Friday, April 30, 2010

Why teaching is so freaking hard.

I'm taking down the photos of the kids i tutor for privacy. I'll be putting up a new post maybe Wednesday or Thursday night. I am probably being overly cautious because i have doubts that many of these parents at this school even own a computer and it's very doubtful they would actually find this blog. I am however, leaving up this one.

This blog post today is a sort of op-ed piece. And i won't keep it up very long before i change it because i like the participatory part of blogging best.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

I took these photos just today when i went to tutor. I tutor at a school once a week at lunchtime at one of the poorest schools in the district where the free and reduced lunch percentage is about 96-98%.

(Their teacher is Ms. Hippie's mom's best friend, Mrs. E and she is awesome. )

The kids in the first photo are not ones i tutor, but i liked this photo a lot so i put it up.
As i arrived i slipped in quietly because Mrs. E was presenting online math on a screen. So i sat down and after a bit discreetly snapped a photo, but that girl in the middle noticed me. And she said 'Oh i didn't look right in that one, can you take another'? And so i did. (She was right, the first one was not good.)

Later i went off to tutor with my three girls. That is S a hiding her face. She is so incredibly sweet. And she is often absent from school. (I have heard that her family may be keeping her home to help babysit the younger kids. But S is only 3rd grade!)

I like S a lot because she really wants to learn and she is so polite. E is the girl in pink and she is the one who cannot add 2+3 unless she counts on her fingers, so forget about multiplying. She doesn't even try because she has decided math is too hard. No one at home helps her according to her so the flash cards i bought her won't help much if they don't use them. My mission with her is not to even get her to multiply in the double digits, but to at least get her to a point where she is not afraid of math and to at least pay attention and try to understand. She is difficult. And i am not ready to give up on her, but i almost was after the first two weeks.

P... That's her in the blue coat. I had to take three photos of her before i got one i felt was natural. I had to tell her 'quit with that fake cheesy smile'. (I talk to these girls like i did my own nieces and nephews because i figure they cannot fire a volunteer, right?).

P is the drama queen that cried my first day tutoring which shocked me because I have never, since my first day of tutoring back in 1997, ever had a student cry. But what is so amazing is she is actually the best of all of them even though she is still not quite where she should be. What i love about her is she is really trying hard. She, like S, really wants to get this. Right now her own personal mission is to learn all her multiplications x 12 on her own. I actually never expected to like her as much as i do. But i really do like her a lot.

The reason i am writing all of this is because they are talking so much about education reform these days. And i only see a teeny tiny fraction of what teachers are going through. I am only tutoring 3 third graders. But all 3 are on different levels.

AND I only work with them for 45 minutes. But after 45 minutes I am fairly exhausted from trying be inclusive of all three of them at their different levels. And i wonder, how in the freaking world does any teacher with a class size of 25 do this?

And yet the news is filled with talk about education reforms and how good a teacher is should be decided by their student test scores. So i have a couple of questions to ask of those folks who believe this shit.And especially the legislators who think they need to do something about this:

#1. S misses LOTS of school because her family needs her at home. So when Sabrina scores low on the tests because she has not been present for the teaching and she has no parent at home working with her why should her teacher be punished?

#2. E should never have been promoted to the second grade, much less the third grade. If you want to evaluate a teacher on student test scores, shouldn't the first grade teacher be blamed more than the current teacher if E cannot add 2+3 in third grade?

and finally #3. What teacher would ever want to teach in a school like this if they felt their evaluation and salary depending on their students?

And i am not even working with the BD kids (behavioral disorder) because Mrs. E likes me and doesn't want to scare me off.

So to anyone who thinks that student test scores should be tied to a teacher's pay i have something to say to you, and it's what i've been saying for years about anyone who wants to rank and rant about teachers being so bad, (and DON"T even get me started about that recent Newsweek article)....Get your fucking ass out there and tutor for awhile and see what teachers are going through first.

