I've spent most of the break sleeping and grading midterm essays. Students are emailing me, wondering what their grades are, and I'm scribbling poorly spelled comments on each paper as fast as I can. I think I need a break from this break. And in the meantime, enjoy the following:
Getting Schooled: Teachers are hungry, kind of like the wolf:
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Monday, December 21, 2015
I decided that today was a day where I could just share old posts, so you can be disgusted with my laziness and I can get over this head cold that a student gave me (thanks Connor! Can't wait to see what your grade is on the midterm now!)
You can read my more coherent ramblings here.
You can read my more coherent ramblings here.
Monday, December 14, 2015
More CISD memories to warm your hearts with disgust this holiday season...
I was given extra duties today.
Teacher duties are extra responsibilities a teacher gets to make sure that procedures at the school run smoothly. An example of teacher duties would be monitoring the cafeteria during lunch to make sure kids don’t cut in line, throw food or get out of control. The teacher makes sure that students eat and don’t act like animals; actually, so students don’t act like unpleasant animals.
Duties generally are no big deal. Last year I had cafeteria duty before school, which was fine. When the students entered the school, they had to come into the cafeteria and wait there until the bell rang. Teachers kept an eye on the kids, chatting with them, redirecting them or allowing them to go to the bathroom one at a time. Our main job was to keep students from wandering in the halls prior to the start of class. This way, teachers still have time to get prepared for their classes without having to oversee students until the official start time.
This year, I have metal detector duty, which means I have to check the students’ bags as they come in through one of the metal detector entrances. All bags have to be checked to make sure students aren’t bringing in weapons, drugs or alcohol. If you think this is stupid, my answer is that you are naïve. We confiscate a LOT of knives, blades, and alcohol. I suppose some of these students are so dedicated to their illegal behaviors that they feel it’s necessary to share them with the rest of the student body.
My other duty is hallway duty, which is essentially the same as cafeteria duty. I stop students who are going down the hall and tell them to go back or go somewhere else. I can let them go down the hall if they have a pass, but most don't have one. Either the teacher forgot to give out a pass, or the student is trying to do something that shouldn't be done. Most students are generally outraged about being stopped, (realistically or not) and combative, because the monitoring teacher can’t allow him/her in the hall.
My big problem with hallway duty is that I’m supposed to have a partner, Ms. Loomis. Ms. Loomis NEVER shows up. Well, to be fair, she was present the first week of school. The second week Ms. Loomis was more than half an hour late each day. The third week she quit showing up. An entire semester has passed, and I haven’t seen her at all.
One morning I ran late and didn’t get to my duty post on time. I received a nasty email from the administration, reminding me that I’m expected to be “at [my] post on Thursdays to fulfill [my] duty schedule.” I talked to our vice principal of operations and pointed out that I was always there; this was a one-time incident, and that two people are supposed to be monitoring the hallway. He promised he’d look into it. I’ve still not seen Ms. Loomis in the morning, and that was three weeks ago. I HAVE seen her going in and out of the teacher’s lounge.
Now I have extra duties, probably due to the number of resignations that are pouring in. The email said that I’m needed to help monitor the main entrance on Wednesdays, due to the fact that it’s a “high traffic area.” In addition, failure to “perform my duties could result in a negative evaluation.” Not “could you please help us out,” but “you are REQUIRED to be here early for extra unpaid duty or else you’re in trouble.” I like the directive followed by a threat. It’s motivating.
What’s interesting is that Low High has three “entrances” that are technically “main entrances.” The email didn’t specify which entrance. Plus, it was addressed to Ms. Marlane.
I didn’t show up this morning for extra duty. I have a very good reason, though. I was lost – in every sense of the word.
Monday, December 7, 2015
The funny thing about teaching teenagers is how completely naïve they are. Most teens like to think that they’re street-smart and world-wise, but it’s just not true. Even teens who come from a rough background still are kids, and act like kids.
I always knew that when I went into teaching, I couldn’t teach kids younger than 13. Little kids don’t understand sarcasm, and you can’t reason with them either. Teens can usually try to talk at an adult level though they may not always succeed.
But until I started teaching, I had no idea how incredibly impressionable students were, and how easily they can be manipulated.
Case in point: teens believe EVERYTHING they read on the Internet. Too many students have tried to tell me earnestly that 9-11 was an inside job, and that the moon landings were faked. When I ask where they got the information, they confidently say, “it’s all over the Internet.” “All over” to them means “a site I stumbled across, and I didn’t have enough common sense to judge objectively what I was reading.”
By the way, if you think 9-11 was an inside job or that the moon landing was faked, just shut up. No one listens to you anyway, except teenagers, and they’ll grow out of it.
Teenagers are also unaware of how easily adults can manipulate them. The fact is that they’re still kids, so just like a friendly stranger with some candy, an adult can get a teen to listen to them and like them by giving them what they want, albeit briefly. Thus, teens love the teacher who doesn’t make them turn in homework, or who lets them use their cell phones or watch movies in class. Students will say that teacher is “cool” and “really chill.” Teachers who try to be friends with the kids will be welcomed initially until some of the wiser students realize it’s weird for an adult to want to hang around with you or seek your approval.
Clichés are also something that teens don’t question. They believe those general platitudes and spout them frequently as though it passes for original thought. “Hatred is wrong!” they’ll declare fervently. “I HATE country music!” They’ll internalize anything you see on a motivational poster – “If you believe it, you can achieve it!” This is what will pass for original thought in their next persuasive essay, along with clichés that would make most adults roll their eyes.
Teens feel everything so deeply, even a short conversation about a movie can end in bloodshed. So I thought it would be fun to read some of the things that students have said to me in all seriousness.
“Taylor Swift sucks, cause, you know, she just thinks she’s so great.”
“People who hate One Direction are just haters.”
“I don’t know why we have to take a different language class because we all speak English.”
“I don’t care what other people think about me, cause I’m just myself, you know? Not like those other losers. I’m not lame like them.”
“I’m like, so NOT religious, but I go to church and stuff.”
“Ms. Marlowe, why do girls talk about dumb stuff? Why don’t they talk about stuff people care about, like games or sports and stuff?”
“When I grow up I’m gonna be a rich doctor and take care of my mom… I’m not doing this classwork, it’s lame.”
“Women need to be with a man they can respect, so I’d NEVER let a girl tell me what to do.”
“Knowledge is power, right Miss? Nah, I don’t know the answer.”
“You shouldn’t let other people’s negativity bring you down. They’re just jealous b#####s.”
"The Illuminati is totally real Miss, and you're naive if you don't think so. FOR REALS."
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
I’m always looking for a good story.
I’ve decided my weakness I need to address for IWSG this month is the fact that I always want to hear, or read, or tell, a story. I come from a family of storytellers. Notice I didn’t say I came from a family of WRITERS – that’s altogether different.
In my family, if you can’t tell a good story that entertains your listeners, then get out of the way for the person who can. If it’s funny, or horrifying, or baffling, that’s even better. The story gets extra points if the teller is poking fun at him or herself during it. Because if you can’t laugh at yourself, or get other people to do so, how are you entertaining your listeners?
Having to tell a story has turned into a stumbling block for blogging. My blog posts tend to be longer than they probably should be, and I don’t talk about things like word counts, drafts, submitting to agents, or the day to day of writing life, because I think that’s boring. I don’t want to read about it, so I don’t write about it. What I like about IWSG is the “we’re all in this together” mentality, but it’s nearly impossible for me to break out of my entertainment mindset and act like a regular blogger.
