I have decided not to continue teaching.  I know that I went through a lot of money and agony to renew my teaching certificate, but I was not psychologically prepared for today’s students.

After one class meltdown in 2nd period geometry last Friday I told the administration that I was considering not signing a contract unless conditions improved.  (So far I had been substituting for myself as my paperwork was being processed by the district.)  One of the assistant principals gave a scathing talk to those kids Monday and the class became attentive.

Note: the three assistant principals are a Hispanic male, a black male, and an Anglo female, to cover all bases.  This assistant principal had been the woman.

Today my last period geometry class had a melt-down.  I went to the (Hispanic) assistant principal, who had counseled me that the kids had problem backgrounds and needed support, etc, etc, and reiterated my position.  He said that would be a win-win situation as a math teacher had just been let go from a junior high in the district due to decreased enrollment, so they would get her for next week, and could I please come in on Tuesday (Monday being Labor Day) to transition her.

What constitutes a meltdown?

  • More than half of the students coming in late. 
  • A few students texting on cell phones (not allowed), putting on makeup (not allowed). 
  • Most students not taking out their handouts from yesterday when requested at the beginning of the period. 
  • 95% of the students not having done their homework. 
  • A few students not sitting in their assigned seats (assigned so that they would be away from friends and more apt to do the assignments.) 

Oh – and the only A-student in that class had been busted for drugs yesterday.

So after a raucous beginning, and a difficult attendance-taking (as I had not learned all 138 student names so far), I had to walk around the classroom of 15-year-olds, cajoling them to take out their homework, removing cell phones and makeup (which I did allow them to retrieve at the end of the period), and handing out paper and pencils to those in need.  (One boy rolled his paper into what he called “a joint”.)

Then since only a couple of students had any homework to check, we went over the next concept, segment addition.  As in AB = 4, BC = 2, so what is AC?  Boisterous talking mostly in Spanish around the room.  Kids covertly changing seats.  Simply not copying the problem from the board.  The boy who had rolled the “joint” walked out of class.

My friends who have retired from teaching have all said I told you so.  From e.e. cummings:

plato told
him; he couldn’t
believe it (jesus
told him; he
wouldn’t believe
and even
(believe it
not) you
told him: i told
him; we told him
(he didn’t believe it, no
sir) it took
a nipponized bit of
the old sizth
el; in the top of his head to tell

And they say that it is not because this is a South Side school (hence Hispanic, 72%), but that schools throughout the city have deteriorated.  When I taught 30 years ago there were one or two problem students.  Now there are hoards.

The school where I will no longer be teaching prides itself in reducing the geometry failure rate from 60% to 40%.  That means that in a class of 36 kids (the largest size now allowed), an average of 14 or 15 would be failing.  Are they acting up because they are failing, or failing because they’re acting up?  Are the teachers to blame for the failure of schools?

President Bush’s No Child Left Behind mandated that all students graduating from high school be able to comprehend what they read, be able to write coherently, and be able to do a modicum of math, including algebra and geometry.  To this end, Arizona had not only mandated that all high school students must pass the AIMS test to graduate (40% of this particular school’s students pass), but to prepare for the test at the end of the sophomore year the students must take algebra in their freshman year and geometry in their sophomore year.  If they flunk algebra they are “supposed to” repeat it in summer school.  Few do.  They are not allowed to take it again in their sophomore year.  They must take geometry!  So the kids are programmed to continue to fail.

But it didn’t start in high school.  Many of these kids don’t know 6 x 7.  Most of them don’t know how to add fractions.  The failures started early on, but the teachers have no time to work individually with kids given the class sizes, and the kids are age promoted.  According to the NEA, Arizona has the lowest current expenditures per pupil for 2010-2011 in the nation, at $6,448.  This year, because of budget cuts, education in our state has been cut $530 per student.

Do the parents care?  We had Parent Night last night.  (I worked a 12½ hour day, from 7am to 7:30 pm.)  I had parents of a dozen students show up to my classroom.  Parents of 12 students.  Out of 138 students.  Their kids, of course, were doing well.  I was told that a daughter said that I explained math so well, etc, etc.

