One Mil or Another

Like many school districts in Florida (20 and counting by the referendums on the 2022 ballot), Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) school district is asking voters to approve a voluntary, additional tax on their property to fund the school system.

It’s one mil or one-one thousandth (.001) of the taxable property value. To put it in context, for every $1,000 of property value, it’s an additional dollar. For GOT’s district, that money will go to fund increases in teacher salaries (65% of revenue), support personnel wages (10%), arts and sports (12.5%), and yes, it’s required in Florida, a hand-off of revenue to charter schools (12.5%).

While some play the numbers game (GOT fondly remembers a vacuum cleaner salesman explaining how his product only costs pennies a day, but doing the math and it added up to hundreds of dollars in one year) by saying that an owner of a $125,000 home would only pay $8.33 a month, still that’s $100 a year. (If you’re doing the math in your head, Florida has a homestead deduction of the first $25,000 of property value for a home before the tax is applied.)

Because property owners pay their tax bill once every year, not every month, the cited figure is appreciable. But the typical home price in the district is around $314,000 and the impact of one additional mil would be more like $25 a month or $300 a year.

In these difficult times of inflation, soaring property values, and recession-on-the-horizon, it’s not hard to understand that this time around the voters may be reluctant to approve additional support for their school system that would ordinarily be a slam-dunk win. The timing is also unstrategic as voters will begin early voting in another week or go to the polls in three weeks in this month of August when the projected property tax bills with all the increases will arrive in the mail.

Based upon gripes GOT has seen on social media, many people do not understand that school boards in Florida do not benefit from increases in property values. The state forces millage reductions every year to stop that. As an illustration, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund developed this graphic:

3.2 or 5.4? Read on.

The declining millage rate … or is it? The School Board recently voted on this year’s millage rate and set it to 5.4% as the state forced a 0.4% reduction. How do we explain the discrepancy?

Twitter to the rescue. GOT raised the question recently, tagged the school system, and here’s the exchange:

A school board budget is complex, filled with mandates, both unfunded and restricted, that come from state and federal laws. The advantage to having a public school system (not a faux version as in charter schools) is that everything is available to the public even if no one wants to spend month after month digesting 100 pages plus of financial disclosures that take place at every board meeting.

School districts can’t just move funds around on the board like a chess player does. If they are to have additional money to raise teacher salaries to make a dent in the accelerating exodus of personnel, localities are going to have to agree to tax themselves. The state government is quite uninterested in providing competent, credentialed teachers for public schools. But teachers are finding that private industry values their skills, is willing to pay them higher salaries, and won’t require 24/7 availability or even that they purchase their own office supplies.

Yet, GOT hears what people are saying. These are tough times as inflation threatens to break into double digits. They would like to provide better salaries to teachers, but everyone is hurting.

GOT can’t tell people what to do about the referendum. But he will share a story from his past, a time when he wasn’t a teacher. GOT spent a few years being a preacher.

The salary was abysmal even worse than a teacher. What was doubly delicious was that the church was exempt from paying Social Security taxes, which meant that GOT had to cover both the employee and the employer’s burden that came to 15.3% of income every year. Because the church provided a home and utilities, GOT had to add in the fair market value of that into his annual IRS calculation of how much that 15.3% would be applied to.

To keep the number simple, say GOT was making 25 grand in salary. But the housing and utilities was valued at an extra 15 grand a year. For paying the Social Security tax, that meant 15.3% of 40,000. OUCH! It was a struggle.

Then occasionally (and we’re getting to the point), the church people would complain about the services they were paying for. “Why should we pay to mow your lawn? No one does that for us.”

GOT always cheerfully replied, “No problem. I will happily mow the lawn and take care of the grounds. But that will require at least one-half day a week, a time that I now spend preparing sermons and lessons, going to hospitals, conducting funerals, visiting, and praying for you. You decide. What do you want me to do?”

Inevitably, the people stopped complaining. That’s where we are with the referendum. A teacher’s salary is not enough for them to live on and provide for their families. The State of Florida is not sending any more money. What do you, the voters, want from teachers?

