One positive change that has come about since the minions of the state DOE evaluated our school last April is that the TEACHERS actually have a provisional schedule for the classes assigned to them for next year.
Over the years, the ever-evolving budget cuts have led to doing more and more with less and less. Thus began the justification for NOT showing us what our load would look like. I overheard one administration official tell a griping colleague that they were afraid if they showed us what we'd be responsible for, they'd be faced by mass resignations. The sad part is that NOBODY knows if it was a serious concern or supposed to be a joke.
Last year, one of the coaches who also has a reading endorsement and I discovered the day before the students were to hit the classrooms that we were to split the seventh graders between us for the reading class, to be conducted using the Accelerated Reading program (AR), which we knew NOTHING about. Last summer, the school did what it SHOULD have done the summer before he and I taught the AR program -- paid for the training classes that would clue us in to the goals and objectives, the ins and outs of using this complex program whose literature readily admits that its success is controlled MORE by the effectiveness of the teachers than on any other element of the program.
The first day of school this year, a teacher workshop, I got together with the coach and we set up a company-approved method for giving GRADES in the program (which is designed to be UNGRADED, and ideally is UNGRADED, but they recognize that we teachers can't ski uphill when the slopes reach mountain height, and are required to grade.) We were horrified when the students could not meet the goals by the quarter deadlines, and called the teachers who had taught the classes the prior year, only to be told in all seriousness that the students were so thankful to be earning D's by fourth quarter!
NO! NO! NO! That is NOT good educational policy! No company could stay in business with such a success record. Since I was the most vocal, I went for the training. (I had the temerity to nail the problem on the head for one of the school board members who persisted until he knew WHO was in charge of the program, the policy, and could go directly to the source -- and his son had a D then, not an F. By the end of the year, I had him reading books he enjoyed and passing them, but I was reading them first and putting the quizzes in the computer.) The high school only had 325 AR books available for around 25 students, and many categories were simply not represented. We were grudgingly allowed to purchase about 150 more book quizzes before funding dried up totally.
In all seriousness, the curriculum director told me that there were over 1000 titles in the elementary library, some of which were at upper reading levels. I could not get him to understand that a book whose INTEREST LEVEL is lower elementary, but whose reading level is higher, encourages ELEMENTARY STUDENTS to read tougher material, but does NOT engage older students the way a good book should just because it has their reading level on it.
After the coach and I had agreed on a grading process, I typed it up and gave it to the principal, who THEN told me that I'd have the entire seventh grade in one classroom. The coach discovered about an hour later that HE'D BE TEACHING SCIENCE... I don't know if he's certified for that one, or not. I was scared to ask. Since schools can apply for a wavier for a while which gives teachers time to get certified in what they are teaching, he would not have to be. Theoretically, by shifting to a different teacher when one would have had to be qualified, it could be that things are taught for years by judicial use of waviers... And we can all think of cases, unfortunately.
So, this past week, when the students were being scheduled for their future classes, a Spanish student asked me if she could continue her Spanish by taking a special class, since she did not have the hour it was offered free to do it.
I could not tell her what classes I'd have when, as I had not seen a schedule. She said that the guidance counselor, who sets the schedules, told her to assume it would be the same as this year. But, that turns out NOT to be true. A few days later, we had one little notice about the schedule, "A conflict as surfaced that will result in changes in next year's schedule." So, GREAT JOY -- we got a copy in our boxes shortly afterward. I thank the state, for saying we needed to be told up front, before we signed our contracts, according to one rumor I heard. Makes sense to me.
After I'd soaked my brain in the schedule for a bit, I got curious about the 8th grade reading, which was "normal" reading up until now, was really going to be run as an AR program... I'd be having the current 7th graders again, and well knew how many more books were available that they were likely to want to read... and we needed more "guy" stories. Well-written, exciting, engrossing, not just titles in a series like what the curriculum director showed me.
When I emailed the principal about it, true to form, he pushed it off on the curriculum director. He ORDERED me to order more books, as the lack was an ongoing problem. As if I didn't know it and wasn't doing what I could to solve the problem. I mentioned getting quizzes written for the books already in the library, but that most were so old that they predated the AR program, and thus, unless they'd become classics, had no AR quizzes available. I wanted to know about taking a copy of the program home and writing the quizzes on it from there, in air conditioned surroundings. I got the distinct impression that he wished I'd give up on that idea. The company is NOT going to do a great number of quizzes that are old, as the books are probably not available for them any more.
So I dutifully posted an email to the curriculum director about the lack of books in AR for the 8th graders to use. It turns out that rumor says we have $10,000 to purchase new AR material. I got told to order 100 new titles. WHEE! Fun time!
I am dictating the oral final test to the eighth grade exploratory, a set of 55 pictures representing the words and phrases they'd had so far... We have five minutes left in the hour, and three words to go. In comes the curriculum director. He does not apparently notice that the students are all spread out, that they are taking a test, that I am dictating the test. He is HERE, and has a URL pulled up on his computer downstairs that has books with AR quizzes available and wants me to come down to look at it.
"Right now, as in before the students are done with their final, before I go to the faculty farewell to the retirees, or right now as in over the weekend?"
"When the bell rings."
I spend 20 minutes with him (Friday is the one day of the week when we are allowed to leave at 3:35... "don't beat the busses out of the parking lot.")
I go late to the retirement party, getting good glares from towns folks and staff alike. The plaques have been awarded, the thank-you's nearly all said. Relatives already introduced.
