Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A new day?

I suppose there aren't as many people reading this, since I have been writing only sporadically. It's probably for the best. Fewer people who are reminded daily what a smartass jerk I am.

Today I visited the school I will be student-teaching at this semester. It's a pretty large school, about 1600 kids, mostly Hispanic. The school is selective for kids living outside the district--you have to read at grade level (sadly, a rare commodity) and have certain grades in math and science to get in. This means that the kids care more and work harder than the average public school kid, which makes a huge difference. It is so easy to teach someone who wants to learn. Well, not so easy, not like eating Easy Cheese straight from the can (Or is it spray bottle? Squirter? You know what I'm talking about?). But I guess that's why they call it Easy Cheese. The point is, it helps to have students who are eager, or at least willing, to learn. The Coalition of the Willing, you might say. You just have to hope that yours is more than like 2 guys from Uzbekistan whose government is trying to get more favorable trade relations or something.

It's reassuring that despite the selectivity, the school is still mostly Hispanic and black. Other selective schools in the city are almost entirely white kids, like a whale's underbelly, except pimplier. But one wrinkle is that 20% of the kids have to be from the surrounding district. To get the designated quota, the school cannot be as picky about these students. And, sadly, as you might guess, these students (regular kids) typically are low performers. I'm not saying the quota system is bad, it's just depressing that you can't find enough kids to go to a school whose entrance requirements are reading at grade level and getting B's in math and science! The district is a fairly poor immigrant community, almost entirely Hispanic, and its public schools are terrible. There are people doing some great work with charter schools in the area, which is really promising. But that's sort of too small and too recent to have had much impact yet.

So anyway, I'll be teaching seniors. The school has three levels, it seems, for social studies--AP, Honors, and regular. As luck would have it, I got the regulars.

Again, as you might guess, the regular kids are more difficult to handle and have far lower achievement levels. I'm sure they are also disproportionately neighborhood kids. Now, I don't think it's necessarily bad to have a tracking system based on skill levels. Sometimes it's necessary. And it's really not bad at all to have the kids with lower skill levels. They still have a lot of potential and are pretty bright. They just happen to be behind, have a learning disability, or have some kind of emotional/behavioral problem (acting out in class, low self-esteem, chaotic family life) that has prevented them from succeeding. These things can be dealt with.

But it's not easy. It can be hell for the teacher sometimes, since the kids who don't like school or don't do well are the ones who make trouble. And sometimes their varying needs (language skills, help with a disability, family problems) can seem overwhelming. For these reasons, I think that the school has to have a firm internal structure set up to help these low performers, and all students for that matter. This structure should include, but not be limited to, their primary teachers. I'm talking about tutoring, after-school help with teachers, a strong discipline code rigorously enforced (detention!), counseling support, contact with parents, and maybe just a little love. I mean, we all need a little love, right? Not me, I'm a heartless robot with a soul of steel. Which is one reason I don't have a problem failing students. If a student is so behind that he/she can't catch up during the year, it is in that student's best interest to repeat and acquire the necessary skills. Likewise, a student who never does his/her work should learn that the consequence to that is failure. In the workplace, not doing work gets you fired. Schools can be more humane. Not doing work means you have to do the work anyway. Failing a grade can turn someone's life around. Even if the student hates it (or you) at the time, it might be the best thing that ever happened to him/her.

With high-performing students, you may not need all these tools. Their desire to do well in school means they are usually better behaved and do their homework on their own. But low performers need more. And if they need more, we should give them more. I've been at the school one day, and I don't think these kids are getting more.

It's better than the last school for sure; the kids have to call the teachers "Mr" or "Ms" and can't
have electronics or hats on. I even saw my teacher kick a kid out of class today for being out of control.

Still, the teacher allows a lot of ridiculous behavior, like yelling and swearing, and there is hardly ever a time during class when all the students are silent. One gets the impression that they are running the show. It's going to be difficult to be strict since I have nothing backing me up. What will I do if a kid breaks a rule, scold him? I could make him come in after school I suppose, but if he doesn't do it, my only recourse is to call the parent. If they aren't cooperative, I'm screwed. The kid then knows I have no leverage. Still, I'll have to try. Really, I can't stand yelling or swearing in class (I do a fair amount outside of class myself; sometimes, in a hilarious bit of irony, I swear about the kids swearing). And I hate any kind of disrespect. These things just make me ill. School and learning are so important to me. And I know how important they will be in the kids' futures. When they trash their education, and their teachers allow them to, I just feel so bad. I can't describe it any other way than that.

It will be an interesting semester. I'll keep you posted.


At January 05, 2006 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love to read your blog. Keep writing it.

At January 05, 2006 1:04 PM, Anonymous Mike G. said...

L, you wrote: "In the workplace, not doing work gets you fired."

