Saturday, June 27, 2015

Keeping things on the downlow - very low.

Are there good teachers out there who love their jobs but who are willing to admit that sometimes they have students they hate? I am - well, I'm willing to admit it.

Let me tell you about Lonnie, the boy I love to – well, no, just the boy I hate. 

If we’re all stars in our own right, Lonnie is a star that imploded on itself. He is a black hole that swallows light, intelligence and humor from anyone unfortunate to be sucked into his orbit.  Other students instinctively know this and avoid him the way you would avoid certain death.  In spite of the fact that I’ve never seen anyone get within an arm’s length of Lonnie, his face is perpetually squeezed into an expression of squinty bravado, and he walks with a swagger that defies reason. Those rare individuals who could find the good in even mosquitoes or brussel sprouts are immediately tested when they hear Lonnie string two words together. It isn’t what he says, though what he says is idiotic.  It’s how he says it.  He talks with this all-knowing, smarmy sensibility that makes any sane person want to sew their ears shut, or punch him, or both. 

“Ima throw a party this weekend.  It’ll be live,” he told a kid next to him.  The kid shrugged, apparently uninterested.  “No, for reals!  Even Coach Ward said he wants to come.”  (Coach Ward is the assistant soccer coach.)  “But, you know, I just say to him, I think about it.”  He tipped his chair back smugly, to show he’s in control.  The kid, Zachariah, looked at him for a minute, and turned away with no response, which was appropriate.  What could he say?  Lonnie then turned to me as I walked past.

“Don’t you wish you could come to my party, Ms. Marlowe?  I bet when you see the pics you wish you was.” 

I opened my mouth to respond with a witty rejoinder about his grammar, but luckily, Leslie, who sat on the other side of Lonnie, said, “Boy, ain’t nobody going to YOUR party.  You ain’t even on the soccer team.  Like Coach would ever!”  I offered a silent prayer of gratitude for Leslie saving me from having to engage with Lonnie beyond what I’m contractually obligated to as his teacher and tried to keep a straight face as I told Lonnie to put his chair down.

If I ask the students a question and someone answers incorrectly, Lonnie always audibly says, “Stupid!”  But Lonnie never has the correct answer either.  When someone else points out he’s wrong, he scoffs and says, “I know what I’m saying, maybe you don’t know what YOU’RE saying!”  or “I don’t gotta answer right, cause I already know I’m smart!” 

His rude and self-aggrandizing comments aren't the only reasons why I don’t like Lonnie; they’re just supporting evidence.  The main reason I don’t like Lonnie is because he’s lazy and a liar.  This kid currently has a 14 average in my class. I never imagined anyone could earn such a low grade. The lowest performing kids typically put in enough effort to make at least a 50, and those who don’t care enough to work very hard will usually do something.  But Lonnie seems to be actively WORKING to fail.  If he has to pass an exam or assignment to move on to the next grade, he cheats.  I learned that while he was in middle school he cheated on state exams by copying answers from someone near him. In my own class, I regularly catch him stealing other students’ papers and putting his name on them.  To keep him honest on a diagnostic exam, I made him sit with the student teacher; since he couldn’t cheat, he just refused to answer anything.

Trying to work with Lonnie to identify what he doesn’t understand is useless, because he won’t cooperate.  He writes down nonsense answers if he answers at all. When asked to point out which part of the sentence was the predicate, he put “the part with words.”  When we reviewed Greek and Latin roots, he said that “pro” means “somon legit.” That’s right; he misspelled “someone.”  If asked why he won’t complete any work, he’ll grandly wave his hand and tell you “this is so pointless, you know?  This stuff isn’t FOR REAL.” 

The first time I heard this response, I nodded sympathetically.  “Yes, I can see that authenticity is pretty important to you.”

Lonnie cocked his head to the side for a second, with his trademark squint, then said loudly, “Naw, miss, I’m just FOR REALS, you know?  I’m not about that city.  This stuff won’t teach me nothing.”

