In which it really isn’t

Every 8th grader in the corporation takes the PSAT right around this time each year, mostly as an indicator of high-school readiness; if a kid enrolls in a high school out of district one of the things they pull as they evaluate the kid is the PSAT score. Now, we let them know early and often that this isn’t precisely the best measuring tool for this purpose (and I don’t know who made the decision to start using this test, but I’d like to have a word with them) and that, particularly on the math portion of the test, there’s gonna be some stuff they don’t know.

Now, the thing is, we’ve only been using the PSAT for a couple of years, and last year, I didn’t administer it, since I was working from home at the time. So I haven’t actually seen what the math content on the PSAT looks like since I took the PSAT, sometime in the early fuckin’ nineties. And here’s the thing: advancing your skills in reading and writing doesn’t really work the same way as it does in math. A talented 8th grader can handle a reading or language test pitched at 9th graders, because reading is still the same thing, and there really aren’t any actually novel skills taught after, like, the middle of grade school or so. Math? Math doesn’t work like that. The PSAT is basically an Algebra 1 test, and if you’re not in Algebra 1, the notation alone is going to make the thing entirely incomprehensible. Like, my kids have never seen f(x) in any capacity, and that renders even something like f(x) = X + 6 when X is 10 somewhat incomprehensible. Some of them will figure out (or, probably more accurately, correctly guess) that they can just add 10 and 6 and get 16, but the majority of them are going to look at the function notation and just fall apart, and a whole lot of the questions used function notation some way or another. There were two math tests on the PSAT, one that was meant to be done without calculators and lasted twenty minutes, and another that allowed calculators (which weren’t going to do most of my kids a bit of good) and lasted 40. I glanced through an extra copy of the test booklet (true to expectations, attendance was miserable) and found maybe three questions on the first test I thought my kids might be able to do, and perhaps 50% of the questions on the second test were possible, or at least would be by the end of the year– second- or third-quarter material, for example.

I’m not writing this to complain about the test, mind you; it’s just not going to be as useful to evaluate where an 8th grader is mathematically than it will be to evaluate where they are as readers. I’m writing this because, as a math teacher, I spent the entire test ignoring pointed glares from at least three or four students– not because they were actually mad at me, but because they decided it was funny to blame me for the math on the test being hard and a couple of them just decided they were going to spend an hour staring at me– because it’s not like they actually thought I was responsible for the questions on the Goddamned thing. I just kept telling them not to panic and didn’t worry about it’ it’s nice, for once, to have them taking something that isn’t used to evaluate me or my school in any way. All the pressure to do well was on the people actually taking the test!

Crazy, innit?

That’s all, folks

Year seventeen of my teaching career, done and dusted. This was absolutely the oddest year of my time in this profession, but unlike most of the teachers in this country it wasn’t the longest or the most stressful. Honestly, as ridiculous as it sounds, personally this was one of the easiest years I’ve ever had. I can’t claim that’s true for a lot of my students, mind you, and we’re going to pay for this next year– but a year where a computer did my grading and I had no discipline problems to worry about papers over a lot of problems. In a lot of ways, for the kids who showed up, at least, I got to be the teacher I have always wanted to be this year– and I got this intensely gratifying result from my end-of-year survey today as well:

This is only 50 of the 139 I have on roster, so hopefully I’ll get at least a few dozen more responses over the next few days, but this is on a scale where 1 is “I completely disagree” and 5 is “I completely agree.” So there’s a small handful of kids who either think I have favorites or I pick on certain kids, but if anyone thinks I pick on certain kids, no one thinks those certain kids are them. There’s a lot more to dig into on the survey, but these were the two results that really stood out for me and really made me feel like I was on the right track this year. I also got a handful of really nice thank-you notes, which hasn’t happened in a while, and a few kids said they were bringing things for me to the end-of-year recognition ceremony tomorrow.

(Which is going to be at school, and not outdoors in the rain, alhamdullilah.)

