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A Scene Left In The Cutting Room of the Film 300

A Scene Left In The Cutting Room of the Film 300

This morning, I woke up to the news that a pilot program starting in a few states, including Connecticut and New York, would add 300 more instructional hours to the school year starting in 2013. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to see a real study showing a positive correlation between classroom time (teacher-student face-to-face for a designated class) and student achievement. If you’re not as informed with the research, your natural inclination is to say “Yes! More schooling sounds great.” What it usually means, however, is that those 300 hours get used for test prep and, well, more test prep.

No recess, no extracurriculars, no special electives.

What’s more, some of us (:: ahem ::) can do lots more with less periods a week. Currently, I teach two classes at eight periods a week. If I had them at five periods a week, I just freed myself up to plan for the remaining three. Interestingly enough, the US leads the world in classroom time, so why argue that we want to compete against the world when we’re already blowing the rest of the world away in this category?

Because that’s what America does. Oversized stadiums, supersized fries and drinks, and large enough egos to believe that those who don’t know much about education can run it. Cool.

So, rather than completely dump on the idea that adding 300 hours (the equivalent of over a month more school!) would provide better numbers, I thought about some ways in which we can use all this time more effectively:

5. Take more trips.

Yes. More trips. But we’d take educational trips. On the subway, you learn lots about civics. At the park, you always have that one guy willing to teach the kids about contacting their inner nature. When half your kids can’t really afford lunch, you take the whole class back just in time. That’s math.

4. Read more non-fiction texts.

Like the appendices for the Common Core State Standards. After reading them, I figure my students can learn the appendix back and forth, left and right, just to spend the time. It’ll be excruciating, but maybe I can do impersonations of David Coleman.

3. Wait.

Waiting sounds like fun. It’s only 37 days or so. My shoes are new enough that I can keep tapping them. Yep. Just waiting. Any minute now …

2. Tell More Stories.

Nothing in our contracts says we can’t tell stories. Maybe we can all become storytellers. We can stop every seven minutes between examples of problems with a “I remember this one student …” The students will eventually get tired of it. Then, they’ll remember you for it. Then they’ll hate you for it. Then the test will come. Then they’ll want more of your stories. Less about pineapples without arms.

1. Start an “opposite day” challenge.

For the last few decades, America keeps saying they want to compete with the rest of the world academically, yet keep doing the opposite of what everyone else has learned. So, instead of doing the opposite of what other countries do, let’s do the opposite of what we already do, just for those 300 hours or so. It’s a pilot, so we won’t punish anyone for trying it. We’ll test it over a few years and see how it works. If that happens, we’ll include things like recess and real homeroom. We’ll let teachers get into natural teams instead of “inquiry teams,” and give teachers enough time to get through all that paper work. Maybe we’d get paid properly to compensate for the other days we don’t. We’d have the most qualified teach our kids most in need, and administrators will have taught for a good chunk of their careers at an effective level.

Only for the 300 days.

If that works out, then we’d scale it and localize it to America’s teachers, and keep this opposite behavior going until it becomes our regular behavior, making the opposite behavior archaic.

Alas, this is Sparta America.

Jose, who wants DMX to do a whole album of these …


NYC schools are officially closed on Friday … for students. For teachers, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott sent out a memo to all teachers and administrators to go back to school on Friday. The cynical me remembers the few days in the school year when I tell my students they don’t have school but I do and they giggle and point, to which I reply, “It’s OK. We don’t want you here, either.” Gasps from them. “Just kidding.” Exhale. “Kinda.”

The more serious side of me wonders what the heck we’re going to do on a November day. I mean, I had this really awesome unit on scientific notation that ended with us trying to estimate how far the planets were away from each other, and it would have ended with a quiz that I’m sure they would have aced on average. Then, it got me thinking: none of us, and I mean NONE of us, actually knows what we’re going to do tomorrow.

Instead of kvetching about why Bloomberg and Walcott came to this decision, I’ve compiled a list of things teachers can do tomorrow that would make it really productive, starting from 10 to 1.

10. You can listen to someone speak at you for hours on end while doodling / checking e-mail / texting / eventually napping. (I wouldn’t advise it, on either end.)

9. You can come up with a Hurricane Sandy song to the tune of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore.”

8. You can pretend to be students waiting in a teacher’s classroom and just switch roles every period.

7. You can pat each other on the back incessantly and tell each other how awesome you were for actually getting to school on Friday.

6. You can play “I’m Thinking of a Number” and have that number be someone’s VAM score … with that person screaming out the door, crying hysterically. (You’re so insensitive.)

5. You can finally find out what’s that thing wiggling and rustling the bottom of your papers that you haven’t graded yet. That stack never gets small, jeebus.

4. You can tweet or Facebook Pauly D, The Situation, and Snookie about what they’re going to contribute to the relief efforts for the Jersey Shore. (fixed)

3. You can play telephone with the entire staff. I specifically recommend this with staffs larger than 40. 40 is a nice, round number.

2. You can leave a stray karaoke machine in the auditorium and see who picks up the mic, because that’s the person you videotape singing The Police’s “Message In A Bottle” and that’s the video you start your Election Day PD with.

1. You can start the day by calling the parents and guardians of all your students to check on them and see if they’re OK. You can even make yourself available for people to come in and have their questions answered about the schools.

While we don’t know much about the effects of Sandy on our school system from home, I know we as a school system can do better in our roles as leaders in our communities. Many of us have families to comfort, basements to dry, and rummage to clean up. Alas, when students see us next week, we have a job to do, none of it concerning the students.

