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Monday, October 17, 2011

When Less IS More: A Case for Smaller Class Sizes

When the district had no legal grounds to fire me in the wake of Bloggate 2011, they tried to make me superfluous by encouraging students and their parents to opt out of my classes. After all, what is a teacher without students to teach? Unfortunately for that plan, my numbers--though they did drop significantly, leaving me with about a third of the number of students I would normally have had, and with only a third of the number of students my colleagues have--did not zero out.

What I was left with, interestingly, is the number of students that each class SHOULD have for optimal teaching and learning.

The way our education system is set up today, however, the trend is toward increasing class sizes, and not lowering them. Sadly, this is a recipe for failure (which is what policymakers are aiming to do when it comes to public education. After all, if the public school system fails, it must mean that the right action is in privatizing all of education and making it more of a business than it already is. What a clever plan!) Teachers have too many students and not enough time (and, sometimes, resources) to effectively do their jobs. Students are lost in the shuffle as a result of a broken system. Everyone loses.

In years past, I've had classes of all sizes-- from 1 (yes, 1; in fact, I had 2 sections of 1 student each on opposite days and I always wondered why they couldn't combine those sections to at least create a class of 2...) to 30. Now, there is such a thing as too small. 1 is too small. There's no opportunity for collaboration, among other challenges. But 30 is way too large. First, there are too many bodies in the room. Next, there are too many individualized needs and styles and aptitudes and preferences--in a class of 30, someone is always going to go unnoticed.

My classes this semester are 12, 15, and 7 students. I have gone out of my way to make the most of this opportunity, which I've approached as a unique chance to get to attempt to run class in a way that makes the most of it for my students.

Here are just some ways I've noted a positive difference with a smaller number:


It is expected that teachers provide students with feedback on their work, so that students can use that feedback to move forward effectively in their studies. With larger classes, the quality of that feedback sometimes suffers because there simply isn't time to do the job the way it needs to be done to have the most positive benefits. Sometimes this might manifest itself in a check mark on a page or a blanket statement meant to cover the trends in the class. But with classes that are half the size, there is time to provide targeted feedback to each student on his writing, his projects, even his tests and quizzes. There is an opportunity to take the time to write comments on every piece a student hands in that is specific to what the student has handed in. There is time to conference with students on their work. Am I saying that teachers with 30 or more students don't manage to do these things in a quality manner? Of course not. Many still make it work. But it's much more difficult and may require, for instance, a teacher meeting with students before and after school, or spending hours on hours of her personal time working to complete these tasks (tasks which very often go unnoticed by outsiders who imagine that a teacher's day ends at 3pm, when, in some ways, a teacher's day is just beginning what with lesson creation, grading, and meetings taking place.) The larger class numbers may mean longer turn-around time to deliver helpful feedback or less pointed feedback being given. And, for the teacher, it may just mean more stress and less patience as there simply are not enough hours in a day to do her job the way she would like to do it.

Student Progress and Community
With large numbers, it is quite possible for teachers to have difficulty keeping track of individual student progress. Students could, theoretically, fall through the cracks. With smaller numbers, though, it's easier to keep on top of trends in homework completion, levels of participation in class discussions, and slips in behavior/interest levels. The smaller numbers make it possible for teachers to be aware of their students' work habits and intercede as needed. The small numbers also make it easier to make sure that all students are heard from in class. Does that mean that there aren't still some dominant personalities in the room? No; but it does mean that it's easier to draw students out who might normally be disinclined to talk. There's a perception that everyone talks--it's just what happens in there. With fewer students, there's more of a need to contribute because there aren't as many bodies to pick up the slack. It can even equate into a stronger class community because everyone knows everyone else; sometimes it can even feel like a little family.


I've been able to conference with each of my students about their progress in class. I've been able to sit down with them and talk to them about the quality of the assignments being assigned, the running of the class in relationship to their needs, and their individual levels of confusion/understanding of the materials. There is face time. And this conferencing can happen more regularly because it doesn't take place over a number of days or by appointment only. It can be integrated into a regular class period while students work on independent or group tasks. I've also found  my students more likely to talk to me privately about personal matters that may pop up, which I attribute, in part, to their comfort level in talking to me because they are used to doing so.

Individualized Needs/Pacing

Closely related to student progress and conferencing are individualized needs and pacing considerations. With smaller classes, teachers are able to consider the needs of fewer students in their class, and can let the class dictate the pacing of the lessons, instead of the need to move forward. I've been very surprised to realize how much more quickly certain lessons run with fewer students in the room. When one stops to think about it, it makes sense. But it's something I didn't consider very much until I was faced with lessons running smoothly because there were fewer interruptions or because every student was comfortable with the material and was ready to move forward. With more students in the class, it's less likely that everyone will be ready to move ahead. Therefore, at any given time, it's possible that some students are forced to wait to move ahead if most students need more time with a concept, while others are being left behind because most students are ready to move on. Some groups, too, prefer different methods of doing things. It's easier to identify and cater to those preferences when their are fewer people involved.

Communication with Parents/Guardians

With fewer students, it is also more likely that teachers have time to notice or spend time on interpersonal matters. This semester, because I have such small classes, I had time to personally email each parent who attended back to school night. It was a great opportunity to create relationships with my students' parents and help build a bridge between home and school. I've had time to email parents when their student seems out of sorts or even when their student makes a positive contribution to class.

When I was shopping around for colleges, one of the big draws for me was the teacher: student ratio. I wanted to be somewhere where I would be a name and not a number. I chose to attend Rosemont College as an undergraduate and was always struck by the individualized attention I received from my professors in my small classes. My largest classes at Rosemont were intro or survey courses (100- or 200- level)--they were about 28 students. My smallest class (an upper-level French class) was 4 students. For most of my major courses, though, the classes maxed out at 12. Sure, it made it difficult to fade into the background. It made it necessary for me to be present and engaged in the proceedings of the day. It made it necessary for me to be prepared when I arrived. (When I wasn't, it made for an embarrassing hour. But I made damned sure I was ready the next day because I never wanted to feel that way again.)  Are any of these factors BAD things? I don't think so. These are the things that students need to succeed.

I wish that policy-makers would realize the benefits of the smaller classes, and find a way to make them a reality.

While my own low class numbers was the result of an effort toward punishing me, ironically, it's been a positive experience. It's helped me to realize anew that we're operating within a broken system, and given me a chance to see another specific way we could work to improve that system.

Perhaps there should be a push for parents to opt out of large classes for their students, so their kids can more consistently get what they need from an instructional and community standpoint.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Day of Remembrance

Growing up, I'd hear adults around me discussing where they were when Kennedy was shot, or where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed. While I could tell that they clearly felt affected by these events, I never really understood how an event could be so seared into the memories--and very souls--of people.

Then the events of September 11, 2001 occurred.

It has been 10 years, but I remember exactly where I was, who I was with, how I felt as I watched the events unfold, and how I felt afterward. And I know that I'll always remember.

I was a junior in college, a little over 2 months shy of my 21st birthday, and living at home. Since I commuted to school, I tried to schedule my classes on only 2 or 3 days so that I didn't have to drive to Rosemont 5 days a week. While of this point I'm not certain, I'm pretty sure that I didn't have classes scheduled that day, which means that semester I was probably on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday rotation.

I was asleep in my bed, in the room I'd slept in for some 17 years. Besides my dog, who was asleep at my feet, I was alone in the house; my mom was at work, my brother at school, my dad at Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia.

It was the ringing of the phone next to my bed--not the sun's rays streaming into my window, though they, too, might have done the job--that woke me at just a little before 9am. It was my mom. She told me to go turn on the television. I think I asked, "What channel?" and she said, "Any channel." We hung up.

I walked into my parents' bedroom, settling onto their bed, and flicked on the tv. I actually don't know what channel I had on, but I suspect it was Good Morning America on ABC because I vividly remember watching Peter Jennings for the rest of the morning. (Interestingly, in my memory, I've believed for years that I was watching Peter Jennings as the 2nd plane struck, but in watching some youtube video of the coverage today, I discovered that Jennings wasn't even on air yet at that point. I'm even thinking now that it's possible that I didn't get to the tv until after the 2nd plane struck and that I am misremembering because I've seen the footage so many times and because it was replayed over and over again that morning. I suppose it doesn't matter, but it's never occurred to me before now that my timing could have been off.) The way I remember it, I watched, incredulous, as the camera was trained on the burning World Trade Center Tower 1. Then I watched, shocked and horrified, as the second plane flew into Tower 2.

I felt sick with fear when reports of the Pentagon crash came in. It seemed like all hell had broken loose, that major US landmarks were being targeted. I was terrified for my dad's safety, as he was in Hahnemann Hospital receiving treatments for his MS, just blocks away from William Penn atop City Hall, with no way to get out of the city. It seemed to me that this iconic building in Philadelphia could be a target, too.

I don't know if I knew it at that moment in the morning (though I certainly knew later that day), but my aunt had business at the Pentagon that day. She was safe, but we worried for most of the day until she was able to get through to someone and check in.

I cried when I saw Tower 2 fall. I felt despair when Flight 93 went down in Shanksville. I wondered, would this nightmare ever end? I cried more when I saw Tower 1 fall...all of those lives lost.

I don't know if I realized it at the time, but the world as I knew it was forever changed.