For example, today I went to the periodontist’s office to get my regular three-month gum scraping and scolding. (Yes, I floss regularly, so mind your own business.) I did what I always do when I go to the doctor, hairstylist, bank, or even when a plumber or repair person comes to my house. I asked, “What’s the weirdest patient/customer/incident you’ve experienced lately?” She told me about a recent patient whose plaque problem was so bad that his gums were actually flopping loose from the bone.
I genuinely want to know about weird experiences, so I can collect them and use them later. This way, the next time I’m at a swank cocktail party, I can say, “You know what my exterminator told me he found when he was spraying a house? An entire family of dead raccoons spread all over an attic like they were being posed by a killer!” You’re sure to get everyone’s attention with that tidbit, and maybe even a personal escort to your car.
Since I teach, and tend to be a chatty person, I collect horrifying stories like nerdy people collect stamps (however they do that.) If the story didn’t happen to me, and most of them have, it's happened to my friend, family or neighbors. What could be better to have than an arsenal of stories to amuse and horrify your audience? Isn’t that what comedians do?
Thus, I feel the need to tell stories, and I often think regular blog readers don’t know what to make of it. So all I can say is that I’m trying, in my own small way, to adjust. Or maybe I’m trying to make readers adjust to me. Either way, I don’t know how well it’s working, and that makes me a bit concerned. I don’t want to stress out about it, because who wants to read about that?
I bet they DO want to read about the time my principal locked me out of my classroom because he decided to use the room as a massage center for him and other staff members. More on that later, and it’s TOTALLY true.
Fine, I’m heading to my car.
Monday, November 23, 2015
When I was at CISD, students who wanted to skip class were always looking for an empty classroom to loiter in. Unless I kept my door locked during my conference period, I could expect to be interrupted 2-3 times in a 50-min period: "Hey Miss, can Dwayne and I chill here witchu?" or "Yo, Ms. M! Wussup?"
With my door locked, it meant my doorknob rattled a lot, but once students realized the door wasn't going to open they went on to check the next classroom. So when I heard the doorknob rattle during my conference period one day, I ignored it. But the sound didn’t stop. In fact, the rattling grew more insistent. This was unusual enough for me to get up and unlock the door.
I immediately wished I hadn't. Ms. Washington, one of our assistant principals, stood there with a student at her elbow. I shivered.
As you know by now, everything at CISD was cringe-worthy, but Ms. Washington was especially irritating. Imagine a person with the worst personality traits of the most unlikable characters from The Office, and you come close to Ms. Washington. She had Toby's blank stare, Angela's humorless personality, and Dwight's one-track mind. If she had Meredith's alcoholism or Creed's criminal tendencies, she might have been truly terrifying. As it was, she was just offensive.
I stood there with the door opened just a foot or so. “Can I help you?” I asked, in a way that I hoped sounded unhelpful.
Ms. Washington cleared her throat and began speaking in her obnoxious monotone, putting emphasis on the most unlikely words. “Ms. Gibbons says that SHE gave you a textbook for the TSP test. We need it for a student.” She jerked her head to indicated the student standing next to her.
“Um, I don’t have it,” I replied. "Sorry." I waited for her to move on so I could shut the door.
"You don't have a textbook for the TSP test?"
Oh my gosh, I thought, here we go. "No, I've never met with Ms. Gibbons, and she's never given me any textbooks. No one has ever given me anything for a TSP test. I don't even know what the TSP test is." I made a move to shut the door, but Ms. Washington had already moved into the doorway and was peering over my shoulder as if she expected to find the book sitting on one of the student desks.
“Ms. Gibbons was very specific that SHE gave the book to MS. MAR-LANE for the READING class. Let me just see if it's here," she said and pushed into my room. The student she had come with stayed in the hall.
Irritated, I reminded her, "I’m Ms. Mar-LOWE." I decided it wasn't worth telling her that we didn't even have a Ms. Marlane in the school.
Ms. Washington turned to face me and just blinked. “Yeah. We need the textbook.”
I sighed. "I think this is a misunderstanding. I don't have it. I didn't even get the textbooks I requested for yearbook."
Ms. Washington ignored me. “It’s got a black wire binder..."
I interrupted her. “I can tell you that I have no textbooks, and I’ve never gotten textbooks from anyone."
“Well,” long pause, “Can you check?”
“And where would you like me to check?” I didn't know whether or not to burst out laughing or start screaming.
Ms. Washington motioned towards my desk. “In there, in case someone put it in there.”
People hide textbooks in my desk? Unbelievable. Walking to my desk, I noticed that the student in the hall had disappeared. Smart girl. Would Ms. Washington ever disappear so I could get some work done? I pulled open my desk drawers. “You’re welcome to look if you’d like,” I said, gesturing to them.
Ms. Washington suddenly pointed at my bookshelf. “What are all those?”
I raised my eyebrows. Was she joking? “They're yearbooks."
“These are all yearbooks? That's a lot of yearbooks."
"Well, you know, I am the YEARBOOK teacher." It was becoming skin-crawlingly clear that my assistant principal of curriculum didn't know who I was or what I taught. But hey, it was only the second semester of the school year.
She walked over to the shelf, pulled out a yearbook, flipped through it, then put it back on the shelf. I leaned against my desk with my arms crossed, watching her. She went through four yearbooks this way. Did she think I had hidden the TSP workbook inside one of the yearbooks? Did she even remember why she was here?
Ms. Washington rifled through a few more books and then stopped, turning back to me. “So you’ve never seen it.” This time, she phrased her question as a declarative statement. Was this progress? Unfamiliar as I was with her rules of engagement, I didn’t respond but just blinked at her.
We stared at each other in silence for a second or two, then she moved toward the door. "Well, Ms. Marlane, when you find it let me know."
"Sure thing, Ms. Portland," I said as she left the room. I couldn't resist.
Ms. Washington stopped and turned back toward me. For a brief second, I wondered if she'd realized I was mocking her and my stomach sank. Crap, I'd gone too far. Instead, she gestured to the empty hallway: "Where'd Keisha go? She was right here."
"You mean the student? I don't know. You could try Ms. Mar-LANE'S room. Kids usually hang out there during her conference period."
Ms. Washington nodded and moved down the hall, looking for a student she would never find in a teacher's room that didn't exist.
I shut and locked the door, remembering the last time Ms. Washington had come to my room. It was two months ago and she said she had folders for special ed students “who are in your first period.” When I told her that I didn't have a first-period class, she shoved the folder into my hands anyway and left. I opened the folder to see the IEPs of three students. Printed on the outside of the folder in black marker was another teacher's name, Coach Willard. He teaches social studies.
Maybe the TSP workbook is in his room?
Monday, November 16, 2015
I've had people ask if I'm making up some of the experiences I, uh, experienced in public schools. I'm not, but as you read this one, pretend I made it up if it helps you get through the post without an aneurysm.
It’s probably a bad sign if, during a staff meeting, your principal tries to crack a joke, but no one laughs or smiles, even politely.
During our last two PD sessions, you could hear the Special Ed department coughing loudly throughout the principal’s “motivational” speeches. The department members are exhausted and probably sick as a result of the administration’s constant interference. And we all know that the best response to a bad joke is a loud, phlegmy cough.