As people.

Jose, because it’s true.


6 Things I’ve Learned About Writing [600th Post]

by Jose Vilson on May 10, 2010

in Jose

Death By Pen

I honestly can’t believe I’ve written 600 of these essays. I went from a little blog somewhere in the atmosphere to getting a nice pat-on-the-back from the hundreds of you who read me weekly. I’ve learned so much, I just had to write it down. I’m at a point where I’m bombarded with requests for advice (sure), web design help (depends), and enough spam to fill an inbox (yikes). Furthermore, this blog’s given me a platform for my ridiculous but very serious opinions, and, unlike other platforms, people can’t flag or unlike my stuff.

You either love me or hate me.

And that’s the approach I’ve taken with writing on this platform. I hope the following tips will help anyone just starting a blog or looking to revitalize their current blog.

Write For Yourself … With Others In Mind

These days, very few blogs find success, and success has so many definitions, the only one that inevitably matters is yours. While we may think blogs with 20-30 comments are successful, the bloggers themselves may not think so. I know some bloggers who don’t average high page views, but their content is so rich, they’re included in speeches, books, and videos. I know other bloggers who have tons of friends and comments, but never get considered for anything more than a blogger party. None of these make any sense if you don’t belief in the work you’re writing, or see the potential in your work. Even “entertainment” bloggers have to believe in their site’s content.

Also, feel free to set a schedule. If you can post once a day, then go for that. If you can post 3 times a week, go for that. As long as you’re consistent with your schedule, that’s what your readers will expect. If you say you’ll write daily, and you don’t, you’re losing people’s confidence in you, and that’s no bueno.

Get Your Own Site

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said this to prospective bloggers, but using Blogspot,, or any blogging site can help propel your writing into the blogosphere’s consciousness, but may not do you any favors in the long run. Consider the case of a Blogspot blogger, who, after offending just one person, was flagged and thus was given a screen prompt with a warning label for their site. In other words, visitors to your sites already feel strange about your material since you’re getting screened by Google, but they may leave since they don’t want to be bothered with another click. Readers’ attention span is small.

With your own site, you can hit them hard. And with speed.

Make It Reader-Friendly

Make sure that, whether you get a free site or a self-hosted site, the site looks aesthetically pleasing. Make sure images are as sharp as possible, that everything loads as it needs to, that the title actually sounds good when read aloud along with the web address, that the site has little clutter around the content, and the grammatical and spelling errors are kept to a minimum. Every title should make sense to the content, and the paragraphs don’t have to extend longer than 3 sentences. That depends on your subject. The language has to be geared towards your audience, too. If you’re aiming for college-level students, keep it at that reading level. Even if you’re writing for yourself, it’s also writing with a conscious reader who’d like to know what the hell you’re talking about.

Build Relationships With Your Readers

Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have made it too easy to think you’ve built a relationship with your readers / subscribers. Not true. People who comment should get a reply where warranted. Let the audience give you feedback, ingest it, and see if those are the types of reactions you want to your writing. If you intend to annoy the hell out of someone, see if that worked. If you intend to get people excited, see if that worked. If it confused the hell out of someone, it probably means you forced the writing when you need not to. All the social media sites help you do is get more reactions and allow people to share and converse around your piece, a plus if it’s great material, a minus if it sucks.

Don’t Get Gassed

Readers aren’t fickle per se, but your audience is a set of people. For every 100 people who pass by your blog, 5 may stay on average. So if you get 20+ commenters on one post, it won’t mean they’ll stay there waiting for you. Your favorite blogger(s) work hard to write what they do, even when they make it look easy. They’ve taken time to build what they did, and you will, too. Also of note, just because one person likes your blog doesn’t mean the others will. Don’t get discouraged, either. The fact that someone likes it means that he or she might be your audience. Take the criticism well, learn from it, and keep it moving.

(Almost) Never Apologize

I probably offended a slew of people over the last 599 posts. I wrote too long. I wrote too little. I skipped a few Thursdays. I didn’t write about them. I did write about them but not by name. I wrote about ideas in general and people thought it was about them specifically. I don’t write much about love and relationships. I write too much about education. I’m too left. I like Spongebob. I don’t want legislation controlling what women can do with their private parts.

I’ve never apologized.

I learned not to apologize six years ago when another blogger thought my ramblings on my site would never be validated, as his were read by his college professors. My writing would never be taken seriously, according to him, and he never had to thank his readers because they were going to read anyways. Years later, I’m still writing on mine, and he’s still waiting for a comeback. It’s not personal, but everything we write, if it makes sense to you, if we’re passionate about it, if we do it with purpose, then why apologize?

Apologize only if the message wasn’t clear. If the message is clear, then you’ve written well.

Jose, who still has a long way to go …


In order to become a better writer, become a prolific reader. Read as many blogs as possible, comment on those, ask them for help or advice, and take it from there.


FACK! [Or, 5 Ways To Handle The Day Before The Big Math Test]

May 4, 2010 Jose
Cartman, South Park

To new math teachers, this sort of stress only compares to that getting injected with a thin, long needle for the first time or sitting in a dentist’s chair with your mouth full of something-caine waiting for a root canal. You know it’s going to benefit you in the long run just to be over […]

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Mama Said There’d Be Days Like These

April 1, 2008 Jose

It was a rough day again at the old factory, mi gente. I find it hard to try and not take things too personally when kids get nasty with me, but today was an especially different case. I just found the level of disrespect at inordinate levels. I really looked at some of them like […]

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