Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Right now my only goal is remaining sane


It's the last day of school before winter vacation, and I don't even know how to begin to describe the utter madness that went down at school today.

We just found out that, starting the second week we return from vacation, we are going to need to keep track of individual "goals" for each student in every subject. Initially, because I can be a reasonable person, I thought this sounded like a good idea. I mean, I think it's good for my students to have goals. I think it's good for my students to know what those goals are. I think it's good to attempt to plan strategy lessons that address those goals. I even think it's good to keep track of those goals on paper so that students know what they're working toward. Goals + instruction = progress, so what's not to like?

But, like everything else in my freaking school, the goal project is going to be monstrous. First we need to choose one long-term goal for each student ("By June, Amy will move from level C to level I in reading"). Then, for each month, we need to choose three specific goals, based on this list of standards we were given. From now on, instead of pulling our strategy groups together based on our checklist of Teachers College teaching points from the month, we'll be doing strategy lessons from this set of goals.

Here are the problems with this.

* As we draw up our goals, we're going to be asked for proof in the data we've already collected that this student is lacking in a certain area. But for the first four months of the year, we weren't working on meeting those standards, we were working on meeting entirely different standards. So there isn't necessarily something in my notes that says that a student was deficient in a certain standard because I wasn't trying to get them to meet that standard, I was trying to get them to meet a different standard!

* I have 50 students. I need to write three goals for each of them. That's 150 goals, just for the month of January. There is absolutely no conceivable way I can address each of those goals in January; even if we weren't doing running records and the TC assessment and the ELA exam, there wouldn't be enough time. So those goals will probably get pushed over to February, which just means a lot of extra paperwork writing the same thing over and over again.

* Each student is supposed to have three goals in every subject and be able to articulate those goals. That's five major subjects (reading, writing, math, science and social studies), which is fifteen goals for each student. To me, that sounds like a lot of goals. I mean, hello, I have students who don't even know their own last name, let alone the goal they're working towards in reading. I don't understand why we have to start with three goals. Can't we pilot it with one and see how it goes?

* We also need to come up with a way to assess each goal at the end of each month. Most of our goals can be assessed most easily using running records and our TC assessments, so does that mean we need to do that for every student every month? How on earth are we going to have enough time to (1) meet with our students one-on-one to address their goals and (2) assess three goals per student per month?

Why are we doing all this? Not because we think it will benefit our students, but because the Quality Review says so. Seriously, my principal never once told us that she thought this would be a good idea -- it was all, "This is what the Quality Review wants, we need to make sure we have this in place for Quality Review." It's like the system-wide equivalent of teaching to the test -- like we're seriously going to drill our students on remembering their goals so they can articulate them if a Quality Reviewer happens to interrogate them.

I have such mixed feelings about this because I really do think that it can be a good idea, but I resent the way it was presented to us and the way we're putting it in place. First of all, I now have to spend my winter break writing 150 goals for my students. Today it took me two hours to finish one class. And I was surprised, and worried, to discover that there really isn't much overlap among the goals. My students really do need to work on different things. And I have always tried to give them that message, informally, when I meet with them in conferences: "What you really need to work on is being able to tell me what happened in your story, in order," I might say. But what we're expected to do now is take that goal and (1) write it in kid-friendly language so our students have a written record of what they should be working on, (2) phrase it in terms of our standards on that student's individual goal sheet, (3) plan individual conferences to address each student's specific goals and (4) assess each student's specific goals -- and all of this happens every month!

Just to put the paperwork in perspective: I already have a checklist that goes with my mini lesson, so that every day when I teach the mini lesson I check off whether or not the student mastered the teaching point. Then I meet with a group for guided reading, during which I fill out another guided reading checklist and also take notes on what I observe. Then I meet with another group for a strategy lesson based on a previous month's checklist, during which I fill out a label for each student writing what I observe and whether or not they mastered the teaching point, after which I go back to the checklist for that month and check off whether they've mastered the teaching point since the first time I taught it. And then, every two months or so, I do a running record on every student, plus write a label to go along with the running record, in addition to the TC assessment, plus a written label to go along with that.

Oh my Lord, I think I might be breaking out in hives. There was definitely a little bit of pandemonium in the air at school -- we all asked a million questions of our administrators, and they had no answers for us other than, "That's a good question, write that down." The thing is, we're putting this in place for Quality Review next year, so what is the rush to get it all started the second week after winter break? They didn't give us any uniform system or concrete answers on how to go about doing this (which, by the way, is totally and completely different from the system we've been using up until now), and yet they're expecting to see us doing this the week after we get back. At which point I guarantee you that we'll be told that we're all doing it wrong and changes need to be made, because the administration in my school would rather jump blindfolded into the deep end rather than dip their toes in the shallow end of the pool first. It's really too bad that our principal sucks, our UFT rep really sucks and our literacy coach really, really sucks.