If you choose to vote down the referendum, you accept the fact that teachers may have to take on second jobs (not only in the summer but during the school year). Their availability will decrease. They cannot spend 10 hours a day as a professional would do to meet all obligations as they have to make it to Denny’s for the 4 to 11 PM shift.

What do you want? If you want teachers available for after-school conferences, if you want them to spend their evenings grading papers and updating the online gradebook, if you want phone calls returned and emails answered within 24 hours, you have to pay them enough so they don’t have to work those second jobs.

If you want them to live in your city or town so they don’t have to spend an hour or more commuting in the morning and again in the evening, you have to pay them enough so they can afford to live among you.

What do you want? Make your choice, but don’t complain about the consequences if teachers, just like you, have to make difficult life choices and move on.

The Lies of Ron DeSantis

Recently, Florida’s Governor was speaking at the Florida Sheriffs Association Summer Conference Awards Banquest when he made a claim that persons who are vaccinated and boosted for Covid-19 are actually more likely to get the disease than those who are not.

In his typical bombastic fashion, the Governor insists that he has analyzed the data and knows what he is talking about. When the flubbering of lips stopped, people wondered what he was referring to.

It seems the Gov is cherry-picking data. One idea is that he was using a CDC-produced graph:

The Joy of Misleading Data. Ignore that black line on top.

The problem with this graph and the other possible source (Walgreen’s reported testing data) is that it is raw data and people who know their stuff (in other words, the experts) warn that no one can draw valid conclusions from raw data. Plus, this is only people 50 and over. Plus, with so much home testing now, any database will be incomplete and biased.

But the Governor is unfazed. His modus operandi (standard operating procedure) is not that he’s the smartest guy in the room; he’s the only smart guy in the room. If the rest of us dumb people would shut up, he would gaslight … er, cough, cough, explain how wrong we are.

Ron DeSantis is on a roll. He is also warning that early education teachers are telling girls to be boys and boys to be girls. To quote the famous Dave Barry, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is not making this up:

Pants on fire.

Here’s a quote: “This will be for elementary school kids where they are instructed to tell them, ‘Well you may have been born a boy that may have what you said, but maybe you’re really a girl’. That is wrong. That has no place in schools,” DeSantis said. “That is happening in our country. Anyone that tells you it’s not happening is lying to you.”

The only one lying here is Ron DeSantis. He has no evidence. If any teacher was actually caught and documented to have said that to children, their employing school district would have removed them from their classroom and terminated them.

It isn’t that DeSantis hates teachers; it’s that he finds them a useful punching bag in his never-ending-culture-war-performance-art-theater for a political base he has almost captured from his godfather.

But could the tide be turning? We’re still a long way out from the 2024 presidential campaign. With these latest lies, DeSantis could be wearing out his act. That bit about the Covid boosters … GOT could be wrong, but he is wondering if we aren’t witnessing the governor jumping the shark.

#hashtag

It’s summer and Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) has been loafing quite a bit. Also, he can barely start a reflection on an issue and a dozen other important things to talk about occur. So here is a random compilation of issues that won’t get the full treatment.

#hireavet: The latest and definitely not-so-greatest idea from Florida’s Department of Education is to issue 5-year temporary teaching certificates to military veterans or their spouses even if they had not earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college. Lots of outrage has ensued, mostly centered around the difference between military and school culture, soldiering vs. teaching, and professional knowledge about how children learn.

GOT agrees with everyone in principle, but these are desperate days. Look down the hallway; there are empty classrooms with 25 to 30 children needing somebody. There aren’t many options and every one of them will require the professional corps of certified teachers to take on something extra be it supporting a long-term sub, taking extra students into their classrooms, or giving up planning periods.

Then there is GOT’s district which came up with this solution: Raise class sizes and wipe out the vacancies. Presto chango, what teacher shortage?

