Thursday, February 28, 2013

Which 49% of Your Students Won't Graduate?

Today Logan, my Emory partner, came in for his weekly observation. During a lull, he asked if I’d heard the statistic that only 51% of students in Atlanta Public Schools graduate from high school. He was shocked by this statistic- and rightly so. However, this is a statistic that we teachers hear almost daily, so I wasn’t at all taken aback by it. After he left, I started thinking about the difference in our reactions. It’s not that I’ve gotten complacent, but facts like that don’t have the same impact on me that they used to. The problem is, they should! As I look at my 19 first graders, there is no way I would want to pick 9-10 students who not only won’t go to college, but won’t even graduate high school. Unfortunately, that is what the statistics say will happen.

At this point in the year, teachers are exhausted. We are inundated with data to remind us of previous years’ failures; we are realizing that we are behind on our curriculum maps just over a month before state testing; and our students are at least as burnt out as we are. Long story short, it can be easy to get caught up in the day to day work and forget about what really brought us into the classroom in the first place. We don’t teach just so students can learn the state standards. We teach, because we want to set our students up for success- not just on their weekly assessments or state tests, but throughout their academic careers and beyond. We teach, because we want to shape our students as people and have a positive and lasting impact on their life’s trajectory. We teach, because a 51% graduation rate is unacceptable.

I am so grateful that there is a fresh pair of eyes in my classroom, another person who is invested in my students’ education. A 51% high school graduation rate is absolutely unacceptable and should be infuriating each time I hear it. With just over 10 weeks left in the school year, it is more important than ever that I put the conscious effort in every day to ensure that I am preparing my students for success, not just next year, but throughout their entire academic careers. My students deserve better than 51%, and I owe it to them to give that to them.
-Jenny Drucker

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The day there were no subs...

I expected last Wednesday in Rachel's class to start out like the others, with the kids streaming in, saying hello, and sitting down to start their 'Do Now'. But Wednesday would be the day that I really saw an issue that teachers all over the country face. I happened to meet Rachel at the front entrance, and the first statement she had for me was a warning: "Today is going to be crazy, I'm really sorry". Turns out two teachers were out sick, and no substitutes were able to come out to Freedom, so Rachel had 16 extra students in both her afternoon classes. I watched, stunned, as kids filed in, those who were supposed to be in that period sitting in their desks, while others sat on the floor or along a low wall in the back of the classroom. Needless to say, they acted out. And who could blame them? Imagine yourself at 12, your day is scheduled a very specific way, and suddenly you get into class at 8:00am and your teacher isn't there. This means you're sitting on the floor of a classroom you don't belong in, and you have to come back in 3 hours. How do you hold them accountable for being disruptive? What else are they going to do, knowing that they'll be learning the same thing later in the day? I have to say that I was stressed out after only being there a few hours, and this is something that happens every other week. You can be an incredible teacher, and plan great, interactive lessons, and you still have to struggle with these issues. 

And I can't help but wonder, are subs so hard to find because this is a lower-income area? Do subs not want to deal with kids that test teachers and have larger problems they deal with daily than a bad grade? I'm sure that's not entirely fair, nor entirely accurate, but what do you think? How can we work, as professionals outside of the teaching world, to get classes covered for sick teachers? Do we need better pay/incentives for subs or within certain districts? Do we finally tackle the overcrowding issue at a national level? Rachel had too many kids in her classroom for half a year before it was taken care of, does that speak to a need for more changes? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

This week in C2C, as well as in my Curriculum & Instruction class, I learned about the different ways in which people learn.  It was informative to hear what I learned in my Curriculum class re-iterated by thee TFA teachers and exemplified in their different classroom settings.  They took a typical lesson plan about asthma as a health topic and adopted it to the different age groups and populations they teach.  It was fascinating to hear what types of instruction worked best for different types of students. For instance, an interactive class activity involving physical exercise may work effectively in a 6th grade class.  However, incorporating physical exercise in a lesson plan for adults may not work nearly as well.  In fact, you may risk losing student interest as a result!

What resonated particularly for me was understanding how to adapt different learning styles and strategies into a lesson plan, as well as how to combine content-based learning with skill acquisition and development.  I couldn't help but imagine a mosaic in my mind.  An educator is a scientific artist using a lesson plan to craft something beautiful for the benefit of learning minds.  Such a person must be able to teach a student content about asthma, for instance, but also must think of ways to teach a skill, such as group cooperation, or note-taking or reading comprehension.  I can only imagine the amount of creativity, thought and long-term planning must go into each lesson plan.

Then I thought about my own relationship with education and the types of learning I had been exposed to over the course of my life.  My thoughts specifically went back in time to when I was a secondary school student in Nigeria.  Learning takes on a very different form in this part of the world.  Resources to teach students were quite minimal, especially in government schools, which was the type of school I attended.  Classes, even at an early age, were seminar-style.  Students were assigned a particular classroom, and teachers cycled through.  There were no extra resources to engage in activities.  Education was reading, writing, and regurgitation intensive.  It seemed teachers were not taught to incorporate experiential learning into lesson planning.  Learning was very content-heavy.  While all this may seem bleak, to be truthful, Nigerian students all over the world excel by leaps and bounds in other educational systems, as we have become accustomed to some of the most disciplined and rigorous forms of learning.  And I have had the privilege of navigating both worlds - figuratively and literally.

(Oh! And I hope you like my word cloud! I designed it myself on by word-farting the 100 words that popped into my head, using education as a theme! Too fun!)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Full of surprises

I am helping out in Ms. Daniel’s 6th grade Earth Science class this semester. Ms. Daniel teaches at Woodland Middle School in East Point, GA. I can already tell that my experience at Woodland is going to be full of surprises. This past week I started interacting with the students by helping them with an in-class activity that involved searching for answers on the Internet. The students were given laptops and instructions for how to get to the websites where they could find answers to the questions. I helped out by walking around the room to make sure students weren’t straying from the websites they were allowed to be on and by answering questions they had.

Most of the students I helped only needed assistance in navigating to the correct websites. They may have had a typo in the URL or had missed a phrase. A few needed guidance in finding the answers on the webpages, but for the most part they knew what they were doing. There has been something that has surprised me every time I have observed in Ms. Daniel’s class so far (and I’m sure it will continue to happen). Almost every instance where I helped a student, he or she said “Thank you” to me. There was even one boy who said, “Yes ma’am” after I asked him a question. I was blown away by how polite these students were. I interact with adults on a daily basis who are not as polite as these children are. Even though the students come from disadvantaged backgrounds they still recognize the importance of being polite and respectful when someone who cares about them helps them. I can already say that I care about each and every one of the students that I have been given the privilege to work with.

There is one more surprise I would like to share. Before class started a student named John walked in and upon seeing Ms. Daniel said, “Ms. Daniel! I missed you!” and gave her a hug (she had not been in school the day before). He then looked at me, walked over, and said, “Hello. I don’t think we’ve met. What’s your name?” He then extended his hand in order to shake mine. He said he didn’t recognize me and I told him I would be helping out every Tuesday for the rest of the year and eventually teaching the class about health. He then went to his seat and got ready for class. After the class was over and before he left the room, he turned to me and said, “Have a good day! See you later!” What surprises have you experienced so far?