Sunday, June 25, 2017

Charles Darwin Clerihew



When he was young, Charles Darwin
tried the dating game, but couldn’t win.
The main cause for the ladies’ rejection
Was he didn’t seem a natural selection.

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Why I Quit


As noted before, I quit my teaching job at a prestigious Catholic school - but one that has strayed from its roots and one where some questionable decisions have been made.

I had my exit interview yesterday. As part of that interview, I submitted the following (though in this version I have taken out the names):

There are a number of reasons why I realized I could not comfortably continue working at XXX. Here are some of them:

There is an element of dishonesty with the AP English Language and Composition course.

I created the AP Language course. I was trained for the course, wrote the lengthy audit that led to it being recognized by the College Board as an approved AP class, and taught it for three years, two as an official AP class. That approval involved me teaching the course basically according to the syllabus that was part of the audit, though it allowed for some flexibility in curriculum and for other teachers to teach sections of it that I was not teaching as long as they followed the approved syllabus/audit.

In 2015 Mr. Q decided that another teacher would teach all sections of the course. Since that involved me no longer teaching the course and the new teacher was not teaching it with me that seemed to violate one criteria for it being an approved AP course. The new teacher also changed the course, raising doubts about whether it followed the audit.

I notified the AP supervisor at the time (Mr. S) that the new teacher would likely have to file a new audit for it to remain an approved course. He assured me that things would be taken care of.

I later received the XXX scores for the 2016 test; they were registered and reported under my name, indicating that there had been no change.

In January 2017, I received notice from the College Board that the new AP coordinator at XXX, Mrs. W, had renewed the authorization for the course under my name, even though I had not taught the course since 2015, and the course was somewhat different from the course for which I had originally received approval.

I immediately wrote to Mrs. W voicing my concerns (“the course was renewed under my name and by my curriculum, but I no longer teach the course, and it no longer follows the audited curriculum AP approved, so is this valid? / I also don’t feel comfortable having my name on a course I don’t teach as if I do – it seems dishonest to me.”) That seeming dishonesty extends both to the College Board implying that I am still teaching the course and to the students and their families who believe that are taking an approved AP class, while it may in fact no longer be so. 

The last time I checked, the course was still listed under my name.

This poses potential problems for the school and the students. As the renewal letter states: Admissions officers use the AP Course Audit results to determine the extent to which students avail themselves of rigorous course work. It is in your students' best interest that courses designated AP on your school transcripts have been renewed through the AP Course Audit process for each academic year in which they are offered. An inaccurate AP Course Ledger could negatively impact your students in the college admissions process. As a result, if you are no longer teaching at this school, are not teaching English Language and Composition during the 2016-17 school year, or otherwise believe this renewal was done in error, please ask your school administrator to update the renewal status of your course.

A similar potential issue arises with the AP English Literature and Composition course, which was approved under one teacher who is no longer at the school, and has had several different teachers since. I don’t know if this problem extends to other AP courses in other departments.

As for me, I did not want to be party to any kind of potential deception.

Course assignments seemed questionable.

As noted before, I created the AP Language and Composition course. It was successful, with students scoring some of the highest AP scores at XXX, and well above the national average.

At the end of the 2014/15 school year we were informed what courses we were teaching the following year. There had been no discussion prior to this, as had been done in previous years when we could say what courses we wanted to teach and were part of the decision-making process.

I learned what I was not going to teach any of the AP Language and Composition sections, that a new teacher who had just been allegedly recruited and hired was taking it over entirely.

When I contacted Mr. Q to find out why, he left a message saying simply that choices were made based on the new teacher’s gifts and mine.

I later was told by several people that in order to get this new teacher to come to XXX she had allegedly been promised the AP Class, and that after a year she would become the department chair (even though another teacher had just been appointed chair). Indeed, the new teacher, fully aware of what she had allegedly been promised, remained silent for much of that first year, thus her appointment as chair came as a complete surprise to the people involved. This created a climate of distrust in the department, and morale plummeted.

As noted, the course was still deceptively listed under my name, and so I got the test results the first year this other teacher taught the course. The average score dropped, the percentage of student passing dropped, and the most pronounced decline was in the percentage of students earning 5s, the highest possible score. My last two years of teaching the class 26.2%, then 26.5% of the students earned 5s (nearly triple the national average) while under the new teacher 19% earned 5s – a 28%  decrease.

