1 : evasion of straightforward action or clear-cut statement : equivocation
2 : desertion of a cause, position, party, or faith

Read more at http://www.merriam-webster.com

I find this a sad word. Education ought to be a field filled with dedicated professionals standing up for their beliefs. Those people are often too scared now. As tenure disappears, and desperation to improve stagnant test scores leads to frantic (and often silly) decision-making, many teachers are now taking actions they know to be suboptimal or worse.

For example: Teachers are told they must teach the 9th grade curriculum. Then they are handed a group of students whose average mathematical understanding sits squarely in the 4th grade curriculum. A few outliers may have an understanding closer to the 7th grade curriculum or even the 9th grade curriculum. First, no class should have an understanding level ranging from 1st to 9th grade, but I assure you they exist. I have a class right now where levels range from about 2nd grade to 7th grade. Second, this class should probably never even SEE the 9th grade curriculum. They need to start WHERE THEY GOT LOST, not where we want them to be.

But like everybody else in my district who wants to hold on to a job, I am working to get to that 9th grade (or whatever putative grade has been put into play) curriculum. It’s not best for the kids and I feel I have abandoned the faith on some level. My lesson plan contains equivocations that make me wince: “Students will master multistep equations using negatives, fractions, decimals and exponents.”

It’ll be a neat trick if they do since a substantial number of them cannot add fractions and I bogged down at the end of this week when I discovered that most of them thought 5/12 was bigger than 5/6.

Discipline and Danielson

When a student breaks a bunch of rules and administration essentially tells you that you are failing to meet that student’s needs, the natural response is to back off from enforcement of the rules. If admin is going to tell me that I am failing by what I am doing, I will do something else. Specifically, I will avoid locking horns with a kid who I think may make up tales about how he/she is being discriminated against.

Eduhonesty: Overall, admin in my school appears to be doing a solid job. I am often impressed by the Dean’s Office. That said, some kids appear to be able to spin stories that put them in a special category. (I imagine I’d have been one of those kids in high school if I hadn’t naturally followed the rules.) Deans like or at least sympathize with certain kids, especially girls. The problem is that those kids end up taking advantage of the rules and a smart teacher does not get in their way, at least not until that teacher has an established reputation and relationship with administrators. In urban and academically-disadvantaged districts, though, administrators may come and go like summer hires in a Burger King, preventing that relationship from occurring.

It’s sad that I am about to walk away from a situation of chronic misbehavior, but the potential downside to fighting that cell phone etc. is a fight I don’t want and I am not sure I can win. The student in question is behaving like an adolescent girl with a growing grudge. I don’t intend to find out what will happen if she decides to push that grudge. I don’t trust my administration to see through any lies. So I am going to make peace. I won’t walk away from the rules. I’ll still say, “Put your cell phone away, please.” I expect to say that a number of times per class. But I don’t think I will write many more referrals. I don’t see the upside to looking for administrative support. I am entirely clear on the downside.

Under the Danielson Framework for evaluating teachers, it may appear that I am failing under the all-important Domain 2, receiving an Unsatisfactory in “Creating and Environment of Respect and Rapport.” The particular block of this rubric reads, “Teacher interaction with at least some students is negative, demeaning, sarcastic, or inappropriate to the age or culture of the students. Students exhibit disrespect for teacher.” Since there is little way to fully evaluate this in the three or less hours that administrators will spend in my classroom, administrators may extrapolate from the reports of resentful students — no matter how much actual cause for resentment those students possess. Angry students lie, too. The fact that the student in question may be resentful and disrespectful because he/she is not being allowed to text their way through class — or is failing a class by not doing any work — can get lost in the need to fill out the Danielson Rubric, a need complicated by the mountain of paperwork administrators are forced to fill out in a short time period.

So I will back off from this dispute. I am reminded of an old Twilight Zone episode. Here is a synopsis from the MSN websites at http://movies.msn.com/movies/movie-synopsis/the-twilight-zone-what-you-need/:

Appropriately telecast December 25, 1959, this Twilight Zone episode focuses on a most unusual Santa Claus, in the form of shabby sidewalk peddler Pedott. Entering a shabby corner bar, Pedott provides the customer with trivial items which turn out to be exactly what they need to improve their lives. Impressed by this, hoodlum Fred Renard purchases a pair of scissors which later, amazingly, save his life. Becoming greedy, Fred browbeats Pedott into giving him even more beneficial items.

In the end, Pedott feels trapped and gives Renard a pair of shoes that cause him to slip and fall at a critical intersection in the story.

It’s not best for my student that I continue to meet her demands. It’s not best if I let her text, refuse to read any books, refuse to do work, refuse to follow the dress code and refuse to listen to my attempts to explain why she needs to learn new material. The problem here is that it’s best for me. The Danielson Framework in the hands of a group of people who don’t know me can prove genuinely scary.

