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.

Uvalde

The Gospels record that Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” The tragedy in Uvalde that took place yesterday (May 24) was NOT what he had in mind.

Jesus also told us that we could not serve two masters, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Mammon came into usage from the Gospels and was thought to mean money or wealth, perhaps borrowed from a Syrian god of riches. In the early age of Christianity, it came to be a personification of a demon representing greed, a greed that enslaves.

So it is fitting in the aftermath of the latest school tragedy that we bring the question to the forefront: America, you cannot serve both God and Mammon. You cannot serve both God and Guns. Your greed for one shuts out the other. Which will it be?

Already, politicians who have obstructed gun reform in any way have rushed to make it clear what god they worship. They promise to sabotage any effort for gun regulation to move forward in Congress or state legislatures. Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General, among others, trotted out the idea that teachers should be armed.

But the police, engaging with the killer at the schoolhouse door, armed, equipped with protection like Kevlar vests, and trained in both the use of firearms and these types of situations, could not stop the killer from getting inside. If they could not stop him, why would anyone think that teachers could do it?!

Let’s arm all the adults: teachers, administrators, custodians, secretaries and paraprofessionals, cafeteria and maintenance workers, and in high school, let’s arm the Jr. ROTC because they are learning how to function as military officers. Then, if someone enters a school with high-powered weapons determined to murder as many innocent children as possible, let everyone draw their weapon and blaze away! That hail of bullets will cut down anybody and increase the body count into the hundreds!

Politicians like Ken Paxton are not serious and we should stop listening to them.

Hardening the architecture may be helpful, but America’s schools are old. They were not designed for this. According to one news story, the killer got into one classroom and then used a connecting door to get to the one where the children and teachers were. Hard corners have limited usefulness. In Grumpy Old Teacher’s classroom, it can only accommodate about a dozen teenagers and that’s if they’re packed in like New Yorkers on the subway during rush hour.

Some doors have windows that fill half the space–easy for a killer to knock out and enter the room. Some schools have doors that cannot be unlocked; others do not. In one report, the gunman entered the classroom through a door and locked it from the inside.

We could build new schools as fortresses, but is that what we want for a positive learning environment?

Those who will blame a lack of hardening are not serious and we should not listen to them.

They will offer their thoughts and prayers. They are not serious. GOT has lots of thoughts and you’re reading some of them, but he will not offer prayers. God is not waiting to hear from GOT to be in the midst of the grieving families to cry with them and bring solace.

How do we reach out with human comfort to the families? We must follow their lead. They will show us. Right now, they don’t want our thoughts and prayers. They want their children back.

They need their time and their space. Instead of thoughts and prayers, too often a performative public act without meaning, we should give them action. We owe them that.

We should and must:

  • Speak out on the need for reasonable gun regulations
  • Support and defend the people and organizations who have worked on this for many years, people like David Hogg
  • Contribute our resources to further this end
  • Call the offices of our representatives and senators, flood the phone lines at their local, regional, state, and national offices to demand action
  • Vote out the ones who will not listen or respond.

The Long and Winding Road

If we’re going to think about testing, we need to start with a song. Music is the proverbial spoonful of sugar that makes the acrid taste of what we do to children … oh wait, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is supposed to hold to the quote … medicine go down.

A pool of tears accurately describes too many students facing too many tests.

It begins in January with the WIDA, a no-stakes test that English Language Learner students undergo so that schools can monitor how well they are progressing in their ability to understand academic tasks and adequately perform them.

GOT will not say it ends in May, because this road never ends, but the most intense period comes at the end of the school year when children must undergo hours and days of testing.

In Florida, there are three seasons to the school year: August – December, instruction; January – March, test preparation; April & May, testing. Districts conduct testing in December to ascertain how well students will perform in May. For a teacher, that means their Winter Break is spent coming up with answers for administrators under heavy district pressure that explain how the lowest-performing standards will be remediated.

For GOT, that was a ridiculous and easy issue to deal with. The lowest-performing standards were the ones he hadn’t reached yet in the curriculum. His plan? “I will continue to teach the curriculum as the district laid it out.”

But this year, GOT is the test coordinator for the school. It’s a full-time job as he must plan, organize, and oversee every district, state, SAT, PSAT, and AP test that is given. For context, GOT works in an academic magnet in which students will take 8 to 10 AP tests over the course of four years unless they are in the International Baccalaureate program, which is a special kind of crazy when it comes to testing.

2,371 AP tests to order, track, and give. For the state, 650 reading and writing tests, 232 Geometry end-of-course exams, 150 Biology end-of-course exams, 128 US History end-of-course exams (could be more, but that’s a story GOT cannot tell), and many Algebra 1 retake exams because passing that test is a requirement for graduation and GOT’s school must give it even though students must have taken Algebra 1 in middle school to be admitted.

