Eff This, Eff That! Eff It All!

We should be grateful that Clement Moore lived in the 19th century when certain language was not to be uttered in impolite company not to speak of polite company. Coarse, vulgar, obscene language has become the norm by which our society expresses itself.

Grumpy Old Teacher wasn’t really using–um–strong language in the title. The J key is broken on his keyboard. Yep, GOT is going with that and will stick to it even as he hunts for the naughty wink emoji.

But when the New York Times published an article about a school district in Pennsylvania that disciplined a 9th-grade adolescent for expressing her disappointment about being relegated to the cheerleading junior varsity squad with a Snapchat post that dropped the F-bomb with school, cheer, softball, and everything, it brought to mind these famous lines and how they might be rewritten today:

“Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer and Vixen! On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen! To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall! Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!

(A Visit from Saint Nicholas, Clement Clarke Moore.)

The issue is the First Amendment, outdated precedents regarding how protected student speech is, differing rulings by Courts of Appeal, and the need for the Supreme Court to sort it out.

Given our times of social media, cyberbullying, threats of school violence, sexting, and the resulting mental health issues that include a disturbing increase in suicide, school systems need to monitor what children say when they are not on campus. Many threats of violence are detected over the weekend via social media monitoring and headed off before Monday. Cyberbullying is a serious problem and, like everything else that involves the safety and welfare of children, we look to our schools as the government agency to take care of it.

However, given the nature of adolescence, the late development of the cerebral cortex that checks impulses, it is often the case that teenagers will express themselves inappropriately in moments of anguish, despair, or upset. It is the adults who need to have the maturity to sort out real threats from the hyperbolic “I’m going to kill him/her!” that we all have uttered at least once in our lifetimes.

Often, adolescent angst, high moments of extreme passion, and other normal developmental events pass soon after the triggering event. Far too often, it is the overreaction of adults that takes a minor concern and escalates it into a major crisis.

In this case, the disappointment of a 9th-grader resulted in a moment of exclamation that used obscene language. She issued no threats, she bullied no one, she sent no inappropriate pictures. Does the language justify school discipline?

GOT says no. While students may have curtailed First Amendment speech rights, they do not lack them entirely. Schools may regulate and suppress speech that would cause a disruption to learning and speech that involves lewdness. But let’s be real. In our society today, dropping an eff bomb is not lewd speech. The word has taken on a great number of meanings, including the sense of “I’m done with this.”

That’s all this student did. She expressed her disappointment and, in the moment, said she was done. She didn’t care anymore. That speech ought to be protected even if most of the time it is ephemeral and dissolves in the fresh breeze of a new day.

In moments like this, in his classroom or in the hallway, GOT has had moments of temporary deafness. When another student says to him, “Did you hear that?!” GOT responds, “Sorry, I was thinking about something else and I missed it.”

GOT does not tolerate inappropriate language in his classroom, but the heavy hand of school discipline is not the way to handle infractions. Once, a student tossed a comment about someone’s effing jacket. GOT response: “I didn’t know clothing could do that.” After the student thought about it, he laughed. “You’re right.”

Standard of behavior reinforced. No discipline needed.

Are you listening, Mahanoy Area School District (Pennsylvania?)

Minority Report

In 2002, the movie Minority Report featured a plot where a special police unit used prognosticators, humans with special powers to foresee the future, to identify future murderers and stop the crimes before they are committed.

Science Fiction Law -- Still Reeling: Minority Report, Sixteen Years Later
Just a work of science fiction, right? No one would actually try this, oh wait …

“The Pasco Sheriff’s Office keeps a secret list of kids it thinks could “fall into a life of crime” based on factors like whether they’ve been abused or gotten a D or an F in school, according to the agency’s internal intelligence manual.” (Tampa Bay Times, November 19, 2020. You can read the full story here.)

As of November, there were 420 children on the list of future criminals.

Only the Sheriff’s Office knows who they are; no one else, not the superintendent, not the principals of the schools, not even the Florida Department of Children and Families, whose confidential data is being scraped in addition to grades and discipline records from the school system.

A few years back, Lauren Moril (Macon, Georgia) penned these words later used by Kayla Chadwick in a HuffPost piece (often misattributed to other people): I don’t know how to explain to someone why they should care about other people.

