Saturday, January 5, 2008

[Corvallis] Whiteside Developers Bail

It seems to boil down to the fact that there was too much citizen resistance to making the Whiteside a shopping mall.

This is a complex issue - while I'd rather not see retail space there (I prefer a live-action or movie theatre), I am cognizant of what Paul Turner (aka the Avalon/Darkside guy) has said about the Whiteside.

On the other hand, this guy is frustrated (and has a bit of a savior complex):

“That’s not a very big deal, and it was turning into something that’s just nuts,” Kemper said Thursday. “If that’s how the community of Corvallis wants to behave, fine. They can have their theater, and it can continue to be a dump for the next five years.”

(Kemper was the lead developer of the now-defunct effort to remake the Whiteside.)

[RIAA} More on Oregon and UO's Refusal To Submit to the RIAA

Found via Blue Oregon, NYT columnist Adam Liptak discusses, summarizes and opines:

The surprise was not that 20-year-olds listen to Sting. It was that the university fought back.

Represented by the state’s attorney general, Hardy Myers, the university filed a blistering motion to quash the subpoena, accusing the industry of misleading the judge, violating student privacy laws and engaging in questionable investigative practices. Cary Sherman, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the industry had seen “a lot of crazy stuff” filed in response to its lawsuits and subpoenas. “But coming from the office of an attorney general of a state?” Mr. Sherman asked, incredulous. “We found it really surprising and disappointing.”

Nice move, Mr. Sherman. Note how he implies through his word choice that the RIAA is in the right here without actually addressing the claims made by UO or Hardy Myers?

Oops - Oregon's AG isn't being fooled (but neither is he promoting music piracy, unfortunately):

In his filings, Mr. Myers claimed to be looking for a middle ground.

“Certainly it is appropriate for victims of copyright infringement to lawfully pursue statutory remedies,” Mr. Myers wrote last month. “However, that pursuit must be tempered by basic notions of privacy and due process.”

“The larger issue,” Mr. Myers said, “is whether plaintiffs’ investigative and litigation strategies are appropriate.”

Bingo. Everything I've seen suggets the RIAA is breaking the law six ways from Sunday to prove that.... other people are breaking the law. I'm glad to see that it's Oregon that's fighting back.

Frankly, if the RIAA is a corporation, they need their charter revoked.

[Meta] I Like The New Title Format

I'm discovering how useful the new title format can be.

I subconsciously stole it from somewhere else... Feministing or Feministe, though I can't remember which one (and can barely keep them straight).

Anyway, the point of the new title format - and let's hope I keep at it - is to provide a handy subject guide to each post.

[DH] Hering Becomes Completely Incoherent

Perhaps it's the hour.... but I doubt it.

This editorial, ostensibly on political correctness, makes absolutely no sense. I read it twice and I can't even figure out what Hering thinks his point is.

I am forced to ask again: Does anyone edit his work?


[Movies] Juno & The Great Debaters

So I saw two movies today (officially yesterday, but I'm still awake, so...). Juno, the first, was an excellent movie, and if I was still subbing I'd be talking it up to HS students (to be perfectly honest). It's much, MUCH better than Knocked Up.

Juno deals with one woman (played to perfection by Ellen Page) who happens to get pregnant while a junior in high school. I am loathe to give away the plot, so let's just say that I am now in love with Diablo Cody, the movie's screenwriter - and Ellen Page, who puts on a terrific performance as Juno herself.

My one critique of the movie is that I wasn't sure what the point was - i.e. that I'm not sure how the characters changed as a result of the events that occurred when the camera was on. And while that might seem like a serious critique, I still think it's a movie unquestionably worth seeing.

For anyone who has seen it: What was going on with Mark (Jason Bateman)? Was he supposed to be sympathetically viewed? Was he (in the words of a friend of mine (sympathetic or just plain pathetic?


The second movie I saw today was The Great Debaters. As brilliant as it was different from Juno (and wow, was it different... apples and oranges, to say the least), The Great Debaters was a Denzel Washington-directed, few-if-any-holds-barred film that addressed (in a way this philosophy major could love) serious issues of race, gender, morality and ethics in early 20th-century America.

It actually reminded me of the potential upside of debate (a subject I am sad to say I've had poor experiences with): The issues that get debated are often the major issues of the day, and in participating, the debaters often get to sharpen their minds for the "real" struggles they will face in the world.

