Friday, April 17, 2015

Prom Day Crazy

For some reason, my school has prom on a Friday night...which makes prom day crazy.  The students do not think they can do anything in class in the morning because "it's prom".  If it were allowed, then they would just not come to school at all.
Early release on prom day is a reward for selling a certain number of items in the class fundraiser--sell and earn an 11 a.m. early dismissal.  Others can check out at 2 p.m.if they met the specified criteria and a parent comes to  check them out in person. They can't get their tickets until their designated dismissal time.
My phrase for today was "it is prom--not a coronation; you will not be asked to rule a small nation." 
For the most part, my students did their work because they know they must do their work in my class.  They know better than to expect free days.
In the hallway, however, they were insane.
I wish we held prom on a Saturday.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Wherever you are, Dr. Chapman, you were right.

In my very first education class, Dr. Chapman told us that if we were in education long enough, we would see all the old trends become new again.

I am officially there...and I'm only fifteen years in.  I am not sure I completely believed him on that day but as my academic career continued, I began to suspect that he was correct and the longer I taught, the more I began to recognize the approaching signs.

The déjà vu  started with the introduction of common assessments a few years ago. 

During my first year at my current school, I was introduced to something called QBA or quarterly based assessment.  The department developed a bank of multiple choice questions that assessed the curriculum outlined in the district approved skills continuum.  An administrator (I think) created a test using this bank--four times per year--and the students were assessed.

A new trend appeared and our test bank was thrown away.

When my young department head, who was still in high school when we were administering quarterly based assessments, extolled the brilliance of these new assessments, I turned to my senior colleague--one of the women who explained it all to me when I was a rookie---and remarked, "QBA?"  She nodded and mourned the loss of our old test bank.

Today cemented Dr. Chapman's claim.  I spent the day in meetings.  First was an all day departmental "retreat" in which we completely re-designed the English I curriculum map...again. The exciting new innovation was the exact same unit design that I used at the beginning of my career---the one that I used until very recently, the one that I surrendered reluctantly. My notes from this meeting are...."go back to what you used to do; go back to what worked."

I believe that's going to be my takeaway.

Monday, November 24, 2014

I miss my planning period.

When I first started teaching fifteen years ago, teachers used their planning periods to actually plan for classes and grade papers.  But planning periods are consumed with meetings.

Last year, our school decided that core content departments (which are assessed as part of the state-mandated assessment) needed common planning periods.  When the idea was first introduced, we were going to meet for at least half of our plan once or twice a month and then we'd be able to informally collaborate with our peers the rest of the time.

It quickly became a meeting for our entire planning period every few weeks.   Now we've been told that we need to make sure we leave our common planning periods "free" for any departmental meetings--for additional full department meetings as well as grade level meetings.

That in and of itself is not too bad.  Frustrating but not without value.

Adding in the other meetings and encroachment on our planning periods...that's where I'm starting to have major problems--even though some of those meetings are important.

We've started having what we call "vertical team" meetings.  We meet with the middle school teachers to work on smoothing out the rough transition to high school.  We're also attempting to align our curriculum 6-12--a tall order.    We only have these four times per year but the problem comes from the fact that someone has to monitor our classes during this time.  Instead of paying for subs (because there's a lack of funds for those), teachers who have planning periods during that time are required to cover the classes of the teachers who are in meetings.  With four departments having these meetings, it adds up...and it seems like the same teachers are always tasked with covering classes.

Then factor in our new "effectiveness" system which requires peer evaluations. (And can we just call it what it is?  An evaluation system but that's an topic for another day.)  We will give up a portion of our planning period to observe our colleagues in action; we also need to complete a pre & post observation conference with them.

And we cannot forget the IEP meetings--I actually feel bad for the secretary who has to schedule those. With all the other meetings, she sometimes struggles to staff the IEP conferences.

This week, I will have my full planning period once and that's with midterm grades due on Friday.

I've had a grade level department meeting today.  Tomorrow, I will have meeting with middle school teachers, which will be followed by a full faculty meeting after school (Yea). On Thursday, I'm scheduled to cover a math class (poor children--I am of no use to them in there.) while the math department enjoys their vertical team meeting. Then to wrap up the week, I will evaluate a colleague in another department.  Fortunately, she's also a friend because between my meetings and hers, we've had to get creative for our pre-observation conference; I may end up at her house for the post-observation.

At some point, I have to verify that all of my grades are up to date and contact the parents of struggling students.  I have at least two scholarship essays that students need me to proofread and letters of recommendation to compose.  Plus I have students serving in-school suspension who need work and need a visit from me--so I can explain that work.

It is infinitely frustrating.

After fifteen years, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on my content and on sharing it with my students but I still need time to plan.  I also need time to grade the assignments of approximately 190 students. I stay after school for at least an hour each day but at some point, I have to do laundry, wash dishes and tackle the chores of every day life.

I cannot imagine how rookie teachers handle it.  I have fifteen years worth of resources and experience to draw from.  If needs be, I can come up with something worthwhile for my students do on the fly.  A 1st year teacher does not have that yet.

