Thursday, March 25, 2010

First Let's Fire All the Teachers

Under the Orwellianly named NCLB law, all public schools across the country will be required to have all their students, 100%, at grade level by 2014. By 2014, unless something changes, we will have a nation full of “failing” schools.

While striving to teach 100% of the students to grade level or beyond is a cherished ideal, it is ludicrous to penalize and deem failing schools that do not reach that goal. But in my school, my wife’s school, at the schools of every teacher I know across the country, we are trying to meet it. We are working our butts off to get the impossible done.

I’ve been teaching since 1987. In that time I have heard teachers lauded over and over again in the press and by politicians as being members of a “noble profession.” That is, when the press and politicians weren’t busy using teachers as scapegoats for all of the educational problems on the country. But it does rest pretty squarely on our shoulders to be the ones to help make the goal. Without teachers, the goal is so far past impossible, the light from impossible would take thousands of years to reach it. And so, of course, all of us teachers are rewarded with respect and the acknowledgement of just how important it is for us to keep working hard.

But, if that is true, if teachers are so important to quality education, why are so many teachers being fired?

In California 23,000 teachers and other educational personnel got pink slips. That is on top of 16,000 teachers and 10,000 other education employees fired there last year. Let’s see, 16 + 23 = 39. So in two years almost 40, 000 teachers are fired in that one state. But the goal to improve the standardized test scores each year took no notice of that. The teachers left are expected to do better somehow.

It is not just California. In Illinois they are looking at a possible 17,000 teachers lost. In New York City (not state, city) they are looking at laying off 8,500 teachers. Almost 50,000 teachers gone this year from just those three places. And, again, NCLB does not take that into account.

And the hits just keep on coming. Googling teachers fired, teacher layoffs, teacher firings, yield far too many hits. We are decimating the teaching profession in this country. And we are expecting teachers left to reach Olympian heights.

Am I the only one here who sees the disconnect? How in the name of all that is sane and rational are we going to have the slightest chance of reaching that goal without the teachers to do the teaching? How can there be no provisions in the law to take this gigantic collapse of public funding into account? How many more teachers will be fired?

I tried to get mad about this. I tried to get all indignant and righteous. Instead the most I could manage was weariness and despondency. I guess all I can do is enjoy the descent in this glorified handbasket that American education has become.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Metaphor Collage Follow-up

I recently put in a post about the metaphor collages I got my students to do. As a follow up, I had them write metaphor poems. They were to take the ideas and images in their collage and create a poem making a metaphor or metaphors based on the word they chose. Here's the one I came up with for my example:

Freedom Is...

A fast car on an empty highway
traveling wherever it wants to go
A butterfly
flitting where it will
A loose balloon
floating untethered into the sky
An angel
blessing me

©2010-Art Belliveau

I have collected up their publication drafts. As soon as I can get them posted, I will link to them. I think this idea worked out pretty well.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ah, Memories...

Back in 2003, a few months after my daughter was born, I went to San Francisco for NCTE and NWP national conferences. It was the one time at a convention I got to talk to really famous people. I talked a little with Naomi Shihab Nye--and she IS wonderful as a person as well as a poet. I got a book autographed by Gary Paulsen. The highlight for me, though, was to get to meet and talk to Paula Danziger.

When I was in high school I read many of her books. I started with The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, and went on to read most of her other young adult novels. I think my favorite may have been Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? As my own parents had divorced when I was in seventh grade, I felt a connection to this.

Her young adult books deal with real issues. Her characters are realistic. And she almost always managed to inject some quirky humor into her writing.

She autographed one of her Amber Brown books to my daughter, Molly. And Molly is just now getting old enough to read the book on her own. I am very excited about this. I ran across the photo above in one of my thumb-nail drives, and it brought this rush of memories.

Thanks, Paula! You really helped me a lot when I was an adolescent.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief -- Book Review

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

If you are looking for a book to add to your classroom library, this is one to consider. It incorporates classical Greek mythology in ways that do not totally destroy and distort the myths themselves.

In this universe, Greek myths were not just stories to explain natural phenomena. Greek myths were real. Are real. And, as in the past, Greek gods still occasionally have affairs with mortals, resulting often in demigods.

Percy Jackson is a sixth grader with a troubled past. He has yet to attend the same school two years in a row due to the trouble he always finds--or that finds him. With dyslexia and ADHD, Percy is certain he is stupid and will never amount to anything.

Soon he is launched into an adventure that takes him from one side of America to the other. Percy must face challenges beyond anything he had ever imagined. With his best friends, Grover and Annabeth, he battle gods and monsters as he attempts to find the master bolt, prototype for all lightning and the most destructive weapon ever created, and return it to Zeus before the gods of Olympus go to war.

It is fast-paced and weaves the fantastic elements in well with the more believable aspects of the modern day. Percy and his friends are easy to identify with and their adventures are epic. Literally.

There are enough major differences between the book and the movie just released that it will be obvious whether your students have really read the book, or tried the inevitable shortcut. This book seems aimed at a middle school audience. It would be especially appropriate for those young men who grow bored easily with the books they read. With one action scene after another, there is little letup in the adventure.

I enjoyed the book a good deal and am looking forward to reading the sequels.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Anti-Test Poems

I tend to rant and rave quite a bit during test week. This year, though, so far my rants have been taking the form of poetry. I thought, as the halfway point of the week is here, it would be a good time to share what I have come up with so far.

soul crushing boredom
mixed with stark anxiety

©2010-Art Belliveau

*Alabama High School Graduation Exam

Blind Spots

I am more
than just a score
more than
a number
this is what you
never see

You do not see
the hours I work
to bring home money
to pay for food
to pay for rent
because my father ignores
his child support

You do not see
my infant son
up crying all night
no one to comfort him
but me

You do not see
the empty stomach
which I could not fill
at home
and was too late to fill
at school

You do not see
me at home
speaking my native language
at home with my parents
who know no other
you see only my struggles and flaws
with this new one
I am learning

You do not see
their expectations
weighing me down
tying my stomach in knots
flooding my brain with panic
desperately afraid
I won't measure up

You do not see
because I hide them
in shame
bruises on my body
from last night's beating

You do not see
my hopelessness
my anger
my boredom
my fear
or maybe you do
and just don’t care

You keep your numbers
Don’t label me
with them
for there is more to me
than all your tests
will ever be able
to see

©2010-Art Belliveau


When I woke up for school today,
I just knew that I was sick.
My throat was full of coughing,
And my tummy full of ick.

I told mommy I had a fever,
She reached down and felt my head.
Then she looked real close at me,
and said, “Get out of bed.”

I think I know what’s caused this,
But you don’t need a day of rest.
You need to go to school today,
You have to take that test.”

And so I went to school today.
I took the test.
(I got an A!)

©2010-Art Belliveau

as if

it is as if
they believe--
truly BELIEVE--
that the answers
on this multiple choice test
will be the same as
the answers to life’s questions
about me and my future

if only it were so

©2010-Art Belliveau