F. Scott Fitzgerald said,

"There are no second acts in American lives."

Most people think he was crazy.

Friday, January 28, 2011

I Am Not Myself

I had a discussion (some might call it a disagreement) with a friend yesterday. She and I don't really know each other very well, but our circles overlap. She is young
(29) and pretty (pageant queen) and talented (sing, dance....you name it, she can do it). When I questioned the validity of a "quarter-life crisis," she said that a quarter-life crisis was real.

Here's the difference between her quarter-life crisis and my mid-life one: hers is situational. She doesn't necessarily have any power over the situation, but situations change. Yes, she's slogging through $hit, and it stinks as $hit usually does. But eventually the $hit will dissipate and she will reach higher ground.

Mine is physical. I was a dance minor in college. (You ask yourself: Really? You don't LOOK like a dancer. This is your nice way of calling me overweight. I'll be the first person to admit I don't weigh 107 anymore.) Not only can I not dance, I can barely go up and down stairs. And even if I could perform a twelve-count without worrying that I might break a hip and they would put me out of my misery by taking me out back and firing a bullet into me, it would take me an hour to learn. Because my brain doesn't work, either. So the $hit that I'm slogging through just gets deeper.

$hit. We've all got it, irregardless of how old we are. The best we can hope to do is hold hands and make sure no one drowns.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Add My Value, Bee-otch!

With all the talk (mostly negative, if it's an educator doing the speaking) regarding "Value-Added Measures," I want to ask how to add my value to the current data.

(Last I checked, kids were not data. If I wanted to deal specifically with data, I'd be one of the following: an engineer, a research scientist, a stockbroker, a mathematician. I, however, majored in English. More about that wise choice later.)

Nearly every year, I bring a kid over to "The Dark Side." That means I turn a kid from someone who never voluntarily picked up a book IN THEIR LIFE to someone who can't stop reading. Where are the points added for that?

Last year I had a student who was new to our school, coming from another school in the system. This is rare in 8th grade, and I wanted to know more. When I read his journal, I found out. He had been at a school where he had been ridiculed and made to feel "stupid." His parents agreed to move him to our school after he had attempted suicide. In his journal he wrote that he felt safe in my room--I would kid him, but it was fun. I made him feel "cool." How many points do I get for that, government?

Today, I talked to a student who had worked hard and done all my extra credit last quarter. This kid has struggled with reading all his academic career and never made above a "D." I made him angry on more than one occasion by sitting next to him as he worked. I forced him to pay attention to the text. I was on the very top of his hate list, and he got a "B." When his father received the report card yesterday, they both cried. Do I get extra credit?

Statistics stink. As somebody's granny says: figures don't lie, but liars can figure. And what I do can't be shown on a spreadsheet or a bar graph. But there you have it: I have no value.

Monday, January 24, 2011

So, why the change? Why now?


In a nutshell? Teaching isn't fun anymore. Kids can't have fun learning anymore.

Instead, we're looking at "Value-Added Measures"--basically a series of standardized tests--in order to judge students and their teachers. Why?

Well, one thing I know for sure--it's a lot easier to give a standardized test than it is to go into classrooms. We don't really want to see what a teacher is doing to get the students jazzed--no one cares whether or not my students feel safe, their opinions and insights as individuals valued--and never mind that I introduce them to things they never even knew existed; things like the parallelism between "West Side Story" and Shakespeare, "Weird Al" Yankovic and parody, and the shootings at Kent State and political activism.

First, let me tell you why I became a teacher.

I became a teacher because I had great teachers. I had teachers who were not afraid of standardized testing. I had teachers who did not have to worry about having their names published in the paper for having "failed." These teachers: Dorothy Johnson, Norma Crane, Hilde Griggs, Bob Strong, Betty Nelson, Ginny Johnson, Bill Reilly, Norma Gunkler, Steve Murphy, Mike Savage, Nancy Compton, Carm Pascarella, Nancy Bauer...even Betty Coman, despite the fact that she didn't give me the English prize, though I was CLEARLY the best English student in the class of '78 (and to her credit she admitted such many years later) are remembered for making my educational experience important. I remember every single one of them for different reasons--they may have challenged me, or enriched my life in some way--but I am fifty years old. To remember these teachers after all these years is to affirm their lives as teachers.

On the other hand, I have had over a thousand students in my career, and I doubt if even one of them can say I made an impact. I have had to spend the bulk of my career "teaching to the test," and worrying whether or not my kids will "make the numbers." They end up hating school, and who can blame them? Several days each quarter are used up by testing, and kids are having to sit quietly for hours on end, focusing on multiple choice questions, sometimes with no right answer, filling in scan-tron bubbles.
Because if we're being completely honest here, we'll admit that it was really hard to concentrate for more than thirty minutes at a time. For some of us, it was hard to focus at all.

Honestly? I don't want the responsibilty any more. When my principal tells me that if I don't make the numbers, he won't go to bat for me--and 52% of my 8th graders have to make the 99th percentile--it's time to do something else, because this is statistically impossible. I can do a lot of things--like get kids who've never read for pleasure to VOLUNTARILY pick up a book--but I am not magic.

Administrators ask us to "create a safe environment" for our kids. They ask us to monitor our charges and report any bullying we might see. Yet, they are creating a climate of fear and distrust.

And it's not fun anymore.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

This Explains a LOT!!!

In my quest to find out what is next in store for me, I decided to take some of those aptitude/personality/interest surveys available on-line. (Only the free ones, though--I'm not paying for pseudopsychology.) One of the tests I let my students take at the beginning of the year (when we read and discuss "Flowers for Algernon") is the Myers-Briggs.

Which brings me to the dreaded ENFP.

(Here's my prior experience with Myers-Briggs.)

Let me ask you: if I'm told that no one wants to work with someone like me, what kind of work should I want to do?
I probably need to work alone.

Add to that, the fact that words are my life, and what do you have?
Reading and writing. Both are perfect, as they are solitary activities. No one will be forced to deal with my ENFP self. The only folks who will have to deal with the craziness are the folks who read my writing. All three of them.