Tag Archives: teacher life

O.M.G. Teacher is ANGRY. Sickened. Sad.

Over this.

TL:DR on the link (though it is short and a must-read): in a nutshell, the Department of Education (nationally) is proposing to eliminate the 2% exemption rule for the most seriously impaired special education students, holding them accountable for the SAME “college and career-ready standards” that the remaining 10% of special education students must fulfill.

What the DOE is talking about here isn’t your neighbor’s kid with ADHD, or even kids with moderate to severe learning disabilities. Those kids aren’t the 2% being exempted here. For one thing, there’s a LOT more than 2% of those sort of kids, and those are the kids who struggle even now and are getting culled out academically in the name of “college and career ready” rather than giving them the support and training they need.

No. We’re not talking about those kids.

We’re talking about what those of us in the special education business call the “low-incidence disabilities.”

We’re talking about kids who may not be verbal.

We’re talking about kids with a functional IQ way below the 70 points required to classify a student as intellectually deficient (the new term for mental retardation).

We’re talking about kids who may be medically fragile ALONG with a cognitive impairment.

We’re talking about kids who may not have the life skills to functionally care for themselves, whose entire academic life is centered around teaching them those skills in some form so that they CAN be functional at their level as an adult. Whose academic learning focuses on safety words and signs. Who struggle with counting change.

The learning of THOSE skills is what those modified assessments have been all about. Measuring growth through the learning of the necessary skills these kids will need to possess in order to become functioning and contributing adults in society.

I’ve administered those modified assessments in the past. I’ve watched this 2% struggle. I don’t regularly work with kids at that level, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know about the challenges.


Because, make no mistake, that’s what Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, is advocating for.

Direct quote from Duncan, lifted from the link:

“We have to expect the very best from our students and tell the truth about student performance, to prepare them for college and career,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “That means no longer allowing the achievement of students with disabilities to be measured by these alternate assessments aligned to modified achievement standards. This prevents these students from reaching their full potential, and prevents our country from benefitting from that potential.”

Make no mistake, I support the notion of high expectations for all students. But this proposal, and the absurdity that Duncan’s quote represents, doesn’t move that 2% of students forward.

What it does is shove those kids out of the public system and back into the bad old system of separate, non-public, non-education in church basements. Make no mistake, what is going to happen is that some unscrupulous districts and states will quietly find a way to shed those kids who bring those test scores down, and by implementing value-added evaluation of teachers based on test scores, ensures a revolving door of special education teachers as they continually get sunk and dumped because none of their students can meet assessment goals.

Dear sweet mother of God, has this man EVER, EVER, seen or worked with that 2% of students? Or been the teacher struggling through the alternate assessments with these kiddos? Hell, has he EVER seen what forcing some of the other 10% of special education students through unmodified assessments does to their interest in learning?

I’m thoroughly sickened by the cynicism in this proposal.

This is immoral.

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Crazy October

Wasn’t it just a few days ago that Mocha and I were at the horse show? It’s been close to a month now, and it seems like that whole time has just spun by.

Part of that has involved a welcome uptick in Day Jobbe activity–primarily extra duty diagnostic assessment at the high school. I’ve spotted former students, chatted with colleagues, and mentally noted some patterns that you don’t normally notice when you’re just testing your own caseload kids. Even before, when I had to do a flurry of testing, that involved younger kids with fairly similar backgrounds. At the high school, I’m seeing kids from different programs than mine, and the things I notice are interesting.

One pattern that I keep coming back to is that I am seeing how a lack of grammar knowledge is not just a composition issue but is also a comprehension issue. I’m chewing on that thought pretty heavily. Key element: it’s dang hard to pick out the main idea in a sentence or paragraph when a reader consistently confuses prepositional phrases describing the main idea with the main idea itself. Just sayin’.

Anyway, there’s some other stuff going on involving the Day Jobbe that I can’t talk about at the moment, and it’s tied into personal life stuff. Potential positives all around, but…can’t talk too much yet.

