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.

Pictured: Not my school

I have never been under the illusion that it would be difficult to find me if someone combined the desire to do so with a decent amount of time, this website, and some small ability to search for clues. I have never named any school I’ve worked at and rarely specifically name my district, but I’ve never hidden the fact that I teach middle school and frankly there are only a limited number of middle schools to search through. Finding my name would be a touch trickier, but my teaching license– which is under my real name– is public information, and many schools post staff lists. I have always figured that, given that making myself impossible to dox is probably impossible, I would make it require a bit of legwork and not worry about it too much beyond that. I’ve never said anything here that I wouldn’t stand behind were my name attached to it, frankly.

That said, occasionally shit gets specific enough around here that my inability to talk about it without giving too much away gets on my nerves. My district is going through a spate of consolidations and closings right now, and … well, lemme see if I can find this comment real quick.

I do not understand why my local newspaper’s website even allows comments, frankly, because every article and I mean every single fucking article will generally have one or two spam comments about working from home and one or two blatantly racist comments from the same three or four local Nazis and nothing else. Like, there are clearly people who spend a substantial portion of their day reading articles on this site and then leaving racist comments. It’s like a job. So I was surprised to see this comment, which goes on in a similar vein from here, and is from someone who is at least trying to be fair.

The thing, though, is that bit about the students being a “normal mix of average, below average, and above average.” I’m going to leave out the word potential, because I do genuinely believe that all of my kids have potential even if they either choose to or are unable to rise to it. And this is always a tricky conversation to have, because I don’t want to look like I’m shitting on my own students. But my district’s schools, particularly at the middle school level, are not normally distributed; not remotely, and it’s not just because of the neighborhoods the schools are in either.

Because, see, we have a middle school honors academy, and if that’s not bad enough, the honors academy is the biggest middle school. I have talked about this before, but not for a while; honors schools are great if you are looking at the individual student level for benefits. But they are toxic to the overall community of the district they’re in, because they hoover up the top (making up this number) 20% or whatever of students from each of the other schools at their level, and then those schools are expected to perform at the same level as they were when they had those students.

You see the problem here? Let’s imagine that Honors Academy houses 50 students that otherwise would be students at my school. Chances are that of those 50, 45 are going to be passing their standardized tests. Those 45 would still be passing their standardized tests at my school. I promise you, the teachers at the honors school are not any better than the teachers at any other building; first of all because I know a lot of them and second because I know how the hiring process works, and it’s not like you need any sort of special training or a number of years of experience. The staffs are functionally the same. Those kids, provided with competent educators and no massive family crises, are going to pass their tests. And good for them! They can take classes with other like-minded students, probably have fewer disruptions and quite possibly less violence at their school than at ours, and they’ll do just fine.

(Certain kinds of disciplinary issues are less prevalent at the honors school, which is to be expected to some extent. Fascinating thing, though, is they have a much bigger problem with drugs than any other middle school, so read into that however you like.)

The point is, one way or another, those 45 kids would still be passing at my school. But they’re not. They’re passing at some other school, and instead I’m expected to produce average or better results– because no school can ever be below average, even though that’s mathematically impossible, all of our children must be above average– with the bottom 80% of the students.

In other words, if we were to get the same results they got, or even close to them, it’s because we’re doing a better job.

Sadly, we are not. And does the state care? No, not one whit. We are expected to pass X% of our students, period, and if we don’t, it’s our fault, even though they have literally stacked the deck against us by siphoning off a substantial number of our kids to this other school.

What do you think that does to the culture of the building, by the way? And forgive me for pointing out something that’s probably obvious, but the fewer examples of success the kids have around them to see, the less reason they have to be successful, and the kids who do care about their grades find themselves in a small and shrinking minority.

So, no, sir, the students are not a normal mix. The students who are most likely to pass standardized tests are all concentrated in the same place. And that is absolutely 100% on purpose.

