I teach. I teach math. Part of my day I teach middle schoolers who are too smart for their own good, who hoover up lessons 4 at a time and ace the tests and have no cares in the world when it comes to math. Part of the day I teach kids who aren't so great at math but struggle and do ok, or could work harder and be part of the honors crowd but have decided it doesn't fit their image. And one class a day I teach a remedial 6th grade class of kids who are in trouble.
Some are just really bad at math but over all are average-ish students. Some have special education diagnoses of ADHD or LD. And three of them are really, really slow. At math and at life. One of these kids is Yolanda. Yolanda is a sweet girl, probably functioning at a 4th grade level. A child of divorce, one of those hideous situations where mom and dad will sit in the same room and talk through a third party to each other and spend a whole conference time sniping at the other one's parenting skills. She's also got a bit of an eating disorder, which was a factor I hadn't really counted on coming to this school. And she's a target of a bully in my class who is now targeted by me, another child from a miserable home where he is regularly verbally abused by his alcoholic father and is learning that this is what men are. But this story isn't about him, even though I think his problems will be easier to relieve than Yolanda's.
I went to my principal with evidence on my remedial class--each child is doing his or her own work through a week and then turns it in on Friday. I go over it and hand them more work the next week. I'm trying to liven up their math experiences with some art and movement. They are used to page after page of worksheet math. I use manipulatives. I use compasses and rulers and montessori materials. I am good at this, as good as I am with the brilliant lazy gifted kids learning algebra at a breakneck speed. I showed my principal what I'm doing, and then asked her how I take all this qualitative portfolio-style assessment and information and turn it into a single letter grade on a report card. She didn't have good answers for me. We are still pondering. But she's on my side.
She mentioned this quandary to the special ed folks in the building, especially about Yolanda working at a 4th grade level. And the teacher I replaced, Gerry, who is now working in the special ed room ("Resource") was at my door at lunch to ask me if she'd heard it right. She had. And she started to tell me how to do my job. And she wasn't very subtle about it. We have to flunk her, essentially, to send her dysfunctional parents a message. They will never have her tested for special ed otherwise. I can't give her As and Bs even if that's what she's earning because she's so far behind. Then she said, "That's why I like Common Core, because you either know it or you don't."
"Do you suggest I not remediate my remedial math students?" I asked her point-blank. She talked around the answer with how 4th grade math cannot be graded the same way as 6th grade math.
"She needs to fail."
I asked her again if my job was to teach students or to give them work I knew they couldn't do just to send a message to their parents (a message that was unlikely to be heard or received).
She had to go--I had a class waiting at that point. She came back in the afternoon and I half expected an apology. Instead she told me she'd looked at Yolanda's file and she had a diagnosis of ADHD.
"Then get her into Resource," I told Gerry. Because I agree with her on that--the girl needs help.
"The parents think it'll be bad for her self-esteem."
We commiserate on this point, because again, I agree she needs some help. I tell Gerry I'm doing what I can to help her.
"What she needs is less help. Her parents need to see that she needs more." I know, this makes no sense. Stop helping her so her parents realize she needs help.
After Gerry left I went straight to my principal. Because if we're going to purposefully fail one of my students, a girl with a fragile ego, few friends, and fewer life skills, then I need to have everyone sign on and know that I am doing this under duress. My principal of course found the whole thing bewildering. Why on earth was Gerry trying to get me to do that? If I was accommodating Yolanda in the classroom and wasn't looking for help, why was she grasping on so strongly? It was a question neither of us could answer. In the end, she told me to go home to my kids and that she was going to try to wrap her head around this.
By the time I got home, I was pretty hot. This woman has been subtly and not-so-subtly telling me how to do my job since day one. Sometimes in front of students. And I'm done with that. She's always doing it under the guise of helping me. But I don't need help. I have my partner teacher realizing that, I have my mentor realizing that. Other folks see that it turns out I'm not helpless. And when I have questions, I ask. I went to Paula, in fact, the other special ed teacher, the one with the degree, the one with years and years of experience, about other students and some strategies. I'm not going it alone. But I'm going without Gerry.
It makes me glad it's my job now. Now to figure out how to be assertive instead of bitchy. Because I can be overbearing. Like all the time.