Vertical Teaching and Meetings

“Why are blaming the kids for their failure? Why are we projecting our standards on them? How can we give them what they need rather than what we need? Enough about the frigging math competition? Do they really understand concepts or are just regurgitating facts and procedures? How can we help the culture of teachers, parents and students? After having a meeting on the connection between suicide and stress, our math teachers are proposing more testing!!! Why can’t we just be responsible for our kids and try to fix what is broken for our kids (middle school review)?!! Also, where are everybody’s manners; I hear several conversations at the same time. Very few are really listening and others are interrupting.” 

 

This is what it looks like when I keep notes at a meeting at school. Do I always keep notes? No. Do I ever keep notes at school meetings? Rarely. So when do I take notes? When I am getting bored and the meeting is going very wrong. This was one of those times. I believe my notes show how wrong it was going.

When I entered the meeting, I was in a pretty good mood. I had just finished my first demonstration of Jungian Psychology as it can be applied to teaching. Despite finishing early and kinda bumbling through the points, it will well and it ended in some great discussions. It ended in applause and many people thanked me. Before that, we had a general staff meeting about student stresses and its connection to teen suicide. (Why this was important to mention will come later.)

So what was this meeting about? Our math department was concerned about the lack of preparation of our students after they came from the middle school. In response to this, our school proposed that we do some “vertical teaching.” That is, working with the middle school to create a culture that would make the middle school students better prepared for the rigor of our high school mathematics classes. When I first heard this, I thought, “Isn’t that called curriculum?!” I soon let that thought go and vowed to be open-minded about this. From the conversations I heard, our staff really wanted to put the blame on the middle school. Of course, this is not unfounded. Every place I have taught (California, Virginia and Georgia), the teaching in middle school seemed rather weak, from my perspective. My first year teaching I seriously thought about switching to becoming a middle school math teacher. Added to that, I had heard several students and a couple parents state that the teaching at the middle school “frankly sucked.”

So there was the backdrop of our meeting. After each teacher introduced themselves in a roundtable manner, the middle school proposed that we look at the standards and look at what the high school desired that the middle school emphasize. Even though I cringe when I am forced to look at standards, I thought that this meeting was on the right track; no big changes, just define what is important and needed. That is when the process got hijacked.

In the next moment, the high school department head rejected this idea and proposed (maybe demanded) that we create a test to put the students “in the right place.” She proposed that we add another test to the test we already were going to give to the accelerated students. Th difference is that the first two were optional and now the third one would be mandatory. I was disgusted. We had just left a meeting earlier in the day where we discussed students having suicidal thoughts because how overwhelmed they were. So now we are proposing that we add more tests to a group that hadn’t even arrived in high school yet. All I could think was, “Are you kidding me?!”

But, what did I say? I said nothing. I looked around and saw a few people silent and the majority of the others talking a lot. Talking over other voices. Getting offended. (The one that was offended seem to have no business being in the meeting. She was not the department head and I don’t think that she teaches any freshmen. I could be wrong.)

Why didn’t I say anything? I felt like I was all alone in my views. After interviewing a few fellow math teachers later, I learned that others were as shocked and disagreeing as I was. We all basically believed that we should take care of the gaps when the kids arrive. If they have gaps in their math knowledge when they arrive, we need to step back and teach what they don’t know. That was my experience earlier in the year; I realized at one point that my freshmen were lacking some middle school skills. What did I do? I stopped our high school curriculum where it was and had a week of middle school math teaching. When it was over, we went right back to the high school curriculum. Guess what? It was a completely different class after that point. Why was it different? It was different because a) I gave them skills they needed and desired and b) I showed them that I care about them.

 

Just like our shadow parts that we don’t like, we need to find a way to love the parts of ourselves that are inconvenient. This also applies to the personalities that arrive in my classroom every day’ looking for my guidance. We need to love the unwanted parts of our classroom (our psychic space.)

 

Vertical Teaching and Meetings

Educational Cultures

Recently the faculty at the school where I teach has had a couple of meetings about teen suicide. Within the past year, our school had lost a couple of its teen members due to suicide. This prompted me to ask a neighboring teacher if he remembered a prominence of teen suicides at this particular school. He told me that there were a long string of years in the past when there was at least one suicide at the school each year. To follow this up, our principal decided to look deeper in to the problem. He initiated a plan to survey our current students. From the findings that the guidance department shared, it was concluded that over 50% of the students at our school had at least had suicidal thoughts. When they were surveyed as to why, many of issues presented were academic in nature like homework load and testing and standardized testing. Of course, in both meetings the staff was instructed to keep an eye out for changes in students and the number to suicide prevention. In one of the meetings, the presenting psychologist, specialized in Cognitive Behavior Therapy, suggested a few behavior management suggestions. In the second meeting, it was suggested that we as educators reduce homework and apply a schedule where students minimize the number of tests in a day.I applaud the efforts but I don’t believe these will result in much change in the situation.