When these results were later brought to Mr. Q’s attention he said the reason I was no longer teaching the course was that I had been slow to return one set of papers to the students the last year I taught AP. I acknowledged that I had been slow returning them, but noted that I had had reasons for doing so. (Whether they were good reasons is certainly subject to discussion.) Moreover, the students had had multiple sets of papers – amounting to more than 400 3-5 page AP essays and more than a 1,000 2-page AP analysis assignments - that they had gotten back in a timely fashion. That did not sway him, but then it was likely too late to address the situation. However, it does raise questions: If it was perceived that I was having a problem at the time, why was I not given a chance at the time to explain, or given advice and support? And why were all the sections of the course taken away without warning given my earlier success? 

A similar situation developed this year. Another new teacher was allegedly recruited and hired – with an air of secrecy. For example, the day this teacher was being interviewed I came down the hall and this teacher and Mr. Q came out of the English office talking about the department. Though the natural thing to do would have been to introduce us, Mr. Q simply ignored me. This immediately roused my suspicion, and indeed we learned shortly thereafter that the new teacher had indeed been hired. At that point, there were no openings in the department that we were aware of, so we were left with the impression that one of us was going to be let go to make room for this teacher. Another teacher suddenly left mid-semester, ending that concern. But then when assignments came out – again without discussion or teacher input – we learned this new teacher was taking over the AP English Literature and Composition course. The teacher who had been teaching that course is a gifted individual whose students had scored exceedingly well on the AP examination. But she was told that she was perceived as a challenging teacher – which an AP teacher is supposed to be - and not “personable” enough, so some students opted not to sign up for the course. The new teacher would attract students, it was allegedly claimed, which would make this course one that could help with recruiting and promoting the school. Thus the impression was that marketing took priority over academic rigor. (As a side note, this new teacher was also given the creative writing class that I had been teaching, even though I am an award-winning journalist, a published poet, a playwright whose works had been performed locally – including by GEVA – and had helped a number of students get published.)

The secretive way this second teacher was hired, the way courses were assigned, the seeming deception with the AP classes, the lack of trust and the declining morale in the department were the main reasons I decided I could not return.

There were additional reasons.

I did not receive timely feedback from teacher observations.

Each year teachers are required to be observed by an administrator, and to be given an observation report to help point out strengths and areas that could be improved. Mr. Q and Mr. S both did so in timely fashions. Mrs. W, however, has developed a reputation for not providing such reports in a timely fashion, as was the case with me.

She observed me twice. The first time, several years ago, I got the observation report six months after the observation – ironic considering that a delay with one set of papers had allegedly led to my losing the AP Language classes. That report was so vague and general it was difficult to tell that it was about the class she observed.

The second observation took place late in the past school year. I never received a report.

The schedule changes cut down on actual teaching time, making it increasingly difficult to cover curriculums and to keep continuity in classes.

The school shifted to an eight-day schedule that involved meeting with each section six out of the eight days. The class length was extended supposedly to provide comparable teaching time. This was not the case – the schedule actually resulted in less teaching time. Further, advisement periods were added, then an activity period, then there were multiple assemblies or days dedicated to other activities, further reducing class time. As a result, teachers have had to eliminate material from their curriculums, or to give short shrift to other topics/lessons.

Further, the fact that classes did not meet every day disrupted continuity. This became even more pronounced when days off due to other activities, weather issues, or holidays intruded. For example, last November, I was not able to meet with one class for a week and a half due to the schedule, the Gala, a day off due to weather, and then Thanksgiving. The class was completely out of synch.

I and other teachers found this frustrating – and even the students voiced confusion and frustration.

Grading policies changed.

School officials decided to change aspects of the grading policy. Minimum grades were instituted, meaning that students did not receive accurate assessments. Indeed, some students learned that the system allowed them to slack off at times and not be afraid of failing. A new letter system is being instituted, even though many faculty members did not see the need. The feeling was that this was what the administration wanted, and objections were ignored or downplayed.

Each year seemed to have a different priority, making it difficult to know what was expected.

Every year there seemed to be a different focus, or document to create, or book to read. Some of them followed each other, but others seemed unconnected – often with some kind of tacked-on connection late in the process. This made it difficult to decide what really was a priority – indeed, staff began to complain about receiving too much too fast. I know of one teacher who left rather than have to deal with more of this. Moreover, these foci dominated our summer work and our department meetings – often making it difficult to get department work done.

There was a growing sense that we were going though these efforts for the sake of going through the motions, and not with any clear goal in mind. That may not have been in the case, but was the sense.

The current strategic planning process has just seemed more of the same, raising fears about the future of the school and its ability to provide a quality education.

Overall, this led to confusion, frustration, and increasing cynicism.

Faculty input about changes was often perceived as manipulated.

The works we read guided some of the academic changes being made at the school. In addition, the schedule was changed several times, as were grade reporting procedures and programs, and more.

