want to learn and do well, and this is every where from Stanton, to Ribault to Ed White and all the schools in between. The differences are in the problems the staffs face.

First apathy, the students at the magnet schools want to be there where many of the students at the neighborhood school feel forced to be there. This is a hoop they must jump through on their way to adulthood. The main reason for this is that for some reason in Duval County we insist on preparing children just for a college education, when quite frankly a lot of the students in the neighborhood schools aren't interested in it or for a variety of reasons aren't ready for it. We have students taking classes they are not prepared for like algebra II, physics and chemistry (classes I didn't have to take and I am teaching at the public, neighborhood school that I went to), when they should be taking classes that teach them carpentry, plumbing, electronics, cooking, computers, etc. etc. etc. classes that will give them a skill, or prepare them for the real world. If we are going to have magnet schools for college prep., why don't we also have more magnet schools for skills preparation and not just Peterson, which every year gets harder and harder to get into?

Furthermore many students are not interested in those classes yet they are forced to take them. I'll tell you why, it's because some elected official who has never been in the classroom read a paper written by some college professor who has never been in a public school, which said we are falling behind in math and science. As the holder of multiple college liberal arts degrees that required very little background in math and science I am here to tell you we can be successful with just a cursory knowledge of advanced science and math. What about students that want to be social workers, (non math or science) teachers, writers, work in law enforcement or dozens of other fields, where is the liberal arts curriculum that serves them.

Instead of developing a practical curriculum for those students who don't want to go to college, who may want to work instead or for students interested in liberal arts subjects, the powers that be insist students take classes they will never use again. I saw a skit on the David Letterman show a few years back, it was about weird and unusual people; they introduced Mark Sampson from Tara Haute, Indian, he was weird and unusual because he had used algebra to solve an everyday problem. When I was in high school again at the school I am now teaching at, I took general math 2 as a junior and no math as a senior, I also took no sciences that required math either in high school or college. In case you are wondering I have degrees in political science and psychology, and I chose them partly based on the lack of math they required.

Its worse for some special education students working on special ed. diplomas which and I am not sure if they or their parents know this or not aren't worth the paper they are printed on. At a meeting the other day we were discussing putting some special education students in regular education classes because we thought they could do it, until somebody mentioned they would also have to take algebra 2 and chemistry. The enthusiastic attitude we had quickly changed to a defeated one as we agreed what's the point.

A worse problem than apathy however is the lack of discipline in our schools. Now don't get me wrong, most students are a treat or no worse than a momentary problem here or there, but there are also more than a few students who make educating the rest very difficult. Everyday in the teachers lounges throughout the district you hear educators lament, if only Johnny wasn't in my class I could teach, or thank goodness little Suzy was absent, I felt like a teacher today. The district has made it nearly impossible to remove these children to alternative schools unless they bring a gun to school (though not always) or beat up a teacher, as just threatening a teacher often isn't enough. By allowing these few students to skate by with little or no consequences and remember for a consequence to be effective it must have meaning, for their behavior we are courting disaster. Do we need a tragedy to happen, like a student being rushed to the hospital after a fight, something that happened at my school earlier in the week or something worse, before we bring discipline back to the classroom and get rid of these unruly few? Think about it, if a teacher spends just ten percent of his time disciplining those students who show no desire to be in school, who come not to learn but to see what trouble they can find, then all the students in the class are loosing out on 18 days of instruction in a school year, some teachers are forced to spend a lot more than ten percent. I wonder how discipline is at the magnet schools; I would guess it's not much of a problem.

Continuing when watching the news or reading the newspaper it is obvious our community has been infected by an epidemic of violence, and for the most part it is young people committing it. I wonder how these former students did while they were in school, if they were discipline problems or not, and if they were what kind of consequences they received for their behavior. My guess would be none, that they were managed instead of dealt with or socially promoted so they could be the next schools or societies problem. What do you think happens when children are allowed to do whatever they want in school with only the slightest of punishments, well they become adults without respect or care for their fellow citizens.

Imagine if students went to schools where they participated in curriculums that were relevant to their interests or desires. Imagine if students went to schools where their teachers could concentrate on teaching rather than disciplining a rowdy few. Imagine what the grades of those schools would look like. Imagine if all high schools could eject students with a 2.0 grade point average or less. I bet more parents would be involved if they knew they would have to pay for a private school if their child was evicted from public school.

Where I believe the magnet program is deeply flawed (mostly because of an unfair distribution of resources, and them being able to hand pick and drop their students, where other schools take what they get and do the best they can with them) I see the real problems at the neighborhood schools not being a brain drain but unrealistic expectations from the powers that be. We have curriculums that breed apathy and don't prepare students not headed to college for the real world. But worse neighborhood schools have students with severe discipline problems and when we coddle then we are in effect allowing the inmates to run the asylum. This serious lack of discipline impedes instruction. We must develop meaningful consequences for repeat and serious offenders, because if not, what is the point. I believe no child left behind should be changed to; we are leaving about ten percent of them behind until they straighten up. If we could fight apathy and instill discipline, then I believe we would watch the grades of neighborhood schools rise, and rise quickly and dramatically.

Who Cares
I considered being upset at Mr. Smith's letter about my recent back page article about my first day of school and not just because he missed the point, which was teachers will do better if they feel involved and appreciated; I say I considered being upset but then I thought who cares. I mean all teachers do is educate our children arguably the most important job that society has, after all what does it matter that education is the one thing which has more power than anything to determine if society chugs along at a good clip or sputters and crashes into a ditch. You see if that's not important to him or society in general, why should it be important to me.

Yes, It's done by teachers who Mr. Smith points out work just 187 days a year and have starting salaries over $36 thousand, (I am an eighth year teacher by the way, though I have been working with special needs children for over fourteen years). The free time and salary seem more than enough reasons to create the distain he shows not just me but teachers in general in his letter.

Now Mr. Smith didn't mention that local teacher's salaries are well blow the national average for professionals with a bachelor's degree, or all the unpaid hours' teachers work, having conferences with parents, creating lesson plans, or grading papers or all the money they spend buying supplies and fixing up their rooms, but why should he? He also didn't mention the fact that for such a high paying job with lots of free time we can't seem to find enough people willing to do it. You see ten percent of all first year teachers quit before their first year is over, sixty percent of teachers don't last five years, and there is always a shortage of teachers. Now he was sure to mention that teachers get summers off, though he left out that many teachers are required to take classes (that they pay for) or attend unpaid conferences during their free time but again why would he?

You see I can't blame Mr. Smith for not caring, after all if the state of Florida which is fiftieth in per pupil spending, and as costs have gone up funding has gone down, and the Jacksonville City council who has refused to fund many of the initiatives in the Jacksonville journey designed to improved education, don't care about education, why should he. Besides the thought that teachers are overpaid and under worked despite being completely false is a fairly wide spread attitude that many have. Perhaps teachers should tell people they are (classroom) managers instead, maybe then they would get some respect.

Just so he knows the reason I "whine" about education is because is I work with the most amazing teachers who everyday feel as if they are beating their heads against a wall, I "whine" about education because I see how it is and know how it can be, and finally I "whine" about education because I care about the children of Duval County, after all somebody has to, obviously he and the powers that be don't. Now you will have to excuse me, I am going to meet the rest of the teachers at the country club for some caviar and champagne.

Teaching Mr. Guerrieri
Since the Folio recently published my article about my first, less than fulfilling day back to school not only did I get lots of feedback some positive some negative from several of my school peers but I also received numerous notes from other teachers in the area. They ran the gambit from how to improve my situation, warnings to be careful and stories about problems they have experienced at their schools. I just hope people who read the article didn't miss my point; you see I wasn't just complaining.

First I want to say, the next lazy undedicated teacher I meet may be my first, as a group I believe teachers are hardworking and dedicated and some of the most admirable people around. I am also very appreciative of my principal who I think is a good man and the opportunity he has given me, and I am grateful to the Duval county school district who helps keep food on my table and a roof over my head. With that being said I also believe good people can have honest disagreements and I disagree with a lot of the things that go on.

I am frustrated but more so than with my situation but with the state of education in general. It seems to me in our quest to improve things instead of making them better; we are ripping the heart and soul out of teaching. Seemingly every year we come up with new cure alls for education, Americas Choice, declaring majors, adding algebra 2 to the graduation requirements, magnet schools, charter schools, school vouchers, small learning communities, access points and the list goes on and on. It's maddening and frustrating because in doing so we seem to be ignoring the most obvious and simplest of answers: that's restoring discipline to the classroom and empowering teachers.

Did you know most teachers are now given detailed curriculums and told they must adhere to learning schedules? What do you think this does to a teacher's creativity, initiative and flexibility? Where it might not destroy them; it definitely puts a huge dent in them. The reason I believe this has happened is the F-CAT. The powers that be don't think teachers on their own have made the gains with their students they think we should have. The thing is if you believe the F-CAT tests knowledge or intelligence you are wrong, all it really tests is if you know the 45 particular questions asked.

At a recent F-CAT talk I asked "so do you want me to give an overview of a lot of different subjects to my students (kind of what a survey course is designed to do), or do you want me to in depth cover a few subjects and hope that is what is covered on the test?" to which our facilitator replied good question. Despite the answer I have to tell you I thought she did a really good job. As much of the science department sat around complaining about the F-CAT (me included), how it was unfair and didn't do a very good job testing our students, she matter of factly told us, "hey this is how it is, this is the reality of teaching and where we find ourselves, if you want to change something, get on a committee somewhere, but if not suck it up." Even though this was harsh it was a bit of fresh air, so often the administration and district try and sugar coat things. They act like true believers as they present the next panacea to fix educations problems. They do this while we in the trenches, the people with the most relevant experience, who might have an idea what's best or work, just shake our heads, thinking to ourselves, "What the heck is going on?"

I am not saying just give the teachers a room and a book and tell them to go at it. No I believe there must be accountability, there must be standards and there must be an assessment tool, what I am saying is the tool we use now is unfair and not reflective of many of our students abilities. You hear all the time that so many of our students can't read or write which sadly is true but that shouldn't be confused with them being stupid. But since that is the case then maybe it is those skills not the test we should be concentrating on teaching them.

I also believe that the one sure fire way to help improve education is to bring discipline back to our classroom. I am not talking about the little stuff, because everyday teachers in our toughest schools ignore so much, a curse word here, a moment of disrespect there, we have just come to accept it as part of our day, and I am not talking about most students as the vast majority want to be there so they can learn. What I am talking about is that five percent of students who don't seem to be interested in learning, all they seem to care about is causing problems; it's these students who are responsible for most of the major disruptions and dangerous situations, it's these students who must be dealt with. When I hear about criminals in the news I often wonder about how they did in school and if they were behavior problems. I would bet many of them were and I would also bet the consequences they received, if any, were ineffective.

Think about this, what would happen at your work if for an hour a day, every day you couldn't do anything because your computer was down or you were forced to sit idle waiting for somebody else to arrive? If this happened everyday productivity would be crippled. Well this is what happens in our public schools. If a teacher corrects behavior or disciplines children, just ten percent of the time that means teachers loose one in ten days of teaching and students, your students loose one in ten days of learning, and again most of this is caused by just a few students.

My classes are typically a little rowdy; as I like extended question and answer sessions. I think kids enjoy it more when they are involved in discussions and they learn most effectively by doing, that's figuring out the answer rather than me giving it to them. I rarely have assigned seats and raising your hand as long as your not talking over someone else isn't always necessary. Furthermore I have a high tolerance for kids being kids but despite this I am routinely blocked in my efforts to teach by a disruptive, disrespectful few. These are the same ones that disrupt their other classes, or other teachers lament if little Johnny or Suzy wasn't here I could teach, or they celebrate when they are absent. I believe if you threaten a school board employee you should be gone, if you are constant disruption you should be gone, and if you are violent you should be gone, sent to a place with a very restrictive environment until we can stop or control the behavior.

I have an ideal, instead of coming up with a new strategy to save education only to replace it a few years later, lets try this, lets empower our teachers letting them be creative and flexible, lets involve them and give them the resources they need to be successful and then lets back them up in the classroom making sure they and their students have a safe productive learning environment. There is a saying, "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity" which means, all things being equal the simplest solution is the best.

I write about teaching all the time, not because I hate it but because I enjoy it and I recognize the value and importance of a good education. I think teaching is like dating someone you really like and care about a lot but who you have problems with. Sometimes you want to hug them and other times you want to push them away. Sometimes they make you so happy you feel like you might burst and other times so frustrated you want to tear your hair out. You care so much you don't want to quit, you desperately want to make it work, to succeed, but in the end you feel like you just need a little help.

I write about education not to just complain but because I don't want to be on a committee somewhere but I would like to make a difference, and I write about education because I believe our system needs a little help.

My first day back
I and nine thousand other school teachers headed back to school and I hope a lot of them had a better first day than I did, though for more than a few I suspect it was similar. I am sure many of us woke up with some of the same feelings; sadness that the summer had come to an end, excitement for what the new school year can bring and pessimism that it will be more of the same.

A week ago I was informed I was switching from what I taught last year to science, that's right I wasn't asked I was told. Now I understand the need to be flexible, that sometimes we have to sacrifice what we want for the needs of the school, and to be honest in a way I took them switching me as a compliment, but still it's nice to be asked. In my two years and one day at my current school, I have been assigned to teach history, reading, learning strategies, now science and a whole host of different ESE classes, how many others can say they have been asked to teach so many and varied subjects. I feel like I have become there go to guy when they can't find somebody to take a class, though sucker could be another word I could use.

To get ready, the night before school started I watched Shaun of the Dead it's one of my favorite movies and it really gets me going. A lot of people think it's just that little British zombie comedy but in actuality it is so much more. To me it's primarily about an ordinary guy faced with adversity, he is thrust into a situation where the only thing he has control of is his next more, which could be a definition of teaching. I was reminded of Shaun my first day when I told a fellow teacher, it's tough to loose my teaching assignment, my planning period and my room all in one day, but in a way that's what happened.

Then this morning to my horror I woke up to Fox and friends, one of the hosts was saying something outrageous and presenting his opinion as fact and this was enough to jolt me out of my slumber. I reached for my glasses which I wear to bed but couldn't find them. They are usually within arms length but it's not uncommon for them to be swallowed by the bed. I removed all the bedding and felt around for them kind of life a blind turtle might until I brushed up against them.

I shrugged my shoulders and wandered across the room to investigate what happened to my clock, the night before was the first time I had set it in months, so I was a little concerned that it had not gone off. Now I am not sure what happened, perhaps my house shifted, I slept walk or gremlins infiltrated but my clock had mysteriously come unplugged. Not a big deal I thought as I still had a half hour to get to work. I showered shaved and did another thing that starts with the letter S, dressed and was out the door. It was here that I discovered a minor victory; I just had no ideal at the time that it would be my last one of the day.

The garbage man hadn't yet arrived and even though I was running a bit late I figured I had time to take it out, now it's true some dog or creature of the night had chewed a hole in one of the bags and I didn't notice until it had spilled on the ground, but that's okay because within minutes I had cleaned it up washed my hand sand was on my way. I even had a slight smile on my face, but like victories this may have been the last one of the day.

It definitely didn't last long as shortly after I arrived I was told I would have to vacate my nice big room, for one of the, and knowing my luck and how the day was going , a portable filled with mold and asbestos or perhaps a combination of the two I'll call masbestold. It seemed really arbitrary and unnecessary the move, which would soon become the buzz words of the day. My neighbor was to move into my room, and I was to move to the portable so the school nurse could move into my neighbor's room. I wondered out loud why we didn't just move the nurse into the empty room, but I was told that would make to much sense.
Later when I asked why and gave what I thought was a reasonable argument for staying put I was rebuked like Oliver was when he asked for some more porridge, and I thought so much for my belief that reasonable people will listen to reasonable arguments theory.

