It is finals week at my high school. “My high school.” Suddenly, that’s amusing. It’s not my high school, these are not my children, they aren’t always my students on my caseload. Now I realize, I do not feel that I own them when I use the personal pronoun. Rather, I feel like I am a part of them, like my family. Maybe I should be more careful with that, maybe I’m too close and that’s why I get so angry and frustrated when things go badly. Hmm… Maybe I should rephrase: The high school where I teach is having finals this week. And I think we are all — teachers, students, even administrators — ALL brain dead.
It’s been a rough semester, on many fronts for a number of us teachers. Speaking only for myself, I am full of regrets about my failures as an educator. I failed these students. I didn’t check their grades often enough, I didn’t advocate for them enough, I didn’t teach them the right personal or academic skills or the right way to solve a problem or write a paragraph. I feel that there were so many times I should have given more of myself, should have worked harder, smarter, more efficiently and with more love and forgiveness in my heart toward these students. I should have been better. I should always be better. Why am I never better?
Of course, it’s a bit easier to ask that today, as opposed to a month ago. No more evening school, no more homebound, no more inclusion classes, no more advisory, no more unpaid one-on-one tutoring before or after school. No more mornings of driving to work in the dark, driving home in the dark, of only seeing the sun through the old, dirty windows of that dilapidated building. It’s spring, it’s beautiful, it’s warm, we’re almost finished for the semester. It is easy to judge myself harshly now. But is it more honest to judge myself harshly now? I can never figure out what of my own self-criticism is truly merited.
And can we talk about how much I despise standardized testing? Our end of course scores are just now trickling in, and we’ll have all the AYP (annual yearly progress) scores by tomorrow morning. These scores count for 25% of the students’ final grades in the classes with EOC tests attached. Uhm, like, seriously? Isn’t that an insane amount of credit being attributed to something our teachers are not actually supposed to teach to? Our state is aiming to eventually have 10 high school level classes assessed with EOC tests. God forgive us for doing this to ourselves and our students. Teachers, good teachers who work wonders with kids who are poor, disadvantaged, deeply damaged by life, are on tenterhooks right now, just agonizing over the realization that our kids are not measuring up, that they don’t know everything they need to know in order to be judged an academic success. The state is harsh. And blind.
And yet another frustration — how much do I hate the official solution to the widespread Algebra 1 failure of many, if not most, of our 9th grade students? The solution is NOT to start teaching algebra concepts even earlier. It’s just not, people. If you don’t know the times tables well, then factoring polynomials and quadratics equations is an exercise in wanting to kill something. If you were being taught math in elementary school by teachers who openly say, “Oh, I’m terrible at algebra!”, chances are that middle school and high school math classes are going to suck. Oh, and you gotta take four years of math in high school. Four. Must. Or you won’t graduate. But you weren’t taught the times tables because that’s just “drill and kill” and that sort of knowledge is basic (Bloom’s lowest level and all) and so easy to find with calculators and the internet and we want to teach them the process and problem-solving skills and the kind of math they will actually use in the real world! And that’s terrific, except the real world requires you to earn a high school diploma, and you have to take things like advanced algebra for that, peeps. Required. To graduate.
So tomorrow, I will be reading through scores, seeing the academic future of many of the students on my caseload — MY students, dammit — take yet another hit. Seeing another year of tears and rants and begging the students to please try, please, just try the problem, I can’t help you if you don’t write something down because I don’t know where you’re having problems if you just keep saying, “I don’t get it,” and I know, math is really hard, and I’m so sorry — this whole year just seems lost right now.
I knew I shouldn’t write at night. I’m tired and the hurt seeps in through the cracks when I’m tired. I must try this blogging thing in the morning, when I believe there’s a purpose to my work. Tonight, I know there’s a purpose, but I don’t know if I can be the one to live it…
And I still love you all. Thank you.