The Great Debaters is not a movie to be taken lightly. It is often brutally honest, to the point that the crowd I saw it in clapped, laughed, shouted and most likely cried.

I think that's another of saying that y'all need to go see it - now. Just make sure to bring your serious self when you do.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

[LCSD] Good Thing Winter Break is Almost Over...

... because my blood pressure just went back to pre-break levels.

From a story in the DH today regarding the possibility of the LCSD busing Sand Ridge students:

PIE has asked for busing in the past, but the district wasn’t willing, Jackson said. His request now is prompted by a Dec. 26 letter from City Manager John Hitt, which said the city has concerns about traffic caused by the school’s South Main Road campus and asking if PIE would look into busing.

Oregon law states charter schools are responsible for transporting their students, but also says sponsoring school districts must treat transportation for charter students “in the same manner as students attending nonchartered public schools.” Districts are not required to add buses or routes for charter schools.

What that means, said Cindy Hunt, legal affairs coordinator for the Oregon Department of Education, is charter kids can ride district buses but the district is not required to provide buses specifically for them.

Jackson said his reading of the law is that the district is responsible for Sand Ridge’s transportation.

“All I’m trying to do is bring the language of the contract in line with what the statute provides,” he said.

Superintendent Jim Robinson said Lebanon is following the law. If Lebanon provides busing to Sand Ridge, he said, “There would be definite financial and staffing impacts, as well as issues of the buses, whether we have a sufficient fleet.”

Let's take this apart a little, shall we?

The quote from Cindy Hunt makes clear the intent and effect of the law: That charter schools can essentially ride for free on existing district routes - but not that districts are required to change their routes or develop charter school-specific routes.

And this makes sense; the marginal cost for charter students to piggyback is negligible, but there is a substantial cost for the district to bus charter kids specifically. Robinson's quote backs that up (notice he does not rule out having the LCSD bus Sand Ridge students, just that he notes the cost - this could be suggestive of the district's position on the issue come negotiation time).

From this premise, I can see it being reasonable that PIE pay for any busing services above and beyond existing routes. After all, while Robinson has stated he wants to see Sand Ridge survive, he can't simply give them money that otherwise belongs to (and is needed in) the LCSD.

Sadly, I don't think that's what Jay Jackson has in mind. His "reading" of the law suggests that he wants the LCSD to essentially pick up the tab for busing the Sand Ridge students.

I thought Jay Jackson was an attorney. Either his reading is flat-out wrong, or he's lying again and has consciously chosen a reading that is transparently bullshit. I almost don't care which one it is, because both make him look like an opportunistic weasel.

I'm going to say the same thing here that LT has been saying for months: How is it right that Jackson keeps asking for the district to divert money from other areas to pay for Sand Ridge? Shouldn't PIE have to budget for this sort of thing?

How is it that Jackson gets to keep lying to the press without the press calling him on it? [And I get that having the information in the story that proves Jackson wrong is a form of calling him on it, but I want something more substantial: If Jackson is lying, and the reporter knows it, then the reporter should be able to say that in the story. It is the truth, after all.]


Moving Newspapers Into the 21st Century

Found via somewhere (Poynter, maybe) comes this essay on changing the culture of newspapers:

Continuing in the theme of changing the newsroom culture, let's also think about using our magic wand to make the most profound changes all at once. Howard Owens, director of digital publishing at Gatehouse Media, asked for this: "Reporters and editors would take seriously their roles as community conversation leaders, concentrating on getting it right on the web first -- web-first publishing, blogs, video, participation -- and using the print edition as a greatest hits, promote the web site vehicle. Old packaged-goods-thinking about the newsPAPER would disappear overnight."

Owens' comment hits on one theme that I've covered many times in this column over the years: turning news into less of a lecture and more of an interactive, two-way experience and conversation between journalists and readers.

Read the whole thing - I also liked the part about having journalists utilize FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking tools. I used to be skeptical of that argument, but I've come around.

Signs You're Online Too Much

I use Google Reader (which is a RSS reader) as a way to bookmark blogs I think I might want to read at some point. I don't read all of them, mind you - not even close.

After all, I have in the neighborhood of 180 subscriptions, which is actually a far smaller number of blogs than I had bookmarked before I lost all my bookmarks.

