Pros, prose and now checklists

I’m looking over Gallup’s “State of America’s Schools Report.” There’s a lot of interesting stuff in it and you should probably read it. This statement caught my interest:

Among employees in 12 different occupational categories Gallup surveyed in 2012, K-12 teachers were the least likely to agree with the statement, “At work, my opinions seem to count.” This is an alarming sign — that teachers see few opportunities to work with school leaders on issues that keep them from using their talents on behalf of their students.

and the finding that

…nearly half of K-12 teachers (46%) report high daily stress during the school year. That figure matches those from other highly demanding professions, such as nurses (46%) and physicians (45%), for the highest stress levels among all occupational groups surveyed.

And also the statement that ”Not thinking of teachers as talented professionals is one of the systemic flaws holding back the U.S. education system,” all seem to work together to codify exactly what most of my colleagues complain about on a daily basis—that nobody’s listening when they should and that drives us crazy.

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s all the paperwork. Years ago, when a student messed up in class, I was asked to describe the incident in a report. The principal would read it, consult with me if  needed, and then deal with it. Now, I’m given a card on which I check all that apply. It’s impersonal and cold—not at all the correct way to do discipline.

Back when I was writing referrals, I decided I would try to communicate not only the facts of an event but how it made me feel. I’ve saved a lot of them. Maybe we should take a look at some excerpts (most are lengthy—including the one I wrote in Shakespearian iambic pentameter on a dare from my principal) to see if they’re any better. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

  • Marvin gave me an obligatory “F___ you,” today through the tried-and-true, ultimately sneaky method of saying it with his head down and tucked into the crook of his arm. This creates an oddly resonant, yet muffled sound that doesn’t do much to disguise the voice. I would have known it was Marvin even if he hadn’t been the only one with his head down and everybody was looking at him afterwards.
  • They didn’t seem to realize the inherent contradiction evident in breaking and throwing writing utensils and then attempting to do classwork. It’s a lot like a swordsman chucking his weapon at an enemy and then wondering how he became disarmed.
  • He enjoyed peeling one of our textbooks despite instructions to the contrary offered at regular intervals over, perhaps, a fifteen minute period of time. Interspersed with his book peeling efforts (the results of which he deposited on the floor), he passed the time by poking Roy Ferrier with a pencil. Roy was sleepy so maybe this was a misguided attempt at being helpful.
  • As I was getting class started, or at least making the attempt, I noticed a little back and forth going on between Svetlana and Calliope. What seemed harmless banter at first quickly degenerated into a shouting match, complete with assorted expletives on both girls’ parts. I felt neglected, interposed myself, and bellowed maybe a Class Three Bellow (loud enough to vibrate glass but still not painful to my vocal cords), clearly winning the match, though this had no effect upon our contestants who continued on unabated.
  • The next time this kid tells me “F___ you,” or any variation thereupon, I don’t want him back without a meeting with his mother and an administrator. It’s becoming “The Lawman and Levinson Show” and I’m nobody’s straight man. Also, we should probably try to find out whether or not Marvin can actually read. I’ve never seen him try.
  • There is some evidence to the effect that John believes the staff here is trying very hard to transmogrify himself and his fellow students into white, homosexual golfers. John feels very strongly about this and has begun to organize.
  • In between her braying, too-loud laughter, her conversations clear across the room, her stage sighs, and lippy comebacks, Sue had the stones to ask several times to go to the bathroom. After the last of my several refusals, she walked out.
  • Charles will occasionally curse me out of the blue for no apparent reason. He would no doubt say that this is all part of his sense of humor and that it really is funny. I mean, Harold laughs once when he does it, and then again when I ask him what he said and Charles says something like, “I said, ‘The truck is blue, Mr Lawman,” and sometimes Harold will even go, “Oooooo,” when I say, “That’s what I thought you said.”
  • On only the thirteenth day where her presence in my classroom coincided with a conscious state, Leonora decided to fake, poorly I thought, a seizure.
  • One time I wrote up the whole class – The Whole Enchilada.  Actually the only thing my fourth period class has in common with an enchilada is that they both try very hard to give me heartburn and/or acid reflux. The majority will not stay seated, will not pay attention, will not follow simple instructions. I have to demand their entry into the room, demand them to take their seats, demand they get to work, demand their attention, demand they line up for lunch, demand they clean up, and so on ad nauseam. Soon I’ll be powdering their bottoms, tying their shoes, and wiping their noses. If that happens I swear I’ll have to start charging extra. I’ve about had it with this bunch of toddlers – shaving already or no.

Yes, those are real lines from real referrals I turned in to the principal at the alternative high school.  It was cathartic – purging my soul onto paper at the height of my fury. And, yes, he filed them and sometimes used them at expulsion hearings. And while he enjoyed them, the new principal found them inappropriate for some reason and asked me to stop.  I did, though it was hard sticking to just the facts.  I found them unsatisfying and, garnered less than satisfactory results. They’ve whittled away our referral form until all we’re left with is a tiny card with boxes to check and a few lines to fill in—which is all they really want from us anymore, isn’t it?

How often has progress been made giving people the least of what they ask for? Maybe Gallup should do a poll.

By: Vance Lawman, Warren Education Association – Trumbull County

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