A Dirt Bike Lesson
By D.F. Wharton
Jason Rogers was a fool, talking to the principal like that. Any teacher that wanted to be left alone, as much as being left alone was possible these days, knew that you had to tell a principal whatever they wanted to hear and receive their rebuke and chastisement with adoration, thanks, and gratitude. Right or wrong, a principal was not to be questioned with the slightest hint of challenge.
Or… there would be observations and evaluations.
Many of them.
And when someone is looking for dirt… they find it.
Administrators in education were one of the few cadre of leadership that did not have to earn respect, prove themselves, or climb the ranks.
Not to teachers, anyway.
Not only did they not have to know anything about teaching, they did not need to have ever taught in any classroom of any kind a day in their life. That is, any classroom that had challenging students in high, middle, or elementary school. In fact, no experience was preferable. Administrators that did not sympathize – or understand the complexities of the classroom – hung more ineffective ratings on the teachers: thereby demonstrating to philanthropists, politicians, chancellors, and business leaders interested in educational reform; that they had what it takes to lead. American leadership is The Belko Experiment.
Only they kill the identity.
In the name of data.
In the name of science.
Death by charts of circle and bar graphs.
Mr. Rogers was teaching his special education students about dirt bikes when the principal walked into his classroom to informally observe him teach a social studies lesson. When the principal walked in the room, what she saw was the entire class (Mr. Rogers included) watching people in padded outfits and helmets performing tricks on dirt bikes on a wall projector. The lights were off so they could see the video more clearly. Nobody so much as turned to look at the principal when she walked in.
Mr. Rogers was sitting in a desk like the rest of the students, facing the motion picture on the wall, watching, ooooing and awwwing when an amazing stunt was accomplished.
The principal stood by the wall of the classroom in confusion.
“Excuse me, Mr. Rogers,” said the principal. Mr. Rogers turned and looked over his shoulder at the principal who was staring at him with a look of confusion. He reluctantly got up and went over to the principal. Mr. Rogers knew how the principal would react to this, but he was going to play dumb.
For the sake of the students.
He would have the principal angry with him rather than the students any day. Principals came and went. Students were always there. Especially the bad ones. The trouble makers always have to best attendance.
And it’s the students that make or break a teacher.
“What?” Mr. Rogers said, annoyed.
The principal was visibly shaken by this response. How dare a teacher not treat her with the reverence she pretends not to want, demand by subtly?
“How dare you?” she said. But she quickly realized that she was not maintaining the professional composure and icy confidence that she learned at the educational leadership academy, The Belko Experiment, where administrators are trained to harass teachers.
Mr. Rogers smiled at seeing this. He couldn’t help himself.
“What are you talking about?” asked Mr. Rogers. “Can I help you with something?”
The principal took a deep breath and calmed herself. The lights were still off and the students were still watching the film. Mr. Rogers looked at the principal and thought of Nurse Ratched. One Flew Over the Cuokoos Nest, by Ken Kesey, was a book he enjoyed, and now that he was teaching he loved the book even more because it seemed the qualification for being a principal was one: be Nurse Ratched.
If they can play old mother Ratched, Mr. Rogers thought to himself, I can play old McMurphy.
Old Ratched composed herself. She said, “It is against school policy to have the lights off during instruction without submitting a formal request in advance, along with a lesson plan, and the appropriate state standards for justification. Also, as you well know, any materials that are not on the approved list, that you signed for at the bringing of this school year, are to be approved in advance and must clearly support the curriculum and pacing calendar, and a product of approved vendors.”
“Shhhhhhhhh!” sounded a student.
The principal almost lost composure again.
“Yeah,” Mr. Rogers said in a whisper. “You think you could keep it down? The kids are really enjoying this film. Maybe we could talk some other time?” he said with a big smile.
“Absolutely not,” whispered the principal.
Suddenly she realized that she had whispered without thinking. This was her game. She was the boss. Who were these plebeians to dictate terms to her?
So she repeated, “Absolutely not!”
But this time she said it in louder pitch than she had wanted, a little louder than an absolute authority in full control ought to use.
She was flustered.
Mr. Rogers smiled and chuckled just a little. The principal flipped on the lights. This blinded the students and the outburst were immediate. There was cursing and swearing. One of the students went to the computer and paused the film.
“What’s the big idea?” said a student.
“This is an informal observation and I am here to observe Mr. Rogers deliver robust and rigorous instruction and ask deep questions so you can enjoy learning and enrich your lives,” the principal said to the students. “Instead, it looks to me that Mr. Rogers is violating your civil rights and robing you of your right to an education. We expect teachers to deliver robust and rigorous instruction according to the pacing calendar. This is supposed to be social studies.”
