Abusurd

How DISD tells teachers to teach

The Dallas Independent School District churns out reams of documents telling teachers what to teach, how to teach it and when. The problem is that the documents are self-contradictory, sloppily written and full of enough nitwit gobbledygook to put the average person in the nuthouse after two days on the job.

Then the teachers are required to spend all kinds of time giving the kids hastily written tests with questions that make no earthly sense covering material that wasn't what the teachers were told to teach.

"It just makes me not want to teach anymore," an elementary schoolteacher told me. "I wake up in the morning, and I just don't want to go in there and deal with all this junk."

Some of the worst and most confusing DISD documents were provided to me in response to a legal "open records" demand. Others were slipped to me by irate teachers. I showed everything to DISD Superintendent Mike Moses and his top administrator over curriculum, both of whom were chagrined. Moses was especially upset by a curriculum document on spelling urging teachers to drill kids on words such as gheto, embarras, abusurdand acrupulous.

No, no, those are not examples of bad spelling the kids are supposed to correct: That's how the person who made the list thought the words were supposed to be spelled. Dr. Moses snatched that one out of my hands and had copies made. And he should be embarrassed. All of these documents came from the district's vast "Curriculum and Instruction" department headquartered at 3700 Ross Ave. How much respect can teachers have for a headquarters that can't spell?

Moses insisted what 3700 Ross is doing now is better than what went on before. I have two problems: 1) Burning the buildings down would be better than what went on before (under Superintendent Waldemar ("Watch Out!") Rojas). 2) Some of the most confusing material from headquarters is the stuff that has been produced under Moses.

He says: "Work in progress." I say: "Watch out!"

Let's just say the spelling list was a screw-up. You take the person who made that list to a classroom and make him write "spell check" 300 times on the blackboard.

What's really much worse is the basic way that teachers are told how to do their jobs. In fact, after I spent several days trying to decipher some of this junk, I decided that the smartest teachers probably go nuts first. Or, we can hope, they just decide to ignore all this nonsense from headquarters and use their time instead actually teaching the kids something, even though that isn't allowed.

In fact, it is state law that teachers in every classroom in every district in Texas teach the same set of "objectives" during each six-week grading period. I looked at 11th-grade English because I had to start somewhere, but you could do this with almost any course at any grade level in the Dallas district.

According to the state guidelines, an 11th-grade teacher in English III must use the first six weeks of the year to cover Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) objectives 3A (legible), 3B (subject-verb), 5A (evaluate), 6A (vocabulary), 6B (context), 6C (prefixes), 6E (dictionary), 7G (inferences) and 11F (literary forms). This list of TEKS objectives is provided to teachers in a document called the "Scope and Sequence for English III."

All these TEKS objectives have longer official definitions than the shorthand I'm giving you here. Let's assume for the sake of argument that the teachers understand them. That's not the problem.

Attached to the list of TEKS objectives is another document called the "Reading Language Arts Instructional Timeline (for) English III." Imagine you're a new teacher, full of idealism, eager to make a mark and do what's expected, trying to figure things out. Your first problem: The timelineattached to the "Scope and Sequence" has a different set of TEKS objectives to teach in the first six weeks. The timeline thing says you shouldn't teach 5A until the third six weeks. But it says that in the first six weeks you should teach 8B (read), 8C (read more), 11B (analyze), 11E (historical context), 8D (interpret) and 1C (organize), even though none of those appears in the "Scope and Sequence."

I don't know how teachers stand it. I know I would be holding up this document plus a bad finger on my right hand saying, "Analyze this!"

But wait! It gets worse.

Just in case the teachers are confused (in case they haven't shot themselves yet), DISD headquarters thoughtfully provides a document called the "Curriculum Calendar by Grading Period." The problem here is that the curriculum calendar tosses in several objectives that are not in the "Scope and Sequence" (figurative, adjective/adverb, Greek and Latin) for the first six weeks. In fact, I can't find the thing about Greek and Latin roots anywhere in any six weeks.

DISD administrators responsible for the calendar told me that it was never intended for teachers. It was supposed to go to principals only. I don't really get how that helps. And obviously the calendar gets into hands of teachers, probably because principals shove it at them.

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