At 11:55 the imaginary bell of SLA Center City rings, not once but twice in the week of November 5th, 2018. While the students cheered and left early, the teachers and staff ran around, making sure all of their narratives are present as parents swarm their doorways.
It has been said by multiple teachers that Narrative week is the most hectic time all quarter. Math teacher, Bradford Latimer, explains the chaos teachers experience in just that week.
“The timing is always hard for first quarter narratives. As teachers, we are doing interviews for incoming students, grading benchmarks, college recommendation letters due that same week, and on top of all of that, we have a hundred plus narratives to write.” Mr. Latimer reveals.
How do teachers necessarily prepare for hundreds of conferences? SLA uses a method where teachers take time to write unique thoughts, complimenting each student as well as including potential areas of improvement for that Quarter. When conferences are held, the student speaks to their parents or guardian about what each teacher included in their narratives.
What makes SLA report card conferences unique is rather than a conversation between the parents and the advisor, it is a discussion between the student and the parents where the advisor(s) takes notes on what is being said. This way, the student and their guardian have a moment of honesty in the right space.
“At first when I came here I thought it was stupid because kids are going to lie. Then I learned that being in a room with just two adults who know lots about you as a student, in a way pushes you to vent about anything necessary. Rather than easily avoiding the topic at home,” Senior Eric Valenti compliments SLA’s uniqueness.
In SLA, students meet with the advisor the week of conferences to annotate details their teachers made in the narratives worthy enough for them to mention during the conference. This makes sure they are aware and prepared for what they want to mention.
Many students are often unaware of the hard work that is put into each personalized narratives. This year, for Algebra 2 and Calculus students, Mr. Latimer has 105 narratives to write, edit, and merge the grade data for. This takes an average of 16 to 20 hours. PreCalculus teacher, Sunil Reddy, writes a total of 65 narratives in 15 minutes.
Teachers think earlier in the process as they analyze their students to keep track of their work ethic. All of that data helps make the writing process faster because it gives a more precise picture of what the student did (or could have done) to secure their grade.
Prior to the end of the quarter, the PreCalculus teacher, Mr. Reddy, keeps track of how many times students took re-quizzes, how many of those re-quizzes were successful attempts, how many times they came to Office Hours, coupled with the number of missing assignments.
Every staff member writes their narratives differently based on the student, however, the layout is pretty similar. In a narrative, there is a section for personalized comments, areas of strength, and areas of improvement. Others, like Matt Kay, an English teacher, use the copy and paste method to make the process quicker for them, but eventually end up adding some originality to them individually.
“I DEFINITELY WRITE UNIQUE NARRATIVES. Even if some things end up sounding the same, I always type from scratch without copy/pasting comments about the student,” Mr. Reddy makes sure each narrative is special to that person.
For those of you wondering, there is definitely a limited period to write narratives. The way that the calendar works and needing to grade benchmarks resulted in only having one weekend to write the narratives this year. Usually, in the past, there have been two weekends for that.
Teachers do get 4 hours of staff meeting time to write narratives, but, again, that always is the time that ends up needing to be spent grading projects or doing other work that must be done before narratives can be written.
There are also specific, but logical requirements for narratives. Mr. Latimer, who is head of the Academic Standard Committee (ASC), explains that the committee works with teachers on curriculum development to make sure they have the support they need to build their curriculum. Knowing SLA is idiosyncratic to other schools, the ASC organizes staff workshops where the requirements for narratives are explained as well as tips and tricks to make the process feasible, especially for new teachers.
How do teachers juggle grading and narratives all at the end of the quarter? Benchmarks are assigned at the end of the quarter which are also a great portion of the narratives that teachers analyze. Even with their to-do lists full, teachers try to maintain their regular schedules such as meeting with students when needed.
“Part of the reason why that week so hard is because I keep the same schedule. I don’t want my extra requirements to impact what I can do with students so I am still in math lab when I am supposed to be and I still schedule office hours on Tuesdays,” Mr. Latimer explains.
Teachers are very much aware that a good amount of students do not bother to read their narratives, which, as you would think, is a huge disappointment considering the number of hours put into the narratives.
“I have had several students tell me they don’t read all of them which is quite frustrating. But I do hope the vast majority of them read them. Especially because they are given time in an advisory to do so.” Mr. Latimer described the frustration teachers carry.
Just as there is a number of students who do not bother to read narratives, there is also a number of students who do.
“Several students thank teachers every year for crafting unique narratives,” Mr. Reddy told, “I know students know they can read my comments without feeling as though what was said was identical to comments given to them in other courses.”
Among these students, Eric Valenti is one appreciates SLA advisors for pushing them to read and heavily annotate their narratives before their conference.
“My advisor does a good job at pushing our advisory to annotate their annotation, so we’d know what we need to work on and what we need to continue to do in the future, “ Valenti states.
Despite the chaos teachers go through during report card conference week, they work endlessly to polish their work and at the same time juggle other obligations. This is one of the many skills SLA staff carry in such an establishment that runs differently from other School District schools in Philadelphia.