The Long and Winding Road. It’s been an intense three weeks and it’s not over yet. GOT will be writing many pieces over the next few weeks as he processes and shares what it has been like. But for starters, here’s what he has been sharing with his Facebook friends, direct quotes without commentary.

April 29: I have all the pieces in place for Monday (I think.) Let the wacky, wild, whirlwind of testing begin!

April 29: Also, mild wrist sprain heaving boxes around looking for the ones that have Monday’s exams. Put a brace on it. May the morning be better.

May 2: All in all, the first day of the wild, wacky, whirlwind of testing ran well. Nothing anyone can do about student laptops that suddenly kick a kid out of the state test (which must be completed that day) to do updates even though the kid pulled every update possible last week. You would think that district IT would suspend the updates once the state testing window opens, wouldn’t you? Think again. DUUUUUUUUUUUUVAAAAALLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!

May 3: Very tired tonight. That’s what a 14 hour day (begun at 2:45 AM) will do to a person. I knew it was time to pack it in when I began panicking over needing 305 tests for tomorrow and only had 283. Checked my order–only 283. How could I be so stupid?! Oh wait, 305 is Friday’s number. I really only need 283. State testing went okay, we got them all finished–well, those who showed up. What is it about the class of 2025 that they only test one day for a two day test? There was more, but I’ll stop here.

May 4: Only clocked near 13 hours today keeping the mill churning. Counting the materials I prepped tonight for tomorrow, we’ve already gone through more than half the answer sheets. Not looking forward to tomorrow and the sub rodeo we’ll go through. The minor panic came wouldn’t I couldn’t find the labels for AP Stats afternoon exam. Looked all over the office and storage. Finally realized most of the kids are in the morning macro. When I cross-checked the lists, yep, that’s where the labels are. Finally, a huge thank-you to my fabulous colleague and friend, [redacted], who saw my post on Twitter and brought me lunch today. It was delicious! I only ate half, so I have lunch for tomorrow as well.

May 4: I’m taking this as a sign from the universe that tomorrow will run on schedule with no derailments. Wordle 319 2/6

May 5 comment on the preceding: The universe struck back. The main east-west CSX line was under repairs today (no trains). I know because they blocked the crossing at Ellis Road. Therefore, some <cough, cough> considerate Jacksonville driver decided to run into a large truck on the Edgewood crossing effectively blocking traffic just as if CSX had parked a train. No train problem, but a headache as parents were stuck and couldn’t get their kids to school in time. One of our buses didn’t show up till 10 AM. Now that we’re on Wordle 320, I can reveal that the word was ‘train.’

May 6: Got out at 8 PM. Custodians are like, ‘you’re still here? We didn’t realize.’ Yes, when there are 300 US History exams and almost 100 European History exams to pack on top of everything else, it’s a long day. Thanks, AP, for insisting that the first week ship immediately and then scheduling two of the largest exams on the Friday. Then implying that it all must go out today! Then grudgingly say Monday will do. But that might not happen, either. Big day Monday as we have to do FSA [Florida Standards Assessment] reading–650 kids testing at the same time. And did the district shut off the computer updates because the FSA window opened? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, why do you ask when you know the answer? DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUVAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!

May 7 (Saturday): Tired, exhausted, and spent. But I really need to open that backpack …

May 10: Just when I was thinking if I ever turned Moslem, I could handle Ramadan, another fabulous co-worker to the rescue, the incomparable [redacted]. She brought me a salad and carrot cake and said, “I know you’re not eating.” I had to admit she was right. The day is so busy, the hours slide along, and as long as I drink enough water, I must be running on adrenaline and coffee.

May 11: Coming down to the wire. One big AP test left–World History with 200+ students in the gym. Everyone tells me what a great job I’m doing. I think they’re afraid I’ll quit after all this. [Redacted] to the rescue again re: lunch. Lastly, it’s not over. We’re going into overtime. Athletic events, wrecks, etc. plus at least 10 have asked for late testing because of Covid (oh, yeah, that’s not over) … Lots of testing for next week. And then, exceptions testing after that.

May 12: The plan’s bones were tested today. But we didn’t break although working out sub coverage with the principal’s secretary, medical situations, needing to maintain the right number of proctors (we did) in the room, fixing a mistake I made … I work with great people. Everyone take a bow. 👏👏👏

May 13: And we come to the end … NOT. Testing is endless as any teacher could tell you. AP late testing next week and lots of proctors are still needed. All it takes is one student for one test and someone has to give it. Finally finished packing week one. Hope to get it off Monday. Sprained my right hand. Being test coordinator is hazardous to my health.