The idea to hire military vets may not be the best idea, but it’s not the dumbest. (Not the least because the vet must have 48 months of service and an honorable discharge, 60 college credits and a 2.5 GPA, and a pass on the Subject Area Exam–in other words, they know their stuff presumably.)

As for qualifications, GOT starts here, whether we’re talking about a veteran, an alt cert teacher, or a graduate from a traditional teacher’s college: Do you like kids?

Anyone who can’t say yes can hit the bricks. Those who can, let’s talk.

#parentalrights: A/k/a, the Don’t Say Gay bill. The Gotterdamerung of public schooling has come to this: parent groups, among whom the most notorious is the group Moms For Liberty (M4L), will monitor classrooms and nail the teachers’ unions and their minions in the indoctrination of children. The latest reports say they will monitor teachers’ social media to catch them out.

Florida parents now have statutory permission to sue school systems if they disagree with something a teacher said in the classroom or they can report the teacher to their employer for discipline.

But how will they know? The problem with groups like M4L is that they don’t have children in the classroom, who will be the only source for naughty teaching. Even parents whose children are in public schools can only make allegations based on hearsay.

Do these people really think teachers are going to cry and fold? Looking forward to the false accusations and the defamation lawsuits. M4L, maybe transfer your assets offshore? Teachers are not going to lay down and take your abuse.

#bookbanning: If you study history, you know this is as American as apple pie, Mom, and Chevrolet. Well, maybe not Chevrolet. Open the hood and identify the parts that were manufactured in America. <Giggle>, if you drive a City Express van like GOT, you know it’s a Nissan that Chevy bolted their nameplate onto. But GOT digresses.

The point is that it’s been tried before. Didn’t work then; won’t work now. (But the van runs with no trouble as it logs 84,000 miles, six years, and counting.)

#CRT: The outrage of 2021, this one has about run its course. The roofer and his ginned-up outrage had fun while it lasted. Most people tried to explain that the actual Critical Race Theory, developed in the 1970s, isn’t actually taught in schools.

That misses the point. If you can stand the bald candor, what the outrage has been about is allowing school children to look at narratives other than the happy slave story. A Birthday Cake for Mr. Washington becomes the approved curriculum.

Woe to those who disagree.

#Groomer: For his next trick, the roofer will convince you that Mrs. McGuffin, your dowager kindergarten teacher, with her lilac-scented eau de toilette and mid-20th century English dress, is turning your kid much as a vampire might suck out their blood until they go <ahem> … rogue.

#Ukraine: While Florida digested teacher reports of indoctrination by their Department of Education via summer Civics seminars, news came out of Russia that they saw Ron DeSantis’s bid and raised him double. Russia’s version of a Department of Education has rewritten the history curriculum for Ukrainian schools to correct the history that is being taught (their words) and pushing their version into Ukrainian schools wherever they have taken over.

Ukrainian teachers in the affected regions (Kherson and surrounding environs) have fled. That is why Russia is offering teachers a huge bonus for agreeing to go to Ukraine and teach. According to reports, many Russian teachers are interested despite the fact that they might/will end up in a war zone.

It seems Russian teachers are as badly underpaid as US teachers and the offer is attractive to many despite the bombs that may drop on their heads.

Ron DeSantis has made sure that the Florida legislature pushed through laws that our schools must teach about the evils of Communism. Irony of ironies, he is determined to copy them.

Summer Break

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) often says that there are three seasons to the school year, Instruction (August through December), Test Preparation (January through March), and Testing (April through June.) But at this point, he must admit, there is a fourth season, the season of Lay-Off.

But what about July?

As regular as May testing is the June grousing when the school year ends that teachers are lucky because who else gets two months of vacation every year?

Teachers rush in to defend themselves and GOT is seeing some of this now in social media outlets: we worked a full year in 10 months, we’re not really off because we are busy in workshops, mandated continuing education courses to maintain our certification, we’re working a second job because we’re not paid enough, we’re planning next year’s lessons, and more.