Since the school is leaking teachers like a sieve, the principal felt it was important to let us know that she is VERY disappointed in our efforts. She expects a lot more from us, she said.
First, Mrs. Gibbons said she understood that the staff is concerned about what's happening at the school, particularly in light of the latest state investigation. *cough cough* Then she tells us that we should ignore it and forge ahead because “it takes a village.” *loud cough*
I’m not sure how that was supposed to motivate us, as the village is shrinking and the villagers are grabbing torches and pitchforks. Next, she made a joke about how we all need to “be on her bus,” because a bus is a place where all teachers want to be – right?
I sat in the semi-silence, staring at the clock, listening to the coughs and wondering how she got this job. She doesn't seem to understand what teachers do, how they do it or what her role is in all of this. The students don’t even like her because they find her disingenuous (my word, not theirs. Theirs rhymed with “witchy.”)
The lights suddenly went out, and the overhead projector came on. The entire staff was forced to watch a videotaped skit, in which the principal and some other members of the administration acted out the importance of “getting on Ms. Gibbons’ bus.” Everyone was wearing clown wigs and heavy greasepaint makeup for some reason, as they all climbed onto the bus, only to be greeted by our simpering, winking principal, who was sitting at the steering wheel, yanking it this way and that to punctuate her lines. All the actors were speaking in high-pitched, squealing voices, so I couldn’t make out a single word of dialogue.
A senior English teacher who was sitting next to me cleared her throat and muttered, “I really don’t think she knows how to drive that thing. Is she trying to pull the steering wheel off the column?”
Spanish teacher stared in horror and said, “What’s with the winking? I feel like someone’s about to get molested.”
Chemistry squinted and grimaced. “Why is it HER bus? Her personal bus? And it's one of those short buses too.”
After several more unintelligible spoken words, everyone on the bus yelled “Yay!” The camera switched to a wide shot of the bus rocking from side to side, and then a frame decorated with balloons and the words “The End” flashed on the screen.
The lights came up, and the principal smiled broadly. “Wasn’t that fun?” she asked, and then encouraged us to give a “big hand” to the members of the administration who helped with the video.
Someone started coughing again, loudly, and then there was an uneven smattering of applause. Most of the staff members looked down at the floor.
For a second, I thought about raising my hand and asking if the video would be available on YouTube, or emailed out to the staff for review. Then I felt it – a burst of inspiration. It hit me so hard it felt like a concussion, but that’s the price you pay for brilliance.
Later in the day, after sending out a couple of emails, I had what I needed, which was the file of the bus video. The assistant principal who sent it to me wrote, “I hope this helps.”
Boy did it. As the media teacher, this was a godsend. I finally had a good, short video to show my class that contained multiple examples of what NOT to do when videotaping a scene. Everything I needed was in it - lighting mistakes, poor framing, bad editing cuts, poor sound quality and a lack of a coherent storyline. Nothing could illustrate my points better than Ms. Gibbons and her message about “getting on [her] bus”. I could even break it down and go over it frame by frame to show each error.
You’re right, Ms. Gibbons, it DOES take a village. I appreciate the village even more for helping to educate my class.
Monday, November 9, 2015
Another post from my time in public school - it's like I'm walking down memory lane, and I suddenly get trapped in the bushes. So I'd like you to experience that feeling with me.
My school is in trouble with the law and the state. Again.
It’s not just the school; the entire district is under investigation. Seniors across the district were put into certain classes and told that they would count as credit towards graduation. For example, students who failed AP level classes were told that because it was AP, failing it still meant passing at the regular level. Where they got this idea, no one knows. Unfortunately, the counselors were either lying or being lied to, because hundreds of seniors are now being told that they don’t have enough credits to graduate. Letters are going out saying that students can graduate at the end of the summer if they attend summer school. The front office is swamped with angry parents who want an explanation.
Several of the top brass in the district got canned as a result, and supposedly the district is just getting started cleaning house. The state sent auditors to all the high schools, including ours. The auditors are poring over the records or screaming about the fact that there are no records to look at.
One of the local news stations is camped outside our school to report on the crisis. The principal, who is sick of having a news crew out in front of the building each month and who is calling the crisis a “witch hunt,” told the reporter and camera operator to stay off the school grounds. The crew parked the truck across the street. It warms my heart to see the news crew; they’re like old friends of ours now. I’d like to stroll past, wave and yell out, “Hey Paul!” to the camera operator. Here’s hoping his name is actually Paul.
We’re always operating in crisis mode at CISD. If it’s not a state investigation, it’s fights that lead to criminal charges, or criminal charges against teachers, or something else that the district blew off and is frantically trying to rectify. A few minutes ago I got an email from one of our assistant principals, saying that my teaching certificate is set to expire this year and that it was urgent that I send the new certificate to an HR person immediately. We get a lot of urgent emails like this. One would think that the administration is wetting its pants in a panic all the time. No wonder all the teachers avoid the main office.
What’s weird is that my certificate doesn’t expire for another couple of years, so I pointed that out in my return email. Maybe HR hasn’t been checking on teacher certification, and the state is about to shut us down for having unlicensed teachers. That would explain why the email went out on a Friday evening, ordering us to send copies of our certificates right away. Or someone’s email got hacked, maybe? I’m hoping it’s the latter, but honestly, I don’t care either way. I deleted the email, because this isn’t my problem, CISD. I got my certification from Texas Occupations In Learning (TOIL) program fair and square.
Just once I’d like NOT to get emails like this, or to get an email that says, “Everything’s fine. Just stay the course.” Granted, that would be a waste of time to send and read, but still, one can’t live in a state of perpetual crisis. Or shouldn’t. But if CISD employs you, you do. And if you work for CISD, you get used to making sure that you look good on camera for Paul. I always turn to the side and suck in my stomach, because I hear the camera adds ten pounds.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
I have an unusual topic for IWSG this month. My topic is something I'm concerned about as a teacher, and something that everyone else in the country should think about as well.
I’m sure by now that all of you have seen the video from South Carolina of the white resource officer pulling a black female teen out of the chair after she refused to leave the class. Honestly, this has been on my mind all week, but not for the reasons that you may think.
Everyone has their opinion on what happened – the officer was racist, the girl was a self-entitled punk, the officer used too much force, the girl got what she deserved, etc. I’m not about to argue with anyone’s opinion on why the whole thing happened or how it played out because I’m pretty sure at the end of the argument, we’d both be wrong.
But there’s a question that’s floated through my head whenever I encountered the story in the news, on social media or the like. Despite all the articles I’ve read (trust me, there were many), absolutely no one answered this question.
How SHOULD this situation have been handled?
Yes, I’ve heard people say, “This girl was out of line, but the officer had no right to put his hands on her.” Okay, that seems fair, but it’s still not answering the question. What should the teacher, principal, and officer have done to take care of the situation? A student is disrupting the class and refusing to follow the rules. The teacher can’t teach, and the students in the room are deprived of the right to learn.
What should have happened and who’s qualified to answer that question?
I think it’s fair to weed out those who have never worked with teenagers in a professional capacity before. Having teenage children doesn’t qualify you because your sweet little Maggie probably has never acted like this, nor ever will. Plus, you’d have to have worked with uncooperative, belligerent teens or adults before. I’d say that eliminates everyone except teachers, teacher’s aides, principals, psych ward workers, therapists, juvenile officers, cops and possibly SWAT team negotiators.
