Thursday, January 7, 2010

At Least You Came to School?

Excuse me? What did you say? At least you came to school?! Is this some sort of gift? Is this some kind of miraculous favor? Did you actually just tell me that your mere presence is supposed to make me satisfied and elated to be a teacher?

So is the attitude of many a student where I work. They come to school because that is what is expected of them. While teachers set real and high expectations as to what should happen in the classroom, those are only followed through with if the students have developed some level of respect for the teacher and then only if a certain level of work ethic has been instilled within them. Students in today's education system, at least the system I work in, show up to school with the understanding that the teachers can do no worse than what's already been dealt them outside of school and that schools will not hold them back no matter what infractions are performed.

This is a battle teachers are losing in the classroom. How's this for trickle-down theory: politicians need school achievement to stay elected, superintendents/chancellors need pass rates and graduation rates to stay appointed, principals need to raise the scores of the disenfranchised to keep their jobs and teachers' very real assessment of students' skills and abilities are ignored as their students are passed on to the next grade. What does that all mean for me? No matter what grades I give my students, they are going to go to high school. Is this a secret? No. Last year we promised, we preached, we shouted until we were blue in the face that the chancellor was finally cracking down, which is what we were told. Our principal- our captain-was going to follow through and hold back half the grade if necessary. Those who did not pass their core subjects AND their state assessments would not be passed on to high school.

Mythical models were proposed as to how we would accommodate it. We discussed class sizes of fifty to be held in the cafeteria and an eighth grade large enough to require herd dogs. What happened? Two out of a hundred were held back. Two students. We held back the young man who attended my class for three partial class periods and who was discharged twice from our school to attend rehab and we held back the young lady who attended my class twice due to the baby she was carrying much of the school term (which was conceived a year and a half after she exited elementary school). I've seen the girl as many times this year, and while the boy did turn in one completed assignment this year- thereby achieving his highest overall grade ever in eighth grade social studies- their "presence" has hardly been enough to send the message to our current students that if they don't get it together they too will barred from attending high school.

Now, I must throw out the disclaimer once again that the majority of students do not show up to school with this attitude. The sad thing is that to be affected by it is unavoidable at times. When good people see others doing the wrong thing and still reap the same rewards as everyone time and again, it is nearly impossible to avoid being disheartened. Holding students back oftentimes ends very poorly for them, but the flip side of the coin is that the battle teachers and motivated students fight to lift them up- the battle to show the nation that they are students and that if they work hard enough they will make it- that battle is made infinitely more difficult to win.

So yes, what I get is a handful of flippant remarks about the privilege given me by a particular student's presence, but what we should consider are the long-term effects. While we do not have what it takes to accommodate those students who drop out early when held back and end up on the street, in jail or worse, we're holding back so many of the students from achieving something more than what their immediate surroundings offer. In the short term the consequences are very obviously brutal for those who drop out. In the long term, they are less obviously so, though arguably just as brutal, for those trying to rise above what was dealt them.

Today's Wine: 3-Buck Chuck trumps Monarch Glen Merlot (2005). The Monarch Glen seemed to lack everything once again. Now, this wine was bought from a bodega in the Bronx and given to us as a gift with a bunch of dust on it and a cork that didn't look as though the bottle had been laying down in a while. Perhaps the wine was oxidized, perhaps not, but when we drank the Charles Shaw afterward, it was really rather delicious.

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