mPower

Pre-service and first year teaching secondary math

Apply Yourself

I am hot into the job search and application phase of the summer. Only 5 more weeks until school starts. I have three applications out there. There is something about writing the cover letters and looking through all the things on my resume that renews something in me. It reminds me why I got into this field and about my potential. But what has been truly humbling is to reconnect with all my old employment contacts. I am amazed that some of them still remember me, but they do — and fondly. They were all enthusiastic about being available as a contact on my resume. Even my supervisor from ten years ago when I was a database programmer running around at the whim of the planning and development directors commented that she thinks I would make a great math teacher. I guess it’s easy enough for me to doubt that at times. But oh do I want the chance to try to make myself believe it.

posted by Marty in Education and have No Comments

Subfinder anguish

I’ve heard other colleagues complain about the Subfinder calling system used by Springfield Public Schools. To be fair, without it I probably would not have any work. I am automatically placed in queue for whichever jobs I qualify for. But the drawback for me is that as a hearing impaired person there are two things that do not combine – telephone and time-sensitive response.

The way the system works, a teacher needing a sub logs on and enters the dates and times they need filled. The system already has a record of that teacher’s subject area and grade level. The database filters prospective subs for those who meet the qualifications and are available. Then an automated recording goes to the top of their list and makes a phone call. Once the call is received, either by a person or by voice mail or answering machine, you have about two minutes to respond by entering your nine digit PIN. If you can do that, the job offer is locked until you either accept or decline it or terminate your call. If, however, you miss that two minute window, the next call is immediately placed and the job offer is open until the next person picks up the call and then it becomes locked again.

Now there is also an online interface, but it’s a joke. It’s designed for some kind of scenario where there are lots of teachers posting positions and not that many subs. You’re supposed to be able to login to your account and click on the Available Jobs link to see a list of sub requests, browse through them and pick one that suits you. I don’t know if there ever was a time that it really might have played out like that, but anytime you try that nowadays, you will be sorely disappointed. The only time I have ever seen anything other than a starkly blank screen under Available Jobs is when I am simultaneously on the phone answering a Subfinder call.

The challenge for me is catching that call. First off, let me tell you that I do not wear hearing aids to bed at night. I can’t hear a thing. If I am not wide awake before 6a.m. with my hearing aids on and phone nearby, I will simply wake up to the ghostly voicemail remains of a potential job offer. Incidentally, the only part of the recorded message that gets picked up says “If you’d like to have your number removed from the list, please press …” Gee thanks.

I’ve gotten over the haunts of the ghost voicemail. Now, I wrestle with the angst of the bird in the hand that gets away. I hear the ring and fumble in my pocket for the phone. I have saved the number in my contacts under the name Subfinder Job Offer to distinguish it from the number I call to update my info or login to my account. Once, I swear I hit the green button to take the call, but somehow it hung up. I hit the green button again desperately trying to connect, but all I did was ring through to a recording that says “You have just been called by the Subfinder system with a job offer.” No duh, why do you think I called you?

Another major annoyance is that I have a really hard time understanding the recording. Not only is it a choppy recording made of spliced together segments that don’t really flow well, it’s really intimidating. Right after you enter your PIN (and press #) the woman’s voice demands “You WILL substitute for…” and then comes some garbled name recorded over some cheap school phone by the teacher after school when they really wanted to just go home. The first time I did this, I felt like I was leaping into some arena like a gladiator, not knowing where I was or what to expect. That was when I found out that if I’m really prepared and I login to the online account at the same time that I’m on the phone, I can pull up the job and read the name of the teacher, the school, the subject area and see the date and times. Now if I know I’m going to take the job, then I don’t really need to know what I’m doing when I say yes on the phone. I can look it up online right after I hang up. For example, if they call me on Wednesday with a job that’s all day Friday, that’s ideal for me. But on other days, I might have a doctor’s appointment or I might be volunteering at a 4J school. Depending on how desperate I am or on what’s going on in my volunteer class, I might pick one over the other depending on all the options. What school is it? What grades? Full day or half? Is it for a teacher I want to build a positive relationship with? Then I am hanging on every word and trying to think fast.