There was a clear sense that the works were chosen to direct the discussion in a pre-ordained direction. In addition, faculty was frequently surveyed, but the survey choices were often limited or worded in such a way that the results seemed directed, and hence were questionable.

Further, a number of faculty members did not trust the surveys, believing that their individual responses would be checked. In some cases, they responded with what seemed safe. In some other cases, they did not respond at all for fear of their actual thoughts being known. This tracking may not have been the case, but the perception that it might be revealed the lack of trust at the school.

Meanwhile, this skewed the results.

Yet the results were reported as if the faculty had reached consensus. What the results really were was a consensus on the limited choices they were given, not on the decision as a whole.

This led to further frustration.

There is a climate of fear at the school.

Teachers had a sense that they had to go along with what was the perceived direction administration wanted, or face consequences.  This was as a result in part of the fact that contracts were year to year, thus each year there was uncertainty about whether one had a position or not. In addition, there was the perception that those who had incurred disfavor in some way lost favorite assignments, which were given to those who had favored status. Again, this may not have been the actual case, but it certainly was the perception and this often shaped or limited teacher responses.

The effect was that some teachers felt trapped, afraid to say what they really thought.
……………………………………………………………………………………………….

There are other reasons why I am leaving – including concerns about the school moving away from its Catholic roots, the seeming obsession with fundraising and marketing, the watering down of the curriculum, and so on. It just became apparent that as much as I loved the students and enjoyed working with many of the faculty members, I could no longer continue at the school.

Pax et bonum

Monday, June 19, 2017

Some of the real Wonder Women


The new Wonder Woman movies is out. I haven't seen it yet, but I've heard some positive things from people about it.

Of course, she is a fictional character. There are real Wonder Women in the history of the Church. Here are a few.

 

Mother Teresa


St. Clare of Assisi


St. Teresa of Avila


St. Hildegard of Bingen


St. Joan of Arc


The Blessed Mother


St. Therese of Liseux


Dorothy Day



St. Catherine of Siena

Pax et bonum

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

 
 
                                                          
                                                          Father's Day -
                                                          the coolness
                                                          of his headstone
 


Pax et bonum

Friday, June 16, 2017

Passing on the Parish Council


A couple of months back, members of the Parish Council at my parish spoke at weekend Masses trying to recruit new members. In our parish, instead of an actual election or even a put-all-the-nominees'-names-in-a-bowl-and-pick-the-required-number-of-members method used at a lot of parishes, if you show up you are a member.

I went over to one of the members I knew, asked a couple of questions and shared a couple of jokes. He asked if I was interested, and I said I'd think about it. My wife later said I should really consider it, and that she could see me on the Council.

A couple of weeks ago the head of the Parish Council left a message on my phone and invited me to the June meeting as a new member, or at least to check things out. I didn't even get a chance to return his call - he came up to me at the end of Mass after my music group played and asked me to come to the next meeting.

Feeling trapped, I said I'd attend the June meeting. I did so earlier this week.

I was one of four new/potential members. The rest of the people were the people I'd expected - the very active members of the parish. The kind of good, solid people every parish relies on.

I listened to the issues being discussed. I also got to meet the new pastor who will be joining us at the end of June. That was nice.

I did not commit when asked. But when I went home I told my wife I would not be joining.

Why?

As I mentioned, the people were all the active members in the parish - every program, every fund-raiser, every social activity, these were the people who ran things and volunteered and did the work. And at the Council meeting it was indeed clear it was expected that the members were to be active in as much as possible - from the parish picnic to the new adult formation program to overseeing the parish newsletter - and to promote everything. That message came through again and again.

It's pretty obvious that they were seeking new members because they need more hands and new blood.

But I don't participate in all those activities and events. I'm not a picnic person. I don't go to all the dinners and card and wine-tasting nights. I can't even be part of the adult formation program because it's scheduled for a night I work. It would be hypocritical for me to promote activities and programs in which I don't participate.

Plus, with a new job, being on the the Board of The Margaret Home as we attempt to get that program off the ground, my Franciscan obligations (including being a member of the Fraternity Council), Santa duties in November/December, and the Rock of Faith band, I'm already committed to a lot.

Further, the discussion involved a lot of dithering and repeating - many of the members are older, some are hard of hearing, some are not native English speakers, and some got lost as issues were discussed. I know me: I don't have the patience for that.

So I'll let them know that I was honored to be invited, but this is not for me.

Pax et bonum

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Rock of Faith - 2017 edition



The most recent edition of my band, Rock of Faith, in 2017. So many talented people!