Writing is in a shambles at the moment. Between testing and wrestling with our new student database program to produce not just grades but IEPs for three students just before conferences, I’ve not had a lot of mental energy for writing. Some of the other stuff going on has interfered as well. It’s frustrating but very real. However, during conferences today I did get some words down. Not a lot, but…Becoming Solo really does need focus and attention. I have to do a LOT of writing, and soon, to meet deadline. But now that that first big set of IEPs is over except for paperwork corrections, and conferences are over and I’ve figured out the new gradebook (for now), things should stabilize. Maybe.

Conferences. Things started going south the day before when kids came up to me practically in tears because they were flunking my class. And these were my A students.

What the ?!#@?!?

I quickly figured out that the damn student management database software had blown up again. Luckily, a bit of wrestling with it straightened things out, and I learned a piece of valuable information. All I’ve gotta say, though, is that if a database designer DOESN’T MEAN to have the main page of a grade book to produce reliable grade calculations, then turn off the capacity to enter grades in that screen. Period. I know enough about databases to know it’s doable.

In any case, I fixed the gradebook, printed out progress reports, and started my parent meetings with abject, heartfelt apologies to student and parent; explained the circumstances, apologized again, and handed the corrected grade over. Several kids were facing grounding over that damn gradebook screwup, and I feel horrible about it.

As it were, I had one of my biggest turnouts ever for conferences. But it was tiring and difficult, with intense meeting time mixed with dead time (we were in the gym rather than in our rooms). But running to 8 pm on Thursday, then getting back up the Mountain for more meetings by 8 am was tiring. Still, I feel like it was a productive set of conferences.

But dang, I’m tired. And October is almost over. Where did it go?

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A plethora of posts to write–quick hits–teacher politics, horse politics, and a fun reflection on writing with kids

As usual, life’s gotten busy and I have things to write about which just ain’t happenin’ as individual posts at the moment.

To start with, David Gilmour (NOT the Pink Floyd musician but the writer and lit prof) doesn’t like teaching about women writers. There’s dozens of excellent rants around the web about his sexism, but I’ve got an additional reaction which seriously provokes my ire–the assumption on his part that teaching is all about being able to present material smoothly and effectively (his assertion that “I’m a natural teacher” where he goes on to state that his experience speaking on camera gives him Magic Teacher Juju).


There’s significantly more to being a good teacher than whether you can deliver a brilliant presentation. If that’s your only tool, then you’re a good lecturer. That’s different from being a good teacher. A good teacher can develop the sort of connection with his or her students that allows the teacher to quickly ascertain student understanding on the fly, diagnose what is/isn’t working, and modify both presentation and individual/small group instruction (which may or may not include the lecture) IN PROCESS to facilitate learning. You can be a brilliant lecturer but a crappy teacher.

Additionally, that conflating of lecture and the art and science of teaching is symptomatic of the sort of mentality that pervades much of the current educational deformist movements in the US public education system at the moment, usually mouthed by those who haven’t set foot in a classroom since they left it as students. Yes, you have to be able to know your subject and communicate what you know to students. But–you have to be able to diagnose when learning runs off of the rails and figure out how to fix it–fast. That sort of understanding doesn’t come from book larnin’, folks–it comes from practice, observation, and more practice.

My sense from both the linked interview and Gilmour’s own statements, plus additional commentary from students, is that he may be a brilliant lecturer, but at least half of his students aren’t necessarily learning (and can we guess which gender that is?). I don’t care whether he’s at a university or in the k-12 system–that’s not the mark of an effective or natural teacher. ‘Nuff said.

Next item. Mark Arbello, the San Diego horse trainer who killed a horse in training by using a tie-around method of bitting up. From what I’ve read so far, there are so many things wrong with how he executed that particular method that it isn’t even funny. I have seen this tool used effectively with a limited subset of hard-case rehab horses whose next stop was the auction if they didn’t turn around, but Arbello did Every. Damn. Thing. Wrong. Shanked bit, not a snaffle (for the non-horsey, a shanked bit puts leverage pressure on the horse’s head in a very painful way if used for this purpose and can lead to the type of reaction which caused this lovely mare’s death). Cranked tight and hard (nope). Tied the horse up instead of letting the horse move on their own. Unsupervised. Grrr.