Once, I felt like the all-time Subfinder rock star because I was able to catch a lost offer within the two minutes. I ran up the stairs to my phone just in time to hear the glib swallowing sound my phone makes after the last ring to let me know that I’m too late. There on the screen I saw the words Subfinder Job Offer sticking out at me like a tongue. Then I raced back down the stairs to my computer (which I was on when the phone rang in the first place). I have a bookmark for Subfinder and I went right there, logged in and click Available Jobs as quick as I could. It was still open! So I clicked accept and grabbed it. Phew! I was pretty amazed with myself that time.

But the time I inadvertently hung up on a Subfinder call, I was at a friend’s house. We were sitting on her couch talking and we were just about to wrap it up when my phone rang. I let her know I was going to go ahead and take the call before I knew who it was. When I saw the screen I said brightly “Oh, it’s a job offer.” Then when I put the phone to my ear after hitting the green button and it was dead, I panicked. I hit the green button again and it placed a return call. I hit the green button a third time thinking I might have done some weird call waiting thing and tried to get back to the original call. Meanwhile, in my friend’s eyes, I had gone from calm and relaxed to instant crazed maniac. I was yelling “No, no! What the… Oh come on!” I turned to her feverishly and barked “Can I borrow your laptop QUICK?” Stunned, she scuttled across the room and fetched me her laptop. Meanwhile, I was on my fourth green button hit which gave me the recorded message saying I had just been called by them with a possible job offer. I grabbed her computer and realized that I don’t know the URL because I have it bookmarked on my computer. She was trying to be helpful and was asking questions but I could only mutter “No time. I’m not going to make it, I’m not going to make it.”
I tried subfinder.com but that didn’t work. Finally, I gave up. I collapsed back on the sofa, my shoulder slumped and my face sullen and let out a tremendous sigh. She asked if I could call home and get the URL. “It’s all over,” I said remorsefully, “It’s locked up, gone to someone else.”

I can tell already that even though subbing has its benefits, like flexibility and low stakes, I am not going to make it as a career sub. I need a classroom I can plan around and design and accommodate to meet my needs as well as those of the students.

posted by Marty in Education,Job Placement and have No Comments

Guest teaching

I have had two assignments now in Springfield Public Schools. One was a half day assignment in a Math/Science class at A3 and the other was a full day assignment in ESL at Hamlin Middle School. The atmosphere at A3 is quite liberated and it made my job easier. I felt like less of an authoritarian and more of a facilitator. I also got to learn about ionic and covalent bonds. It was my first sub job anywhere and so I came prepared with a list of questions to ask: bathroom policies, how to take attendance, disciplinary procedures, etc. But it turned out I didn’t really need any of that.

The lessons at A3 that day focused on chemistry and I just didn’t know the material. I felt unskilled in that area. But the class is set up to work in groups. They were finishing a quiz and the quiz was conducted as a group. So they could work together on their quizzes and they each got to ask the teacher 3 questions. Well, in this case, the teacher wasn’t much help for answering questions. So instead, I found someone from another group who had already finished their quiz to come over and answer the question for them. In a way, that seemed to be even better than me answering the question. It seemed that even though the class was familiar with working in groups, they hadn’t really given much thought to seeing each group as a resource. It was nice to see the dynamics unfold in terms of who was willing to go ans answer questions, who the question askers thought might be a good resource, and how the answerer was received by the group with the question. It felt like this strategy I came up with to address my own ineptitude actually could have sparked a whole new level of collaboration.

When I got to Hamlin, I was given a badge and key to the room. I forgot to ask my list of questions. I was to lead four classes (3rd – 6th periods) and I had two preps. Luckily, I started with a prep period. I went over the all the LPs for the day and made sure I had all the worksheets and warm-ups. I played with the projector to make sure I knew how to work it. I read over the class lists to see which names I would likely trip over. But then, when 3rd period showed up, there was an announcement that we were to all go to an assembly. I had to shift everything. 4th period went great, I thought. It was a small ELD class and we took parts reading a play in a magazine. Then 5th period was again interrupted by an assembly. 6th period was the hardest. It was 8th graders and as soon as they realized I didn’t know the bathroom policy, they wanted to know what else they could get away with. (I wasn’t supposed to let them go to the bathroom during class at all. Not knowing this, I told them they could go one at a time.) But all in all, they were a pretty good bunch of kids and all worked on their worksheets (though some were goofing off with their responses). I decided to flow like water. One of the students said, you’re a nice sub. Other teachers get all angry and you like just go “Ha ha” and move on. I must have flinched a little when she said that because then she flashed a look like “Oh no, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.” But I just told her that as long as they are learning that’s what matters.

