Category Archives: Frustration

Daily Log and the Drama Diva

Hours in meetings today: two and a half

Hours in my room doing paperwork: two

Sentences spoken by the Drama Diva: three

As I entered my school today to work in my classroom, out of the main doors came the Drama Diva. No matter the day, she has a problem, a disaster, a concern, a reason for sadness. No sunny skies, no happy smiles, no “hello” or “How are you?”, no good news, no optimism.

Everything in her life seems to center on some bit of drama.

Anyway, I smiled and said “hello” and her reply was a three-sentence string of three different things that had already gone wrong. I hurried inside in case she wanted to begin a conversation, which really means telling me a story surrounding each of the problems. I have, without hyperbole, become embroiled in one-sided dialogues with the Drama Diva lasting over ten minutes a pop where I say nothing and only nod. These are brutal moments in my day.

I’m guessing everyone has their own Drama Diva, and I try to avoid ours like a contagious disease. I’m sure someone else in the building is Susie Sunshine to counterbalance the Drama Diva’s negativity, but I have yet to find her mirror (though I have not looked through the looking glass); the universe is full of symmetry and one day I will discover DD’s Bizarro version.

Classroom Visits

I went to my classroom today to begin decorating and organizing, but I received a couple unexpected visits. One teacher needed help with a presentation and information sheet while another wanted to update me on some technology and personnel changes. I was there for two and half hours and accomplished nothing on my “to do” list.

I need to start closing my door.

Grade Books and Younger vs. Older Teachers

Today was an exploration of the new grade book system we are using. I spent a couple hours identifying the basic functions, but the bulk of that time was used trying to figure out how to make it let me grade the way I want to enter scores.

I’ve decided that I am going to use GPA scoring on every assignment (4.0 for and A, 3.0 for a B, etc.) while still using my categories (i.e. tests, writings, final, etc.). This will make every assignment within each category weighted the same. Each unit test over the novels will have the same effect within its category as will each paper, each presentation, each speech, and so on. It won’t be a standards-based system, but I have not found the standards adopted to include all that they should. That’s my bias and the reason I do not have a full standards-based system. Regardless, I am going to have to manipulate the grade book percentages to allow for GPA scoring, and it took the better part of 90 minutes to determine how to make it work.

I also read a few articles on education issues today for about an hour. As any teacher knows, the measurements or assessments used have a drastic effect on student motivation and success just like the way schools are graded have a tremendous impact on funding and more, which is what this article notes on Alabama schools. Another interesting article noted that the Seattle School District wants to raise class sizes despite a Washington State Supreme Court ruling demanding smaller class sizes.

Today I received a call from a younger teacher, one who would be considered part of the online generation (an age group never really knowing a world without the internet). Truth be told, I straddle the line between the online and pre-online generations, but the teacher who called me is definitely an onliner. She wanted to know if we had a specific resource, and my first thought was “have you looked?” I would guess the answer to be “no,” but I have no real evidence to suggest this to be true except past experience.

What I’ve noticed is that the younger teachers don’t always tend to look first before asking others to come to their aid; whereas, the elder teachers look first and try to figure things out on their own before including others. This may not necessarily be a negative, but I have observed that the younger generation, including my students, want a immediate answer rather than putting in an extra minute or two discovering the answer on their own. They seem to think it’s ok for them to inconvenience others to speed up their activities. Maybe that ‘s a bit harsh, but I see it frequently.

Truly, providing the answer required less than a minute of my time, but in the time it took the teacher to call and chat with me, she could have located the resource on her own without interrupting me. I wasn’t even really bothered by the call and was happy to help (and very happy this teacher was starting her planning three before school starts), but the call did generate the thought about how the generations differ.

I know, I know. I sound like an old fuddy-duddy, including my use of that antiquated term, but the Google Generation does seem to want everything right now and don’t always have the patience of their elder peers. Is this simply a product of age or the effect of the online age? I’m not sure, but the trend seems to be increasingly true and today was a prime example.

Oh, sheesh. Maybe I’m becoming a curmudgeon. 🙂

Update: Maybe I should post my feelings about how the older teachers often fret over technology while the younger teachers rush to embrace it. And, when will I go from embracing the technology to fretting about it?

Wanted: The Best and Brightest?

My home state, Washington, was often seen as a progressive and enlightened hotbed of education ideas; however, my state is quickly becoming much like the rest of the education world with pseudo-reformers hijacking the conversation and the direction. Even Democrats, who once supported educators, are beginning to move away from protecting and supporting organized labor in general and teachers in particular.

Currently, numerous bad bills are making their way through the political system.