I tried to get the principal's eye to go over the book sets the curriculum director suggested. All seem to be non-fiction, which I've had very POOR luck getting the students to read, and which results in lower quiz scores for them. They both seem to think that the best reading gains are made with non-fiction. I can only think of one student of the 40 I've now done AR with who did well with it, but it looks as if the powers that be are filling our 100 books with nonfiction titles of unknown reading quality, without showing them to the school librarian to see if we already own them and thus need to buy quizzes only. So, I have THIS WEEKEND to check them out. I can't find any information giving a sample chapter of any of these books, the number of pages, the size of the print -- NOTHING concrete to help me decide if they will go off the shelves once we purchase them. I read one sport book recently that made me laugh in parts. It was WELL WRITTEN. However, the authors are NOT among the writers who are doing the bios on the more modern sports figures. I have no chance to show the stuff to students to see if there is a spark of interest from them.
Why won't they involve the librarian in this stuff? She's very knowledgeable and helpful, interested in engaging students. Why won't the principal talk to the curriculum director? I am definitely still kicking boulders uphill here.
I point blank asked the principal where the info about the nonfiction was coming from. I suspect pr from companies trying to sell sets of nonfiction bios they have AR quizzes for. Is that gauche of me? I don't see/did not hear that in my training, nor in my experience. Most work-related reading IS nonfiction. Are we then teaching BUSINESS READING? Pleasure reading? Reading for life competencies?
The principal told me to "look around" to see what was said. Now, that is vague... I really know exactly what he wants me to do.
He also told me that I had to take the curriculum director when I could get him. (He shows up when he feels like it and leaves when he feels like it.) At least HE now knows why I was so unacceptably late. But in the eyes of the community, I will remain a person who did not even care enough to show up on time in a spectacularly public fashion.
Not to mention two students who came up separately to ask me if I'd let them serve detentions they'd gotten from the history teacher with me... on a Friday. (Detentions are staffed, other than by special arrangement, Mon. - Thurs.) I initially told the first boy, a student I don't even have in class any more, that I would, then remembered the retirement party, so I caught him at the top of the stairs and told him I couldn't.
The other girl came in during my prep period, which was like a zoo...
Yesterday, one eighth grader was supposed to go somewhere else during 8th hour Friday, during the scheduled final test... and several students reminded her yesterday in my hearing, but she didn't make any arrangements. She did sort of announce to the class that she might not be able to take her semester final the next day during class. So I announced back that 1) it was required, 2) it was dictated, 3) it took an entire period of concentrated effort, 4) since she knew ahead of time, she had to make it up BEFOREHAND according to regulations, and 5) since I had to have 8th grade grades posted by 9 am Monday, she had little room to wiggle. I felt like the Wizard of Id's king making a proclamation. After all, the school board requires the tests, and sets the % of the grade it represents (20% of the semester total -- 40% to each quarter)
A few minutes into my prep period, while I am totally into the semester final I am preparing for next Wed., she comes in and again announces that she needs to take her final. I send her back for a pencil and dig out the stuff. We get right to it.
I had another eighth grader who had basically quit turning in anything when he saw on the last grade check May 4th that he had a C... that was evidently high enough. So, he now had an F. No child left behind, you know, so, of course, I went to get him this morning to see WHY in spite of all the exhortations to do otherwise, none of his papers were hitting the "in" box.
"Why have you not been turning in anything? I see in class that you look busy."
"I have them all."
"Good. That's better than the dog ate them. Where do you have them?"
He leaves, returning with the pack of papers that represent the "text" book for the Spanish Exploratory. Among them are the papers he did not turn in. I type a request for a grade sheet for him, as he has no idea what he's missing. As he goes to the office for the print-out, I write him a pass. I gave him an OPEN pass -- for ANY hour, after he'd finished ANY test. That way, getting to me is totally HIS responsibility, and he can't play any games with it.
He stayed before school until the warning bell, not writing a thing until instructed to. I marked on a grade sheet what else he needed, and checked to be sure he knew what to do for each thing. I'd done all I could at that point for him.
Second hour, during a simultaneous review for Spanish I and Spanish II, he showed up. Fortunately, the high school students were well-motivated, following their guide and asking questions as needed, a good example of things "working" from a bunch of good kids -- a joy to any teacher. He slips into the chair next to mine, and we go after it. At first, I point to guide him, but the atmosphere of the class penetrates, and the attitude shift begins. I'm no longer the enemy, but an ally working for the same goal. We don't get done, but he gets several things in. When I have time (over lunch instead of eating, I see that he's now at 69.1%. Good, I think. He can make it.)
Seventh hour, he comes in about half way through. He's in the middle of a stream of eighth graders getting my signature on their sign out slips. Eventually, I get into a rhythm -- dictate the next test question, help him with the next item he needs. By the bell, he's gotten everything but his notes turned in. The 55 questions are done, and won't I please grade it right away for her while she watches, which I do, then off goes the girl, no pass, to wherever she's supposed to be. I hope the whole thing wasn't a set-up, as I'm not sure WHICH teacher scheduled something required during some other teacher's mandatory testing period. It sounds decidedly fishy, but there's no time to check it out.
I sneak into the hall to get some water before I dictate the questions again, which is only interrupted once, by the curriculum director. I think I would have bitten the head off any eighth grader who tried to have me sign anything during it, and they all knew it.