Friday, August 6, 2010

Oh Dear

Anyone who's been a reader of my blog knows I've been M.I.A. for a while (and not the good kind). There are lots of reasons for this, but essentially it boils down to the fact that I wasn't enjoying blogging anymore. I felt that my (former!) school was just heading in such a wrong direction, and that the echo chamber in the comments was getting more and more negative. So I stopped.

I wasn't sure that I was going to ever come back. But then I got this comment on my last post:

Anonymous: Perhaps Harry has gone the way of two of his buds, Dee Does the District and DC Teacher Chic. They've shut their doors and hit the road. Typical TFA behavior, actually, to realize that it takes a lot more than enthusiasm to change things in DCPS and decide to quit for other "opportunities".


I haven't "hit the road." I've transferred to another DCPS High School in a low income neighborhood. So scomp on you.

BUT, I'd like to address this comment on a deeper level. When I was a first year teacher, I was terrified because I had no idea what I was doing. Do you know what I wanted the most? HELP. I wanted someone with experience to take me under his/her wing and give me guidance. Instead, from most of my more experienced colleagues I got polite disinterest, and from a few I got attitudes like the above commenter's. It wasn't until my second year, when the school was zero-based and half the staff was new, that more positive collegial relationships developed (the majority of the new staff were veteran educators, just new to the building).

The reason so many TFA and DCTF and new teachers in general leave DCPS isn't the kids -- it's the adults! A lot of us move to charter schools because we feel more confident that there we'll find administrators and staff that are professional and supportive. I'm lucky enough to have found that within DCPS. But if I hadn't found that here, and I had moved on to other "opportunities," that would not make me a bad person. And if you are a teacher who has moved on to another field, and people are making you feel bad about it, just remember:

Haters Gonna Hate

Anyway, I don't know if this blog post means "I'm back," but I just wanted to update readers and stomp out rumors. Maybe I'll continue to post about what life is like in my new school. Hopefully the posts will be more positive. Enjoy the last few weeks of summer!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Paycheck Fail

As many teachers who do not have direct deposit in DCPS are aware, our checks were not put in the mail last week and were instead delivered to our schools at the end of the day on Friday. We were all alerted to this fact via an email sent out on Thursday of last week. The email starts thusly:

"You are receiving this email because our records show that you have failed
to sign up for direct deposit and currently receive a paper check for your
payroll. Due to the inclement weather and resulting District closure for
business, payroll checks for Friday, February 12, 2010 (Group 2) did not
print on Wednesday and subsequently did not get to the US Post Office."

Now, I have no problem with the fact that the checks were not put in the mail. Snowly Cow (as I've taken to calling it) was a hardcore storm, and record snowfall means that some things just don't work perfectly. I get it, and I have no complaints. I was able to get my paycheck this morning, and all is well.

Some of you may be wondering, "Harry, why didn't you just sign up for direct deposit? It's so easy." Well, reader, allow me to tell you. When I first began working DCPS, signing up for direct deposit involved going to the bank, having something notarized, and physically bringing it down to 825. It was a major hassle -- a hassle I nevertheless endured because I wanted direct deposit. 825, in turn, mis-handled my paperwork. I never got direct deposit, but my paychecks stopped coming. I dealt with this issue, which took multiple weeks to get resolved, and determined that I would simply cash my own checks, thankyouverymuch.

So now I come to the main point of this post: I did not FAIL to sign up for direct deposit, DCPS did. How, in comparison to that, can I be said to have "failed" to do anything? Let me reiterate -- I have no problem with the delay in getting my paycheck. Snow happens. I bristle only at the assertion that this inconvenience resulted from my personal failure.

You'll all be relieved, I'm sure, to learn that I have just this moment signed up for direct deposit using the new PeopleSoft online program. It was, indeed, quite easy. Now we just have to see if it works...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Harry Potter and the Robocall of Fury!

