A realization

Friday was … quite a day. Like, I need to write about it, but I’m still thinking about it and I don’t think I’m ready yet. But something occurred to me this morning and I wanted to get it written down before it fell out of my head, so you stand a chance of getting more than one post today, particularly since I have a book review to write as well.

I have been writing about standardized testing for two decades. I wrote an entire-ass book full of essays that touch on it. And I have talked a lot in this particular school year about how my school is being set up to fail: we are a “turnaround school,” a phrase no one will define for us and does not seem to mean anything, and last year they fired our principal and AP and replaced them with people who had a grand total of zero seconds of experience in their new jobs.

This is not how you turn around a school. I feel like that fact is obvious; anyone who has ever managed anything in any capacity should probably recognize that if a place is seriously struggling what you do not do is turn it over to entirely neophyte management and expect good things to happen, particularly something as complicated as a middle school.

In addition, my school is nearly a third special-needs students. You would think that would result in blanketing the school with resources so that we can meet the needs of our students, but of course that has not happened. We are expected to hit the same pass rates as all of our other schools– including the one that took away all of our high-performing students, so that our smartest kids are the ones who are barely on grade level rather than five or six grade levels behind– and the fact that said task is virtually impossible is ignored. In fact, if we complain about it, we are accused of believing that our students cannot learn.

But something else hit me this morning– a detail about this little clusterfuck that despite twenty-plus years of thinking about it I don’t think I’ve ever recognized before.

Do you know what would happen if we somehow, miraculously, managed to create a school that was a third special-needs kids and high poverty and nonetheless managed to get all of our kids to pass the yearly high-stakes test?

We would be accused of cheating.

They literally wouldn’t believe it if all or even most of our kids passed. And if they investigated, and they didn’t find any cheating– and you can fucking well bet that they’d keep looking until they found an I undotted or a T uncrossed somewhere– do you know what would happen next?

They’d make the test harder. And they’d keep making it harder until they felt like they had “enough” kids failing.

Because student success is not what these tests are about.

I already knew we had been set up to fail. I just didn’t think deeply enough about it. Because none of this is about student success. We were set up from the beginning. Even if we succeed, they’re going to keep making it harder until we fail again. Because my school is full of poor kids and kids with disabilities and kids of color, and they want us at the bottom of the heap.

Still alive

All merry hell is continuing to break loose; I was the only 8th grade teacher to show up today, and we may have lost two more teachers.


This is fine. Everything is fine. We’re all fine here.

Our assistant principal quit today. That means that, eighteen days into the school year, the following people have quit:

  • The AP
  • A science teacher
  • A language arts teacher (hasn’t happened yet; considered inevitable by literally everyone)
  • Our counselor
  • Our librarian
  • Our attendance secretary

In addition to that, we have not yet filled the following positions:

  • A math teacher
  • An ISS supervisor
  • A social worker
  • A school psychologist

Curiously, the principal hasn’t publicly admitted, even to the teachers, that the AP has quit. I heard the rumor mill before a meeting this morning, waited patiently through the meeting for her to mention it, and then asked after the meeting was over. It was confirmed that he had quit. Spent the day waiting for an email; none came. I’m not sure why you would let the rumor mill take care of that one, but … well, I’m not sure why a lot of decisions are being made this year.

I find myself being pulled in several different directions here. Part of me wants to go scorched-earth and start lashing out at absolutely everyone. Yell at the principal. Show up at the School Board meeting. Email the superintendent and the assistant superintendent and ask them just what the hell they were thinking. Part of me wants to spend some time chewing out some of our teachers and a whole fucking lot of our kids. Part of me wants to just join the fuckit crew and go my merry way. This won’t be the end of it; there will, beyond a doubt, be more defections. Part of me also recognizes that, while she’s good at hiding it, our principal is drowning right now, and despite the fact that I disagree with a lot of decisions she’s making she needs more support than she’s getting too, particularly given the number of late-night emails I’ve gotten. I’m pretty sure she’s working about fifteen-hour days. That’s not sustainable.

The staff is ready to riot. I don’t blame them. There’s talk about a sick-out; I’ve heard that the paras aren’t showing up on Friday en masse. I gotta be honest; that sounds counterproductive as hell to me, and either way I won’t be a part of it. Making the building unsafe for the kids doesn’t help anyone or anything.

I dunno. It’s 7:30 right now and I promised my family I wouldn’t spend the whole evening in the office. This type of post can get to thousands of words pretty easily and I need to do some serious thinking before I put much more down on paper. I was talking with a few other teachers after school let out today and brought this nightmare scenario up: what happens if the principal quits? Like, literally, what happens? Does downtown just steal somebody from another building? Nobody even knows.

We had big problems before today. But losing the AP tilts us firmly from “in trouble” into full-blown crisis mode. And right now I don’t see a way out of it.

Okay, but … giraffes

Feeding the giraffes was awesome, although it turns out they’re super skittish right now, because they’re not terribly used to people yet, so a lot of the experience involved being Very Patient and standing Very Still as an animal that could kick me into the upper stratosphere if it wanted to thought very carefully about whether I was too scary to accept lettuce from. Moving your arm slightly and watching as a sixteen-foot-tall, 3000-pound monstrosity turns and flees from your presence is kind of hilarious. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen giraffes run. It does not look right.

My training on Monday was, surprisingly, pretty good.

Everything else in the last few days has sucked, and I had my first shit day at work of the school year today as I showed up in a bad mood and absolutely could not shake it. This situation with the teacher who was attacked last week is becoming a bigger problem by the day. I’ve also taken on two additional classes– more on that later, as I don’t think I’ve actually talked about it around here yet– and right now my exhaustion level is back to first week of school levels. I didn’t want to skip three days in a row, though, so … giraffe.


Notre Dame lost again, I’ve gotten started on the next series for the YouTube channel, a game that I didn’t know existed yesterday, and my wife and the boy and I spent an hour or so playing a card game called Exploding Kittens.

Not bad, as Saturdays go.

Tomorrow I get to pet a giraffe, and I have a ton of grading to do, and then I have an all-day training on Monday, so no students. On Friday of next week I get to pick up my new iPhone. And there’s a chance that we’ll finally, finally play Gloomhaven tomorrow night, too.

Good day. And it’s gonna be a good week.

How’s everything going for you?