579: The dumbing down of America

My brand spanking new hubs has obtained a job managing one of two employment agencies in our tiny south Georgia town. I have taught high school and middle school (some) for 26 years in Georgia (all over the state). What he is reporting is a confirmation of what I have been observing for decades.

Employment agencies offer their services free to job seekers. Companies contract with them to vet their potential employees, but the company ultimately gets the final say in any hiring, and the employment agency gets a finder’s fee for vetting candidates on behalf of the employing company.

As part of the candidate process, there is a drug screening, an employment application and interview, and a screening employability skills exam. Sort of a very low-level SAT. VERY low level. The questions include: how many inches are in three yards. How many is a half dozen. What is 50% of 150. Plus other similar mind-blowing, difficult, major league, scholarly questions. Most applicants (teens to adults) fail the screening exam.

I have taught high school in my state for 26 years. His results absolutely do not surprise me. And we are getting worse, not getting better- I do not care WHAT the government pundits are telling you about improving test scores.

Our schools took out career/life classes like shop and home economics. They replaced them with curriculum that presupposes all of our students are headed off to college. Yeah, right. The governor of Georgia just released his new “mission goals” for Georgia schools. It includes the statement that ALL Georgia students will earn college or career credit before they complete high school. “•Every child in Georgia will earn college and/or career credit before they graduate high school.” Yeah, right.

Our school’s students get multiple, multiple chances to complete work, including retaking major tests. Try that in real life – unlimited do-overs. Only GOD is that kind. And, as a teacher, I am forbidden by my school administration to assign a score of zero when a student turns in nothing for an  assignment. I have to assign them points of credit – for NOTHING. Last time I checked, breathing was not an academic activity.

What I am allowed to teach in the courses I am employed to teach is mandated by the state government. I cannot teach reading to a child who cannot read. LITERALLY, not my job. I am teaching pre-Engineering. ONLY. Even though I am also state certified in English, grades 6-12.

I try. Invoking the overarching academic goal of literacy skills, I  require my students to write reflection essays in MLA format over their Engineering assignments. I have high school students who cannot write ONE correct and complete sentence, much less a coherent essay. Some cannot even to this day capitalize their first and last NAMES on a paper. I wish I was lying. And this, from native speakers of English. Our Spanish native speaking kids are blowing the American-born kids out of the water. Let’s not even discuss the MATH. I have taught how to figure the square yardage needed to replace the carpet in a room EIGHT SEPARATE TIMES, and still have high school students in the class who cannot compute it correctly. Carpet sellers, you may freely rook customers in south Georgia, because they have no clue you are going to cheat them. Have at it.

And the beauty of this? The government, and most parents, will tell you it is the teacher’s fault, all of it.

Yeah, right.

4 more years.

4 more years.

My mantra.

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568: Effort

effort

As another school year winds to a close, I am forcibly reminded that many, many, many people have a ridiculous sense of entitlement. I posted in my classroom a few weeks ago (for exactly this time) the statement “Don’t be upset over the RESULTS you did not get from the EFFORT you did not invest.”

As a teacher, I provide students with multiple learning opportunities: assignments. I count (grade) most of them. Our school uses a continuous average grading system, which means we do not set in stone your grade as a student each reporting term. So, your final grade is not determined by the averages of your first, second, third, and fourth grading term results, but instead, the overall average at the end of the year.  This allows students who do poorly to bring up their averages and earn credit for the year.

It also means students who have done moderately to marginally well all year can fail the entire year (even posting a passing average for the first three quarters) by slacking off at the end – which is RICHLY coming to pass. It is amazing how seven or eight zeros at the tail end can drop a close to failing year-long average right over the cliff.

I have warned students in every class that if their averages are in the low 70’s, that they are in danger of failing the course for the entire year, and they are, as usual, ignoring me. Problem is, time is short for completing work, and I am not grading anything turned in late now at full credit, PLUS, I am not accepting work from FIRST,  SECOND, and THIRD TERMS at this late date. Seriously?? You even bothered to ask?

I watched you sit and do nothing for days and weeks, while I chivvied you and reminded you and redirected you countless times, and NOW you get concerned about course credit and passing averages? NOW you want me to provide you with “extra credit” work? Nope.

In twenty-six years of teaching, I have NEVER, EVER, not even ONCE, had a child fail a class I taught with low grades on work they submitted. Not once. Every single child (and I work mostly with high schoolers) who fails has done so on ZEROS: work they just chose not to complete and submit for scoring.

I can work with a student who shows me some effort, even if it is not up to standard. As an employer, I want someone to work every day at the tasks I have set for them to do. As a teacher, I want exactly the same thing. I can help you if you are working. You can ask questions, and we can fix your work on the spot to provide you with better scores. You can get feedback on where this work could be improved.

