October 13, 2007

The Metrics? (part 1)

I haven’t written in a while. I’ve had a few ideas, but nothing compelling enough to make me actually sit down and work it out. That, plus the introduction of new computers to my classroom have made me feel like a first-year teacher at the start of the school year all over again. It’s been so frustrating that once again I am considering an assignment change, a level change, or perhaps even a whole career change. We’ll see how the school year progresses.

One of the things that is making me crazy this year, again, is the kids. Yea, I know, they make me crazy every year, but this new entitlement generation is, well, special. I’ve never worked with a group that literally felt comfortable with asking for an “A” simply because they came to class occasionally. A group that so easily and openly exclaims “I’m bored,” and then proceeds to simply turn off for the remainder of the period. A population who does not respect adults and authority so boldly that they feel no shame about being asking daily, even hourly, to comply with the simplest of instructions like, “spit out your gum.” This group seems to lack motivation, desire, or any sense of urgency in their lives to do much more then to respond to their next text message, check to see who wants to be added as a friend on their MySpace web page, or get in line for the newest and goriest splatter (horror) film. It’s kinda scary.

My high school recently celebrated Homecoming. We still go old-school with a parade including dignitaries, the band and floats decorated by the different graduating classes. We have a rally, a football game half time show including fireworks, and of course, a dance. My campus educates approximately 3400 kids. At best no more that 25% of these kids participated in the festivities. And the parade that starts at the campus, tours the downtown area, and returns to the school site is increasingly being seen by many in the city as a “nuisance.” There are many traditions celebrated at this over 100 year old public high school that many hold very close to their hearts; and that many others don’t know exist, and aren’t interested in learning about. We teach in a changing world. But who are really the ones that need to change?

Frustrated with all of this, and a 2-4 football record to date, I and many of my colleagues instinctually point to the students as the problem. As a population, the kids regularly disappoint us when they fail to meet our expectations. I, along with others, believe that high expectations are the best way to raise up an individuals performance, improve their abilities, and ultimately teach them how to be successful. However, when the contrast between a teacher’s expectation for student success (hard-work, commitment, dedication) and a student’s expectation for his or her success (just give me an “A” for showing up) is so severe, what’s left is a quandary not easily solved. After all, these kids will be running the country and the planet someday, they need to be well prepared. Unfortunately, too few students in the population I teach have a tangible understanding of their future, why they should set goals, and how to plan to achieve those goals. Sadly, the main goal in life for too many of the kids in my classroom is to “get paid,” without any idea of what to do to “get paid” that doesn’t involve something they heard once in a song on their iPod, or while watching Mtv.

Contrast that with the three sister students I recently had the opportunity to chat with. The two younger girls are twins and their sister is one year older. All three want to go to college and practice medicine. The twins were born with heart problems and had to stay on heart monitors for the first two years of their lives. Now they recognize the value of those doctors and others who helped them live and have built a strong desire to contribute positively to the world. How influential their early life experience actually is on their goals and dreams now I can’t say for sure, and these girls are not an anomaly in the current population, however, they do feel like the minority.

So, for us as teachers, what do we do? We can’t change the students, we can’t change the standards, we can’t change the general blasé in the average student, and we can’t single-handedly change the world. What we can do is change our internal metrics for how we evaluate and relate to our students. Our football team may not finish this year with a winning season. Despite the best efforts of our coaches, they may not be able to turn what is a good group of light-hearted boys into a serious group of dominating athletes. But does that mean that their season will be a failure? Is the record of 2-4 the only metric they should use to measure success? It’s an important metric but it’s not the only metric. Should our student government group who worked so hard to put on a fantastic homecoming event be discouraged by the low participation rate, or by the unfortunately negative attitude of some of the locals? One of the sisters who wants to be a doctor went to the homecoming dance and told me that she had a wonderful time.

Unfortunately, I can’t honestly guarantee that every student in my classes is going to pass my course, or even learn any of the expected outcomes that I have chosen to teach. I can’t force them to participate, come to class on time everyday, or even remember to spit out their gum. I can’t make them care or choose goals for a future they cannot comprehend (yet). Does that mean that I am a failing teacher? The answer depends on how I define my personal metrics for success.
(Read The Metrics part 1 here.)

1 comment:

  1. thanks for this post.. i think it is easy to get depressed within special ed when often times the learning (from students) can be such a slow and frustrating process.. i got a lot to think about .. how do i measure my own personal success??

    thanks.. peace..