I get most of my news these days from the facebook. Sad to admit. But one good thing is that my socially conscious peers occasionally point me to some important issues. So, accordingly, I just read this very good critique of why those hollywood inspirational teaching movies are a load of bunk. Check the article out. 2014 Resolution: Stop Watching Feel-Good Teacher Movies From the article:
Almost every teacher movie follows the same dramatic arc: previously overlooked children have their potential unleashed only through the benevolent intervention of a charismatic adult. This is largely hokum. Kids need food, shelter, loving and stable families, health care, and a decent education in order to best fulfill their potential. To pretend otherwise is to watch these movies as a sort of absolution of guilt, a vicarious purging of our responsibility to our fellow citizens and community members.
That seems so true to me. We think if we can create an inspiring story and pass it off to the “others” whose job it is to make the story come true, then we have done our job. And that is just a really unhelpful attitude. But it occurs to me that if you don’t work in a failing school then maybe you don’t actually know what it IS like or what can be done to help. So I thought I’d use this opportunity to present my experiences working in less-than-ideal schools.
First off, every school is actually different. Every bad school/school district has its own set of problems. For the past year and a half, I have been working in the Santa Fe public schools. We recently hired the superintendent of schools who managed to help bankrupt the Philadelphia public schools. From what I hear, this is one of many very poor hiring choices. And he has just fired the third principal (who was doing a fine job, actually) in eight years from the high school where I do most of my teaching.
The racial/socio-economic reality of this district is that nearly all of the white kids go to one of several very decent private schools, which leaves all the poor hispanic kids and very little of the money at the public schools. I would guess that Santa Fe High is about 80% Mexican. Capitol might be more. Teen pregnancy and drop-out rates are high here. Drugs are also a problem. Many of my students work to help support their families after school. Many of my students have at least one parent who is not living here quite legally.
There are some amazing, dedicated teachers here. But there are also a lot of barely literate teachers. There are teachers who don’t know the subject material they are supposed to teach. And there are far too many classes “taught” by long-term subs who do nothing. As Mary Padilla told me last year when I was trying to help her and some other GRADUATING SENIORS with 8th grade-level algebra, “Miss, we haven’t had a teacher stay in all four years to teach us algebra.” I have a lot of students who can’t add fractions by the time they graduate from high school. And since a lot of them don’t speak english at home, and their parents don’t speak english, their grammar is really really really bad. And nearly all of my students are actually college-bound, though they’ll be the first in their families in most cases to go.
But the reality is that even when they literally work their putooshies off, they are nearly all bound for UNM where they will be taking remedial high-school classes and will drop out within two years. Which is heart-breaking because these students do work really really hard. And also, what can you do?
There are a lot of organizations throwing money at the problem out here. There are a lot of initiatives and tutoring programs. But the problems are so endemic that it’s hard to know what else could be done. I work with one program the teaches kids tennis and gives them free tutoring. The idea, I guess, is that they have something positive to, what? Keep them from doing drugs and making babies? I work with two college-readiness programs that provide tutoring and college-readiness skills and go on college visits in order to change the mentality of the kids and the community.
I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but good teachers in poor schools with mostly incompetent teachers don’t have time to change the world for a handful of outstandingly motivateable students (who by the way, don’t exist, either, because they are all too tired from trying to do their homework, raising their kid siblings while their parents work three jobs a piece, and work their own job). The good teachers are too busy trying to make sure that most of their students at least pass their SBAs so that they can graduate. Sorry.