Okay, so, we’re doing this

I just sent my new principal a nearly 1800-word email message based on a conversation we had at school today. There are two days before school starts where the teachers are supposed to be in the buildings; typically one of those is for meetings and the other is so that we can get our classrooms set up. One of the several bits of insanity during the last couple of days of disaster PD was discovering that the district intends for every teacher to be at the same PD downtown on our “meetings” day; there was talk of “breakout sessions” in the afternoon for individual buildings (where are they going to put us? Who knows!) lasting an hour and a half.

This is not remotely enough time for a building where nearly everyone on the staff is returning. It is absolutely not remotely enough time in a situation like ours, where half the staff and the entire administrative team is new. It is, in fact, insane. I was at school today and asked my boss if she wanted to send her an email (and I was clear it would be a lengthy email) outlining some of the issues that she might encounter at this meeting so that at least she’d heard of them before. Turns out there’s an awful lot of policy-setting necessary to get a building as complex as a school running smoothly! Unbelievable, right? She said to send the email, so I sent the email, and if you’ve never been a teacher before, I feel like it might be illustrative to take a look at it. Obviously I’ve redacted a few things but really the majority of this could be written in any school in American with only minor edits. Enjoy:

(TLT stands for Teacher Leadership Team, by the way; you can probably guess what that might be.)


Principal Person–

This is going to be as complete as I can make it without taking three days to think about it.  I’m sure I’m going to miss some things, but hopefully I can give you a useful heads-up on some issues that will probably come up so that they’re not a surprise.  I’ll do my best to be as factual as possible but obviously any opinions presented are my own and it will not surprise you to learn that others may disagree.  ūüôā

(Assistant Principal Person, I let Principal Person know this email would be coming; it’s not out of nowhere, I promise.)

ADVISORY/BREAKFAST:

The biggest problems here were 1) buses being late and 2) kids simply declining to come to advisory.  Keeping better control of the hallways will have to be a major priority this year, but at no time was that more obvious than during homeroom, where the advisory tardy bell would ring and 1/3 of the students would be in class, another third would be in the hallways, and the last third literally wouldn’t have arrived at school yet.  I *believe* they were not allowed into the building at all until 9:20, and at that time they’d collect a breakfast and head straight to lockers and advisory, with the tardy bell at 9:30.  During inclement weather or rain I think they’d let them into the commons area at the front of the building by the office.  Teachers were expected to be at their doors by that first bell; a lot of the time if someone was absent the nearest teacher would just wave those kids into their room.  

Using advisory for any sort of instruction is going to be tricky simply because the buses don’t arrive on time, especially in the winter.¬† I genuinely don’t remember how admission to the building worked pre-Covid; I know we used to have the 6th graders in the LGI room once they were done with breakfast until the bell rang but I didn’t have morning supervision duty so I wasn’t down there.

PASSING PERIODS:

Four minutes is more than sufficient for everyone to get from A to B.  Kids are supposed to stay to the right and walk; most of them do a good job with that.  Profanity in the halls is a problem.  Some teachers will close and lock their doors when the tardy bell rings; others leave them open and simply mark tardy kids late.  Lockouts were called occasionally; anyone still in the hallway was supposed to go to ISS and generally remained there for a period; we do not have anyone to cover things like detentions so that was rarely if ever used as a deterrent.  There is also the two-period block classes to be concerned about; some of us let our kids out during passing period for a quick break if they wanted one, but there should probably be a firm rule that if you do that you NEED to be in the hallway monitoring, and honestly even the teachers who don’t let their blocks out for that break probably ought to be near their doors keeping an ear open.  

STAIRS:

Typically only 6th graders are supposed to use the stairs by the 6th grade science classrooms and Teachername’s room; 7th and 8th are only supposed to use the stairs near the cafeteria, and God help me, because my classroom is right next to them, but there are also rules about who is supposed to be using the stairs between 212 and 210 and I could never bloody keep track of them.¬† ¬†TLT’s recommendations is that we literally find some hallway signs and put them at the top and the bottom of each set of stairs indicating who is to use them, because these were rules that (at least on my end of the building) the kids were expected to know and abide by but were never actually *told* to them, and when that is combined with inconsistent enforcement, it’s a problem.¬†¬†

SPEAKING OF THOSE STAIRS:

The area at the bottom of the stairway by my room (with the faux fireplace) is a perennial place for kids to hang out and screw around because other than Mx. Teacherhuman, there’s no adults near there and if they hide around the corner no one is going to see them.¬† I recommend installing a wasp’s nest in the fireplace.

