Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I am quite proud of myself, for today I officially said no to a request. As time goes by, I have been invited to participate in some really fascinating projects. When I'm interested in something, it is hard for me to decline to participate. This particular request was to participate in an accreditation visit to a school. Accreditation visits are fun, intense, exhausting, and interesting. Many people don't know about the accreditation process.

Accreditation through WASC, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, is an intense but straightforward process. It is a self-study for the school - there's an outline to follow, but essentially the school takes a long, hard look at itself to determine its strengths and weaknesses, especially in light of the mission. The school body writes up a very long document outlining who they are. Then a small team of people from other schools - 3 or 4 - come in for a multi-day visit to determine if the document is accurate. They observe classes, meet members of the community including the school board, teachers, students, and often parents. The team writes a response and sends it and a recommendation for a term of accreditation to the governing body who makes the final decision.

The most interesting thing to me about the process is that accreditation isn't about whether you're a "good" school. It is really about whether you do what you say. The example I give is snake charming (which came from an online discussion where a friend of mine accused my school of being a Wacky Ass Snake Charming school.) If you are a snake charming school, your mission is to teach children to charm snakes, and what you do is teach children to charm snakes, then you can probably be accredited. If your mission is to teach children to charm snakes and instead you teach children to raise hippos, then you will probably not be accredited. Obviously, there's some hyperbole there. But the visiting team has to work pretty hard to keep their own biases out of it - it doesn't matter if you teach the "right" English or Math, as long as you actually teach what you say you do. If you represent yourself to potential families accurately and they choose you, then all's well. If you lie, then there's a problem.

I find the whole idea very comforting. There's something about the idea that it doesn't matter who you are as long as you are completely yourself that is very freeing.

Bad Year

I've been out of school the last couple of days due to a family emergency that came up on Thanksgiving. The emergency is, if not resolved, at least not an emergency anymore, for which I am thankful.

I started ruminating on this year. There's no question at all that this has been a terrible year for me - far too much to do, not able to do anything well, stressful and frustrating. But I was thinking about the effect on my students and on their (and their parents) perception of me.

I have a huge amount of respect and affection for my students. Even when they make me crazy, I think they're funny and smart and fun. I can't imagine anything I would rather do than work with middle school girls. I feel like my students respect and like me too. Even this year, I think the kids are having fun and learning stuff.

I wonder what the students and families think about my year. It is clear that not all of them understand what has been happening, though some certainly do. I hope that they are patient - that I have built enough of a reputation as a decent teacher that even the families who don't know me will hear that this is just an off year. Or that I'm managing to hold it together well enough in the classroom (when I'm there!!) that the students and families are satisfied that they're getting a decent education. Mostly I hope that next year is better! If a bunch of things come together perfectly (HA!) then things could be better starting in January, but you can guess how optimistic I am about THAT.