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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Revealing Meeting: Part One

(If you must have politics, please keep scrolling)

On October 8, I met with R, a former student of many years ago.  She hunted me down on the Internet and asked if I would advise her. This young lady, who did not go into teaching directly from college but rather pursued another career for a few years, thought that teaching would be relatively easy.  She actually said to me, "When you were teaching me, I thought that teaching looked so easy!"

This first year as a classroom teacher, R is finding out the hard way that effective teaching is anything but easy, particularly during those first years.

R's lack of experience, however, is only the beginning of her woes as a first-year teacher.

First, the task that R has been assigned is impossible to accomplish in full.  She is supposed to take huge classes of non-English speakers from several different countries and bring these students up to a high level of writing expository essays.  At the same time, she is supposed to raise their reading comprehension levels so that these students will be ready to take college classes in the 2013-2014 term.  R is supposed to accomplish these impossible goals by March, when the students will be tested!

I read through some of the students' work that R brought to our meeting.  Overall, I estimate these students' work as that of fifth to seventh grade level; many students, however, are writing at a much lower level.  For example, these lower-level students write in fragments and run-ons; some even neglect to paragraph their writing.  Forget transitions and concluding statements, for the most part.  And thesis statements and topic sentences?  Hit or miss!

To top it all off, R is supposed to develop her own effective curriculum – within specific parameters, of course.  Certain works, particularly classics, are taboo.  Teaching any grammar is also taboo.  R is also supposed to design her own rubrics and her own tests.  In other words, she has no textbooks of any kind and few supplementary materials of any kind.

What is available?  All types of resources, that is, file after file of proposed materials from which she is supposed to choose.  Many of these materials are student materials to duplicate but accompanied by no specific activities for the teacher to use.  As a result, R is required to develop her own "effective" activities and is, of course, groaning under the work load.  At this point, she has no life outside of teaching classes, grading papers, and attending various administrative meetings as well as education classes. 

To her credit, R is not complaining.  Instead, she is desperately trying to figure out how to do the best that she can for her students.  I am giving her some guidance.

(to be continued)


  1. Next they'll ask her to get these student to sculpt David with a machete, having never seen the original work.

  2. AOW, is the school administration that stupid? Or, is there some reason that this young teacher is being set up to fail?

  3. Gotta get those test scores up.

    So "No Child Left Behind" burns out another promising teacher.

  4. It is not only R's job that is on the line.

    She is a wonderful person and takes seriously any task that she is given.

    More than that, she wants to help her students, every single one of whom is highly motivated. These are college bound students -- and, among the ESOL students in that particular school, the cream of the crop.

    Before "No Child Left Behind," I ran into much the same problem in the county system. Fortunately, I had two good mentors, who helped me work around the regulations that would have doomed my students and me to failure.

    I'll be explaining the work-arounds in my next post. It IS surreal that such a work-around is needed at all. Sheesh.

  5. Conservatives on Fire,
    is the school administration that stupid?

    These higher ups are sitting in ivory towers and don't know the reality on the ground. In the case of teaching non-English speakers, these higher ups themselves often do not have any experience teaching ESL. In addition, the words "grammar" and "memorization" went out of style back in the early 1970s, when I took my teacher training. Oh, the euphemisms that I had to use to get material taught. Example: "Students will discover vocabulary words pertaining to the kitchen." Yeah, they "discovered" the vocabulary, all right. I used a few visual materials, then gave the students a list to "consider," meaning, "Quiz on these words tomorrow." I was very careful what I wrote down on my lesson plans and actually kept two sets of plans. I even had to do that in the 1990s, when I worked for a liberal private school -- a job I quit after just one year on doctor's advice. My doctor of over 15 years knew the school's principal and said, "Quit your job. There's no working for HER!" I kid you not.

    Or, is there some reason that this young teacher is being set up to fail?

    Believe me, she won't fail by their definition. I'm sure of that. They'll hire her back and give her a long laundry list of things to improve on. Nobody else in that school would take the job that R has. Seniority does have its benefits, you know.

    R is seeking out help on her own initiative. She found me; she'll find a mentor in the school, too. I know that R will do a wonderful job with the hideous task she's been given. She won't rest until she works this out.

    Besides, the March deadline is there to scare R. They'll let the students retest in May -- and will change the criteria so that the students will pass. Or, they'll get a waiver for ESL students not to have to pass whatever test is now being required.

  6. Brooke,
    Next they'll ask her to get these student to sculpt David with a machete, having never seen the original work.

    I love that analogy! It's perfect!

    Of course, R is the type of person to find out what the David looks like and to find somebody to sharpen that machete. Heh.

    They've underestimated R. She is young and beautiful -- and has a brain that works.

  7. The actions of the school administrators can be summed up in the same three letters that apply to all public "servants"...