Have you seen the documentary Waiting for Superman?
Of course those charter schools will do well.  They parents want their children there.  They want their kids to study, and they will make sure that they do their homework.

So I have given up.  I can’t and won’t do it.  Possibly I am a failure, a sellout.  But I have had an inside look at what will happen to America’s place in the world.  Are those kids in China studying?  I’ll bet they are.

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6 Responses to “Phew!”

  1. Lynn Shore Says:

    I am so sorry that you have had such an experience. This has been coming for a lot of years. I left teaching in public school in the mid-seventies here in South Carolina. I was asked to substitute in my old school several times. Never would I consent to put myself through that!Classes were large, and I was often given the “troubled students”, and it was stressful even then. Later in talking with teachers who continued to teach after I left, they said it was ten times worse-so I feel for you. Yes, these students begin their “failure” patterns in the early years, and when they reach high school it’s just a given. So far as I can see, no education program instituted by any President and the government of this country has worked successfully. It’s a sad situation.
    Hope you find something that will give you more “peace” and “comfort”.
    You are not a failure!
    The system you were working under is the failure.
    I so enjoy reading about your home, and the birds and animals of the desert.
    Keep your chin up!
    Lynn from SC

  2. Bob Williams Says:

    Well, Lynne, I’m not surprised but I am also sorry. Sorry for you and sorry for those poor students who were never inspired to achieve. It’s a big knotty problem and societal in nature. I spent 32 years in education trying to institute changes, so I know many of the difficulties about turning schools around. I believe you and the school were mismatched. You were set up to “fail” but of course it wasn’t your failure. It’s a system failure of the worst kind. I feel guilty I don’t know some of the solutions for that school and system. It’s kind of the feeling I get when I think of where America is going today. Are we in the inevitable decline that so many ascendant cultures experience?
    I think you have many talents. Please keep plugging away to find your way. Bob Williams

    • notesfromthewest Says:

      There used to be high school math classes in pre-algebra that those kids could master. Then consumer math, to teach them how to measure wood for a project, how to do your taxes, how to cut a recipe in half, how to figure out the amount of paint needed to paint a room, or the amount of concrete needed to pour a patio, how to compare the price of a pound of coffee to the price of 12 ounces of coffee. But those classes won’t prepare kids for The Test, and sadly, they are no longer taught. No Child Left Behind has exacerbated the problem.

  3. Jim Says:

    Since you do care about the 12 hard working students and the income which the teaching provides, why worry about the majority who do not make the effort to follow the rules and do their assignments. Just report their behavior to the principal and to their parents, and let them perform their vital roles. In the meantime, wait for an opening in one of the charter schools. The public school system is now recognized as failure throughout the nation. Charter schools can only improve them, by providing competition and role models. Your crisis provides a wonderful opportunity to use your teaching talents.

  4. jim and erda matheson Says:

    Obviously your qualificaions, motivation and experience are miscast in the environment you describe. We would endorse the other Jim’s advice to seek another teaching opportunity where your talents could be utilized to advantage. Also suggest that you write a general statement of the situation at this incredible school. Address it to the superintendant of schools, the principal of the school you left, the president of the school board and the editor of the most responsible daily newspaper. You could further advise the mayor and the chairman of the city council. Offer to assist any of the above.

  5. Jim Says:

    Encouraged by Jim and Erda Matheson, I am contributing my latest thoughts, Lynne. First, you are a valuable human resource to your state and your country which should not be lost. Second, you benefit from the income and experience of teaching. Third, since studies have shown that pet owners, church goers, and married couples live significantly longer, happier, and healthier lives – we can predict teachers, by their greater mental and physical activity greatly benefit themselves.
    To discipline the miscreants, you send them to principals office in groups. Bring in your camera and ask them to smile or frown for candide photos – laugh at those who clown. Then blow up the best photo to poster size and write down their names under their photos.

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