Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Experiments in patience and shit sifting

I remember a few years ago when I was new to this area, and fresh out of college, I was applying for jobs in all of the area districts. My job at the time was teaching social studies to all of the expelled students of a district. I was hired as a para, but worked as a teacher, just to keep myself busy, and my morale up. My co-workers treated me as a teacher, and not a para. There was mutual respect of what we did, and that got me through my first year. I needed to get into a classroom for myself though. When I talked of applying to my current district, everybody said not to do it. The schools were ghetto, the district leadership inept, students don't care, etc... I needed a job. I took it, and I love it. The students are a challenge, but open books. There is the possibility of making a huge difference with my students. That's why I continue to teach there.

Working in my school or district is a lesson in flexibility. How much longer can you put up with one administrator, one mandate, or it all until you snap. So many teachers are already burned out this year. They don't want to teach anymore, and don't even want to finish the school year. Our district has broken them. It is working on me. We live in a German scheisse (shiza) porn, always being shit on. There is no respect for teachers.

Our administrators are enforcing many of the schools "reforms" through a gotcha system. If you fail to meet the requirements of any of the new systems, you are a bad teacher, and need additional observations and a professional growth plan.

#1: You must have a proficiency wall. A proficiency wall has graded and annotated examples of student work. It must have a rubric, so if students need to see what proficient (B) work looks like, all they need to do is look at the wall. It's a good idea, but the kids don't care. It sits there, idle, taking up space.

#2: Standards based grading (SBG). You must evaluate your students using SBG and tie your lessons to state standards. I have three standards. My gradebook has to be divided into three sections. Some lessons are graded for "practice" while others are assessments. You can only give a grade on the assessments. You cannot penalize for late or missing work, because under SBG it is the progress of a student, not the final scores that counts. Last year I gave an honors student a D, and the helicopter mom went to administration to complain. My principal told me to let the student hand in work 3 weeks after the close of the quarter, because in SBG there is no late work, no study habits, no responsibility. Students now know they can't be penalized, guess how that is going?

#3: Common assessments. We must make common assessments with others who teach the same content. We are to come up with common goals for formative (quizzes) and summative (tests) assessments, and give those tests. You create these in your...

#4: Professional Learning Team (PLT): This is a collection of teachers in the same content. We must meet weekly and create assessments. Testing is very important. We align our assessments to state standards and...

#5: District pacing guides (PGs): These tell us what we should be teaching and when. If you are off the pacing guide, as I am, you get in trouble. I had to defend spending extra time teaching immigration to my IMMIGRANT students, because you can use their experiences as teachable moments. If you are off the pacing guide, you cannot create common assessments with you PLT, and you will be penalized on the...

#6 Interim Assessments (IAs): These are district tests that teach specific content and skills. Little did teachers know years ago, when we created these, that they would be used against us. Every teacher in the district uses these, and they are used to measure teachers against each other. There is a data room where each teacher's scores are posted and compared to each other. If your scores are low, you get on administration's radar, and they do drive-bys of your room often. When they come by your room, they look for...

#7 Unit objective (UO), essential question (EQ), and success criteria (SC): In English, that means unit question, daily question, and how students show they know the EQ. These must be posted and updated daily. They must correspond to the standards, vocabulary and content goals, and produce evidence of student learning. If they are "wrong" you get in trouble. If you forgot to update them, you get in trouble. It all works under a gotcha system. These are for students to see, so that everyday the students know what they are supposed to do. It's overly complicated, with little benefit.

#8 Professional Leaning Communities (PLCs): These used to be called departments. Now they are PLCs. This is where you collaborate with other teachers in the same department, and align your classes horizontally and vertically. That ensures there is no redundancy in what is taught.

#9 Data: The point of all of those ideas is to produce data. Numbers on charts and graphs that shows students are learning and improving. If you don't make sure your data looks good, you're screwed. Your data on IAs, common assessments, state tests, ACT, and other assessments are posted and compared with others in the data room. It does not assist or encourage improvement, only punishment of what is deemed poor performance.