For the record, I don’t use this tool. I know how to use it, but I don’t. I prefer a side rein method, loosely adjusted so that the horse practices moving in balance but is figuring it out for themselves–and the horse is supervised so that if it causes anxiety instead of the desired result, the human can quickly intervene to prevent a blowup.

Of course, there are plenty of folks out there condemning both techniques with a broad brush and insisting that the way they use side reins is the Only True Way. Sigh. Horse politics are too damn much like health care politics these days, everyone’s waxing opinionated with closed minds. ‘Nuff said with that grumble.

And last of all, for those who are still reading, I’m having some fun times working on a vocabulary story with my intervention class students. I’m not fond of the drill and kill method of vocabulary development where you make kids look up lots of words in the dictionary and write them down, plus use the word in a sentence. A little bit of this work to teach how to use the dictionary is useful, but that’s what you use it for. For vocabulary development, they’ve got to use the words and understand their meaning. I’ve graded enough half-ass-done dictionary vocabulary exercises with poorly written sentences that I don’t like to do that method.

Instead, I want kids to use the words in a way that helps them understand the meaning of these words–ergo, vocabulary pictionary, vocabulary charades, and what I’m doing now–the vocabulary story.  This is a new thing, but basically, I created three categories–event, personality, scene–and had the kids classify the vocabulary words accordingly. Boy, was that ever a knock-down, drag-out argument in some cases, but the kids came up with good justification for that placement. Then, yesterday, we started creating characters, settings, and the first beginnings of plot.

Wow. Can we say buy-in? And, as we discussed how to incorporate various elements of the words into a story (conundrum, assonance, inference are just some of the vocabulary words), I noticed that the kids started talking authoritatively about the meaning of the words, and when I’d throw out a question about how we could craft a character to reflect those words, they got it.


Though I’ve gotta say, the stories may well turn out to be this rather bizarre mishmash of Philip K. Dick, Terry Pratchett, and some very, very odd cartoons. But all in good fun. After all, how often do I get to work with pink unicorn ninjas in a moldy candy cane forest? Nonetheless, the kids are excited and engaged–which is really, really good.


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And so another school year begins

It’s always a nice feeling when the teacher’s first week back results in a sense of getting stuff done to get ready for the job of teaching. Those systems that get set in place during teacher workdays before school starts can make or break a teacher’s year sometimes. The ability to work out plans with colleagues, develop themes, share some common discipline techniques for consistency–all are little pieces which can contribute to the possibility of a great year ahead.

But that building of a consensus can’t be forced, or administrated, or driven. It thrives when there’s been a bit of continuity, when the team has a history of relationships and experience and is not afraid to try new ideas. Add in a range of ages, gender and experiences, and…stuff can happen.

I’m holding my breath because, of course, sometimes the magic doesn’t work. But there’s a delicate bubble of a school year ahead with potential.

A lot of my feelings also come from several major changes I’ve made in my setup as well as some successful planning time. First of all, the rattly old overhead with the dying and loud fan (which replaced the overhead that didn’t focus) has been replaced by a projector and document camera, cobbled up from various sources. This means I have a wider range of visual materials to use without scrounging around for transparency films (and praying that the copier will cooperate). I rearranged the room to accommodate and protect that technology plus create a teaching work center in the front of the room. I can have a more accessible active teaching center and a more private sped work center.

The tables got replaced by desks. I prefer using desks, but when you have to crowd a lot of kids into a room, tables are easier. Well, I don’t need to crowd kids now (our population is dropping) so it’s back to the desks. They’re less clunky, more flexible to configure, and the kids have a place to put their binders out of other peoples’ way.

There’s an entirely new grading, attendance, and IEP program. The learning curve on this one is HUGE, because it’s an extremely powerful database and can do a lot. I can see the potential with this program, but wow. Figuring it out is going to take some time, and it’s also a complex one to develop. I spent six hours this week in training and…wow. Lots of pieces, but it’s an easy program to work with.

