the twit


    a restful weekend

    i don't think it's the drug (which is a stimulant), but rather the eventual 30 minutes or so of unmitigated attention that makes a cigar the most calming experience of a sunday night.

    one more class to plan. then, another week of it.


    notes from a mental health day

    i felt a horrible inertia when my alarm went off this morning, and - after staring, transfixed for quite some time, at the blades of a ceiling fan - i realized it was best that i call in sick today and try and let the swollen knot in my mood loosen up. after logging a good 13 hours of sleep, and sitting on the couch in my living room flipping mindlessly through what i think was esquire magazine - it suddenly occurred to me that i should clean up the office/library upstairs - which was cluttered with math textbooks and fleeting academic concern. a phone call from margaret reminded me i should eat something, and now - after mediterranean food, ice cream cake (bought, not eaten), and a snow cone (eaten) - it's 1:40pm.

    i honestly don't know what to do with myself today. there is clearly the desire to let my mood flush itself out via long spans of staring at something minutely stimulating (writing a blog is one of those things), but then again the slow fire from which this mood sprang is still smoldering and flickering - eating the occasional second away with the sour reminder of my long list of things incomplete. i said it last year - sometime a little deeper into the second term - and it's no less prevalent now: all i see is incompleteness. as it stands, the role of a teacher in the education of our children is an impossible one. furthermore, my assumption of that role is dangerously overambitious.

    i am not a cynic. that was not a cynical impossibility that i referred to (which is why - i think - i included the prophetic phrase "as it stands" into that sentence). but, i am a skeptic. while i believe profoundly in the possibility of successfully educating these beautiful children, it is nonetheless pathetically evident that the structures - cultural, financial, occupational, governmental, occupational - barely in place to ensure our great egalitarian charge are broken in the most tragicomic of ways. just broken. simply and utterly inefficient. often more harmful than productive. nauseatingly so.

    somedays you want everyone to just stop. stop hurting these children. stop yelling at each other. stop this aping professionalism. stop the forms, the formalities. stop ignoring all the holes, the leaks, the crumbling ceilings and the cockroaches everywhere. stop the steady encroachment of control over every aspect of every person in the building. stop taking away all of my planning periods on the week that i need to put together paper-trail verifiable grades for 130+ students and i need to turn in lesson plans for the next two weeks for all three of my preps. stop telling me that teachers are important/underappreciated/martyrs. stop holding unannounced meetings to explain to us that we're not doing a job that we either didn't know we had to do, or didn't know how to do (and giving me a password to an unnavigable web-site and telling me it's my responsibility to figure "it" out does little more than account for the most basic elements of managerial liability - actively assisting your workers in understanding and mastering their required tasks is exactly the primary job of a manager). stop everything.

    [then you ask: who to stop? under every rock there's a tiny arrow to a new rock to look under, and under, and under. everyone is failing but no one seems to blame. this is the problem with liability.]

    this is a knot too tangled. it is mind-numbingly bizarre that a managerial situation would become so venomously restrictive, top-down, and frozen that a person would just sit by and let children be treated like prisoners, like cattle, like product. of course, as things are - i am sitting by and letting this happen (and so i have mental health days). escorting my 15-18 year old HUMAN BEINGS to the cafeteria - making sure they are in a single file line on the right side of the hallway, making sure they are in a single file line while they wait to be given this or that warm/moist/fried organic container of salt and high fructose corn syrup (food that has nutritional value in name only), making sure they do not leave any empty seats between them as they sit down, making sure we leave as soon as they're done eating so that i can take them back to the classroom after the only 20 minutes of semi-freedom they've had all day and immediatly resume my lesson at the point where it was interrupted by a man knocking at my door (never at the same time) to tell me that i can take my kids to lunch now.

    making sure the boys have their shirts tucked in. making sure the girls aren't wearing flip flops or are showing (gasp) skin. making sure i don't give a hall pass to those children who have been denied by the administration that priviledge. making sure they're all in their seats within the 5 minutes they have to move between classes in an crowd of 1300ish kids packing into a building that was made for 800ish.

    you wonder if we can't just put everything on pause, erase it all, and calmly, carefully rebuild from simple, unavoidable truths/needs/objectives (what we have now are mao-ish 5-year plans for educational dominance). of course, the concepts of truth and need are more often than not triflingly defficient in cultures so complex and diverse. but there must be primary, apparent, and powerful concerns that we can functionally adapt as premises, and hold fast to.

