It’s June, y’all

June first seems as appropriate a date as I’ll find to replace the Pride flag in front of the house with Pride II: The Repridening. The old one’s brown stripe had turned orange and the pink stripe had disappeared, and it had started to fray around the edges, and I figure if the thing is literally called a Pride flag I probably ought to care about its appearance. So: new flag! Yay!

Today was the third of the four Last Days of School, this one being the one where now all the kids have gone away. Tomorrow is a teacher record day, and if I’m at school past noon something has gone terribly wrong. Then I’m going to take a couple of days and do nothing but try to beat Returnal. After that, it’s time to start heavy-duty planning for next year and reteaching myself All of Mathematics.

I think I’m going to have to start doing stations next year, guys.

I have been thinking about two things lately: how to handle transitioning back into a two-class-period block, meaning I will have half as many students (good) but will have each of them for twice as long (which I have mixed feelings about.). My kids were already wildly behind, and over a year of quarantine has NOT helped. I got a look at this year’s ILEARN results for my kids, and while I’m going to spare you any sort of standardized testing rant right now, they weren’t good. They weren’t good at all. And regardless of how I feel about this particular method of assessing my kids, the simple fact is that there is no method of assessing my kids that doesn’t lead inescapably to the conclusion that they’re well behind other kids their age.

So I’m thinking right now that the way I’m going to handle my two class periods is that that first class period is going to be nothing but remediation. That’s going to look very different for different kids. Some of my kids are still struggling with basic operations; I have a handful who couldn’t multiply their way out of a paper bag. Others may just need extra time with 7th grade standards. There may even be some I can push past the 8th grade curriculum, although that won’t be many. The second class period is still going to be 8th grade standards, and I’ve still got thinking to do about how to do that given the things I learned this year, but that first period is going to be the focus of most of my attention.

The problem, of course, is that the kids are all over the place in terms of what they can do, and if I’m going to do this right I’m going to need to be pitching differently to all 70 or so of them. There are ways I am very good at differentiation and ways I am not good at it, and one thing I have never been able to manage properly is a room where 32 kids may be working on 8 different things. There are teachers who can do this beautifully; I am not one of them. This will have to change. (Frankly, given the emphasis that NBCT puts on differentiation, it had to anyway, so it’s useful that that’s dovetailing with something I need to do instructionally anyway.) So first I need to figure out what I’m going to do, and the next step is to figure out how to do it– and the how, of course, is very much the tougher part. And I’ve got to figure all that out. I need to hit the ground running next year to a degree that I never have before, and I need to run the year perfectly.

It’s gonna be a fun summer. But it’s going to have to wait until next week to start.

In which that’s a new one

Periodically I’ll let my students work on a site called Quizizz. There are three Zs in Quizizz and I think I have them arranged correctly but I can never be sure; I think they change it from time to time. Quizizz is one of those sites where it’s best used with an entire class at once, but doing it asynchronously works just fine as well; the students are asked questions and provided four answers, and points are awarded based on 1) whether the answer was correct and 2) how quickly the answer was provided. You can also set the quizzes so that the kids can take them as many times as they want, which is fun for the more competitive ones. I typically will take it once and offer a small number of extra credit points to anyone who can beat my score, which is definitely a thing that happens, especially if I fuck up and actually miss one.

Quizizz also allows the kids to customize how their names are displayed, which sounds like it’s an opening for XxXMelvinThaRaper420XxX (Melvin does not know how “rapper” is spelled) to show up on your list of students, but they either have robust blocklists in place or my students have been displaying a rare level of self-restraint, because I can only think of a couple of times where it hasn’t been immediately clear who a kid was, and they’ve never used anything even remotely inappropriate. Usually they just use shortened versions of their first names and their real last names and it’s not a problem.

Until the last couple, when “Adam Thompson” showed up. I don’t have an Adam Thompson. I also don’t have an Adam or a Thompson. Adam was getting good scores, too, which made it weird that when I was posting announcements to our classroom stream asking who the hell he was, he wasn’t outing himself– after all, if I don’t know who you are, I can hardly put your attempts at Quizizzery into my gradebook, now, can I?

And yet.

Well, today I got a bug up my ass about it for some reason and I mentioned Adam in every single class I had and my instructional video. And I got this email just after school let out today:

And … well. I should have guessed; it’s my student with selective mutism. I haven’t updated y’all on her in quite a while; as you can tell, she’s perfectly willing and able to communicate in writing, which means that teaching her during a pandemic isn’t really all that different from teaching any of my other students. This is another manifestation of her social anxiety, though, and it’s a new one; she wasn’t doing this earlier in the year. I told her that now that I know who Adam is I’m okay with her continuing to use that name on future assignments if she likes; I see no reason not to allow it, and now that I know who Adam is there’s also no reason to mention that name again in class either.

