Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Life Intrudes, and So Does Weed

October 13, 2009

No post about Nine Marks today.  You see, I have this thing called a “job” and I’m pretty thankful to have it.  The thing is, I have to do stuff for this job, so sometimes I don’t have time to really blog.

Yesterday one of my students got pulled from class because he started a fist fight before class.  When asked for a witness to his version of the story, he named another kid from my class, so they pulled him, too.  Problem for him was, he had six bags of marijuana hidden (somewhere on his person, I assume).  So I don’t think I’ll be seeing that student for a long time.

There aren’t many things that can get you expelled from school anymore.  Even things they say they have “zero tolerance” for really don’t mean much in the end.  I had a kid bring a gun to my classroom a couple of years ago.  We realized later that it was a pellet gun, but it sure looked like a serious weapon.  That student was gone for a little while, but a few weeks later he was right back in my classroom.  So it’s hard to get thrown out of public school these days.  I am told that dealing weed will get you thrown out for good.  We’ll see.

I was trying to get that student to understand Algebra.  It was an uphill battle since he had already failed the class twice before, but I figure he still had some hope for getting it.  Unless he gets a cellmate who knows how to distribute polynomials, I’m guessing he’s lost his chance now.  Really sad when you think about it.  So I’m just not going to think about it.  Fiddledeedee.

Learning to Move On

May 8, 2009

Most of the students I teach are black. Incidentally, they never refer to themselves as “African-American,” so I’ll dispense with the political correctness for the time being (even if they are really more brown than black). Working with them has given me a new perspective on why the students I work with act the way they do. I’ll illustrate with two stories.

This morning during class an administrator brought one of my students a disciplinary form, asking her to sign it (indicating that the reasons for her suspension had been clearly expressed in her hearing). The student responded by crumpling up the paper and tossing it behind her before the administrator had even turned to leave the room. This is pretty typical behavior where I work. After the administrator left, the student announced to all who would listen: “My momma told me don’t never sign nothin’ the school give you!” Several of her friends voiced their agreement. “That’s the same thing my momma told me,” another girl offered. With parents harboring such deep distrust of our teachers and administrators, it’s no wonder we witness so much disrespect for our school’s policies.

A couple of years ago I was teaching a group of students who were all labeled with “behavior disorders.” One day I asked them: Which is worse, robbing a store at gunpoint, or telling the cops who did it? They unanimously asserted that the snitch was the real criminal. I told them that was pretty messed up but they just shrugged their shoulders and said “that’s just how it is.” Evidently these kids, who were constantly having run-ins with both school officials and law enforcement, were taught that siding with authority is the cardinal sin. And what’s even crazier, they apparently learned this from the adults who raised them.

One day it finally occurred to me: Multiple generations of blacks in the U.S., particularly in the South, grew up with racially unjust laws and corrupt law enforcement. When your local law enforcement is run by white supremacist segregationalists, you learn not the trust your authority figures. And you pass that distrust down to your progeny, and they pass it down to theirs. Now that equal opportunity is the rule of law, we’ve still got generations of convention to reverse, and it’s not happening quickly enough.

I’m watching black men and women try to discipline black students who were taught to distrust all authority, and it’s only reinforcing their social inequity. These kids are throwing away a free education and turning to crime so that yet another generation will grow up disadvantaged. If only their parents could acknowledge that the world has changed, or at least that they can no longer blame all their troubles on other people, things would change for them.

Maybe that’s why black churches are turning out most of the successful (law abiding) folks. They are preaching an alternative message. They are preaching personal empowerment. They are preaching prosperity through optimism and faith in God. And of course, in the best circumstances they are also investing in their communities, mentoring, and modeling responsibility to their young men and women.

