Oh, is it 2013 already?

Hello there Blogosphere.

koala_shockWait. What? What do you mean it’s 2013? What do you mean January’s almost over? Since when?

I admit it. I’ve been remiss at updating A Spartan’s Will. I’m sure my Proton Cara is staring at her screen nodding with a smile, “Judge me now, Bee.” You’re right. No more judging.

Most of my life has revolved around work, and in the few nights I can spend not working, I try to reconnect with friends and family. So, somewhere in my long agenda, ASW has fallen down my list of priorities.

However, today, with a day off thanks to Martin Luther King, Jr., I am going to actually provide an update of my life as a teacher! More to come soon (hopefully), but for now, I’ll try to summarize my life as teacher.

——————–

Warning: I’m going to treat this post like I treat many of the PowerPoints I force my students to endure. It will be randomly injected with pictures of animals…. I’m not really sure why, but there it is.

imagesCivics: My semester teaching Civics did not go at all as I expected. Part of that was that Mumford had two complete schedule change-ups, and about one-third of my students came into my class at the end of November. I tried to compensate for it, but then threw up my hands and decided to just move on as planned and not give a final.

Following along with the election was especially challenging for me. Most of my students come from communities of strong Democratic voters. And while I identify as an Independent Moderate Liberal, I refused to tell my students what my political views were. My job as their teacher was to help them recognize both sides in every argument.

Easier said than done.

Many of them refused to even recognize the Republican position on the issues I presented and made their political preferences based on racial lines. Trying to build their critical thinking skills has become one of my main missions since I made this realization, and we spent the next unit (3.5 weeks) on political ideologies and why people tend to believe what they do.

At the beginning of the unit, I had them take a political ideology quiz. I scored their conservative and liberal views and held onto the results until the unit was over. Many of them have very conservative views when it comes to the economy, gun control, and the military.

images (1)You should have seen their faces when I passed those ideology quizzes back.

So, score one victory for Ms. Bacero there.

I can’t develop their critical thinking skills overnight, but at least they have more of an open mind than they did before. And by the way they were talking about Obama and Romney during October, I’ll take whatever kind of victory I can get.

105060603777825350_0OP75khS_b (1)US History: In the beginning of December I was assigned an extra section of US History. The 9th grade US History teachers have been a little inconsistent here. One teacher was hired late (October) while another left the Mumford staff, leaving those sections with a long-term substitute for two months.We’re currently finishing up our unit on the Second Industrial Revolution and the Gilded Age. They’re starting to get the hang of it, and they seemed into watching episodes here and there of “The Men Who Built America.”

I’ve also tried to make more of an effort to using Primary Sources in the classroom. The kids connect best to the material when they can connect with certain individuals from an era and think of it best as a story. To accomplish this I’ve been using Voice’s of a People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove. At the same time, I’ve been trying to improve their reading comprehension, so I edit the pieces down, number the paragraphs, and their assignment is to look up and define two words they they don’t know or are unclear about in the paragraph and then summarize the paragraph’s main idea in one sentence.

Again, it’s an uphill battle.

——————–

I think that’s good enough for now. I’m planning for a trip to visit the Proton in Washington D.C. in April. It’ll be a true little SPARTANS reunion at last. However, don’t think that’ll be the last of me until then. I’m going to try and update at least two times before then. Who knows? Maybe three times! I could be ambitious.

dog-and-computer

Keepin’ Busy

In the past month, I’ve…. 

  • Had classes with 60+ students.
  • Gotten sick and lost my voice.
  • Been called “irritating”, “bold,” and miscellaneous expletives.
  • Stopped fights.
  • Been accused of being a die-hard Republican and Romney-supporter.
  • Seen teachers quit in face of the education obstacles Detroit faces.
  • Seen teachers rise to the occasion and meet the students head on.

Each bullet point could easily become a post in itself, but I’m afraid time has gotten away from me one again. It seems to have become a recurring problem in my life, and I’m going to do my best to make sure it doesn’t sweep me away again without warning.

October

They say October is the hardest month for 1st year teachers. “The October Blues” they call it.

The honeymoon is over, and you’re neck deep into teaching. If you haven’t gotten your management issues under control yet, it’s an uphill battle from there.

To tell the truth, I’ve fallen far behind when it comes to Teach for America deadlines, and I’m working my hardest to catch up on everything. The Education Achievement Authority (EAA) definitely doesn’t have all its ducks in a row, and a lot of the logistical problems have come from that.

At this point, I just wanted to provide a quick update on my goals for the upcoming month and how best to achieve them:

  • Sink my teeth into the content. Because of miscellaneous delays in scheduling, the Buzz platform, and textbook availability, I haven’t been able to get too far into content. This past week was a really good start, but we’ve sill got a ways to go.
  • Get My Classroom Management Under Control. I’ve been told I’m doing a pretty good job compared to a lot of first year teachers, but I’m still having some troubles with kids shouting things out in general. Building culture is an uphill battle, and I’ve got work to do.
  • Maintain high expectations. My class has already been known for doing a lot more work than a lot of the others, and I want to make sure it stays that way. I also need to drive home the connection between school and my students’ long-term goals. A lot of them cite college as their future, but so far they can only talk the talk.

