Thursday, August 31, 2006

Support the Troops

Support the Troops, end predatory lending (or just buy a magnetic sticker)...

Reagan Nostalgia

Opinion column in today's Daily Mississippian (Ole Miss' newspaper) on Reagan nostalgia. Here is my "letter to the editor" response:

To follow up on Shad White’s column “Explaining Reagan Nostalgia” I thought I’d add some more items to the list. By the way, Shad looks like he’s about 20, which means he must have been about two years old when Reagan left office. How can you be nostalgic for something you don’t remember? Anyway, onto the list...

I’m nostalgic for the under the table deals Reagan made with countries like Iran, who we supplied money and weapons to in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages. Reagan than repeatedly lied to the American people about this.

I’m nostalgic for Reagan’s ignoring of the AIDS epidemic. Because it was considered a “gay disease” brought on by a “sinful lifestyle” Reagan didn’t even mention the disease publicly until 1985, after 20,000 Americans had already died.

I’m nostalgic for the economic policies of Reagan that tripled our debt in just eight years, and increased our country’s deficit to 2.6 trillion dollars.

I’m nostalgic for the trillions of dollars Reagan wasted on the “Star Wars” missile defense shield. Maybe we should have paid off our deficit instead.

I’m nostalgic for the support Reagan gave the apartheid government of South Africa, calling Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress a “terrorist organization” while Mandela was imprisoned in Robben Island.

But most of all I’m nostalgic for all the covert (and illegal) weapons and training that Reagan and his CIA provided to a young mujahedeen warrior in Afghanistan. What was that guy’s name? Osama something. I wonder what ever happened to him?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Barbour and the CCC

Photo of Gov. Haley Barbour, he who is opposed to Pre-K, posing with the Council of Conservative Citizens at the Blackhawk BBQ, a fundraiser for private, white academies.

What is the CCC? Went to their website and listened to some of their audio, describing the people of New Orleans as "savages" and a "third-world population." Apparently, all of this stems from Abraham Lincoln's coup over the US Government in 1860. After the coup Lincoln went on to institute the socialist tyranny that we all live under today...

Three minutes was about all I could take but the audio was easily 45 minutes.

Here's another quote from the CCC website: "Each of the three major races plays a distinct role in history. . . . The whites were the creators of civilization, the yellows its sustainers and copyists, the blacks its destroyers.”

Why in the year 2006 (or 2003, the year the photo was taken) is the elected Governor of Mississippi courting this group's vote?

Front Page

Want to see what we're doing to the main page of the MTC website? Click here.

Monday, August 28, 2006


A reader left a well-written, thoughful comment on my pre-K post. Here is the original comment and then my (lengthy) response:


anonymous said...
I have, and have had for many years, mixed feelings on "mandatory" pre-K. In many ways, I think it is a case of what is right not being fully aligned with what is good. One of my questions is why are public schools responsible for raising children? As a teacher, I know that for many children it is far better to be in a pre-K classroom than wherever they might otherwise be, but I feel as a citizen that people who have children should be responsible primary care givers to said children. We all know that it's ultimately the kids who suffer without pre-K, but how do you make people responsible for their actions - having children that they can't/won't/don't raise? How do you fix the situations/circumstances that result in the need for government funded pre-K? Where does what is good converge with what is right?

Without knowing the name of the person in question, it has been difficult for me to locate facts concerning the following; however, it seems real enough and is a good example of another situation where what is right and what is good are at odds. Rumor has it that there was a doctor in Clarksdale who, just a few decades ago, was sterilizing poor women who came in with multiple pregnancies. He was sterilizing them without their knowledge or consent. I cringe at his violation of their bodies and their rights, but at the same time, I can identify with his motivation. Of course, even in the rumor version of this tale, the doctor ultimately lost his license.

Can you, in either of these cases, fully meld good and right, or draw a distinct line between the two? I can't, and I don't even pretend to know how.


It is my belief that if a segment of society is being left behind than that is our failing, all of us, as a society. I think we have become more and more satisfied with the idea that if a group of people are underachieving, are being left behind, than it is their fault and no one else.

On an individual level, a case-by-case basis, each person makes her own decisions. In the case of pre-K benefiting low-income single-mothers each of those women made (excluding cases of rape or abuse) the decision to have unprotected sex, and then to have the baby. That is the reality on a micro level.

But on a macro level it is true, no matter what city, state, or country, no matter what race or religion, that when a group of people live in poverty and receive a substandard education, things like teenage pregnancy (and sexual abuse) skyrocket. This is as true for poor, black women in rural Mississippi as it is for poor, white women in rural West Virginia.

If someone is born into wealth they are almost certainly going to die wealthy. If someone is born into poverty they are almost certainly going to die poor. Yes, there are success stories. But they are one in a million.

We, as a society, have failed to take care of everyone in our society. In every country but ours universal health care is a right, not a privilage. In many countries, including our neighbors to the north, outstanding, free public education through university is a right, not a privilage. Here an outstanding education is, for the most part, quite costly.

For a low-income black woman growing up in the Delta there is no sex education, no Planned Parenthood, and no way to get an abortion. She is poor, her mother is poor, her grandmother was poor, her great grandmother was poor, and her great-great-grandmother was a slave. Unless she is extraordinarily hardworking, intelligent, and lucky, she will die in poverty. Society has done very little to help her. It has provided her with a segregated, underfunded school system, and little opportunity if she graduates. The question isn’t why doesn’t she take more responsibility for herself and maybe make it out of her situation? The question is how does anyone make it with the odds stacked so solidly against you?

Who benefits from all this? As I said in the pre-K blog: rich, white people. We pay less in taxes than almost any other country, and yet people always complain that taxes are too high. Taxes should be high. In the 40’s and 50’s the wealthiest people in America paid up to 80% in taxes. Now, maybe, they pay 35%. My belief is that government is a collection of individuals, all individuals in this country, and that government should best serve all of these individuals, not just the rich. But after decades of perpetuating the idea of personal responsibility most Americans have bought into the idea that for those left behind it is solely their fault. If the race is fair, than yes. But this race has been rigged from the start, and those left behind started miles behind the rest of us.

