A Teachers Lament

I am part of the problem....

It definitely won’t make the news, but Duval County failed another student today, though they are not alone as I failed another student today as well. I am not talking about failed in the sense we gave them a bad grade, and F, I am talking about it in the sense we let them down, we set them back, we have just made the rest of their lives more difficult.....

If you aren’t already fired up by the county failing students (the second version) something they annually do to hundreds if not thousands of them, don’t feel alone because sadly very few people are, and if that’s the case then don’t get fired up about me failing this last one either, as she definitely won’t be the last one I let down. I teach a special education science class at Ed White high school and I am part of the problem.

Don’t get me wrong, everyday I come to class prepared to teach. I roll up my sleeves and jump right in it’s just as my peers do, unfortunately like many of them I also feel like I am chipping away at a mountain with a plastic spoon. Teachers and students alike are handicapped by the FCAT, unrealistic graduation requirements, a lack of discipline and other policies and procedures mandated by the district or state that don’t make sense, nor do they seem to be in the best interest of us or the children. Everyday so many teachers who want to do well, who want to help the students in their charges do as well as they can go to work feeling like the deck is stacked against them and stacked very high.

My group of students has what we call varying exceptionalities, which means we group, educable mentally handicapped, emotional handicapped and students with specific learning disabilities together. Not only do I have students from all three categories in most of my classes, but I usually also have all four high school grade levels represented as well, and then during a few classes I am expected to teach a few different subjects.

All of my students including those that are capable of doing so much more are on what’s called a special diploma track. When they graduate they won’t receive a high school diploma, instead they will get a certificate of completion, which has more in common with three squares of toilet paper than it does with a diploma.

A lot of my students could achieve so much more if they were in classes with low teacher pupil ratios (two of my classes have more than twenty students in them) and received intensive remediation in reading, writing and math, in fact if those services were provided I may just be able to find a rocket scientist or two, but the powers that be don’t think they those things are important, so instead I am turning out students who at best after many years of dedicated service might make it to lead associate at a box retail store, if they aren’t jailed, living on the streets or on welfare that is.

Instead of giving my students what they need, what would make sense and prove beneficial to them giving their circumstances, I break open my fifteen year old text books that recently talked about an exciting new technology called laser discs, and has used the twin towers in several examples, and try to introduce them to topics they should have learned about years ago, but aren’t nearly as important when considering the fact many can’t read or write or do math on any level approaching their grade level. I have a friend that teaches fifth grade science and I am amazed at how often what the two of us are teaching overlaps.

This year had been amazingly frustrating, instead of teaching them the water downed science that I am, I felt I should be teaching them to read and write properly, or running a G.E.D. prep class as my students who may have aspirations of doing more will have to take it one day, that’s it had been amazingly frustrating, right up to the moment it became down right depressing.

It started when I got a new student right before winter break, she moved here from Michigan. I thought it a bit strange she came on the last day of class, but if you met this girl you might think it fit her. A little quiet and introspective she often writes in her journal when her work is finished deciphering the latest song lyrics or pondering the make up of the world. I asked her why she had come on this day of days (all we were going to do was watch movies) and she replied she didn’t want to have too many absences and since she was here she felt she should.

She has dyscalculia a math learning disorder that makes learning higher maths very difficult if not down right impossible. Except for her math classes and my science class, which I am sure they just threw her into she has all regular education classes.

Despite her above average I.Q. her disability and the absurdity of the situation, one size fits all graduation requirements, has served to seriously set this girl back in life just as it is beginning, and the thing is nobody seems to care, that she is going to earn a special diploma. I was told that for any student not in one of the work programs to graduate with a regular diploma they had to have algebra I and two other higher maths, if they couldn’t pass them regardless of disability they had to be on a special diploma track, though if they renamed it worthless diploma track that would be more accurate.

She’s not the only one, at my school for the most part we don’t even try to put capable, with accommodations, modifications and a differentiated curriculum special education students in regular education classes at my school, students that with help and accommodations could pass most subjects. After all if we don’t think they can pass the advanced math classes required what’s the point.

Here is the thing, when I was in high school, I took general math II as a junior and no math as a senior, if I were in school right now, I would be on a special diploma track, I would be graduating with a piece of paper that wasn’t worth the ink printed on it. In case you were wondering I have two college degrees from the University of North Florida, and my two degrees required a total of 7 credits of math, that’s two classes and a lab. Let me ask you a couple questions, how many of you would have received a special diploma based on our counties present requirements, how many members of the school board would, also how many of you recently used algebra II in your everyday life, and how many members of the school board do you think did.

In our mad rush to catch up with the rest of the world in math and science, despite the fact as far as I can tell we still lead the world in technology and scientific breakthroughs, I wonder how many students we are leaving behind, I don’t know the exact numbers but I know for a fact we are leaving more than a few behind in portable one at Ed White high school.

Why are kids that can barely read and write learning about the Revolutionary War and the cell, again? Why are we forcing students to learn higher maths that many who if they even go to college will not need or use again. Why are we trying to fit every child who is individual and has different needs into a one size fits all curriculum. Why do I get up everyday and go in despite the fact I know I am not giving my students what they need, despite the fact that I know I am part of the problem?.

I don’t have a good answer to any of those questions; maybe you do, because the school board doesn’t seem to have any good answers either

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