    the problem with this is - of course - that concerns for the education of children are swimming in a minefield of liability-cautious politics. any superintendant, principal, or teacher would be able to (and are able to) mime a sensitivity to any fundamental educational premise you can throw at them ("we are a district that focuses on literacy" says the superintendent whose nineth graders more often than not read on a third grade reading level) . what do you do with a principal that puts a rhetorical premium on student achievement, yet whose every disjointed managerial action is clearly either detrimental to or a non-sequitur for the positive development - social, cultural, and academic - of children. or when one good decision is so tragically erased by a completely unexpected week of schooldays comprising of two 3-hr periods (so that we can let state tested subjects give their students unlimited time to take their tests), at one point claiming that no hall passes could be issued for the rest of the day - and taking 20 minutes to respond to a concern that a student needed to use the restroom (the administrator said that we should buzz the office to get an escort in the event that a student needed to leave the room), only to say that i could dismiss the student to the restroom.

    we don't have textbooks. we don't have workbooks. we have to buy our own copy paper (or burn our federal issue Emegency Education Funding on it). our copies are monitored by cost-cut fiends in the superintendant's office downtown (we have to punch in a code to access the machine. a copy quota or pay-per copy system may be on the horizon). the copy machines rarely spend a day without breaking. we don't have calculators. we don't have computers (that work).

    we don't have textbooks.

    "we are a district focused on literacy."


    there are no less than three major occupational tasks lumped into our conception of "teacher":

    (1) someone who presents material to a group of students, engages students in the process of understanding/analyzing the material, and oversees legitimate assessment of this process
    (2) someone who plans material to be presented for student engagement and assessment
    (3) someone who collects and organizes the data gathered by assessment

    it is becoming increasingly clear - given that i have 130 students and 3 preps - that it is often impossible for one person to complete all of these tasks simultaneously. at least if you have an equal level of concern and accountability for all three tasks. at least if you want teacher to work within 40-60 hours a week. at least if you want teachers to engage in extracurricular tutoring, mentoring, and group organizing.

    this assertion of impossibility is not hyperbole. nor is it a cry for sympathy. it is merely an assertion of a certain kind of impossibility. i work 70-80hr weeks. i'm in the school building for 10 hours a day on average - often without break. i choose to do this and i enjoy doing this (though i'm well aware that it would be psychologically and physically dangerous to do this for more than a few years). i barely reach a level of competence with tasks (1) and (2), and i'm merely treading water with (3). i'm almost never more than a week ahead of planning, and usually have no idea what i'm teaching the next day (though i never let myself walk into a classrom without a plan). while i regret this lack of competent preparedness (deeply), and sincerely wish that i could please my administrators by turning in the next two-weeks of lesson plans by friday (tomorrow) afternoon every other week, there's little to no chance that it will ever get done. because - if i want to preserve my physical and mental health in the short term - there isn't any more time left. i will not sacrifice a healthy amount of sleep; and i must force myself to experience at least a small sustained period of recreation each week. this is barely possible as is, and it is only the latter half of saturdays that i am completely free from work.

    i would not wish this situation upon any human being, and it is a major part of the crippling tragicomedy of education that teachers are subject to this sort of workload as a given if they have any pretention of being competent/meaningful. i imagine that as a teacher becomes more weathered, competency is preserved at the expense of vital meaningfulness - as survival techniques are frozen into a rinse-repeat cycle of the same lesson plans and activities year in an year out. of course i'll be able to turn in two-weeks of lesson plans in the event that i don't do any major adjusments to my teaching from year to year. this fact illimunates the value of this two-weeks-in-advance system as either (1) meaningless/inappopriate for newer teachers, (2) misleading in regards to the real effectiveness of older teachers. either way - without some other true-management structure to better analyze the act of planning (which can be easily differentiated for the experience delineated two teacher sets). of course, this structure (were it possible to exist) would need to be patient, process-oriented, and active - which means that it - like many other concerns of a administration myopically giving tripartate emphasis on the three teaching tasks - is impossible during school year real-time or on-air time - i.e. when the students's school day arc is taking priority over any time-detached concerns.