  8. I had the same question as CoF.

    The teaching racket is over-bureaucratized, with people who gut in out long enough and who know how to toe the party line getting rewarded with useless and overpaid administrator positions, supposedly crafting and superintending curricula.

    Education needs to be privatized. That is the only way to slash the bureaucratic blubber and get the BS out of the system.

  9. "R" is a teacher in Somalia, yes? Where there's no formal government? In a Bulgarian prison trying to rehabilitate foreign convicts?

    I mean, she's not really in the U.S. with this lack of support, is she?

  10. And I spent grammar school in a two room classroom. No problem. But my parents spoke and wrote well. The beginning of a good education.

  11. is the school administration that stupid?

    They are freaking brilliant.
    You don't see their jobs threatened, do you?
    You don't see them burning out?

    They just go in front of the media and mouth something about "change" (yeah, I know, I think he's a con also) and test scores and whatever else the media are pushing that day.

  12. A nightmare scenario worthy of Franz Kafka or Margaret Atwood.

    She should get out of there, and start waitressing in a high quality restaurant. They is better and the working conditions sublime by comparison.

    Better yet she should marry a millionaire who has most of his fortune buried "offshore," and disembark from this sinking ship before the powers that be lock her in a stateroom -- or a store room -- and force her to drown.

  13. R. and those kids have a long, hard road ahead of them.

  14. Duck,
    There is nothing brilliant about cheating students out of their education -- particularly if those students are motivated (as R's are).

    Burnout for R? Maybe.

    Burnout for many teachers? Definitely.

    In my own case, I walked away from the job. I wasn't burned out, but I knew that I couldn't do the right thing by my students because of the wacko school principal who saw as Priority 1 passing the star athletes.

    In my view, public education systems are too much into experimentation instead of sticking with, at least for a time, methods and curricula that are effective.

  15. FT,
    A nightmare scenario worthy of Franz Kafka or Margaret Atwood.

    No doubt.

    I don't believe that R will walk away -- at least, not for a few years. She'll find a way to do the job.

    But, hey, she may find a millionaire to marry and rear children that are successful in the true sense of the word.

  16. Bunkerville,
    I am the product of what amounted to the one-room schoolhouse. I went to small private school in the 1960s, and we had several age groups and several grade levels in one room. The system worked! When I was in the lower grades, I learned a lot by observing the more advanced classes. And I often got advanced into those higher levels too -- once I had proved myself and completed the lower-level work.

    In 4th-5th grade, I completed the entire high school English curriculum. That leg up has served me quite well for my entire life.

  17. Black Sheep,
    R is working for a county here in Northern Virginia. Surreal, huh?

  18. A textbook is not a be-all and end-all.

    But textbooks -- good ones -- can be such a great resource.

    Now, many public school systems have an aversion to using textbooks.

    Why, why, why?

  19. "Now, many public school systems have an aversion to using textbooks.

    Why, why, why?"

    Because few school children can read, I suspect?

    "Texting" is finishing the job TV started, It is destroying the language -- and society, itself, by extension.

  20. Duck,
    There is nothing brilliant about cheating students out of their education -- particularly if those students are motivated (as R's are).

    Sarcasm impaired. I constantly forget.

  21. My gosh! There no way one teacher can do that? This school or the administration has asked her to do the impossible.

    That takes time and it's not like they will learn it all in one day.

    That poor girl.

    I feel so sorry for teachers.

  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  23. Debbie,
    My apologies!

    I accidentally deleted your comment!

    I'm not sure how I made this error -- perhaps because I have a new laptop and am not yet used to the touch of this new keyboard.


    I'll fetch your comment from my email notification and repost your comment.

  24. Here is the comment that I accidentally deleted:

    Right Truth has left a new comment on your post "A Revealing Meeting: Part One":

    I'm not a teacher, but this seems very incompetent to me. Not fair to the teachers and certainly not fair to the children.

    Right Truth

  25. She was looking at you and thought teaching would be easy? AOW, you must be absolutely awesome.
    i was a TA in my grad school days, and I absolutely hated it. I had no knack for it, but at least I realized that my main job in education will be teaching, and that I can't stand,which is more than i can say about other grad students who thought that they'll change the world or some such.
    Being a good teacher is a gift from God.
    Edge of the Sandbox

  26. Edge,
    Thank you for the compliment.

    Parents and others who observe me in the classroom all say the same thing: "I love your energy level!"

    Somewhere along the line -- not in education classes, that's for sure -- I learned how to use the teachable moment and the art of diagnostic and prescriptive teaching. I do have lesson plans, objectives, and goals for the years of course; but those lesson plans are in flux on any given day and adjust to the dynamic of the class at the moment.

    In other words, when the teachable moment comes along, I mine it for all it's worth.

    IMO, teaching is a calling as opposed to a career.


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