You're kind of forgetting one particular type of workplace, aren't you, one with which you are quite familiar?

As for that last anonymous comment, I second both notions.

Regards from Beantown.

At January 05, 2006 5:52 PM, Blogger EdWonk said...

We will be watching your progress with great interest. All of us have done student teaching at one time or another, and no two experiences ever seem to be the same.

At January 05, 2006 11:37 PM, Blogger Allison said...

Good luck to you.

Teaching in high schools was the most soul-sucking, depressing thing I ever did. I hope you find a way to not let it get to you, and to not feel hopeless. You have a lot of courage and stamina. Just remember that if you throw everything into this teaching assignment, there won't be enough left for you to handle the ups and downs. Reserve something for yourself.

I remember teaching a section of a course in college at 10 am one morning when none of the students had any comments, questions, problems, or any interest in anything I was doing. I told them that I wasn't going to waste 60 minutes of my time, and I didn't know why they had wasted theirs by pretending to come when they simply wanted to sleep. Then I walked out. They seemed shocked; I guess because no one's allowed to do that in high school. Too bad, it might help them.

May you find a way to teach that lesson without getting fired :)

At January 06, 2006 5:48 PM, Blogger Carrie K said...

I love reading your blog too. I am also really, really thankful I didn't go into teaching because I am quite sure at one point I would be standing in front of a classroom (or the people in charge of the hiring and firing) and having a meltdown.

At January 07, 2006 9:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are either brave or crazy. You love learning and you care. That can either work for you or against you. Having taught adjudicated youth, I am aware how difficult attitudes can be changed about the value of education. When students feel that their teacher cares, then they feel there is hope. As I was told once by a colleague, if you can influence and help (save) one, you've done your job. But don't lose yourself in the process. Find a way to regenerate yourself as you have a life after school. Good luck in your journey!

At January 08, 2006 5:19 PM, Anonymous rstanton said...

Good luck. The regular students you describe may never show any appreciation for "old school" teachers, but they actually like the old ways, despite how they might act when they are being part of the mob. (I'm just speaking from experience, no data or whatever.)Your instincts about what is important in the classroom and how a school should work are correct. If you don't fall in the trap of trying to please everybody, you will make it.

At January 09, 2006 9:04 AM, Blogger Jenny D. said...

Glad you're back. I'm from Minnesota too.

Keep writing. I learn a lot from you.

At January 09, 2006 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would scream and throw things at the kids.

But God bless you.

And keep writing the blog. Very informative.

At January 09, 2006 6:02 PM, Anonymous TechTeacher said...

I have never posted a comment before nor do I plan on starting a blog. I did stumble upon yours purely by accident. I completely agree with your statement about a student 'earning' an F might be the best thing that has ever happened to him/her as he/she may change the path of their lives.

I have been teaching for twelve years in both English-speaking and French-speaking high schools. Four years in my 1st school, 7th year in my current school (plus one year at the college level)

Mike G is absolutely right about "in the workplace, not doing work gets you fired". Not where I'm at. About the only thing that will get you fired is some sort of immoral act with a student. It's quite sad.

I'm a no-BS kind of teacher. I don't split hairs. I don't cry over spilt milk. I don't get up on my high horse and pretend i'm better than my students. I'm there "with" them, helping them but only if they want to help themselves. I show them where the door is and have them take it if they hinder the other students' progress. I don't put up with ADHD, Asbergers, and generally bad behavior. Take care of it then come learn. I'll stand up to the superintendent and have her let these disruptive kids in my classrooms, until then, stay out.

Our society is crumbling because we keep lowering the bar. We keep 'standardizing' tests. We want better results so we make the questions easier. Plus we are not (at least in my jurisdiction) getting the support we need to carry out our curriculum. Not enough material, not enough structure, and on and on. And I'll tell you now I do not work until midnight like I used to. Nor do I do all this extra-curricular work because all we get in my area is grief from the parents and from the kids.

"Why doesn't my son get as much ice-time as student A?" Hockey. and on and on.

I do the teaching. I enjoy the teaching. I like the kids. I want them to learn. I don't take it personally if they don't care about learning. But I have finished with the bullshit over and above my regular duties.

How's this for a first post? I enjoy your viewpoint and will be checking out your blogs regularly from now on. Good luck it IS a rewarding career. Just don't get bogged down in all the negatives that can really burn a teacher out.

At January 17, 2006 5:35 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I can't post a comment to your other post about organ donation. People should give blood too!

Good luck on your student teaching!

At June 14, 2006 9:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't put up with ADHD, Asbergers and generally bad behavior." Are you kidding? Do you have children of your own? Do any of them have any of these disorders? Shame on you! Do you even comprehend the sort of hell children with these disorders go through? Time for you to step into a pair of someone elses shoes or maybe you should go back to school yourself until you've learned something!


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