Monday, September 18, 2017

I can tell SOMEONE isn't worried.

So I was helping a student today who is struggling through an English class.  The class has a significant test coming up, and the format of the test is an in-class essay.  I've worked with this student off and on and like him; he's not that great of a writer, but he's willing to work hard to try to get there.

I know his teacher fairly well, but I'm not saying that in a positive way.  Knowing what a lazy grader she is, I was surprised to see that she gave the class a relatively detailed rubric for the in-class essay.

"Okay, do you know what the essay topics are that you might cover?" I asked.

Yes, he did.  The teacher had given them a list of possible topics, and mentally I blessed her for not leaving the students entirely in the dark.

"She says it has to be a five-paragraph essay," he said hesitantly.

"So, okay - wait, what?"

"A five-paragraph essay," he repeated.

I looked at him, aghast.  "How long are your classes?"

"Uh, it'll be 45 minutes that day, because of the assembly.  And she says we need 3 pieces of quoted evidence per paragraph."

"Okay," I said.  "Can you use your book?"

He looked relieved.  "I asked that too, but she said no."

So, in 45 minutes, the teacher is expecting the class to crank out a five paragraph essay with 15 pieces of quoted evidence in it?  That's some high expectations, in my opinion; so high, in fact, that I was surprised she didn't already have a nosebleed.

 "Are you supposed to memorize the quotes?" I asked.

He shrugged.  "She says we can't paraphrase.  Then she told us not to worry about it.  I mean, she actually said that if we didn't have it all, we'd get points taken off, but not to worry about it.  She says we don't need a really high grade for this first test."

They don't, huh?  Wow, this teacher is incredibly helpful, precise and insightful.  I wanted to ask if she showed up fully dressed each day, but thought it was better not to.

You know what's sad?  In my new role, I see a TON of this: Teachers who give out instructions to students that are impossible to follow, or that don't make any common sense.  These same teachers say crap like "don't worry about it" because the teacher hasn't - apparently.

We worked on a skeleton structure, and I wished him luck.  What I really wanted to tell him was to count on a B for his grade.  Knowing her like I do, she won't read past the second paragraph anyway.  So he shouldn't worry about it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Out of the mouth of madness!

Found a diary entry from my time at Crappy ISD that I thought everyone would find humorous, especially if they've been drinking heavily for the last couple of hours and their expectations are extremely low...

Jan 15

I went to training at the district offices for a spanking, brand-new software program that will solve all of our low achievers' problems.  If we (meaning me and the other hapless teachers who are forced into this) just deploy this system correctly, our students’ scores will go up, their work ethic will improve, and they’ll change into entirely new people.  If we do it incorrectly, we’ll hurt their reading comprehension, scramble their brain cells and have them leave the school as broken, nonfunctioning members of society.

No pressure, obviously. 

I love the idea that new software is the answer we’ve all been looking for.  “It’s so seamless, even an idiot can use it, an idiot like you!” is the implied message when any new system is introduced.  It’s nice that our school system has no faith in us.  I can’t tell if they think we’re just lazy and stupid, or if it’s a reflection on the people at the top, who are lazy and stupid and want something that does their job for them. 

By the way, this training came a day before I had to give my semester finals - in my yearbook class.  Yes, yearbook, where every final is a project that takes hours to grade, pore over and improve before submitting it to the yearbook company.  I went to my assistant principal and begged to get out of it, reminding him of the testing and all I had to do around the school, duty-wise.  He answered that the district was requiring this training.  He seemed to forget that that’s why I contacted HIM, to ask him to use COMMON SENSE and realize that pulling a teacher at a time she needs to be doing end of semester work that is REQUIRED is a BAD IDEA.  

Once again, my expectations were way off.

Did I mention that they decided to use one of my sick days for this training without telling me?

Looking at this entry, I still can't figure out why they were surprised when I turned in my resignation. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Copy that! No, really!

“Can you do me a favor, Mrs. Marlowe?”

I looked up from my desk, where I was sitting and inputting grades during my conference period.  Glenda, a geometry teacher, was standing in the doorway.

“What can I do for you?” I asked pleasantly.

She held out a sheaf of papers.  “Can you make these copies for me?”

Stunned, I stared at the papers, then up at her.  I said the first thing that popped out of my mouth.  “Why can’t you do it?”

“I have a meeting with the principal in about ten minutes.”  She did look a little frantic.

I looked up at the clock.  I only had ten minutes left in my conference period before the students came in for fifth period.  Glenda had never been rude to me, and she did seem a bit out of sorts, but seriously, make copies for her?  I wasn’t an administrative assistant, and I had my own classes to worry about.  Still, it never hurts to build up some goodwill with another teacher.

“Um, I guess, if it’s just a few,” I said, rising slowly.

“Well, see, I need 30 copies of these, and then 35 copies of this one, but it has to be collated…”

“Glenda,” I interrupted, “there’s no way I can get this done before my class starts.”  I knew that the teacher’s lounge was always flooded with copies during fourth period. 

“Yes, but I really need these!”  Now she sounded whiny and slightly angry.

“I understand, but I won’t be able to get back to my class-“ I began, but she interrupted me, clearly upset. 

“Never mind,” she barked.  “I guess I just won’t have them in time.”  She glared at me at stomped off down the hall.

I sat down again, baffled.  What on earth was she mad about?  And why would she ask me to do this with so little time left?  Shaking my head, I saved my gradebook changes and made sure I had everything ready for fifth period.

I was twenty-five minutes into class when a student knocked on my door.  I opened it and said, “Yes?’

It was Bridgett, a senior who was an office assistant.  She looked at the floor as she said, “Mr. Simmons said he needs you to make these copies for Mrs. Asper.”

What?  I stared at her.  “I’m in class,” I stated. 

She shuffled her feet.  “He said she really needs them.”

“He wants a teacher to LEAVE HER CLASS to make copies for another teacher?” I said, enunciating every word clearly. 

“Well, see, he, um…” she looked around at my now very interested class who was quiet as they looked at her.  “Never mind, I’ll tell him you’re busy.”  She turned and closed the door behind her. 

The room was still quiet as I turned back to the class.  Then Jeremy piped up, “That was weird, right, Ms. Marlowe?”

“Sure was,” I muttered. 

The day went by normally, but when school was over, and I was packing up to go home, Nick, the US History teacher, stopped by my room.

“So guess what?” he asked.

“I hate it when people start conversations that way,” I grumbled, and he laughed.

“You’re right, and you’ll never guess this one,” he said.  Nick went on to explain that he was in the grade-level chair meeting with Glenda, the principal and two other teachers when she complained that she couldn’t get her prep work done because Ms. Marlowe wouldn’t make copies like she was supposed to.  Apparently, Mr. Simmons agreed because he sent Bridgett with the papers for me to do my “job.”

“Who decided that my job was to make copies?” I asked, aghast.

Nick shrugged.  “I think it’s because you’re the journalism and newspaper teacher and your room is right next to the teacher’s lounge.”

“But we have an office assistant to do that!”