I brought prep work home for the weekend. But when I walked out of my classroom this afternoon, I felt comfortable about kids being in there soon.

That’s a dang good feeling.

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Busy days, busy days

There’s been a lot of blog silence of late, mostly because I’ve been treading water trying to keep from overdoing and getting sick during the last weeks over school and like, well, writing, y’know? Committing to the twice-monthly Foundations series has proven to be huge, especially since I find myself wanting to write regular stories instead of the drabbles I’d first envisioned. I have at least one that I’m going to offer as a sales short (too long IMO to give away), and another set of three where I am consciously playing point-of-view-games-while-progressing-the-story games. Those are going to be fun, and help me grow as a writer, and, hey, no consequences since I don’t plan to sell them but give them away. OTOH, it’s all good backstory preparation for the big transition in the Netwalk Sequence, from Melanie to Bess.

But! Other things are going on. The last day of school with students was on Wednesday of last week (the 12th), where I met the kids at the swimming pool, watched MUCH CUTENESS (yes, middle schoolers can STILL be cute), went to the park with them for lunch, then herded cats while we watched Epic. Visually nice but I started out collecting plot coupons and the story pretty much unfolded the way I thought it would. But hey, Very Nice Visuals. Sweet story but very predictable. Phyl, you’d like the depiction of the faery world.

Next day, had my eval, talked planning for the fall, loaded up what I’m bringing home for the summer (mostly files to sort and reorganize), and landed a job interview. After a leisurely lunch at the Rendezvous, I headed for home only to find a worried phone call on my cell once I got my messages. The Mysterious Overfeeder had struck again, feeding horses before the person who was supposed to be feeding. Only happens when the owner/trainer is gone. Always alfalfa. NOT a good thing. Luckily, this is the second time in about four years, and we think we’ve identified the culprit. No horses took harm, as it happened just before the feeder showed up so she knew it had happened and didn’t double feed them. Most worrisome, though, was the feeding and quantity of the stuff to horses and ponies who don’t get that rich a feed usually. Fortunately for MO, no horses colicked or foundered. And Mocha was fine. This is a Very Good Thing, as my Mama Bear mode gets unfurled big time by stupid stuff like this.

Friday, I participated in an administration/union leadership golf game which was entertaining and not at all what I usually do (more what I would expect to be doing as corporate wife than as teacher). Gorgeous day for it with 70 degree temps, partially cloudy skies that opened up to full sun toward the end of the afternoon, and BIRDS. Adolescent robins dodging golf balls while squawking for food (um, only a few of us had any experience, and some didn’t even bring clubs. I rocked my Eastmoreland Garage Sale $3 Tournament Queen golf set from the 50s/60s). A young osprey or red-tail screaming to be fed in one of the Doug firs. A hummingbird who hovered threateningly over one hole, but never swooped on us, just hovered there Letting Us Know that we were intruding.

We played best ball golf, which was a good thing, as otherwise I think some of us would still be whacking our way around the course. It was my first time playing something besides a par 3 course so I got very friendly with my woods and drivers. But it was all in good fun, relaxing, and a nice end to the school year.

Saturday was Jaycon, which gets its own post because hey! pictures!

Sunday was the ballet, plus various Seckrit Project-related writing things.

Monday was writing, horse, and some other fiddley-foo stuff which sucked up my time.

Yesterday was a job interview, massage, and Fireside Writer day.

Today I need to meet someone and sign union-related paperwork, then do barn, then come home and do house stuff and work. And write. Of course I’m going to be writing!

Whew. It’s been a soft landing as far as finishing off school years is concerned. But if the past week is any indication, I’m going to be making up for the exhausted paralysis of previous years big-time. I have many things to be doing. Can I do them all (oh yeah, throw in three college classes this summer. Two of them will be self-paced, but even so…)


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A rainy April Saturday–horse and union stuff

The brief flirtation with warm and sunny here in PDX went wandering off the past few days. Being as it’s a set of spring storms, though, the weather fronts come through as intense showers rather than anything that can last for hours (except up at work, where the cold driving rain seemed to go on all afternoon). Last night I took advantage of the time and the relatively mild early evening to finish off waxing skis and getting them loaded up for skiing on Sunday. It’s nicer to scrape skis with the garage door open, and it’s almost like being outside.

