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.”