But at this point of the day I didn't have much time to think about it at as our beginning of the year staff meeting was about to start. To put it nicely for the most part staff meetings are a waste of time for my department, the ESE department as all they talk about is the f-cat and we don't teach kids that take the f-cat and this meeting was no exception.

Last year we went from a D to an F but as my principal pointed out we only missed a D by five points which I guess means we got a f plus, right, right…crickets. He then went on to explain the new changes, about how the district had developed a curriculum for all the classes and we were now expected to follow it and we were expected to remain on pace. Though a few moments later he told us to not leave the low achieving children behind to make sure they stayed caught up. With the stay on pace and work with the children no matter how slow they learn conundrum whirling around in my head his presentation continued.

At no time did he mention what I and many teachers feel is the number one problem facing not only our school but the district as well and that's the lack of discipline among the children. So often you hear a teacher lament if only little Suzy or little Johnny weren't here I could teach. Do you want to know a big reason why f-cat scores are low, well it's because teachers have to spend so much of their time dealing with an unruly few rather than teaching? Do you want to know why so many teachers are unsatisfied it's because if we do write them up they just return a little while later angrier after having received the meekest of consequences as a bonus we are often accused of not being able to manage our classes, if we write to many referals.

Instead of talking about tangible things that might help our school, he talked about a web site which would have the new curriculums that we were required to follow, and that death cry you just heard was teacher creativity. He also brought up the mantra; we had to do whatever it took to make children successful. Now he didn't say it, but it was definitely implied that didn't include making teachers happy or disciplining unruly students.

Eventually it ended and I was very proud that I managed to hold in my tears but before I left I had a little business to take care of. I said to my lead teacher, "hey I know I have been switched to science but I don't know what sciences I am supposed to teach yet." She in her matter of fact way said, "Biology to the ninth graders, Earth space science to the tenth graders, physical science to the eleventh graders and health to the 12th graders." I gulped as up to that moment I had no ideal I would be teaching four different subjects. I relied "I, um, don't have any materials or books". To which she responded "oh just look around for some." I shook my head as I now had two conundrums floating around in my head, the one mentioned above and the new, teach four unfamiliar subjects without materials one. I also thought, I had better get on it, as soon as I pack up my old room, move to my new one and set it up that is, not that I had enough time to do either properly.

I headed back to my room, err my old room feeling a little defeated, thankfully I had my colleagues there to cheer me up. There was the one who on the brink of tears told me about a paper work snafu that was keeping her in teacher limbo. There was the other teacher who told me I was going to be teaching exactly what she taught two years ago and requested to teach this year. Since I have no special desire to teach science (I know Pluto is no longer a planet but other than that I am a bit weak in the area) I considered seeing if we could switch but since her planning period was first (and it's not just a coincidence it rhymes with worse and coincidently mine as well and for the second year in a row) and she would be teaching her five different preps in three different classrooms, I just patted her on the back, finally having met somebody who was having a worse day than me.

But as it turns out me and her weren't the only ones having less than fulfilling first days. As through out the day, most of which were unsolicited, I heard story after story about how this teacher and that teacher was dissatisfied with their teaching assignment or our latest (after a long list of discarded ones) experiment to save education (small learning communities). I know it would be impossible to make everyone happy, but with each additional story I started to come to the conclusion they weren't trying to make anybody happy.

Eventually my day came to an end and feeling thoroughly defeated and beat up I headed home as frustrated with teaching as I had ever been. You see this is my eighth year as a teacher and third year at my school and this practically makes me an old timer. Sixty percent of all teachers in Duval County have taught five years or less and the turnover at my school has to be over thirty percent in my three years. But here I was feeling as if the totem poll had landed on me and that was right after the short bus ran me over as I wondered how long or what I had to do to get a break.

It's like the administration just doesn't seem to get it. How are unenthused teachers going to do a good job? How are teachers that don't feel appreciated going to do a good job? How are teachers that don't feel backed up going to do a good job? How are teachers without materials expected to do a good job? How are teachers that get rebuked for asking why going to do a good job? How are teachers who are teaching subjects they are uninterested in going to do a good job? How are…?

Sorry about that I could go on and on, and as I sit here my shoulders slumped I can't help but wonder now how day two is going to be after such an auspicious beginning. You will forgive me if my enthusiasm has waned some, a feeling I suspect I share with more than a few others as well.

A heads up to first year teachers
Did you know that more than half of all teachers in Duval County have less than five years experience, that's to say as a profession here in Jacksonville we have a considerably high turnover rate. As I head back to school and meet all the first years I can't help but think about all the things they are going to go through and the first year teacher who last year got in trouble for duct taping one of her students to a chair.

That's right last year we had a first year teacher suspended for ten days for duct-taping a student to a desk. If you don't remember a math teacher at Kirby-Smith middle school reportedly duct-taped a student to his chair and then gagged him. The article in the Times Union reported that the first year teacher warned the student to stop talking during class and when he wouldn't, first taped his leg to his desk, then taped his hands to his head and finally covered his mouth. On the surface this sounds absurd, but sadly I can see how it might take place or something similar might take place again with this year's new crop of teachers.

How you ask? How does a teacher go from giving a warning right to duct-taping a kid to a desk, well let me tell you.

The first year teacher shows up bright eyed and filled with optimism, ready to change the world, and this is an incredible feeling to have, though it is fleeting as many first year teachers have to go into survival mode. They try all sorts of methods to get the children to take care of their responsibilities, which are simple enough, come to class, listen and learn; First they come in as a strict disciplinarian, as this is the standard advice given to first year teachers. They are told to come in tough and then they can ease up as the year progresses. If this fails with some students, the first year teacher often reverts to being a social worker, trying to figure out why they act the way they do and tries to help solve their problems, then with some students they try to become their friend, figuring if they were friends, the students would treat them better, that's treat them with some with dignity and respect. They do this because it takes different strategies to get through to different students.

And for the most part with one of these strategies they are successful, as ninety percent of all students want to be there, they want to learn, or at worse are followers, which means if there ring leader isn't there they fall in line with the children who do want to learn. After a while it's just that ten percent of students that no matter what they try to do continue to cause them problems.

They talks to their mentors, as every first year teacher is assigned one, and their colleagues and department head as well. They ask what they can do to get these last few students in line. The first year teacher laments when the unruly students are absent, "it's dreamy, I can actually teach". They veterans look at the rookies with sympathetic eyes but they also have problems of their own. Just survive the first year; we tell them, it gets easier. But how do I get through to them they ask, we shrug our shoulders and suggest, try and get the parents involved maybe they can help somehow, but in our hearts we know they are fighting an unwinnable battle with some students.

So they call the parents trying to set up parent teacher conferences, to discuss the child's performance both academically and behaviorally, because often poor performances in these areas go hand in hand. Some of the parents can't be bothered figuring it was the teachers problem once the child came to school, others report having the same difficulties at home where they to are at a loss. The two parties might get together and try a few interventions and some students might actually turn it around, but just as often many students don't.

Backed into a corner the first year teacher writes the student up, only to find them back in class before the period is over or at best the next day and angry that they were written up, the problem begins to worsen. You see most likely the child received no meaningful consequences for their behavior, and thus continues it. The teacher writes the child up again and again the child is back in class the next day, except this time the teacher is paid a visit by an administrator or called to the office. Why can't you control this child, they are asked, they explain all that they have done and how none of it has worked. The first year teacher is then told, that referrals are only to be written for the most extreme circumstances and then only after every alternative has been exhausted. Most likely they aren't given any new alternatives as they slump their shoulders and heads back to the classrooms.

But now it's on, in the mind of the student, because they have been written up twice if not more times and received no meaningful consequences for their actions, they feel invincible, instead of just being disruptive, now they are defiant and disrespectful to. Most first year teachers are at their wits end, in college they talk about the triple D student but until you are in a classroom with one, you can't be truly prepared. The first year teacher doesn't know what to do, they have done everything they can think of, they have used what they learned in college, asked their colleagues for advice, tried to get the parents involved and then finally written the unruly child up only to see them not disciplined and quickly returned to their room, they are lost, they see the duct-tape on the desk and…

Like I said I can't condone and I definitely wouldn't suggest duct taping a student to a desk and then gagging them, though I can empathize with her and empathize with what a first year teacher goes through. Often they take the first job offered to them, and the more challenging schools usually have the most openings. They are given mountains of extra paperwork to review as they learn the schools and districts policies and procedures and then they are required to either start an incredibly time consuming teacher induction program (TIP) or an alternative certification program. They often have no ideal what questions they should ask and most likely spend half the year if not longer waiting for help that never comes, I know I did.

I wonder what would happen if we gave our first year teachers a better chance for success, if we didn't place many of them in the toughest schools, or load up their classes like they were ten year veterans? What would happen if we didn't encumber them with lots of extra paperwork or force them to go to workshop after workshop or take class after class? I imagine we wouldn't have the first year turn over that we have, those teachers that make it through a first year that is, and I bet we wouldn't have any duct-tape discipline episodes either.

The first year of teaching is like being thrown to the wol… err, um, the first year of teaching, even if you have a teaching degree (all theory) and have interned (pretty much the same as being a teachers assistant) is the equivalent of having never swam and being thrown into the deep end of a pool, a lot of people don't make it out.

Don't worry though friends, if you make it through the first year it gets easier, not much but definitely easier.

Leave some behind
I and nine thousand of my fellow teachers returned to work, and many of us were filled with some of the same emotions: sadness that the summer had come to an end, excitement for what the new school year can bring and pessimism that it will be more of the same.

When I first became a teacher nine years ago, after a decade working in special needs camps, I thought I was going to change the world, that every student who came threw my classroom would leave not only educated but a better human being as well. However the sad fact is some of my students weren't just learning they were teaching to, and what they taught me was, you can't save them all.

Way to many students come to school with no pretense of learning, they come to be with their friends, they come because society tells them they have to and more than a few come to see what trouble they can find and these few bad apples are spoiling the whole bunch. You hear it everyday, in the offices and teachers lounges of schools, if only Johnny wasn't in my classroom I could teach. If only little Suzy would stop disturbing class the other kids could learn, I had a good day today because so and so was absent, I felt like a teacher. If that one bad apple was gone the whole class could thrive.

Every year you see the same students in the hall after the tardy bell rings, they aren't carrying books and they aren't in a hurry to get anywhere; then when you ask them where they are supposed to be, they inform you often with the word fuck added in somewhere, that it's none of your business, well I say enough is enough because if not now, if not this year then when? It's time we took back from our school system from those unruly few that have hijacked it.

If you don't believe me, try this parents wait a week or two after school begins and then go ahead and ask your little Suzy and/or your little Johnny, if there is a student or two in their class that the teacher always has to discipline, and then ask them if the same student picks on their classmates or does their work, if you don't already know, I believe you will be unpleasantly surprised.

And now parents let me ask you a couple of questions, at your place of employment are you routinely threatened and harassed, and what would you do if you were, and your bosses did nothing about it, would you show up the next day? Also do you think this would be a good way to run a business; well sadly that's how some of our schools are run, and it's one of the reasons that our school system is suffering.

Did you know over half of the districts teachers have five years experience teaching or less and two of the things that make teachers leave the field so quickly are unruly students and lack of support from our administration when it comes to discipline. Teachers for the most part only write students up as a last resort when every other option has failed, but there is nothing more defeating than to see this same student returned to our classrooms a few moments later with no consequences, now something may have happened but for a consequence to be effective it must be meaningful, and what we do to the kids is not meaningful. To make matters worse often we receive visits from our administration wondering why we have written the same student up several times, instead of supporting us they question our teaching methods when the blaring reason we have done this is they haven't done anything.

Furthermore what type of message does this send to the child, well I'll tell you, that's they can do whatever they want whenever they want to and they can then expect no real punishment. I often wonder how many times these criminals we read about in the news or see on television were in trouble while they were in school or what punishments they received, I would bet the answers would be often and little.

One of the reasons discipline is so bad is it's nearly impossible to remove a student to an alternative school unless they are caught with a gun or physically assault a teacher, no matter how often they are in trouble. The thing is by letting them stay with just the meekest of consequences after they misbehave over and over is just courting tragedy. Do we need a student to be shot or a teacher to be beat up before we do anything? Instead of being reactive it's time our school system stepped up and was proactive. If you get in two fights in a year you should be gone. If you get written up five times in nine weeks you should be gone. If you miss more than nine days in nine weeks without a doctor's note you should be gone, if you are late fifteen times in nine weeks you should be gone, if you get arrested while not at school for violence, stealing or drugs you should be gone, and if you threaten a teacher or school board employee once, and just once is all it should take, you should be gone.

I and many of my colleagues are tired of ignoring bad behavior because we figure nothing will be done. We are tired of being looked at in an accusatory matter when we attempt to impose discipline. We are tired of not being backed up and seeing the same student returned to our classrooms with no consequences, but most of all we are tired of not being able to teach.

You see we spend so much of our time on the five percent of students who create ninety-five percent of the problems, we have lost focus on those students who want to be there and want to learn, and sadly many of these students are falling through the cracks, because they aren't getting the services and attention they deserve.

These disruptive students are a cancer to our school system, and when a body has a cancer we don't say, it didn't mean it, lets give it a chance, then another chance and another, we don't ask if we think it's being serious, no what we do is cut it out, and we do so because that's the only way we can save the body, and it may be the only way we can save our school system to.

Mr. Superintendent I call on you to get your teachers back, to make sure we have a safe working environment and to reinstall discipline into our schools. You want f-cat scores to go up, you want student achievement to improve lets try that. No child left behind should be changed to; we're leaving about five percent of them behind until they shape up. By doing so we can help make sure the ninety-five percent of students who want to learn, who want to achieve can be as successful as possible.

Battling dragons
I was yelled at by a colleague today and it had nothing to do with the length of a nose hair or that my shirt was on inside out, the things that usually gets me yelled at. I tried to take it with a grain of salt because people at my work are stressed. At my school teachers are overworked and have so many unders the rest of my blog could be a seven page list of them, but despite this I don't think adults should ever yell at adults unless it's something along the lines of heads up, which of course we all know means hey put your head down something's coming at your noggin' and sadly because of her dizzying argument I felt like I took a few hits there.

Her and another colleague were quizzing me on my I.E.P.s or the individual education plans that every special ed. student requires, I have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do them in, but despite these fats I guess I have the unnerving habit of remaining calm while having a smile on my face. They asked over and over how and why I was where I was at this point of the IEP process, to which I calmly replied I may be doing them a little different than you, I don't plan to have a whole lot of meetings (I left out lazy and procrastination, figuring those points were given). Things at this point started to get a little negative but I decided to explain how I planned to avoid having meetings with my parents, partly because I believe the way I do it is more honest and favors the parents more than the way most people do it. I hoped maybe they could learn form me.

Well I started, when I write the I.E.P.s I am going to do it with the kids, and then after I am done I am going to print them up and send them home. I'll tell the parents if they like them they can sign them and send them back, they can have me make changes and I'll start over, or if they want we'll have a meeting which is their right should they choose to do so. I teach in a high school, most parents just want to make sure their kid has an IEP, the meetings for the most part are superfluous and a lot more work, this is a universally agreed upon fact. The reasons I think my way is better, is we don't surprise the parent at the meeting with the IEP, my way they have seen it before hand, and instead of assigning a date for them to come in if they want a meeting which the vast amount won't, if they do want one we can set one up. I believe my colleagues would rather set up meetings and hope nobody attends and then just send IEP's home.