The Last of the Mohicans is a great action movie, but there is a line, really a throwaway line, towards the end of the film that has always stuck with me. The hero, Hawkeye, is debating an elder from another tribe, and says something to the effect of: “Let us not be like the white Americans, and their masters in Europe, infected with the sickness of greed.” I think as a society we have become infected with the sickness of greed.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


The first-years had their first fall Saturday class yesterday.

For the most part they seem to be doing well. I think most of them are surprised at how tiring teaching is. As I’ve written before, teaching in a critical-needs district is an overwhelming experience. It is exhausting: emotionally, physically, and mentally.

Several of the teachers were surprised at how normal the kids seemed. After two months of hearing how poor the Delta is, how third-world it is, some teachers remarked that they didn’t get the sense of that from their students.

A couple of teachers are really struggling with management. We do a lot of mentoring, using the second-years, and this really helped last year. As a teacher, until you get classroom management down, your life is miserable.

Ashley Johnson had the best story, though, of the first weeks of teaching. She has a no-bathroom policy in her classroom. She did such a good job of enforcing it that one of her tougher eighth-graders approached her as they were walking to lunch, with a huge wet-spot on his pants, and said,, “Ms. Johnson. I busted my juice box.” It was only after Ashley started wiping up the “juice” on the floor, feeling how warm it was, that she realized it was something else…

Friday, August 25, 2006

No Pre-K

Gov. Haley Barbour, former big tobacco lobbyist and GOP fundraiser, has agreed to a 3% teacher pay raise (funded by the school districts, not the state) but doesn't support pre-K. Who does pre-K help the most? Low-income single parents, i.e. poor, black women.

Article here.

Money quote:

But Barbour said he does not support another key component Bounds has pushed: $10 million for 88 pilot prekindergarten programs. "I don't think that's a wise expense of our money," he said. "Having 14 grades is not as smart as trying to do it other ways."

No Flag But Ours

Article on a public school teacher in Colorado who was suspended for displaying flags in his classroom other than American flag.

This is against the law in CO.

What subject does he teach?


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Blacks to the Back of the Bus: 2006

Black students ordered to give up seats to whites

"Nine black children attending Red River Elementary School were directed last week to the back of the school bus by a white driver who designated the front seats for white children..."

Three Seniors

Erica is 17 years old. She has a one year old son, Amare (named after the basketball player). In the latest video she talks about her challenges for the upcoming school year.

Coming Soon:

Tuck on Erica's son Amare (Tuck is Erica's older brother, although they are both seniors).

Ashely on Hollandale.

Classroom Management, Part Four

More excerpts:

Classroom Management

What is currently your biggest classroom management challenge? Why?

• Kids who all of a sudden want to do work and don’t understand why it is they have been failing. My 5th period that I only have 12 kids in just talk when class work is being given and not paying attention to what they are supposed to be doing. I don’t want to set rules with them because I have not been doing it the whole year.
• I don’t know what to do with 2 students who are always suspended. Last year they were suspended for beating up a teacher, and they were recently suspended for beating up a pregnant girl. I think it’s a success if they come to class and sit down, but my assistant principal thinks I should be doing more with them. Last week, 11 of my 95 Geometry students were suspended.
• Right now I am challenged by forces outside of my classroom. Kids run down the hall and yell and throw stuff in other rooms and make my kids all crazy!
• My biggest challenge is more a school-wide challenge. The students always fight or try to fight. I suppose this is something that will take time (and more than one person) to fix, but I’m trying to do what I can by discussing the importance of good decision making with them.
• I don’t know if this is a management issue or not, but how do you get kids to do their homework? I give them class work, a lot to encourage work! They almost always have classroom time to work on homework but then they won’t turn it in!
• Maintaining the progress I have made is an issue. Many days fluctuate between success/failure. I have been a bit lax with my better behaved students and I have noticed the control straining. I still need effective firm consequences!
• One student is particularly challenging. He refuses to work on anything and constantly is disrespectful. He has a rough home life (both parents are dead) and he is emancipated. Other than that, everything has really improved!
• I now have students who refuse to let me help them. That’s fine as far as it goes…all they’re hurting is themselves in the long run. However, occasionally they just spout off what I consider blatant disrespect. Conferences don’t help, and the couple of writeups I’ve issued have made the situation worse.
• I sent Lequentin to the office every time he became a problem. This proved effective as the office is the only leverage I have with him. I got 3 amazing days out of him and was going to reward him for getting right answers rather than just behaving well. We were developing a rapport wit the beginnings of respect. Then, I broke up a gang fight in which we was involved. This got him suspended for 4-5 days and shattered what we had built before because I was the one who turned him in. So, I’ve had to start over with him again this week now that he’s back, and its been a rocky experience, otherwise, no major problems.
• I don’t usually want my classrooms to be silent. I like the class to get into the lesson, and enjoy themselves. They are still learning and being productive, but, sometimes they have too much fun. This is really applicable to my trigonometry class, full of intelligent seniors who know each other a little too well. I have a good, friendly relationship that I want to maintain, but I need to be more strict and firmer to keep the class a little more in control.
• Everyone is talking…..Does a lot of failing kids constitute a classroom management challenge? I think it may. They cheat on small assignments.
• 7th period. We are moving so slowly and are behind the other classes. I am constantly throwing the same kids out of class. Called a couple of parents, worked for a day. The same kids are causing the same distractions day after day. I’m tired, they are tired.
• Four periods of mine I totally like but the other two are way out of control, and I don’t know how to throw them out of class and give detentions and what not. I also find myself arguing with students too much and giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are rational creatures.
• I had 2 things to write for this, but I can only remember 1 of them. How to do an adequate closure for 7th period without them packing up to leave before the end of the class?
• Persistent cheating, which I catch. I really like the kids who do it, and I’m so annoyed!
• Right now, I am struggling with making a fair decision when to kick kids out. I feel I have different behavior expectations for every student and I don’t know if I hesitate too long in getting some of my more troublesome students out of the class. My other problem involves students who I send to the office….they don’t actually GO to the office!!
• Students acting tough after they receive a consequence. When I add to it, they say they don’t care. Other than escalating punishments to even larger dimensions, how I deal with their bitching/whining/acting tough?
• Chatting and disrespect after lunch….I use the consequences with severity; and sometimes implement class-wide consequences. Sometimes they work, sometimes not. They protest bitterly, to the point of semi-chaos, at class-wide discipline. I am particularly tough one day, I will hear claps and snaps and whistles whenever I turn my head. Only keeping them full of busy work works reliably.
• Keeping the pace up….I refuse to teach to a room of students who haven’t completed their homework. So, I teach slower and quiz often
• Taking my B-Day 3rd Block class to lunch
• The only management problem that I have now is that I’ve been out of my room for a week giving the DRA. Because of this, my students have had a substitute and they are getting worse by the day. I already have one class on a severe punishment but the others are catching up and the punishment that I came up with won’t work for everyone.
• Motivating some students to work. I’ve gotten some to, others I still can’t reach
• Losing control of classes. Good classes are now becoming tougher and tougher.
• 7th period…..Still talking, disrespectful, don’t care about office referrals of suspensions. They are a big class.

Classroom Management, Part Three

More excerpts from last year:

What is currently your biggest classroom management challenge and why?
MTC Class of 2005

-My biggest challenge right now is the teasing that goes on in my classroom. I feel somewhat helpless—I am not sure how to really stop it altogether.

-Getting kids to settle down in my 4th period class sometimes I feel that it’s chaos. This is the class with a lot of special education students and behavior problem students. Also it’s my lunch period class. I can get them to behave during lunch but not in class. I think I might have to change my consequences and management especially for this class, but I don’t know what! I’ve tried changing their seats and it didn’t help.

-ANTONIO: He wants a confrontation, he wants attention, he want to disrupt the class, and he does. The class and I both get annoyed by him, but I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of sending him out of constantly getting on to him. Yet I know he has it in him to do well in my class, and at times he is well-mannered and hard-working in my class. (This is the same student with the anger management issue.)

-What do you do for students who always get in trouble, and therefore are desensitized to any type of discipline action?

-My problem child who I’ve been having problems with lately is slowly coming along. I send him out when I have problems and class moves along much smoother now. However, he’s also taken to going to the office to have a chat with the principal at the beginning of 6th period and arrives in the middle of my well ordered, quietly working class. He sullenly present himself, refuses to look at me and frequently doesn’t answer until I’ve said his name 2-3 times. The kids in the class and my principal both are telling him he can’t afford to be acting this way in class. Friday, he did tell me that next week will be different. The principal is going to buy his football ticket and give him five dollars in his pocket if he can stay in my class and get his work turned in, so we will see!

-Pretty similar-multiple rule breakers (five kids singing?)
skipping class. I had seven students from the same period skip. A lot of kids don’t have respect for me.
-3rd period: here are three or four openly hostile trash-talking relationships (If I send one kid to the hall, does that mean the other has won?)

-My 8th period class has been completely changed. It is a study skills/MCT focus class. Many of the students don’t take me for language. According to the structure of the class, the students must work in learning centers. In those centers the students work independently, but may help each other in the group. They get a little loud, but they are actually really working. Should I bother with this or let it go?

-Getting everybody to work all the time. I got that kid, avery, to do all his work one day but for the rest of the week it was the same.

-Probably the same as before. Yesterday my 7th period went excellently although I’m not sure why there was such a difference. I’m going to continue to work with them.

-Fitting my personality into my teaching.

-I do not mean to brag, but right now I have control over my classroom (knock on wood!) The only thing that is a problem is the fact that when the kids come in to the room, it takes them several minutes to get quiet. I have board work for them to do when they enter the room. I think what I may start doing is timing board work once it is over, I simply collect papers. Their grades should then reflect their talking habits!

-Time management: classes still a bit rowdy, and I need to complete the process. I am not only directing their energy, but completing tasks in the projected time schedule.

-The plaganist kids have mellowed. His mother is on the warpath, unfortunately. I’ve anticipated her Tuesday meeting with Mr. Mac by photocopying the 2 papers and highlighting all the parts that were identical. I left that and a note explaining all evidence, identical grammatical errors.

-What is the consequence does not work? I’m still having the same problems that were discussed last week. Can we brainstorm different consequences besides sending students to the administrator? Essays don’t work in my class. My rewards do help but some students don’t care much about them. For these students I need effective consequences.

-Probably talking, still, but every now and then there are waves of not-quite-overt disrespect. Also, I’m still having trouble implementing consequences fast enough, and the kids don’t always take it seriously. I think they need something visual.

-Constant chattering/talking (also listed previously), getting the class’s attention, turning homework in.
-Am I being fair and consistent?

-Being consistent and punishing students for minor infractions

-It’s not really classroom management. It is more of an administration issue, as well as a Public Relations Campaign that needs to implemented at full speed.

-The smaller classes. After I teach I let them talk, but I do not let them talk the whole period. It’s really not a bother, because they all get their work done. But I don’t want them to think they can talk during class work time the whole school year.

I have one class (reading, not Latin) that constantly talks back and test me. “Why are picking on me, Mr. Jones?” I’ve never seen so much attitude from like 4 or 5 kids.

-My students say that having to raise their hands is “childish” I told them that in college they will have to raise their hands, and I’m trying to train them for that. Many of my students said they aren’t going to college, so they don’t need to raise their hands. Also, none of their other teachers make them raise their hands. I’m having a hard time making them want to control their talking.

-I still have problems with study skills. The lack of an established curriculum still seems to invite disorder. I also thin that the students can sense that I don’t take the class as seriously as my math classes.