I can tell you two ways I’ve seen situations similar to the one in South Carolina handled. And they worked.
1. Hire security and resource officers of color.
When I worked at CISD, the majority of the students were black and Hispanic. So the campus security and resource officers were black and Hispanic, too. Two of them were female. Problems identical to those captured on the video—students refusing to leave the class—were common, and the resource and security officers had to pull belligerent kids out of class regularly. I’ve seen security officers slam kids up against the wall to handcuff him or her, but guess what? The issue of racism or sexism never arose. Why would it? Black students were pulled kicking and screaming from class by black security guards and ditto for Hispanics. Were white kids pulled out of class? Yes, they were pulled out by whatever officer was available. No one seemed to care what color he or she was. The sad truth is that white security guard in South Carolina was doomed the minute he was called in. If he’d refused for fear of being accused of racism if things got ugly (they usually get ugly), he’d have been labeled a bigot. If he went in…Well, he did go in, and we all know how that turned out.
2. Take the class out of the room.
This is a solution I’ve seen used successfully by your better teachers when they have a student who refuses to leave the classroom. They take the class out of the room. They taught their class outside, in the hallway, in the cafeteria or an empty classroom and let the student have the room to him or herself. At this point, the student is trespassing, and the administration can figure out how to handle it. That way, the class isn’t hijacked by a single student and if things do get ugly (I spent years in the trenches, and I can tell you things always get ugly) innocent students aren’t put in harm’s way. The thing is, teachers need to be able to run their classes. Students need to be able to learn in relatively calm environments. A student who will not comply with the rules is a potential danger to everyone else in the room. This isn’t a situation that a teacher can ignore, or handle later because it sends a message to the other students about how they can also behave. If you think I’m overstating this, then you’ve never taught in a public school before.
And unless you HAVE taught in public schools, or worked in law enforcement, sit down and shut up. You’re not offering a solution, you’re just adding to the noise that’s making it impossible for me to teach.
Monday, November 2, 2015
It's time once again to read some of the "gems" I've gotten the fabulous opportunity to grade for the last month in my class. As a writing teacher, having to read some of these sentences means spitting out my Coke Zero, choking on my Coke Zero, or opening a new Coke Zero to avoid making eye contact with the student who wrote it.
By the way, I'm all out of Coke Zero. So send some over if you have any spare cans or bottles because I have papers from two more classes to get through.
By the way, I'm all out of Coke Zero. So send some over if you have any spare cans or bottles because I have papers from two more classes to get through.
Abortion is legal in the first three trimesters.
Look at the Communist leader of the Nazi Party in Germany (Fidel Castro).
Jeffersen knew he was a leader destin to make the world better. He made electricity for the whole word.
Kim Jong-Un is the leader of the only self-reliant country on earth.
A real leader is one who does not care of the situation and is always willing to help.
Experiencing leadership as a senior has been diffcult to grasp.
In order to be a good leader, you shouldn’t be uptight and block out ideas given by people.
Many laws have also been used to justify why they did something.
The people live in this society and they would be living their life there. (This one is my favorite.)
To work hard and have a good job that pays good makes you feel good because your not as worried about paying bills or taking your wife and kids to eat a nice place and then watch a movie.
Reading this, I think we can all agree that stuff is bad.
He's right. Stuff is bad. We all agree, right?
Monday, October 26, 2015
I need to start a new topic for posts, which is “things teachers do that they shouldn’t do.”
Now before you overreact, these aren’t illegal things or necessarily unethical things. These are situations and issues that a teacher really shouldn’t step into, or areas in which he or she shouldn’t intercede.
For my first example, I tried hard to break up a couple that was in my yearbook class. I was only thinking of the greater good – the greater good of the class, that is.
Let’s call this couple Will and Krystle. Will was a big waste of space. He never completed work in or outside of class. His grade typically hovered at a 40. The work that he did turn in was work he’d convinced someone else to “help” him with, meaning that he conned them into doing his work for him. The person conned was usually another girl in the class, as Will tended to be both flirtatious and persuasive.
Krystle was a fair student, who got Bs and Cs. Her boyfriend and her best friend were in the class, so she thought it was tons of fun. I think her boyfriend dragged her grades and work ethic down, but she didn’t see it. I wanted her to see it. BADLY.
Krystle wasn’t really one of my favorite students, and yes, teachers do have favorites, although the good ones try not to make it obvious. But she was MY student and as her teacher, I wanted the best for her. I may not have been her parent, but often teaching is like parenting. You care about the student and want desperately for him or her to grow and improve. She couldn’t do that with Will around.
I overheard Will bragging one time that half of the girls in the class were “into [him],” and that he didn’t have to complete any work because they’d do it for him. The light went on in my head and I was furious. I realized that Elizabeth, another student, had written his last assignment for him. Elizabeth was a freshman and probably had a crush on Will. She was a good student and was eager to “help.” Now I realized why the text didn’t sound anything like Will’s writing.
Krystle and Will had fought over his flirting, so I realized that I’d have to light a fire under Krystle to end the relationship. The fact that Will would get dumped only played a tiny part in my machinations; I was only thinking about the GREATER GOOD.
I began by handing Will his work back when he turned it in and telling him loudly to redo it himself. “This time, it needs to be your work, not Elizabeth’s,” I told him in front of Krystle. Her eyes narrowed to slits and she glared at both Will and Elizabeth.
My next move was to call attention constantly to Will’s talking, particularly if it was to another girl. This caused Will to complain that I was “mean to him” and led the two of them to have at least one argument in the hall.
“Ms. Marlowe, Krystle and Will are fighting a LOT,” another student named Isabel told me one day. “It’s like all they ever do anymore.”
“Oh really?” My eyes got really wide and concerned looking. “About what?”
“I think Krystle’s jealous about him talking to other girls,” Isabel said. “But you know, he’s a player. I don’t know why she’s with him.” She rolled her eyes. “I wish they’d just stop. I’m tired of hearing it.”
Since things were going so well, plan-wise, I did my best to fan the flames by putting them in separate groups for class work, with Will usually in one where he was the only boy. I figured that if he was really a dog, she’d need to keep seeing the behavior and would eventually want it to stop.
That day came one glorious afternoon. I was cleaning up in my classroom when Will stopped by.
“Ms. Marlowe, Krystle and I just broke up.”
“Oh, I’m sorry Will. I’m sure that hurts,” I said, trying not to pump my fists and cackle.
“Yeah, well, she’s way too jealous. I couldn’t put up with it.” He shook his head.
“Oh, so she dumped you?” I asked sympathetically. I didn’t really care who did the dumping, but why waste an opportunity to pretend to feel sorry for someone while twisting the knife?
“What? No, she didn’t –“
“I understand. Really, I do, because you’re just in pain right now. Go home, have a good cry, eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and you’ll feel better.”
“Ms. Marlowe, I didn’t get DUMPED! No one dumps me!”
“I see. Well, who said the words ‘we should break up?’”
“She did, but –“
“There you go,” I interrupted. “You got dumped. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. It’ll take you awhile to get over it. The good news is that Micah thinks Krystle is cute. The better news is that you now have an opportunity to complete your own work and raise your own grade!”
He looked flabbergasted. “Ms. Marlowe, don’t you even care about what happened?”