I will occasionally make a crack about the prosperity gospel. I believe it misrepresents the message of pretty much every New Testament author, and it ignores the daily impact of the cross of Christ in the life of a believer. But I can see the benefit of all this optimism, too. I see great value in turning away from blame, racial defeatism, and of course violence and crime. These churches are teaching their members to MOVE ON. Look upward. Trust Him from whom your help comes. More power to them.

From blog to bluuuhg!

January 9, 2006

I’ve been sick now for 16 days. It’s just ridiculous, you know? The day after I got out for Christmas break I got some chest congestion and fever. Then the family started passing around strep and diarrhea. Then my congestion developed into pneumonia. Give me a break. Fever comes and goes from time to time, and the fluid in my lungs keeps me from breathing normally, and I have to sleep upright if I am to get any sleep.

School starts back tomorrow and I’ll be reporting for duty since I don’t see much point in lying around the house any longer. Besides, the last thing I want to do is use up my sick days on something as unpleasant as being sick! I need those days for other things (like when my wife or kids get sick, or when I’ve got a dozen errands to run that cannot be done after school hours).

Yesterday was probably the hardest part. I had to get up at 5:00am and drive an hour and a half to take three teacher’s exams that took all day. I am told that before next year special ed teachers (who often teach multiple subjects) have to pass national exams in every subject area they will be teaching. I teach Literature, Geography, Math, Science, and Health. I anticipate teaching History in the future as well, plus I’ve got two other general content tests to take (and I’ve already passed two!) So I’ve got some cash to fork out (each of these tests costs me around $80).

Well, no great inspirational words today. Just illness. It’s like Maslow pointed out: the drive for higher things often gets postponed until certain physical needs are taken care of. At least, that’s where I am at the moment. I trust I’ll find that I still have a spirit once I can breathe again. Until then, Lord…. This too is from You.

Teachers don’t get paid enough

December 19, 2005

I have six students in my first period Literature class– or at least I did up until a week ago. Last week I had six students and tomorrow I will have only one. And this is final exam week. I have three students currently on suspension (each for different reasons) and two students were expelled this morning for bringing a gun to school.

They brought a gun to my classroom.

Fortunately, I know that it wasn’t meant for me. But I guess that’s not the point. A kid who’s been picked on one too many times decided it’d be cool to pack heat this morning (it’s always the quiet ones you gotta watch). There are no metal detectors at my school, and anyway I teach in a trailer that’s next to the parking lot. A little unnerving, I suppose. But in all honesty, I’m pretty sure his intentions were just to look tough in front of his peers.

The funny thing is that this kid (whom I have for half of the school day) realized somebody snitched on him, so he handed it off to the student next to him (Let’s call him “Mark”). Mark asked for a restroom pass so that he could ditch the evidence; Only 7-8 minutes later he had still not found a trash can to his liking, so he was still walking around the main school building with it under his shirt! Mark ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Dumb as a rock, in fact. This morning I had to help him find our country on a world map (He’s 16, by the way).

Needless to say, once an administrator tracked him down he was busted, and now both kids are out of school for good. Apparently there IS something you can do to get expelled. I was beginning to wonder.

They just don’t pay teachers enough, ya know it?

Education and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

November 1, 2005

There is an entropy to the world, where things more easily go from a state of order to a state of disorder. And nowhere is this more obvious than in a public school.

Public education was a great idea, when it started. It’s still a great idea, I suppose. But what it has become in places like where I work is a big mess. Kids with peculiar needs are mainstreamed into settings where they cannot get the individual attention that they need. Teens who are entering some of their most formative years are being thrown together with kids of such varying backgrounds and upbringings only to find a gravitation towards the lowest common denominator. The standard of the education suffers because we want “no child left behind,” but we end up cheating thousands out of a good education in our efforts to save a dozen who put forth little to no effort in their schoolwork. The curriculum gets dumber and dumber and the behavioral climate gets more and more like a zoo every day. Granted, I work in a school labelled “at risk” by the Federal Government, and I don’t get to work with the Advanced Placement students at our school, so my perspective may be more negative than some. But I’m pretty sure most teachers I work with would agree that the tools they and the administrators need to climb out of this hole will never be afforded them. Let me give a couple of illustrations:

