This Morning

This morning I am thinking about school. More specifically, I am thinking about the school I would create if I was the kind of person who wanted to set myself on fire by becoming an administrator and dealing with all of the very worst of American bureaucracy: the public education system.

(N.B: can confirm that melancholy leads to creativity; I was blue again this morning, mainly because I am deeply tired because I did not sleep well, and I was cranky and logy until I thought of this idea, and then I was happily off on the tracks of the idea. I got distracted frequently, because neither exhaustion nor creativity are necessarily good for focus; but it was great fun to think about this and to try to problem-solve. So much fun, in fact, that I think this will end up being more than one blog.)

All right, let’s start with the basic structure, and the most fundamental changes I would make to the current education system (while still trying to work within it, which is why this is not something I would ever pursue.). Personally I’d want it to be high school, because I like teenagers more than littluns, and middle schoolers are demons in human skin; but it makes much more sense for it to be K-12, so we’ll go with that, and I’ll just pretend I’d have a partner who would handle the lower grades, and an exorcist for the middle grades. We would follow the traditional schedule with summers and weekends off, and the school day would be 8-3.

But here’s the big difference: there are no grades. (Anyone who knows me saw that  coming from the first sentence of this post.) And I don’t just mean abstract letter rewards for paperwork filled out, I mean there aren’t grade levels: no first grade, second grade, tenth grade, fourth grade, eighth grade. That’s why it should be K-12, because my students should not be divided by their birthdays. It’s just about the stupidest possible way to group people, and it NEVER HAPPENS ANYWHERE EVER outside of education and then, like, bowling leagues. Students at my school will advance through subjects as they master the subjects: regardless of what age they are. When I was in the sixth grade, I was reading at something higher, let’s say the tenth grade level because I don’t actually remember my own lexile scores: that means I should have been in a tenth grade reading class. Or even better, in a class with anyone else who read at a tenth grade level regardless of their ages.

So that’s how it works. The basic idea is this: the classes will be run by unit, not by grade level. You can attach the units to standards, if that makes your ears wiggle, but I think of it like a novel unit, a sonnet unit, an argumentative essay unit, and then those can be repeated at different difficulty levels, Easy, Medium, Hard, Brainmelting, etc. Short pieces, a few weeks to a few months, though that would also depend on subject, like if a math unit on fractions takes a year, then so be it: year long unit. Students sign up for units they need and ones they are ready for, according to what the teachers are offering at any given time.

I realize this would be a logistical nightmare. I imagine it as a series of two-week units, so that every two weeks, students re-register for classes. I think on some level it would straighten itself out because most students would want to continue with a single subject, especially if they liked the teacher, so my units, for instance, could go through my usual “tenth grade English” class in sequence, and students at about that skill level could just keep signing up for my class every two weeks or so, and that would cover the school year. On the other hand, if students are the type who get bored with subjects quickly, they could bounce around more; take more English one month, and then more math the next month, and then nothing but art the month after that. This way, while it would be difficult to arrange the master schedule as it would be changing all the time (And I would need at least one full-time registrar just to track where everyone is at any given time, and presumably more depending on how many students and teachers are at the school and how much technology can fill this need. Though I also have a plan for getting help to the people running the basic functions of the school, which I’ll get into later.), it would eliminate entirely the bored pain-in-the-ass students who disrupt classes constantly just because they’re tired of English and would rather be in science. Fine: go take a science class this month. Come back to English when you’re tired of science.

It would also allow students to re-take single units they didn’t master without having to re-take an entire year of a subject. Depending on how well you could stagger math units, it would solve the problem of students getting lost halfway through Algebra and then never recovering: because they don’t understand everything that comes after that point in their Algebra class, and then in most schools, they either take a second trip through the same class, or move on to a new class they’re not ready for, or take both the repeat class and the new class, and have a horrible time in both. None of those are good solutions, and all of them lead to students hating math and believing they are bad at math, through no fault or actual lack of their own. If a kid can’t get a math concept, they should stick with that math concept until they get it right, and only then move on to the next part.

The ideal with math, then, since math is so sequential (Though I question that; I would guess that at least some of the sequential nature of math instruction is because we’ve always done it that way. I’d guess that some algebraic concepts could be taught much earlier than others, and would be helpful in mastering other mathematical areas.), would be for a math teacher to focus on, say, the first half of what is now geometry, divided into month-long units — say five of them, though we’ll get into the class schedule later — so Geometry Month 1, Geometry Month 2, Month 3, Month 4, and Month 5. If that teacher taught five classes, they could teach all five months, one period a day each, all year long, and students could advance through the months or repeat the months as needed by shifting what period they took math each month. (If the teacher got bored with that, the math department could rotate the months through several teachers. Point is, all five months of the first half of Geometry are constantly available.)

