Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fred! Put the school down! You're upsetting the teachers!

At this point, in my immediate sphere, the only thing causing me to deplore, despise, and decry our educational system is our county and state's absurdity of floundering implementations.

Really the only thing I can't stand about teaching is the powers that be that continually make decisions removed from any sense of practicality and reason.  Call it the school board, the county, the state, or Fred.  Whatever you call it, it drives me crazy.  They take something that works within reason, pay themselves to break it, and then hand it back to us with the same look a mentally retarded kitten would give you as it drops a dead mouse at your feet and looks up all expectant and hopeful for a kind word or some catnip.  We can't give Fred catnip.  He foams all over himself and starts hitting himself in the eyes.  

Exhibit A.  Our school had designated every Friday to be an early release for students.  They left at 1:15, and we were provided with an extra two hours to plan with our teams. And, occasionally, have an important meeting.  It worked quite well.  Parents were able to accommodate for the early outs, the time was used prudently, and it was essentially a stress-free transition.  Then the county saw it.  It was bright, shiny, and functional.  It made them a little excited.  They snatched it, looked at it, spun it around, and paid themselves to make some decisions.  They concluded that teachers couldn't be trusted with an early-dismissal of students on a Friday.  Teachers are lazy and somewhat resemble a high-school stoner.  They will clearly use this as an excuse to dip out early on Friday and go have sex at Suzie's house while her mom's away.  So they mangled it, and handed it back. Suddenly it was a Wednesday early out, which upset the parents because the middle of the week's a lot harder to get out early or make accommodations (Some jobs, including ones where you are paid more for having a college degree or masters, can usually get out earlier on a Friday).  

This did several things, besides upsetting parents.  It made the transition difficult throughout the week by dropping a stone in the middle of a consistent structure.  It made planning as a team difficult as they were suddenly trying to plan a week and a half ahead, instead of a week.  Which is rough as you can't be as certain on Wednesday what you and the students will make it through by Friday.  However, the county fixed this planning problem by almost completely annihilating the actual planning time with regulated meetings.  What's that you say?  No meeting is actually needed?  Don't worry, Fred'll provide a needless one.  He's very skilled at providing needless meetings.  Usually they cover needless implementations of other items that he's broken and wants to share. And sometimes they serve no purpose except to make you feel like a worthless drain on American society and possibly the cause of nuclear war.  Awww, who's a good boy, Fred?  You're a good boy!  Chase the stick, Fred!  Sometimes Fred forgets if he's a mentally challenged kitten or puppy.  It's part of his condition.

But this is old news.  This isn’t what threw me into a tizzy.  This didn’t totter my teeters.  Teeter my totters?  No, what tottered my teeters is what’s come through the loop recently.  First, there’s Waterford, then, there’s the new gradebook, and finally, there’s the new progress reports.  Waterford is an educational computer program that we’ve used on a rotational basis in the classroom.  It’s effective, though not without its flaws.  Then Fred saw us playing with it.  Suddenly, it changed.  Fred wanted proof of how he’s holding all of us accountable, so he took a system that was, for the most part, working, and tweaked it.  Before, it was a closed system where the students are prompted with their picture and name, and only your class is possibly accessible.  Now, the students have to find the name of their school, then the name of their teacher, and then their own picture, and THEN they can start.  No problem.  All this so Fred can monitor to make certain that every student has a set amount of time on Waterford each week.  This is being enforced, as well.  Fred likes enforcement of silly, one-size-fits-all, policies.

Luckily, of my four computers, Waterford isn’t installed on one, I can’t log onto another, and on the one I managed to access, two of my students were locked out, and the third I started, but couldn’t stop without turning off the computer.  In years prior, we were able to load the pictures of the students onto Waterford and start them up with only a few glitches within the first week of school.  Now that Fred’s trying to control it, it’s been a month and they’re not even running yet.  But that’s okay, Fred, you watch those screens!  Someone will get on eventually and you can bark (or meow) most triumphantly!     

Still, this is minor.  A hiccup.  The worst is gradebook and progress reports.  All of this is now online, connected with the entire county, monitored by a Fred who shall now be portrayed as an evil, sadistic, fat warden sitting all fattily in his evil, sadistic den, with a gleam in his eye, a shirt that’s two sizes too small and smudged with an unidentified stain, and a nasty habit of glowering while rubbing his greasy hands together.  Oh, Fred, what has become of you, and your mouse-dropping-at-our-feet days? 