He raised an eyebrow.  “As we told him.  Glenda went off about you, and Charity and I asked her why she was asking a teacher to make copies for her, particularly during her class.  When Bridgett came back, Mr. Simmons said he would talk to you about it later.  So I came by to see if he did.  Did he?”

I shook my head.  “Not yet.”


He never did, and Glenda glared at me the rest of the year but never came to my room again.  I still wonder about this incident – the bizarre assumptions of an apparently disorganized teacher, the idiocy of a principal who believes what he’s told without regard to common sense, and the availability of the office assistant who actually could have made the copies.  I decided that the next time I needed to make a bunch of copies, I’m going to drop them on Glenda’s desk with a note and a smiley face. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Double the trouble! For me...

I live near Houston, so I'm stuck in the house, watching the rising floodwaters and praying it doesn't come near my house.  This is causing me to reflect on a lot of things.  And you know what occurred to me?  How much I hate "double contact rules."

Double contact rules are put in place by schools. The rules are designed to make sure that parents of struggling students are contacted so that they know their child is struggling or failing, or in danger of failing. 

Both TCS and CISD had double contact rules.  The parent or parents of each failing child were supposed to be contacted each term so that the parents are aware of it.  The person who had to communicate with them was me, the teacher.

I hated the rules.  First of all, they were arbitrary and unnecessary.  Both districts I taught in had an online system where parents could log in and see their child's grade and assignments.  All of the teachers I worked with updated the system regularly.  But even though a parent could log in every day and see the daily grade fluctuations, I was still supposed to call him or her and let them know, in case they were "unaware" or "didn't have Internet access."

No internet access?  Everyone who has a smartphone has internet access.  If a parent chooses not to check his or her child's grade, that's on the parent. When we, the teachers, would point this out to the administration, the answer that came back was invariably, "Well, parents have come to us and say they didn't know their child was failing."

I have an answer for that, which is the parent is lying, or doesn't care.  These same parents never show up for parent-teacher conferences, or contact the teacher when the progress reports or report cards come out.  If they don't know, it's because they are choosing not to know. 

Anyone with a functioning brain also knows not to take at face value everything a teenager tells him or her.  For example, if your kid never has homework and says the teachers didn't give him any, your kid is lying.  There is ALWAYS homework at some point.  If you never ask about it, you are a negligent parent.  If your kid says that the grades in the system are wrong or the teacher hasn't entered the grades, your kid is still lying.  

Sorry, parent, it's on you.  If you show up at the end of the year because Junior is about to be held back or sent to summer school and complain that you had no idea, where were you during the school year?  

CISD insisted that we had to call each parent.  I ignored that.  First of all, phone numbers change all the time, so even if I do try to call, if I can't reach the parent, what proof do I have that I called?  If I had a working email address for a parent, I emailed.  It leaves a paper trail.  Plus, I've known parents who claim I never called them, even after I finally tracked them down and had a long phone or face-to-face conversation with them. 


I think the double contact rules are just another way to add to the teacher workload and make teachers responsible for the parenting, not parents.  That doesn't work and it's not fair to either the teacher or the student.  How about if, instead of pushing the responsibility onto the teacher, when the parent complains about Junior failing his class, the administration looks up how many times he or she checked the grade online, called the teacher, or came in for parent-teacher conferences?  THAT'S a rule I could get behind. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray...

So yeah, school is starting in just a few days.  In some ways this is less stressful for me because I don't have my typical teaching job at a typical school anymore.  No worrying about whether or not my classroom is set up properly, no last minute requests for materials that won't get delivered anyway, and no "Welcome to Ms. Marlowe's class" PowerPoint to edit. 

In some ways that makes me a little sad, but not so much.  I'll still be working with students, but one-on-one, and I won't be teaching traditional lessons.  I'll be interacting with administrators most of the time.  I spent a good chunk of the summer reading, rewriting curriculum and working on developing a new class for students with reading comprehension.  It's rewarding, but exhausting in a completely different way. 

I guess it's good to have change.  This is where I wanted to be anyway, but it feels weird to be out of the regular classroom.  It's like I'm also graduating, just like my old students did.  So I'm happy but sad, moving forward but looking back, and all those other paradoxes. 

In the meantime, I ran into one of my old students at Target in town.  She looked shocked to see me there, but said she would miss seeing me in the hallways this year.  "You were always telling students to stop running and looking really annoyed while you drank your Coke Zero!"

Yeah, good times.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Stuck in the middle with you - no really, stuck!

My time working at CISD taught me a lot.  Almost too much, in fact... 

While in the midst of applying for any and all other jobs that I see online (“Make money working from home.  $4K in one month.  Apply now!!”  That one looks promising.),  I see that my district is still looking to fill about seven different positions at my school.  If I’m correct, these are positions that have been open since the beginning of the school year.

I wouldn’t say our state has a teaching shortage.  Usually, you can’t swing a dead cat and not hit a teacher looking for work (they love cats.)  But if you are looking for teaching work in November, this has to raise some red flags.  For example, why can’t the school fill this position?  Are their standards too high?  Do the interviewers turn people off?  Maybe not enough people are actually applying, and if so, why is that?

For me, the second question it raises is why the applicant is looking for a job right now.  Most teachers, if they get laid off, get laid off at the end of the school year.  A teacher would have to be pretty awful, or engaging in criminal acts, for a school to get rid of them midway through the year.  But maybe the applicant quit because he or she realized that he or she is at a horrible school, and sticking it out until the end of the year is too awful to even contemplate.  I wasn’t talking about anyone in particular when I wrote that last sentence.

That said, I can tell you that during my time at TCS, we had two people who came in midyear.  One was a math teacher, who quickly distinguished himself by openly pursuing some of the female teachers, despite his obvious handicap of being married.  He even told his students how he wanted to “get with” certain teachers.  One of those teachers he wanted to “get with” clearly had a drug problem or was bipolar.  She also came in midyear, to replace a science teacher who quit.  Ms. Bipolar/drug problem was let go after the administration found out she was offering to buy the students booze.

Another midyear find was a counselor who became one of our administrators.  Her makeup got heavier and heavier during the school year, while her hair extensions became longer.  She was seen “servicing” a social studies teacher in his car in the school parking lot, and then bragged about it to some of the other teachers a few weeks later.  Ms. Counselor also showed up drunk to chaperone the prom. 


Midyear finds – what finds they are!  At your next parent-teacher conference, ask the teacher when he/she started working at the school.  If s/he came in midyear, it’s time to ask for a schedule change. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Cruel to be kind?

I think it’s clear that teachers must be awful people.

Take my friend Amy.  She teaches a remediation class for students who are seniors and who need to pass previous year’s end of course exams.  It’s not a job for the faint of heart, or even the stout of heart, or generally anyone who has a heart at all.  Most of these students have learning disabilities, serious behavior problems or absolutely don’t care at all.  The fact that they got to their senior year is baffling. 

Amy cares about them, a LOT.  She goes to all the senior events at school and games and tries to encourage each of them.  She also knows her stuff, since she has a master’s degree and teaches remedial English at a nearby college as well.  Plus, she works super-hard to try and get each student to understand the material, but she still holds them to high standards. 

