Friday, November 21, 2008

I'm going to be a super model rocket scientist professional tennis player when I grow up ... just like everyone else

I'm going to go out on a limb here ... Can we start calling things what they are and throw away the "political correctness" that has turned our society into a litigious bunch of wimps who can't handle a single negative comment - true or untrue?

When did it become standard operating procedure to behave as though every student is created equal. Freak out if you want that I am saying that, but the truth is that we aren't all created equal. If we are all created equally, then why aren't we all super model rocket scientists who play professional sports on the side? Sure, we deserve the same rights. When it comes to education, we should have the right to an appropriate education, individually tailored, that will help each person become a productive member of society. We aren't doing anyone any good by putting all students into the same classrooms and expecting the same results.

This gets so old day after day. We allow the complaining and whining of a small group of people to change the policies to the detriment of the majority. These incredibly selfish parents who find doctors to diagnose their children with ADD and ADHD and all other sorts of ailments insist that their children stay in (what used to be) honors level courses. They have no regard for the other 25 students in the classroom who now have a teacher who has to take time out of every single lesson and every single planning period to alter lessons and tests to accommodate for a parent's self-esteem.

The truth is ... and talk to these kids because I have ... that most of them know that they aren't going to be successful in college, but they still want to succeed. They start to feel worse and worse about themselves as their parents push them to fit into their parents' preconceived notions of their son/daughter is going to be. We have given too much power to the parents and their sensibilities. If we TRULY care about each individual student, we will do what is best for them. We will put them in classes that are appropriate for their academic aptitude. We will provide them with options that are within their reasonable grasp for the future. We will coach them to be the best they can be within their abilities.

I can tell you right now ... If the high school football coaches and athletic directors told every single boy in the school that he could be the next star Eli or Peyton Manning (and gave them the playing time to go with that promise), parents and community members would be in an uproar. Why do we accept the same thing in the academic arena?

Some people might say that I don't care about the less-apt student, or that I am an elitist, or that I am coldblooded, or that I have no business teaching. Quite the contrary. I WANT to teach those less-apt students. I want know that our society needs to focus on the lower 75th percentile in order to improve as a whole. I want more of our youth to feel useful and to know that they have something to offer. That's why I became a teacher. (Sure, I love literature and writing, too.)

I suggest the following ... (and more that I'm sure will come to me later ...)

It's time to start acknowledging weaknesses and tailoring educational opportunities to the strengths of the individuals.

It's time to put parents in their place ... responsible for what goes on at home, responsible for their son/daughter's behavior, responsible for their son/daughter's success in school (during the early years at the very least).

It's time that we start placing value on the profession of teaching.

It's time that teachers are held to higher standard and rewarded for reaching it and REMOVED for failing.

It's time that students who can't/don't/won't hack it in rigorous academics -- for whatever reason and in spite of whatever diagnosis -- are put into classes that meet their individual needs.

It's time that school boards are made of concerned teachers and have no political affiliations or obligations whatsoever.

It's time that our country recognizes the incredible importance of its public education system for its economic success and its future prosperity.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

politics aside ... this is good!

I found this article this afternoon: "First Steps to a GOP Recovery" on written by Mort Kondracke. Putting politics aside -- because "left" and "right", "Republican" and "Democrat" shouldn't matter when it comes to education -- the author of this article makes a fantastic point in his item #3 for the Republican party. (portions in blue and blockquotes are copied directly ...)
"And the third -- maybe the biggest one -- would be for GOP governors to use their posts to show the country how conservatives can solve problems, especially the dismal state of American education and its menacing cousin, lagging American competitiveness."
Then, if you skip all the content about Rush Limbaugh and his cohorts and pragmatism of the parties, he goes on to say:

"Three governors -- Republican Jon Huntsman Jr. (Utah) and Democrats Deval Patrick (Mass.) and John Lynch (N.H.) -- have set up pilot projects partially implementing proposals of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, issued last year."

"Significantly, their initiatives have been blessed by leaders of the National Education Association, though its rival, the American Federation of Teachers, opposes them."