If you are not outraged by the Pasco Sheriff’s Office in using grade, discipline, background data such as trauma, confidential data from state agencies in ways that violate federal and state privacy laws, I don’t know how to explain to you why you should be. Stop reading.

In education, we know the power of expectations. Children, in general, rise or fall to the level of expectations we hold for them.

In this Winter Break of no break, Grumpy Old Teacher has already held three two-hour-long tutoring sessions online. The exultation of a student exclaiming yes! when he has worked out the answer to a problem on his own when he has been struggling for a long time … the past is not prologue (to argue with the Bard) unless we make it so.

GOT believes in his students. If they are willing to put in the work, they will find success and he will give them the assist that they need until they are doing it on their own.

The self-fulfilling nature of prophecy is what makes Pasco’s practice so disturbing. Labeling children as future criminals and making that known to school resource officers … they can try to explain it away as identifying youth in need of extra support, but we know how that really works out.

What they have said is, “Keep an eye on these ones. Act swiftly as needed.”

And 2020 has taught us, as if we didn’t know, that law enforcement seldom reacts with resources and support.

Many in Florida are already aware of this Pasco County Sheriff’s Office policy. But GOT wonders if the rest of the nation knows.

The scary sci-fi ‘this will become your future’ is here. Naturally, it would be Florida (we sometimes call it ‘Flori-DUH’) that would take the lead. After all, we gave the nation third-grade retention, school report cards, and vouchers for religious schools as policies to emulate.

GOT doesn’t work in Pasco County. But if he did, knowing this, he probably would never assign a grade below C or write a referral again.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Subtitle: Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, Has No Plan to Vaccinate Essential Workers

What else would you expect from the man who follows the ramblings of Scott Atlas, who invited him to Florida to tour the state while proclaiming that basic health measures were unnecessary in a runaway pandemic and that there was little risk to the general population?

What else would you expect from the man with such little respect for democracy and the vote of the citizens of other states that he advocated that his party simply dispense with the state-certified electors and substitute their own?

What else would you expect from the man who demands that the state run a full economy, that Floridians needlessly expose themselves to sickness, long-term disabilities, and death so that the world will return to Disney World?

There will be no mask mandates, no restaurant restrictions, no bar closings, whatever and woe to any local government, county or city, that tries to impose their own. The governor has ordered them unenforceable.

In related news, Disney has announced that they will lay-off 28,000 employees at their theme parks, with 18,000 of those in Orlando. That’s one in every seven. In 2021, perhaps another 4,000 workers will lose their jobs.

But the geographically-challenged governor is not fazed by such news as he says that most of the lay-offs are in California and takes an ideological shot at another governor by claiming that the lay-offs come from the California lockdowns ordered there.

There will be no vaccine in Whoville. After all, Cindy Lou Who is too young to catch it, according to the Grinch logic of Governor DeSantis.

Ron DeSantis couldn’t be more wrong about the lay-offs. It seems that Florida’s refusal to take basic measures to control the viral spread has left the world unwilling to visit. The economic hit, which the Governor also refuses to acknowledge as he draws down reserves to pretend that all is well, is coming in the new year.

New teachers had better not spend those famous $5,000 to 6,000 raises in minimum starting pay. The claw-back negotiations will begin in the spring.

For that matter, the state legislature did not provide the funding for the $47,500 salary touted by the governor. As contract bargaining draws to a close in Florida’s school districts, the actual numbers are falling short.

For Florida’s Grinch, it matters not. He cavorts at high-school football games, maskless, with his children in tow, even as stories of teachers dying from Covid-19 spread across the state: here, here, and here, for example.

Despite the call of the Florida Educators Association for teachers, designated front-line and essential workers–even the governor has acknowledged such as he has insisted that teachers must work from reopened school buildings–to receive priority in vaccination plans, the governor plans to do no such thing.

He will ignore the guidance of the CDC and do what he wants. After all, he has a re-election campaign coming and he has had to have taken notice of his poll numbers. He has become one of the most unpopular governors in the nation; his handling of the pandemic receives especial disapprobation as more than 50% of Floridians are disapproving of his performance in regards to the virus and in his determination and forcing children back to school.