Today was about seven hours of Pre-RA meetings–preliminary introduction to the various issues we’re going to discuss at the OEA Representative Assembly (the governing body of the Oregon Education Association–teacher union stuff, IOW). It’s my second year doing this, and it’s somewhat like watching sausage being made. I’m watching some future political careers develop, and it’s…interesting in the mix. But–controversial and sobering stuff. We’re balancing our own budget and talking priorities. Arguing over various procedural situations. Looking at a loss of 500 members next year–ouch, that could very well include me.

Yeah. Makes the recent brief flirtation with the idea of Something New even more of a wistful dream.

Afterward, I jumped in the car and drove out to the barn. It’d been light showers out there with heavy rain and lots of puddles at some point. The indoor had good footing but was a little slick, and fortunately I had the place to myself. I threw the snaffle on Mocha, hopped up in the Crates, and we went for a good hard forward schooling ride.

March and April with The Girl are times where I really can’t expect much except mileage from schooling. She’s very distractable, even when she’s not in heat, and quite goofy for her (which is more like mildly goofy in most horses, except that she can get goofy at speed.  Um. Not Fun). I tried her back in the full bridle with the romal last week, and she was pushy, difficult, and not listening. But…the pony stallion is now getting worked in preparation for driving this summer, and she was in full heat, so….

This afternoon was about mileage. The latigo leather reins on my Western snaffle setup are seven feet long, and I cross them over her shoulders.  If I need to, I can flick the dangling length of rein from one side over to pop her on the other–pretty easy flick for me, a move I’ve practiced from childhood. It’s broad, flat, and stings a little, but tends to make more noise than anything else.  The crossing of the reins means that if I want to kick her up to a long two-point extended canter set, I can get her started, pop up in my stirrups, brace my hands on her neck, and off we go. She likes these canter sets, especially in spring, and I just plain like doing them in this bridle set.  The latigo leather has just the right mix of flexibility and thickness in my hands. It takes a lot less pressure to establish contact because it has a bit of signal to it and carries a little bit of its own weight. Gregg introduced me to these reins and I love them to death.

Galloping or extended canter work is also pretty nice in the Crates Reiner. I just dropped my heels hard, got up, and let her go, pushing her into the steady rhythm. Mocha was on edge and wound up after a set of countercanter, tempi changes where I really started asking her to come back to me and not speed up, two tracks, and random direction changes at the trot and canter.

We’re not doing a lot of arena loops just yet. Eventually, we’ll get to the point where we do these canter sets between fussy work, especially as she gets back into the romal and we have to work on the more precise control of the curb. Then she’ll rack up a bit of canter time, including speeding up and slowing down the canter in preparation for large fast circles and small slow circles. What I’m doing right now is just straightforward fitness sets, shooting for a fast, extended, rhythmic canter or lope with me in two-point. Once we get back into the romal, I’ll sit down and we’ll do them like that. I don’t tend to do this sort of work in winter because of footing and other issues–but once spring hits, it’s a lot more canter sets.

It was nice doing the canter sets this afternoon, hitting that smooth extended canter, hands resting on Mocha’s withers, feet braced against the broad Western stirrups, balancing on my legs and working on my leg strength as well as hers. Mocha sprung along smoothly, snorting in her rhythmic highblower pattern (strong exhales matching her hind footfalls, the mark of a horse moving efficiently at canter or gallop). Just sending her forward, seeking a steady, consistent movement. Cantering in two-point also does wonders for the hamstrings.  Just sayin’.

Then drop down to walk, switch directions, long rein big swinging walk to air up, then pick it up in the other direction.