Teacher unions are going to oppose this because too many teachers would lose their jobs if they had to live up to the higher expectations that being a professional would require. Every time our union has some kind of rally, guess where most of the good teachers are ... at school -- grading papers, working with students, preparing lessons. Guess who hauls butt out of the building to demonstrate for a bigger paycheck so that they can continue to sit on their butts all day long doing nothing but collecting benefits and wages and allowing our students' brains to dwindle and soften.

"Under the proposal, states would take over schools from local boards, teachers would form corporations to run schools on contract and hire principals, salaries would go up significantly to attract first-rate teachers and standards would be set to international norms."

Thank god! School boards are ridiculous. Parents in the community in which I teach use the "going to the school board" as a daily threat to get administration to bow down to their ludicrous demands. It is hard to stick to enforce policies under the constant threat of being dragged through hearings with school boards. The administration at my school must always consider this when making a decision.

For example: I also coach a sport. One of my athletes refused to do her required fundraising despite the fact that she and her parents signed all kinds of forms acknowledging that this fundraising is a part of her responsibility. Her parents are insisting on meeting after meeting all under the threat of "going to the school board" if we don't comply. I am actually going to have to bring my young infant to school with me to participate in one of these meetings all because a parent feels that her daughter is special and shouldn't have to sell 52 candy bars. The best part is that our administration is obviously so spineless that they cannot even stand up to this parent and say "Sorry. Rules are rules." No, instead they have to waste their time, my time, and my assistant coach's time, and the athletic director's time ... This is just one example that is happening right now.

I have so many more examples ... but that's a can of worms I don't have time to open right now. The overall lesson to be learned is that the power should most definitely be taken away from the school boards who have to pander to the parents. That way the individual school administrations can stop pandering to the parents. The parents have been given too much power without having any of wisdom needed.

There is a reason why teachers need to be treated as professionals. We are professionals. At least in my community, the parents as a collective whole seem to think that they know better than the teachers. As a result, students no longer respect teachers because the general message that they get is that teachers aren't to be respected, that if a teacher does something with which a student/parent disagrees then the teacher is wrong and a spectacle should be made with administration and the school board.

Of course schools should be operated by many of the same principles that dictate successful business practices. Make teaching a job worthy of aspiration. If teaching becomes competitive like so many other professions, then we will see a rise in the quality of the educators. If a teacher's job (salary and benefits included) becomes enviable, we will see a rise in the quality of educators. Imagine if teacher was an esteemed profession. Imagine the shift that would take place in the hallways of our schools, in the classrooms, in the conferences ...

Many of my friends who are teachers have to work second jobs. No wonder we aren't respected by parents or students any longer! If a student can see his or her teacher waiting tables on the weekends, what does that say about the value of the occupation of teacher? Not much. (Nothing against waiters ... one of my friends is the example I'm using there ... another works the desk at a gym, several others work as camp counselors, I design web pages, etc.)

"Most students would graduate after 10th grade and go on to upgraded trade or tech schools, while others stayed and took college-level courses. And money saved would also fund preschool for needy kids."

"If one governor fully implemented the proposal, his or her state could be a competitiveness juggernaut, set a model for the nation -- and begin solving America's biggest long-term problem.

So, I guess a few people out there are starting to see the light on this subject, but that doesn't really matter ... does it?"
In case anyone is out there reading ... (I've gotten a few comments now which is highly exciting for me!!) I hope that I'm not coming off as a whiner and complainer. That is not my intention. I guess there is a good deal of venting going on, though. I just think that the whole country needs to change its perspective on this key issue. It is sooooo important for every single person in the U.S. to want to fix this.

So, can we stop talking about Obama's BlackBerry and start talking about the things that matter!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More on "Stupid in America"

I still find responses to this special all over the internet. It seems like a lot of people out there want to defend our system and be offended by the title. They need to hold on and get a hold of the data. You can hate John Stossel, he is kind of annoying, but you can't disregard the data -- all of which can be verified through your own quick internet research.

Then, there is the statistic I posted recently about our increasingly lower graduation rate. Isn't that data enough that we need to do something about our system.

What about the fact that countries with far fewer resources are surpassing our efforts to educate? This is the United States of America, land of opportunity, home of the free and the brave ... where is our patriotism?

