Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Measurement vs Growth vs What Do We Want

What do we as a society want?

I feel like that is the question that has skirted the edges or been an integral part of my blogs and my podcasts. What do we expect of ourselves and others in our society?

More specifically, why do we often expect more of others than what we ourselves can produce or give?

I've seen this pretty consistently this year with my students, who have had a large number who enact the "demand respect without being able to give it" mentality.

But honestly, I realize that it is something that is endemic to much of our society. We expect "Jesus" of others when we ourselves are barely capable of "Judas". We expect a president to be perfect, our managers to be omniscient, and our employees to be ever enduring.


Listening to a podcast recently with and interview with Jordan Peterson (who many hate for their own reasons) and he said something very interesting. He is a clinical psychologists and he and his team have created a tested program known as self-authoring. During his talk with Joe Rogan, he said he felt a lot of our issues in society have been the development of our technology but not our morality. He thought, rightly or wrongly, that with our removal of religion we have done away with the official search for the self, the search for a true sense of who we are at our innermost core, and replaced it with labels, as in what labels can define us.

Now I cannot say whether he is correct or not, but it is an interesting idea. He also discussed the idea that with the fall of the religious hero, and the military hero, we have lost our guiding moral lights. We have our civil rights heroes, but those are hard for some to identify with. He continued by saying we've attempted to fill that void with book and movie heroes, like Harry Potter and Spider-Man.

This is what stuck in my head. I realized that I never really received the moral religious education growing up (despite my mother's best attempts), yet I still have a very strong sense of right and wrong.

I received that from the books I read. And oddly enough, those books gave me a better idea of the ideal moral person I want to be and should be than religion does for others. The Dark Is Rising, Ender's Game, Dealing with Dragons, the Hobbit and more gave me heroes who were flawed, reluctant, who grew, who overcame, who made sacrifices for others, who did what they felt was right, and either survived their experience or did not, but were deeply changed by them. And my ability to skim read and miss details (such as the fact that all of those heroes are white) allowed me to immerse myself in those stories.

I feel like we are really dealing with a society of three parts right now. Our religious aspect, who truly expect perfection from others but also realize that that is impossible and harbor a little resentment over that. Our apathetic aspect, who didn't read that much or get into religion that much, and really don't have a deeply ingrained moral compass. And our bookish aspect (which does overlay with the religious, but tends towards the contemplation of themes over the actual religion), which has a firmly ingrained sense of right or wrong, but it is tempered with the reality that we are all flawed on a fundamental level and that heroes are the ones who constantly struggle to overcome those flaws, whether successful or not.

Am I saying books are better than movies? Yes. Sorry. The time it takes to work through them, the depth of detail that exists, those allow you to slowly process information and integrate it, whereas in a movie it tends to come quickly and leave you with just emotion and very little processing.

This three headed aspect of our society is playing out in our schools. What do we expect of our districts? Our principals? Our teachers? Our students? Our parents and guardians? We range from demanding perfection to believing massive incompetence to not caring to having a small understanding of what they go through. Do we measure them on the stick of perfection and fire those not there? Do we not care? Do we realize that they are all imperfect but struggling and support them as such?

I do have answers. But they are not perfect. And they will take time to process before I can share them. They are also just my answers. They may not work for all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why wait for change?

I would lie if I didn't say I post, discuss or have concerns about politics, both privately and publicly. As a teacher, especially of history, it is against codes of professionalism to bring my own leanings into the classroom, but as a purveyor of fact and critical analysis, this year has been difficult when discussing this election cycle.

But for a change, this post is not about teaching. It is a post motivated by a great speaker and researcher on the history of the world and of our politics, Dan Carlin, and his recent Common Sense episode "Or Else". If you don't listen to him, I highly recommended his measured, thoughtful ideas, and his definition of a radical.

As part of a larger statement about community, Rabbi Hillel the Elder once stated, "If not now, when?" That is what I felt during the Democratic primary, when I was often told by my Democratic friends that now was not the time for Sanders. That he would be divisive. That the United States in general was not ready for his "radical socialism." That change takes time.

Change takes time.

As I sit here, on my sick day, still thinking about education, checking on my emails to see if students emailed me about their work, still thinking about politics, this phrase has echoed in my mind.

