Breaking down the economic mess

This weekend I went to a Collective Bargaining conference.  I am on the bargaining team for my district’s next contract.  I will not be blogging about that for obvious reasons…

Last night’s speaker was one that I could have listened to for hours.  His name is Les Leopold.  He is the Executive Director of the Labor Institute and Public Health Institute in New York.  He did a great job of explaining our current economic mess in terms that we all can understand.  He has a book coming out but I’m not sure when.  If I wrote it down correctly, the title is “Fantasy Finance: A Citizen’s Guide to Wall Street Waste.”  He likened it to a fantasy baseball league.

In a fantasy baseball league, people draft players for their team.  And based on the statistics of real MLB games, the fantasy games are played.  I can’t begin to paraphrase what he said.  It made sense to even the non-math people in the audience.  The bottom line is that if there’s a baseball strike, there are no real statistics to base the fantasy off of.  Every fantasy baseball league comes to a grinding halt.   We have reached the point when people can’t take on any more debt and are defaulting on their loans.  This has the same effect as a MLB strike for the fantasy league.  So the fantasy finance games that the banks have been playing have all crashed down and we’re all left to pick up the pieces.

I have no clue if that makes sense at all.  I can’t do justice to the explanation he gave.

We were given some interesting statistics.  Productivity has risen at a steady rate.  The graph was distinctly linear.  But wages have not increased with the productivity.  Hence, there is a gap that starts to build in 1973 and gets wider and wider.  Had teacher wages gone up with the productivity, our wages would now be an average of $97,722.  So where did the money go?

When looking at data from the top 400 companies…  In 1960, CEOs were paid $46 for every $1 for the average worker.  In 1995, it was $141 for every $1.  And in 2005, it was $441 for every $1.

When looking at just the top 100 companies…  In 2000, CEOs were paid $1510 for each $1.  In 2007, they had a little drop, but it was $1295 for every $1 the average employee makes.

The bottom line is that we’ve been screwed for years.  And now, we (public sector workers) are sitting ducks because we’re the ones that have jobs.  It will be very interesting to see how this big game all plays out.

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Learn to Spell!

Today was the first day of the new semester.  Since we’re on a block schedule, that means that I got all new students.  I generally look on this as a good thing.  As with the beginning of the year, I get to learn the names of all the kids in my classes.  But before that happens, I have to learn how to pronounce them.

I have one request for the world in general.  It’s not that hard…  Really.  Learn to spell!  If you’re going to name your kid after a country or a continent, spell it like it is.  And if you name your kid some wacky name and I mis-pronounce it?  Not my fault!    You are the one that can’t spell and has disregarded all rules of the language.  Names from other countries I have no issue with at all.  But when you make something up, you’re setting your kid up to have some issues.   You better prepare them for the mispronunciation game for the future, because it’s going to happen.

When I first started teaching I had a kid named Shan.  He pronounced it Shane.  Clearly, a mis-spelling.  I have another one that sounds like the (former) country, Taiwan.  It’s definitely not spelled that way.  There’s another with the name of that far off continent in the east.  I would have thought to say it like the name Sasha with how it’s spelled.  Don’t even get me started with all of the apostrophes!  Yikes!

Hopefully I’ll get through the semester without stepping on anyone’s toes.  God help me if I ever call one Zany – like it’s spelled.

It’s a small world after all.

I will admit that I am a Facebook user.  At first I got on it so I could keep in touch with people I’ve met on my travels.  I have friends in London, Japan, New Zealand, etc.  My list of friends started off pretty small.  After awhile, my brother and sister climbed on board as well as several of my cousins.  A few of my colleagues at school are on it and friends from past jobs.  What I find most interesting is when former students find me.

I am not friends with any current students.  That’s a line I’m just not going to cross.  But I have had some find me that go back quite a ways.  It is fun to reconnect and find out that they’ve turned into responsible adults that are doing well.

One of my former students just started student teaching two weeks ago.  I saw her last fall when she invited me to the alumni volleyball game.  It was great to see her after several years and catch up.  Recently I’ve been talking with her via Facebook to find out about the student teaching.

In a past life – prior to teaching, I worked at a payroll company.  Some of my friends from that job are on Facebook.  To make a long story short, I just figured out that one of my friends from that job has a daughter that is in the class of my former student.  Am I old enough for this to happen?  Apparently.

I think my former student will make a great teacher.  It’s just kind of fun to think that one of my other friends will get to witness it and enjoy it with her daughter.

What does it take?

Superintendents all over the region had to make the tough decision this week of whether or not to cancel school due to cold weather. All around the state and even in districts that touch mine, school was canceled. For some, it was canceled both Thursday and Friday.

My district rarely cancels school. We usually have to have a very well timed snowstorm. The only time I remember it being canceled due to cold temperatures was at least a decade ago when the Governor called it for the entire state.

Districts are in the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t position. If they cancel school, they get calls from angry parents about having to take a day off of work because they don’t have daycare for their kids. If you don’t cancel, you put kids in the dangerous position of getting frostbite in a matter of minutes.