Each unit would be basically pass/fail, with whatever final assessment product the teacher wanted to use. After the unit and the assessment, the teacher would approve the student to move on to the next unit, or say the student had to repeat the unit. I imagine that each student would collect stamps or stickers, essentially, each stamp saying that they had completed and mastered a single unit; graduation would come after the students collected all of their stickers.

 

I’ve got much more to say about this school, but I think I’m going to break this imagined school system up into several posts, so it doesn’t get too ponderous. What do you think so far? Is this clear, what I’m proposing here? If not, please comment and ask questions, and I’ll try to clarify. There will be more to come.

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?

Tread All The F$%^ Over This

(To Secretary DeVos, Part II. Part I Here.)

It starts with the tests. It always starts with the tests. But really, it isn’t just the tests: it is the very concept of “accountability.” Accountability says that we need to have paperwork — data — that shows that our schools are accomplishing what they are supposed to accomplish, and that the teachers are doing what they are supposed to be doing, and not something else. Accountability is founded on the idea that we don’t trust teachers. We think — because sometimes it’s true — that teachers are in it only for the paycheck, that they don’t care at all about the students who pass anonymously through their room.

We all have that story, right? Of the teacher that taught exclusively through movies and worksheets? I’ve known several (Though honestly, I never had one when I was in public school.) at the various schools where I’ve taught: there was the health teacher whose entire curriculum was canned, who showed his students videos four days a week and then tested them on the videos on the fifth. There was the math teacher who, every single week, Xeroxed the next chapter out of his textbook and handed it to his students while he sat at his desk and read the newspaper. Yeah, I’ve known those teachers. And I think those teachers should be gently pushed out of the profession. Or maybe not that gently: because the harm they have caused to my profession is entirely out of proportion to their actual sins.

They brought the idea of accountability to the fore. From lazy bastards like that, we got the idea that there are many teachers who don’t work very hard. And in order to satisfy those who insisted that this was a serious threat to our children’s futures, lots and lots of people agreed to ensure — ACCOUNTABILITY.

And so we get testing. And it’s funny, because everybody hates testing — students hate it, parents hate it, teachers fucking loathe it: but everyone likes, or at least accepts, the idea of accountability which drives that need for testing.

I had a meeting last week. An all day meeting, with all of the English teachers in my — my company, I guess it is; it’s a group of charter schools here in Arizona, some in Tucson and some in Phoenix. It’s a private corporation that runs these schools, though they are public schools, so yeah: my company. (Which means, of course, that I and my fellows are precisely what DeVos wants teachers and schools to look like; except that we collect our money from the state, instead of from tuition or tax vouchers. Down, Voucher, down! Gooood Charter.) And in this meeting, the biggest complaint was about our current testing system. We bitched about it for hours. Literally. Killed the whole meeting agenda. Hey — English teachers, we got a lot to say. Especially about standardized testing. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a stupid testing system, no question. And the consensus was that we should get rid of the clunky thing.

But.

All of them wanted to replace it. With a different system, that would work better. One that would allow more essay tests, for instance, and that would follow our curriculum more closely. (Even though the curriculum is shitty. Know what the selling point for this curriculum was? It was made by other teachers. So it must be good. But it’s not. It’s shitty. But it’s ours, and we plan to follow it. And find a testing system that will align more closely to it. More on why the curriculum is shitty below.)

I don’t know if I was the only one who thought this, or if everybody else was just saying what they were supposed to say, but: I kept thinking — why do we even have a testing system at all? Why do we need to assess student learning? I mean, in theory we’re supposed to do it so as to make teaching more efficient: we learn what students know, and then we know what students need to learn, and then we teach that. That and, of course, accountability: because while the teachers are figuring out what the students know, the administrators and the politicians are using what the students know to determine how well the teachers are teaching.

