Silently chatting

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I walked a pile of data up to the academic coaches’ room. I talked to the three coaches there. The coaches often work late. Only I was aware of the silence, the silence that began in late October and has always filled my rooms, even as I chat about inconsequential daily events. I threw in one event of import today — my intent to try for one more special education placement — but mostly I am talkatively quiet.

One of the coaches is older. Her own silences fill the room sometimes. I sense them at the periphery, the politically incorrect things she is declining to bring out into the open. She seems quite sharp. I’ve been dropping occasional observations her way, such as the need to work on keyboarding before the PARCC test, trying to help while simultaneously avoiding conversations with my administration.

Sometimes I feel oddly ghostly.

But this environment felt toxic and ugly from the beginning of the school year and I have not changed my mind on that score. My personal rubric gives the current administration a “Needs to Improve,” bordering on the “Could We Try Robots Instead?” The robots would be kinder and quite probably more perceptive.

Perhaps I have created some of the toxicity around me. I probably needed to be more rah, rah, more Yes-We-Can-Do-It-With-Danielson! I kept being bombarded with test after required test that few, if any, of my students could actually pass. In many cases, forget passing. They couldn’t even understand the questions. Then I got slammed for their low scores. Every time people walked in, I got the positive-negative feedback, the “I love how you did this, but what about that?” which I have come to loathe. I never felt I could win, so I stopped playing — at least the politics part. I never walked away from teaching for a moment. As for me, I will teach.

It’s been a fascinating experience. I find I am empathizing with my students. We have been together in our sense of drowning this year. I am glad to be retiring.

Eduhonesty: The sobering, scary part for me is that my students can’t retire. They can drop out and I am certain some of them will. For the next few years, though, they may be hammered with test after unreadable test. I’ll hope for better. After a year in which regular, bilingual and special education students were all handed the same math and language arts tests, next year the district plans to modify materials for bilingual and special education, probably because the data showed what I expected at the outset: The kids at the bottom are not improving significantly under the current regime. You can’t learn from books and tests you can’t read.

I’d like to thank my readership for your mysterious visits to my completely unadvertised blog, which I sometimes now call the Blog of Gloom and Doom when I’m with friends. It’s been good to get this year down in words. I don’t want to let my personal silence get in the way of understanding what is happening out here. When I am done, I hope to advocate for my kids and for all the kids like them. I hope to be a voice for the drowning who aren’t being prepared for college — or anything else. We can’t keep handing these sad, lost kids books that are years above their reading levels and required tests that might as well be written in ancient Greek.