All the many strangers

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We are a school under surveillance, our low scores having attracted many outsiders to the money pool the state has provided us. For that matter, the state itself is visiting. About 7 strangers and semi-strangers walked into one class this afternoon, most of them representatives of the state, I think. Two less-official semi-strangers stopped in to observe yesterday. I was so wrung out from that observation that I had to stop to regroup after they left. My opener had not been going well, leaving me feeling like Luke Skywalker trapped in the garbage compactor. I have received written negative feedback in the past because my opener took too long. But the kids clearly did not know the material in that opener. I faced negative feedback for abandoning the opener with the confusion unaddressed, but taking time to fix the confusion had the potential to reap negative feedback as well.

Damn, I am tired of this. Yesterday felt like another no-win. Should I stay with it? I wondered, feeling slightly frantic. Should I abandon ship? What if I stopped and could not find my materials for the next part of the lesson? (I found them instantly right where I thought they were, but I’ve reached the point where I expect the snake in the water to pull me under.)

I had more problems. We are all supposed to be doing the same lesson plan, but my opener was a review activity from some weeks past. Was I going to get dinged for presenting alternative material, even if the original intent was only to do so for five minutes? Fortunately, this pair of outsiders left before my stress reached nuclear levels, leaving me to finish my unfortunate opener.

Today, the latest parade got to watch me start my activity on effective writing. I imagine the group thought the activity looked fine, but two administrators were in this group and I was doing whole group instruction. I am supposed to be doing small groups and pairs, but “they” never seem to walk in while I am doing this, even though small groups are all the rage right now and I need to be seen with my groups. I guess I can call this an opportunity lost. I am also afraid my administrators will think I have deviated the planned instruction for this period since I am supposed to be using the computers for English-language instruction. Only the bilingual department decided this week that we would take turns using the computers since having all of us on at the same time seemed to slow down the program we are using. Does admin know about the change in plan? Should I communicate this to them? Will I sound paranoid if I do?

I am paranoid. Unfortunately, one of my best pedagogical strengths has always been my sense of humor. I can make the kids laugh. I can hold their attention. At this point, though, I expect admin will never get the chance to appreciate this strength. Strangers, semi-strangers, and school administrators walk in and I freeze up now, waiting for the note that says, “I love how you did that, but …” After the but, I always find I screwed up something again. I don’t literally freeze. I could keep talking as I fled a horde of stumbling, shrieking zombies. However, I lose my spontaneity and I believe I am losing something else. I am losing hope.

Eduhonesty: I don’t think I can win. Thank God, I don’t have to win. I can quit. The scary part of this post is the large number of teachers in the building who are telling me they feel the same way. Many of them can not walk away. They are trapped in the garbage compactor.

Let’s end on a funny note: Every student in the bilingual class that was observed yesterday speaks decent social English, but they are often lacking academic vocabulary. I received a recent written criticism when a student could not explain to an administrator what she was doing mathematically. (Her MAP scores put her English at a first grade level.) Various visitors have asked my students to explain what they are doing. My students are bilingual students and sometimes shy, too. When I stopped to regroup yesterday, I explained to the class that they had to try to answer these questions to the best of their ability since people were grading me on them.

“What if we can’t explain?” A student reasonably asked.

Good question. Sometimes they don’t know what they are doing. We are being forced to follow a program written by outsiders, and that program is years above EVERY student’s operating level I can tell by grading the papers. Often, they are self-conscious about their English skills, especially around strangers. The whole explain-what-you-are-doing thing looked like another garbage compactor to me. I gazed out at my attentive class, filled with kids who wanted to figure out how to help me.

“Well, why don’t you try saying ‘Me no speak English,'” I finally suggested.

Laughter erupted, helping relax my too-tense classroom. They found that idea hilarious. Of course, maybe someone will actually say that to the Assistant Principal now. If so, I’ll pretend it’s a great joke and we’ll move on. We just keep doing math and moving on, math I did not write and often math they have never seen before. That’s what we do. That’s all we can do.

I love my kids. I enjoy teaching my kids. I plan to finish out this contract, unlike the four teachers who have already left.