Finally, people all over the U.S. get up in arms over some of the most mundane issues. What kind of dog (I'm guilty of being obsessed with this as well) is President-Elect Obama going to buy? Madonna is getting divorced, my god! Yet, no one cares about the youth we are leaving behind.

Maybe it is just that the problem is so vast and overwhelming that the task of reforming our high school system is simply too daunting. I'm willing, but I'm just a teacher ... what do I know?

Merit-Based Pay, Liars, Cop-outs and Incompetence

The article above from the Associated Press regarding teachers unions that are starting to embrace merit-based pay reminded me that I had a few thoughts on the subject.

Let me tell you about the system that I am a part of though. I teach ninth grade English. I get the same bonus as the twelfth grade English teacher who refuses to teach anything all day long. His students have already passed the test on which the bonus in our state is based. Our administration continues to "reward" him with a six classes of twelfth-grade students because they know that he won't DO anything. Apparently, these students are less important and their educations more expendable because they have already passed the state test upon which our administration is judged.

Oh ... it is so frustrating! If a merit-based pay program is going to be put into effect and really, really work, then the people need to stop being politically correct and actually just be correct in their implementation of the program. Why did that man get the same bonus as I on Friday? Explain that to me. Did he stay after school five days a week? No. I could see him from my window leaving when the bell rang. Did he teach any of his curriculum? No. My former students who had him last year complained that they didn't do anything and expressed concern about their first year of English at the college level.

Why, if our administration know that this man doesn't do anything, are they forced to retain him in his position? That goes back to the John Stossel report. This guy is just one sad example of many in my experience and I teach at a high school that is ranked within the top 150 high schools in the United States. Sad, sad, sad.

I became National Board Certified as soon as I was eligible because that was a bonus in which I felt I could believe, that was an accolade about which I could be proud, that was an achievement for which I was willing to work. Then ... I started learning about teachers who repeatedly falsified documentation so that they could pass the "documented accomplishments" portion of their portfolio entries. One national board teacher would actually write fake letters from parents in praise of a fellow national board candidate. Both passed. Both continue to collect bonus money for fake achievements. Both mentor upcoming candidates and get money for that as well. Sad, sad, sad. Yet, there are teachers out there like me who actually had accomplishments, who actually received letters from parents and students, who actually taught at conventions, who actually did things to help further the causes of education ... it is so frustrating.

I had a friend who became an administrator. When this friend did not pass her boards, this friend walked around telling everyone that the a certain percentage of people have to fail in order for the program to make money on retakes. Really? Now, this person is an administrator. How much respect do you think this person really has, then, for the teachers under her authority who are working hard to achieve these kinds of above-and-beyond certifications? Not much. This person, no longer a friend, is a stellar administrator in the county. This person is, in fact, just the kind of administrator they look for. What does that tell you?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Stupid in America": John Stossel's 20/20 report on failing American schools

When this special was being advertised in '06, I was excited to watch. Now that I have started blogging on this general topic, I wanted to review. I found it on YouTube and rewatched the entire thing last week. I posted a few comments on the YouTube discussion, but they limit your characters so ridiculously that I was barely able to say anything. This is what I had originally drafted to say. (I never type my original posts ... I'm an English teacher through and through -- everything gets a rough draft!)

It seems like a lot of people take personal offense at this special. Sure, the title on its surface is offensive. Sure, John Stossel is looking for the most controversial examples. Sure, the producers are going to pick the most dramatic examples.

I am speaking as a board certified teacher, this special brings up many important issues. The most important for our global economy is the fact that we are falling farther and father behind the other countries: Those statistics and test results are real and cannot be denied.

We cannot afford to ignore the fact that our students are falling farther and farther behind their counterparts across the globe. That are their future competition and our future as a country depends upon their success.

I agree that teacher's unions are a problem, but it is not true that all American teachers are bad. It IS true that probably half of the teacher's are lazy, unmotivated, and ineffective. Those teachers poison the system and the teacher's who try their hardest. There is a running joke among teachers. You have to sleep with a student or stab a student to get fired. Otherwise, you're free to do what you want as a teacher. That is pathetic and disgusting. Americans should not be satisfied with this system, but they are. No one seems to care.

