Wednesday, March 13, 2013
The System Is Down
When talking to Jasmine about her previous history classes, she has openly admitted that she doesn't really remember much of her US or World history lessons, because they were handed a bunch of work sheets and told to fill them out, turn them in, and that was pretty much it. Busy work that required absolutely no critical thought at all. It's possible that she's learned more history from talking to Jason about world events than she ever did in her classroom. Same with her health and sex ed classes. When I found out how those were taught, I was horrified. I'm suddenly no longer shocked by the teen pregnancy rate. Then there are her English and Literature classes. This year she is preparing for college, and her English class is being taught in a way that makes me wonder if I should bother sending her to sixth hour or if I should just write lessons at home and teach her myself. She said that on a day to day basis, they do worksheets, and they take quizzes that test nothing of their reading comprehension. They are asked questions like "What color shirt was Harvey wearing in chapter 3?" That tests nothing aside from whether they read the chapter. Right now they are reading "All Quiet on the Western Front" and I asked if they discussed the part where the Paul goes home on leave from his time on the front, and he has a hard time re-acclimating to the world he once knew, because the war has already changed him. Her response was "We don't talk about the book. We just do worksheets". WHAT IS SHE LEARNING?! Nothing! She's learning nothing. This is supposed to be a college level course, but answers to quizzes are only considered "complete" if they contain 5 sentences, and the teacher counts the number of periods in each answer. If you can give a comprehensive and well thought out answer in 3 complete sentences, you have not followed the directions and will be marked down. Additionally, when the kids are given writing assignments, they are not given a page limit, or a word count limit, they are told that their paper must be 8 paragraphs consisting of at least 5 sentences each. Again, periods will be counted. So, you might be able to write a really good paper in 6 or 7 paragraphs, but you have to throw in a BS paragraph to meet the requirements. Plus, I'm not sure what the heck they've got to write about since there is nothing discussed in class. No themes, no comparisons made, nothing. Just worksheet testing basic low level knowledge, and nothing else. Why should she even go to class? All she's being taught is to read at the surface level so she can answer stupid questions about the color of a person's shirt, not to actually understand the book, or understand the importance of the literature. This is doing her no favors, since in college she will be expected to be able to make these connections and she's had no teaching on how to do it. I'm appalled, just as I was appalled at how little she retained from her history classes since they were never expected to discuss any of what they learned. There's no scaffolding, there's no building on earlier lessons. There's just a day in, day out routine of "Did you read this?" that they follow. It's a waste of time. It's not an education. There is nothing that challenges any of the students and then the teacher is blown away that they have no dedication to class, or any interest in what they're supposed to be learning.
Then she tells me that he hands out assignments with comments like "Most of you might want to consider taking credit recovery while taking this class, since you have no hope of passing", or makes allusions to how stupid all of the students are while he's giving directions. Things like "You have to laminate your poster. I'm sure most of you won't because you can't understand or follow directions". What is that teaching these kids? For kids who are already struggling, it teaches them that there's no reason for them to continue trying. For kids who are generally good students, it leaves them bored and uninterested in class. But to demean students openly in front of their peers as a way of shaming them into motivation, that's just unacceptable. It's a horrible practice, and it accomplishes nothing. It's amazing that he's been teaching for 15+ years and he's never discovered that this tactic does nothing to improve student performance. What has me more upset is that HE HAS BEEN TEACHING FOR 15+ YEARS AND NO ONE HAS STOPPED THIS BEHAVIOR. I understand that it's a challenging district to teach in, but for goodness sakes, someone needs to do better. I'm just so disgusted.
Then I start thinking about whether we should tie teacher pay to student achievement, and while I am against that practice in general, I wonder if these teachers my kid is suffering under would step it up if it meant they might lose pay. Or maybe her school is just fundamentally damaged, and they need to purge and start over. I just find myself worrying about what college will look like for her, since high school is literally teaching her nothing. I also wonder if the principal, superintendent and school board know this is what's going on in her classroom. Having dealt with this particular school a lot in recent years, the frightening thing is that I'm not sure they care. I think they protect their own at all costs, even when the teachers clearly do not deserve protection. And where are the parents? Why aren't they beating down the doors to the superintendent's office and demanding better for their kids? How is this allowed to continue, year after year, without someone saying that there has to be a change? Shouldn't the school care that their students are getting more comprehensive lessons on literature from Youtube than they are from their teachers? I know they are, because I've heard what's happening in their classes and pointed them to full lessons on Youtube for the books they are reading, and I've had students tell me they wrote papers based on that Youtube lesson because it taught more in 5 minutes than their class did in 3 weeks. I feel like someone at the top should care, and should be removing people who can't teach a better lesson than Youtube could. The whole thing makes me sick.