Change takes time.

Does it? Define the time that change takes. Since I was born, we've gone from going to the library to check encyclopedias to talking to our phone and getting answers. Becoming media famous no longer requires the media, in fact, most of the time, the media is the one who catches up to those with fame.

Do they mean social and political change in this context? That I should allow the suffering of children because the change that can affect their lives will take time? That I should write off the injustices and the fear and pain that I see others suffer because change takes time?

How much time?

Africans and then black Americans protested their injustice for years, decades, centuries. Some white folks attempted to help, some placated them with "when you learn our ways" and others still oppressed them further through inaction or action. To this day, many are not free, literal victims of a war on "drugs".

Chinese Americans, some with ties back to the 1840s, are still viewed as foreigners, despite every investment. Despite wars fought for this country. More than a century here and still foreign.

Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans, Latinx/o/a, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Colombian, all foreign still. Still "illegal" even if their families have been in the California and Texas regions for centuries.

Decades of rural or urban poor white families subsistence living, dying for this country like all the others in their wars, working their asses off while simultaneously being called free-loaders and welfare families.

All the Native American/Indian nations that didn't have much of a choice. Who just want respect and land autonomy and some form of caring for what was done to them. The lies told to them. Clearly still waiting.

So again, the question. How much time? If not now, when?

You can feel free to shame those who look outside the system, who vote 3rd party, who refuse to vote, who get arrested protesting, who get shot, who question those who've been in the system for years, out there, exposed.

Only 60% of the United States votes, of those eligible. It excludes our non-violent felons, even should they reform. It excludes those who can't get the time off work, or who don't have transportation, or an address, or in some states, don't have proper IDs.

At what time, as proud US citizens, do we stand up and say, hey, this is ridiculous. THIS is not right, and it is not impossible to fix. We might not agree on all of the solutions, but we can agree on some solutions. We might not be able to save every industry, but we can make sure everyone stays employed. We might not be able to save everyone from hardship, but we can make sure we're not creating additional hardships for them.

In my podcast, I've talked about changes in education. Ideas, beliefs, practices that could be adjusted, kept or done away with. But here is the harsh truth: We are getting to a point where as a country and as an education system, we will be forced to change. You want to know what the biggest concern principals are supposed to have when they walk through a classroom? Student engagement, as a measure of learning. Engagement. Because teachers need to engage the students in the learning. But it doesn't address the real issue. What if what we are asking students to learn is crap? And they know it? What if our emphasis on non-urgent content, when so much real shit is going on around them, shows them that our system is broken? What if they can find hundreds of videos online outlining and explaining that same idea? How do you engage a student then?

So again. If not now, when? Our we as a country going to lead the change or be led by the change? Because right now, it seems to have us by our ear, and it's starting to pick up speed.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Post-Project, Pre-Exhibition

Our project is officially done. 8 core teachers plus all of our support teachers (ELD, Special Ed and electives), finished student presentations and are mid-grading right now. Grades for 8th graders are due tomorrow. Joy.

This project was incredibly difficult to pull off. The hours of planning, the setup of the project, and the check-ins throughout were time-consuming and there exist questions of whether or not we gave them too much time, not enough time, examples, too many examples, etc.

Grading was difficult to figure out as well. Our two main options were: 1. We grade each role, and each person in the group gets that role's grade for their related class (so if the political consultant gets a C, everyone else gets a C grade for the project in history). 2. (the option we chose) We grade each role, then average the scores together and that is the grade they receive for the project in every class. The latter seemed more fair, as it reduces the effects of a low performer in a group (everyone doesn't receive a C, D or F based on one person), while still holding the group accountable for everyone's work.

One of our major reflections was that we should have increased the amount of scaffolding for students. Our kids this year were the last year of students who exclusively were taught under the old standards. The old standards didn't emphasize multiple approaches or open projects, and so there was a large question of what to do and how to do it (despite us giving them some supports). We had quite a few English learners and resource students unable to fully participate and so in the future, this is an area we will be focusing upon. Our big emphasis will be backwards design.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week...

Hello again!

It's teacher appreciation week. Always a weird week. A week of people everywhere thanking teachers for what they do. But not giving them the money or funds to do the stuff that might actually matter.

