In which that’s just, like, your opinion, dude

I didn’t actually intend for that survey to be yesterday’s only post, but Life intervened, and I didn’t get back to the blog. At any rate, it’s pretty clear that no one is interested in the podcast option. I may look into it anyway just because I’m curious about how it works– I can think of two ways to convert a blog into a podcast, and one is expensive and the other would not result in an acceptable podcast– but I think the only reason to do it would be to make the blog more accessible to the blind, and I suspect that by and large blind folks who are are interested in reading blogs probably already have some sort of screen-reading software that they use.

That said, I am a White Guy with Opinions, and as such hey, I should do a podcast is on my bucket list of shit I might want to do sometime, just as soon as I actually come up with an idea worth of the work it would take. That’s been the position I was in for several years and no podcast has surfaced, so I wouldn’t worry too much about audio being imposed on your Infinitefreetime.com experience.

Meanwhile, I’ve spent the last two days– and will also spend the next three– watching numbers slowly increment upward from 1 to somewhere between 50 and 53. It’s Spring NWEA time, so I’m wasting an entire week of my school year trying to convince children who are not in the same room with me to take a standardized test that will provide me with no useful information. I know they’re behind. I’ve never once in my career taught at a school where even just a majority of my kids were at grade level. I wouldn’t know what to do with 8th graders who were on grade level. They’re behind. A year of pandemic has not made that better. They will remain behind. This test will let me know that they’re behind, but will attach a number to it.

(And that number? I don’t trust it, for what should be obvious reasons– every single one of these kids is taking this test out of my sight, and of course I have no way of monitoring who actually took the test, or if they got help, or for that matter if they were taking it in the kitchen while their parents were fighting and the baby they were supposed to be taking care of was crying. One kid left for half an hour because his dad made him walk the dog. The test already wasn’t especially helpful, and it is even less helpful than usual this year.)

I will not rant about state accountability tests, which have not been cancelled yet. Not today.

The picture at the top of this post is not my house– it’s the customize-your-house thing that our roofing company uses, with the shingles we’ve selected on the roof. We’re going on faith to at least a certain degree here, because comparing the actual shingle samples we were sent to any photograph of any of the three colors we settled on results in a certain amount of confusion. I’m hoping a photograph will be more representative than the, like, four shingles we got sent in these samples, but ultimately everything was so close together that it didn’t end up mattering. The white and green on the house up there match the color of my house and the accent color of my house closely enough for government work, and our shingles don’t match the brown one neighbor has or the black the other neighbor has, so whatever. We’re good.

Neither of us are going to remember what the hell color we picked when they come to install the new roof anyway.

On why I will never be a principal (pt. 3 of 3)

Here’s the thing, chirren.

I’ve had another “principal for a morning” event since the one I describe in these two posts from Sunday.  I didn’t mention it on the blog.  In fact, I posted pictures of my dinner instead.  Why?  Because nothing of any real seriousness happened.  Thursday was a day from hell.  There is no damn doubt about that at all.   And it is amazing to me just how much I didn’t know about how difficult being a principal was prior to taking a job where I work in the office at my school.

I didn’t have to deal with teachers.

I didn’t have to deal with the union.

I didn’t have to deal with downtown.

just had to deal with discipline, and it produced a day busy enough that it produced over five thousand words of blogging.  now, hopefully it was entertaining blogging and y’all didn’t just tl;dr me and hit Like, but both posts are seeing pretty good traffic, so people are at least clicking on it.

And here’s where this ties in with my other educational obsession: my school added a hundred and twenty-five new transfer students this year.  We acquired those kids because we’re a good school and parents are pulling their kids from other crappier schools and sending them our way.  And the first month or so of school has been rough as hell because a lot of those transfer kids, as well as a gaggle of kids from Chicago and Michigan City, aren’t necessarily getting with the program on how things work around here.  My boss begins nearly every conversation with “Where did you go to school last year?” because nearly every kid who lands in the office is a new student.  All three of my major trouble kids, plus about 2/3 of the rest, were new to the building.

When these kids, who have been in failing schools for years, drag down our test scores– as, inevitably, they will, because that’s how math works— our teachers will be blamed, and our school’s ranking will go down.

Because we succeeded, and other parents sent their kids to us.

Let that roll around in your head a little bit.