So… Does the decision have other non-weather factors? Is poverty a factor? Even if the kids have to wait outside for a bus in the cold, they do get to a school where there is heat and they are fed breakfast and lunch. Are they better off at school than at home? This is the first year that the factor of poverty has even entered my thoughts.

Yesterday (1/15) at 7am: temperature -20 degrees, wind chill -37 degrees.

Today (1/16) at 7am: temperature -22 degrees, wind chill -40 degrees.

Keep in mind that many of our students don’t have a winter coat.

NCLB – Will it drive good teachers out of the profession?

I’ve been thinking a lot about NCLB lately.  In my district there are two big schools that did not meet AYP for the whatever year in a row and therefore have to undergo restructuring.  I am not familiar with the specifics of the law, but what it seems to dictate is that, no matter how you restructure, it involves staffing changes.  The union president came in to our faculty meeting to help us understand what is happening in our district this week.

I need to understand the law completely.  But the way it was explained, you have a few choices.  One is to give your school over to a private company to see if they can do better.  (And we all know how well privatization has worked lately).  Another is to change into a charter school.  Another is to adopt a new program for the school.  All of these options involve a fruit basket upset in your staff (and consequently in your district).

Besides being an un-funded mandate, NCLB assumes that it’s the fault of the teachers that the students are not making AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress).  It does not take into account the precarious situations of our students’ lives.  Would I care about how I did on a test if I was worried about where I was getting my next meal?  Would I care about how I did on a test if I didn’t know if I had a roof over my head?  Would a care about how I did on a test if I had a parent in jail?  Would I care about how I did on a test if I were part of a gang and didn’t plan on being alive by 25?  Would I care about how I did on a test if I were pregnant and didn’t know how I was going to support myself and my baby?  I could go on and on about various situations of students, but I’m hoping that you get my point.

As teachers, we are trying our darnedest to help our students learn.  I teach in a district with a staff of fantastic, dedicated teachers.  When I talk to friends who have taught elsewhere, they concur.  The amount of diversity and hardship amongst our kids makes us be more creative about how we teach and deliver lessons.  And when we reach one of them, you can really tell.  Actually, they tell you.  You may be the only adult in their life that truly cares.

Every teacher in the schools that are undergoing restructuring has to re-apply for their job.  They have to re-apply in a school that is now labeled a failure.  The teachers and students in the schools are all being labeled as such.  They’re not failures.  The law is black and white and this is a gray area.

Regardless of what happens this year, it has a lot of us questioning the profession and how long we can last.  My school will be in the same precarious position if this law stays in place.  It demoralizes a school.

I realize that we need to take a different approach to how we educate our kids.  But NCLB isn’t the answer.  It sounds great to say that no child is left behind.  But if they want to make sure that no child is actually left behind, then there needs to be other people involved and held accountable besides teachers.  We need help.  Half of my job probably falls under the category of a social worker.

But I do wonder how long I can last.  If I have to re-apply for my job because of this law, I just might apply somewhere else or for an entirely different profession.  I’m always thinking about how I’m doing my job and if my skills fit what I’m doing.  The circumstances of this era have me thinking about how my skills can be used elsewhere.

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A Dream

Student:  Ms B – Guess what?  I had a dream about you?

Me:  Really?

Student:  My dream was that you were my step-mom.

Me: Oh Geeze!  That would be a nightmare!  Not you, but just the step-mom thing in general.  I can’t imagine being anyone’s mom.

Student:  You were cool.  We were shopping together.

Winter Driving

Being a resident in the land of cold and snow, I feel compelled to offer some winter driving tips.  Many accidents happen that are truly accidents.  Many others could be avoided.  So here goes…

1.  Only drive.  Do not use a cell phone or any other device while you’re driving.

2.  Slow down.  It’s better to be late than dead or injured.

3.  Leave a safe following distance between you and the car ahead.

4.  Pretend that you don’t have any brakes.  This ought to leave you enough space and time to stop.

5.  Take your foot off the gas instead of braking, if possible.  Quick braking is what gets you in trouble.

6.  When going around a corner, a front wheel drive car will PULL you around it.  So you slightly accelerate around a corner – or at least give the car a little gas.

7.  Watch out for the bozos that don’t know what you’re doing.  Defensive driving is key.

8.  Just because you can start, doesn’t mean you can stop.  SUV drivers seem to think they’re invincible.

9.  Given the choice between ice and snow, pick the snow.  You can get some traction on the snow.

10.  Get some practice in the snow and see how your car reacts.  If you’re the only one in the parking lot or on a deserted street,  play around.  See how your car reacts and how YOU react in a slide or tricky situation.

Winter driving isn’t really as horrible as people make it out to be.  If your city rarely ever gets snow and is ill-equipped to deal with it, that’s tough.   But where it’s commonplace, you need to just buck up,  get used to it and practice.  It is pretty amazing when you see the staggered wall of snow plows coming.   Though it does freak me out when I see them in my rear view mirror.

I don’t know if my little list of tips will help anyone.  But they seem to have served me well.  Good luck!