Pax et bonum

Gilbert comes through again (clerihews)


I just got the latest issue of Gilbert. Much to my delight, the Clerihew Corner features poems just by me.

Here's the poems that got in:

Dr. Mary Gatter
treated it as a laughing matter,
but sell enough baby parts, even that teenie,
and you just might afford a Lamborghini.

A somber Marquis de Sade
said with a knowing nod,
"The wickedness of all my work fades
before that woman's 50 Shades.”

One of the aims of ISIS
is eradicating Western sins and vices,
except, of course, for a select few
that they themselves like to do.

When he was young St. Polycarp
religiously practiced the harp.
When a musical career proved a non-starter
he instead became a martyr.

When Alexander Pope
slipped on a bar of soap
the couplet he muttered was neither stoic
nor heroic.

Steven Wright
Is right:
Boycott shampoo,
demand the real poo.


That makes 8 clerihews in the last three issues - after a five and half year gap!

Pax et bonum

Sunday, June 11, 2017

I quit


Yes, I quit.

I met with the principal of my school to sign a new contract, and I stopped him and told him that I was not returning.

You should have seen the look on his face.

I have another position lined up - at a real Catholic school - but I didn't tell him that. Instead I talked about some of the reasons why I was leaving.

Sadly, we didn't get to cover them all. Among the concerns I didn't get to cover was the fact that this supposedly Catholic school was drifting further and further away from defending Catholic teachings. (Don't mention them: Don't want to offend parents shelling out big bucks.)

So it goes.

The school I'm going to has daily prayers, weekly Mass for students, and opportunities for daily Masses for the faculty. Some teachers say rosaries with students. Lessons include Catholic books and discussion of saints.

And I don't have to be worried about offending people by discussing Catholic teachings.

Further, the education is classical - not ruled by Google and computers.

This week after I file my grades I will just be packing up. Lots of books that I used to enhance my lessons.

Alleluia! Thanks you Lord.

Pax et bonum

Monday, June 5, 2017

Fake News At CNN?


I saw reports accusing a CNN news crew of faking a protest by Muslims against the terrorist attack on London Bridge. At least the video circulating on social media seems to show them arranging and posing the protesters – but I don’t know the full context and what happened before or after, so I can’t say what really happened.

I was reminded, though, of a time when I was involved with a fake newscast of sorts.
 
It was 17 years ago. I was a reporter for a newspaper, and one of my beats was local politics. Some folks involved with the county legislature were holding a press conference on some issue, and I and number of other print, radio and television reporters showed up at the appointed time and asked enough questions so we could all go back to our respective news outlets and create reports.

The press conference had ended and I was lingering to talk with one of the interviewees I knew when a cameraman from a local television station came rushing in. The station had a reputation for being frugal (to be polite) so they had only a few news cameras, and often sent cameramen out without reporters just to film something so they could say they covered the event, often, as in this case, arriving late.

The cameraman looked crestfallen, realizing he had gotten there way too late to get any film. The interviewee said he would be willing to answer some questions, but the cameraman admitted that he only had the press release and really knew nothing about the issue at hand. They had just sent him out to film answers to other people’s questions.

I looked at the interviewee, who looked back at me, then I turned to the cameraman and said, “I can ask a couple of questions so you can get something.”

He looked relieved.

So I sat off camera and asked a couple of the questions I’d asked earlier, the interviewee sat at the table as if he was still doing the press conference (we even put my mike on the table in front of him along with a couple of other mikes to make it look real), and the cameraman filmed the responses.

That night, I turned on the station’s newscast. When the press conference report came on, an on-air personality (i.e. good-looking reporter) who had not been at the press conference asked one of the questions I’d asked as if he’d been there asking it, and then the report showed footage of the interviewee answering (my) question.

The on-air personality looked good (of course). The cameraman got his shot. The interviewee got coverage.

I chuckled then at the little deception.

Now, I just shrug and wonder what conversations are going on at CNN.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Scifi Cinquain



He longed
to kiss her lips
but was uncertain which

pair of her lips it would be safe
to kiss.


Pax et bonum

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Prayer for The Margaret Home



St. Margaret of Cortona, you gave yourself to the crucified Christ in thanksgiving for his love and mercy. We ask for your prayers for this home which bears your name, that it may be a refuge for those in need and a sign of Christ's love and mercy and a sanctuary where your children are welcomed and protected. O glorious St. Margaret, present this request to your crucified Lord and ours. May your example guide us, and your support protect us. ... Be our companion, we beg you, until we reach our Father's house. Amen.

Our Lady, Seat of Wisdon, Pray for us.
St. Margaret of Cortona, pray for us.

Pax et bonum