The events of that day caused me to start having panic attacks in the ensuing weeks. I worried for my safety, which, before, I'd always just taken for granted. I was heartened, though, by the way the country pulled together. It seemed as though every business I drove past posted signs like, "God Bless America" and "United We Stand" and similar messages of resilience and patriotism and hope. They brought tears to my eyes every time. It seemed like people, for a time, were just kinder to one another (almost in the same way that people seem nicer around the holidays). For a time, we were bonded as Americans. It was something I'd never experienced before.

As the years pass, any thought I have of September 11, 2001 brings me back to that morning on my parents' bed. All of the fear and concern and shock and horror and sadness comes rushing back. I weep for the lives that were lost, for the families who have to deal with the pain of their own losses, for my children who don't realize how their own lives --before they even existed--were to be changed as a result of that day. But I try to also remember that strength of spirit that I witnessed, and the pride I felt because of it. I try to remember that the horrible event did not break us, but made us resolved to fight for what we have.

I am thankful for the resilience of spirit that people have. I am grateful that even the families of 9/11 victims can make positive things come of their losses, that memorials are created and that people are celebrated as heroes and are remembered. In that memory, these innocent people live on, and will always live on.

I know that I will always remember, and that I will always be profoundly affected for having experienced this national tragedy.

As a teacher, I have a unique opportunity to talk to my students each year about the events of that day. This year, my school had a lovely, well organized, and meaningful commemorative assembly to recognize the 10th anniversary of the event. My junior students were in 1st grade when it happened. Some of them don't remember it very well at all. Most of them only remember it as a blur of harried parents and teachers, confusion, and anger that they'd have to have indoor recess on such a beautiful weather day. Unless they'd lost someone or known someone who may have been injured, they were shielded in some way because of their young age. (Sometimes ignorance IS bliss...) Pretty soon, though, I'll have students not even old enough to remember it at all. Soon--so soon--the younger generation will hear me and others talking about where we were on September 11th, and they will only be able to recognize that it affected us greatly, but may not be able to really understand.

While it's a memory that I will always hold closely in my heart, I pray for them that they'll never need to know.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Nice Article

Here's a nice article from today's

I appreciate the sentiment, and thank its author, Kate Fratti.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In the event that the link doesn't work for you, here's the addy:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Decision Time

Back on February 9th, I was escorted by the principal out of my building. At the doors, without really looking at me, he said, "Someone from the district will contact you when a decision has been reached." On February 22nd, the superintendent read a press release at the school board meeting that not only stated untruths (the bit about my so-called attacks on special needs students; see "Below the Belt Tactics" post) and indicated that a formal decision would be reached while I was out on maternity leave, but also that, by my own actions, I had made it impossible to teach in the district. (Read the entire press release)

Apparently, they've had a change of heart.

However, I was not contacted by district regarding my status. I had to contact them.

First, I had to call the district number 5 times. The first time, when I opted for 0 to talk to an operator, the phone rang and rang. I tried again with the same results. On the third call, I tried to dial by name. Apparently the Director of Human Resources must get a lot of annoying calls, so he's not even in the directory. On the fourth call, I tried accessing him through the department listings. Only, when I chose Human Resources, I had to listen to a long message instructing job candidates on how to access information on the Internet; there was ultimately no option to talk to this man or another human. Finally, I tried the operator route again and got a human. She connected me to Herr Director's secretary, but I only got that woman's voicemail.

Second, though I'd gone to all of that trouble and left a message before noon, I didn't get a return call until this morning around 11:15. (I suspect, perhaps, that the fact that there was a board meeting last night may have had something to do with the delay, though there's no way to be sure.)

Third, the call was ridiculous.

It went something like this:

HR: I'm returning your call.
ME: I called yesterday to find out about my job status because I was told that someone from the district would contact me when a decision had been reached, but I still haven't heard anything.
HR: You haven't heard from the district?
ME: Not about my job status.
HR: I was under the impression that you'd received several pieces of mail from your school but hadn't responded to them.
ME: I received a tentative schedule--which could mean nothing other than you being sure you've kept your ducks in a row in case you brought me back--and I received an evaluation that also means nothing regarding my job status. Was I to be a mind-reader and assume that these items meant that I have a job to come back to, after I was told I'd be contacted about the results of the suspension decision?
HR: Those are indicative that you have a position to return to. As far as I'm concerned, you've been out on maternity leave.
ME: Let's not pretend that my leaving was a normal occurrence. I've been on maternity leave before, and there was no question that I'd be back after that.
HR: Well, you're on maternity leave now.
ME: The fact that you're acting now as though my confusion over my job status is silly--when my inquiry is after my union attorney attempted to find out my status and was informed that only I could find out--, and when we both know that this was not a simple case from the onset, is just preposterous. If you take the maternity leave out of the equation, any person who had been suspended would need to be informed of whether they were no longer suspended, and you know it.
HR: Well, you do have a job. Hopefully this clears things up. If you have further questions you can contact your principal. Do you have any further questions for me?
ME: Yeah. Can I get a transfer to another building?
HR: At this late stage? I don't think so. You'll be in the same place.

And there you have it.

All innocence. How silly of me not to have realized that these documents meant something definitive and were not just a means of making sure that the district would be covered if they had to have me back. How foolish of me not to have connected the dots. Only, had they determined that they were firing me, and I'd just shown up to set up my classroom thinking that these 2 innocuous documents meant that I was no longer suspended, they would have said, "Wait. What are you doing here? That schedule was tentative. We said you'd get notified when a decision was made! We didn't change your status-- you're still suspended!"

In my mind--and, I'm pretty sure, most any reasonable person's--if one is suspended, at the end of that suspension--whether it ends with a termination or a reinstatement--one should receive a formal letter saying something like:

Dear Suspended Person:

This letter is to inform you that your suspension is over. You are expected to report back to work on X date. Please contact X person to complete X paperwork.

District Official

But I received no such letter, and was instead made to call to find out my job status, and then made to feel as though I was some sort of dolt for not being a mind reader. For whatever reason, it feels like the games are continuing; I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at this juncture.

In any case, according to the tentative schedule, I'll be back at the same building, teaching almost entirely the same classes I taught before (except for one new elective addition).

On the bright side, I've really missed Macbeth.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Are We Really Compromising?

I wrote this blog post back in the middle of June--and if blogger is the same as it used to be, it might even show that post date when I hit "publish," even though it's now July 19th-- but I ended up holding off on posting it because I hadn't had a chance to vote on the contract yet, I was in the process of getting answers to a few questions about it, and because I wasn't sure if part of my issues with the contract were because I still have a bad taste in my mouth about everything that's happened since February. However, in re-reading it tonight (about a month later), I still feel the same way as I did when I wrote it, so I'm posting it.

For the record, this contract was accepted by both our teacher's union, and the school board, so it reflects the contract we ended up getting.

Part of my issue at the time I wrote it--and something that still bothers me a bit--was that, as a union, we were encouraged to vote to accept it; we were told that it was likely the best we were going to get with the current economic climate, and that it was a decent contract under the circumstances. Now, I believe that our union wouldn't try to guide us down a bad path, so if they said this was the best we were going to get, maybe it really was. But then, another part of me thought: that's bollocks. We're wussing out. I felt sort of let down and out of the loop. I understand they can't keep all of the members in on every stage of negotiations for myriad reasons, but not knowing what went on behind the scenes and what was tossed out and compromised and all of that during the process requires a lot of trust. And frankly, if this is the best we could get, that's kind of sad.

The mediator's report for the possible new teacher contract was released last night at the school board meeting. It was the first I'd seen it because, despite being a union member in good standing, since I'm out on maternity leave (and, if not that, then I'd still be out on suspension), I apparently don't get to know about anything going on with the negotiations unless I seek out the information. Plus, I only get to know what the newspaper shares with the public, as if this isn't my own contract that's in question here.

Regardless, of what I do know about it, I have some serious concerns.

First, there's way too much in the way of pay freezes, and too slow a movement upward in the pay salary. We've already been frozen this year, and people would continue to be frozen until a pay increase in July 2012. Then there's another freeze for 18 months. In a time when, at the least, the superintendent is still receiving bonuses and cost of living increases, and merit pay, and an annuity and car allowance and the like--and who is decidedly NOT frozen--it seems quite unfair and ridiculous that so many people are being asked, nay, expected to take freezes and cuts.

Second, there's an increase to health insurance costs which are supposed to go into effect this July. It seems only fair that, if teachers aren't getting salary increases, they shouldn't have their premiums raised until they're making more money.

Thirdly, and what seems the most glaringly problematic to me, was the proviso that teachers' salaries will be frozen if they receive an 'unsatisfactory' on their annual evaluations, and that 2 'unsatisfactory' ratings result in termination. It seems like an awfully easy way to save money if there's a district shortfall, or to get rid of teachers who are at the top of the pay scale (or who are thorns in the district's sides). After all, these evaluations are pretty subjective. I do not doubt that it would happen. In fact, I happen to know of places where it HAS happened.

Don't get me wrong--I don't have a problem with evaluations. Pretty much everyone in the world is subject to evaluations--students in school, people in the work world--I get it. It's a good check to be sure everyone is still sharp. But to tie the pay to it when the district is constantly trying to save a buck, and to have the fingers of the upper level admin (aka, building admin) performing those evaluations, sounds like a recipe for a whole bunch of new teachers coming in at the lowest level of the pay scale. To me, agreeing to this is weakening our already-weak stance, and opening the door to a place that we don't want to be.

