By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Excuse me. We are not done here, people! Please stop talking, go back to your desks, look through your packet of materials and remove the document titled "The Write Direction, PK-12 Teaching Guide," which will tell you what to teach in English III for each six-week grading period. You will notice that this document has a list of teaching objectives that sound sort of like the TEKS objectives but are sort of different, like "Inform, Explain, Report (Business)." Please do not try to find any of these objectives in the "Scope and Sequence," the "Reading Language Arts Instructional Timeline" or the "Curriculum Calendar by Grading Period," because they're not there.
I discussed this problem with Carmyn Neely, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, who explained to me that "Write Direction" is a separate curriculum from the rest of English III devoted particularly to writing, thereby explaining why the objectives in "Write Direction" are not in the other materials.
"'The Write Direction,' which teaches writing, is separate because we have some things which we must do in order to prepare those students to demonstrate and know how to perform on any test," Neely said.
But Neely also said she believes writing must be taught seamlessly with the rest of English: "As a former English teacher, I think writing has to be taught in conjunction with the other components when we teach literature or when we teach mechanics."
"To be fair," she said, "it's a spiraling curriculum. We build on what already has been taught."
Yeah. She's a smart person. I feel like maybe I'm not. I'm back at my desk by myself now. I've got the "Scope and Sequence" in this hand and the instructional timeline in the other, and the curriculum calendar is on the desk in front of me, and I forget where I put "Write Direction," but anyway I'm trying to picture them all sort of spiraling around. Maybe it's me, but I really think in order to get all this and know what to do with it, you would have to be up there with that Beautiful Mind guy. And look what it did to him.
What do first-year teachers do? Hey, 20th-year teachers, for that matter. My own personal objective No. 1, if I were a teacher, would be: "Explore employee benefit package at Starbucks."
Before I went to see the superintendent, I spoke with teachers who had contacted me at the Dallas Observer to complain about earlier columns I had written on schools. These were individuals who didn't know each other, to whom I spoke one-on-one. Maybe it was a small sample, but their complaints were stunningly consistent: It's a mountain of indecipherable crap churned out by a bureaucracy that prides itself on churning things out, all of it dumped on the shoulders of teachers in supreme disrespect for their personal gifts and prerogatives. It is spirit-numbing.
Neely and Moses both made the point that they are trying to effect a major reform in a school district that really needs it. And that's a very fair point. It's not as if the Dallas Independent School District can brag about anything before Moses. He challenged me to discuss the issue with principals, not teachers.
"I would invite you to talk to some principals and ask them, can they tell a difference in, as you said, people just cranking stuff out, cranking paper out. Or does the curriculum and instruction department have a plan? Is there a plan? Is there some sense to what we are trying to give them, as opposed to, 'Here's a lot of paper'?"
Neely expressed some disappointment that teachers had not brought their dissatisfactions to 3700 Ross Ave. instead of blabbing to me. She said she and her colleagues are keenly aware that everything they are doing needs major adjustment and correction simply because it's all new.
I called one of my teacher informants back, and she laughed out loud. "First of all, if we called Ross Avenue, they wouldn't take our call." She said she would expect to lose her job if she went around her principal and complained to headquarters.
The problem is that this headquarters, like all headquarters, isn't as smart as it thinks it is. A lot of the stuff they hand out is redundant, contradictory and just plain dumb. And in their zeal to get the rank and file to line up straight and march, the headquarters people lose basic respect for the rank and file.
Look, Mike Moses has accomplished miracles with the Dallas schools in an amazingly short period of time. Before he came, it was all bad news. Now it really is better news and good news for the most part. Nobody's perfect. But in the rush to cauterize the wounds--stop the fiscal corruption, get out from under the federal courts, get a major bond issue passed--the teachers are the ones getting jammed.
And they count way bigger than headquarters.