So this happened

Will I ever be free of this Tweet? No. No, I will not:

To be clear, this isn’t a former student; I don’t know this kid– they just made the realization that I was still online and so checked in with me to see what I meant with the Tweet.

I’m adding “my writing has been studied in high school Language Arts classes” to my resume.

I’m OK

My last post, or perhaps a combination of the last several, appears to have unintentionally set several of you to worrying about me. I’m fine, I promise, or at least I’m as close to fine as I’ve been at any other point during the last few years. I’m “fine” by post-2016 standards, whatever that means.

And, honestly, there was no good reason to be secretive about what I needed luck for other than pure superstition, so: despite having made the decision to stay at my current school back in early June, now that we’ve got a principal and assistant principal named, along with a couple of articles in the local paper about recent school board meetings, I have become fully convinced that the district has entirely given up on our school and that we are being set up to continue to fail. I do not know my new principal very well but what I have witnessed thus far has not been good, and while I haven’t even met the new AP yet he has “pushover” tattooed on his forehead. We have a new dean of students as well. None of the three have any experience in their jobs. Our principal has never been a principal and has never been a middle school administrator at all; our new AP has never been an administrator, and our new Dean has not only never held that job she’s never worked in a middle school.

Oh, and I found out that literally two 8th graders passed the math ILEARN. Two. One point five percent. I don’t know which two. I suspect I can guess on at least one of them, but I don’t have names yet. So, I dunno, probably I suck at my job or something.

Anyway. Long story short, based on all that, despite my promise in May, I’ve applied for a few jobs at another district and if I get a chance I’m splitting.. One particular school has four jobs open and I’m qualified for three of them. I formally applied for two of the three (I really don’t want to be a Language Arts teacher despite technically being certified for it) and sent the principal an email with my resume attached as well. I was hoping, what with school starting in 2 1/2 weeks, that I’d hear from the principal yesterday or today; that has not happened.

I can think of a hundred thousand reasons why no one has called me yet; I am, nonetheless, assuming that I am blacklisted for some reason. At this point I have been applying for jobs since March and have not received a single call-back from anything other than a couple of purely lateral moves within the same organization. It’s not like these folks have access to my current test scores or anything, but … fuck, people, school starts August 17. I’m perfectly fucking willing and ready to move over to your building. What the fuck are you waiting for?

Hm. This post may not have done quite the job I wanted in reassuring people that I’m all right.

On standards

I’ve done this rant before– so, so many times– so I’ll spare you the full version right now. But two pieces of information have recently crossed my radar and I thought I’d take a moment with them.

First, a report on Twitter– I’m not going to dig it up, just trust me– that half of American adults can’t read at an 8th grade level. Which … y’know, that sounds pretty alarming! 8th graders are kinda young and have a decent amount of school left to go through, so you’d hope that adults would be able to read as well as them, right?

Second, and I found this out today, that less than five percent– rather significantly less, unfortunately– of the students in my school passed the Math portion of the ILEARN last year. Lower than one in twenty, to phrase it differently. And the scary thing is, looking across my district, my school doesn’t really stand out against the scores most of the rest of the schools got.

I’m going to make two points here. Well, maybe three, depending on how you count the points. First, that if half of American adults can’t read at an 8th grade level, it stands to reason that more than half, in fact probably significantly more than half of actual 8th graders probably cannot read at an 8th grade level. Which, okay, we can all shake our heads sadly at that if we want to, and we probably should, but it brings this question to mind: what exactly does the phrase “8th grade reading level” mean in this context, and who decides what an 8th grade reading level is? Because if (to make up a number) 70% of American 8th graders and half of American adults can’t read at an “8th grade level,” I feel like it stands to reason to suggest that perhaps whatever that level is, it isn’t actually an 8th grade level. Further, that we can talk about having high standards as much as we like, but at some point does it ever make sense to suggest that the bar we’ve set for our kids is actually and genuinely too fucking high? And that if less than a twentieth of 8th grade students can’t pass what is supposed to be an 8th grade test, maybe we should blame the assessment and not the kids?

The problem is, of course, that I and every other teacher I know who has been doing this job for more than a few years are fully aware that our kids have been getting dumber, every year, for our entire careers. My 8th graders fifteen years ago make my current 8th graders look like kindergartners. They know nothing, and it’s not a demographic thing, because I’ve been working in the same kinds of communities for more or less my entire career. They get dumber every. Fucking. Year. They know less every. Fucking. Year.