City?  What on earth was he talking about? It took Chandra yelling from across the room, “Lonnie, you’re too stupid for words!” for me to understand what he had said. Apparently, in Lonnie’s world of posturing and denial, Authenti City is a very real place. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

A sight for sore eyes, or for eyes that are progressively getting more sore

Again, I wanted to give you an example of the kind of word usage that decorates the halls of my school.  It's the kind of thing that causes English teachers to have seizures and literate folks to fear for the future of humanity.

On that note, hope you enjoyed your Monday or did until you saw this.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Those who can, do, like Mr. Gordon does

I have a teacher friend whom I love and hate.

I love him because he’s funny, a good friend and a great teacher.  He’s that rare breed of person who is a natural at teaching, who instinctively knows how to handle a roomful of students, and who actively works all the time to improve his instruction. 

Students are always engaged in Mr. Gordon’s class.  Granted, there may be one or two exceptions who stubbornly refuse to do anything, but it’s rare to walk in his room and not see students actively working or engaging in some discussion about the lesson.  He knows the material inside and out.  He plans his lessons down to the minute to make sure that he doesn’t run over, or come up short.  His name is said with reverence by other teachers and administrators.  In fact, you regularly find other teachers, administrators, and district personnel sitting in his room, watching him teach.  We joke that he’s the “dog and pony show” for the school.  If distinguished visitors come to the campus, the first place they’re taken to is Mr. Gordon’s room to show how great our students are.  The secret is that it isn’t the students who are great, it’s the teacher.

Mr. Gordon is always available to discuss classroom management, teaching techniques, different lesson plans and tactics to use with individual students.  He’s ready to help new teachers and veteran teachers who get burned out.  He’s not always perfect in his dealing with students, as he would be quick to tell you.  In fact, he has plenty of students he doesn’t care for though you couldn’t tell it by watching him.  He doesn’t play favorites, not ever.  Good students who work hard love him.  Lazy students, brown nosers and overly emotional teenage girls tend to dislike him. He can usually win over the lazy students, but he doesn’t bother with the other two.

Mr. Gordon has won awards and has never had to look for a teaching job.  Every job he’s gotten, someone has offered it to him based on his reputation.  After years of teaching in Title I schools with desperately poor students, he’s now teaching in an extremely expensive private school in the suburbs of a major city.  It's not easier, he says - he still has to push students to work past what they think are their limitations. 

He’s a credit to his profession.  So I hate him.

I’m not jealous of him, not really – well, not much.  Mr. Gordon has taught much longer than I have, so he has the benefit of more experience.  He’s also had the benefit of having incredible mentors to help him through.  Also, the vast majority of Mr. Gordon’s administrators have been helpful and supportive of his goals and innovations.

I hate him because it all seems so effortless to him.  He doesn’t stress over how he’s going to teach this or that.  He doesn’t get nervous or upset in confrontational parental conferences – in fact, he says he never has!  Mr. Gordon doesn’t seem to question whether teaching is worthwhile and if he's making a difference.  He says he’s never burned out by the end of the year.  Summers are usually spent teaching more classes.

“I’m good at one thing, and that’s teaching.  Why would you begrudge me that?” he once asked me jokingly when I told him how much I resented him for it.  I don’t resent him for it.  I resent the fact that it seems so much harder for me and that I don’t know if I’ll ever be as effective in the classroom as he is. 

Still, that doesn’t keep me from texting or emailing him regularly to pick his brain about something I need to know.  It doesn’t stop me from visiting his classroom and watching him teach.  And when students talk about the best teacher they’ve ever had, I always think about Mr. Gordon.  I wish that someday they’ll have a teacher like him, even if I can’t be him yet.

Monday, June 15, 2015

21 days to Internet virality - I think.

Our principal is trying to raise the school’s profile and encourages the staff and students to tweet positive things about the school.  She said, “I’m hoping some of these go viral.”  I see many problems with that statement, one of which is that unless something is very unusual, interesting or relates to a ton of people, not many things “go viral.”  Most of the things that "go viral" related to schools aren't the kind of news about a school that administrators want to spread.  