Anyway, the point of bringing that up is to note that in one day I generated 800 UNREAD blog posts in my reader.

I'd say I read close to 200 additional posts, which means I am getting somewhere around 1000 posts per day.

I am so glad I decided to be selective about the reading. It made my life easier. It was pretty tough for a bit there, even when I had less than 100 subscriptions.... do you have any idea how long it takes to read 4-500 blog posts?

Also, Google Reader is where I get the shared items that fill the space in the right-hand column.

Charlie Wilson's War

I have to admit that I didn't have very high expectations of the film (I have not read the book), but I wasn't doing anything noteworthy enough to not go. So I went to the late showing tonight.

Turns out going was totally worth it. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Tom Hanks + an Aaron Sorkin screenplay = every time either of the above opened their mouth I started laughing out loud.

There's also the whole the-US-screwed-itself-by-crapping-on-Afghanistan angle, which is pretty important to understanding the role the U.S. played in the rise of the Taliban. And Sorkin doesn't mince words on that front, for which I am glad.

All this assumes, of course, that one can get over the fact that Charlie Wilson was a boozing misogynist. Having him played by Tom Hanks apparently takes the edge off.

Next up: The Great Debaters!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

100 New 'Facts' From 2007

From BBC News, a list of 100 things we didn't know before 2007.

Some highlights:

15. 10% of university work from across the UK is plagiarised.

31. There is mobile phone reception from the summit of Mount Everest.

45. Domestic cats can trace their descent to the Middle East.

50. Left-handed people are called sinistral.

It's a fascinating waste of time.

Observation #4 on Subbing in Lebanon: Motivations For Subbing; Or, An Answer To All Those Confused Looks I Got When I Told People Where I Was Working

I expected people to be sort of surprised when I told them I was a substitute teacher.... at a single school... in a place most of them had never been or heard of (this is referring to non-Lebanon folks; most people who still live in Lebanon seemed to think it was a much more normal choice). I did not expect people to be so surprised that they just sat there without saying anything, it being evident from their faces that anything they would have said would have been disparaging (possibly along the lines of “I can't picture you doing that”). That was both funny and frustrating.

So I think it's only appropriate that I take a second and explain, post-job, why I chose it.

1. Let's get this one out of the way, shall? Money. Yes, subbing paid well, and I was very glad it did. I have a rather intense dislike of trading my time for money, but I have an even more intense dislike of not having a place to stay or food to eat. C'est la vie.

But lots of things pay well, especially if one has, um, different ethical constraints than I do. So money was not the only factor.

2. It had/has low barriers to entry. This was a much larger factor than it should have been, but then again, I am much less motivated than I should be (or so I hear). Getting an emergency sub license and applying to work in the Lebanon, Sweet Home and Central Linn school districts was really, really simple. I asked for and received letters of endorsement from each district, sent them, some paperwork, and a check to the state of Oregon, and very shortly thereafter I had a temp/emergency sub teaching license. Filling out the the rest of the paperwork at each district took minutes, and then I was in.

What's missing from this picture? Well, at the least, an interview – at no point did I have to talk to anyone but the HR department of each district. While I appreciated the ease of entry (lazy, remember), I am still a little shocked that anyone with a Bachelor's degree and a clean background check (and nothing else, like classes or experience in education) can waltz into a K-12 school and begin working with students.

Caveat: I gather that the barrier to entry is only so low because many districts, especially rural or semi-rural districts have problems finding enough subs to meet their need. Put that way, it makes a lot more sense. After all, I was unable to sub in Corvallis or Albany – and I assume I would not be allowed to sub in places like Salem or Portland.

I guess I'm also a little surprised at the informality of everything.

3. Justice. Yes, you read that correctly – one of the reasons I felt good about wanting to work as a substitute in a high school was that it presented an opportunity to work towards a more just world, even if in a small way. I am not apologetic or bashful about that. In fact, that was the hope I held closest to me as I was starting work; I held it so close because I was afraid of it being mocked or misunderstood (as critical hope in America often is), and while I still have that fear, having developed a new part of my identity in an educational setting, I'm confident enough now to put that out in the world and defend it.

I want to be precise when talking about this: I do not think I was or am some sort of savior figure that has all the answers. Neither do I think that if I had just found the right thing to say, a student's mind would 'see the light'. Such thinking is dangerous and arrogant – and I say that knowing I fell into that trap on at least one memorable occasion. But I did – and do – think I had the values, experience, knowledge and perspectives that I could bring to the job that, I hoped, would allow me to do good by those I worked with.