This makes her an awful person.  Are you following me? 

She has a co-teacher* who works with her during one of her class periods.  This co-teacher told her that she needed to “search her heart” and really look at “what kind of teacher” she is, because she failed a student who is classified as special ed.

Why would she fail him?  The student, whom we'll call Mr. Wizard, decided to plagiarize a poem he found online, rather than write one of his own.  This comes after weeks of review and practice assignments, none of which he completed.  Amy confronted him about it.  Mr. Wizard insisted he wrote it himself; however, when confronted with the evidence, he claimed he didn’t know they couldn’t use an already written poem.  Amy contacted his mother and told her that he was going to fail for the term and why.  This isn’t news to the mom.  Her kid already failed last semester because he wouldn’t do any of the work.  Mom is fed up with Mr. Wizard and wants to teach him a lesson.

The co-teacher says she’s unfair.  He reported her to the principal for “not assisting” the student in boosting his grade.  The principal said she needed to give him another chance to pass, even though in most districts, plagiarism is an automatic F with no makeups.  This is when Amy found out that the report of her “unfairness” came from the co-teacher.

She confronted him.  Co-teacher told her basically that she’s unfit to teach because she’s failing kids with learning disabilities.  Amy wisely decided to hash this out with him in front of an administrator.  Our assistant principal had them come into the office, where said co-teacher made his complaints.  Amy asked, “What are you doing to prevent them from failing?  I’m sorry, but I don’t see you being proactive and helping them at all, even though that's your job.  Generally you sit in the back of the room and ignore them and work on your computer.  That's if you even show up for class."

CT fired back that this was HER fault because she doesn’t grade fast enough.  Plus, she’s teaching way over these kids’ heads.  When she countered that she’s teaching at an 8th grade level (remember, these are seniors she’s teaching), he replied that the level was still too high, and that her expectations were "abusive."

"Abusive expectations?"  That's a new one.  I can't wait to use that phrase in class.  Trust me, it'll be a thing soon enough.

The good news is that the principal is lazy and never tried to follow up on her directive or talk to Amy about what happened later.  The better news is that the co-teacher decided that he couldn't, "in good conscience", sit in Amy's class again and see her try to teach her students.  The even better news is that an administrator came looking for him every day for a week, and since he wasn't in class where he was supposed to be, he was fired.  EVEN BETTER - Mr. Wizard refused to do the new assignment and failed anyway.

But the BEST news of all is that despite all she went through, Amy still tried to get her students to work at grade level.

This, naturally, means that she's still an awful person.

*Co-teacher - someone who is supposed to be a help or resource in a class that has a high population of special ed students.  Amy's co-teacher was the golf coach who was mad that he had to spend any time in a classroom.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Read between the lines!

Here’s how to piss off your school librarian, if you’re so inclined.

For students:

1.       Ask for a specific book.  When she tells you where it is, wander over to the shelves and say, “It’s not here.”  Keep insisting it’s not there until she goes over and picks it up and hands it to you.  Tell her you don’t know what “alphabetical” means.

2.       Fold back some of the pages in the book.  When you turn it in, and she gets mad at you, tell her “it’s no big deal.”

3.       Refuse to pay for a book you lost.  When she says that you either need to return the book or pay for it, insist you turned it in and tell her it’s her mistake.  Smile like a dumbass when you come in a month later with the book you found in your locker. 

4.       Throw a fit when she catches you eating or drinking in the room, especially if you’re sitting next to a computer. 

5.       Throw another fit when she tells you that it will cost you 10 cents a copy for her to print something out for you.  Insist that you’ll pay later, and when she refuses, tell her you’re going to complain to the administration, because these services should be free to students, and she’s just using the money to buy stuff for herself anyway.

For teachers:

1.       Send your worst students down to the library to calm down, especially if it’s during the school-mandated reading time and she’s already got tons of kids coming in and out.  She can keep an eye on the kid, right?

2.       Send a student to get a book.  When s/he comes back and says he can’t check out a book because s/he hasn’t returned the last three, ask the librarian if she can overlook it “just this one time.”

3.       When she refuses to give the student a book, try to check it out for him/her yourself, or worse, try and “sneak” the book out while she’s taking a break.  She’s too uptight about those due dates anyway.

6.       Try to come in and “help.”  Ask her why those books are over there or give her hints on how she could “better organize” the room, especially if you’ve never been a librarian or worked in a library.

7.       Berate her when you can’t find a particular book you want for one of your students, one that should be on the shelf but is missing.  Tell her she should have a system to keep track of that.

8.       When she says that books regularly get stolen, pat her on the back condescendingly and tell her that “hey, at least the kids are reading, right?  That’s a good sign, right?”

9.       Ask her if she minds making a few copies for you since she’s “not busy.”

For administrators:

1.        Decide to use the library as an alternate ISS room, and tell the librarian that she’ll have 15 ISS students to watch when she comes in that day.

2.       Try to send students to the library when it’s closed for a makeup final or for accommodated state standardized testing.  Tell her that the students will be quiet and it shouldn’t interrupt what she’s doing.

3.       When she says that we need to order more books, tell her it looks like there are plenty of books for the students.

4.       Get angry at her when she sends you an inventory list showing that one fourth of the books is still unreturned.  Tell her she should have been taking care of this, even though you ignored her earlier emails and didn’t allow her to send home parent letters.

5.       Regularly send substitutes and their entire classes to the library when you can’t find a place for them to go.  Forget that you sent a class there just 10 minutes ago.

6.       Require your librarian to substitute for missing teachers.

For parents or volunteers:

1.       Tell her you’re not paying for the book little Johnny lost, because this is her fault and/or the school has tons of books, and one won’t make a difference.

2.       Tell your kid to return the book that the baby threw up on.  Act offended when you get a letter saying the book must be replaced.  “Why can’t you just dry it out?”

3.       Get angry about the book that your child brought home because it has something in it that you find offensive.  Tell the librarian that she shouldn’t allow these types of books in the school.  Get even angrier when she points out that you signed the release form at the beginning of the year that said you would monitor your child’s reading, and that what the child chooses is not her responsibility.  Threaten to get her fired.

4.       Offer to donate extra books to the library.  Say, “We have lots of books the kids don’t read anymore!”  Don’t check to make sure the books are age-appropriate, so you end up giving Lust in the Fields to a middle school or Hop on Pop to a high school.

5.       Decide to donate all those old National Geographic magazines you’ve had in your garage to the library, rather than throwing them away.  The librarian should be thrilled to get these, and she won’t mind the spiders and roaches that scuttle out of the 20-year-old boxes you’re giving her. 

6.       Bring the magazines anyway, even though she tells you the school doesn’t need them because it subscribes to databases that have the same material online.  Act offended when you see the boxes dumped in the trash outside.

7.       Constantly make suggestions as to what books the librarian should buy, as though she doesn’t already communicate with the district and get carefully curated lists of recommended books from library and education experts.  Tell her that the students will love Little Women just as you did when you were young, even when she points out that the two copies the school has have never been checked out.

