Monday, January 28, 2008

Abandon ship?!?!?!

For the past nine years, I have dealt with the usual downside to any job, namely all the crap you have to put up with. A job without crap to deal with is a job that doesn't pay anything. A PAYING job is one whereby one gets paid to deal with crap. But there comes a time where the crap exceeds the reward of being monetarily compensated for it. Call it the "break even" point, but "breaking" point seems more appropriate.

In the past, as a matter of self preservation, I've been able to close my classroom door and take care of my little 20 foot by 20 foot square of the educational edifice. I weathered the monthly, even weekly, bombardment of parent complaints, and administrative mandates. Most of these "disruptions" to my pedagogical paradise came out of hyperbolic, knee-jerk reactions to trivial issues. Others were short-sighted manifestos designed to quell a particular inferno and to foster a genuine sense of cynicism and alienation among those upon who it was forced, i.e. the teachers.

Considering myself a Mathematician first and a teacher second, I let my love of each carry me through the occasional negative aspects that I know any job entails (I spent almost three years prior to teaching a successful homebuilder--believe me, IT'S EASIER TO MANAGE NON-COMPLIANT STUDENTS AND ANGRY PARENTS THAN IT IS TO MANAGE UNDERPAID, OVERWORKED SUBCONTRACTORS.) But slowly over the nine year of my teaching career, I have seen the defined roles of the teacher "devolve" to include more and more things that should be a parent's role. I have seen the burden of education transfer from that of primarily student's responsibility to student AND teacher, to the current status of teacher responsibility. Teachers how now become the stopgap for every social ill. We get the blame and none of the credit. We are viewed as whiny and expendable (what other professional would complain when they have summer's off?)

New educational edicts empower students to be at their worst. We are implicitly enabling students to ride the tide of mediocrity. Without and real standards of conduct, individual responsibility, or work ethic, we are producing a generation of students who are not "left behind" because they are spoon-fed and given piggy back rides across the finish line with no REAL, I mean REAL, DEEP, AND SUBSTANTIVE concern for how they will land beyond the finish line of high school and that standardized test.

Under the guise of "the best interest of the student," we adopt policies that help the student "feel good" about turning in late work. We reinforce that it is "Okay" to fail several times, as long as they eventually try, whenever they feel like it. We are sending a message that the world revolves around THEM, and that the safety net will always BE there. How far from the truth that is, but by the time they realize it, if they ever do, they are no longer part of our "data," so . . . . good luck to them after that.

Take for instance the scary, threatening comments from my "Tackle TAKS" video (see it here) I did last year in an effort to "boost" student moral as they went into their state standardized test. I busted my butt in the classroom preparing students for that darn test, and even got my butt busted in my efforts to be a part of the game in which we all play. Here are the comments of one viewer who came to the realization that public education has come down to "passing one test" and not so much about espousing real learning. He responded three times within 24 hours.

  • fu@$ the taks I faild math part and dint graduate cuz of it why dont you fu@$s show us how to make money taks dosent make money it just makes familyes worry more
  • my teachers was to petrafide in class to teach
  • I know you teacher put all these thumbs down we are just speaking the truth you dont need taks I make about 500 a day from my own online bussines its not wat you know its who you know fu@$ school they left me I didnt leave thim im from the dfw were lots of theachers see bad thing so they are perafide every year i think teachers in the hood are one of the best cuz they see a young kids strugle
Or take this comment:
  • I think TAKS is a waste of our time!!!I think that teachers are too busy preparing children for the TAKS and not for college!!! Also children are still being left behind. I think that we shouldnt have the TAKS test but instead just Final exams to see where we stand. TAKS testing puts alot of pressure on us students. We want to go to school to learn something thats going to carry us through life, not to prepare us for the TAKS!!! Thats my honest oppinion!!!
Unfortunately, we are going the other direction. Currently, the AP exam is a cumulative, comprehensive, rigorous exam that requires a students to demonstrate real understanding of, in my case, calculus, for which they can earn up to 8 hours of college credit for passing (BC calculus.) It is nearly impossible for someone to pass the test by merely being "taught the test" itself. I have had great results in both teaching this subject, preparing students for college, AND, coincidentally, getting them to pass this exam. I pour my heart and soul and every energy into doing this effectively. I have been certified by the College Board to teach both AB and BC calculus, I have attended week-long summer institutes training to be more effective, and I have even been selected as an AP Calculus Reader, a prestigious appointment where I get to actually grade the AP exams.

The current, back-breaking, decree on table is that the most intense, most rigorous, fastest-past math class on campus, BC Calculus, a class that I started at the request of students in the top 10 of their class (not just top 10 percent--students who are applying for Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, UT, Rice, etc) and their parents has been suddenly mandated to be a dual-credit class. This means that I, not having a Master's degree, will be unable to teach these awesome kids with whom I feel I connect so easily with, but more importantly, it means that a small, local, private college with mediocre status, will accredit the course, whereby students can simultaneously earn college credit. It's essentially "take a high school class, and get college credit, as if it were a college class." Unfortunately, the accrediting college does not have much control over the quality in which it's delivered. They, instead, rely on the "professionalism" of the high school to maintain the college standards. This really equates to a crap-shoot on the dedication and qualifications of the teacher, with at least a Master's degree, teaching the class. It's not surprising that few major Universities actually accept these hours towards a degree. Some might offer "general elective credit," but the students who will be taking BC calculus, they will get NOTHING, but instead will have to start back at ground one: Cal I

Compare this to the 9 students out of 14 last year that I had earn 5s (the highest score possible) on the BC Calculus exam. These students went off to UT, Villanova, University of Virginia, and MIT with 8 hours of RECOGNIZED college credit. Some retook Calculus II (not I), and several went directly into Calculus III, where I can happily report that they are doing superbly.

I can't help but take a step back and think of how the captain (or captains) commanding the ship are steering it into such shallow, shallow waters. I believe it's either time for mutiny on the grand seas, or as I fear, it's time to abandon the ship altogether.



Anonymous said...

keep steering straight ahead, it is all worth it when you hear how your previous kids are doing in college!

Anonymous said...

My application to the other district has been officially submitted!

Anonymous said...

Again, I say, I feel your pain, because it's my pain, too.

I really don't know what else to say at this point. I'm just gonna keep on keeping on, as they say. And as my dad will say, "this too shall pass," and "time wounds all heels."

kwkorpi said...

I can appreciate time wounding all heels. What's problematic for me, is that in accepting that things will "pass", we become callous to excellence, morality, violence, vulgarity, crime, . . . whatever. Accepting it, turning a blind eye to it might be better for one's sanity, but some things are worth the resistance.

I still remember how controversial the TV kiss between Roseanne and Mariel Hemingway was. It shocked the nation. We all accepted it, and now there is much worse on public TV on a daily basis, even in primetime cartoons.

Anonymous said...

I took the BC calculus class that Mr. Korpi is referring to and I would not ever want it to be dual credit. I took a dual credit class in high school and did not even bother trying to have the credit transferred because I am pretty sure my school would have laughed at it and I believe most other universities would do the same.

I agree with you completely that they are starting to spoon feed the students and not ask them to work.

I don't know what to tell you except you did a great job with my class and I think its ridiculous that they would want to change the course especially since you won't be able to teach it.

Anonymous said...

What is particularly disappointing is none of the powers to be even thought of asking you if this was a good idea.