Go ahead, find an educator with more than, say, seven or eight years of experience who disagrees with me. You won’t be able to do it. As soon as we started focusing on Test Scores Uber Alles a couple of years into the Bush administration, the kids started knowing less and less as every year went past, and at this point they’re so far behind that the notion of them actually internalizing 8th grade work is laughable. I can get some of them to be successful in the moment. Two weeks later none of them will remember any of it. Then there’s the third of my class that is literally in school for no reason at all, who go all day without a pencil and do no work of any kind. I never had to deal with that shit earlier on in my career. Maybe a kid or two. It’s literally a third to a half of every class now that does nothing all day. I mean that literally. Not a single stitch of work. No supplies. Nothing.

Now, this “eighth-grade level” thing is probably more a failure of journalism than it is of pedagogy; what it probably is referring to is some sort of lexile scale or something similar, where some lexile (YES AUTOCORRECT LEXILE IS A FUCKING WORD CUT THE SHIT) band has been arbitrarily assigned to “8th grade level,” and currently half of adults are below that. But you can’t tell newspaper readers that half of American adults read at lower than 1000L or whatever; it’s not meaningful information and “8th grade level” makes sense in a way “1000L” doesn’t even if the lexile level is more technically accurate.

(It’s still arbitrary, btw, but it’s nonetheless more precise.)

Anyway, long story short, I’m shit at my job apparently, and while I haven’t been able to gain access to my kids or my grade level’s results, I’m willing to bet that the school as a whole outperformed them anyway, so it’s not like it’s going to put me in a better mood.

tl;dr education is bullshit, Americans are awful and I hate it here.

Some good news, for once

The Indiana state Senate, in a rare moment of sanity, has defanged the grotesque HB 1134, removing the vast majority of what made it so offensive, including the requirement that teachers post daily lesson plans for the entire year by either June 30 or August 1 of each year, depending on which version of the bill you were looking at. It appears to have been watered down to a vague suggestion that school districts create curriculum advisory committees that parents can be on, which I’d be willing to bet most of them already have, and which one way or another is not an especially onerous change. I did enjoy this bit from the article, however:

Dawn Lang, a Fishers mom of three kids, said she likes the part of the bill that will provide her access to her school’s learning management system. She said parents are frustrated and want more transparency in their children’s education. 

Dawn Lang lives in Fishers, which is a wealthy suburb of Indianapolis, and I absolutely one hundred percent guarantee you that she already has full access to her school’s LMS. Every LMS I’ve ever seen allows parental access. My kids’ parents can see every assignment and can see their kids’ attendance and grades in real-time, and can even set things up to get alerts when I update grades. And this isn’t exactly new technology; it’s been available in my district for easily half a decade if not longer than that. She has the access; she’s either too dumb to be able to use it, in which case the law isn’t going to help her, or she’s lying, in which case the law is written specifically for people like her.

What does this mean for me? Good question! This law was going to guarantee that I wasn’t going to return to teaching next year, and while it’s always possible that some sort of fuckery will take place (the House assumes no one’s watching, restores the old language, and bounces it back to the Senate during the reconciliation process, the Senate passes the original, fucked bill, and Holcomb signs it) I don’t know that I think it’s especially likely. This year’s legislative Armageddon at least appears to be, against all expectations, dead. Will there be more fuckery next year? Yep. Sure will, and this bill wasn’t the only reason I want to leave; recall that my administrators have been fired as well, for example, and, oh, every single other thing about this year. But it means that there’s not a “have to quit by” date attached to my current career, and that I can at least take some time and see if there are other school-related jobs that I might want next year. It’s gone from an impending crisis to something that is still very much a big deal but no longer runs any risk of actual unemployment. I’ll take it.

In other news, we did have school today, although literally all but one of the other school districts within shouting distance were closed. And, honestly, as it turns out, it was a touch on the risky side but I think it was the right call. My drive home was kinda dodgy, but you can’t live through too many Indiana winters without learning how to handle “kinda dodgy,” and as the middle schools are the last to dismiss in my district, I have to assume the high schools and primary centers were able to get everybody home without any particular drama. Hell, attendance was even pretty good today, and most of the day was, unbelievably, calm. Again, I’ll take it.

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.