Where I didn't say this last part, the first incensed one of my colleagues, I can't believe your doing it this way; if you get caught you are going to bring scrutiny to the rest of us she bellowed. She said a lot of other things too until I told her she couldn't talk to me like I was an eighth grader, but it was "bring scrutiny to the rest us" that really caught my attention. If the way I am doing it is so wrong won't I be the one that pays the price I thought to myself, though if I have my contact attempts documented and my signatures correct then I honestly don't feel as if I am doing anything wrong and my way is better.

Also if your I.E.P.s are completely by the book what difference does it make if they undergo scrutiny, why was she so mad at me I thought, and she wasn't saying things like, oh Chris your going to get in trouble, she was saying don't bring any attention to me. I could be wrong but wasn't she being a little sanctimonious. You doing it wrong is going to bring attention to me doing it wrong and that's just wrong, was basically her yelling at me argument.

Here is the thing feel free to disagree with me, heck give me an argument I'll listen, there are so few things I am absolutely sold on, puppies are cute, the sun rises in the east and soup is good are all that really comes to mind, but don't yell at me and definitely don't make sure your main concern isn't that a third party doesn't find malfeasance with your work, those two things are really going to hurt your credibility with me.

Every day it seems I battle ignorance and apathy, toady I added sanctimony to the list, later I will be battling windmills and dragons too

I will f-ing murder you
Most of the following took place during the last thirty minutes of a fairly typical day at Ed White high school.

I will fucking murder you!!! he yelled. My eyes got real big, my head shook, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I will fucking murder you, he screamed at me again. You might ask what my offence was, how I was able to generate such anger, well I simply asked a skipping student to get where he was supposed to be. Welcome to the world of a high school teacher.

I teach a trainable mentally handicapped class at Ed White high school, wait let me rephrase that, I teach a supported academic class at Ed White high school, what the district through a memo recently renamed us, probably because they have to much free time on their hands and no other pressing matters. I try and work on life skills and subjects that are relevant to them in between battling the district over teaching Access points, the water down academics they would prefer I did. My students leave for their busses about a half hour early, I guess since they are supported academically we don't want them mingling with the non supported academically students.

Heading back to my room a regular education teacher stopped me, and asked a few questions. She has a student in her physics class that half way through the forth nine weeks has stopped doing any work and shut down. This when coupled with the fact she doesn't seem to be able to use a ruler or do simple math made the teacher think she might have trouble passing. The teacher stopped me because she new her student had an IEP or individual education plan, the document that all special education students have that tell their strengths and weaknesses and well as their priority education goals (more and more students are being mainstreamed into regular education classes) and since I am a special Ed. Teacher, she thought I might have some insight.

I told her I didn't know the student in question after all there are 350 students at Ed White receiving special education services, but I would look into it. I headed back to my classroom and loaded Encore the program that has our students IEP's on it and crossed my fingers that it would work as it is often down. Fortunately it came on and I looked the student up. What I found according to her IEP, was the girl in question was a bright and had little trouble doing her assignments though she had some language deficits. This painted a vastly different picture than the one my, at the end of her wits, colleague had painted.

I headed back to the main building, I teach in mod five, or the box, whatever is more fashionable at any given moment, to let her know what I had found out. On the way I passed a teachers assistant pushing a young lady in a wheel chair, a common occurrence here at my school, and a young man standing next to the soda machines while classes were going on. It's common to find students in the hall when they are not supposed to be but I and many other teachers have taken to ignoring them unless they are being disruptive, I mean how many battles in a day can we be expected to fight.

I was a little ways down the hall when I heard from behind, young man will you help with the door. The assistant pushing the girl was having trouble getting through and the button that opens the door automatically was on the fritz. I stopped dead in my tracks, that's after I heard the student say, fuck no I don't work here. W, Wh, Wha, What I said turning around doing a double take with my eyes. I couldn't believe it, here was this student refusing to hold open a door for a girl in a wheel chair. I got tunnel vision like what you see in the movies, I felt like I had entered an alternate reality, after a moment, my being stunned wore off and I asked, are you going to help them, I said this while motioning to the door. He looked at me and said, you work here, you fucking help them. I walked back to do so, and said, fine I'll be human, but I need you to get to where you are supposed to be. This was all it took, within seconds he was circling me with his fists raised screaming and cursing at me. I will fucking murder you he said multiple times. All because when he refused to help a physically disabled girl get through a door, I asked him to get to where he was supposed to be.

Eventually another teacher came out to see what the commotion was and for his effort was verbally abused as well, then later a dean came down and the young man left the back of the building still screaming and cursing. Wow I thought as I continued on, unsure of what I was going to do. The last time something similar happened, though not to this degree, I wrote the student up and despite the fact they got in my face and threatened me bodily harm, all he got was a two day vacation.

Undeterred I went to my colleague's classroom, the one that had questions about the ESE (exceptional student education) student in her class. I told her what I had found, and that according to the students IEP she shouldn't be having the problems that she described. The other teacher seemed defeated; I considered not telling her that for the most part IEP's are the cover the counties ass documents, and that are almost impossible to do correctly. I also considered not adding they are most likely written by incredibly overworked teachers with dozens of students on their I.E.P. caseload, that have had little training on a new system, that recently replaced another new system that doesn't always work, and as a bonus there is a good chance it was written by somebody who doesn't even know the student. Here at Ed White we often write I.E.P.s for kids we don't know, who we don't have in any of our classes, and who we don't have time to meet, which sadly makes many I.E.P.s not even worth the paper they are written on. Like I said I considered not telling her all that, but I did. For a second she looked stunned and then I thought maybe she was going to tell me, I'll fucking murder you, but she didn't, which is crazy if you think about it because I said a lot more to her than I had to the student from a few minutes prior.

After the realization that no help was coming set in she asked me what she could do. To which I replied, probably nothing about getting her moved out of your class or getting her proper disability diagnosed, the labyrinth like process takes months if not years, but if you wanted to, you could send her to my forth period class with a few worksheets, I'll put her in a corner and let her work quietly. After a moment I patted her shoulder and wandered away I felt like I had crushed her soul enough and since mine as well was feeling that way, I thought a little down time was in order.

I went to my room, turned the lights off and locked the door. I wanted to be away from everything for a bit. As I sat there I thought to myself is this what education has become, a series of one soul crushing events after another, for me, my colleagues, and for many of the students as well, don't forget the students I am forced to teach stuff they don't need and can't use, the misdiagnosed girl put in a class way over her head and the girl in the wheelchair the thug refused to help, because their souls have probably taken a few hits as well.

The next day I told some of my colleagues about the student who had threatened to. fucking murder me, though to me the craziest part of the story was how he had refused to help a girl in a wheel chair get through a door, I didn't bring up the IEP mess, they already hear about that stuff ten times a day. Independently of each other, two teachers asked me if he was: name. I told them I didn't actually know as I had never seen him before, but I would ask the dean who followed him out.

It did turn out to be the same student that two of my colleagues independently of each other thought it might be and mind you I gave no physical description, except to say the student was male. One asked me if I was going to write him up and when I told her I was unsure she became almost frantic. You have to, you have to, she cried. I wondered why she was so upset and asked what he had done to her. I seems while in her class he would often comment about her breasts out loud though he would use a different word. He also threw a fire extinguisher at another teacher, hit a P.E. coach with a tennis racket, threatened to blow up the school and well I stopped her because it seemed like she was just getting started. Okay, Okay I said I'll write him up, but to be honest I am not sure what good it will do.

Now as I sit here staring at the referral, ignoring the mountains of mostly unnecessary paperwork that I have yet to do, faced with the realization I am teaching students things they that have no practical purpose for, sickened by the truth that numerous students are misdiagnosed and misplaced, slapped in the face by the fact things seem to be getting worse not better and just a little scared because a student threatened to fucking murder me, I can't help but think what good I am doing, heck what good is the whole education system doing.

One too many
If you have been following the news from Tallahassee you know it's not good. Tax revenues have fallen way short and instead of closing tax loop holes for big businesses or asking the rich to pay their fair share our leaders who strangely are officiated with big business and for the most part are rich have decided to cut the budget instead. Program after program is being forced to reduce and the ones that help people or keep them safe is no exception. Everything from health care for children, to prisons, along with pretty much everything else will feel the crunch. Maybe most importantly included in these reductions is the amount of money we will be spending on education. This means schools which are already being asked to do more and more will now be given less and less to do so.

School districts including our own are facing tighter and tighter budgets, well ladies and gentlemen in these bare bones times I have the solution, and before you make a snap judgment either way please hear me out, I believe you will find my logic and figures sound. The thing I think we should do is go ahead and cancel twelfth grade, besides it's a fact that by the time most students get there they pretty much know it all anyways, or at the very least they think they do.

Think about it for a second, think about when you were in school, twelfth grade is pretty much a review anyways. I learned about the revolutionary way back in the third grade and then relearned it every year afterwards including the twelfth grade. I learned about the cell in sixth grade and then every year afterwards including the twelfth and I learned about verbs in the forth and was still learning about them eight years later. Most of twelfth grade except for advanced math's and sciences is quite frankly review, and here is the thing if you don't know about, no taxation without representation, mitosis, and what a verb is, well I don't think one more year is going to help you. As for taking the advanced classes like physics and calculus in high school why, why are we learning them there anyway, charge kids to learn them in college. That's where you should be learning them anyway. Nerds go off to college if you want "to get some vanced learning done" because we can't afford to teach it high schools any more.

Also have you seen some of our seniors schedules, many have a pair of electives and then a couple classes they have taken already, except now western civ. is European history and biology has been replaced with oceanography. As a senior at Ed White and it was a number of years ago, I had two gyms and home economics. My point is for a substantial number of seniors their twelfth grade year is one where they just go through the motions, they are here just because they are supposed to be not because it helps them. Why not let them get jobs or start college.

If we got rid of twelfth grade our young adults could now determine if they want to enter the job force or continue their school, but regardless of their decision they can start earning money one year sooner. This will pump some much needed tax money into our starved state coffers. Remember it's the lack of money that got us in the position to begin with, and if we start now maybe our children's children can get that twelfth year of school back.

Okay say you're not sold on the ideal of just canceling the year, well what about letting students who have a 3.0 or better average, 9th through 11th grade being exempt from having to attend twelfth, think about how harder will kids work if they know they can get a year off, my bet is a lot of them will work a whole heck of a lot harder. If you don't like that what about offering students at the end of eleventh grade a test that would make them exempt from having to attend, the next year. There is a precedent for this, before I could go to my junior and senior years of college I had to past the C.L.A.S.T. which I believe stood for college's last attempt to steal hhmm, err, the money as we had to pay to take it. Heck there is another way the state can earn some more cash as well, especially if students have to fail it and take it a few times.

Now if you are a stickler for the time we can always make it up by adding an hour to each school day or three weeks to the end of the year, this will ensure students get the same amount of time in school even without a twelfth grade. But please we can't educate our kids in eleven years we really need twelve, how many of you have been to a day long training where you thought "man they really could have done that in fifteen minutes."

We will need fewer and fewer teachers along with support staff as well and since schools districts routinely replace about a fifth of their teachers each year we won't have to replace as many, this to will save more money. Look at that we are saving money and making money all in one fell swoop, and please don't get me started by saying we are doing it at the expense of our children, to say that we would have to actually care about our children first, not just pretend we do.

Because let's face it Florida only says they care about their children and education, if you are being honest you know the exact opposite is true. Florida is in the bottom twenty percent of the nation for what it spends on children and that was before this latest round of budget cuts. We don't pay teachers a decent wage and as a consequence many are forced to leave after just a few years, in effect replacing inexperienced teachers with inexperienced teachers. We are cutting middle school athletics, after school programs and the arts as well as other programs designed to help students succeed because they are to expensive I guess success does have a price and apparently it is a price we are not willing to pay. Furthermore we have a system in place that very few people like or think is effective where we just teach a test for the vast majority of the year, and it's a test twelfth graders don't have to take, which means the crazy thing is, we to in a way figure that already know it all.

Finally how much worse could it be, I think pretty much all our legislators went to twelfth grade, and it really hasn't seemed to help us out that much. Heck now that I think about it, when talking about our legislature I would settle for somebody, anybody who seemed to know anything, let alone it all.
An educational train wreck

As a boy I used to love the Adams family television show, their was just something about their off filter brand of antics that made me giggle. Then as an adult I liked the films as well but that was mostly because I suspected Christine Ricci would one day become a hottie.

The thing I liked best was when Gomez would play with his model trains. His eyes would get big and he seemed almost sexually aroused as they would fly around the tracks. The trains would run through incredibly elaborate miniature setups. They would run through towns, around mountains, and over bridges, building up steam as they went, going faster and faster until they would crash into each other, creating one stupefying, monumental disaster after another.

Thus with my introduction complete I welcome you to 2008's state of educational affairs in Florida. Playing the roll of Gomez the mad conductor is our state department of education. Playing the roll of the trains on a collision course is two of the biggest scourges to education around, day light savings and the FCAT. Finally playing the toys, are Florida's teachers and students.

In case you didn't know it, next week is both daylight savings and not the good kind, but the loose an hour of sleep kind and that coincides with the test that is going to determine the fate of tens of thousands of students and more than a few teachers. That screeching, smashing noise you just heard were these two trains crashing into each other, it won't be until the smoke clears that we see the complete ramifications of the damage.

In case you come from one of those enlightened advanced countries that do not take part of the cosmic jokes known as daylights savings or the FCAT let me explain them to you.

Years ago a very evil, bitter man, who hated everybody and everything including came up with an ideal designed to make everybody as bitter and unhappy as he was, because quite rankly that's what bitter and unhappy people do, it is their sole purpose in life. So he manipulated some statistics, badly paraphrased a joke Thomas Jefferson told one hundred and fifty years before and convinced an assembly of not very bright people, sometimes we call them the United States Congress to go along with his plan and thus day light savings was born. And starting Sunday when we loose that first hour of sleep and are bodies are thrown off kilter for at least a little while most people will hate puppies and become as bitter and angry as him, I know I will, damn puppies. The origins of the FCAT are very similar.

The FCAT may have had a more noble beginning, but like me at happy hour it has quickly spiraled out of control. It was to suppose to be used as an assessment tool, to evaluate where Florida's students stood academically; in short it was designed as something to assist education. Unfortunately it has become education. Teachers now just teach one subject and that's the test, and how students do on the test not how they do in their classes has become the one determining factor whether they are promoted or not. The test has become so huge and all encompassing it also lets us know what a schools grade is, though the formula it uses would make Einstein blush and is only surpassed in complexity but something that is absurdly complex, the way girls minds work comes to mind.

Daylight savings starts Sunday and this discombobulates even the most undiscombulatable, and the FCAT starts Tuesday, though the stress about the FCAT started way back in August. I have an ideal, lets disrupt students and teachers sleep schedules, lets make sure their crankiness and agitation levels are increased and then lets give a them test which determines their fate, because in effect that is what Gomez, err the Florida department of education has done.

I might sound a little critical of the state and I probably should have let you know, there are no calendars and Tallahassee, nope none. This coupled with the fact that day lights' saving was just created about a week ago really should absolve them of any responsibility. By the way that is the definition of the FCAT vocabulary word sarcasm, though incompetent and clusterfuck would also work.

I am sure they have reasons for doing it this way, for jeopardizing many of our children's and teachers' futures, because that is what they have done, jeopardized futures. If a student fails the FCAT or a teacher's students fail, there are repercussions, teachers can loose bonuses or even jobs, and students can fail a grade, that's loose a year of their life. We need to make sure we have time to grade everything they will say, even though this years school year ends three weeks later than it has in the past; we have to make up for our mistakes last year when we made certain parts of the test to easy (google it folks). We have added serpentine like components to the grading scale which we have to figure out as well. We have too many other things we have to do, one of which is to count all the money you are giving us. These are just some of their excuses.