You want to improve the rest of the schools? Close the honors academy.

Well, shit

I have, I think, an above-average number of friends who have doctoral degrees, at least for someone who doesn’t have one. This is something that having spent your twenties in grad school does to you; if you don’t actually finish your program, a lot of your friends do, and while there has never been a single second where any of my Ph.D-holding friends have looked down on me for not reaching a terminal degree (I decided not to move forward after my MA in Divinity school, having discovered that I didn’t enjoy the research nearly as much as I thought I would, and finances fell apart at the last minute for my planned doctoral work in ed school) it has always sort of rankled that I never got one myself.

Now, note how I’m phrasing that: I’m treating a doctorate like it’s something you get and put on a shelf, like a trophy or a Batman statue or some shit like that. I have no intention whatsoever of becoming a professional researcher, nor do I really want to be a college professor, so at this point even getting a doctorate in education would literally be something done to soothe my ego and nothing else. And that’s … really not a good enough reason, unless I can do it for free, and that seems unlikely.

Enter National Board certification. This is really exactly what it sounds like; teacher certification is handled on the state level, and so there’s an insane patchwork of different requirements from state to state, and some states are much more restrictive than others about who can become teachers. Moving from state to state can be a hell of a mess, especially if you go from one with low requirements to one with higher requirements. NBC circumvents all of that; it’s basically the highest level of certification a teacher can reach (as opposed to being an educational credential like an MA or a doctorate) and most states end their certification requirements with “… or you could get your National Board certification” and leave it at that.

Most states also give you a hefty salary bump when you reach that level. Indiana, unfortunately, is not one of those states, and part of the reason I’ve not gotten my NBC in the past is that Indiana wants their teachers uneducated, young and cheap and I am none of the three already. I’m kind of stuck in my current district because the way state salary guidelines work, districts aren’t allowed to recognize irrelevant things like education when determining teacher salaries any longer, and most neighboring districts won’t recognize any more than five years of service if you’re from out of district, so I’ve been stuck in this position where if I were to change districts I’d be guaranteed a pay cut. Which … nah. I do not want a pay cut. No thank you.

There was a brief informational meeting today about a new initiative my district is setting up to try and get more teachers NBC certified. Turns out they’ll pay all of the fees for the certification (about $2200, apparently, if you don’t end up having to redo anything) and while they want a cohort (certification usually takes 2-3 years) you do the certification at your own pace, so in theory you could get it done very quickly or if you needed to put parts off you could do that as well. One of the parts is subject matter knowledge, which, pff, and another is reflecting on practice, which … well, look around. You need ten essays about my teaching practice, that’ll be done in a week. So that’s half of the four domains that I really don’t think will require a lot of work on my part unless I have to learn calculus or something; I’m not sure how expansive the math test would be. (Even if it would, an excuse to relearn upper mathematics would actually be a plus.)

Someone asked the presenter at one point how many teachers in the district were already NBC-certified. The answer, which surprised the hell out of me: zero. None. There are 16,000 kids in this district and who the hell knows how many teachers. Zero? Seriously?

And suddenly, between those three things: free, at my own pace, and one of the first teachers in the district to get this certification, and I think I’m in, when I was only attending the meeting to help talk myself out of this.

Shit.

Venting; ignore

My students have broken me already, and it’s only Tuesday. I try to be Mr. Positivity over on TikTok, and I’m also trying my damnedest to be as realistic as possible about what’s going on in my students’ lives. I put up a video the other day that basically boiled down to some of you are going to have to accept that your students have more important things to worry about in their lives right now than school, and you need to stop taking their grades personally. They’re not failing because they hate you.

And … like, I still think that’s true, or I wouldn’t have said it? But fucking hell, children. I have 143 kids and less than 30 did today’s assignment. About 35 have done yesterday’s. And that includes a handful of kids who faithfully do every single assignment

… within a minute of me posting it …

… by putting in completely random numbers for every single question. Every day.

