Monday, October 26, 2015

Breaking up is hard to do, when the teacher is doing it

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

No pass? Then pass the buck

“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

The question you already know the answer to

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

This is definitely running with the devil, or maybe trotting with him.

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? 


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

Congratulations! You suck.

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.  

I found this in my email this morning:

“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.