Expectations

[With deep gratitude to Judy Brady for her incredible essay, “I Want a Wife,” which was the model for this piece. You can read it here.]

Expectations

I am a part – a cog – in that machinery called education. I am a Teacher. And I am quite fond of some of the individuals whom I teach.

A friend of mine has just earned his Master’s in Education – online of course – and has immediately stepped from his third year as an elementary P.E. teacher into an administrative job with a large suburban high school. The school is respected, well-funded, and effective; so as you would expect, my friend is looking to improve the staff with some new teachers in order to earn his new administrative paycheck. He’s searching for brand new teachers, of course, some of those with fresh energy and inspirational idealism. He has asked me to help him in his search for a brand new teacher, and I am always happy to oblige.

So what are the expected qualifications of this brand new teacher?

The teacher will be required to teach the classes. The teacher will be expected to manage a classroom full of 35 students, students grouped according to their birthday and where they happen to live around the beginning of the school year, students who represent 35 different levels of ability and interest in any given subject. When around 10% of these students will move out of the class partway through the year, and be replaced by a similar number of new students arriving in the middle of units, the teacher will be expected to bring these newcomers up to speed and familiarize them with the new material and the new learning environment. The teacher must do this gently, of course, because new students are under quite a lot of stress. The teacher will be expected to handle between five and eight classes of 35 students apiece, every day (five classes would be if the new teacher is part-time, a decision that will be made at the start of the new school year, or within the first six weeks of instruction); though next year, my friend told me, the school will be moving to an A/B block system: four classes one day and the other four the next day, with all eight on a shifting schedule every ninth class day, the day when the school will occasionally have special schedules for pep assemblies and school-wide activities such as the science fair. The teacher will be required to design something science- or STEM-related for the science fair. And the project will need to correlate to the teacher’s own subject. And also the project must draw new students to the school, so the school can compete with those charter schools. The teacher will also be expected to participate in the pep assemblies, preferably in some sort of costume provided by the teacher and related to the school mascot, the Phalanx. But that’s next year: this year the school has an eight-period day, so the teacher will be obligated to prepare for every class, every school day. Some of the classes will be identical courses, but the student makeup in each case will be radically different, and the teacher will be expected to find a way to keep all of the identical courses on the same pace despite the need to differentiate instruction. The teacher will be expected to reteach subject matter to any classes that didn’t master it, and to give extra enrichment activities to the more advanced students who did achieve mastery. The teacher is expected to make the extra work, both the remedial practice and the advanced enrichment, particularly engaging and rewarding for the students, who will not wish to take on extra assignments on top of the required work. There are three minutes between classes, shortened to ensure maximum instructional time; the teacher will need to avail themselves of that time to give students assistance if they fall behind the rigorous pace. The teacher will, of course, be expected to teach bell to bell. Before the beginning of each class, the teacher will be expected to be standing outside their classroom, with a pleasant but formal demeanor, and to personally greet every student as they come into the classroom. The teacher will of course have to make sure they don’t drink too much fluid, as they won’t have a chance to go to the bathroom until lunch at the earliest. Fortunately, lunch is only four hours after school starts. Unless the new teacher is given an early morning class before the regular start time. The teacher will also be expected to spend the lunch period supervising a public area to make sure students are not littering nor using inappropriate language or touching; the teacher can use the between-class intervals for attending to personal needs.

The teacher will be expected to know the content. The teacher will be required to answer all questions correctly and completely, while also encouraging students to do further research on their own, and to offer the students an organized and vetted list of appropriate resources the students could use to find their own information. The teacher will be expected to stay current with the newest developments in the subject, to attend professional development trainings in their free time, to learn the latest methods and strategies, which the teacher will be expected to incorporate into their lesson plans. All lesson plans must be filed with the administration at the beginning of each quarter, and any last-minute modifications must be approved by administration at least one week before they are implemented. The teacher will be mandated to be open to suggestions from administrators, and to be eager to benefit from administrators’ cutting-edge pedagogical training. The teacher is expected to know how their subject matter connects to other areas of instruction and other subjects, and be able to coordinate thematically with other classes. The teacher will be required to control the pace of instruction to match that of other subjects so that no student falls behind and has to suffer through overwork in order to catch up.