Some district official tried to say this is the opposite of merit pay, because it penalizes teachers for poor performance. Bull. Semantics.

The public touts the importance of teachers doing things with students in mind. They say it should be all about the students. But, I ask, what about the teachers' lives and livelihoods? Should they be doing their jobs for next to nothing? Should they have to worry about providing for their own families? No matter how many teachers love the students and want what's best for them and love what they do, it IS still a job, after all, and something for which they should be compensated fairly. And, though unions tend to get a bad rap, there is a need for them in some industries. Why? Because there needs to be some ability to collectively bargain so they don't end up working for peanuts. Teachers aren't trying to bilk the system. They're just trying to--like every other worker in the free world--get compensated fairly for their work.

This contract as proposed has elements in it that move toward taking away those rights. I'm very concerned that through our effort to compromise, we are compromising ourselves.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Blueberry-Cranberry Bread Pudding with Blueberry Sauce & Fresh Whipped Cream

As it's the summer and I have some time on my hands, I've been trying out some new recipes with varying degrees of success. (Or, rather, I should say, with varying degrees of tastiness. They were all a "success" in that they were prepared properly, but some tasted like ass.) I made a cucumber-lychee gazpacho (as seen on Aarti Party), but I didn't really prefer the texture or the flavor (though the feta-paprika crostinis that went atop it were nice). I also tried pickling some watermelon rind because I saw competitors serve it up on Chopped several times and I loved the idea of not throwing out the rind. As it were, it stunk up my house and tasted as bad as it smelled. Yick! (On the bright side, I realized just how substantial my spice collection is--got to use quite a few I've never touched before.)

Last night, though, I finally "hit" with blueberry-cranberry bread pudding with a blueberry sauce and fresh whipped cream. I tasted a bite right out of the oven and was sad to have to wait until today to have a full portion. This afternoon, it was a big hit with my extended family, and it is at their urging that I'm sharing the recipes. I would like, of course, to credit the sources of the recipes (which I modified slightly and will be sharing the recipes as I made them): Robert Irvine (for the base of the bread pudding), Ina Garten (for the whipped cream), and Sherri Eldridge's Best of Blueberries (Harvest Hill, 1997-- for the sauce).

Blueberry-Cranberry Bread Pudding

1 loaf brioche bread (I used Wegman's Red, White, and Blue Bread, a 15 oz brioche-based loaf with dried cranberries and blueberries in it, topped with sugar. $5/loaf)
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup whole milk (*I didn't have whole milk on hand, so I used 3/4 cup of 2% milk mixed with 1/4 cup light cream--it worked)
1 cup condensed milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the bread into 1 inch cubes. (Most recipes call for day-old or stale bread. If you want to use fresh bread, you can dry your bread cubes out in the oven--15 minutes in a 325 degree oven. I did this for my pudding. Please note, however, that if you are using bread with sugar on top--like the Red, White, and Blue loaf I used--make sure the sugar side isn't against the pan; the sugar will burn. I had to trim a few bits off, but thankfully it didn't do too much damage. Also, in this case, I don't think I really needed to do this step; I think the fresh bread would have worked fine.) Toss with the melted butter and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, combine the eggs, milks, sugar, and vanilla until well-mixed.

Pour mixture atop the bread cubes. Gently press them into the liquid and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes, to absorb the goodness. (This is a good time to clean up a bit.)

Pour the bread mixture into a buttered oven-proof dish (I used a 2.5qt square). Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until the center springs back when you press on it.

Serve warm. Store extra in refrigerator.
Makes 6-8 servings.

Blueberry Sauce

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp corn starch
1/8 tsp (a "pinch") salt
2 cups blueberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest

Combine water, sugar, salt, and starch in a small saucepan. Heat on medium heat, stirring frequently until liquid boils and thickens. (It happens sort of suddenly and you'll notice little gelatinous strings appear. Then it becomes even more jellified--that's when it's ready.) At this point, add the blueberries and stir, bringing to a boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes. (The blueberries will break down a little and make the sauce, but some will remain whole.) Stir in the lemon juice and zest, then remove from heat. Let sauce cool slightly before using.

Spoon sauce over bread pudding.

Sauce can be served warm or cold, and is a great topping for ice cream or waffles, too! (Store extra in the refrigerator.)

Makes about 2 cups.

Fresh Whipped Cream

1 pint heavy whipping cream (keep in coldest part of fridge until ready to use--the colder the better!)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla

In a deep glass or metal bowl (preferably one that's been in the freezer for 15 minutes, though I skipped that step), use a hand mixer (or a stand mixer) to beat the whipping cream until thick. While you can, of course, whisk by hand, I wouldn't recommend it unless you've got incredible stamina and strong arms! (As you beat it, the cream will bubble up a lot and you'll wonder when it will come together. Around that time, you'll notice it thickening. It takes a couple of minutes, so hang in there.)

Once it is thick, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat for a bit longer, until cream forms stiff peaks.

Don't over beat, or it'll separate.

Serve chilled. Store in the coldest part of fridge.


I wish you success with this recipe. It's great for dessert, but could also make a decadent breakfast.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Must-Have Condiment Staple for Your Pantry

I am just here making a little sammy for a late dinner (since I had a late lunch, too). And as I was whipping up my new go-to spread to add to my tuna salad, I felt compelled to share this tip for everyone else's enjoyment. It's a condiment that many people probably do not have in their stock, but which all persons would do well to add because it's versatile and oh-so-delicious. Here it is:

Whole Grain Mustard.

If you're like me, you probably already have an assortment of mustards: yellow, brown, Dijon. But this one is different. It has (due to the whole grains) a little pop-burst to it, and even a slightly sweetish flavor, and tastes rich.

Go buy it now--it's right there next to all the other mustards in the supermarket. Really. I'll wait....

Ok, so now that you have it, let me reiterate how yum it is.

I started buying whole grain mustard a few years ago because I found a recipe for a fancy pork loin meal on Food Network's website. It was an Ina Garten (aka Barefoot Contessa) recipe. She uses whole grain mustard often in her cooking, so I have her to thank for introducing me to it.

The pork was delightful and my husband and I received rave reviews on the meal.

More recently, I was looking for a good potato salad recipe. Again, Ina delivered. Again, it called for whole grain mustard. I got rave reviews on the potato salad too--everyone asked for the recipe. I'm telling you--it's the mustard that makes it good.

A few days post-potato salad, Brian and I were watching Chopped. He felt inspired to come up with a "weird" recipe for us to enjoy, so he told me his plan. (It wasn't too wild and wacky, but was basically a tuna salad lettuce wrap melt.) I was game to try it. I only made one suggestion to him: since there happened to be some of the potato salad "dressing" left over, I suggested he use it instead of the plain mayo to make the tuna. He did. Those lettuce wraps were amazing! It was that dressing.

I tried it on egg salad, too--also a success.

So here's the recipe I use (which is slightly modified from Ina's) which you, too, can enjoy with egg salad, tuna salad, potato salad, or, as I also used it, as a spread on a grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato. All, I promise, were delish and it's due to the whole grain mustard.

(For a little over a cup yield of the spread)

1 cup mayo
2 tbsp whole grain mustard
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
3-4 tbsp fresh dill weed, minced
pepper to taste
(I would suggest NOT adding salt--I've found the mixture quite salty enough without adding it in there)

Stir and enjoy!

I hope you take the time to try this lesser-used mustard. I think you'll be glad you did.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Best $10,000 I Ever Spent

Back in 1999, I made a decision that would forever change my life (for the good, I think): I chose to attend the beautifully picturesque Rosemont College as an undergraduate.

At the time, Rosemont was a women's college, which wasn't at all something I'd been looking for when I was college-searching, but which actually ended up being one of the greatest parts of being there. (As a sad aside, Rosemont has recently gone co-ed which, while I'm sure a lucky break for the boys, is quite a shame to its own heritage. I guess Rosemont did what she needed to do to stay afloat--after all, single-sex colleges tend to have stigmas attached to them and aren't a big draw to today's college-bound students--but the move felt a bit like a sell-out to me, and I haven't yet quite forgiven her for it.) There was always a sense of family there, and, because it was a small school, there was also the sense that each individual was valued for herself and her own contributions. The professors, especially those in the English department (since, as an English Literature major, I spent the most time with them), were exceptional. I received a top-notch education and left much brighter than when I entered.

When I left in 2003, not only did I take a degree with me, but I also took relationships with some of the finest women (and one man--my husband!) I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.

I worked very hard in high school, such that I had earned almost a full academic scholarship to Rosemont, which I supplemented with the various grants I'd won from outside organizations like the Rotary, Soroptimist International, and Sam Walton (Wal-mart); the money I earned for having been a papergirl for the Intelligencer for 3 years; and a Stafford loan. In all, I ended up amassing only about $6,000 in college education debt. However, my loans equalled about $16,000 because I lived on campus for 1.5 years and the rest of my debt was a result of room and board. (Isn't that madness?!)

Had I not lived on campus, though, I wouldn't have been able to experience some of the things or cultivate the wonderful friendships I did. Nor would I have qualified for the work-study program, which placed me as a student worker in the Department of Public Safety where I met Brian, who I married in 2004. (We started as friends, and didn't even start dating until my senior year, long after we'd both stopped working there.) Thus, I often joke that my husband and friends cost me $10,000. But it was definitely money well spent.

