The Life of Bon: Some days I work at a school

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Some days I work at a school

There was a time where I wrote a lot about teaching and I wrote a lot about my students on this blog.  I don't write about my students as much anymore because now I have June and she's a lot cuter than 17 year olds.  She also doesn't talk back to me.  Yet.

In actuality, blogging on a public forum about students and their personal education is tough.  I would like to find a way to talk about my profession again on this blog because it's something I care about and that I'm very passionate about. It's a fine line, though.  It's tricky when the students you are writing about are real people with real lives and it's hard when you disagree with a lot of the things your district is doing but you really like your job and want to keep it.  It's hard when you see a lot of flaws in common core and  standardized testing so you want to fight the man but you love your principal so you decide to just shut up and do your job.

The best part of my job is the students  My students this year are so sweet.  Like vanilla syrup and cinnamon with marshmallow sauce.  I love them fiercely.  I also don't feel like I am at odds with them as much this year.  Part of this is because I eased up considerably on my late policy.  This happened at the urging of my principal, who has asked all teachers to think about doing away with late penalties completely.  This is an entirely different subject for another day, but I decided I would give it a try third quarter.  I didn't make an announcement, but if a student tried to hand in work late, I let him.  I stopped insisting the work be in by a certain date and I even let kids redo tests.  The results were that the same kids got As, the same kids got Cs, and the same kids got Fs.  My unofficial conclusion, therefore, is that it makes no difference at all on a student's grade if you accept her late work.  The upside, that I wasn't expecting, is that I stopped feeling like I was constantly going to battle with my student over their stupid late essays.  The energy I was putting into enforcing deadlines, calculating late penalties and keeping track of if a student's absence was excused or not can now be put into other, more important tasks.  It's easier to be a teacher.  Just let the kid hand that dumb review in.  Stop feeling like kids are trying to manipulate me all the time.  Give them their 10 points. It feels like the classroom is an easier, less tense place to be this year. I like it.

Sometimes I wish I could tell the world more about the kids I teach.  They are funny and smart and sassy and sometimes they say the most inappropriate things at the most opportune time and I have bite my lip not to laugh.  A lot of them do their homework.  A lot of them don't do their homework.  Most of my students work jobs after school- many of my students working 40 hour a week jobs.  For many of them, homework just isn't the priority- they help their family financially and they don't have the luxury of five hour homework sessions.  Last week I felt very frustrated when 3 out of a class of 26 had done their homework.  I asked them all to write me a note explaining why they hadn't bothered to do their work that weekend.  I said it with an edge.  I was fed up.  Then I read their notes and one student replied, "I was a pile of blankets and sadness all weekend.  I still kinda am."  Another student replied, "I didn't do the homework because my friend's mom is in the hospital with cancer so I was at the hospital with him all weekend.  My dad died of cancer in October and I felt very alone during that time so I wanted to help my friend not feel so alone."  So, no.  They don't all do their homework.  And I am starting to think that that isn't the most important thing.

And then there's the huge topic of standardized testing. This week my juniors are taking the SAGE- a massive English, Reading, Writing, and Science test in the state of Utah.  It takes 3-4 hours per section.   It is a beast.  Supposedly this test will be used down the road to evaluate teacher effectiveness and there are even looming threats that at one point teachers' pay will be tied into the SAGE scores.   I do not support this test nor do I think it is a measure of what our students can do or what our teachers can teach.  The kids take the SAGE every spring, BUT it doesn't count on their grade.  Turns out this is a pretty big but.  It's just a test they take for the state.  As it has no effect of their grade, the students could not possibly care less about how they do.  There is zero motivation for them.  They don't try.  They don't care.  Some kids guess all the way through just to be done with it.   It is hard for me as a teacher to get them to "buy in" to the SAGE.  (Especially when I am not bought in, either.)   What am I supposed to say to them, "Hey guys!  If you all score really well on this test it looks like I'm a great teacher and if you all score really low then it looks like I suck at my job, so please, for my sake, spend four  hours stressing over and working on this test!  I need you to do well!"  

Yesterday right before they started their test, a girl raised her hand.  "So this doesn't count on our grade at all then, right?"  "No." I answered point blank.  It felt wrong to try to pretend like the test was anything different than it is.  "So what's the point?" she countered.

What's the point?
What's the point?
What's the point?

Good question.  Ask the state of Utah, because your teacher doesn't know.

When she was done with her 57 question test in 9 minutes I was only mildly annoyed.  Would 17 year old Bonnie have really tried to answer those questions?  Probably not.  29 year old Bonnie probably wouldn't either, if we're being real honest here.

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