At the end of next year, I will have been teaching for as long as our high school seniors have been alive. That’ll be … fun. I haven’t had to teach the child of any former students yet, helped out by the fact that I don’t live in Chicago any longer and reset the clock when I moved back to South Bend, but that’s coming. I know enough of them have children that the oldest of them will be passing through middle school in a few more years.

I’m going into this summer, for the first time in a while, with no real plan to even try writing a book. What I need to do is study for my National Boards test and start seriously planning for next year. Some things are going to change again (we’re going back to block scheduling) and I want to hit the ground running in a way I never have before, so it’s going to take a lot of thinking and planning. I don’t see any real way next year can be better than this year was– structurally, given what’s coming it’s just not possible– but that doesn’t mean I can’t go in ready for it.

Bring it on.

Blog post blog post blog post

I spent the entire day with my face buried in iMovie, putting together the 8th grade recognition video for my kids, since we can’t have an actual ceremony. It’s up to half an hour and I still have people who owe me bits of it. My eyes are bleeding, and I’m taking the rest of the night off.

That said, it’s a damn shame I can’t share this thing with y’all, because I think I’m pretty proud of it.

Meanwhile, this song will be running through my head until I die, and if you didn’t want people using your video for graduation celebrations you shouldn’t have called it “Graduation,” lady.


6:44 PM, Thursday May 28: 1,719,855 confirmed cases and — sigh — 101,562 Americans dead.

On venturing into public

My belly is full of pizza and my brain is full of nonsense. At the moment I prefer the contents of my belly; ultimately the pizza will cost me less. That said, it’s been a very long time since I was getting any kind of exercise regularly– and, despite my near-permanent status as a professional fat dude, I actually enjoy exercise. I got a weird little thrill when my wife pointed out that the current bathroom mirror (which is six feet wide and about four high, with no borders– just a big piece of mirrored glass) ought to go down into the basement as part of our as-yet nonexistent home gym. I was actually angry with myself that I hadn’t thought of it on my own.

I ran into three different families’ worth of students during the ten minutes that I was buying pizza, by the way, which makes me think maybe living in more or less the same neighborhood as my school isn’t that much of an advantage.

One of them asked me what I was doing there, which tells you the caliber of kids I’m dealing with. (Yes, this is an unfair thing to say. No student anywhere thinks his teachers are real people, and running into us in public, thus confirming the unwelcome truth that we exist outside of our classrooms, is always an occasion for wonder and mystery. But it’s still funny.)

“I’m here for pizza,” I told her.

“Really?” she asked.

I leaned forward.

“I actually live here,” I whispered, and pointed under one of the chairs by the door. “I slept there last night. Don’t tell anybody.”

Her eyes tripled in size. Her mother got their pizza (I was waiting for a Deep Dish pizza, which takes longer even though it’s more of a Deep Ish pizza) and shot me a weird look as they left.

By the time the third family said hello and left, I think the employees thought I was some sort of rock star.

The pudgy, bald, talentless kind, of course.

I tried to spend part of last night applying for a field trip grant through Target. Have I mentioned the DC trip yet? I take a group of seventh and eighth graders to Washington, D.C. every two years, and this year is a travel year. The trip is hella expensive so we’re trying to find a good way to pay for it that doesn’t involve me having to run a fundraiser. First it took twenty minutes and two changes of my password to log into the site, which is justweird, and then after taking three thousand or so characters to say I want to take my kids to DC so they can lern history gud, it lost my entire application except for the biographical part at the beginning. Frustrated, I tried to flip to the last section of the application, which asks me to break the trip cost down in ways that are frankly impossible (it costs, roughly, $800 per kid, but that’s a flat fee– they don’t break it down by transportation or food or lodging or whatever. It’s just $800. Target wants everything broken down specifically– I can’t even realistically estimate those numbers– and I doubt they’ll like it very much if I just put $32,000 HOLY FUCKING HELL ARE WE SERIOUSLY PAYING THEM THIRTY-TWO GRAND into one of the boxes.

Holy shit. How the hell are they making thirty-two thousand dollars off of us? That’s fucking insane. Mental note: redouble plans to become a DC tour guide once I decide I can’t teach any longer.

Jesus.