Then come and tell me about it. Because until you have been in the classroom, i won't listen to you. And....i won't vote for you either if you believe in these reforms without knowing what a classroom is like for teachers these days.

But to end on a good note. Aren't these kids adorable? (I know you can't see the photos now, but they are indeed adorable.)


~grits~ said...

OH - I love this post! I wish I had the skills to tutor but since I dont - I am extremely grateful to those who have it and use it. My own daughter has benefitted greatly from her teachers and tutors at public school. I am better at stuff like volunteering for the class parties, field trips and stuff like that.

She just recently had the 2 day TAKS test (Texas assessment and knowlege). I was amazed at how much they do through-out the year to prepare these kids. They had 2 sample testing before the big test. They sent home tons of material and helpful hints. They had parent/teacher conferences regarding the child's strenghs/weaknesses. They offered saturday tutoring on top of what they already get in the school day mon-fri. They had a program at the school for the parents - while the kids had an outside program about astronomy and got to look thru a big telescope.

I was really WOWed! My daughter is an average student and I am really proud of how hard she has worked to get to that stage. At private school, she was far below average, but getting passed on to the next grade, getting A's, and not being able to read the simplest words. When I asked for help, they told me to put her in Sylvan. Very tiny classes there too. Ridiculous!

She wasnt stressed about taking this first big test (TAKS) - she stresses more over her weekly spelling test lol.

However, her best friend who has never in her life made anything but A's - was so stressed that she tried to stay home with a stomach-ache both days. She had both her parents up to the nurse's office both days and made it thru the tests, but not w/o tears and going home afterward. I know her parents and they are pretty hard on her to make good grades. She told me once she will get in trouble if she doesnt make A's or 100's on her spelling tests.

So when her mom complained to me, that something must have been said at the school to scare her so much before the TAKS tests, I had to bite my tongue - hard!

The school was awesome in all of this! And I plan to let them know and find some way to thank them before she goes on to Intermediate at a different school next year.

~grits~ said...

oh and they provided a big group breakfast for all the kids as well as healthy snacks thru-out the days of testing. I am damn-near moved to tears for all they do!

susieatl said...

I read this at 4 a.m. and wrote a long post and then didn't save it. is the condensced version - I absolutely agree with you. Our schools are in major trouble and while in some cases it may be the teacher - I'm more willing to put my money on the parents. When I was a social worker 15 years parents that I worked with were either way too involved (always interfering) or could care less.

My parents were the epitome of dysfunction but in the 60's parents supported the school. They only interfered when requested to do so and if I brought home a bad grade - I was not allowed to do much of anything till I pulled it up. Another thing - my parents never did my homework for me. Never did more for me on a project than buy the supplies and drive me to school.

It seems like teachers have to deal with parents who don't parent and encourage their children or they have helicopter parents who think they know more than the teacher.

This is a crisis that is only to get worse - funding cuts are going to make class room sizes larger....and we will be paying for me.

JJ said...

I am sending this to Todd - he is always talking about public education and this pretty much brings it down to what is real. Thanks Jo

IslandPearl said...

I spent 4 years teaching math to Jr hi students - 3 of those years in an inner city middle school. Average class size : more than 30 students, including mainstreamed learning disabled sprinkled in the mix .

And you really don't want to hear my opinion on this.

I agree that parents are part of the problem ... but only part.

Why should the people to whom we entrust the education of our children - our very future - be held to no measurable standards ? Shouldn't there be at least some threshold level expectations?

The current system protects underperforming teachers which fosters mediocrity . I worked with some who were dangerously inept ...but tenured . Short of committing a felony, they had a job for life.

I don't have any solutions . If I did I might have stuck with it.

IslandPearl said...

To clarify - I was a full time public school classroom teacher for those 4 years , and just got fed up with it.

I still teach college classes part time, because I enjoy the teaching part .