8.       Tell her she needs to better understand the students and what they like to read.  “Comic books?  No SERIOUS library would offer comic books!”


Monday, July 17, 2017

Grubbing your way to the top

Ms. Grubbs is quite the character at TCS.

She was hired on to be a teacher, but she’s never been able to pass her certification exam, despite taking it at least five times.  I’m not one to pooh-pooh test anxiety, having seen it in some students, but five times?  The tests aren’t that hard.  I know, because I’ve passed them.

They made her an academic counselor her first year while they waited for her to pass her exam.  Understand that in Texas, being an academic counselor actually requires administrative certification.  If someone can’t teach, he or she certainly can’t be advising students on classes they should take.  Maybe they used finger quotes when they told her she’d be a counselor.

This didn’t go well.  By the end of the first year, Ms. Grubbs still hadn't passed and was generally seen as a disastrous choice as a counselor.  But the school still couldn’t get rid of her, because she was a college student hired under a contract wherein she’d have to commit to working at TCS for about 5 years.  I’m sure TCS never thought this arrangement could backfire on them, but fate can be cruel that way.

The next year she was asked to be an administrative assistant and substitute.  This also didn’t work out.  I’m not one to say that Ms. Grubbs is incapable, but… I’m not quite sure how to end that sentence.  Suffice it to say that there was not a menial task she couldn’t mess up.

She developed a strange relationship with the students.  Like many people new to working in schools, she thought the best way to make the students respect her was to loudly correct them and talk to them with what she thought was a teacher's voice.  The students found her ridiculous.  They ignored her when she spoke and called her Ms. Chubbs or Ms. Tub behind her back. When a student was dismissive of her (as most students were), her voice would get higher and sound more like she was pleading with them to acknowledge her.  It’s not the best way to talk to a student, particularly when you’re talking to a student’s back.

Ms. Grubbs was a short, squat woman without any discernable waist.  That’s no shame in and of itself unless you saw her strike her authoritative pose, such as when she’d put her hands on her hips.  Then you realized that Ms. Grubbs didn’t know where her hips were.  It looked affected, as though she’d heard or read that this is what teachers do to make a point, and it certainly didn’t convey trust or power.  She’d clamp her hands along her ribcage, as though she were trying to keep up an imaginary corset. 

Sadly, Ms. Grubbs was always afraid she was going to get fired, and rightly so.  She didn’t do anything well, so it was a legitimate fear.  After another year of not passing her certification, she was demoted again, this time to the library assistant.  I was teaching and running the library, and at the end of the year, the principal offered me the chance to oversee the library full-time, at a considerable pay cut.  I passed, he offered me another teaching position, and Ms. Grubbs took my place, for what I’m sure was even less money than I was offered. 

After “running” the library for two years, she’s now working in the office.  The library is permanently closed until they can find a teacher to take it back on. 

I found this out the other day when I ran into a former colleague of mine from TCS.  She left at the end of the school year, feeling that she’d put enough time at TCS to deserve the state mandated minimum salary that Texas requires.  TCS told her “we’re a charter school so we can’t pay as much” and she politely declined to sign a new contract.  She’s now going to a better district where she’ll teach fewer classes for more money.

We chatted, and I asked her about our various former co-workers.  Almost everyone we worked with there that was competent has left, and the incompetent ones got district positions.  We pretty much ran through the list until I remembered Ms. Grubbs.

“Is Gina Grubbs still there?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said shortly.  “But she’s not running the library.  They lost so many books last year that the administration wouldn't let her be in charge of it anymore.”

“So… what does she do?”

My friend coughed.  “She’s the office manager.”

“Oh,” I said, nonplussed.  “Um –“

She interrupted me before I could ask.  “I seriously doubt she actually gets to order any supplies.  Mostly I think she answers the phone.”

“Well, at least she has a job still,” I said brightly. 

“Yeah,” my friend said.  “Lucky them.”

They really are, aren’t they?  I’m sure she’ll be in a district job soon enough.



Monday, July 10, 2017

Some people just want to watch the world burn

When you're teaching summer classes for credit recovery, oftentimes you hope that your students will push themselves, and do more, or be more, than what they were during the school year, which was apparently very little.

Most of the time, that hope is vain.

Sure, some of my students did better, but those are students who didn't pass because of things outside of their control.  Or the two kids who had a worse than useless English teacher, so even a mediocre one would be an improvement.

Still, one looks through their writing and realizes that God has a sense of humor, and a pretty dark one at that.

What is the difference between one man and another.  This question can be very tricky or easily to respond.

Would you rather be yourself or something that you’re not?

Have you ever noticed the same similarities on people?

It is best to be unique like anybody else.

We were all born to be abnormal, not the same.

I think it’s pretty cool to be customary.

We the people have many feelings some may be bad and some may be good.

I mean, you can't spell "thesis" without the word hell.  At least if you're these students, you can't. 


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

And so we enter endgame

After all that buildup for the last two weeks, I'm tempted just to say something stupid like, "Everything worked out fine.  We had a standoff, and Mr. Glick was goaded into admitting that he wanted to get rid of me because my fabulous teaching made him look bad, but when he turned around, the entire school and PTO and board was there, listening, courtesy of my sidekick, fellow teacher Jill. Mr. Glick was fired after parents stormed the office, demanding I be reinstated. The board realized that I was the blameless person and shook hands with me as the music swelled and students cheered."

Well, that didn't happen.  I wish it had because it would be a whole lot more cinematic that what actually occurred. But sometimes I like to pretend it did if only to use that scene sometime in the future.

What did happen?  Ken got busy negotiating.  He'd call me every evening with gleeful updates that made my stomach churn.  I had to find every email, every meeting recording I made and turn them over after transcribing them. It was exhausting and felt like I had a colonoscopy every day.

A week after I left, I got my dream job offer, one that is more flexible, pays better, and will propel my career forward in a way that DA never would.  Ironically, I started the day that Ken finally finished negotiating a settlement.  Basically, I got everything I asked for, plus more.  Ken couldn't actually believe it.  He was giddy; I was relieved.

I'm just glad I'll never have to deal with Debut Academy again.  I'll miss my students, but all my teacher friends there either quit this year or retired. Mr. Glick is still there, but I honestly wonder how long he'll last.

I never thought I'd say it, but I'm glad it happened.  I might have stayed and become used to working in a dysfunctional environment, and that's never good.  I might have missed the opportunity to apply for the job I have now.  Unfortunately, this has made me more suspicious of the people I work with, and I don't know that that will ever go away.  But to quote the poet, "My head is bloody but unbowed."  Which still sounds overly dramatic to me and a bit pretentious, but when am I ever going to get the chance to use that line again?

Monday, June 19, 2017

What doesn't kill you makes for a pretty inspirational story

Now, the next chapter in what sounds like an incredibly horrifying story.  

Once my anger wore off, the freak-out started.  How was I going to pay rent?  How was this going to affect my career long term?  I'd stomped out and not signed anything, so did that mean he fired me or I resigned? Yes, I could probably use the unemployment pay, but I really didn't want it to look like I was told to leave.

