Thursday, October 19, 2006

Redundancies, Waste, and the Ridiculous: Our “New” Standards

I am a fan of efficiency. I appreciate easy systems or routines that can be used regularly with a lot of success. Why? Because I’m a natural clutz. I’m forgetful, I tend to over-schedule myself, and I have a lot of interests. I have friends, I have family, I have colleagues and co-workers. I have students and I have responsibilities as the spouse of a deployed soldier. I have a cat. For these reasons, I like things to not only have a place, but to be IN their place. Keys on the shelf by the door. Space in my closet for a week’s worth of ironed work clothes. A load of laundry put in the washer in the morning and put in the dryer when I get home from work. A chore list for my daughter. A month’s worth of classroom activities marked on a calendar that is sent home in advance so parents can plan their donations of volunteer time and school materials. A binder of all of the materials and information a sub would need if called at the last minute. A “Star Helper of the Day” who can help pass out papers, distribute lunch cards, and cheerfully help with any other tasks that need to take place at school.

At a previous school district, my systems and routines had to be modified in order to accommodate the “systems” already in place at the school where I taught. The best description of the school’s “systems?” There was a form for the form to request the form you needed. No, I’m not kidding. There was the attendance form. The lunch count form. The fire drill form. The nurse form. The materials request form. The Xerox copying form. The laminating form. The consumables form. The furniture form (which was not the same as the inventory list, which was yet another form). The sub request form. The sub evaluation form. The “missing curriculum materials” form. All of the Special Education forms. The report cards, the cum folder forms (in addition to the cum folder itself), the DIBELS forms, the parent volunteer request forms. The teacher evaluation forms, the student assessment forms. Detention forms. Repair forms. Behavior modification forms. The mileage voucher form. The P.T.A. receipt reimbursement form. The permission to breathe form. You get the picture.

Teachers had limits on their Xerox copying. Why? Because all of the forms had depleted the district’s paper budget. No, I’m not kidding.

Here I am again, the outsider looking “in” on another state, on another district. Thankfully, I haven’t seen a fire drill form, and we have a wonderful Print Shop available to copy activities we need that aren’t already provided by consumable materials. I can plan for a month in advance, send in my order, and a week later, voila! Having a calendar’s worth of activities and a month’s worth of lesson plans done ahead of time usually frees me up to do those “other” things, like spend time with my children. Crochet. See a movie. Talk with friends on the phone. Vacuum.


With twelve years of experience, I rarely find myself having to recreate the wheel. I can bend, flex, tweak an activity, and get on with enjoying time with my students who are exploring new concepts. Two months into the school year however, and I find myself killing trees left and right. Why? Because three people who never see or work with my students need copies of their DIBELS scores. Because collegial groups need proof that I’m using graphic organizers, math problem solvers, writing models, and walking into my classroom or looking through my lesson plans doesn’t provide the hard evidence they need to show anyone who might look that we are, indeed, doing a good job with our “Quality Performance Accreditation.” So I’m burning copies of plans, burning copies of journal entries, keeping originals of T-charts, Venn diagrams, SQ3R papers (which aren’t even developmentally appropriate for kindergarten), NOT erasing overhead projection sheets of class surveys, saving morning messages on large chart tablet paper, and even taking Polaroid photos of my milk and school lunch/home lunch charts. To prove that I’m doing… what I’m doing. Yes, every other teacher is having to burn these copies, save this “proof” and a ton of other assessments too. Each quarter.

Let’s see… DIBELS (yellow books this year), DIBELS progress monitoring sheets out the wazoo, the “Optional Kindergarten Outcomes Reading Checklist, Forms, A, B, and C” (pink, has a typo, and is NOT “optional”), the Math Outcomes Checklist (white paper, also NOT “optional”), the reading rubric for the report card, the report card (which is for a half day program, not the full day program), all of the Q.P.A. forms listed above, an additional Q.P.A. lesson plan sheet (lilac in color) turned in each week, the S.F.A. reading and writing rubrics (no, they’re not aligned with the report card, and no, they won’t work for the Q.P.A. requirements). My personal teacher evaluation form (there are three or four of them), and a form for my own Professional Development Plan. Forms to fill out each time I attend an inservice for professional development, one for pay and another for credit towards the Professional Development plan. If I attend training or an inservice I might not have listed on the Professional Development Plan, I have to submit an addendum to the plan. Yes, another form. Voucher forms to get paid for teaching the After-School Program. Copies of my mid-quarters and report cards to three different people (in addition to the ones sent home to parents) for Speech and Language, E.L.L. (English Language Learner Program), and any other I.E.P. documentation. Extra copies of documentation for students with I.E.P.’s, and copies of my monthly class summary sheets indicating who needs help with certain skills.

This situation wouldn’t be a problem if I could use some of the same forms for multiple audiences. And no, I can’t. There is no standard bottom line or form that is a general “catch all” that would apply across the board, across the district, or even across the school population. In this age of “standardization,” nothing is standardized. So time is wasted, redundancies abound, and the only personal system I have to fall back on is my “binder system.” I have a binder for my monthly summary sheets. I have a binder for all report cards, DIBELS reports, and mid-quarter assessments. I have a binder for the Q.P.A. documentation. I pull whatever originals need to be copied from each binder, Xerox them, and then put all of the originals back, sorting the copies into their respective piles hoping they all make it to the intended recipients. Will anyone even really read these? Look through them? Or do they judge by the Inch Test: if the stack of papers is close to an inch thick, we “pass?”

I don’t mind assessing. I don’t mind backing up what I say I’m doing in the classroom. But I’m “assessing” for the sake of providing assessment forms to people in offices who will probably never meet my students. I’m burning copies to “prove” I’m doing my job. I’d rather just DO my job than worry about which committee needs what form to prove what is or isn’t going on in my classroom each day. If I’m teaching, I’m too busy for these forms and hoops anyway, right?

To quote a friend and former colleague of mine, “there you go, THINKING again.”

Burn copies for Mrs. X, Mr. Y, and Ms. Z. But don’t use too much paper out of our paper budget. Provide copies to committees A, B, and C, in the building, and to committees Q, R, and S outside of the building, and no, Committee A doesn’t want the same form that Committee Q wants, and don’t even think about using the same info, rubric or assessments for Committees B and R. You have to keep the green forms year-round but please turn them in at the end of each inservice, and remember, if you don’t get the white form to your building representative (who didn’t even attend the inservice), you don’t get paid.

I miss my children. I miss crocheting. I miss sleep.

But most of all, I miss logical efficiency.

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