Oh and there was this incident with the world map. I wanted to show them where Sweden was. It was on their worksheet and they didn’t know where it was. A student came up to pull down the map for me and he overextended it. Then when I tried to make it go back up, it wouldn’t go. I asked him to come up and help me and off course it fell off the wall. There was a TA in the class and between the three of us (and amongst the hilarity of the class in general) we were able to get it back up. No harm done, but I forgot to mention it to the teacher after school.

I am learning. I’m sure that I have already established a reputation for myself at Hamlin for better or for worse. Probably both. I am appreciating the benefits of teaching not where I live. I was noticing when I was out shopping in my sweats this weekend just how many high school students I saw and thinking what it would be like if they all knew me. I am also feeling grateful that I can have so much time to stay at home and work on projects. I actually had the sense this week that I could go on subbing until my life changes and then teach full-time. Like maybe after the kids graduate from high school. I hadn’t been thinking I would go that route. But I feel pretty confident that in two or three years, I could develop enough of a reputation to be as busy as I want to be as a sub. It’s nice to get to see so many classrooms and schools without needing to take on the full responsibility of running a classroom.

In the meantime, I am reading “God Created the Integers” and dreaming up a whole Math/Soc Studies curriculum to teach math over a 3 year period in an entirely historical discovery approach. I still have it in me, that passion to teach, you know. But I feel like subbing is making the best of my current situation.

P.S. Note to self. Add to the list of questions at a new school. Where is the bathroom?

posted by Marty in Education,Job Placement and have No Comments

Job Search?

Lane County must be hitting an all-time low in terms of teaching positions. I heard a rumor that the sub lists will open up to newly licensed teachers as of August 1st. I will sign up for that. But my partner confessed to me about a month ago that she is glad I’m taking on my first year teaching in the fall. Grad school was bad enough. She wants to be the breadwinner and have me stay home and support her for a school year. In her dreams, we take the summer off together next year and then I can go back to work. So I’ve shifted gears in my work search from desperate to highly selective. I see things like 5th grade math and science, or 6th grade multiple subjects at a Catholic school or teaching Mathematics at LCC and I pass them up. I have the sense that if I wait, there will be something better for me.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role of public schools as a hub of the community. Most parents just don’t have time anymore to be involved in their children’s schools. But then again, most schools don’t have time to be involved in their student’s families, either. Perhaps I can volunteer at my kids’ middle school next year and try to make something happen. Right now, I am too focused on final projects to really give it much thought. It does feel like a let down to have gone through all this intense work and study and not have an opportunity to teach. But then again, I also have the sense that any time between now and when I do take on a teaching position is more time for me to prepare.

posted by Marty in Job Placement and have No Comments

Marty Party – Last Day

They surprised me with a cake on my last day. We just watched the blooper reels from the Weather Say Weather video project and had cake and cookies. Looking back I wish I had prepared something more formal to thank them all and to say good bye and good luck in life. It felt kind of anti-climatic at the end of the period when they all walked out the door. I packed up all my things from the office and went around the school to say good bye to other teachers and colleagues. That put a bit more closure on things for me.

Then I stopped by the high school where I did my last student teaching to say hello to my other CT but she was not in. I saw some of my old students on their way into class and they were all happy to see me. That was fun.

I still have a lot to do to feel finished with the term. But there is a part of me that feels relaxed that I no longer have to come up with creative ideas or try to problem solve personalities and social dynamics. It’s now all relegated down to pencil and paper recording and reporting.

It also opens the door for a deeper level of reflection. One of the colleagues that I went to say goodbye to had wanted to attend the movie Precious Knowledge that our class saw two nights ago. We talked about the film and that lead to talking about the ironic contradictions of the teaching profession. We as teachers are set to perform an impossible mission. We are to take in groups of too many children in a class from wildly disparate backgrounds and ability levels, teach them all not only the content but a whole way of being in the classroom, make them all feel seen, safe and successful, all the while striving to meet targeted standards. At the end of all that, we are expected to turn out productive young citizens, with 21st century skills ready to contribute to the world. In some ways, it feels as if the School Boards and the state governments expect us to fail. If we succeed and somehow do get more of the “dropouts” to graduate or engage students to the degree that they actually start to embrace their own learning and become critical of the systems set in place, then we can be deemed a threat to the established social structure.