-My biggest challenge is “senioritis.” Many of my seniors think they can fail tests, act childish, and still graduate. I keep warning them that they (most of them) need Drama to graduate. There has been a chain reaction among the seniors.

-Demetric. He seems to have serious emotional or psychological problems. The vice-principal is trying to help with him but the received a letter from his mother after requesting a conference with her (no father, of course) saying basically that she won’t come, she’s sorry, she’s given up on him. He has some kid of persecution complex, and any sort of discipline makes him worse, more firmly believing that I hate and disrespect him, despite what I say. Also: getting my lunch period back to class without chaos in the hall.

-Students still talking instead of working. I started giving out detentions-first one was on Friday. I’ll see if this is a more effective punishment that the more abstract demerits.
-When I am teaching I have control of my class, however, when the students are working independently or cooperatively it is hard keeping them on task.

-New and difficult students are still being added to my English II class. I’ve given each of them two free days to get them accustomed to me and my ways, but yesterday I gave one young lady a 400 word disciplinary essay and an office referral for leaving class without permission.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Classroom Management, Part Two

Here are some excerpts from the second meeting of last year (once again, some names and specifics have been changed):

What is your biggest classroom management challenge? Why?
Class of 2005

-Students talking over the teacher in large numbers/ getting attention

-The 16-17 year olds in Pre-Algebra for the second time who know less than
the 14 year olds in Pre-Algebra for the first time!
-Kids who just talk loud! Ask questions loud!

-Being consistent. It’s hard for me to be tough no kids. I already think I’ve
opened myself up too much.

-The students talk too much and it takes more time than necessary to quiet them down. Also, the students are not focused on work and fool around because they are bored, tired, hungry, or lost.

-TALKING!! Often isolated events. The class gets quiet when I ask for it, but 15 minutes later they get loud again. Warnings, staying after class, and detentions don’t always work. It doesn’t stop me from teaching, but losing one minute five times really adds up by the end of the class.

-Same as before; 7th period “talking back,” apathy, not cooperating last five minutes.

-Keeping up with the paperwork (i.e. grading) is a challenge. It seems impossible but I think the problem lies in getting behind. I need to schedule class time so that I can work. I hope that will be possible. So much classroom time is lost to pep rallies and teacher planning days. These meetings replace teaching time!!!! On the good side, kids are controlled.

-Pressure, too much

-Still having a problem with notes-I can ignore a few but they happen all the time. There is one class that is still pretty out of control too, just cannot seem to divert their energy to class stuff.

-The biggest challenge is still talking. I am getting better at handling it, but it’s still hard to get one side of the room quiet, because the other side starts talking.

-My 6th and 7th period classes are out of control! They are so loud. I have kept them after school twice because they couldn’t keep their voices down. I have tried everything! I am not sure what I have done wrong—I think that I am tired at the end of the day.

-No books. To have a worthwhile attention, grabbing discussion, there must be something to discuss. My classroom is organized, disciplined, and efficient. We get through the bullshit chores quickly and effectively. We have plenty of time and energy to learn-Where is the material? You can have the best management plan in the world, but without content, you’re just a babysitter!

-Getting the kids to calm down as a class. What do you do when everyone is rowdy?
-Trying to catch everyone-once you start calling out people others calm down and then students complain of not being fair
-Finding the right things to say to a student to make them take you seriously

-I have one student who lives to disrupt my classes. I moved him to the front of the room and my proximity kept him on task for two days but now he’s worse than ever. I’ve had three good weeks, but for the last two days he is disrespectful constantly talking to others, interrupting me to ask irrelevant questions. I don’t confront him as much as I should because he wants a confrontation so he can show out. He slows up my class significantly

-Current challenge is that we lost 1.5 weeks due to the hurricane, so I haven’t been able to contact parents and establish a relationship.

-I have one class that has grown drastically over the past few days. In fact, if everyone shows up, I do not have enough desks. This class now insists on misbehaving due to the large number.

-Lack of student respect. They seem to think that because I am friendly, I will be their friend and they use that as license to get away with whatever.

-Teaching to every skill level—bored kids in pre-algebra
-Allowing kids to come into my class late.

-My 6th period continues to test me, and somewhat less frequently my 5th period. The biggest problem, I think, has been handling pervasive discipline problems.

3rd and 4th periods-Total disrespect. They’re used to teachers yelling and I don’t think of myself as a particularly intimidating yeller. I’m leaning on the grade thing. Maybe failing will get through their obnoxious little skulls

-Currently, my biggest challenge is from students who push the limits of misbehavior but never step over the line and earn punishments

My 6th period is big on telling on each other when someone breaks a rule. Also, when I caught two students cheating on a quiz on Friday in 6th period, I tore up their quizzes, which made them act up the rest of the class. The disciplining takes too much time in the class.

-Students talking constantly in low voices just low enough to let me know several students are not paying attention. I have to repeat directions several times. I want to implement a system where I give directions once/twice and students must know what to do or suffer consequences.

-Controlling students who are good student’s, but have too much energy and just don’t know when to shut up. They talk out loud, but it is usually math-related. They often answer my questions before others have a chance.
-Some students have refused to do my discipline sheet. Some do not take these seriously.
-Again, I have a hard time following through with my consequences

-The 3-6 kids in each class that is constantly and excessively disruptive
-Keeping track of who I have disciplined.
-Pencil sharpening
-Bathroom breaks

Classroom Management, Part One

As part of our fall training for Teacher Corps we do small, mentoring workshops when the first-years come up for Saturday class (about twice a month). First-years meet in small groups (two or three) with a second-year. The focus initially is on classroom management. Before the meeting we ask each first-year to write down their biggest classroom challenge. Here are some excerpts from the first meeting last year (names and specifics have been altered):

1st Year Classroom Management Reflections
First Saturday Class

What is your biggest classroom management challenge? Why?