Good teachers are crippled by a pathetic, ineffective system that is guided by administrators who don't care about quality teaching. They care about bureaucracy. All of the teachers that I know who have gone on to become administrators have done it for the MONEY and not because they want to be agents of change. Good teachers cannot be good teachers because of a system that does not meet the needs of all students.

Good teachers should be rewarded. Ineffective teachers should get help and a short trial period and should be fired if they don't improve. Bad teachers should be FIRED -- flat out fired.

There is one all-important point that is glossed over too quickly in this special. Tie teacher pay to performance. Pay teachers more. Fire teachers who suck. Make teaching a highly competitive occupation. Make teaching a job that more talented people aspire to.

The Florida teacher who says that competition isn't for public education is a moron.

Our Declining Graduation Rates! (and my lack of blog entries)

First, in case anyone out there is reading this, I want to apologize for a lack of entries. This past week was the Homecoming week at the high school where I teach and coach cheerleading. I was engaged all week in preparations for the big events -- pep rally and the homecoming game.

Back to reality ...

The Week Magazine (, which is my favorite news magazine subscription because of its brevity and balance (what can I say, I'm busy!), reported a blurb from the New York Times in its November 14, 2008 issue. I'm quoting: "The U.S., which long enjoyed the world's top high school graduation rate, has fallen to 13th place behind such countries as South Korea, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia. The U.S. is now the only country in the developed world where young people are less likely to graduate than their parents were."

Wow! That is disturbing, and, yet, I am not at all surprised by the fact; however, I am surprised by the lack of attention such a disturbing trend is receiving. Hello world! I really feel like people are blind to the problems in our system. I've been engaged in a few online conversations about some of the issues -- mostly those prompted by the Time article with which I opened my blog.

I posted the following on one blog:

This article definitely touched a nerve with me. I think that most educated, concerned citizens can recognize that our public education system needs repair. In my head, I've been playing around with trying to create a 10 point list of the things that need to be done to fix the system. One of those major points has to do with some of what this article proposes.

I agree that, academically, for many the last two years of high school are a complete waste. I believe this wastefulness is a result of the trend towards forcing all students to fit a particular mold: the high school, then college, then professional career mold. The students in my classroom who do not fit this mold are evident from the first days of school. I teach ninth grade. A large portion of our high school populations are not equipped and/or not interested to pursue careers that would require higher education. Why are we forcing all of them to try to follow in that path?

What happened to vocational schools and technical schools? They weren't even an option when I was in high school. I know too many people who dropped out or are going to drop out because the standard high school curriculum has nothing to offer them.

Why can't there be many choices? There are, after all, many different choices once we leave the public education system, but we are failing to meet the needs of the public as a whole.

1. Students who are not academically inclined are not lost causes. Almost everyone has some kind of aptitude. We should be finding these aptitudes early and steering our youth in directions that will bolster their strengths. Send students to vocational and technical schools so that they can graduate from high school with a diploma, some skills, and the ability to support themselves and make educated life decisions.

2. Students are are academically inclined, but who would meet the criteria of "average" should be given some boosts in the first two grades. 9th and 10th. At the end of 10th there should be some indication if they are going to mature academically. If so, carry-on in our standard college-prep education. At the end of the four years, they can decide for themselves. If, at the end of 10th grade they are not showing any stronger aptitude, they can switch over to a more specific, vocational preparation and graduate with some job skills or go ahead to the community college to finish an education with a specific career in mind.

3. Students who are academically gifted can do what they are still doing today. Take their classes at their local public high school. Do their best. Take more and more advanced classes. Possibly take some classes as dually-enrolled students or take the AP/IB classes available at their high school.

I just don't understand why the system insists on trying to make every student go to a four-year university and leaving all the others who don't fit this mold languishing in the hallways with the bathroom pass. Those students know that this system isn't going to do anything for them. They aren't stupid!

And ... in response to another blogger who doubted my state's "college prep" curriculum, I posted the following:

Regarding Florida not really having a college preparatory curriculum:

You are correct on two points.

1. My state administers its "exit exam" called the FCAT at the end of 3rd quarter sophomore year. The state is basically saying "we have taught you everything that we think you need to know by the end of 3rd quarter sophomore year. Of course, I'm convinced they administer the test at that time so that the schools have two more years to get all the students who don't demonstrate competency up to passing level. Of course, the retake is a simpler format than the original exam, anyway.

