I wrote this piece almost two months ago after a February 23 day of training. That day I was working, but I didn’t see any students. Two trainings, nine hours. Today I attended the second session of this four day Common Core professional development. Enjoy the read. Remember, I love my job. I love the challenge. I hope you find the humor in my writing because I really enjoy sharing. I also hope you find something to think about and discuss in your circles. Share away.
When I enrolled at Salisbury University, I figured to graduate with a degree in secondary education and history. Just like I had told everyone in high school. Just like my picture assumed next to the yearbook caption: “Most Likely to Become a High School Teacher.” Sadly, I felt the sails wrinkle and deflate with my student teaching experience. The department head at Wicomico Middle School had one piece of advice for a promising young pupil. Don’t go into teaching. The testing requirements are handcuffs and the students are, increasingly, a mess. Today, ten years later, dude was right. And no matter how much he deserves me hunting him down and telling him he forgot his asshole card at his retirement party, I think of him too often. Especially during a cold February Monday when completely removed from the classroom, I am drowning in professional development to meet the challenges of both student and assessment.
It’s impossible. The embryonic stage of Standardized Testing as curriculum is over. The gargantuan love child of education capitalists and distant politicians is teething and learning how to walk. Unlike my experiences within the Expeditionary Learning network, Profession Development is always a bit of a passive process for most educators led by state employees who have been trained by curriculum hucksters. Common Core State Standards seems like an effort to stimulate the economy with tech support, bureaucratic positions, testing coordinators, textbook salespeople, evaluators, brainstormers, legalese consultants, analysts, and unicorn breeders (anything but more teachers) as much as it seems a genuine effort to help American children close the achievement gap.
This day, I learned how to invest in these Common Core paradigm shifts. The quantifiable gains (of which, if implemented in perfect harmony with unprecedented rises in student motivation, caloric intake at breakfast, and reading levels) may be seen in five years. The average teacher, by this time, will either be pursuing a more lucrative career or perhaps grasping for the placebo of merit based pay tied directly to the impending dip of test scores due to the increasing rigor of CCSS tests. Further reading: http://www.teacherintherye.com/the-common-core-state-standards-are-setting-schools-up-to-fail/
Yet there I sat, learning of the intended increase of challenging texts my students will be forced to grapple with. I do accept this as a challenge. I will motivate my students to beat the man, as we say at VGHS. But this training does not help me grapple with students who are at risk of alcoholism as 14 year olds. Children born of the cauldron of domestic abuse. Children of rape. Children of the addicted, or mentally disabled. Children of IQs below the median temperature of a Santa Fe summer day. Children of no glasses, no showers, no fathers. The majority of my students come to me comprehending below Middle School reading levels. We are talking about 16 year old freshmen who are more adept with wielding a spray can, a blunt or hand gun than a pencil.
Eventually the training ended. Now equipped with new tools to help my students achieve their academic horizons, I headed not home, but to VGHS to attend a training about Gang Violence and our ‘population’. I hate that term. When I say it, I fear my participation in the school to prison pipeline. I am desensitizing myself to the lives and personalities I pledge to honor. I fear I am ready to become a bureaucrat pencil pusher who used to teach. I fear I have cemented my path to head the Wicomico MS History Dept.
But our population is threatened. 20% of our school is gang affiliated or intrigued by the lifestyle. Every year we have had members of Brew Town, Surreno, Northside, whatever, come to Vista. And in the past these students, despite strength in numbers, have weeded themselves out (again, I hate my way of naming). They drop out or go away. This year, each neighborhood gang is well represented and, somehow, getting along swimmingly. Everyone is happy together talking about Red parties, Blue parties, fights, drugs, and how life would be easier for us teachers if we politely, collectively, decided to fuck off and leave them alone.
Every day is a battle of wills. How far do our rules stretch? How many times will that teacher ask me to do work before I don’t have to ever be asked again? How many people can I intimidate into submission, silence, or respect? How brazenly can I defy gravity with my pressed khakis below my hips? What is the perfect balance of absenteeism and passivity one can strike before a truancy report is made?
This is learned behavior. The families are dealers. Getting ranked in can be a birth right. Perhaps some of these youngsters are the products of overmatched parents or grandparents. The cultures of violence, bigotry, misogyny, class struggle, identity, and addiction are well rooted in Taos.
The fact of the matter, in order to address the burgeoning gang influence in our student body, we need to recognize we are up against a familial structure that is a pillar of the town and Taos culture. No matter how shambled the edifice upheld by this pillar. And quite, luckily, the kids are getting along. They enjoy each other’s company. They enjoy wreaking havoc on our school culture. Knocking back a few airline bottles of liquor at lunch. We are simply seeing a generational decay of drug use, affiliation and addiction play out in a handful of students.
The depressing part of our battle for minds is the fact these people are cool enough to garner admiration from almost anyone in the school. The lifestyle choice of illiteracy over education and any general sense of citizenship is winning. That says as much about our school as it does the town, the age group, the economy, the media, the country. The challenge waits daily for our faculty, most at wit’s end and ready to let it all go (read it as: the profession, the calling, the youth). Yet our students, show up. They receive as much positive reinforcement of their potential as we can muster. They are supported as young people. Our school is more the symptom of a greater affliction. But we are the organization faced with the consequences. Watch these kids. Ride them into the ground. Raise the test scores. Get them to graduate.
And in leaving school for the day, I was reminded that every color of the rainbow is affiliated with some street gang. Mexican Mafiosos are now in Taos. Everybody has a nickname, tag, tat, gat, shoelace and swag. And I am responsible for the clowns graduating from circus school. Appendages, credits, test scores and all. Good luck!