May 13: You know it’s bad when I see [redacted] post about the play tonight and I think, “Oh, good. That means I can work until 9:30 or so tonight.” It’s hard to work too far ahead because things are fluid right up to the moment, which means I have lots of work to do this weekend. Also need to do grades and attendance for the TAs.

May 13: Things got a bit ragged by Thursday. I really felt bad about a few things. Paxon folks are very forgiving. Hopefully, I can keep the train on the track next week. But I’ll likely be shipping late. Wonder how forgiving AP will be?

May 14: Senior grades posted. Attendance up to date–sort of. Afraid to check email just yet.

May 14: As I reflect on the last two weeks, I realize 2/3 of the AP testing took place in the first week. That’s packed and ready to go. Monday, my priority is to pack the second week and get everything to the UPS store. Fortunately, there’s no AP testing Monday. I hope no one tries to get in my way. Further reflections, what I have had to do under the constraints that I work … it’s not sustainable. Yes, that’s the snake’s tail rattling that you hear.

May 15: Down two proctors for Tuesday, but I think I’ve found the way.

May 15: I see the big picture. This is going to work. But what about the kid who has three FSA two-day make-ups? Stop stressing [GOT], he’s not going to show up for whatever test you schedule him for.

May 15: Built the FSA test rosters for Monday. Now to print them and then begin the mass emails to students and parents to let them know.

May 16: AP is out the door and sitting at the UPS store to transit to wherever it goes. Now that I know the routine, I was able to get an entire week done in about 4 and a half hours. FSA make up was a bit raggedy getting kids to the right place. I simply did not have the time I needed. I have an idea how to organize tomorrow. Left work at 4:23 to come home, relax, and put the structure in place. But then I-10 was shut down and I found myself in a traffic nightmare.

May 17: Late testing underway. Very tired, up at 2 AM to prepare FSA for today. Afternoon AP cancelled because the athletes had a game to play. Coach wanted to know if they could take their Tuesday exams on Thursday. No, it doesn’t work that way. If you miss it, you miss it. And this is late testing. I said I would call AP and ask about exceptions testing, but their phone system is down.

May 17: Some countdown the days to the end. For a test coordinator, these last few weeks are the sands running through the glass. So many to get tested, so few days to do it in.

May 18: When I realized we had hit 95% participation on state tests, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. That pressure is off. The morning was a flurry of locating kids and pushing them into testing rooms. That’s how it goes as we near the end of a testing window. AP late testing working well; almost all kids are showing up because they asked for it. Everyone tells me I’m doing a great job. I respond that I think people say that only to keep me from quitting (it’s a joke.) Several are noting the time stamps on my daily emails.

May 18: But the day doesn’t end as I monitor an exceptions request. Memo for next year: the students don’t understand how the AP system works. If they miss an exam, no, it doesn’t go on a shelf for a day and time when it pleases them to show. An AP exam is for a particular day and time, if it isn’t used, it gets shipped back. For another day, a new exam must be ordered.

May 18: Last testing post for the night–my name is Sisyphus. Every time I push this testing ball to the top of the hill, it rolls down to the bottom. One more problem for Friday to solve tomorrow.

May 19: This week (I think) has been the worst, but I fixed my Friday problem. Tomorrow is the FSA free-for-all where we run a dragnet through the building looking for any student who still needs to do a test. Then, why oh why, AP, did you schedule the late history testing for Friday afternoon? Do you realize how hard it is to find proctors when everyone’s burning rubber out of the parking lot for the weekend? On the other hand, no more 4 AM emails that everyone remarks upon (what they don’t know is the two hours beforehand that prepped for that email with information for the day.)

May 19: Peanuts and Brussel Sprouts for dinner. Am I pregnant or a weary test coordinator looking through the freezer and cupboard?

May 19: Had an AP [Assistant Principal] ask about my sleep today. I assured her that I was getting my hours in because I arrive home so tired I’m in bed by 7 or thereabouts. (Don’t look at your watch, dammit!)

May 19: Forwarded a preliminary list of unused and late exam fees to the office for student debt lists. Oh, it’s started. But I’m only the reporter. I don’t have the power to forgive.

May 20: Late testing is over. Was in the building until after six tonight. Last test finished 5:37, and then I had to pack everything so I don’t have that chore Monday. FSA make-up list down to about 20 tests. Still more to do next week, but I’ll begin blogging about the ‘long and winding road’ of testing soon to reflect on the experience.

May 20 (posted about 7:30 PM): Time for lunch.

This is a long piece because it includes all the Facebook posts. GOT offers it in a stream-of-consciousness motif. If you made it this far, you might have an insight into the testing crazy inflicted on public schools.