But the governor must figure that he will win the votes of Florida’s retirees as they are the only ones who will receive the vaccine for some time to come. But they will have to hope that their medical needs will not be severe because those who come to their aid will not be vaccinated.

It’s a plot worthy of the Grinch. However, the story will end differently for Ron DeSantis, holed up in the Executive Mansion, is unable to hear the singing of the villagers. His heart isn’t capable of growing three sizes or at all.

And he wonders why people call him DeathSantis.

If you don’t believe that, you must read up on Florida’s broken unemployment system and the governor’s refusal to meet the requirements for the federally-provided $300 unemployment benefit. We don’t have the resources, he says, and rather than hearing a call to action, he scraps the program.

There will be no Christmas for a desperate state wanting its workers protected: EMTs, police, firefighters, teachers, grocery store workers, and more. Grinch DeSantis will keep the vaccine from them even as he insists that they risk infection each day they report to work.

Is It the Winter Break or the Crack-Up?

Dear Superintendent,

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) appreciated your latest missive. He really did, even though he has seen from the beginning that there is no TEAM in Duval. The letters don’t work no matter how hard he tries to anagram them.

It’s not an advantage to hard-working teachers dealing with an overwhelming number of Ds and Fs in the gradebook (knowing that you will soon be asking principals how they called those teachers onto the carpet) to hear that our year is done and celebration is in order.

There is no ‘gleeful’ locking of the doors and shutdown of the laptop for GOT. The fall was hard and there were too many quarantines of students. The surgical approach does not work. We teachers found ourselves teaching half a class too often with no means of simultaneously reaching the quarantined students. Zero after zero …

What do you want, Ms. Superintendent? I could go on break and fail them all or I could work over the break to offer them the opportunity to recover the learning and pass.

Hysterical reaction to ice skater who falls through ice in Amsterdam -  YouTube
Memories.

GOT is not alone.

Like many others, he will be conducting tutoring sessions via Microsoft Teams for the students who need to talk with their teacher, share their screens with their make-up assignments, and work through the learning.

Like Seinfeld’s famous Soup Nazi, “NO BREAK FOR ME!”

(Although GOT will not miss the ridiculous COVID questionnaire that teachers must answer each day. ‘Have you had contact with anyone sick in the last FOURTEEEN days?’ I told you yesterday that I did not. Why do you ask me again? Do you think I lied and you might catch me out?)

#teacher problems.

#youcoulddomuchtochangeit.

Are we on a break or is that break merely the ice cracking beneath our feet?

Decades ago, when GOT was a teenager, he was skating on a pond. It was so cold that winter that kids were skating on the adjacent stream that was frozen over. GOT was adventurous, so he joined them and went further and further along the stream until … you know how this story ends. The ice got too thin and he fell into the water.

That’s 2020. That’s what school has been like for our students. Many remained on the pond and had success. Some did not, but that happens every year.

Some took the riskier route: staying at home on that creek. While many did not stray from the thick ice and did okay, too many found themselves over the thin ice and fell through.

For you, my dear Superintendent, that’s an intellectual exercise about test scores and learning options and calling kids back to the pond.

Because, you know, the data, the test scores, and all that goes with it is all that matters.

GOT disagrees. He remembers how hard it was to learn how to really ice skate: how to balance on top of the skates, how to strengthen the muscles to support the ankles, how to learn the moves to execute turns, jumps, and spins …

That takes real learning. If all you care about is the judges’ scores, you will never make 10s. You will never understand that’s not the point of skating or anything else.

For too many of GOT’s students, the ice is cracking under their feet. They are capable of producing beautiful things, but first, we have to get them onto the pond, the solid ice.

Young George saves his brother's life!!! | Wonderful life movie, What a  wonderful life, Its a wonderful life
The rescue cost George his hearing in one of his ears. Yeah, I’m going with that, Superintendent. Your talk about test scores is going into my bad ear.

That means disregarding test scores. That means doing the minimum to satisfy the state. All they need is one, GOT repeats ONE, mid-year checkup. Not the extra testing that you ordered when you arrived.

You don’t get it. You think you do, but you do not.

We ask too much too soon.

As a math teacher, kids arrive in my classroom knowing that even if they ‘passed’ the FSA, they don’t know a thing.

Nothing haunts me more than seeing the light go out of children’s eyes, as they despair of ever understanding what they are asked to do, as misery washes across their faces, and they give up as they lay their faces down on the desks.

