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.