On pedagogy… sorta

original-1Kind of pointlessly meandering about on the interwubs right now, looking for something interesting enough to talk about.  I used to be really, really good at this game; my previous long-term foray into blogging was basically all about looking around on the Internet until I found something that pissed me off and then ranting about it until I ran out of steam. Granted, it was the Bush years; I was easier to piss off back then, but that model really doesn’t work very well for me anymore.  I can’t remember the last time a blog post on this blog was a result of finding an article online, unless it was (as will be happening later this week, possibly as early as tomorrow) me finding a topic I wanted to emulate, rather than argue against.  What entertains me most about this is that just within the last week I’ve been referred to in comments as both “irascible” and, I believe, a “sadistic fucktard,” both by people who meant them affectionately– and that’s on the blog where, by comparison with previous work, I’m nice all the time.

I’m off from regular job tomorrow morning, because I have another probation assistance team meeting– that’s the thing where I’m working with (and, supposedly, helping) a teacher who has been placed on probation for one reason or another.  We’re drawing close to the end of the process at this point; it’s not supposed to run for longer than 100 days and can end at 40; this will be the 40-day meeting.  I don’t expect us to arrive at an answer (and by “an answer,” I mean “this probation process is terminated” or “you are terminated”) tomorrow, so there will be at least two more half-days out of my classroom in the next few weeks, one to observe again and one to have another summative meeting.  I don’t remember if I blogged about the last time I observed this teacher or not, but what’s frustrating about the whole process is that this person is teaching their(*) classes more or less exactly in the way the corporation wants– it’s just that don’t find that method terribly effective.

This puts me in a weird position.  In terms of teaching “by the book,” so to speak, this teacher is actually miles ahead of me– they’re doing things that I’m supposed to be doing in my room, but never do, because I either find them ineffective in general or have not personally ever been able to make them work.  But I’m still a more effective teacher.  I know this intuitively and I suspect that I could prove it if necessary; my numbers on the state assessments that are supposedly used to evaluate us are really, really good, and if their numbers match mine then they probably shouldn’t be on probation.

What makes it weird is giving advice on how the class should be run on an instructional level– I’m kinda forced to say “do it this way” when in fact I don’t do it that way, and in fact I kinda think doing it that way sucks sometimes, but when we’re in a position of having to rebuild this person’s pedagogy from the ground up, maybe we shouldn’t be trying to rock the boat too much.

The other weird thing was that at the last meeting everyone but me had seen a classroom that was in total chaos.  I didn’t see that, and that’s not just my lens for viewing instruction being calibrated differently from anyone else.  I’m confident that anyone who had walked into that room the first day I was there– and, frankly, the second day I was there as well– would see a classroom that was at the very least being managed adequately.  Classroom management isn’t everything, at least not under most circumstances, and it certainly isn’t teaching, but without classroom management you generally can’t teach effectively.  That’s sort of another problem with this process– we’re supposed to be evaluating teaching, not classroom management, but it’s tough to see through the weeds sometimes.  I just went through my own notes and deleted a bunch of stuff that I didn’t ultimately think was relevant to what we’re supposed to be looking for before sending it in to the committee chair– that’s not to say that it wasn’t important to making this person a better teacher, it’s just not exactly what I’m supposed to be looking for.

Gah.  Am I even making any sense here?  I’m powerfully ambivalent about this entire process, if that’s not obvious, and it makes it hard to write about.  We’ll see how tomorrow goes, I guess.

(* The last time I talked about this, I played the gender-neutral pronoun game throughout and it ended up hurting my brain; this time I’m just using plurals the whole way through.  Screw grammar.)

I had a busy day; here’s a sandwich

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I didn’t get around to making Reubens last night; we went over to my parents’ place for chili instead– so we made them tonight.  This was after another excessively long Monday where the kids spent the whole day doing their best to convince me that they were stupid– only to then turn around and pass the first Acuity test of the year (there are three; it’s primarily used as a measure of growth) by more or less flying colors.  All but two of the kids in my first class passed, 60% of my mostly-special-ed class passed (which is pretty damn good; just trust me on that), and all of my kids in Algebra passed– which they’d bloody well better have if they wanted to live.  This, though, from kids who literally ten minutes before the test were trying to convince me they’d never seen long division before.

Two pounds of corned beef and a pound of Swiss cheese made it a bit better.  Along with some rye bread and some sauerkraut and some homemade Russian dressing.  Mmmm.

This, by the way, is the shit that makes me wonder what the hell we’re doing in education in this country.  Should I be judged if a kid who has been taught long division by four different teachers four straight years tries to act like he’s never seen it before?  Am I just that shitty at my job, along with whichever different teachers these kids had before me?  Or can we actually blame the kids for willfully embracing dumbassery?

