Teacher Tenure Petition Scam

Protecting teachers? Really? Here is why I am angry on Saturday morning.

A woman standing outside the gym I attend, petition in hand, approached people with the following line: “Will you sign this petition to help save our teachers?” When asked to see more information about the group funding the petition drive—called Teach Great— she reluctantly handed it to me, photographed here. I went online once inside to look up who is behind Teach Great, then I went back out to speak with the petitioner. I pointed out that she was not telling people this is primarily an initiative to overturn teacher tenure and is funded by Rex Sinquefield, a conservative lobbyist pouring money into our state congress to get this initiative passed. I stood outside observing several people signing the petition without asking to see more information. I suspect many would want to “help protect our teachers’ jobs” if the assumption is that teachers are somehow in danger of losing them. It was disheartening to see people blindly sign this petition given limited and misleading information. I told the woman she needed to add that the main purpose of the petition was to overturn tenure and to offer anyone she approached an opportunity to read the group’s bullet-pointed initiative. I also suggested that she provide people with the website address of Teach Great. Response? She turned her back to me.

 

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There is a really interesting blog post from several years ago posted on Edutopia about the benefits and problems with tenure, some of which I posted below. I am the first to agree that ineffective teachers need to go. A serious misconception is that tenure prevents bad teachers from being fired. If an administrator has the solid evidence needed to prove a teacher is failing despite the opportunities put in place by the district for that teacher to improve—adios. 

Finally, I want to add that I initially belonged to the NEA when I first started teaching. I dropped my membership two years after observing two horrendous tenured teachers file lawsuits after receiving justifiably awful evaluations. Both teachers prevailed due to their union lawyer’s efforts. That was more than 20 years ago. I know teacher unions are much more dedicated to letting bad teachers go regardless of their union affiliation as long as district procedures are followed. After reading Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System, she beautifully documented how unions like the NEA and AFT (thank you Randi Weingarten) are on the frontlines fighting the good fight to help improve the quality of our teachers and our schools. I rejoined the Missouri NEA two years ago and am proud to be a member. I should also point out that I am lucky enough to teach with dedicated, outstanding teachers. I can say the same about the teachers my daughters have been lucky enough to have over the years. Virtually all these educators are tenured.

Why We Need Tenure by Heather Wolpert-Gawron blog posted on Edutopia, December 21, 2009

• I’m grateful to tenure for protecting a very dedicated and self-sacrificing group of professionals. We teachers give our blood and sweat to helping other people’s children, even if those children are Left Behind in one way or another by their own families. We are underpaid and overworked. We are often taken advantage of and taken for granted.

• Without tenure, a 30-year teacher who has proven himself able under six school administrations can be fired under the seventh simply due to a conflict in teaching styles.

• Without tenure, the most experienced and proven educator — someone who has put in years on a school district pay scale — could be fired simply to cut costs in order to hire a newer, unproven teacher.

• Without tenure, you would not be able to read the truths or opinions from teachers in the trenches. You wouldn’t be able to read this post, for example.

• Without tenure, a teacher would be less likely to try a new book or lesson that strayed from the district vision even if that vision was flawed, or even if that supplemental material was exactly what that teacher needed to reach the kids in her classroom.

• Without tenure, we could not use criticism to improve our profession.

• Without tenure, our vulnerability might influence our choices, allowing our fear of standardized test scores to drive our curriculum, rather then adding the critical-thinking skills into our lessons that we know our students truly need.

• Without tenure, a teacher could not fight for a student’s rights, raising his voicing against his own school administration or district.

• Tenure is not so much a perk as a shield that permits us to teach through the ebb and flow of trends and fads brought in ofttimes by nomadic administrators. It gives us the ability to have an unthreatened voice to stand up against the grain. It allows us to retain our positions through our pregnancies, illness, and mourning, to stand up against lawyers pitted against us by litigious-eyed parents, or by the occasional student with lying on her tongue.

• But I also believe that teachers, regardless of their years in this profession, who still struggle to prove their effectiveness should still feel the pressure of having to improve their craft.

• The bottom line is this: Tenure should be a precious thing. There should be a process to receive it. It shouldn’t be granted just because you made it through the first two years without offending anyone. (*Five years in most school districts)

• It should exist. It needs to exist. But it should be awarded only to those who have earned such shiny plate armor.