All of this is valid, but it really doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. Teachers don’t get two months of free vacation every year. Teaching is the only profession where people are laid off for two months and have to provide for themselves because the summer hiatus does not qualify for unemployment compensation.

Let GOT say that again. Teachers don’t get two months of vacation every summer: They. Are. Laid. Off.

And must fend for themselves and their families.

Why must that be? Why must teachers be laid off every summer?

The end of a school year seems glorious with unlimited time to relax, catch up on household chores, take the children to the beach, mountains, or pool, but there is a problem with this that has nothing to do with the usual defense (see the paragraph above.)

School systems need the summer break to organize and get ready for the new year. First, everyone has to clear out so the classrooms can be cleaned. Furniture is moved, floors are stripped and waxed anew, graffiti is cleaned off, walls are painted, lockers are emptied and readied for the next student’s use, the list goes on and on.

Second, schools have to schedule students. This is a huge problem for the many states who have enacted Jeb-Bush-styled reforms, such as third-grade retention for children who don’t score high enough on the annual test. Will they complete a summer school course and test up? Will their teacher have a portfolio of their work so they can move on? Or do they repeat?

Then, at the secondary level, schools are waiting for test scores to come in. In Florida, that happens at the end of June. Schools then have four or five weeks to determine who needs to do what, who gets electives and who must take remedial instruction in reading and math, then decide on staffing needs, then adjust their master schedule and get the students into the correct classes.

If all goes well, and there are years when it does not, the state doesn’t butt into this process in mid-July with changes.

GOT remembers the couple years, only in the recent past, when the state ordered staffing changes in low-graded schools in late July and the district scrambled to find places for the teachers who had to move and to find others to replace them. This took place about two weeks before students were scheduled to begin the new year.

Usually, that resulted in rescheduling an entire student body, maybe 600 to 1800 students.

Understand that a normal school day is a huge time suck for administrators. There’s a reason most principals in GOT’s district spend Sunday afternoons in the office away from distractions, phone calls, etc. to deal with all the paperwork that they have no time for during the week.

Third, there are the curriculum changes that take effect. District staff need time to sort out the new mandates, prepare advice (hopefully, advice) for teachers, prepare new guides (hopefully, only guides), and orient teachers to the new outlay.

If it is a year when the textbooks are changing, books have to be ordered, come into warehouses, be sorted out, then sent to the schools. Schools have to put these new books into their inventories, which means that thousands upon thousands of books must each receive a bar code label that will subsequently be scanned into a student’s account once they are issued.

Students changing schools need to have new ID pictures taken. Trust GOT, when he meets a 10th grader whom he taught as a 9th grader online and all he had to look at was a 6th grade picture … let’s just forgive him for not recognizing the child.

The point of this is that Summer Break has many serious, important, crucial reasons for being in the school calendar.

To a teacher, the cost is not two months of it-must-be-nice vacation.

In the summer, teachers are not on break or a deserved vacation. They have been laid off.

The Month of Pride

When the legalists asked Yeshua (more familiarly known in English as Jesus) what the greatest commandment was, he responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and all your strength.” Then he followed up with this, “The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself.”

But who is my neighbor?

When asked to identify his neighbor, Yeshua responded with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. There’s no need for Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) to recount it here. You know it. If you don’t, google it.

In our time, it wouldn’t be a Samaritan because we are far removed from those days of Roman-occupied Palestine and the prejudices of the day that colored the relations between the people that lived in the land.

In our day, the Parable would relate how a Black person pulled over on the interstate to tend to an accident victim and the white people whizzed by. GOT has seen this during his lifetime.

The point is love. Where has the love gone? Many trot out judgment and justify it with appeals to a complex collection of history, poetry, and prophecy that often disagrees with itself. Many have spent their lives in study and intepretation. But the Gospel command to love is clear; without that, your theology doesn’t matter, your morality is insignificant, and your spluttering outrage on every social media channel will not save you from Dante’s Inferno … exactly what circle are you in?

