Monday, August 14, 2017

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray...

So yeah, school is starting in just a few days.  In some ways this is less stressful for me because I don't have my typical teaching job at a typical school anymore.  No worrying about whether or not my classroom is set up properly, no last minute requests for materials that won't get delivered anyway, and no "Welcome to Ms. Marlowe's class" PowerPoint to edit. 

In some ways that makes me a little sad, but not so much.  I'll still be working with students, but one-on-one, and I won't be teaching traditional lessons.  I'll be interacting with administrators most of the time.  I spent a good chunk of the summer reading, rewriting curriculum and working on developing a new class for students with reading comprehension.  It's rewarding, but exhausting in a completely different way. 

I guess it's good to have change.  This is where I wanted to be anyway, but it feels weird to be out of the regular classroom.  It's like I'm also graduating, just like my old students did.  So I'm happy but sad, moving forward but looking back, and all those other paradoxes. 

In the meantime, I ran into one of my old students at Target in town.  She looked shocked to see me there, but said she would miss seeing me in the hallways this year.  "You were always telling students to stop running and looking really annoyed while you drank your Coke Zero!"

Yeah, good times.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Stuck in the middle with you - no really, stuck!

My time working at CISD taught me a lot.  Almost too much, in fact... 

While in the midst of applying for any and all other jobs that I see online (“Make money working from home.  $4K in one month.  Apply now!!”  That one looks promising.),  I see that my district is still looking to fill about seven different positions at my school.  If I’m correct, these are positions that have been open since the beginning of the school year.

I wouldn’t say our state has a teaching shortage.  Usually, you can’t swing a dead cat and not hit a teacher looking for work (they love cats.)  But if you are looking for teaching work in November, this has to raise some red flags.  For example, why can’t the school fill this position?  Are their standards too high?  Do the interviewers turn people off?  Maybe not enough people are actually applying, and if so, why is that?

For me, the second question it raises is why the applicant is looking for a job right now.  Most teachers, if they get laid off, get laid off at the end of the school year.  A teacher would have to be pretty awful, or engaging in criminal acts, for a school to get rid of them midway through the year.  But maybe the applicant quit because he or she realized that he or she is at a horrible school, and sticking it out until the end of the year is too awful to even contemplate.  I wasn’t talking about anyone in particular when I wrote that last sentence.

That said, I can tell you that during my time at TCS, we had two people who came in midyear.  One was a math teacher, who quickly distinguished himself by openly pursuing some of the female teachers, despite his obvious handicap of being married.  He even told his students how he wanted to “get with” certain teachers.  One of those teachers he wanted to “get with” clearly had a drug problem or was bipolar.  She also came in midyear, to replace a science teacher who quit.  Ms. Bipolar/drug problem was let go after the administration found out she was offering to buy the students booze.

Another midyear find was a counselor who became one of our administrators.  Her makeup got heavier and heavier during the school year, while her hair extensions became longer.  She was seen “servicing” a social studies teacher in his car in the school parking lot, and then bragged about it to some of the other teachers a few weeks later.  Ms. Counselor also showed up drunk to chaperone the prom. 


Midyear finds – what finds they are!  At your next parent-teacher conference, ask the teacher when he/she started working at the school.  If s/he came in midyear, it’s time to ask for a schedule change. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Cruel to be kind?

I think it’s clear that teachers must be awful people.

Take my friend Amy.  She teaches a remediation class for students who are seniors and who need to pass previous year’s end of course exams.  It’s not a job for the faint of heart, or even the stout of heart, or generally anyone who has a heart at all.  Most of these students have learning disabilities, serious behavior problems or absolutely don’t care at all.  The fact that they got to their senior year is baffling. 

Amy cares about them, a LOT.  She goes to all the senior events at school and games and tries to encourage each of them.  She also knows her stuff, since she has a master’s degree and teaches remedial English at a nearby college as well.  Plus, she works super-hard to try and get each student to understand the material, but she still holds them to high standards. 

This makes her an awful person.  Are you following me? 

She has a co-teacher* who works with her during one of her class periods.  This co-teacher told her that she needed to “search her heart” and really look at “what kind of teacher” she is, because she failed a student who is classified as special ed.