It underscored for me the importance of remembering what inspired me to teach in the first place and holding that central. As a student teacher in 2011, I already see the worst of low pay, low credibility in the broader society, limited efficacy in the school system. But in the classroom, I see possibility and the unstoppable longing to become that children bring. I want to keep coming from the desire to give each student the best possible chance to reach their personal potential, to make the best of what we’ve got and co-create something even better.

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Show them the Ropes

Today was my last real lesson plan in math and I wanted to make it good. We had been working on the line design project and I thought about teaching them about tangents to a curve, but that is just too much of a leap. I asked myself “What’s one thing that they really should know that they haven’t gotten yet in this class?” There is a whole unit in the 7th grade curriculum on the Pythagorean theorem. We didn’t have time for that, but I could at least introduce them to the 3 4 5 right triangle. That’s something everyone should know.

I started out really simply with right, acute and obtuse angles. Then I incorporated line design to guide them to discovering that any inscribed angle of a semi-circle is also a right angle. Then I got out a big rope and showed them the Egyptian rope stretchers technique for finding a right angle. We went over the definition of the hypotenuse. Then I gave them all spaghetti and white boards and set them up to create their own right triangles.

It was a fun combination of visuals and tangibles and worksheets. If i had more time with this class, we could have gone so many places with this. But for a one shot deal, I hope this will stick out as memorable in some way.

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Announcing my Departure

After a four-day weekend, I went around the room and asked what students did or had to share with the class. About 8 students participated and the class was pretty attentive at listening to each other. I noticed that the more interest I showed in listening, like if I asked questions about it, the more the class paid attention.

Then I announced that this is my last week. I got some disappointed “Awww”s. I wasn’t expecting that.
I told them that I wanted to balance things out with them. I’ve been giving them quizzes and tests. The whole time, they have been my test. My CT, the woman who comes in here sometimes from UO and even the principal have all been watching me and grading me on my performance as a teacher. But there’s nothing in the system to ask the students what they think. So tomorrow, I am going to bring in an evaluation sheet for each of you to fill out about me as a teacher. It’ll be your turn to grade me. One student (N) raised his hand and asked a question about that. I thought he asked if he could do an evaluation for the CT since he is leaving (not teaching anymore) at the end of the year. I asked him if that was what he wanted to do but I heard him wrong. The CT explained to me that he wanted to know if I could take his place. That surprised me. This is the kid who dodged me in the halls and came in during lunch one day to work on his homework and left when he saw that the CT wasn’t there. I’m touched.

We got to do a fun, although somewhat tedious, lesson today. We are working on line design. So there was a lot of repetition. But most of the class started to get the hang of it. Tomorrow they will get to be more creative. I sent a pre-teaching email to Lupe and explained that I am leaving. She wrote me a very sweet note back:

I also thank you for teach and translate in my work thank you for the exam in Spanish and the other works as well I’m going to put much effort to study English and I fun too much with you. Thanks for everything and I will never forget that you are a good teacher and if you want be a teacher I know you are going to achieve.

I handed back the grade reports but I held onto the tests that were administered last Thursday. Some students did not do well and I want to meet with them one on one. Lupe was really at a loss. I only partially translated the test (translated the directions, but left the problems themselves in English). I do want to her to start to rely more on the English that she knows and I asked her last week to focus on phrases like “What is the total amount?” or “How many more/less?” I asked the two interpreters if either of them are available to meet with Lupe and I to go over the test again.

But there were several students who really surprised me. Five earned test scores that were a whole letter grade above their average overall scores. I gave out homework passes to each of those students. I will also compare these test scores to their performance on the quiz they took the day I arrived on decimals and percent. I included some of the same material on the unit test.

The CT is easing back into the science lessons and I am helping out with those. The students are all very excited about their solar car designs. They even returned all the tools back to their places at the end of class. Overall, a very good day.

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The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

Well we had a little surprise start to our day. As announcements were being made over the loudspeaker, both the principal and the vice principal came to our room. My CT stepped out into the hallway with them and so when the announcements ended, I launched into our agenda for the day. But soon, they re-entered and so I handed the floor over to the principal. Apparently, some kids in my class had organized a protest against the dress code on the grounds that it is sexist and perhaps impinging on the students’ freedom of expression. I hadn’t noticed but the girls were in very short skirts.