“Sure I do,” I reassured him. “But eventually you'll stop being sad and crying and –“
Will stomped out of the room angrily, and I went home feeling satisfied that I had accomplished my goal. FOR THE GREATER GOOD.
Monday, October 19, 2015
“Ms. Marlowe, can I talk to you?”
I looked up to see Frank walking into my classroom, wearing his basketball uniform. Luckily it was my conference period, or I would have said “no” and waved him away.
“Sure." He came in and stood in front of my desk. "You look nice," I said.
He nodded, which was not the response I was expecting. “So, um, I’m not passing your class right now…”
“Right...” I said. I like Frank. He's generally a good student, but he quit turning in his work about three weeks ago.
“But we have a game today, uh, you know."
“So, can you boost my grade so I can play today?”
"Frank, this is a joke, right? Because you know it doesn’t work that way.”
“Yeah, I know, but everyone says I have to play!” His eyes are wide, and he looks stressed. I feel sorry for him, but not that sorry.
I fold my arms. “Who's everyone?”
He held out a piece of paper. “The coach said if you sign this, then I can play today.”
I make a mental note to run Coach Hussain down in the parking lot later. “I can’t do that, and he knows it. The rule is that if you aren’t passing by the time progress reports go out, you can’t play for the rest of the six weeks.”
“The principal said it was up to you, that if you said it was okay, then I can play.”
Now I’m furious. I realize that Frank is the best player we have on our mediocre team, but it’s No Pass, No Play in Texas. TCS toughened up that rule, supposedly, because they wanted to emphasize the importance of academics. But it seems the administration is willing to cast the rule aside when it suits them. It's thoughtful of them to put the burden on me so the school "leaders" can say they followed the rules.
This little scene isn’t Frank’s fault. I know he told the coach he couldn't play, but the coach told him to suit up and try to convince me. Frank looks miserable.
I close my eyes for a second and shake my head. “I’m not going to do it, Frank.”
His face sags. “Please?”
“No. I already talked to you about not turning in your work, but you didn’t make any changes.”
“I’ll turn in all my work from now on!”
“I hope you will, but that’s not going to help you right now. I’m not going to break the rules because it won’t teach you anything.”
“No, I promise, it’ll be different! Please!”
I’m beginning to feel like I’m God, and he’s trying to bargain with me. I don’t like it, and I bet God doesn’t usually like it either. “You’re a senior, and you should know the importance of doing your work. I’m sorry that your coach gave you the idea that you could ask me to change the grade, but I don’t bend the rules.”
“But our team will lose!”
“And so will you, ultimately, if you think that asking me to bend the rules is a good idea.”
My conversation with Frank went on for 40 minutes, with him alternately begging or promising to do extra credit work that I didn’t offer him. Finally, Mr. Hussain, the assistant coach, came in.
“Come on Frank, it’s time!”
“I can’t,” he mumbled, “She said she won’t change it.”
Mr. Hussain glanced at me. “The principal said it was fine.”
“That’s nice. I don’t say it’s fine. It’s my class.”
“The principal said he could play because it’s an exhibition game. It doesn’t matter anyway. Come on Frank, let’s go!” He opened my door and walked out, with Frank trailing behind him. He turned to look at me before he left with confusion in his eyes. I shrugged.
The conversation with Frank embarrassed him enough that he did step it up a bit for the rest of the year. He managed to pass for the semester and later told me mine wasn’t the only class he was failing, but I was the only teacher who wouldn’t play ball, so to speak.
I wish this scene was an anomaly during my time at TCS, but it wasn’t. From what I hear from other teachers and have seen at CISD, letting athletes scoot by when it suits them is pretty common. We talk a lot about preparing students for college and adulthood, so maybe this teaches them that rules only apply to the “common folk.”
What did Frank learn? He learned that the people at the top can do what they want and invalidate everything a teacher tries to reinforce in her classroom.
What did I learn? I learned to make sure no one could find me during my conference period.
Monday, October 12, 2015
We teacher types tend to get offended when we hear about how we aren’t “effective” in the classroom, or when articles in national publications claim we need “more training” in order to “be effective.” Teacher effectiveness is a huge concern nowadays.
So I would ask you, you teacher type, do you feel effective?
The obvious answer is, “Yes, of course, I am! I lesson plan and collaborate constantly! I work and slave to try and push my students beyond the bounds of excellence! I get my nutrients from dry erase board fumes!”
Great! But all teachers say that, or think that. So how do you know if you’re getting the job done, effectively? Because even though you may feel like you’re working hard and doing your best, you know that every school has ineffective teachers, just like every workplace has some incompetent workers.
I’ve developed what I call the “Brian test” so that you can see how effective you are as a worker, teacher, and human being. It’s similar to the WWJD movement, except you have to ask “what would Brian do?” The test is based on my experiences with a former TCS teacher who we'll call, for lack of a better word, "Brian."
For instance, you wake up and decide you don’t want to go to work that day. You decide to do one of the following:
a. Get up anyway, because your students will be too far behind if you don’t come in. The test is next week, and you need to review.
b. Call in sick, making your voice sound weak and scratchy. Tell the sub to show them a movie.
c. Go back to sleep. You have a hangover, and there are plenty of other teachers who could handle your class during their conference period. They’ll figure out you’re sick when you don’t show up.
Brian would have picked C. But he would have had a great excuse, great here meaning “entertaining.” One of his no-show excuses was that the neighbor’s cat was stuck in a tree. He, the hero that he was, had to get it down. When someone said, “Aren’t you allergic to cats?” he smiled modestly and said “Well, I couldn’t just STAND there. What kind of person would I be?”
I quickly threw out an answer, but I realized later he wasn’t really looking for a response.
Just in case you’re wondering if YOU might be a Brian, I’m happy to provide a list that answers the question “What would Brian do?”
Brian would do all of the following:
1. Lose student papers
2. Miss grading deadlines
3. Assign a lot of “participation grades” for a class that requires writing.
4. Put post-it notes all over his walls to simulate a “corporate” atmosphere
5. Admit that he’d never worked in a corporate atmosphere, but had watched the movie “Office Space” over and over
6. Not follow specific directions because they seemed too “demanding.”
7. Be the first to show up at staff potlucks, even though he never contributed.
8. Call out other teachers for their unwillingness to help others in a “tight spot,” even though he’s too busy to help out.
9. Give your principal or department head lots of ideas for ways to “improve” processes at the school that just create more work for everyone.
10. Not return parent calls and emails, and call in sick on parent conference day.
11. Complain about other teachers who “just don’t care as much.”
12. Walk into another class during instruction to ask if you can borrow $10 so you can get lunch because you forgot to bring yours.
13. Complain about how rude the teacher was when he or she asked you to leave and talk to him/her later.
So how can we avoid more Brians teaching classes? We can’t. Every workplace has deadwood, and schools are no exception. There’s always going to be a Brian, strolling into work half an hour late and leaving early each day for some vague “appointment.” You’ve worked with a Brian, or you work with one now. The Brians have nothing to do with “ineffective teaching.” They’re ineffective WORKERS, and they always will be.
So let’s raise a glass to all the Brians out there, unless they’ve already come in and taken all the glasses and coffee mugs out of the staff kitchen, to use for a class object lesson. The object lesson is “Brian is planning on having some friends over.”
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
What am I insecure about? Does anyone really care?