WATER: 

For about the first 2/3 of the year last year we provided cups at the drinking fountains.¬† That was convenient but typically a sleeve of cups would have to be replaced a couple of times a day and the kids weren’t good about not blatantly wasting them.¬† Some teachers brought their own cups to hand out and we started selling water bottles as well through the office.¬† The office also sometimes had cups and the water bottles didn’t work great because you would have five of them in a classroom and no one knew whose belonged to who, and teachers sending their kids down to the office to get cups in the middle of class became a serious annoyance to front office staff.¬†¬†

Personally, I provided cups to my own students (and occasionally other kids who asked nicely for them) and allowed anyone to have clear water bottles in class with them.  Other teachers didn’t allow any water in class at all, which would occasionally lead to conflicts of various kinds.  I decided it wasn’t a hill I was willing to die on.

BATHROOM BREAKS:  

Inconsistent.  Some teachers took their entire classes on bathroom breaks during certain periods; each grade was supposed to pick two hours where their kids would get a break.  My classroom is directly across the hall from the boys’ bathroom and not far from the girls’ so I would just let them go (with a pass) if they needed to.  I regularly need a bathroom break half an hour after I eat and I wasn’t about to tell a kid in sixth hour they couldn’t pee because 8th grade’s “official” break wasn’t until 7th hour.

DRESS CODE:

This is a big one, and the biggest issue is going to be hoodies.  The TLT members who were able to make the meeting at my place (names of teachers) came to an agreement that we were all comfortable with allowing hoodies and/or flannel zip-ups in class provided that 1) they were solid color (otherwise complying with polo shirt colors) and 2) hoods were never up.  In general the rule about tucking shirts in was not followed and I would recommend it be eliminated, especially since the combination of the amount of poverty in the building and the fact that middle schoolers grow like weeds means that a lot of the time their shirts were juuuuuust too short to be tucked inРwhich, a lot of the time, explained why especially our bigger kids wanted to keep their hoodies and/or jackets on.  Last year the rule was hoodies were not to be worn, period, and my GOD did it cause a lot of disruption.  I will admit to being firmly on the pro-hoodie side; I remember what being a fat kid in middle school was like, but enforcing it was a daily and constant struggle.

CELL PHONES:

Speaking of daily and constant struggles.  This is a whole email all to itself; my suggestion is that we figure out exactly where the line is that we’re not willing to cross (ie, They Are Not To Be Seen And Must Be In Lockers vs They Are Never To Be Removed From Your Pocket vs whatever other policy you might have).  The TLT went around and around on this and didn’t really come to a consensus; my suggestion is that we set a baseline expectation for hallways and common areas that all of us follow and we make it clear that individual teachers’ policies may vary in their classrooms.  I have more thoughts (and so does everyone else) but this is already a long email.

LUNCH:

I think each grade needs to have a firm plan about how to conduct the kids to and from lunch, and I don’t think those plans each need to be the same plan.  I think a fair number of lunch-related problems will be solved by returning the cafeteria to its pre-COVID borders, closing the wall behind it, and (especially with the older kids) reinforcing that You Are Never Getting Your Lunch Delivered, Ever.  If we turn DoorDash away at the front doors enough times they’ll figure it out themselves.  I have absolutely no problem with picking the kids up from lunch and I think if we start doing that from Day One it’ll be less of a problem than it was last year.  The problem we have here is potentially running afoul of the mandated 30-minute duty free lunch.  

LOCKERS:

We have got to have locker assignments ready on day one.  This also killed us last year because lockers weren’t ready for forever and so kids got used to just having whatever they wanted with them because they “didn’t have a locker.”  I recommend assigning blocks of lockers to the advisory teachers and letting us handle it rather than trying to centralize assignments through the office.

DISMISSAL: 

From my lofty perch at the far corner of the second floor, with an 8th hour prep, dismissal mostly seemed to go pretty smoothly; announcements at the end of the day followed by dismissal.  Walkers and bus and car riders were dismissed in waves; I don’t know how well that worked because I didn’t have an 8th hour.  Others may have more useful perspectives on this than me.

LESSON PLANS:

Teachers have not been asked to provide lesson plans to administration at all since I have been at SCHOOLNAME.¬† We were occasionally reminded that we were supposed to have them on our desks at all times.¬† I don’t think most of us did.¬† I don’t know what your expectations are here (nor do I know what contractual obligations there may be) but I just wanted to make sure you were aware of what we were used to.

SUBS:

Don’t exist.  Classroom coverage was all we had, all year.

OK, I’M DONE NOW:

I’ll come up with something I forgot in ten minutes, though.

What I use in the battle for the mind

Our math team had a really interesting meeting with the person in charge of math and science instruction for the corporation today. By “really interesting,” what I mean is that we knew what the meeting was going to be about before we had it, we had a meeting about the meeting yesterday, and we went in prepared to shut down some bad ideas. And … well, on our end it went pretty well, meaning that I think this poor lady walked into a buzzsaw that she didn’t even know was there before the meeting started.

