The annual basement flood

Where do classrooms go in the summer? Some lucky people get to leave their books and posters, knowing that they will return in a few months to pick up where they left off. Many of us are not so lucky, though. I won’t be back regardless, but I can’t leave my room for my successor. My successor is supposed to be upstairs. I’ve hardly ever been lucky enough to repeat a room and, when I did, painting was scheduled or Promethean boards were being installed or something. So I fill the car. Students carry boxes to my car. Family members and I cart my walls, drawers and shelves to the basement.

basement mess

The basement’s quite a disaster at the moment. My photo only catches the entryway.

Next year’s remedial classes

If their test scores and/or grades are low, my school’s students will be placed in an extra English or math class next year in place of any elective. While others take art, these students will be remediated. Scores indicate these students have not mastered fundamentals and thus require extra help.

I wish we could embed those fundamentals into a fun elective. I am concerned that we will push some students out the door, especially since unfortunate comparisons will be inevitable. What “Manny” will see is that school seems to be much less fun for him than for “Henry.” Henry gets to take art. Henry receives good grades and gets to go to the special lunch for kids on the honor roll, the lunch where kids can use electronics. In contrast, Manny will attend an extra math class. He may be going to a special lunch for kids who misbehave, where he does his homework or other academics, since disciplinary problems go hand-in-hand with academic struggles.

Eduhonesty: I am altogether in favor of special perks for students who are doing well. Incentives work sometimes. I have had students putting in extra work and hours to get to that electronics lunch. They don’t care about honor roll, but they do want to be part of honor roll lunch where they can use their phones and play sports after they eat.

Still, I strongly suggest that we take time to try to view the world through the eyes of those kids who are nowhere near getting to sit in that special lunch. If we are trying to save these kids, we need to remember that when school becomes too grim, some kids are going to head for the door, not the next tutoring opportunity. Manny’s secret mantra may become “I’m outta here. ” If he chants that mantra enough, he will make it happen.


He’s unfortunate enough to fall in that Hispanic category, too, a gray line that’s been falling but that remains above the other ethnicities recorded in the government’s chart.

Damn that stupid lesson plan

Regarding yesterday’s surprise visit: Left to my own devices, at this time of year, I’d normally be playing math jeopardy or bingo. But, no, I was frantically trying to complete the week’s lesson plan which required presentations by a fair number of unwilling students. Bilingual students may benefit from class presentations (one-quarter of the rubric points on the team’s rubric), but they definitely don’t like them, with a few exceptions who are either towards the top of the class or are simply natural hams who crave an audience. If I’d been doing my own thing, I believe we’d have looked great, as we often do.

Eduhonesty: A perfectly awful ending for a perfectly awful year.

P.S. O.K., it wasn’t a perfectly awful year. That’s hyperbole. My kids and I had a great day today. We’ve had lots of great days. I love those kids. But really!? A surprise visit from a coach on the last real day of instruction? When I am retiring? The world of teaching has become so strange.


P.S.S. The actual feedback from that visit was entirely laudatory. I can definitely be my own harshest critic — a problem in these feedback-laden times.

Empathizing with my students

Another coach popped in today, once again at a relatively unfortunate time. I had one of my lowest math students trying to present his project. I followed up with the only student who finished her project but had not yet spoken, not allowing her to take a “D” and skip the presentation as she requested. This student hates to speak in public, in part because she speaks almost no English. The Dean had just been in with a suspended student, collecting that student’s work, a student had thrown another student on his back only a few minutes previously in the hallway, and it was near the end of the day. I can’t give my class great attentiveness points. I was allowing a couple of kids to work on their presentations on the Chromebooks, too, since they had to finish and present today. The grades are due tomorrow. The room was a disaster, since we are throwing out binders, papers and other detritus from the closing school year. Some of them had tossed out their used math workbooks and one had torn up the cover of that book in the process, leaving the pieces on top of the garbage. Sigh.

I feel like I just took pop quiz #6,232 for the year and I’m pretty sure I failed to pass with flying colors. I’m not sure I passed in any form. Every other hour of the day would have been better, mostly much better, but that “pop quiz” has to be the perfect example of my luck for this year. Just like some of my kids taking the latest unexpected or overwhelming test, I am sure I looked sad. I felt sad.