The canter sets work not only for fitness but they discharges Mocha’s tension after a bit of fussy collection work. She has little patience for this type of collection work in the spring, but she needs the work during this season as well.  I finally discovered that letting her blow off her pent-up tension afterwards with a good hard extended canter in both directions not only led to a horse who didn’t get as sore, but she was a lot less fussy about the collected work if she knew that we were likely to have the hard canter sets as part of our final routine. So we do a lot of canter work after the bending, flexing, and collection schooling.

Finally, we took advantage of a break between showers to hack out along the road. She got a bit anxious about the big puddle–bigger than she had ever seen before–and we spent a bit of time splashing through it at walk and trot. Then we ambled down the road and back. Coming back, we took the big puddle at a trot and she calculated, trotted in two strides, then popped off a respectable jump across the deepest section of the puddle, neat as can be.

And afterwards, after a nice roll, she had a good hard grooming while she relaxed and mooched treats. It’s nice to have a horse who likes to get out and do stuff, and Mocha is one who definitely likes to go and to work.

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This and that, ski day #4, catching up, writer stuff, weird horse humor

Work is crazy and I’ve been sick, therefore minimal blogging.  This state is probably going to continue for at least a couple more weeks, and then I’m hoping it will cool off for a while.  ‘Tis the IEP season, and furlough days add to the challenge.

The latest bug managed to hit everyone in the family in one way or another.  I finally started feeling decent last week and went skiing with another teacher at Friday night ski.  Didn’t see a lot of the students but had a nice time.  Icy, fast, and I was wishing for a little less wax but grateful for newly sharpened edges.  The hips worked okay, but tired quickly.  It’s going to be a while before I can have long, intense ski days with me against the Mountain in a storm.  But hopefully it can happen again.

I remembered why I’m not a wild fan of night skiing after a bluebird day.  Bluebird days mean sun and melting, which means freezing after the sun gets low, which means ice.  Sure, it’s stunningly beautiful, especially if there happens to be a full moon (sadly, no), but it was not a night for challenges.  I went down Vicky’s once and ended up muttering and swearing along the way, mainly the upper stretch.  But it’s just one short and steep, narrow dip, and then the rest of the run’s pretty sweet.

Still, that upper stretch?  Arrgh.

I did manage to knock off a short story last week, complete from original notes on Saturday to final draft submitted on Friday.  Themed anthology piece, hope it works.  If it does get accepted, I think I’m going to use it as a plotting/organizing example, then tuck it aside as a potential teaching piece.

Mocha has been quixotic this week.  G has been gone for judge training and his absences do set her off stride.  Girl likes her routines.  Nonetheless, she’s been pushy in small ways.  Some of them are fun, like when she took off a lot faster and harder than I expected when we did rundowns.  I laughed and rode with it.

But then there are the other times.

She got grouchy about me asking her to do two strides of canter between two points in another session, and decided I must really mean “trot,” not “canter.”  Discussions ensued, including entertaining lateral evasions at rollback speeds, popping of whip, and sessions of two canter strides, whoa, two canter strides, whoa, two canter strides, whoa, all around the rail, in both directions.  A bit of that, and then she decided she could do it between two points after all.

I’d be more worried but we have occasional sessions like this where she just plain decides to get sticky about something she’s done repetitively before.  She’s overthinking it, for some reason, and that usually means she’s reprocessing this familiar movement in connection with something else we’ve been working on.  I don’t always understand the linkages she’s making but there generally is a connection.  Smooth out the behavior she’s sticking on and the other movement we’re developing also improves.

She’s also been getting pushy in little ways on the ground and I’ve had to correct her.  In talking to G tonight, she started anticipating a stop, or turning in a particular way to face him, without being cued to do it.  In fact, she moved from a position I’d put her in to a position she preferred.  I corrected it by moving her around, then reparking her.  She didn’t move.  Little stuff?  Yeah.  But with a horse like her, best to stop this stuff early and firm.

G commented that she was herding and driving the other mares around in turnout today.  Making a play to be alpha?  It would match the pushiness she’s been showing–it’s spring and The Girl is feeling dominant.

