Some recent developments

I listened to Down With the Sickness and Fuck Dying on the way home from work two different days this week.

We have recently discovered that not only is Fatima deaf, or at least very close to it (at least one ear appears to be completely bollixed, which I’m pretty sure is the medical term) but she may have been so for her entire life. How no one appears to have noticed this until now is left as an exercise for the viewer. How this will affect her ability to learn English, however, remains my problem for at least eight more days. I would love to say that I’ve been able to help these kids adapt to living in America, but … not so much, I think. If I stay in education, I do plan to spend some time this summer learning at least a little bit of Pashto, because I don’t think these families are going to stop coming anytime soon.

In other news, I covered for one of the 7th grade teachers yesterday afternoon, and without realizing I was doing it, I did myself a big favor. One of the problems with working in a school where you don’t know all of the kids (and I don’t know any of the kids below 8th grade, nor do I know all of the 8th graders, although I’d bet I’m at 90% or so) is that the only kids who are visible to you are the shitheads. I’m pretty sure I can identify at least half of the 7th grade shitheads at least by their faces, although I don’t know a lot of names. The good kids? They’re invisible, because they don’t fuck up in the hallways (they’re mostly not in the hallways in the first place) and so you never notice them. It was the same thing as when I worked at the grant coordinator at the school before I quit– I was working in the office. Who gets sent to the office? Shitheads! Whose names do you know? Shitheads! So it’s easy to assume they’re all like that.

Well, one way or another, I got lucky and landed on what turned out to be this particular teacher’s favorite class. And they were fun! It’s not like we did a lot of academic stuff or anything like that but I sat and chatted with several of them for a while and just in general interacting with all of them was pleasant. There’s always a lot of trepidation in covering kids you don’t know in a class you don’t know, because who the hell knows what kind of shit you could be getting yourself into, so this was helpful. At least I know a few who might actually be nice to have in class next year.

If, y’know, I lose my mind and come back again.

I get presents

So Hosea walks into class this morning at the beginning of the day and hands me something wrapped up in a plastic grocery bag. “Merry Christmas!”, he says, “but don’t open this until I’m gone.” I agree and put the bag on my desk, where I proceed to forget about it until fifth hour, when he’s actually in my class. He asks if I have opened his present; I conceal my lapse of memory by saying that I thought he meant to wait until he’d gone home for the day, not just left advisory. This placates him, however, and we get through class.

During my prep I look at the bag. There is a note attached. The note is legitimately rather sweet and has already been added to my Notes from Students file where it will remain forever until my wife and son throw it away after I die:

I open the bag and find two things inside. The first is this bag of chips:

Okay, cool, I think. I have a thing I need to do after school that is going to keep me from getting home on time and maybe a quick snack will tide me over until then. Then my teacher Spider-Sense kicks in and I examine the bag a bit more closely:

Hm. Maybe not, then. But what’s this other thing?

It was wrapped a bit more prettily than that, as I’ve unwrapped it a couple of times since then, but you get the idea. It’s a couple inches square. Now, Hosea has brought me baked goods from home before, which is always kind of unfortunate, as he really is a nice kid when he wants to be, but I have a thing about eating random baked goods from kitchens I’ve never seen, particularly when students hand them to me and double-particularly during Covid. But, shit, I’m genuinely kind of hungry, and this looks like it could be a brownie. I could go for a brownie right now. Maybe I’ll make an exception.

I unwrap the item and immediately die laughing, because this is what is inside. I actually have to take it to another teacher who I know also received a gift from Hosea to make sure that I am looking at what I think I’m looking at:

It may be that at this resolution and sans any context or touch you still can’t tell what this is. I thought for a moment it might be a block of cheese; it is not. No, that is half a bar of soap, and I think it might be homemade soap, but I’m not a hundred percent sure, as there’s traces of a logo molded into it, which it only now occurs to me could mean that not only is it half a bar of soap but it might be half a bar of soap that has been used and then dried off before being wrapped in aluminum foil.