It hasn’t stopped people from trying, though it should. 

Remember how I wrote about our PD last week, and how it would take a minimum of three weeks of documentation to get a behavior specialist to help you?  After we finished all of our training for the day, the staff split to go to several different sessions of our own choosing.  Following those sessions, we were supposed to meet with our grade level teams before going home.  As I am a trustworthy employee who is considered part of “special teams” (meaning they don’t know where to put me because I teach multiple grade levels and different elective classes), I dutifully finished my session, graded some papers, made copies for the next day’s lesson and left two hours early.  I was gratified to see several other teachers sneaking out as well.  It was neat how we all walked casually and kept looking over our shoulders, like we “just had to get something out of the car.”

Later that evening, as I complained to everyone around me about the waste of my day, I decided to check my social media.  I checked Facebook, Instagram and then Twitter.  Three tweets popped up from Ms. Hicks, another English teacher:

Behavioral RTI training- make for better students #4kids

Behavior intervention apps to guide classroom management... #happykids #4kids

21 days to better behavior #happykids #4kids

Apparently, this was her take on our training with the behavioral specialists, who are supposed to help us manage kids that are unmanageable.  The "apps" they suggested were checklists that had to be completed in order for them to come assist the teacher with the student. 

I could have SWORN that the behavior interventionists said it would take 3-6 weeks of documentation before you could even ask them for help, not 3 weeks until the behavior improves.  She must have gone to a VERY different training.  It sounded more fun than mine.  Apparently, all this intervention training makes kids happy and excellent.  Who knew?

But maybe we also have different outlooks on life.  I suppose I tend to be a glass-is-half-empty-type person, while she is a massive-suckup-type person.

I'm sure the biggest question you're dying to ask now is "did the tweets go viral?!!"  If your definition of viral is having the principal favorite all the tweets, then mission accomplished.  Did it counteract the fact that the cops showed up at the school the next day?

I guess not, but remember it's "21 days to better behavior," not a "better public image."  That takes at least 22 days.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

We'll be glad to help you in three to six weeks!

It was one of those days again.  150 teachers were packed into a room on hard chairs, on a day that the rest of the developed world has off, listening sulkily to a presenter rattle on about accommodations for students while gesturing vaguely to a PowerPoint presentation. 

Sure, there’s plenty for us to learn like there is in any industry.  I do love sitting with other tense, disaffected educators, though.  It’s like our own bitter version of MST3K. 

By the way, the worst behaved students in the world are teachers who are forced to go to professional development that they didn’t choose.  You’ll see audience members sleeping, talking with their neighbor, passing notes, eating, playing on their computer or phone, or sitting back with their arms folded and a glare on their faces.  It’s a tough crowd. Administrators should take a cue from comedy clubs and serve alcohol.

Today we learned that if you need a behavior specialist to come into your room to help you with a student who is out of control, you’ll first need to hand over three to six weeks worth of documentation in order to even have a meeting with the specialist or principal.  Plus, if you haven’t been able to talk to the parents, or if anything is missing, the district will send you back to get three to six weeks more documentation, and then they’ll schedule the meeting.

Documentation is always a good thing, right?  Naturally, the thinking is the more, the better.  So let’s imagine this scenario:  You are a teacher, trying to get your students through the state-mandated material so that they can be tested on it, and you have a student who is out of control.  The district’s idea is that for the next GRADING PERIOD, you should write down every disruptive behavior the kid exhibited and how you dealt with it, plus every time you tried to call or email the parents about it.  

So for an entire grading period, you’ve got a kid disrupting your classroom, learning nothing, taking time away from other kids and possibly disrupting their learning as well.  Sounds like a great plan, doesn’t it?  It’s like calling 911 because someone’s trying to break into your home, only to have emergency personnel tell you that you should write down everything you’ve done to keep a potential burglar/kidnapper/murderer/rapist out, and then call again once that list is completed so they can ask what you learned from it.  If you're still alive afterwards, the police will ask why you didn’t get a better lock on the door when you moved in, or here’s what you should try the next time someone tries to kick in the glass. 

