Friday, February 27, 2015

Where Teachers Can't Teach Teachers to Teach

I just got an email from our fearless principal, which was full of typos and misplaced modifiers.  She wanted to let us know that we are expected back at school on Monday (thank goodness, because I totally forgot,) and that we’ll spend the entire day having professional development sessions with fun names like “How can I accommodate you?” 

Not to be critical, but that session sounds a little pervy. I don’t think I want to find out what’s going on in there.

Still one has to admire the district’s firm resolve to make damn sure we get sufficient training.  One might have to admire it, but I’m not sure who that one is.  No one can say we weren’t trained now!  They might say we’re exhausted, tense, hollow-eyed, insulted, demeaned and insulted again, but they can never say we weren’t trained!

You know what I’d like to see, though?  Training that’s practical and actually helpful.  A big problem in the education world is to give training that’s predicated on being in the “ideal situation.”  The ideal situation is kids who are calm, compliant, and who actually are interested in what you have to teach them.  Maybe someday I’ll teach those kids from “Village of the Damned,” but no luck yet.  Fingers crossed!

We’ve had plenty of training and been given tips that don’t make sense in the real world, like “make sure none of your kids are putting their heads down on their desks.”   I can see why that’s important, particularly in a violent school, where discipline is minimal and the administration isn’t going to back me up on anything.  Waking up a kid is vital, otherwise the classroom will descend into animal madness and the students will probably be peeing in corners.  To be honest, if that kid sleeps, he’ll be quiet and less likely to bother the rest of the class.  Maybe someone can learn then.  Plus, tapping a tired kid on the shoulder repeatedly to wake him up just doesn’t turn out well.

People called “instructional specialists” (“Instructionalizing the criminals of tomorrow, today!  In your classroom.”) prefer that we use “strategies” to engage the kids.  Another word for these strategies is “gimmicks,” because that’s what they are, ways to distract the kids from the fact that they might be learning.  Think-pair-share, gallery walks, KWL charts, making foldables – these are all things that I can’t imagine asking my students to do with a straight face.  I don’t like doing them, because I feel that I’m being patronized when I do.  If I want to patronize my students, I don’t need a gimmick to do it, anyway.  Foldables will end up on the floor, the K-W-L charts are usually left blank or have “IDK” in one of the columns.  A gallery walk would be disastrous, because I already know what lovely images I’m going to find drawn on sheets of paper hanging on the walls. 
Another part of training that baffles me is learning from someone who has never used the techniques or programs they want us to use.  Here I’m thinking specifically of anyone who wants me to put kids in small groups that rotate.  I’ve noticed that when you ask them how you’re supposed to control the classroom while you’re working with one group, they say vague things like, “Well, you’ll train them.”  What a novel concept!  I thought they’d just feel it in the air and comply.  When I pushed and asked how it worked in one facilitator’s class, she admitted that she’d never used this particular technique/program when she taught.  I’ll call that “theoretical training for a theoretical classroom, presented by theoretical trainers.”  I bet they get paid more than I do, too, theoretically.  

I decided to look over the session names again for Monday.  I like this one, a session called “Make it Personal.”  I do a great job with that, particularly when I have to write comments on essays.  Come to think of it, maybe I should make it less personal.

I’m sure one of you reading this is thinking, “This teacher is what’s wrong with schools today.  See?  She doesn’t care, and she doesn’t WANT to learn or improve!” Well, all I can say to you is, why don’t you think-pair-share with someone who cares.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

We'd love to help, but, you know...

I’m thrilled to say that I now have a co-teacher for my horrible remediation classes.  I don’t know that she’s much help yet, but that’s mostly because I’ve taken a proactive approach to discipline.  Piss me off, and you’re leaving the room.  I don’t care about writing the student up (but I will) or even contacting their parents (though I do), but if you’re disrupting my class, get the hell out.

I can’t figure out whether students today are used to acting out or if it’s a socio-economic thing.  Realistically, not all these kids are poor.  But they act like they were raised in a barn. 

I had a meeting a week ago with two administrators who were “concerned” about my sending kids to the office.  I told them what I said above – sometimes the kid needs to get the hell out so others can learn.  They wanted to talk about my classroom management style, but I didn’t.  My style is fine.  If you give me 60 kids with serious attention and behavior issues, it doesn’t matter what my style is.  By the way, my style is now falling under “drill sergeant/borderline police officer with anger management issues.”
“What about giving them incentives?”  Did it already.  They didn’t care.  “What about meeting with them individually and going over their scores?”  Did it too.  They’re convinced that if they passed the STAAR test on the third try, it means they’re just as smart as anyone else.  “Did you contact the parents?”  Yes, and I’ve gotten no response.  “You could try to make the lessons more fun and play some games.”  Did that as well, and half the class refused to participate.  The other half began to throw things and wrestle with each other.  “Tell them if they finish five lessons in a week, they can have free time.”  They don’t WANT to finish the lessons because they’re too short-sighted to realize what’s at stake.  They want to goof off NOW.  “Well, you can’t send them to the office.  That’s what they want, to get out of class!”  Uh, no they don’t.  They want to stay in class and waste time because that’s where their friends are.  Sitting in the office under a principal secretary’s watchful eye is boring, and they don’t want to do that. Plus, no one's around to hear their various witty remarks, like "you suck!" 

