In which I forgot to put the headline in and now the url is gonna be all dumb and stuff

I have an awful lot of teacher talk types of posts sloshing around in my head right now, and I’m not a hundred percent sure if any of it is done sloshing yet. Today was one of those days where after the school day I have half an hour to get home so that I can go to a two-hour meeting, and at this meeting we were shown some data from our building that has me alarmed. Quite alarmed, in fact. Not from an instructional or a learning standpoint, but from a building culture standpoint– and, to make things worse, I have no idea whether the data we’ve been shown is actually worth a damn or not. Basically, my kids appear to believe they attend the worst school in the history of schools, and as an instructor at that school I am interested in several things:

  1. I am interested in my school not being the worst school in the history of school;
  2. I am interested in my kids having better feelings about the building they go to school at;
  3. I am interested in knowing whether they actually believe that the school is the utter, irredeemable shithole that the data is indicating they think they attend;
  4. I am interested in figuring out, if the answer to #2 is yes, why their perception the building and mine is so different; and
  5. I am interested in figuring out what role the factually inaccurate student statements play in all of this. For example: students reported overwhelmingly that they were in physical danger in school and that fights happened regularly. They simply don’t. They reported that students frequently show up at school events and at school under the effects of alcohol and drugs. Also no. They reported that students carrying guns or knives was common at school. Also no!
  6. Some responses were simply bewildering. 3/4 of the students or so disagreed with the statement “My teachers let me know when I am misbehaving.” Seriously?

Now, I actually have a ton of reasons to suspect this data is unreliable. We have responses from less than a third of the kids in the building. The surveys were taken in December, when they weren’t in school. Sixth-grade students, in particular, hadn’t even physically been to school for more than a handful of days to ascertain the building climate in the first place! A bunch of them appear to simply have gone through and hit “disagree” on everything. One of us went through and looked at the data from other schools, which we also have access to, and reported that they all look astonishingly similar, which is suspect. But, like, one figures that if the kids were invested in school in the way we want them to be, they’d probably have taken the survey seriously, right?

Is there a way to craft some sort of measure for student satisfaction at their school that they either 1) will actually be invested in reporting honestly on and/or 2) can trick them into reporting more honestly? And how much of #5 up there represents the kids’ actual perception of the school, regardless of whether it’s “true” or not? After all, it’s kind of problematic to tell someone “Yes, you do feel safe at school” when they don’t, and as long as we’re talking about climate there really isn’t much difference between the kids thinking that everyone nearby is packing a weapon and it actually being true.

Also a useful question, tying in with all the middle schools being so similar: how much of this is my building and how much of this is a combination of covid-frustration and American culture in general hating education?

And I haven’t even started talking about discipline data. Lemme give you a preview of another post that’s rattling around. The following two sentences are both true:

I have only written up black males this year; and

I have only done three office referrals this year, and one of the three was on behalf of another teacher for a situation I wasn’t involved in.

But we’ll get to that later.

On silence

At some point during the school day yesterday, some young-dumb-full-of-cum dipshit (or, hell, maybe it was a girl, so just young and dumb) decided that it would be a good idea to scrawl an unspecified (as in I don’t know details, and frankly wouldn’t share them) “threat” against the building in one of the bathrooms. Whatever the threat was, it was apparently going to happen today. A letter went out to all the parents and, unsurprisingly, attendance was abysmal today.

Did I take it seriously? Not really. School shooters and teenage bombmakers (and, again, I have no idea what the details of the threat are) are wealthy white boys whose parents don’t secure their guns, and that’s not the demographics of my building. My wife asked why they didn’t simply switch to e-learning for the day, and the answer is frankly that if we were to do that we’d start seeing these things weekly, and that’s not a thing anyone is interested in. I remember when I was in high school a neighboring district that did quite nicely match the “we have school shootings” demographic went through a similar thing– their kids learned that bomb threats meant they got to go home, and they were averaging a couple a week for a while there.

At any rate, nothing happened. If they know who made the threat (and they probably have a good idea, as there are cameras near every bathroom entrance in the building) I haven’t heard about it yet, but nothing happened. No real surprise.

