Wednesday Go to Meetin’ Day

Forty minutes in the morning and an hour and forty-five minutes in the afternoon and pretty soon you’re talking about real work time here. Suicide prevention took about half an hour. Charlotte Danielson and our new evaluation system took a little over half an hour. I love endless Danielson, as readers know. Soon I should qualify for three college credits in Danielson’s Rubric 101. We even sat around reading Danielson’s book, the world according to Charlotte.

I shouldn’t be too snippy. It’s not Charlotte’s fault we are doing a CAT scan’s worth of in-depth investigation into how we will be evaluated. If most of our professional development time in the last year has gone to learning about the new system of teacher evaluations, that’s the district’s choice. Many districts have been dedicating time to Danielson, of course, and with good reason. I had to laugh at a Facebook cartoon recently; On top, the cartoon listed the old system of teacher evaluation with the words, “You are a dedicated teacher!” On the bottom, the new system of evaluations said, “You suck. Prove me wrong.” The cartoon was funny because it’s getting closer and closer to true. I handed my Assistant Principal about four pounds worth of data and ancillary supportive materials before my evaluation, proof essentially that I did not suck. My final evaluation ran about 22 pages, I think. I’m not sure. I haven’t read it. I signed off on it anyway. One of the charms of deciding to leave your place of employment has to be stuffing your evaluation in a cubby and losing it immediately. Frankly, I’m too busy to read the damn thing.

One of the academic coaches has come up with a list of words I am supposed to read with all of my classes every day. Another coach has come up with a list of math problems I am supposed to do with my classes a couple of day a week. We were supposed to be doing choral reading a few days a week during all our classes. I rather think that choral reading may have lapsed. I’m afraid to ask for fear I will find out I am wrong. We were supposed to be doing multiplication chanting a couple of days a week. I still sometimes do this. They like chanting. They also like shouting out their new sight words. In the meantime, I have lesson plans and actual instruction to fit into these classes as well, with quizzes in math that I am giving weekly. I am supposed to analyze the data from those quizzes to share with my team during one of the daily meetings once each week. The Dean has a new 100% form I am supposed to fill out, some form of self-analysis. Mine got all wet. I have to borrow another one. I am helping a math teacher by making keys for some quizzes. I have to find my protractors. I have to call parents and fill out various papers for any disciplinary issues I encounter. The coaches want an analysis of the new software for the new software company. I think I may be caught up on the various required surveys in my in-box except for the one from the four-hour training last night after school. I am supposed to read another chapter and a half of Danielson’s book for an upcoming professional development day focused on “utilizing the Danielson Framework to dig deeply into student intellectual engagement.” Somewhere in this mess I have to find time to tutor some students. I am also going to continue this post later since I have more details to stick in this litany but I also have grading to do.

Eduhonesty: My mail is such an adventure. What will it be today? A message telling me we are having a science fair in two weeks? A new software program to create openers to supplant the openers that supplanted the last set of openers? Perhaps a poetry contest? A spreadsheet to record students who can multiply all numbers up to 12? A new PARCC practice program? A list of the teachers who were more than five minutes late putting in yesterday’s attendance? The possible surprises are endless.

First, I need to go look for those protractors, though.

Quote of the day

“Ms. Q, I don’t want to be distracted, but have you tasted this food called menudo?”

Sigh. Clearly, my student was not mesmerized by my explanation of the day’s geometry lesson. I headed off the menudo discussion, forcing us back toward angles and circles.

I keep hearing a new mantra about how we need to strive to get 100% of our students’ attention 100% of the time. I’m sorry, but this 100% chant sounds like crazy talk to me. I never sat through a single class in my life where I paid attention 100% of the time. The people advocating this idea just don’t understand the power of menudo.

A soft day off

I’m testing all day today. I need to burn a new CD. My CDs cost me money, but these shiny discs improve the class atmosphere greatly. The pre-test whining should all but vanish if I add enough of the right music.

Eduhonesty: My ITunes libray has to be one of the weirdest collections on the planet. This middle-aged woman who favors indie rock and even folk keeps downloading rap, hip-hop and whatever they call these Mexican ranch songs. Whatever works, I say. Sometimes I dance a little to the music. The kids like to see my lame dancing attempts. When the test is over, at the end, they will be welcome to dance, too.

“If Your Teacher Likes You, You Might Get A Better Grade”

This nugget of wisdom was brought to us by Anya Kamenetz at NPREd (, the result of a study at the Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg in Germany. While this study seems to be another case of spending research dollars to prove the obvious, and the results are hardly shocking, I did stop to read the article and some of the comments. The comments are much more interesting than the article, as a number of commenters assert that teacher-negativity contributed to or even caused their academic failures.

True? Not true? Any kernels of truth are likely to be found between the lines here. Lack of adult support for student efforts affects future efforts without doubt. Student misbehavior can lead to a lack of adult support, as can numerous other factors. If I were a parent, I’d teach my child to treat teachers respectfully. I’d communicate with the teacher, showing that teacher how much I valued my child’s education. If my child was struggling, I’d sit down with my child to help with homework. Navigating the educational system can be tricky. I don’t want to downplay the issues cited in this article. They matter. They need to be addressed.