The principal started by saying that he wants a student body culture where students feel free to come and talk to him or the vice principal or any other authority whenever they have an issue or a problem with the school rules. He said that he is always willing to listen to them and hear their opinions. However, if they choose not to go that route and decide to address an issue by going against it en masse, then the school will respond exactly how they said they would in the student manual and they will issue a referral for each student. He clarified that usually, he does not police for dress code. It is only a matter of it being brought to his attention either by a teacher or due to an incident where the violation of dress code is causing a disturbance, or if someone walks right in front of him in clear violation. But when the students decide to violate a school rule as a group, then they will watching out in the halls specifically for dress code violations. He gave them 30 minutes to go to the bathroom to change clothes, call home, do whatever they need to do. After that, anyone seen in the halls or reported to be in violation of the school’s dress code will be written up.

The administrators left and the students were in quite a stir about it. I asked as an open question if it is always wrong to break the rules. The CT joined in. We talked about MLK Jr and civil disobedience. “How do you know when a rule is worth breaking?” I asked. And the CT pointed out that during the civil rights movement and the gay rights and many other times when people felt strongly enough to protest, they were willing to take the heat. They went to jail, they had their houses burned, they lost their jobs. But they kept up their protest because it was important to them.

We kind of went back forth between talking about class and going back to the topic of the “protest” for a bit. It was awkward. I had planned a format to review for the test tomorrow that relied on a respectful classroom engagement without side conversations. I gave them a list of questions like “How do I change a fraction to a percent?” We would go over the answers together and the class would take notes. The notes would become the crib sheet that they could use during the test. But I wanted the class to be respectful. My plan was that as soon as one person started talking, I would send them out to the hallway with a worksheet. But three minutes into my overview, the whole room erupted into low level side conversations. So I said the level of conversation indicated that they didn’t need to study and the next people to distract the class would have to do the worksheet. J went on talking so I walked over to hand her the worksheet. She asked if she could work in the back. I told her to go out in the hall. Then she asked if M could go with her. I knew that is just what she wants and it’s in no way a negative consequence. But I wasn’t trying to deal out negative consequences. I wanted to teach the students who want to hear. I’m tired of spending energy trying to coax these other kids into playing along. Let them go. Go outside. They don’t want to be here anyway.

But it backfired. Then others were asking if they could have a worksheet. I just handed them out to everybody and I said we were going to go back to the review and if anyone is bored or feeling like they don’t need the review, go ahead and work on your worksheet without talking. I went back to the review which involved calling people up to work through sample problems. But then all these students were working on the worksheets and talking to each other. I reminded them again not to talk and why that was important. But I was also not feeling very well and so I was bit impatient.

J whined “How many more of these (slides on the SmartBoard) are there?” I gave up. I asked who WANTED to go over the material together. Only a few raised their hands. I asked who WANTED to do well on the test. A few more raised their hands. I said, “OK I’m willing to be flexible. I don’t want to waste my energy on people who don’t want to hear me. Let’s split the room in half and everyone who WANTS to review together come over to this side of the room and everyone who wants to just study on their own and go over the worksheets go to that side of the room. They weren’t sure what to do. “Go on,” I said, “Make your choice.” “I have to move all the way over there?” D complained. In the end, only two students came to the front one being the new student who hadn’t covered all of this material before. There were others who had raised their hands earlier but didn’t feel strong enough to stand out from the crowd. I could see too, that some were watching out the corner of their eyes and copying things down from the SmartBoard.

Later, K and CS asked “What’s a unit rate?” right when I said it was time to put the math away and move on to science. I just said “I went over that already on the SmartBoard.” I guess it was kind of immature of me. The test is a major part of their grade and the last test like it of the year. It’s kind of high stakes to be gambling an “I told you so.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to address it tomorrow. On the one hand, I want to be positive and give them a positive chance to do well. On the other hand, I want to be firm. On the third hand, I left school early and skipped my evening class because I feel terrible (exhaustion, congestion, foggy head, achy). Maybe I just drop it in the CT’s lap. Let him dish out the test and lecture them about classroom expectations.

I should decide now while I can still call the CT and my supervisor and let them know what to expect for tomorrow.

posted by Marty in Education and have Comment (1)

Game Show and Big Test

On Monday, I put together a Jeopardy game for the class to review everything we’ve had so far about similarity, ratios, rates and proportion. I divided the class into three teams. I even wore a sports coat and used the microphone the students made for the music video. Unfortunately, I did a lot of woodworking this weekend and my throat was still coated with sawdust. The game was a little bit long for them, but for the most part, I think it kept them engaged. Some of the questions were worded in ways they hadn’t heard before and they had trouble answering them.