When I get a moment to breathe, I’ll update again soon. In the mean time, I’m going to try and get as much lesson planning done as possible, catch up on a few TFA deadlines, and get ready for Once Upon A Time like the super nerd/geek that I am.

A Glimpse at Student Centered Learning

If I had to describe the Education Achievement Authority as succinctly as possible, I would say, “Individualized Student Centered Learning.”

The traditional model of learning forces students to be passive as they learn. Watch and listen to the teacher lecture, and, assuming you were paying attention, you should have learned the concept no problem.

Yeah, right.

Instead, many schools are making the shift to student centered platforms, making the student the driving force behind their own education.

Students are allowed to move at their own pace- it could be slower if history takes a little longer to stick or they could be faster if math just clicks. Kids won’t be left behind in the dust, and they won’t be bored as they wait for the rest of the class.

Blended Learning for Alliance School Transformation (BLAST)

A new school district run by Blended Learning for Alliance School Transformation (BLAST)  has implemented the Student Centered system in L.A. with promising results, and this video showcases what the Education Achievement Authority strives to achieve.

A New Mumford High School

Whenever I tell people that I’m working at Mumford High School in Detroit, one thing immediately comes to mind:

What a face…

Yes, Beverly Hills Cop. Here’s a bit of trivia for you, Beverly Hills Cop was produced by one Jerry Bruckheimer, a Mumford High School Alum. This is the Hollywood producer tied to projects like CSI, Top Gun, Armageddon, Con Air, Black Hawk Down, the Pirates of the Carribbean trilogy, and the National Treasure movies. Not bad, right?

But the alumni of Mumford High School haven’t all been so successful, paving the way for Mumford High School’s placement in the Education Achievement Authority

Transition to the Education Achievement Authority

The original Mumford High School opened in September 1949 and was named after Samuel C. Mumford, a member of the Detroit Board of Education for 22 years. Mumford saw some great times. It boasted high community involvement, high student achievement, and immense school pride.

Mumford’s school pride and sense of community hasn’t dimmed, but sadly, student achievement has taken a downward turn, and the 2010 MME paints a grim picture.

It’s a little small, but I’m going to do my best to put Mumford’s scores in perspective:

  • 6.4% Proficiency in Math
  • 27.4% Proficiency in Reading
  • 10.5% Proficiency in Science
  • 10.4% Proficiency in Writing
  • 37.5% Proficiency in Social Studies

Made you think, didn’t it?

A New Building

It’s a bitter sweet thing to see the old Mumford High School taken down. Yet, when you walk through the doors of the new Mumford building, you’re immediately taken aback by how beautiful it is.

The project began in Fall 2010 and is scheduled for completion by start of school September 4, 2012. The whole project cost approximately $52.1 million, and the end result is truly awe-inspiring.

I spent a lot of time in some of Metro Detroit’s strongest public high schools: Troy Athens, Groves, Seaholm, Utica, Northville, and more. Having seen these schools, I can say I’ve been envious of their facilities- but I wasn’t surprised.

Most of these communities consist of affluent individuals: doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers. Professionals.

Armed with their college diplomas, these professionals make good money and pay their taxes. These taxes return in the form of community schools which boast some of the best facilities available.

On the other hand, schools in urban settings don’t have that tax base to work from. Instead, they work in second hand facilities with second hand resources.

To see a school like Mumford High School in Detroit is really something special. Its facilities are equal to if not better than the facilities I’ve seen in Troy or Birmingham, and it sends a message to students that there are people out there who care about their education- that they don’t deserve second rate facilities. They deserve the same facilities and education as students in other districts.

Go Mustangs!

I actually took this picture. I didn’t just Google it. Awesome, right?

School starts on September 4, and students are going to be walking through our doors to a new school and system.

But not everything needs to be new. In fact, some things need to be kept.

We’re not changing things for the sake of changing things. We’re taking what we know works and making it even better.

That being said,

GO MUSTANGS!!!

Business with a Purpose

I don’t find myself endorsing businesses very often, and if I do endorse a business, it’s usually because they’ve created something delicious and utterly worth eating.

This, however, is not the case.

Instead, I’ll be discussing ChalkFly.com, a locally owned Detroit website.

Office Supplies

It’s no secret. I love office supplies.

I wish I could tell you what enraptures me so, but, alas, I cannot find the words. Instead, we must acknowledge that there has to be a reason that I chose two professions that are the firm foundations of the office supply industry: education and the law.