Saint Louis University Library Association

One of the wonderful offshoots of writing and publishing Teacher of the Year has been some terrific opportunities rolling my way. I was just asked to join the board of the Saint Louis University Library Associates, an organization that is a benefactor to libraries and some of the most prestigious writers of the past 50 years or more. Past honorees of the Saint Louis University Literary Award include: W. H. Auden, Barbara Tuchman,Tennessee Williams, James A. Michener, Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, Joyce Carol Oates, Shelby Foote, David McCullough, Edward Albee, Chinua Achebe, and Mario Vargas Llosa. Tony Kushner, author of Angels in America, won the award this year.Image

Guns and Mental Health: Can Future “Sandy Hook” Tragedies Be Prevented?

DownloadedFileAs a parent, middle school teacher and American citizen, along with most of the planet, I feel emotionally rocked by the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut; however, I am not shocked. I fear I became numbed to shocking violence after the brutality committed at Columbine High School in 1999. I mistakenly thought there would be major changes to our gun laws along with a dramatic increase in funding for mental health.  In fact, every time there is some horrific gun-related catastrophe involving a mentally ill person, almost always a young man, I think— Well, maybe NOW Congress will act.  Since the shootings at Columbine, funding for mental health has decreased due to draconian cuts across the country, and gun ownership and violence involving guns continues to rise.  I do not know what, if anything, it will ultimately take for our politicians to make laws that at least limit the kinds of guns people can buy and own. I suppose that will not happen until senators and representatives at both the state and federal levels resist the influence of the NRA. 11 out of the 20 worst mass shootings around the world have occurred in the United States, an alarming statistic for even the staunchest opponent of gun control.  Despite the stigma of mental illness having eroded so much over the past twenty years, it has become more difficult for many Americans to receive mental health services.  Although I am profoundly sad and angry over yet another violent rampage that seems to play out with all too frequent regularity, I still remain hopeful Congress will do the right thing in addressing gun violence and the need for more mental health funding.  Aggressively addressing these two issues may not ultimately prevent tragedies like the shootings in Sandy Hook Elementary from occurring, but it would almost certainly save lives in the long run.

Left Bank Books is one of the best and oldest independent bookstores in the country.  

The opportunity to sign books, have my daughters, brother and pal Rebecca Ryan play songs featured in the novel AND listening to my good friend, actor William Roth, read excerpts from the book? Just too cool! Hope people can come out on Friday, November 30 at 7:00 to the Left Bank on 10th Street.

 

NCLB, Las Vegas Part 3

Teachers did not design
No Child Left Behind.

  Part 3: For the next ten years or so, I continued to be involved with assessment and writing curriculum.  Beginning around 2004, 2005, the tectonic plates of my professional life began to shift, which had major ramifications for me personally.  Although No Child Left Behind, formerly referred to as That Which Shall Not Be Named, loomed large over public education, I don’t think anyone I knew took it too seriously. It was such a ridiculous law with obviously unattainable goals—100% of all students will read with proficiency by 2014— or how about the fact that there was no emphasis, no mention at all, of writing process in the mandate. The educators with whom I was connected assumed the NCLB would be overturned or radically changed fairly quickly. Obviously, after President Bush was reelected and Congress became even more divisive, it was clear the law would be around for quite some time. From what I can tell, it looks like President Obama’s Race To The Top is simply an extension of the No Child Left Behind law. Good intentions, unreasonable expectations, little to no teacher involvement in the development of either program.

My school district and that of my two daughters, both considered among the top public school districts in Missouri, seemed to suddenly become immersed in the mania of standardized testing. Perhaps they already had been since the inception of the law.  Maybe it was simply teachers like me who were just now recognizing that it would be directly impacting how and what we taught.  I did not have a problem with revamping the way we looked at student achievement and evaluating teachers in a more holistic manner. My frustration and anger were over the downright unattainable objectives of NCLB with an absurd emphasis on standardized testing. Any experienced classroom teacher would have immediately recognized that the mandates set forth by the law would mean that every school district in the country would eventually receive a failing score in trying to achieve Annual Yearly Progress. Every teacher’s job security would also be in danger if this were to become an evaluative tool to measure the effectiveness of a teacher. I guess I somehow thought we would remain immune, above it all.  No Child Left Behind finally had arrived on our doorstep three years after it had been enacted. At this point, I had been on the English Language Arts curriculum committee since the early 90’s, and I enjoyed being part of some very cool, innovative curriculum designs, revised roughly every five years.