Why the fuck are you bothering.

I just posted this to my Google Classroom announcements:

The thing is, while I can not let myself be this way while dealing with specific kids, the simple fact is that a number of my students aren’t struggling with the pandemic, they’re living their ideal fucking lives and playing video games all fucking day. They could do the work, they just don’t want to, and no fucker in their house is about to make them because their parents are lazy dumbshits too. And while I struggle with this part of myself every single day, there is very much a part of me that is absolutely fine with these kids deciding they’ve had enough education halfway through seventh grade (because that’s where they were when we went into quarantine) because, fuck it, life’s gonna catch up with them eventually, and we’ll see what they can do to feed their damn selves when they’re adults who can’t Goddamned read.

I had a kid today who did her assignment and got a 0/10 on it (important: I use Google Forms a lot, so the assignments get graded automatically) and immediately asked me if I could reset it so she could try again. I looked at it and discovered that she had the right basic idea but had forgotten to reduce all of her fractions– so, in other words, she’d put 25/100 but I wanted to see 1/4, for example. So I coached her through how to do that (she, an 8th grader, didn’t remember how) and she redid it. I told her to share her screen with me before submitting it so I could check it over again, and she’d gotten, like, three of them wrong. So I coached her through those, showing her how to do them right–

–and then she hit submit and turned the assignment in without changing any of the wrong answers. And, like, why did I just waste that time, then, if you weren’t going to bother taking the four seconds you needed to adjust those answers? And she signed out immediately afterwards, so she knew exactly what she was doing and knew I was going to say something about it if she’d stayed in the Meet.

Multiply that interaction by fifty or so and you have my last couple of days. I am right fucking there. I am in front of a computer fucking up my eyes and my back eight fucking hours a day so that I can answer questions and help kids and I will have kids who were present for instruction put in randomly chosen numbers and turn in their assignments. Yesterday we were doing something that I knew was tricky and so I actually did the first two questions on the assignment– an assignment that only had five questions to begin with. I pointed that out. I said “I am doing the first two for you, so you should get these right,” and then recorded myself saying that to them, along with the right answers. And I had kids who were in that Meet while I was doing that get the first two questions wrong.

I just …

Fuck.

In which the autogaslighting continues

This is not my district, but it’s nearby, and I’m looking at this and reading it and genuinely doubting my own sanity, because I cannot for the life of me imagine why the fuck anyone would ever think any of this is a good idea.

Yesterday was the first day that Indiana had over 5000 new coronavirus cases. There were 5038. Today– and “today,” to make sure everyone understands, is a word that means “one day after yesterday,”– there were over 6500. School districts across northern Indiana and southern Michigan are going back to full-time virtual or dialing back on the plans they had in place, and this is what Mishawaka thinks is a good idea once 2nd semester starts? Not only are they dumping all of their grade-cohort kids into the building at the same time, thus doubling the number of students in every single class they’re in, thus fucking up any actual chance at social distancing in hallways, classrooms, or at lunch, but by shifting to grade-only cohorts they’re guaranteeing that lots and lots of families with more than one child are sending those kids to school on different days.

Like fucking hell the Board of Health okayed that. I don’t believe that for a second. And they actually talk about how they already don’t have the staff to keep the buildings open! Do you think this shit is going to get better come January? You want people to be more vigilant, but you’re making the situation in your buildings worse on purpose???

And they don’t get into this in the letter, but if you were to click through and look at some of their individual school plans, you’d find out that they’re tying whether you can be 100% virtual to grades and attendance. In other words, they think that if your grades are poor they can require you to come to school part time.

Utter fucking madness. It’s either them or me. Someone is completely crazy. I just wish I could be certain who it was, because more and more I find myself living in a world where I have to conclude that huge numbers of the people around me are out of their Goddamned minds, and eventually it’s going to get to the point where it has to be me and not them.

Fuck.