I’m convinced we all have them, words we hear at work that make us cringe. I remember when I took a year off from teaching following a bad car accident. That year, I felt certain that if I went to one more meeting and heard someone say “we have to think outside the box,” the Cringe Factor might lead to my death (or my imprisonment if I killed the next person who said it).

While watching the Sept. 13 McAllen ISD school board meeting on Channel 17, I heard the elementary “cringe” word: waiver. I received countless emails last year when the district applied for a waiver to bypass the state’s 22:1 ratio for grades K-4. We all know how critical those years are as children develop their academic foundation skills. Elementary teachers need to be able to offer one-on-one remediation for their struggling students while challenging their gifted and talented students. Research clearly indicates that this ratio becomes even more important in schools with a high number of economically disadvantaged students and English Language Learners.

Last October, I contacted Mike Peebles from the waivers division of the Texas Education Agency. He said four Texas school districts had applied for a waiver to go over the 22:1 ratio: Santa Maria, Zapata County, Donna and McAllen.

During the recent board meeting (Sept. 13), a few of the board members openly expressed their frustration upon hearing the elementary “cringe” word again as steps were to have been taken to avoid having to file for another waiver. The decision was scheduled for a vote Monday. I will write a follow-up column regarding that vote.

The high school “cringe” word is “re-design.” The last thing we need is an “architect” who doesn’t know us or our students to come into our district and turn our high schools upside-down. As I’ve said before, we are well-aware of the issues that need to be addressed, namely 1) the graduation/completion rate; 2) our English Language Learners; 3) ninth grade retention; 4) our Special Education students. Those should be addressed through targeted interventions like what we are seeing with our Opportunity Centers, ninth grade initiatives, High Intensity Language Development (HILD) classes, and programs that inspire students who lack only a few credit hours or parts of the TAKS to return to our districts to earn their diplomas. Targeted interventions…bring ‘em on. “Re-design”? Picture 100 people dragging their fingernails down a chalkboard. CRINGE.

I wasn’t quite sure what our middle school teachers would say is their biggest “cringe” word, so I asked a friend of mine at the gym two weeks ago. I jumped when he yelled, without hesitating a moment, “C-Scope.” Offered by Education Service Centers throughout Texas and written by teachers across the state, C-Scope is designed to insure that students throughout the state are following the same sequence in their core (English, math, science and social studies) classes. Great concept, but many teachers feel it has failed horribly. While several teachers have told me there are some great activities, teachers feel their creativity has been stifled and they cannot “teach outside the box” because of scripted lessons, countless errors, questionable sequencing and “non-negotiables.” Over and over, I hear it is a great supplemental but not by any means a curriculum-of-choice. Teachers in our state should not be forced to use an unproven curriculum merely because districts chose to spend thousands of dollars on it.

Teachers dedicated to providing the best education for our students readily support programs and interventions that are making a difference in the lives of our students. Those that don’t, make us cringe.

UPDATE: The McAllen ISD school board voted Sept. 27 to allow the superintendent to apply for a waiver once again. It was a 4-2 vote with Sam Saldivar and Javier Farias voting against the waiver. Mark Kent was not present for the vote.

Chris Ardis is in her 27th year of teaching, 26 of those with McAllen ISD. Visit her web site at www.chrisardis.com to read articles related to THE CRINGE FACTOR.