In a way, though, this study’s silly. Of course, teacher bias exists and affects grades. My daughter once got a “D” on a very well-written, middle-school assignment in which she took the stand that women should be stay-at-home moms. Her teacher told her firmly that her essay made no sense. I’d say that essay made a good deal of sense, and was well-supported, except for the fact the teacher disagreed with my daughter’s position.

If there’s a kid out in America who doesn’t think that teacher bias affects grades, I’d like to meet that kid. Most students have internalized this fact by early elementary school if they’re observant. Another daughter had great difficulties with a third-grade teacher who diminished her efforts and abilities repeatedly. My girl survived, learned unfortunate facts about human nature, and went on to graduate summa cum laude from one of America’s best universities, aglow in a sea of ribbons and tassels. (I should have raised more hell that year, though. If you have a child making these complaints, you have a perfect right to take on the educational system with absolute ferocity.)

I found a few comments from this article rather frightening. Commenters used the article to assert the need for more standardized tests to weed out teacher bias. From the trenches, I want to shout out a resounding, “No!” Those tests would have been great for my daughters, but they are killing some of my students.

A few trenchant observations from the trenches:

If a student is struggling academically, standardized tests make that student feel stupid. In a less-standardized universe, a good teacher can help manage this academic struggle by differential grading. I’ll confess to my own bias. If I see a student who is trying hard, I will grade more mercifully to encourage those efforts. Effort deserves to be rewarded. Some kids just have a harder time learning. They need encouragement. They don’t need more bubble sheets to fail.

Blow-off efforts should not be rewarded. If a student has created a paragraph that is better than most of the paragraphs in the class, but blew through the assignment in 3 minutes while other people worked five times as long, he should get a decent grade. Decent efforts should get decent grades. I am perfectly justified in taking that student aside to talk to him/her about the need for effort, however. Standardized tests don’t allow or control for sloppy efforts, at least not well. These tests are almost always multiple-choice tests. Blow-off efforts don’t show up in multiple-choice tests the way they do in essay tests. In fact, often blow-off efforts don’t show up at all, except as the disasters created by students who don’t bother to read the questions before they fill in the bubbles. Unfortunately, a modicum of effort can disguise any lack of strenuous mental exertion.

Essay tests tell us a great deal about student understanding of topics and reveal grammatical holes in the learning process. Unfortunately, those tests have all but vanished in many places. I can always justify a multiple-choice test as standardized test preparation. It’s easier and faster for me to grade. If my school is giving that test to the whole grade, then I may not even have to write the test. Somebody will write the test for me. Somebody or something may even grade the test for me. I can grade 125 tests in a few minutes if I feed bubble sheets into a Scantron. The group of academic coaches in my school periodically grade standardized bubble tests I am required to give. An academic coach* on Friday apologized because their bubble-sheet scanner was acting up. I might have to wait awhile before I got my results back, she said. Given that the test I had to give is about three to four years above the learning level of my students — as indicated by multiple previous standardized tests — I’m not too worried about those results. I’ll be more surprised by the right answers than the wrong answers. (Don’t get me wrong. I’m teaching as fast and as hard as I can, but I also know a lot about what my students know. If you test Physics 101 students on Physics 312 material, you should not be surprised by low scores.)

Eduhonesty: Putting my kernels in a nutshell, standardized tests are not the answer to the teacher-bias problem. Teacher training to help teachers recognize and control for their biases will attack this problem much more effectively. Teachers want to teach. They want their students to succeed. The more we try to extricate teachers from the teaching process, the more inferior, second-rate, subpar, faulty, defective, shoddy, shabby, unsound, and unsatisfactory American education is going to become. And as I test, test, test and buy more Number 2 pencils to sell, I think we’re well on the road to an academic meltdown in some urban and financially impoverished districts.

Simple solutions to complex problems seldom work well.

*Academic coach: A full-time, non-teaching employee charged with making building teachers better while managing a great deal of standardized-test data. We have a number of them wandering into various classes at odd times.

Regarding PARCC

Comment by a fellow teacher who nailed the PARCC problem in a sound bite:

“I’m so sick of kids being set up for failure under the PRETENSE of being set up for success!”

Eduhonesty: I am teaching typing as fast as I can because I think that’s one element of the upcoming PARCC test for which the kids can prepare. But I expect a total bloodbath nonetheless. I’ve looked into the practice test. We will fail. I am in trouble with administration when I say anything to that effect. Realism is not allowed and I’m already in trouble with admins who spout the stock phrase, “No excuses!” No excuses allows for no explanations, but that hardly matters: No one on top is listening anyway.

I guess the test will tell. In fact, I’m sure the test will tell. I know what the test is going to say, too.

