It’s Authentic.

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It is the day after A.K. has lost Roanoke Colony.  But while he’s anxious to reestablish an English presence on the North American mainland, the problem is that we’ve got other priorities ahead of us as a classroom.  Through no fault of his own, we’re behind in our pacing with respect to the two other 5th grade classes, and we are in a frantic effort to catch up.  Naturally, it’s messy, but we’ve begun to close the gap.

So it goes that I get skittish when I look up from the ELMO document camera in the front of the classroom.  It’s a consequence of the “battered puppy syndrome” that I suffered at my old school site that I assume any and all entry into my classroom of an adult was the result of something I’ve idiotically done;  even if I *know* that’s nothing has gone wrong, I’ve come to assume it.  Catholic CCD as a child has done that to me.

Instead, it’s one of the PTA moms, who’s come to ask me if I’ve made birthday cards for the school’s secretary.  Imperceptibly, I am taken aback.  Quite frankly, it never occurred to me that I would need to take instructional time to make such a greeting card.  I mean, despite the cut-and-paste nature of the canned Roanoke/Jamestown map, I could at least point to the 5th grade California State History-Social Science standards–we’ve not been wasting time on anything not curriculum-based.

“Were we supposed to?”, I begin to respond, but then I dial it back.  I don’t need to come across as a jerk, at least not right now.  Still, I think to myself, really?

“Is this something that has to be done right now, or can I work on it after lunch?”

I am trying to buy time, primarily because my kids have computer lab/library/Spanish rotation in a bit less than an hour, and I’ve timed today nearly down to the minute to finish a critical chunk of work before I lose the kids at 9:40am.

“No, that’s fine,” is the reply.  “I will come back”.

I then make a mental note to return to this, regardless of whether or not I think it worth the loss of instructional time.  Later on, I scan my e-mail for any notice that we were supposed to do this.  Nowhere do I find any inkling that this was supposed to be done.  I had no idea that it was the secretary’s birthday.  The only birthdays I remember in January are Jackie Robinson, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

But it is my nature is to avoid unnecessary punishment–again, thanks to time spent at CCD–so I will do this to avoid getting busted, not because of the sentiment–at this point.  I don’t need someone going off to complain that I won’t do this.  I have fought that battle countless times during my old stint at “Sunnyside Daycare” and I have the scars to prove it.  Besides, the time to bring up this sort of complaint is not now.  I wind up telling myself that I am sure the kids can come up with something cute and kid-like if I can put this off to the last 15 minutes of the day.

Mercilessly then, I manage to force down the day’s remaining material to get that window of time clear.  I ask the students to clear their desks, such as they can.  I try to grab their attention…

Me:  “Ok, we need to make birthday cards for Miss A.!”

“Isn’t she married?  It ought to be Mrs. A…”

Me: “Uh, good question, I don’t know.”

“Why not?”

Me: “Uh, dude, I just got to this school in September.  Y’all probably know her better than I do?”

“Do you know what she likes?”

“How old is she?”

Me:  “Did you miss the part about me just getting here in September?”

“Yeah.”

I brush off the questions, as I dig through my construction paper supply to find 9×12 colored construction paper.  I finally have to head off to the supply room, as I only have 18×24.  When I return, some of the kids are clearly agitated, D. in particular.

D.:  “Why are we making cards for her?  She’s just going to throw them away!”

Me: “How do you know this?”

D.:  “My mom does that.  She told me. Miss A. will do that too.”

Me:  “We don’t know that Miss A. will do that…and how does your mom *know* that Miss A. will toss the cards?”

K:  “Isn’t it Mrs.?”

At this point, I don’t care if she’s a Mr.  I am trying to supervise a card making project all while my classroom aide and I are overseeing the kids getting their homework packed away at the same time.  I then remember that I have to fill out a behavior contract, which I am reminded that I have to do.  As I walk to my desk, I overhear another student sharing his “finished” card with my aide.  He’s scribbled over his initial attempt to write “Happy”, because he started too close to the edge of the card.  My aide, Mr. F., asks him if he wants to redo it, given the total lack of artwork accompanying the text.

Overheard reply: “No, I need her to see that it’s authentic.”

Meanwhile, D. is trying to convince the kids around him that the secretary is going to throw the cards away.  I decide to tell him to incorporate that as part of his birthday wish:  “Before you toss this, I just wanted to say, etc…”

D.:  “Can I?”

Me: “NO! I was kidding, don’t do that.”

D.: “So was I.”

Over in their corner, J. and G. have hit upon the inspired thought to make an Acrostic poem from Miss A.’s first name.  J.’s thinking is that with a name having only three letters, it ought to be easy to come up with something.  I again get distracted trying to organize another student’s backpack.  When I glance back at J., he’s given up.  He’s come up with “Awesome” for the A., but then quits.  He’s come up empty for the other two letters.  At this point, the bell rings, ending the school day, which is punctuated by I. mistakenly announcing that she was going to take her finished card up to the office.  Immediately, the rest of the class is dumping their cards, finished or not, on her desk.

I feel badly for I., particularly given that the parent who had touched off this card-making madness–never came back to collect them!

D. is standing at the door, still insisting to anyone who will listen that Miss A. was going to throw out the cards.

The only certainty was that I basically threw out 15 minutes of instructional time for a curious task, over which I had no forewarning, that was questionable in terms of its necessity, particularly given the ultimately inorganic way in which the kids were told to make a card.

Ideally, PTA could have come to me much earlier, and asked me to talk to my kids, and I would have gladly sent home art supplies and had the kids do something for Miss A.–at home!

But of even greater concern to me resonated today, the day after the card incident, when at my monthly Union meeting (I am my school site representative), we discussed some initial reactions to today’s news about the possibility of California’s budget surplus. Suffice to say that the union made it clear that their goal, at least with respect to my school district’s chapter, was to see an end put to the furlough days that cuts to the state budget had made necessary in exchange for saving jobs of current teacher and office staff across the district.  We are currently taking 4 furlough days, but other districts, such as my wife’s old district, are taking far more.

Had California’s Proposition 30 not passed, raising the state’s sales tax, among other things, the amount of furlough days across the state would have been increased amongst all districts, regardless of budget circumstances.

Fact is, for me personally, eliminating furlough days would lead to a salary increase of 2.17%, back to its contracted level.  That’s a nice thing, I will admit.  But more importantly, When you consider it though, a furlough day is not only a pay cut for me, it’s instructional time taken away from the students, who are not going to be in classrooms on days in which we’ve taken a furlough day.

I’ve got colleagues who are enamored of this idea, nonetheless, wanting that unpaid day off, even though it’s costing salary.   But similarly, I’ve got colleagues as well, when given the instructional time, complain loudly about the need to have standards-based instruction, when they’d rather be carving pumpkins in class, singing Christmas songs, or generally not using instructional time in any manner that advances them further along the pacing guide and curriculum benchmarks.

Stopping teaching to make a birthday card would also fall under this category.

Furlough days also do not absolve us of our responsibility to teach the same amount of accountable standards over less time to prepare for state-mandated testing.

Neither do birthday cards.

I wonder if D. wound up being right about those cards…