I was so overwhelmed I didn't even walk out of school excited about winter break; I walked out freaking out about everything I have to do over vacation that will probably need to be totally revamped once we get back.

Other highlights from the last day of school before winter break:

* I sneakily conducted a battery of running records in order to push some of my students to the next level before the vacation in the hopes that when they come back in January, they'll be ready to move up again!

* Santa Claus came to visit my students and gave them candy canes. Then we all had to pose for a picture in which we said, "Merry Christmas!" No one mentioned the fact that actually, it was Hanukkah.

* Administration conducted surprise observations. For full periods. On the last day of school before vacation. That settles it: They are officially evil.

* In the middle of a running record, another student came up to me and announced that his reading partner had written him a post-it. He presented the offending post-it; there was a picture of a tiny box below the words, "This is the siz [size] of your d--k" (except as you can imagine, on the actual post-it that last word was spelled out). The accused student insisted that his accuser was the culprit. Then the accuser's story changed and all of a sudden the post-it had mysteriously been found in the center of the desk and nobody knew who had written it. So while Santa Claus was handing out candy canes, I sidled up to the classroom teacher and hissed, "Would you recognize handwriting?" So we pulled out their writing folders and rifled through them, literally saying things like, "Look at that K! The Ks match!"

* Someone in my office requested a whole bunch of copies of reading texts for her next unit. She got her copy folder back with a note posted on it that informed her that teachers would need to supply their own paper. Jigga-whaaaat?! I guess this shouldn't be surprising, as there isn't enough money in the budget for chart paper, either.

You know, I thought I could squeeze one more year out of this teaching career, but now? I'm not so sure.


Anonymous said...

The best thing that could happen to any administrator and or administration would be for ALL teachers to "work their contract" not putting in any extra time. Most of us put in literally hundreds of unpaid hours to do our jobs they way we think we need to. We also spend way too much of our own money. Just imagine what it would be like at school if we all did that, didn't spend money and didn't work for free. What other job would have that expectation? Very few. I'm going to suggest that we are stupid for doing it, over and over again.
You need to think of a way that you can manage this without a lot of repetition. Store a bank of organized goals on your computer, buy the dang laptop if you have to. It would make your job so much easier. While all goals can't be the same, there has to be a lot of similarity between many of them. Cut, paste, and modify. Don't re-invent the stuff over and over again. I'm sure there are other things you could do to make it easier as well. I agree though, the expectation is ridiculous. I've asked some of my administrators and "specialists" (and I use THAT word loosely..) "Show me HOW to do that...." Sometimes it works.

Angela Watson said...

Is there any reason why your kids can't all have the same goals? Since you teach several classes, you could use the same goals for each class. Surely there are things that they ALL need practice with, to varying degrees.

Then you can give them all the same assessments, document their growth, and choose three new goals for each class next month. Base the goals on the skills you'll be teaching, not on the progress they made. (Meaning, if you're teaching main idea in January and cause/effect in February, make the goals align with your teaching objectives.)

This requirement was never intended to benefit your students and isn't structured in a way that will do so. My advice is, don't try to turn this into something useful. Do the bare minimum in order to meet the requirement, because you know they're going to change it next month and the month after that, anyway.

You will lose your mind if you put 100% into every ridiculous task you're given. Focus on the ones that directly benefit your kids, and let the rest roll off your back.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

Happy Holiday!

It is great that you got a start on that stuff. But please, your vacation is yours. You can feel fine leaving the rest until you get back, especially since we know the directions will change.

How detailed? When will they be checked? (very important question, and not the same as "when are they due?" the right answer leaves the administration in the position of having done what they think they must, but leaving you guys breathing room. I doubt they'll give it to you, but someone should ask the question anyhow)

It's frustrating when you don't have a rep you have confidence in. There are a lot of questions she should have about this nonsense, and the Chapter Committee should be trying to hold the excesses in check.

Are there more responsive people running for Chapter Leader in the Spring? Solid people willing to sit on the chapter committee?

"Supply your own paper" is a problem in a bunch of schools. I've long thought that paper and copies fall in the category of "basic instructional supplies." The term is important, since it appears in our contract (Article 7R). However, I do not believe that w have ever grieved paper under 7R. That's something that, in theory, you might suggest your CL discuss with her District Rep.

But if not in your school, in some school, and soon. Forcing teachers to purchase paper or go without damages kids' education. And demanding they do progress thingies on chart paper, bad enough, and then demanding they by their own, that stuff costs... I'll stop.

Anyhow, enjoy the 9+ days left... Got to love when the break gets stretched.


Anonymous said...

Your own paper??!??! That must be a basic supply.

dmac said...

I wonder if this individual goal-setting is a trend. Yours is now the second school I know of requiring this.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Flecha -- it absolutely is a trend, and it's connected to the new requirements for the Quality Review. In order to be rated as "well developed" on the QR, a school must prove that it sets individual goals for all of its students in ALL subject areas (even gym and art!).