I just sent my new principal a nearly 1800-word email message based on a conversation we had at school today. There are two days before school starts where the teachers are supposed to be in the buildings; typically one of those is for meetings and the other is so that we can get our classrooms set up. One of the several bits of insanity during the last couple of days of disaster PD was discovering that the district intends for every teacher to be at the same PD downtown on our “meetings” day; there was talk of “breakout sessions” in the afternoon for individual buildings (where are they going to put us? Who knows!) lasting an hour and a half.
This is not remotely enough time for a building where nearly everyone on the staff is returning. It is absolutely not remotely enough time in a situation like ours, where half the staff and the entire administrative team is new. It is, in fact, insane. I was at school today and asked my boss if she wanted to send her an email (and I was clear it would be a lengthy email) outlining some of the issues that she might encounter at this meeting so that at least she’d heard of them before. Turns out there’s an awful lot of policy-setting necessary to get a building as complex as a school running smoothly! Unbelievable, right? She said to send the email, so I sent the email, and if you’ve never been a teacher before, I feel like it might be illustrative to take a look at it. Obviously I’ve redacted a few things but really the majority of this could be written in any school in American with only minor edits. Enjoy:
(TLT stands for Teacher Leadership Team, by the way; you can probably guess what that might be.)
This is going to be as complete as I can make it without taking three days to think about it. I’m sure I’m going to miss some things, but hopefully I can give you a useful heads-up on some issues that will probably come up so that they’re not a surprise. I’ll do my best to be as factual as possible but obviously any opinions presented are my own and it will not surprise you to learn that others may disagree. 🙂
(Assistant Principal Person, I let Principal Person know this email would be coming; it’s not out of nowhere, I promise.)
The biggest problems here were 1) buses being late and 2) kids simply declining to come to advisory. Keeping better control of the hallways will have to be a major priority this year, but at no time was that more obvious than during homeroom, where the advisory tardy bell would ring and 1/3 of the students would be in class, another third would be in the hallways, and the last third literally wouldn’t have arrived at school yet. I *believe* they were not allowed into the building at all until 9:20, and at that time they’d collect a breakfast and head straight to lockers and advisory, with the tardy bell at 9:30. During inclement weather or rain I think they’d let them into the commons area at the front of the building by the office. Teachers were expected to be at their doors by that first bell; a lot of the time if someone was absent the nearest teacher would just wave those kids into their room.
Using advisory for any sort of instruction is going to be tricky simply because the buses don’t arrive on time, especially in the winter. I genuinely don’t remember how admission to the building worked pre-Covid; I know we used to have the 6th graders in the LGI room once they were done with breakfast until the bell rang but I didn’t have morning supervision duty so I wasn’t down there.
Four minutes is more than sufficient for everyone to get from A to B. Kids are supposed to stay to the right and walk; most of them do a good job with that. Profanity in the halls is a problem. Some teachers will close and lock their doors when the tardy bell rings; others leave them open and simply mark tardy kids late. Lockouts were called occasionally; anyone still in the hallway was supposed to go to ISS and generally remained there for a period; we do not have anyone to cover things like detentions so that was rarely if ever used as a deterrent. There is also the two-period block classes to be concerned about; some of us let our kids out during passing period for a quick break if they wanted one, but there should probably be a firm rule that if you do that you NEED to be in the hallway monitoring, and honestly even the teachers who don’t let their blocks out for that break probably ought to be near their doors keeping an ear open.
Typically only 6th graders are supposed to use the stairs by the 6th grade science classrooms and Teachername’s room; 7th and 8th are only supposed to use the stairs near the cafeteria, and God help me, because my classroom is right next to them, but there are also rules about who is supposed to be using the stairs between 212 and 210 and I could never bloody keep track of them. TLT’s recommendations is that we literally find some hallway signs and put them at the top and the bottom of each set of stairs indicating who is to use them, because these were rules that (at least on my end of the building) the kids were expected to know and abide by but were never actually *told* to them, and when that is combined with inconsistent enforcement, it’s a problem.
SPEAKING OF THOSE STAIRS:
The area at the bottom of the stairway by my room (with the faux fireplace) is a perennial place for kids to hang out and screw around because other than Mx. Teacherhuman, there’s no adults near there and if they hide around the corner no one is going to see them. I recommend installing a wasp’s nest in the fireplace.
For about the first 2/3 of the year last year we provided cups at the drinking fountains. That was convenient but typically a sleeve of cups would have to be replaced a couple of times a day and the kids weren’t good about not blatantly wasting them. Some teachers brought their own cups to hand out and we started selling water bottles as well through the office. The office also sometimes had cups and the water bottles didn’t work great because you would have five of them in a classroom and no one knew whose belonged to who, and teachers sending their kids down to the office to get cups in the middle of class became a serious annoyance to front office staff.
