Thursday, August 30, 2012

Adventures In Institute Days

Several years back I was part of a district who elected to commit all of their professional development time with staff to diversity training.  The district was widely diverse and apparently felt that it's teaching staff could both stand to learn to better teach to such diversity, as well acquire some sensitivity to race issues.

While cultural competency and sensitivity are certainly worth while goals, my experience is usually that the trainings fall short of accomplishing what they set out to.  They usually start out with trying to disprove misconceptions about traditional stereotypes of different races and demographic groups.  The problem here is that no one will actually confess to not already having these skills- as such a confession would basically paint you as a racist in your professional behavior.  White people are particularly uncomfortable in this setting as the bulls eye seems squarely aimed on them.  So everyone sits there and fidgets.

Well, almost everyone.  Beth was a white lady who had a long history of dating black guys.  This made her, at least in her mind, both an expert on the topic and certainly immune to any possible suspicion that she might have subconscious stereotypes which affect her teaching.

After going through a number of the usual institute day activities that involve a lot of Post-It notes, chart paper, and bitching (but little learning...) we were ushered back to our seats for a little sharing out.  You know- the time where those two people on the staff that never shut the fuck up get to use the whole group as their personal psychiatry couch (outside training groups love these people and encourage with giant smiles and nods)- that time.

Beth was certainly one these types of people and also lacked any sort of filter.  When it got to her groups turn to share, Beth as the obvious spokesperson, elected to class up the training for the roughly 60 participants.

"Well I explained to my group that I'm black by injection!"

Presenters don't role play that response out in their trainings and were frozen stiff while teaching staff muttered things like "Jesus Christ Beth" and buried their eyes in their palms out of awkward embarrassment.

"What?!  I dated black man for five years! It's not like we weren't have SEX (with added emphasis on the S word for the groups pleasure).

The presenters offered giant dumb grins and head nods (they DO receive training for this...) before telling the room that at this next activity they wanted to hear from other people in the groups so everyone got a turn to share...

Friday, August 17, 2012

Something Stinks Here... (and it's not the lousy coffee)

The weekend before I was set to begin my new teacher orientation at the middle school I had been hired at, my mother sent me a forward.

I pretty much have a strict 'no forwards' policy with all people I know, but particularly with my mother.  Of course the difference is that mom doesn't listen and continues to send along crap about "In God We Trust" being taken off of coins, dumb political half truths, as well as information about community events that are aimed at the elderly and don't serve drinks.

This time however, her forward was about teaching.  It was the typical crappy worn story about a teacher who made a difference in the life of a child who no one believed in.  Of course the kid became a highly successful member of society and returned to tell the teacher how much she'd meant to him (Cue the tears).

Monday morning I arrived to begin my orientation.  The morning was filled with highly uncomfortable "get-to-know-you" games better suited for 5th graders than adults, bad coffee, and power points filled with motivational quotes (a starfish is like a child...).  Finally, the morning mercifully ended and we were ushered to the cafeteria for a free lunch.

Then we got a real surprise.  The new Superintendent was going to be welcoming us while we ate!  Move over Elvis!

The new Superintendent had just arrived from a district about 45 miles away which she'd left in shambles.  Her reputation was cloudy at best right out of the gate.  She said the standard welcome to the district type stuff ("We're excited you're here!", "This is going to be a great year!", "If there's anything I can ever do to help, don't hesitate!").

"And never underestimate the impact you can have on a child. (Dramatic pause) As I leave and let you get back to your delicious lunch, let me share a story from when I was a teacher.  I've written it down."

The Superintendent then produced a folded piece of paper from her purse and proceeded to read the EXACT forward my mother had sent me the night before. When she got to the end she cried as the new teachers ripped up in applause!  She plagiarized a fucking forward!  I don't even know if that's a crime!

Obviously, my remaining time in the district was spent distrusting her phony smiles and enthusiasm after she attempted to dupe us as part of a first impression.

Oh, and if you don't send this tale to seven friends in the next hour your crush won't ask you out and bad things will happen to you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Being A New Teacher Can Make You Hungry!

I sometimes wonder what principals or other administrators see in an interviews that cause them to think, "This individual seems like they'd do a good job."

I'm guessing anyone who has ever been in a teaching program at a university has had the moment where they look around the room at their classmates and think to themselves, "Holy shit, half of these people, thankfully, have no chance to ever get a teaching job."  Sadly though, some of them do somehow finagle jobs (and some of them go on to become administrators!).  I know a lot of principals who dislike the hiring process and are either lazy or rushed in the approach.

Still, none of this explains how James DiCarlo ever got a job.  James was hired as a 7th grade math teacher, who I would have guessed still used his fingers to count.  James wouldn't have got through the door if I was interviewing, because I don't think he would have fit.  He was the living definition of 'morbidly obese.'

I'm no Adonis, so I'm certainly not trying to cast stones here, but James size was an issue with his professional appearance.  He routinely wore shirts that simply didn't have enough material to them.  When he'd raise his arms at all, including to write on the board, the lower portion of his belly fat because exposed to a room of frightened pre-teens.  

During new teacher orientation, the district provided a lunch for all the new & returning teachers as a way to begin for everyone to get to know each other.  The principal's secretary Mary arranged the meal.  There was salad, soda, some mediocre pasta, and those dry crappy cookies for desert.  The entree, for which this particular place was known for, were giant meatballs.  They looked they had been discarded from a 16 inch softball league.  Seriously.

Mary ordered one meatball for each person who confirmed attendance (you didn't need more).  As I was making my way down from my classroom to join the lunch, I noticed Mary seething off to the side.  We got along well so I went over to inquire what was wrong.

"Fucking DiCarlo took eight meatballs!"

I looked over to see James happily munching away at the two plates in front of him.  He had four meatballs on each plate stacked in pyramids (three on the bottom, one on top) with noddles cascading down the sides.  It appeared he passed on the salad.  Michael Phelps doesn't consume this many calories a day.  It was the greatest orgy of ground beef I've ever seen, and I hope I never see it again.  It did to my chest what looking at the sun does to your eyes. There may have been an entire cow divided on his plates.

Of course, being a gluttonous shabby dressed oaf doesn't make you a bad teacher, but in James case it did.  I would imagine the correlation of someone who can't buy clothes that cover their belly, & lacks total social etiquette and being a weak teacher are pretty strong.  The kids ate him alive regularly (luckily not the reverse...), and his lessons were about as creative as his wardrobe.  By years end, he was gone.

James was a forgettable teacher, but each year as I prepare for the new teacher luncheon, I pause and remember his twin towers of meatball lust.  For all you new teachers starting out, remember, everything in moderation.