A few observations relating to my son’s completion of kindergarten

shutterstock_103426844(That’s not a picture of my kid.)

My son’s last day of school was today, or at least his last couple of hours of school were today, and I’ve entered that liminal couple of months where I’m no longer the parent of a kindergartner but not quite the parent of a first grader yet.  They had a little program to mark the end of the year; it started at 8:30, each class sang a song or two, and they were done by probably 9:15, at which point everyone was dismissed to go home.  My kid’s school, thankfully, does not put up with any sort of “graduation” nonsense for kindergarten children.  No one’s names were called, no certificates were handed out, and there was no walking across stages.  No caps and gowns, either.  Classes come up, classes sing songs, classes go away, and I continue to be amazed at the outstanding lack of classroom presence possessed by the music director, who “runs” each of those things and who cannot quiet down a room of humans to save her bloody life.

I still don’t feel like I fit in at this place.  Granted, today is my day off and most of the folks there probably went to work after the presentation, but I was literally the only parent in the room in a t-shirt and jeans.  And large groups of white people tend to make me nervous, especially large groups of white people who visibly make more money than me.  I spent half the concert on edge, waiting for someone to insist on speaking to my manager.  That type of crowd.

One definite plus: as a first grader, my son moves to a different division of the school next year.  This means that today was probably the last time I have to listen to three- and four-year-olds trying to sing and play instruments and try to keep a straight face.  I mean, I guess in theory I might live long enough to have grandchildren?  But he’s six, so… the last time for at least a couple of decades, I hope?  Sure.

I caught myself musing about escape routes as the program dragged on, and realized with a jolt that I was genuinely sitting there and thinking about what the best thing to do would be if someone with a gun came in– if it’s from that door, I grab the boy and try to get out of this door, but if it’s from this door, the one next to me, I’m probably fucked and the best thing is probably to do my best impression of a guided missile and see just how hard my 300-pound ass can hit someone with a running start from a chair fifteen feet away.  I was probably thirty seconds into it before I realized what I was doing, and then my head was fucked up for the rest of the morning.  This is a wealthy, mostly white school, see; it’s those schools that tend to produce the school shooters.  Not once while I was working in urban public schools did I ever catch myself doing this sort of calculus.

One of the more recent school shootings caught me where I live.  The Noblesville shooting didn’t raise a ton of press outside of Indiana because no one was killed, but I know kids who go to that school.  I spent a weekend at the booth next to them at Starbase Indy a couple of years ago, and their mom and I are still connected on Instagram and Facebook.  Mom posted yesterday that her youngest had only just then decided she felt safe to go back to school.

I shouldn’t have to think about this shit.  But Americans have to have their fucking toys, don’t they?  Because freedom, or something.

Bah.  I’m taking the boy to Dairy Queen and trying to get out of this fucking mood.

In which I’m not sure what I’m mad about

R-580242-1518276830-4202.jpegSo the district I used to work for just named its Teacher of the Year for the 2017-18 school year.  I don’t know the guy; he teaches fourth grade and has been with the district for five years.  I assume he’s good at his job; typically that’s a requirement for being named a building TotY, and to be named for the entire district is a genuinely big deal.  Best I ever did was top 10.

There’s an article in the paper about him.  After thinking about it, I’m not going to link to it, because the purpose of this post is not to shit on this guy and you’re just going to have to believe me that I’m quoting this accurately.  The article is mostly Good Teacher Boilerplate until I got to this part, about 2/3 of the way through:

Like his students, (name redacted) appears to have a bottomless well of energy.

He and his wife, (Mrs. redacted), have three children, ages 4, 2 and 1.

Besides full-time teaching, (redacted) works 10 to 25 hours per week at a home improvement store and is studying for a master’s degree at IU South Bend. He was head football coach for 11 years for the team at St. Matthew’s School in South Bend.

My first thought was that it’s ridiculous that we pay our teachers so Goddamn poorly that  this guy, like most working teachers in the area, has to have a second job.  Without an MA and with five years of experience he’s probably not even making 35K a year, and if he is, it’s barely.  And that’s too low.  It’s insane that a job that requires a college degree and insists on continuing education after that pays so poorly, particularly one that’s so critical to the functioning of society at large.

And then I thought about it a little more.  Dude’s a full-time teacher.  That’s, bare minimum, 8-4 five days a week.  He’s not in a low-grading classroom where he can just pass/fail everyone, and for me grading and lesson planning was at least another eight hours a week– ie, most of Saturday or most of Sunday or longer hours every day during the week– and I was excellent at crafting assignments that took as little time as possible to grade.  No Teacher of the Year is working 40-hour weeks.  It’s impossible.

