Thursday, September 29, 2005

Welcome to school

posted by newoldschoolteacher @ 7:14 PM 0 comments

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

So I am at a graduate school of education, home of teaching people how to give urban kids a crappy education. I am currently using all my powers to ward off the incessant doctrinal attacks on being oldschool. An argument I had with my instructor yesterday should serve as an excellent starting point.

The class is a "methods class" on teaching social studies. We were practicing writing a lesson plan, as a class. The lesson was about Hurricane Katrina and its effects on New Orleans. So we dutifully planned the lesson, and then came to the part about what homework we were going to assign. After deliberation, the class decided that, as homework, our high school students would have to design a Hurricane Survival Kit.

I meekly raised my hand and said, "well, this is a very creative lesson, but I think maybe it's a little too lite, especially the homework." My instructor replied, "well, actually, I think it's quite difficult. They have to use all this information from class and synthesize it and even maybe look up an evacuation plan for their city." Right. Here would be the Hurricane Survival Kit from most of the kids: , where the blank space represents how they didn't do the assignment because it was stupid.

I responded that, at my old school, god bless its hard heart, my ninth graders had 20 pages of reading a night for one class. And sometimes they didn't do it, but when they didn't, they failed quizzes. And eventually they would have to read it, or they would fail essays, tests, and the class. And failing a class meant summer school, or repeating the year. So a lot of them just did the damn reading. The rest of our conversation went like this:

Instructor (who is, sadly, very smart): Well, does reading 20 pages a night give you all the skills you need?

Me: Well, it sure does improve your reading.

Instructor: But what about life skills that are so important today?

Me: Those are great too, but there's not really a lot of time for that, what with needing to read.

Instructor: See, that's the thing: I don't consider these other skills "extra."

Me: But basically, reading and writing [we don't talk about math] skills are really what you are going to need in college. They are the limiting factor here. Even if you have the other skills, if you don't have reading and writing, you're just not going to college.

Instructor: Well not everyone wants to go to college.

At that point, I sat back in my chair, crossed my arms, and looked resigned. Let me paraphrase the underlying thinking here. Basically, we must produce project-based edu-tainment to occupy the kids who couldn't care less about school, meanwhile dooming the other kids (and there are more than you would think) to failure in ever attaining any kind of dreams of accomplishment. She argued that traditional education is a turn-off to urban kids and that trying to force them to do it will cause them to drop out of school. Hello. They already are, in huge droves. The schools that do what I'm talking about--the oldschools--are actually successful. I don't think it's easy to work with urban kids--they have a lot of really difficult things to deal with at a young age. But some of them can make it, IF we let them.

After class, in an email, she suggested we start a message board discussion of these ideas so they won't take up so much class time. Excellent.

And now for my student teaching placement. Here is a passage from an email I sent my friend about the school and its environment:


1. Kids call teachers by their first names.
2. Kids call the principal by his first name.
3. There is no dress code.
4. Kids can wear hats in class.
5. Kids can chew gum in class.
6. There is one hour of something called "Advisory," which I playfully call "A Big Waste"
7. There are no tests.
8. There are no quizzes.
9. In fact, tests and quizzes are pretty much forbidden, as I found out.
10. Instead, kids are evaluated based on projects.
11. I have seen these projects. They are riddled with basic skill errors.

Things that may or may not be policy

1. There is very little homework.
2. Kids don't do the little homework.
3. F-bombs go flyin' around.
4. Kids make inappropriate comments, often using the f-bomb.
5. Kids put their heads down on the desks.
6. School starts at 8. There are about 5 kids there at 8. The rest come in a steady trickle through 8:45.
7. Kids bring their cell phones to class.
8. Kids listen to music on their cell phones in class.
9. Often the music on the cell phone drops the f-bomb.
10. Kids talk on their cell phones surreptitiously, in class, while telling one another to go f-bomb themselves, mother f-bomber.

And I could go on. I really like the teacher I'm with, though. She's young, super smart and a good teacher. She just needs two things: 1. A good discipline system to back her up. 2. A reduction in guilt when she lectures instead of giving kids projects. I think the kids could learn a lot from her, but the setup is all wrong. Most of the teachers at my school are, I would say, a lot like her.

I feel like I’m in the wrong place. But what is it they say? Know thine enemy? I guess that's why I'm here.


At October 04, 2005 12:10 PM, Blogger Real Live Woman said...

Amen, oldschool! Couldn't agree more. I'm a career-changer about to enter the teaching profession and I'm amazed at how much things have changed since I attended a suburban/borderline urban public school in the late 1980s. I recently had a discussion with my cousin, a first-year teacher in her early twenties, about not grading papers with red pens and how all students nowadays, not just urban students, are babied too much and not challenged in any way. I'm looking forward to reading more!


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