I have to say, I could get used to the idea that my classes are only nine or ten kids. One of my students commented to me on my second day back that he thought I must hate him, and when I asked him why he said that he was so squirrelly and talking all the time and had such a hard time focusing. And, like, first of all, no, I’m not even remotely close to “hate” for any of my current students and I think there’s only maybe three or four in my entire career that I’d apply that word to, and second of all: dude, yeah, you’re a handful, but there’s only one of you. The rest of the kids in that class are fine, and I can deal with one kid bouncing off the walls if he’s not one of half a dozen. That’s no problem at all.

(Truth be told, I genuinely like all of my kids this year, or at least the ones I know. That doesn’t happen terribly often, but I can manage a kid I just don’t click with just fine.)

At any rate, I didn’t get the impression that the kids today were especially scared or nervous, although I did send an email to the boss before school started suggesting that maybe they think about rescheduling the planned fire drill to next week sometime, a piece of advice that was followed. What I got was six class periods of silence. Maybe not the entire period, but definitely once they got settled down, each of my classes today had at least 10-15 minutes of complete and utter quiet. Which would make most teachers happy. Not me. I actually really don’t like quiet from kids that are working, although I need it during instruction. I prefer a low buzz, where I can keep half an ear open at all times and have an idea what everyone’s doing. It was too quiet today, spooky-quiet, and it’s interesting to think that this year might be the last time I have in my career where something like that happening again is likely.

And now, having dodged spoilers all day successfully, I’m off to watch The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. See y’all tomorrow.

Some teachertalk

This has, with the exception of maybe twenty minutes at the end of one class yesterday, actually been a pretty good first week back at work. Two things have worked out in my favor: first, I rearranged all of the desks in my classroom on the teacher record day before leaving for Winter Break, and I like the new layout a lot more, and it’s also quite a bit more conducive to instruction than my previous layout was.

In addition, quite a few of my students were reshuffled, something I initially regarded with wary concern but which seems to have worked out quite a bit better than I had dared to hope. I have lost a number of knuckleheads, replaced them with a bunch of kids who seem at first look at least to be pretty nice, one kid who I was expecting to be a knucklehead seems more manageable than I had thought he would be, and a surprisingly large number of kids have, on their own, come up to me and commented about how they’re having an easier time paying attention and behaving in their new class than they were in their old one. It’s actually rather fascinating.

All except 7th hour. I’ve talked about them before, I’m sure, although I’m not going to go search for a post to link to– my 7th hour class is so much more poorly behaved than the rest of my classes that it almost feels like they’re from a different building than the rest of my groups. The weird thing was that I didn’t really have any specific kids I could blame it on– the group was toxic, not any individual students.

7th hour is 50% different kids from last semester, a number of the tougher kids are in new groups (and many are among the “I’m doing better!” crew) … and the vibe in the room is exactly the same, if not actually worse.

I cannot explain it. Now, I know that there are other teachers in the building who also think their 7th hour group is their toughest, so maybe there’s something about 3:00 in the afternoon that makes them all insane, but I am generally pretty good about group psychology sorts of things and this phenomenon has completely eluded me. It’s only day three, of course, so there’s plenty of time for things to change, for better or worse, but right now I’m stymied.

In which I make decisions

So I’m sitting in a classroom in a school right now. I actually have a choice of two rooms, and there’s not a whole lot of difference between them, which naturally makes the choice a whole lot harder.

Room the first!

Both rooms are within a few inches of the same size and have the same stuff in them. The main difference is the windows and the desks– this room has two windows, which means more natural light, which is good, but it lacks the built-in coordinate plane on the board (not necessarily something I need) and it has one-piece desks, which I really don’t like. They won’t be remaining in rows one way or another, but this room is nice and spacious and bright. Right now there’s no teacher desk in here, but they’ll bring one in.

Room two!

Main differences: one window, coordinate plane on board, way way better desks. Problem is the desks are bigger, and when there are kids sitting in them this room is going to be crowded, particularly since I think I’m gonna end up teaching eighth graders. This layout is impossible for me to work with for a number of reasons but I’m not sure how much space I’ll save in the room if I move them around.

Main thing, I suppose, is I need to decide if I’m willing to trade floor space for shitty desks. I think I’ll probably end up going with extra floor space (and, with it, added versatility) but I’m gonna have to think about it a bit.

EDIT: Just before leaving I had a brief conversation with the night engineer, who told me that Room #1 has had issues with HVAC and tends to be too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. I don’t mind too cold at all, but a room that’s overheated may make the decision all by itself. Hmm.

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.)