I suppose I should appreciate my luck. Unlike my kids, I do have options. I can drop out of school, for example.

Eduhonesty: Oh, wait! I am dropping out. Retirement seems like the best plan at the moment. I am so done with pop quizzes.

Are we going to work?

The end of May always brings questions like this. Do we have stuff to do? Yes, we are going to work. We still have stuff to do.

“It’s not over yet,” I say, channeling Princess Leia in Star Wars.

So far, no one has done a Han Solo on me — “It is for me, sister,” Han Solo replies. — but I’m clear that a number of students think they’re done. One tried to go home with his mom after playing in the band at the high school graduation until I pointed out that he had a 20 point math project due tomorrow. He called his mom and settled in for the hour and a half remaining in the school day.

This cake is all but baked. The grades are almost all in. Everybody’s in a good mood. Even the failing are in a good mood, since they know the district does not plan to retain anyone. I give pep talks. I discuss higher education options. I push reading. I feed them red licorice. I liked it when I discovered they had made up their own candy and chips schedule for the week and taped this to the wall. A more alert teacher might have noticed the snack chart sooner, but I left the chart up. I support individual initiative.

Eduhonesty: A pleasant day was had by almost all as we researched math concepts on the Chromebooks, their music playing in the background.

The relationship game

promethean remote

I’d like to share a quick explanation why 82 minute, bell-to-bell instruction may not be such a good idea. I have a small, white remote. I am not good with small, white remotes, or keys for that matter. The start of this year was rocky. For one thing, for the first time ever, my students were being bombarded with tests, many of them academically above anything those students had ever seen before. They were unhappy. I was unhappy. They took out their unhappiness on me for some weeks, stashing that remote a couple of times among other incidents.

Fortunately, we made our peace. We’re a team now and have been for most of this year. I love those guys. They know I am trying to teach as fast as I reasonably can. I help as much as I am able and I provide retakes. For much of the year, I’ve driven an hour on Saturdays to make sure they received the tutoring they needed. They now realize the tests are not of my doing. So we’re fine.

They help me find my remote. They help me keep the classroom clean (mostly) and they volunteer for many tasks that make my day go smoother. But if they didn’t like me, my students could make my life nightmarish. I’ve seen it happen in more than one classroom. One year, a kind, soft-spoken, first-year teacher had gum put in her hair multiple times. Calculators were thrown out her windows. She never made it to a second year. I taught Spanish a couple of years ago and I was so glad to see the end of that year. One class, in particular, resented the pace created by the 304 page curriculum. I can’t blame them in the sense that we did almost no fun projects — we had no time with all those pages to cover — but that class was miserable and they made me miserable.

Eduhonesty: Kids push back. They don’t just march because we say march. They need to know why they are marching. They also benefit from having a rapport with their teacher. I know one can teach without that rapport but I don’t want to try. If we do nothing but push, push, push academics, we lose enormous amounts of time to passive resistance. In my experience, taking a few minutes to find out what everyone did over Memorial Day week-end results in a net time gain. The fact that I care that a kid visited her aunt makes that kid much more willing to work when we do buckle down.

Alas for my walls — and for the classroom that never was

Under PARCC, all materials on the wall with any academic content whatsoever are supposed to be removed or covered. My walls were covered in paper.

covered walls

Eduhonesty: Over Memorial Day weekend, I came back to a larger picture on the issue of walls. I have been adapting, adapting, adapting, until I’ve reached the point where I frequently don’t even notice the changes I am making in order to fit into the New Educational Order. The fact that I did not hang the Twilight posters this year passed without much notice. A few, former students remarked on the barren quality of my walls at the start of the year, but my current students had little basis for comparison. Most had never spent time in my former classrooms. They’d never seen the cardboard R2D2 stand-up I have used to hide cords behind the computer. They did not miss my Harry Potter or Twilight posters. They did not know my Star Trek posters were still wrapped in rubber-banded tubes.

All this year’s posters are academic or character-based in orientation. I support various math facts, the periodic table of elements, and the need to work hard on academics. I managed to slip in a couple of diversity posters. No one can complain about posters of jelly beans or Frederick Douglass supporting diversity. But in response to administration emails and a coach’s negative comment about last year’s walls — “What are those things for anyway?” — I kept the room simple this year. I’ve taped up enough student work to keep the space from looking barren, but I believe my walls are emblematic of the garbage compactor walls closing in on teachers. I’ve tamped down manifestations of my interests and my personality because those manifestations always seems to be wrong for one reason or another.

