Five years ago today I was getting ready for the first day of my 9th year of school at Shepherd Hill. A lot of teachers like the first day, but I hated it. I liked school after about three weeks, when I knew all the kid’s names, I knew what kind of students they were, I knew what to expect, I saw their true colors begin to come out (everyone’s nice the first week), and they got used to me as a teacher. I was a hardo teacher, and my class certainly wasn’t easy. Read my book and I explain my educational philosophy more in depth.
But the bottom line is that it took some kids a couple weeks to get used to a teacher that wasn’t going to let them squeak by without doing anything.
And this is why I hated the first day – because it was really awkward. I had a freshman homeroom, and every single freshmen is petrified to be the first one to speak. You try to make small talk with them, but for the most part they have no interest in it because they’re nervous as shit, and they’re often uninteresting human beings with very little to talk about. Then I’d have my junior classes, and you have to do these ice breakers, and hand out the syllabus, and just really dreadful stuff. I loved history, I loved teaching it, and I was ready to get started right away. You don’t do that during the first week, which is why I hated it so much.
But the only thing worse than the first day was professional development days. Kids loved PD days because it was a day off for them, but every single teacher I’ve ever talked to all agreed that they’d rather be teaching kids than sitting through PD. First of all, the name is misleading because you don’t develop professionally at all. You just go to a bunch of meetings where the people with the least amount of personality (administration) guided you through a Power Point presentation about MCAS results from the previous year. Finding ways to slightly improve the percentage of kids in the proficient category is pretty much the only thing your crotch fruit’s school cares about. Do they tell you how to improve them? Nope. You can figure that one out on your own. Just understand that your evaluation depends on a bunch of 15 year olds who you have no control over 99% of the day.
Five years ago at what would turn out to be my final PD day I decided to record a presentation from Principal Mary Pierangeli, the first villain in the hit book I Am Turtleboy, because she was so, so, so terrible. This woman didn’t have an ounce of personality to her, and I have no idea how she ever taught kids before becoming a principal. People like her become principals because they’re not good teachers, but they are good at reading graphs out loud. Here’s some of those videos of teachers being forced to sit through a Power Point presentation on the previous year’s MCAS results. Keep in mind, I taught history, which was not an MCAS subject. Art, physical education, and foreign language teachers were all in the same boat. None of this had anything to do with over 50% of people in the room. This is what big government and a colossal waste of taxpayer resources looks like in action.
“The other thing they look at is participation. Participation needs to be around 95%. So, this is all of the points we were awarded. Last year we had 400 this year we had 400, what is the difference? The answer is 100 points that we did not get. So we are at 66 and last year we were at 71 and we have work to do but we’re close.”
Kill me now.
“We’re very close at bringing this up to the next level, so it’s very doable for us to get them up there. Let’s look at biology. Seventy two students or 28% of students scored advanced, but the state had 30%. And again, we need to get that up. 141 students or 56% scored proficient. The state had 43%. And actually I’m going to go to the next slide because there are two sets of scores, and I can’t figure out the exactly (inaudible). There are scores for science and technology, and there are scores for biology. We take the biology…..”
So the four people in the room who teach biology need to get their shit together. Only 28% of Shepherd Hill kids were advance in bio, compared to 30% of kids in the state. Obviously those four teachers needed to find a way to train kids to do slightly better on a multiple choice test that they’d take in May. This is what education looks like.
“We had some that were advanced that went down to proficient. And our needs improvement stayed the same at 4% and our failing stayed the same at 2%. So 98% of the students that passed the test at first attempt. And only 4 that could not. We had 94% that scored proficient or higher (inaudible). Look at this, in that 256-258 score we have 56 students. All they need is one or two more questions answered correctly and they’re in advanced. So we’re not that far off. We’re just about there. So that’s the data we need to look at.”
Keep in mind, the 2% of kids who failed the test amounted to a total of 5 kids. These were more than likely the kids who lived near Webster, got suspended a lot, didn’t read, didn’t study, didn’t do their homework, and could care less about the MCAS. As a teacher you have absolutely no control over their ability to improve because it’s really up to the student and the student’s parents to make sure their kid stops fucking around in class. If they don’t listen in class or study for tests they’re not going to pass. Yet teachers are somehow responsible when they fail because the only thing principals care about is bar graphs.
One thing I learned as a teacher is that if I looked out into the classroom and I saw bored, uninvolved faces, I needed to switch up what I was doing or I was going to lose them. High school administrators don’t have this ability. There isn’t a single person in that crowd that was actually paying attention to a word she was saying. They were all there because they had to be there to get paid. The sad part is that these days really could’ve been used for teachers to collaborate, share lesson plans, talk about strategies and stuff that worked for them. Ya know things that could actually help kids learn. But instead we sat and listened to Mary Pierangeli read bar graphs to us for hours on end while I thought about all the ways I could kill myself.
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