That's just me being shitty.

My favorite part of the week are the letters I get from students. Some encouraged by a specific teacher on campus, or the pta or counselors, some on their own initiative. They always make me smile.

But I'm always curious why other public service jobs don't have a week. Or maybe they do and I simply do not know and/or celebrate it. Like fire fighters, or nurses, or police officers.

Though for my community, I'm unsure how that last one would go. Half the cards may contain N.W.A. quotations.


Today a colleague, my vice principal, and one of my school counselors went to meet with a vice principal, a counselor and an English teacher at a local high school that we feed into. We were trying to figure out if a program they run their would be applicable to our school. Really, we want to do an ethnic studies program at our middle school. It was a good conversation with some positive contacts made and possible ideas and discussions planned for the near future. We'll see how it goes.

As preparation for the program we are thinking of starting, I've been brainstorming thematic driving questions for my history curriculum. I'll be teaching two 7th grade cohorts and two 8th grade cohorts (at least) next year, and a possible study skills class.

Here is what I've created so far, based on our 2 semester, 6 term year (3 terms in each semester):

8th grade:

  1. Why do people immigrate?
  2. Should people change for society or should society change for them?
  3. Why do people revolt?
  4. How do you build a community/nation?
  5. How does race and class affect our lives? What is race?
  6. What is worth fighting for? How do you fight to win?

7th grade

  1. How does our environment affect our society? Our views of others? Our views of ourselves?
  2. How do new technological advances change our society? Our interactions with others? Our views of ourselves?
  3. How do our religious or intellectual beliefs (from our families) affect how we view ourselves? Others? Society? The world?
  4. How do we affect our environment? How does our society affect our views of the environment and of the world?
  5. Why do people explore the universe around them? How does their society affect how they interact with that world? How do they deal with the new information their exploration gives them?
(There was a 6th one, but I can't remember it)

For study skills, this year was rough. Terrible. Atrocious. It's essentially a glorified study hall/homework class (blech). Next year trying to aim it at actual life skills. Trying to think of how I want to approach it. So it should be interesting. Looking at teaching the following ideas:

- Cash/loans/debt/taxes/dmv
- How does a record affect your choices in school/life?
- Restoring old furniture
- Gardening (personal gardening, not like gardening peoples lawns and crap)
- Basic technology issues like web design, basic graphic design, professional email, etc.
- community service jobs- exploration of and the purpose.

And a colleague and I are going to start an after school hip-hop club. Try to educate kids on the history and roots of hip-hop AND have them share their hip-hop cultures with us.

So we'll see. Still trying to figure out what the hell that will look like. But should be good times.

Give me feedback if you have any (gotta tighten that shit up).

- Tony

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Explaining the hiatus on the podcast and further updates

Hello All!

So, it's been a bit since I've podcasted. This is an education podcast and I try for bi-weekly updates. Unfortunately, as those in education know, March begins the end times. The time of year where, no matter your years or experience or skill, the long drag hits. Some of it is because of staffing changes (letting people go, trying to hire new people, staff numbers dropping or growing or staying the same), some of it is that you're not sure if you're going to talk about everything you want to. Hell, some of it is because you're just tired of this year and you want to start over next year. But it has also affected teachers and support staff and administrators desires to stay after school on Friday's for a "chat". I should have a couple coming up next week. Trying to schedule them and work them out. Hopefully they'll go through with it and not have an emergency pop up.

The other reason I haven't been podcasting is because I've been trying to transfer some of my thoughts on my current class projects into blog post. And the elections. I am going a little crazy over these elections. As I've mentioned before, I'm  history teacher (this year) and politics and power and machinations are my passion. And this year has been crazy with it. So I've done a lot of writing on Facebook and some tweeting and sharing. It's hard.

Now, I'm a pretty out there left, liberal, progressive, something something blah blah blah. Who knows. My teaching career has been a battle against the shitty situations students have at home and the battle against that sense of the unattainable in students. Plus my own experiences in life and some of the drawbacks I've experienced as a man of color have also colored my political views. As could be expected, I'm a rather big Bernie supporter. Something I am careful not to share with my students.