My recollection of high school, the academic reading I've done (check out section 3.3 of this entry or this ) and my experience going back and sitting on the other side of the desk all suggest that high school is often a cruel, unjust place. I wanted to try and pierce what I perceived as the sense that such cruelty was either normal or justified; answering whether or not I was successful was and is for me incredibly difficult, though I learned to accept the not-knowing.

I also wanted to try and talk to students, even if in a small way, about things that I thought needed to be covered in high school but were not: Race, class, gender, critical thinking and challenging assumptions (these, of course, being very much related to justice and the presence of justice in the lives of students). If education is to be empowering, to be more than simple training, more than learning to be obedient to authority, then these need to be addressed – after all, students of high school age are already addressing these things in their social circles, already encountering all kinds of media messages on these topics, and I fear the result if no space is created that allows them really examine what they're hearing (and absorbing). I tried to create that space in the gaps, and it was a lot of fun.

One of the best experiences I had was during an exercise in which I started talking to students (at the teacher's request) about barriers to academic success and what both students and teachers could do to help them succeed (folks who know me will recognize that this is right up my alley). One of the end results of what ensued was that the student teacher came up to me after class, amazed that a particular student had talked during the discussion; apparently this student had not said a single word in that period all year long – and he had been very vocal during the discussion.

To put it another way: It is my belief that human beings are socialized in such a way as to restrict our ability to have compassion for others or to be empathetic. The fact that we treat each other poorly based on external or supposed characteristics (race/ethnicity, gender, social class, etc.) as a result is, to put it mildly, not a good thing. I would much rather see people learn how to put themselves in the shoes of another; I think the result would be a world with a lot less anger and hate. Anything I can do to work towards that goal – such as model compassionate behavior to high school students or the use of language that furthers, rather than hinders, communication – is a good thing.

One of the results of my beliefs, feelings and attitudes regarding subbing and justice is that it made leaving feel flat-out unethical, like I was somehow wronging the students I would no longer work with. I throw this out there not knowing where this comes from or why I feel that way – does the hive mind want to take a guess? (One thing I hope it's not: the savior complex I tried to avoid.)

Finally, I know that I am not alone among educators in relating education and justice. However (and this is where I think being a sub had a negative effect), with very few exceptions, I never heard a teacher or staff member talk about why they teach, about what they hoped to achieve by teaching (much less be explicit about their hopes for justice as a result). I would have liked to see those things foregrounded a lot more; I think education professionals need to be talking about them constantly, if for no other reason than that educators will have different reasons for being educators, and reaching an understanding about them (if not a consensus) is very important to being successful in providing a coherent and consistent experience for students.

Observation #3 on Subbing in Lebanon: Let's Talk About One's Emotional Investment in One's Work

There is no debating that I became emotionally invested as a substitute teacher. What is debatable is how much, and in what ways, and what that means.

How much: Um, based on my emotional stability during the last two days of work (the only two in which I was sure I was not coming back), I'd say I was pretty heavily invested. I was pretty shocked to figure that out – not only was I only there for just parts of two different years, but I was just a sub, right?

Right – and wrong. Regardless of my official status, the fact remains that I became emotionally invested in the success and failure of students and the health of their environment. I believe that the benefits of this outweighed both the costs and whatever negative opinions other might hold about my experience.

A qualifier: I don't think I ever became so emotionally invested that I made bad decisions in terms of my actions. I may, however, have said some unprofessional things on occasion.

Also, I believe that being emotionally present and available on a day-to-day basis is one thing that allowed me to do well. More than one student claimed their basis for wanting me as a sub was because I “actually listened” to what they had to say. This was heartening to hear personally, but given that I didn't give much, if any, more leeway in enforcing the rules than other teachers (as far as I know), it does not suggest that students feel listened to. It does suggest, however, that students know when they are being taken seriously (even if the ultimate answer is “no”) and when they are being casually dismissed or lied to (the former being worse than the latter, I think).

When considered in the context of long-term teaching, I think it's absolutely necessary to develop a personal connection with students – as long as “teaching” is defined as something more meaningful than babysitting. (This holds true for every single subject, by the way, even things like math or P.E.; remember that we are ultimately talking about student learning and development, which is something that can and should occur everywhere and anywhere.) And developing those personal connections does require that the teacher in question make themselves vulnerable to being hurt by their students. It's not honest any other way.

