The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Archive for June, 2011

Summer Reading III: Patriot Games

I recently finished the second book (chronologically) of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan/John Clark Universe, Patriot Games.

I quite enjoyed this story, even though some of the characters were a little stiff. I could tell that this was an earlier writing endeavour by Mr. Clancy, which probably explains a lot. However, it was a very well-written story, despite its flaws. It was fun and quick to read and, as with most of his stories, it makes the reader ask important questions about right and wrong and how we respond to fuzzy boundaries, as my one-time social and cultural geography instructor liked to call them.

Far too often, we try to paint the world in terms of black and white. But the reality of our world is that we don’t even live in shades of grey; our world is full of vibrant colours that blend and contrast and clash and mix. Sometimes things are very pretty. Other times they are quite ugly. And then there are the things that are either mostly ugly with a secret treasure of beauty in the middle or the exact opposite. This is what I think of when I read Tom Clancy’s books. He is showing that, for all of our desire to determine right and wrong, there is an awful lot of confusing mish-mash that we have to deal with, too.

I think my favourite line from the book is when Jack Ryan’s friend Robby Jackson tells him, “I am the voice of reason in a chaotic world.” That, to me, kind of sums up the whole of what Tom Clancy is trying to help us find.

And yeah, I am probably reading far too much into the author’s purpose. For what it’s worth, I would never expect anyone else to identify the same reason, nor do I think that you even need to know the purpose when you read. One of these days I am going to finish reading this book on balanced literacy that I’ve been working through for several months. In the meantime, I will share this: the book discusses the idea that we tend to read for one of two purposes: for pleasure (aesthetically) or for information (efferently). Maybe it is just me, but I tend to read for both reasons simultaneously. Scratch that. I know it isn’t just me because I am 99% certain I got this habit from my mother. So there are at least two of us.

Anyway, I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Red Rabbit. This is one of those that I don’t own, though, so I am waiting for the library to get it. While I wait, I am finally going to read the Jared Diamond book that has been sitting on my nightstand for more months that I care to count.


Safe Driving, Cell Phones, and the Law

A friend of mine recently posted an op-ed piece she had written to her newspaper in Texas. It was about Gov. Rick Perry vetoing a Texas law that would make it illegal to text while driving. Illinois passed a similar law about a year or so ago. My response then was the same as it is now. I shared this with Sarah, and thought I’d share it here, because it touches on issues of driver education and general safety issues that need to be taught at an early age, anyway. (Nice justification for posting this on an education blog, eh?)

While I understand the rationale behind the driving-while-texting laws, the small government part of me keeps saying, “But it is already illegal! It is called reckless driving!” If you are driving an automobile and an accident occurs because you were distracted, whether by talking on a cell phone, texting, changing a radio station, reading the newspaper, putting on make-up, changing your clothes, fiddling with an mp3 player, or anything else, you will be faulted for the accident. You can also get ticketed for reckless driving if you are swerving all over the road, even if you don’t cause an accident.

Illinois passed DWT legislation about a year ago and, honestly, I haven’t heard anything to indicate there have been fewer accidents. And I still see people texting and doing other ridiculous things. (All of the examples I listed above are things I have seen people do while driving.)

So, on the one hand, I agree that driving while texting (or anything else that distracts you from driving) is a bad idea but, on the other hand, I don’t think the people who do it will be swayed by the laws. After all, how does an officer even prove someone was texting? Look at their phone to see if there is a message in drafts or just sent? The motions required to write a text are nearly identical to those needed to dial a number, but it isn’t against the law to make phone calls (at least not here). I guess that, at the end, these laws are much more symbolic than anything, but I still have my doubts about whether or not they are effective.

I’ll ask the same thing that Sarah asked: Do you agree or disagree? Please explain but remember to play nice!

Summer Reading II: Without Remorse

It probably seems like quite a jump in genres, but that’s because it is. That’s just how I read. After finishing Tuck Everlasting, I decided to make good on my decision to read Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse.