In this time of no puppies, when Assistant Principals tell teachers to remove their wheaten terrier from any PowerPoints for fear of distracting students from bell-to-bell instruction, I decided the safest move for my walls was no move at all. Other than obvious essentials such as the order of operations, various math facts and the story-problem-solving formula by one of our contracted partners, I mostly left the walls alone. I did create a word wall and another mathematical operations word wall. Toward the end, I tacked up a few laminated writing strategies and snuck in a few pictures. I’ve never had so much empty space in a room, however.

In the past, students always seemed to be enthusiastic about my walls. We made connections over those walls. We discussed the Avengers. We talked about Harry and Ron. We reminisced about Dr. Seuss. We debated Edward versus Jacob in Twilight and the strange attraction that vampires seem to hold. I bought used copies of the books that inspired these movies and passed them on to students.

I recently took a survey for the University of Chicago. That survey asked if I had had time this year to make connections with students. Well, yes. I always make connections with students. But, this year, I was always felt as if I might get in trouble for trying to do so. The words bell-to-bell instruction were thrown at me more than once by the man who wanted the terriers out of the PowerPoints. Those words came up in emails and staff meetings.

I don’t know who these people are who think that twelve- to fourteen-year-old kids will work nonstop all the time through 82 minute periods without break. (We teachers took the occasional class water break or stretch break anyway.) Even adults need breaks. Every time I hear about another school district eliminating recess and taking away more lunch minutes, I wince. Who are these people? Do they remember what it was like to be a kid?

Eduhonesty: For the record, kids are not miniature adults. Anyone who does not recognize this fact should not be working in education. Also, teaching is a relationship game, and student effort is frequently directly related to the strength of the teacher-student bond.

P.S. I looked around my room this morning and I’ll admit it’s not so bleak as the above post would make out. A small, tasteful, Severus Snape magnet is stuck to my filing cabinet. I do have a matted picture of a dragon that says, “It was a dark and stormy knight.” Stuck on the wall near my desk, I placed a small, matted copy of the dead parrot speech from Monty Python. That dead parrot has followed me for nine years now, the green in the photo long faded to shades of yellowish-gray. My room sports a small picture of Darth Vader in Micky Mouse ears, and a Guardians of Galaxy calendar. I hid that calendar during my evaluations. I mean, how can you trust anyone who objects to your using the word “minions” because the word has “connotations that do not convey what we want for our students.” Ummm, my students are unaware of those connotations. They loved Despicable Me and the sequel. They are happy to be my minions.


But I look around the room and I realize that personality and interests will out. I have owned my cinematic favorites, even if I did briefly stash the Guardians calendar. I can’t remember if that evaluation fell on Gamora or Drax the Destroyer, but I’d have had to stash that calendar in any case. It contained weaponry. Admittedly, that weaponry was being wielded by a mutant raccoon, among others, but, as far as the calendar went, I decided it was better safe than sorry.


I have been stormchasing for years, finding and following the tornados falling down out of the modern educational skies. Soon, I’ll lose access to the stories provided by one of the most academically-challenged districts in Illinois. I still love kids and I still love teaching, but I don’t think I can teach the kids I want to teach within the current educational climate. I’ve given my last unreadable, incomprehensible required test. I have to go.

I don’t think the kids are better for my departure, but I know I will be. I worry I’ve left this retirement too long. Teaching has impacted my health in the last few years. I’ve fought too many no-win scenarios. From the 304 or so textbook pages I was required to cover in Spanish I a few years ago to the I-have-no-idea-how-many-nonsensical-tests I was required to administer this year, I’ve struggled to meet irrational expectations that seemed to do more harm than good when looking at the big picture.

I think it’s time to catch up on my leisure reading.

Eduhonesty: I am not planning to vanish, however. This blog will continue. Many children are being used as test fodder in reprehensible, academic experiments. I hope to be a voice for those children.

Telling me what I want to hear

“Ms. Q, Ezra is bullying me. He took my pencil!”

“Ms. Q, Chris is bullying me. She talked to my boyfriend at gym and at lunch!”