So in 2005, a group of teachers representing all different grade levels were given the task of realigning our district’s curriculum to meet the state standards— GLE’s—that were directly in line with the Missouri state assessment, which is called the MAP test. After logging many hours and days spent on this realignment, I remember leaving that final day feeling dazed and confused.  It was a sad realization that we were stripping away significant aspects of our writing and literature program, all to better address the kind of test questions that might appear on the year-end assessment.

That same year, my wife and I received a letter from our third grade daughter’s school saying that her class was having an ice cream party. Kids could earn scoops and toppings based on how well they did on the pre-testing for the upcoming state exam.  We were informed that our daughter had earned one scoop of ice cream out of a possible FOUR, but alas, did not do well enough to earn any additional toppings having inherited her father’s dysfunctional math gene. My daughter did not really care about the ice cream or toppings, but she was terrified of being so visibly “outed” in front of her peers as someone who was crappy at math.  Not long after, there was a school wide pep rally to get kids “pumped” up for the upcoming weeks of state testing. My daughter informed us that she would not be cheering “for that dumb test.” Perhaps some of you also attended some of those rallies.

Although other school districts around the country were clearly dealing with the wrath of the NCLB law due to low test scores, the school district of my two daughters and the district in which I taught were now dealing with it head on. I felt angry and cheated. Kind of dirty, like I was a willing participant in something I knew was educationally, even morally, bankrupt. I wanted to do something that would light a collective fire to help strike a blow to the No Child Left Behind Act. I thought about creating a blog to vent to other people who felt like I did, and maybe, just maybe enough us would band together to incite some kind of positive change. Maybe I could write a collection of essays about teaching in an increasingly data-driven environment.  Just what the hell could I do? I wondered.

So, I took a personal day and went out to lunch with my wife.

We talked a long time about the state of education and how I could write about it. Her concern was that my idea of putting together a collection of creative nonfiction essays would end up never getting done, not unreasonable since I’d been piddling around with short nonfiction for years, never submitting anything for publication. The only genre of writing I was interested in was humor, but what could be funny about NCLB?  Well, the more I thought about it, I realized there really was plenty of funny stuff about No Child Left Behind, most it being the kind of funny that could just as well induce hysterical sobbing with cries of Why? Why? Why?

I had some ideas I’d been kicking around and decided to at least start jotting notes as soon as we got home.  I immediately began writing down all the things I had swirling in my head connected to NCLB. Okay, first we ran up to our bedroom since our kids were at school… okay I ran, and THEN I started writing. Here are just part of what became a long list along with a couple others I added later:

  • Forcing a corporate model of how to run a school and how its teachers should teach down the collective throats of all public school districts.
  • A subgroup’s failure to achieve AYP could land a school on the state’s dreaded Watch List, potentially ruinous to a school’s reputation and even the value of one’s home since housing prices are so closely aligned with the quality of a community’s school district.
  • The possibility of closing neighborhood schools, which are so essential in maintaining a shared history as well as building a sense of community and pride.
  • NCLB’s primary focus of using standardized testing as the most important gauge of a teacher’s effectiveness AND a school’s success. Why weren’t we looking more at the role that families, community and poverty plays in determining success— not just in school— but in life? To truly lift the educational quotient of our country higher, we have to do a better job of tackling poverty… Did I mention poverty?
  • Reading comprehension was parsed into 5 categories- vocabulary, phonemic awareness, fluency, phonics and comprehension, with all five being equal in emphasis. Seriously?
  • The diversion of public funds to charter schools, which had been unproven and still are unproven, to be a better alternative to public education.
  • Taking over so-called failing schools with state appointed school boards, robbing the community of their voices in who gets to serve them.
  • Threatening to take away funding of schools, which perennially underperform on the state test, as if that will make the situation better.
  • What about 70% of all public school districts in the U.S. decreasing the minutes students spend on social studies, the sciences, the arts and music?
  • Finally, here’s a direct quote from Diane Ravitch I added later: To lift the quality of education, we must encourage schools to use measures of educational accomplishment that are appropriate to the subjects studied, such as research papers in history, essays and stories in literature, research projects in science, demonstrations of mathematical competence, videotaped or recorded conversations in a foreign language, performances in the arts and other exhibitions of learning.

So, the list went on and on because, despite whatever good intentions our politicians had in passing it, there was a tremendous amount to not like about No Child Left Behind.