I just wish someone in charge would at least consider the fact that the eggs we are breaking to make this new PARCC omelette happen to be kids, many of whom are likely to feel about as dumb as the proverbial rock come late spring.

Typing practice for candy coupons

The research suggests we shouldn’t bribe kids. Rewards don’t work in the long-run, we are told. I am sure they are right, but sometimes we don’t need a multi-year commitment. I have a tutoring group working in a typing program, trying to increase speed and accuracy to get candy coupons. This effort has gotten slightly expensive. I am giving out handfuls of candy. Typing is happening, though. Some of them type nonstop throughout the period while I walk around persuading them to put their fingers in the right place.

Eduhonesty: I favor occasional bribery. For repetitive, competitive tasks like typing, candy coupons work great.

Valentine’s Day in middle school

My student wrote this and I asked her to share it with me:

“So one time their was this girl who had no valentine. She was all sad but that’s cool because guess what she found out: You need no guy to be happy. All you need is candy, Netflix and a friend to enjoy the day with,and if all your friends are busy you can hang out with your sister. girls think you need a guy to be happy thats a lie because truly you need yourself and your family. boys come and go and if one leaves you remember your parents always taught you to share your used toys. cx love” (the girl who wrote this) “oh yeah and i almost forgot the pizza part lol love ya happy valentine’s day <3." Eduhonesty: My kitchen has beautiful roses and lilies. My husband and I are whittling away at Valentine's Day chocolates. A student also gave me a couple of roses. Valentine's Day can be a happy win. But I sort of wish this holiday would disappear. It's so hard on some people, like a Christmas that didn't come. My student is wise beyond her years. Few adolescents bring this much understanding to the table, however. Romantic turmoil roiled through my middle school last week. It's not Valentine's Day per se that bothers me. It's the pressure on young girls to be in a relationship. Seventh grade girls should not have to be so wise and philosophical.

Your lack of planning should not always be my emergency

This is getting silly. We’ll ignore the three (four?) cancellations of a post-observation conference by Admin #1. At least Admin #1 was polite about all those disruptions. But Admin #2 has been driving me nuts. This morning, I found an email that had been sent out at 9 o’clock the night before, rescheduling a morning meeting with me and asking me to bring a multi-question document on my reflections for the year past and the year to come. I stumbled on this document at 6 AM. Once again, planning for my classes had to shut down. Emergency! Reflect! Type fast! The meeting that had been rescheduled would be rescheduled two more times that morning. When I finally got there, Admin #2 told me that the emailed document was optional. Nothing in the email said anything about optional, however. That man has got to stop sending me projects with less than 24 hours notice. This was less than 12 hours notice, given the time of the original meeting.

A couple of days ago, at 8:43 PM, he sent me an obscure email telling me I had an appointment for 10:00 the next day. I replied, “Umm… I’m happy to join you for this, but what is it?” No response. I went at 10 and waited in a hallway, finally sitting on the floor by the wall, since Admin #2 had “double-booked” himself by his own admission. I then discovered I was expected to provide large quantities of documentation that proved I did not suck. I got a couple of days to do this. I gathered evidence for the meeting that kept changing times, the one for which I was supposed to prepare the document that hit my inbox slightly before bedtime the night before. As I said to colleagues, if I had not checked my mail at 6 in the morning, I’d have been frazzled since I would have had zero time at school to work on the document I was told I needed to bring.

Eduhonesty: Does everything always have to be an emergency? Just asking.

Sub-zero weather

Slightly over half of my students made it to school yesterday. Many districts had closed but my district threw the doors open, advising parents to use their discretion in sending students to school. Some kids who needed to walk in those sub-zero temperatures stayed home, so low attendance was no surprise. In this time of working parents, and in this poor area where families sometimes share one car, transportation to school may be unavailable.

We had fun, but we did not make much progress. You can’t introduce new material to half of a class. We reviewed. We played math games that ended with students using the trash can as a basket and tossing tennis balls when they found the right answers. We worked quietly on study guides for upcoming quizzes.

Eduhonesty: The busses had been instructed to pick up any walkers they saw, but I would not trust my child to luck into a bus. That day was destined to be quiet, an attendance disaster. I enjoyed taking a deep breath as I worked with my tiny classes.

I have to go to work

“Some people see things that are and ask, Why? Some people
dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? Some people
have to go to work and don’t have time for all that.”

~ George Carlin

I would love to live a visionary’s life. Right now, I’ll settle for somehow getting the idea of two-step equations over the plate. Repetition, repetition, repetition… I keep going. Relentlessness helps. My students don’t always appreciate my relentlessness. My administration doesn’t appreciate it, either, or at least I have no indication they do. Admin keeps harping on the need to teach critical thinking skills. I like critical thinking skills, don’t get me wrong, but first we have to figure out those equations.

Eduhonesty: If our educational push for critical thinking flivvers, I believe that part of the reason will be straightforward: You can’t build a bridge until you have the stone or steel you need for girders.