Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Year in Review: July 08, Aug 08, June 09

Although we technically have a week left of school, and that week contains important activities like teaching and reviewing for finals, I've found myself pondering the meaning of life and wondering what this year has really been like. It will take more than one blog session to complete any sort of real analysis, but here's the start.

June 2009: Why do we learn new things right at the end of the year? I had two meetings on Friday (yes, the last Friday before the last week of school) that would have been helpful at the beginning of this year. The first was an IEP, and we got the results of pretty extensive testing. By the way, this was my first experience participating in an IEP meeting with both a competent psychologist/special ed teacher and a willing, educated parent. The test results made sense and we could connect them to what we saw at home and in the classroom. I also learned some real strategies that went above and beyond the typical useless mumbo-jumbo that under-trained special ed teachers usually spew like vomit. I really don't hate special ed teachers - it takes a better person than I to go into the field. However, it is a difficult field, and many of the teachers I've met who go into special ed are more idealistic than realistic, and more touchy-feely than intellectual. I've wasted many an hour in IEP meetings only to be told that "Kidsname needs more personal attention and visual reminders." That sort of advice isn't helpful.

The second meeting turned out to be more of a family conference. I've been frustrated because, all year, I haven't really found a way to get through to this kid. She doesn't relate to people like a typical 7th-grade student, although I suspect that her social awkwardness comes from a higher level of thinking, rather than some social disorder. However, I learned a lot about her in this meeting, and I think she may have seen that I really do care about her and want her to succeed. We created a plan for next year that, if properly implemented, should help to lead her out of this phase she's going through.

In both of these meetings, I experienced a gargantuan stab of "teacher guilt." Anyone with a dose of reality can tell you that, despite the idiocy of some old white male politicians, the teacher is only one factor in a kid's development. Unfortunately, the irrational megalomaniac constantly claws at me, telling me that if I were more careful, involved, or intelligent, these kids would not find education so difficult.

One of my goals for this summer will be to find the happy medium between my foolish messiah complex and backward ambivalence. I can certainly be more careful about my students, checking in on them, clarifying misunderstandings, practicing necessary skills, teaching time management, communicating with parents, and so on, but I'm no Ron Clark. I can't make myself sick or sacrifice my family in an effort to improve life for my students. So, as I create my plans, I'll be setting up a time schedule and working to find or create a better way to keep track of my students and tighten the seive so that fewer problems slip through.

Going back to the beginning of the year...because it makes sense...


no, not yet.

July 2008: The frustration from last year spilled over without a break into this year. July, that middle ground, saw further attempts by the district big-wigs to crush our successes so that their priorities could succeed. Instead of scheduling new principal interviews so that our teacher representative, who was one of the founders of our school, could attend, one of the district minions made frantic phone calls two day before interviews were to begin and could only contact me, one of the less-capable spokespeople for our school. I convinced her that I could find someone more qualified to be on the panel, but after a day of searching, I could only contact one other teacher who was only a slightly better choice. As it turned out, her voice didn't even matter - I could have easily been the token. The interview panel comprised just one teacher, one parent...and seven district lackeys who had obviously been instructed not to choose whomever our people preferred. As a result, we were assigned a principal who did not understand our vision, showed no interest in learning, and brought with her a terrible reputation for being inflexible and belligerent. Despite all this, the teaching team decided that we would do everything in our power to enable the success of our new principal, because if she failed, the entire school would suffer.

I decided at that time that I needed to educate myself so that I could be a useful advocate for our school.

August 2008: After rushing through the last of my online classes, jumping for joy when I found that I had passed all three sections of my 5-hour certification test on the first try (a rare accomplishment), and flying back from standing up in my friend's incredibly stressful wedding the night before summer school began, I arrived at the school at 7:30 on a glorious sunny morning on the unfamiliar campus we had borrowed for summer school to set up for my first day teaching in the new year.

Nobody was there.

I wandered the campus, looking for a custodian. I called other teachers. I tried to track down our new administrator.


I greeted the few students who started arriving early, and explained my wanderings to the other summer school teacher who drove in a few minutes later.

Finally, and I forget how, we were let into classrooms: I got the library, and she was parked in a classroom way across campus.

Then students started arriving, and the two of us quickly began exchanging worried glances. These weren't the right students!

When we had first planned summer school, we had planned on having more teachers and smaller classes, so we had created a list of incoming 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. District policies being as foolish as they are, we quickly learned that our beautiful plan was not acceptable, so we created a 7th-grade-only alternative. Then our principal was yanked from us (in an attempt by the big-wigs to squelch innovation wherever possible), and the new principal was instated as previously described. The now former principal passed on the documents to the now current principal, instructing her specifically to use the new summer school list when sending out notifications. Yeah, she didn't do that.

That beautiful late-summer morning was quickly turning into a nightmare, and it was a perfect opportunity for new principal to prove herself. Yeah, she didn't do that either. Rather than swoop in, sort out the details, and apologize for her mistake, she crisply informed us that she had an administrative meeting at the District Office and was much to busy to come and assist. We were to teach the students we had, and we could meet at the end of the day to work everything out.

Have I mentioned yet that this is a 5 day summer school? By vamping through that one day, we lost 20 percent of our teaching time. Of course, we did our very best, as mature professionals, but we were fairly irritated by the time we made it back to our school site. Our hopes for a mature, professional reconciliation were quickly dashed. The principal asked us (I think it was just me by that point - the other teacher had another meeting) to "be creative." I proposed a wide variety of solutions. The principal could call all of the affected students and make corrections so that the right students would show up the next day - I would even help with the calling! No, that wouldn't work. No explanation as to why it wouldn't work, but I've since learned that this individual has a habit of going to ridiculous measures to avoid taking blame. I also suggested that we could keep the students who were currently attending, but we would need to be compensated for more prep hours, because we had already spent a considerable amount of time planning an intense, rigorous course of study for these 5 days. No, that wouldn't work. Again, no real explanation as to why it would work.

That was when I learned that "be creative" means "shut up and find a way to do what I told you to do." What an incredible difference from the student-centered, team-led environment I had enjoyed for the last two years! It was starting to sound like my first two years of teaching, except now I knew better, and was determined not to be blindly obedient like before.

Still, I, with the rest of the team, tried to be helpful and make things work. When the principal left a calendar meeting to go set the schedule with the monster school, with whom we share a campus and who typically tries to run over our needs because they're bigger, I quickly printed her a copy of the schedule WE HAD ALREADY AGREED ON in our June planning sessions, the notes from which I knew she had a copy. We all cheered for her when "she" convinced the other school to agree to that same schedule, and we were kind when she failed miserably to reach satisfactory arrangements in other areas. In my attempt to become a stronger voice for the needs of our students, I started hanging out so that I could be around to help and know what was happening, bypassing the solitude of my classroom and the luxury of the pool to plan amidst the chaos of the office.

School started just a few days before the end of the month. It was the easiest, smoothest first week of school ever! This was my first year looping with my students, and I already knew everyone's names, had a seating chart arranged that avoided problems, and had created lessons and a homework assignment that were appropriate for their needs. Despite the storms we could already see coming, this was going to be a good year!

No comments:

Post a Comment