Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Struggling To Meet the Standards...

I have been a teacher for the past eight years and I have come to one of many conclusions-It is a very thankless job. I put in ten to twelve hour days that involve dealing with my students in one aspect or another. Much of my time is spent trying to get them to realize the importance of education, getting them involved in extracurricular activities and then riding them like horses to keep their grades up to stay involved, trying to keep them from getting arrested or abused, both physically and mentally, or just watching them stretched out in my living room studying or getting help with homework because my house is a safe place. I do all of these things because I love my students regardless of their skin color, socio economic background, religion, sexual orientation or any other obstacles that many human beings use as barriers to keep from forming relationsips with each other. I also realize that barriers are more permeable than in larger areas-I know/grew up with my students' parents, am often kin to them, go to church with them, and everyone knows where I live or what my phone number is.

During my eight years as a teacher here in Smalltown, USA I have attended many professional development workshops and conferences where improving school scores is always at the top of the list. They give these grandiose ideas they have sat in their expensive offices and dreamed up in their world, which by the way usually does not reflect my student's world, and tell me that if I do exactly what they say, my school's scores will shoot up and all will be hunky dory at smalltown high school. I listen and try my damnedest to accompish all of the things the "SUITS" tell me and yet although my school's scores have improved every year it has not been enough for the higer ups in Baton Rouge.

Friday we were informed we had become a school of choice. This means parents of our students can now send their children to two other local schools deemed more academically suitable. We missed our score by three tenths of a point. A school score includes your test scores, attendance, dropout rate, and how many certified teachers there are at your school. For each student that drops out you receive a zero for that students-we had eight students 9th-11th grade to drop out. We also have a problem with attendance. I am constanly amazed at the excuses parents give us when their children miss school. I have heard everything from "she had a hangover", "he doesn't like to get up in the rain", and one of my favories, "he/she needed a break from school." The parish I teach in is POOR! 82% of my students are the FIRST in their families(mothers, fathers, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins included) to graduate high school. Out of 66 parishes we rank 61 in pay. So attracting highly qualified and certified teachers is a job in itslef. What we usually get are teachers who get hired in our parish, get certified throught the parish, and then leave to go to another higher paying parish.

I say all of this to say I AM SO UPSET, TIRED, DISGUSTED, and SAD because it seems as if no matter how hard I and others like myself who teach at smalltown high school work it is NEVER ENOUGH. I correspond classes with high risk studets through LSU in an attempt to get them out of school so that they do not dropout. I take them on college visits, senior trips, and do job shadowing with them, so that they can see how much the world has to offer them if they are willing to work hard for it. So I work hard for them and as I sit here writing this post I am crying because with all of the work I put in year after year striving to get my students into colleges,(because of course we have no high school counselor- so this is another task I do for free)I feel useless and defeated and sad because the state has decided that my school is not up to their standards which means the work I do is not good enough.

Above, I mentioned that the world of the department of education officials/curriculum planners is not that of my students. Let me give you a glimpse--we are a school for which there is rarely enough. When we run out of the most basic supplies--like bulletin board paper--we are told there is no money for more, but we are still expected to "make do." To finish my example, bulletin boards are required, whether the school provides paper or not. And reimbursements? Please!

Parental involvement is next to nil--not because parents don't care, but because they work jobs like poultry processing and are worn out when they get home. If I am honest, teacher morale is not what it could be, either. It's hard to face a class of 33 sixth graders in one room. It's hard to teach active fourth graders in a tiny, temporary building that is not well lit or particularly roomy. It's hard to meet the needs of 20+ kindergartners who all want attention urgently but there is no regular aide. Student morale is low as well, as many are tired and don't see the point. My kids are often expected to cook, clean up, take care of younger siblings, and supplement parents' income. School is not a priority.

As I get ready to start another school year on August 18th, I will wipe the tears from my face, and pray that this year be the year we meet our standards the state of Louisiana has set for us. There will be less money from the state and we will be expected to work miracle after miracle to see that little Johnny/Jane has that extra quarter or dollar needed for breakfast and lunch so they will not be hungry-because it is hard to concentrate on what is being taught when your stomach is growling--to help students with their FAFSA's, provide them with paper and pencil, and, in so many cases, to love them. I will pray for the strength and guidance I need to keep traveling down this road of hope that continues to be just out of my reach.


Kimberly said...

Mrs. O,

What you do is so admirable. It would be so easy for someone like yourself to give up or just tune out and not go the extra mile. Sadly the system is filled with teachers who do the latter. And how can you even blame them. It's hard to keep banging your head against a brick wall. Our educational system is abysmal nationally, but particularly so in rural and urban areas. The only real saving grace, often times, are committed, caring teachers like yourself.

Through all the frustrations and obstacles, I hope you are proud of yourself and your efforts. You're doing everything right, which is all that anyone can ask of you, and all that you can ask of yourself.

God Bless!

mrs. o said...

Thanks Kim! For the most part I do try to stay positive, but every now and then it just starts to wear. Thanks for the blessings I am sure I will be needing them on Monday when little johnny/janes's parent(s) show up and want to know how he/she can graduate this year, but he/she only has thirteen credits, a 1.4 grade point average,and he/she has attended nine schools in the last year and needs twenty three to graduate in louisiana.

Me said...

Wow. Thank God for teachers like you who CARE and who stick it out for the kids and their families. During my kids' years in school, I saw too many good, caring, inventive, enthusiastic teachers leave the profession because of the roadblocks they faced and it heartens me mightily to hear about just such a teacher who is hanging in there. May God bless you and your students with a successful and rewarding year.


Anonymous said...

I also wanted to leave some words of encouragement, although I don't know what words to use. Please know there are people out there - like me - praying for you, your colleagues and your students.

mrs. o said...

Thank you me and gradmommy for your encouraging words. Your prayers are just what I will need this year. They are GREATLY APPRECIATED!

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...