For science, we finished up the Solar Webquest that was so thoroughly thwarted last Friday. We had the COW and I think that works better than the library. About 2/3 of the class finished their assignments.

My intention was to have this lesson be the closure on that unit and move on to something new, but my CT felt they were not solid enough on it yet. He said he’d like to see a real test on the subject, a big 50 question test. I thought that we could bring decimal and percents into that test as well. That’s what they had just finished when I took over and they didn’t do very well on that test. It could also serve as my pre and post assessment. So we agreed to do that.

I was up Monday night redesigning lesson plans and preparing for the solar lessons. Tuesday was kind of a let down for me. The class was pretty glum (to put it lightly) when told them about the test on Thursday. (J asked me not too subtly when I was leaving). I gave them a little talk about the learning process and the importance of retrieving information. I did this because so many of them just copy all the time. They copy what I write on the board, they copy each other, they copy the book. But they never really pull the information from their own brains. So I gave them a crossword puzzle with the explicit instructions to do these by themselves as a way to practice retrieval.

I moved into the science presentation which was on the path of the sun. I brought in a cool hands on tool called a Solar Pathfinder. I showed them how it worked and how to use it. Then I gave them kind of an option time. Those who hadn’t finished their webquests did that. I handed out the math homework and others worked on that. I gave them progress reports and gave them time to do missing assignments. The few who were done with everything got to go out into the courtyard and use the Solar Pathfinder. Only two kids (T&J) used the pathfinder. K did her usual routine of “I can’t do this! I need help.” Some students were gone for a Ganas assembly or for testing, so I think it actually worked out well to have Tuesday as a buffer day.

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Last Full Week

I have two more instructional weeks. Memorial Day weekend falls right in the middle so I won’t have any more 5-day weeks. Yesterday was a big track meet and our school broke 6 records. The kids were on a high and feeling the sun for the first time. Their minds were anywhere but in the classroom. I had three major things planned for today. The first was a pretty cool end of unit exploration. Then we had one more State exam to take, the EasyCBM. The last component was the introduction to our next science unit on solar power.

The math activity is called paper pool. It’s one of those math explorations that’s like a logic puzzle. We used various dimensions of rectangles on grid paper as “pool tables” and looked at what happens when you shoot a ball from the lower lefthand corner at 45 degrees. The challenge was to find a pattern to predict both which corner pocket the ball will eventually land in AND how many points of contact the ball makes. Two students found the pattern for the points of contact. But many more could not even seem to focus on drawing the path of the ball onto their grids. For some, it was a matter of spatial relation and not really understanding what the 45 degree angle means in terms of how to draw the line. For others, it was just a goofy blow off activity that they weren’t willing to put much effort into.

Four students were absent yesterday when we had the quiz, so I set them up take the quiz while others worked on the paper pool activity. Unfortunately, two of them had to leave to take the reading test. I let D go into the office to take his where he wouldn’t be disturbed. At one point, I realized that I had written the vocabulary words to choose from on the board yesterday, so I needed to provide the same for these two. I gave the words to CH who was working at her seat. Then I went to go offer the same to D and surprisingly, he was already on page two and had completed the vocabulary. After class, when I went to grade them, he had a nearly perfect score. Then I realized that I had left the folder on the desk that contains the answer key. I don’t have any proof that he copied the answers, but given his overall performance, it seems likely. I figure I will ask him about his answer to the last question when I see him again in class. I suspect that he will not be able to tell me how he got the answer. I’d like to give him the opportunity to admit that he cheated.

Since we were coming to the end of the year and the deadline for this testing to take place, several of my students were pulled out of this morning activity to go take the reading EasyCBM. They arrived back just in time to take another one. We had arranged to have the COW for this test, but the teacher who shares the COW with us still needed it for her class. So we changed plans and went to the library to take it. What a set up. I think several of them might even do worse on this exam than they did in the fall. We were already off balance by it being a Friday, the track meet triumph, and the disruption of some kids being pulled out. Now the walk to the library pushed everyone over the tipping point and put them all in “field trip” mode.