So GOT works over the break. Will he crack up? GOT is old and has learned to endure. He is not so sure about his teenage students.

Most of his ‘teaching’ these days is talking with students and giving them hope that if they try, they will succeed.

But you know what, my dear Superintendent? That’s not in the standards. I can’t write that on my whiteboard as the key to success. But that is what it takes.

Inspection! And the door opens, and 6 to 10 district officials walk in the door. (Spare me your pious platitudes about observing Covid protocols when you violate the social distancing–don’t crowd the space–rules.)

GOT doesn’t get a winter break. If you want to give it to him, my dear Superintendent, call off your dogs. Stop the inspections.

When school starts up in January, GOT will have 35 Algebra 2 students in a face-to-face class. That is an increase from 27. Those extra 8 students were doing poorly at home. GOT has been working with his despairing students and just getting them to hope again. For success, he has to have the time for one-on-one learning.

Crowding the classrooms–you are condemning children to failure. No teacher has the time to give every student the help they need with those class sizes.

My dear Superintendent, you say you relish the time you finally have to reflect on how things are going. May you add GOT’s thoughts into your thinking.

Because if you don’t, they will become your nightmare.

To Camera or Not to Camera

Ah, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler to suffer peering into student homes and what may be found there, or the agonies of looking at profile pics while wondering if the children are really there …

Recently, the excellent researcher and blogger, Mercedes Schneider, published a piece about her district utilizing the meeting feature that Google offers, Google Meets. It is a video conferencing feature similar to Zoom, Canvas, or Microsoft Teams. You can read it here: Liability, Thy Name is Google Meets.

The piece set Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) musing about his practices because his Florida district, who married Microsoft decades ago and a divorce will never happen, has from the beginning (not even a year ago) of distance learning directed teachers to conduct classes via Teams meetings.

GOT may be violating some kind of blogging rule that no one ever writes about something someone else published, but his response will take too many words to use the comment section of social media.

GOT isn’t too fussed about the liability issue that arises from the mandatory reporter requirement of state laws. If he sees something that would endanger the health or welfare of a child, oh yeah, he’s going to report it. It’s no different from overhearing a conversation in the classroom about what’s going on in the home.

GOT is fussed about the privacy issue that arises from teacher surveillance of students at home. Do school districts have the right to peer inside a home? How does that square with the Fourth Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Another important issue is the age of secondary students, the ones that many ed bloggers teach: middle and high, generally ages 11 to 18. Adolescents are incredibly sensitive to being viewed, including how they are dressed, how they perceive their bodies, what’s in the background, whether they have positive feelings about the people they live with or are in the ‘how embarrassing are they? Imma gonna die, amiright, amiright?’ stage.

GOT allows his students to keep the cameras off. If they check out of the class and many of his students are, that soon shows up in a failure to complete assignments and a phone call to the parent is in order. That GOT struggles to find the time he needs for those phone calls because of all the usual nonsensical, time-wasting demands of districts is an issue for another blog post.

A camera-on approach will not solve many of the problems of online teaching. One student does no work. He’s not going to. He wants to come to the campus, but his parents will not allow it. He is failing all of his classes in his private war to force his parents into allowing him to leave his house. (He will win. In the Florida governor’s latest order, students with low or failing grades must return to the campus in 2021.)

When GOT has to administer district assessments (how they gonna score on the test? The test! The all-important, almighty, came to Earth with the manna test!), by district policy, he must make the students turn their cameras on.

It’s not a complete disaster. GOT relishes the moment when he can see his beautiful/handsome students as they are today versus the 6th-grade ID pictures he usually sees.

But how does a teacher handle what are not reportable issues, but nevertheless sabotage a student’s ability to focus and learn?

December brings assessment whatever a district might call it: progress monitoring (as if we only do it midyear,) a scrimmage (are we teaching children or coaching a football team?!), check-up (are they sick?), etc.

With the cameras on, GOT saw one student whose parent constantly interacted with the child, danced with a pre-school toddler in the background, and otherwise kept the student from focusing on the task. GOT almost called the parent to tell her to stop it.

Maybe he should have. Or maybe he shouldn’t have been seeing it in the first place.

