Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The School Day, Part II: Planning Period

I walk back to my room, make a point of leaving the lights off, set down the composition book and pencil I always bring to meetings to feign taking notes, and look at my white boards. They're blank. I print a copy of my lesson plan. I copy the standards off my lesson plan, make them size 40 font, and print them in Microsoft Word's landscape orientation. I grab some tape and post them on the white board in the back of my room in the box I've created out of painter's tape entitled, "Standards." I hold my lesson plan in my left hand and a dry-erase marker in my right as I write my daily activities in another tape box, SMART objectives in a third, essential questions in a fourth, and homework in a fifth.

I turn around and look at the empty desks in my room.

(This is what you wanted your whole life, and now you have it: your own classroom.)

"Hey, hitman! Turn the lights on in here. You're probably making a list of the students you're gonna take out today," yells the grade-level counselor as he walks past my room. He calls me hitman because I look like the guy in the movie, Hitman (and Billy Corgan, and Michael Stipe, and ever other white guy who shaves his head), and because I leave the lights off in my room during my planning period because I get plenty of stimulation during the day.

I take ten seconds to continue staring at the empty desks and then begin walking over to my computer. I notice a formless collection of some girl's (presumably it came from a girl) hair sitting in between the student computers. It's accompanied by a half-eaten bag of bag of Cheetos.

(These kids and their diets - and I need to pay more attention to the trash I allow them to leave in here after class. The custodian only sweeps the floors.)

I sit down at my desk with the intent of gathering the images I will need for my Cornell Notes, writing my Cornell Notes, grading quizzes to give back to my classes, and a number of other tasks. But before I hit up Google images, I check my Gmail.

There, at the top of my inbox, sits a lone unread e-mail. It's from my department head, and it's titled, "post-converence."

"today at 9:00 id like to review what we saw in your room yesterady. bring your materials. Meet me in room 101. Ms. administrator wil also be joining us"

I click on "show details."

(Exactly what I thought: he sent it last night - at 12:51am. Thanks a lot for the advance notice, Mr. Administrator. Sure, I have no problem using my plan period to listen to you tell me what a bad teacher I am. Maybe you can explain to me why you and Ms. Administrator felt it was necessary to take 45 minutes of your day yesterday to watch my fourth-period class. In a school where students are almost never held accountable for their actions, how is it that two administrators have time to sit in a single teacher's classroom. It's not because I disagree with you, is it? No, that can't be it. You wouldn't let your ego control your actions as a professional. You're too mature for that.)

I throw together a half-ass slide show of Google images to help aid my Cornell Notes presentation on Gandhi's Salt March. I write out my questions and what I hope the kids will get out of the notes in my composition book, grab my stuff, and head out the door to room 101. I poke my head in the door of the other world history teacher and tell her about the stuff I'm about to have to deal with.

"No way. Ms. Administrator chewed me out yesterday in my IMPACT evaluation for an hour because I wasn't doing things 'Mr. Administrator's way.' She asked me why we weren't studying the Cuban Missile Crisis during our World War I unit and acted like she knew what she was talking about. Then she rated me an ineffective teacher."

"Awesome. Can't wait. I'll tell you about it later."

I walk down the hall and see another teacher whose name I don't know (the fourth I've seen today) and begin to judge the appropriate proximity at which to make eye contact and say hello. No need. She's not even going to look at me. I smile.

"Good morning!"

"oh hey"

(What the hell is wrong with this school. People can't say hello; they can't talk openly about their work environments; they're afraid of losing their jobs. I feel like I'm Winston in Nineteen Eight-four.)

I take a seat in room 101 and wonder what Mr. Administrator is thinking as he types on his laptop.

(Has he seen my blog? Is that why he's been riding me so much recently? Is that what this is really about? Maybe I should take down some of the stuff I've said on there.)

"How do you think your class went yesterday?"

I respond.

"Here's what I think you did well: you wrote your objective on the board. Unfortunately, you did the following things wrong: your objective wasn't rigorous, you used the materials I gave you incorrectly, you didn't use the text book, you didn't call on every student in the classroom, you didn't explain why the the material was relevant to their everyday lives, you didn't engage all of your students, you didn't positively reinforce the students every time they didn't something correctly, you talked too much, your desks were arranged poorly, you didn't seem like you knew the material that well, it seemed like you were making things up as you went, and I'm not sure how relevant your assessment really was. I could go on, but I don't want to overwhelm you here."

