Sunday, January 29

How 'bout Education in the USA?

I think most of you know that I am a high school science teacher. I didn't expect to be, in fact as an undergrad going into grad school to get my PhD in biological anthropology, I expected to be teaching/researching at the university level.

But as they say, life happens, and I ended up doing high school. It's frustrating for me to be in this situation, because I although I do love to teach and am pretty good at it, teaching is the least of what I do these days. What really frosts me about my job is how much time I spend doing two things: one, going to meetings and inservices to 'improve' my teaching skills, and two, dealing with the lack of respect I get from so many of my students and their parents.

As anyone with kids knows, indeed anyone who even reads the paper, standards are in and standardized testing is the way to go. On one hand I don't mind, because I do think that we need to know that a) we're teaching well, and that b) students are learning. By no means do I think we should let students out of HS without mastering some basic skills, for example. But on the other hand, it's getting out of to speak. At the high school level, if you haven't mastered most of those basic skills you probably won't. We don't have time in the 4 years of HS to remediate at the level that some kids need--too much subject-area content to cover. Yet we are constantly required to improve, improve, improve and to somehow perform the miracle of getting kids whipped into shape academically regardless of what they did the previous 9 years.

Test scores and rankings are published in the newspaper and on the Internet for all to see (click on the title to see the scores of the district that employs me). Again, this in and of itself doesn't bother me. What does bother me is the school district's response to these pressures--on the teachers. We are subjected to all sorts of stupid things that supposedly will improve our teaching skills and therefore improve student learning (which in eduspeak means our test scores). It's all garbage, because most teachers are pretty good. A kid will learn if s/he wants to regardless of how flash and dance the teacher is, and that's the truth. But we constantly have to defend every little thing we do in the classroom from goals to lesson plans to assessments, blah, blah, blah to prove that we are doing our darndest to reach every single Sally and Bobby. It's a monumental waste of time because most of us are doing all that already, always have, and those don't have never and never will. It's just a fact of education.

The pressure isn't applied where it truly needs to be...on the parents and the students. I managed by the grace of God to get 4 kids and a younger sister through public schools without expecting the teachers to be the main motivating factor in my kids' learning--I considered that my job. Not all my kids were great students in HS, and if standardized tests were all the rage then that they are now I wouldn't be surprised that they didn't do as well as they could on them. But was that the school's fault? Heck no. My kids had a lot of very good teachers and any lack in the achievement area was due to the choices that my kids made, not the failure of the school to 'meet their needs.'

Parents of elementary school children need to be bluntly told by their children's 1st grade teachers...if your child doesn't master 1st grade skills by the end of 1st grade, s/he will be retained until s/he does. The same needs to go for every grade, so that when they get to HS, we can teach them what they need to know to go on with their lives as adults (whatever they want to do even if it's digging ditches). As my son says, the free education the state of California provides ought to be a privilege, not a right.

And lack of respect? I'll continue that another day...

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