Where is the love? Where is the caring support for children working out their identity issues as they navigate their teen years? What of your beliefs or your principles, your theology or your exegesis? It does not matter. The command is clear: LOVE.

Schools were created with an educational mission. They must be places of learning, first of all for basic literacy and numeracy, then for citizenship and the responsibilities thereof, and finally, for understanding the world in which we live in all its dimensions: natural, scientific, social, political, and historical.

But for any of that to take place, schools must first be places of safety and needs fulfillment. That is why we feed children, why some schools launder children’s clothes, and why we work to stop bullying and other forms of misbehavior.

When schools are doing their job well, they are often the first places children look to as a refuge from the traumas inflicted upon them. But we don’t have to be so dramatic. Children often have a trusted adult at school in whom they will confide. It doesn’t mean they have a bad parent at home.

GOT was cheap in his teenage years (still is, but that’s beside the point.) He never bought a pen or pencil because he realized that his peers dropped them all over the school all the time. By keeping his eyes on the floor, GOT ended a school year with dozens of pencils and pens in his supply box.

Not all of them were usable. One day, GOT arrived home and dumped his books into the dining room chair set aside for the purpose. He pulled his pen out of his pocket and dropped it on the buffet (a piece of furniture) beside the chair. The next morning, the pen had leaked onto the surface and the ink had eaten a gouge into the wood.

Horrified, GOT put a piece of paper over the damage and beat it out of the house, but all day, he stewed about the coming confrontation. What will happen when Mom finds out?

Finally, coming home on the bus, GOT decided to ‘fess up. Better to get it over with than waiting till Mom found out.

When he came into the house, GOT found his Mom and told her he had to show her something. What happened next surprised that immature, adolescent soul.

“Thank you for telling me. Let’s clean it up. I’m sure the buffet can be repaired. Actually, the damage is not that bad.”

GOT remembers the angst of that day. Looking back, it is astounding how trivial a leaking pen is next to the struggles of an adolescent working through their sexual identity. How much more might such a teenager be frightened to talk to their parents?

That’s the point. The parental fear that many teens feel even though the emotion says nothing about the parent. Our first and only concern when it comes to teenagers is to ensure that they feel loved, that they are cared about, that they have a safe place even if they are wrong about their home.

Some of them are not wrong. Some do endure a lifetime of parental rejection, read into this link for Echo’s story. In GOT’s city, here’s another story from four years ago.

What about principles, morals, and religious beliefs? GOT is not addressing those. This is not about a debate in the pews, the courthouse square, or the internet shouting-fest. By the way, don’t think this piece reveals anything about GOT other than that the O is real and he feels a weariness about snarling that only happens when we forget that real flesh-and-blood are involved.

Where is the love? Why does our society fall into a moral plane where everyone has an opinion and deals out death and judgment to all who disagree?

“The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself.”

Bring Back Homeroom

Scene from Hulu’s documentary about Oakland’s Class of 2020, Homeroom.

In Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) day, a time that’s long, long ago, junior and senior high schools began the day with homeroom. Homeroom had three purposes: recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, morning announcements, and attendance. In those days, the teacher marked attendance on a sheet of paper and a runner would take it to the office.

Even before today’s online websites that teachers use to record attendance and grades, technology made homeroom obsolete. Students now report to their first class of the day when the first bell rings. First-period attendance begins the process of officially recording the presence of students at school.

Homeroom is needed no more … OR IS IT?

For GOT, even before the pandemic, the opening of school would bring a new freshman class into the building, awkward teens trying to find their way in a new school, not sure they’re ready for high school, not ready to give up the behaviors that mark a middle school tween.

It was excruciating to watch; how much more is it excruciating to experience the feeling of being lost in a world where everyone else seems to have it together? It takes a long time until perspective matures to realize that nobody has it together in those middle and high school years. It only looked that way.

Eventually, most teens find their group and peers with whom they fit in. The athletes center their lives on the gym, the younger ones forming fan groups around the varsity, soaking up the glory until the years pass and they are the stars.

