“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.)