Someone the other day called me opinionated, and I sort of felt bad because I do not think I am prejudiced (beyond what all humans are), intolerant, narrow-minded or hidebound. In this case, the remark was made about my grousing over the over-watering of our golf course. Somehow, I do not consider slogging through muck on the way to tees, sloshing through standing water in fairways, and playing from muddy traps in the middle of June, in the middle of a drought as an enjoyable way to play golf. I do walk most rounds; those who ride, their feet hardly touching soil, and offer an observation about my being opinionated, are OPINIONATED. But this blog is not about golf, it is about “stuff” I have seen in education, real stuff, real events, not opinions or opinionations. The following is a cut from an email from a teacher in Tennessee. Noting that there is no evidence for me to suspect any fabrication by the mailer, I shall elaborate on it and expand on a few experiences I had in about thirty years in public education.
. . . They hired someone before me because she was cheaper with two years experience but they ate her alive. Administration was called to the room daily and she was on the same chapter after 4 weeks block scheduling. I came in and we were so far behind. The U.S. History kids take a state test at the end of the year and they were four weeks behind when I arrived. I just covered as much material as possible and never stopped teaching until the day before the test. I hammered, pleaded and drilled them into the necessity of passing this test. . . My biggest mistake was when we continued to have bomb scares because of some kid writing "bom" on the bathroom stall. We had them at least once a week and sometimes more. On the last scare we all were in the stadium and I was taking attendance and came up one student short. OMG! where was he? Well after one hour (yes we were out there for 1 and half hours) he came out and said I left him asleep in the room. The fact is that the police found him in the library and the guidance counselor checked the room after me and verified no one was in the room. I still looked bad and the principal came up to me in front of the whole school and told me I had to be sure everyone was out of my room. . .
First, let me comment about the reference to hiring cheaper: schools are under severe budgetary pressures and will hire a novice for 35K vs. an available pro for 65K; sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t; usually the students suffer.
Please note the troubles of a novice teacher. OK, maybe she wasn’t effective, but do not miss, dear reader, that the administration had to come daily. What sort of impact or control did the administration have on school-discipline? We also see in this email the emphasis and stress of meeting standards of state testing for which districts hold teachers accountable. Additionally, we see a typical interruption in public schools, the bomb threat, plus sort of a whacky response from an administrator about a missing student. Usually, when teachers haul kids out for fire drills, bomb-scares, etc. they are required to send a list of missing students, by runner, to an "administrative command post" . The principal’s actions I can’t account for except it appears he/she were passing blame to the teacher for his/her lack of control in the school. My points: if we cannot hold parents accountable for homework or students’ behaviors, or administrators accountable for the discipline and safe operation of schools, how do we hold teachers accountable for tests-results?
My first teaching assignment was in Wicomico County. We were required as new teachers to attend several gatherings, run by the county superintendent of schools at which he threw out “educational hot topics” to which we were expected to respond. I was hired in mid-year because of the illness of a long-tenured, excellent teacher and had missed the first two sessions. In spring, I, along with another new teacher, helped the track coach with a meet. There being a new teacher gathering scheduled the same day, we asked what we should do and were told by our principal to help then go to the meeting. We arrived about forty-five minutes late and the only seats available were at the podium, flanking left and right, the superintendent. We excused ourselves and sat down. In about 15 seconds the superintendent began groping me, stoking my shoulders as he responded to questions and answers, leaning his hips against my arms and running his shoe along my calf. Needless to say, I was extremely uncomfortable; I glanced to my left where I observed my friend broken out in large beads of sweat and as completely red-faced as I. He was getting the work over as well. It was common knowledge that this superintendent was affectionate with men. I do not know if he was queer (that’s opinionated but I will not use gay for some ass who felt my ass) but no a male I met in that county had escaped such an experience. I once asked another acquaintance how he got to be a principal at his young age. “You know how the superintendent likes to rub our asses? Well when he was rubbing mine I turned around.” That’s a quote folks. I got the feel-up from this creep at two other occasions where teachers meet with administrators. ICK. But what’s a guy going to do, fresh out of college, three kids, wife, bills. My friend and I laughed about this incident many times over the years, but it remains a disgusting incident. More disgusting, I guess is that in every new-teacher-meeting, two administrators positioned themselves to observe the interactions; both knew about the superintendent’s fetishes; both became superintendents in that county.