I did have a trans boy in my class last year who let me know that he wanted to be called Ryan partway through the school year, and I’m intrigued that she (my current student, not my trans student) chose a boy’s name, but I don’t think this is a deadname sort of situation– it’s a pseudonym for her assignments, more or less the exact same thing as me using Luther Siler, which isn’t my name, for my books. That said, it is another knock-on effect for the same social anxieties that have led to her not having said a word since she was in 5th grade, so I’m going back and forth on whether I should pass this up the chain and let the counselor or the psychologist know. I know the last time I mentioned her one or two of you had previous experience with kids who didn’t talk, so if anyone has any suggestions I wouldn’t mind hearing them. I don’t think she’s in danger or anything like that, I’m just trying to decide if this is something that should be alarming at all. I’m leaning toward no, but I’m not done thinking about it yet.

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.

Teacherly updatery

First things first, unrelated to teaching: I’d like you all to go back to my piece about the Iowa caucuses from a couple of days ago, read it, and marvel at my prescience. I am too disgusted with politics in general at the moment to discuss any of the various issues of the day (ITMFA now stands for Impeach the Motherfucker Again, not Already, and I did not watch the State of the Union, because I am not a fucking masochist) so you get to read teachertalk instead.

I got a fair amount of feedback and advice (not all of it on the blog) after my post about my student with selective mutism a couple of weeks ago. I thought I’d report back: it turns out that she’s entirely willing to communicate in writing, so a day or two after writing that post I handed her a piece of paper with a short note asking some questions and she answered everything and gave it back to me. She’s generally not willing to call attention to herself but there have been a couple of times where I checked in with her and she’d written some questions in the margins of her assignments; she doesn’t seem to have any difficulty (and there’s no reason to think she would) with listening or processing what she’s being told, so I can answer her verbally just fine, although I’ll occasionally respond in writing just for the hell of it. I just have to make sure to check in with her once or twice during class because she usually won’t put her hand up. She’ll respond to direct questions with gestures, though, and there have been times where I got a thumbs-up or a “sort of” gesture after asking her how she’s doing. My kids also will ask for bathroom breaks with a sign language “B” a lot of the time, and she’s picked that up as well.

So in general things are going just fine. She’s a bright kid and she gets good grades and she pays attention, so I basically just treat her with the slightly higher level of attention that some of my ESL and shyer students get and so far everything has gone just fine.

(Also, I called her an elective mute in that first post, and that term is apparently outdated; they call it selective mutism now. I’m not entirely certain what the difference might be, but I like to use the right words for things.)

Well, whatever works, I guess…

imagesI have a handful of severely autistic students.  One of them in particular has been a major behavior issue as of late– he’s been running out of the classroom, throwing things, saying crude sexual insults to the girls, and trampling people in the hallway.  We are trying, for a variety of reasons, some good, some not so good, to keep him in our building and not have to move him into a residential placement of some kind somewhere else.  His issues generally begin when he gets into the building, amplify during Success period, and by the time he gets into my room for Math he’s completely uncontrollable and acting out.

I met with the corporation’s autism consultant on Thursday, and she was in my classroom observing me/him/us today.  (Sidenote:  all three of my classes killed their math tests this week; I’m super happy about how they did.)  We’ve been working on solving two-step equations and linear equations for the last few weeks, and so they’ve been hearing me say the phrase “work backwards” or “do the opposite” over and over and over and over again.  (In other words, 4x = 12 is a multiplication problem; you need to do the opposite, division, in order to solve it.)  Well, everybody but this kid has; he’s spent most of his time either sitting in the hallway or in the main office or the counselor’s office.

He had to take the same test as everyone else, so the autism consultant and his usual paraprofessional worked with him in the back of the classroom.  I heard them repeating my instructions and going over procedures to solve problems, mimicking the language I’d been using.  The kid actually did pretty well.

For the last ten minutes of class, the autism consultant and the paraprofessional disappeared for some reason and left the kid in the room with me.  I noticed after a minute that every time I gave the class an instruction he was doing something else.  Oh, great, I thought; last thing I need is a meltdown when the two people who are here to observe him have left for two minutes.

“What are you doing, Jim?” I asked.  (Jim, obviously, isn’t his name.)

“The opposite,” he said.  “They said I’m supposed to do the opposite of everything you say.”  Big, shit-eating grin on his face.

Parts of my head screamed at other parts of my head.

“Stand up,” I told him.

He sat in his seat.

“Make as much noise as you can until the bell,” I told him.

Complete silence.

“Don’t do any of your missing work, at all,” I told him.

Out comes his math workbook.

Ah, autism.  Every day can be Opposite Day from now on.


The broken tree is gone.  All hail the broken tree!  The guys did such a good job they even took away the broken branches from the last big storm we had, over the summer, which I had hauled off into a corner of my yard and not bothered to finish bagging up and curbing.  The company is called, believe it or not, Skeeter’s.  If you’re in northern Indiana, you should use them the next time something falls down around your house.

(Sidenote: there’s a good lesson in why internet reviews can be a shitty idea here, where someone who perhaps should not be allowed to have an opinion appears to believe that tree doctors are a cabinet company.  Uh, no.)