And he’s supposedly laying another one to three eight-hour shifts on top of that, plus a bare minimum three hours a week in an MA classroom assuming he’s only taking one class and doesn’t spend a single second reading or studying, plus travel time to all the above, plus he has three children all under five years old?

And now part of me is going “Jesus, this poor guy,” and the rest of me is pretty goddamn sure somebody somewhere is lying, because there literally aren’t enough hours in the week for anyone to pull this schedule off.  The reporter apparently didn’t care enough to add it up and figure out that this guy is claiming eleven-hour work days every single day ever while also somehow raising three very fucking small kids.

I seriously can’t figure out which is worse: that this could actually be his schedule, in which case he’s going to burn out and hit a wall very, very soon, and it’s not going to be pretty for anyone involved when he does, or if a guy who is already Teacher of the Year still feels the need to lie about his schedule and the reporter just shrugged and wrote it down.    That’s how pervasive the teacher-as-martyr idea is; he or she looked at all that and boiled it down to “bottomless energy” and not “on the road to flaming out and divorce at 30.”

 

In which I remember your life better than you do

I haven’t done an education post in a good long while; let’s see if I’ve still got the chops.  Seen this lately?  It’s making the rounds on DevilBook:

31483742_10209939830931981_3036515949554434048_nI succumbed to my baser urges and replied to it on one person’s page, and let me make it clear that I’m not holding her responsible for this, as the notion “Americans should be better educated” is one that I’m gonna hold to and agree with pretty much no matter what the circumstances.  However, what I’m not gonna be okay with is the idea that most of these concepts (and others like them; there are several variants of this little meme picture) aren’t taught in school.

They are.  In damn near every high school in America and most of the middle schools too.  I have personally taught about at least half of these things.  You just didn’t pay attention, because you were a dumbass kid and this was adult stuff and it was boring.  The problem is no one ever writes a meme post about “Shit I should have paid better attention to in school.”  It’s always the teachers’ fault.

You took an econ class in high school, right?  It’s mandatory in Indiana.  That class covered accounting, money management, taxes, and credit all by its damn self.  I covered all of those things, excepting only “good credit,” with my middle school classes in a required class you might be familiar with; it was called math.

Nutrition?  I bet you took a Health class at some point.  Required in Indiana in both middle and high school.  Job and careers?  I actually taught a class called Careers to middle school kids.  Pretty sure something similar exists in high school too.  Self-defense, okay, I’ll give you that one, but the rest of them?  Give me a damn break.  If you weren’t paying attention, I don’t even blame you, because expecting little kids to be intimately curious about shit that won’t affect their lives for ten or fifteen years is a little unreasonable, but the idea that the subjects were never covered is nonsense.  They were mandatory.  You just blew them off.  And that’s on you.


A moment, then, on the last part, about being “forced” to be “fluent” in at least one other language.  I am actually pro-foreign language education.  I just think that goddamn near everyone in America should be taking Spanish.  A solid majority of American citizens, especially anyone who works in a job facing the public, could do with, if not fluency, at least a passable working knowledge of Spanish, enough to get through a basic conversation.  I’ve had some furniture sales that were conducted damn near entirely in Spanish and I’m not remotely fluent.  But I can get by if I need to.  That level.

The notion that Americans, as a whole, require something called “fluency” in any language other than English is fucking ridiculous, though.  Is it good?  Sure.  Is it necessary?  Crazy talk.  Go ahead, bring up Europe.  Europe has 300 languages because when Europe was growing up you were going to be born, live, and die within fifteen miles or so of the same goddamn spot and it’s easy for languages to bifurcate and split during a couple of millennia of that type of social evolution.  Africa, Asia, same thing.

America?  America used to have lots of languages until the white folk moved in and killed everybody who spoke them.  Now?  English, party of 350 million.  If I’m in Germany, I can get in my car and drive for eight hours and I’ll for damn sure be somewhere where people speak a language other than German.  If I’m in America and drive for eight hours I may not even be out of my state.  Are there localized pockets of people who speak other languages than English and Spanish?  Sure, tons of ’em, there’s lots of Poles and Pennsylvania Dutch around here, for example.  Are there jobs where knowing another language is useful?  Sure.  Does every American need to “be fluent” in a foreign language?  Come the hell on.