“Shut up,” said a student.
“Ain’t you got somewhere to be?” said another.
“Would you please leave?” said another.
The principal looked icily at Mr. Rogers.
“Where is your lesson plan?” she said.
“Right here,” said Mr. Rogers, smiling brightly.
He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a folded piece of notebook paper and handed it with to the principal with a certain relish. The principal unfolded the paper and read: Objective: Students will engage in Social Studies. Underneath the heading, the three phases of the lesson were described as, 1) Vocabulary, 2) Activity, and 3) Assessment.
Nothing was specified beyond that.
The principal held out the lesson plan between her thumb and pointer finger and made a face that just smelled something repulsive.
“What is this?” said the principal.
“My lesson plan,” said Mr. Rogers, smiling expressively. Then he sang in response, “I’m a simple kinda man,” as per Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“How long have you been teaching, Mr. Rogers?
“Long enough to know that a fancy lesson plan doesn’t make for a good class,” said Mr. Rogers, still smiling. “Any veteran teacher could tell you that. But regardless of all that, what you have right there is a lesson plan that is being carried out. We are on the activity phase as it were, that is, we were before we were interrupted.”
“And what are the vocabulary words?” asked the principal.
Mr. Rogers was prepared for this.
So were his students.
They trained for these assassination attempts.
“Ask the students,” said Mr. Rogers. “They’ll tell you.”
Student said, “Competition, Pinned, Block Pass, DNF, sponsors.”
Another student said, “We’re relating the elements of dirt bike racing to social behaviors.
Mr. Rogers looked on, smiling.
“And what is the assessment?” asked the principal.
“We are going to write on what we learned, or what they think about the sport, or something else related to their life if they would like,” said Mr. Rogers. “A little compare and contrast. I’ll bring you some of the writing samples tomorrow if you like.”
“You will see me on your prep tomorrow. I will keep this paper.”
Old Ratched wouldn’t call it a lesson plan.
She stormed out of the room.
“Bye,” said a student mockingly.
“Good riddance,” said another.
“Now that that is over with…,” said the Mr. Rogers.
“You’re not gonna get in trouble, are you?” asked a student with genuine concern.
“I’m not going to worry about a principal,” said Mr. Rogers. “Principals come and go. Teachers are here to stay.”
Lights off, film on.
“Come in Mr. Rogers,” said the principal from inside her office.
She was sitting behind her desk.
Mr. Rogers walked in and stood before her at parade rest.
He was still smiling.
“Hello,” he said cheerfully. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
“Sit,” said the principal.
“Should I beg for a treat?” said Mr. Rogers.
“You are a tenured teacher, Mr. Rogers. I expect more from you. The paper you gave me is evidence of ineffective planning. I did not observe any best practices or techniques of Teach Like a Champion.”
“Well, I’m sorry about your vision,” said Mr. Rogers.
“You better watch yourself,” said the Principal.
The principal went on to flaunt the Charlotte Danielson rubrics for teaching, and explaining why she was rating Mr. Rogers ineffective.
Mr. Rogers said nothing, continuing to smile expressively.
“You have nothing to say?” said the principal.
“How many teachers have quit teaching after teaching that class in the last three years?” asked Mr. Rogers.
“That is not the point…”
“No. This is the point.”
“Two teachers have quit because of that class. There are seven emotionally disturbed students in that class that have made it to high school because they have an IEP.”
The principal looked coldly at Mr. Rogers and said nothing. The principal knew that there was nobody else that she could put in the classroom without having the students practically revolt and make a teacher leave the classroom. These were special education students, emotionally disturbed. Mr. Rogers was the only teacher that had actually been able to engage them and the principal knew it.
After a beat Mr. Rogers said, “Do you think I like dirt bikes? Or that I care about dirt bike racing? All that the students have been talking about the last couple of days is dirt bikes. Marc and Shaun actually have a dirt bike. The other kids follow their lead. If I can engage them in something, I got the whole class.
The principal still said nothing and kept staring.
“I mean, do you want me to have a class? Do you want me to teach?”
“Then you need to let me alone to figure it out,” said Mr. Rogers.
The Principal said nothing.
“Do you want to come teach the class? Do you want to come demonstrate how to follow the pacing calendar and use only approved materials?”
“That is not my job,” said the principal.
“I think we’re done here,” said the principal.
“Not until you change that ineffective to at least developing.“
“Come on… Are we going to let so-called educational reformers keep us from teaching? Keep us from reaching our students? Are we going to have our students hate school because we want to keep accepted vendors happy? Are we going to throw out the real definition of words for definitions made up by Charlotte Danielson? Look up the word effective in a real dictionary and tell me my class wasn’t just that.”
The principal sat there… thinking…