Teacher Appreciation Week 2022-Style

Not Love, Florida Style, because when it comes to teachers, no one’s buying it.

It has snuck up on us once again. It’s time for the annual Teacher Appreciation Week, five days of … in Florida, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) has no idea because the governor and his henchpersons have made it very clear how little they appreciate teachers.

Nevertheless, there are a few ways that districts, including GOT’s, could show some love.

  • Let me buy an extension cord and maybe a power strip to go with it. Seriously, teachers receive $325 a year to buy things for their classrooms. The only condition is that the purchase must benefit students somehow. Hmmmm, we’ve given every student a laptop computer and bought computer programs for all types of learning. We’ve transformed our classrooms into digital laboratories. And every day, at least half of every class shows up with the same request: the laptop is not charged, the battery is dead, and they need to plug in.

What would benefit students more than a teacher having extension cords and power strips strategically placed throughout the classroom for power-starved laptops to connect to? They need the juice, not teachers.

But no, that’s against the rules.

  • Replace the third evaluation metric with a scavenger hunt. 50% a dodgy calculation of data growth by students based on dubious tests, 40% a principal’s ability to hit a 22 point checklist, based on a published theory now repudiated by its creator, in 30 minutes, and 10% on how well teachers have preserved their ability to BS through a bluebook essay in college. Oops, just kidding, that’s the IPDP, once known as the ippy-dippy, but formally is the Individual Professional Development Plan.

What a teacher does is to create a goal, not any old goal, but a SMART goal. (What does anyone have against stupid goals? Seems like we have plenty of them … oops, don’t want a call from Professional Standards. Forget GOT said that.)

Here’s the thing: no one has to achieve the goal. Pick a few things to measure at the beginning of the year because data, data, data! Be careful on this one, though. The district keeps a laser-like focus on end-of-the-year test scores. You know, the ones based on the tests in May.

Now the catch. The IPDP must be completed by April 30. So you can’t use the all-important test scores as a data metric. Gotta pick something else, even if it’s an anticipatory test given in March whose only purpose is to have some numbers to put into the IPDP in April.

Let’s forego this game of Twister, but even that would be more fun. Let’s have an Easter egg hunt. The teacher who finds the golden egg gets a Highly Effective rating for the year. Nothing more needs to be done. As for the rest, the eggs have random scores that will be plugged into the evaluation form.

Oh, teachers! Can you imagine the mayhem as we fight over the best eggs? Find one with a low score and figure out how to throw it out or trick a colleague into a trade.

We could charge the students a fee to video the whole thing on their phones. Might raise a lot of money, even enough to buy everyone an extension cord and a power strip.

Makes as much sense as what we do now.

  • Move the district cars out of the back parking lot. Before this year, teachers who worked in the back half of the campus could drive to their buildings and park in the small lots. However, over the summer, the district parked five cars, logos emblazoned on the doors, in the spaces. Those cars have sat in those spaces for almost a year–unused. GOT would suggest selling the not-needed assets, but who is he to advance a common-sense suggestion? But moving them to let teachers park by their buildings would go a long way as an appreciation gesture. (Bonus points if the district plants trees so teachers’ cars could be in the shade all day. This is Florida, after all.)

Let’s say the district did get a great deal on these autos with the personalization thrown in for free. (Don’t ask about the trade-ins; when you’ve negotiated enough car deals you realize you haggle over the differential. Get a high trade-in offer and the dealer won’t discount the sticker price much. If you will take a lower value, the dealer is generous and throws in a lot of extras that cost very little.)

20 grand for each vehicle. That’s 100 thousand dollars worth of painted steel rusting away under the hot Florida sun. If that’s happening at all 22 high schools in the district, that would be … kaching! 22 plus 5 zeroes, or $2,200,000 of inventory wasting away.

At the conclusion at today’s faculty meeting, GOT’s principal informed the captive audience that we would have to meet one more time for the year because the superintendent had some years of service gifts to hand out. Not that she would put in a personal appearance, but that we would have to sit through an assembly to receive service years pins and for those lucky enough to have an anniversary denominated by a multiple of five, some other cheap <ahem> like an acrylic blanket.

At least, that’s what happened last time.

Here’s an idea. Sell the cars, forget the pins and tawdry whatever, buy some Florida Lottery scratch-off tickets, and hand them out with a personalized scraper. It would be appropriate given that a teaching career is a big gamble these days. You might even raise the excitement level in the room to the level of The Santa Clause Part Two, when Tim Allen broke the tedium of the faculty Christmas Party with gifts of childhood toys.

GOT would offer more ideas, but if you go back to the original piece, you will find his first item about the motion detectors for the lights.

Sigh, they still go out.