Students aren’t variables in an equation
April 25, 2012
I spoke with a recent graduate a couple of weeks ago who is in college and working toward a degree.
I asked him how things were going and the response was not surprising: "Coach, I had a rough first semester, but I got it together and am doing just fine now. But I sure miss high school."
I asked why, and he said, "You guys cared about us even though we didn't always treat you right. You guys really helped us get stuff done so we could pass."
I described how little concern his college professors had for him getting to class on time or turning in assignments and he exclaimed, "Right, Coach, they just lecture and we get our stuff done or we fail. They don't even care if you show up to class."
I asked if there is anything we could have done differently to better prepare him for life after high school.
"I don't think so because I just wasn't mature enough yet and you guys kinda' spoiled us so I had to learn some hard lessons," he said.
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This isn't the first conversation of this type I have had with graduates about their adjustment to life after high school.
As high school teachers try to better prepare our students for their future, we are faced with some pretty tough obstacles to overcome:
We test and test and then plot our children on spreadsheets so we can classify them as "proficient," or "still-emerging."
Students are increasingly described as "widgets," "data-points," or "outcomes." These are terms more likened to the business world serving a customer than schools serving children.
Teachers are expected to "facilitate instruction" to a minimum level of "proficiency" and are evaluated by "artifacts," which are analyzed to prove students are learning.
This professional language is the result of a hyper-computerized culture that collects information and breaks it down into many different categories. Try as I might, I just can't bring myself to explain to a parent that, "We have identified this particular outcome as evidence of academic ability outside the normal indicators measurable in the gifted and talented cohort."
The problem with this type of professional language is that it describes in the absence of any personality. It's as though the statement could be describing anyone or anything.
I just tell parents their kid is really smart and might need some more challenging work.
When I go to parent-teacher conferences I ask two questions: Are my sons being respectful in class and do they listen?
These two attributes trump all the data they show me each year because I know that when they leave the protection of our public schools, how my kids approach life will be discernably more important than which cohort they find themselves in each year
I guess I'm likely not "proficient in establishing rigorous identifiers for academic achievement."
But, I am passionate about teaching your child and ecstatic when a former student goes on to be a successful, productive citizen.