In a much more recent experience, I was teaching in Caroline County, high school English. I had taught 24 years prior to that experience but was once again a new teacher. I was in my second year at one of the high schools and had a student who was inclined to do nothing in class or out of class for that matter and came to class without supplies. I had had him the prior semester and had written to and spoken with his mother several times regarding my expectations for work effort and behavior. He was a nice enough kid, just inclined to do nothing, what the shrinks call passive-aggressive. Mom pretty much said that I was on target, that her son had never liked school, and that she could do nothing with him. On my last phone call to mom, I told her I was at the point where I could not do much more than send her son onto administration if he continued not being prepared for class. Then, I did send him off on three separate occasions with a referral for failure to follow a reasonable request (no box to check on a referral for refusing to do work) and told him that I would no longer waste time asking him to get his work: if he came without a composition book and pen or pencil, I would just send him on his way. I heard nothing on the first two referrals- no follow up- no action taken form-nothing. On the third referral, the assistant principal required that I attend a meeting with him and the student. When I got there (during my planning period), the principal said that he was not sure why I was sending the boy to him and not sure what the boy could do to stay in class. I asked if I could see the three referrals; the guy dug through the kid’s file and handed to them to me. On each one was written dates of my parent-contact, a summary of discussion with parent (I kept a discipline log), and “Kid (used his name) must have composition book and pen and pencil for every class because we use it for class notes, writing assignments and journal entries. It accounts for 15 percent of his grade and a parent instantly can see what a child is doing in my class. If Kid has these two items his chance of passing my class is greatly improved.” I looked at the principal and said that I was sending kid because he had no materials and that if Kid had materials he would most likely not be sent to the office. The principal asked if the kid needed help buying the materials (I had given him the book) and if he would go to class prepared for work. Kid said yes, end of meeting. I will not offer an opinion about this principal. After a summer, I went back and because Kid did not have a passing average, he was back in my class again. Same problem, called mom, she said she would try; Kid got two referrals for not having materials. Several weeks passed, Kid shows up without materials, but another assistant principal is observing/evaluating my class in which I was introducing vocabulary, reviewing and explaining a writing assignment due in a few days, introducing a grammar element, and setting up pairs of students for practice on our grammar unit. I asked Kid if he had his book and pen; he said no; I let him sit, hoping the principal would get an idea about his referrals and behavior and moved on with the lesson with all other students taking notes in their composition books. Not an exciting lesson but workmanlike. Two days later in my post-observation conference the principal accused me of “losing” Kid and of not providing his instruction. I asked if she had checked Kid’s file before putting such a comment in my observation-summary; she had not. (She did verbally remark though that one of the best lessons she had observed was when her daughter’s teacher stood in a cardboard box and pretended to be Columbus; I did not tell he about my lesson when I lectured in my jockey shorts and pretended to be Gandhi.) I will not opinionate on her either, the bitch.
Jeesh and Jayzuz, I should write a book, but most would not believe it. I will tell more Tales from the Crypt of PubEd someday. But trust me on this: when you are ready to go to the next Tea Bag meeting, Democratic neo-revival, or Republican sink-hole to grouse about teachers and how common they are, I knew and saw more awful administrators per unit than I saw awful teachers. I saw scads more great teachers than I saw great administrators by way-far, anecdotal evidence for sure but not opinionated.
Thanks, David Allen Cole for my title.
PS The USGA and several turf associations and companies prescribe one inch per week for golf-turf maintenance and health, less for Bermuda grasses (not counting greens). Our dude does approximately one inch a night; to say he doesn’t know what he is doing is not opinionated, it is fact. In case, you are wondering about the golf stuff.