Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bad Teachers, Part 6 of ∞ : Block Scheduling

For weeks now my school has been in the throes of a schedule change panic dictated by the fact a huge percentage of our students can't read, write or do 'rithmetic. To be honest the complexity of the possible changes, the interplay between those changes and No Child Left Behind, the uncertainty of NCLB given the election outcome, etc. has left me unwilling to "blog" about the situation, much less share the long, long scheduling Excel spreadsheet I uselessly tinker with in my spare time. That spreadsheet is about as close to an electronic sleeping pill as you can get.

But now I see the Journal has addressed the issue and the APS teeth-gnashing over what to do, at least at the high school level. And like one of those court cases where a witness unwittingly brings something up that then allows the opposing counsel the chance to dredge up all sorts of crap, I now feel somehow justified in boring the complete utter Hell out of you, dear reader, with terms like:
  • A/B Schedule
  • 8 Period Day
  • Alternate Day "Queen" Block Schedule
  • "Lang-Lit Blocks"
  • Rotating Science Labs
  • 4x4 Schedules
  • Copernican Plan and Modified Blocks
I know, it sounds like a combination of chess strategies and ordering Chinese food. And like Chinese food, dinking around with school scheduling can be addictive. Or maybe I just have some sort of geek addiction gene.

And I know many folks out there have an aversion to this sort of math-meets-politics (and that's exactly what it is), because I see first-hand a great number of teachers at my school avoiding involvement in the "school scheduling committee" like it was some new form of bubonic plague. Instead, many/most of my colleagues prefer to say "well, they seem to want us to have schedule X", and "they are going to make us lose our electives teachers".

Much more comfortable to simply bitch and moan from the barricaded comfort of their own classroom than engage in something so mathematically complicated and politically messy. Advocate for their own teaching subject? Oh, that is simply not done! Argue for dramatic changes that will address shortcomings outside of one's own subject? Absolutely not!

The upshot of this dynamic is that I've noticed the following perfectly executed "Sicilian Defense" in place when it comes to bringing up scheduling changes at my school:
  • School scheduling is complicated, and the counselors do the scheduling;
  • Math is hard, and I don't teach Math, and scheduling involves Math, and it makes my head hurt;
  • School scheduling impacts teachers, class sizes, etc., and I don't want to be involved in any decisions that will lead to losing teachers or making teachers do anything different, and, besides, that's the Administration's job;
  • We don't know what the District wants, and let's just wait until they tell us because of the points above;
  • George W. Bush is leaving, thankfully, and No Child Left Behind might be dead, and Winston Brooks is pretty old and looks to be about a year or two from retiring;
  • Ergo, Therefore, Hence, And because of all this.....let's not do anything.
And it's this brilliantly executed "Sicilian Defense of Inertia" that I bring up as an example of "bad teaching". For a billion different reasons, the psyche of your typical APS teacher has been pummeled to the point to which one ignores the many positive things that changes could bring, and instead mentally bunkers down into a mediocrity that both feels comfortable and allows for incessant bitching and moaning about all the things that "The District" and "The Administration" should be doing, but isn't.

In fact, it's exactly that bitching and moaning which provides the professional comfort. If we as teacher actually wielded any power/decision-making then we could be blamed for any problems created. Much better to do nothing and snipe about the horrible injustices around us.


And here I find myself doing something along the same lines. I have been hesitant to bring this crap up via the blog, and curb my tongue at school because of the paradigmatic perception that teachers who want to talk schedule "have an agenda" and are selfish. Am I not becoming, or already am, exactly like one of them?

Well, I do have this excruciatingly boring Excel spreadsheet with a 8-period day on it, along with example schedules for both teachers and students. It includes rotating Science labs, an outline for a 81 student cap for Math & Language Arts/Literature teachers, and "double-prep" Fridays for teachers. It's full of little arrows running toward "black boxes" with titles like "funding" and "FTEs" on them.

Still, I think I better hide this spreadsheet. Much better to wait for the "authorities" to come up with a plan. Better to hide here in my bunker and hope the whole Winston Brooks thing blows over. Better that than go crazy, hop out of the bunker and face the inevitable stream of philosophical bullets that will rip me to metaphorical shreds once I climb over. Boy it's muddy in this bunker. Cold and muddy. Damn that "District". Damn it to Hell.


ched macquigg said...

Two points; teaching school, particularly younger kids, is like herding cats. You, they, are far better off just following their noses, with someone watching over them to offer help and keep them out of trouble.

Five rows of six kids, or six rows of five, is unnatural and bound to fail.

Second. There is in the APS, more than 70,000 years of teaching experience. And, as you point out, no decision making power. The union worked hard to get some decision making power at schools, an effort that Winston Brooks wiped away with a single wave of his hand, and with no objection from the union as far as I can tell.

Education is like no other industry in that the education, experience, expertise belong to the folks with the least amount of power to make change.

Teachers, and everyone else that actually works at the "educational interface" where the system meets the student, need to find some way to unite to push back. If they don't, a hundred years from now we will still be trying to repair a fundamentally flawed model for education by tinkering with scheduling changes.

tree street said...

All I can say, Scot Key, is I hear ya and go for it.

And also add that I agree with Ched M. too.

I left teaching, though, so I can't be of help. I'm not on a staff anymore to be one of those who will get motivated, invested, excited and push for change as you are doing. I taught 3rd grade in APS in what I call the Golden Years, pre Horoschak in the 80's and early 90's - when I was lucky to know many movers and shakers type teachers and (a few) administrators. Teachers Applying Whole Language (TAWL) and NAEYC and the Mary Ann Binford Foundation and CIMTE @UNM were advocates that encouraged teachers to teach to the whole child, and to think in terms of changing the system to allow that to happen. Like you are doing.

I remember reading and discussing about teachers in England who organize and make legislation and stop the system when they don't like it ... and realizing we didn't have anywhere near that kind of organizational power in our unions in the U.S..

NCLB is actually a law now - wonder what the first step is to get it abolished - talk to our new congressional reps??? en masse, let legislaors know that we need to put the decision-making control back in the hands of teachers. Clinton's Edc Czar at least had the NCTE NCTM, all the nat'l teachers orgs in charge of setting the goals - that's what we need again!