There was nothing I could do at this point except start applying for jobs, fast.  But still, it was May, and as most teachers know, interviews for open teaching positions start in March.  The only jobs available at this point would be for awful schools or substitute positions. On the plus side, I'd started putting feelers out in April when it looked like I might not get my contract renewed, so I'd already had some applications in. 

I left on a Friday.  The following Monday, I got a call, asking to set up an interview Thursday for one of three administrative jobs that I would KILL for.  It almost seemed to good to be true, so I didn't get my hopes up.  Meanwhile, my phone was blowing up with calls and text from other teachers at DA asking where I was, what was going on, and did I need anything?  Debut's administration put out a story that I would be out for the rest of the year, period.  I just responded with "I'm okay, but I can't talk right now."  

DA emailed me a paper to sign, saying the school would call it a resignation if I promised not to badmouth the school.  I laughed and laughed, and then called my brother-in-law, who's an employment lawyer.  We spent the next two nights on the phone, figuring out what to do.  Did I want to sue them for wrongful termination?  He warned me that I might end up fired anyway with nothing if I tried to pursue action against them.  What I wanted was to get my paycheck for the month and walk away clean, but that didn't seem likely.  Still, I wasn't ready to sign the paper, because I felt the school owed me, even though Ken said I should just do it. I can be pretty reactive at times, but for some reason, I was stubborn now.  Ken kept telling me to sign, but I dug my heels in. 

Out of the blue, I got a voicemail from Mr. Glick.  He asked me to call him, saying that we had some things we needed to talk about, and he didn't want to communicate over email.  I called my brother-in-law.

"Ken, what do I do?  What does he want?" I felt weird and panicky about it.

Ken just laughed.  "Holy cow, Charly.  I don't know what you did or what dirt you have on him, but this is great."

"What do you mean?"

"It's time to make a deal."




Monday, June 12, 2017

If this is moving up then I'm moving out...

So, it's been a bad last few months, but a great last few weeks.

I'm no longer at Debut Academy.  The perfect job ended up turning into a perfect nightmare.  I'm not sure how it happened, except that I DO know how.  It began with the new principal, the one who came my second year, whose real name and whose euphemistic nickname, the one hurled at him behind his back, rhymes with "Glick."

Mr. Glick has never been a principal before.  He thinks that to be a good principal, all teachers have to agree with everything he says and does.  He doesn't like differing opinions or new ideas that aren't his.

Mr. Glick is also "highly concerned" with "maintaining the school's image."  So when I found evidence that a teacher in my department was giving out answers to the upcoming test and turned in proof of it (a photo of a student's notes), I was disciplined for "unprofessional behavior."  Apparently, cheating on tests is okay, but finding proof of a teacher's dishonesty and notifying the administration is conduct "unbecoming to a DA teacher."

I spent the rest of the school year angry and defending myself from accusations that got weirder and wilder as the year went on.  My principal said he kept needing to "check in" with me, because he'd "heard some stories and complaints," but wouldn't tell me who told him these stories or made the complaints.

When I told the administration that if they had such concerns about me as a teacher that they were welcome to come sit in and observe my classes, they all declined and said they were "too busy."

Things came to a head when I was told that there were serious concerns about my performance.  Mr. Glick said I hadn't followed through on a series of tasks that he hadn't given me.  I blew up and told him that a) he wouldn't know about my performance since he'd NEVER been in my classroom, nor communicated with me about anything other than his "reservations"; b) if I was such a bad employee, why was he basing this on rumors that had no basis, rather than conducting an investigation or putting me on a performance improvement plan?

When Glick said, "You think I have time for something like that?" I laughed and stood up.  "I guess it was a bit much for me to expect you to act PROFESSIONALLY, wasn't it?  Are we done here?"

Yes, I walked, though he would say he asked me to leave.  Campus security escorted me out.  I probably would have started crying if I hadn't been so enraged.

Do I care?  Only about the students I left.

Don't worry, there's more...

Monday, June 5, 2017

I before e except, uh, some other time

So yeah, I haven't been writing much lately.  Life has been horrifying and chaotic and pretty much has felt like I've been on a roller coaster for the last two months.  It's not been fun, but the outcome of all this horror has been more than I could even hope for.

Yes, I owe you an explanation.  But unfortunately, it's still not that entertaining or humorous, even though I keep trying to write it that way.  So until IWSG day here's some more bad writing to keep you entertained.

A junk food tax would cause health problems to go down, and people would choose to exercise regularly.

The porpoise of this is to affect everyone’s health.

Eating junk food has always been around but some people take atvantage of it and become overly large.

Being overweight or being constantly told they are causes people to get depression which makes them worst.


It becomes a long chain of bad things.

Meanwhile, I'm working on my not funny story in hopes of helping both you and me to see the humor in it.  

Monday, May 8, 2017

Illiteracy of the soul

So, I've had an explosive couple of months, which has lead to my posting falling way, WAY off.  It's been hard to "bring the funny" under those circumstances.  But next week I'll fill you in on the chaotic state of my life and work now.

In the meantime, I thought I'd crush your hopes for the future by sharing more fun student writing.  One of these sentences will make its way to a motivational poster in the future - I just know it!

In this society, adults are considered to be older people who have more than teenagers.

Adults are the number 1 role model that children look up to.

Adults need to stay in their own lane, and get out of kids way.

When an adult has something their kid likes, they tend to understand their kid a little bit better, unlike parents who don’t understand their kid at all.

When their child has a problem they can help them work it out. Like when a child is failing the parents bribe them to do better because they fix the problem.

Kids are the future and the past.


Typically the outcome of depressed students is suicide, wrong decisions and anti-socialism.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Writing the wrongs

Once again, we come to that time of year when teachers feel the need to have strokes at their desks.  Yes, it's time to grade those writing assignments, the ones you slaved over and stayed after school to help students with and gave tons of feedback on, with such helpful insights as "don't end your sentence with a preposition!"

Just kidding.  I never say that.

I'm relishing the fact that I get to sit down with the students to review their work, and the first thing I'll do is start reading it aloud to them.  That way, they can squirm and look at the floor and consider their failings, which they should, because I'm certainly considering their failings right now.

Structured play is great for a child to know, because it teaches them the importance of obeying rules and also playing fair with other possible children.

Children will never truly enjoy something unless they like it.

Children need to know the difference between imaginary and reality, the best way to do that is showing them reality but also allowing them imaginary.

Using idea’s never thought about before is becoming more desirable in the work force, so knowing what is real and fake is important to know at an early age.

When children are allowed to play unstructuredly, they develop creative skills.

One of our 30 human rights is to have the freedom to enjoy ourselves. 

When a child has structured play, the child is learning that they don’t always get to do what they want and they don’t always get what they want.

A child’s mentality is considered a way of freedom.

Children thrive in a world where there are no problems, worries, or stress.

It depends on the type of person you is.

It really does, doesn't it?


Monday, March 20, 2017

A day in the life

“How’s the new program working?”