The creative ones make their way to theater, band, chorus, and art where like-minded friends support and encourage their endeavors. Students craving structure and organization wind up in classes and clubs like Jr. ROTC that meet their need to order their world.

Then there are those who never find their group, never find their way, until they eventually disappear as their parents move them to a new school where they might flourish. Sometimes they don’t move on; they simply disappear in the crowd.

And all of them, every one, is feeling the angst of the teenage years, unfocused yet powerful feelings of despair and anxiety. Where do they belong? Where do they fit in?

Horrific events like Uvalde burst upon us and, in the aftermath, we engage in the usual debates, the usual rage, and the usual policy recommendations that break down into two sides that usually regard themselves as mutually exclusive: harden schools (better doors, better glass, more armed adults, fences, walls, and locks, single points of entry) and reduction of the gun supply (background checks, red flag laws, age requirements for ownership, banning of certain types of weapons.)

How are you this morning? Anything you want to share about what happened last night when you went home? You are among friends.

What we miss among all this noise goes all the way back to Columbine. Some are catching on. There are those who say we should not regard mass murder as the act of someone given over to killing, but the act of someone committing suicide in a spectacular manner calculated to call the world’s attention to the internal angst that grew until it overpowered all sense.

GOT does not want to debate the hypothesis. He merely mentions it to show that we don’t have to be constrained by the usual thinking. That is the point of this piece. There’s something else in this puzzle.

It’s not only Uvalde and the long, sorry record of school shootings. It’s the kids who never go that far, it’s the kids who lose interest, the ones who check out. It’s the ones who never try because they never belonged.

Bring back homeroom. Bring it back with a far greater importance than it had in those attendance, pledge-reciting days. Bring back homeroom so that every day every child can begin their school day checking in with their group, hearing that they were missed because they weren’t there, they are important and they are needed.

Twenty minutes a day should do it.

Already, the objections roll in. Time in a school day is zero-sum. Devote 20 minutes to a homeroom and it will have to be taken out of the instructional day.

We can’t have that. The Almighty, All-Powerful, Ever-Present Test god will not spare that time. Scores will go down. School grades will falter. Some things have to be sacrificed even if that means the souls, and in extreme cases, the lives of children.

But GOT sees a pattern, a pattern that perpetrators like Dylan and Eric fit, a pattern where they felt ostracized, that they didn’t belong.

Bring back homeroom. Twenty minutes a day where children can connect with a small group of peers and a caring adult. Twenty minutes where they feel loved. Twenty minutes to be a part of humanity, to be in a place where everyone knows their name. Twenty minutes to know they are not alone.

Bring back homeroom.

The Long and Winding Road: Sub Rodeo

Warning! The video may be too much for sensitive viewers. Bodacious was retired in his prime out of fear he would someday kill a rider.

In his last post, Counting the Mileposts, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) mentioned that we needed at least 300 proctors for all testing in his school: SAT, AP, and state (FSA Reading plus End-of-Course exams in Biology, US History, and Geometry and then there was the new Civic Literacy exam for the seniors.)

Each test requires proctors. AP allows for one proctor up to 35 students, two proctors for 50 students, and after that, an additional proctor for every 50 students. A big test like US History, English Language and Composition, or Human Geography will require 5 or more proctors for the room without figuring in the need for accommodations rooms.

Each accommodation can require an additional room. Time and a half students (50% more time) cannot test in the same room as double time students (100% more time.)

Then, a test coordinator (TC) must keep track of small group accommodations, which AP defines as a maximum of 15 students.

For state testing, it’s different. A small group is 25 or less except when the IEP is more restrictive. GOT has some students who must test in a group of 12 or less (state only).

But none of that matters to the College Board. They don’t give a <hoohaw> about a child’s IEP or the work that went into designing an appropriate education for that child. To receive accommodations on a test, documents must be submitted to the SSD department. Only if the SSD department of the College Board approves the accommodations will a student receive them.

