Since I rarely have the energy to write, I’m going to copy and paste below part of an email I just sent to some friends from home. It got a little preachy, but I think it contains some important thoughts…
Also, congrats to the new 2011 corps members! You just signed up for the ride of your life.
Until next time…
Things are moving along down here – nothing major to report, although my sense of what is “major” probably isn’t very well aligned with the rest of the world. It struck me on the drive home today that what I want more than anything for all of you to get out of my emails is one thing, and I’m about to be blunt, so stop reading now if you must… the American education system is SERIOUSLY fucked up. I continue to understand that more and more every day, but for those of you not currently working in the field of education I would highly encourage you to read a little bit sometime about the state of education in America.
That’s not to say that I don’t love what I’m doing, because I am among the few that do. But I don’t love it because I love teaching, or because my school is awesome, or because my school district is actually doing anything to change the status quo. I love what I’m doing because I love my students. Some of the ones who haven’t caught on yet to the fact that I don’t have kids of my own still ask how many kids I have – my standard response now is that I have 150 and they drive me nuts every day. (Many don’t get it, but I love them anyway.) What gets me down, frequently, I might add, is that I’m teaching high school to kids ages 14-20, and no matter how much I love them I can’t undo the incredible disservices that have already been done to them by their schools here.
Academically, they are behind. The average African-American student is already 3 years behind his white peers by the 4th grade, so you can use your imagination to envision how far behind MY students are, by high school, having attended some of the WORST below-average schools in the nation. (Yes, the district I teach in has the third worst graduation rate for black males IN THE COUNTRY.) While I realize that this is the part that I’m supposed to be concerned about as part of TFA, what really gets me is the lack of compassion that many people, including staff at my school, have for our students. I’ve already gotten a reputation for having a bond with some of the “worst” kids at school, and all it’s really taken is listening to them. I swear to you some of these kids have gone their whole lives without anyone ever telling them that they are smart, that they can make something of themselves, or that someone cares what they deal with when they go home everyday.
One kid who I’ve taken under my wing constantly gets kicked out of his remedial math class during my planning period, so he’ll often bring his work and sit in my room to get it done. A couple weeks ago, I was having a conversation with him in which I casually said that he was very intelligent. I didn’t think much of it until I saw the look on his face. He asked me if I really thought he was smart, and when I told him he was he told me all about how he wants to go to college to play football and get a degree in computer engineering. He’s one of my favorites. I literally don’t think anyone has ever told this kid that he’s smart. Today he came to me to discuss some problems that he’s having with his girlfriend. I’m telling you, I love these kids so much and they are the reason I get up every morning and go to school with a smile on my face.
A couple weeks ago I helped to facilitate Challenge Day at our school – if you’ve seen the MTV show “If You Really Knew Me,” that’s basically what it’s like. The show didn’t come to our school – Challenge Day is actually run by an organization that’s been around for a couple decades. Anyway, it was hands-down THE most emotionally draining thing I have ever done in my life. Facilitators have to participate in the same capacity as the kids, so not only did I learn A LOT about my students but they learned a lot about me as well. I think it’s had a positive effect on the students that participated – I just wish more of them had had the opportunity to experience it.
A couple fun things – my roommate was just in the newspaper here because of some letters that her students wrote in response to a recent article. One of the local columnists here wrote an article about a boy who graduated from my school last year and has been very successful. The article is here – http://jacksonville.com/opinion/blog/401026/tonyaa-weathersbee/2010-08-31/students-can-achieve-high-levels-raines-and – but the real story is that someone posted a comment online that said the following:
“Having an IB program at a school such as Ribault isn’t important. It’s a waste of scarce educational resources on a population incapable of using them, sort of like throwing a golden anchor to a drowning man, or asking a person with Parkinson’s to thread a needle.
At Ribault and Raines you are not dealing with an academically stellar student body that, but for an IB program, can’t reach its full potential. You’re dealing with students from underperforming grammar and middle schools that haven’t got the academic fundamentals, motivation, or intellect to comprehend even the regular high school curriculum. Using the Florida School Accountability data, Ribault has earned a “D” only twice in the last eight years. The other six years it earned “Fs.” Raines has arguably done better. It earned “Ds” in three of the last eight years, but “Fs” the last three years. Raines and Ribault students are drowning and don’t need a golden anchor. As shaky as they are, they sure can’t thread the academic needle.
Jeremiah Cesar and his unidentified IB Certificated classmate are proof that a miniscule percentage of the Ribault/Raines student body can excel academically. They, like any other qualified DCPS student, could have attended Stanton or Paxon and an IB program. They would not have suffered if there had been no IB program at Ribault.
I hesitate to offer R/R students even AP courses considering their abysmal performance on the AP test. Last year 414 Ribault students took AP exams. Twelve passed for a 2.9% passing rate. At Raines 319 took the exams. Two passed for a .6% passing rate.
These students don’t need a college prep program. They are not college material. They need vocational training. In their academic subjects, offer advanced (Honors) classes that are less rigorous than AP for the few capable of work at that level. For the academic nuggets like Cesar, enroll them at Stanton or Paxon. Take the $200K/yr it takes to run the Ribault IB program and buy the equipment and hire the teachers needed to run a quality voc-ed curriculum at these schools.”
My roommate’s students, who happen to be in the Early College program, wrote responses that were just published last week! You can read them here if you’re interested. http://jacksonville.com/opinion/letters-readers/2010-11-26/story/education-dont-underestimate-ribault Some of them are my students as well, so I’m extremely proud of them.