I probably don’t. I’m one of those “suck it up and get it done” type people. So I can’t say that my insecurities, or anyone else’s, have been on my mind much. I don't want to depress myself by dwelling on my inadequacies, so I just try to improve them or ignore them. Hopefully, I can keep working to improve, especially in my writing. So do something about it or shut up, I tell myself when I start to agonize about life and the written word. No one wants to hear your whining.
Of course, IWSG does want to hear whining, albeit on a limited basis (once a month). I had to dig deep to figure out what to write about this month. Usually, I like to bury my worries deep, DEEP down until they threaten to choke me. Then I let them erupt in a display of lights, colors and chicken wings. By the way, if you haven’t eaten Hooter’s 3 Mile Island Wings during an emotional outburst, you’re missing out. You can’t feel worried or upset if you’ve got a plate of those inside you. I mean, you can, but your worries take a distinctly different bent.
Seriously, though, the only concern I have is the fact that a soon-to-be former friend signed me up for a 5K run in December. What’s wrong with that?
I DON’T RUN. AT ALL.
The race is an event that helps a cause near and dear to my heart, which is me getting to take a super cheap trip to New Orleans. My friend said that signing up meant that we’d have a great place to stay and access to some cool events which are usually sold out, courtesy of another friend who’s coordinating it and who wants us there.
Cheap trip, great food, friends around, what could go wrong? Me running, that’s what. First of all, I don’t want to, because running feels like dying. I can feel my body disintegrating with each step. Second, I’ll have to start training for it, so I don’t embarrass myself. My friend says I can walk it, but I don’t want to be keeping pace with the “over 70” or “under 12” or "suffering from MS" crowd. Third, I still don’t want to. I like to exercise, but not to run.
I asked if I could ride my bike, but she said no. Apparently using Rollerblades or a Segway is frowned upon as well. I told her I didn’t want to be part of such a narrow-minded group of people who can’t embrace differences, and she just told me to shut up and get some Asics. She’s got our practice route mapped out and keeps nagging me to get started. "You'll love it!" she assured me. "You'll feel such a sense of accomplishment!"
I feel a sense of accomplishment and more fulfilled when I put away that plate of 3 Mile Island wings. But I haven't been able to weasel out of the 5K yet. So I'm grudgingly going outside and stomping on the asphalt. Wish me luck! I'm hoping luck comes in the form of temporary lower body paralysis, the kind that hits one day of the year and lasts about 8 hours.
Monday, October 5, 2015
I thought I'd give you a blast from my past at TCS, just for fun. This incident happened three years ago, and I still shake my head over it.
“Dear Ms. Marlowe,
Please be advised that your lesson plans could not be found in Eduphoria as required. Lesson plans should be uploaded by Sunday at 5 pm. Please be aware that failure to post lesson plans can result in a negative evaluation, and could affect your future employment at TCS.”
I saw a link highlighted at the bottom of the text, so I clicked on it, because clearly, not having uploaded my lesson plans, I have tons of free time right now. Except that I know I submitted the plans like I do every single day. And since when is the deadline 5 pm on Sunday? This is news to me.
The link opened up a calendar. I clicked on each Monday, and it showed which teachers had lesson plans in place in the scheduling and planning software. My name was listed.
“What the heck is she talking about?” I wondered. She might have mistaken me for Ms. Martinez again, but I'm not really sure how that's possible, as Ms. Martinez quit three months ago. But hey, that would explain why she didn't have her lesson plans submitted.
I emailed back. “My apologies, Ms. Lear, but I did upload my plans. The link for this past Sunday shows that I had them in the Friday prior, which is what I normally do. I'm glad to know about the deadline, as I was unaware of it. However, as to this omission, I assume that perhaps an error was made?”
I hit "send" and patted myself on the back for being so professional in pointing out this administrator's idiocy. To be honest, I'm still steamed about the time she announced she was giving out “awards” to teachers who were consistently on time to work for the past month, and I didn't get an award, even though I’ve never been late. I didn’t really want the $5 gift card to Starbucks anyway, but somehow, NOT getting it made me even madder. You'll be happy to hear that I pointed out the omission to the entire administration. Three times.
A reply email popped up about an hour later.
“Dear Ms. Marlowe,
No error was made. Please check the date of the 15th. The deadline was emailed out to all teachers at the beginning of the school year.”
Is she smoking crack? I go in and check on Sunday the 15th. My lessons were in there, but they were saved at 8 pm, three hours late. Okay, so they were three hours late – but that was four weeks ago!
I begin checking other dates. Every single week, my lesson plans were saved by the deadline, except on Sunday the 15th.
To recap for those who are just joining this post, Ms. Lear is sending me a disciplinary email, cc’d to the principal, for being three hours late submitting my plans A MONTH AGO, despite the fact that I’ve never been late with them before or after this event. Why didn’t she send this to me a month ago, when it would have made sense? More importantly, I didn’t even know what the deadline was, but I still met it every week.
Is this why I didn't get my gift card?
I'm mulling my options, which are as follows:
Option 1: I email her back and tell her she’s an idiot.
Option 2: Do nothing and ignore it.
Option 3: I email her back and tell her I would appreciate getting more immediate feedback in the future.
Option 4: I send this email to every other teacher I know to show what a moron she is.
Option 4a: Do option 4, plus ask her for my gift card every time I see her in the hall.
If you figure out which option I picked, I will SAY that I'll send you a $5 Starbucks gift card.
Monday, September 28, 2015
I take photos of students when they fall asleep during lessons. I print them out and put them on a bulletin board in my classroom.
Why would I do such a thing? Allow me to give my educational-sounding explanation first.
I teach yearbook and journalism, so photography is part of what I teach. Students need to understand that to be a photojournalist, they must constantly be ready for anything. Interesting events happen all the time around the school, so it’s important to document them.
“But why photos of sleeping students? That’s not very interesting,” you may say. My response to that is that taking photos of someone snoozing in class is good practice. You learn how lighting, angles and shadows affect your subject. You learn how to take the shot without disturbing your subject, and candid shots are always better than posed ones. Some photos of sleepers can be hilarious, or even artistic. What better way to demonstrate to the students how to practice than to have them shoot something they see every day, which is a teen falling asleep in class? That's why the camera is always ready on my desk.
That’s the explanation I give to administrators and sometimes to parents.
The students already know the purpose of the sleeping pictures: public humiliation. As the teacher, I’m documenting how many times a student is out of it in my class, while capturing the bobbing head and trail of drool at the same time. It’s fun when parents come in to talk about their child’s performance in my class and look up to see a photo of their angel snoring away.
“Ms. Marlowe, you CAN’T put my photo up! That’s not fair! I didn’t give you permission!” students will sometimes protest, thinking that the rules of social media apply here. I kindly point out that this is MY classroom, MY camera, it’s a PUBLIC space, and that any photos I take are the property of the school and me, so tough luck. Some students have tried to tear down their pictures, but most just stop complaining when they see they’re in good company. The rest try harder to stay alert. I’m an equal opportunity shamer, and I'll get a shot of anyone who's napping.
The real reason? It’s funny and injects some much-needed humor into the classroom. So allow me to end with a few choice photos of former students.
Monday, September 21, 2015
“I don’t get this word.”
I was teaching a seventh-grade class, and we were reading the John Steinbeck story “The Red Pony.” The students had to do a certain amount of reading on their own, but since many of them struggled to read at grade level, we also did some reading in class.
“What word are you talking about, Eduardo?” I asked.