Unfortunately, it’s a sad fact funding for education mysteriously comes up short, and teachers are often forced to purchase supplies for their own classroom. Often times it’s not a matter of a couple expo markers, but common sense supplies for their students such as notebooks, pencils, etc.

According to the National School Supply and Equipment Association, teachers spent more than 1.33 billion out of pocket on school supplies and instructional materials in the 2009-2010 school year.  Per teacher, that equals to roughly $356+.

Going into the EAA, I’m still unsure of what my classroom is going to look like with such an emphasis on technology, but I already have an idea of what my start up costs are going to look like. And believe me, I have no shame asking for folks to pitch in where they can.

ChalkFly.com

ChalkFly.com is a web-based company that offers customers a wide variety of office supplies. They cover many of the major brands such as Sharpline, Sharpie, Five Star, Expo, Avery, 3M, Bic, Crayola, Mead, Texas Instruments, Pilot, Sanford, etc. When comparing their prices with websites like Staples, Office Depot, and Office Max, ChalkFly offers extremely similar pricing if not better.

So what makes them different?

When it’s time to checkout, ChalkFly prompts you for a personalized code. This code will direct 5% of ChalkFly’s purchase directly to a teacher’s classroom. Each code is specialized per teacher, so if you have friends in the teaching profession (cough cough), you can just enter the code TKMI to contribute funds to my classroom.

Did you catch that last bit? TKMI (<——- Use this one.)

Reinventing the Motor City

It’s become a simple fact that the auto industry alone cannot support Detroit. If Detroit is going to reemerge as a national and international leader, it’s going to need find diverse and multiple ways to stabilize its economy.

ChalkFly is one such company. Among its founders is a Teach for America Alum who has returned home to Detroit. Businesses like ChalkFly will not and cannot be the end all savior that Detroit needs, but it’s a good way to start.

So, buy school supplies from ChalkFly, support a community conscientious organization, and directly support a teacher’s classroom. (Hopefully, in this case, me.)

Just remember, TKMI when you checkout!

Mumford High School

To tell the truth, I didn’t expect to be writing this post.

Two months ago, I would have told you that I was going to be teaching at the Detroit Public School (DPS) Western International High School. Western International is in the heart of Detroit’s Mexican Town and has the most diverse student population in the area. After interviewing with Principal Diaz, I was offered a job, but due to bureaucratic hold-ups, Teach for America asked me to continue the interview/placement process. In the time since, I was offered a job as a social studies teacher at Mumford High School in Detroit.

The Education Achievement Authority (EAA)

EAAofM[LnkBk&Shld]xIf you’ve never heard of the EAA and you’re from Metro-Detroit, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. The EAA was instituted in the fall of 2011. It was formed as a response to the number of failing schools in the state of Michigan and is starting its first year in 15 Detroit Public Schools.

The EAA is trying do things in a new and fresh way. Rather than depending on the traditional school model of grades (9th, 10th, 11th, etc), EAA schools will use an individualized student learning system. Instead of the entire class moving together through units, students will be given the ability to move at their own pace. If a student masters a unit before most of the other students, he or she does not have to wait for the rest of the class to catch up. If another student is having difficulty with a particular subject, he or she can take the extra time he or she may need.

Mastery not Seat Time

The traditional school system was built on seat time to determine grade advancement. So long as a student filled the required “seat time” and provided the minimum standard of work quality, he or she would move on to the next grade.

I think all of us can recognize a time in our own education when a unit just didn’t click and it came back to haunt us a little while later. The personalized learning approach seeks to make sure that doesn’t happen.

On the other hand, you also have students who pick things up a little faster and get bored waiting for the rest of the class. With the individualized system, these students can move on to the next unit and keep that investment level, rather than fostering disinterest.

The Digital Age

In a traditional classroom, this would be extremely hard to manage. How could a teacher keep individualized records for how far 150 students are progressing and where they are?

It’s nearly impossible.

To accomplish this, the EAA will provide students with their own netbooks (schools are individually deciding whether or not to allow students to take them home) to work on their units individually. Teachers can then pull up data on their classrooms to see exactly where everyone is in their development and who is having trouble progressing at an appropriate rate.

Limbo

If the EAA is successful, it will continue to take over additional failing schools in Detroit and around the state of Michigan.

But there’s a small caveat.

An order came down from the Michigan Supreme Court suspending the emergency manager law that was passed in 2011. This law allowed Governor Snyder to appoint emergency managers to financially struggling districts such as Flint and Detroit.

So what does this have to do with the EAA?

The same law that gave Governor Snyder the ability to appoint Emergency Managers allowed the creation of the EAA.

So for now, it seems like we’re in an odd place. The Emergency Manager law of 1990 has taken the 2011 law’s place. It’s business as usual in the EAA, but it’ll be up to the votes come November to determine the fate of Governor Snyder’s Emergency Manager law.