I also have Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) and Middle Years Program (MYP) meetings and rubrics to attend because I am a department chair. It is maddening. When do I get to teach? Luckily for me, I am on top of the charts in the data game, so I am off the radar.

To make everything worse, our district broke our contract and gave us a sixth clas
s to teach. Contract says five. We fought the implementation of this last year. I wrote about it then. I survived the budget cuts, but many other teachers were laid off. Our union, which I became a building representative for, filed a grievance with an arbitrator, and won. The arbitrator told the district they had illegally broken the contract and had to compensate us for our work. Unfortunately, the arbitrator's ruling was non-binding. Last week our union packed the Board of Education meeting where they were to decide on the ruling.

District shat on us. The superintendent told principals in elementary that accepting the arbitration would result in lost elementary jobs. Elementary principals brought out their staff. Our union was divided between high school and elementary. Their argument was that contact time with students was inequitable, between high school and elementary, that we only work 20 hours a week with students. This is completely false, and insulting, being that I work 50-60 hours a week. Also, it takes much longer to plan and grade for 170 students and essays, than it takes to grade 2 + 2 = 4. The BOE rejected the arbitration, and now we are going to file a lawsuit. The worst part of the week was the superintendent bringing up principals, chamber of commerce, elementary teachers, and parents telling us we were lazy, greedy, part-time, and ineffective. It was almost too much. We were there till 9:30, and parent teacher conferences were the next day after school.

People are burnt out. Between all the extra expectations that really do very little to improve instruction, the gotcha system, and no respect from our district, there are going to be a lot of vacancies. All of those extra expectations take up a lot of time, and we cannot plan or grade sufficiently well, on top of having 33% less plan, and 20% more work. I have three preps but only two plans. Some of the best teachers are being pushed out, and replaced by Teach for America grads. For example, one of our veteran teachers used payday lending abuses to teach his students advanced algebra. This is relevant to the student's lives. Students who were on the verge of being kicked out of school became math geeks. He was written up for this because that was not on the district pacing guide. It is insane. My battle is separating all of that crap, from what I love to do, teach. It's getting harder.

There is only so far you can push people who do what they do out of the kindness and care of their heart. The staff at my school is committed, professional, and caring. We went from 15% ESL to over 50% in 10 years, and did not decline in quality. We take knocks from district because we care about the students. However, there is a point at which it becomes abusive. That point is rapidly approaching.

I had one overwhelmingly positive experience this week. There is one administrator in our building who teachers have respect for. She is helpful, insightful, and is human. She is an expert on sheltered and ESL instruction, and shares her techniques in an efficient and non-threatening way. She always looks at the positives, and helps when you fall. She does not work under the gotcha system. I invited her into my room to see what I had done with my sheltered students.
During parent teacher conferences, my two students from Myanmar brought in their parents. Zaw and Aye couldn't speak anything beyond "hello mister" to me two months ago. Now they are having basic conversation, and writing in my class. They are awesome. They were translating to their parents when my administrator walked in. I was nervous because she is somebody I respect, and I don't know if I am doing my job correctly with the sheltered students.

I had my proficiency wall and EQ, SC criteria up. She looked at my immigration projects. These are shadows of immigrant groups the students created, that had to represent various aspects of that group such as push and pull factors, assimilation, locations and religions, laws made against them, and contributions to the country. The students had to show that criteria through art. Students who cannot speak to me were able to complete this project. The silhouettes are walking towards the statue of liberty in a nice symbolic manner. The goal is to get the students to understand that their story is similar to older immigrant groups. Same story, different locations. My administrator walked around the room with her jaw open. She was amazed, and asked if she could return with a camera. I agreed. She told me that was one of the greatest, accessible, but still rigorous lessons for ESL students she has seen. I did well, and used none of the PLT, SC, or SBG methods. Just imagine what I could do if I wasn't one of those free loading part time lazy teachers.

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