• Beginning of class procedure
• Constant talking/getting class’s attention
• Questions-so many
• Freshmen-disrespect

All the kids cannot stop talking (6th grade). They will not do anything quietly, or it takes ten minutes for them to get quiet. I’ve tried talking with them as a group, individually, and assigning extra homework. It is too many of them!

Inconsistent with what seems to be my natural teaching style-a discourse-heavy inductive process. In general, 30% of students are engaged, 40% of students disruptive, 30% inactive/asleep. I have to read both management and teaching styles, but I do not know where to begin.

The same students just speak out without raising their hands. Often, it is relevant to the lesson, either answering or asking questions, but the rest of the class is not given a chance to answer. A few times, entire classes have been too disruptive.

Lunch: Getting students to all stay together. They buy ice cream when we need to leave soon and eat in the hall all the way back to class. Students go to the restroom on the way back to class but it is difficult to control 27 energetic students

Students talk in class. Especially in my bigger classes, the talking is a huge problem. I hand out essays as punishment, but I don’t think I have given out as many as I need to. I want complete silence, and students think the rule does not apply to them.

Being consistent. It is hard for me to be tough on kids. I already think I have opened myself up too much to them.

7th period- because….
-some of the students feed off each other-creating classroom disturbances
-it’s the last period of the day
-it’s the 5th time I have taught the class

Crystal. She’s decided to be my nemesis. I have a plan though. She takes discipline personally.

Students interrupting and complaining when I’m talking, small like that-it’s not a problem now but it will be in the future. I feel like I am not quite in control and have just been floating by.

Students talking when I am talking. Well, it is a significant problem since we can’t always get everything I want to get done since no one can hear me.

Pressure-too much.

Getting students to not talk and do their work during class. They get off track easily and I need to be more controlling and specific.

Students talking during class- I can get them to get quiet (I can’t) but they often start talking again. As a result, I spend class time doling out consequences: warnings and essays.

6th period. It’s a big class, and eight of the students are repeating it (11th-12th graders in 10th grade English.) There are so many of them and they are so inclined to be rowdy, that my normal classroom management plan, while not ineffective, requires too much time and energy. It’s working, but it’s stressful.

Oral Communications (The class)
-This should be a semester class but it is year long
-No books
-No curriculum
-Students don’t want to be there
-Upperclassmen; I’m “the new kid”
-This class is turning the corner, but it’s only happening because of my personality and my “inspired fantacisim”

Quieting a large class (30+ students). I have been able to get my kids to quiet down, however, I would like learn more methods.

The students are almost afraid to ask questions and do class discussions because of what they have heard about me. The reputation is nice, because I have no classroom management problems and I don’t want to lose it, but I need to find a balance where they are comfortable, but managed.

-often isolated events. The class gets quiet when I ask for it, but 15 minutes later they get loud again. Warnings, staying after class, and detentions don’t always work. It doesn’t stop me from teaching, but losing one minute five times really adds up by the end of the class.

Students talking over the teacher in large numbers and getting attention go hand in hand.

7th period- The kids are ready to leave and they get very talkative. They raise their hands to tell me “we have five minutes left” expecting that I will quit teaching and they start putting their stuff in their bags early. The other classes are great.

Students who don’t want to work AT ALL!! 2-3 in my big class. They are 15-16 in 9th grade pre-algebra and just don’t seem to care. I am not going to keep reassuring them. I am tired of talking to a closed door.

My greatest challenge is a study skills class I teach. The students all know that the teachers still have no curriculum and that failing the course will not hold them back a grade. Also, I decided not to include this class in my contest, a decision I regret now.

-Students talking when I am talking especially at the beginning of class.
-Getting students to keep their notebooks the way I want them to be
-Writing numbers on the board while I’m individually helping someone
-Getting students to keep area clean before leaving class

Following through on my consequences: PLAN- Generally a verbal warning and teacher look of sternness get my job done with my class. Management (80% of time)

Students talk when I have asked them not to talk

5th period-inclusion class-they all talk constantly as a class. I think though, I have some ideas to use from today. I will put the entire class on a warning, and say the next person who talks will write.

Talkers. I have a lot of 8th graders who love to chat. They will talk while they are supposed to be working, or listening or everything. Four five kids are the main culprits, but there are others as well. A related problem: A few students like to ask inane questions. I came down harder on the talkers and questioners on Friday and that seemed to help, but I still anticipate major problems.

My greatest challenge is gaining kid’s respect. I’m young and I look young. Students try to take advantage of that and they show disrespect by talking when I am talking. They blatantly talk about how they are not going to do their work and how the class is ridiculous because I expect too much from them.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Attendance Policy

Germain and I hashed out the attendance policy for MTC this morning. We both started with wildly differing opinions but managed to hack our way to an agreement after about 45 minutes. Sometimes creating the policies and procedures of MTC is like making sausage: You have a nice end product, but you don't want to see everything that is involved in making it.

Here is the policy (keep in mind that there are only seven class meeting dates):

A student may miss one class without penalty. While we expect our students to attend all classes we understand that sometimes conflicts arise.

A student may miss a second class, but will be deducted one letter grade on his or her final grade no matter what the circumstances.

If a student misses more than two classes he or she automatically fails the course. At the instructor's discretion, and with the approval of Dr. McConnell and Dean Burnham, the student may be allowed to withdraw from the course.


I've been following Mayor Bloomberg's effort to reform (Village Voice article here) the school system in NYC. As you can imagine he has met a great deal of resistance from all sides but has, over the last year and a half, made progress (as measured by test scores). His latest effort is to offer the PSAT to all sophomores, free of charge:

"Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who unveiled the deal yesterday, said it would encourage more students to think about going to college, although he said children would not be forced to take the exam. City education officials also said they hoped to use the test to measure student progress between the 10th and 11th grades.

'By taking the PSAT, students signal an interest in going to college,' Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference yesterday at the Education Department headquarters. 'And colleges respond by sending them recruitment information.'”

