Two pieces of undeniably good news

I got my evaluation back from my assistant principal today. We don’t really need to go into the details of how our evaluation system works; suffice it to say that my final score was 3.88/4, which is the highest final score I’ve ever received, and my third or fourth year in a row at Highly Effective. I will probably never manage a perfect score for various reasons so only losing twelve hundredths of a point over the course of the four classroom observations and two official goals is pretty damn good.

I also spent parts of sixth and seventh hour crunching NWEA data. I’ve talked about the NWEA before; it’s one of the standardized tests I at least kinda like– it’s over fast, it’s given multiple times a year (but still eats a lot less time than the single administration of the ILEARN does) and it focuses on measuring individual student growth and doesn’t bother with a pass/fail cutscore. It also does this thing where everybody is measured on the same scale– it goes up to like 350 or something like that but a 230 or so is about what an 8th grader is expected to get on the Math test at the beginning of the year, where a first grader might be shooting for a 180 and a high school senior a 270. Two of those numbers are made up but you get the basic idea.

Long story short, my numbers were phenomenal. I got an average of a year’s growth out of these kids between the test that was administered the week before I got there and the one I gave them a couple of weeks ago– a year’s worth of growth in basically one semester. My two Honors classes in particular posted huge gains. This is probably getting too far into the weeds, but check this out:

This is my first hour class. The plus signs are Math and the squares are LA. Now, you’d expect everybody to be to the right on the “achievement” part of the graph, since they’re honors kids, but there’s nothing about honors classes that guarantees high growth, and compare how high the pluses are to how high the squares are. It’s even more stark in sixth hour:

Only four kids from that group didn’t manage high growth. That’s outstanding. And by comparing my kids to their own LA scores I know I’m not running into any statistical bullshittery; they flat-out improved more in Math than they did in LA, and by a pretty good margin once you pull all the numbers together. That’s as clear a teacher effect as I know how to demonstrate.

“But wait, Mr. Siler!” you might point out. “Didn’t your kids have a month with no teacher, and therefore possibly score more poorly on the second administration than they might otherwise, thus leading to high growth as they get back what they lost?”

A reasonable question, and while I’m not going to post the graphs, I also looked at how they did against the first test of the year, when a missing teacher wasn’t a problem, and the gains are still as stark. My other classes don’t look quite this good– again, the honors kids really came through for me– but they still look pretty goddamn good.

I may just have my mojo back, y’all.

Remind me of this post in three days, when I’m drained by the last week and never want to teach again. 🙂

Okay, guys, last chance

I may or may not have girlishly squeed, possibly more than once, while watching this trailer. If this movie, featuring two of my favorite comic book heroes of all time, does not get me back into a movie theater, the MCU is offically-really-I-mean-it-this-time, no-bullshit dead to me forever:

On Arabic and learning to read

ليس لدي فكرة عما يقوله هذا

According to Duolingo, I have been studying Arabic daily for one hundred and forty-seven days. And Duolingo does a lot of things, but one of the things that Duolingo has not managed to do in 147 days of daily practice is teach me to read Arabic. One would think that would be an early priority! It is not. Duolingo teaches almost exclusively through word recognition– what teachers used to call the “whole language” method of teaching reading, and for the most part genuinely seems uninterested in actually providing explanations for things unless absolutely necessary. Even then it kind of hides them in corners of the app and finds ways to make them useless anyway. There is actually a “Learn the letters” section! I have been doing lessons in there for months and it still hasn’t gotten to half the letters.

Whole language is bullshit, y’all. Even as an interested adult it’s an insanely rough way to learn a new language. It means that in-context I can recognize words but if you throw a sentence at me with no context I may not even be able to figure out all the letters. After five months. Keep in mind I already read Hebrew and once taught myself to read German from essentially scratch over a weekend so that I could pass a mandatory translation exam for my degree. I’m good at languages! But this isn’t it. And I also take issue with some of Duolingo’s choices for the sentences and phrases they’re throwing at us. For example:

تلفازي داخل أسدي

Which means “My television is inside my lion” and I swear to God is a sentence that has shown up in my exercises, I believe in a unit called “Express a problem.” That’s not a joke. It’s a real thing. Or this one, during the unit on prepositions, which consisted exclusively of things being in front of or behind things:

هناك زوجتك مع رجل خلف المطعم

That means “There is your wife with a man behind the restaurant,” and … okay! Sure! That’s a thing that has probably happened. But I don’t know how to say “hello” or introduce myself yet. They have literally not taught “Hi, my name is _____, how are you?” but I can express trepidation about the eating habits of my lion.