While my college girlfriends are a varied bunch, each lady is smart, sassy, and successful. Among my own core group (made up of myself, Erin, Ellen, Kate, Kelly, Laura, Lisa, and Theresa--and 3 others who live farther away: Jamie, Nicole, and Nicole), we have 4 ladies in education--2 high school teachers, a guidance counselor, and a world-traveling teacher of English, 3 lawyers, 2 doctors, an HR manager, a lobbyist, and a partridge in a pear tree. Not a bad showing!

Since graduating, we've celebrated 7 marriages, 4 births (and another on the way), and most recently, an outbreak of 30th birthdays!

Though we don't all get together very often (usually, the crowd is smaller), most of us regularly communicate on facebook or by phone. And, 2 to 3 times a year since 2004, we try to assemble for a meeting of the Rosemont College Wine Club. (In vino veritas!)

One of us will host, and thus sends out the invitations, setting the date and wine type. On the designated day, each lady comes bearing a bottle of wine, and an appetite for catching up. We actually DO conduct a thorough wine tasting in and among our chatter: we discuss the color, smell, and flavor of each wine (we used to try to discuss the "legs", too, but admitted at our most recent meeting last month that we clearly have no idea what we're doing on that front, so we've abandoned it for now.) I keep a log of our comments for each bottle we try. At the end of the tasting, I read back our (often hysterical) comments, we vote on which wine was the best overall, a little prize is awarded to the lady who brought the winning bottle, and we set about finishing off as much of the wine as is left. It's really quite a delight. Not the wine so much (though wine is, let's face it, certainly also great), but the friendship.

I can't elaborate further because we agreed long ago that the first rule of Wine Club is that you don't talk about Wine Club, a.k.a "what happens at Wine Club stays at Wine Club." (It's similar to Fight Club that way, I guess. And Vegas. The rule is probably our only thing in common with either, though.)  In any event, frankly, I've probably already said too much!

I cherish these get-togethers, though, because they remind me of what friendship means, and the important role it plays in our lives. I love that we are each very different women, each with our own distinct personality and path, but that we also share common memories from a happy time when we blossomed as women at Rosemont, and can continue to grow together as we blossom as women of the world. We celebrate each other's successes, mourn each other's losses, cheer each other on, build each other up, and drink wine. What could be better?

So raise a glass to friendship--how sweet it is. (It may have "cost" me 10 grand, but it was worth every penny!) Cheers!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

June Reflection: My Favorite Teaching Memory

It's June.

If I were at work (which I'm not currently for 2 reasons: A. I'm on maternity leave, and B. I've been suspended and continue to await a decision by the district as to whether I'll return next year), I would be excitedly--and frantically--bringing the semester to a close. Papers and final projects would be done (or nearly done). I'd be directing my students to check the online system for final exam preparation materials. Administration would be pressuring teachers to pass their borderline students, while students who had slacked all semester would be approaching me at the 11th hour trying to seek out non-existent extra-credit assignments. You know, standard June behavior.

Next week would be finals. Next Friday, graduation.

But I'm not there to deal with that stuff right now. I'm home with my family.

But June is June. To me, it's the 'end of the year.' And time for reflection.

This year, I have more to reflect upon than normal.

In an obvious sense, I can reflect upon the fact that I started this year super excited and happy and flexible and hopeful. Then I got a particularly malicious group of students (again, no, not ALL of them, but evidently enough to strip the lustre from the positive feelings above) who decided to make it their business to try to ruin me. But that's not what I feel like reflecting on right now. (Some people have charged me with being too negative, but they are wrong.)

Instead, I'd like to reflect on my absolute favorite teaching memory. Why is it in my head now, you ask? Because the student involved is graduating next Friday and will be heading to his first choice college in the fall (for which I wrote him a stellar recommendation letter sharing this very memory!)

In order to appreciate this story, though, it's important to have a little context, so I'm going to provide it first.

Paper-writing time is always one of the worst parts of teaching (and taking) English class. In a general sense, students don't like to write--especially on academic subjects--and feel overwhelmed by the process even before it begins. They sort of psych themselves out right up front, which is a shame. I'd attempted to make the process as painless as possible by pairing the paper with the short story unit (which students tend to enjoy more than other units, probably because the stories are more modern), and by making the essay prompts directly follow the topics we'd specifically discussed in class. Further, I had broken down the essay into several parts (after painstakingly reviewing all of the writing process and a sample essay with them): thesis statements, outlines, quote selection, rough draft, final copy. I offered conferences for their thesis statements, their outlines, and their quote selection.

How this typically ended up playing out, then, was that students would sit down with me for their thesis conference and would have something vague ready to go, and would expect me to fill in the blanks for them. I'd turn this tactic around and ask them leading questions to get to the basis of what they wanted to express, and then they would, in fact, end up writing their own statements. Sometimes they resented this, but a lot of times it worked well. The outlines and quote checks were a little more sketchy. Some students did exactly what they should've done, and had questions ready for me when we conferenced (which is the idea of the conference), and things went well. But more often, there would be parts that were good and parts that were off base, or parts that were not even completed because they'd saved the task for the last minute and run out of time. I'd point out the issues that needed work, and would offer suggestions or ask questions of them so they could realize how they could fix the problems, but, more often than not, between the early drafting process and the final copy, the papers didn't undergo much change. It was so frustrating because it seemed an issue of laziness much more than inability, especially as the review time was there.

Now, with this particular favorite memory, the paper process was, in large part, progressing in a similar fashion as I've just described. We were in the outline stage. The way I had them outline, though, was in complete sentences AND with textual evidence, so, in large part, they would sort of already have their paper written if they completed this stage correctly. If completed properly, they would have put a good deal of time into their outlines.

One of my male honors students came up in turn for his conference. He was a relatively quiet but creative kid, and one who would only participate sporadically in class discussions. He had his entire outline completed as assigned, and it was substantial. He said something like, "I've been working on this and it's pretty decent, I think, but you mentioned something in class recently about the potential supernatural element in the story. I've been thinking about it -- can you tell me a little more about that?"

I was shocked. In a good way. I was so excited. Someone was listening! Someone was interested in something I'd said! Yahoo!!! So I happily explained the supernatural element as he'd requested, and he excitedly interjected a few things as they were occurring to him as I talked.

Then he said, "Wow. This is cool. Would it be ok if I changed the direction of my paper to this, and went home tonight and made a new outline to show you tomorrow?"

Would it be ok for a student to willingly scrap his entire 1st effort in favor of one that he was interested and excited enough to want to explore instead???!!! Hells yeah! I was blown away.

And what's more, he DID it. He went home that night, reworked an entirely new outline with textual evidence, and brought it to me the next day for review. We conferenced again, and he turned the outline into a fully-realized paper for the final deadline. Was his paper the best I'd ever read? No. But it was good. And it was the result of genuine interest and effort, and one of the truest displays of learning and enthusiasm I'd ever seen to that point, and since then, in fact. It was an absolute treat to read.

It was a breath of fresh air. It was so delightful to me as an instructor to be able to have shared an idea that sparked a student's interest and made him want to think about it some more. It was an example of why so many teachers do what they do each day. It was what school is supposed to be about. It was magnificent.

While I wish that these moments were far less rare, I'm still thrilled and touched to have been part of that incident, and will be forever grateful to that particular creative, funny, and enthusiastic young man for showing passion about ideas.

After this incident, he seemed a bit more outgoing in class, and would sometimes stay after for a moment to chat about something I'd said that day. He continued to stop by my room to chat the rest of last year, as well as this year before I left. Like I said, I even wrote him a letter of recommendation and shared his happiness at getting admitted to his first-choice college.

I wish there were more students like him, and I wish this memory wasn't as exceptional as it is. Regardless, though, I hold it close to my heart and, this June, I wish him and the other students who were kind and who tried and who were willing to work, all the best in the future. Congrats to the grads!

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Flavor for Food Network Star Season 7?

Last night was the much-anticipated season premier of The Next Food-Network Star. (What? I was much-anticipating it!)

I've been a fan since the show's inception. However, it seems like Food Network might be trying to tweak its usual recipe for the 7th season, and I'm not sure I'm a fan of the new flavor.

Star is pretty standard fare for reality tv talent search: in their case, they're looking for a person who has cooking chops, is likeable, and marketable from a brand perspective. They also want someone who brings something different to their tv lineup table. (If you'll excuse all of the cooking puns.)

As the seasons have progressed, there have been--as with any talent search--some successes and some fizzles. Amy Finley of season 3, for instance, never reached star potential on Food Network. (Interesting fact for you non-Star watchers: Finley was actually NOT the chosen winner. The original winner was some ex-Marine guy who ended up having some disqualifying characteristic which the show evidently didn't know about until after naming him the winner. Thus, Finley was given the top spot in the manner of Miss America's first runner up, what with Mr. Star being unable to fulfill his duties and all... I'd been a fan of Finley's for most of the season and was happy to see her end up with the win. However, when I saw her show air, it was really quite bad. She didn't have the star-power needed to hold viewer attention; her show was actually boring to watch. Which is probably part of the reason you no longer find her on the Food Network.) Then there's the biggest former Star: Guy Fieri of season 2. You'd know if you read my old blog (before I took it down at the height of Bloggate 2011) that I feel that Guy is over-exposed. He may be a good cook and a fun dude, but he is involved with waaaaaay too many things: TGIFriday's stuff, several shows on Food Network, host of "Minute to Win It." It's just too much for me. I say, sometimes less is more.