2. As a result of trying to force all students to fit into the mold (to which I referred in my original post), we high school teachers are stuck teaching to the middle group. The higher-performing students get easy A's. The lower-performing students are left behind.

Regarding the concern over maturity of 16-year-olds:

Our system no longer requires responsibility, accountability, or maturity from our students; therefore, they aren't learning those skills. Because teachers and curriculum is now being watered down to aim for the middle ground, many students are able to get by with very little effort.

If we appropriately challenge and educate our students at the high school level and before, they will be up to the challenge. They will mature. Veteran high school teachers (the good ones, at least) will tell you that the maturity level of the students is decreasing every year. The kids aren't changing. Our highest expectations of them are changing. If the most we expect is what we are looking for today, then we shouldn't be surprised that our 18-year-olds are immature and ill-prepared.

Moving on ...

The conversation is interesting to me, and at least I saw that there are a few other people out there who are interested. I'm just wondering how lost we are going to have to be before people start asking for directions ... or at least before they start giving a crap.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Maternity leave

It occurred to me as I sat on my couch feeding my baby that anyone
reading my blog might think I was full of crap. I'm on maternity leave
right now, so please don't think that I am using class time or school
resources to write my entries. Once I am back in the classroom
(January), you will notice that the times on my blog posts will
change. I imagine the frequency might be impacted as well.

I am glad, though, that I have found the motivation and time (during
the baby's late morning, early afternoon nap) to begin this project. I
need somewhere to vent. My husband is so tired of hearing me complain
that he wants me to resign. My friends who are all teachers would
disagree with a lot if what I say. They also think that I'm too easily
"worked up" over this stuff -- as though it is not my business.

Monday, November 10, 2008

More thoughts on earlier grduation

Read responses on Digg it! One person, PenguinProf said everything (more clearly than I) in his/her post. Check it out: "Should Kids Be Able to Graduateo After 10th Grade"

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Angel and The Devil

It is so aggravating to be a teacher who does what he or she is actually supposed to do because the constant inferiority of the teachers who do the bare minimum or worse day in and day out is always in your face. I like to picture the angel and the devil on my shoulders. The angel is the rare student who appreciates your efforts in the moment (Many, many students appreciate your efforts as a teacher, but they often never realize this until they are adults with children themselves.), and the devil is a P.E. teacher.

Okay, P.E. teachers, take a time out. That was just an example. But, all teaching jobs are not created equally. I get paid the same amount of money as a P.E. teacher. I teach English. I grade papers constantly, and my students must be proficient readers and writers to succeed academically in future grades and as members of this society. I'm not saying the physical education isn't valuable, but I am asking which is more valuable? Shouldn't we be paid like most people are paid: based on the value of the service we are providing?

Back to the angel and the devil for a moment. There is a P.E. teacher at the high school where I teach who has a reputation of being a "witch" because she assigns reading and homework related to physical education and health, etc. Obviously, she is on the angel side of my pathetic metaphor. There are also several English teachers who are on the devil side. There is one friend of mine who has a planning period during the last hour of the school day. She leaves school early every single day, and she has been known to reschedule parent conferences so that she can continue to leave early. God forbid a meeting with parents interfere with what big plans she has made for herself at 1:45 in the afternoon on a work day.

I was reading about a school chancellor in Washington D.C. named Michelle Rhee in The Atlantic Magazine ( who wants that school district to go to merit pay. Of course that pay would be based solely on data. I approve of merit pay as long as there are multiple measurement tools in addition to data. For example, my friend who leaves work early every single day should not maintain her current level of pay regardless of the data she provides for the school. There has to be some utilization of data because any reasonable educator can recognize the need for data measurement, but there also have to be other performance-related measures.

Bottomline: we have to stop wasting our students' resources on the devils out there. We have to pay teachers equal to the value they are providing in the school and for the students. We have to make the job of teaching respected. The best way to do that is to get rid of the losers.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More on Earlier Graduation ...

I sent the link to the aforementioned article ("Should Kids Be Able to Graduate After 10th Grade?") to two of my colleagues. One did not read it (and probably won't) and the other responded with a succinct statement basically amounting to "No." The statement was so devoid of any reasoning that I asked if she had read the article or just responded to the title. She had read the article and followed up with a few arguments that are reasonable on their surface.