I think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I am opened minded to flying saucers but until I am getting probed on one that's all I will be and my beliefs' in Bigfoot the Abominable Snowman, the Chupacabra and the Loc Ness monster waiver from time to time, this means in the end analysis I don't know about those things, but what I am convinced of is the FCAT is not so much about testing and helping out our kids, and this is the consensus held by the vast majority of educators, it is about lining the pockets of the rich and one rich family in particular. The company that Jeb Bush and the state of Florida picked to supply, regulate and grade the FCAT which was needed because George W. Bush and the federal government passed no the No Child Left Behind statues is called the College Board Press, though some people might know it better as Neil Bush's company. Holy nepotism, favoritism and hand caught in the till Batman. Holy students and the whole education system suffering so one family can get rich, err, richer Batman. Holly sh*t Batman!!!

Come on now can't we at least pretend it's about the kids. Can't we just pretend they are what's important? Can't we? Please can't we? Pretty please…

You know what the worse part is, and its not needlessly loosing an hour of sleep, and it's not even this avalanche of educational stupidity that the FCAT has become nope, it's that nobody really seems to care. We shrug our shoulders and say what can you do and then we do nothing, this despite the fact we all think the system is ridiculous, the FCAT a travesty and daylight savings is outdated. We don't try and change it we just accept it, and sadly I think that is the real lesson we are teaching.

The economics of teaching
According to a recent article published in the Florida Times Union, one out of nine teachers is brand new this year. That means they have never taught before. In addition, according to our Superintendent five out of nine teachers have four years or less teaching experience. Nothing determines the success of a community as much as a quality education and I am incredibly concerned about these numbers. For any business, these statistics would indicate a staggering turnover rate. I am not saying experience is the one determining factor in the quality of our children's education; however, I am saying experience definitely helps.

I believe the number one reason teachers leave the field of education is the lack of support from the administration when dealing with unruly children. I can not emphasize more and I will say it till I am blue in the face. Ten percent of children take up ninety percent of a teacher's time and energy and not in a positive way. This leads to many children who need just a little extra help to fall through the cracks. And so many teachers run from the classroom ripping out their hair. The level of disrespect coming from some of these kids is unbelievable. I think we're hired to be responsible for them, because their parents can't do anything with them, and the juvenile justice system had had its budget whacked too.

So, here's the lowly paid teachers on the front lines of solving one of society's largest problems. But what is the value of an education... how can we teach that with a straight face while at the same time many of us are wondering how we're going to pay both our mortgage and our student loans?

This brings me to the second reason I believe many teachers leave the field, and plainly put, it's all about the money. Teachers get paid on a step system. Salaries are based on how many years they have of experience teaching. I am on step seven because this is my seventh year working for the district. Quite frankly, in today's economy the money is not that great.

First year teachers start at thirty-seven thousand dollars. But compare that to the national average of what people with bachelor's degrees make according to the US Census bureau in 2005 and we're far behind $51,206 dollars. Teachers with bachelor's degrees on the current pay scale are not scheduled to receive a salary of 51,206 dollars, well almost that amount anyway, until they are twenty years into their careers.

Now if I had a master's degree (which would cost about $20,000 in tuition) I could expect to make that amount after 19 years. However, the national average for people with advanced degrees is over seventy-four thousand a year. That national average salary for 2005 isn't even on the Duval County Teacher salary chart; no teacher in Duval county no matter how long they teach or how educated they are, or how many rewards they receive will ever make that amount.

Furthermore our yearly increases do not keep up with inflation. After one year, the first year teachers raise is less than one percent or about 20 bucks a month. In Jacksonville inflation is currently about seven percent, which means second year teachers have about seven percent less spending money, and then this problem just snowballs. Teachers are annually crippled by inflation, because teachers' salary increases are so minuscule. Most teachers stay less than five years because often they can't afford to stay any longer. Not only does each year, their checks don't go as far, but who wants to work at a place where after five years due to inflation your actual buying power has decreased by ten or more percent.

The newspaper today had an article about budget cuts. One of the areas scheduled to be cut is supplies. The district pays for supplies! This was news to me. At the beginning of the year, I spent about two hundred and fifty dollars to outfit my room and this was generously refunded to me by the teacher lead money. Since then, I would say I spend on average about twenty-five dollars a week on things for my room. This is money which will never be refunded, and I consider myself frugal when I compare myself to many other teachers. Then there's the kid who has forgotten his or her lunch money again, or doesn't have a winter coat and guess who finances that? Usually it's the teacher. Continuing education, recertification, teaching materials and so much more each year also bite into our annually shrinking pay.

Our Superintendent has said through these next budget cuts he is hopeful that he can maintain the present level of teacher pay and benefits. I am confident his recent massive raise is not in any danger. Or the generous salary earned by the School Board and other school administrative officials, when I say we don't go into teaching to be rich I obviously just mean most of us. Here is the thing unless Mr. Pratt-Daniels wants to continue with the massive hemorrhage of turnover in teachers he had better do better than try to keep the status quo.

I have sent him and school board literally dozens of ideas designed to increase teacher compensation. My plan is basic. It does not give teachers more actual money but it does have their buying power increased. Basically, teachers would be eligible for various employee discounts through out town. My selling point was: What corporation or business would not want nine thousand new customers and the prestige of saying they support local education in their advertisements and literature? I have heard nothing back. You would think in these difficult times the administration would want suggestions and ideas from anyone and everyone. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case.

Even if they flat out hated my ideas there are so many things our superintendent and the school board could be doing. All I hear about is cutting this and cutting that. I am not sure if they were elected to look at a spreadsheets bottom lines and say; "Let's get rid of this and that." I thought they were voted in to make things better.

Here is a free one Mr. Superintendent and school board! Please go meet with out elected officials in Washington and have them propose teachers be exempt from the federal income tax. A huge segment of the population believes the IRS and the income tax is already on the way out anyway. Let's get ahead of this. For that matter let's have police, fireman, other first responders and our military forces also be exempt from paying federal income taxes as well. I believe if you are going to commit your life to helping society, society at least should pay you a wage which allows you to pay your bills, which allows you to live.

I know in these economic times, everyone feels the pinch. But if the extra five thousand dollars taken out for taxes is returned to me it is not going to make me rich. It would be the difference in having a savings account and not having one. It would be the difference between teachers' paying for emergencies with their money rather than their credit cards. It will be the difference between me and many others staying or leaving teaching. And wanting to make a difference is what brought us here in the first place.

My first classroom
My first classroom consisted of my assistant Bonnie, eight, eight year old autistic boys, four of which I affectionately called poopers and myself, we were quite the rogues gallery.

Before I was a teacher I had spent a year as a social worker and six years working at special needs camps here in Florida and across the country. When I wasn't working at camp I would take classes here and there and after a while kicking and screaming I graduated, though I didn't graduate with a teaching degree. I graduated with degrees in psychology and political science, mostly because when paired together they are pretty useless and they didn't require much math. So when I started teaching I had plenty of experience working with special needs children, but all of it of in a recreational capacity that's zero experience teaching in a classroom.

I started about a month after the year began and up till then they had had a succession of substitutes none of which lasted more than a day or two. So if I said things were chaotic when I first started, that may be a bit, and by a bit I mean huge understatement. When I arrived that fist day, the kids were every where, running around getting into and making messes and pooping, pooping what at the time seemed non-stop, we must changed fifteen diapers a day during those first few weeks.

Bonnie and I would take turn changing diapers, at first she was confused by this as I guess in years past and with the subs, she had to do all the changing. I assured her where it wasn't something I enjoyed, we were a team and that was how we were going to run the classroom. If I was out I felt supremely confident she could run the room and eventually she would do lessons with the kids to.

One day she had them do science projects; we grew stuff on sponges with birdseed and then entered our plants in the science fair. We were the only autistic class to participate something I am proud of; I still have my certificate which Bonnie framed for me. Years later she would tell me in her twenty years working for the district that was her favorite classroom. Now she might say that to all her teachers but I suspect not.

Though to be honest there may have been at least one day she felt differently. I had put one of my kids in our time out room to calm down, and while in there he of course pooped , but what was different this time, is he proceeded to smear it all over his body. When he came out he looked liked he could have starred in a National Geographic film. Upon seeing him I said "Bonnie your turn".

I wasn't just a little different for Bonnie I was a little different for my students as well. I am a relationship teacher that is I believe the key to success in teaching is by forming positive relationships with students. I have found if the student knows you care about them, and they like you then for the most part they will do anything for you, though I have also found that kids will also do pretty much anything for a freezer pop (but then who wouldn't). Often kids work for me because they don't want to disappoint me, and they rarely do. My classrooms have always been a little louder and informal than most and this one was no different as I introduced my self as Mister Chris (though years later that has morphed into Mr. G., Guerrieri is complicated for a lot of adults let alone special needs children).

Sad to say other than having a positive attitude and a desire to do a good job, I really winged it without much of a plan for a long time as I waited for help to come, for somebody to tell me how to be a teacher but after a while I realized no help was coming and I had to learn how to do it on my own. Right or wrong that's how most first year teachers are treated, some are able to swim but more than a few sink to, I didn't want to sink, I felt my kids deserved so much more.

So after a while I came up with a plan. First take nothing personally, they were kids and for the most part profoundly disabled, if they were doing something wrong or annoying or frustrating me, for the most part it would be because they didn't understand. Second be flexible, because if they aren't getting what I am teaching then I needed to switch it up, to find a way to get through to them, besides I have found teaching is kind of like life, nothing goes quite as planned. Then the third rule was to have fun, because if you can do that, well everything else is gravy, plus I kind of think I was built for fun anyways, it comes pretty easy, for me.

It was when I came up with this plan, with the help of my assistant really neat things started to happen. We taught a non-verbal kid some signs so he could communicate without getting frustrated, we got into a toileting routine and remember half my class wore diapers and made serious progress with a couple. I am not going to lie, I had one kid who would poop anywhere at a moments notice, and not care one bit. When he left my class two-thirds of the way through I remember having a man tear. He was sort of like me at that age, dirt on his face, food always on his shirt (hhmm perhaps not a lot has changed) the only difference was I talked and I didn't wear a diaper. I am really proud of that year, that year when I knew almost nothing about teaching, in several ways it was my best.

So fast forward seven years later, I am now teaching trainably mentally handicapped students in high school, and I still have my same plan, and it's a plan I would like to suggest to you. Don't take it personally, be flexible and have fun, I am sure there may be better plans, but I am also sure there are worse, it worked for me that fist year and has worked pretty well since.

Tempered Optimism (v2)
A few months ago with much fanfare Mayor John Peyton announced the creation of his save our city commissions. They were charged with coming up with and implementing solutions to, well lets just say they weren't called hey lets make things a little better commissions.

When this happened I was filled with tempered optimism, mainly because that's a heck of a lot of problems to solve. You see the mayor charged the commissions with fixing everything from an increased infant mortality rate, soaring crime, to economic disparity, to everything in between. I was optimistic because I live here, and where it's painfully obvious if you look out the window, pick up a paper or watch the news that we have many problems, and sadly for many of our citizens things are getting worse not better, I think things can be better.

My optimism was tempered because I know every so often the government creates some commission or some panel, to investigate or solve this or that problem, but after a while the problems remain and it is only the commission that has gone away. I believe governments do this to distract us, the public, from getting really angry and doing something. You see having a commission or a panel or this or that, gives the powers that be time, and it gives the public the appearance that they care about us or the issue and that they want to and will do something. Then later as the public looses focus, or another issue gains notoriety, the commission covertly puts out a list of recommendations, that appears on page twenty-three of the paper and that are never enacted, then fades into obscurity until the next time one is needed to distract the community.

I have to say my optimism was further tempered for the save our city commissions, by the 24 old, rich white men that the Times Union profiled as the people picked by our Mayor to head the various parts. You see I am not so sure if they have faced many of the same problems that our average citizen has, and because of this I was skeptical if they would have the same sense of urgency or commitment to fix them, that some people closer to the problems might.

Despite all this I thought I have to get involved somehow. You see I am not a kid anymore and if this is my town, if I am going to live here then I have a responsibility to get involved a responsibility to help make things better, if I can. So to help out I decided to go to the education meeting because as a teacher I have several, I believe doable and implemental ideals (because what's the point of suggesting something if it is impossible), and I thought sharing with them would be beneficial.

I compiled a list of ideals and was all set to go, when I discovered the meeting was being held at nine-thirty in the morning on a weekday, which just so happened to be the same time I and most of us are working. Furthermore I also noticed that for the most part all the committee's meetings times were this way. It's as if they were saying hey Jacksonville come help us save our city, just take a day of to do so, something that is not so easy except in the direst circumstances for many of us to do. It became apparent to me that old, rich, white men have very different schedules than most Joe and Jane citizen and because of this it became apparent that the city didn't care as much as they wanted us to believe.

I shrugged my shoulders as I realized the commissions were baiting and switching me and the people of the city of Jacksonville to. They were presenting an illusion from the powers that be that they actually cared. The establishment was just trying to buy some time until we the public were off to our next biggest problem ever. This caused my tempered optimism to be replaced by realistic pessimism.

The crazy thing is, I believe the answer to fixing Jacksonville's problems is right in front of us and has been all along, and when looking to fix what's wrong here, we already have the mechanisms in place to do so, we now just have to tweak it and put fuel into it. Education holds the key to fixing almost everything; everything from crime, to poverty, to a rising infant mortality rate, everything can be combated through education, everything but apathy, and the need for an overnight fix that is. I tell you right here and now if we dedicate the necessary resources to education then down the road we will see a tremendous payoff.

You may disagree with me, you may think the cities problems can be addressed through work, health, or justice initiatives, but regardless of which ideal you think is best, whatever we do will undoubtedly take a lot of hard work and a fair amount of sacrifice as well.

Now the question becomes is that something we as a society want to do, and that should be one of only two questions the commissions should be asking, and if the answer is no, then we should just skip to page 26 of the paper, where their meager suggestions can be printed, and they can be allowed to slip into obscurity, plus I imagine the old rich white men have a tee time or two they need to get to. However if the answer is yes then we can go to question two and that's how we are going to pay for whatever we come up with, because it is undoubtedly going to cost us.

The number one way for any government entity to generate money is by raising taxes and since we are trying to improve our city I recommend city wide taxes such as a penny more to the gas tax or a half cent to the sales tax, either of these should be able to raise enough money. I don't think most people mind paying their fair share of taxes, what people mind is seeing their tax dollars wasted and the rich getting richer with sweetheart deals. I believe if we could put something into place that ensures this doesn't happen the citizenry of Jacksonville Florida would be more than willing to chip in.

But we shouldn't just stop there, because we need to involve Jacksonville's business and community leaders to. Say we decide education is the way to go, why can't the Jaguars or Blue Cross Blue Shield and a lot of other businesses fund a teacher either individually or collectively? Why can't First Baptist church or a couple churches team up and do the same thing, that's them providing a teacher their salary and benefits. What about getting our more affluent citizens, say the 24 old rich white men for example or a couple of them teaming up together to pay for a couple teachers as well, think about the tax write off they can get.

If we can get twenty teachers funded, now each high school can have a full time mental health counselor, and an after school study program, if we can get forty more teachers now we can have summer school for high school students too. Think about what we can do if we can get seventy or a hundred extra teachers funded, or a hundred more police, or a hundred more social workers or job counselors.

I know we are all strapped for cash, but how much would it be worth to be able to walk safely down any city street? How much would it be worth to cut the murder and infant mortality rates in half? How much would it be worth to bring economic prosperity to the whole city? How much would it be worth to have an educated, respectful, responsible, healthy citizenry, how much would all that and so much more be worth? In the future we would be able to save money in health costs, in insurance costs, and in taxes to. There may come a day when we need less police not more, less judges not more, less taxes not more, but sadly today is not that day.