But this is the first time during an election that I feel unsure of whether I am toeing the line of a teacher letting their bias show. And it is because of Donald Trump. The population I teach is majority Latin@/Chican@ (I think that's the right symbol?) and they hate him. Every day I hear whispered, "Trump is a racist" and "Fuck Trump". I created an activity where students went to the candidates websites and looked at their main issues and their opinions regarding one. I've had them watch their campaign videos and compare and contrast them. But I've also told them, "Trump is a liar and what he suggests violates both national and international laws." Now as a crazy liberachi, I'm not saying I respect all of the laws out there. But for me, torture is an important one. John McCain, not a liberal, is a shining beacon of reason concerning this area. And I feel it is necessary to point out Trump's insanity here.

Some of you may ask, do I point out other lies from other candidates, Yes, if students bring them up to me as something they thought was true/legal/etc. But a vast majority of questions from my Mexican-American students is about something Trump said. And I refuse to lie. I do have them double check. And so, a weird election season and teaching season for me.

Thanks for letting me vent a little on that. The Mars Colony project is coming along. None of the teachers are sure what we will have for a final presentation. But we'll definitely have something, and I will post pictures for reference.

And for the upcoming podcasts I'll be meeting with my department head in History, hopefully my VP and a school counselor/social worker, and I'd really like to meet with my union VP, but I'm unsure when I could work that meeting out.

I have no idea what my topics will be, but I rarely do. Hope everything is going well with you, and if you have any topic suggestions out there, I'm definitely open.

- Tony Alberts

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A breakdown of our 8th grade Mars Colony Project

I'm putting this down to share with people some of the specifics that people would need in order to create a similar project. Honestly, it's also for myself, in case next year I think it was incredibly easy and need a reminder.

Weekly schedule:

Meet during Wednesday morning during staff meeting time/Circle of Inquiry time: requires the whole time to discuss the focus for the advisory day. Each advisor for roles discussed what they were trying to accomplish and whether it required group work or just the individual in the group to work. Also figured out how much workshop time was needed.

  • Workshop: dedicated time when students go to a specific role advisor to get updated or trained on what that role needs to accomplish on the advisory day (roles we created were: Historian- led by the ELA teachers, Political Consultant- led by History, Engineer- led by Math, and Health Officer- led by Science)
  • The roles do not have to be attached to those specific teachers. We each volunteered for the roles, but for example, there are a lot of cross-overs for the historian and political consultant, and for the engineer and health officer
There were two teaching teams that partnered for this, so there were two history teachers, two math, two English and two science teachers. My history partner and I decided to meet Wednesdays after school for about 30 minutes to 40 minutes to create documents or items or the lesson for the Friday advisory days.

Thursday morning during my shared prep with my teaching team members, we met for the whole period to discuss what we were all doing and were we were going. We had 1st period prep. If we didn't, we'd probably have to push this back to Thursday and the Thursday meeting to Tuesday.

Friday morning, my team met during our shared prep to prepare for the advisory day. We usually do workshop during 2nd period and then starting third period we began our actual advisory.

  • On Friday's, students go to P.E. and their elective classes or support classes. However, during any core main streamed class, students go to their advisor (they signed up for advisors at the beginning of the project. The advisor is not their role advisor).
  • Four of us also had an elective class we taught. During those periods, we kept our advisory students and had our elective class. My combination was very large, so I signed up for library time so as to accommodate the number of students (about 40).
At the end of the day, all teachers met after school to debrief, talk about the energy level and what went well or not, and what we should bring to the table Wednesday morning. If we knew we weren't meeting Wednesday morning, then scheduling a day we could all meet, or just staying and planning on the Friday.

We highly utilized Google Classroom to list assignments and to keep track of student work. We also created a shared google drive folder to hold all our work, assignments and rosters.

Each team had to create a master advisory schedule with all students to track where they were and where they should have been. I created one for our team based off of students information and was also the contact for the office for them to look students. We marked absences on the master schedule so we could also take our normal class attendance.

If I receive permission from my team, I will attach all of the documents we created.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The year so far and some thoughts on class...

This is my 7th year of teaching and my 1st year at Davis Intermediate school in South San Jose, CA. Back to teaching history. After teaching science, after teaching English and history. It's been a while since I've written something, so I'm not sure where to start. Let's start with what has been happening at my new school site (the positive stuff).