I’m standing outside my classroom door, as I’m required, ready to greet my students as they walk in the classroom door.  I’m tired, and I have a terrible head cold.  This is not improved by having our dean of academics come up and ask me this question.

“Fine,” I say shortly, then turn to say hello to one of my surly students who is trudging in.  He steps between Mr. Slater and me without any acknowledgment of the greeting. 

“So it’s going well?” Mr. Slater asks.

“If they would work,” I respond.  I really don’t want to talk to Mr. Slater, now or any time.  The class period that’s about to start is my worst-behaved class, and this new “program” is the district’s response to my request for an interventionist to come in and work with my students who clearly can’t read well.  Rather than sending the STATE REQUIRED PERSON IN, they decided to implement another computer program, in addition to the one I’ve already been doing.  This will teach the kids to read – not the study-proven one-on-one help that we’re supposed to be providing already. 

So yeah, I’m unhappy with Mr. Slater, with his smug, stupid little goatee and lack of email response.  I’m unhappy with the school and their general half-ass measures.  This program was his brilliant idea. 

“So what are you doing to make them work?” he asks.

I cough violently.  “What?” I say.

So what am I doing to make them work, besides standing over them, constantly redirecting and reminding them of their grades?  I’ve been threatening their families and bribing them with illegal substances?  I hear that works.

Luckily, the bell rang.  "Sorry, I have to start class now," I say to Mr. Slater.  I walk inside and close the door in his face.  



Monday, March 13, 2017

Can I call it TBM?

I thought you'd get a kick out of an old journal entry I wrote when I was working at my high school in Crappy ISD.  

Busy day.  Two fights in the cafeteria this morning, one at lunch, one in the hallway. 

Busy day.  Two days ago I received and email, telling me I was signed up for training that I knew nothing about.  I’ve learned that questioning why doesn’t seem to work, so I figured what the heck, it’s another day I get to spend away from these foul-mouthed monsters.  I might pick up some valuable knowledge or skills as well. 

Boy, did I leave with a head full of knowledge!  It’s so full of it that I’m bleeding from the ears.  I learned that the district wants me to do MORE work, and MORE remediation, even though that’s NOT what I was told when I was hired.  They’ve got a great new program that’s going to fix the big problem of kids not being able to read.  The best news is that it only takes more than double the amount of prep time, grading time and in-class training time than the average class.  I felt waves of relief wash over me; either that or my bladder let go when I heard it.  When you have three different classes to prepare for, the most exciting thing you can hear is that you’ll need to spend more time planning and prepping and documenting. 

Busy day.  Three teachers walked out of the school this afternoon.  One was attacked by a student during class.  The administration announced that he was terminated because apparently, throwing the student off of him was “unprofessional.”  That is so true.  The most professional thing to do cover your face and hope you don’t get slashed in the guts – otherwise you’re just entering a power struggle with the kid. No one wants that.  

The attacked teacher left when the school wouldn’t call the police to report it as an assault, even though the attacker was 18.  The other two teachers left out of outraged solidarity.

So… busy day, but really, it’s just another day at Low Expectations High.  I plan to be busy with a fifth of vodka tonight.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Nature or nurture?

Are sociopaths drawn to education?

This was the main thrust of a conversation a friend and I were having today.   We were talking about how many sick, narcissistic or even psychopathic people we’ve worked with in education.  Is it because it’s an industry that doesn’t demand productivity, or at least productivity in a way that’s easy to measure?  Is it because it’s usually something run by the government? 

Before you roll your eyes at my naivete, consider that I’ve worked in several other industries before I made a move to teaching.  Yes, there were indeed both great and horrible people in those industries too.  But I don’t think I saw as many there as I’ve seen working in schools.  Furthermore, though each school has its share of teachers who have absolutely no business working with juveniles in any capacity, what I’m talking about mainly is administration.  Power corrupts… blah blah blah.

I think sick people like to be in positions of power over a group of “good people.”  Most teachers are good people.  They got into this business because they want to help kids and be a force for positive change in their lives.  They work hard for little money, spend a lot of their free time with their students, and generally throw their all into their work.  A sociopathic admin probably thinks, “These suckers are ripe for the picking.”

Who else would feel guilty about what they can’t do, and take it personally when their principal blames them?  Who else would bend over backward to try and fix it?  Who else would actually believe that group work is productive, or that popsicle sticks are a fixture in a high school classroom?  Who else could a power-hungry person manipulate as easily as a group of teachers?

We need a test of some sort for administrators.  Maybe we should create a questionnaire, and ask how many close friends you have, who you idolize, and what you think is an acceptable time to contact a team member.  If you answer with “few to none,” “Kim Jong-Un,” and “anytime I want,” then your proclivities are clear. 


Worse, maybe these awful administrators AREN’T sociopaths.  Maybe they become that way after working in education.  If that’s true, then God help everyone who is involved.                                                                                                  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Can you feel the love, uh, today?

So I got this today:

“We are unable to find your completed lesson plans in Eduphoria in the Gradual Release Lesson Cycle format.”

The reason the administration can't find it might be because they just uploaded the format today and didn’t look at what I put in, but we all make mistakes, right?

“In addition, please be reminded that in order to receive a rating of potential for Professional Responsibilities the following must hold true: The teacher performs duties, participates in meetings, and adheres to deadlines.  Failure to perform duties, participate in meetings, or adhere to deadlines are isolated incidents that do not reoccur. The teacher is compliant with all school, district, state and federal policies.”

I guess we do all make mistakes, especially grammatical ones, particularly when we write emails that will go out to the entire staff.  But the threat gives it a personalized touch.

“Lesson plans are due each Thursday at 4:00 pm please upload your lesson plans to Eduphoria by noon, February 14, 2017.  If you feel that this is an error please let us know where we may find your lesson plans.”

Yes, I’ll tell you EXACTLY where you can find my lesson plans.  My emailed response will be very concise, yet descriptive, and totally in keeping with the "love" theme of Valentine's Day. 


Monday, February 13, 2017

A not so worthy substitute

“Hi Y'all, Mrs. Levinson had to leave for an appointment, so I’m covering her class today.  The first thing we need to do is collect your–“

“Ms. Marlowe?  Ms. Marlowe?”  A hand waves frantically in the air, attached to a freshman with mussed hair.  “I’m supposed to have an extra day to finish my project because I was absent on Thursday.” 

“Well, fine, as long as you’ve cleared it with Mrs. Levinson, but I suppose she’ll talk to you about it tomorrow.  The rest of you, please put your finished poster over here.”  Most of the class gets up to take their posters to the back table, but the rumpled freshman is trying to get my attention again.

“Um, can you tell Mrs. Levinson that I’ll have my project on Monday?  My family is going out of town, and I’ll be gone tomorrow.”  He smiles in what I’m sure he thinks is an encouraging way.

“No, Todd, I’m not going to do that.  You have email, and so does she, and you can and should email her about this yourself.  Besides, I understand this project was assigned a week and a half ago,” I tell him firmly.  I’m not going to act as a messenger, plus this isn’t my class.  He can take care of this himself.  I’m sure the teacher won’t be surprised by this.  I’m not.

