It has been a bad, bad couple of days …
It started last Wednesday. All of the physics teachers in my school are part of what we in the business call a Professional Learning Community (PLC). The idea is that we meet as a team to decide what to teach for each of our classes and then design common tests to use. Some of this is a very good idea. Some of it not so much (using tests that don’t change from year to year are great ideas when you want to collect data … but fast forward to Friday to see why it is also a really bad idea. The problem is that PLCs only work if there are groups of people willing to be honest and compromise. That is not a universally shared idea in my group, and Wednesday it came to a head where we had to agree on a report to submit to our superiors. Generally, these things take way too long to do when six people need to agree … so I wrote up a summary. I wouldn’t care if the group rejected it or edited it, but two members of the team were vocal that it included some not so positive statements about what had happened over the year (honestly, we didn’t accomplish too much), and demanded that the “negative” comments were removed … not because they weren’t the truth, but because they might get our superiors more involved. Wednesday was not a good day.
This past week was also the start of the summer grad classes … I am taking two this semester, one on instructional leadership, and the other on human resource management, the latter is an on-line course. I received the syllabus on Sunday, and had put it off until Wednesday. It turned out that my first assignment was due that evening, and I couldn’t do it without the book. The problem: I couldn’t get over to the school bookstore until Friday evening. Frustration!
Thursday …. there is a student in m sophomore class that I have invested a ton and a half of time into trying to get her attitude and work habits turned around. I had to involve the dean to help me, and after over two months, I got her turned around … it was a big win because the class she is is one of the rougher classes I have taught over the last ten years. On Thursday, she was working and the student next to her said something to her. Her pen was one of those pens that had a laser pointer on one side, and she turned it one and aimed it at the other kid’s eye. I screamed out “STOP!!”, and probably startled the neighboring rooms. She jumped, and looked at me: “WHAT?” she responds. I took the pen and had to write her up to the dean. She is looking at Saturday morning detention, and by Friday morning, it was clear our relationship is back to square one.
Earlier that morning, I had received an e-mail from one of my senior parents. We had been in correspondence for the better half of the semester. Most of my senior class kids did great first semester. As the second semester starts, and we cover energy and momentum (far more abstract ideas compared to motion and forces) + senioritis = lower grades. This mother was concerned when her daughter started off the semester with a “C”, but took my word for it when I said grades would go up as we got into electricity and other topics, and sure enough the grade was going up. She mentioned that she was concerned about her daughter as the family was having some troubles and that her daughter was quiet, and that this plus some other teenage problems might be affecting her grade. Mom also shared with me that her daughter was concerned that I don’t really teach the class. This point is the truth … because I teach the modeling method, there is very little actual lecture, and there is a lot of weight on the students to work and learn. This is something explained very clearly to parents and students alike at the beginning of the year. Mom was appreciative of this, and felt it was necessary to remind her.
Thursday afternoon, before class, I asked the student, quietly, to see me after class. After class, I waited until everyone left, and talked to her … told her that mom had mentioned that there were some problems at home, and that I was here to support her … that if things at home were getting in the way of studying or homework, that she should let me know, and that I would be happy to extend a deadline. I also reminded her that I really don’t teach … that the student has more responsibility to teach themselves than in other classes. She told me that she was fine, and that nothing was affecting her …
I woke up and said that today was going to be a great day! I should have noticed in the mirror that the universe was looking at me and extending the middle finger while laughing.