I then posted a link to the article on my facebook profile and received feedback from one other person (who is not a teacher). For the most part, he made the same arguments as my colleague, so I'm assuming that many people would have these concerns. I want to take time to respond to those possibly common concerns relating to an earlier graduation time.

Argument 1: What type of stereotype will be formed based on those choosing to stay all four years? Will they be considered weaker students?

Warning: I am going to sound callous in my response. Why should that matter? One of the BIGGEST problems in our education system is the belief that our purpose is to make students feel warm and fuzzy about themselves regardless of their actual merit. (Before you go crazy thinking that I am heartless and that I have no business working with youth, you must hear me out altogether.) Here's the problem: in our current system, many students cannot be successful; therefore, it is ridiculous that the public school system must still cater to the self-esteems of the students.

Let's speak in examples to make this point. Let's just say that I have a student, Max, who has an IQ slightly lower than average. He isn't a great reader, and he hasn't been able to pass Algebra 1-A yet. Max knows that he isn't a great student. Max is also a realist and knows that he will not be going on to college. The school system, however, is not governed by realists. The powers-that-be have decided that Max should still be forced to carry on in his college preparatory curriculum. Obviously his self-esteem as a student is going to continue to falter because he will continue to face more difficult challenges. His teachers will either by forced by administration to push him through regardless of his lack of success or will be forced to continue to fail him.

If our system provided Max with alternatives, then there should be a remedy to his faltering self-esteem. Quoted from the National Association for Self-Esteem: "NASE believes self-esteem is "The experience of being capable of meeting life's challenges and being worthy of happiness." We also believe in personal responsibility and accountability." See, a person's a self-esteem needs to be tied into who they are as a person. As soon as we all accept that students have unique and varying aptitudes -- all of which are equally valuable to a diverse society -- then we will be able to help all students develop self-esteem by giving them an education that helps them to meet their own life challenges.

Will they be considered weaker students? Yes, because they would be weaker students. What's wrong with that? What's wrong with being what you are? Why do we insist on measuring everything with the same ruler? I was an excellent student. I never earned a B in high school, and I graduated from the honors college at my university with a 3.5, but I also was always taking classes that were designed for students with my exact skillset. If you dropped me into a different system with a different curriculum, I would have floundered -- just as many of my students do today. We can't use the same ruler to measure all of the students.

Argument 2: We could start the binge drinking and underage sex away from mommy and daddy two years earlier. Sounds like a trouble.

First, all of us who did the standard four-year-college thing will probably agree that starting earlier would have been a mistake. I agree that most of the 16-year-olds I know would not (and should not) being going off to college like my friends and I did; however, I think that the entire climate needs to change. Let's also not ignore the fact that these kids are doing these things at that age with mommy and daddy still around now.

I think the best solution to this problem would be quite simple, and it is already being done in a lot of schools. Those students who intend on doing the four year university thing should be using their last two years of high school towards college preparatory courses with more rigor. Many students already do this by loading down their coarse load with Advanced Placement courses and dual-enrollement in local community colleges.

Secondly, RE: Binge drinking and American youth ... this is a singularly American problem. In most European countries the idea of having an alcoholic beverage is not taboo. Teenagers are able to drink; therefore, they tend to binge drink less because they have been exposed to alcohol and have learned how to consume it. Plus, a glass of wine with dinner is a commonplace occurence at dinner in most European homes, so that children in Europe do not associate drinking alcohol with getting drunk but rather with drinking a glass of wine for the sake of the wine and the culture. Another HUGE problem I see plaguing our teenaged population is our throwback to our puritan anscestry on the "no alcohol" under 21 prohibition-style legislation. There is much research and documentation to support this. (I'll start collecting it and posting it ...) So, maybe it wouldn't be so terrible to get the kids off and free a bit earlier anyway. We are trying to compete in a global world, aren't we?