That said, I don't think it means that teachers need to wear their emotions on their sleeve. That is problematic for a whole bunch of reasons. It's also a nice play for professionalism to come into play, or at least those parts of professionalism that allow professionals to maintain a certain neutrality.

Remember, I found that allowing myself to be emotionally affected on some level by students made the work immeasurably more meaningful than it would have been otherwise. And making work meaningful is a prerequisite to doing a good job, I think.

My subbing can be divided into two distinct periods: Spring 2007 and Fall 2007. The first period I was far more miserable as a sub and debated quitting multiple times. I was also resisting investing more than a certain amount in the work on the grounds that the students were cruel and capricious as well as LHS being a very sexist/racist/homophobic environment on the whole (and yes I will talk more about this later; these are not words I drop lightly).

Something changed over the summer, and I decided it was worth throwing myself into the work regardless. I am happy to say that it paid off, and the work became much more a source of energy and light than a drain of same. I'm even halfway convinced now that I did something meaningful at some point when I was there, though I'm probably not the best person to be the judge of that.

One last thing, something that I am hesitant to include.... and that is that it was necessary to refrain from telling students that I was personally emotionally affected by them. That was not a realization I was happy about it; part of me wanted to tell them that they had affected me, sometimes substantially. But I didn't. As it was reiterated to me: It's OK for students to be unaware that you care about their well-being... and trying to force that recognition can be dangerous.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"Male-Bashing" on TV from PopMatters

Some time back I ran across or was otherwise directed to (I can't really remember anymore) this article on male-bashing on television from PopMatters, an "international magazine of cultural criticism."

I was pretty skeptical before I started reading the 2003 article, as 'male-bashing' is almost always a synonym for 'bemoaning the loss of male power'.

While it turned out to be in the same vein, it was a little less transparently patriarchal than that.

The central claim of the article:

Welcome to the new comic image of men on tv: incompetence at its worst. Where television used to feature wise and wonderful fathers and husbands, today's comedies and ads often feature bumbling husbands and inept, uninvolved fathers.


While most television dramas tend to avoid gender stereotypes, as these undermine "realism," comic portrayals of men have become increasingly negative. The trend is so noticeable that it has been criticized by men's rights groups and some television critics.

OK, so maybe I was being charitable when I said it wasn't transparently patriarchal.
"Men's rights groups" are almost always men who are angry about their perceived loss of power and who see power as a zero-sum game in which female gain = male loss. Males interested in genuine equality tend to end up like Robert Jensen: working against masculinity itself.

Anyway, the obvious question to ask here is why - as in why have comic portrayals of men become 'increasingly negative'? (I am actually skeptical that they've become increasingly negative, but I have neither the the time nor inclination to check that claim out.)

Sadly, the article fails to answer the question - and this is as close as it gets:

"Some feminists might argue that, for decades, women on tv looked mindless, and that turnabout is fair play."

"Some feminists?" Can you say logical fallacy?

Not to mention the fact that this is entirely circumstantial... and isn't even really a reason for the supposed change. Instead, it's a potshot at feminism is general by way of claiming that "some [unnamed] feminists" might like to see men portrayed as buffoons.

So what? Some men might like to see other men portrayed as buffoons too - which is just as plausible if not more so, since, last time I checked, men still control the entertainment industry.

I'm willing to grant the author of the article the benefit of the doubt and suppose he would agree that it's still a problem if men are producing shows that make men look like idiots. But if that's the case, then we've got to throw the silly men vs. women paradigm out the window, and I highly doubt the author is ready to do that.

Furthermore, I'd be willing to bet that a majority of feminists disagree with sitcoms as much or more than this poor guy does; after all, no one wins (especially straight women) when the role models for men are frackin' Kevin James and Ray Romano.

Verdict: This is a piece of whiny fluff that attempts to blame women for something women, as a class, have no control over. Mayhap the author should start thinking about why focus groups of men like male characters who are idiots. The answer to that question is far more telling anyway.

For the record, I can't stop thinking about Knocked Up or Superbad in relation to this article. Or Will Ferrell.