At 7:15 I received a message from the student’s mom, and called her back. The student had suffered a bit of an emotional breakdown, and felt I had humiliated her. Mom was clearly upset, but was being very rational … her daughter was upset enough that she was keeping her home (mom was simultaneously on her way to pick up another daughter at college and dealing with this … she handled her self far better than I would have). She emphasized that she knew I was working in her daughter’s best interest, but that she hadn’t given me permission to speak to her daughter. So Friday had just started, and my guilt complex over screwing up one of my best students has shot up past the limit. Even after my department chair assured me that I had done nothing wrong, I couldn’t help but feel beyond horrible. At least Friday couldn’t get worse …
Later that day, my advanced physics class had a test. As I was walking the room, I noticed one of my students in standard “I’m looking at my cellphone but you can’t tell” position. I went over, and he tried to sneak it into his pocket. I asked for it, and he handed it over, swearing that he wasn’t cheating … he was texting his sister. I told him that I didn’t care, and he offered to prove it. I handed him back the phone, and he proceeded to enter his message directory, and open the first message, a text to sister talking about a pickup. I asked him to go back to the directory, and open a message that caught my eye … a message from one of the other students in the class, and the preview was a string of letter from A-E. He looked dejected, and opened the message. It was the answers to the test … even included the test number and a warning to “make sure these are the correct answers”. I went from disbelief to white hot fury immediately. I know that it was a young person making a really bad mistake, but the first things going through my head were “how many other people in here are cheating”, “I can’t trust one flippin’ kid!” … that was an emotional response, and fortunately I said nothing. I pulled the kid’s test, and went to call the dean. When I came back, I went to the kid who had sent the text, and asked why he had done this. He played the “what text?”, “me?” bit. I showed him the text. Silence, I asked him what he had to say,and he said “nothing”. As I walked away, he turned to the kid I had caught and he whispered “you stupid!”
While I was waiting for the dean, I realized that something didn’t make sense … the test had only been out 10-15 minutes … the kid who had sent the answers hadn’t finished the test. I realized that there was a third party involved from an earlier class. The text had included a test number, and it didn’t match either kid’s test number. I looked up the test number in the previous class, and turned that name over to the dean. Turns out I had guessed right. I couldn’t even go home afterwards. I was so revved and upset that I ended up not leaving until after 5 pm … at which point I realized the college book stored had closed.
>>climbs up on soapbox<< When things go wrong at work, most people are not happy … teaching is one of the few jobs that people who do the job right get emotionally invested in. Failures can be far more crushing … and I am not even talking about mistakes and problems that can cost your job. When teaching gets reduced to impersonal data collection and test prep as it is heading, it gets much easier for teachers to emotionally remove themselves from their work, and that is a ticket for bad teaching. >>climbs off of soapbox<<
Saturday … I wake up early, and again figured today had to be a better day! I looked in the mirror and missed the universe flipping me the bird with both fingers.
I drove out to the university bookstore (about 40 minutes). The book I had been told to get was priced at $210 (I always tell my kids, if they want to really earn money, forget the law, medicine, or engineering, write a textbook). The clerk at the store informed me that the school felt bad about having us use the expensive book, and had decided to use the older edition … which they didn’t have in stock. I accept full blame that I should have opened the syllabus on Sunday, but I was already down an assignment, and had no plans of going down 0-2 to open the class.
I drove home (it was nearly noon now), and contemplated …
I remembered that there might be a chance to get a used copy at the chain of used book stores. I called them up, and told me that there was a copy at the Palatine store. I called them and they confirmed there was a copy of the 2nd edition (I needed the 5th edition). I asked how much … and they said $10. I was sold, and set off for Palatine. I got home around 2:30, and started doing my reading and writing. I ended up needed part of Sunday, and had to cancel being at Mother’s Day dinner with the family.
Monday arrived. Absolutely couldn’t get worse … new week, things will turn around. The universe in the mirror had a look of pity for me by that time.
I was barely out of the parking lot when I noticed the car drifting a bit. I kept going, and 2 miles later noticed a real pull. Shortly after I started hearing the tell tale “thu-thu-thu-thump” of a flat tire. I kept going, and by the time I got to school, it was flat as a board. I decided to just park it and deal with it after school ….
After school, I pulled my portable air compressor out of the trunk, and started filling the tire … which didn’t work. I realized it was time for the spare and took about 30 minutes switching the tires. Driving as long as I did had, in fact, eviscerated the tire … it looked like someone had slashed it all the way around the tire. I managed to get to a tire place, and get it switched out.
Tuesday WILL be a better day. That cackle is the universe laughing in my general direction.