Except that never works. Tests don’t show everything a student knows. The various members of any given class never know the same things, never need to learn the same things. In theory I’m supposed to differentiate instruction so that each student learns only and precisely what he or she needs, but of course that’s a joke: that flies in the face of public schooling, which is built around the idea of efficiency through mass instruction: I teach 100 students so that we don’t need 100 teachers. But that only works if I can teach 100 students basically the same thing. And I can’t even do that, because not all of the students care, or are interested, or see the value in it; not all of them like me and want to work with me; not all of them are present regularly, and not all of them are sober when they are present, or when they take the tests. And it’s even more skewed because they are sick, to death, of testing. I give them a test to find out what they know, and what I find out is: they know they hate tests. They stop trying about halfway through, and start guessing — if they didn’t start guessing from the outset. And there is nothing I can say that will change that. Somewhere, many years ago, a student guessed on a test and got an A, and every student who doesn’t care has been trying to replicate that feat. And not caring when it doesn’t work, because at least they didn’t put in much time or effort. And if they get a failing grade because of the test (Which is actually a bad idea, the administrator in my meeting told us: because the tests are designed to assess growth, and growth can’t be given a letter grade because letter grades show achievement, not growth [Example: I know everything my 10th graders need to know. If I take the test at the beginning of the year, I will score 100% achievement. When I take another test at the end of the year, I will show 0% growth — because I’ll score another 100%, because I already knew everything. So what’s my grade, the 0% the test says? Or an A+ based on my knowledge of the concepts?]. Which is funny, kinda, because my school administrators told me to make the test score a grade in the class, in an effort to get students to take the test more seriously. Didn’t work. Because:), they don’t really care because they’ll make up for the grade somewhere else, or else they’ll just live with a C as their final grade in English this year. Who cares? Not them.

So then you want accountability, right (Well, not you, but somebody sure does)? So how well am I teaching? Let’s say — because this actually happens a whole hell of a lot — students like my class, and they learn a lot from me; but they’re not too concerned with grades, and they hate standardized tests. So they intentionally blow it off as something of a protest, and shrug when I give them a bad grade — and then go right back to really learning, really thinking, really getting everything I’m trying to help them achieve. What’s my accountability score? Am I a rocking teacher for getting kids who don’t really care about school to pay attention and learn? Or am I a shit teacher for not getting good test scores out of them?

My answer is different from my school’s answer.

So there’s the thing, the main thing, that I am willing to see destroyed by Secretary DeVos if she manages to pull down the public education edifices in this country. If she wipes out standardized testing and the need for multiple layers of accountability, I will be ecstatic. I would like my school to know what I teach, how well I teach it, because they come and watch me teach. Frequently. Because they read my students’ papers, and see the comments I put on them. Because they talk to my students about what they learn, and their parents about what their kids have talked about this school year. On all of those measures, I’m a goddamn rock star. I would love it if DeVos pulls down the enormous wall of tests and lets people see what I can actually do. I would much, much rather be transparent, than accountable.

There’s more, too. The desire to make sure every school teaches the same thing, to ensure that every kid has the same access to the same learning, that everything bloody “aligns,” is a liberal obsession. It leads us to the Common Core, and standards-based education. Which is a goddamn joke, almost on the same scale as testing. Because here’s the thing (And it’s also a large part of the issue with standardized tests): who decides what the students need to learn? That’s the critical question about standards, and it never, never gets asked. But it has to be asked, because the ends determine the means: if I have to teach critical thinking, it’s going to mean a different class than if I have to teach grammar, which will be a different class from the one I teach to create cultural literacy.

So who decides? If it’s teachers, then you can expect to never actually get a working document: because every single person who teaches — who really teaches — a subject is going to have different ideas about the best way to do it, and the precise goals one should be aiming at when teaching that subject. Me, for instance: every English student needs to read Fahrenheit 451, and understand tone and symbolism in poetry. They have to do independent reading, and they need to write personal essays. They don’t ever need to study grammar or read any Victorian literature. There, see? I just caused every English teacher reading this to roll their eyes, and/or drop their jaws in shock. And when they come back and say every student simply MUST read Dostoevsky and the Brontes and diagram sentences, I’m going to puke black bile and India ink, just for them. No, that’s too gross. I’m just going to say No. Not in my class. Not ever.

