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Comment: It Ain't Charters or Teachers (Score 2) 233

by Borg Bucolic (#46204039) Attached to: 25% of Charter Schools Owe Their Soul To the Walmart Store
It seems that whenever a discussion/argument about occurs, whether it be about charter vs. public or whatever, the conversation almost always comes down to good teacher / bad teacher. There are then anecdotes about their personal experiences in school and that sets the stage for all the commentary afterwards. To begin, each person's experience is unique. Each person had one school experience, in one place, and at one time. This is equivalent to having taken one flight to one place, once and being qualified enough to tell all the other pilots how to fly airplanes. If you say to a person, “Since you know so much, why not become a teacher and show us how to do it right.” That same person will demure, “No, I couldn't be a teacher. I couldn't deal with a classroom of kids all day long. It would be too stressful.” No where did this person mention, charter vs. public, what they were teaching, or anything else outside of dealing with students. Deep down, people know that it boils down to a classroom full of unruly children and the stresses of all the “outside” experts telling you how you should do your job. They are right. If you can't handle the stress, you shouldn't be there. Moreover, you shouldn't make judgments about the people who are. In my experience, there are two basic kinds of teachers. There are those that had a pleasant educational experience. They graduated, went to college, got certified, and began teaching. This is the only career they really ever had or experienced. They got a rude awakening once they entered the classroom. The other kind had a career first. They did this for years, then started a new career in teaching. These teachers have a more realistic view about what these kids are going to face after they get out of school. In both cases, these teachers have the understanding that all the problems in societies boil down to hate, bigotry, greed, and poverty. Mostly, societies act this way out of ignorance and fear of the unknown. The only effective way to make the world a better place is to make the unknown, known. What better place to start than with the young? Teachers, for the most part, are interested in promoting social justice. Unless, something ruins them. Teachers are like cops. Teachers usually have teacher friends. It is the only people they deal with every day except kids. Just like cops and criminals, who else would understand your life? Who else could you talk to? Certainly, not parents. They are only interested in their “little Tommy”. They could care less about any other child. Like all institutions, schools contain many different kinds of jobs, each with their own agenda. So among staff, there is a lot of political intrigue. Whether a school is concerned with satisfying a state's needs for accountability or satisfying a charter's income needs, the politics is the same. The only difference is the cause. The public thinks that teachers get a 3 month vacation every year with pay. The reality is that teachers are only paid for 9 months work and laid off for 3 months. Only, their paychecks are spread throughout the year. The public also thinks those 3 months are a vacation. Many teachers work summer schools, take courses to keep their certifications, or take summer jobs. In any case, they are not “having fun” taking time off. Many teachers plan lessons during the summers, because what they teach and how they teach is constantly being directed and changed by outside forces every year. Pedagogy, the practice of teaching, is both an art and a craft and have to be constantly tweaked to improve practice on an ever-shifting sand, of politics, policies, and educational standards or reform. Teachers do not have as many rights as other people. They are basically public figures without the fame. Anything you say, write, or do publicly could be a career ender even if it is perfectly legal. If a teacher were to promote gay marriage, legalization of cannabis, be caught publicly smoking cigarettes or drinking, that could end their jobs. Their political, religious, or social beliefs need to kept on the “down-low”, because they are not allowed to besmirch the sacred institution of education. Teachers are required to be passionless drones, because we wouldn't want to contaminate young minds. In every career, there are good and bad examples. This includes good and bad teachers. There is no doubt that an excellent teacher can make amazing strides in educating students. However, the publics' perspective about teacher quality is unrealistic and impossible. For example, let every teacher be the idealistic, fantastic teacher. For a high school student, they will see 5 to 7 of these teachers in a day. After a while, all these teachers will become the average teacher. Of course, a bad teacher then will seem really bad. If you were to extend this idea that teaching has been a career for hundreds years, then most average teachers are really fantastic teachers and the poor ones are really below average. Then, teachers are supposed to make the topics they teach interesting and relevant to the students to spark their interests and imaginations. Setting aside the idea that learning things is supposed to be interesting or relevant (at all times), an expectation that is unrealistic. Also, set aside the fact that students are constantly assaulted outside of school with marketing by experts who's sole job is to be interesting and relevant to sell whatever they are selling. Let us just set all that aside. Now, assume that high school students' teachers are teaching interesting and relevant lessons every day, an impossible task. Then after a while, nothing becomes interesting or relevant. The law of diminishing returns apply here. With a few statements that are exceptions, teachers are the “end all, be all” of education or so it seems. Parents, economics, politics, cultural beliefs, and the students themselves play no role in education. This notion is blazingly, stunning. People actually think like this. The reality is that the politicians, public, or students don't want to admit to their responsibilities in this. They want someone else to blame and comply to their demands. Among all the players, teachers are the most visible and easiest to threaten. Why not go after the “doers”, they are not doing what we want, even if we haven't quite figured out what that is. Let us bring in charter schools, change educational standards constantly, threaten teachers' careers, change teacher evaluation systems, and change structures of educational systems we spent decades creating and perfecting. Amidst economic upheaval, unemployment, and social immobility, this is the perfect time to experiment with our children's minds by trying everything at once.