There has also been the emergence of the cooking show contestant archetypes: stay-at-home mom who has to prove herself among the "classically trained" cooks, gourmet chef showing his mad cooking skills, foodie-turned-cook, food blogger, ethnic cook, health-nut, former overweight cook who discovered food can be healthy and wants to share, good cook who sucks on camera, bad cook who's good on camera, obnoxious guy, pretty gal... you know what I mean. Everyone is filling a role, beyond just filling their rolls. (Couldn't resist that one!)

Over the years, the challenges have gotten tougher, and the parade of the biggest names on Food Network has gotten more regular, like Bobby Flay as host, and Alton Brown as guest director there to be borderline rude to the contestants. (Seriously, Alton, you could tone it down just a smidge; they aren't professional tv stars yet!) But one thing has remained pretty much the same: most of the contestants have been likeable in some way. Even the obnoxious or weird ones (think Adam Gertler or Tom Pizzica, neither of whom won the show but both of whom now have shows on Food Network) had us rooting them on because they were goofy and fun-loving. Oh sure, there were the occasional double-crosses and lies and slimy behavior situations--some incidents with Debbie Lee of season 5 and Paul Young of season 6 come to mind-- and the occasional 'tude--like from Brianna Jenkins of season 6--but, again, most of the contestants seemed like nice enough people. I've always assumed that this was purposeful on the part of Food Network because, after all, how are you going to successfully market someone who all of your viewers know is a jerk? It would probably be difficult.

But, it seems, something is shifting now.

Maybe it's because reality tv dominates the airwaves now, and the competition is more fierce, and people are tuning in to such trash as the Real Housewives or MTV's Real World (which has grown more and more disgusting as the years progress, though I haven't watched it in years and am basing my contention on clips I see on The Soup), and Food Network is just trying to keep up with the times. But of this season's hopefuls, I found myself thinking last night, there were several personalities who seemed out of place with the normal crew. There were archetypes missing from the contenders (the stay-at-home mom, for instance, though perhaps they don't need her anymore since she won 2 seasons ago...). There were, quite regrettably, new ones that really have no place on this show, and I think it's to the detriment of both the program and the network as a whole that they were even there.

Take, for instance, the 1st casualty of the season: Howie. He is a radio personality who was trying to break into tv. He is not a cook. He said as much himself, and then proved it over and over again in the challenges. He even said to the judges that he was a novice. Um, I'm sorry, but who wants to watch a cooking show hosted by someone who, it's very possible, knows even less than they do about cooking? Not I! He clearly had no clue what he was doing, and was a drain on his team (at least, that's how the show's editing made it seem.) In the team challenge, his teammate Jyll had to find him bowls, ice, utensils; had to help him heat oil; had to instruct him on, it seemed, all counts. But when it came time for judging and his teammates didn't have anything to show for themselves since they'd been busy helping him, he said nothing. Before the elimination, when Jyll approached him about how much she'd helped him, he didn't thank her or apologize--he tried pointing out the things he felt he had done and made it seem like she'd done little for him. At elimination, he tried the same tactic. Thankfully, the selection committee saw that he didn't have the cooking chops and cut him, but I couldn't help wondering how he could have even made it to the taping round. Had there not been any better contenders among the audition video entries than him?

Next, there was the obnoxious dude (who is doing double-duty this season as the gourmet chef who thinks he's a food god), Chris, who tried to buy a 6-pack of beer on his team's trip to the market to get their supplies for the challenge. Did I mention that he was planning to use part of the team's food budget for this purchase? And was trying to pressure one of the teammates into not buying a more expensive chocolate for her dessert so that he could get the beer? Well, he was. One of the contestants remarked early on that Chris seemed like a frat boy. That was an accurate description of him. He also tried to start crap with one of his teammates (the ethnic cooker, if you were wondering) about her spicy sauce. He tried pulling rank and saying he wouldn't serve something that would burn the judges' mouths. She had to argue in favor of the bold flavor as it was her cooking type and her contribution. (It was served; the judges enjoyed it.) His brand of obnoxious and his argumentative nature do not seem like they'll become endearing as time goes on. They will merely become more annoying.

Most notably, however, in unlikeable characters, was a woman who, I think, must have gotten lost on her way over to the Mob Wives taping. A short, dark-haired middle aged woman, Penny showed up in a garish, fuzzy vest-like abomination and animal-print stilettos. Then she took an immediate, catty, and unbecoming dislike to the younger, tall, blond, former-model Alicia. She even remarked that Alicia was tall and blond and her opposite. It seemed quite obvious that she hated Alicia on sight simply because of her appearance, as though jealous of her. Then, in and among her time trying to over-sell her "sexy" food concept (which, also, really doesn't have a place on Food Network), she proceeded to be, well, a real bitch to and about Alicia for the rest of the episode. Penny made snarky comments about Alicia's cooking abilities, was argumentative at the market because Alicia needed "too many" ingredients for her meal (which the judges loved, by the way), was mean about the dessert concept Alicia had come up with for their team, and even appeared to try to sabotage it by letting it boil after being asked to make sure that it didn't. From the look of the previews, it seems like this won't be the last of the cattiness from this chick. I'm not saying I'm Alicia's #1 fan --though, really, she seemed quite harmless and, so far, likeable enough--the animosity coming from Penny was uncalled for, and made her seem like a villain.

As I said before, I don't know exactly why Food Network has decided to go this way in their casting for season 7--perhaps they're trying to stay up with the trends--but I really wish they wouldn't. I was further distressed by their preview montage which advertised more clashing behaviors and incidents coming up this season. Why this new approach? They should really leave the spice and intrigue and trash to the other shows and just concentrate on what has made them successful in the past.

The thought that this shift might be the new norm for this show leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Some readers have requested updates, so I carved out some time to write this post. I probably won't have time to go into as much detail as some of my old posts, but I did want to oblige the askers.

I've been remiss in my blogging of late because I've been thrust back into the throes of infant-rearing. I'd forgotten the toll it can take on one's day-to-day accomplishments. This time, though, as I also have a 3 1/2 year old, it's even more challenging to get things done.

I count it a productive day if we can manage to get out for lunch, an activity we enjoy to get us out of the house.

I'd like to break from my narrative to give a shout-out to a delightful eatery we discovered toward the end of my pregnancy called the Corner Bakery Cafe. I can say that one positive of the whole blogger scandal is that we stopped going to Panera. At first, this was a big disappointment as Panera used to be a favorite haunt of ours, but after everything blew up with the blog thing and I'd been suspended from work, it felt awkward going there because our local Panera is often a favorite haunt of many of my students who, I'm sure you can understand, I didn't really feel like running into whilst dining. In any event, we decided to try this other lunch spot since it was close to my OB's office (and, at the end of pregnancy, you're pretty much going to the doctor for checkups all the time) and, well, the rest was history. We've barely been to Panera since!

The Corner Bakery Cafe is owned by the Rose Group (you may know them as the owners of Applebees--I recognized the name since, back in the day, I worked at Applebees for about a year). The concept of the eatery is similar to Panera and Cosi. It has soups, salads, sandwiches, and pastries--the normal fare. (This place also has pasta offerings, though I've never partaken.) You order at the main counter and are given a number to bring to your table and they deliver your meal to you. Beverages are self-serve. What sets this spot apart from the other two, my husband and I agree, is that, first, it's always immaculately clean. At both Panera and Cosi we frequently have to wipe the table ourselves and self-bus. And the bathrooms...not always so much. But at CBC, the staff are always wiping, sweeping, shining, and bussing, and the bathrooms are clean. When I'm out to eat, this makes me feel good. I figure that if they are taking this much care with the front of the house, the back--where food is stored and prepared--is probably pretty clean too. Second, the food is consistently good and of an appropriate temperature. At Panera, on the other hand, the soup is frequently on the cool to lukewarm side. On one visit, my husband went to make them aware of his not-hot soup, but there was a line of patrons in front of him doing the same. Panera's response: "There's a microwave over near the coffee." They were sending customers to nuke their own soup, rather than fixing the problem in the back! Good customer service, Panera! We've never had an issue at CBC. Third, the food options are expansive and a little different--they use fresh and fun ingredients like jicama, poblanos, avocados, and green chiles in their sandwiches. And their bread is delish, too, so these other ingredients are going on a solidly tasty base.

All in all, Corner Bakery Cafe is a lovely destination serving breakfast (like made-to-order egg sandwiches, french toast, and the like), lunch, and dinner, with fine ingredients, good service, and consistent quality. Do yourself a favor and check them out if you have one nearby. You won't be disappointed!

Hopefully you'll excuse my little Corner Bakery Cafe commercial there, but when I mention "lunch" now, I think of that place--it's almost Pavlovian!--and I've been meaning to blog about it now for a while.

Moving on to other updates.

Bloggate Update:

So far, for those people who follow the developing story, there's been no movement with the case. I'm currently on maternity leave which followed my paid suspension time. (To clear up any confusion that exists out there regarding maternity leave--at least at most places of employ--it's UNpaid. You are allowed by law up to 12 weeks of time off whereby the company will hold your job under Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). But this time is unpaid. Some women cannot afford to take the entire 12 weeks, so may take less time. This is, of course, a personal decision.) In my case, before the whole blog business erupted, I'd already been approved for all 12 weeks of FMLA leave--which would take me to the beginning of June--followed by an unpaid leave of absence for the rest of the school year. Thus, lest people think I'm still collecting a check, the only time for which I was being paid under the terms of my suspension was Feb 9-Feb 28. The rest of the time has been unpaid. This little cushion of not issuing me checks, I suspect, is part of the reason the district can drag its feet on making a decision regarding my work status, and why I've heard nothing from them since Feb 9th when I was unceremoniously escorted off the premises. I've heard and read statements they've made about me, but they haven't contacted me at all. And so we wait.

