I am going on my twelfth year at the same Title I middle school. That is not said as a martyred projection or badge of honor, but a statement of fact, circumstances, decision making, and choices. Every teacher I know has had a rough time this past decade. Some have gone to “easier” schools, or districts, where they found a comfortable home. Some have expressed to me survivor’s guilt, and some have ‘ghosted’ our friendships, probably because working at a school like mine is hard, and it takes an emotional toll, causing me to leak out stress. Occasionally those leaks become straight-up tsunamis. I don’t blame them for not wanting to be around me: I don’t want to be around myself sometimes.
This video got to me. She maintained her composure while rubbing her hands, refocusing on her paper, and staying the course, to its climatic ending of her resignation. Her paper may well have been a white flag, and her hands in surrender. When my husband watched it, he commented how he knew I had felt this same level of pain.
No one is to blame for this: administrators do their best, district-level personnel want and desire excellence. However, in the championed cause of “students come first” the heads of teachers become the stepping stones across this mighty gulf. Teachers are sometimes not considered the human connection between student and world, but merely the middle management, with no real authority. And some teachers do not deserve respect. I would wager, though, that any social-emotional well-being for teachers is considered superfluous. Teachers should just ‘have it.’ If you’re a parent, you know that the hardest job in the world is given to amateurs, (as my dad likes to say), and so is teaching. We make mistakes: but dang, so do our students. So how do all of us learn to do better?
We are never to take anything personally, always build relationships, and create safe places. And we do. Or we try to. But being human, we have amygdalas, too: keeping in control of our frontal cortexes in the moment is challenging. The smatterings of misogynistic, sexist, ageist, and disrespectful things said to me by a small group of students is nothing compared to the national stage of police violence, political decrepitude, and social media bruising. But I am still charged with teaching ‘soft skills’ in a world so racist and vile it hardly seems to matter.
We were all feeling something this year. No matter who you voted for, or if you didn’t vote at all, something shifted, violently and without justice.
Maybe it’s time we’re honest with one another. If we reach out for help. platitudes and trope quotes won’t help. Prayers and thoughts are sweet, but not helpful. Listen. Truly listen. Good advice: click the link.
One of my favorite episodes –not so much hope, but we are all of us in this together:
I wish I could say this post is urgent, but alas, I know the truth: I’m avoiding ‘real’ summer work– the projects and ideas that are supposed to rejuvenate me and get back in touch with my ‘real’ self. So here’s a deal: I’ll write this post, and then go do something. Maybe take the dog for a walk. Maybe organize my jewelry box. Or go find some Pokemon. Who knows? The world is wide open. And gotta catch ’em all.
When the school year starts again, it’s closed, boxed, a hedge maze of navigating rules and schedules. And consistently over the years I’ve tried to shape and refine my teaching practices. Sometimes those practices come at the will of administration and changing district policies, but all in all, I know those are in alignment with my personal teaching values more than ever, and truth be told I am feeling a great confidence of agency. As long as I can honestly say what I’m doing is in the best interest of students as my litmus test, then every decision holds integrity and intention.
The “A” Word
One such is the notion that teachers grade everything. We’ve gotten in this feedback loop of complaining about when students aren’t motivated, even for grades, and then use too many sticks and run out of carrots. In this post about accountability, I should have said ‘punitive’ — but was trying to be too soft-edged, I suppose. I am really starting to dislike the word ‘accountable,’ and I know that bias is all mine. Accountability is an accountant, a bean-counter, a points-shiny-stars-gamificationated-hoop-jumping word. Please– any other word but ‘accountable.’ If, in my book club, the other ladies said, “we are going to hold you accountable for reading all the books” I’d be so out of there my wine glass would shatter from the squealing of tires. We read each other’s book choices because we get to discuss things with those of various points of view. And there are snacks.
The question became side-tracked, naturally. And that’s fine. Let me see if I can get this back on point: the 40 book challenge is meant to create readers. There are multiple ways for students to share what they’ve read.
The post I linked above says many things, but mainly this:
Consider this: when doing something like a 40-book challenge, weave in the next two concepts about technology and grading policies. Consider carefully what the goal is. It takes students some getting used to doing something because it’s amazing. Maybe I can do a mash-up between books and Pokemon? Wait, what am I saying?!
Do No Harm: Flexible and Smart Grading Policies by Andrew Miller. Our new admin had their plates full last year; I wonder if a discussion about grading policies will hit the meetings this year? I hope so. As a staff, learning new ways to grade and assess effectively and meaningfully would sure go a long way to help our students we serve. I had a great conservation about grading policies in Twitter at #edchat the other day. It’s on everyone’s minds, and something that the current grading software programs we use don’t provide much in terms of true reflection of growth or stagnation, for that matter. I am going to integrate Miller’s ideas in with my syllabus for this year, along with some of the grading policies and explanations for parents.
This is one of those issues I didn’t think was a big deal until I encountered an interpretation I had never considered before. If a student is talking to another teacher, and receives a late pass, but another teacher still marks them down tardy as his/her only means of showing that the student missed instruction, what is the point of this? If a teacher’s class runs over a few minutes, and then asks that those students are not marked tardy, why wouldn’t people honor that? Perhaps, like the word accountable, there needs to be different shades of meaning: if a student is clearly hanging out in the bathroom avoiding class, then yes, tardy. But for those times where students need to confer with a teacher for a few minutes, but another teacher needs to show that they missed the entry task, perhaps a ‘conference’ demarkation would be a good idea? That way they’re not punished or disciplined in any way, and it shows that the student was attempting to get clarification on something, and allows for flexibility for the entire staff.
If we truly want this school-to-prison pipeline to be shut down, it’s time.
Well, I made a deal. This post is done. Time to honor summer again. I felt as if I haven’t gotten anything done, or accomplished, but that’s not true. I made this, and others are going to share it. I hope you will, too.