THREE day WEEK end (clap, clap, clapclapclap)

Pretty sure I’ve used that as a title for a blog post in the past, but whatever.

It was a really long fucking week, and not an especially good one, either professionally or mentally. My principal (who I really like, for the record) sent out a couple of emails at the end of the day regarding some walkthroughs that are going to be conducted next week and some expectations for how instruction should be going, and I read them and reflected on how I had to keep a seventh grader after class earlier today to make sure that he understood that if you have six pencils and you want seven you need one more.

That is not a joke, and the kid wasn’t fucking with me. At one point I literally put six Post-Its on the table in front of him and counted them and asked him how many more he needed to get seven. He said one instantly.

“Okay, what if they were pencils? If you have six pencils and you want seven, how many more do you need?”

(Pause)

“Forty-two?”

This has not been a week where I’ve been able to feel confident about my skills as an educator, let me put it that way. I have three days to get my head back on straight; I’m not sure that’s going to be enough time, and after several months of thinking yeah, it would be okay if I ended up doing this same job again next year, I’m very much in the mode of thinking that a night job at 7-11 might be a better use of my skills right now.

I’m not talking to anyone under twenty who I wasn’t personally responsible for the birth of for at least 48 hours. Hopefully that will improve things.

In which I am proud and disgusted

I mentioned yesterday– or at least I think I did, play along if I’m wrong– that after work I had to go to a parent-teacher conference for my son. This was a regularly-scheduled event and not one of those “your kid is a shithead, you need to come in now” sorts of things, and I wasn’t expecting any particular surprises from it– my kid does well academically but is, I think, a moderate behavioral challenge when the mood strikes him, and most of his teachers have tossed a “he could get better at paying attention” type of line at us from time to time. And they’re not wrong; he could. And this is a thing that we work on; he’s not perfect. So I wasn’t expecting all candy and roses but I wasn’t expecting an unpleasant conversation either.

I have spent a decent chunk of the last couple of weeks administering a standardized math test to my students that we take three times a year. 90% of my students are done within two class periods and the rest of the time is catching kids who were absent or the occasional one who needs more time. This test is given nationwide and the norms are referenced nationally, so a kid’s percentile score, for example, is against all kids who took that across the country and not just the ones at my school or in my district.

And as it turns out, the kids at Hogwarts took the same test this year, for the first time. The teacher introduced it somewhat hesitantly, admitting that she wasn’t completely familiar with the data she was given, and … well, I don’t have that problem, both by training and by inclination, since I’m a huge data nerd and I love this shit. So, yeah, I know exactly how to read this report that you’re handing me.

And I was simultaneously thrilled and disgusted by the results. A bit more background: the way this score is tested is that all grades are scored on a continuum, so there isn’t really a maximum or minimum score but they expect an average 8th grader to have a score of around 230 or so and an average 2nd grader to be in, I dunno, the 180s or so. But it is possible for an 8th grader to score below that second grade level and it is possible for a 2nd grader to score above the 8th grade level.

And my kid outscored about 80% of my fucking 8th graders, in both reading and math. He was in the 99th percentile in achievement in both reading and math, and he was in the 98th percentile in growth for math and 80th percentile in growth for reading. So he killed this fucking test. My reaction was not quite “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” but it was close. I knew the boy was bright, but … shit. And the fact that his teacher showed me these results and then immediately began apologizing because she doesn’t think she’s challenging him enough … lady, if the boy showed up at the 98th percentile in growth, it means he’s hoovered up every single fact you’ve thrown at him all year long. I would kill for results like this from my students. And she’s acting like she’s embarrassed by it.

If my kid isn’t showing growth, then maybe the teacher has at least a justification for an apology, although as the teacher of a number of kids who are failing to show growth (and, to be fair, a larger number who are; my overall numbers weren’t bad at all relative to the other teachers in my building) I’m not about to be making a bunch of phone calls. But if the kid is improving by leaps and bounds like mine apparently is then it is a hundred percent fair for the teacher to crow about the job she’s doing with him a bit.