If you check out the May issue of "Philadelphia Magazine" (about which I've been in the process of writing a post, but which I haven't yet published on here), there's a feature article about me and my story. I think it's pretty fairly reported and does a good job outlining the situation. It even mentions Panera--so we've come pretty much full-circle here! Ha!

Family Updates:

My newest daughter is now 6 weeks old! She's doing well, a mean case of baby acne and excessive gassiness notwithstanding. (Anyone know if there's anything to do about baby acne besides leave it alone? It looks terrible!) Unfortunately, she has some baby acid reflux so is on medicine for that. We tried other routes first, but it's the only thing that seems to work. We even tried taking her off of it, but the problems returned. So for now, welcome to the world--here's a pill for your problem. I wish I knew some homeopathic or American Indian-type remedy for her issue (because you know they had some way to cure indigestion!) Alas. Mercifully, though, she's pretty much sleeping through the night--thanks to swaddling. Without it, she woke herself up pretty often flailing about. Now, even though she does not enjoy being put into her baby straitjacket, er, swaddle, at bedtime, she sleeps comfortably for long stretches. Yay!

My 3 1/2 year old is a great big sister. She hasn't displayed any signs of jealousy or no-longer-an-only-child annoyance, so we're happy about that. I do think she wishes the baby would just grow up and play with her, though. haha. Otherwise, she's at the stage where she fights naps (even when she NEEDS them!) and exerts her will. You know--she's 3.

It's tough having two at once--someone should have warned me. Ha ha!

Education Reform Updates:

Despite not being in school, I'm still a card-carrying member of the teacher's union. There have been a rash of anti-union and education-funding-cuts reform movements of late, and it has been horrifying to watch. It has also been strange to watch because I'm still a teacher, but feel like I'm watching from the sidelines now because of my standing with the district. Nevertheless, I've been sending letters to my state representatives regarding various education issues (vouchers, furloughs, funding, to name a few) in solidarity with other union members.

I've also been reading with interest several thought-provoking articles written about education -- this April 30 NY Times piece "The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries," and EducationVotes' "Teacher Takes on Educator Bashing in Provocative EdWeek Post" which cover some points I've made in my posts in the past or that should be considered as well. Check them out. It's a sad situation that the budget cuts are taking such a toll on the system as a whole.

As I said, I'll write more as soon as I have time. Or if/when I hear anything from the district. Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Philadelphia Magazine Feature Thoughts

The May issue of "Philadelphia Magazine" has a feature article about me.

I liked it and found it to be a pretty accurate depiction of what's been happening--certainly a more complete picture than other media sources have reported in the past, which I appreciate.

I was particularly interested to read the parts of the article dealing with what was coming out of my school, both from the principal and from some unnamed colleague. (As it were, I've been pretty completely cut off from school goings-on since February 9th. Not even my school "friends" feel comfortable talking to me in large part. The one or two who will chat try to keep things as non-work-oriented as humanly possible. I can't help but wonder if they were told not to talk to me. What is the school going to do if people talk to me? Fire the person for communicating with me? Think that by talking to me in any capacity means that the other person agrees with my every thought and action? Sorry, but that's absurd. But again, it makes me wonder what was said behind closed doors about this whole affair... but I digress.)

In reading the article, I found it particularly ridiculous to hear the principal describe the school as "almost utopian." Haha! Sorry, but NO place is perfect or ideal. What followed that statement was information that last year the school had a 99% graduation rate and that 94% of those kids were college bound. While I am in no way trying to discount these statistics or take away from the accomplishment of anyone involved, these facts alone do not perfection make.

Graduating and going to college--while good and admirable--cannot be counted as the mark of high esteem and success they once were. Most students (particularly those who can afford to pay for it), go to some form of college these days; they almost have to go in order to be marketable for a job. And check the stats--colleges are having to do more and more remedial work with incoming freshman students than ever before. Just because students are graduating and going off to college doesn't mean they are college-ready. Nor does it mean they will be a success; further, there are plenty of life paths that do not include college that will result in successful individuals. Thus, citing those stats does not mean perfection is present.

Nor does a degree--from high school or college--mean that someone is a good person. Their degree, in fact, may be the only positive thing he or she has going. (Consider, for instance, some of the nasty, disgusting comments (also quoted in the article) that were made by some of the students at this "almost utopian" place, or any of the stories of frustration I or any of my silent colleagues have encountered.) Yeah, it's so nearly perfect I could cry.

But in pointing out this bit of absurd diction on the part of the principal, I will note that as much as the school is FAR from a utopia, it is also hardly dystopic. It's a normal school with some normal problems, which, in itself, is a problem (see previous posts regarding the state of education today). But to try to act like the situation is otherwise is just sad and lame.

Also sad and lame was the claim that he "couldn't imagine an educator would feel this way--and then post it with such vitriol." What utter bollocks! Maybe he can't believe I posted it, but he can certainly imagine an educator feeling this way. First off, he was a teacher before he was an administrator; he knows what goes on. Second, he has also made comments behind closed doors as an administrator that have been critical about both students and their parents, as well as other staff. So the faux-surprise and holier-than-thou ruse that someone having a bad day could feel negatively about something pertaining to her job and then make negative comments about it to her friends was just, well, laughable to read.

I was also interested to see some comments from an unnamed colleague who remarked that it's a shame that, "when we want to scapegoat why schools aren't what they should be, we pick on people who have the least responsibility."

I think this mentality is part of the problem with education. Students DO have some responsibility in why schools aren't what they should be today. While they aren't solely responsible, they should shoulder a good deal of the blame. Yes, there are definitely some idiots making the rules and setting up the system to fail. But if ALL students made it their business to care a bit more and take their job as students more seriously, the system would also function better because there would be a demand that it do so; the people at the top would need to make a better go of it. But since so many people who should care don't (i.e. parents, students), it makes it easier for the people in charge to muck it up.

It seems that students are more concerned about the perception of themselves than about their actual behaviors and actions. Those students who were personally offended by my few frustrated postings about students (MANY of whom, I found it interesting and sadly amusing to note, had mis-identified themselves as the specific "target" of comments I'd made in a general sense, which is rather telling in and of itself) wonder if this is how teachers view them. Part of the animosity I've encountered has been because students allegedly now have a complex about the fact that others are thinking things about them, and how they are viewed. (What a concept!)

But to that I ask: why is that a problem? Shouldn't we ALL be concerned about how others view us and keep that in mind as we make decisions about our actions? I think it's a good thing that they wonder. They should wonder. Maybe it will help some of them not to spend class time twisting paperclips into the shape of people having sex or feel that it's appropriate to come up to a teacher after she's called home and brag about how they weren't punished at home for their behavior. Maybe then school could actually focus on what matters: learning.

Maybe this situation will be a learning experience for everyone involved.

Friday, April 8, 2011

5 Products Every Pregnant Woman/New Parent Should Buy

IT has been a long time since my last post, and that's because I am a new mother again (for the last time. I'm not a good pregnant person.) Yippee. With the exception of having gone full term plus a few extra days and being completely uncomfortable waiting endlessly to go into labor (and, of course, having to actually give birth--owee!!) the labor and delivery process went smoothly and I delivered a healthy baby girl at the end of March. Whew.

WHILE the issues with education are absolutely still on my mind (particularly as, no, I still haven't learned my fate with regard to my blogging situation, and I've been watching in horror as bill after bill is being proposed or passed limiting teacher and other union rights--some of which will definitely cause further destruction to our already-troubled education system), I've been thrust full-force back into the world of new parent, and I have other things on my mind as well. In addition to which, my blog was always about my life overall, so I'm going to branch back out and cover all sorts of topics, including, but not limited to, education issues.

WITHOUT further ado then, I'd like to share a list of products that pregnant women and new parents should be sure to purchase. If you aren't expecting, I'm sure you know someone who is, and thus this list is for you, too, as you'll be a hero to a new parent when you give one of these gifts to them.


1. Snoogle Total Body Pillow ($59.99) While, yes, $60 is exorbitant for a pillow, this is an item I passed on during my first pregnancy. I opted for a standard $12.99 body pillow because I couldn't reconcile myself to spending $70 on a pillow (the cost has dropped a bit in the 3 years since I was last pregnant). However, this is one of those instances where you get what you pay for. The body pillow did jack squat in helping me sleep. See, I'm a stomach sleeper. However, when you're pregnant, that isn't really an option for obvious reasons. My second choice is my back, then my right side, then my left. Medical people and pregnancy books recommend that women sleep on their left sides during pregnancy, and not on their backs or right sides (something to do with pressure on main arteries and major organs). The Snoogle is a long, thin pillow that's shaped a bit like a C. It runs down the length of one's body and fits well between one's legs and/or under one's growing belly. It helped me get some sleep at a time when sleep is not easy to come by. For that reason, I love it and felt that it was worth the expense in the long run.

One thing that should be noted, though, is that the pillow doesn't come with a pillow case. That's an extra $19.99-$26.99. THAT was more than I was willing to pay for such a thing, so I didn't get one and just used the pillow itself. It worked out fine for me, though the pillow did get little beady fuzzies on it from being used so much. If that bothers you, by all means get the (ridiculously overpriced) pillowcase. I just couldn't do it.