Add One to the Book List

With an endorsement like this, I don't see how I'm going to avoid reading Last Night at the Lobster:

I just finished reading an exquisite novella, Last Night at the Lobster, by Stewart O'Nan. It's a slender volume depicting the last day of operation of a struggling Red Lobster franchise in New Britain, Connecticut as seen through the eyes of its manager. This is not a novel of ideas nor one which depicts anything we would commonly think of as heroic or historic. It is simply an exquisitely crafted portrait of an unusually difficult working day in the life of a decent man buffeted by both corporate power and the quotidian obligations he owes to a network of family, colleagues and friends. The writing is humane, wise and knowing. You can read it in a few hours -- but avoid the temptation to race through it and savor the few, well-chosen words.

Observation #2 on Subbing in Lebanon: How I Was Viewed By Students, Teachers and Staff

When I first jotted the above title down, I had not even included the bit about teachers and staff – and when I did realize to include it, I also realized that I considered what students thought of me far more important (or, at least, that's what was implied by the order in which the questions came to me).

For a second, I was worried that there was something wrong with valuing student opinions so much – or more than those of teachers. I worried that I was conflating how much students liked me with how much they respected me.

Mixed up in that was the realization that a certain amount of student approval was necessary for it to be possible for me to do my job – and that a further helping would make my work a lot easier. (And, of course, that good reports from students would encourage teachers to ask me to sub for them again... which is not a good incentive, is it?)

Truth be told, I am still a little unsure at times what motivated some of the things I did.

That said, however, the more experience I got the easier I found it to refuse student requests and demands and the easier to exert my will. I don't know if this was because I was learning or because I was slowly burning out (meaning that I had less patience to work with students vs. use my LCSD-granted authority like a club spiked bat). At this point – without more perspective – I don't really know.

As far as students were concerned, I left the job sure that I was very well-liked by students. When it comes to teachers, I suspect there was a pretty good variety of opinion.... though of course the same problem arises here as it did with my desire for feedback: I was the only staff member in the room 99% of the time, so no other teachers really saw me at work.

I know I got lots of compliments from teachers, but I also got the sense that there were several teachers who did not want me subbing for their class, for what I assume were a variety of reasons (the existence of this blog likely being one of them). There were also, of course, a large contingent of teachers who really didn't care as long as nothing went horribly wrong when I was in the room.

I hope that my predilection towards the student end of the question comes from the fact that I think working with students is the most important part of the job.

Observation #1 on Subbing in Lebanon: Formal Evaluation & Professional Feedback

I received no formal or organized feedback from either teachers, students or administrators. Neither did I receive any formal training or orientation before I began work.

It should go without saying that at the least the school district should be providing some sort of orientation or training for substitutes new to the district, regardless of whether or not we have completed a teaching program. After all, I'm not talking about training in how to teach (or even 'manage student behavior'), I'm talking about answering questions like “where are the staff bathrooms?” and “what's this school's policy on hall passes/bathroom breaks/food in the classroom/cell phones/disciplinary actions/verbal harassment/etc?” I learned most of that from the students I was supposed to be overseeing or from other teachers when I needed to know. Sometimes I just pretended until I could figure it out later, and sometimes I ignored the rules completely.

Granted, there was officially something in place – usually either a “sub notebook” to be provided by the teacher that contained info on bells schedules, evacuation routes, individualized student plans, allergy/medication warnings, etc., or something similar to be provided by the office – but it was weeks before I knew either of those existed, and I would estimate that I was provided with those things no more than 25% of the time. Often I would dig the notebook out myself when I got to the classroom only to find that it had not been updated with anything really useful (like who was deathly allergic to what).

The idea that anyone with the right paper qualifications can jump right into the classroom and survive be successful is not a good one. It reflects the almost-always-unspoken assumption (though I tried to vocalize it to both students and staff with varying degrees of cynicism and success) that substitutes are not there to ensure that students learn anything or otherwise progress with class curriculum, but that subs are there as babysitters (which is a whole separate post) or because state law mandates it (in the cases where there was an instructional assistant in the room, they were uniformly more qualified than I was to deal with the issues of the day).

I did plenty of actual/attempted teaching (especially in math, har) and plenty of babysitting – and over time, I began to think more highly of teachers who expected me to teach a lesson or otherwise arranged for students to spend their class time in something resembling a productive fashion. I know that sometimes it's hard to figure something constructive out when one has to leave on short notice, but students know their time is being wasted the entirety of the lesson plan is either a video or loads of questions from the book (especially when those things only happen with subs).

