Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Red Glove by Holly Black

Oh that Holly Black is a tricky one. I almost think she is an emotion worker but has a way of working through her words. At the end of White Cat it was like she stuck a knife right into my heart and twisted it just a little, and, just when you think the worst is over and things might actually be looking up for Cassel in Red Glove, she punches you right in the gut.

I have never been one to watch mob-related movies. I have never seen the Godfather movies or Goodfellas (though I use to watch the cartoon Goodfeathers, if that counts for anything). So I wasn't sure how I would like the Curse Worker series. I knew I loved Holly's storytelling and White Cat probably had a CAT in it, so I figured this would be good. And let me tell ya- I LOVED IT. It was probably my favorite book that I read in 2010. I try to get everyone I can to read it. I was able to get my grubby hands on an advanced copy of Red Glove thanks to the kind publisher who loves teachers who ask nicely. I got this book Monday and while I whined about having yet another snow day that closed schools today (because I have A LOT left to cover before those tests, but I digress) I stayed bundled up in my house and finished it.

(Slight Spoilery)
In White Cat Cassel Sharpe comes from a family of curse workers and feels left out that he isn't one, only to discover that he was being worked himself and is one of the most dangerous ones. Red Cat picks up a few months later. Cassel is dealing with a work his mother had done that left him wondering if Lila's intentions are true, his brother Phillip is murdered and the Feds want him to help find the killer, he is being recruited by some of the top mob families, all the while trying to find a way to pass physics. He doesn't know who, if anyone, he can trust.

There are so many twists and turns and discoveries. I was so drawn into this story. On the one hand I wanted to slap Cassel around for continuing to put up with his family's deceit and betrayal, but on the other, I can see how deeply rooted he was and how much he felt he had no choice. It breaks my heart that he felt so bad and not worthy of something good. I had Jesse Eisenberg's voice in my head which helped. He did an amazing job reading White Cat and he has a way of making Cassel sound just vulnerable enough. Hopefully they will get him to read Red Glove.

If you have not read White Cat, don't hesitate! Red Glove comes out in April of this year. This series is awesome. There are so many books coming out this year that I am looking forward to. If the rest are anywhere near as good as this one, I am in for a great year of reading.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What's this about education reform? A teacher's perspective

Ah yes, EDUCATION REFORM. Every politician promises to "fix" public education. Public schools and teachers are the current punching bags.

In case you haven't heard, Tennessee raised their standards last year. Without knowing that, one look at the schools' report cards across the state one would think that we have a bunch of failing schools where kids just show up and teachers play tiddlywinks all day. But you have to know more. When I say they raised the standards, it wasn't just a little. TN made huge jumps in the curriculum, and last year, the first year of the implement, we were told we had to teach the old standards and the new standards. For example, I am now teaching slope-intercept form in 7th grade. Do any of you remember when you learned this? Probably high school algebra.
And some of my students can't tell me what the opposite of multiplication is. It's not because our schools or teachers are failing. I think it's because we are cramming more on more on our kids earlier and earlier.

Look, I am all for accountability. I am a great teacher. But tell me if there is something I can do to improve my teaching and I will try it. This new evaluation model that we are having to go through is enough to make me question my career choice at times. We had to fill out a 40 page (yes, FORTY page) Self Evaluation, ranking ourselves on a scale of 1-4. Our principal was told, and relayed the message to us, that "There should not be many 4s." Really? So this person comes in believing TN doesn't have many exemplary teachers. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

And testing. Dear, sweet TCAP test. Now the government has decided that they are going to use the scores from a test that is given once, before the school year is even over, and taken by creatures of free will, and count those toward my evaluation. Please keep in mind that these scores have no bearing on whether the kids will move on to the next grade. This is not the fault of the school. How could they have any bearing when we don't get the scores back until summer? Now this is different in the high school where some of the subjects give an End of Course test and the score counts as part of the final grade. But in the elementary & middle schools the students have this idea that the "TCAP doesn't matter" so they don't have to try. I can be the biggest cheerleader, motivator, etc., but if a kid doesn't want to try, or is mad at someone, or has had a bad morning and just doesn't want to try, they won't. And there isn't anything we can do.

But this counts against my evaluation.

Also, keep in mind that our Value-Added scores change. Let me explain. Let's say in 2007 my value-added score for math was 3.5. (Yeah, I don't really know what that number means either, I just know if it's in the green, it's good. Go with it). So the next year I get my value added scores-which shows three years' worth-and my 2007 scores have changed to 2.8. How is this possible? I didn't have those kids. How was I able to take knowledge away? I've not been able to get a straight answer about this yet and I've been doing this for 15 years.

And tenure- I am tired of tenure being knocked with the old "We don't give doctors and lawyers tenure" Do you know what tenure is? It's DUE PROCESS. It says that the school system cannot dismiss a teacher without cause. My first year of teaching was not in my hometown. I was hired a few days before school started & was an outsider. At the end of a school year all non-tenured teachers are up for re-hire. The school board at this school postponed until the last possible day making their decision. And they decided not to rehire any of their non-tenured teachers. Then picked who they wanted to hire back. They don't have to give a reason, however I asked my principal and a few others. There were several local kids who were fresh out of college and needed jobs.

Can you imagine? Not knowing from one year to the next if you were going to piss off the wrong person and not be rehired. Or if someone in administration has a niece who needs a job. Tenure doesn't protect bad teachers. If a teacher is "bad" and is still in the system, the admin may not be doing enough. If the teacher is not doing his/her job and won't try to improve, then get them out of the school. But don't punish the majority by taking away tenure.

I love my job. I love teaching middle schoolers and being a part of their dramatic lives. I love teaching math and talking to kids about books. But I am tired. I am tired of all the teacher bashing and jumping through hoops to prove that I am a good teacher to people who have never stepped foot in a classroom.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I can now carry around a library

So I finally did it....I bought a nook. A nook, for the unfamiliar, is an e-reader sold by Barnes & Noble. Amazon has a similar one called the Kindle and there are a few other brands I am not as familiar with. I have been going back and forth on whether or not to get one for a while.

On the one had you get to carry around a whole library where ever you go. There have been many occasions where I was made to wait and I didn't have a book with me. This was the selling feature.

But on the other I am a huge book nerd. I love the way books feel in my hands, I like the way the spine looks on a new book and how sometimes books keep that new-spine look even after multiple readings. I love meeting authors and getting books signed. I have almost three shelves filled with author-signed books. You can't get an e-copy signed.

But I broke down and got one. It came in this week and so far I am enjoying it. Because I have to be different and don't want just a plain ol' white one, I have a decal coming. There are so many cute decals on there it was hard to choose. I narrowed it down to the library & the book tree.

I have been on Barnes & Noble's site downloading free & cheap books. I will only download legal copies (read this if you are are thinking about downloading illegal copies of someone's books. Please don't). There is also a a website called READS where you can check out digital copies onto your e-reader for two weeks from the library system from your home (you can also borrow audiobook files).

I probably won't have the popular books on my nook, but that's ok. I will buy a physical copy. I can't spend $10 on a digital copy of a book when there are so many books my students at school want to read. I live in a fairly poor area. There are no bookstores around here unless you count Wal-Mart (and while I am glad WM carries books, they don't have a huge selection). Also, the county library is sorely lacking in the Young Adult section. So I feel like I am providing a service to the kids around here. And I like buying books. It's an addiction.

If you're thinking about buying an e-reader, weigh your options & check out the options on each.