(One personal belief about alcohol consumption and the law: our ridiculous strict policy for buying and consuming alcohol are so unbalanced compared to our policies against drunk drivers. Explain this to me: an 18-year-old cannot drink alcohol, period, but a person can drive drunk REPEATEDLY with minimal repercussion. Think about it. The 18-year-old is ostensibley (even to the most conservative person) only hurting him/herself when he/she consumes the alcohol. The drunk driver is definitely endangering the lives of countless others when he/she gets behind the wheel of the car. It is just another example of what I believe is our country's trend towards protecting only the rights of those who infringe on the laws and never the rights of those of us who do what we are supposed to do.

Finally, it is the parents' role to teach their children what their family values and morals deem as appropriate and inappropriate behavior. It is NOT the government's role to keep people from temptations that might lead them off the path that the government has decided is the moral and righteous path. It is time for parents to take responsibility for their own children.

An Important Point: In Florida, students take the FCAT in 10th grade. This is the exam on which they need to demonstrate proficiency in order to graduate. (This argument was not raised by either of my friends.)

Doesn't that mean that the state is really saying "we've taught you everything you really need to know by February of 10th grade"? Think about it ... really think about it. The state is already demonstrating through their own legislation that what goes on in 11th and 12th grade isn't necessary for a high school diploma. The state is right. The 11th grade and 12th grade curriculum is almost entirely college preparatory unless a student has not passed the dreaded FCAT, in which case they are enrolled in special, smaller classes to help them pass the test.

So, let's go back to the self-esteem issue. What does THAT do for their self-esteem? Ask any of the juniors in my friend's FCAT Prep Class for 11th grade English students. They'll tell you exactly how they feel about it. Besides, in order to foster feelings of self-worth in these students, we (their educators) have to tell them that the test is "just a test" and that lots of students have "trouble with test-taking."

Did you know that students can get special diagnoses giving them different kinds of tests because they have trouble taking tests? Or, they have test-taking anxiety? I guess that's an argument and debate for another time.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Graduating at 16?

This article, "Should Kids Be Able to Graduate at 16?", brings up an issue that has bothered me for a really long time ... about as long as I have been teaching. Not all students are meant to go on to higher education. Marty Nemko wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education that college is a waste of money for students who graduate in the bottom 40% of their class because two-thirds of those students fail to earn a college degree. People need to start being realistic about their expectations AND need to stop projecting their own priorities onto complete strangers.

Our traditional public school system assumes that all students want to go on to college; furthermore, it forces all students to follow in that academic path. This is ludicrous and unfair. I have had many, many students in my classroom who know that they are not going to go to college. They don't want to go to college, and they have their own ideas about what they want to do. Success should not equal a college degree.

My husband went to college. He works for a man who did not go to college. His boss learned a trade while just making it through high school. Once he graduated, he continued in his trade and learning from his bosses until he was able to go it alone. Now, he owns his own business, has his own employees, and teaches my husband the trade.

Isn't the purpose of the public education system to serve the public -- all students. It seems to me that in an effort to serve all students the powers that be have forgotten that all students do not fit into one mold. Worse yet, the system is designed in a way that makes those students who do not fit into the pre-established mold feel like losers because they have different strengths than those students who fit the mold.

Sure, I fit the higher-education mold, as did most of my friends; however, I have friends who did not, and I have certainly had my fair share of students who did not.

How do you justify teaching Shakespeare to a senior in high school who plans on working with his father as a mechanic ? How do you justify teaching chemistry to a junior who pans on working with her mother as a hairdresser? You can't. As a teacher, I have lost that argument many times.

It is not that I do not value these things in education -- quite the contrary. I value appropriate curriculum designed to meet the students' needs and not those of the parents or the school district.

Shouldn't we have options for the students? Shouldn't we be able to provide training in specific skills in order to actually prepare them for the real world?

Instead, we force all students to suffer through a college preparatory curriculum that misses the mark for almost all students except those who are extremely average. The students who are very eager to learn the curriculum are usually bored because teachers have to aim for the common denominator. The students who are not planning on going on to college know that they are going through the motions just to get through and don't feel invested in the process.

This is why my fellow teachers and I are always complaining that honors isn't honors anymore. Honors has become "all students who are college-bound." Regular has become "all students who are too lazy or who are on campus because the law (and/or mommy and daddy) says they have to be there." It's time to meet EVERYONE's needs and make public education a positive experience for most students rather than some students.