I've kind of been M.I.A. from this blog for a little while, but I couldn't let George Parker's Robodrama call tonight pass without giving it appropriate mockery. Did he not call anyone before sending that out? In case anyone is not aware, schools are closed tomorrow, a decision that was announced after initially declaring a two-hour delay. But this didn't stop Parker from sending out a robocall with belligerently inaccurate information. My personal favorite part was this little monument to run-on sentences:

"To all teachers who feel the mayor's decision not to close schools is ridiculous, I encourage you to put your safety first by staying home and calling in to your school to let them know you won't be in because you have the right to take leave and put your safety first."

Oh well. Can't be too pissed -- snow day!

UPDATE: Apparently we can be too pissed.

Somehow, commenters have interpreted my post as meaning that I don't think schools should be closed today. I do. It's too dangerous to get to school, and many teachers and students are still snowed in their homes. Schools should be closed. Schools are closed, so I'm not mad.

I wrote what I wrote because I thought the robocall from George Parker was ridiculous -- especially considering the fact that I received it more than an hour after I learned that schools were closed. I agree with his point -- schools should be (and are) closed today. But an angry call to action sounds silly once the other side has capitulated. If you'd like to be furious at Michelle Rhee for keeping schools open (which, incidentally, she didn't), then have at it. Personally, I'm going sledding.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Apparently Blame is Contagious

I think I just solved Michelle Rhee's PR problems.

OK, not me so much as two researchers from California whose study argues that blaming other people is contagious. This article gives details about the study, which found that when people were exposed to articles by people who blamed failure on others rather than accepting responsibility, the subjects were more likely to blame others for their own personal (and totally unrelated) failures. I'm not sure I'm doing the study justice, so read the article.

I think this explains all the vitriol that we see against Rhee (whether you like her or not, we can all agree that there are people who say downright nasty stuff about her -- usually on blogs*). People feel (justifiably, in a lot of cases) that Rhee and her administration blame all of the problems in DCPS on teachers. Applying the results of the study, this likely makes teachers less likely to acknowledge their professional shortcomings -- we all have them -- and more likely to lash out against administration.

I'm certainly guilty. In numerous staff meetings, my administration has told teachers that our students are failing because we're not using engaging instruction or making meaningful connections. My response, rather than acknowledging that there are times when my lessons aren't engaging, is to blame student failure on others by saying, "the kids don't come and the administrators don't support us on discipline issues." Of course, the latter comment is true -- attendance is terrible and administrators at my school often do nothing with discipline issues that have been referred tot hem. But sometimes the former is true, too.

No one will be focused on finding solutions while other people are playing the blame game -- we keep passing finger-pointing around like a virus. So, Chancellor Rhee, my suggestion is to accept responsibility for the fact that sometimes DCPS administration does stuff wrong. Sometimes principals do their jobs poorly and sometimes downtown makes silly decisions that inconvenience teachers and students. My guess -- based on this research -- is that more teachers will start to accept more responsibility for what goes on in their classrooms.

* My favorite part of the article is this:

[The] experiment may explain why Internet comments so rapidly disintegrate into vitriolic name-calling—because blaming keeps getting passed on in different contexts. "If you read one comment by someone who is really being a jerk, you might not reply. But then you read another comment, then blast someone else entirely."

Ha. Guilty.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Does my insurance cover insanity?

Yesterday we had our monthly staff meeting after school. Interestingly enough, the first thirty minutes of this mandatory whole-school meeting were dedicated not to raising test scores, preparing for IMPACT observations, or discussing important events coming up at our school. Rather, we spent time talking about all of the exciting ways Aflac insurance can work for us! Seriously?! I don't need to come to work to hear a commercial. This staff meeting is required - not some optional sales pitch - and the Aflac presentation went long, so we had even less time for the rest of the agenda (which consisted of such clearly unimportant topics as "How and when to report child abuse" and discussing our "school safety plan").