    i hate the teacher's summer. it is a constant red herring for anyone thinking about re-imagining teacher salary (as the go-to whine point of naysayers to raising salaries) or teacher roles (experienced teachers seem to vehemently protect it). it seems to serves primarily as a numbing period during which a teacher prolongingly deflates, and a student prolongingly forgets. it is of no end to my frustration when - upon craving the weekend or a day off - someone near me thinks it particularly witty to chime in that i should not be complaining because i have an entire summer off. i would - without any hesitation whatsoever - trade my teacher's summer for a more humane approach to my responsibilities. it seems that - in an environment hungry for data, proof, and paper trail - the important tasks of a teacher are either multiplying or growing more onerous, or both. so, it seems necessary and/or natural that we either (a) splice off new- full or part-time positions within a building that actually take control of one of these malignant teaching roles: e.g. a dedicated assessment collector and data-analyzer; a dedicated curriculum development specialest and activity creator; a dedicated parent-contact supervisor; a dedicated teacher-performer (jps has these a nominal fashion, but they are barely integrated into the process of teaching and learning. this is because it's silly to imagine that i'm going to magically jump on the literacy train when i've got a thousand copies to make and parents to call), (b) adjust the concept of the school year so that in between periods of teaching-performing arcs (lets say two-months or nine-weeks) there are periods (lets say two or three weeks) of dedicated data analysis and informed preparation (curriculum adjustment and activity creation) for the next arc. the aforementioned hypothetical assement collector and curriculum specialists can operate as consultants to teachers during these collect and prep periods, and perhaps as librarians (to give some relevance to the roll) during the teaching arcs. and what of the kids during these periods? internships, work-study, community service, sports. i don't know. what do we expect them to do in the summer when they're rotting at some fast-food place? and what do teachers gain from two-months of paid vacation? nothing that trumps the immense "but you have the summer off" inertia that coats a cultural reluctance to pay teachers in a way that allows districts to compete as employers. if a summer off were somehow grandly more rewarding than a comfortable salary with an incentive-based bonus system and the ability to actually work 40-60 hours a week, then schools of education would have stunningly competitive applicant pools, and school districts would have no problem filling each classroom with a highly qualified, highly engaging teacher. however: schools of education have the most uncompetitive applicant pools in all of academia; there's a pronounced teacher shortage in the country, even in a state that comparitively pays its teachers reasonably well - mississippi. how do we even pretend that we can provide a quaility education for students if we can neither attract or retain the necessary amount of teachers? i don't care if we're a district focused on literacy. we don't have textbooks to read or enough people to make sure students read them.


    it's 9:20pm. my bedttime is fast approaching. i spend the last few hours putting together a lesson that looks at the mad hatter's tea party in through the looking glass as a series of word problems, to cap off my small unit on translating from english to algebra. however, since word problems aren't in the official pacing guide for algebra ii, i'm getting criticized from all adminsitrative corners for spending my time on them. it's more important, or so the pacing guide says, to solve linear systems. however, my kid's couldn't graph lines at the beginning of the year. nor could they solve equations. nor could they do anything with word problems. so teaching what a linear system is, and how they could hypothetically solve it would be a bit useless. worse yet - i could give them calculators and show them which buttons to press. but then they wouldn't be learning, or they wouldn't be learning math. they'd be learning about math, about these foreign objects that get put together by the tiny pixels on a ti-82. but they wouldn't be inside these objects, tickling their contours and creating connections between them. they woudn't know where they come from or where they're going. they wouldn't know who died to make them real. they wouldn't be performing math; they wouldn't be mathematical people, passionately wrapped in a pattern-based structural analysis of all things. there would be nothing the parabola could say to the tea cup, nothing a line could do about love. and this would be horrible, and i would never let it happen. if i have to spend a year helping these kids get inside wonderland, then i will do so. when they're there, then we can have a real discussion about a function, or we can do something legitimate with two lines hitting each other somewhere in the descartean void - nothing, intricately drawn nowhere. i refuse to teach them about math; if that takes me putting my foot down and telling them that they will figure out how to solve for x, then that what it takes me. fire me. find someone to march through the state objectives in the worst public educational environment in the country (who are we kidding, anyway? they read a fifth grade level - why are you giving the seniors jane eyre to read for the summer?). if i have to march them down to the cafeteria one-by-one to get their daily dose of diabetes, there's no way that i'm going to sit them down with a bucket of quarters at the zero-sum slot machine of push-button education. i'm going to give them alice in wonderland, and i'm going to ask whether they say what they mean or they mean what they say. then we'll solve some word problems.