Come Monday, my student will find herself in a kinder, gentler classroom. I’ll gently tell her to put the phone away. I’ll tell her again and again, I expect. I’ll have to start telling other students as they watch the phone drama unfold and start to pull out their own phones. But I know those students well enough to know I can manage the fall-out and keep my other students on task.

I don’t want to hand that student a pair of slippery-soled shoes. I want to help her. I’ll still try to help her. But if she’s stubborn enough, she has enough power so that I won’t mess with her. I’ll throw the fight. One thing I’ve learned in teaching: Teachers who don’t lie are at a real disadvantaged when they get into a cat fight with students who do. This girl has lied to my face.

I guess there’s not much else to say here.

Beginning to tackle the Danielson Framework

A growing problem: It has become genuinely dangerous for a teacher to label garbage as the refuse that it is. The Charlotte Danielson framework, now used to evaluate all Illinois teachers, emphasizes the need for positive reinforcement at all times — or at least, that’s how it’s commonly interpreted. “Put-downs” of student work can seriously damage evaluations and can even threaten employment.

I’m allowed to say something like, “I really liked this part but the conclusion could be stronger. You want to include more detail,” when what I ought to say is, “You put no work into this and we both know it. The ending makes no sense at all.”

“You don’t want to discourage students,” teachers are told.

Eduhonesty: Excuse me, but obvious blow-off efforts need to be discouraged, and not in a sweet, supportive way. Students need to understand that they are not fooling anyone. I am certain that one reason so many students are cheating is that they have come to believe their teacher is only slightly more alert than your average rock. She’ll never notice, they say to themselves. It’s a reasonable conclusion to come to if you took 5 minutes to write an essay lacking any research or even basic logic and received back a paper that said, “Interesting ideas! You should work on connecting your paragraphs!” with a big, fat “B” across the top.

Thoughts on tough teachers

From the Wall Street Journal
September 27, 2013, 7:17 p.m. ET

Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results


I had a teacher once who called his students “idiots” when they screwed up. He was our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, “Who eez deaf in first violins!?” He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.

Today, he’d be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years’ worth of former students and colleagues flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country, old instruments in tow, to play a concert in his memory. I was among them, toting my long-neglected viola. When the curtain rose on our concert that day, we had formed a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.

Eduhonesty: There’s so much truth in this article. I remember my toughest teachers with the same respect. I can still see their faces, while the features of less demanding teachers long ago faded into time’s mists. That said, all kids are different. That strict English teacher I wrote about a few days ago? He has a few “A” students who are working hard and enjoying learning. A greater number of kids want to drop out of his class. They complain about him vociferously.

I’d like to take a bold position here: I do think there is something to be said for labeling garbage for what it is. Kids know when they blew through their work. They shouldn’t be allowed to pass their courses by turning in half-baked thoughts that have been converted into half-assed writing. When we let them do this, we convince them that they can fake their way through their responsibilities, a life-lesson that’s likely to clobber them after they graduate.

When worlds collide

Most teachers I know are accepting late work. It’s all the fashion now. Administrators cite studies in which this helps prevent students from losing motivation. Personally, I doubt the “whenever-you-get-around-to-it” homework approach yields much academic gain over time. Blasting out last-minute work (often copied from someone else’s returned papers) isn’t infusing real knowledge into the majority of our chronically-late homework-returners.

I’m watching an interesting little vignette unfold, though. The new guy in English is refusing late work. Many of his students are failing. Good or bad? I’m not sure. I know that students are more likely to do his homework. I watch them pulling out their English first in study classes. English now takes precedence over other classes since timeliness counts. I suspect English-guy is doing the right thing. Will he be stopped? The school is unlikely to accept a large percentage of failures.

Eduhonesty: We should have failed more students and we should have failed them sooner. Many paragraphs I read are sloppy, some are even unintelligible. But when we pass the students writing those paragraphs, we tell them implicitly that their work is OK. Now these students are in high school.

The conflict has been ongoing. Academically-disadvantaged schools don’t want to fail students who are not at grade level, often not close to grade level, so they pass students along. It’s this automatic passing that explains the Algebra 2 students to whom I was explaining addition and subtraction of fractions today. I think they now remember and understand the common denominator. I also think these students are in the wrong math class. You can call a kitten a lion, but that won’t make the kitten a lion. You can call a class Algebra 2. Hell, you can call the class Calculus or Nuclear Physics. If its students can’t add fractions, though, any one of those names is a fiction. Pre-algebra would be a stretch, given that the content these students don’t know sits smack in the middle of the elementary school curriculum.

I’ll be interested to see how English-guy does with the administration as he makes his stand.