Why would she fail him?  The student, whom we'll call Mr. Wizard, decided to plagiarize a poem he found online, rather than write one of his own.  This comes after weeks of review and practice assignments, none of which he completed.  Amy confronted him about it.  Mr. Wizard insisted he wrote it himself; however, when confronted with the evidence, he claimed he didn’t know they couldn’t use an already written poem.  Amy contacted his mother and told her that he was going to fail for the term and why.  This isn’t news to the mom.  Her kid already failed last semester because he wouldn’t do any of the work.  Mom is fed up with Mr. Wizard and wants to teach him a lesson.

The co-teacher says she’s unfair.  He reported her to the principal for “not assisting” the student in boosting his grade.  The principal said she needed to give him another chance to pass, even though in most districts, plagiarism is an automatic F with no makeups.  This is when Amy found out that the report of her “unfairness” came from the co-teacher.

She confronted him.  Co-teacher told her basically that she’s unfit to teach because she’s failing kids with learning disabilities.  Amy wisely decided to hash this out with him in front of an administrator.  Our assistant principal had them come into the office, where said co-teacher made his complaints.  Amy asked, “What are you doing to prevent them from failing?  I’m sorry, but I don’t see you being proactive and helping them at all, even though that's your job.  Generally you sit in the back of the room and ignore them and work on your computer.  That's if you even show up for class."

CT fired back that this was HER fault because she doesn’t grade fast enough.  Plus, she’s teaching way over these kids’ heads.  When she countered that she’s teaching at an 8th grade level (remember, these are seniors she’s teaching), he replied that the level was still too high, and that her expectations were "abusive."

"Abusive expectations?"  That's a new one.  I can't wait to use that phrase in class.  Trust me, it'll be a thing soon enough.

The good news is that the principal is lazy and never tried to follow up on her directive or talk to Amy about what happened later.  The better news is that the co-teacher decided that he couldn't, "in good conscience", sit in Amy's class again and see her try to teach her students.  The even better news is that an administrator came looking for him every day for a week, and since he wasn't in class where he was supposed to be, he was fired.  EVEN BETTER - Mr. Wizard refused to do the new assignment and failed anyway.

But the BEST news of all is that despite all she went through, Amy still tried to get her students to work at grade level.

This, naturally, means that she's still an awful person.

*Co-teacher - someone who is supposed to be a help or resource in a class that has a high population of special ed students.  Amy's co-teacher was the golf coach who was mad that he had to spend any time in a classroom.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Read between the lines!

Here’s how to piss off your school librarian, if you’re so inclined.

For students:

1.       Ask for a specific book.  When she tells you where it is, wander over to the shelves and say, “It’s not here.”  Keep insisting it’s not there until she goes over and picks it up and hands it to you.  Tell her you don’t know what “alphabetical” means.

2.       Fold back some of the pages in the book.  When you turn it in, and she gets mad at you, tell her “it’s no big deal.”

3.       Refuse to pay for a book you lost.  When she says that you either need to return the book or pay for it, insist you turned it in and tell her it’s her mistake.  Smile like a dumbass when you come in a month later with the book you found in your locker. 

4.       Throw a fit when she catches you eating or drinking in the room, especially if you’re sitting next to a computer. 

5.       Throw another fit when she tells you that it will cost you 10 cents a copy for her to print something out for you.  Insist that you’ll pay later, and when she refuses, tell her you’re going to complain to the administration, because these services should be free to students, and she’s just using the money to buy stuff for herself anyway.

For teachers:

1.       Send your worst students down to the library to calm down, especially if it’s during the school-mandated reading time and she’s already got tons of kids coming in and out.  She can keep an eye on the kid, right?

2.       Send a student to get a book.  When s/he comes back and says he can’t check out a book because s/he hasn’t returned the last three, ask the librarian if she can overlook it “just this one time.”

3.       When she refuses to give the student a book, try to check it out for him/her yourself, or worse, try and “sneak” the book out while she’s taking a break.  She’s too uptight about those due dates anyway.

6.       Try to come in and “help.”  Ask her why those books are over there or give her hints on how she could “better organize” the room, especially if you’ve never been a librarian or worked in a library.

7.       Berate her when you can’t find a particular book you want for one of your students, one that should be on the shelf but is missing.  Tell her she should have a system to keep track of that.

8.       When she says that books regularly get stolen, pat her on the back condescendingly and tell her that “hey, at least the kids are reading, right?  That’s a good sign, right?”

9.       Ask her if she minds making a few copies for you since she’s “not busy.”

For administrators:

1.        Decide to use the library as an alternate ISS room, and tell the librarian that she’ll have 15 ISS students to watch when she comes in that day.

