Attention, Teachers of Arkansas!

This is a dangerous time to be a teacher. Each of us needs an organization that looks out for us — and, here in Arkansas, we have one. It’s the AEA (Arkansas Education Association). I’ve been a member for years, and can’t imagine going back to school without my AEA membership, and the protection it offers. The easiest way to join is at this page: https://www.aeaonline.org/join/.

On Leaving the Brick-and-Mortar Classroom

I’ve been a high school teacher for the last 25 years. I’m also leaving the classroom — but I’m not leaving teaching. Next year will be my 26th year teaching, and I’ve been told that I’ll be teaching on-line, from an office.

screensharing

This is how we all taught during the fourth quarter of the last school year, except we did it from home, since brick-and-mortar schools shut down, all over the world, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We used screensharing in Google Hangouts (shown above), Google Classroom, e-mail, and lots of other things to finish the school year . . . and we did finish it, successfully. This year, teachers won’t be at home (unless things change, due to the coronavirus), but many of our students will be staying home.

After I’d finished everything up for the 2019-2020 year, I went to school to turn in my keys. At that point, it was obvious that we were likely to have some sort of dual-track system for 2020-2021, with some students receiving instruction at school, and others at home, remotely, using their district-issued Chromebooks. I told my principal that if we did end up doing such a system, that I wanted to be on the “home team.” I don’t want to have to go to school and risk COVID-19 infection, which could then be spread to my family, some of whom are in high-risk groups for this disease. I’ve now received confirmation that I will be a remote-learning instructor next year, presumably working with students from all over the district.

I’m going to miss my old school, both the Sylvan Hills High North Campus and the Sylvan Hills High Main Campus. Sylvan Hills taught me a lot about being a better teacher. As a result, I’m leaving with an improved ability to help students, compared to six years ago, when coming to Sylvan Hills from other schools. My principals at these two campuses deserve a lot of the credit for this. I’ve worked with many administrators over the years, and these two are the ones who have helped me the most in my efforts to become a better teacher.

The coming year will present many challenges. To teach effectively, you have to get to know your students. We’ll be doing instruction and discussions with computers, webcams, microphones, and speakers, so I’m going to have to make a lot of adjustments to get to know my students as real people, while teaching remotely for a full year. The end of the last school year gave me a lot of experience I can build on.

This next year should be interesting, and I am looking forward to it.

The God Question

Bible on bookshelf.jpeg

During my 4th period class today, I got asked one of my least favorite questions by one of my students: “Do you believe in God?”

It’s a science class, and I want us to stay on-topic. Discussing my views on the existence or non-existence of a deity isn’t going to help with that. I sighed, and said what I always say in this situation: “That’s a personal question, and I don’t answer personal questions.”

The students then remembered that I have a Bible on the bookshelf in my classroom, and concluded, on the basis of this single shred of evidence, that I am, indeed, a believer. (The Bible is there as one of many options for my students to read during their designated reading time, just before lunch.)

Since then, I’ve been to Amazon, and ordered an English translation of the Qur’an, which I will place on that same bookshelf — probably right next to the Bible. I wonder what my students will make of that? 

Special PCSSD Board Meeting, 3:00 pm, Saturday, April 28 — Please Attend, and Spread the Word!

Dr. Janice Warren is the interim superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District. It has become clear in recent weeks that she is not being treated fairly by the PCSSD’s Board of Education — even though she is, in my opinion, the best superintendent I’ve ever seen (and I have seen many).

Dr. Warren now needs our help, at a special meeting of the PCSSD school board, at 3:00 pm tomorrow. I’m asking teachers, parents, and other members of our community to come to this meeting, to show our support for Dr. Warren.

Please come to this important meeting if you can — and even if you cannot be there yourself, please help spread the word to others. We need to pack the boardroom tomorrow afternoon!

On Taxation, and Representation, in Public Education

The last few years have been rough for education in central Arkansas. The Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) suffered for years under state control, but local control has now been restored there. The neighboring Little Rock School District (LRSD) was more recently taken over by our state’s Department of Education, and is still in that unpleasant, and unhelpful, state.

When the state government takes over a school district, the people’s representatives (the local school board) are simply dismissed, and the Commissioner of our Department of Education functions as a one-man, unelected “school board.” It’s a situation which robs taxpayers (also known as voters) of any voice in how their schools are run. It doesn’t help instruction at all, which I know because I’ve observed it myself, as a teacher. In my opinion, all laws allowing state takeovers of school districts, nationwide, should be repealed. 

During this tumultuous period, there have been three elections about school millages: two in the PCSSD, and one in the LRSD. In the PCSSD, one vote (which failed) happened with that district still under state control. The second in the PCSSD happened yesterday, and this time, the measure passed by a 2-1 margin. What’s the key difference? Simple: when faced with a “taxation without representation” situation, the voters said no. Once local control was restored, the voters said yes.

In the neighboring LRSD, only one millage-related election has taken place recently, and it happened under state control, just like the first of the recent two in the PCSSD. In the LRSD, with their right to representation still denied to them, this ballot measure failed.

The lesson to be learned here is simple: to get support from voters, local control of public school districts must be maintained. We’re Americans; “no taxation without representation” was one of the primary reasons we fought for independence in the first place. Nationwide, it’s part of our story, as a people. Taxation without representation does not work here — specifically because it is un-American. That should be the lesson learned from these three elections.

The PCSSD is free from state control, and things are now improving there. Hopefully, the LRSD will enjoy the same benefit — soon — along with other school districts in the same situation, in our state, and nationwide.

June 13 Special Election in the PCSSD

Voters in the Pulaski County Special School District in central Arkansas vote, June 13, on a millage extension. This isn’t a new tax, but just an extension of what we already pay in property taxes. The schools need this money to build classroom space, etc. for our growing student population. If you live in the PCSSD, please vote FOR this measure on June 13.

A “Thumbs Up” for Google Classroom

This is my 22nd year of teaching, but my first year using Google Classroom. We’re finding it to be a useful tool. This, for example, is the diagram for the Atwood’s machine lab we are doing in Pre-AP Physical Science, beginning today. My students will find this waiting for them in their virtual classroom (on Chromebooks my school district provides), with discussion-prompts to get us started:

atwoods-machine-diagram

I had no idea that four years of blogging, here on WordPress, had been preparing me to use this teaching tool. However, active blogging does require one to develop some transferable skills, especially in fields (such as what I teach) which are similar to the topics of one’s blog, as is the case here.