I think this is a great idea. The PSAT (the precursor to the SAT) is a basic step in applying to college. If every sophomore in NYC takes the test then they are laying the foundation for potentially applying to college. Taking the (free) test is optional, but schools, and principals, will be judged by what percentage of students are taking the (free) test:

"To encourage schools to get students to take the test, Mr. Liebman said principals would be rated in part on the overall percentage of their students who take a college readiness exam — either the PSAT, the SAT or the ACT — regardless of how students score."

I like the idea because, ultimately, high school should prepare students for college. This is a step to accomplishing that. Of course, some people disagree, saying that we already have too much testing:

"Critics of the PSAT said the exam has little value for diagnostic purposes and accused the College Board, a nonprofit group based in New York, of profiteering.

'It’s one more attempt by the College Board to sell more exams,' said Bob Sweeney, a college counselor at Mamaroneck High School in Westchester. 'I don’t see a real worthwhile educational value of it.'"

Monday, August 21, 2006

Miles and Miles...


Interesting post by a TFA teacher in Shelby, the district that improved from a state-takeover Level One to a high-performing Level Four in the span of nine months. There is also a link to a good article about the rampant cheating in high-stakes testing.

I've posted before about the insanity of having schools responsible for their own testing, with little to no oversight.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

More Nutrition

Cover story in today's NYT Sunday Magazine about school nutrition...

More Football

High School Football Preview in today's Clarion-Ledger. Also, a recap of yesterday's Ole Miss scrimmage. I watched for about 30 minutes, then took shelter from the 107 degree heat.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Article in today's NYT Play Magazine about high school football phenom Noel Devine. He's certainly had a difficult life:

"Noel Devine was 3 months old when his father died of complications from AIDS. His mother also died of AIDS, when he was 11."

But now he is spoiled by everyone because he can run a football. And he's not even eligible for college...

“Custody passed to his maternal grandmother, but he clashed with her. "She’s, like, strict,” he told me. “I wanted a little freedom. I just didn’t want to listen to nobody. When my mama died, I felt like a part of me was gone, like half of me had gone away. It was hard for me to try and love somebody else. It was, like, I hate everything and everybody.”"

Another story, this one from CNN, about two star football players who severely injured two other teenagers in a prank. The football players have been given 60 days in a juvenile facility, once football season is over...

Finally, a scrimmage today here at Ole Miss. The town is already crowded this morning in anticipation. At this time, every year, hope springs eternal in the SEC.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Article in today's Clarion-Ledger about vending machines in school.

"Mississippi leads the nation in obesity rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with an estimated 64.5 percent of adults being obese or overweight.

Another survey by the University of Southern Mississippi found that 24 percent of children in first through eighth grades are overweight."

Read Lily Chang-Chien's (Class of 2007) take on School Nutrition here and Mike Gallagher's (Class of 2008) "School Lunch" paper here.

Minority Students

Article in today's NYT about the number of minority students declining at the top schools.

Also, talked with Chris Perkins yesterday, a graduate of the Sunflower County Freedom Project (blog here). SCFP is the most advanced program for making a difference in the lives of young people that I have ever seen (and I'm including the Mississippi Teacher Corps in that group). Chris will be attending Berea College in the fall. Berea has an interesting history (here and here) and gives every student a full scholarship.

Finally, I talked with MTC alum Leticia Roach, Class of 2003, yesterday. She is working in NYC with an interesting group called LEDA. Leticia taught at Greenville High for two years and is a graduate of the Fairest College of Them All...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

State Test Scores

State Test results were released today. See the best and worst here. Some of the lowest performing school districts (Coffeeville, South Delta, North Panola) are districts where we place teachers.

You can look up any district or school through the state department's Office of Statistcs homepage.

I looked at the stats for Simmons High School in Hollandale. Biology I was taught by our own Jess Wysopal. In her first year of teaching Bio I there was a 39% increase in the test scores, from 69% passing to 91% passing.

Joel Hebert was responsible for English II. There was a slight drop, from 78% passing to 75% passing. But, Joel was following in the footsteps of another of our teachers, Desi Chapman, who taught English II for two years (and now works as a consultant). You can see from Joel's blog entry here that he was worried only 60% of his kids would pass. So, 75% passing in your first year of teaching English II in a critical-needs area is outstanding. Even better, the passing scores on the writing portion of the test rose from 84% passing to 96% passing. Kudos to Jess and Joel.

As I examine the stats for the other schools where our participants are teaching state-tested subjects I'll let you know of any interesting results.


Dr. Mullins will assign "On Leadership," by John Gardner, to the second-years for their fall "School Leadership" course. Who is John Gardner? Answers here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Fairest College of them All


Is it a good idea for testing companies to run schools?


Average ACT Score (out of 36):
United States: 21.2
Mississippi: 18.8

I wrote about "college fever" in a recent post. The average ACT scores for the country and for Mississippi were released today.

For those of you teaching seniors they need to register for the Sept. 16 ACT. The registration deadline is August 18th.

You can also read our MTC Wiki "Applying to College" article.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Oral Communications, 2001-2002


I was emailing with Amy Woodman, an alum of Teacher Corps who also taught at Simmons High School (the photo above is of the cotton fields next to Simmons). She asked me who was still there among the teachers and administration (she finished in 2000). Here is the reply I sent:

Mrs. Wilson (Social Studies) is still there.

Mr. Willis is still there.

Mr. Liddell is still there.

Everyone else is new.

Monday, August 14, 2006


For most high school seniors college fever is in the air. Time is running a cover story on college admissions this week. Newsweek did an article last week.

However, for most students in the Delta, college is simply an abstract idea (or as Anderson's students might put it, "abskract.")

Most students don't understand the college application process.

Unfortunately, a lot of counselors at the Delta schools where we work don't understand the college application process either.

I can't tell you the number of college seniors I taught who hadn't taken the ACT. With that in mind we are working on a "How to Apply to College" entry on the Teacher Corps Wiki. Please go online and help us fill it in.

