Thursday, December 29, 2005

Well poop.

I know it's only Thursday, but I have 88 essays to grade and lesson planning to get done. It's supposed to rain buckets this weekend, and I don't want to have to go into the classroom in a downpour.

So really, my vacation is ending. Our plan was to go camping over New Year's... not really camping... we'd all stay in RV's. Yes, I'm so old now that lots of my friends have RV's and campers. I don't, but was invited to bunk with some girlfriends. If it rains as much as it's supposed to, we aren't going. If that happens, it will be the second year in a row that rain will have crapped out our plans.

I don't have a back up plan either. I'm not one to go to the bars, and most of my friends are coupled up anyway. Shoot.

Back to school. Three weeks left of the semester, actually two weeks and 4 days, one of those days a minimum day... argh.

Then, February, the month of holidays and conferences. oi.

I gotta go get some work done.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Crummy contracts

Unions are a funny thing. I come from a very anti-union family, yet here I am, a card carrying member of the CTA.

It means that instead of losing $1200 this year out of my paycheck, I'm only going to lose $500. Yes, I will actually be grossing less than I did last year, because of the increased health care costs our school board so graciously passed on to us.

It also means that the board can't just add a half hour to our work day (with no pay increase, mind you) because they think it's a good idea. And the union bargaining unit is made up of the people who got the extra six hours of adjunct duty a year (again with no compensation) off the contract.

It also means that I hand over $77 each month to an organization with whom I don't always agree.

Our school board is particularly disrespectful of the teachers in our district. I know there are other districts where this isn't so. Their audacity is illustrated best by a comment made several years ago, when teachers were picketing before school hours. Not striking, not working to rule, just picketing. Of course it was a contract problem. This was in December, and the contract had still not been settled, even though we start working in August.

Board member X:
"We don't need to pay teachers here more. They get to live here. If they don't like it, there's at least five people waiting in line for their jobs."

Oh, about what exactly were the teachers disgruntled? The second year in a row of pay cuts. They were picketing not for a raise... oh no, they were picketing because they were earning less money than they were two years earlier.

I love teaching. I hate the politics of it.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A cold and three million meetings

My school got slammed last week. A stomach flu and some viral cold were making the rounds before Christmas. 100 kids, 10% of our students were out last week, and that's not including the ones that left early to go skiing in Vail.

I made it in every day, but barely. Got the head cold. These mini teenagers have no mercy. The week before winter break it's even worse.

Tuesday night, after eight hours of mediation with the state, our union and school board reached an agreement. We will continue to pay $105 out of our paychecks monthly for increased insurance costs, but we get a 3% raise. Oh, I know, it's not quite $105 a month. Yes, it means I'll be making less money than last year. Did I tell you the really charming part? We don't get this raise until the 30th of March. So really, I'll be making about $750 less this year.

Oh, and they added six hours of adjunct duty a year. And a second back to school night in the Spring we are now required to attend.

And my mother was bitching that her Holiday bonus was only $350 this year. What the hell is a bonus? I'm lucky if I get two or three homemade cookies from a student.

Ain't it grand being a teacher?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Coming late to the Japanese Education party

I know, it's last week's news, and really older news than that. Brent Staples editorial on 11/21 suggested looking to Japan to improve our own schools here in the United States.

When I left you, I had just gotten off the plane in Osaka, a bright-eyed 24-year-old woman, looking for adventure and the exploration of a new culture.

I'm a blonde, blue-eyed, rather blunt person; all qualities that may be appreciated here, but made me stand out in a big way there. Of the hundreds of people in the baggage claim area, I was pretty easy to spot by the dean of the school and the English chairperson with him. I was greeted and whisked away to a Chinese restaurant for my first meal. Shark-fin soup is mucky, and slimy, but I ate it to be polite.

I started teaching three classes of 48-50 students each, ten days later. There were four American English teachers at our school, and about eight Japanese English teachers (we'll just call my school "Japanese Junior/Senior High School," or JJSH for short, okay?).

Classes were not held every day; they were in a block schedule, like at the university. Classes were on a Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday schedule, with electives on Fridays. Students stayed with the same group for the most part; I taught the J3's. These were the equivalent to our ninth graders. The three classes were the A's, B's and C's. This had nothing to do with tracking or their ability, it was just the way the groups happened to be organized.

I'll get back to the tracking/ability issue later.

The students had their own classroom; the teachers were the ones moving from class to class. The English department at our school was the largest one, and we had the largest office. We even had our own secretary. Each teacher had their own desk in the room, but all supplies and so on were shared. There were no cubicles or walls separating the desks. The French and German teacher also had desks in our room. It could be a very noisy place at times, and there was absolutely no privacy.

This was also before computers, so anything that needed to be written up was done by typewriter. There was only one phone in the room, and again, no separation from anyone else when one was using it. Again, this was 1988-1991, so I'm sure things have changed somewhat.

Brent Staples talked about "Teacher focus groups" and study groups, but that didn't happen at our school. Of course, I was an outsider, but my experience was that we were told what to teach, and expected to do it with the resources available. Hmmm... kinda the same way things are done here. I didn't see a lot of collaboration, except when writing the final exam. All the students took the same test, so we did create that together.

I'm going to talk about the student teachers I observed in Japan next time.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

sorry been gone so long

Thanksgiving and the last several days have whupped my behind.

And, I see that I'm far far behind the pack on the Japan topic started almost two weeks ago.

Right now I'm freezing in my house. I'm going to go take a hot shower, and then head off to school to grade essays.

Oh joy.