Friday, April 14, 2006

Thoughts before the break

A few things have happened at school recently that have made me start to understand the growing ineptitude of public education. They culminated today when I started reading Jonanne Jacob's (check my fav bloggers)book "Our School", which describes a successful charter school model out of San Jose. I'll give a more in-depth opinion of the book a little later, but after my experiences this week, I have a greater appreciation of the public perception of education. I can't say that I totally agree with it, but symptoms of a broke institution are definately there.

We are killing are children with low expectations

On my way to a conference at the San Francisco Federal Reserve on Wednesday, I heard a morning radio talk show host announce say this over and over again. He is so right that it makes me want to vomit. I'm currently seeing over and over again the reason why kids; a) can't graduate high school, b) graduate high school and can't manage college.

Exhibit A:
I have over a half dozen students that are taking vacations to Mexico over the next few weeks of high school. Most of these students have C's or worse. Upon giving me their short term independent study contracts to sign, I announce to them that their grade will probably drop while they are gone (most never do the work I assign) and they are at risk of failing, therefore not graduating. Sure enough, I've had four phone calls from parents saying that I told their kid that if they go to Cancun for a sunny vacation with month left in school (brilliant timing), they might fail. Then I get calls from administrators and guidance telling me that parents are angry over my comments. Oh, but see, I want to be an employee that doesn't make ways so I go the diplomatic route, "Billy has been notified of the possibilities of not doing the work, but we will with all diligence to make sure that Billy graduates." What should be said is, "You're damn right I told Billy that he'll fail. He's got a D, he's leaving with a month left, and makes no effort." We are setting up these people for failure. Over and over again I think that I would like to treat my class like a job. After poor performances, you get fired. But no, we accept the lowest common denominator and call it "success". This student will pass because people don't want to make waves. Unfortunately, I'm starting to think the same way.

Exhibit B:
In the last 10 days, I've had 4-5 students transfer out of the class and go on "directed study", which means the student shows up to their Resource class and does packet work. These students were all failing due to not turning in assignments and lack of attendance. I mean, a couple of students showed up less than half the semester and half under 30% for grades. Now they will go finish packet work and get a passing grade. By the way, they get to go to all the electives because we promote mediocrity, we just take them out of the required classes. Feeling ballsey today, I went to the Special Education office and asked how the process was allowing this. Now, I feel for these Resource teachers. They are part lawyer, part teacher, and part administrator. But the answer I collected from the 10 minute session was that everyone deserved another chance. Really? You mean 13 years of school, a dozen referrals, constant hounding by teachers, and a failing grade isn't enough of a chance? Nope. We need to spoonfeed a high school diploma to these guys. God forbid they struggle. GOD FORBID THEY MIGHT FAIL!!!!! And this prepares the kids for the real world, right? Again, lowest common denominator.

Exhibit C:
I feel myself falling into this whole ideal. I first noticed it on a bus trip to a basketball game in January, while I graded papers from students that had no business graduating high school and thinking, "Who the hell passed these kids at lower grades?" Lately, I've felt like my teaching has not been what it should be, but I couldn't put a finger on it. It's as if I'm being handcuffed from being better than I want to be. I disagree with many ideas of Joanne Jacobs' book "Our School", the primary idea being the attitude that public education is a failed experiment that needs to be abandoned. However, I see what she sees and I feel the frustration at a process that doesn't let real teaching happen. In the book, teachers are relentlessly pushing students, demanding more than they are initially willing to give, and praising kids when they start to break the typical mold and strive for more. That is how it should be. Homework should be nightly. Hell, I've been recommended not to give Intro level students homework because they simply won't do it. Social time shouldn't be an acceptable excuse. And parents shouldn't expect teachers to allow the mediocrity that they extend to their children. I feel like I'm expected to perform for the lowest common denominator, and I hate it.

Whose to blame? Well, I can tell you that it isn't the administration. I've had private conversations with many in the "A" building who fight the good fight, and have the same feelings and frustrations. Although some teachers help allow the status quo, most are not to blame. My entire building is rampant with teachers who want more, demand more, are frustrated with the acceptance of apathy, and are ready for social change towards a more focused education. No, I don't know who to really blame for all of this.

I do know that I really like my kids. I think I feel like this because I'm getting this notion in my head that I'm teaching down to lower levels, and expecting students to wait, not teaching up and demanding students to catch up. I've got brilliant minds in my classes, one of my students visited MIT last week, but I'm feeling like I'm failing them by not preparing them for the world ahead. A good 70% of my kids do not write at a college level. I'm talking about college prep students. These are students that will be in remedial writing over the next year because we failed them somewhere. And what about this notion that we don't teach Intro students as hard because most "won't go to college anyway." WHY THE HELL NOT? WHY DO WE ACCEPT THIS?? Fine, no Intro kids are going to Stanford, let's get them into Humboldt or Chico or Sacramento State (who really mentors Hispanic students). Props to "Our School" for making that clear, and a priority. I'm also sick of hearing "Oh don't worry about his reading level. He'll have a secure job welding when he gets out of high school and make a nice living." HE HAS A THIRD GRADE READING LEVEL!!!!!!!!!! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT THAT HE'LL HAVE A NICE LIVING!?!?!?!? I no longer care about the fact that this student can put a truck engine together blindfolded. If the student can't read the dinner menu at Denny's, he should not be graduating high school.
"We are killing our kids with low expectations."
Ok, I've vented.

Thanks Joanne. You've reminded me that I love this job, and I love it for the right reasons.
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