Wednesday, May 25, 2011


There are three good things about teaching middle school (I'm convinced there are more - I have a team of researchers coming up with some hypotheses. But for now, I got three):

1. No matter how seriously I botch a math lesson, it could never be more traumatic than being a teenager.

2. The students are as clumsy and awkward at age fourteen as I am as an adult - and being in my element brings out the best in me (see picture below).

3. They are young enough to be entirely self-entertained with a pencil and paper (or whiteboard and marker) and old enough to have moved on from perpetual rainbows and squiggles. This is a story of that phenomenon.

The previously imminent post of my planned 4th blog: "The perils of 'hard' classwork and 'long' problems," has been interrupted by the following piece of artwork:

On Monday, my school administered the 8th grade science MCAS. Now, like many of my charter-school-teaching, the-world-is-our-achievement-gap-affected-oyster peers, I am a proponent of state testing. There will always be a need to hold schools accountable for "successfully" conveying appropriate content and right now, the "ABCD + open response" mechanism is the best we got. And so we go forth.

The less-discussed by-product of this accountability mechanism is what happens to the schools when this VIP testing occurs. Typically (and when I say typically, I am speaking from my vast experience of three charter schools), scheduling and orchestrating the testing logistics falls on one person - usually due to terrible karma. I've been there. And I assure you that this person has 45,000 other responsibilities. The result is that the proctors are tired teachers and the rooms are crowded. It was in these conditions (plus the 16th day of rain and Mondayness in the air) that I entered a room of THIRTY SEVEN TEENAGERS to proctor the science MCAS.

The science test is the third of three core subject tests and students were tiring of the "blah blah MCAS IS SO IMPORTANT blah blah" speech. Clearly I was still going strong. So when they came in on Monday, they entered not a classroom, but what they seemed to believe what the bouncy ball pit at Discovery Zone (not sure if that's only a NorCal thing...insert name of indoor jungle gym your parents refused to take you to other than for some other kid's birthday here). And due to a number of non-blog-relevant factors, I woke up on the wrong side of the planet on Monday morning. 10 out of 10 on the cranky scale.

So I came out guns blazing. Faster than Daeshawn could say, "yo that's a force!" he had 2 demerits for "being an idiot." I was in rare form. And they rose to the occasion. No sooner did each student FINALLY have their own personal answer sheet, a testing booklet, a pencil, a highlighter and a ruler that the first kid FINISHED. They were given 1 hour and 40 minutes to take the test. The first kid finished in 15 minutes. Thanks a lot, Massachussetts. Nothing is worse than a room full of post-MCAS 8th graders. Except maybe post-MCAS 7th graders.

In my infinite wisdom (which I hope is entirely evident by now), I decided to allow the students who had turned in their work to read or draw. While playing drill sergeant with the bathroom list and continuing to dole out demerits like candy, I gave the students their brush and canvas (dull #2 pencil and recycled paper) and they went to work. It was only when I dismissed them (after 6,000 seconds of torture) that the boldest among them brought me their masterpieces. I have chosen to display what I believe to the be the most accurate depiction. But there were others. Ms. Pace as Medusa. Ms. Pace as a cross between a pig and a T-rex. I can't help but be entirely pleased.

Still puzzling over the fact that there's nothing about drawing teacher caricatures as a classroom management tool in Teach Like a Champion. C'mon, Lemov, get with the program.

(Another amazing example of student artwork. Students are magnetically drawn to the white board, to tasting the forbidden fruit of EXPO dryerase. This Jersey Shore Picasso occurred when I stepped out of my room to make copies for about 3.5 minutes after school.)

1 comment:

  1. This is like a highlights reel of all the best stories you tell in the faculty room.