The great thing was where I got to explicitly argue that the best thing we could do for math instruction in our building and in the corporation in general would be to shut down the honors academy, directly to one of the lord high muckety-mucks of the corporation. I’ve talked about this before so I won’t repeat the argument, but the really interesting thing is the way the person we were talking with didn’t appear to have considered the argument before I presented it to her. (To be fair, “the honors academy is destroying the ability of the other schools to do their jobs” is not the most obvious argument in the world.). I don’t think for a second that this is going to change anything, but it was nice to be able to say it.

… damn. I just found out Michael Nesmith died and now I need to listen to the Monkees for the rest of the night. One way or another, it was nice to just get up and go to work and do my job today without fear of some sort of digestive disaster happening. I’ve got big plans for a giant pot of chicken and dumplings this Sunday, so I need everything working right before that happens.

In which I remain calm

I haven’t done a good old-fashioned teacher rant in a minute. Lemme see if I still remember how they work.

One of the unexpected side effects of doing everything remotely is that it is now virtually impossible to get out of IEP meetings. Or, at least, it’s kind of rude, and I do want to look like I’m at least trying to earn my paycheck. Previously, these things were always scheduled during the school day, and they do always want a regular ed teacher there (are legally required to, I think) but nobody is about to provide coverage for them, so they basically look for whatever teacher happens to have a prep period at the same time as the meeting. Which means that I might attend no more than two or three in a grading period under normal circumstances.

Well, now I have no schedule, so I’m attending three or four of these things a week. Which, again, this isn’t the part I’m complaining about– it’s fine, I’ll trade extra IEP meetings for the fact that I haven’t had to tell anyone to sit down and do their work for a month. I am absolutely coming out ahead here.

So this particular kid is a good kid. He tries, most of the time, and while I do need to keep an eye on him and encourage him to do his work once or twice a period he’s a sweet kid and he’s not a discipline issue, which means I’ll break my back for him if I need to. He’s a 504 kid, not on an IEP, and the 504 is for ADHD, and honestly he’s a pretty mild case– I have 7-8 kids in every class with a higher degree of ADHD than Sean (not his real name) does. So I’m expecting this meeting to go pretty smoothly, honestly. He gets all the accommodations he’s supposed to so there shouldn’t be any problem. I am, however, planning on bringing up the fact that he’s currently failing my class– and I suspect I’m going to find out that internet access is an issue, which will lead to me figuring out some other way for the kid to get his assignments to me.

It’s kind of weird, then, when Grandma starts off the conference by complaining about Sean’s little sister, Shauna, and how she can’t believe that her grandkids have just been “passed along” all this time when they can’t do any math. She said that Shauna had no idea how to do yesterday’s assignment and she had to sit down with her forever to get it done.

I, uh, am also Shauna’s math teacher. Now, she has two, so I double-check to make sure I know what assignment Grandma is talking about, and yep– it’s mine. Which is review. Of averages.

There is an instructional video and two different written reviews of how to average numbers appended to the assignment. I ask if Shauna watched or read either of them.

“I don’t think so.”

(Note that Sean hasn’t done the assignment. He has the same thing.)

Hm. That’s interesting. Perhaps she should take advantage of some of my attempts to teach her the material before complaining that she hasn’t seen it before? Because surely the seventh month of seventh grade is the first time she’s ever seen this material before; averages aren’t covered anywhere before seventh grade, right?

(To be clear: this starts in, like, fourth grade.)

I point out, as politely as I can manage, that she has these resources available to her right there with the assignment, that she can also email me at any time, and that I also have two hours of office hours every day where I’m literally sitting in a Google Meet video chat waiting for kids to pop in and ask questions and I ain’t seen hide nor hair of Shauna anywhere.

We go back to talking about Sean. Who, it turns out, skipped fifth grade. Grandma explains that it was because he was too tall, and they wanted him in a higher grade.

This is … not a thing. No one is ever advanced a grade because they are too tall. There are occasions where kids are moved up when they’ve been held back multiple times to prevent kids who can drive from coming to middle school, but no fourth graders are being moved to sixth grade because they are tall. Plus, it is impossible to skip someone up a grade without parental consent. Grandma (or somebody) would have had to agree to this nonsense.

Then she drops that he’s got Asperger’s syndrome, too, and I watch as a bunch of teachers’ eyebrows shoot up. We’ve already been emailing each other behind the scenes– a bunch of variants on holy shit, Siler, I’m surprised you kept your cool just now— and all the sudden I get five emails going wait shit am I the only one who never got told he had Aspergers?