“Ms. Q, Micah is bullying me. He’s breathing my air!”

Students are often grinning as they throw out these verbal salvos, enjoying the brief disruption they create. These students recognize true bullying, but sometimes they just want to see if they can make an adult jump through hoops. I try to keep us focused and balanced as I manage silly pencil dramas. I try to remain alert to actual bullying, possibly disguised as a joke.

This post helps explain the following post. By middle school, students know what teachers want to hear. They know the buzzwords that will get a reaction. Bullying guarantees a response. So does any intimation that you might not want to go to college. Students know when to talk the party line and when to deviate from that party line to get attention.

Teachers often begin talking about college before kids can have any real idea what college represents. Some have been on field trips to colleges before they left elementary school. In some classrooms, a teacher can ask students if they intend to go to college and every hand will go up. An honest discussion may reveal that many of those hands are tentative and some are outright lies. But students know the correct answer to the question “Do you plan to go to college?” and mostly they’d rather duck the lecture that follows when they say no.

That’s why I am so worried about the fact that many of my students are outright telling me that they don’t know if they want to go to college. Some are telling me they know they don’t want to go. If I thought they wanted me to coax them back on track — if I thought they were looking for attention, in other words — I’d be less concerned. But I don’t think that. I think I have tested the hell out of these kids, week by week, following a scripted curriculum in which I had very little input and, as a result, these kids have decided they don’t like school any more.

You can’t live on $13,000 a year

This year, for the first time, I have a number of students who have told me they intend to drop out of high school. I’ve never heard this admission before. Historically, I have always known a number of long-term bilingual students who chose not to walk the high school stage, but I’ve never had a group so ready to admit they wanted out. Work sounds better than school to these kids.

I tackled my problem with hard math. provides salary information for a variety of jobs. A student wanted to know how much he could make working at McDonalds for 32 hours a week — a perfect launch platform for the discussion we needed to have. Positions at McDonalds generally paid $8 something per hour. We ran the numbers for a 32 hour week, subtracting for taxes, social security and FICA. I noted that McDonalds might not let my student have 32 hours if 32 hours obligated them to provide health insurance. I talked about the people I know who can’t get health insurance because employers deliberately keep their hours below the health-insurance threshold.

We looked at other McDonalds’ positions, such as IT and business interns, and corporate managers. Those positions paid reasonably well. The interns were making around $20 an hour and many managers were making over $100,000. I explained those managers went to college; many probably have MBAs. The interns are probably attending college. McDonalds is checking them out to decide whether to hire them after they graduate.

In contrast, my student’s 32 hour job had the potential to pay less than $13,000 per year.

I hope I made some headway toward keeping my students in school. What worries me most about the situation is the fact that a number of students told me they wanted out of school as soon as possible. How many are actually planning to drop out if about one-quarter the class will admit to that plan?

I’m afraid a year of required, inappropriate tests and bell-to-bell teaching to those tests may have pushed at least some of my guys out the door, too. While I can hope that academic successes in the future may result in reconsideration of the drop-out plan, hope won’t pay for my students’ rent, food, medical costs or car repairs. The student who wants to quit and go to work at McDonalds has had a rough year of fail, fail, fail. He is far from alone.

I think the one-size-fits-all, go-for-broke academics of the year have worked for some students. I am pretty sure that the net effect of this crazy testing year has been a win for the kids at the top of the academic ladder. We owed those kids a win, too.

But the effects of nonstop, unreadable, incomprehensible tests on the kids in special education and bilingual programs may not net out with the results the district desires. Kids at the lower end of regular education classes may not benefit from that testing regime, either.

Eduhonesty: We talk about differentiating instruction all the time. When all students are taking the exact same test at the same time, though, that differentiation is not happening. True differentiation requires adaptation of materials. Rumor has it that the administration has decided to allow for adaptations of materials next year for special education and bilingual.

To those mysterious subscribers to this Blog of Gloom and Doom, thanks for reading and I apologize if I sound repetitive here. But I’m worried when thirteen- and fourteen-year-old boys think that flipping burgers sounds better than high school. I’ve never encountered this before. I’m used to unrealistic dreams, to dreams of the NBA and NFL, for example. I’m not used to dreams of fast-food, drive-in windows.