Okay, so I had a list of things I could write about. Teachers already knew the inherent problems they were facing with revised curriculums and the impossibility of NCLB.  I’d be preaching to the choir, not unlike what I’m doing now.

What exactly was I going to write that would both communicate a strong message and hold someone’s attention without boring them to death with a bunch of educationalese?  So, here is what I ended up doing.  I thought about the consequences if my one of my student subgroups failed the state assessment.  What if I was responsible for putting my school on the state’s watch list? What would happen?  I decided to write a five-page creative nonfiction essay about such a nightmare.  My so-called essay almost immediately morphed into a fictional short story. And no one was more surprised than me when six years later— my little work of fiction about a teacher who has a subgroup of students failing the state assessment, who gets put on academic probation and ends up being shadowed for an entire year by a retired Army general, an acrophobic Nepalese Sherpa and a hip-hop MC— a story with a soundtrack of more than 140 songs— no one was more surprised than me to have it turn into a published comedy called Teacher of the Year. It is the story of one teacher left behind.

NCTE Speech, Las Vegas Part 2

Part 2: In the present climate of testing kids to the point when it feels almost weird when we are not giving an assessment on any given week, it is hard to remember a time when we weren’t obsessed with gathering data.  But I’m telling you, the idea of assessment back then, at least in my Midwestern city, was kind of intriguing and cute. Kind of like visiting a friend who just had a baby. Fun to hold and play with for a few hours, but also a relief to leave. That’s how a lot of us felt about this newish writing assessment business. Surely, this would ultimately have no impact on the staff or kids. (And I’m not calling any of you Shirley.)

The St. Louis School Board of Education Building was located at 901 N. Locust Street in downtown St. Louis.  I was born without a sense of direction, or that too was cut off by the mohel, so despite having lived my entire life in St. Louis, except when I went away to college, I became completely lost and was fifteen minutes late when I arrived. The receptionist told me the assessment room had been moved due to a water main break. I was told to go to the bottom floor of a nearby building. Very explicit directions. I flew down the street and dove down the stairs to where I was told to go, and when I say dove, I mean it almost literally. The stairwell was dark and musty leading to another door.  It looked like the basement of an old, abandoned warehouse.  I didn’t even open this door, convinced I was in the wrong place. After running back to the receptionist who assured me I had, in fact, been in the right place, I hustled back and yanked hard on the metal handle, positive the door would be rusted shut. It flew open with a bang, startling the 40 or 50 teachers packed inside. Once again, I was the only guy.

The director of the program, a peroxide blond woman, haggard and edgy, kind of a Marlborough Woman without the horse or rugged good looks, nearly dismissed me on the spot for being a half hour late. I wouldn’t have blamed her, and truth be told, I kept suggesting she do just that. Instead, I was instructed to take the remaining seat near the back. We sat in kid desks that had probably been retired back in the 1920’s. As a lefty, I was never a fan of having to contort into one of those all-in-one desks with the right arm tablets.

Just to give you an idea of the room’s ambience, as I said, we had been moved due to a burst pipe, but they switched us to a room which probably had enough dripping water to hydroponically grow every species of mushroom.  I think there were sixteen trashcans sprinkled around the room catching polyrhytmically dripping water. I began sneezing almost immediately because of the mold and felt nauseous for the rest of June.  The windowless room with its dim florescent lighting and balky air conditioning helped further create the kind of atmosphere the CIA may want to consider when questioning captured Al Qaida.  Now might be a good time to also mention that the woman sitting next to me ripped a thunderous bomb not more than ten minutes after I initially sat down, literally rattling my seat, creating instant paranoia that the other teachers would assume it came from me.  The director allayed my fears, however, by telling Delores to put a cork in it, for God’s sake! Delores, however, did not put a cork in it. Her eruptions became as predictable as a certain Wyoming geyser, and along with the mold, had me gasping for air like a waterless fish throughout the day.

The director informed everyone we would be using a six point system to score the essays. The idea was that we would practice evaluating previously scored tests, or in this case benchmark papers, with the intent that everyone would be on the same page when it came to assigning scores.  So, if the essay had been given a “3” by the director, which we wouldn’t know until everyone had scored it, the goal was that 80% of us teachers would have also labeled it a “3.”  The plan was that by noon, after four hours— three and a half for Edward since he was late, she pointed out— so after four hours of evaluating these so-called benchmark papers, we would be ready to begin scoring the thousands of essays from St. Louis city and St. Louis county schools. At the time, years before I would be part of a terrific program called the Show Me (Classroom Performance) Assessment Project where I learned that writing and evaluating assessments requires A LOT of training, maybe hundreds of hours… four hours of training seemed perfectly reasonable to me back then.