I really don’t know the answer.  Maybe we all just suck at this and everything they’re saying about American public schools is true.  I don’t know what to do with a kid who has been told the rules of punctuation by every teacher they’ve ever had in their entire lives and still can’t figure out that sentences begin with capital letters and end with some form of punctuation.  Or who treats apostrophes like they’re an early warning system for the letter S.  After every teacher they’ve ever had showed them the right way to do it.

At some point, it has to be their fault.  Or maybe not!  Maybe I’m just that bad at my job– and I, supposedly, am one of the good ones.  Bad teachers must literally suck knowledge out of the heads of the young scholars in their classrooms.

And then they go and pass the Acuity test, which is either a sign that the Acuity isn’t really measuring anything or that they were fucking with me all morning.

Either way, I’m losing my ability to put up with it.

Anyway, I’m gonna go watch the season premiere of How I Met Your Mother, a show I still watch only because I’m a masochist.  I expect it to annoy me; that’s what it’s for nowadays.

In which I memorize

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We’ve just finished the third week of school, and I’ve probably spent most of the past three weeks breaking the law in some form or another. That folder there is full of special ed documentation about my many, many special education students. There are, right now, 22 dossiers in that folder, ranging from three to thirty-some-odd pages long. Some are for students I don’t actually have in my classes and have never met. I’m legally responsible to have read and understood (and “understood” in this case should be taken to mean “memorized”) the documentation on each of those kids. And I am absolutely certain that I don’t have all of my IEPs yet, and am even more certain that I don’t have all my BIPs yet, as I don’t have any at all from seventh or eighth grade.

Here’s the thing: special ed paperwork, and the idea of an “individualized education profile,” or IEP, is a very good idea in theory that has gone terribly wrong in practice. It’s much like Communism in that regard. The idea that a student with disabilities shouldn’t be educated in the same manner as a student without those disadvantages is a good one. The idea that special education students deserve the same access to a quality education as other students is a good one.

The idea that I’m supposed to memorize, on average, fifteen pages of accommodations for each of my twenty-some odd students, and that one person is supposed to write these IEPs for what could be dozens of kids with special ed needs in a low-income building, is insane. It can’t be done, and great special ed teachers are getting driven out of the field because half of what they do now is push around stacks of paper, and then endlessly revise those stacks of paper based on federal and state and local guidelines that can’t ever seem to stay consistent for more than a week or two at a time. It’s freaking madness.

And then there are the BIPs, or Behavior Intervention (I think) Plans. I support the concept behind the IEP, if not the way they’re implemented. Half the time I think BIPs are bullshit. I’ll be honest: I still haven’t sussed out what the distinction is between a kid who ends up with a BIP and a kid who is an asshole. It probably has something to do with whether they think the kid’s assholism is an actual disorder or not. What they basically are is a list of steps that you’re supposed to follow with Little Johnny Special Snowflake when he’s fucking up so that you can get him back on track– steps that don’t have to be followed for any other student. While it’s not supposed to mean this, frequently in practice a BIP means that LJSS can get away with shit that would get other students literally crucified– because LJSS is just too much of an asshole to be expected to conform to regular behavioral norms.

But whatever, right? I adapt my disciplinary methods to the individual student I’m dealing with all the time. In other contexts– hell, right here on this blog– I’ve defended not nailing a kid to a wall for something that might have me reaching for a hammer with another student. I get it, even though it annoys the piss out of me.

Here’s the problem: BIPs have to be seen and signed by every adult who works in a school who could conceivably come in contact with a kid. Not just the teachers. Every adult. So, like, bus drivers and cafeteria staff and custodians and the lady who does photocopying on Wednesdays are in theory supposed to have read and memorized the BIPs for every student who has one that they could possibly come into contact with. Some of us (me, for example) could theoretically come into contact with every single student in the building.

I have BIPs in this folder for students who I have literally never met, who are not in my grade or my wing of the building, who I may never have in my class. I may not be able to pick Jenny Fucknut or Johnny Fingerbang out of a lineup, but I’d sure as shit better know their BIPs so if I happen to encounter them freaking the fuck out in the hallway I can calmly redirect them or go through their deep breathing exercises or whatever the fuck; it’s not like I’ve read the damn things yet. All of that without knowing their names, because frequently when these kinds of kids do lose their shit they’re likely to tell me that their name is Go Fuck Yourself, and I don’t have a BIP for him.

Seriously; the people in the cafeteria line are expected to know these things. Gimme a fucking break.

(The good news? I have very little grading to do this weekend, and my lesson plans are done for next week, so at least there’s a chance in hell that I’ll end up getting to them at some point.)