Personally, I provided cups to my own students (and occasionally other kids who asked nicely for them) and allowed anyone to have clear water bottles in class with them. Other teachers didn’t allow any water in class at all, which would occasionally lead to conflicts of various kinds. I decided it wasn’t a hill I was willing to die on.
Inconsistent. Some teachers took their entire classes on bathroom breaks during certain periods; each grade was supposed to pick two hours where their kids would get a break. My classroom is directly across the hall from the boys’ bathroom and not far from the girls’ so I would just let them go (with a pass) if they needed to. I regularly need a bathroom break half an hour after I eat and I wasn’t about to tell a kid in sixth hour they couldn’t pee because 8th grade’s “official” break wasn’t until 7th hour.
This is a big one, and the biggest issue is going to be hoodies. The TLT members who were able to make the meeting at my place (names of teachers) came to an agreement that we were all comfortable with allowing hoodies and/or flannel zip-ups in class provided that 1) they were solid color (otherwise complying with polo shirt colors) and 2) hoods were never up. In general the rule about tucking shirts in was not followed and I would recommend it be eliminated, especially since the combination of the amount of poverty in the building and the fact that middle schoolers grow like weeds means that a lot of the time their shirts were juuuuuust too short to be tucked in– which, a lot of the time, explained why especially our bigger kids wanted to keep their hoodies and/or jackets on. Last year the rule was hoodies were not to be worn, period, and my GOD did it cause a lot of disruption. I will admit to being firmly on the pro-hoodie side; I remember what being a fat kid in middle school was like, but enforcing it was a daily and constant struggle.
Speaking of daily and constant struggles. This is a whole email all to itself; my suggestion is that we figure out exactly where the line is that we’re not willing to cross (ie, They Are Not To Be Seen And Must Be In Lockers vs They Are Never To Be Removed From Your Pocket vs whatever other policy you might have). The TLT went around and around on this and didn’t really come to a consensus; my suggestion is that we set a baseline expectation for hallways and common areas that all of us follow and we make it clear that individual teachers’ policies may vary in their classrooms. I have more thoughts (and so does everyone else) but this is already a long email.
I think each grade needs to have a firm plan about how to conduct the kids to and from lunch, and I don’t think those plans each need to be the same plan. I think a fair number of lunch-related problems will be solved by returning the cafeteria to its pre-COVID borders, closing the wall behind it, and (especially with the older kids) reinforcing that You Are Never Getting Your Lunch Delivered, Ever. If we turn DoorDash away at the front doors enough times they’ll figure it out themselves. I have absolutely no problem with picking the kids up from lunch and I think if we start doing that from Day One it’ll be less of a problem than it was last year. The problem we have here is potentially running afoul of the mandated 30-minute duty free lunch.
We have got to have locker assignments ready on day one. This also killed us last year because lockers weren’t ready for forever and so kids got used to just having whatever they wanted with them because they “didn’t have a locker.” I recommend assigning blocks of lockers to the advisory teachers and letting us handle it rather than trying to centralize assignments through the office.
From my lofty perch at the far corner of the second floor, with an 8th hour prep, dismissal mostly seemed to go pretty smoothly; announcements at the end of the day followed by dismissal. Walkers and bus and car riders were dismissed in waves; I don’t know how well that worked because I didn’t have an 8th hour. Others may have more useful perspectives on this than me.
Teachers have not been asked to provide lesson plans to administration at all since I have been at SCHOOLNAME. We were occasionally reminded that we were supposed to have them on our desks at all times. I don’t think most of us did. I don’t know what your expectations are here (nor do I know what contractual obligations there may be) but I just wanted to make sure you were aware of what we were used to.
Don’t exist. Classroom coverage was all we had, all year.
OK, I’M DONE NOW:
I’ll come up with something I forgot in ten minutes, though.
2 thoughts on “Okay, so, we’re doing this”
I hope your admin appreciates your candor and the spirit of support that you are offering. As a fellow middle school teacher, I completely understand how much of a tightrope walk it can be to be a “team player” AND an experienced realist without being diva-john the baptist. I teach robotics and given the PTSD from previous years of being underprepared at the beginning of the school year, I came into my lab half-days during the summer to button up the last year’s remnants and try to figure out how to do it better this next year. I hope your staff PD is helpful, at least as far as meeting the new team members and that we all survive the next school year. “Once more into the breach!”
I saw a headline yesterday about severe teacher shortages and my immediate thought was YA THINK???????????
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