Anyway, over the last few days– because there is no problem so minor that I won’t try to solve it by throwing money at it– I have acquired both a fine set of Arabic alphabet flash cards and a new textbook dedicated specifically to teaching reading. I have learned more about the alphabet in an hour of perusing that book between today and yesterday than I have in five months of Duolingo. Sadly, I have not received further instructions about how to express my feelings about my lion:

أنا أحب أسدي لكني لا أحب أسد جاري.

That’s “I love my lion but I do not love my neighbor’s lion,” and again, no, that’s not a joke.

On cultural memory

Interesting discovery earlier this week: I do a trivia question for my kids every week, right? Usually something connected to history, but not always. It’s completely optional and not for a grade; the people who get it right get a piece of candy on Friday and that’s really it. Just a little fun thing.

This month’s questions have all been about women, since it’s Women’s History Month, and this week’s was Who is the highest-selling woman author in the world? I was pretty certain I knew the answer, but I needed to double-check it before posting the question, because if I was wrong and it turned out to be She Who Shall Not Be Named, I was going to have to come up with a different question.

And I found a list— not perfect, Wikipedia admits– of the top-selling authors of all time. And it’s shocking, because of the number of authors on it that I have never heard of. Now, granted, people have been writing books for a long time, and I can’t read or know about all of them, but given how much of my life I have dedicated to reading and books, even given that several of them aren’t close to being in my genre, the fact that I haven’t ever heard of half of the top ten– half!— frankly blows my mind. Here’s the list:

  1. William Shakespeare. And, okay, yeah. I feel like there’s an argument to be made that Shakespeare doesn’t belong on the same list as the rest of these people, since he was a playwright and not a novelist or actual prose author, but I’m not going to make that argument right now. At any rate, I’ve heard of and read Shakespeare.
  2. Agatha Christie, meaning that my guess about the best-selling woman author was correct. Somewhere between two and four billion books sold. I have read three of them.
  3. Barbara Cartland, who I have never heard of in my entire life despite the fact that she has written seven hundred and twenty-three books and sold a billion copies of those books. I don’t read romance, granted! But how the hell have I never heard of her??
  4. Danielle Steel. Wouldn’t have guessed that she was this big-time, but okay. I haven’t read anything by her but at least I’m familiar with her.
  5. Harold Robbins. No idea. 23 books, American, around 750 million sales. Never heard of him.
  6. Georges Simenon. I’ll cut myself a bit of slack because he wrote in French and is Belgian, but there are 700 million copies of his 570 books out there and I’ve never seen one in translation? Fucking seriously? HOW??
  7. She Who Shall Not Be Named. Whatever.
  8. Enid Blyton. I think that maybe if you’d asked me who Enid Blyton was before I saw this list I might have been able to say she was an author. Maybe. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to provide more detail than that, and I’m willing to toss her on the “never heard of” pile.
  9. Sidney Sheldon. Between 370 and 600 million books sold. A suspense author, so his(?) books are probably much more aligned to my tastes. No clue.
  10. Eiichiro Oda. I’ll call him a .5, because I’ve never heard his name, but he’s the One Piece guy and I’ve heard of One Piece.

I have also never heard of #11, Gilbert Patten, #13, Akira Toriyama, but see Oda because it’s a similar situation, or #15, a Spaniard named Corin Tellado who supposedly has written four thousand books. Weirdly, after that, you have to roll through a couple dozen before I hit someone I’m unfamiliar with, and there are no American or English authors on the rest of the list who I’ve never heard of.

(Also, I just went and checked dates, and there are only three in the top 10 whose lives didn’t overlap with mine: Shakespeare, of course; Blyton, who died in 1964, and, ironically, Christie, who died six months before I was born. These are not nineteenth-century authors or anything, with the obvious exception of Shakespeare. They are all relatively modern.)

How the hell do you sell a billion books and you leave so small (or so specific) a cultural footprint that I, a person who has been reading constantly for his entire life, have never heard of you? I know I’m edging toward– if not trampling on– the idea that Nothing I Haven’t Heard Of Is Important, which I don’t believe, but books are kind of my thing, and the notion that I don’t know half of the top 10 writers who ever lived is weird, right? And not weird in a “something is wrong with me” type of way, but in a “something’s going on here” sort of way? Is romance that sequestered from every other genre of writing that this is normal?

I dunno. How many of these ten authors have you heard of? Is there anybody reading this who knows all ten of them?

Because, face it, some of them are dumb

I am putting together a quick and it-should-be easy assignment on the Pythagorean Theorem right now, to make up for an assignment on the Pythagorean Theorem from late last week that did not turn out to be easy. It contains this question:

There is an absolutely 100% certainty that someone will come up to me and say something along the lines of “Why are there four numbers here?” And then I will say “Can you make a triangle with four sides?” And they will say “No.” And then I will say “Well, then, can those sides make a right triangle?” And they will not know the answer, and they will stare at me, with big, cow-like eyes.

I am tired and perhaps a bit crabby.