“But –“ he starts to plead.

“Sit down, Todd,” I say.  “Take this up with her.  I need to get class started.”

He mutters as he sits down.  Class members wander back to their seats.  I go to the board and look at the clipboard I’m holding, which the teacher left for me with instructions on it. 

“Now, put everything away and get out a pen.  I’ll hand out the quiz…”  Collective groans fill the air.  Someone from the back whines, “Do we have to?”

I blink.  “Uh, yes, because she said you do.  Put your books away.”

“Can’t we just have fun today?”  This comes from a smarmy looking boy who’s leaning back and has one foot resting on the top of his desk.

I roll my eyes.  “No.  This is school.  It’s not about having fun.  And take your feet off the desk; that’s rude.”  He does so reluctantly as I start handing out the quiz.

“But we can have fun at school!” the whiner in the back opines as I make my way through the room.

“Boy, that’s news to me.  I was told otherwise when I took teacher training,” I deadpan.  “So since I believe what I’m told, get to work.  If I see you talking or communicating with other people during the quiz, I’m going to take it, and you’ll get a zero.”  I look at the clock.  “You have fifteen minutes, starting now.”  Most of the students bend their heads and start reading the page. 

Another hand goes up, this time from the side of the room.  “I don’t understand this first question.” 
I look at her.  “Okay,” I say slowly.  I walk over and read the question.  “What don’t you understand about it?”

“This part,” she says, pointing to basically, the entire question. 

I sigh inwardly.  “I really don’t know if I can help you with that because I don’t know what she covered in class.  Just do the best you can, and maybe you can ask her about it tomorrow.”  The student looked disappointed and shrugs. 

Fifteen minutes passes, and I ask the students to turn in their quizzes.  I hear a few groans and “But I’m not done!” from the back of the room.

“Sorry, you have to turn it in anyway.” I walk around to start collecting the papers.  One student is still writing frantically.

I grab the edge.  “Kyle, you’re done.  Hand it over.”  He lets go and huffs loudly.

“Mrs. Levinson always lets us finish,” he complains, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Uh-huh,” I say as I take the other papers.

“Seriously, Ms. Marlowe, why don’t you just let him finish?” asks Trina, who’s on the other side of the room.

“This really doesn’t concern you, Trina, does it?” I ask her pointedly. 

“But Mrs. Levinson always –“

Now I’m highly irritated.  “I’m not Mrs. Levinson, and I’m simply following the directions she left.  If you have a problem with it, take it up with her.  Now open your books to page 763, so we can look at the spread of the Byzantine empire.”

More groans and grumblings as everyone pulls out their books. 

Yeah, I hate subbing as much as they hate having me.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Livin' el libro loca! (I think that's how you say it.)

I’d really like to be a librarian.

I’ve run the library at two of the schools I worked at, but unfortunately, I wasn’t an official librarian.  What makes an official librarian, you may ask if you’re bored and have nothing else to read and decided to respond to my semi-coherent assertion? 

According to the state of Texas, an official librarian is one who has a master’s degree in library science and holds librarian certification from the state.  So you can see the problem for those of us who would like this job but have neither the time, money, or inclination to get the education and documentation we need to actually DO the job. 

Except I actually have done the job.  Seriously, librarians, I love you, but having worked in a library, I know how to do your job.  I know how to automate the library, maintain the database, do inventory, introduce students to many other scholarly databases, create web pages and the like.  I know the Dewey Decimal system better than most “official” librarians.  I even know the Library of Congress classifications better.  And frankly, I’ve read a whole lot more young adult, middle-grade and elementary books than you have, so I know what to recommend to them, based both on their interest and reading levels.  Quit directing kids to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.  No one reads that anymore.  They read The Graveyard Book or Divergent and love them.

Someday I’ll apply to graduate school and do what it takes to actually be a librarian, but I wonder if it’ll be too late by that time.  I mean, I’ve read about how libraries everywhere are closing.  School libraries are frequently staffed by people like me who aren’t “official” but who aren’t averse to keeping track of the books.  Is it really worth it?  Is it a dying profession?  Plus, librarians really don’t make much more money than teachers, so why should I pursue more education if it doesn’t financially pay off?

You may say, “Because then you can do what you love!”  I actually agree.  My problem is that it shouldn’t take so much time and money to do what I love when I can realistically do all that right now, without investing any hours or dollars. 

Honestly, I’d love to be a librarian, but I think I’d miss working with the students.  I get more satisfaction out of seeing students grow and improve than I did about recommending a book to a student that he or she ended up loving.  When I moved full-time into the classroom, I was surprised by how much I ended up enjoying it. 

But it’s the New Year, and I’m thinking about my goals for the future.  What do I want to accomplish?  Is this the year I finally take the plunge and try to up my education in some area?  Or do I just try and give up Coke Zero again?  That resolution hasn’t gone well, for the simple fact that I don’t want to give it up yet.  So in one case, I don’t want to start, and in the other case, I don’t want to stop. 


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

IWSG - Time to rock that boat

I haven't posted much, as I've been super, super, SUPER busy (don't I sound important?)  But of course, I knew I couldn't miss IWSG posting time.  So here I am, fulfilling my obligations and hoping some of you missed me while I was gone.  If you didn't, you could lie to me - it's the thought that counts.

This month's question asks how being a writer changed my (or our) experiences as a reader.  I'd like to think it makes me more understanding, but in fact, I think it's made me more critical.  I'm also less likely to argue with those who are critical of certain books.

To give an example, I was working with a student on an analytical paper.  The subject was the book "Pride and Prejudice."  The student, Tina, said, "I don't know why Wickham would have run off with Lydia.  It makes no sense to me."

Of course, you all know I love me some P&P, and I wasn't about to let her criticize it, but I did semi-politely ask her to explain.   "It says he wanted to marry a woman of fortune.  Unless he's a creepy pedo-perv who likes young girls, she has no money!  It's a bigger problem for him to run off with her, and he doesn't need any more problems.  The Bennets like him, so why would he want to ruin that?"

Honestly, I was stumped.  "Um, well, maybe Wickham is a pedo-perv.  He tried to run off with Georgiana, right?"

"Only because she had money.  I mean, he was trying to get that King girl to marry him too, even though she was not that hot because she had money.  She wasn't 15 or 16.  It doesn't fit with his character.  He's a guy who wants ready access to money, not having that access cut off by word getting around about his creepy behavior."s

I couldn't explain it because she was right.  Wickham didn't even seem to like Lydia that much earlier in the book.  "Maybe the author needed a way to show he was untrustworthy, and how bad Lydia's behavior was."

"But why this way?  Is that just a weakness in the writing?"

I think sometimes we do put in plot events that don't work for the characters, just to move the plot along.  That would make Tina correct - it's a weakness in the writing.  The writer is more interested in the story than being true to the characters.