Microsoft Teams allows students to blur their background (not very effective, some tried) or to choose a background against which only GOT would see their face. That would solve the issue of students leaving a class meeting.

It won’t solve the problem of engagement.

It’s like cheating. GOT has to make his students turn the cameras on so he can watch them and make sure they aren’t cheating. But how?

GOT is a math teacher. Students have to work their problems out on paper and then enter the answer into the computer. If they don’t, they are only guessing and that results in poor scores. But when they look down, GOT has no idea what they are looking at. Are they doing the work on paper or are they using their phone to cheat?

The answer (of course) is to give tests that render cheating useless. But districts don’t do that. They have one purpose and that is to predict how well a student will do on the state test. Standardized tests by their nature are subject to gaming and cheating.

The complete irony of the whole situation is that the Common Core standards were promoted as making students delve deep into really understanding. Then the tests were written for efficient scoring (thus the standardization.) It’s easy to cheat if one has the opportunity, which is why Florida denies parent choice for the home environment when it comes to the almighty, all-important test. The children must report to campus.

The Biden Cabinet

There is a balm in Gilead to make a nation whole; there is a balm in Gilead to heal our stricken souls.

Sometimes, we feel discouraged and think our work’s in vain; what will revive our spirits and save our schools again?

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded strong; there is a balm in Gilead for which we all do long.

If you can’t preach like Diane; if you can’t write at all; just love America’s children and help them grow to be tall.

There is a balm in Gilead that lifts us all to dream; there is a balm in Gilead that makes us hope of … a much better Secretary of Education than the country has yet seen.

For the purpose of this post, that balm is the incoming Biden administration and its promise to appoint a real teacher to be U.S. Secretary of Education.

Many names are thrown out for the President-elect to consider as he chooses the people who will assist him in carrying out policy and administering the vast machinery known as the federal government.

Grumpy Old Teacher has no interest in vetting names and opining (as if he has a stellar record of hiring across his career. Spoiler alert: GOT can mentor and develop talent, but he is no good at making hiring decisions.) Rather, let’s discuss the qualities and characteristics we need in the next person to take up the post.

  1. Education experience, real, authentic, long-time, classroom-based. Those who ran through a classroom and spent the least amount of time needed to qualify to climb their career ladder should not be considered. We need a real educator who has spent ten years or more actually teaching children every day of every year. Without that, no appointee can remember, empathize, and know on a fundamental level the challenges that present themselves in the nation’s schools.
  2. Aversion to test-based accountability systems that confuse scores with learning. Experienced teachers, those who resist and those who do not, know how the standardized testing of their state can be gamed. Those who bother to study actual research that looks at scores and backgrounds knows that test scores correlate most strongly with income levels.
  3. Respect for school-based personnel. Anyone who pushes improvement plans through their district because they do not believe that teachers know what they are doing, they have to be forced to teach the right way, and that their years of preparation and experience are not to be respected should have their resume thrown in the trash. This rules out most superintendents who bought into the nonsense that high-stakes testing is all that matters.
  4. Debt forgiveness. Frankly, if someone has never forgiven a personal debt but insists upon being paid every last penny without fail, they lack the compassion needed to administer immense debt programs that still struggle to sort out the fraud inflicted upon vulnerable people from legitimate collection.
  5. Personal integrity. How about someone who once was fired from a job because they stuck up for what they believed to be right?
  6. Abandonment for play. How about a US Sec. of Ed. who threw out the agenda for a school visit because they sat down outside with the school children and spent the entire time playing?
Comic Art | Calvin and hobbes, Calvin and hobbes comics, Happy memes
After they pass, you never get those years back.

7. Thirst for righteousness and a fierce desire to right past wrongs. We need a Secretary of Education who will restore and beef up the Civil Rights division of the department and will wage war upon the discriminatory patterns of education wherever they are found.

8. Insistence upon accountability for all who insist upon the privilege of education our young. This is not a call to maintain phony-baloney programs like teacher VAM, which has been soundly denounced and debunked by statisticians, but a call for charter and voucher schools to face the same requirements and auditing that public school systems undergo.

9. Humility. Someone who doesn’t hold themselves to be better than those they will serve; someone who is willing to reexamine beliefs and prejudices in the light of contrary evidence. Someone who can admit that they don’t know it all, thereby avoiding making dumb comments about schools having guns in case of a grizzly bear attack.