2.       Try to send students to the library when it’s closed for a makeup final or for accommodated state standardized testing.  Tell her that the students will be quiet and it shouldn’t interrupt what she’s doing.

3.       When she says that we need to order more books, tell her it looks like there are plenty of books for the students.

4.       Get angry at her when she sends you an inventory list showing that one fourth of the books is still unreturned.  Tell her she should have been taking care of this, even though you ignored her earlier emails and didn’t allow her to send home parent letters.

5.       Regularly send substitutes and their entire classes to the library when you can’t find a place for them to go.  Forget that you sent a class there just 10 minutes ago.

6.       Require your librarian to substitute for missing teachers.

For parents or volunteers:

1.       Tell her you’re not paying for the book little Johnny lost, because this is her fault and/or the school has tons of books, and one won’t make a difference.

2.       Tell your kid to return the book that the baby threw up on.  Act offended when you get a letter saying the book must be replaced.  “Why can’t you just dry it out?”

3.       Get angry about the book that your child brought home because it has something in it that you find offensive.  Tell the librarian that she shouldn’t allow these types of books in the school.  Get even angrier when she points out that you signed the release form at the beginning of the year that said you would monitor your child’s reading, and that what the child chooses is not her responsibility.  Threaten to get her fired.

4.       Offer to donate extra books to the library.  Say, “We have lots of books the kids don’t read anymore!”  Don’t check to make sure the books are age-appropriate, so you end up giving Lust in the Fields to a middle school or Hop on Pop to a high school.

5.       Decide to donate all those old National Geographic magazines you’ve had in your garage to the library, rather than throwing them away.  The librarian should be thrilled to get these, and she won’t mind the spiders and roaches that scuttle out of the 20-year-old boxes you’re giving her. 

6.       Bring the magazines anyway, even though she tells you the school doesn’t need them because it subscribes to databases that have the same material online.  Act offended when you see the boxes dumped in the trash outside.

7.       Constantly make suggestions as to what books the librarian should buy, as though she doesn’t already communicate with the district and get carefully curated lists of recommended books from library and education experts.  Tell her that the students will love Little Women just as you did when you were young, even when she points out that the two copies the school has have never been checked out.

8.       Tell her she needs to better understand the students and what they like to read.  “Comic books?  No SERIOUS library would offer comic books!”


Monday, July 17, 2017

Grubbing your way to the top

Ms. Grubbs is quite the character at TCS.

She was hired on to be a teacher, but she’s never been able to pass her certification exam, despite taking it at least five times.  I’m not one to pooh-pooh test anxiety, having seen it in some students, but five times?  The tests aren’t that hard.  I know, because I’ve passed them.

They made her an academic counselor her first year while they waited for her to pass her exam.  Understand that in Texas, being an academic counselor actually requires administrative certification.  If someone can’t teach, he or she certainly can’t be advising students on classes they should take.  Maybe they used finger quotes when they told her she’d be a counselor.

This didn’t go well.  By the end of the first year, Ms. Grubbs still hadn't passed and was generally seen as a disastrous choice as a counselor.  But the school still couldn’t get rid of her, because she was a college student hired under a contract wherein she’d have to commit to working at TCS for about 5 years.  I’m sure TCS never thought this arrangement could backfire on them, but fate can be cruel that way.

The next year she was asked to be an administrative assistant and substitute.  This also didn’t work out.  I’m not one to say that Ms. Grubbs is incapable, but… I’m not quite sure how to end that sentence.  Suffice it to say that there was not a menial task she couldn’t mess up.

She developed a strange relationship with the students.  Like many people new to working in schools, she thought the best way to make the students respect her was to loudly correct them and talk to them with what she thought was a teacher's voice.  The students found her ridiculous.  They ignored her when she spoke and called her Ms. Chubbs or Ms. Tub behind her back. When a student was dismissive of her (as most students were), her voice would get higher and sound more like she was pleading with them to acknowledge her.  It’s not the best way to talk to a student, particularly when you’re talking to a student’s back.

Ms. Grubbs was a short, squat woman without any discernable waist.  That’s no shame in and of itself unless you saw her strike her authoritative pose, such as when she’d put her hands on her hips.  Then you realized that Ms. Grubbs didn’t know where her hips were.  It looked affected, as though she’d heard or read that this is what teachers do to make a point, and it certainly didn’t convey trust or power.  She’d clamp her hands along her ribcage, as though she were trying to keep up an imaginary corset. 

