01 January 2013

Teenage Wasteland

I have often said over the last few years that when I go back to a school, I don't want to be part of a high school. In some ways, it feels odd to say that---I spent the majority of my career teaching in one. Students were awesome (at least 99% of them, anyway) and I enjoyed my time with them. I worked with a lot of smart teachers and administrators, many of whom were passionate about what happened in a classroom.

But that is also the biggest reason why I would not want to go back: I want a more collegial and professional environment. One that isn't contained by what happens in my classroom while someone else is an independent contractor in the room next door. Toward the end of my last work in the classroom, I was incredibly jealous of the quality of interactions and conversations most elementary teachers have as part of their work...the view that they teach kids (not subject matter)...and that everyone shares a responsibility for students.

To be clear, I like high school kids. I like high school teachers. I just don't like the culture of high school. I'm sure that there are high schools out there that operate more like an elementary or middle school, in terms of what it means to teach and learn, but I have yet to bump into any of them. I've had a fabulous opportunity in the last few years to visit lots of teachers and districts. I look all the time for a high school staff that inspires me as a professional and makes me ache to work there.

I was thinking about this again recently while listening to a presentation about assessment and grading. The presenter was from one of the largest districts in the state and was showcasing some truly phenomenal work they'd done. Common leveled assessments...rubrics...standards-based alignments and reporting tools. While these pieces don't lead to a particular end, they provide a framework for conversations about student learning.

But not for high school. Why not? The presenter said, "I don't have a death wish." And many people in the room nodded in agreement. One must be downright Quixotic, apparently, to integrate best practices into high schools. I can think of a lot of high school teachers I've worked with that would take great pride in sabotaging such effort---would tell you that they know best for their classes and don't need any help, thank you very much...and besides, the research is just shit, anyway...oh, and don't tell me what to teach because I know what biology/algebra/writing is. ttyl.

It makes me sad that all of the focus we put into K-8...the collective view that these are "our" kids and we will do whatever it takes to help them grow as learners and people...is stopped cold once those students walk through a high school's doors. Not to say that high school teachers don't care about their students---I know they do. Just that it is often a much smaller and more teacher-centric world. I think a lot of high school teachers would be amazed at the quality and integrity of the conversations had by their peers teaching younger grades.

Someone told me recently that it's because of higher ed. That is, high schools have to be jerks because colleges expect them to do this as part of preparing kids for college---like some sort of socially responsible hazing. I don't quite buy this. I do think that transcripts serve as a form of communication between high schools and colleges and there has to be some coordination of expectations, but it seems unlikely that some type of Survival of the Fittest is the intent behind "college and career ready."

I'm not sure where that leaves things. Maybe high schools don't need to be more like the K-8 system because they have greater responsibilities to the post-graduate world. (In other words, it's not them...it's me.) When I started this blog, it was because I was hungry for a conversation I couldn't have at work. From what I see online, social media fills a niche for a lot of teachers looking for the same thing. I don't know how we take that and use it to develop workplaces that nurture our high school teacher selves...and our students. But I plan to keep looking.


Dorothy Neville said...

Everything you say about not working in high school pertains to the kids as well. No wonder so many kids drop out.

Jenna said...

maybe you should come here...

The Science Goddess said...

Dorothy---you're right. We really turn the tables on student learning as we move through the grades.

And, Hedgetoad...be careful what you wish for. :)