“Umm, this word,” he says, pointing. “Gel-ding.”
“No, it’s JEL-ding,” Samantha corrected him.
“Actually, it’s GEL, with a hard G,” I said. “But Samantha, do you want to explain what it means?” If she knew, that’s fine, because I liked to have the students instructing each other.
She shook her head. “I don’t know what it means. But my brother said he thought it had a juh sound.”
“Okay, well, a gelding is a young male horse that’s been, uh, castrated.” Suddenly I realized the mess I walked into when I answered the question because you know what the students asked next.
“What does castrated mean?” This question came from a group of boys who looked VERY interested. One added, “Yeah, I’ve heard the word, but I don’t know what it means.”
Wow, this was not what I wanted to explain to a group of 12-13-year-olds. I thought frantically to try and come up with a generic answer, but I knew it wouldn’t work and would just provoke more questions.
I took a deep breath. “Castration is the process of removing the horse’s testicles to –“
Just then the principal walked into the room. She stopped when she heard the word “testicles” and turned her head toward me expectantly. I, um, kind of trailed off.
In my defense, I wasn’t doing anything wrong, as I kept pointing out to her later when she told the story to the entire teacher’s lounge at lunch. I was imparting knowledge. KNOWLEDGE.
Monday, September 14, 2015
Sometimes the hardest part of the day for a teacher isn’t all the paperwork, or ridiculous requirements from the district, or the non-understanding of the administration. For some teachers, first period is a nightmare, because they’re trying to get students to wake up and respond. For others, Fridays means either general restlessness or apathy. Or a teacher may have a hard time handling group work, or long tests.
I can handle all that pretty well. For me, the most difficult thing to handle is when students begin to whine and complain about whatever it is we’re doing.
“But Miss, I don’t like writing!”
“But Miss, I hate group work!”
“But I don’t FEEL like doing this! It’s too hard!”
“Why do you have to give us writing assignments? I’m not good at writing!”
“But Miss, can’t you give us something easier?”
“But Miss, how come you never let us watch a movie?”
When kids are around, there’s sure to be whining. It doesn’t matter what the age is. Most veteran parents know this. They either become deaf to it or turn themselves inside out trying to reason with a kid.
For me, whining causes me to become homicidal. I really don't care what the opinions are on the classwork because it's got to be done, so I feel they should shut up and do it. Sometimes I can reason the students out of the complaints. Other times I can feel myself getting mean. Teenagers are old enough to listen and understand logic, but younger kids – not so much. I do wonder if a teacher can turn it around with the students, sort of in a reverse psychology way.
For example, today I had several students who felt that it was the perfect day to complain about absolutely everything we had to do in class. I didn’t check to see if there was a full moon, but maybe that would explain it. In most of my classes, I just pretended to be deaf and repeated the directions, though my voice was getting steadily louder. Then I wondered if the students would like a taste of their own medicine. How do you think it would work if my voice went up two octaves, and I started saying things like this:
“But WHY can’t you turn in your work on time?”
“I don’t LIKE it when students don’t put their names on their papers!”
“I HATE incomplete work!”
“Why won’t you ever listen to me??!!”
“But I don’t FEEL like grading this! It’s crap!”
I think all of these would probably work well if I stomped my feet and threw papers on the floor, don’t you?
Anyway, I’m curious to know if any other teachers have a way to end the nonstop complaints. I’m all ears, unless I just don’t FEEL like it! *stomp stomp*
Monday, September 7, 2015
Ah, bad writing. Where would we be without it? What else can quickly bring together snarky bloggers, writers and teachers so they can loudly condemn it?
Look, most students are trying their best when they write essays, believe me, they are. But sometimes teachers have students who write sentences like the ones you’ll read below and as a result, those teachers weep loudly for the future of humanity. You can probably hear them now.
I used to think horrible writing was the result of students not knowing the rules of good grammar and sentence structure. Then I got emails from the parents of these students, and I realized the apple that fell from the tree hit the entire family hard enough to cause brain damage. At least I hope that’s what happened. One of the parents is a radiologist.
I’ll say no more, but instead I’ll let Junior's writing do the talking.
Most celebrities these day's makes millions of dollars. Some deserves the money others don't.
A profession is a vocation a person chooses in specializing academically to train for the job that they want to have.
Professions are not worth more than others because most people chooses what they want to do and others just do it to explore new things in life and sometimes succed in it.
Celebraties make too much money than they shoul. For example singers charge to much money for a cople of hours in a private concert. One good example would be the amount of money that my cousin had to pay so that she had a private concert for her 15th party. She had to pay around two thousand so that her favorite group could sing her some songs.
Everyone is worrying about how they're going to pay for their expenses, but I think life wouldnt have much meaning if everything was at your fingertips.
Celebrities make an exceeding amount for what they do.
Others may even have a uncomparable education when it comes to celebrities and still not make anywhere near one-fifth of what celebrities makes a month.
Making someone laugh or smile may be great job that helps others, but when it comes to the matter of importance, celebrities are completely void in the matter.
all celebrities are paid depending on the movie, their espression, their movement, but mostly if they can be and act
The harshful comments and reviews from critics and the people?
I’m not sure what that last semi-sentence meant, but I would agree that the question mark at the end of it was warranted.
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
I’ve got to upgrade my wardrobe.
Since starting at Debut Academy, I’ve realized that I dress like a homeless person. My lack of fashion wasn’t an issue when I worked at TCS or Low Expectations High, because… well, look at the names. Plus, if you dressed up you were a target, either of the students or the administration. Wearing nice clothes screamed “rookie!” and you might find yourself either getting sucker-punched in the back of the head or given “extra duties” thanks to your exemplary attire.
I’m sort of kidding about the student part, mostly, but teachers try to dress as comfortably as they can because they have to deal with students all day. Teachers can expect to get dirty, even if they don’t teach science or art, and they need comfortable shoes and elastic waists to accommodate the stress eating.
My insecurity for this month’s IWSG post is over my wardrobe. I’m lazy enough that I want to dress like a writer, however that is (I assume it involves sweatpants – fingers crossed!). But since Debut has an upper middle class to VERY upper-class student population, my schlubby Title I school clothes aren’t cutting it.
The problem is that unlike most women, I absolutely HATE to shop for clothing. I hate to shop for most things, but clothes shopping is particularly awful. I’m not a weird size or clueless about what looks good on me (although I could stand to drop at least 10 pounds, thanks to CISD, because I feel like blaming the district for my lack of self-control); it’s just something I really hate doing. I resent the fact that I need to buy nicer things.
So I’ve gritted my teeth and walked through a few stores, but it’s hard to buy nice clothes on a teacher’s salary. I can afford things at lower end stores, but the quality is terrible, and the items won’t last through more than two or three washings. Now I’m trying to figure out a “uniform” of sorts so that I don’t have to think about what I wear. Maybe I should buy four pairs of black pants and the same blouse in four different colors. If students and other teachers think I wear the same stuff all the time, that’s fine by me. I just have to get through the week without having to do laundry multiple times or without stinking.
Monday, August 31, 2015
People don’t quit at CISD. They get “let go.”
I’ve pondered this phenomenon for the last week or so, as I've heard back from teachers I worked with at CISD who stayed and who left. The teacher turnover rate at my CISD school, hereby known as Low Expectations High, stood at more than 60 percent by May. So each year, Low High and the rest of Crappy had to replace two-thirds of the staff. Since we all know (or should know) that kids tend to like stability and routine, this doesn’t bode well for any campus.