With someone like this serving in the Biden cabinet to represent education, there will indeed be a balm in Washington to heal our souls.

Gaslighting

It’s time for teachers to speak up (they have been.) It’s time for teachers to assert their expertise in knowing how children learn and how to deliver instruction to accomplish that learning (they have been.) It’s time for teachers to insist upon their expertise as content, learning, and child development experts that qualify them as the ones to determine what to teach and how to do it (they have been.)

It is also time for district leaders up to and including superintendents to stop telling teachers that they are not teaching the standards, their instruction does not align, they are not doing assessment properly or at the right time; time for these people to stop sending messages, explicitly and implicitly, that teachers are not up to the job of teaching, that they are unprepared to be in the classroom, and that teachers must be shown and forced to do their job the right way.

We call this gaslighting.

The classic movie gave us the word.

Long-time teachers watch superintendents, their regimes, and their programs come and go. Each new one starts their new improvement program, the latest and greatest thing that will finally get the lackluster district to the top of the pack in student achievement.

Yet, as their tenure ends, the new leader and regime comes along and questions everything that teachers are doing and yet, teachers are doing what the last people said was the correct way–every other way is wrong.

Once again, teachers are gaslighted as they are told nope, nope, nope, they have it all wrong and the new people really, really, really know how it should be done.

Eventually, like a Methodist congregation that doesn’t like the new preacher, teachers realize that eventually the superintendent and staff will move on. Wait it out and hope the next one is better.

The average tenure for an urban superintendent is about five years. The turn in fortunes usually comes about three years into the superintendency when the school board begins to turn a more critical eye upon the performance of the district.

But even under a new regime, the gaslighting goes on. How does this happen?

Gaslighting takes place in the workplace as well as relationships.

It starts by demanding that teachers have to write a standard on their whiteboard every day, word for word, leaving nothing out, because otherwise they won’t pay attention to what they are supposed to teach. Never mind the fact that many standards have numerous concepts involved and a lesson can only focus on one at a time, each and every word must be on that whiteboard.

It follows-up by saying that the standard is on the board, but the teacher’s lesson is not in alignment. The standard might say teach students the distance formula, but the lesson is on Pythagorean Theorem. But the distance formula is derived from the Pythagorean Theorem. The savvy teacher knows that the students in the room were advanced in mathematics during middle school, missed the course where the Pythagorean Theorem was taught, and that students now must learn it before they can understand what the distance formula is.

Oh, those learning arcs! Does that mean a teacher is free to remediate as needed or is constrained by district snarls that students already learned that and they should stop teaching it?

What is a learning arc? It means the vertical alignment of standards from year to year that build upon previous learning. Teachers are gaslighted when they are told the kids already know that when teachers have realized that they don’t.

Gaslighting goes on during professional development sessions. Teachers are told to stop choosing learning tasks because that is what children need to learn. They must unpack the standard to find out what learning tasks they should choose.

Do not match tasks to standards. And yet, in recent professional development sessions, principals were asked to do that very thing and then to take the exercise back to their teachers. Can you match the tasks to the standards?

It wasn’t easy. Gaslighting! Was the point of the exercise to make everyone feel stupid and they don’t know what they are supposed to do?

Gaslighting extends to assessment. Every lesson should end with some kind of assessment. But GOT asks why? Some lessons need more than one day. Hard concepts need multiple presentations, multiple work sessions, and multiple tasks until students pierce through to the understanding. Why assess after the first presentation? The students are not ready.

Understand that this is not a neutral process. Children do not have the maturity to realize that assessment is premature and the results are meaningless. They internalize their failure and shut down. Teaching and learning becomes much more difficult.

Gaslighting takes place because of the test score obsession of district leaders. All that matters is squeezing high scores out of our young. What happened to understanding the development stages that children pass through? Gone, forgotten, a school, scratch that, a district that gets the coveted A grade and the bragging rights that go with it, does not achieve that through utilizing the work of people like Piaget, Robertson, and Vygotsky to engage children in appropriate learning activities, but through endless test prep.