2. Maternity Belly Band ($24.99-$29.99, depending on brand) When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I joked that I wished that I could hire someone to stand under my stomach and hoist it up so it wasn't weighing me down so much. Then I discovered this belly harness at Babies R Us. It's a thick band that velcros around one's back and serves as a harness under one's stomach, much in the style of someone standing under there holding it up! It offers both back and stomach support. It was my absolute favorite purchase during my first pregnancy. I did try to use it the second time around, but it didn't work as well for me. I have 2 theories as to why: 1. The harness was old and stretched out. Perhaps if I'd bought a new one it would have been more sturdy. 2. I carried a little lower and was HUGE much earlier, so maybe there was just too much of me to hoist upward. Regardless, though, I do swear by this product. Boppy makes one called Boppy Support in Style Maternity Band that looks pretty close to the one I had (which I can't find online but it was MOM brand).


1. Triple Paste Diaper Rash Ointment ($8.99 for 2oz tube; $28.99 for 1lb tub) One of the best diaper rash creams out there. While it's more expensive than Desitin (more than double the cost, in fact), it works a lot better. I've used it for both of my babies and any redness clears up overnight with its use. Worth every penny!

2. Diaper Genie II Elite Diaper Disposal System ($34.99-$39.99; refills $19.99/3 pack) We had the regular, non-elite Diaper Genie system for our first daughter. I actually blogged about that system in my old blogs. Basically, you would put the diaper in the pail, shut the lid, twist a few times, and voila!--diaper gone. When you empty the container, the diapers resembled a sausage roll what with the twisted, individually-wrapped diapers. The problem with this system was that it smelled like someone crapped on a powder puff--emptying the thing was pure torture and the nursery always smelled bad. When we found out we were having another baby, my husband and I both agreed that, while there were many things we were going to re-use that our first daughter outgrew, we were definitely going to 'splurge' on the updated diaper disposal system. So far--for the first 2 weeks anyway--we've found the upgraded system to be so much better. The sausage roll is gone, the sickening powder smell is gone, the smelly nursery is gone. And it's easier to empty. While I know that this is something that could change with time (perhaps, after all, it's still too new right now), I'm quite pleased with the new pail.

3. Dr. Brown's Natural Flow bottles ($12.99/2 pk glass; $54.99 BPA Free Deluxe 10-bottle Gift Set) With our first daughter, we used Playtex Ventaire bottles. They sucked. They leaked out the bottom and the neck, and had the worst nipples in town. My poor baby would suck and suck and not get any formula because the hole wasn't big enough; we ended up having to use a pin to open the hole more so she could even eat. HORRIBLE. So, again, we knew that the bottles would be another product we would replace and upgrade for the second baby. The Dr.Brown's bottles appealed to me because I wanted to try glass bottles this go-around. However, in shopping, we found that glass bottles are hard to come by and that there were no good multi-pack purchase options on them. A big part of the reason I wanted to go glass this time was because of the dangers of BPA in the plastic. However, I found that most bottles are now BPA free anyway (as are Dr.Brown's) so I was willing to compromise and try the deluxe gift set listed above.

The idea behind Dr. Brown's bottles is that there's a valve that vents any air to the bottom of the bottle in an effort to help reduce spit-up, colic, burping, and gas, and that creates a vacuum-free system that more closely resembles breastfeeding. My first daughter routinely spit up after eating. My new daughter who is using these bottles almost NEVER spits up. She burps a lot less, too. These are great bottles for what they're designed to do. The nipple is the right flow, the food doesn't come out too quickly or too slowly, etc.

My ONLY gripe with them is cleaning them. There are 6 pieces to each bottle: the bottle itself, the valve, the vent, the nipple, the cover that holds the nipple in place, and the cap. The valve and vent require a special little brush tool (included) to clean them. Therefore, it can take me up to 30 minutes a day to clean bottles and prepare formula (the bottles are actually dishwasher safe, but because I have to clean the valve and vent by hand, I just do the bottles at the same time so all of my pieces are ready at once). But the trade-off is worth it to me; these are a solid product.

Hopefully my baby product endorsements will help steer you in the right direction if you're shopping for pregnancy/baby supplies. There are tons of products on the market, so recommendations are definitely a good way to weed out the good from the bad.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's feeding time once more!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Relevance of the New Reality: Where Have All the Thinkers Gone?

Earlier today, my friend who keeps me in my news, sent me a link to the following article from The New York Times. (You should really get yourself a friend like this--she reads a ridiculous amount of news in the form of magazines, newspapers large and small, blogs, and the like--and then sends me links to anything that may be relevant or interesting to me: vaccination information, day care scandals, organic foods, wine and book reviews, education nuggets, etc. Basically, if the blogging teacher had been someone other than me, my friend would have sent me the link to the story! She's really very thoughtful and it's a fun way to spark conversation.)

J. Steinberg's 3.16.11 article "SAT's Reality TV Essay Stumps Some" ( discusses how some versions of the most recently administered SAT had an essay question dealing with reality television which, apparently, caused some students a lot of heartache. According to the article, the prompt included the question, "How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?"

The article also points out that this (and all) SAT questions "are preceded by an explanatory statement -- 'These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives' -- as well as an assertion: 'Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being mislead.'" The intention is to supply students an opportunity not only to demonstrate their writing skills, but also to give them what they need to answer the prompt, regardless of their interest or knowledge on that particular subject.

What struck me, in particular, was this statement: "This particular prompt, Ms. Garcia [executive director of the SAT program] said, was intended to be relevant and to engage students."

(However, despite the attempts at relevancy and engagement levels for students, some of them still complained. One student is quoted in the article as saying, "I kinda want to cry right now" and another as remarking, "I don't watch reality tv at all so it was hard for me. I have no interest in reality tv shows..." What they don't seem to realize is that watching reality tv is not necessary in having an opinion about it. And ironically, most people have stronger opinions on matters they know even less about, and that rarely stops them from weighing in!)

More and more, there is a move to make things relevant and engaging to students. Relevance IS important because it does lead to buy-in and engagement, which, in turn, leads to happier students and, in theory, greater achievement because they care about what they're doing. However--and this is something that has bothered me for years--NOT EVERYTHING is going to seem relevant or be engaging to all students. Sometimes in life, things are boring. Sometimes, we're asked to work with ideas we could give two craps about and just wish would go away. We still have to do these things. Sure, we can complain about them being boring or pointless or dumb, but they still have to get done, and done to the best of our abilities. That's life.

But I've noticed in the past 2 years or so that the move in education is so much more toward the dog-and-pony show, and not enough the reality that not everything is going to be fun.

For one thing, students come in to class and expect to be entertained all the time. They want movies, technology, group work. They hate having to read, think, or be creative. Lectures are boring. Background information--which, ironically, may in fact point out the relevance of the lesson to their lives--becomes a perfect time to catch up on calculus homework or some ZZZs.

It isn't that there's anything wrong with movies, technology, or group work. They can be great. That is, if they are being implemented because they are legitimately the most effective way to cover the information. However, let's face it, there's a lot of work that leads up to the effective use of those other things. How can you have a lively discussion about a piece of literature if you've never read it in the first place? How can you dissect a pig if you don't know where to cut and what you're looking at? It's the "boring" background work that sets up the relevancy but that students seem to so resent (and, in turn, ignore and complain about.)

Students aren't the only ones expecting a show--administration wants the dog-and-pony show, too, that often takes place when teachers are observed.

Teachers are routinely observed by their administration to make sure they are doing what needs to get done and keeping up with district standards and implementing best practices and the like. It could be likened to performance reviews in the corporate world.

In theory, when admin drops in to see a lesson, these lessons should be the normal day-to-day type. However, particularly in announcing their date in advance, there's an expectation that something interesting takes place on that day. (And, frankly, if that isn't the true expectation, it's the PERCEPTION, and thus what teachers do out of fear that if they don't, they'll be negatively viewed.) Therefore, even though there are those lessons where teachers have to just have students reading a section or practicing 20 math problems on their own, those are not the lessons administrators want to see. They sometimes say that they're ok with those types of lessons, but since they have to take notes on the visit, they are decidedly not ok with those types of lessons on those days. So teachers have to plan 'fun' lessons even for the administrators for those days. It isn't that the teachers never do these types of lessons, but it's like they have to break out the good china for their guests those days. The expectation is that the good china will be used.

These "expectations" lead to another trend I've been seeing more and more in the past couple of years, which goes back to something not covered deeply in the Times article but which, I suspect, is part of the issue: students expect something specific and classically academic and are very thrown and/or put out when given a choice or asked to think more creatively.

When I was in school, it was a treat when a teacher assigned a project that had choices. For instance, in one English class I had, we were given a 1-page list of options for how to demonstrate our knowledge of the information. We could write a paper, create a brochure, make a movie or skit, write a book or song, give a speech, make a poster, create a board game, draw a comic strip... you get the point.

As students, we were invigorated by the options and the products were usually great because we felt that relevancy as we worked and had that engagement with our product. (We also appreciated the choice.) Some people still went the "standard" route and wrote papers, of course, because that's how they best expressed themselves, but the option was refreshing.