In terms of the students’ work, the teacher will be expected to assess baseline abilities, to place students along a continuum, and to develop individual learning plans for each student so that they can receive optimum instruction for their ability level. The teacher will be obligated to provide easily-read charts and graphs of all student progress, both in aggregate for conferencing with administration and for each individual student for parent conferences. Where appropriate, the teacher will be required to coordinate student learning plans with the Exceptional Student Services department; all ESS clients’ learning plans must adhere to all applicable laws and policies, and must receive approval from the ESS department and the parents of the ESS students. The teacher will be expected to issue surveys and to conduct ice-breaking, team-building, trust-fostering, and getting-to-know-you activities, so that the teacher can assess the students’ interests, their cultural backgrounds and biases, their maturity level, and their relative mastery of the curriculum so that the teacher can find  materials that the students will find engaging, but which will neither be offensive nor beyond their current developmental stage or ability level. Once all of the students are assessed and plotted, the teacher will be able to start differentiating instruction in earnest, in order to personalize each student’s learning for maximum improvement, ensuring at all times that all instruction is drawn from the district-approved curriculum and adheres to research-based best practices.

Most importantly, the teacher will be expected to communicate with parents, both about grades and about interesting and important upcoming events. The teacher will need to plan interesting and important upcoming events so that parents can be informed about them. The communication should be professional, such as (but not limited to) a desktop-published newsletter or a website that offers updates through social media interaction. The teacher should note that district computers are not to be used for social media access. The teacher will be expected to encourage parent participation: invite them into the classroom, to help supervise the class (Though of course the parent volunteer cannot provide the instruction, not being a licensed teacher; the teacher will be obligated to make sure the parent volunteers have security clearance, have their fingerprints and background checked by the FBI and ensure the parent volunteers have had a TB test and proof of a recent MMR innoculation); the teacher will be asked to recognize that having a few extra adults to help supervise activities can be very beneficial for students, even high school students, as well as a great help to the teacher. The teacher will be expected to plan class activities which the parents as well as the students will find interesting and educational. The teacher will be required to provide the parent volunteers with an outline, an observation rubric, and a teacher script so they can follow along with the teacher through the lesson, and help observe and chart the students’ responses, especially that of their own child, so the parents can be involved in their child’s ongoing assessment. The parents probably won’t know all of the students in their child’s class, but the teacher will be able to make a printout of the seating chart with student ID photos with only seven or eight steps through the online attendance database. The teacher will be mandated to ensure that the volunteers aren’t given too much information about the students, and to collect the seating charts at the end of the day, so as not to violate confidentiality. The teacher will be expected to make valuable use of the parent volunteers.

The teacher will be expected to prepare students for their futures, to ready them for college, or for the workforce – though of course the school prefers that all students attend college, as that is one of the administration’s own evaluation criteria. The teacher will also, therefore, be expected to make sure students graduate, even if that means simplifying the material and curving their grades; that way they can also participate in sports and extracurricular activities, which are important because they inspire students to work harder in school. Those activities do tend to take time away from school work; but the parents prefer that teachers not assign too much homework anyway, as that causes the students stress. This means that the teacher will be required to arrange to give the student-athletes all of their work during the regular class period, so that academic progress can be maintained without impinging on extracurricular studies; this is a splendid opportunity for the teacher to differentiate instruction. The teacher will also be expected to adjust grades as necessary to maintain athletic eligibility for our top performers.

The teacher will be obligated to sacrifice, voluntarily, for the children. The school has limited resources, and everything must be focused, unalterably, on the children. The teacher will be asked to give up money, time, healthcare, benefits, retirement, tenure, and all aspects of an individual and satisfying future, for the children. The teacher will be required to agree that they did not get into this to get rich, that they teach because they want to make a difference. The teacher will be paid commensurately with their willingness to sacrifice for the children, though regardless of level of sacrifice, the compensation will not be enough. The teacher is expected to have expected this.

In the unlikely event, which has recently grown significantly more likely, of a school shooting, the teacher will be expected to carry a firearm (Firearm, a state-approved method of securing the firearm until needed, and sufficient training in its use to be provided by the teacher) and to end the threat to the children. The teacher will be required to be aware that the school shooter is likely to be one of their current or former students, and the teacher must not hesitate to pull the trigger and put the shooter down. Though of course, the teacher will be obligated to not do anything to put innocent lives in greater danger. If the teacher is troubled by this turn of events, the teacher should consider whether the teacher could have done more to prevent the crisis before it reached this danger point. Perhaps the teacher should have paid more attention, and done more to build trust. And also reported any suspicions they might have of students to the administration, so the school can follow up with law enforcement. If only the teacher had paid more attention. And if the teacher is unwilling or unable to use a firearm to defend the students, the teacher will be expected to shield the children with their own body, and die. For the children.

This is what is expected of this brand new teacher. The question is: who the hell would want the job?

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The Right Idea

I had an idea.

I received an essay from a student arguing that the drinking age should be lowered to 18. I have seen this argument before, and believe me, this was not the cleverest attempt; this student failed to offer even the traditional outrage over the idea that one could join the military and fight and die for one’s country, but not even buy a beer! I mean, come on!

