Friday, June 15, 2007

Dilemmas in Teaching and LISTENING TO BULLSHIT

So, as you may or may not know, I work for this school that offers all one-on-one instruction* for credit (and sometimes tutoring). We had a meeting this morning to discuss the English curriculum, which has always been retarded. The idea is to make it more academically vigorous, more well-defined, and more consistent so that our teachers (who invariably have worked there less than six months, since we pay so shitty) can adequately teach it. So that some of the kids, you know, learn something.

Now there is an interesting dilemma. We teach to the individual student, which means that we assess them when they come in and we teach them where they're at--even if they're in the 12th grade but they really only read at a 4th grade level. Maybe they have some learning disabilities, maybe they've had terrible life experiences, maybe their little self-esteems are all broken from previous school failure. (Maybe, once in awhile, they're just f**king lazy. It's true.) Anyway, it's a tailored curriculum, and it's adapted directly to meet that student's individual needs. I love that, and it's why I work there. I did not, for once in my life, just get this job because I needed a job to pay the bills. I found a company that did what I wanted to do, I walked in and told them to hire me, and they did. So this is something that matters to me.

However, when you have to grade a student in a particular class, say English 10, you have to give him a grade based upon some reasonable standard of what "English 10" should be. You don't give them A's just because they tried really hard, or because their terrible paper is still a huge improvement from their godawful paper before that. I feel strongly about this side of things too. You can't just come to my school and buy an A for your kid. A kid can work really hard but do C work in Geometry. Not everyone that takes Geometry can get an A in it. I did, but then I worked my ass off all the time. I am pretty smart, but I studied really damn hard in school. I should get A's. (And I did get A's.) You can have a grade for effort, and we do--it's 10% of the grade, quality and attitude or something. But a kid that reads at a 4th grade level and writes a 2-paragraph paper because that's what level his/her writing skills are at--that's appropriate instruction. But that is not an A in English 12! If we send them out with a transcript that says "English 12 - A" that is misleading to colleges, to other high schools they might be attending and, in all honesty, to that student. I am not alone in thinking this. Our director of education is very vehement about this point.

However the important thing to know is that our school does not actually have any standards. If you ask them for some (so that you can adequately grade a student, or understand where they should be at in the first place), the insane owneress will get all pissed off at you and attack you for not "believing in the mission of individualized education." She just generally misinterprets everything anyone says anyway. But this was just stupid. Her husband also went off about how he always found literature classes boring anyway, and that we should allow the kids to read things that interest them. This is a great idea, to a point. Except that all that interests them is Paris Hilton and wasting their parents' money.

After my ridiculous meeting, I went to volunteer at the autism clinic. This was a hell of a perspective shift, as the workers there were celebrating little victories like how this toddler had gone up to some other kids and said, without prompting, "I name Jack!" (I-->My). This represents very big progress for an autistic toddler. The teacher (and doubtlessly the kid's mom) were just about beside themselves. Then I started thinking how much I wanted to hug all the moms of autistic kids, and how brave and patient they are, loving kids that don't recognize your emotions or respond to them--that don't hug you or connect with you or, sometimes, even talk to you at all. That's a tough job.

I started getting all overwhelmed and thinking about my purpose in life. I had to go home and eat a leftover burrito.

*that is, when the money-grubbing owners aren't forcing teachers to double, triple, or quadruple up their students in order to make n x $80 an hour.

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