Comment: Re:Better off enforcing an EA boycott (Score 1) 469

by Borg Bucolic (#43156279) Attached to: Is It Time To Enforce a Gamers' Bill of Rights?

Sure, you can play Skyrim offline, provided you are willing to disconnect internet from Steam. I was misled by Bethesda, in that I was led to believe the Steam connection was to initially register the game. That was not the case. That is only part of my ire with Bethesda over this. I have purchased many of their games and have enjoyed them. However, I will not be purchasing any game or DLC of theirs in the future. They have lost a customer. I am only one buyer, and that make not make a difference to Bethesda. I am on of many buyers that feel as I do. I let my money do the talking.

Since most games these days insist on having a online play or some connection to them while I am playing, I haven't purchased ANY games from ANYBODY since Skyrim. I want to play games, not get married to their businesses. So, unless behaviors change, my gaming days are pretty limited these days.

Comment: I have no illusions (Score 2) 386

by Borg Bucolic (#42163435) Attached to: Khan Academy: the Future of Taxpayer Reeducation?

I have no illusions about my retirement as a teacher. Like most teachers, I'll work until I drop dead or get shot by some drug-addled shave-head over some girl with tattoos, enough shrapnel in her face to imitate a 50's Dodge, and holes in her earlobes big enough to drive an SUV through who probably won't grace me with her charming presence that particular day. Neither of these two could possibly benefit from an education, because they will have so ruined themselves that Walmart will consider them an iffy employee.

Barring that, I expect that I will get screwed in some manner like raising the retirement age to the point of fossilization, or reduction of benefits below the levels that have already been lowered. Of the teachers that I know have retired, many die within a year of retirement. Others are still working as subs, because the Social Security minus the Pension is too low to survive on.

Comment: You don't have a clue (Score 1) 729

by Borg Bucolic (#41220143) Attached to: Do We Need a Longer School Year?

I am an American high school math teacher that teaches at a semi-rural high school that teaches bi-lingual minority students (85%+) of which are poor enough to qualify for free lunches (50%+). As much as I realize it is a total waste of my time, I have to say that most of you don't have a clue.

1. The actual, factual data indicates, in spite of the popular beliefs, that the educational system is not failing children. Schools are graduating more students with higher and more difficult requirements than before (historically). Declines in education came about 2 years after mandatory testing.

2. What teachers teach, critical thinking or not, is not determined by teachers. They teach what they are told to teach by people who haven't seen the inside of a classroom in a decade or more, if then.

3. There is a monumental decline in student skills because of summer break, and the largest resistance for year-around schooling comes from parents.

4. While students get a summer break, teacher do not. The public belief is to the contrary.

5. Lastly, but most importantly, the systemic problems in the American educational system do not come from teachers, administrators, districts, or any unions. All, and I mean ALL, of the systemic impediments to student learning come from outside the school systems.

I'm not going to waste my breath to explain the details of how it exists or came to be. I can say this, For all the roadblocks that are placed in front of me, I teach kids math, and I am damn good at it in spite of the bullshit.

Comment: I looked into this some time ago. (Score 1) 120

by Borg Bucolic (#40986137) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Open Source Software To Manage Student Grades?