Our noon deadline drew precariously closer.  Our best group average in getting the right benchmark score was just 12%. The director was getting downright hostile, muttering all kinds of verbal epithets.

“I’m going to have to let some of you go if we don’t do a better job, ladies and Edward,” which is how she always addressed the group, Ladies and Edward.

Now, I don’t know exactly how many schools submitted their students’ writing, but I had no doubt we were looking at tens of thousands of essays. Frankly, I sucked as bad as everyone else in the room.  I was continually two points off from the director. If she scored a paper a 4, I had given it a 2.  A good essay for me might earn a 5 but a 3 from the director. And so it went all day. The lunch break was cut in half to make up for lost time. By the time 4:00 rolled around, the teachers never matched the director’s score higher than 18% on any given essay.  In fact, the director was so apoplectic at day’s end that she merely waved us out, unable to speak.

When I regaled my wife, Anne, with the days events, she didn’t believe much of what I had to say simply because she was convinced school districts would not pay so much money and devote a swath of their curriculum on the results of this writing assessment.  Anne, however, latched onto something I told her regarding the scoring of essays. She suggested that if I thought an essay was low-average, like a “4,” to then drop my score by two. Likewise, if I thought it was a higher than average story, maybe a high “4” or even a “5,” round up to “6” and maybe I would match the director.  The next day at 901 N. Locust, nearly half the teachers had been let go. Somehow, I was lucky enough to not get cut, something the director kept reminding us survivors of throughout that day.  From the first benchmark paper of the morning, I tried Anne’s method of rounding up or down.  By the time we got to our lunch break, I was nearly perfect.  The downside was that I knew all of my scores were probably bogus, but on the positive side, I had become Edward the Great, The Director’s Pet.  I left feeling pretty damn good, minus the nausea from the mold and a sore throat from breathing through my mouth because of Delores and her lack of cork.

I survived my three weeks of assessing countless essays, a great percentage of which were absolutely awful, and my eyes, throat and lungs are only just now recovering 20 years later.  In a room that FEMA would have declared off limits, morale was terrible, the process incredibly tedious and mind-numbingly dull.  And the scoring was a joke. Although I know the training for the current state assessment is much more rigorous and legitimate, sort of, a close friend of mine became one of the director’s of English for Missouri’s state assessment program, and he too had major concerns about the tedium, morale and quality of assessors. Geez, I hope none of them are in this room right now!  My spy mission was not in vain, however. After that, our district spent a lot of time training its own teachers to create and score performance assessments, and a lot of us became pretty adept at doing it.

National Council of Teachers of English Speech in Las Vegas, 2012

Aside

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Part 1:  I want to thank Don Zancanella from the University of New Mexico and Michael Moore from Georgia Southern University for presenting legitimately sound educational information for this session. I have no doubt you are going to learn quite a bit about Common Core Standards and their affect on literature.  Consider me the warm-up act. I’ve been teaching middle school English long enough, twenty-two years and counting, to have been part of many innovations that would revolutionize our field: Madeline Hunter, Backward Design, Learning Styles, 6-Traits of Writing, Outcome-based Education, Fountas and Pinnell, Writer’s Workshop, Writing Portfolios, Performance Assessment, Whole Language, Multiple Intelligences, (Reliable scoring, Metacognition/reflection, Cooperative Learning, GLE’s and of course, Common Core Standards are just a few that have come, gone, lingered or just arrived on the scene.

Last year, I attended some really wonderful presentations at the NCTE conference in Chicago, I thought about submitting a proposal to make a presentation on how education has changed over the past ten years, since That Which Shall Not Be Named was enacted into law.  This is the ten-year anniversary year, after all. While my ideas for a presentation were still fresh, I thought I should get to work right away, and in fact, I had plenty of time to work on it after being diagnosed with pneumonia the day after getting back to St. Louis, my hometown. I wrote up a snappy proposal and right before sending it off to the powers that be at NCTE, I shot it over to a friend for editing who wrote, in all caps in the subject bar, BORING! DO NOT SUBMIT! So, I just blew it off.  But on the day that submissions for proposals were due, however, I had an epiphany. Why not propose a personal perspective on how my career has been dramatically affected by standardized assessment, specific and to the point. Now, I have no doubt my first proposal about writing process would be far more educational and pertinent than what I’m about to share, but on the other hand, maybe you just need a break from learning all the great things there are to learn about making you a better teacher.  When I’m planning out what I want to say to an audience, I inevitably end up writing a story. So, here is a story.