I’ve got a student who comes into my class and cusses me out before I even can say “good morning.” He provokes all the students around him until I have to finally write him up for defiance, insubordination, and disrupting class. That piece of paper will eventually be put on a pile along with the others on the adminstrator’s desk, and sometime within the next week it will be dealt with (we are not allowed to simply send students to their respective administrators–we are supposed to handle all discipline within the classroom. Using what, I have no idea). The student may receive In-School-Suspension for a couple of days, where he would be thrown in with 30 other students who were each thrown out of their classrooms for similar reasons. But there is such a backlog of students needing this placement that there is a long waiting list to get in.

Let me repeat that. He will not go to ISS for several more days because there is a waiting list to get in. So he will return to my class for the next week, having no immediate consequences for his actions in my classroom. Incidentally, he shows no concern for his grade average remaining in the single digits. How do you think that affects his behavior in my classroom? Eventually he will serve his ISS, but little will come of it. I am obligated by law to make sure he is provided with all the materials and assignments he needs to not fall behind in his classwork. Eventually, if he acts up enough, he will be given a real suspension (OSS-Out of School Suspension). He will stay home for three days and watch TV or whatever. Even then, if his parents request that I give him his work I must provide all of his assignments for the next three days in advance. He will probably never touch the work, but I will have to prepare it all for him anyway.

There’s a bigger problem, though. You see, this student has already received suspensions totalling 23 days (we’re only 3 months into the school year), and we are restricted by law from suspending him beyond 10 days without holding special “manifestation” meetings for each suspension in order to prove that we have in fact done all that we can to prevent each of the suspensions in question. In other words, after he has received a total of 10 days of OSS, we cannot suspend him anymore until we can arrange manifestation meetings with a committee of important people who will demand that each of us meticulously document everything we have done to prevent this punishment from escalating to its current status. Separate meetings have to be arranged and executed for each suspension period beyond that legal limit of 10 days. What is the student doing during this time? Coming to class as usual, of course. Probably he will be receiving ISS at some point each week due to his continuing behavior, but in each case he will not be able to enter the ISS classroom for a few days because they have no room for more. He will remain in his regular classroom until all this eventually works out, or until he graduates or finally drops out of school, which ever comes first.

I’ve got another student who literally never comes to class–he skips almost every class every day. He rides the bus every day; he eats in the cafeteria (a free lunch, by the way); he borrows money from friends to raid the snack machines later; then he finds places to go all over campus where somehow he will never be asked what he is doing wandering around. Eventually he will be suspended for skipping class, but you understand now how that will go. He will really just continue coming to school everyday, alternately wandering the halls and walking off campus to buy a snack at the nearby convenience store.

Since he’s failing every class and earning no credits whatsoever, one might ask: “Why does he come?” The answer is simple. 1. His mother doesn’t want the 17 year old hanging around the house, 2. He doesn’t want to get a job, 3. He gets free lunch at school, and 4. Going to school is the only way for him to hook up with his cohorts for whatever it is that they do. More than likely, this young fellow is buying and selling weed to his friends. But somehow no one has caught him doing it. So he will continue coming to school each day, making his “connections” and dodging class most of the time, all on Uncle Sam’s dime.

Just so I don’t sound inordinantly negative, I stumbled into an AP class the other day and I was amazed to see all of the students dutifully doing their work–without the teacher even being in the room! I thought I had stepped back in time to the day when I went to school and the kids had reason to be motivated to keep on top of their studies. I wanted to just sit and soak up the peacefulness for a few minutes before heading back to my trailer and my students. It was relieving to discover that those students still exist even in a “low-performing” school like this one.

Still though, a former colleague of mine argued that all kids should be home schooled during at least their middle school years. I’m beginning to think he’s right.