Again, the note was sweet. And it’s the thought that counts. But apparently the thought in this case is that I am smelly and have the iron stomach of a raccoon or perhaps some sort of opossum, and … well, this is what having Hosea in class is like.

Merry Christmas!

Nattering on about school discipline

First things first, I suppose; it looks like I’m going to get what I want regarding the student from last Friday being moved out of my class, and without a fight about it, even, although I may owe the school counselor a doughnut and coffee or something. Naturally, now that I’ve gotten what I want, I’m going soft internally on the whole thing, all oh, don’t give up on the kid and give him another chance.

My inner bleeding-heart is going to sit down and shut the fuck up on this one. But he’s rattling on anyway.

We had a meeting this week where we talked about discipline data in our building– specifically the number of ODRs (basically, office write-ups) that we as a staff had been writing, and we’re having another meeting tomorrow morning where we’re going to talk about things we can do that might bring down the number of ODRs being written in our grade level, hopefully without simply saying “write fewer ODRs.” I’m going to temporarily lay aside the question of whether this is the right way to talk about this and note that the data dashboard the administration has access to now is awesome, and I’m going to beg for access to it even though I’m probably not technically supposed to have it, because I am a Data Nerd and this is my jam.

To wit: I discovered this week that, while I can’t see office referrals written by other teachers (which is fine,) I can see how many times each of my students has been written up, along with the dates of the referrals. And I got curious about a few things and did some digging.

My 3rd and 4th hour class, surprising no one, has the largest number of total referrals at 139. To be clear, this number comes from adding each student’s total referrals together, so it’s across all of the teachers and classes for each of the students. My 1st and 2nd hour is my second-highest, with just under 100, and my 5th and 6th has the least. I haven’t done anything yet like divide it up on a per-student basis to control for class size, but that’s coming, believe me. Because, again, I’m that guy.

There have been 58 days of school so far.

I also looked at how many referrals I, personally, have written for each class. 3rd and 4th hour has 35– which is interesting, because that’s nearly exactly 25% of the class total, which is exactly what you would expect given that they each are in my room for 25% of their day. I have written 5 referrals for 1st and 2nd hour and 5 for 5th and 6th, which are much smaller percentages of their total– I think I’ve written about 10% of the total referrals for 5/6 and closer to 5% for 1/2. Interestingly, the two most-written-up kids in 1st and 2nd hour have never been a problem in my room, possibly because they either aren’t awake enough or their ADHD medication hasn’t had time to wear off. I was surprised to see how many referrals they had, to be honest.

I am resisting the urge to draw any conclusions about this, because there’s no good way to distinguish between “this teacher manages his classroom well and does not need to do referrals” and “this teacher gets run over and isn’t tough enough to hold the kids to account for it.” I think if I discovered I was doing more write-ups for any of my three groups than other teachers I might be concerned about that– and I think the office might do well to see if any of their teachers are being seriously overrepresented in writing ODRs– but that’s not the case.


To circle back around, this isn’t the best metric to get at what we actually want to talk about. The problem with using ODRs, suspensions, or anything like that as a metric for building discipline is that, as I said above, it’s impossible to distinguish between a well-run school or a well-run classroom with one where the inmates are running the asylum and the staff or administration have either 1) checked out completely or 2) simply been told you cannot write anyone else up. Sure, that’ll bring your numbers down, but the problem isn’t actually that we want to write fewer referrals or have fewer suspensions. The problem is we want the kids to stop misbehaving. The two things overlap, of course, but one shouldn’t be mistaken for the other, and creating a building culture where the kids are invested in class and in learning and want to be there and aren’t simply at school because their parents need babysitters is a hell of a lot more difficult than simply reducing the number of times a certain form gets filled out.

