Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An open dialogue where we sit silently and get blamed

Our principal asked to meet with each of our departments so we could have a “dialogue” about what’s going on at our school.  (If you need some background, check out my previous posts.) I don’t know exactly what she expected to happen.  Maybe we’d all pour out our hearts and come to a deeper understanding of how at fault we, as teachers, are for the problems the school is facing?

Our first meeting got canceled, because she had to go to another meeting.  I can’t imagine why the other meeting would be more important.  If I was told I had to go to an emergency meeting, I might say, “My staff is mutinous, and unless I want more of them to walk and cause me to spend the entire second semester scrambling to fill teaching slots, I need to calm them down.”  Instead, she blew us off because she had a "highly important meeting" with the superintendent.  I guess I can assume our meeting wasn't "highly important."

Our department meeting was combined with two other departments.  The  mood was not a joyous one, as school was just over.  Most of us had to pee, some had students waiting on them, and everyone had grading to do. 

Is it a bad sign if your leader sits down and says, “Okay, we’re all here.  Let’s talk.  What’s on your mind?  Anyone have something to say?”  Maybe it’s just a personal issue, but I’m always looking for that meeting agenda first, then donuts.  Neither one of those were there.

I don’t want to seem critical, but in case you couldn't tell, I am.  Who the hell is going to air their grievances in front of 40 other teachers?  Why would you want to?  Nothing gets fixed, and you’re automatically seen as a whiner, or singled out as a potential problem. 

That was especially true for us.  Our principal is a genius.  Rather than stroke and praise her staff to win them over to her side, since we obviously DON’T trust her and are tense, she managed to turn everything back onto us.  We don’t understand how much the administration has to do.  Our expectations of action are too high, given that there are only nine of them.  It takes a village to run this school, and how many of us are volunteering to help out?  Teachers are afraid of the kids?  That’s ridiculous!  WE are causing the problems by being rude to the kids!

I think I speak for all of us present when I say I left with a renewed commitment to try harder, volunteer more of my free time and take every opportunity to show the kids how much I care about them.

But first I went to the bathroom, where I carved, “this school sucks” into the stall door. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Professional Development - Where Excellence is our Vague Idea

Today I had required professional development – you know, something that will help me develop professionally.  Five women presented on various random things that either my school or the district decided was important. 

I wasn’t in the best mood because a) I was at work, and b) this was taking up my conference period, which I really needed, and c) I had already had a rough day with my students.  So when one of our assistant principals got up and talked about SLANT, I wanted to throw something at her head.  Instead, I nodded respectfully and took “notes” in my interactive notebook, which was thoughtfully provided by the school. 

SLANT is familiar to me.  I used to work at KIPP schools, and I’ve read “Teach Like a Champion,” so I know what it means.  But I had just broken up a fight in my classroom between two girls and had listened to freshmen complain about having to complete classwork they deem “boring,” plus had to send another student to the office for laughing in my face when I told her she couldn’t eat in class.  So frankly, the importance of making sure students sit up, nod and track the speaker at all times seemed kind of irrelevant, at that point.

“This is what the district wants to see in all classrooms,” Ms. Hansen informed us.  I know what I want to see in all classrooms, but I doubt that’s going to happen, especially from a school that tells me not to send kids to the office, “because that’s what they want, to get out of class!” and instead tells me to write up a referral and someone will come take the disruptive student away.  I’m not holding my breath on that one.

I did feel like I developed professionally today.  I learned 21st century skills of ignoring my supervisors and trying to get actual work done, despite being hampered by upper management idiocy.  All in all, I’d say that I definitely walked away with real life skills and a commitment to care less and do less. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Think of the children!

On the plus side, I’ve lost four pounds.  On the minus side, I’m also losing my will to live.
Stress seems to have stomped on my appetite, because I find I’m either in too much of a hurry, too busy or too stressed to eat much.  Food doesn’t taste that appetizing lately.  Is that a sign of depression?  If so, there’s certainly an upside to it – my pants aren’t tight!  They’re just too loose.

I think my school is moving towards an Animal Farm type of business model.  Put the “smartest” people in charge, even if (or especially if) they have no idea how to teach a class, manage people or run their personal lives.  But put them in charge, and then turn around and dump everything onto the teachers.  Give them more students, less time, less power but require more documentation for every interaction they have with a student.  They’ll work harder for less, because it’s AAAALLLLLL about the kids.

Strange how all the districts are trying to boost salaries.  Come over here, there’s a signing bonus and you’ll start at $70K a year!  I tend to be a money-grubber myself, so I definitely see the appeal.  But believe me, most teachers would happily take less money if they were treated with respect and dignity.  Make the class sizes smaller, hire more teachers and get the hell out of their way or support them – guess what?  Your school starts improving.  Parents are happier.  Students perform better, you know, those kids we’re doing all of this for?  

My school tries the opposite tack.  Cram students into classrooms to the point that there aren’t enough seats for them.  Nitpick at the teachers over how they write their lesson plan, over what they write on the board, and act offended if they ask to take a day off.  Worse, make them clock in and out to see if they’re REALLY putting in their 10-12 hours a day.  Then tell them they have to “volunteer” for certain after school activities, because it’s AAAALLLLL about the kids.

This morning I received an email which informed the staff that more teacher “volunteers” are needed to help out during the school's movie night. “We need seven more volunteers, or else we'll have to cancel it because we won’t have enough supervision!  Come enjoy the evening with your students – we don’t want them to miss out on this fun event.”

No, we really don’t want them to miss out on Saw IV.  Where else could they see that?  So maybe I’ll volunteer so I can enjoy my evening supervising students in my free time.  I NEVER get to do that.  Besides, it's AAAAALLLLLL about the kids.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


I spent several years at a charter school in Texas, a pretty high-performing one, according to the numbers.  When I would tell people where I worked, their eyes would widen and they'd say, "Oh, I hear those are GREAT schools!"  Some would tell me how they had a friend or neighbor whose child went there, and how well he or she was doing now.  The implication was that the local public school wasn't cutting it and that finally, young Faruk was getting the education he deserved.

I'd usually smile and nod, especially during my first year.  But as time went on, I'd listen mutely and change the conversation.  Towards the end of my time at this TCS (Texas Charter School), I'd interrupt them and say no, they were wrong.  These were not good schools.  They were such bad schools, I'd say, that only an insane person would want to work there.  I couldn't wait to leave.

I thought when I left, that I was done with disorganized schools where no one really cares about the student or what he or she is learning.  Everyone paid lip service to the nebulous "education goals" that the institution had, while spending time in CYA mode and trying to further their climb up the career ladder.  I was SO done with schools that passed kids on who could barely read, who were horribly disorganized, who wasted taxpayer on textbooks they crammed into a back closet, and who allowed students to blatantly cheat on standardized tests because turning them in meant dealing with parents and TEA.  This school wants TEA to stay as far away as it can.

But then I took at job in a public school district nearby, because nothing could be worse than the school I came from, right?

Ever read "Heart of Darkness"?  You should, because it's a good read, and mentioning it makes people think you're smart and literate.  It's a story about greed, apathy, business and political corruption.

"The horror - the horror!"

Working in a public school is just as horrifying, with just as much greed, apathy and corruption as Conrad described, but with fewer rivets on the ground.

So, are you ready for a ride down the Congo?