Sunday, September 15, 2013

Wherein I try to write about everything, and it doesn't go so well

The beginning of the school year is off to a banging start.  I felt better prepared than I ever have.  As always, sequencing a curriculum is a marathon, but I feel like I've gotten a better start off the line than in previous years.  More interestingly, the path forward is pretty clear.  It's almost...too easy.  All it takes is a committment to do the work and the time to do it. 

Last year, I ran the after-school homework make-up program.  We're continuing that program this year, even though a number of important teachers on our crew are still dubious about its value in their own teaching.  The middle school teachers seem to be taking advantage of it, as are the language arts teachers.  We've made some changes this year to make the "mandatory" part of the assignment more mandatory.  If you don't come to an assigned ASAP, it's a day of in-school suspension, just like it would be if you skipped a detention.  That hasn't changed.  But this year, if you don't finish your work in the Tuesday session, you automatically go to the Thursday session.  If you don't finish your work in the Thursday session, you spend lunch and your non-core classes in the office on Friday.  We'll see how that goes. 

The big difference is that this year, I probably won't be running the program.  We have an exchange student who speaks very little English--so little English, it was difficult to explain that I want to help her.  Because I only have so many hours in a day to do things that are not my job, I have to pick between the two.  Exchange students are supposed to come to our country with a certain level of English language competence.  I don't think this girl has anything close to that.  The school isn't responsible for giving it to her, but I know what it's like to be far from home with no idea what the people around me are saying--and she is in a MUCH worse state than I was when I went to Spain.  So I'll see how much English I can cram down her throat in 2 hours a week.  In that time, we'll do some English language training and as much homework tutoring as I can give her.  This is not going to end well, but nobody will be able to say I didn't try.  Of course, maybe that's what she's thinking, too.

The political climate for educators has not gotten any worse for teachers in the last four months, but then, it's hard to imagine how it could have.  The legislature made some silly choices last session that are just now starting to pay out--making mandatory the Pledge of Allegiance, for example--but they haven't done anything to make things worse.  They won't fund Common Core implementation, so the biggest reform in education since NCLB (and probably since a lot longer before that) will have to be paid for out of schools' general funds.  It's a good thing teachers are grossly overpaid, because schools won't be able to afford raises for a long time.  The state appointed a board to pick a singe state-wide teacher evaluation tool.  I like their short list--the usual suspects appear, Danielson, Marzano, a few others I don't remember right now--but I have no faith that the system will be implemented with fidelity.  Most especially, I don't trust that the evaluations will be used to improve teacher practice, and not to "hold bad teachers accountable" (read: fire people the administrators don't like).  (As a sidebar: I've also had conversations with other crew members about a teacher-driven model of evaluation and training, but in the current environment, too many of them feel like they would be training their competitors.)  Well, also most especially, I don't trust that the state will adequately fund the training and implementation procedures.  

How's TPRS going?  Pretty well, all things considered.  I'm now good enough to know I wish I were better at it--I feel like I could be moving things along a little bit faster, if I knew how to keep things interesting.  I'm now answering questions on the listserv, instead of just asking them (or, more frequently, anxiously reading the answers of people who ask the questions I'm not smart enough to).  For the first time, I'm going to have a regular homework assignment, because I'm confident enough in my in-class assignments to worry about what the students are doing when I can't see them.  I've internalized the standards enough that I can incorporate them into a lesson nearly on the fly, and if my paperwork isn't all in order, it's actually well on its way. 

The school's PBiS program seems like it's off to a good beginning.  We had all of our lesson plans written, and from my observations, they went off pretty well.  The proof is in the pudding, though.  Everybody knows what they're expected to do; now we'll encourage them to do it.  We have some pretty exciting possibilities for prizes.  Last year nothing jelled.  Here's hoping this year it goes better.

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