Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Handrail of Mediocrity

Today at school was a Monday. It was also the only "real" school day this week, consisting of a full schedule of four ninety-minute classes. I used the time to teach, especially since the next four days are the days in which we administer the TAKS test. This means that for the rest of the week, I will see each class only once: two ninety-minute classes each afternoon. Knowing that I'm going to be losing a lot of instructional time this week to the TAKS test (which, may I remind you, is a test that covers the MINIMAL skills that the state of Texas requires every student to know), I realized that I had to make to most of the class time available.

This meant fighting the culture of DO NOTHING OTHER THAN TAKS AND REST (WHICH MEANS WATCHING MOVIES) DURING TAKS WEEK, AND THEN DO NOTHING AFTERWARD. Teaching PreAP and AP classes, I expect that each of my students will not only pass the TAKS exam (and thus go on to great things in life with their high school diploma), but also pass with a commended score of at least a ninety percent (which is why I've spent fifty-percent of the class periods during the last five weeks to TAKS training, not to mention the fact that I was required to do so.) Consequently, I move on with my Precalculus curriculum, lest I inherited a defiecient group next year in Calculus (AP scores matter more for this group that TAKS scores.)

However, I was in a very elite minority in sharing these views. The majority of teachers and administers believe in the "shutting down" for TAKS week philosophy. For instance, a school group wanted to have an elective after-school meeting this week. It was nixed by administration. Apparently, meeting outside the regularly scheduled school day cut into the time which can be better spent studying for TAKS or resting up for it. After this group had the brazen audacity to request such a blasphemous event on the most sacred of weeks, an official e-mail went out curtly admonishing others against the same malfeasance. I read this e-mail after concluding my after-school AP review session which lasted from five to seven. I wondered how negatively I had affected the students in attendance, especially the three juniors (who have to take their exit-level exams, rather than the seniors who get to sleep in the next three days.) In my effort to rationalize my actions and assuage my guilt, I told the juniors to get plenty of rest and have a niced balanced breakfast of cereal and tuna fish (It's brain food, you know.)

Earlier in the day, while I was running errands during my conference period, I noticed several classrooms that had their lights off and were watching movies. As much as I love "Cars," I didn't see any education purpose of it being shown on a regularly-scheduled school day, especially in a Geography class. What it DID provide, however, was a "free" for, not only the students, but for the teacher (pardon the exaggeration) as well. What's even more sad is that I doubt the administration would have found anything wrong with this pedagogical "cop-out" since the movie WAS G-rated, had a good message, and since it was TAKS week. Chalk another one up to empowering our students with excuses, eschewing responsibility, and espousing shameful dissoluteness. Too bad the true message of "Cars" was lost on the inattentive students and the more powerful, contrary message of the viewing itself.

As for the rest of the week, the TAKS test will go on, and so will my classes. We're continuing our intensive review for the upcoming AP exams, learning Lagrange error bound, and learning about the law of sines and cosines. I also will be holding an unsanctioned AP review again this Thursday . . . after school. Shall I be excommunicated? Burned at the stake? Call me an educational martyr: I still believe in teacher the student what's best for him or her, and not just what is educationally expedient for me. Perhaps they'll make an animated movie about me someday to which which students and teachers across the nation can slobber through as they get ready for TAKS.


Anonymous said...

Another fine example of how our schools cater to remediation. I wish tax dollars were somehow tied to acceleration. Oh, I forgot, this is the public school system where the under-education of our brightest students is worth the cost to ensure that no child is left behind.

kwkorpi said...

"No child left behind," should be refined to "No child gets ahead."