We have real problems, we can either accept them as they are or we can roll up our sleeves and fix them and that means paying for them to. We say how important it is to receive a good education, we say how important it is to have safe streets, we say how important it is to become a first class city but then we don't provide the resources to do it, and that means we are just paying improving our city lip service, which is what the government does when they create commissions run by people who aren't affected by the problems they seek to fix and exclude the population from participating and that's a shame. We need to give everybody in our city opportunity and hope and if people have that, then we can put a huge dent, in crime, in poverty and in many of the other problems facing our city as well.

I suck
I read in awe Ron Littlepages article, More support needed for Duval's public schools (2/7/07), it was a about meeting he and others had with new Duval county school superintendent Ed Pratt Danials. In part because I often wonder why teachers aren't asked for input on how to fix the districts problems, after all we are the ones in the trenches the ones who know most intimately what it is like and what is going on there but mostly because I really couldn't believe some of the things I was reading, here was my boss basically telling me I suck.

He pretty much blamed the teachers and principals for the districts woes, when he said (attracting better teachers) "that's the heart of how we move forward." He then continues by saying, because so many teachers are new, 5000 out of 9000 have four years or less experience or inadequately trained 2500 teachers don't have teaching degrees; are important obstacles stopping the district from improving. He further disparages current teachers by saying, "…hiring talented teachers and principals…" is one of the most important goals the district has. Until I read the article, I wasn't aware that had been a problem. If all those things don't scream, he doesn't think the teachers we have now are very good, I don't know what else could.

What I read was not only insulting but ridiculous as well and I am not the only one that thought that way. Now I can't speak for all the nine thousand men and women who get up everyday and are dedicated to bettering the lives of Jacksonville's children; often doing it with inadequate resources, less than stellar support and working hours much longer than the seven and a third hours a day they are paid to do, but I am pretty sure more than a few of them will agree with me. I guess when Pratt Daniels said we need to make teachers "respected as the highest calling in the community…" he wasn't talking about the current crop of teachers.

If I give a test and most of the students fail I don't blame the class, no I take responsibility because if most of them failed, it would be apparent that I didn't adequately prepare them for the test. It's time instead of blaming the teachers and principals, the administration and the school board looked in the mirror and started to take at least some of the of the responsibility for our districts problems. A real life comparison would be, if a company goes under do we blame the stock boy or the secretary, no we blame its president and board of directors.

I am here to tell, that having an education degree is no guarantee you will be a good teacher, as my grandfather used to say, you either have it or you don't. Some of the finest teachers I have worked with had degrees in art-history, hotel and restaurant management and business. Furthermore like most degrees, teaching degrees are mostly theory with out application, and until you are actually in a classroom on your own, with little Johnny running around with scissors and little Suzy screaming, refusing to do her work, you really have no ideal how it is. Experienced teachers tell new teachers to forget ninety percent of what they learned in college as the only real way to learn how to be a teacher is by being a teacher. Regardless whether you agree with that last statement or not, I hope you will agree it isn't smart business for a superintendent to insult its teaching staff. You see attracting first rate teachers isn't the districts problem, keeping them is, and this lack of support is just one of the many reasons why.

If you are wondering why many teachers only stay for a few years, I will tell you, and it goes hand in hand with what many teachers believe is the districts biggest problem and it is a problem many of us believe isn't being addressed. Quite frankly the superintendent and the school board must get rid of the far fetched notion that we can save and prepare every student for life outside of school and we have to bring discipline back to the classroom. Teachers lament that if little Johnny wasn't in their classroom they could teach, and they pray that little Suzy who they spend so much time fighting with will be absent. It is a sad fact but a fact never-the-less that teachers spend ninety percent of their time, energy and effort on the worse ten percent of students, but what is equally sad it this drives teachers out of the field.

Parents if you think this means teachers just need to toughen up well let me tell you something else, this also means the students that need a little extra help, who need a little extra push aren't receiving it because teachers are to busy dealing with a disruptive few. As a result the kids who often just need a little more attention are falling through the cracks and we are dooming them to a lifetime of mediocrity or worse. The district has to come up with a way to remove rowdy students to a more restrictive environment short of them bringing a gun to school, getting caught smoking marijuana or beating up a teacher, they must do this for students and teachers alike to have a chance at being successful.

Teachers thinking this is the number one problem and it not even being mentioned is just an example of the huge disconnect that many teachers feel is between us and the administration and school board. You see with little input from teachers they pass edicts and send mandates that teachers are required to implement. Access points, A/B block scheduling, mandatory inclusion, freshmen having to declare majors, and the recent e-mail address debacle where the superintendent asked the teachers what they wanted the new e-mail address to be, ensuring us what we choose would be enacted only to later disregard our choice and choose a different address altogether (though I guess he did save the district nine dollars, which I am sure we either put towards his nearly 150 thousand dollar raise or the huge buyout package we gave the last superintendent) are just a few recent examples.

I did agree with some of things he said. Teachers desperately need to get paid more, and I understand that money is tight but if we can't do it with money why can't we come up with other ways we can increase teacher compensation. I don't understand why the school board is not making any strides to involve the cities stake holders. Why is there no agreement with the YMCA for teachers to get half price memberships, why haven't we teamed up with a car insurance company or cell phone company so teachers can get a ten percent discount, and why when I go to the movies can't I get the student discount. Can't we have them make it an education discount for students and teachers alike? If we can't pay teachers more actual money, I don't understand why we don't try and supplement their income in other ways. I am sure many businesses would like 9000 new customers and the prestige and honor in saying how they support education.

And I absolutely agreed with him when he said "We say education is important but we often don't act like it when providing support and resources." The thing is I just think he should add himself the administration and school board to that list.

Mr. Littlepage, if you want to know how to fix what is wrong in the classroom, fix what is wrong with our education system, I would suggest you go to people in the classrooms or as many of us like to refer to it the trenches, because that's what teachers do everyday, they go to battle in the trenches, we battle ignorance, apathy and disrespect and now we can include disrespect from our leader to, it's through talking to us or at the very least including us in the discussion rather than blaming us where we will find the answers to our cities education problems.

We have real problems here and we need to roll up our sleeves and battle them. We should leave finger pointing to the six year olds on the playground. In the meantime I anxiously await Ron Littlepages future article: More support needed for Duval's public school teachers.

The Next Big Ideal
Jacksonville is looking for the next big ideal to solve a whole host of its problems, from economic disparity, rising infant mortality rates, a failing education system to soaring murder and violent crime statistics along with so many others. And we are looking for one idea to solve them all, well that's a pretty tall order. The thing is I think I know what it is, but I don't think people are going to like it, I don't think people are going to want to hear it, and if the past is any indication I don't think they are going to want to do it either. The first thing Jacksonville needs to do, my big idea for the city, is for it to take a collective reality check.

The common man in the street, the politician at city hall and the business man in their boardroom all want the same thing and that's a quick fix to our problems, well I am here to tell you there is not one forthcoming. We have to be committed to a long haul type answer, because most of the problems we have now are the results of decades of abuse, and next big ideal solutions that didn't work. We have to realize our cities problems won't be fixed in a month or a year or maybe even ten years, and if we think so, well that's where our first need for a reality check, the first of many, comes in.

If we don't want to take a reality check we can continue do what we always do and that's put bandages on our problems, bandages like more police in high crime areas, contract set asides for minority businesses, and a few others, but as good as they are, all they are is bandages, and bandages on gaping wounds at that, and until we take a reality check, until we stop looking for a quick fix then all we are doing is playing lip service to the problems that face Jacksonville.

If we can come to grips with this, if we can commit to a long term solution, well then we might just have a chance to fix some of our cities problems, and I happen to think many of our problems stem from a failed, unrealistic, education system, and if we can improve that, I believe many of our other problems will improve as well.

First of all the object of our school system should not be to prepare our children for college it should be to prepare them for life. Some children have no desire to continue school after they graduate and if we think everybody can, well it's time for another reality check here. Vocational programs are far and few between and difficult to get into, despite the fact that the world needs electricians, carpenters, plumbers, contractors and cooks. The world needs people with skills and where being able to tell me about Plato's' metaphor of the cave is neat; it won't put food on most peoples tables. We need to start providing more of these alternative programs.

Then we need to bring discipline back to our schools and classrooms, and we need to hold students accountable for their actions and to do so we must make consequences substantial and meaningful to misbehaving students. So many students have a sense of entitlement and a belief they can do whatever they want, well I am here to tell you that just won't fly in the real world, and by letting them think that we aren't doing them any favors. My neighbor has been teaching for seventeen years and she tells me she doesn't write children up on referrals any more. Why should I, she says, they are more work for me and then nothing happens to the child, and often they would be back before the class is over. I ask her what she does, and she replies, other than praying they are absent there isn't much I can do.

As a teacher myself I know it's not all students, most of them want to be there to learn and do well, but there is a consistent ten percent or so, that cause ninety percent of the problems and take up ninety percent of the teacher's time. If so and so wasn't here, teachers lament, I could teach, well it's time we placed those children in highly restrictive, alternative programs and made it easier to do so. I have said it time and time again; so many students who need a little extra help, who need a little extra attention aren't receiving it. They are falling through the cracks, and we are dooming them to a lifetime of mediocrity or worse, and all because their teachers are constantly battling a rowdy few.

How about instead of staffing our failing schools with our most inexperienced teachers, that's where most new teachers go because that's where most of the job openings are, lets put our best, veteran teachers there, but to do so we have make it worth their while, smaller classes, more money or resources, and an administration that is willing to go to bat for them, because if we don't why would they want to go there.

Do you know what happens at the end of the day if a student is failing, I'll tell you, we send them home and say see you tomorrow. Why aren't kids with low or failing grades required to stay after school, why don't we bring in a second shift of teachers to tutor them and get them caught up. Why do we let them have the choice if they want extra help or not? They are children and that means sometimes decisions have to be made for them, and if a child is failing they should be required to put in a couple extra hours after school, that's required. If you were at work and were behind what would your employer expect you to do, well get caught up of course, but with our children we allow them to make the decision if they get help and since few make that call they farther and father behind.

Next sex education needs to be brought back to schools. We can always hope for the best, and preach abstinence but we need to prepare for the worse, that children will have sex, and if we don't think they are, well then it's time for another reality check here to. I can understand if some parents prefer to teach sex education themselves, then they can opt their children out but only if they pledge to educate their children. If that doesn't stem the tide of teen pregnancy and lower infant mortality rates, then maybe it's time to start providing contraceptives, after all just hoping the problem goes away doesn't seem to be working.

We as a city, as a society also need to understand, to come to grips with, that for whatever reasons numerous parents have abdicated their parental responsibilities preferring to be friends or, roommates or worse with their children. So if parents aren't going to be parents, if they aren't going to teach their children manners, respect, and a sense of responsibility then it's up to us, up to society to do it and we can do this in the schools, and we have to because lets face it if the parents aren't going to do it and then the schools aren't going to do it, well then who is?

Did you know we provide children from low income families nutritional breakfasts and lunches, but have you ever wondered what they do for dinner or on the weekends or during breaks? We need to make sure these children are consistently provided with meals during these times and if not then we need to do it, we need to make it our responsibility to see that every child has enough to eat.

We also need to bring back summer school. Right now we say to the student who is failing or falling behind, hey go ahead and take a few months off we'll try to tackle the problem next year. And what happens if you ignore a problem for a few months, well it gets worse of course.

I could go on and on we need to replace the traditional curriculum and school day with ones that work in the real world. We need to get rid of AB block scheduling it is killing both students and staff. We need to provide more school counselors. We need to get other agencies, organizations and interested parties involved, with our schools as well

Through education we can give people opportunity and if people have opportunities then we can put a huge dent, in crime, and in poverty and in many of the other problems facing our city.

I wrote the first big thing we as a city need is a reality check, especially if we are looking for a quick fix, but then after that the job of fixing our city will just be getting started, because it will also require, hard work, sacrifice and commitment, because without those things, whatever the next big idea is will be doomed to fail just like the last one did and the one before that and the one before that and the…


Three hour tour
A while back I was the P.E. coach at a center school for profoundly mentally disabled children. A lot of people who know me can't understand why I didn't love that gig more, after all I am into sports and playing games. I think it's because when I signed up to teach that is what I wanted to do, as much as I like playing a game, I like being responsible for someone learning more. The feeling I get when one of my kids light bulbs go off and they actually know something I taught is a really incredible feeling to have.

So as I started I was the P.E. coach but sometimes I was also a story teller. When there was a few minutes left in class I would gather the students around and I will tell them in dramatic fashion with my hands and arms swinging in the air stories about Jed a poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed, a rich banker and his eastern European wife who gave up big city living to head to the country and about blended families where children slept three to a room, among others.

Perhaps the kid's favorite story was about six people who went on a three hour tour and were shipwrecked on a deserted island. I am reminded of this because I recently went on a three hour tour and before I did I thought unlike the characters in the story, my trip could have tragic consequences (because I you ask me hanging out with Maryanne and Ginger on a beach sounds pretty darn good).

A couple friends of mine for their daughters first birthday rented a river boat. I know this might seem a bit extravagant but for this little girl nothing is too much, she was born weighing one pound two ounces or what I like to call snack sized, and for a long, long time it was touch and go. Me and her father have been dear friends for years and I was the best man at their wedding, and where me and the little girls mother have had our occasional ups and downs, I don't think there is anything we wouldn't do for each other. I was also the first friend to meet their daughter in the hospital after she was born, so there is a fair amount of history here.

Which makes me going a no brainer, right, which makes me having any trepidation seem odd, right, but if the truth be known for a while I did not plan to attend. You see my ex-girlfriend was going to be there and for the last few months I have struggled with the suffix ex. It was only recently that I have started to do well and occasional even now that is tenuous. I didn't think seeing her would send me back under my bed, sucking my thumb, curled in a fetal ball, hoping for sweet oblivion or what I like to call October and November, but I wasn't sure it wouldn't either.

It was a few days before the trip when a friend said to me, you should go, sometimes you have to do stuff for other people even if you don't want to. What, I said, are you kidding me, I work with special needs children, my whole adult life has been spent in service, and nobody has moved more couches than me or taken more people to the air port, what are you talking about? My friend then looked at me the same way my kids do when I ask them what five plus three is and that's sad style. She then said, Chris, you do that stuff because its part of who you are, you like doing that stuff, try doing something for somebody that you don't want to, because sometimes we call that, doing the right thing.
Obviously my friend had no idea what she was talking about, I thought.

Later another friend said to me, you have to come it's not about you, it's about that blessed little girl. Not about me, are you crazy, I thought, not saying it, because I figured it wouldn't go over so well, it's all about me, everything I do whether it's for some body else or not is about me, there is no true altruism. Not saying this I slinked away with my head slumped between my shoulders, why are they all ganging up on me I thought.

I laid in my bed fuming, thinking, didn't they understand I want to go but I don't want to run the risk of being hurt, of getting sad. It's about that blessed little girl and do the right thing also took up a prominent spot in my mind. After some soul searching I knew what I had to do, so nervously I sent an e-mail to a few of my closet friends, telling them I had decided to go, but asking them for their help, which they readily agreed to do. We came up with a few safe words in case things became awkward, seagull, seagull, pizza, pizza and decided to smuggle in a bottle of yager as a last ditch, just in case, measure.

The day came and I headed down, and I won't lie to you I was nervous and I didn't anticipate doing anything more than surviving the trip, partly because the last words we said to each other in person were, I love you (we had kind of a strange breakup, we broke up when things were good and then things got bad from there). Within moments we saw each other and a strange thing happened, where my heart did race a bit, I had no urge to curl in a fetal ball, and the same thing happened when we were near each other to. I did catch myself looking at her longingly a few times, but I think that's okay, because she will always have a very special place in my heart, you see I don't fall in and out of love very easy. The end of the night came and with the help of my friends, old ones and new ones alike, a few well placed sea gull calls and a beautiful one year old girl (plus a few shots of yager), I did more than survive, I had fun to.

