the year that wasn’t (1) and what might be (2)

I have a new gig, one I’m excited about. My feelings and response to the next phase are filled with gratitude. Closure, however, is healthy. Some of the things that happened this past year act as a wedge, preventing the door from fully closing.

The year began so positively:

What went wrong? (and what can go right)

Evaluation biases: Someday I may obtain my administration credentials. Not sure if I want to be a building principal; however, when a colleague who’s older and mostly certainly wiser than I told me she saw me in that role, and how good I would be, I took notice. She said I had a way of understanding how to support teachers and students alike. Maybe I am couching this next bit, or hesitating to sound too critical versus a critique, and there is a tinge of fraudulent intent in this next piece: my evaluator this year struggled with the evaluation process and her own newness in administration. Her understanding of the process came from last year’s work where, in her opinion, many teachers in the building received inflated “Distinguished” ratings, and she could not justify Proficient or Distinguished ratings when the school’s test scores were (and remain) low. And though I provided ample evidence and coding about practice, we never spoke to those artifacts or evidence in our discussions. At one point, we union representatives invited an HR representative to our building to discuss, with transparency and objectivity, how the evaluation systems are to be handled. I have yet to get a definitive answer why this didn’t happen, and we were sent an email instead. There is that old joke about meetings that would be better in an email, but this wasn’t one of them. The staff needed to hear directly from him how the evaluation system works. It is very similar to how my previous district handled it (the protocols) and yet in practice, in the building, became a professional boondoggle. For next year: over the summer, one area of practice is to create a means for my own style of work that combines the evaluation system and solid pedagogy. I’ll share. The current evaluation system and how it can be mishandled and weaponized is a hill I will die on. I believe it we can do better to create better teachers and learning.

Note to self: keep track of lessons and artifacts for the TPEP evaluation for next year. Keep a journal of practice, and strive for personal objectivity and reflection.

Building: The space is old. Decrepit, even. I didn’t realize how much that would affect me. The previous building was also old, but had been remodeled and updated. Now I understand how children around the country feel about the crumbling infrastructure of the schools they attend. The carpet is filthy. There is no central air in most of the buildings. The bathrooms have no ventilation. The ceiling rains dust (asbestos?) The staff bathroom comprised of three stalls, one for disabilities, so the other two are so narrow a larger woman such as myself can’t turn around in them. The staff bathrooms are by the front office, so a quick trip to relieve oneself is impossible (we had two minute passing times). But this isn’t about my comfort or convenience. It’s about how students must feel, day in and day out, and how no matter the bulletin boards, posters, etc., they feel disrespected and marginalized every single day: the destruction of what others create is relentless. No bulletin board stays unripped. Well–okay –except for the HOPE(squared) one–interesting when students put up work there is less of a chance it’s destroyed.

If a building is old, make sure the students are given as much opportunity as possible to create cleaner, better, improved spaces. Work alongside them to create the space. The goal is space for them, their work, their ideas.

Guaranteed Viable Curriculum (GVC): I’m not going to spend too much time on this one because I might go insane. The district adopted the EL Education curriculum. The idea was to keep everyone within a two-week schedule, four novel studies per year. Lessons that require full week(s) would be scheduled for one or two days. Learning was rushed. Students in a constant state of confusion. I longed for the simple framework curriculum of my previous district and feel embarrassed for having any issues with it. A huge ‘be careful what you wish for’ moment. Academic freedom trampled, and no in-depth learning happening. The woeful lack of writing instruction is academic malpractice. But due to the GVC standing as a behemoth between me and my students, the reading and writing workshops suffered grave harm.

Make a curriculum framework for next year, and then continue to work with colleagues and district leaders for the best, most equitable access for all. (Since I’ll be teaching high school ELL, be patient with self, and enjoy this new challenge!)

Reading: Never having taught a whole-class novel before, and knowing the GVC included 4 (we got through 2), I immediately purchased A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts (which I highly recommend whether you teach whole novels or not). The best success I had once when I went rogue and used The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas paired with the mandated text, To Kill a Mockingbird. My schedule included two ELA classes, and three History/IRLA classes. We were given 1/2 hour for US History and 1/2 mandated IRLA time, to be used for silent reading, conferencing, and tracking students’ reading progress. There are a lot of positives about IRLA, but “leveled books” translates to “leveled readers” in the minds of students. Breaking down that concept that books are meant for burning questions and purpose, not for levels, was next to impossible. All of the time and energy spent reading Donalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp, (and more than I can name right now) felt put on hold.

However: I am not giving up. The cataloging of great reading resources is a passion project for me. #ProjectLit, #disrupttexts, #educolor, #decolonizeED, #NCTE, #IBPOC #writingproject are top search tags for powerful conversations about equity, anti-racist. Follow each woman who began Disrupt Texts. Follow @mrpranpatel. Follow @larryferlazzo. Follow @TheJLV And for love and inspiration, follow @MrsHallScholars (!) (I am following almost 3K on Twitter, so a shortcut to these and other amazing educators @mrskellylove)

Thanks @SonjaCherryPaul for asking a great question that’s generating excellent results. Folks, looking for short(ish), IBPOC #ownvoices short stories? Check out this thread. #DisruptTexts— Dr. Kim Parker (@TchKimPossible) June 8, 2019

Keep following those who help with curating excellent books!

Advice: start your own blog and keep these resources handy. Twitter and other social media sites become tangled and distorted.

Writing: There is little or no writing in the curriculum. No space. No time. Misunderstood. Things that worked in my “studio” space of creativity (workshop) withered on the vine this year. I am distraught. That’s all I can about this now.

Make a plan. A REAL plan for writing instruction. Guard it. Protect it. Fight for it. (And keep writing that book. There is space for it.) For me: keep writing and replenish and return to my writing life.

And keep articles like this within reach at all times: Principled Revolution in the Teaching of Writing" by Nicole Bordreau Smith"

I am feeling enthusiastic: as Mrs. Hall inspired me this morning, what we look forward to in the coming year is our love language for teaching! (And this is a great idea!)