I've been looking in to this for years. First off, there is no "good" open source grade book that isn't overkill or underkill. Open source grade books fall into two categories. The first type are for single teacher use. They have a shitty interface, in that they don't use a spreadsheet style and limited methods. Many don't make report cards and the like. Others are overkill in that they are part of a larger package (like open admin) that is a pain to install for a single teacher usage. Many others provide things like emailing grades to parents, attendance, making web page reports, and other crap which is problematic when dealing with school districts. There are plenty of good closed source grade books (free ones) that were originally commercial products. Most of these vendors realized that there wasn't any money in it. Districts tend to go with larger packages like "Power School" and others made by text book publishers and the like. For a while, I used TabC Grade Book (which is in java and open source). It was a programming project for a college class and was pretty flexible. It had reporting features that could be worked with, but required a (for pay) java library for some of its operations, but could work without it. After a while, I took the time to construct a well made Open Office spreadsheet grade book that was flexible and simple to set up and use. I wrote macros to output grade reporting (like report cards) in a variety of formats. Setting up the grade book to interface with the OO database makes for nice pretty formatting.

Now, it wasn't mentioned in what context this would be used. If you only need a "one off", go with a commercial "free" grade book. No one will be the wiser. If it is a single school thing, use a web based grade book, there are plenty of free/low cost ones. In my experience, most teachers are pretty simple minded when it comes to grade book software. Most don't read manuals or don't actually spend any time figuring anything out when it comes to computing. They are the first to throw up their hands and say, "I can't use this." Amazing considering, they are supposed to educated and interested in learning.

Lastly, you would be surprised how much easier working with an "old fashioned" paper grade book is. I go to a local store and get a small multi-column accounting book. Do it all with pencil. If a student or a parent needs grade information, you don't have to fire up some electronics. All of the information is right there. It is also highly portable and works across all operating systems (people). Filling out grades on paper report cards is an extremely quick process. Most people are unaware of how much time working with software can use or how quickly writing something down can be done. I tried it for a year, the efficiency was terrific. At the end of the day, I was done at the end of the day.

Comment: Re:The answer to the real question (Score 1) 1010

by Borg Bucolic (#40819409) Attached to: Political Science Prof Asks: Is Algebra Necessary?

Quote: You have managed to resuce essentially all interesting subjects to "do it you need it because because I say you do".

That's just the point. In life, you are expected to do things that you may not understand a need for or may never use in any other context. The point is that is real life, realistic or not. It isn't because I said you have to do anything. In fact, I'm fine if you don't. You can realize the consequence of your actions, good or bad. And yes, you do need maths to live. You may not realize that the contexts are different. The moment you approximate, count, consider the amount of something, or predict the outcomes of possible actions you have applied the skills (logic of enumeration) of maths.

Yes. I realize that school life is a weird artificial construct. I also realize a vast majority of people experience it, like a great number of weird artificial constructs such as governments, television, and etcetera. That is also life, real life, you experienced it, artificially constructed or not.

Comment: Going where the market goes (Score 1) 552

by Borg Bucolic (#40542137) Attached to: Bill Gates: the Traditional PC Is Changing

I have the opportunity to look over the shoulders of younger computer users (younger than me) pretty often. Most of the time, they are shopping online, playing simple games, and hunting down on Youtube that fat girl doing the splits called "Splat". While there are a massive amount of PC's in homes, most people are doing similar stuff on them. They are shopping, enjoying media, and doing online tasks. They used PC's for this, because (up to now) this is what they had to work with. Viable mobile computing has changed this. Except for the occasional task of creating something, only a small portion of the population actually use PC's for something a table or smart phone couldn't do just as easily. For most PC users, mobile devices is a better way to go. This is not lost on those in the computing retail market.

People involved in developing operating system interfaces, like Apple, Microsoft, and Ubuntu (Linux in general) are keenly aware and some are trying to get a solid hold on the computing uses of the masses. The PC and traditional desktop isn't going away. It will be a player in a niche market of computer users that do something besides casual computing.

