Friday, April 23, 2010

The end is near

I'm beat and it's only 10:23 a.m.
I'm at work.  Harried.  Cold.  Tired. Reluctant.
As it is the beginning of the LAST quarter, I'm not yet bogged down with grading... but I'm feeling the immense pressure to "fix" grades from what was earned to what looks good.  I grapple with this daily.  In addition to checking grammar and reading essays, my job as a teacher should be to ensure that my students are preparing for their futures.  Yes, I do quite a bit of assigning literature, and we discuss things like theme (purpose) and style. But I'd like to think that I also enable my kids to see that a good work ethic - - ethics period - - go further than learning the curriculum ever will.  
Not all of my students will go to college. Some may not even make it to trade school.  For them, high school is merely a requirement because they are not legally adults yet.  I don't expect them to love Shakespeare, to relish in writing poems, or to create the next New York Times bestseller.  Awesome if they do, but I know that success lies with the individual. 
What I expect is that they are accountable.  That each student do his work, maintain his notebook, and prepare for assessments by reviewing.  That worksheets not be lost, that they be carefully filed into a folder.  That the student actually comes to class regularly - - or at least makes the effort to acquire what was missed while absent.  That the student take ownership of his own success and failure.  Perhaps my expectations are too high.
At semester point, 57 students were in danger of repeating the course. A third of those enrolled weren't going to pass. The number is lower now, but AYP, NCLB, and the rest of the alphabet soup initiatives from the county, the state, the country seem to have created this "never let them experience failure" mental.  Raise the grades.  Ignore the missing assignments.  Curve the tests (or give the answers before and during the exam). And if they still seem to want to be no more than seat warmers, pass them along anyway so that they'll graduate with their own class.
And so I fret about failures.  I don't believe I've failed.  I set the assignments.  I grade with comments about ways to improve, questions to consider, and even write out what I expected to see in their work.  I provide constant updates about grades, I discuss GPAs and class rank, I berate the students  who are okay with the minimum score needed for a D.  Like cats, they have nine lives in the classroom... and yet some are trying to jump out of trees in the ninth life.  How's that for ambition?
When I complain to my colleagues - fellow classroom teachers - they understand.  Administrators, though, don't want to hear complaints.  The approach there is to come seeking assistance, and admitting that I've not been successful. In truth, I'm held accountable for the students' unwillingness to make any effort. And the reply from administrators?  Allegories, metaphors, symbols, but no answers on how to achieve the desired results.  Remember my cats? In this school, a fireman is always under the tree with a catch all trampoline.
Where will these failed students go when they graduate?  The student who has done nothing but enroll in the course certainly has no preparation for the work force (aka real world).  Can he get a job?  Probably.  Will the boss accept that he punched his time card and then sat in the break room sleeping his whole shift?  Will the boss serve the hamburger thrown together at the last minute that is missing the condiments and meat required to be on there?  Will the unfortunate customer say "that's okay" and pay for this pathetic product anyway?
Hmmm... perhaps I should go and watch the inspiring teachers from "Dangerous Minds" or "Freedom Writers"?  I mean, they were set up to fail and their kids succeeded, right?  The difference, though, is that those kids wanted to experience success and the teacher was the first person to offer it.  Here, the kids have been told they were successful when they weren't (social promotion?) and expect to continue to succeed without making any efforts to actually succeed.

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