I don't know how my colleagues with children manage it.  If I spend hours in the evening grading, only the dogs are annoyed and a scruff behind the ear will make up for it--they cannot do that with small children.

This just feels like one more element of disrespect for this profession.

Our time is not valued.

I don't blame by our administration.  They are just as overwhelmed and just as frustrated as their time is devoured as well. 

No wonder so many teachers leave the profession early.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

College & Career Ready?

As part of our RTI (Response to Intervention) plan, we have a 30 minute college & career readiness class.  However, it is really just a test prep class.

The freshmen work on improving their reading skills for the PLAN test that they will take in the fall of their sophomore year.   The sophomores prepare for the PLAN until the actual test in September and then they shift over to ACT prep.   The juniors prep for the ACT until the test date in March and they shift to EOC (End of Course) exam preparation because all juniors are required to take the U.S. History EOC.

The seniors...well, my poor seniors are a whole other thing.  The seniors must be "college &/or career ready".  Meaning they must have met arbitrary benchmarks on either the ACT, the COMPASS or Work Keys.  (Incidentally, all of these tests are ACT products.)  In recent weeks, even more testing acronyms have flooded my email inbox. 
 If the kiddos meet the ACT benchmark during their junior year, then they are placed in a study hall for their senior year.  If they do not meet the state established benchmarks for ACT reading, English and math, then they are placed--by score--in groups to prepare them for the COMPASS or the Work Keys.

It's stressful and frustrating for students and teachers alike...but we're in a box. A not so lovely accountability and assessment box thrust upon us by so-called education reformers.

If only I could make these politicians and their ilk take all the tests that they thrust upon my students...

Dear Infinite Campus,

Dear Infinite Campus,
I hate you.
I hate your issues with Java, which often result in a failure to load.
I hate when you log me out for "being inactive" while I'm entering grades. (That's clearly being active, IC; what is up with that?)
I hate when you time out while posting attendance, which results in a phone call from the attendance secretary.
I hate when opening my gradebook inexplicably causes  Firefox to crash.
I hate when entire columns of grades simply vanish into cyberspace.
I hate that an entity that should simplify at least one aspect of my job frequently complicates my life instead.
I beg of you, IC, get your act together!
A frustrated teacher who has been trying to update grades for four hours.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mother Nature Always Wins

My juniors were supposed to take the ACT last week but Mother Nature...she said, "No!".   Last Sunday brought sleet, snow & ice to the Commonwealth and successfully canceled school all across Kentucky.

Not one but two more snow days. 

Don't get me wrong.  I love snow days.  I giggle when I see snowflakes fluttering outside my window.  The school cancellation text message (which has replaced the radio and television alerts) prompts me to dance around my house before climbing back into bed.  I hate going out in the cold and would much rather stay in my toasty warm house while it's cold.  I don't mind making up the days when it is warm outside. 

However, I had some mixed feelings about it this time.

I found the state & ACT's decision to schedule the test a week earlier than usual completely asinine.  While we haven't had March snow in several years, Kentucky weather is mercurial at best and it was not a wise choice.  The folks at ACT may not know that but the Kentucky Department of Ed certainly should.   Part of me found it amusing that a higher power thwarted these best laid plans of bureaucrats. 

On the other hand, my juniors have been so stressed about this assessment that I just hated for them to have wait.  Ready or not, I just wanted it to be over for them. 

Some of my colleagues were pleased to have more review time but I just feel that we are test prepping these kids to death.  A feeling that became a certainty after I discussed the situation with my junior group. 

The new date is March 18th and so they'll endure another week of ACT test prep.  I wish I could tell them that it would be all over then.  However, they will then shift to prepping for the U.S. History end of course exam.

I dread breaking that news to them.

School should be about learning--not testing. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Educate or Test

I have been told at least a dozen times this semester alone--by administrators--that "The Test" should be the primary focus in my classroom.  One went so far as to tell the junior English teachers that their entire course should be structured around the ACT because the juniors take the ACT in March. Surely this isn't what the Kentucky General Assembly had in mind when they decided to make this college entrance exam part of our assessment.

My freshmen are supposed to spend this year preparing for the PLAN test (which they will take in the fall of their sophomore year) and the English II EOC (End of Course) exam.  If they are in Algebra II or Biology, they're also preparing for end of course exams in those classes as well.  And we can't forget about the on-demand writing test taken by all sophomores and juniors.  

Between these tests and practice tests, we lose at least 10 days of instruction--minimum; teachers who give more practice tests in class lose even more.  All of this assessment doesn't include AP (Advanced Placement) testing.

Am I supposed to educate or test?

I recognize that we must have a means to evaluate student learning but these multiple choice tests do not prove understanding. They do not assess higher order thinking.

As one of my 9th graders pointed out today, she can do well on some of these tests just by guessing and applying test strategies. She told me that she doesn't like the written assessments that I make her do.  She cannot fake her way through those.

We are turning out a society of test-takers--not problem solvers.

My students are more than their test scores and my job is to teach think, to create, to analysis, to evaluate and to problem-solve.   My job is to provide knowledge and teach skill, so that my students can be come productive members of society. 

The test is not the most important thing in my classroom; my students are.