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Apples

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Mrs. O’Reilly opened her teacher manual to the next lesson in the approved sequence. It was time to confront multiplication of proper fractions.  Before the kids left for home the day before, she had informed them that they would each need to bring an apple to class. “Hands-on, real-life application of mathematical processes,” she announced, reading precisely from her script.

Her overzealous fifth graders and their parents now arrived in their family sports cars and luxury sedans. Mothers and fathers walked their progeny to the classroom and offered to stay to help with the class project. Each student clung to his or her own magnificent beribboned basket filled with a dozen large red apples each. Clearly students and parents had communicated through social media the night before and had attempted to outdo their peers in presentation. Mrs. O’Reilly beamed and provided abundant effective praise. They sliced and diced fruit all morning and, before the end of the day, whipped up enough apple muffins for every child and his parent to eat on the way to the parking lot.

A mile away, Mrs. Jones opened her own teacher manual to the same lesson. After all, it was the fourth Tuesday in January, and she had to adhere to the pacing calendar, just like every other fifth grade teacher in the state. Wearily, she welcomed her fifth graders to class as well.   Half of the children arrived late with excuses from their parents: “It’s all my fault…” “We couldn’t decide how to do Amelia’s hair today…” “I was watching Fox News and just lost track of the time…” One-fourth of the children brought other excuses: “My child really doesn’t like apples…” “Please excuse my son from math – we don’t believe in playing with food…” “I forgot what you wanted – will oranges work?”

It was a good thing that Mrs. Jones was a proactive teacher and planned ahead. She had visited the neighborhood grocery store the night before and spent twelve dollars of her own money on thirty-four apples. These were stacked in an empty cardboard box that the bagger had pulled from the back of the store. To be politically correct, she had used a piece of duct tape to cover the word “Budweiser” on the side of the box. The apples were chopped and otherwise manipulated during the morning lesson. Most of the class met the standard for the day and were awarded with their very own paper cup filled with juicy slices of the fruit to eat during snack time. Most of these were dumped into the garbage can at the back of the room as the kids opted instead for their Hot Cheetos and Oreos.

Two miles across town, first-year teacher, Mr. Tyler, high-fived and hugged his fifth graders as they hurried to his classroom. One girl bumped into his desk knocking over his already cold coffee. Brown liquid spread across his teacher manual. Quickly he grabbed a rag from beneath the sink and soaked up the mess so that he could properly read the directions for cross-cancelling before multiplying.

Seven of Mr. Tyler’s students said that they had forgotten to bring an apple to class. But he knew that four of those children had no father in their lives and mothers who had little money for food for meals at home much less for math projects at school. The other three children finally admitted that they had remembered the assignment but had eaten their fruit – their only breakfast – on the way to school. Three boys admitted that they had thrown their apples at eighth graders who were threatening to steal the food away from them. One girl admitted that she had dropped her apple and that it had rolled under a car at the end of her street. Finally, Jason – a little boy with severe learning needs – handed his teacher a bruised Granny Smith apple upon which the boy had drawn a giant smiley face with a permanent marker.

Six ragged apples sat upon Mr. Tyler’s desk atop an old Halloween paper plate left over from the class party three months before. Students were placed in groups of five and their group leaders were given sporks from the cafeteria with which to cut. They took turns chopping and rearranging bits of apples the best that they could in order to grasp the lesson’s objective. At snack time, each child was given a Thanksgiving napkin (purchased by their teacher at a Black Friday clearance sale). These served as plates for individual servings of the quickly browning fruit manipulatives. The children enjoyed their special treat as their teacher reviewed their “I Can” statement for the day and checked for understanding.

During that morning, Dr. Michaels from the State Department took time from his very busy job to visit each of these classrooms. Nervous school administrators led the man to interrupt the lessons of even more nervous teachers.

Dr. Michaels watched each teacher present the day’s lesson. He checked the new standards app on his phone to make sure that the “I Can” statement on the board matched the standard being taught. (He also checked his Facebook messages and his Twitter account, all the while feigning interest in the fractions being created before him). He observed teacher instruction. He observed student interactions. He took copious notes and filled three and a half yellow legal pads.

As he departed each classroom, he made note of all the discarded apple cores in their garbage cans. He snorted as he scribbled furiously. His $200 Cross pen ran out of ink in the last classroom visited. The man was forced to ask Sarah to borrow her pencil. “It’s Mr. Tyler’s,” she announced, handing it over to the important impatient executive. “Don’t steal it!” Dr. Michaels grabbed the pencil, glared at the child and then glared with equal disdain at her teacher.

Later that day, each school administrator and each observed teacher received the same email message from Dr. Michaels, more than likely typed on his smartphone while sitting in the back of his assistant’s Lexus:

“Three classrooms. Three lessons. I would expect better! I would expect standardization for all kids in my charge! Apples! Apple cores! Absolutely no cores common from school to school. No common core? No common core! Appalling!”

Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2016.

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Tim Ramsey has been an educator since 1983.  He taught middle school and high school for 15 years and served as a school administrator for 15 years before retiring in 2013.  He returned to the classroom where he now teaches writing to seventh graders by day and reading to college freshmen by night.  Tim is an avid writer and has been featured in five Chicken Soup for the Soul compilations.  In addition he has received first place honors from the Arizona English Teachers Association for its annual “Teachers as Writers Contest.”

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Guest Friday, 15 December 2017