Oh yes, this just-ended testing season, GOT had to explain to a few students how their IEP doesn’t matter when it comes to AP testing. They had no approved accommodations and therefore they had to test with hundreds of other students in the gym.

Oh, the gym! GOT should have taken a picture before the school broke it down. A tarp that covered the entire floor (think of a full-sized basketball court), bleachers folded against the walls, individual desks set out at the required intervals with folding chairs, a table up front for the proctors, a microphone to be heard, a big-screen device for displaying the time …

While the photo may seem disrespectful, everyone knows it’s the rodeo clowns who make the show run. Without them, the cowboys would be gored.

Among the many things GOT had to do in order to be TC all year long is compiling a list of every teacher’s classes and the grade levels of the students that are in them.

That was essential during these days of testing. First, GOT could look and see whose students would be in tests and sub coverage wouldn’t be needed. Those teachers could also be tapped to be proctors.

Then there were those students were mostly in a test, but there were a few who were not. We had to figure a place for them to go. How many subs were needed on any given day?

Not to mention that we couldn’t count on every job put into the sub system being picked up. Not to mention teachers who tried to outthink their instructions to put in for a sub. Oh, they thought, they had no class, no sub needed.

But! In the worst of it, moving through May, we had up to 20 sub jobs in the system for about 65 teachers total. We could not count on every job being filled. Thus, the rodeo.

Somehow, we made it. We moved classes, found a place for every student, and our subs were willing and cheerful. When subs pick up a job, it’s for a particular school and a particular teacher. Some don’t like it when the school asks them to do something else. Fortunately, none of GOT’s subs protested. They know how testing goes.

GOT and his school will be forever grateful.

Summertime

It oughta be.

The bells cease, their ponging electronic tones silenced. No more rush for the classsroom door, no more slamming of lockers, no more orange whales in parking lots belching out their human cargo.

It’s summertime.

Classrooms are packed and the custodians are moving in with harsh chemicals to treat all the surfaces and rewax the floors. The detritus of the past ten months overflow the dumpsters. It’s summertime.

A hush has fallen in the hallways. Teachers are posting the usual teacher-tired memes on social media. It’s summertime.

Right on cue, Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) school has released its summer assignment list to students. In fairness, GOT’s school is an academic magnet high school, one where presumably teenagers forego personal time as a sacrifice to their future by advancing their academics so that they move into college with many college credits already earned.

Even so, the rebel in GOT is rising. It’s summertime. It’s time to put the books away. It’s time to give schooling a rest. Learning loss is an academic construct. Who says children stop learning over the summer break? Humans are always learning and much of the time it doesn’t come out of a book. (Or these days, a computer/software/internet platform.)

So GOT is not now talking to teachers although he has objected to summer assignments in the past. (Let them rest. Give them a break. Most teenagers won’t do the assignments anyway and do his colleagues really want to start a new school year by giving most of their students a zero on day one?)

He’s not talking to parents. He’s certainly not talking to politicians, administrators, and district officials.

GOT is talking to you, students, teenagers, and children. He has one wish for you: Have a great summer. Take time for yourself, indulge your curiosity and your passions. Go to camp, go fishing, go play in the park. Hang out with your friends and enjoy this time of your lives.

All too soon, adult life will come upon you with all its demands to earn a living to have the resources for yourself and others: housing, food, clothing, and transportation. You will never have this kind of time again in your life. You will bear responsibilities for others in work, family, aging parents, and children of your own. You will have debt and far too many of you will worry about money.

But not now. Now is the time for socializing, parties, barbecues, and the beach. Go to the pool and stay cool. Be cool. Have fun this summer. The books will wait. We will resume in mid-August. Until then, be kind, be crazy, be yourself.

And, if you’re lucky, really lucky, have a hot, sizzlin’ summer romance. There’s no better time for it.

Traditional clip, but summer romance is for everyone. (Wink, wink.)