Sadly, Ms. Grubbs was always afraid she was going to get fired, and rightly so.  She didn’t do anything well, so it was a legitimate fear.  After another year of not passing her certification, she was demoted again, this time to the library assistant.  I was teaching and running the library, and at the end of the year, the principal offered me the chance to oversee the library full-time, at a considerable pay cut.  I passed, he offered me another teaching position, and Ms. Grubbs took my place, for what I’m sure was even less money than I was offered. 

After “running” the library for two years, she’s now working in the office.  The library is permanently closed until they can find a teacher to take it back on. 

I found this out the other day when I ran into a former colleague of mine from TCS.  She left at the end of the school year, feeling that she’d put enough time at TCS to deserve the state mandated minimum salary that Texas requires.  TCS told her “we’re a charter school so we can’t pay as much” and she politely declined to sign a new contract.  She’s now going to a better district where she’ll teach fewer classes for more money.

We chatted, and I asked her about our various former co-workers.  Almost everyone we worked with there that was competent has left, and the incompetent ones got district positions.  We pretty much ran through the list until I remembered Ms. Grubbs.

“Is Gina Grubbs still there?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said shortly.  “But she’s not running the library.  They lost so many books last year that the administration wouldn't let her be in charge of it anymore.”

“So… what does she do?”

My friend coughed.  “She’s the office manager.”

“Oh,” I said, nonplussed.  “Um –“

She interrupted me before I could ask.  “I seriously doubt she actually gets to order any supplies.  Mostly I think she answers the phone.”

“Well, at least she has a job still,” I said brightly. 

“Yeah,” my friend said.  “Lucky them.”

They really are, aren’t they?  I’m sure she’ll be in a district job soon enough.



Monday, July 10, 2017

Some people just want to watch the world burn

When you're teaching summer classes for credit recovery, oftentimes you hope that your students will push themselves, and do more, or be more, than what they were during the school year, which was apparently very little.

Most of the time, that hope is vain.

Sure, some of my students did better, but those are students who didn't pass because of things outside of their control.  Or the two kids who had a worse than useless English teacher, so even a mediocre one would be an improvement.

Still, one looks through their writing and realizes that God has a sense of humor, and a pretty dark one at that.

What is the difference between one man and another.  This question can be very tricky or easily to respond.

Would you rather be yourself or something that you’re not?

Have you ever noticed the same similarities on people?

It is best to be unique like anybody else.

We were all born to be abnormal, not the same.

I think it’s pretty cool to be customary.

We the people have many feelings some may be bad and some may be good.

I mean, you can't spell "thesis" without the word hell.  At least if you're these students, you can't. 


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

And so we enter endgame

After all that buildup for the last two weeks, I'm tempted just to say something stupid like, "Everything worked out fine.  We had a standoff, and Mr. Glick was goaded into admitting that he wanted to get rid of me because my fabulous teaching made him look bad, but when he turned around, the entire school and PTO and board was there, listening, courtesy of my sidekick, fellow teacher Jill. Mr. Glick was fired after parents stormed the office, demanding I be reinstated. The board realized that I was the blameless person and shook hands with me as the music swelled and students cheered."

Well, that didn't happen.  I wish it had because it would be a whole lot more cinematic that what actually occurred. But sometimes I like to pretend it did if only to use that scene sometime in the future.

What did happen?  Ken got busy negotiating.  He'd call me every evening with gleeful updates that made my stomach churn.  I had to find every email, every meeting recording I made and turn them over after transcribing them. It was exhausting and felt like I had a colonoscopy every day.

A week after I left, I got my dream job offer, one that is more flexible, pays better, and will propel my career forward in a way that DA never would.  Ironically, I started the day that Ken finally finished negotiating a settlement.  Basically, I got everything I asked for, plus more.  Ken couldn't actually believe it.  He was giddy; I was relieved.

I'm just glad I'll never have to deal with Debut Academy again.  I'll miss my students, but all my teacher friends there either quit this year or retired. Mr. Glick is still there, but I honestly wonder how long he'll last.

I never thought I'd say it, but I'm glad it happened.  I might have stayed and become used to working in a dysfunctional environment, and that's never good.  I might have missed the opportunity to apply for the job I have now.  Unfortunately, this has made me more suspicious of the people I work with, and I don't know that that will ever go away.  But to quote the poet, "My head is bloody but unbowed."  Which still sounds overly dramatic to me and a bit pretentious, but when am I ever going to get the chance to use that line again?