(I’m going to suggest increased use of buddy rooms tomorrow, for example. This doesn’t do a single thing to help any particular student behave in class, it just gives them somewhere where they can either 1) cool down or 2) irritate some other teacher who then actually does the referral, and it at least increases the chance that a kid can avoid the office. Buddy rooms can be helpful, because there are kids who can benefit from 15-20 minutes to get their heads straight, and Lord knows a fifteen-minute break from some specific kid’s bullshit can help me get my head on straight– but it doesn’t really much help kids learn how to improve their behavior or keep them more invested in school.)

I swear this story is true

Or: how not to speak around middle school students.

I was walking down to the office to drop off some paperwork when I saw one of the new teachers in the building having a conversation with one of her students in the hallway. Because this is relevant to the story, I will reveal that she is a relatively new teacher– second or third-year, I think– and is of an appropriate age for that, so early/mid twenties or so. Seeing her reminded me that I’ve been meaning to email her about a mutual student we have for a couple of days and I keep forgetting to do it, so I thought I’d take a moment and just talk to her in person.

By the time I got to her room, she and the student were back inside, so I just stood in the doorway until she noticed me and asked a question, using these precise words, which would prove to be her undoing: “Could I borrow you for a sec?”

You might possibly already see where this is going. To her credit, she realized mid-sentence that she was in the midst of making a terrible mistake and just … powered through it like a damn champion, not breaking stride or stammering and joining me in the hallway, where we exchanged a glance that said we will never speak of this again, other than when I run to the rest of the math team and tell them, then tell the entire internet tonight, and somehow only a small number of her seventh-grade (thank God she didn’t have any of my 8th graders in the room) class seems to have noticed.

Because the exact words that she inadvertently chose to respond to my question, in perhaps the single most awkward exchange I have ever had with a young woman in my life, were “For you, Mr. Siler, I have all the secs you need.”

Say it out loud, if you need to.

I have a silly job.

I am listening to REM and all is well

Well, okay, that’s probably overstating things, but today went pretty well after a not-great run of a few days. Helpful facts: my midday knuckleheads were tamed through a combination of fortuitous absences and a couple of notable suspensions, and on top of that I had an unscheduled observation by my principal during 3rd hour. After eighteen years of teaching I have lost all fear of these events; I’m going to keep doing what I was doing before you came into the room, and sometimes that’ll mean I teach a really good lesson and sometimes it’ll mean I’m not doing a whole damn lot if, say, the plan was to have the kids on one of the various computer programs we’ve got them working on. If it’s one of those days I might seriously just be sitting in my chair monitoring their computer screens and not actively “teaching.” I’m not changing the lesson; you didn’t tell me you weren’t coming in. Some teachers panic and feel like they Have to Be Doing Something when the boss comes in. Me? Fuck it, I’ve been highly effective two years in a row and I don’t see a lot changing this year. I’m going to enjoy the slight bump in cooperation and good behavior I get from having an administrator in the room and keep on keeping on.

My student observer starts tomorrow, and frankly that has me more worried than formal observations– mostly because I genuinely want this to be a useful experience for the kid (he’s a grown-ass man, but … whatever) and I’m a little nervous about that. It’s not going to change how I do things with the kids or anything like that, and I’ve told him to have no fear about challenging me on anything he has questions or concerns about, so I hope it goes well, but as everyone who follows this site knows very well, one determined kid can blow up a lesson any time they feel like it, and I don’t feel like having my dude exposed to that just yet. The notable suspensions will be continuing through the rest of the week, which is awesome, so at least his first day ought to go reasonably smoothly, but who the hell knows. Watch, there’ll be a fucking fire or a power outage or some such shit tomorrow.

(There can go ahead and be a power outage tomorrow. I’ve decided everything is on paper for the next couple of days anyway. So long as I have access to the photocopier. The outage can happen after I have my photocopies done. Or, fuck it, I can just write the damn problems on the board. It’ll be fine. Dude can learn teacherly improvisation on his first day. It’ll be fine.)

Anyway. It’s 7:00 already, so if I’m going to be ready for tomorrow I probably ought to get my lesson written.