Before officially working for the district, I had the opportunity to join some of my soon to be colleagues at a project-based learning training at the Oakgrove district office. There were new teachers and 20+ year veterans, and as we sat and talked about possible projects, an 8th grade science teacher mentioned that he had done a Mars colony project before. And an 8th grade history teacher mentioned that his girlfriend had done a government/country/colony project with her 5th graders. So I suggested the idea of creating a culminating 8th grade project, one where students produced something for each subject, but worked to combine ideas and subjects and did a community presentation. So we created an idea and the 8th grade history teacher created a video. It got peoples interest at the end of the 3 days.

Fast forward to this February (2016). We began the implementation, using our prep times or meeting after school or high-jacking Circle of Inquiry time in the mornings on Wednesdays to plan. The 8th grade science teacher gave us his old packet, we figured out what to keep and update, and I created the new iteration. Before the project began, we probably spent at least 5 hours planning together or in small groups.

Our opening day we took our two sets of 8th graders out of the their regular classes for an "in-school field trip". We started by watching "The Martian" and then proceeded to show them the introductory video to the project. They created teams and began to plan their colonies.

Since that initial launch, we still have not received any additional time, making time on our own. While COI time has been offered, we've also had to take time out to address data tracking requirements. At first we did this whole group, but I eventually took the role as I could enter information quickly and then get a cursory response from the two teams. Outside of work, we've probably spent another 10 hours training ourselves, finding materials or collaborating. It has not been easy finding the time.

However, the project is going well, students are engaged in their work and what they discuss and create has been impressive so far. We've managed to stay about a week ahead of students and so they always have work they can do. And our timeline has been tentatively planned out until the end of the year. We have created our own advisory days with our two sets of 8th graders moving fluidly during their core classes, but still going to their elective and their P.E. classes.

We've had issues bringing P.E. and electives into the mix, as they don't share any prep times with us and are often out at the bell or busy with sports. Very, very busy with sports. The time constraints are difficult and as we go we are learning. But even though we're exhausted, their is an exuberance amongst us that I have not seen for a while in teaching. It is very refreshing.

I wanted to document the above so I have some sort of reference in the future for what we did (besides our copious shared documents on Google drive and hand written pages). I'm not sure what is pushing me to blog today. Probably the fact that I have not done a podcast in a bit. And this week will not work out for one anyway, too much stuff on my plate.

I think I want to just reflect on my teaching and truthfully examine what sort of teacher I am. I think of myself as a good social and emotional teacher, but honestly, merely a sub-par academic teacher. The latter is something that has gone up and down in waves. Science, science I felt like I reached a groove and maintained and it was good. But for history, just getting back into it. I'm not saying my teaching is a crime against humanity, but I do constantly question whether I am making my students dumber through my half-assed efforts. And I wasn't sure how I was doing socially and emotionally. My first two years of teaching were my high. I became a part of a family. A FAMILY. I still see those kids and I'm damn proud of what they have done. And I can check in on them through my teacher Facebook and I'm super proud. My 4 years in Mountain View, they were my down years. Not because the kids were messed up or crazy or that I didn't like them. I think the shock of having a family so violently cut-off... it fucked my head up. A lot. and I was very guarded. There were kids I connected with, but I never built the same family. This year, I started to move back to that old me, but I wasn't sure how I was doing. The last week or two taught me I am making progress. I have had one kid consistently meet me at break to talk. He's had a hard time at home and in his life and he said, "I just trust you." I forgot what that was like for a while. And today as I was leaving school I saw one of my students who had missed class and I asked how she was. She said bad (worked too hard during physical education), and I wished her better, and another group of students, some of who I have, turned to me and said, "You're the best teacher. You actually care about your students." I responded with, "How else would I teach?" And they laughed and smiled.

It's nice that I'm bringing that part of me back, but I still feel bad for my current group of kids. They get me as a half-assed academic teacher and a stumbling blind social emotional teacher. I hope I figure my shit out before next year. I'm still trying to improve for this year so students leave on a high note.

If you read, thanks for reading. This blog is definitely a once in a blue-moon affair, but I hope it helps some of you out there. Please feel free to respond if you want. Love to hear your stories or feelings.