I don't know that I've ever seen a group of teachers more irate. Instead of lesson planning, collaborating, grading, or doing ANYTHING useful, they tried to sell us insurance. I was sitting next to one colleague who just kept saying, "I'm losing it. I'm just losing it." Personally, I used the time to write and solve my own polynomial long division problems. I felt this was more important that learning how much Aflac would pay me if I got cancer.

($5000, by the way.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Harry Potter and the Totally Arbitrary Evaluation

Last week I was observed by my principal and a master educator. I haven't had my meeting with the master educator yet to discuss my evaluation (sorry -- no juicy numerical details), but I did meet with my principal to discuss my scores and I left that meeting even more convinced that some administrators in this school system just don't have what it takes.

The lesson I got observed on went OK, but not great. I had split the class up into two groups based on their performance on a mini-assessment, and was doing differentiated lessons based on those groupings. While there were no major problems, the class wasn't terribly well organized. Essentially, whenever I left one group to work with the other, the first group didn't really accomplish much. Nothing terrible happened, but I hadn't set up structures to ensure that the groups continued working even when I walked away. All this to say that I expected my evaluation to be OK, but not stellar.

Wrong. I received a score of 3.8 (out of a perfect 4), which puts me in the "highly effective" category. Now, if I'd actually earned that score, I'd be pleased. But I didn't. My lesson showed me to be effective, but not outstanding. So why did I get the score I got? Because my principal has decided that she likes me. Of course, this isn't really a problem for me (except that I'm not really getting any feedback for improvement, I suppose). But it is a problem for the people she's decided she doesn't like. Some teachers at my school are unhappy with their scores, and for some I don't really doubt that it's because they're not based in reality.

I firmly believe in accountability for teachers. Teachers should be held to high standards of excellence. Someone should be able to walk into your classroom at any time and see what you're doing, and you should be doing your job reasonably well. I firmly believe that teachers who aren't meeting an acceptable level of performance should be put on an improvement plan and, if that doesn't work, transitioned out of the classroom (read: fired). Kids deserve that much. But I'm also coming to realize that such a practice won't ever happen fairly until we have administrators who are willing and able to do that job. If teachers are the single biggest factor in improving student achievement (as I -- and Michelle Rhee -- think they are), then aren't administrators the single biggest factor in improving teacher effectiveness?

(P.S. I think some will read this post and say, "That's just what we've been saying forever! Rhee is terrible! That's why the union protects us from arbitrary firings!" Well, I still disagree with those statements. There are way too many teachers in this system who are grossly incompetent, and I applaud Michelle Rhee's fervent attempts to rid our system of them. I'm just saying we won't be able to do that until administrators are on board with doing their jobs well. That is all.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Harry Potter and General Malaise

Frequent readers have probably noticed that I haven't been posting much recently. While I'd like to provide some ridiculous story about why I haven't been posting -- that I was threatened or told to be quiet or terminated or attacked by a pack of bees -- I cannot tell a lie.

I'm just frustrated. And burned out. And tired. I don't know if it's because of Impact (don't think so) or the forever stalled contract negotiations (maybe) or my administration (YES!!!), but I just feel really de-motivated. One thing I can say is that it's definitely not the kids. My kids this year are doing really well, and I've somehow managed to build a really positive culture in my classes. They try hard, and for the most part they're learning a lot. But damn if I'm just not satisfied.

It's getting to the point where I'm thinking about what else I could be doing, and trying to figure out if I want to stay teaching (or at least teaching at my school) next year. On the one hand, I don't like falling into the stereotype of Teach for America teachers who sweep in on a wave of idealism and then leave after we've worked that glassy-eyed naivete out of our system. But on the other hand, do I really want to continue working in a place where I feel unvalued, unengaged, and unhappy?

So anyway, I haven't been posting recently. However, in this week alone I'm being observed by my principal and a DCPS master educator. So chances are at least one person is going to say or do something bizarre enough to get a blog post. Stay tuned for that!