Anyway, back to the lack of preparation.... while I think it shouldn't even be negotiable that new substitutes get some sort of orientation (the relative benefits and consequences being pretty evident), I understand that selling the idea of an exit interview or formal evaluation isn't so straightforward.

Formal Evaluation: This has benefits for both the school and the substitute. For the sub, it is professional feedback – and since many subs are aspiring teachers, I would hope that a chance to get such feedback would be seen as a good thing. For the school, it demonstrates professionalism and a serious concern for the well-being of students (i.e. that the district is actually interested in getting and retaining good subs – and even helping them improve over time). Also, this can be done when a sub leaves the district (assuming they announce their departure) or at the end of the academic year – say as part of the process of having subs renew their intent to work in the district in the next year.

Exit Interview: Again, this can be filed under 'professional development' on the part of both the district and the substitute. For me, having taken no education classes (ever!), it would have provided some feedback as to how I did, or at least a chance – desirably – to talk to an education professional about what I did in the classroom, what worked, what didn't, etc. From the district's point of view, it allows the district to get feedback on what their schools and classrooms look like from the outside – especially if the sub in question has training to be a teacher.

I know the counter-argument here is something like “but subs aren't there on a day-to-day basis, so what could they possibly know about my school/classroom/situation?”

That's just wrong – first of all, some subs are there quite often. Second, did I mention that the point is to get an outsider's perspective? I'm not suggesting giving undue weight to the outsider – merely that the more perspectives that have input into a situation the better.

Anyway, I wonder if other districts (maybe in larger urban areas?) have anything like this in place. I think it would be a good idea if Lebanon looked into instituting something along these lines.

Informal Feedback

Speaking of feedback.... I did get informal feedback that came in two related varieties. The first was from students: Either they liked me or they didn't (and often had no qualms about telling me to my face which one it was and why). The second was from teachers (and the occasional non-teaching staff member) and it almost always went something like this: “The students seemed to like you, so you must be doing something right.”

While both were gratifying, neither really got at whether or not I was any good as a substitute teacher, at least not completely – and I say that because I observed that students are more likely to work for an authority figure they like than one they lack respect for.

I realized pretty early on that one reason I never got more formal feedback is that I was almost never observed by anyone over 18 years old – so who would be qualified to give me professional feedback?

While the autonomy was fun, I'm not sure it is the best way to go about things, especially from the perspective of a parent: “You mean my kid is in a classroom with some random person with a BA in an unrelated subject?! How is this person even qualified to teach my kid?!

I always sort of waited for that moment to arrive, it never did.... for better or worse.

Observations on Subbing - Introduction

Over the next two days, I will publish four extended observations dealing with my time as a substitute teacher in Lebanon. These are both personal and professional, written partly for me and partly for the general public.

Given my tendency to be wordy, each will be a different post.

Your responses - via email or comments - are very much desired, especially if you have first-hand knowledge of what I'll be talking about.

Note: I am aware that one possible reaction to these posts could go something like this: “Get over yourself. You were just a glorified babysitter.” My reaction to such comments, if they contain no content beyond ad hominem attacks, will be to delete them with prejudice. I knew that spending my time babysitting teenagers was a distinct possibility going in, and I worked to make sure it became a reality as rarely as possible.

On New Year's Resolutions

I despise New Year's Resolutions and do not make them.

That is all.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The OSBA is a Gold Mine of Bad Press

From an old story announcing the original passage of the antic-censorship law, this is amazingly stupid:

Opponents of the bill, such as the Oregon School Boards Association, said that students aren't capable of responsibly editing a newspaper. They said even professional journalists are subject to the editorial control of publishers and owners.

It's so stupid, in fact, that between this and the OSBA quotes in the DH's story, I'm beginning to wonder if the press is intentionally making the OSBA look bad on this based on the OSBA's position. (Well, not really - but the possibility did cross my mind.)

Also, I would think that a Publications Advisor is a good stand-in for a publisher. And in theory, owners do not have editorial control (and publishers are usually not involved in the day-to-day decisions regarding editorial content anyway). This quote suggests the OSBA somehow thinks otherwise.