I do not “give” grades: you earn them and I post them. I can credit someone who is working, even when they do not possess the native ability to do it at A or B quality work. THAT is not required. It is wonderful and appreciated and celebrated, but so is the determined effort to get the work done and submitted on time when assigned. I cannot post credit for something that is not submitted.

And the time of reckoning is at hand.

 

563: Uh, oh……

a-book-a-week-image

Our little high school is purging old texts from its collection, and teachers were invited to come and select those books they wanted to keep in their classrooms, as well as just to take some for pleasure reading – yes, I do read for pleasure, and no, it isn’t porn, unless you count cheesy romances.

Raccoon

As I was sorting through the 400 or so volumes, I came upon a copy of Rascal, by Sterling North. It is a novel. About a boy and his pet raccoon. For tweens and high school youth. In the discard pile. I was flabbergasted. This novel was so popular they made a movie out of it. Why would such a book be in the throwaway pile, especially as it was certainly not yet worn out?? Flummoxed, I open the book at random and started reading a page – and then I completely understood.

With a few rare exceptions, our current high school students cannot comfortably read this book anymore. Its language, diction and reading level are above their capacity. As I put Rascal into my keep pile and sorted through more books, I found my suspicion confirmed by book after book that I opened to peruse, chock full of language our students cannot read and comprehend.

As we strive to keep every student in school, to educate every child, what we have done is created a couple of generations of functional illiterates. Yes, fewer of our modern day students are dropping out, and more are earning high school diplomas….but what does that diploma signify these days? We are slowing down instruction, shallowing content, and accommodating students of lower achievement at the expense of the brightest students, who get to sit in class just as long as the slowest learner in their class, because there are few options to accelerate learning if you are capable of acceleration. Lessons are tailored for the midrange – those who test in the ‘acceptable’ range, so the school does not lose face or funds.

One of my high school students (and I do not teach English, although I am certified to teach it) has a bright mind, who writes as though he is a Special Education middle schooler. His spelling is hit or miss (mostly miss) and his grammar and mechanics are atrocious. I referred him for additional help (since English is not one of the curriculum standards for my current courses) because he is bright enough to go to college, and he takes AP level courses. No dice – he tests well enough on the multiple choice, school and state mandated exams that no one will give him help during the school day to address his weaknesses in mastering his own language. He does not qualify for help. The best I can do is offer to tutor him after school, for free, if he wants to. Yeah, right.

He will get into college, because the SAT is a multiple choice test. But I fear he will not be able to stay there, because college is writing papers. *sigh*

The more days that pass, the more I appreciate the fact that I am close to retirement age.

 

562: International teaching jobs, and good advice

images

I taught internationally for five years before I returned to the USA to get married. So far, HE’S been worth it, but teaching abroad was certainly more rewarding than what I am doing now, PLUS the travel opportunities. But, where do you get a teaching job overseas?

I joined two subscription sites, and several free sites, that list available teaching positions for teachers with a passport and a love of teaching. The one that trumped all the others was this one: www.joyjobs.com

This site lists jobs the other sites have never heard of, AND they have a training program online where they teach you what to do in order to get hired. AND they help you set up and host for you a professional website so you can say to schools – here is my professional website for more information – and THAT is a big help. The people who run the site are quite knowledgeable, and will assist you if you ask. Igor helped me tweak my cover letter with excellent results.

A year’s subscription is less than 40 bucks -and was worth every penny.

550: Overwhelmed and undervalued

Teacher receiving an apple from student

The first year at a new job is generally more difficult than the succeeding years. You have the routine of the machine that is this particular organization (different one to the other) down to some manageable extent after the first year, and you somewhat know in advance what they are likely to dump into your already-busy lap, and know somewhat when they are likely to do it.

The reports that they wait (often) until the day they are due to tell you about (and sometimes the day after they are due) to tell you about. The routine processes that you need to know to perform your job on a daily basis, which they did not tell you in advance of performing that job, and left you to discover unpleasantly and then struggle to figure out on your own, or go crawling to someone who does know, confessing your ignorance and begging for a mini-lesson to get you up to speed.

The five different professional development courses, all running concurrently, that take up your 50 miserly minutes of precious planning time that you have each day – assuming there is not a parent conference scheduled, or an after-work meeting that you are required to attend, or an out-of-town meeting you are required to attend on what was supposed to be the time you have left over after work to actually live your life – assuming you actually have any such thing.

The planning you need to do so as not to appear a drooling, blithering idiot in the daily performance of your job (at least in the eyes of those observing, and YES, Virginia, they ARE observing).