Apropos of nothing, I just looked up and saw this from the window next to my desk:

unnamedThe walls aren’t that yellow, but I haven’t altered the color balance in this picture at all.  In the last ten minutes the temperature has dropped from ninety to sixty, rain has started, and apparently outdoors is in black and white now.  

Weird.

RIP, Mrs. Gates

image-29403_20180310.jpgxI got a text from my mother just now, while I was eating dinner, that my second grade teacher had passed away, at the admirably ripe old age of 92.  Mrs. Gates is one of the several teachers that my book Searching for Malumba is dedicated to, one of only two from my elementary/primary school years.

I had found myself wondering about her many times over the years.  My second-grade recollection of her was that she was one of my older teachers, but that could have meant she was 40; kids are terrible at pegging how old adults are, right?  As it turns out, she was nearly 60 when I had her, so she was probably nearing retirement at the time.  I remember her as being probably the best example I ever had of the “strict but fair” teacher, which was something I always tried to emulate in my own career.

The funny thing is that when I try to unearth specific memories of what she was like as a teacher, I can only come up with one or two of them, and the clearest memory probably counts as educational malpractice, to the point where I almost feel disrespectful for talking about it.   Mrs. Gates was always big on cleanliness– keeping the room clean, and in particular, keeping our desks clean.  She’d actually inspect them from time to time– I have no idea how frequently; this could have been a daily or weekly thing for all I remember, or it could have been more frequently than that.

I am still in touch with literally no one who was in my second grade class, but I can think of perhaps four or five kids who are no more than a quick Facebook search away.  And I guarantee each of them remembers the day Mrs. Gates got tired of Jonathan W. (I remember his full name, but why let him Google this?) having a sloppy desk for like the nine hundredth time in a row and in a fit of frustration dumped it out on the classroom floor in front of everyone.  Objectively, with thirty-some-odd years of hindsight, this was probably a terribly humiliating thing for Jonathan and was not the proper way for her to have handled the situation.  certainly can’t imagine dumping a kid’s desk out on the floor in front of the whole class.  And yet, I think for most of us, it made us more fond of her– and make no mistake, strict as she was, the kids in that class loved Mrs. Gates.  Because this lady wasn’t taking any shit, and chances are most of our moms would have done the same damn thing in similar circumstances.  I stayed friends with Jonathan until he moved away, I think in middle school sometime, and that story was still getting told at slumber parties years later.

For whatever it’s worth, I suspect he’d probably still laugh at the story.  I dunno; maybe I shouldn’t have told it.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Gates.  I hope wherever you are, all the desks are pristine.

Speaking of noooooooope…

So, remember a couple of weeks ago when I said I was applying for a teaching job?  That wasn’t quite true, at least in the strictest sense of the word “teaching.”  It was a job, in a school, that would involve occasionally interfacing with kids but which seemed, from the description, to actually mostly involve backing up teachers and being a resource for them rather than a job where I was in front of a classroom all day.  I messed around with my work schedule a bit this week after getting a couple of emails from the HR director, who indicated there would be an informational meeting at the school that it might be useful to come to.

(I’m leaving out a lot of details, obviously; this program involves a pretty substantial infusion of money and is a new thing for the school to the point where renovations are happening in the building right now for it, so the idea that they’d invite people who are applying for the job to this informational meeting makes more sense than you might think– the building staff was also invited.)

So.  Yeah.  I went to the meeting.  There were maybe a dozen staff members present and at least three people who were there because they were applying for the same job I was– me and two others, in other words.

The lack of buy-in from the staff was a physical force in the room, and the sinking feeling that started moments after the presentation began never really got any better.

I happened, after the meeting was over, to walk out of the building with one of the other two applicants.

“Was that job what you thought it was when you applied?” I asked.

“Not even a little bit,” she said.  And she didn’t say “You can have it,” but it was pretty damn clear she didn’t want it any longer.

They are actually looking for two people to fill this job, who will both be in the new facility at all times.  Along with sixty kids.

Sixty.  At once.

Three blocks a day, of– lemme say it again– sixty kids.  Seventh and eighth graders.  In a program that, in my professional opinion, is a massive waste of time and resources if they’re going to treat it as a class that you get a grade for.   In a nicely renovated, brand-new space featuring two load-bearing walls in the middle of the Goddamn room that cannot be moved and guarantee that there will be no place where a single teacher can stand and see all of his or her students.

So.

oh-shi