Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Status of Teachers

My wife recently sent me a very interesting debate posted in the New York Times about what can be done to elevate the status of public school teachers. You can read the debate here. If you can't read every author's contribution, try to at least read Patrick Welsh's piece entitled "Consider Cultural Differences."

Overall, I think very few understand how intricate and complex the education system is. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop those in power from attempting to fix the problem. There is no "quick fix" and the problem is often misdiagnosed by those in power (politicians, school systems, unions, other bureaucracies, etc).

Ultimately, I think it's up to the society in which the teacher operates that determines his or her worth.

Monday, March 28, 2011

We Regret to Inform You

Two of my top students from last year are seniors this year. From September until January, I coached them through the college application process: from prepping for the SAT to essay writing. I wrote a short post about how excited I was to help these students through the process here. I've actually written about one of these students, Kareem, previously as well.

It's the end of March now and their decision letters have started coming in through the mail. Unfortunately, there haven't been any positive ones yet.  Both students started receiving rejection letters a few weeks ago. Kareem texts me every time he hears from a school:
Hey. I didn't get into [college name].
Well that's one great fucking way to wake up on a Saturday morning: good morning Mista, thanks for encouraging me to apply to all these schools that never wanted me anyway. God-fucking-dammit.

When they received their first few letters, I told them to remain positive and upbeat. Don't get discouraged. You wrote great essays and you come from a pretty damn diverse background. Sure, your SAT scores weren't stellar and your cumulative GPAs weren't terrific, but you guys maintained an A average while turning your lives around in a transfer high school. This shows you are recommitted to education and actually appreciate what you have, as opposed to those who suffer from senioritis at this point in time.

Apply to the best of the best. Then apply to the 2nd tier schools. Then apply to the back-ups. You're bound to get in somewhere. Right?

Well, most colleges have rejected them thus far. I don't get it. Their essays were good. Their grades at my school were incredible. Their essays provided the rationale for their prior academic performance. They applied to liberal arts schools and argued how the one thing they've learned from their experiences is that an education is one thing that can't be taken away from them. And now they get the news to go fuck themselves. God dammit, I don't know what to do.

At this point, I suppose I need to grow a pair and have a sit down chat with them over lunch about why life isn't fair. Well, I guess they don't really need me to explain that to them, but they do need me for encouragement.

There's nothing wrong with going to a community college and applying for a transfer. But that just means you need to have a strong fight within you. I'm confident they can do it, but will they choose to? I'm not sure.

Do they think I betrayed them? Do they think I had them apply to shit tons of schools for nothing?

For me, it's a lot easier letting myself down than others. This wasn't supposed to happen.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Questionable Answer Choice

When I'm making a quiz or exam, the most challenging part for me is coming up with incorrect answer choices. I suppose coming up with one or two wrong choices is easy enough: work through the problem and make a simple mistake. It's coming up with that fourth answer choice that is incredible difficult and I have to admit I spend a little too much time thinking about it. Sometimes I just run out of ideas and put something incredibly stupid.  

Students in my Personal Wealth Management course recently took a quiz covering stocks. I stared at the response below for a solid five minutes before laughing my ass off.

Exhibit A: What would CNBC's Jim Cramer say?
In retrospect, I shouldn't have marked this incorrect given the causes of the ongoing financial crisis. Extra credit to you sir!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's One of Those Weeks

Why the hell do we, NYC public school teachers, have to bribe our students to get them to do what they're supposed to be doing? How big do the bribes have to be? And ultimately, shouldn't we realize that the bribes don't matter because if our students don't value what an education can do for them, then it doesn't matter how much we pay/offer them: they won't put their heart into it.

So, why do I ask such a depressing question that probably doesn't offer any answers, just more questions?

It's been one of those weeks where I've been wondering if I have the stamina and mental endurance to make it in this profession. I suppose I do, but maybe not teaching over-age, under-credited students. I can literally feel the black turning to gray in my hair during the school day. And I'm not exactly in a hurry to look like John Slattery, regardless of how cool he is on Mad Men.

I accept that some of my students face harsh realities: no parental involvement, broken homes, no homes, teen pregnancies, the list goes on. Not all of them have this, but some do. The problem is, these realities have reordered their priorities and for most, it has taken away their ability to see that what they're neglecting right now is their only way out. And if they can't see the benefit of going through the system, will they truly be able to convince their children to stay in school? Just thinking about this gives me a headache.

These kids. Our schools. They're fucked unless we get some radical change. And pushing to get rid of teacher unions or threatening to lay off teachers is hardly radical. It's fucking stupid. Talk about missing the point (and the problem).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Diane Ravitch is on The Daily Show Tonight

So there's a major battle going on in the state of Wisconsin over massive state budget cuts affecting public workers (teachers, firefighters, police, etc.).

Diane Ravitch wrote this piece a while ago summarizing why teachers in particular are outraged. The article summarizes the situation quite well.

In case you may not know, Diane Ravitch, is a Research Professor of Education at New York University and has written several books about education. She's going to be on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart tonight to discuss her latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. I really want to read this book.
Note: I accept late birthday presents.
I highly recommend you catch this segment if you're even slightly interested in how the current education system in the United States fails its students and how this situation might possibly be remedied. I'll be watching it for sure.