04 October 2007

Ranting and Raving

This is the 900th post to Ye Olde Blog. A milestone like this probably deserves some profound reflection, but if you've been hanging around here for any length of time, you know that there is very rarely much in the way of deep thinking to be had. This is a place to put my stuff. The modern version of a cabinet of curiosities. I really try not to be negative here very often. Being an educator means that there are plenty of things to gripe about; but for you, readers, it's not much fun to read about---and it's not respectful of the fact that you have your own problems to deal with. "We know that teaching is damned hard work. What else have you got?"

Sometimes, however, I just can't help myself. And this is one of those times.

I'm working in a school which prides itself on its Newsweek Top 500 high schools in America ranking, but whose science WASL scores have gone down every year. In fact, it's the only school in the district who has lost ground each year. It is also the school which consistently has resisted any attempts at professional development. In fact, they brag about how few meetings that they have. Okay---so I'm not interested in having meetings just for the sake of themselves...but when you have achievement issues, shouldn't you be talking about them? Your AP kids might carry weight with Newsweek, but that is only one-third of your student population. What are your plans for the other 1000 kiddos?

There was actually a meeting today---ostensibly to refine the school improvement goals for the year. The science department, as usual, turned out some really poor work. The consistent lack of student achievement is everyone else's fault. "But our AP kids do so well." At this point, I couldn't resist saying "Maybe that's because the curriculum and instruction for those classes is aligned with the assessment."

This comment went over their heads. One teacher thinks the biology textbook is the curriculum ("I can't possibly cover the standards, because the book is too big.") and all sophomores dumb. Another thinks quality instruction involves notes and a worksheet every day. And the other biology teacher thinks the reason that there's such a disparity between what she does in class and the standards as the fault of the state. None of these teachers has any sense of personal responsibility to the students in their classrooms. What happens there is about the teacher, not the kids. And it's that, more than anything, that angers me.

As much as I would like to rant and rave in front of them, I'm not sure it would do any good. We need common expectations---and high ones---for every student (and for ourselves). We need to work at aligning our curriculum, instruction, and assessment. We need to look at and talk about student work. We need to think about interventions for kids who need support. All of that, however, would require meetings. And for a place which loves to brag about how they don't meet, and instead are determined to show others how little intellectual curiosity they actually have, there is little hope of powerful change happening.

I realized in that meeting that it really didn't matter what the department goals were. All I can do is be the best I can for my kids. Each day, I tell them the targets they're aiming for. I give them feedback on their progress toward those targets as often as possible and provide additional support for kids who need it. I tell each and every one of them that I believe that they can achieve the goals that are set for them. And then I teach and coach and cheer them. Shouldn't that be why we're in the classroom?


Hugh O'Donnell said...

Oh man, SG, I feel your pain.

All you can do is lead by example and take care of your students. And pray for a principal who can live up to your expectations.

Turn every teacher you can affect into a leader as well, and you'll have more than done your part.

I have a feeling that you're destined to become a dynamic consultant who teaches teachers the way teachers should teach kids. At least then you could feel some satisfaction a little more often than once in a blue moon.

Let's raise a glass to true professionals! :)

Hugh aka Repairman

The Science Goddess said...

For these people, ignorance is bliss...for the rest of us, it's hell. Just shaking my head...and hoping for better days.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

In the meantime, let's raise that glass and take the edge off! ;)

The Science Goddess said...

Works for me. :)

Looking forward to raising a real one with you in Portland!

Anonymous said...

Does your department give a common final exam? If your students get significantly higher grades on it than the students of other teachers, that might mean something to those other teachers. Like, maybe they could learn something from you.

Of course, if the grades aren't any different, that would tell you something, too.

Hey, we're scientists; we're supposed to care about testing our hypotheses.

The Science Goddess said...

You're right---we're supposed to care. The problem for me right now is that no one else in the department has any interest in being "scientific" about things. So, no common final...no talk about grades...and so on. They believe everything is outside of their control.