Last of the gas lamp tenders: PSE&G employee minds a small flock - nj.com

Gaslighting. You think this is normal, but it is not. Teachers are made to doubt themselves, but they should not. Parents are made to worry about how high the score will be, but they should not. It carries on by asserting that only the high upon high (hello, sixth floor!) knows. They do not.

It is time for the gaslighting in education to end.

Down in the Weeds

Soil Types And Weeds - How To Tell Which Soil You Have By The Weeds
It’s not a pretty picture. But that’s where growth takes place.

Gardeners will tell you that the definition of a weed is a plant that grows in a place where a human does not want it to. They also curse many weeds because weeds are tough, their roots grip the soil, and they don’t give up easily. Many weeds will grow back from the slightest bit of root left in the soil. Others spread underground and pop up in the unlikeliest of places. When we get down in the weeds, we find education hanging on, despite the best efforts of many humans to pull it out, burn it up, and eradicate the last vestiges of child development in favor of an award gained through a committee putting marks on a scorecard a/k/a annual state standardized testing.

The fight between weeds and the herbicidal gardener is ongoing, everchanging, and eternal.

The fight between those who insist on growing and being what they determine and those who want to say, “Sorry, but that’s not what we had in mind for you.”

The fight between teachers who are child development experts and know how to enhance that process and those who say, “But that’s not on the test. That won’t show up in test scores. That won’t help a school grade. Dammit, you’re going to make me look bad.”

Down in the weeds, we find district administrators still insisting on teacher evaluations, classroom walkthroughs, and interim testing as if a pandemic wasn’t raging through the world. Teachers don’t need to spend time identifying who is quarantined, how those students can learn at home via instructional videos and alternate assignments, contacting parents, and the like; they need to make sure they wrote the current day’s standard on the board word for word leaving nothing out. Administrators are tasked to visit classrooms to document if the standard is on the board, if the lesson adheres to the standard, if the teacher is being compliant or really implementing district micromanagement of the classroom, and if teachers are every day assessing student learning on that standard in a meaningful way that is documented.

Down in the weeds, a blight is destroying the crop, but the gardeners are singing about the end of the world and they feel fine.

Districts don’t trust school leaders, either. Down in the weeds, they are using technology to time how long administrators are staying in classrooms to do all of the above. Only unions are standing between that nonsense and high-tech surveillance of teachers.

Down in the weeds, districts are still conducting testing, sorting the results, teacher by teacher, and leaning on principals to do something about the teachers whose results they don’t like.

What the hell is wrong with them?

They don’t have enough teachers to fill their classrooms, but they think bare soil is preferable to anything green that will grow. But the world awaits the first announcement of success of anyone who grew anything over the internet. The virtual world is not the real world.

A lot goes on down in the weeds. Bacteria, bugs, and wind spread disease. The gardeners either think they have the blight beaten or that it won’t get worse.

But Thanksgiving is coming. The most family-gathering holiday of the year.

None of this will matter soon. The blight is real. Down in the weeds, the garden will be closed.

Do not despair. That is when weeds flourish.

Your children will be okay.

The Last Word Belongs to Covid

The rumors grow more solid and it appears that Florida’s pathetically peripatetic pandemic Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, also affectionately known as King Richard, will order an end to remote learning, thereby removing a choice from parents that many parents want.

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From Speaker of the House
to Lord of the Privy.

Children will go back to their school campuses in January or Florida’s school districts will be forced to relinquish their enrollment to Florida Virtual School.

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is not prepared for a massive influx on new students should parents be unwilling to send their children back to campus. They couldn’t handle the demand in August and many, many children and their parents went without any schooling as they waited to begin FLVS.

But those messy details of how anyone actually provides education to children has never bothered the king before and it seems it won’t stop him now.

It’s the power of the budget, an idea borrowed from the Federal Government and applied Florida-style.

School Boards are the constitutional officers who have the power to make the decisions for their school systems, including the learning options offered to parents. But they rely upon the state for funding. The state can force decisions upon school boards by tying their funding to school boards obeying state orders.

Thus, King Richard will dictate the choices that school boards can offer parents.

To be fair, he has a point. In-person learning is far superior to online learning. Teachers know that. Teachers know how long it takes to present a lesson online, how it is hard to get the necessary interaction with students that sparks the learning process, how kids don’t talk but try to do an assignment on their own no matter the hours that they have to put in … certainly, it is best for children to be in the classroom.