Since then, I've seen lots of evidence of weakness in writing, in works of great literature, even (I'm looking at you, Great Gatsby!)  No book is perfect, and we all know how hard it is to try and write the perfect story.  Some criticism isn't unwarranted, even (and especially) from other writers.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Just making a simple phone call is not so simple

So, I got an email this morning from Mr. Fleet, telling me that my grading guidelines are incomplete.  Apparently, I’m supposed to call every parent of every failing student I have so that they understand that their child is failing.

I laughed as I deleted his email.  Sorry, but no, 45 phone calls each six weeks is not going to happen. I’m pretty easy going, and I’m person who likes to follow the rules, but on this, I plan to dig my heels in and refuse. 

TCS had a similar rule, and the teachers ignored it there as well.  Both schools have an online database for students and parents to look at their grades.  The average updates each time a new grade is put in.  I grade papers EVERY SINGLE DAY, which means I’m constantly putting new grades in.  It’s not like I wait until the last minute and students have no clue how they’re doing in class.

One of my mentors told me I should never do something for a student that he or she should do on his or her own.  I think the same rule applies to parents.  A parent should be interested in how a kid is faring in class.  Why should I care more about their kid’s progress than they do?

I certainly tried my first two years at TCS.  I made multiple phone calls each week, only to find that half of the numbers were out of service and had never been updated with the school.  Frequently I couldn’t leave a voicemail because it was full or it had never been set up.  For the most part, when I could leave a message, I never heard back from the parent.  One parent, who I called consistently every three weeks, leaving multiple voicemails, later claimed she had no clue her son was failing and that she’d never heard from me.  The only thing that kept me from getting disciplined by the administration was that he was failing ALL of his classes, and his mother claimed NONE of his eight teachers ever contacted her.  When eight teachers are disputing the story of one parent, then the burden of proof isn’t on the teachers.

I realized then that even creating a phone log was insufficient.  I could be lying, or a parent could still claim I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. So I decided to create an email template and contact parents that way.  I can send it from my work email and even take care of it on the weekends without having to use my personal phone number.  Plus, I can provide the sent email, so it’s clear that I actually followed through.  Documentation is pretty important to me, especially in a hostile work environment.

Does this do the job?  Probably not.  Most of us have to have an email address to sign up for anything web-related, and I’ve realized that only a few people even check their email.  But hey, that’s not my fault.

The biggest gripe I have with phoning parents of failing students is that once again, it puts the burden of responsibility on the teacher.  I grew up in a time when parents didn’t have emails or online databases to check my grades, but my mother knew when I wasn’t doing well in school, and you know why?  BECAUSE SHE WAS INVOLVED WITH WHAT WAS GOING ON WITH ME.  If you aren’t involved in your kids’ lives, then maybe the problem with their grades is you. 

It just occurred to me that Mr. Fleet sent me an email to say that email was insufficient to contact a parent.  Hmmmm… shouldn’t he have called me?  I mean, if it’s that important?


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

IWSG: And then there's the rulebreaker...

The new year is underway, so it's time once again to bare our souls for the monthly IWSG blog post.  Y'all already know what my insecurities are, so I don't really want to rehash them.  I think it makes me sound whiny and desperate, and that's never attractive.

But I will address this month's question - What writing rule do you wish you'd never heard?

Frankly, I like the rules.  There's a reason we have them - to keep a writer's work from sucking.  Almost every time I see a writer "break the rules," it leads to writing that's hard to follow or just not as engaging.  However, just like design rules, you have to know what they are to break them in a way that works.

I suppose the one rule I hear frequently is "don't be formulaic."  Writing shouldn't follow a set of guidelines, such as the introduction of the problem, inevitable conflict, rising action, etc. I hear people railing against "the formula" quite a bit in writer's forums.  My own students try to show me that the "hero's journey" is a model that no one uses and really doesn't work.

I say garbage.

Look, if your hero doesn't go on a journey of sorts, then there's no plot and no growth and for the reader, no interest.  No one wants to read about a boring, static life.  Even nonfiction writing has to follow some sort of formula.  Otherwise, the reader is lost and can't understand where the writer is going.

I remember once arguing with a friend who majored in screenwriting about plots.  He told me that there are nine basic plots.  I tried to argue that there were multiple stories and that you couldn't define it so narrowly.  However, every single example I gave him of something unusual and "different" fell under one of those nine plots.  It had taken several years before I realized why he was correct.

Human beings are pretty similar in our habits and thinking.  We gravitate towards what we know, and we cling to what's familiar.  That isn't a bad thing, and that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to be original.  But I say we should rethink "formulaic," and maybe define it as "familiar" or "what audiences like."

My proof of this?  Nicholas Sparks.  The man has made millions of dollars following a formula.  Now tell me it doesn't work.

Monday, January 2, 2017

I'm trying to keep the "pro" in "professional"

Remember that promotion that I was passed over for in the spring?  Yeah, so do I – STILL.  I’ve tried to put it behind me and reassure myself that it was all for the best and that maybe there were other factors that I’m not aware of.  I tried not to be upset about who eventually got the promotion and decided that it wouldn’t change the way I worked or acted.  I’m capable of still being as professional as I was before this.

Except that the person who got the promotion is clearly not capable of those same things.

Right now this teacher, whom I’ll call Usurper because she’s way newer to the school than I am, is in a snit over something and is refusing to speak to other members of our grade level team.  Even though we are all supposed to teach the same content, give the same tests, quizzes and assignments and grade on the same scale, she’s decided she’s not going to do any of those things. 

I probably wouldn’t care, except that it undermines the integrity of the team, and leads some parents to believe that certain teachers grade harder or easier than others.  Furthermore, since I’m available to help students during their study halls, I often work with kids in her classes.  It’s pretty clear they don’t understand the material, mostly because… she doesn’t.

I’ve never met an English teacher who seemed so willfully obtuse or unable to analyze literature.  My current theory is that she has a learning disability that she’s trying to hide by changing the way she grades.  I mean, how can you misinterpret “Invictus?”  Yes, that happened.  And she’s angry that we pointed it out to her after several students repeated back what she told them, and my fellow teachers and I had to correct them – and her.  I realize that literature can be interpreted many different ways, but not the ones we’re doing.

Appealing to our department head hasn’t helped.  Susan just tells us that Usurper is “a teacher in crisis” and that we need to allow her time and space to “find her way.”  Odd, because that’s not what she told the rest of us when we were hired.  But I felt like these feel good phrases begged some questions.

“Really?  What’s her crisis?” I asked.  “Family problems?”

“No,” Susan shook her head sympathetically.  “Part of her ceiling in her living room collapsed during the renovation.”

“So… is she homeless now?” I felt it was a legitimate question.  She did say it was a crisis.

Susan glared at me.  “Surely you can understand that that’s upsetting, trying to live in that situation.”

“Yes, and I’ve lived through things like that.  I thought it might be like when Adam’s father died last year,” I said, referring to the other teacher Usurper won’t speak to, and is trashing to other members of the team.  “To me, that seems more like a crisis that would shake someone’s world, rather than a renovation inconvenience.”

She sniffed.  “Well, we all handle things differently.”

Apparently, we do.  Seems to me Usurper and Susan handle things badly.  And I guess there are many different ways to interpret the word “professionalism.”