*Stare at him.*

I make the decision to fight instead of just saying, "Yes, sir. I'll work on all of those things. Thank you." If I'd said that, I'd probably be able to leave and go back to doing something worthwhile. Instead, I'm stubborn and tell him why I disagree with everything he just said.

"I don't make things up on the fly. That strategy told me immediately what words were stopping my students from engaging with the text."

"What research do you have to prove it?"

"Uhhhh, it worked....."

"My strategies are based in research. Use them."

"Which of your strategies would you recommend I use when I want to quickly assess what words will pose the biggest challenge to my students accessing a text."

"Listen, we don't have time to train you how to be a teacher right now. That's what the summer was for. You need to be ready now. Let's move on."

(I don't believe that this is happening. Should I point out to him that he completely avoided my question, that he is not offering me anything but criticisms? No. I've been trying to prove myself this whole meeting. Now I just want to get back to my planning period and get ready for my day.)

I arrive back at my room five minutes before class is supposed to start. I feel my blood pressure rise knowing that I'm not ready the way I want to be.

(The desks aren't in the order I needed them to be. My copies are still waiting for me downstairs. I haven't changed into my work shoes yet (I wear tennis shoes to walk to work). I haven't eaten my protein bar yet or gotten my bottle of water for the day.)

I take a deep breath, loosen my tie, unbutton the top button of my shirt, and prepare for second period.


  1. I can tell you from experience that DCPS is a "different world". I am sorry to hear that you decided to leave us, I wish you luck in your journey.

    Teacher Sol

  2. How true. At my school (in DC) I cannot even get the principal to look me in the eye. Sometimes I give him a big and reassuring "Hello Dr. Soandso" like I would do for a shy student. Doesn't work. Oh well, I guess it's because by looking us in the eye he might realize that we are human and not names on papers that he must have in line to keep getting his administrator paycheck.

    It's sad that it is this way. I have been in DCPS only since August and it is unbelievable how much the large central management kills any hope of this school system working out for the people involved. That's the real problem with inner city schools: big central office. If you have people whose job it is to tell other people what their job is, down to the T, and hold everyone accountable those in the higher roles will micromanage. It might just be a flaw that could only go away if those at the top realized that it's not OK for them to be at the top. Or for there to be a top at all.


  3. I completely agree, Mike. COMPLETELY agree.

  4. Mike, I hope you testify at the upcoming city council hearings. Contact:

    Aretha Latta at 202-724-8196.
    email: alatta@dccouncil.us

  5. Work at school in NE.. my principal DOES NOT respond to teacher emails, and only acknowledges teacher presence ( with a big fat smile) if a parent or other outsider is present.
    IMPACT question: Why is it that administrators only cover the TLF in the debrief? My experience is that my administrators will dwell on ONE thing that you did wrong and send the email late at night for the rest--Value added and CP, where points are taken off but never a real explanation given in person.

  6. as the "teacher next door" to you during that time i cant agree more. everything you said, true. I still cant believe that place.

  7. I continue to work at the school and really do feel like Winston. Do you remember how the state would announce enemies, and how they would change with a passing day, or week (as if W. was Big Brother. I digress)? Here, like in your report of the oft reiterated, 'what did you learn that you can take back to your classrooms?' and the hyper-mercurial nature of our goals, our focus, our staff make-up, we experience a dysphoria, because of lost time, wasted moments, empty activities, crippling frustration, soul-crushing attacks at professional and personal esteem alike, and communication patterns that assume teacher-student/parent-child tones, so far beyond the already frightening pale of sausage factory teaching in the image of Mammon. I mean NCLB and the business model of education.

    We bear so much. The children seem aware. Admin might even know better, but I'll be dipped in manure if they aren't actually sadists about the experience of teacher management.

    I am tired of being spoken to as if I had no command of English, spoken, nor written.

    I thank you for the posts, wish you would've stayed time enough to draw more to you. Unwilling to be fired for violations of thought, I cannot remain out here. Not with Obama hollering, fire when ready and these folk so ambitiously ready.

    all the best,
    tuff teaching cutie

  8. tuff teaching cutie - I hope you're signed up to testify at the city council hearings on the 15th. If not, I hope you provide written testimony.

    Also, keep looking for other ways to get the word out - especially to the President. You sound like one of the bright young people he thinks will walk in to rescue a school where all the bad teachers have been fired.

    Someone needs to get through to him that it won't happen that way - and it has nothing to do with helping kids.