It seems like forever, but 5 years ago today I was getting ready for the first day of my 9th year of teaching at Shepherd Hill. A lot of teachers like the first day, but I hated it. I liked school after about three weeks, when I knew all the kid’s names, I knew what kind of students they were, I knew what to expect, I saw their true colors begin to come out (everyone’s nice the first week), and they got used to me as a teacher. There were no re-do’s of failing quiz grades in my class, so a lot of kids struggled at first. But I knew how to get the best out of them, and I knew that a wakeup call earlier on in the year was the best way to do that. Read my book and I explain my educational philosophy more in depth.
It took some kids a couple weeks to get used to a teacher that wasn’t going to let them squeak by without doing anything.
I hated the first day because it was really awkward. I had a freshman homeroom, and they’re all petrified to be the first one to speak. You try to make small talk with them, but for the most part they have no interest in it because they’re nervous, and they’re 14 year olds with very little to talk about. Then I’d have my junior classes, and you do ice breakers, hand out the syllabus, and just really dreadful stuff that I hated. I loved history, I loved teaching it, and I was ready to get started right away. But it takes a couple weeks to get in the groove.
The only thing worse than the first day was professional development days. Kids loved PD days because it was a day off for them, but every teacher I’ve ever talked to has agreed that they’d rather be teaching kids than sitting through PD. First of all, the name is misleading because you don’t develop professionally at all. You just go to a bunch of meetings where the people with the least amount of personality (administration) guide you through a Power Point presentation about MCAS results from the previous year. Finding ways to slightly improve the percentage of kids in the proficient category is pretty much the only thing your kid’s school cares about. Do they tell teachers how to improve them? Nope. Figure that one out on your own. Just understand that your evaluation depends on how a bunch of 15 year olds who you have no control over 99% of the day do on a standardized test.
Five years ago at what would turn out to be my final PD day I decided to record a presentation from Principal Mary Pierangeli, the first villain in the hit book I Am Turtleboy, because she was so, so boring. This woman didn’t have an ounce of personality to her, and I have no idea how she ever taught kids before becoming a principal. People like her become principals because they’re not good teachers, but they are good at reading graphs out loud. Here’s some of those videos of teachers being forced to sit through a Power Point presentation on the previous year’s MCAS results. Keep in mind, I taught history, which was not an MCAS subject. Art, physical education, other elective teachers, and foreign language teachers were all in the same boat. None of this had anything to do with over 50% of people in the room. This is what big government and a colossal waste of taxpayer resources looks like in action.
“The other thing they look at is participation. Participation needs to be around 95%. So, this is all of the points we were awarded. Last year we had 400 this year we had 400, what is the difference? The answer is 100 points that we did not get. So we are at 66 and last year we were at 71 and we have work to do but we’re close.”
Seven hours of this.
“We’re very close at bringing this up to the next level, so it’s very doable for us to get them up there. Let’s look at biology. Seventy two students or 28% of students scored advanced, but the state had 30%. And again, we need to get that up. 141 students or 56% scored proficient. The state had 43%. And actually I’m going to go to the next slide because there are two sets of scores, and I can’t figure out the exactly (inaudible). There are scores for science and technology, and there are scores for biology. We take the biology…..”
There was probably four people out of 80 in that auditorium that taught biology, but we all had to sit through it. Only 28% of Shepherd Hill kids were advanced in bio, compared to 30% of kids in the state. Obviously then those four teachers needed to find a way to train kids to do slightly better on a multiple choice test that they’d take in May. This is what education looks like.
“We had some that were advanced that went down to proficient. And our needs improvement stayed the same at 4% and our failing stayed the same at 2%. So 98% of the students that passed the test at first attempt. And only 4 that could not. We had 94% that scored proficient or higher (inaudible). Look at this, in that 256-258 score we have 56 students. All they need is one or two more questions answered correctly and they’re in advanced. So we’re not that far off. We’re just about there. So that’s the data we need to look at.”
Keep in mind, the 2% of kids who failed the test amounted to a total of 5 kids. These were more than likely kids who got suspended a lot, didn’t read, didn’t study, didn’t do their homework, and could care less about the MCAS. As a teacher you have absolutely no control over their ability to improve because it’s really up to the student and the student’s parents to make sure their kid stops fucking around in class. If they don’t listen in class or study for tests they’re not going to pass. Yet teachers are somehow responsible when they fail, and students like this are the central focus of almost every PD day. The solution to the problem was to pass them along, don’t suspend them when they commit suspendable acts, and train them how to pass a multiple choice test.
One thing I learned as a teacher is that if I looked out into the classroom and I saw bored, uninvolved faces, I needed to switch up what I was doing or I was going to lose them. High school administrators don’t have this ability. There isn’t a single person in that crowd that was actually paying attention to a word she was saying. They were all there because they had to be there to get paid. The sad part is that these days really could’ve been used for teachers to collaborate, share lesson plans, talk about strategies and stuff that worked for them. Ya know, things that could actually help kids learn. But instead we sat and listened to Mary Pierangeli read bar graphs to us for hours so that George Bush and Obama could brag about how no child was left behind.
Please consider supporting local journalism by donating to the Turtle fund:
Hello Turtle Riders. As you know if you follow Turtleboy we are constantly getting censored and banned by Facebook for what are clearly not violations of their terms of service. Twitter has done the same, and trolls mass reported our blog to Google AdSense thousands of times, leading to demonitization. We can get by and survive, but we could really use your help. Please consider donating by hitting the PayPal button above if you’d like support free speech and what we do in the face of Silicon Valley censorship. Or just buy our award winning book about the dangers of censorship and rise of Turtleboy: