Clarifying my last post as I size up my school year

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Why were my Assistant Principal and I at such loggerheads this last year? The reasons are complex and interwoven, but one reason stands out. He would never listen to my rationale for lesson choices. Small groups were seldom working for me and I did not think that the reason was my lack of understanding of small groups. I get small groups. But if nobody in the class knows the material, they are seldom the best use of instructional time. I could never convince my Assistant Principal of this. He had been told that “best practices” included these groups and he had not taught long enough — or in the time of small groups — so he did not understand the limitations of those groups. He also did not understand why a group of bilingual students could not always be doing exactly what the regular students were supposed to be doing. He would not listen. He would just say, “No excuses.”

As I’ve said before, where there are no excuses, there are no explanations. I had good reasons for my instructional choices, but I was never allowed to explain any of them. I got criticized for using materials other than the materials used in the regular classes: In my defense, I thought the ability to read one’s assignment might be relevant in the larger educational scheme, but that only led to a reiteration of his contention that I obviously lacked faith in my students. I would contend that I had reviewed their individual reading test scores. For that matter, I had sat down to work with all my students so I had a pretty good sense of what they could understand and what would be so much gibberish to them. In the meantime, I kept losing time to artificially creating groups, time that I could only recoup after school or on week-ends, but many students would not come in after school or on week-ends.

In the end, I delivered the test scores that my administration desired and they seemed pretty happy with me by May. I did finally learn how to efficiently teach to tests. I learned how to do nothing EXCEPT teach to tests. I just hope my students hold on to what they learned. We went quickly with scant time for review. The next test was almost always four days away or less. That left few available minutes to reinforce past concepts.

Why I quit: That idea that regular, special education, and bilingual students should be doing the same lesson plans and taking exactly the same tests? That was my school’s policy. That was an administrative requirement. And it was completely goofy. Many of those bilingual and special education students couldn’t even read the math story problems they were supposed to answer.

I fear this year’s summer learning loss will be a bloodbath.

Eduhonesty: Still processing here. It takes awhile to get the big picture. The interesting part of my processing is that I am growing more and more convinced that I spent the year participating in an educational experiment that was batshit crazy — at least for the population of students I was serving.

I honestly believe this experiment benefitted many students at the top of learning pyramid in my school. For students lacking English-language skills or battling other more serious educational deficiencies, though, the one-plan-to-rule-them-all ensured a long, mysterious and demoralizing year. Nothing in educational theory justifies those unreadable tests. Nothing in educational theory justifies the opportunity costs created by those tests, with special education teachers spending (losing) a whole week’s instructional time to prepare students for a test they can’t read requiring math they can’t do.

In the end, my genuinely competent principal had realized that the scores at the bottom were not moving. Next year, I understand adaptations for special education and bilingual classes will be allowed. I won’t be there, though.

Someone else will be carrying the “Better than Batshit Crazy” banner for me.