So who decides? Easy: businesspeople decide. The ones with the money. They hire think tanks, who hire ex-teachers, who say whatever the businesspeople want to hear about what schools can do and what they should do. Because they are ex-teachers. What they hell do they care about what bullshit teachers have to put up with? They got out of the game already! Then those businesspeople bring their information to politicians and say, “This is what the business community thinks their next generation of workers should know. Don’t worry — we asked teachers, and they said all this was solid gold!” And the politicians, hungry for campaign contributions (“Did someone say gold?!?”) and eager to say they helped kids be ready for gainful employment, mandate that all schools in the district/state/country have to teach this vital information. And then maybe — maybe — some teachers sit down and talk about how they could teach that stuff. And they promptly disagree about everything, at which point the school district/state/federal government hires consultants: the ex-teachers who work for the think tanks. And they come and tell us, “It should be done this way.” And the teachers either think, because they’re like me, “All right, bro, but I’m still going to teach Fahrenheit 451 and tone and symbolism in poetry.” Or if they’re like most teachers, who were A+ students and still want to get gold stars, they think, “Okay, well I’ll try that and see if it works. I want to do what’s best for my students.” And there are the consultants, patting them on the shoulder and saying, “Trust me: this is what’s best for students.”

The first part of this process, up through the politicians, creates the Common Core. The second part, with the teachers, creates Engage NY. And the politicians love Engage NY and the Common Core because they make the businesspeople happy, and they mandate that all schools have to teach using that curriculum (or something just like it with a different name), and teach those standards (Or the same standards with a different name — like, say, the Arizona College and Career Readiness Standards, or AZCCRS.). Then they buy a testing system that aligns with those standards and that curriculum (And any liberals involved say, “Well, good, at least every student is getting exactly the same education and the same set of standards! That’s fair!”), and mandate that schools must achieve high scores or the state will impose sanctions. And then the Galileo company comes along and says “Use our test for practice, because then your students will get higher test scores on that state test!” And the administrators, who also have no idea of nor interest in what gets taught and how, buy the Galileo testing system because it’s cheap, and then they tell teachers that they have to do whatever it takes to raise student test scores on Galileo, because, they imagine, that will get students to do better on state tests (Because it aligns! IT ALL ALIGNS!), which will please the politicians, because it pleases the businesspeople. And so teachers — give up. And teach to the test. Because we can’t change the damn system, and we can’t escape it, and we might as well earn a decent paycheck, for once.

But we don’t, because the businesspeople also got the politicians to cut their taxes and cut spending, which means there’s less money for schools; and then they break teachers’ unions, and there’s nobody asking for more money for teachers, or trying to shift the focus off of testing and the Common Core.

All of that, Secretary DeVos. Kill the Common Core and all standards-based curricula, and let me decide, based on what I know and what my students want to know and need to know, what I should teach. Wipe out standardized testing, because if I want to know what my students know, I will assess their knowledge and ability in some way that makes sense: I will assign an essay, and I will read it. And you all can read them, too, if you want; (But only if Mrs. DeVos kills FERPA, the law that prevents teachers from allowing students names and grades to be public information, and which therefore keeps us from publishing student samples — even though one of the very best ways to learn is to read what other people just like you have written.. Please kill FERPA, Mrs. DeVos.) or you can ask me how they’re doing, and I’ll tell you. Because I will know. That’s actually my job, you know. And while you’re at it, lay off 2/3 of the administrators, from assistant principals to superintendents: at least 2/3 of all of the administrators that I have ever known have been even more incompetent and unqualified to run a school than — well, than you, Secretary DeVos. And that’s saying something. The other 1/3 have been outstanding: I would be happy with just those outstanding people running the school. And if you got rid of common curriculum, standards-based learning, standardized testing, and FERPA, then 2/3 of the school’s paperwork would disappear, and we wouldn’t need nearly as much middle management to handle it. Oh — and wipe out 504 plans and IEPs, would you? I have never yet had one of those things actually change the way I teach. Because if a student of mine has a learning disability or a challenge of some kind and they need extra time or extra help or a different standard of achievement, you know what I say? I don’t say, “Where’s your documentation, buster?”

I say “How can I help?”

Because I’m a teacher. Because I’m a good teacher.

So keep me, Mrs. DeVos. And if my colleagues are not good teachers, you can find out by talking to their students and parents, and watching them teach and talking to them about what they’re teaching; and then, by all means, fire them. Go out and find better teachers. Shit, if I’m wrong and I’m actually a terrible teacher, who’s been able to hide in the chaos and paper-smothered madness of modern education, then fire me, too. Find new people with new ideas and interesting subject matter. Let them make up classes — why does it always have to be math and science, history and English? Why can’t there be a class on video games? If it teaches critical thinking, analysis, problem solving, and good communication, who cares if it’s never been done before? Who cares if there isn’t a test for it? Let’s see if it works!

It certainly can’t be worse than the system we have now. Which, as long as you do it carefully and thoughtfully, feel free to break into smithereens. I’ll help.