Thursday, March 26, 2015

Not just embracing change, but making out with change

Big changes are coming to my district!  Big, BIG changes!

Specifically, the font, colors and logo of the district are changing.  We can tell it’s a big deal because they sent an email out to all the employees telling us so.  It said, “Dear ________ employee, this is to notify you of some of the big changes in the district that you are already probably aware of.”   

In the vain hope that all the upper administration got wiped out in a freak tornado, I read on, but no such luck.  Our district colors have changed from green to a lighter shade of green.  The font used on the website is no longer Georgia, but something else.  This will give us a “cleaner, more professional look, more representative of who we are.”  I guess that’s exciting.  What would be really exciting is if the links on the home page were updated regularly.

Anyway, the email spent a lot of time talking about how we should refer to the district as Crappy ISD, not CISD, because clearly, the attitude and statistics of the district will change due to that.  Also, our motto is no longer “striving for the best,” as that motto is “no longer reflective of the district goals.”  We don’t strive to be the best.  We strive to be the least worst.  Our new motto is “learning is our business.” 

I can think of many mottos that might be more representative of our district.  Maybe something like “Crappy – where the cops only come once a week,” or “Where learning comes third,” or “Preparing the leaders of tomorrow, maybe tomorrow.”  Oh, and they fired three vice presidents, three principals and a lot of counselors, in hopes of “dramatically changing our leadership profile.”

Now that all these new changes are on board, I can’t wait to see what happens!  In fact, in our mandatory staff meeting today (motto: “Where blame is the norm”) we were told that the district has already seen that the classrooms that have incorporated the new lesson plan and learning style have seen significant changes in student achievement.  So that’s why the word wall is so important – keeping in mind that we were told to incorporate the word wall only a week ago, along with the gradual release of sanity lesson format.
If you don’t believe in radical changes, you are clearly not a CISD – sorry, CRAPPY ISD - employee or follower.  All it took was a few anchor charts, word walls, “I do, you do, I do” models and now we are a high performing district – within a week!  Too bad so many “loser teachers” haven’t got on board yet, and they spend too much time complaining about the new, daily documentation that will have to be turned in for each special ed student.  Of course, to be fair, it’s the lack of immediate change that makes them loser teachers.  Plus, good teachers should be excited to waste more time on paperwork, rather than teaching. 

Probably if we loser teachers would get on board with the district changes, we’d feel more empowered and excited about our roles in this highly functioning Hindenburg.  I, for one, agree, and have decided that I’ll follow the district’s lead by changing the colors and fonts in my email.  I can feel the effectiveness now, just flooding into my internal organs.

Everyone likes a hot pink Comic Sans font, right? 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Teachers are hungry, kind of like the wolf

I don’t know if you know this, but teachers don’t need to eat lunch.

Seriously, lunch is for the weak.  Right now at my school, my lunch period is 25 minutes, and it’s sandwiched between two classes.  I generally cram a tasteless Power Bar into my mouth because there’s always a line to heat up food in the teacher’s lounge microwave.  I don’t have time to wait.  While chewing furiously I’m also making copies of handouts, straightening up my room for the next class and trying not to leave crumbs all over the place. 

The lunch “hour” we’re supposed to have gets crunched down to 15 minutes.  I’m baffled by teachers who go out and get fast food during their lunch quarter hour.  The stress of trying to get my food and get back would make me lose my appetite.  Plus, I’m not going to save my food to eat later.  It’s unprofessional to fight students over the last French fry.

Professional development days are the worst, because we get excited about the idea of having a longer lunch.  On the schedule it usually says something like 45 minutes, or praise the Lord, an hour, an entire hour!  What will we do with all that extra time?  We start chattering to each other excitedly and make plans to meet up at nearby restaurants we can’t afford. 

Because we’re all wound up over something that’s usually withheld from us, I’ve noticed that our administration tries to dial back our enthusiasm by manufacturing ways to shorten our lunch break.  Disorganized training sessions is an effective method, since one session inevitably runs over.  Another way to slice some time off lunch is to call a “quick team meeting, right when you get back, but before you go to your next session.”  This is what we in education call “hallucinating” – like we’re really going to come back early.