In addition to having a lot of students who hadn't started the application process I also had, every year, several students who could go anywhere in the country and be successful. All of them ended up staying in-state, but here is a list of outstanding colleges that are below the radar.

And, I've heard good things about Berea College, the first inter-racial school in the south. And here's the kicker: every student gets a full scholarship...

One more resource: most schools accept the Common Application now.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Depleted Uranium

The U.S. Army has been using Depleted Uranium as tank armor, among other things. Depleted Uranium is only 60% as radioactive as Natural Uranium. What does this do to our soldiers who work with those tanks? Wired has the article.

Here is the opening quote:

"It takes at least 10 minutes and a large glass of orange juice to wash down all the pills -- morphine, methadone, a muscle relaxant, an antidepressant, a stool softener. Viagra for sexual dysfunction. Valium for his nerves.

Four hours later, Herbert Reed will swallow another 15 mg of morphine to cut the pain clenching every part of his body. He will do it twice more before the day is done.

Since he left a bombed-out train depot in Iraq, his gums bleed. There is more blood in his urine, and still more in his stool. Bright light hurts his eyes. A tumor has been removed from his thyroid. Rashes erupt everywhere, itching so badly they seem to live inside his skin. Migraines cleave his skull. His joints ache, grating like door hinges in need of oil."

Majora Carter

Great speech by Majora Carter, a black woman from the south Bronx.

She grew up across from a crack house. She's also the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, better known as the "Genius Grant."

Her speech is about the intersection of race, economics, and the environment, something that our teachers see everyday. Kids with asthma, communities lacking public parks, waterways (including the great Mississippi) that are little more than dumpsters...

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for posting this.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


One of the things we are working on here at Mississippi Teacher Corps central is a series of maps that show MTC placements as well as other interesting locations.

Here is a sneak preview...

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Best of the Best

Here is a short film detailing why the Mississippi Teacher Corps is the best alternate-route program in the country. This short film was created from a presentation I put together earlier this month. Both the film and the presentation include some great stats on the Holly Springs Summer School.

Music courtesy of Branford Marsalis.

You can also look at the presentation as a pdf document here.

Last summer, at the first Teacher Corps Reunion, we set a five-year goal of becoming the best teacher-training program (alternate or traditional) in the country. So far, I think we are on our way to achieving that goal...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Jake and Dave

Nice article in today's Jackson Free-Press about two of our second years, Jake Roth and Dave Molina.

Check out more articles about the Mississippi Teacher Corps here.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

More Photos

For your enjoyment, here are some more photos of my recent trip to the Delta.

The Delta




Black and white photography is a hobby of mine and I am amazed at how easy it is with today's software. What would have taken an hour to get just right in the darkroom six years ago now takes about 30 seconds with iPhoto, the basic photo software included with all Macs.

Holly Springs Album

Here is a great photo album put together by two of our second-years, Ruth and Meredith, of the the Holly Springs Summer School. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Monday, August 07, 2006


My new favorite website, Digg.

It is a user driven news site. Anyone can submit an article (most are simply links to existing news articles) and then the "Digg Community" votes on them. The most popular appear first. Instead of one or two editors deciding what goes on Page One, 400,000 people have a say.

Basically, it's like Wikipedia, but for news articles, and incorporating the "Wisdom of Crowds" theory. Right now, it tends to be tech-heavy but I find a ton of stories that CNN, NYT, and others aren't reporting.

Or, as Wikipedia defines it: "Digg is a news website with an emphasis on technology and science articles. It combines social bookmarking, blogging, and syndication with a form of non-hierarchical, democratic editorial control."

Digg and Wikipedia are my new two favorite websites.

Be sure to check out our own Mississippi Teacher Corps Wiki, including our outstanding Guide to Jim Hill High School, put together by Mr. Roth and Mr. Molina.

And don't forget our own Wikipedia entry.


In Africa (at least in Namibia) sex is a taboo subject. You never talk about it except, perhaps, with your peer group. That is one, of many reasons, why the HIV infection rate is so high. No one talks about it, but everyone does it. Great article in the Sunday Magazine about several different efforts to lower the infection rate in South Africa.

In the United States sex is anything but taboo. Sex is everywhere. Songs, magazine articles, TV, movies, books... Germain's church has a "Teen Talk" they do with their kids that includes a frank discussion of sex. Sex is everywhere, even in church.

And yet the teen pregnancy rate in the Delta remains stubbornly high.

Why? It is one of the more difficult questions I've asked over the last five years. There are a lot of reasons, including many I'm sure I'm not thinking of, but the biggest one (in my opinion) is the lack of easy access to birth control.

Interesting article that links listening to songs with explicit lyrics to having sex at an early age. Like Dubner, I'm not convinced. I think that is a symptom, not the root cause. But, to be honest, I'm not sure what the root cause is.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Most of the Class of 2008 will start their first day with students this week. A few, including Mr. Fiel, started last week.

I imagine everyone is nervous. They've been preparing for two months and then, all of a sudden, it seems like there is no time for everything that needs to be done. And there isn't.

One of the hardest things about teaching is adjusting to the pace. There is so much to be responsible for, so much to do, that, at times, it can be paralyzing. The day doesn't end at 3:05. The day doesn't end at 5:00. For most, the day doesn't end, you simply fall asleep.

On the eve of the first week of school here are seven (more) suggestions for our new teachers (and for all new teachers):

1) Make sure you have comfortable shoes.

2) Do not, under any circumstances, ask any questions during staff meetings, orientation, workshops, etc. Even if it is a good question, relevant to the entire group, it will annoy the veteran teachers. Most of the time, it is a dumb question that everyone knows the answer to and that should be asked one on one.

3) Give homework the first few days. Even though I almost never gave homework I always gave some on the first few days so that the kids would know this was going to be a serious class.