This book is kind of a prequel of sorts, when it comes to the not-quite-a-series-but-so-close-it-may-as-well-be-one stories that Tom Clancy has written in what I guess it called the Jack Ryan/John Clark Universe. I haven’t read the entire series, although I have read most of it. I suppose I should get around to reading all of them. In terms of chronology, this story comes first, giving us the story of where John Clark came from.

I really enjoyed this book! The last Tom Clancy book I read was, in my opinion, his worst: The Teeth of the Tiger. That one is just not what I would have wanted it to be. So I glad that this one restored my pleasure in Clancy’s books. It had everything I have generally loved about  Clancy’s other books: it is full of plot twists, intrigue, military technicalities, espionage, and challenges of how we determine what is and is not moral behaviour. We also got introduced to various figures in the other stories, which was fun.

I was shocked that it took me so long to connect some of the characters in this book to those in others. Like I said, I need to read the whole series. Maybe now that I’ve just read the first (in chronology if not publication) I will continue through. After all, I do own nine of the thirteen books and I can easily acquire the others. Other than that, I am not going to give any spoilers about it, though. I just thought I’d make a short post to keep up with the books I am reading this summer. Let’s see how many of them I can read before I need to take a break!

And, dang it, one of these days I will finish reading this book about balanced literacy so I can write about that, too!

Interview II

I have been busily applying for full-time teaching jobs all over the state. At last count, I have applied to over 300 districts/consortiums in the past year, probably approaching the 1,000 mark for the number of actual jobs I have applied for. It has been quite the journey. It has also been frequently disappointing, with most jobs getting filled within a couple of weeks. I have received a lovely collection of emails informing me that I was not selected for a given position but that my application will be kept on file for the next year. I also have a smaller collection of letters that were sent in the mail informing me of the same thing. At least one job had over 1,000 applicants. For a single job opening. So, clearly, I am up against a lot of competition.

I had started to get to the point where I was wondering if my applications were even going through and/or being seen. But I kept applying. If it was a self-contained general education class for second grade or higher, I applied. And I’ll admit, I was starting to lose track. Hundreds of job applications will do that to you, I imagine.

So imagine my surprise when I got a phone call about a week and a half ago from the principal of a small school in a tiny community! She wanted to know if I was still interested. All I actually caught was that it was a school, so I said, “Yes, absolutely!” and hurriedly searched my emails for an indication of what job I was going to be interviewing for.

I figured it out rather quickly, fortunately. A fifth grade position at Woodland Elementary in Woodland, Illinois. The school has about 180 students, give or take, with two grades, fourth and fifth. It is part of a large district that includes Watseka and the small communities nearby. Woodland Elementary happens to be the only school in the district not in Watseka. Woodland is a lovely hamlet of 350 people in the middle of the woods. An aptly named community, for sure! It is also about an hour from Champaign, which means that it is a perfect location.

My interview was this past Wednesday. I met the principal and we talked about my philosophy of education (so glad that I took the time to figure that out!), the role of technology in the classroom, my ideal literacy program, classroom management, and collaboration. We also talked about education policy and the role of research in the classroom. Then she took me on a tour of the building. It is small and old, but it has also been very well maintained over the past hundred years or so that it is has been around.

I know the interview went well. All of my interviews go well. I have no idea how many people I am up against for this job, but I do know this: I would absolutely love to work at Woodland Elementary in Unit 9! The grade level is exactly where I want to be, the school is doing exactly the kind of things I want to do, and the principal is amazing! She is innovative, she is well-read on research and best practices, and she really works with her teachers to provide a high quality of education for each student. I am hoping and praying fervently that I left a strong impression!

I find out on Monday! Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers!

Summer Reading I: Tuck Everlasting

A few months ago, I was subbing for a teacher who was reading Tuck Everlasting to her class. This is one of those books that every intermediate-level student reads or has read to them, even though it has not, to my knowledge, received any awards for being outstanding in anything. Then, just a few weeks ago, my baby sister (who just turned 17, but is still my baby sister) made a comment online that she has never hated a book as much as Catcher in the Rye since she read Tuck Everlasting, to which the youngest of my older brothers responded that he, too, hates it.

So I decided to give it another read. I’ve read it a few times, but I’ve never had strong feelings about it one way or the other. My wife and I own the 2002 Disney adaptation of the movie which, if I recall correctly, doesn’t really follow the book all that closely.