I’ve been looking for the just-right response to that particular “argument” for years. I’m trying to choose between, “If you cut off your left hand, you can’t cut off your right. Is that fair?” or “You’re right. And you know what else? Boko Haram lets their soldiers drink.” or “I heard you can make a lovely Cosmopolitan out of the blood of a slain enemy and just a little wasabi. I bet the Army lets them drink THAT.”

Although I did not have the opportunity to appreciate, again, the absurdity of being allowed to shoot people and not be drunk while doing it, I did get to enjoy my very favorite class of argument: the “Everyone on Earth thinks like a perverse, obnoxious adolescent” argument. In this instance, it goes something like this: People think drinking is cool because it is against the law, and teenagers want to be rebellious. Teenagers do things for no other reason than because people tell them not to do those things. Therefore, if the drinking age were lowered and kids had access to alcohol, it wouldn’t seem so tempting and dangerous, and therefore fun and cool and stick-it-to-the-man-y, and so they wouldn’t do it as much.

Ah, yes. Many times I have thought, “You know what would be cool? Building an addition without a permit. That would really impress my biker buddies.” Whenever I need street cred — and I can’t count the times I have needed to cash in on my street cred — I just fail to report an accident, or I make a fake 911 call. Because I’m a thug, and thug life means jaywalking, yo. I’ve always been a rebel: I remember back in high school, one morning I told my bathroom mirror, “I’m going to falsify legal documents. Yeah: then the head cheerleader will notice me!”

It worked, too.

But while I was reading this particular essay, and trying to think of the best way to point out how absurd is the argument that laws against certain behaviors actually make those behaviors more attractive and therefore more common (I usually ask if the student thinks that murder would become less common if the laws against it were eliminated. Just picture all those murderers thinking, “Yeah, sure, I could go out and kill someone tonight. But where’s the spice, without running from the cops? Unless I’m risking jail time, there just doesn’t seem any reason to kill people. Sigh. I miss the good ol’ days.”), I got to the conclusion, which argued that things would be a whole lot better for everyone if drinking were considered an individual right, not a fascinating vice.

That’s when it hit me.

That student was absolutely right.

The key is not making things legal: the key is making something a right. That’s how you get people to walk away from it.

Just think: our forefathers fought for the right to build a government based on the rule of law and the basic principle of democracy, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And they won that right, too. Then it only took us 200 years or so to tear the whole thing down and replace it with Citizens United, and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, and the Wall Street bailout, and the Keystone Pipeline: a government that represents money and power, and nothing else. A government of the rich (or at least only interested in the rich), by their puppets, for the profit margin.

Know why they do that? Because we’ve been told for years that greed and corruption are wrong. That makes them cool. (I can’t tell you how tempted I am right now to turn this whole thing against God and the Ten Commandments. But the problem with that is the Bible actually supports the claim that I’m currently mocking: after all, God told Adam and Eve not to eat the apple, and they did exactly that, and lost Paradise for us all.

Come to think of it, this bullshit really is the Bible’s fault.)

Then for decades, people fought against slavery, fought for the freedom not to be treated as a commodity. They won that, too, after struggle and war and destruction. And now we happily enslave ourselves: we work harder and for less reward than any other people of any other civilized nation. We do whatever the boss says, whenever the boss says it — you’ll never see a better example of this than teachers. “Why are we giving up the things we know are right for our students, like actual literature and field trips and creative endeavors? Because the boss says we have to raise test scores. Well, then, I guess we have to do it. Somebody pass me that stack of Scantrons.” We all happily give up our free will, duck our heads, bow and scrape, and do what we are told. Some of us even become Ditto-heads, and Moonies, and Beliebers; we “Let go, and let God.”

We have the right to vote: we don’t do it. We have the right to speak freely: we are silent. We have the right to a free press: we stopped reading the ones that spoke the truth, and now we have Fox News and CNN. We have the right to peaceably assemble, and we stay at home and tag each other on Facebook. We have the right to petition the government for redress of grievances, and instead we simply grieve.

It’s true: make something a right, and we can’t run away from it fast enough.

Therefore, I am advocating for the right to murder, the right to hate, and the right to celebrate and enforce ignorance. I believe all Americans should have the right to exploit each other, the right to feel no compassion for any other living thing, and the right to pervert and corrupt every goodness on Earth for the sake of instant gratification and petty, spiteful vengeance. Screw that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness stuff; we need to have those rights taken away. Life and liberty — and happiness — should be outlawed. Then they’ll be cool.

Then we’ll want them. Like everything else we can’t have.

So I hereby stand corrected in my basic intent as a blogger: we do not need to fight for the natural rights of man, we do not need to fight for justice, nor peace, nor love.

We need to fight for the right to treat each other, and ourselves, like dirt. The right to drink beer. And bacon: definitely the right to bacon.