But then, the pandemic continues and builds to a new crescendo in its third surge. 110,000 new cases a day, far higher than the spring and summer peaks … it’s not slowing down. Schools are having to close and quarantine students and staff.

The surgical approach is not working. Go ahead and quarantine a teacher and 33% of a class for exposure to a positive case. What does the other 67% of the class do when they sit in a classroom with no teacher?

Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) colleague returned from quarantine yesterday. GOT asked her how she taught her five in-person classes from home. She utilized the online platform! Because there were no student computers available, she had the students watch and listen on their phones!

It didn’t work well. This anecdote reveals that the online option will not be terminated with a state order for all students to report to campus. It will merely make school more chaotic.

Despite Corcoran’s thinking that he can order the disease to behave and put all children back on campus, Covid will have the last word.

Or parents, the parents who don’t want their children in FLVS or on the campus. They want their children’s regular teachers to deliver instruction as best as possible given the circumstances. Everyone understands that less will be accomplished, but also that these times will not last forever.

Children have a remarkable ability to make up what they missed … if they are motivated. The current school environment of standardized testing and all that entails leaves them unmotivated. But that’s a topic for another post.

Once December arrives, post-Thanksgiving and all the new infections that will occur, it is doubtful that schools can remain open under any circumstances.

Despite the Commissioner’s orders, it seems that he still has a Covid problem.

If GOT had the skills, he would superimpose Corcoran’s face on top of Snape’s.

I Confess: I’m a Socialist

Recently, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) was reading a piece by Peter Greene of Curmudgucation fame that mentioned the old canard of how teachers are indoctrinating students in the classroom to their wild-eyed, unbrushed hair, manic presentation of socialism as the ONLY ism that works.

His take? “Like teachers have time for that.”

Actually, GOT does have time for that. He is a math teacher and mathematics is full of socialism. Every math teacher every day is indoctrinating students in the idea that people should receive equal treatment regardless of merit.

You don’t believe GOT? Consider Distributive Property: a (b + c) = (a x b) + (a x c).

Actually, that is a mathematical property that says no matter how many terms (things we are adding) that are inside the parentheses: a (b + c + d + … + z) = (a x b) + (a x c) + (a x d) + … + (a x z), we will do the same thing to each one.

Everything inside the parentheses is receiving the same distribution of ‘a’ benefits. We don’t ask if they earned it, we don’t ask if they merit it, they just get it. Socialism: everyone is treated the same.

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Oprah had nothing on math teachers. Everybody gets an ‘a’.

Or consider the properties of equality. Any equation states that one thing is equal to another. To maintain that equality, whatever we add, subtract, multiply, or divide to one side of the equation we must do to the other side. Equality must be maintained.

Don’t ask about 2x – 4 = 5x -20 and whether the addition of 4 to the left should be matched by the addition of 4 to the right. Mathematics does not allow you to ask that. We MUST BE EQUAL. Whatever happens to one must happen for all. Socialism!

What about transitive property? If a = b and b = c, then a has to equal c because a and c equal b. In other words, it doesn’t matter if a and c aren’t identical much as people come with different demographics. No matter how we organize the statistics, every number is the same as the others. Disgusting, right? But that’s mathematics.

Yes, you were right all along, flat-earthers, faux libertarians, and <censored because politics is too hot to be mentioned.>

Betsy Devos? You had our number all along, didn’t you? OMG, the equality! The socialism being taught in public school classrooms!

But don’t think we are waiting for the secondary grade levels (middle and high) to work our evil. We start early, we < censored, but insert your favorite swear word> mathematics teachers.

It starts with division. What is 24 divided by 6? That simple arithmetic problem means we are taking 24 things and giving them equally to six groups. Every group gets four.

Some groups don’t deserve it. They are lazy. Some parade grievances over past treatment and refuse to be a part of the great system of mathematics. Some will freeload as long as they can get away with it.

But we math teachers say each group gets the same. That other stuff doesn’t matter.

Mathematics: the original socialism! Oh, the horror! Oh, the threat to our great country! The only answer is to stop teaching it. After all, no one needs math to count their guns.

Or do they?

[BTW (By the way), for those who didn’t figure out that this is satire, yes it’s satire.]