I am sometimes aghast at the level of disregard for tests that kids have today. They were sitting next their friends and laughing in goofy energy that clearly communicated that they couldn’t care less about this exam. I told them no calculators and I caught two of them using the computer’s built in calculator. They would talk to each other or tease each other in ways that had nothing to do with the questions or the answers to the test. In their mind, if they aren’t talking about the test, it’s not cheating and therefore allowable. There’s just no way students would get away with this level of disregard when I was in school. But it’s not just a few, it was maybe a third of the class. I mean, on the one hand, I feel for them. They’ve had a lot of meaningless tests that are not very well designed. The questions are set up more like brain teasers than straight up math questions. They get the message from the media, from their parents and even at school that these tests are dumb and don’t matter. The ballot for funding schools just lost by a vote of 2 to 1. Everywhere around them, and especially on a summery Friday, is that school just doesn’t matter.

Then to make matters worse, the world is supposed to end on Saturday. A subset of the class (maybe a half a dozen) immediately logged on to the Judgment Day website as soon as they completed their exam to see how much longer they had to make amends. The instruction was to go to a specific website about solar energy and answer questions that they were given. When I told these particular students that they were ONLY supposed to be on the solar website, most of them complied but kept the other page open on another tab. One girl did not pay any attention at all and I said to her sternly “This is not approved use of the internet.” She didn’t take her eyes off the computer and retorted “The world is ending so it doesn’t matter anyway.” That got approving chuckles from the kids sitting around her. I ignored her comment, leaned close to her and pointed to her blank paper and said “This is what you need to be doing right now.” I at least got her to break eye contact with the screen. This group is usually pretty well behaved. I could see that some of them were truly concerned about the end being near, but none of them were believers enough to feel compelled to clean up their act and be obedient to their teachers before facing judgment. I know I’m walking a thin line here as soon as religion comes up. But as a culture, and not just middle schoolers but everyone, it seems we have gone a place where we just dabble in bits and pieces and no one really commits to one thing anymore. Not in politics or religion or education. The world has become one big smorgasbord and we just sample varieties as we choose. Some days we might get a balanced meal, but too many times we never stray from the desert table. But I’m off on a soap box.

I feel badly about this exam, especially for Lupe. For one thing, each student has to log in as listed by teacher. She wasn’t on the list. So we were told that all the students in the school were listed under the resource manager’s name. We tried to go there and again she wasn’t listed. Finally, we were given a third list and her name was on it. I imagined that she was so hard to find because she was listed in special place where they have the test in Spanish. But no, her test came up in English with no side-by-side translation. I looked again to see if there was some option that I had missed. The CT walked back over to the resource manager a third time and was told that there is no Spanish translation for this test. They just have to do the best they can in English. It just so happens that during the last 7th grade team meeting we were talking about accommodations for the EasyCBM and I got online and read the rules and guidelines for administering the exam. I knew, for example, that some kids could use the calculators if they had that written on their IEP. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen their IEPs and so I didn’t know who could use them. But I also read the rules around “helping” students and how you can or cannot read back the questions to them. So I chose to do this for Lupe in Spanish. I remembered reading specifically that reading the question to them in their language was one of the accommodations. I only know enough Spanish to give a direct translation of the English which is exactly what we are supposed to do. I only translated the questions with English words in them. I didn’t translate questions that were purely numeric or symbols. And I didn’t stand by her the whole time, either. This lack of accommodations more than anything made me feel like the whole test was a joke and not really designed with the intention to get a true indication of what students know. It feels more like a way to appease the need for accountability whether it is a valid indicator or not. Now I can see why certain teachers were so up in arms about this test at the staff meeting.

The web research turned into just a filler activity and I didn’t see much good coming out of it. When the usual clowns were starting to gain momentum, I went around handing out PBIS tickets to those who were on task and saying out loud to them “Good job being on task.” One of the clowns (CS) was in a particularly weird mood and blurted out “How come I never get any of those?” in a hurt tone. To which I quickly replied “I want to give you one, quick, get on task so I can.” She and her friend just laughed and she mimed a sorrowful sob. I shook my head and played along saying “Poor C” but then walked on to give out PBIS to those who really were on task. I think it was good because the interaction was very brief so it didn’t take my attention away from those who deserved it for too long. But 1) I let her that I’m not just going to ignore her, 2) the responsibility went right back on her, 3) I give her a chance and if she chooses not to take it I’m not going to fight her, she just needs to live with the consequences.

posted by Marty in Education and have Comment (1)