Wow, the OSBA is shooting itself in the foot. "[S]tudents aren't capable of responsibly editing a newspaper" is.... well, it's so dumb as to be beyond words. Who does the OSBA think actually edits the HS newspapers around the state? Administrators? Specially trained hamsters? The Intarwebs?

Lord, the OSBA needs some better P.R.

DH: New State Law Protects High School Journalism Programs From Censorship

I'd heard this was coming down the pike, but I'd not paid close enough attention to get the details. From the story, it sounds like the new law is going in effect around the first of the year, with school boards changing their policies to match some time in the upcoming year. (On the other hand, the text of the law makes it sound like it went into effect at the beginning of the 2007-2008 academic year.)

I think this is a good development. I've never seen a conflict over censorship in a high school up close, but I've heard enough horror stories to think this is necessary.

As usual, there were some specifics from the article on which I wanted to comment.

OSBA spokeswoman Shannon Priem, whose organization opposed the bill, said the school board association likely will recommend districts put disclaimers on student-produced media.

The disclaimers will say to parents and others, “Don’t blame us for things you disagree with,” Priem said. “Realize we couldn’t do anything about it.”

This is stretching the truth - the law (go here for the text) is pretty clear that the usual rules apply: No inciting others to riot, no libelous statements, no violations of the law, etc. Within those constraints - which have been around for a long time - students are free to print what they want. Furthermore, "nothing" implies the only thing school administrations could have done would have been to censor the paper. Did Priem ever consider suggesting that administrators and school boards actually work with newspapers instead of defaulting to an "us vs. them" position? Apparently not.

Sadly, that is not the only gaffe from the OSBA:

OSBA objected to the bill in part because most school districts are involved in the production of student media, either by paying staff members’ salaries or funding the publications outright.

“The thing is, this is not a newspaper,” Priem said. “This is money that’s being funded by us, the taxpayer. ... It’s a tax-supported program.”

This is interesting - one hopes it's simply a poor choice of words on the part of Priem. Not a newspaper? Try telling that to the students who produce it. That line is certainly not going to endear her (or the OSBA) to students working in publications all over the state.

Furthermore, the implication here is that newspapers have to be funded with private money (like advertising, which many HS newspapers use to cover part of their expenses) to count, which makes no sense whatsoever. Good media theory says that the act of journalism is what makes one a journalist. By extension, I would think the same holds true of a newspaper: Does it fulfill the commonly understood functions of a newspaper? If yes, then it's almost certainly a newspaper.

OSU's Frank Ragulsky says something pretty smart:

Frank Ragulsky, director of student media at Oregon State University, said the law better defines the role schools ought to play.

“I think what it does is it places the educational part on the school, which is to inform students that they can’t be irresponsible,” he said.

“And I think it makes clear for administrators, principals, school districts and advisers the roles that they have in helping students learn their rights and responsibilities.”

Placing Ragulsky's comment (a comment I am not touching with a ten foot pole given the Baro's recent history of avoiding any and all responsibility for their actions) next to Priem's further makes Priem look the fool - Ragulsky is pushing for schools to teach responsibility. How could Priem or the OSBA possibly oppose that, you ask?

My conclusion? Teaching students to be responsible means giving them the power to fuck up, sometimes in monumental ways. There's no avoiding that - nor should there be. If the school administrations have any responsibility, it's to ameliorate the damage that occurs when students do make mistakes, and to - as Ragulsky suggests - help students learn about rights and responsibilities.

Mistakes can be fantastic opportunities for learning. Why does the OSBA sound so nervous about this?

Note: The Student Press Law Center sounds like a great resource. Check it out.

Anne Bishop's Pillars of the World Trilogy

I finished the trilogy - Pillars of the World, Shadows and Light and The House of Gaian - earlier tonight, and I loved it.

I'm not going to try and write a review, as it's become painfully obvious I have no idea how, but there are a few things I wanted to say.

1. The trilogy, somehow, reminded me of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series (of which I read the the first eight or nine books). I'm not sure why.

2. The series was somehow simultaneously really compelling and totally boring - I felt like I knew what the end would be fairly early on, and I turned out to be right.

3. Anne Bishop's writing in the trilogy was very smooth. Probably the reason for the first part of #2.

4. It's feminist in a way that I didn't see as militant or overly ideological. This amused me and made me happy.

Uuuhh.... that's it, I think.

Anyone out there ever read these? Leave a comment or drop me a line...

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