Saturday, September 29, 2012

Talk Like a Candidate Day

   We all know about "Talk Like a Pirate" day.
   But after listening to candidate speeches for the last bazillion years, teachers should talk like a candidate for the weeks leading up to the election.
   You know what I mean. Candidate A talks about something in a sentence or two, then raises his voice with a "we can do it" kind of inflection.
   President Obama does it well. Others, like Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney, seem like they're trying too hard and their efforts feel false and manipulative.
   Here's how it might go in my classroom.
   "Hey Class 4! It's great to see you. It's great to be back in this classroom with all you future leaders of this country. The COUNTRY BELONGS TO YOU!
   "Despite what the math teacher says, I offer you the key to your future. Yes, Literacy is your future. If you learn to read and write well, YOU CAN DO ANYTHING. YES, YOU CAN!
   "So today we're here to practice how to start your stories with great leads. Not just good leads, but GREAT LEADS!
   "Future leaders of America: Are you READY? I can teach you leads better than anyone, especially better than the math teacher who WANTS TO LIMIT YOUR LEARNING TO NUMBERS!
   "If you work hard today with my leadership, we can reach FOR THE STARS.
   "Ignore what that math teacher says about my teaching style. My teaching style works. My teaching style will bring YOU TO YOUR FUTURE!"

  Wow. That was a lot of work to write. I wonder how those candidates keep the energy going? I'll try this over the week to see what happens. Maybe we can transform our practice!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Not Quite the Podium, Just Too Much Pressure

   Believe it or not, based on my rugged good looks and my youthful demeanor, I get to race in the 50 plus age group in cyclocross this year.
   Those other old guys are still fast.
   Still, a sixth place in a fairly large field (35 starters?) is a pretty good result for me.
   I haven't felt fast yet this year. I know it's early in the season, and I'm totally not sweating it.
   The races now are good training and a chance to blow out the carbon from the engine.
   The funny - but not so funny - story from the weekend goes like this: After the 50 plus race in Chicago, Alyssa Severn and I rode along the lake front as a cool down. I pumped up the tires and away we went.
   When we got to Lake Geneva Sunday, I checked the pressure with the special inflator. Since it didn't add any air, I figured I was good to go.
   And I made the total rookie mistake of not squishing the tires.
   See, in cross, running tires with really low pressure helps riders carve through tight corners and puts more tread on the ground for muddy or rough surfaces.
   Typically I run 28-30 pounds of pressure.
   For the first three laps of Lake Geneva, which, by the way, was a pretty damn fun course, I couldn't drive the bike for anything. Cornering was a huge battle. Finally, by the fourth lap, I was feeling the course a little better and starting to pass all the guys who passed me when I couldn't drive.
    In a tight corner around a tree, though, my front wheel washed out, and I crashed hard on my shoulder. I initially thought I broke the collarbone again since the sharp pain was identical.
   (I went to my chiropractor today, and he diagnosed a strain and significant bruising, so nothing permanent.)
   As I walked back to the car with teammate Patrick, he started laughing about my tires. When he checked with a pressure gauge, we both started laughing even through the pain.
    51 psi.
   No wonder I washed out.
   And the comments at USGP in Sun Prairie this weekend will all be deserved.
   I'm grateful, though, that my stupid mistake did not cost me my season!

Friday, September 7, 2012

When I grow up...

   I belong to a list serv website where touring cyclists can find host housing along their route.
   The first email I received was from a guy named Jerry from Texas. He planned to ride from Muskegon, after taking the ferry, across to the east coast.
   Jerry H. is 71. His riding partner, another Jerry W., is 76. Both require recumbents to get around now for the most part due to physical challenges.
   Neither of these guys are fitness freaks. They ride to see the country, have adventures, and get to know new people.
   Jerry and Jerry
   And they don't do credit card tours, staying in hotels along the way. They bring tents and sleeping bags. They stop in state parks, church yards, nice little places back off the road. They ride back country roads, and if they do 50 miles in a day, they consider it good.
   They like wandering through little towns, talking to people at diners and along the road, learning the history of a place.
   These two arrived at my house Tuesday night, and they took Lori and I to dinner at La Salsa.
   I stayed up way too late on a school night, listening to their stories. Originally, they planned to stay two nights and visit a bit of Milwaukee. I was really sad to find out they would leave in the morning for the trip.
   They're in Michigan now, making new friends. It's amazing how many people you meet on a bike. It's the only way to travel.
   I have two new friends now, even though they called me Joe! That's why I do host housing for cyclists: I get to meet fascinating people doing fascinating things.
   Those two guys are who I want to be when I grow up. Riding my bike in retirement, meeting new friends along the way, and making the world a little smaller and closer.
   Hopefully, these two remember names!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

And the word of the day is...