All those things that were unwelcome surprises during the first year are familiar minor annoyances the second year, not panic-attack-times like they were that first hectic, far-too-busy, overloaded first year. The second year, you can look back on the chaos of the first and smile a little, knowing that you made it with your sanity largely (at least to casual observers) intact. So the second year is better. Somewhat.

None of that helps a whole lot while you are in the mentally and emotionally tense, gut-wrenching, hyper-ventilating maelstrom of the first year. *sigh*

549: School

Jennifer Johnson, a teacher at Evergreen Campus of Health Sciences & Human Services High School (HS3) in Seattle, WA, works with students in her classroom on May 20, 2014.

Jennifer Johnson, a teacher at Evergreen Campus of Health Sciences & Human Services High School (HS3) in Seattle, WA, works with students in her classroom on May 20, 2014.

Being a teacher is a very mixed blessing. Yeah, I know what everybody says about teaching, how we are not paid enough, and how the job expects you to basically perform at God level, and how everything that happens in somehow your fault (as if you can control the choices that other people make on a daily basis). Yeah, I know.

Actually I went into teaching because I like teaching, because it was steady income, and because of the time off. Considering how much time off there is in a year’s contract, the pay isn’t horrible. Few other jobs get as much time off. No, we are not paid for our time off. We are paid for approximately (depending on the school system and their instructional calendar) 190 days of work. To keep us from starving during the summer, school systems now divide our 190 days’ worth of pay into twelve payments. THAT equals a fairly mediocre income, considering all the certification and licensing requirement hoops that teachers must jump through to qualify. But for approximately 246 days of the year (190 plus the weekends) of work time, it’s still not too bad.

Still, no teacher works a 40 hour week. If you are a teacher working 40 hours a week, you suck as a teacher. Period. Efficiency be damned, there is far too much to get done in that 190 days for you to be able to do a quality job in 40 hours a week. EVERY teacher worth their salt works far more than 40 hours a week during the months that school is in session, and often works even more days during their ‘vacation’ during the summer for certification purposes – or chaperoning student groups on summer conferences.

It is no fun being the world’s scapegoat. I know intimately how the USA feels, accused of being the root cause of all evil on the planet. Apparently, in my dedicated career quest to make a difference and improve the lives of countless people, I am considered just an inept, bumbling fool, ultimately responsible for everyone’s poor choices, and certainly not a professional educator striving mightily each day to inspire and motivate other people’s children to be and do better than they were and did yesterday. Ministers, missionaries, and priests are nodding in rueful acknowledgement of that truth. Let me ask you this – how am I supposed to fix in one hour a day what the rest of the world has screwed up in the previous hours (and years) before this kid walked into my classroom? The fact that I work on it again, and again, and again, each day, is a testament to my dedication and stubbornness. Or my complete and total idiocy – I am not sure which some days.

518: Job Security

Teacher with a laptop

Most people feel pretty secure in their employment – or as much as you can in an uncertain economy that can cause even a well-established and well-managed company to have to downsize their staff. Most know, barring a major screw-up on their part, they will be employed right on, barring any major economic problems beyond everyone’s control. You get hired, you do your job, your job is pretty secure.

And, then there are teachers.

Teachers get a yearly contract. I know why school systems do this – they don’t want to have an employee walk out in the middle of the school year, leaving them with classes to cover, and little clear idea of where and how to proceed. To help prevent that, school systems in the USA offer teachers a yearly contract, that covers employment for the upcoming school year. And ONLY the upcoming school year.That means, every year, every stinking year, every teacher in the USA faces the possibility that their contract won’t be renewed, and they will be looking for a job, at the last minute.

The truth of the matter is that teachers do leave awful schools in the middle of a contract – it is called breaking your contract, and every school I have ever applied to tried very, very hard to discover if I had ever done such a heinous thing, ever before, to any other school. It is severely frowned upon – you broke your word not to leave them in the lurch, regardless of what they did to you as an employee.  They don’t want teachers who are willing to leave the school if the job sucks. And sometimes the job sucks. Sometimes any job sucks.

I got through an awful year at my second school by promising myself three times a day I would quit. I said I would quit when I got there, first thing. Once I was there, I said I’d quit at lunchtime. Once I made it to lunch, I promised I’d quit at the end of the day. At the end of the day, I got out of there and went home. I finished that miserable year. Without breaking my contract. It was miserable.

In twenty-five years of teaching, I have never had a secure job. When school systems dithered too long to offer contracts for the next year, I usually applied to another school who was looking. I have to be employed. I cannot wait and hope. At least as an international teacher, most contracts are for two years, so I get to do the whole searching thing only every OTHER year, instead of EVERY year, like in the USA.

Meh.