I’m not going to say that the end product MIGHT not be worth it.  I can’t say one way or the other, at this point.  But I will say this.  Slow your ass, down, Fred!  Slow down!  You’re throwing all these new things around as if they’re necessary for any sort of improvement in the school system.  First of all, it probably won’t do anything.  Really.  It probably won’t make any substantial difference in the classroom.  All you are doing is giving teachers MORE work to do.  Your program isn’t even ready!  Slow down!  IF it’s good, IF it’s worthwhile, then it will BE worthwhile when it is READY.  You’re throwing all this at us, and you don’t even have it up and running on YOUR end!  What on earth is the rush?  I can guarantee that having a new way to publish progress reports and keep track of grades isn’t going to accomplish that much in real results.  MAYBE there’s an unforeseen benefit to be had, but only if you’re ready to put it into play.  You’re like a new teacher just throwing one thing after another at their class while trying desperately not to drown.  This isn’t going to do anyone any good at this rate, and it will do some harm.  Think about it.  We had training (which was overwhelming) on WEDNESDAY, to completely finish a product by MONDAY, and you’ve already admitted that it’s not really working, yet.  Why push it without reason or need?  We’ve kept grades and printed progress reports for years.  If you need another year, or a couple of months, to finalize a new system that you’re all excited about trying, then take the time to get used to it yourself, and to have your staff familiar with it.  My God, man.  You’re telling us that we have three days max to figure out how to use the system, design it, decide as a team what every assignment will be that is going into this system, and then BACK-LOG the last half of the quarter WITH GRADES into a system?  Why?  Because it will make you look good?  ALL of this is just extra work for the teachers.  My team has already decided to come in Saturday at nine to work on it.  And this after staying till 5:30 today to try and grasp how it all works.  And in three days you think the entire county will have finished this?  And worse, you’re telling us that everyone HAS TO PRINT ON THE SAME DAY?  My god, how do you NOT expect a system to crash?  Or what if someone is sick, or has an emergency?  What if someone drops a dead mouse in front of me, I trip, and fall through a wormhole into a rational educational system?  Who will print my progress reports and back log my gradebook electronically while making certain that Angel from Tweakley Elementary doesn’t log into Angel from Quackly Elmentary by mistake? 

Keeping daily track of assignments on a system in Kindergartn isn’t completely insane (I guess), but asking us to rush it in three days, and to fake it as if we’ve had it for the past five weeks, is just stupid.  Teachers work.  They work hard.  And not for very much money, no matter how long they’ve been teaching or how high their degree.  I arrive between 7:45 and 7:55, and have been leaving nearly every day between 5:00 and 6:15.  This is just going to add an hour or two to this time.  And there are dozens of cars at work before and after me.  I drove past the school at 8:30 once, and three teachers were just leaving. 

Fred, this is not about the kids, this is about you trying to prove that you’re worth being paid as much as you are, when in other states your job is voluntary.  If you have an idea that is worth trying, wait until it is ready to try, so that it will have a better chance of being successful.  If you give me a student, I will do my best to teach them.  I have my faults.  I am aware of them.  I work on them.  But if you give me a kid I care for them, and will do my damndest to meet their needs and see them along on their educational path.  But do NOT give me more work to do just to make you look good on paper.  And, for God’s sake, if you have something worth implementing, wait till it, and we, and you, are ready.  And don’t, please don’t, break something in the system that is at least partially working unless you know that it will be improved.


  1. I am posting my first official comment so as not to make Karl look silly. I had a thought after reflecting over and over about this particular blog. How about in the spirit and memory of C.P. we make t-shirts that have FRED on them. Now get your imaginations going on what this "said" t-shirt would look like.

  2. Dawn has also called for shirts and a spin-off, 'No,David' style. I really like this idea, especially if I could venture into the world of 'painted' pictures on the blog. I have thoughts, but I have to master the skill and time.

  3. "I'm too sexy for this, FRED!"

    Look at that! With one post, you cured any lingering longing I had to be a teacher. Thanks, Karl!

  4. Aww, don't say that! I feel terrible! Teaching is great, it's just the recent policies that are a disaster - the pay, the lack of respect in contemporary culture, the ridiculous implementations and demands that come from above. Um, crap. Disregard all that. Teaching is great! It really is! I will put up with all the crap in order to work with the kids, which is what draws us to teach in the first place. Even with all of this, I still love what I do. That should say something.