  • One bill that moved out of the Senate and into the House would allow principals to arbitrarily place teachers in a “displaced” category and then fire them.
  • Another bill out of the Senate and into the House would rate schools on an A-F basis, but is solely determined on standardized tests (further strengthening the testing stranglehold on education).
  • One other bill would move everyone’s pension monies (for those under 45 years of age) into 401k plans rather than leave them in the pension system.

Other bad bills are working their way into being potentially wide-sweeping and far-reaching law. Some even attempt to micro-manage how districts use their money–the same money being cut by the state–by requiring some students to have mandatory tutoring or summer school. Another example of this micro-managing is a bill that would force districts to bring back suspended students (even violent ones) into the school setting before their suspensions are up or counseling is completed.

In my state salaries have been frozen or reduced in each of the last three years.

I’m not saying what is happening in my state is different or worse then yours, but what we’re seeing is an education environment with:

  • frozen or lowered salaries,
  • salaries that do not pace or match other fields,
  • more expensive health plans which cover less,
  • potentially riskier retirement plans,
  • eliminated professional development days,
  • more duties and responsibilities, and
  • raised expectations of performance with fewer resources.

But, we want the “best and brightest to choose” education as a pathway. Why would they choose education? When my students ask me if being a teacher is a good job to consider in the future, I hesitate and am not sure how to answer that question. If I had kids of my own, I would not advise them to enter the teaching ranks.

If university graduates really are the “best and brightest,” they would never consider education.

Common Core is Here

Well, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are here, and my district (and a few department members) see it as the panacea for this generation of students. While I don’t have anywhere near that sort of faith in the new standards, I do like the professional development that could stem from the implementation of the standards.

However, I do see three problems looming: too much commonality, too much reliance on hope, and not enough joint accountability.

Firstly, I see my department being pushed to use exactly the same assignments in every class on the same day, almost as if a scripted curriculum could be imposed. Of course, we’re told “not to worry” because the new standards will help us all become better teachers. But, then the same veteran teachers (me, for one) who were successful using the old standards are then teaching my department members how to use the new standards. While I think teaching people what the new standards mean, how to reach the standards, and why scaffolding is needed are all excellent ideas to learn, nothing really new is happening. We’re taking what we have and adapting that to new skill expectations. Fortunately, the CCSS differ little from my state’s old standards. Still, I’ve never believed lock-step assignments and daily lessons take into account student and class individuality and needs, a teacher’s strengths, or student interest.

Secondly, the notion that people think these standards will be the magic pill to cure all of our students’ ills bothers me. Standards don’t help students pass a test or learn a skill or achieve. Teachers do. Teachers of excellence with the abilities to engage students, to adapt to student needs, and to scaffold lessons for students will be successful no matter what standards are adopted. Teachers who were successful with the old standards will be successful with the new standards. Teachers who struggled previously will continue to struggle without strong, reliable mentors and skillful evaluators.

Lastly, as an English teacher, I continue to hear the maxim that “all teachers are responsible for reading,” but only the English Department is held accountable for reading scores. When my school’s state reading test results came in, literary reading (fiction) far surpassed non-fiction reading scores. Instead of asking the other disciplines–which teach non-fiction almost exclusively–to improve non-fiction teaching approaches and to become more skilled reading instructors, the English Department is again being asked to add something to its already crowded curriculum.

And, the new CCSS backs this up. An expert speaking to my department about the new standards suggested that 70% of a student’s reading load be non-fiction. I responded that this is splendid since only 1/6 of a student’s day is spent in a literature-based class (reading fiction), which means that students currently read non-fiction 83% of the day (80% if we exclude P.E.). I was told “no, this means the English Department should teach much, much more non-fiction.”

Now, I’m not against teaching non-fiction texts. I do this with every unit I teach, generally using non-fiction texts to help set the context for the fictional readings with which students are engaged. Then, my students must integrate the contextual information into their fiction-text responses and writing.

In short, I’d like to see school-wide reading trainings to begin and to hold all disciplines accountable for raising students’ reading levels. The CCSS could help here since all included subject areas have reading standards now, but administrators at the building and district levels must get on-board and help support this philosophy with action and not just talk.

P.S. People want to compare schools, districts, and states across the nation with the new tests, but I think we missed the boat here by not using the SAT or ACT. How helpful would it have been to pay for kids’ tests already required (or expected) by colleges and universities? Plus, we could have already looked at comparisons. Granted, all curricula are not set up with the SAT or ACT as the endgame in mind, but when have we ever done this? And, the kids still take those exams.

P.P.S. The text book companies have strong lobbyists.