A bunch of things sort of click, but shit, wouldn’t this have been on the damn 504? I read the damn 504! This should have been on the fucking 504! We all should have known this!

Nope. The 504 is just for the ADHD, which he barely has. Suddenly the meeting is about making sure he has an actual IEP for high school next year that is about his autism, because Jesus Christ how the hell did none of us know this shit?

He’s high-functioning, obviously, but *nobody* knew about this, and there are just certain things that you make sure to do when you know a kid has Asperger’s that might not have been happening automatically for Sean. I’m looking around and now fully half of the faces in the room look actively pissed off.

And then Grandma starts in on the math again. She’s discovered recently that neither of her grandchildren know how to convert fractions to percentages! What an outrage! How are these kids getting passed on?

(This, from the lady who approved Sean skipping fifth grade.)

I point out that converting fractions to percentages is something that we have discussed repeatedly in class, as well as in the other math class, and that furthermore it is also a skill that has been addressed repeatedly by teachers in previous grades.

(It is also not terribly complicated. You convert fractions to percentages by performing a single division operation. This is not something that should be particularly hard to remember.)

I ask if Shauna ever actually spends any time studying. I am told no.

I look up her grades. She is failing seven of her eight classes, and was last quarter as well. Sean is not doing as well as he should be either.

I somehow do not say Ma’am, the seven failing grades each of your grandchildren have do seem to have a common factor, which is that they are the ones getting those grades. From seven different teachers, each. Furthermore, the fourteen failing grades that your grandchildren are currently receiving this quarter all have something else in common, which is the person raising them. You wanna bitch at me some more about how I’m not doing my job?

So, yeah, long story short? When your kid doesn’t crack a fucking book outside of school under any circumstances, doesn’t study, and doesn’t do any of their work, when you literally admit that your child who doesn’t understand how to do something made no attempt to avail herself of the resources that were literally right in front of her face to attempt to learn how to do it, when all of those things happen at once, maybe you shouldn’t go bitching at the teachers who are literally at a meeting specifically about how to help your other kid succeed that they aren’t doing their jobs right.

Especially when all the fuck you had to say was “Shauna needs more help in math,” and the very next fuckin’ thing out of my mouth would be to try and figure out a time where the two of us can get together to go over some of the stuff she doesn’t understand.

I emailed my assistant principal, who was also in the meeting, and told her I was demanding a raise.

Thus far I don’t appear to be getting one.


3:49 PM, Thursday April 16: 653,825 confirmed cases and 30,998 Americans dead.

Everything is cool when you’re part of a team!

Today was pretty much a Day of Dreadful Meetings from start to finish, mostly of either the I Can’t Talk About It or I Don’t Wanna Talk About It variety, and the bits that weren’t Dreadful Meetings were mostly Unwise Acts Leading to Expulsions. ¬†I am pretty sure that my building put more kids up for expulsion today alone than most schools do in a semester, if not a year. ¬†

So it was kinda a rough day, and¬†yesterday was a rough day, and Monday and Tuesday weren’t exactly great, and fuck it tomorrow’s payday and then I’ll have survived my first five-day week in a¬†while¬†so bring it on Friday, I ain’t skurred.

Hopefully at some point in the next couple of days I’ll find something worth writing about. ¬†Because it ain’t been happening much this week. ¬†

Same as it ever was

UnknownMeeting today was surprisingly productive, honestly. ¬†I don’t have a lot to say about it other than that, but it was nice to go to an all-day teacher meeting and, other than introductions in the morning running a trifle longer than they needed to be, not feel like my time was being wasted at any point. ¬†I think I’m going to like this job.

Also, the whole day was a constant whipsaw between “holy shit, nothing¬†ever changes around here” and the odd feeling that by being gone two years I had missed out on¬†everything¬†changing. ¬†At the same time. ¬†Which was deeply weird.

Also, my day started at¬†eight, and I’m tired as¬†hell. ¬†Morning coffee is going to go back to being a high priority for me, I think, after a couple of years of it not being especially essential. ¬†Also returning to my daily lifestyle: my laptop bag, which as of today contains not only the Macbook Pro and iPad Pro I already owned but¬†also a Chromebook. ¬†Because I need to be a nerd across multiple operating systems, dammit! ¬†But Google certification for my Clark Kent identity is in my near future, and I’ll be spending a¬†lot of time screwing around with Chromebooks this year, so I figured I ought to pick up a relatively inexpensive one. ¬†So: new hotness. ¬†I will be The Master of The Googlez by the end of the month.

And then I got home and no dog greeted me at the door and everything was sad again. ¬†It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes before I stop noticing she’s gone.