The other half is the business environment. Casual computing interfaces isn't always the best to use for that. Right now operating system developers are trying to straddle the fence between casual and business uses of a computer. They are not doing both very well and are struggling for a good middle ground. In the mean time, we will have to put up with the crap until they figure this whole thing out. Sooner or later, the right combination of hardware and operating system is going to make that "straddle that fence" regimen (or not) and things will settle down.

Comment: Sounds to me like burnout. (Score 1) 416

by Borg Bucolic (#40192085) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What To Do With a Math Degree?
If a BA in math, and MA in teaching, sounds like she has been teaching a few years. Most likely she has already had that "pay your dues" year of really horrible classes of students that earns her some "street cred" amongst her colleges and admin. There is no doubt, if your in a minority school, like I am, you will be dealing with some tough clientele. I had to wrap my head around that the administration has a different view than teachers and they have their own agendas to satisfy which may be in direct conflict with student learning. Switching schools or districts will only produce different, but just as difficult, problems as before. Teaching is an act of passion striving towards social justice. You teach because there are lousy schools, administrators, parents, politicians, and yes, lousy students. You revel in the ones you can save and move forward in spite of all the roadblocks in front of you and them. When you have to slog your way, daily, through all that mess, and you feel like your not gaining any ground, it is hard to keep in mind the reasons for teaching in the first place. Sounds to me like she is burnt and needs to take some time out to re-figure out her reasons for doing this.

Comment: It doesn't do what it is intended to do. (Score 1) 798

by Borg Bucolic (#37916398) Attached to: Are Power Users Too Cool For Ubuntu Unity?
I tried Unity, and I have several issues with it beyond whether it works or not. To begin with, it actually consumes more of my screen space than what I am using (Gnome 2). I use only one panel at the top and I autohide it. There is nothing on my desktop except a semi-transparent clock in the corner. When I want to access the menu, I roll up, click on menu, roll down through to sub menus and click. The reason I don't care for KDE is that many distro's implement that click to slide to sub-menus. It is too much. The bar is on the screen, unmovable, no auto hide, and with ridiculously huge icons that are not resizable. In application windows, making the scroll bar very tiny, like in Mint, is more usable if you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, but I use an optical track ball. It is the only way to fly. Finally, when looking for an application not in the bar, you have to go to several presses and some scrolling to find something. The part that irritates me the most about that is that Unity shows me all the crap I don't have installed (and not interested in) first. I don't need anyone trying to sell me their shit while I'm trying to get work done. Even then, the icons in the sub menus are so huge and spread apart, it is no wonder you actually have scroll the screen to find something. I can't see it usable on a small screen for the same reasons. The launcher bar gets in the way, not out. Just about everything in Unity and Gnome 3 is exactly counter to the way I use a computer. I'm not fond of LDXE and lighter desktops because of the lack of decent menu editors, but they do beat the hell out of Unity and G3.

Comment: I love it when they post stuff like this. (Score 1) 511

by Borg Bucolic (#37306328) Attached to: Laptops In the Classroom Don't Increase Grades

Laptop or not, it makes no difference.

Every body had a comment on what teachers should or shouldn't be doing. Not many claim to actually be a teacher. Well, I am one. I suspect that those making the loudest comments are not. It is so fun to watch.

It is like this: Just because you have ridden in an airplane one time and you might know something about how airplanes work doesn't qualify you to tell the pilot how to fly the damn thing. Just because you have experienced education once and in one place and time doesn't qualify you to tell teachers how to do their jobs. Are there bad teachers? Sure there are, just like in every other profession. However if you magically got rid of all the bad teachers (what few there are) and replaced them with the best teachers, education would still be as it has always been. There is no magic bullet to fix education.

So, why do teachers get attacked so much? Simple. Who else are they going to go after? The parents, the kids, or perhaps a person in political power? Politicians go after teachers, because that is the only group they have leverage on that isn't a significant part of them getting reelected. All you have to do is vilify teachers. It takes all the responsibility off the voting parents and themselves for not doing their part to improve the situation.

In spite of all that, I go out there and do the best that I can for my students. If I only had to teach the curriculum, it would be easy. Now, I have to the be the advisor, parent, mentor, and friend. And you know, that is fine. As soon as they can figure out how to make a laptop do all of that, I will be happy to step aside. I can always go back to my former career.

"Show business is just like high school, except you get paid." - Martin Mull

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