I’d write more, but I’ve got grading to do.  Plus I have all this broken glass to clean up.

Monday, June 8, 2015

An opportunity worth passing up

I don’t know about other teachers, but I rarely get excited about an email that’s titled “Upcoming Professional Development Opportunities.”  It could be that I’m the anomaly here.  My heart doesn’t race, I don’t giggle involuntarily, and I don’t get dizzy with anticipation.  Well, I don’t do any of those things anyway, but I wanted to make sure you know I don’t do that either when that email pops up.

So I open the email, and on it is a long list of the “opportunities” of which the school would like me to avail myself.  I especially like the list that says “MANDATORY” at the top.  That usually means I’m in for a rollicking good time, attending a MANDATORY opportunity.  It means that underqualified people from my district are going to tell me how to improve my classroom teaching.  It's nice to get instruction from someone who couldn't wait to leave the classroom.

I scan the list and notice that one of them will probably apply to me – Writing for English I and II teachers.  Okay, technically I’m not an English teacher, but my classes do fall under the Language Arts “rainbow.”  Most likely I’m going to have to attend this one, so I glance over at the date.  It’s tomorrow, after school for about 3 hours.  That means I was sent an email to attend MANDATORY training opportunity less than 24 hours before said training happens.

“Register in Eduphoria,” it says.  Grinding my teeth in rage, I open up Eduphoria, the program that's supposed to be a repository of data, scheduling and all sorts of stuff most of us don't care about.  I'm angry that the school has basically destroyed my plans for the next afternoon.  
Why should I register, though?  I mean, if it’s MANDATORY, shouldn’t they register me themselves to make sure I go? But that would probably make it less of an opportunity for me. 

Except that this MANDATORY session isn’t in Eduphoria.  Probably someone from the administration should’ve checked first. 

I’ll spend tomorrow afternoon grading and looking at cat GIFs.  

Thursday, June 4, 2015

IWSG Check in - just to check

The school year is over, so it's time to pack up the classroom and move on.  Yes, I'm packing up because I decided NOT to return to CISD again.  Most of the other teachers are doing the same.  All in all, I think our school is losing a minimum of 50 percent of the teachers.  Most are going to other public schools.  I can honestly tell you I don't know where I'm going just yet, but I am here, on my blog.

With all the end of the year hoopla, I once again neglected to do my IWSG check in on the designated day, so I'm a day behind.  Or maybe I'm not.  Teachers tend to consume a lot of hard liquor after the last day of school, so our memories get pretty hazy.  Let's say that it is still Wednesday, and I'll look at the calendar after my hangover wears off.

What am I insecure about this time?  The future!  I'm not sure where I'll be working next and how that will impact my writing.  I've put off writing for years to make a living.  I think most of us would love to live the writer's life, but let's be honest: It doesn't pay very well.  Neither does teaching, really, but at least you usually have a semi-livable wage and benefits.

But now that I'm between jobs, I'm wondering about taking the next step.  I like teaching, but I hate what's happening to public education.  I love blogging but have never committed myself to it until this year.  Should I look for another teaching job, or take on tutoring and part time work, so I can write more?  That's the dilemma I'm facing.

I realize this post isn't as full of yuks as my others, but if you have advice, I'd love to hear it.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Letters of appreciation are usually appreciated

I got this email last summer.  It’s the best kind of email, the kind that’s unexpected and heartwarming.

“Dear Ms. Marlowe,
I just wanted to let you know that I can’t watch the news anymore without thinking of our class.  I dissect their leads and I’m always commenting on the bad headlines in the newspaper while my dad is reading it.  It’s hard to listen anymore without rewriting what I’m hearing in my head.  So I thought you’d appreciate knowing that your class made me a much more discerning viewer or reader.  My dad hates it.

P.S.  I told my sisters they should sign up for your class when they get into high school.  If my dad will let them.”

That email may not have moved you the way it moved me, but after a frustrating year, it’s still good to know that a student learned something and it impacted his life, though maybe not in the way I wanted it to.