So what else can we do as a staff? On the small scale, I believe some Jungian and Humanistic approaches could help. On the Humanistic side, I feel that our biggest job as high school educators are to produce better people and citizens of the communities in which they will live. That is, we need to produce better personal growth as human beings. On the Jungian side, we need to respect the Inner Self of each student, as well as the Inner Self of each employee of the school system. Also, it seems as if other approaches of psychology seem to focus on repairing things after they are broken. My experience of Jungian psychology is that repair is part of the equation but so is directing ourselves to a place where we can recognize when things are slipping into old patterns. That is, being more conscious of what we are doing, whether good or bad. For me, the best tool for this transformation is Active Imagination. It is a powerful tool but not really my emphasis for this particular blog.

This particular blog is about the harmful cultures at any high school. Not only that but the lack of a bridge between these cultures. At this point, you mind may be searching for the cultures I am speaking of. Well, let me get to it; There are three dominant cultures at every high school I have worked and attended; The parents, the students and the teachers. All three are sure they have the correct perspective. All three believe they have the background that make them qualified to make the right decision. The parents believe that they know best for their kids. They believe that they need to push their kids to work hard, get good grades and do all the things that will get their kids into the best school possible. The teachers believe that their class is the key to that quality education that will get those kids into the best schools and will help the student to be prepared to excel at that good school. If the students and parents would just listen to the teacher, then the student will get that great school that it deserves. Then there is the students. On the outside, they just don’t want to be there. They are tired of being told what to do. They are tired of the boring classes that they see will never be used in the Life after school. However, on the inside, they just want everyone to be happy with them so they will leave them alone and they get on with their lives of being young and free.

In the end, all of these groups have their rights to feel this way and they are right. However, all three groups, in my opinion, are a little too rigid. A good college is optimum. Yes, educators usually know the path to that great test score and skills that will be needed at the next level. And, yes, kids should be allowed to be kids. So how do we do this? I think the first thing we need to do is relax and be flexible. The kids are not lazy if they don’t do things that we did. The kids are just not getting what they need. It is our job to know the kids to the level that we understand what their wants and needs are. When we learn this, we can adjust our programs to help the kids find what they want to do. I believe that parents and educators may project too much. We know the way we learned and got our education so we think it is the best way. And when the student doesn’t act the way we did, we think that they are lazy and/or rebelling. They are just growing in their own way. When I was in high school, I loved math and band but hated going to all those other classes. I was proud that I gave little effort and still was able to mange a 2.3 GPA. Fast forward to 40 years later. I am on the verge of earning a PhD in psychology and I never took a SAT or a GRE. I have been successful despite not having done those things. I was called lazy and unmotivated. When my parents offered me cash for Honor Roll, I achieved it. When they didn’t, I didn’t care. Do I want my students to follow my path? Absolutely not! Do I understand when they do? I really think I do. When I see that, I usually look at what I am doing to destroy their love of learning. In the end, I want them to find their destiny and their love of learning. When we do that, I believe the threat of suicide is greatly decreased.

Educational Cultures

Attention and Focus

It is true that I have been away a few days. Just when I was starting to like this blogging thing, Life got in the way. On the way home on Tuesday, I experienced a harsh result of a lack of focus; I rear-ended another car at a stop light. (We were sitting still, the light turned green, I eased forward, while attending to something inside the car, and I slammed into the rear end of a large SUV.) My car was drive-able but the front end was smashed. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t had any warnings. The previous week I broke two pairs of reading glasses within a few hours. Since I was not paying much attention at the time, I guess God decided that I needed a bigger reminder to pay attention and stay focused. As if that wasn’t enough, I had more bad news. While I was waiting for the police to clear this mess up, I received a email critiquing my latest essay for my PhD. It also inferred a lack of focus on my part. I was definitely detecting a disturbing pattern here. I needed to get it together…fast. On Thursday, I was invited to do a training session on using to emotional moments (good and bad) to promote personal and professional growth. I feel that it would be terrible for me to feel unfocused when handed such a great opportunity to help my fellow teachers. My first step was to discuss this issue over lunch with my wife. We talked about where our inner lives were and it struck me that the problem was a lack of focus. (I realized that I was only about 80% there when she was talking to me.) When I got home, I decided to go to YouTube to figure out what was the best way to handle better focus. After checking out a few videos, I realized that the definitive answer was in my unconscious all along; meditation. I had been introduced to the practice around 2003 by a friend who was a Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka. (Ironically, he made contact about visiting us about the time I broke the sets of glasses. Still not paying attention to what I should!) At the time, I used it to help with my explosive anger. After making a habit of about 60 minutes a day, my temper became much more manageable. However, in the years since then, I have been doing a lot less meditating. This speaks to how much I need to return to this practice. It is not the answer to everything but it may be the missing piece I am looking for in my path for personal and professional growth.

Attention and Focus