I think I was able to do so because as it turns out my friends weren't ganging up on me like I initialy thought, no instead they were looking out for me, they were reminding me of a few very important things, things I unfortunately sometimes forget. You see sometimes you have to do things for people even if you don't want to, because to quote my friend "it's called doing the right thing", and also it's not all about me, not by a long shot and on this one Saturday it was all about a special little one pound two ounce girl

Her problem is…
She paced back and forth trying to hold back tears. She reached for a tissue off her desk and wiped the corner of her eyes. It just sucks G (that's what my coworker calls me, like in the movie Top Gun all teachers have call signs), it sucks so bad she said. I sat there and gave her a weak smile, nodding my head ever so slightly in agreement. She came and sat across from me and put her head down on the table, a tear suspended on her cheek for just a second, before it fell. I am trying so hard, I want these kids to succeed so bad, she said before closing her eyes and going silent.

I reached over to stroke her hair to give her some reassurance that it was going to be okay, that things were going to work out, but at the last moment I stopped because I knew I could give no guarantee. Kids are overwhelmed these days and more and more are dropping out. The allure of the street trumps the hopelessness that many receive at school. I wanted desperately to reassure my friend that her problem would work out, oh and what was my friend’s problem? My friend's problem is she cares.

I sat there looking at her; her breathing was a little labored as she tried to hold back tears. I sat there wishing I had a magic wand, or a time machine because I knew whatever I said even if it was earnest, heartfelt and sincere wouldn't be able to change things, not now anyways. Even practical sentiment such as, move on, or all you can do is hope for the best, seemed inappropriate. It was made even more difficult because there I was experiencing her pain first person.

She has a student in her class that for some reason stood out to her, that she took an extra interest in. For whatever reason this student was special to her and her doing right by this student was exceptionally important. Of course she put time and effort into all her students but with this one she went above and beyond, and for a while they were making progress. This was a child who for much of their life was unappreciated and uncared for and now finally they had someone in their corner, who would go to bat for them, the extra mile and all the other metaphors you can think of. This was working too because for a while this child had prospered, for a while anyways that is.

But now the student was gone, a snap decision, an impulsive moment in time later, had seen this student drop out, and this act devastated my friend. Why didn't they come to me before quitting, do they know how hard it is going to be, what did I do wrong and a thousand other questions were swirling around my friends mind, numbing it overwhelming her. Sadly these were questions I had no answers for, and to be honest I wasn’t even sure there were answers to be had.

I had not just sympathy for her but empathy to, as in my life I to have felt the same way a few times before, like when my mom was sick, or when a relationship that was special and important to me ended, and yes despite my best effort on the occasions I had let a student or two into my heart as well only to see them make bad choice after bad choice. I had recovered from those events, well as much as anybody ever really recovers from them, and I had no insight as to why, I mean I didn't miss my mother any less, and I was still disappointed about this or that but then one night I went to bed sad, and the next morning when I woke up, things were a little bit better and then a little bit better and then...

I just sat there with her silently until she looked up, her cheeks were a little red and her hair was in her face. I reached over and pushed her bangs back, giving her a sympathetic smile as I did so. She gently grabbed my hand and leaned her head against it holding it there for a few second. She then sat back adjusting her blouse wiping her cheeks. She looked at me and smiled back. I could tell it wasn’t a real smile though, just one of those fake ones we give so that people won’t know how upset we really are. That never works by the way.

A few moments later I had to leave, the planning period we shared coming to an end. I walked to the door and before exiting I turned and looked at her. I thought to myself if I had a magic wand I would wave it, if I had a time machine I would loan it to her and if I had words that didn't involve clich├ęs about time I would say them, but despite my empty bag of tricks I felt like I had to say or do something. After a moment I said her name getting her attention, and then for a moment we just stared at each; I then smiled at her and nodded my head, my intent to at least let her know I cared. Which makes me rethink what I wrote above, because if caring is the problem, well then I have it to, and so do most teachers and it is a problem I think more of us should have. I think she got that as she smiled and nodded back, she seemed better even if it was just a little bit and just for a second. I then walked to my class hopeful that her day would improve and if so, despite my silence, I was able to play a part in that.

I wonder if all the teachers in all the schools who experience similar happenings, because many will, we’re losing so many kids a year to the streets and hopelessness have a fiend who will give them a nod to as well.

Showing up
I think my head might be a little different from other peoples; I seem to find connections where other people might not, and if you are thinking is that kind of like what schizophrenics do when they hear voices or read love letters out of grocery lists, why yes it is similar. So I was talking to somebody and it reminded me of something, something completely unrelated to what we were talking about.

After I graduated college I was hired as a teacher in my home town, my first class was third grade autistic. I had eight, eight year old autistic boys. Now my degrees are in psychology and political science, I choose those two because I wanted to have the most useless combination of degrees imaginable, and neither required much math. So when I was hired, I had to agree to go back to school and take a few teaching classes.

One of my first education classes was nature of the learner. Apparently people learn in different ways, such as audio, visual, by doing etc. I learn best by having somebody else doing it for me and then repeating until the task is done, though quite possibly since my ability to make the same mistake over and over (did I mention over) is so well refined, we are still searching for my best learning style.

I was taking the class with a very enlightened colleague and a bunch of becoming teachers. I took every opportunity I could to let them know I was already a teacher, for I hoped that would give me status over them and then I could get them to do my homework, but like many of my plans that one went awry, but that's not this story.

One of the first days in class, the teacher showed us a video of a forth grade teacher giving a lesson. To say the lesson was boring would have been a disservice to boring things, a big disservice, this lady took boring to a whole other level, which I like to call gnawing your hand off to get away.

It reminded me this one time when I was taking Government Budgets and Finance in college (I had several majors before I settled on the ones with the least amount of math) the professor a nice enough man was droning on and on. I couldn't take it so initially I attempted to stop his heart beating with my mind, but after considerable effort failed (though in my spare time I practice this on the person driving in front of me that is going seven miles under the speed limit) so I went to my back up plan which was just to have a seizure. The teacher in the video was worse, squirming was going on at the sound of her voice in both two and three dimensions, I felt bad for the children but I felt worse for me.

Mercifully the video came to an end and our teacher asked us to rank her between zero (bad) and five (good). Well to me this was difficult, because I wanted to give her a negative number. I turned to my enlightened co-worker friend and asked what he was going to give her; he smiled and said I am going to give her a two. A two I shrieked drawing attention to myself. She was amazingly uninteresting; she lost the kids attention with her first breath, one of the kids tried to gnaw off his own hand to get out of class.

I couldn't believe what my enlightened friend was telling me, anything above a zero was inconceivable; he giving her a two was like dogs sleeping with cats and people jumping on the furniture, it just could not happen. I was considering moving and sitting with the not yet teachers, but I had alienated several of them earlier when I tried to get them to do my homework.

So I turned to him and say explain yourself. He paused and said very matter-of-factly, she showed up, so many people don't, and if you show up and you want to help you get points in my book. Wow I thought you're right she did show up, and then I thought more about how often people look away, they send well wishes but can't give their time, or they are so wrapped up in their own lives they don't think to give, to help, to try, that them showing up isn't even on their radar and how much better things would be if people did show up, did want to help, even if it was just a little. I felt very little and very petty, I realized I had made a bad call that I was wrong, because showing up is so, so important, and quite simply for the fact that so many people don't.

There has been so many times in my illustrious life, that I came to bumps in the road where I experienced trials and tribulations, I like to call them days that end in Y, and I started to wonder, what would have happened if people didn't show up to help me, where I would be or what would have happened. I sighed, and dropped my head, and then I looked up and asked well what's the other point for, and without missing a beat he shot back did you see her cans. I ended up giving her a two as well.

And for everybody who has ever showed up for me, and a lot of you have especially recently, thank you, thank you very much.

Little Suzy (warning it's a tough read)
Yesterday little Suzy asked, "Mister G can I go to the bathroom?" To which I replied "of course little Suzy". When she returned she informed me that she had taken the time away to call her mother to complain about what was happening in class. I barely got out "wha", when I heard the phone in my office ringing.

You guessed it, it was little Suzy's mother and she read me the riot act. How dare you allow this to happen, why aren't you taking care of my daughter, on and on she went, I couldn't get a word in. It was so bad I could have put down the phone and eaten a pastrami sandwich, and had I had one I probably would have (hhmm that reminds me, I am a bit hungry). Eventually she tired and hung up, about the same time I think I heard the theme music from The Young and the Restless playing in the background, I gulped and headed back to my classroom.

I came back in flabbergasted and asked little Suzy what the problem was. I said little Suzy, didn't we sit and work one on one on your numbers, she replied yes. Little Suzy didn't I read you that story you liked, she replied yes. Little Suzy haven't I been there for you since we met looking out for you, she replied yes. I straightened up and looked her dead in the eye, well then answer me this little Suzy don't I always, always, treat you with respect and kindness to, to which she again replied a simple straightforward yes.

Then as calm as I could I said. Well then I need you to treat me with respect and kindness to, so from now on if there is a problem instead of complaining to your parents about it, talk to me, I'll listen and since I care about you if I can do something I will, I wiped her cheek, I feel the tender touch helps when trying to convey sincerity. I smiled at her and then asked; now what was the problem? \

Duct-tape discipline
Another area teacher made the news the other day, and not for winning an award or for promoting academic excellence. Instead, like several teachers recently, they were singled out for their "questionable" reactions to unruly students. A math teacher at Kirby-Smith middle school reportedly duct-taped a student to his chair and then gagged him, and where I believe in supporting my fellow teachers unless it is a safety issue, in fact in front of students I will readily agree the war of 1812 took place three weeks ago, and then in private I will discuss what I thought should have actually happened, I can't really condone duct-taping a student. I will say that Mrs. Scatterday in forth grade used so much masking tape on me that I thought she had stock in the company, but that was a different era.

The article says the first year teacher warned the student to stop talking during class and when he wouldn't, first taped his leg to his desk, then taped his hands to his head and finally covered his mouth. To me this sounds like a long drawn out process, this isn't a quick strike, and must have taken several minutes to do and where on its surface it sounds absurd, sadly I can see how it might take place.

How you ask? How does a teacher go from giving a warning right to duct-taping a kid to a desk, well let me tell you.

The first year teacher shows up bright eyed and filled with optimism, ready to change the world, and this is an incredible feeling to have, though it is fleeting as many first year teachers have to go into survival mode. They try all sorts of methods to get the children to take care of their responsibilities, which are simple enough, come to class, listen and learn; First they come in as a strict disciplinarian, as this is the standard advice given to first year teachers. They are told to come in tough and then they can ease up as the year progresses. If this fails with some students, the first year teacher often reverts to being a social worker, trying to figure out why they act the way they do and tries to help solve their problems, then with some students they try to become their friend, figuring if they were friends, the students would treat them better, that's treat them with some with dignity and respect. They do this because it takes different strategies to get through to different students.

And for the most part with one of these strategies they are successful, as ninety percent of all students want to be there, they want to learn, or at worse are followers, which means if there ring leader isn't there they fall in line with the children who do want to learn. After a while it's just that ten percent of students that no matter what they try to do continue to cause them problems.

They talks to their mentors, as every first year teacher is assigned one, and their colleagues and department head as well. They ask what they can do to get these last few students in line. The first year teacher laments when the unruly students are absent, "it's dreamy, I can actually teach". They veterans look at the rookies with sympathetic eyes but they also have problems of their own. Just survive the first year; we tell them, it gets easier. But how do I get through to them they ask, we shrug our shoulders and suggest, try and get the parents involved maybe they can help somehow, but in our hearts we know they are fighting an unwinnable battle with some students.

So they call the parents trying to set up parent teacher conferences, to discuss the child's performance both academically and behaviorally, because often poor performances in these areas go hand in hand. Some of the parents can't be bothered figuring it was the teachers problem once the child came to school, others report having the same difficulties at home where they are at a loss to. The two parties might get together and try a few interventions and some students might actually turn it around, but just as often many students don't.

Backed into a corner the first year teacher writes the student up, only to find them back in class before the period is over or at best the next day and angry that they were written up, the problem begins to worsen. The child received no consequences for their behavior, and continues it. The teacher writes the child up again and again the child is back in class the next day, except this time the teacher is paid a visit by an administrator or called to the office. Why can't you control this child, they are asked, they explain all that they have done and how none of it has worked. The first year teacher is then told, that referrals are only to be written for the most extreme circumstances and then only after every alternative has been exhausted. They aren't given any new alternatives as they slump their shoulders and heads back to the classroom.

But now it's on, in the mind of the student, because they have been written up twice if not more times and received no meaningful consequences for their actions, they feel invincible, instead of just being disruptive, now they are defiant and disrespectful to. Most first year teachers are at their wits end, in college they talk about the triple D student but until you are in a classroom with one, you can't be truly prepared. The first year teacher doesn't know what to do, they have done everything they can think of, they have used what they learned in college, asked their colleagues for advice, tried to get the parents involved and then finally written the unruly child up only to see them not disciplined and quickly returned to their room, they are lost, they see the duct-tape on the desk and…

Like I said I can't condone duct taping a student to a desk and then gagging them, though the story the paper reports seems implausible. Though I can empathize with what a first year teacher goes through. Often they take the first job offered to them, and the more challenging schools usually have the most openings. They are given mountains of extra paperwork to review as they learn the schools and districts policies and procedures and then they are required to either start an incredibly time consuming teacher induction program (TIP) or an alternative certification program. They often have no ideal what questions they should ask and most likely spend half the year if not longer waiting for help that never comes, I know I did.

I wonder what would happen if we gave our first year teachers a better chance for success, if we didn't place many of them in the toughest schools, or load up their classes like they were ten year veterans? What would happen if we didn't encumber them with lots of extra paperwork or force them to go to workshop after workshop or take class after class? I imagine we wouldn't have the first year turn over that we have, those teachers that make it through a first year that is, and I bet we wouldn't have any duct-tape discipline episodes either.

The first year of teaching is like being thrown to the wol… err, um, the first year of teaching, even if you have a teaching degree (all theory) and have interned (pretty much the same as being a teachers assistant) is the equivalent of having never swam and being thrown into the deep end of a pool, a lot of people don't make it out.

I also wonder what would have happened had this talkative student (and any reasonable person must think there is more to the story) received some meaningful consequences for their behavior, because then if when asked to be quiet, they may just have done so.

When I read the account of what happened in the paper it made me incredibly sad because there were a couple of times when I was a first year teacher, as I stood amongst the chaos, I wished I had a roll of duct-tape and who knows what would have happened had I had one, you see it made me sad because, there but for the grace of God went me and many other teachers.

Saying what they mean
An article in the Florida Times Union reported that numerous parents were upset after a question and answer session at First Coast high school. Apparently they had numerous concerns about safety, overcrowding and student achievement. Parents weren't allowed to speak, instead they had to write their questions down and hope they would be answered.

When asked about overcrowding the Times Union reported that Paul Soares the school systems chief officer of operations support, despite the fact the school board readily admits that First Coast high school is about twelve percent over crowded, said, "…there are at least thirty-three schools that are more drastically overcrowded than this one." That's right he said don't worry about the problem here, because it is worse other places. I suppose he could have said they same things about safety and academic achievement to, maybe something like; Don't worry about those problems, I mean your kids could be going to Ed White, Ribault or some other school where the problem is worse.

Upon me learning that parents were upset that they were reduced to being mimes, that's they were able to be seen but not heard and the answer to their concerns was, relax, don't worry its worse other places, I wondered why they were so upset, I mean the school board official was just telling it like it is. In fact if you ask me this is what they always do, though some times they use catch phrases like academic achievement, student retention and acceptable levels.

