Mississippi Teacher Corps

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On how my principal made me so angry I took last Friday off

A week and a half ago, I was in a meeting with the rest of the science teachers at my school during our shared planning period. The principal was supposed to come to the meeting, too, but had not shown up. We had a lot to cover in the meeting, and I still had a few progress reports to fill out for students coming to me in the afternoon, so I was trying to keep things moving. Then, my assistant principal showed up and said that the principal had sent for me and the other 7th grade science teacher.

We started walking toward her office, and I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. It didn’t seem like she would call just two of us out of the room unless she had something bad to say, and it’s an acknowledged fact at my school that the principal has it in for the other 7th grade science teacher.

We arrived at the principal’s office and found that the new career discovery teacher (as in this guy has been working at the school for all of one month) had also been called to this meeting. The principal ushered us into her office, closed the door, and handed all three of us a piece of paper. It was a written reprimand for- get this- making our kids write down notes. I kid you not.

The principal then proceeded to chew us out by saying that if we are just making our kids copy down notes from the overhead or powerpoint, it takes too long and wastes class time, and they are not actively engaged in learning. We pointed out that when we make our students take notes, we facilitate a class discussion about the notes, ask them questions as they are doing the notes, and have them solve problems afterward that make them use the notes (all things that our principal was implying we weren’t doing). She ignored this and continued to tell us that from now on, we need to hand out printed copies of the notes whenever we use the overhead or powerpoint. Hmm, so my students are not engaged in learning when I have them writing and holding a discussion, but they will be when I pass them a piece of paper that half of them won’t even bother to read, and three quarters of them will have lost by class the next day? Not to mention that I have a very good spiral notebook-keeping system to help my kids with organization, and this throws my whole system, the system that I took a good part of the first nine weeks to establish with my students, to pieces.

Among other insulting things the principal said, she told us that if all we were doing for our instruction was making kids copy notes (do any of us do that for the whole class period? No.), she could just have a janitor stand in the door and watch the kids. That gave me half a mind to walk out of her office and tell her that if she thinks the janitor can do my job, that’s who she’ll have to get to do my job for the rest of the year. I kept my mouth shut during this whole meeting because I know not to talk when I am that angry. She also told us that we were having classroom management problems because we make our students take notes. Huh? She said that too many kids are going to in-school detention from our classes. The funny thing is that the day after she told us that, there were so many kids in ISD that they had to split them into two classrooms, and how many of those kids were there because of me? One. The kid who isn’t even my student but walked up to me in the hall and shined a laser pointer in my eye. Clearly, my use of the overhead projector is the problem. She said that she has a problem with how many students are missing math, language arts, and reading because they get ISD from us, and that it isn’t fair to make them miss those classes. We aren’t MCT subjects, she said, so she could just throw away all of our referrals, but she’s not that kind of person. Gee, not throwing away my referrals makes you a saint, why did I never appreciate that before? Oh, and it was also really helpful to my classroom management when you told the students at the beginning of the year that if they messed up in math, language arts, or reading and got sent to the office, you would give them the maximum punishment. So, the kids heard that it’s OK to goof off in science because it’s not an MCT subject. Do you want to make this just about the test? Then I’ll point out that my students need to pass Biology I to graduate from high school, and they won’t be able to do that without my class.

Of all the gripes I had about this whole “meeting,” here’s my biggest one: the principal never mentioned to us that she had any issue with us making our students take notes! In fact, she has observed my class multiple times while students were taking notes and never said anything bad about it; she always told me that she really likes the way I do my instruction. She reads my detailed (by which I mean 2.5 pages for every DAY) lesson plans that I need to turn in each week, and she’s never made any negative comment about the students taking down notes. Here’s the kicker: I remember that during my first week at this school, my principal gave all the teachers a memo about use of the copier that told us we should each monitor and limit our use of the copier because our students need to learn important skills like (drumroll please) taking notes. Given all these events, call me crazy, but maybe my principal should have discussed the note-taking issue in a more open way before she called us into her office, wrote us up, and insulted us. These gripes (sarcastic comments omitted) are all going into a letter that I’m giving my superintendent on my last day of school in 12 weeks.

Now playing: The Hold Steady- South Town Girls