Today I experienced probably the stupidest, and yet most creative way to try and cut into lunch.  Our exciting PD session sputtered to a halt due to a lack of participation.  We suddenly realized that we might have – gasp – MORE THAN AN HOUR FOR LUNCH!  Everyone quickly started packing up.  No one wanted to stick around and see if the administration changed its collective mind. 

As two of my colleagues and I were sprinting out to our cars, we heard an announcement over the loudspeaker.  “Teachers, this is a shelter-in-place drill.  Please stay where you are for the next 10 minutes.  I repeat, stay where you are until we have checked the building and given the all clear.”

I was halfway across the parking lot at that point.  This was an emergency, so I started jogging.  I must say, though, that I was impressed by the creativity on the part of admin to try and keep us in the building a little longer.  We all agreed later that this method was ingenious, yet diabolically stupid.  Teachers who stayed told us that they never got the all clear.  After almost 20 minutes, they left. 

The saying is that if you don’t feed the teachers, they’ll eat the students.  If they don’t eat the students, they’ll drag lunch out and won’t return until halfway through their next training session. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

All who wander are not lost, they're just becoming a legal nightmare

“Where are you supposed to be?”

This is a common question that students are asked by me and other adults who find them in the hallways. Usually the kids are enjoying their freedom in the most indiscreet, irresponsible manner possible, because that’s what you want to do when you’re not in class.

As a teacher, I can always tell when a student is skipping class.  Said student usually looks in the windows or doors of other classes and try to get the attention of any friend or acquaintance they see.  Obviously, when said student is skipping class or wasting time in the hallway, the best way to not get caught is to bother another class.  His or her friend will also keep a low profile by waving to the student, laughing loudly or saying to the teacher, “I just need to talk to him/her for a minute.”  I try to be considerate, and allow my student to fully step out into the hall to talk to his skipping friend before I slam the door and lock it behind him.  

Kids skipping class is part of any school experience.  Getting caught is also part of the school experience. But what shouldn’t be part of the school experience is hearing, “My teacher didn’t show up and I don't know where I'm supposed to be.”

I’ve dealt with this on a regular basis.  Students arrive at class, only to find the door locked and the lights off.  The teacher either called in sick or is off doing something else, like chaperoning a field trip.  But rather than have a substitute in the room or a plan for where his or her class should go in the meantime, the administration just forgets about it.  Students, with no adult to keep an eye on them, begin wandering the hallway, looking for something to do and for someone that they can bother.  

That’s where I come in, basically collecting loose students rolling around like loose change, except not as valuable.  Whenever I hear "I don't know where my class is," my response is “Come on in.  We’re going to find out right now.”  The student might sit down, or start making excuses that they just forgot and now remembered where to go, or ask me if they can just stay in my room. Even so, I always pick up my classroom phone and begin dialing the office.  Usually, the office is as clueless about what's happening as the student is.

As a parent, you'd like to think your kids are supervised while at school.  They generally are - by a teacher like me.  But there's a good chance little Jimmy is wandering around because no one made a sub schedule, or called a sub, or informed him that things had changed for the day?  And the teachers like me are wasting class time trying to track down the Jimmy’s classroom and/or teacher to find out what is going on.

When I taught at TCS, one year the school decided to schedule a whole school field trip.  Students were required to return the permission slips, so of course half of the students didn’t.  The administration decided that most of the teachers would chaperone, but of course, some would stay.
I was one of the lucky few who got to stay behind with half of the school population.  The problem was that the school hadn’t planned what to do with the stay-behind students.  No one told them their teachers would be gone, or where they should go in the meantime.  I collared 16 students and made them sit in my room, while I made fruitless phone calls to the front office. The students thought it was great, even though most of them had to sit on the floor because we ran out of chairs.  Half of them told me it didn't matter because "we never do anything in Mr. K's class anyway." 