I think what both irritates and amuses me about this “discipline strategy meeting” is that it’s coming from two administrators who are younger than me, and who clearly have no idea what teenagers are like.  Realistically, dealing with teenagers is like dealing with toddlers – the whining, the fits, the requests for ice cream and toys all the time.  These aren’t rational adults. 

Come to think of it, our administrators aren’t rational adults either.  If they’re so good at discipline and have all the answers, why on earth did our school have such a disastrous discipline assembly?  One administrator read aloud from a PowerPoint about all the bad things that would happen if you broke the rules.  The kids squirmed in their seats, talked, threw things and played with the phones they aren’t supposed to have.   Kind of seemed like they were, you know, breaking the rules. 

I could have done something or said something, but I didn’t.  I’m just a teacher who doesn’t understand how to discipline effectively.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

In the line of fire, but not in a GOOD way

We had a fire drill today.  Do you remember those?  Kids file quietly out of the school under the watchful supervision of their teachers, line up and silently wait for the signal to go back to class.

Yeah, I don’t remember those either.  It helps that our school sends out a warning about the fire drill two or three days in advance, and then puts an announcement on the loudspeaker REMINDING us about the fire drill that’s going to happen in five minutes.

My fourth period class knew it was coming.  A teacher had told them already.  In my opinion, that sucks the fun out of hearing the students complain about how loud the alarm is.  Isn’t a drill supposed to be a surprise, so you can, you know, practice for an emergency?

Our route was very intuitive.  We’re towards the back of the school, so naturally, our emergency plan designates our meeting place as the front parking lot.  This probably gives the students plenty of time to calm down as they’re choking on the smoke. 

I managed to lose four of my students on the way out, but I can honestly say it wasn’t my fault.  You try cramming more than three thousand students into the hallways at once and see if you can keep everyone together.  But I was prepared.  I brought my red and green sheets to signal whether I had all my students together.*

We calmly walked those seven miles out the front doors to the parking lot, and I tried my best to keep all the students from wandering off.  I looked for an administrator, and finally saw one waaaaayyyy over on the other side of the parking lot.  No one was holding up their green or red sheets.  Maybe they were going to come around and check the classes individually.  I waited for awhile, but nothing was happening. 

Finally I elbowed my way out of a knot of students and waved my red sheet in the air.  An administrator turned and looked at me.  He nodded gravely.  I held up four fingers and pointed to the sheet.  He nodded again, then called out, “Okay, everyone back to class!”  Students shoved past me and I lost my green sheet.

I suppose in the whole scheme of things, only losing four students isn’t so bad.  We have plenty more to spare.   What sucks is that I’ll bet I’m the one who has to call their parents to give them the news.

*Green sheets mean yes, all students are accounted for.  Red sheets mean students are missing and are either dying in the fire or making out and doing drugs in the corners.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The results are in, and you suck.

What exactly constitutes good classroom management skills?  That’s the question I’m pondering today.  One of my good friends just got back her administrative evaluation.  The principal said she was excellent in everything but classroom management. 

I’m not sure how that works.  Could you have a good lesson if you let the class descend into chaos?  The lesson wouldn’t really matter then.  "Fabulous lesson," a principal might say.  "I could barely hear it over the students' screaming, but you hit every level of Bloom's Taxonomy."  

Most teachers, I think, could use some improvement in their classroom management techniques.  I don’t think I’m the greatest, I’m sure I could improve, but I’d never just let the students run all over me. “If there’s an adult in the room, it better be me” – that’s my motto.  

Still, I have to wonder if this principal was just looking for a flaw.  My friend did group work, and group work always gets a little loud.  No matter the group, someone is going to get off task, because that goes with the territory.  From what I understand, group work and “collaborative” learning is what administrators want to see, right?
Apparently, my friend, who was moving from group to group, didn’t “redirect quickly enough” when there was misbehavior going on in other groups.  One student said the f-word while the teacher was engaged with a group on the other side of the room.  This shows poor classroom management. 

Here’s my question - if the principal is in the room and the kid still swears in front of her, does the principal think teacher redirection is going to help?  The principal is sitting RIGHT THERE, and the kid still shows unacceptable behavior.  It’s like a guy running a stop sign in front of a cop, and the cop is trying to ticket bystanders for not stopping him.  Furthermore, we teach in a very rough, inner-city school.  Someone only dropped the f-bomb once?  I’d say that’s a successful lesson.

I’ve also heard that in any evaluation, an administrator has to find something that the teacher needs to improve on.  That seems like a good system.  I suppose if Jesus Christ, the master teacher, was being evaluated, he would have been dinged for using too many everyday analogies or “talking over the students’ heads.”  But I bet He’d have great classroom management skills.