It's been nearly a year since I've last written on Yo Mista! A lot has changed personally. Yet nothing has changed professionally. And I guess that's why I've been so uninspired to write.
Over the last year, my professional life took a backseat to my personal life. When the dust settled, I realized I didn't want to write Yo Mista! anymore. I still felt passionate about my work, but I was somehow uninspired. My day-to-day at school over the last year hasn't changed. I still teach over-age, at-risk students at an alternative high school. Everyday, crazy shit happens in my classroom. Everyday, a student either feels supremely connected to me and my content or feels without direction and completely out of touch with education. My students and I still keep each other on our toes. The only problem is, I'm getting jaded.
This is my fifth year of teaching at-risk youth and I'm getting tired of seeing students arrive to school high as a kite. Their lack of discipline is starting to irritate me. And I can't even blame them - who was there for them to teach them not to wake-and-bake when you're behind in school? No one. Or how to arrive to school on time? No one. Who was there for them to teach them when it's okay to curse and when it's not? No one. No one taught them that gaming, cheating, and hustling isn't a sustainable lifestyle for most. And even if these students did have an adult or two in their lives, that doesn't necessarily mean these adults are any different from their own kids. Babies are having babies and kids mirror the adults they see at home. This problem is rooted well beyond the classroom.
I'm really getting fed up teaching a year-long course that culminates with a high stakes state exam. It's fucking miserable. As a proper (and real) teacher, I want students to love learning. I want to teach them something they can use when they go home. Yet this country's education system can't trust me enough to perform this task, so they created benchmarks. They want data from me, so they can compare my kids to others. So, how do you generate data and compare across states, cities, and districts? You create standards and then test to those standards. When you've done this, you've created arbitrary gauges: everyone has to be "here" by age "X." This is a landscape fit for sheep, not creative outliers.
Forget loving to learn. Sheep are best trained when they've been told since birth about how important school is by over-involved, stressed out parents. That doesn't sound like most of my students' circumstances. Their circumstances haven't allowed them to learn how to be skilled multiple choice test takers. No one at home is prepping them for the college race. For this reason, my students are divergent and creative, and they're unwilling to blindly subscribe to a system that from their perspective funnels them into prison (just Google, "School to Prison Pipeline").
Schools were originally designed to meet the needs of our country's industry and work needs. Today, K-12 schools don't mirror our industrial needs anymore. Rather, they're an endurance test of grit, upbringing, and financial resources. The winners of this race get to graduate with a piece of paper that proves nothing (and proves no skill) and subscribe to the college lifestyle, which is another race but with a greater emphasis on financial resources.
I can't imagine more than 10% of the at-risk population I teach being successful in college, where you're truly independent. No case workers constantly calling your house. No teachers hounding you to turn in missing assignments. No principals showing up at your door asking where you've been. My at-risk student population requires a fuck ton of manpower to squeeze out a little bit of success: we have different levels of administrators, double the number of teachers to keep class sizes down, guidance counselors, more case workers than any school I know, private hallway monitors, and a myriad of after-school programs. Even so, attendance is typically shit. It's clear traditional and non-traditional schools (which are pretty traditional, actually) are still not designed to cater to at-risk students.
I'm not sure what the answer is, but I do know this: I need to stop measuring success using the same measuring stick that existed when I was in high school. That same measuring stick has become a baton, and it's beating our neediest kids down into prison. I need to stop getting mad at students when they can't make it to my 1st period class for the 3rd day in a row. In the past, I couldn't help but hold a secret grudge against them for that, probably because I knew I would never do such a thing - my discipline is crazy (thanks mom), but that doesn't make me a better person.
For my students, constantly coming to class late typically means failing that class. What do they learn when they fail? This consequence means little to nothing to them until it's too late and they're about to age out of high school. Humans learn best in the moment of need. My kids aren't in this rat race towards the perfect GPA for the "reach" college; they just don't buy this shit. Personally, the older I get, the more I know that our current system of education is meaningless. On Wall Street, I worked with a bunch of guys from Ivy League schools, and I was definitely smarter than most of them when it came to financial modeling and using Excel to do math (and I went to a state school). All of this just doesn't matter and what university you went to certainly doesn't make you better. Does going to a university at all make you better? What if you can accomplish something great, be fulfilled, all without a college degree? It's possible through trade schools, apprenticeship models, and quality education programs, but that's not what this country is funding.