4) If your district has some inane policy where you need to read the handbook to the students for the first three days, ignore this. Spend ten minutes on the handbook and then go into covering your first day lesson plan (whether it is covering your rules and procedures, or actual subject matter). Nothing sets a worse tone for class than doing nothing but the district handbook for three days except...

5) Holding homeroom. In the likely event that you will have to hold homeroom (while the office gets the rosters ready) for a day or two have plenty of activities (jigsaw puzzles, coloring books, word searches, board games, movies) to take up the endless hours.

6) Don't teach anything new for at least two weeks. Review or do a separate unit that is independent of your main curriculum (a short story, ACT prep, essay writing) as your class roll will change dramatically over the next two weeks. If you are keeping a physical grade book don't put anyone's name in it yet. Make photocopies and use that for the first few weeks.

7) Go back and look at the second-year blogs from last August and September. See what their struggles were, what they would have done differently...

Bonus: Here is my post from last August about my first day of school.

Good luck to everyone. I know you are nervous but, as I've said before, 350 people before you have been in your shoes...

Saturday, August 05, 2006

A Dying Town

Good article today in the Clarion-Ledger about a police chief in Ruleville, a small Delta town, arrested for taking payoffs from crack dealers.

Corruption in high-poverty areas doesn't surprise me (the absence of corruption would). I did, however, appreciate the statistics that were mentioned:

"Ruleville lost nearly 10 percent of its population in the first half of this decade, shrinking to fewer than 3,000 people.

More than a third of the households are headed by single moms, 40 percent of its residents don't have a high school diploma, and its per capita income is 26 percent below the state's average, which is already well below the national average."

As I said in the previous post, there is a national myth that if you work hard you will succeed. Well, if I am a single mother with no high school diploma, what jobs are available? I can be the hardest working person in the world and it doesn't matter. Where are the jobs?

Then the radical right comes in and says, "Well, you made choices that put you in that position."

Okay, but that's it? Because of decisions I made when I was 15 or 16 years old I now get to spend the rest of my life in poverty, and, almost certainly, condemn my children to a life of poverty. Would you want your entire life to be judged on decisions you made when you were 15?

Next quote from the article: "It is a dying town, but not everyone has given up on it."

The article then describes a retired Hollywood designer, Luster Bayless, who has moved back to Ruleville, and who asserts, "The town is coming back."


These towns aren't coming back. There is no industry. There are no jobs. Things aren't getting better. They are getting worse.

The dam has broken. The valley has flooded. We are just living amidst the wreckage.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Summer Job

When I was a teenager a typical summer job was mowing lawns, bagging groceries, or working at a fast food restaurant. I remember one of my friends describing how, after being held up at Little Ceasers, he went in the back and made the biggest batch of "Crazy Bread" ever.

Walking into Zip Trip, Hollandale's answer to a fast-food joint, I was greeted by two women who were mothers of students I had taught. At Wal-Mart, in Greenville, I ran into a mom of one of my former basketball players.

This is one of the ways in which poverty manifests itself in the Delta. Jobs that, in most communities, should be the province of high school students, are instead the main source of employment for the head of the household. The simple fact is, there are no jobs.

Could you support a family of four working at Wal-Mart?

One of our nation's most enduring myths is that those who work hard will be rewarded. Of course, "myth" is just another word for "lie."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Fun with the Intern

Molly Goldwasser, a rising senior at Duke, was our intern this summer.

You can watch "A Day in the Life of the MTC Intern" here.

You can read Molly's blog of her experiences this summer here.

You can see Molly's photos here and photos of Molly here.

Last, but not least, Molly's profile is here.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


The first student I ever taught who started turning tricks was Nathalie. This was in rural Africa, where life is a lot cheaper than it is here.

Of all the students I’ve taught, both here and in Africa, my most favorite is a young lady named “Aina,” from Hollandale. I taught her for two years and coached her in basketball, as well. My first year in Hollandale I didn’t notice her until I was turning in the first nine-weeks' grades and I noticed that one of my 11th grade English students had made perfect 100’s on every assignment.

Aina. She was a shy, quiet girl who sat in the front row. I had never really noticed her before because she was so quiet. It was only in looking at my gradebook, and seeing a perfect line of 100’s, that she stood out.

Once basketball season started I got to know her much better. I would always drive some of the girls home after practice as I didn’t want them walking home at night. The first time I dropped Aina off she said, “This is my house here,” and, without thinking, I said, “You’re joking.”

I immediately regretted saying that, but I’m not sure she even noticed. The house looked abandoned, falling apart and tilted to one side, with a gigantic hole in one wall. There was no light coming from the inside. She got out and walked up the steps.

“Goodnight Mr. Guest.”

“Goodnight Aina.”

Over the course of teaching and coaching her for two years I probably spent four hours a day with her for six months of the year.

She was quiet, intelligent, and incredibly sweet. She never raised her voice at anyone or got in arguments like many of the other kids. For a journal entry titled “My Favorite Teacher” she wrote about me.

One time, while driving her home, I asked her if she could go anywhere in the world where would she want to go. She said, “Paris.”

Aina, and her siblings, lived with her mom and an abusive, alcoholic step-father. When she got a full athletic scholarship to Delta State she was the first person in her family to go to college.

On graduation day from Simmons High School I was as proud of her as any student I’ve ever taught. I gave her a card that said, “Paris, and all of your other dreams, await.”

I told her, “You know you’re my most favorite student.” She nodded. She knew.

She dropped out after one semester and got pregnant by some knucklehead who had been out of prison for a week. I’d check in with her now and then but, eventually, I lost track of her. I heard she moved to Texas and then I heard she moved back to Hollandale.

This past week I was down in the Delta for a few days, relaxing, seeing old friends, and catching up with my former students. I asked one of my former basketball players about Aina.

He said, “Oh, she trickin’ up in Greenville. A bunch of them drug boys will take her home for $200 a night and she’ll run through all of them niggas.”

She’s 22 years old now. Her whole life behind her. She never made it to Paris. She never even made it out of Washington County.