Today’s nonsense

I thought I had a Zoom meeting tomorrow from 5:00-7:30 for this course design thing I’m doing with IU. NO! It was today.

They apparently think I’m going to be going to meetings for this thing at 6:30 PM every Friday night for the next nine weeks, and I am discovering that while, as a teacher, I am more than used to working outside contract hours, and more than willing to pull additional duties for extra money, you cannot have my Friday nights, and I’m ready to walk based on that alone. It’s a $2500 stipend for this thing, and my Friday nights may be worth more than that to me. You can have Saturday 9-5, Sunday 9-5, and 5-8 Monday through Thursday if you like. You do not get Friday night.

I just got an email from a student– an in-person student, mind you– asking if she was in class today. Lemme say that again, in case you think it was a typo: she was asking me if she was in class today.

There’s a story here.

There was another one, but fuck, I’m tired. Today was easier than yesterday, but this is effectively First Week of School brutal, and it’s with a Goddamn mask on, so my memory is not what it should be right now.

I’m so tired

There is a real good chance that this is going to be a quiet week. Other than griping about how much I hate having to wear a mask all day, which is true of absolutely everyone, I have no complaints about today (which, as a reminder, was my first day back in-person in thirteen months) at all. I knew it was going to go fine and it went fine. I still have some things to think about (I was not expecting working with the at-home kids to go well, and it went worse than I thought it would) but the main thing today was to survive it, and it went fine.

My neck hurts (and I know why, it’s because I’m stupid) and I am tired in my bones. I expect that condition to continue through the end of the week, at least. I’m going to pull tomorrow’s assignment together and try to stay out of bed until 9. No guarantees after that.

In which I guess it’s spring now

This little guy comes up al by his lonesome every year right around this time, in the little patch of what used to be vines and is now a weedy hellscape right outside our front door. You can see that nothing around it is really alive yet, and none of the trees are budding (well, barely, maybe, a couple of them) and the grass is still basically dead. So this little flower– which, again, is all by itself and wasn’t planted there on purpose– is really the earliest sign of impending spring that we get.

Other than the weather, of course. It’s been gorgeous all week. Walks have been taken. This is a weird week around here; it’s the last week of the quarter, and I always try to reserve at least a couple of in-class days at the end of the quarter for my kids to turn in late work and improve their grades. There are no penalties at all for late work this school year– have I talked about this? Surely I have– because I have no real control over these kids’ time. I have heard far too many students tell me that they missed class because they were babysitting or their parents needed them to go somewhere or just whatever to be penalizing kids for late work right now. Go ahead, turn a quarter’s worth of work in in the last three days of the quarter. If you manage to get good grades on everything under those circumstances I don’t see a reason to penalize you for your timing. Screw it.

Anyway, point is I’m not doing a lot at work this week other than answering questions as they come up, which keeps me busy in some classes and means that I might as well be invisible in others; there’s no directed instruction going on right now, and there won’t be any until Monday. Friday is a teacher record day, which will be even less of a thing than usual. I typically regard TRDs as days off even though I go to work, and in fact I’m planning on heading into the building for a bit on Friday to do some stuff in my room. I have less of a grading load than usual because everything being online has made grading obscenely easy this year, especially with a couple of tricks I just learned about how Google Forms operates that have streamlined things even further.

I am, right now, tentatively planning on returning to work after Spring Break. I’ll need a letter from my doctor, which hopefully won’t be super complicated to acquire; it turns out that if your doctor writes a letter saying you shouldn’t be working during a global pandemic, HR wants another letter from your doctor saying my bad, never mind before they let you wander back into their buildings. My second shot is scheduled for the 25th, and Spring Break is the first week of April, so by the time that’s over I’ll be well past any side effects and all that delicious, delicious immunity will have kicked in.

I’ll have the flu in three days, I guarantee it. My immune system is shit under the best of circumstances, and what with having been home for a year I’m expecting to get the hell kicked out of me even if I don’t come down with Covid. Maybe continuing to be masked up will prevent it. Hopefully so; we’ll see. I haven’t been sick since I spent the entirety of last March sick; at this point it will probably qualify as a nice change of pace.

In which I let Facebook bait me again

It’s almost not worth it to take the time to write a piece about teaching cursive. Like, I’m about to do it, and I am literally and genuinely 25% more tired than I was fifteen minutes ago. But can we take a second to talk about the arguments for this, please? You would think– and I did think– that this “historical documents” thing was laughable, that no one would seriously advocate that we should teach second and third graders a certain obsolete skill in case, in some point during their lives, they have to read historical documents.

Americans don’t read fucking books, y’all. We don’t need to teach our third graders cursive so that years down the road they’ll survive if someone points a gun at their head and tells them to read an original copy of the Magna Carta or they’re getting shot. But I’ve not only seen this argument, I’ve seen it today. I asked Twitter if it was worth it to bother writing this exact post and within ten minutes I had someone telling me they regularly had to review old documents in cursive, and wondering what we would do if we no longer taught it.

Two things about this:

  • It should not be surprising, but it is: things can be learned by adults! Schools are not necessarily responsible for literally every aspect of things that human beings might be able to learn. Maybe you wait to see if you ever get a job where sometimes you have to read cursive and then you learn how to read it! It’ll take you an hour, tops. It’s not that damn hard.
  • I shouldn’t have to say this either, but reading and writing are not the same skill. I can read Hebrew; I am absolutely godawful at producing it legibly. My handwriting is not great either, and I haven’t written in cursive of my own free will in decades. I’m not entirely opposed to making sure kids can read cursive, but the simple fact is that it’s just not that damn important. It’s not a life skill, guys. It’s a font.

The second argument I see is BUT HOW WILL PEOPLE SIGN THINGS?????, to which I present you this document:

I came across this on The Twitters a while ago, and it’s sort of stuck in my head since then, and luckily searching my tweets for the word “signature” pulled it up again. All ten of these folks are Senators, y’all. These are their official signatures– they’re scanned files that their staffers can use when they need to sign things, so one could imagine that they practiced them a little bit. Two of them, Cassidy’s and Moran’s, are entirely printed. Romney’s first name is printed. Todd Young’s signature is entirely illegible, and I challenge anyone to see the word “Michael” or especially the word “Rounds” in Senator Rounds’ signature without the prompting of the printed words underneath them.

So let’s please not pretend that being able to write legibly in cursive is required in order to sign things. It’s simply not true, and it never has been. The phrase used to be make your mark, for fuck’s sake, and everyone got along just fine. If two and a half of these ten Senators don’t need cursive for their signature, we’re not going to go pretend it’s required for ten-year-olds.

The funny thing? These two arguments are the only ones I ever see for continuing to teach cursive, leaving the best one aside, which is basic fine motor development. But the thing is, making sure you can print legibly also requires fine motor control. Frankly I don’t like how my handwriting looks either, but if I wanted to work on it, I could. We can try and enforce good handwriting habits with our kids without forcing an entire new kind of writing on them two or three years after they’ve mastered the first one. There’s just no point to it. And given that people’s solution to literally any fucking problem society has is why don’t schools talk about this more? sooner or later some of this shit has got to go. I’m not about to go on a jeremiad and try and get the shit banned or anything, but I absolutely understand when schools decide not to waste time with it in their curriculum any longer. You don’t like it? Cool. Go to a teacher store, buy a cursive book, and teach your kids yourself. I promise parents are allowed to do that.

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.