Then it hit me, sometimes when talking to parents or the public they may use words that and let me put this delicately may imply something else. Many parents for a long time have just gone with what they have been told, leaving it to blind faith, that the school district would take care of their students educational needs, they have listened to what was said to them, however that may be a problem.

In my opinion, and I am a product of a local, public education, I have lived almost my entire life here in Jacksonville and I have been an employee of the county for eight years, the school district often says one thing and means another and parents just need to learn how to translate what they hear. But since it's not the parent's fault they might not always understand what they are being told, it made me think parents could probably use some translations of commonly used answers.

Say you don't feel your disabled student is getting the attention and resources he needs to be successful; you voice this and the people you say it to respond with; We are doing all we can, what they really mean is: Translation: well hopefully your student has been diagnosed correctly and is in the right program, though frequently students are misdiagnosed and put into the wrong program, and getting students changed can be a years long process, and hopefully the school they are assigned to is using all the resources assigned for the child on the child, though through Duval Counties policy of site based management, often funds are diverted to programs such as ones designed to increase f-cat scores, but basically if you don't have a lawyer we don't care.

Say you are concerned about your child's safety at school and you voice this to your schools administration, and they respond: we are doing all they can, what they really mean is: Translation: You are scarred for your kids, heck I am scarred for me; you won't find me here after dark. If you don't think the five members of the overworked and grossly underpaid security team, who has no real authority to do anything, and is subject to all sorts of penalties if they do, and the one community resource officer is enough, for every fifteen hundred students, well join the club.

You ask: Why is my child's class being taught by a substitute: they reply: we are looking for the right person to fill the job: Translation, subs are cheaper, we need to hire extra teachers that teach f-cat subjects or nobody wants to come work at your child's urban (read poor and mostly minority) school, or perhaps we are just out of money. If your student has had a sub past the first nine weeks then one of these is the answer why.

You ask: Why can't my student get into one of the more prestigious magnets or college prep schools: they answer, every applicant is evaluated on their merits: Translation, who do you know, and if they are important have them call me and we'll see what we can do, if you don't know anyone good luck with the lottery.

You ask: What happened to freshmen in high schools having to declare majors: they reply: we are reevaluating the program: Translation, that is just another cure all that became another boondoggle, Americas Choice any one, wait around a little while longer and we will come up with another one.

In the school boards defense I to have said something's that may need some interpreting.

Say we have had a parent teacher conference to discuss you child's behavior and I have said something like: Little Johnny has such potential but they aren't meeting it because of their behavior, what I really mean is: Translation: What is wrong with your child, they are sucking the life out of me, they do have the potential, the potential to end up in jail if they don't turn things around and all those years ago when you were at the check out line in the grocery store and they whined about getting a candy bar and you finally gave in and bought it for them so they would shut up, you have helped to doom society. Here is an idea try being a parent instead of a friend or a roommate.

Say we our having a parent teacher conference to discuss your child's failing grades and I have said something like: Little Suzy is more than capable of doing the work, she just needs a little extra motivation: Translation, I have know idea if she can do the work, she hardly ever comes to class, and when she does she sleeps or plays on her phone, the work she does is usually incomplete and I am not sure if she knows what the definition of motivation is. Here's and idea how about taking away their x-box, ipod, air Jordan's and cell phones until they get a passing grade, and why you are at it how about you try being a parent instead of being a friend or a roommate.

Say you have heard me say, and this one I have in common with the vast majority of teachers here in Duval county, I care about your child, them doing well is important to me, please help me help your son or daughter: Translation: I care about your child, them doing well is important to me, please help me help your son or daughter.

I might seem critical of the districts administration, but it's because I care, and I have to believe they care to, and it's because our school district has real problems, and the solution will never be, relax its worse elsewhere.

Some of the Craziest things I have heard at School (since Wednesday) and how I Responded
Every week I hear my fair share of crazy things at school and this week was no exception.

At my school we are on block scheduling which means we have four ninety minute periods a day. It's my personal opinion that is way too much time to keep a regular student, let alone a mentally handicapped student's attention, heck it's hard for me to keep focused for that long. I mean, er, um, hmm what was I talking about, hhmm, oh yeah, balloons, they sure are pretty, oh wait that wasn't it. So in my class we start working as soon as the bell rings but we usually finish in about an hour or so, and then I give the kids some free time. I tell them lets work, and then let's play, and that's kind of how I like to roll, live my life too.

So the other day after we finished our big hand of the clock lesson a young man asked if he could turn on the television. I said what do you want to watch to which he quickly replied, Mr. G. I want to watch me some B.E.T. He then asked me, Mr. G. how to you spell B.E.T.? To which I responded, well Tyrell I spell it with two T's.

Thursday while having a discussion on nice and mean animals with my class one of my students volunteered Unicorn; I asked him if he had seen one recently to which he replied no. I became concerned that maybe he was confusing a unicorn with perhaps a dog or a cat, so I asked him to describe one. This young man has very limited verbal skills so he made a motion which reasonably resembled a horn coming from his head. Despite the fact he had come up with a mythological creature I was very impressed. Another student raised her hand and said I know what a Unicorn looks like Mr. G, sure sweetie I replied what does one look like. She sat up and said it looks like a, hhmm how can I put this delicately, she said it looks like a word that starts with a c and rhymes with hunt (people I can't make this stuff up), except she just said the word. My eyes got real big, and I went white. I eeked out a meager, all righty now, has anybody ever seen a tiger, as a bead of sweat rolled down my forehead.

My latest proposed article is about how despite there being a big shake up in the school boards administration we should be prepared for more of the same, and that's edicts that don't make sense, issued from afar, accompanied by no money or training, that we are forced to implement. My editor warned me that I was becoming dangerously close to bucking the system, a system which we both believe is as close to broke as it can be, and often doesn't make sense, but which, she pointed out, does pay my bills. I love the kids but I have learned you don't buck the system, she then added, to which I replied well if you love the kids how can you not want to make the system better, how can you allow them to continue to be educated in a near broke system. I then asked her to bring me in a banana and peanut butter sandwich; after all, I did watch her dog for a week.

Finally the craziest thing I heard this week was at an ESE teacher staff meeting. I brought up some of the things that I have been learning, how things are done at different schools and in different districts, and I mentioned that it shouldn't be where you live that determines what type of education and care a student receives. I brought up suggestions we could implement that made sense and would make things better for teacher and student alike. To which my director responded, well why don't you go work in one of those schools or districts then. I paused to make sure I would choose my next few words carefully. My initial thought was to repeat the same word used when my student described a unicorn. After a moment I took a deep breath and said, the answer shouldn't be for me to go work there, it should be for us to work together here to make things as good as we can; all I got back was a blank stare. The sad thing is I think that may have been the craziest thing she has heard at school, and not just since Wednesday.

This is what I do
I have spent nearly my entire adult life working with special needs children. At different times, I worked with kids who were physically and mentally disabled, underprivileged and children who were sick and dying and I have been doing so since 1994. At first I worked in camps all across the country, then as a social worker and now as a teacher, which I have been doing for eight years now.

I have worked in some of the toughest classrooms that Jacksonville has, my first classroom was third grade autistic at and urban school (read poor and mostly minority), I had eight, eight year old boys in my class and four were poopers, in between working on our letters and colors, I changed a whole lot of diapers.

Next I taught a self contained (I taught all the subjects) S.E.D. (severely emotional disturbed) class in middle school. S.E.D. kids have average or above average intelligence but are crippled by their severe emotional problems, as a bonus I had them when they were going through puberty, and that's tough on "normal kids" (notice the quotes because I am not sure if there is any such thing as a normal kid). When they were on their meds for the most part they were awesome, when they were off their meds, I would hide in my closet and yell for help, again I was working at an urban school, so frequently they were off their meds, and it was just something we had to deal with.

Later I moved to a high school just for disabled kids. My first year I had a classroom of profoundly mentally handicapped students, ages 14-19 (think IQ's less than 30). Only one of the kids in my class talked and he would just request Disney movies. We would have song and story time daily, well I would sing songs and tell stories and they would give me looks that seemed to ask if they could go back to their seats and play with their shoes. The second year I was the P.E. coach and we, um err, um well we played and again I would tell stories and sing songs and again they would give me looks that seemed to ask if they could go back to their seats and play with their shoes.

I am now back at the high school I went to, I am like (Welcome Back) Carter without the cool theme music and I teach Trainably mentally handicapped children, unlike the kids at the last school they can all talk (though understanding them is another mater), they are like really horny five year olds in adult bodies. Everyday we work on learning the nickel, the big hand on the clock and the color purple (not the movie) and then everyday like Sisyphus trying to move that rock up the mountain we start over.

And at every stop my kids were respected, well treated and improved, or so many of my colleagues and their parents have often told me.

People often ask me how I can do it, and to be honest, I don't think I have any special talents or abilities, that other people don't have, I just roll up my sleeves (unless I am wearing a short sleeve shirt) and just go to it, you see I long ago realized when the first campers got off that bus 14 years ago, that me and them have something in common, and that's every once in a while we just need a little help, besides on the way home today cutting through a side neighborhood due to construction on the road I usualy take, I saw him. There he was driving one of those big American cars from the seventies which are made of metal and probably twice as long as anything they build now. His wife beater tee barely covering his massive gut, his long white beard flowing in the front and his long white curly locks tied up in a pony tale in the back. I saw him, I saw Santa Claus, I guess he has a vacation house in Lake Shore.

More of the Same (rough draft)
Returning to school refreshed with my sleeves rolled up ready to concentrate on the business of education it was almost a full five minutes before I received my first disappointment of the New Year, when I realized that despite the fact it is a new year with a new superintendent all we will be receiving is more of the same.

Now it wasn't little Johnny cursing me out or little Suzie refusing to do their work which got me down, as a teacher I am used to it, but besides that I know it's my job, my responsibility to get them to follow directions and learn. No what got me down came from much higher up, what got me down came from those that are supposed to be helping me out, making my job easier, what brought me down didn't come from my students, it came from my superintendent and my school board and I was only one of many who was feeling it.

After Pratt-Daniels replaced Stephen Wise at the bargain basement price of two hundred and seventy five thousand dollars and our national reputation, I am sure many people; parents, teachers and interested parties alike thought things would be different, that the way things were done would change. No longer would the school system be led from an ivory tower where mandates were handed down and subordinates without input were expected to carry them out.

We thought we were ushering in a new era, where we would all work together as a team, that's where parents, teachers and administrators alike would come together to make our school system one in which we could all be proud of. The first few days after the change we were all filled with optimism.

And then right off the bat the superintendent seemingly in an effort to prove things were going to be different came to us and sought the council of all the school board employees. He came to us and asked us to help him solve one of the most pressing problems our school system had, (please insert: wait for it, dramatic pause, wait for it) what our e-mail address should be. You see Educationcentral.org and Dreamsbeginhere.org no longer represented the direction we wanted to head in (please insert: sound of balloon deflating and spinning out of control around a room), so much for our optimism.

Our administration must have decided, hey let's get that one out of the way first and then we can come back to the issues of spiraling out of control discipline, and failing schools. That's right before we tackle the problems; of teacher moral, violence, truancy and dropouts' lets make sure we get the e-mail address right.

Though I find it just as likely they thought, hey for the most part teachers have no ideal or ideals how to handle, failing schools, violence in the classroom, or truancy, but since we want to give the appearance of us being a team, lets throw them a softball, that they may be able to help with, besides if we give them two choices, A or B about something nobody really cares about how can they mess it up.

Either way an e-mail was sent out asking us to choose between myduvalschools.org and Duvalschools.info and we were asked to vote for which one we liked better. The address that received the most votes would then become the official one, perhaps they also thought, that maybe a byproduct of finally getting the right e-mail address that represented us would be that our f-cat scores would go up and the dropout rates would go down, two of the many, many problems teachers were not asked to help solve.

So teachers voted and even though this in the scheme of things, when compared to dwindling supplies, dropping test scores, being threatened in the halls by thugs masquerading as students and so many other things, this was basically a trivial matter, many of us were happy to do so. You see for a long time, so many things are forced onto us and we are required to implement them without any input. Americas Choice, Access Points, and ninth graders being forced to declare a major, are a few of the more glaring boondoggles that the county has declared the next great fix only to be later discarded, over the last few years.

Even though it was the equivalent of being asked if we wanted two or three ice cubes in our water it was actually nice to have our opinions considered.

The votes came in and as a group we decided on myduvalschool.org, and with that burning issue out of the way, we knew we would next be asked to help tackle the other problems facing our school system, and if you have forgotten some of them are are, out of control discipline, failing schools, plummeting teacher moral, violence, truancy and dropouts'; problems teachers, parents and other interested parties initially thought may have been just a bit more pressing, but we weren't asked our opinion on.

Except that wasn't what happened, instead of going with what the rank and file voted on, and mind you this was after we were asked to vote and we were told what we voted for was going to be the new address, we get a letter informing us instead they decided to forgo our decision and head in a different direction, that the choice we made did not adequately reflect what we wanted to project, and one of the reasons they decided to go with a different address from the one we had chosen was that is was going to be free. I guess after paying the previous superintendents severance we couldn't afford the nine dollars the domain name we choose would have cost. That's right after being asked how many ice cubes we wanted they decided to not even give us a drink, we couldn't even get that right. Read that again parents, the school board doesn't believe the people who are entrusted to teach your children are capable of helping pick an e-mail address.

I started to wonder why they even asked us in the first place, but it became a little to mind numbing and to be honest I didn't really care because when compared to so many other things what our e-mail address is doesn't really matter. However what I do care about is the disconnect the administration has with it's staff, the belief that these people have, out of the classroom in many instances for years, they feel they know what's best, especially when many of us in the trenches feel like they have no idea what is going on.

I also started to wonder if they only played lip service to teachers and our opinions or who else they may be doing it to, maybe parents should be asking this same question.

Now if you are wondering which one I voted for, well I didn't I was to busy getting little Johnny to take his seat and little Suzy to do her work, though I anxiously await the next time the administration has a pressing question, such as which number two pencil to use, or how many chicken nuggets should come with lunch, you know something they might feel I am qualified to help with.

We got a mandate, directive, peice of insanity the other day from the School board, and in my quest to change the world one blog at a time here goes. I think I am going to polish it up some and submit it to the folio, so far aI am one for two...

Call the parents first
There is a new discipline directive given to Duval county's teachers for its unruly students and that's before you write a referral or send them out of glass you must call the parents first. Instead of writing these children up, something most of us do as a last resort anyways, we are supposed to stop in the middle of class and call the parents before we do anything else. My grade book and attendance folder have been replaced on my desk with a list of contact numbers, and emergency numbers. I have to tell my class, hold on, I'll be back in as soon as I can, that is, after I track down the parent, explain the situation and ask for help, please be patient we'll start learning as soon as I get back, and you little Johnny just continue cursing me out, running around the room, refusing to do your work or doing whatever you were doing.

That's right, the student walks out of class we are supposed to call the parent first, the student curses you out, we are supposed to call the parent first, the student threatens to gut you with a lawn mower blade (something that happened to a colleague of mine just the other day) call the parent first. And do it right then and there, the other twenty-five students will just have to make do.

If we do write a referral the first thing we hear from an administrator is, and you probably guessed it, did you call the parent first before you wrote them up, though that's better than do you really think he was going to gut you with a lawn mower blade, to which I imagine my teacher friend replied, "…well now that I think about it, when he was screaming at me, spit flying out of his mouth, with his fists clenched, he may have been kidding a little, I guess." We never hear, how much is it going to cost to replace the overhead projector, sorry your family lineage was called into question, or if he does show up with a lawn mower blade what we should do, perhaps we should call the parent first then to.