In my first year of teaching, I had students create a newspaper (with several smaller writing samples dealing with multiple topics) instead of writing a formal essay on one over-arching topic. Some students really struggled with this task because it was outside-the-box for them. Some curricula allow for this type of assignment movement, while others do not, so as I started teaching other levels, the obvious opportunities to offer these other choices seemed to dry up.

As the years went on, though, and particularly after I'd taken a really interesting continuing education course on assessment types and strategies, I made an effort to try to vary assessment types to appeal to different styles of learners and to add that originality and creativity to assessments.

I've noticed, though, that in the past 2 years or so, students (for the most part) do NOT find these options refreshing; rather, they seem stressed out by them. Sure, there are still some students who love having a choice, who think that any option that allows them not to write a formal paper is awesome. (Just as some students in the Times article found the reality tv prompt, "a welcome respite.") But more and more, like the student in the article who wanted to cry, they see the other options as exhausting. Create a song? Create a board game? Too much work.

More and more, they OPT to write the paper. (And, trust me, it is NOT because paper writing is how they best expressed themselves...) The rest is just too tiring.

Even when I had students write in a daily journal and assigned a "free write" (for which they could write about whatever topic they wanted to discuss), they complained about it. "What? I hate free writes. I don't know what to write about. Can't you just give me a topic?!"

[They also HATE anything subjective (unless, of course, they earn an "A" on the task; then it's ok and nobody ever questions it as an unfair or mentions it as a potentially subjective assessment.) If it isn't multiple choice or matching (especially with a word bank), they want no parts of it. How are they supposed to study for it? How can I as teacher deem an answer right or wrong? How can I award partial credit? Why that amount and not more? It's not faaaaaaiiiiirrrrr! If it isn't black and white, it tends to infuriate them.]

The struggles and stress students seem to feel at being asked to think creatively or discuss unexpected or subjective subjects is disheartening. So it's really no great surprise to me that some students are having such difficulty with a more "fun"-seeming SAT prompt.

All of this might lead one to set about to answer a similarly phrased prompt: How authentic can these "relevant" tasks be when school systems attempt to design challenges for the participating students and then students cannot alter their set ways of thinking? Or, dare we say, cannot think at all?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

It Starts at the Top

I am so disgusted right now.

I cannot believe how many teachers have contacted me sharing similar issues and concerns as those I've recently outlined. (This is not what outrages me. I'm glad they're sharing. What is so ridiculous is the commonalities between stories that indicate the deep issues our system faces.)

Teacher after teacher has written in to say things like, "Wow. Your story could have been my own" or "As another teacher who has suffered XYZ, I know where you're coming from..."

Teacher after teacher has written to say that they are now former teachers or have moved to private school or have faced disciplinary action for speaking up.

Teacher after teacher has written to say how they are being undermined and chastised any time they don't "yes" parents, students, and administration to death.

WHY IS OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM SO WARPED? Why are these stories so much the norm and yet the situation is not being fixed but is spiraling more and more out of control???

We live in a country where education is a right. That's fantastic... in theory. However, as with most "rights," there is a point at which we fail to recognize them as something that probably came about as a result of some struggle by someone who came before us, or as something that someone else--at home or abroad--would kill (or die) to enjoy. Rather than appreciating what we have, we take it for granted.

(Case in point: women's voting rights. Women hoped and dreamed and suffered and fought and worked for this right. Yet it's (disgustingly and sadly) not at all uncommon to hear female students today remarking casually, "I can't be bothered with politics. Voting is for boys." Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa????!!!!)

Other countries in the world value education. They value hard work. They realize that education is the key to larger success. The more they learn and know, the more success their countries (and they themselves) will enjoy in future. Education is an investment into the greater good of humankind. Teachers are valued and respected. Administration oversees the cooperation between school and home. Parents push their kids to be great. Students push themselves to bring pride to their families and countries.

Our own great country, though, has lost its way on this point.

Here, funding is cut. Programs are eliminated. Class sizes are increased. Meaningless testing is revered. Teachers are peons and whipping boys for everything that's wrong. Administrators work for parents. Parents pass the buck to schools. Students pass it farther.

Teacher after teacher has remarked to me, "I just want to reach the kids. I want them to understand the material and to appreciate the lesson." My own goal as a teacher is that I want students to leave class knowing more than they did when they entered, to ask questions, to seek the answers, to think and to try.

But there's usually a 'but' that comes after the statement of the teacher goal. Things like:

*But there's too much other work to do (chaperoning duties, conferences, meetings, grading)
*But they won't listen (students, parents, administration)
*But they won't even try
*But there's no support
*But when I point out the issues, I'm scolded or ignored
*But I'm just too tired to fight anymore

I've spent a lot of time talking about some of the problems with student mentalities today, with parental disengagement and heaping on the teacher blame. But let's face it: if the people at the top would demand more of parents and students and would support their trained staff, maybe these other issues wouldn't spiral so out of control.

Nobody is saying leadership is easy. I'm sure that administrators are being pulled in all directions--they need to answer to voters, school boards, the public, the government, etc--but if there was an expectation from the onset that the learning and functioning of the system was the number one priority, I think everything would run a lot more smoothly for all.

To begin with, people who know nothing about education have way too much say in education.

These people, usually elected officials, read snippets of "the latest" in educational research theories and fancy themselves qualified to make idiotic, counterproductive proposals that will affect the rest of the world. (Come to think of it, this is not necessarily unique to education; government itself can be largely uninformed about much of what they decide. But I digress...) Many times, these theories are financially motivated, and do not consider other important factors or possible solutions.

Bureaucrats come up with their supposed money-saving ideas and push them through the system. They strive for uniformity and high performance, but aren't willing to back that up with anything that means anything. Instead, they try to impose merit pay, curb worker rights, force mass firings, and other ridiculous nonsense in efforts to push the blame off of their own poor choices and onto someone else's shoulders, and act like they're doing the system a big favor. They pass all of those stresses onto the guy below them. Here's what you have to do, school districts. Now do it (even if it makes no sense).

Then the district big shots have further theories on how to make ill-informed decisions a reality and how to please their public (wouldn't want to have to raise taxes or anything), and they pass those along to the building administration.

The building administration mucks things up the rest of the way. Most (if not all?) building administrators started as teachers. At a glance, one would think this would be a good thing for teachers. But somewhere along the way (within 2 years, typically) administrators forget what it was like to be on the front lines. They start "drinking the Kool-Aid" and things go to hell.

Suddenly, their main intent is to avoid pissing anyone off, (by "anyone," of course, I mean the school board, superintendents, parents, and students; nobody else really matters) and to keep the customers happy. (Parents and students learn quickly that this is how things run. And then they exploit it.)

Teachers are told the policies du jour of the school. Sometimes, those policies are even explained. Sometimes, there's an illusion that teachers even have input into them. But that's really just an illusion. Because when teachers try to have input, that usually means that there is bound to be some contention over things and suggestions of how to improve the proposed policy or concerns over issues that may arise, and then the time for teacher input promptly ends. Enough talk; let's move to action! Administration really doesn't tend to like to hear anything that isn't "positive."

So teachers try to make sense of these mandates and carry them out. But, from several accounts I've heard from other teachers, when they encounter confusion or seek administrative clarification, they are told to use--wait for it--their "professional judgment." (There's a laugh!) So they use said judgment, only to encounter some complaint, and then they are promptly called in by the administration for discussions of how they misinterpreted something or should have handled it differently. The administration's half-baked ideas are purposely vague because they don't know how to tell the teachers how to implement them (since, perhaps, they weren't so well-considered as they first seemed and that extra input WOULD have been useful), so what happens is that they leave things undetermined and go back and try to correct problems after the fact.

What a shitty way to run things.

Do we go to restaurants and tell servers: "Hey, take a look at me and guess what I'm in the mood to eat. Use your professional judgment since you know the menu. But if you guess wrong or bring me something I'm allergic to, you're not getting a tip!"? What? That's ridiculous? Exactly.

Teachers, though, are routinely left the unwilling participants of a guessing game that usually ends badly for them. So many teachers say, "Look, just tell me what you want me to do and I'll get it done. But don't make me guess what you want, or tell me one thing one day and then change your mind the next day. And if you say you trust my professional judgment, TRUST IT!"

What does this all amount to? Well, frankly, administrators are an unnecessary step in the education process, like some needless middle-management. They're so concerned about answering to their bosses that they forget what it was like to be in the trenches. Instead of listening to the troops and backing them up, they bark orders from behind closed doors and end up appeasing the other side. They're only creating more turmoil in being removed from the day-to-day of the process.

Education is supposed to be about teaching and learning and bettering society and affording our citizens the opportunity to be and contribute something to society.

If the people at the top would keep that in mind and get their heads out of their asses; if they would take a good, hard look at the glaring deficiencies of the system as it exists; if they would tell parents, "Get it in gear, people, and do your jobs at home and sit down with your kids at the end of the day and help them with their work and listen to the suggestions coming from school"; if they would tell students, "Hey, you're lucky to have this opportunity to learn and we expect you to try and to think and to respect and appreciate the system so you can give back to it later"; if they would put a little more stock into the professional opinions and suggestions of their educators; if they would stop trying to make everything about a bottom line and privatization and big business, THEN we would be on our way to making a change that matters. THEN good teachers wouldn't have to quake in fear at telling the truth, speaking up about reforms that would help, or leave the profession altogether, but could actually reach their goals of making a difference in their students' lives and molding young minds.

But it starts at the top. And, sickeningly, until the mentality shifts up there, nothing is going to change for the better.