Most of those teachers quit. A handful left within the first week. A third left at the end of the first semester. Meanwhile, teachers dropped out here and there as they burned out or decided they’d put up with enough. The rest of the deserters refused to re-up their contracts when the year ended.
Only a tiny amount got fired, or their contracts weren’t renewed. A school like Low, which is hemorrhaging teachers, can’t afford to boot out a lot. Low High had a reputation in the area, and attracting new talent was extremely difficult. But the administration still put out the story that each teacher that left was “let go.”
For example, take Coach Johnson. Coach Johnson is extremely imposing in appearance, at 6 foot 6 inches tall and 260 pounds. If he decides to stand over a student, that student’s speech immediately begins to falter, and his/her eyes grow big and round. Despite this, Coach Johnson is the most polite, soft-spoken and gentle man you could ever meet. But he sure knows how to turn on the intimidation when he needs to, which helped since he oversaw ISS students and ran detention every day.
Coach Johnson left at the end of the first semester. Like most good teachers, he could see that working at CISD was a dead end. I’m sure Coach didn’t like his job – I wouldn’t if my job was to be in charge of behavior problems. But he did like coaching football, and he was highly skilled at it. Coach found a job at an organization where he would contract out to coach independent youth football leagues in different communities. I’m sure he’s much happier now, and he didn’t leave on bad terms with the school. Still, the school put out the story that he was fired.
That’s ridiculous, especially if you know anything about Low, Texas, and football. Coach Johnson was a phenomenal offensive coordinator, with a wealth of experience, and Low had tried to go to state for years. There’s no way the administration would have fired him unless they caught him with a stash of child pornography. Everyone knows that football coaches are pretty much above the law in CISD. If you can win games, the administration will hang on to you like grim death, or start throwing money your way if it suspects you're looking at other options.
A freshman English teacher left one morning in early February. The students said he was fired. But once again, I know the teacher and the real story. Mr. Kammel, a thin, nervous, goateed, horn-rimmed glasses hipster, had only taught for two years, and he started at Low Expectations High. He seemed nice enough, and I wondered aloud to some of my coworkers how he’d lasted here for more than a month, much less two years.
Mr. Kammel had come in before school started on a Tuesday with a note from his doctor, saying he needed to go on leave for extreme anxiety and stress. He had left before first period started. But the students apparently got the message from someone that he was fired, since that is the story they spread.
I’m sure it was the same when I left. I quit, which looks bad because I’m the yearbook teacher, and it means that the new yearbook teacher will have to start from scratch like I did. But the administration probably said I was fired, so it looks like they’re in control.
Realistically, no business can boot that many people. A school doing that much firing has an administration that doesn't know how to hire. It says more about the principal than the teachers who leave. No one is going to sympathize with her for having so many unreliable teachers. I don’t get why she keeps claiming that teachers were “let go,” thinking it makes it look like the problem is the teachers, not the school. It makes it look like Low is completely out of control, which it was, and still is. We bled out staff like crazy, and no one tried to stop it. If Low were a stabbing victim, blood would be pooling under his gurney while nurses yelled at him to get up and change his own damn gauze and to quit making so much noise as well.
During the last week of school, Mrs. Gibbons, the principal, sent out an email, saying that we had eight teachers out one day, and she needed our help to cover those classes. She was “trusting us to step up and help out because it takes a village.”
I appreciate a good cliché as much as anyone, but I just couldn’t see the silver lining, and didn’t feel like making lemons out of lemonade. I deleted the email, because the village was burning into the ground anyway, and she never said what the village is supposed to DO. This villager had already loaded up her cart and was heading for the highway, waiting to flag down a passing car.
Although I'm sure the official story is that I was "let go."
Monday, August 24, 2015
So, school is now underway. I’ve met my students and walked them through the expectations and procedures for my class. I’m feeling pretty upbeat about this new school year.
Except when it comes to tech support.
Remember how I said tech support here is a bit lacking? It’s more than a bit. Granted, it’s just a minor part of the day to day processes at Debut Academy, but it still has me worried.
During the first two days of school, the attendance program didn’t work. We were all trying to enter our attendance during each class period, but it didn’t work. The computer cursor kept blinking and cycling. After third period, I was frustrated enough to quit trying to make the program work, and instead just called the office with my attendance. I had to leave a message on the clerk’s voicemail because 30 other teachers were doing the same.
Since attendance is KIND of a big deal, I emailed IT during my off period to let them know that mine wasn’t working, per the office secretary’s suggestion. Teachers kept popping their heads in my door as they passed to ask, “Is the attendance working for you?”
Luckily, Kevin, our doughy IT guru, got back to me pretty quickly. Nothing could have prepared me for his baffling response. His email said, and I quote, “Did you try hitting Send?”
I resisted the urge to email him back and say "Oh my gosh, that NEVER occurred to me! And you're saying I need to open the program before trying to use it?" What are the odds that every teacher in the building was so clueless that we all screwed up attendance at once, for the entire day, in the same way? Wouldn’t that suggest a system problem? But hey, he is the “expert” (I think it’s appropriate to use quotation marks here.)
Attendance issues aside, this wasn’t the first sign that IT isn’t functioning well. I found out the other day that Debut's IT doesn’t fix or improve our technology; it actually makes it worse. Adam, another teacher in my department, can’t use the computer docking station provided with his school-issued laptop. You use the docking station from your computer to control the ELMO, smart board, LED projector, printer, and even the microwave.
I’m just kidding about it controlling the microwave, but seriously, I still can’t figure out why each room in the school comes with a microwave situated right next to the docking station. I use mine to heat up my chimichangas.
Adam tells me that every time he docks his laptop, the screen turns blue and begins a memory dump. Apparently, he kept bugging IT about fixing it last year, and as a result, Adam’s laptop disappeared for weeks so the tech guys could fix it. When it came back, several files were missing, and the printer driver had been reconfigured so that it would only print to an inkjet on the other side of the building. Oh, by the way, the laptop STILL wouldn’t work with the docking station.
Yesterday I was talking to Adam in my room when Dave, one of the IT guys, came by to ask if everything was working okay. Personally, I think he was just there because he smelled the chimichangas cooking. “Everything’s good here,” I said. Dave nodded and turned to go when I remembered. “Oh yes! Adam still can’t use his docking station.”
Adam gave me a frantic look that said, “Shut up, you moron,” but it was too late. Dave looked concerned and stepped back into the room. “Oh, I’ll need to take a look at that!” Adam quickly assured him that he’d bring the laptop by later when he finished with what we were doing (nothing).
Dave left, after telling Adam to make sure he came by before 2 pm. Adam turned to me and said, “You know what? Don’t help. Really, just don’t. He’s not tech support; he’s a butcher.”
“So why is he still around?” I asked.
Adam shrugged. “He responds to emails promptly.”
Adam still can’t use his docking station, but on the upside his microwave doesn’t work either, which could explain why he’s the only member of the 9th grade team whose rear end doesn’t spill over the sides of his ergonomic desk chair.
IT is the one non-bright spot so far at DA. But if that’s the only tradeoff for working in a decent place, I’ll gladly take it. I don’t mind tackling the occasional computer problem myself. Anyone know what startup error code 0x00000074 means?