And those kids are cute .

susieatl said...

Pearl - I get your point...we need teachers who can teach and inspire...

But the responsibility to learn still should be on the student. I had bad teachers through my life but I wanted good grades so I still pushed and learned as did a lot of my peers.

These kids that JoJo are talking about don't have any support fact Sabrina shouldn't be even living in her environment as keeping a child home to babysit at her age is child abuse..plain and simple. What happened to truancy officers?

I'm sure there are plenty of incompetent teachers but what good teacher would want to teach in those circumstances? I hear horror stories from Bop and other teachers and I can't understand why they stay.

I just remembered that another reason I did well is that my grandmother (who was a teacher who started many of the schools out west - one room schools with all 12 grades) was always teaching me. She was retired but she taught me to read, all the states and the capitals..we would play games and I didn't realize I was learning. So I guess I had an advantage.

I don't think parents realize that they could be teaching their kids as well.

Reading Oprah, one of the things that stands out is that her father made her do a book report a week on a different black figure in history. While this is one form of teaching..I'm willing to bet he did other things to inspire her and build her confidence.

I'm willing to bet that none of these girls get any intellectual stimulation at home..unless you count the t.v.

I don't see it getting better.

equeyaya said...

maybe a combination of peer review and test scores, and ensuring that the support systems are in place, considering attendance, resources, and things like that. it's very complicated, and I don't claim to have the answer but i don't think we should give up on trying to make it better.

i find that my kids, who are smarter than they let on, did worst in classes where they didn't like the teacher. i emphasize their responsibility to pass even if they don't like the teacher, after all in life they will always have to deal with people they don't like. but it points to the impact of really good teachers and how they inspire their students to learn.

grace says that there are teachers at her school who are only in it for coaching, their primary focus is not on teaching at all, and she says they are the worst teachers because they really don't care.

jo, do you have to get permission to post those kids' photos online? i think it's great that you tutor and that you do it where it's needed the most.

troutbirder said...

Oh my what a breath of fresh air.... the way it really works. Thank you.

jojo cucina cucina said...

Thank you troutbirder, it's good to see you again and i see that you are a recently retired social studies teacher.

eque, I don't have permission and that's why i said i won't be keeping this up very long. I will take down the photos of my girls soon. But let's face it, my blog is not viral and nobody who would have a problem with it is going to see it. (You won't see them on my Facebook.)

susiatl, it's not certain that Sabrina is babysitting but that's what i heard from the school folks. She calls in sick. But they are not certain she is sick. Even my other two girls told me she misses LOTS of school. But i cannot imagine a third grader who is as sick as she is. She never seems ill to me when i see her.

pearl, i believe we need accountability. Believe me, working in the union office, i know too well about the mediocre teachers. However, I will never agree with anyone who believes it is about test scores though. And the other thing is there are some really bad administrators out there too who have no business being the judge of the teacher accountability.

I cannot remember how long ago it was when you were teaching but i believe respect for the profession has gone downhill in the past twenty years. Why would anyone want to take this career on for all of what we are talking about? You could not pay me $100,000 a year to teach under the conditions they are teaching at some of these schools.

equeyaya said...

oh, it's a shame to take them down, they are so beautiful. i know we have a policy at work because of HIPAA about not taking/posting photos of our residents.

IslandPearl said...

Trust me Jo, I felt NO respect as a teacher even all those years ago

That is by no means a recent development. No respect from the kids or the parents . No respect from pretty much anyone

I don't think I don't think I ever encountered a parent who could believe their lil angels capable of any wrong doing.

~grits~ said...

lol pearl - I KNOW my 'lil angel' sprouts horns sometimes!! But from being in contact with other parents, you are so right.

Modern Hippie said...

everytime i try and comment the stupid cookie thing gets messed up (it tells me i dont have javascript installed but i do, it does this all the time, and then i will refresh and repost and its there.)

im not rewriting everything though. ugh.