The Long and Winding Road: Counting the Mileposts

Second in the series about his reflections on testing, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT), this year’s School Test Coordinator for AP, State, and District testing, counted up the number of exams that have taken place during the month of May. This is a numbers post, one with lots of stats.

How long till 1000? It only took three days.

In a school with 1,257 students, the month of May alone saw 4,124 AP, IB, and FSA (state) tests given. That number grows to 5,030 test sessions if we factor in the two sessions from the many FSA tests that require two days to give. If we include the April tests of FSA Writing, School Day SAT for Juniors, and the Florida Civics Literacy Exam now given to high school seniors, GOT’s school had 6,206 test sessions, give or take a few, this Spring.

That’s an average of 4.9, let’s round it to 5, days a student was taking a test across the last seven weeks of school. And we’re not counting the District tests, the end-of-course exams that must be given so that teachers can receive their growth score for the year as required by the state.

That number is 6,812 needed, of which 6,674 have been taken. But the tests needed number is the one we want as it represents the additional burden placed upon the school and its faculty. We’re up to 12,172 tests for the spring or an average of 9.7 tests per student.

Then there is the Achieve 3000 (an ELA program whose purpose is to train students for their 9th and 10th grade FSA reading tests) Level Set. 650 students had to do that. That puts our average at 10 tests per student across a seven-week period, although, most of that testing takes place across a five-week period as the last two weeks are spent chasing make-ups in the building.

Unknown to GOT as School Test Coordinator are the number of tests teachers chose to give to close out their year. Those can be necessary, too, as teachers whose classes do not have a state or district end-of-course exam must input a final exam grade for the semester. It will calculate as 20% of the final course grade.

Money may make the world go around, but it’s testing and the related data that make the schoolhouse run.

That’s a lot of testing. Now let’s talk about disruption, the moving of classes to free rooms for testing. Schools have to assign proctors and many times those proctors cannot give the exams in their room. The Chorus or Band room, for example, is particularly bad because of the tiered flooring and the lack of writing surfaces for students.

At a high school, not all of the students are taking any given test on any given day. Schools want to isolate the test-takers away from the other population who are going about their normal day. So buildings and wings are chosen for testing and teachers whose students are not testing are moved to other rooms. Sometimes the demand for space is so acute that classes are sent to rooms whose teacher is on planning.

Testing displaced about 120 classes from their rooms. Figuring an average class size of 30, that’s 3,600 students looking for a different room from their habitual arrival at a familiar door.

The last number for this post is proctors. Every test must have proctors and one of those must be a teacher to be the lead proctor. All told, we needed at least 300 proctors across the Spring. We have about 65 teachers for that.

Every time a teacher takes on a proctoring assignment, we either need a sub or we have to look at who will be testing in their classes and what to do with the ones who are not. Sometimes we send them to a holding pen in the auditorium. Sometimes we look for a teacher not proctoring who is willing to have them sit in their classroom. Sometimes we’re moving subs around the building like Victorian nobles navigating the bedroom halls of a mansion in the night. Where will they end up?

At the center of it all is the test coordinator managing these details. Is it any wonder that often GOT’s head was about to explode?

In Flanders Fields

A poem written about 100 years ago in memory of the carnage of World War 1 by John McCrae. It is said that he scribbled his words on a paper and, not thinking much of it, discarded them. Others rescued the poignant work whose sentiment haunts us today.

Source: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47380/in-flanders-fields

It is Memorial Day weekend, when we take a holiday on Monday to remember those who sacrificed their lives in battle to preserve the freedom of our nation and ourselves.

Yet, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) hears these words afresh from those who grieve in Uvalde, Texas. Brave children singing who cannot be heard amid the guns below.

They are the dead.

Short days ago, they lived, they played, they loved and were loved.

Now they lie, their lives taken and their families shattered.

They will not sleep though bluebells grow in Texas.

Let us not break faith.

Let this be the moment of reckoning for those who love their guns more than children, who will not consider for a moment what every other nation on Earth has done.

Let’s grasp the torch and hold it high for the 19 children of Uvalde. We owe them that.