I became a middle school English teacher back in 1991.  It was a great time for me professionally because my district was in the process of making some major changes to their English Language Arts program, which back then was called “English,” which later became “English-Literature,” then morphed into “Language Arts,” which ended up turning into “Communication Arts,” then “Literacy” and coming back full-circle, which we kind of like doing in education, to the hybrid— “English-Language Arts.”  Anyway, my district was up for making some major changes, wanting to move away from basal-style teaching and get more into a literature-based reading program and a more individualized writing program based on the Nanci Atwell model of Writer’s Workshop.  Within two years of becoming an English teacher, I was given the responsibility of running the Language Arts curriculum committee for elementary and sixth grade.  Oh, man I thought I was hot stuff. For a new teacher, this was like being given the keys to a Ferrari and told to go have a little fun.  Little did I know my boss, who looked like an Amazonian Martha Stewart and probably had the bank account to boot— but way more intimidating than even the pre-jail Martha — she had already asked more than a dozen other teachers on the district committee to be the chair.  I was in my mid-twenties, the only guy on the committee and young enough to be the son of nearly every woman there.  There were easily 1,200 years of combined of teaching experience next to my two.

If you turned on contemporary radio at the time, you might hear Ace of Base, Richard Marx or the Crash Test Dummies. I remember listening to Mazzy Star’s new song, Fade into You, which is a depressing little gem, when I drove to our main office to meet with the boss, whom I was both terrified of and apparently attracted to given the embarrassingly erotic dreams I’d been having leading to this first meeting to discuss curriculum. I had a legal pad full of ideas for overhauling the Language Arts program, which was already in the process of making major changes. I also had a raging cold, one of many that I seemed to continually have over my first five years of teaching. The boss motioned for me to begin, listening politely as I rambled for perhaps ten minutes until—‑ever so gently— she pressed a finger to her lips.

“Thank you for sharing your ideas with me, but I did not ask you to meet today to only discuss the curriculum.” She smiled Mona Lisaesque as she loomed before me, a WASP giantess, which let me tell you is the dream of every young Jewish guy, perhaps 35 years my senior.

Panic. My god, this was my Mrs. Robinson moment.

“As you know, we are now formally assessing the writing of our students throughout the district and are spending a lot of money by sending them out to the St. Louis Public School district to be evaluated.”

Now, at that time, to the best of my knowledge, sending these essays out the St. Louis Public School District was the only way to have formal writing assessments graded, and writing assessments were suddenly all the rage.  This was the only institution in the state that graded writing assessments, and I guess that was cheaper than sending them out of state.  Now, I should mention before I continue, that at this point, the St. Louis Public School district had been in steep decline for a number of years, did not have a good reputation and has since been taken over by the Missouri Department of Education after losing accreditation due to poor test scores. The great news is that they just received provisional accreditation last week. So, my point is, with so much riding on the results of how these assessments were graded, and given the shape of the St. Louis School District, this was a really bizarre place to have the assessments scored. But back to the mid-1990’s.

The boss continued. “The St. Louis Public Schools are looking for teachers to help grade the writing assessments. They need good people. And you know I obviously like you.”  (Pause) Her gaze bore into my leaky eyes, which had been continually running along with my nose, which I kept surreptitiously brushing away with my sleeve.

“Don’t they have their own teachers?” I asked with such serious dry mouth that my lips were gunking up from both the cold virus and Carmex I had liberally applied before sidling into her office.

Instead, she said, “They need additional staff.  It’s a big job.  And I would like you to be our, shall we say, representative, see how they do things, see if this is worth the time and money we are spending.”

I explained that I had already committed to teaching summer school for our own district, but since she informed me that I would, in fact, not be teaching summer school since we suddenly had enough teachers.  Hmmm.

This sounded very suspicious, because we had never had enough teachers to teach summer school, but what choice did I have?  There was no Mrs. Robinson moment, no “Boss, are you trying to seduce me?”

In fact, before I formally accepted the job, I sneezed so quickly and violently that most of my cold wound up dribbling down the front of the boss’s desk.

I was officially now on an assessment-spying mission.

Part 2