You may say, "Well, this was only because you were teaching in a charter school, which has fewer teachers, less oversight and more vague promises about a better education that don't align with reality!  This doesn't happen at MY child's school!"  

I'm glad you think so.  But I'm teaching in a public school, and I'm still seeing the same thing every day. In fact, the last time I was out for "training," I came back to find that the substitute for my 5th period class never showed up at all.  The kids proudly told me that they "just kept real quiet and watched Netflix."  

So, while you were assuming your child was getting a good education, he or she may be sitting on the floor of a crowded classroom with other strays while the teacher keeps opening and shutting the door and answering the phone.  The good news is that he or she has plenty of friends in the hallway to wave at.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

You always get a second chance to implement your first bad idea.

Dumb people can absolutely have good ideas.  You’ve heard the saying that “even a stopped clock is right twice a day”?  It’s true.  But it’s truer still that stupid people typically have stupid ideas.  Fantastically stupid people or organizations have ideas that are staggering in their stupidity. 

I realized this today.  Public school is full of bad ideas, like “differentiated instruction” for a class of 30.  That can work, right?  Collaboration, group work – that can only be good and can never have a downside.  Even though our business is learning, public schools don’t seem to learn from their mistakes.  Bad ideas are leapfrogging off the corpses of previous germs of mis-inspiration. 
Take TCS, the cradle of idiocy.  Two years ago I had to contact our yearbook rep and tell her that I was cancelling the book on behalf of the school.  We had so many problems that I think it was in a burst of optimism that the school decided to continue the yearbook class.  “Let’s commemorate a disastrous year” was the motto.

I’d never taught yearbook before, so it was a trial by fire.  I spent the summer preparing lessons, trying to learn the system – everything I could possibly do to make the year go well.  It didn’t help.  I had 30 students crammed into our library space, which only housed four computers.   Four computers for 30 students doesn’t work, especially when the book is constructed entirely online.  There was no budget, no cameras for student use, and no realistic expectations.
“You should do really cool photo cut outs and effects with the pages!”  Yes, I suppose we should, huh?  “You should have the kids sell ads to businesses!”  Except that the administration wouldn’t let the students make sales calls from the school, nor would they let me print out ad price sheets to distribute.  “You should have polls and surveys on each page!”  That’s assuming we could get students to even respond to the polls and surveys.  “You should really put more effort into these pages.  They seem kind of amateurish.”  I smiled, reminded the teacher that it was a STUDENT product, and then went out and keyed that teacher’s car.  (Kidding!  Sort of – he never noticed because his car was a piece of crap anyway).

After struggling all year to get permission to cover events or advertise properly, and repeatedly being denied permission to use the computer lab or the laptop cart for the class, I called and cancelled the book.  It was April and we had only sold 19 books anyway.  Students didn’t want it, nor did they care.  Plus, we still hadn’t paid or bill from the year previous, so I had to deal with harassing letters and calls about our bill being overdue for the next four months.  The principal was angry, but I had to remind him that he'd thoughtfully blocked our efforts.  The next year, we didn’t have a yearbook. 

Today I got a text from the teacher who took my place at TCS, Winnie.  She’s a sucky instructor, overall.  Winnie’s way too eager to be friends with the students and she wastes instructional time, usually by talking about her drinking binges and the ugly guy she picked up at the bar the night before.  At least I assume he’s ugly, but only because I’ve seen Winnie.

I knew I was in trouble when the message began “Hello friend!”  People usually begin that way before saying, "I hate to ask you this..." and then trying to hit you up for cash.

It was worse.  The principal asked her to be in charge of the yearbook next year.  She wanted me to help her come up with lessons and find a vendor. 

I would have laughed, but I was too horrified.  My year was so bad, the school didn’t even attempt it the next year.  NOW they think they’ll be able to have a yearbook?  Why would they think that having a LESS experienced teacher and even FEWER students interested would equal success?

But hey, they want to do it, and she now wants my help.  I texted her back, “You should do cut-outs and really cool photo effects on the pages!”