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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Interesting Day

Today was the day we were supposed to find out who was getting fired as part of the DCPS "right-sizing"process. Instead, we got notes in our boxes explaining why the process was happening. Apparently the district is behind in putting all the paperwork through to get their employees fired. So teachers are not sure when we're going to find out, which is pretty nerve racking. Any day I could walk in and find a note in my box telling me that I shouldn't come in the next.

In response to the well-publicized district lay-offs a number of students at my school organized a walk-out during fourth period to show their unity and support for the teachers. Of course, it was also an excellent opportunity to skip class. So teachers and administration got wind of the walk-out and set up security guards at all the doors to keep the students from leaving the building (sometimes I really do teach at a prison). When that foiled the students, a number of them decided to start a food fight in the cafeteria. During the chaos of security trying to stop them, someone managed to pull the fire alarm, and then everyone really did have to leave the building. This pissed me off because I was at lunch. As soon as the fire alarm went off I had to go outside and act like an authority again until 4th period.

So I came back inside from the fire alarm to find out that one of my fourth period students was behind the whole scheme. We'll call her Star. Star is a student I've had multiple problems with. She leaves school early every Tuesday to go see her counselor. She's in and out of homes and stays with her mother occasionally. I always feel bad calling her mother because she always sounds so helpless. Star has tremendous mood swings and has the ability to either make or break your lesson. When Star is subdued (possibly on drugs), she does her work calmly and the rest of my class moves at a much quicker pace (this is a class with 35 kids by the way). However, when Star wants to be a class clown, I spend the majority of my energy redirecting her and asking her not to do things like put tape over her lips or lick other people or take her shirt off (the school has uniforms, and more than a few kids try this; they always have their own undershirts underneath. Some kids will keep their arms through their sleeves, but pick up the rest of their shirt. It's almost like their just dieing to show someone their individuality). So Star comes back from the fire drill considerably later than everyone else. She makes a big deal of telling everyone what she did, and then gets called down to the office - probably to get suspended. This will make my life easier for the next week or so, but it will seriously do her no good, as she's missed so many days already.

Anyway, when Star came back and told everyone what she did, kids started talking about the teacher lay-offs. So I thought it couldn't hurt to discuss it for five minutes. I thought I could use it to build rapport if nothing else. I was surprised at how upset a lot of the kids genuinely seemed to be by losing their teachers. Even though they never show it, they really really care about their teachers. I guess I knew this, it was just powerful to see it and hear it from them. For a lot of them, teachers are the only form of trustworthy support they have in this life. They joked about using the walk-out as an opportunity to skip class, but then they got really serious when we talked about the possibility of losing their teachers. I suspect some of this comes from the fact that they lost a lot of the teachers they had last year, either because they were fired or they quit in the high-stakes environment that is both DCPS and also specifically my high-performing high school. Anyway - I was impressed with their concern.

In the last segment of my day, I actually got a chance to sit down with DCPS's chancellor, Michelle Rhee. She came to do an informal Q and A session with teachers. It lasted about an ninety minutes (even though it was only supposed to be an hour). She did a great job. I'd read other teachers' blogs about attending similar sessions, and it seems pretty much everyone comes away from those meetings impressed. She's not the cold person she comes off as in the media; she wasn't even that blunt about things. She used some roundabout phrases to get her meaning across and generally did a good job getting to the heart of people's questions. People were satisfied. She really emphasized the fact that she doesn't want the new evaluation system, IMPACT, to be a gotcha system. Rather she wants it to be a tool for improving teachers' practice. She also acknowledged that it has a lot of room for improvement, and they genuinely seem interested in listening to teachers' concerns about it. I was most impressed with the fact that she personally responds to all e-mails from anyone within twenty-four hours and that she stayed thirty minutes longer to talk about the lay-offs than she had originally scheduled with us. There were about thirty people there, so I think we all felt like we had room to talk and ask questions. She does these a few times a week. It seems like a great idea to me. I continue to believe that she's doing a pretty good job. I hope she takes this district the places its children deserve to go.

All things considered, it was quite the day.

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