   Yesterday, I wrote about how this school year was going to be very interesting.
   Today, we spent several hours in meetings that underlined several of the factors that are going to affect education, particularly in Wisconsin.
   And I'm most curious how it will all play out.
   Here are the contributing factors:
   1. Act 10. I'll start with the elephant in the room. Act 10 gives districts wide latitude to essentially do what they want. This can mostly affect pay and work rules for teachers.
   My district, to their credit, handled this opening week very nicely. We had only one "required" day - today. The rest were ours to set up our rooms, or take the last few days of summer as vacation.
   2. Merit Pay. Because of Act 10, districts have more freedom to set up an alternative compensation package. There's a ton of discussion about this, far more than I want to get into here. Some districts are taking a wait and see approach. Others, like Fall Creek are working directly with the teachers to create a merit pay package. And I love that they freely admit they're not quite sure what's going to happen with it! It's a learning year for them.
   3. State testing. The WKCE is allegedly a thing of the past. Our principal today called it a "low-rigor" test. He also said the state was developing "Smarter Balanced Assessments." I'm not sure what that means, but one would hope the tests are aligned with the Common Core Standards.
   Watch out for the firestorm, though, as all schools' scores are going to seriously drop in the new WKCE reports. That's because the WKCE levels for what proficiency meant were ridiculously low. That's going to change. We'll see how districts react to the public response to that report, which is apparently coming out in the next few weeks.
   4. NCLB. Waivers and loosening of No Child Left Behind mean there will be some changes in how testing is done. Since I don't even pretend to understand any of that, I'll only say there will be changes.
   5. Finally, for today's piece, the other elephant in the room is the Milwaukee Public Schools. This change may not take effect until next school year, but the posturing and arguments are certain to begin soon. See the MPS contract with its teachers runs out at the end of the year. MPS is already projecting losses of many hundreds of teachers at the end of the year due to retirement and flight from the city.
   Since MPS is often the bellwether of the area, I'll be curious how the MPS administration handles its new found freedom when the contract expires.

   For all of these changes, the word of the day is data. Data-driven goals, results, research. All of the data we gather - somehow - is going to drive this. How we gather data, how we use the data, and what all the data means is going to drive this process of change this year.
   Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Beginning - Again

   I lost my way. But I'm back now. 
   Don't you feel better? 
   Part of the reason I want to re-start writing is that I miss it. 
   Another part is the book Feed, an incredible book by Mira Grant. Actually, it's the first of a trilogy about zombies. It's also part conspiracy theory investigation by a group of bloggers, who have become the watchdogs of a digital world. 
   The stories are about zombies, yes, but are really about so much more: human reaction to fear, human desire to control the natural world, corruption of power, human relationships.
   I'm mid-way through the second book: Deadline, and as soon I'm done writing, I'm getting back to the book!
   Tomorrow is also the official teacher start to the new school year. 
   While a pick-axe through the eyeball is preferable to sitting through a day-long set of meetings, the opening day is going to be most curious. 
   In fact, the whole school year promises to be very interesting. 
   First, obviously, Act 10, which stripped teacher unions of any power other than salary bargaining, puts a lot of power in district and administrator's hands. I'm going to be very curious how this power is used. 
   Second, the district - and Wisconsin - adopted the Common Core Standards for both English (Literacy) and math. The CCS promotes getting deeper into literacy skills than our usual curriculum. 
   What's going to be interesting is the testing that will come from CCS. Allegedly, the state is going to use tests based on the CCS. We'll see what those look like. 
   Third, as always, I'm grateful for my colleagues, particularly Marzion - our 11th year together - and Clint Weishaar, my seventh grade Literacy colleague. 
   Those two keep me sane (relatively speaking), and I get to truly collaborate with Clint to create some pretty cool environments for the kids. 
   And finally, the kids. It was so much fun to meet them today and see kids from last year run up to hug us. 
   Today's story was the tiny crocodiles that escaped from the science room. I was checking the lockers to make sure none had burrowed into them. 
   No one had seen any of them.