[NOTE: If you haven’t read the book before and you don’t like spoilers, just stop reading now. Seriously. Because I am going to spoil the ending.] (more…)

Merit Pay, Competition, and Improving Public Education

So. I’ve been on vacation for about a week now. For some teachers, vacation is a time to kick back, relax, and enjoy the warm summer weather. For me, it has been a time to amp up the job application process, not just for the coming school year, but also for the summer. I have promising leads on both fronts, but promising leads are not certain indicators of employment like they used to be.

As promised, I am going to be updating sporadically over the summer. With the adventures on hold, the subject for these posts will be quite the hodge-podge. I am going to be doing a couple of book reviews pretty soon, but for today, I am going to tackle a topic that is making its way to the forefront of public discourse: improving education in our nation.

I hope that this post will be coherent. I am not going to cite any specific research, data, news articles, or anything else in writing this. So these ideas are coming straight from my head. However, I am certain that you could easily Google any of my points and find scores of articles in agreement and scores of articles to the contrary. The inspiration for this post came from my brother Anton, who recently posted a link on Facebook regarding GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain. One of Mr. Cain’s statements on his site brings up the issue of education and, as many on the right, Mr. Cain believes the key to improving education in our nation is merit pay, vouchers, and charter schools.

I respectfully disagreed with his ideas. My brother posed this question, which is what I want to focus on: “If you don’t pay based on merit, how do you recommend paying? Shouldn’t the best teachers be paid more? How do you out the bad teachers?”

First and foremost, these three questions are quite separate from one another. The most important question, though, is the last: How do we out the bad teachers? How do we identify them, and how do we remove them from the system? (more…)

And Thus It Ends

Today was the last possible day I could have been asked to substitute in Mahomet. Champaign and Urbana both ended earlier this week. I didn’t work, because none of the teachers or administrators in Mahomet are sadistic enough to ask a sub to come in on the last day of the year. This is also true of those in Champaign and Urbana. Just one of the many reasons I love these districts!

And thus it ends. My third year as a substitute teacher.

Year one was a decent year, with assignments a few times a week. Year two was dreadful, with an average of one assignment a week, and then only when a teacher at Robeson Elementary had requested me. So I began this year with the desire to expand my opportunities. I officially entered the sub lists for Mahomet, Urbana, and Rantoul. Rantoul called me about four or five times, but always late in the morning when I already had an assignment. I spent a total of two days in Urbana, although they, too, had called when I was already working.

This year, on the other hand, has been a very busy year. It had a slow start, with about three assignments a week, but by the beginning of the second term, I was working just about every single day possible. My reputation had spread, and many teachers wanted me in their rooms. It was exciting to have multiple requests come for the same day. Hopefully no feelings were hurt if I selected one teacher over another.

This was also the year I decided to blog my experiences. My one regret is that I didn’t start doing this three years ago! I think I have learned more about my craft by writing about it then I possibly could have just doing it. Reflection is such an important element of teaching. I remember my cooperating teacher from my first student teaching experience complimenting me on my natural desire to reflect and evaluate myself. I am glad that I have kept it up.

This summer will bring new adventures. I am on the list to sub for summer school teachers in Champaign, and I will be looking into whether or not Mahomet also uses subs in the summer. I have also applied for a variety of summer jobs, including evening custodial work, pharmacy/convenience store jobs, and small boutique firms. I will most likely be swabbing toilets again, which is a return to my first summer job after graduating from the University of Illinois. (It was a part-time temp job that turned into a full-time vocation as I ended up running the company with my wife for about a year and a half!)

And, of course, there are the scores of full-time teaching positions to be sought. I have spent the past two days applying for several dozen already, and there will be many more to go.

So, what of Adventures in Substituting over the summer? Well, the poll results are in (thank you to the six people who seem to actually stop by and read), and it looks like I am going to be writing about whatever education-y things that pop into my head. But, no fear, Laurie and mystery vote! I will also blog about books I’ve read and about my philosophy! So I guess I’ll be doing an all-of-the-above blog.

Please keep coming by! You can also follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook to find out when I update!