Wednesday, November 18, 2009

So, Who's To Blame?

I posted my grades for the 2nd marking period today. In my first period standard class, 2 students failed. I expected it; they expected it. In my fourth period standard class - same material - 12 students out of 24 failed. Fifty percent!

The irritating thing is that most of them will be angry with me that they failed. They spent the past two days trying to get all of their missing work in or making up excuses about why they hadn't turned in anything. Fifty percent!

When that many students fail, is it the teacher's fault? In the past, when I've had large numbers perform poorly, I re-evaluated what I was doing, made some changes and saw results. This semester, with this class - nothing! I've tried so many methods and made so many variations of lessons that I'm exhausted. When is it ok for me to say, "You know what, it IS your fault. I've done all I can do."

I'm disgusted with them and with myself. I've tried to reach them, but the ones that have failed don't want to be reached - unless I am going to give them something for nothing. I've said before that I want to be the place where they stop getting passed along. Most of the time I'm fine with that sentiment. Today, however, when I saw those numbers, I really felt like a failure.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Conversations on the Lowest Common Denominator

On Thursday and Friday, I found myself in the midst of several conversations that all resonated the same theme: Catering to the lowest common denominator. I find the more I think about that topic, the more confused I become. Here's the background:

Thursday during lunch, a colleague and I were talking about how difficult one of her standard classes was because she had to constantly repeat instructions and couldn't depend on them to complete homework assignments - either reading or writing. Because of this, she was having to read all of a major novel in class. Time she believes would be better served in direct instruction. (As an aside, I tend to agree. I have done that for some standard classes with Scarlet Letter because I felt it was just too heavy for them to tackle alone.) Her comments revolved around something her father was fond of saying - the lowest common denominator.

During that same conversation, another colleague said something to the effect of: If you cater to the lowest common denominator, the denominator keeps getting lower.

Friday, the principal and I spoke briefly about a new program instituted by our county office. Without going into too much detail, around $200,000 has been spent on a dropout prevention program that allows students to use a credit recovery system to get credit for a class they fail. Now, I like the credit recovery plan. I do agree that it has helped keep some students in school. My concern is this: When do we spend money on the students that want to excel? It seems that in our efforts to pull up the bottom, we are simply letting the top slide down too.

During youth group about 25 years ago, I remember our youth leader saying that it was easier to pull someone down than to pull someone up. She illustrated this point by having someone stand in a chair and another sit on the floor. The person in the chair was pulled down. Her point was for us to make good Christian friends. Now, I'm seeing that scenario in public education. The people on the bottom are pulling down those on top.

So, now I sound like an elitist and that most certainly isn't my stance. I just find myself irritated that the lowest common denominator (the immature, the apathetic) get to set the standards for everyone else.

Which leads me to the final conversation of this topic. Another colleague in another setting commented that she was done dealing with the kids that disrupted her class and her students. She's just sending them out. She wants to focus on the ones that want to be there - and she wants to teach such that they all want to be there. Is that the balance, then?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Updating on a not-so-good day

I haven't written in awhile, but it is only because I didn't really have anything new to share. School is school; work is work. I've continued thinking about other career options while trying to improve my teaching. I've had some success and felt pretty good about some things.

But today was a day that my patience and my fortitude was truly tested.

On the way to work, I prayed that God would guide me to be a good leader, a good friend, a good teacher. I walked in the door and was slammed from minute one. One of our department was out sick and there was no sub. Normally that doesn't bother me, but I feel like I've had to go to other departments and ask them to cover so much this year.

As I was trying to arrange for 1st period to be covered, I had seniors coming in wanting to know if I'd graded their senior project papers. Then, I couldn't find the person I needed to cover the first half of first period. When I asked an administrator if he could help me for 5 minutes, he told me he had to do a uniform check and would try to get there.

My response was, "Nevermind. I'll handle it."

So, I go to my room and get my kids started then go to the other room down the hall and work with those students. I'm running back and forth between classes for the first 15 minutes of the period.

Ok - enough whining. I guess I just felt stressed and pressed all day. I couldn't seem to catch a break.

I even tried using the CPS system in my 4th period class. I'm looking for anything new to help those kids and keep their attention. They were great - as far as trying something new goes. They were little craps for cheating on the quiz I gave them using the CPS. I was too frustrated with the day to even care. But, I did tell them that I wouldn't use it for a quiz again - and they were disappointed. They really like that system. Oh well - I have to be the bad guy because I can't stand a cheater.