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Another midday ride, being sick, stuff

It’s been a rough January, pretty much between workload and health.  I’m working through freeing up the hips and I think that’s doing well, but DH got The Cold, passed it to me and to DS.  So we’re the Household of Plague.  Or at least coughing and hacking.  I’m now at the stage where I’m tired of being tired, I’m annoyed at the world, and I really want to be skiing and active and energetic again.

But I’m sick.  At least I’m at the hot toddy stage.

I rode Mocha today after not riding since Monday due to work stuff and fatigue.  Too many deadlines, too much fatigue from working while dragging sick (the not sick enough to stay home thing).  She nickered at me today when I walked into the barn, and we had a good session for the most part.  There was a moment when doing countercanter to the right that she had a Failure of Willing Suspension of Disbelief, but we hammered past that and now All Is Well.  We did lots of bending and suppling work incorporating an outside bend and she was very determined that bending to the outside on the right wasn’t a good thing to do.  But we got past it.

The Alice Mary story is simmering.  I’m going to work on it tomorrow.  Today is about household chores and rest.  And horse.

Tomorrow is a new application.  And writing.  And some housework.

But mostly, writing.  Because next week will be all about grading and progress reports and sped paperwork and frantic kids and frantic peers and…well.  Yes.  End of semester.  And we have debates next week.

That will be…interesting.

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Okay. Teachers and general school staff should NOT be carrying guns. Here’s why.

Note: I own guns.  I hunt.  I am familiar with guns and their safe handling and use.

Which is exactly why I argue that teachers and general school staff should NOT be carrying guns in school settings or expected to carry guns in school settings.

I’ve run across this particular meme often enough on Facebook already since the senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook, and it’s making me angry enough that I want to address it explicitly.  Because so far, not a single person promoting this argument has sufficient experience managing kids in a school setting to make a seriously valid argument.

First of all, a school setting is not a home defense setting.  It is a crowd situation.  Teachers and staff are the managers of the crowd situation.  They are known authority figures to the crowd.  They have some idea of who the reactors within the crowd are going to be.  They can manage and direct the group.


Keep in mind that in most settings you will have an adult-student ratio of 1-25 or more.  With older students, you might have certain highly-regarded, level-headed kids who can perform specific tasks to help secure the setting–i.e., close curtains, calm peers, overturn tables, etc…(yes, I have a multi-scenario, rather elaborate security plan should I need to implement it.  I’ve just spent time tweaking it).  Might.

You might also have a panic-stricken, hormone-crazed crowd that you can’t step away from, except to do the basic steps to secure the area.

For example, here are the steps I need to take to secure a classroom–

Get students to a safe location out of sight of window in door and outside window (impossible, therefore overturned tables).

Close blinds.

Lock door (requires I step outside the classroom).

In my regular classroom, I have to walk fifteen feet to secure an outside door that opens onto a covered play area.

Do I really have the time to prepare a weapon safely while doing all of the above?

What happens if I have younger children that I can’t leave unsupervised throughout any of this process and who may need me to soothe them and forestall dangerous panic behaviors?

What is the MOST IMPORTANT thing for me to be doing–managing the kids or managing a weapon safely around kids?  Keep in mind that I may be the sole adult in the room.  It may fall upon me to get the kids quickly to safety under direction.  I am the direct kid manager.  Do I have time to manage a gun?

I’ve also been reading a rather useful book about force decisions by Rory Miller and Lawrence A. Kane, Scaling Force: dynamic decision-making under threat of violence.  I’m currently in the Level Six–Deadly Force–section.  After reading Miller and Kane, I am very comfortable in stating that teachers can’t do it all.

See, that’s the other piece about putting it on teachers and staff to carry guns in school.  This isn’t a home defense setting with limited people.  This is a crowd setting.  In order to safely and effectively shoot an intruder without causing harm to innocent bystanders (for whom you may be charged if you do injure or kill them), you have to practice that scenario and train in assorted crowd scenarios.

Many teachers already don’t have enough time in their lives to do the daily tasks required of them as a teacher.  Where’s this training time going to come from?  Who’s going to pay for it?  What further academics get cut from tight budgets to fund this sort of aggressive security scenario?  I can pretty much guarantee you that it’s likely to be PE/Health followed by Social Studies that’ll go bye-bye (the arts are already gone in many schools).

