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.”