A P.E. teacher at Paxon Middle school followed this directive the other day. He had a student who was reportedly out of control in his class, at some point he had enough and rather than write the student up on a referral, he call the parent. He asked the parent to come to the school to discipline the child, while doing this he reportedly asked the parent to bring his belt.

When the parent arrived the student was taken to a separate room, and was disciplined presumably with the belt his father was asked to bring, afterwards the student then apologized to the coach, and to many of us, who daily are cursed out and are threatened, who have children run amok in our classrooms, that when we write them up, are back either later in the day or the next day to repeat, for many of us even though we didn't know all the facts, we thought this was a victory.

Others though must have thought differently because later that day the teacher was reassigned to a non-instructional position, the child was taken by the Department of Children and Families and the father was arrested.

Now I wasn't there, I only know what was reported in the paper, an article every teacher in my department read with jaws dropped, not believing what had happened, at first stunned, as a colleague was in danger of loosing his job, and a parent who took the time to come out, when so many don't, was arrested, we wondered if what happened was excessive or not, we also wondered if the child was injured, but if not then we agreed what was happening to the teacher and the parent was a shame.

I understand why we want to have the parents involved, they can be a huge help and should be involved, but I also understand that a big reason we have a discipline problem in school, is because many parents have abdicated their parental responsibilities, they haven't taught their children what respect and responsibility are. They think I'll send them to school, there they will be straightened out, to which we now reply, call the parents they will take care of the problem, and in this catch twenty-two never ending circle, the children receive no meaningful consequences for their actions. This will ultimately lead to worse and worse behavior, perhaps behavior that will have tragic consequences. You see by doing nothing we without a doubt are courting tragedy either for them or for somebody else.

Sometimes when we call the parents, we do so with a wink and a nod, we know we can't put our hands on the child, but we also no if reason or time out doesn't work in our class room, we know it probably won't work at home either, and we hope the parent may have a harsher discipline they can employ. That means unless it was excessive, what the parent at Paxon middle did wasn't the problem, the problem was where he did it at.

In my seven years of teaching, when I have called the parents, usually after school or on my planning period, not when I was in the middle of teaching other students, for the most part they have been helpful and concerned, working with me to fix the problem, but problems with those kids that have involved, supportive parents are usually just a blip and easily correctable. But I have also heard at different times, can you beat the child, they are the same way here, I can't control them either, call the police when you have a problem because I am done, if you fail my child I will fuck you up, and more than a few fuck offs.

Discipline or the lack there of, is the number one problem that many of the teachers in the trenches, not classrooms but trenches of our public schools face. I wrote trenches there because that's how a lot of teachers feel day in and day out, like they are going to battle.

The unruly five percent of kids are ruining classrooms and schools throughout the district; they are taking away from the ninety-five percent of students who want to learn who want to do well. I hope parents understand that, most of teacher's time and energy go to those students who are most frequently in trouble, not the child who might be a little behind but wants to learn, those children who if they don't get he extra help will fall farther and farther behind, and these same unruly children are chasing teachers out of the field.

It comes down to this if they don't get any discipline at home, we are doing them no favors by not giving it to them at school either, for a consequence to have meaning it must mean something, if they get no consequences at home then calling home will mean nothing.

Hello Mrs. Doe, where I find Johnny very bright and engaging at times, when he runs around the room cursing, refusing to do his work, threatening me, it distracts from the learning environment of the other twenty kids who want to be there, and prevents him from achieving his full potential, oh it's my problem and I should deal with it, oh I should fuck off, well thank you for taking the time to talk to me.

You can't save them all (version one)
I and some of my fellow teachers found it amusing the other day when the media spent so much time covering the resignation of a pair of teachers from Lee high school. They quit because they didn't feel safe after a student was caught with a gun on their campus. They also said they had routinely been threatened and intimidated by unruly students and had received little support from their administration.

While discussing it with my colleagues in the teachers lounge I asked, "What are these first year teachers!?!" because these things and worse happen routinely and not just at Lee high school but all over the district. That's right folks they happen every day. The week before two students from another school were caught on the Ed White campus, they had come to beat up "somebody who tried them". After they were arrested their car was searched and a gun was found. When I heard about this, just as I leaned the other seven times guns have been brought to schools I have worked at that I know of I just shrugged my shoulder and went about my day.

You see a gun on campus and students threatening to beat up teachers isn't news, it's common place, it happens as often as the cafeteria sells chocolate milk, and that's everyday.

Earlier in the week a student pointed out to me he was a man and nobody tells him what to do, just prior to threatening to beat me up and cursing me out, all because I asked him to get where he was supposed to be, and the thing is, I am the cool teacher, the ones the kids like, and I am also a big guy who works out regularly, but this student had no fear of me, and no fear of the consequences but worse of all he had no respect.

Way to many students come to school with no pretense of learning, they come to be with their friends, they come because society tells them they have to and more than a few come to see what trouble they can find and these few bad apples are spoiling the whole cart. You hear it everyday, in the offices and teachers lounges of schools, if only Johnny wasn't in my classroom I could teach. If only little Suzy would stop disturbing class the other kids could learn, I had a good day because so and so was absent, I felt like a teacher.

When I first became a teacher eight years ago, after a decade working in special needs camps, I thought I was going to change the world, every student that came threw my classroom would leave not only educated but a better human being as well. However the sad fact is some of my students weren't just learning they were teaching to, and what they taught me was, you can't save them all.

Everyday at school you see the same students in the hall after the tardy bell rings, they aren't carrying books and they aren't in a hurry to get anywhere; then when you ask them where they are supposed to be, they inform you often with the word fuck added in somewhere, that it's none of your business, well enough is enough.

It's nearly impossible to remove a student to an alternative school unless they are caught with a gun or physically assault a teacher, but in doing so we are just courting tragedy. Instead of being reactive it's time our school system stepped up and was proactive. If you get in two fights in a year you should be gone. If you get written up five times in nine weeks you should be gone. If you miss more than nine days in nine weeks without a doctor's note you should be gone, if you are late fifteen times in nine weeks you should be gone, if you get arrested while not at school for violence, stealing or drugs you should be gone, and if you threaten a teacher or school board employee once, and just once is all it should take, you should be gone.

Sadly that's not what happens; a friend of mine, a veteran teacher had a student late to their class, and instead of sending them for a tardy slip, my teacher friend just asked him to come in, the student replied, when I am good and ready. My teacher friend was amazed, here he was giving this student a break, and instead of being met with gratitude, he was met with disrespect. My teacher friend changed their mind and said; well if it's not important to you to be in class then you can go get a tardy slip. These few innocuous words set the student off, in a matter of seconds the student was now beating his fists, threatening to fuck my teacher friend up.

When the same thing happened to me, I didn't even write a referral on the student who threatened me; I figured what happened to my friend would happen to me who did write the student in question up and that's nothing. Later when discussing what happened with an administrator, my teacher friend was asked, do you think he (the student) was being serious, like it should matter one bit. Though I can't really blame the administrator for this attitude, they hear the same story so often; I believe they have just become numb to it. And just so you know the student was back in my friend's class the very next day, there punishment to pick up some trash after school.

We spend so much of our time on the five percent of students who create ninety-five percent of the problems, we have lost focus on those students who want to be there and want to learn, and sadly many of these students are falling through the cracks, because they aren't getting the services and attention they deserve.

Let's try this parents, if you don't believe me, go ahead and ask your little Suzy and/or your little Johnny, if there is a student or two in their class that the teacher always has to discipline, and then ask them if the same student picks on their classmates or does their work, if you don't already know, I believe you will be unpleasantly surprised.

And now parents let me ask you a couple of questions, at your place of employment are you routinely threatened and harassed, and what would you do if you were, and your bosses did nothing about it, would you show up the next day? Also do you think this would be a good way to run a business; well sadly that's how some of our schools are run.

These disruptive students are a cancer to our school system, and when a body has a cancer we don't say, it didn't mean it, lets give it a chance, then another chance and another, we don't ask if we think it's being serious, no what we do is cut it out, and we do so because that's the only way we can save the body, and it may be the only way we can save our school system to.

The name of above is you can't save them all, but we can save, we can help the vast majority of them and these students, not the ones who are continually disruptive deserve our time and effort.

No child left behind should be changed to, we're leaving about five percent of them behind until they shape up.

MAP Money, 20 pieces of silver
If you heard a few screams of joy coming from Ed White high school two Fridays ago it wasn't because a few pimply faced freshmen passed their first big test of the year, it was because a few teachers found a little note in their boxes notifying them they had been awarded the Duval Merit Award Program (MAP) performance pay bonus for the 2006-2007 school year, I was one of those teachers. If you don't know, the MAP bonus was given to the top twenty-five percent of teachers in Duval county and amounted to five percent of the average teachers pay or about 2200 dollars and change, even after taxes an appreciated and significant amount.

I was very excited to receive it, and more it was unexpected, you see when they announced the criteria for it very late last year, I thought there was no way I would get it. This despite the fact there were only two eligibility requirements and I met them both, having received a good evaluation and seen improvements in my students as well. The catch being they were going to use students F-cat scores to determine if they improved or not, and that was a problem for me, and not because like many teachers I feel it's an unfair assessment tool but because despite the fact my students are in high school, they don't take the F-Cat.

You see I don't teach math or science, or even English of history, heck I don't even teach art or P.E., no what I teach is life skills and personal safety, I sometimes jokingly tell people I teach the penny, the color brown, how to make popcorn, and the big hand on the clock, the joke however is, I am actually not joking, to (trainably) mentally handicapped (TMH) kids. How they were going to evaluate teachers in my area as well as art and P.E. and a few others was significantly vague, it seemed as if we were going to be left out, so when I left for the summer the thought of me getting the bonus, where it wasn't completely out of the question, it was nearly so.

So when I got it I proceeded to giggle like a little school girl while simultaneously doing a happy dance. After my giddiness subsided I went to share my good news with my colleagues, little did I know, I would soon be sneaking to my car with my head down.

I went to the classroom next store to share my good news with my good friend and fellow TMH teacher. He taught the same kids I did as they rotated back and forth between us and two other teachers, he was also my mentor at school (not only was 06-07 my first year at Ed White, but it was also a return to teaching for me, after some time in the private sector) and without him I would have been lost. I told him about my windfall thinking he probably received the bonus himself and he would be happy for me because in my mind he played a big part in me receiving it, but all I got was a rather cold "that's nice for you". He didn't get it and I later learned out of the four of us that literally taught the exact same kids, only two of us had received the bonus.

Not feeling the love I went and visited another friend of mine. She is the head of her department, teaches honors classes, sponsors clubs, and is regarded as one of the best teachers around, she had to have received it, and I thought we could bask in our greatness together, I felt I would be safe in sharing my good news with her. The problem was she didn't get it either and all I got was another cold "that's nice for you".

On my planning period I headed to the lounge, before I entered I overheard a few teachers talking about the MAP bonus, one said I can't believe this teacher got it, another said I can't believe that teacher didn't get it, when I finally decided to enter their conversation literally screeched to a halt, and after a moment they all got up to leave, on the way out one of them gave me a "that's nice for you" smile. The whole rest of the day I felt a bit like a pariah and all I had done wrong was to do my job well, something I had in common with the vast majority of teachers at Ed White high school.

So here I am the pride and excitement of receiving the MAP bonus earlier in the day quickly subsided, now it was replaced with guilt and instead of inviting kids out to celebrate our successes I was now trying to avoid my colleagues as I snuck to my car. I was afraid if I saw more of them, I would just upset them as well.

I felt bad on the lonely ride home but not because I didn't feel I deserved it, on the contrary I think I am a very good teacher and I definitely deserved it. When it comes to instruction and forming relationships with students, the two things I feel are the most important things teachers do, I think I am in the top one percent, though if I am being honest there are a few other areas that the modern teacher is responsible for that I lag behind in, no I felt bad because I thought a lot of other teachers, some who are just as good at the things I am good at and some who are good at the things I am not so good at, deserved it to.

A few years ago while taking a Learning Strategies class for my certification the teacher showed a video of a teacher, and we were supposed to rate her effectiveness on a scale of zero to four. She was dry and boring, a little haphazard with her classroom management and unfair with her discipline. I turned to a teacher friend who was taking the class with me and said "I am going to give her a zero, what are you going to give her?" He looked at me and said "I am going to give her a one."

"What" I literally shouted back, "she was unclear, uncaring, unfair and undeserving of even one point, how can you justify giving her anything." He then calmly replied, your right, about all that, but what you are forgetting about, is she showed up, she came in, when so many other people in society won't." I later changed my score of her to a one too.

And that's what teachers do, they show up, often to overcrowded classrooms, not enough supplies, rowdy students, apathetic parents, and demands on their time that far exceed the 7.5 hours a day they are paid, and the vast majority of them are a lot better than the teacher in the video, and the vast majority of them deserved better, than seeing a quarter of their colleagues rewarded for basically the same work that they had been doing.

Now I am not saying every teacher should have gotten the bonus, though if it would have been distributed equally among all teachers, each of us would have received about six hundred dollars, and I am definitely not saying I plan on giving the check back, under the system I earned it, also last year as a sixth year teacher I was making less than first year teachers do now, and right now my raise for next year is scheduled to be a whopping 219 dollars (which means after inflation my actual disposable income will go down).

Also I don't want to sound unappreciative or ungrateful because I am not, but I also think I am a bit lucky to. When teachers like Bob Hurner and April Lane, along with so many other great teachers don't get the bonus, it's obvious the system is broke and unfair and if we can't get it fixed by next year, I say unless your that one teacher in that video lets go ahead and split it up evenly, as much as I would like the extra money, I really don't want to have to sneak to my car at the end of the day again.

I wanted to go outside and you said no. My eyes rolled back into my head, wha, what I eeked out. Mr. G. I asked if I could go outside and you said no. I sighed, and then said, listen we are going to get to go outside just not now sweetie, (girls are sweeties and boys are brother or buddy) but it's going to happen. Now let's get back to work.

I completed my lesson on the letter brown or was it the number clock, I am not sure the lessons have started to blend together. After a while the day ended and I bid the class adieu, though I said something akin to don't let the door hit you where the good lord, well I am sure you get the drift. And I sat there, thinking man this girl who I would do anything for and if I care about you, I mean anything, complained about me instead of talking to me. I am not saying I would have agreed had she come to me, but I definitely would have listened, and if I could have done something I would have.

Then I thought about how often we complain, heck I complain about the aww shits people do, and we again including me leave out all the attaboys to which there are usually so many more. My mom would tell me it only takes one of the former to wipe out all of the latter. Maybe that's why she was always so angry at me for leaving the cap off the milk. She also said everybody poops (that was my mom a fountain of quotes), she may have meant that literally, but she may have meant everybody makes mistakes, everybody will occasionally do something some another person doesn't care for, but if Aunt Petunias china didn't get broke or nobody lost an eye, I think my mom might have also suggested letting it slide.

I am not going to lie, in the teacher's lounge I would sometimes complain about something's little Suzy did, but usually it would be inconsequential or fixable, instead of always bringing it to her and after the days event I felt sad for having done so. Sitting in my room after the earlier hub ado, I thought to myself, I have to be better than that, maybe I don't have to point out every good thing that happens, but maybe I should dwell on them more instead of letting them blow away, and if there's something I don't like and it's bad enough for me to complain about it, maybe it's time I manned up, make that personed up, and instead of just complaining to other people, I tried fixing it, I gave the other person a heads up on how I felt, I gave the other person a chance to make things right to make things better, I know if it was reversed I would like a chance to do just that, and sometimes at the end of the day, just a chance, just to have a chance, what more can we ask for, what more can we hope for.

Aaahh little Suzy.