Some of the more observant kafkateach readers may have noticed that I have finally gotten around to updating my gravatar image. I must confess, I don’t even know what a gravatar is, but I have finally added an image for kafkateach. I’m not really into visuals (as is painfully obvious by the looks of this website) but the other day I “liked” another wordpress blog and I was horrified to see that a nasty little purple gremlin looking monster showed up as the gravatar for kafkateach! I never picked this image! Is this what wordpress thinks of kafkateach? Or do they intentionally assign people who are too lazy and tech inept to upload an image for their gravatar the freakiest one possible just to compel them to fix it? Whatever the case, it worked. I immediately searched for a handy image on my computer to use for my gravatar.

That may lead some of you to the next logical question, why does kafkateach have an image of a scantron with a bubbled in YOLO on her computer? Last Spring, before the kafkateach blog site was launched, I had initially considered writing a book. Something along the lines of “Teaching and Learning in the Age of Accountability” (I know, sounds like a snooze fest). The plan was to get various contributions  (essays, poems, short stories etc…) from other teachers and students from across the nation about teaching and learning in a test obsessed school culture.  I posted on Facebook, I emailed some colleagues at work (they must have thought I was losing my mind. We have had several teachers lose it and quit teaching to “go write a book”), I asked my own students for contributions.  I didn’t get much of a response. A few students turned in some essays and art. The first contribution from a student was a YOLO scantron. The YOLO scantron came from a D student who never did his work but who nevertheless wrote me a lovely little Valentine about how much he loved my class when I asked my students to write 8 sentences about the topic “The greatest love of all…”

Every February we engage in a school wide writing campaign called “Writing to Show” to prepare our students for the state writing assessment.  The point is to get students to elaborate and show details in their writing. We know a two sentence paragraph will not illicit a high score, so we get them to shoot for eight. This year, in order to prepare for the new Commom Core emphasis on analytical writing and the death of all creativity and human emotion, the school renamed “Writing to Show” “Stake It and Claim It” (who comes up with this crap?) to get students used to making a statement and providing detailed evidence to support it.

As an AP history teacher, I have always morphed the traditional “Writing to Show” into a history based prompt where they have a topic sentence and they need to provide supporting evidence.  I don’t see the need for a month long gimmicky writing campaign if you teach good writing skills all year long, but I play the game.  Since it was Valentine’s Day and Whitney Houston had just passed away, I decided to let my kids have a little holiday fun and do their “Writing to Show” on big pink hearts that I had spent an hour cutting out of pink copy paper that I had to beg the copy lady for because “colored paper is only for administrators.”  Note to teachers, get friendly with the copy lady at your school, she might hook you up with some colored paper if you show her a little love and appreciation.

I had a few Whitney lyrics students could choose to elaborate on “The greatest love of all…,”  “I will always love…” “Give me one moment…” They could write about anything. They could write it to a parent, a friend, a girlfriend/boyfriend and keep it to give it to them later. We listened to Whitney songs as they wrote. Most students had no idea who Whitney Houston was but some recognized a few of the songs. We had a big love fest at the end and students who wanted to could share their Valentine with the class. Some kids professed their love of silly things like Sour Patch kids or their guitar.  I was surprised and had to hold back tears when the shy D student read his:

“The greatest love of all is yours. The tender care and hospitality of yours is beyond my greatest expectations. I take comfort in knowing that I have such a class that makes me feel as secure, educated and up beat as you do. I will never see such a class like yours ever again. Thank you for the greatest memories and the valuable education which I may use later.”

If I had received this Valentine from a brown nosing A student, maybe I would have doubted the sincerity. But to receive it from the humble D student, who was clearly intelligent but could care less about grades, meant the world to me.  Later, when the same D student gave me the YOLO scantron for my never to be written book, I saved it along with his Valentine.

I knew this student was listening to me.  I try not to talk too much as a teacher. I know most of the time kids aren’t listening to what I’m saying. It’s like the Charlie Brown cartoon where everything that comes out of the teacher’s mouth is “Wah, Wah, Wah.”  One day I had come into work after reading an article in a California newspaper about a testing scandal that erupted when students had bubbled in YOLO all over their scantrons for the state exam, taken pictures of it, and posted them on facebook.  Being a little older and not down with the latest teenage text message acronyms, I asked my students to explain the YOLO phenomenon.  “You don’t know what YOLO means Miss???? It stands for “You Only Live Once.”

“When would you use YOLO and why would anyone choose to bubble it in on a scantron?” I asked.

“Let’s say you ate a bag of oreos. YOLO!!!!! Let’s say you skipped class to go to the beach, YOLO!!! You don’t care about the state exam so you just bubbled in YOLO!!! YOLO! “

And then it occurred to me that a YOLO scantron would be the perfect symbol of absurdity for the test based accountability craze currently infecting public education. The absurdity of my job being tied to a test score of a kid who decided to bubble in YOLO on his scantron for the state exam.  The absurdity of pouring over reams of data about missed benchmarks based on a test that some kid YOLO-ed.  The absurdity of creating a national security crisis based on test results of US students compared to Korean students when our kids are YOLO-ing them. The absurdity of spending billions on the testing industrial complex when our kids will spend five hours locked in a room and choose to ridicule the whole system by bubbling in YOLO on their scantrons.

So that, dear readers, is the explanation behind the kafkateach YOLO!!! Gravatar image.

***I originally wanted to avoid any mention of the kindergarten shooting in Conneticut in this blog. It is simply too horrific and depressing.  But as I was writing the part about the Valentine I received from my D student I broke down in tears.  Thinking of all the love that transfers between students and teachers in a classroom. Thinking of all the love that a school is capable of building in a community. Every winter holiday our school collects funds and gives gift cards to other students at the school who live in homeless shelters or are in need. Some students on their own initiative collected funds for another student who’s father passed away to send him to the funeral in Jamaica. There is so much love in our schools and so much potential to create even more love.  Even the most “ineffective” teacher or administrator is working in a public school because they love the students (despite what Michelle Rhee may tell you).  The teachers and administrators who died in Conneticut did so trying to protect the students they loved.

My husband, who is much more into twitter than myself (I’m not very good with character limitations as you can tell from my lengthy rambling blog posts), found the twitter stream of the Principal in Newtown. Apparently she was not a huge fan of Arne Duncan’s policies as well. It takes a lot for an administrator to publicly speak out against the Secretary of Education. It takes a lot of love for her students and knowing what is right for her students and what her students really need to put her job on the line. She knew what her students needed was a safe and caring place where they could feel loved and develop emotionally as empathetic human beings. With our narrow focus on test results and the Common Core narrowing of the curriculum to facts, ma’am, just the facts “nobody cares what you think” informational texts, we will lose our humanity even more. Please, teachers, now is the time to speak up about what is really needed in our schools. Who cares what your administrators or district officials will think of you? We could all be gone tomorrow. YOLO!!!