Part of me doesn’t even want to write this post. I’ve been away from teaching for eight months and I am still sick from hearing about this.
The fact of the matter is, I love calling parents. I always had pleasant phone calls even when the call was tough. The parent appreciated being let know what ever the case was and they almost always appreciated the way I had good things to honestly say about whatever kid it was, because these kids are people and they are all worthy of us seeing the whole picture, and I always offered several solutions, asked for their help in specific ways and I worked with them.
I loved calling parents when their was a specific behavior I wanted corrected or when they had to appear for detention the next day.
I loved calling parents to talk about how good their child was doing.
I loved calling parents over absences and working on solutions.
However, things began to be passed down from on high in a way that lacked understanding.
We had data. That data said our attendance was too too low. Everyone agreed. That data told us exactly what numbers we needed to raise our attendance to. That data did not tell us how we were going to get there.
Everyone had some ideas:
Make lessons more engaging, make relationships with students, give them ways to dig out if they make mistakes, schedule them into the proper classes, allow them some fun and instill some school spirit with things like spirit week, incentives for attendance, data walls, bus tokens for when they have to say after, bus tokens to get them to school, counseling, and calling parents.
Rather quickly it all boiled down to one solution. Calling parents. And who called? The teachers.
Ok, that’s not true. There was one other major solution. That was for teachers to allow kids in late. It did make some sense, if they weren’t let in late or asked to get a pass from admin, then they wandered the halls all period. It was also majorly disruptive to the learning and when we brought that up, we were told, assign detention and if that doesn’t work, call home.
There was an attendance incentive program, sporadically. Due to staff turn over and amount of overwhelmedness, and money, it was spurts at best. I believe, it needed to be routine and then tradition for it to actually get into the culture of the building. that takes at least a couple years. And there were plenty of ways to do it with out money. Sometimes all they need it recognition or let them play a basketball game or something. It never reached that point.
So we are back to teachers calling every time a students was absent. And THEN it became the level one and two intervention forms! If a child was absent three or more times we filled out a form and it involved any interventions we could including calling home. Then if there were more absences with the same kid there was a level two form. we photocopied them and sent them to guidance.
Ok, let’s do some math.
It’s embarrassing to say but in all of my classes, on average, I had at least three students missing. I can’t really remember but I think that is a generously low number. I taught five classes a day. So that is 15 calls a day on a good day. 75 calls a week. Now, let’s say some of the students absent were already called that week and even though we are supposed to call five times a week for the same kid, I’m not going to do that. Let’s just cut it in half. Let’s say 37 calls a week. A lot of the numbers you call don’t work right off the bat. If you are a good little doobie, you call the emergency contacts and even the nurse for her emergency contacts until you reach someone. Or, you get right through and have a lovely conversation. Either way. You’re not getting out of it in less then five minuets average.
That takes 185 minutes.
Now fill out the form for all 37 calls.
ok if you are fast, a minute each.
This will take insanely long. I’m not kidding. Go to a different floor then you teach on, wait for someone else, unjam it five times, run out of paper and need to go to the office to get more…I’m going to stop here, just trust me at least 20 mins that week to make those copies and we will throw in dropping them off to the guidance office, too. Ok. 242.
Then, upload your data into seeds because that’s the program where we upload evidence…ok, not going to start again and it probably only takes about 15 minuets a month to do this. divide it by 4. add it to 242 – 246 ish.
That’s over four hours a week.
Now, at this point, I’ve stopped calling to say “your daughter is doing great, I’m really proud.”
I stopped calling to say: “your son is in a performance this week, please come see him.”
I stopped calling to say, please come to open house.
I stopped calling about behavior or academic struggles because I was too busy making attendance calls.
No, that’s all lies. I didn’t do that. I made all the calls I usually make and as many absentee calls as I could. But I didn’t make every absentee phone call I was expected to. I lived in constant fear. I was employed in a job I cared very much for and I wasn’t doing something considered a priority. There were times I was asked for my call logs or asked for my level one interventions forms. I either had to set everything aside and do that, or fake it, or risks my number of calls looking low and getting a bad teacher report card. Yes, teacher report cards exist and can cause termination or a raise for the following year not to be given.
What is frustrating is that there are other people who are supposed to be responsible for this, too. Administration. They should be making calls especially when a large amount of the absenteeism from class involves kids in the hallways.
Guidance? Can they make attendance calls?
Secretaries? Why not? Automated calls? Where did those go the last two years teaching?
our school police officers?
The truth of the matter is, they all did that, too. There isn’t anyone inside the school I taught who I ever could be able to truly point the finger at and say you do it! because every single one of us were doing more than humanly possible and it wasn’t enough.
The truth is, the calls were pointless, to a certain extent. They were just measurable and easy to do. What needed to be done to change the low attendance was harder to define and even harder to show evidence for. We couldn’t easily put, “making the school environment less oppressive so teens actually wanted to come” in a three ring binder to show to the federal and state government to show that even though we were a struggling school, we were trying. We couldn’t easily put, “bring the arts back into the curriculum and other exciting electives,” we couldn’t put “stop dumbing it down for some kids and scaffold it for others so some are challenged and some can begin to feel success?” We can’t easily say asking teachers to do less so they are better for their students so they are excited about their job and draw in their students with their excitement, on a data sheet.
And with the exception of the last one, our school was trying those things. I’m no genius. I wasn’t the only one figuring that out. It’s only that the emphasis was put on EVERYTHING.
There is another factor here, “the set up.” In our district, we were set up to fail. This may sound like a conspiracy theory, but in fact, it’s discrimination alive and well. All you have to do is look at the factors on the district’s page. Our school had and always had a substantially higher number of:
students with special needs
students from foster care
Immigrant students especially refugees
English as a second language students
Students with criminal records
when other schools recruited students from middle schools with high test scores.
no extra support.
criticized in the media and by our down town office.
All the while, I was teaching a population of students that I loved.
So, the problems were larger than us. And we were asked to fix them. Make those calls. Prove that you did.
Oh, I’m getting so anxious even writing about this, even eight months away from it, that I forgot the best part.
The phones in our rooms that used to be able to call out of the building were blocked. We couldn’t make outside calls from our rooms. Unless we used our own cell phones.
Staff meetings were always a bitch session.
The concern was legit. And infuriating.
Nothing was done to change it.
I was sick of the bitching.
I just used my own phone.
**Note: I don’t believe in dwelling and not offering solutions and I believe there to be some. But this post is too damn long and I’m getting agitated writing it. So know I have them, and will present them some post soon. I’m sorry also for many typos, but I gotta end this. See you tomorrow!