Sunday, August 20, 2006


How To Build Morale And Inspire Greatness

"In Hollywood you just fail upwards" - Kevin Smith

I'm sure you can imagine that in high school, there are classes you'd like to teach, and classes you'd rather not teach. Most of you would be likely to further stipulate that teaching older kids like juniors and seniors is generally better than teaching annoying freshmen.

Classes like American Lit, English Lit, and World Lit are considered premium classes. A schedule with all sorts of these classes, and no annoying freshman classes, would be a pretty sweet deal. How, oh how, does one obtain such a schedule? Apparently, you fail upwards.

We're at an underperforming school. We are at a point in our underperformance at which the district is taking a very strong interest in how we do things, and how our kids perform. They are especially be going to focus on freshman classes and exit exam classes.

You've heard of that thing in California, that wacky experiment known as the Exit Exam? That thing that tests whether or not you have seventh and eighth grade math and language arts skills, passes you if you get a 55 or some such low score, and affirms to the world that you deserve to get a diploma? Yeah, well Exit Exam pass rates plays a big part in how the overall underperformance of a school is calculated, at least in our district. Apparently the district figures they'll come by and do visits and otherwise keep a close eye on these Exit Exam classes.

Perhaps I've babbled enough. Let's get back to how one gets assigned a premium schedule. In a conversation with Miss Chipper and Miss Glum, I learned she was teaching several periods of ESL, in this case, teaching English to children who have just arrived in this country and know few, if any, words in English. Normally, Miss Glum would be teaching a class like that, but not this year. Like several other English teachers, this year Miss Glum's schedule was adjusted so that she could teach one section of Exit Exam. These were classes taught by Miss Birdie last year. They are not considered premium classes.

Remember that the district has a special interest in these Exit Exam classes? Well here's the fail upwards part: Miss Birdie was absent 48 times last year. Miss Birdie did not have surgery. She did not have mono, nor did it turn out that she was really bored. She did not have chicken pox, or any other such illness that results in long-term absence. She just missed a day here, a day there, and by June, it had added up to 48 days of absence. I'm sure you can imagine how 48 absences, a little more than 25% of the year, would affect the performance of a class. Especially a class of the types of kids who need to take the Exit Exam class.

Here's what I imagine. With the district coming around, our administrators decided that they could not afford to keep her teaching those Exit Exam classes. They decided to put her where she could do the least damage. They decided that juniors are a little more self sufficient. And they decided to pack her schedule with American Lit. Ta-da! A premium schedule. She does have one Exit Exam class, but it's 6th period, and everyone knows 6th period is frequently a loser period anyway.
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