And it’s weird, because as a dad I’m proud of him, but as a teacher I kind of want to break things, because now I have to swallow the sentence “My second grader took this test and beat your score by thirty points” with a lot of my kids, and … gaaaah.

I just wish everybody could get the education he’s getting at Hogwarts, and I wish enough of my kids gave a shit that they had a chance of getting that type of growth from me. I had one kid in the nineties in growth, but she barely spoke English when she took the first one, so it’s not exactly a surprise. It’s a whole damn different world over there.

Teacherly updatery

First things first, unrelated to teaching: I’d like you all to go back to my piece about the Iowa caucuses from a couple of days ago, read it, and marvel at my prescience. I am too disgusted with politics in general at the moment to discuss any of the various issues of the day (ITMFA now stands for Impeach the Motherfucker Again, not Already, and I did not watch the State of the Union, because I am not a fucking masochist) so you get to read teachertalk instead.

I got a fair amount of feedback and advice (not all of it on the blog) after my post about my student with selective mutism a couple of weeks ago. I thought I’d report back: it turns out that she’s entirely willing to communicate in writing, so a day or two after writing that post I handed her a piece of paper with a short note asking some questions and she answered everything and gave it back to me. She’s generally not willing to call attention to herself but there have been a couple of times where I checked in with her and she’d written some questions in the margins of her assignments; she doesn’t seem to have any difficulty (and there’s no reason to think she would) with listening or processing what she’s being told, so I can answer her verbally just fine, although I’ll occasionally respond in writing just for the hell of it. I just have to make sure to check in with her once or twice during class because she usually won’t put her hand up. She’ll respond to direct questions with gestures, though, and there have been times where I got a thumbs-up or a “sort of” gesture after asking her how she’s doing. My kids also will ask for bathroom breaks with a sign language “B” a lot of the time, and she’s picked that up as well.

So in general things are going just fine. She’s a bright kid and she gets good grades and she pays attention, so I basically just treat her with the slightly higher level of attention that some of my ESL and shyer students get and so far everything has gone just fine.

(Also, I called her an elective mute in that first post, and that term is apparently outdated; they call it selective mutism now. I’m not entirely certain what the difference might be, but I like to use the right words for things.)

Mama cooked a breakfast with no hog

I’ve talked about this before– my seventh hour class is absolutely my problem children this year, and rearranging about half of them at the semester break somehow made no real differences in the overall attitude and vibe of the class. Yesterday I introduced solving systems of equations with substitution, which frankly is one of the more difficult bits of mathematics they’re going to have to deal with this year, at least in terms of the number of steps involved. And they did a decent job! I’d been warning them in advance that it was going to be tricky and I needed everyone focused while I was going over it, and I more or less got what I needed from them.

Today my co-teacher and I split the group up, if only to keep the noise level down a bit, and I ended up sitting at a table with five of my boys for the majority of the class.

And the five of them spent probably about half an hour working through the assignment with me, with varying levels of teacherly assistance, and after maybe fifteen minutes I found myself wishing I was recording them. They were genuinely working together– not one of the five was waiting for the others to get the answer– discussing their ideas on how to solve problems productively and without arguing, explaining their thinking, and generally doing every single God damn thing I want my students to do when working through math that they find challenging.

Three of the five failed math at least one of the two quarters last semester, too, which made the whole thing even more amazing.

It was a damn good day today.

CALLING ALL TEACHERS: In which I need advice

Forgive the two posts back-to-back, but this place is my biggest megaphone and it didn’t seem appropriate to stick this onto the back of my previous post: teachers who may be reading this, have any of you ever had students who were elective mutes? Any suggestions or resources on how to work with them? She showed up while I was out, and I just met her today; apparently she hasn’t said a word to anyone in about two years. She doesn’t appear to have any learning disabilities, but in those few sentences I’ve told you literally everything I know about her. Anybody? This is a new one for me.