There’s also the issue of safe secure carry within a classroom around kids who might decide to try to get that weapon from you.  The potential emotional impact on struggling students of a teacher carrying a weapon (and please, don’t get me started about finding a place to secure a weapon in my room.  That just adds to the reaction time if it comes down and it’s another temptation for kids).

Now does this mean I’m unarmed in my classroom?

Let’s see.  We have staplers.  We have scissors.  We have chairs.  We have books and other things to throw.  We have tables to stack and form as door and window barricades.  White board cleaning spray.  Trust me, if it comes down, I’m going to roll with the situation but there are many lovely tools in a school setting that can be used as self-defense, given the time and secure setting to prepare them.

It’s just getting to that secure setting.  To that end, more effective school entry security is a must.  The ability to secure settings such as libraries, cafeterias, and outdoor playgrounds quickly is a must.  The ability for staff to communicate quickly and privately is a must.

None of these require the use of guns.

If society deems that we need armed staff in the school, then put one or two deputized, sworn, trained police officers in each building.  Their job will be to keep the building secure.  Many high schools already do this, some getting the staff from the local police department.

Better that than teachers carrying.  Period.

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Filed under education politics

Every step I take at work is a reminder.

I heard the news before I left for work.

Rehearsed lockdown strategies for both my classrooms on the drive. Climbed out of the car, gathered my stuff, including potluck food, and made sure my scanner badge was secured around my neck.  Passed the badge by the sensor, and as the bolts shot open, I thought about Sandy Hook.

I unlocked the locked door of the now-closed middle school office.  K, one of the aides, was working in there.

“Did you hear?”  K asked.

“Before I left home.”

“Me too.”  We exchanged worried, grim looks.  Then she described her fears about not being able to round up the littlest kids quickly enough in an emergency at recess.  I shared my fears about being able to keep the middle school boys from doing something stupid.

When I walked into my first classroom, one kid asked, “Mrs RW, did you hear?”

“Yeah.” I told them what I knew.  Then added a rap about safety and why it’s important to be able to keep them safe.  One kid said he’d break out a window and run.  I suggested that might not be the best course because someone else could be outside.  He stopped and thought about it.

So did I.  And not for the first time.

Every day in a school setting is a reminder.  And Sandy Hook, coming this soon after Clackamas, is a real slam in the gut for every school staff member out there.  Besides the formal lockdown practice, we talk about what we’d do and how.  When we have a scary experience with adult or kid, we talk about what happened, both formally and informally, and how we could do better.  I’ve been through two lockdowns as a teacher, but there’s been other touchy situations including a minilockdown.  None have involved live action; they’ve been preventatives.

And all that could change on Monday.  Or any day of the days remaining in my teaching career.

In the case of a lockdown, if it happens when I’m in my regular classroom, I have to go outside.  My room is in an outer wing of the school, near a central door.  While the other exterior doors can be automatically locked from the main office, those doors can’t be.  I have to lock those doors.  Then I have to lock my classroom door from the outside, making sure that my curtain is closed and my door window covered.  With any luck, I haven’t just exposed myself and any students in that room to danger.

It’s a strategy I think about pretty damn regularly, really.  It’s part of my job to do that.  I have nightmares about it sometimes.  I probably will have a nightmare about it in the week ahead.

And all of this is a roundabout way of saying that Sandy Hook hung over a lot of my day today, simply because that’s what my day job is and so many of my routines evoke what I’ve been able to read of the nightmare that happened there.  I’m a teacher.  If some idiot with a gun, a knife, or other weapon invades my school premises, it’s my job to keep the kids under my supervision safe.

This is one of those days when that reality slams home.


Argue about gun control and mental health all you want.

Meanwhile, every day, the shadows of Thurston, Columbine, and now Sandy Hook walk with me as I go about my daily work.  For me, it’s not a theoretical construct.  It’s a daily reality, one that I practice against with a certain degree of regularity.

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Filed under teacher life