Monday, March 19, 2007

Middle Management

Joanne Jacobs (see blogroll at left) linked to a great NY Times article about the travails of teaching middle school. Seeing as how I teach middle school, this article naturally hit home with me. I freely admit that my ultimate aim is to eventually leave middle school behind and move up to high school. Finding a social science teaching position is extremely tough, and I took the first position that was offered. That position was at a middle school. It is just so frustrating sometimes to have all this knowledge and enthusiasm about my subject, yet the students couldn't care less. Not to say that I think high schoolers would be googly-eyed about history either, but at least the incentive to graduate and the added maturity of another couple years of age are in the mix.

Since the NY Times requires one to register in order to read their articles, I have taken the liberty to post some of their juicier quotes that made me nod my head and utter an occasional "AMEN!":
Faced with increasingly well-documented slumps in learning at a critical age, educators in New York and across the nation are struggling to rethink middle school, particularly in cities, where the challenges of adolescent volatility, spiking violence and lagging academic performance are more acute...

“There was a lot more anger and outbursts,” Christian Clarke, 29, a Bronx high school teacher, recalled of the students he encountered during his four years teaching middle school. “Twice as much time was spent on putting out fires; twice as much time was spent getting the class quiet. Twice as much time was spent on defusing anger in the kids...”

The most difficult high school students often drop out or skip class, while middle school teachers tend to face a full house.

“Problematic kids in high school don’t come to school anymore, but in middle school they still show up,” said Barry M. Fein, the principal of Seth Low. “I think that piece alone makes it more challenging...”
The quote about the future dropouts still coming to school really caught my attention, because I have pondered that fact many times myself. I can think of so many students who I can easily identify as not likely making it past their sophomore year in high school. Yet in the meantime, here they are in my classroom, raising hell and sometimes making it impossible to teach the students who truly want to be there and truly want to learn something. That right there is the biggest frustration I have with teaching. Every day, I see the looks of frustration, boredom, and helplessness on the faces of the conscientous students as they sit there, tediously waiting for the latest class clown or class disruptor to finish his/her performance. Sometimes, I wonder what it is like to truly teach, and not be a policeman and a babysitter instead.

Good Day to You, Sir


George said...

As a High School Teacher I must say that the what you say here,
"It is just so frustrating sometimes to have all this knowledge and enthusiasm about my subject, yet the students couldn't care less." is just as applicable to High School.

I have grown tired of having to justify my existence to a room full of teens every day. Some are interested in the subject, some just see it as a hurdle to jump, and others really don't care (they make teaching the most difficult).

Twice I have been told by my peers that I should be a college professor (which was not necessarily meant to be a complement; being a scholarly teacher in High School is not a valued attribute). They are right.

To be perfectly honest I've never cared much for teenagers. I've spent too much of my life trying to grow up and distance myself from my teen years. I think that if you want to teach you have to care for kids, of which I do to a certain extent.

But many of the teens of today are incredibly needy; emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and even physically. It is overwhelming for the teacher to have to deal with all of these needs, sometimes at once.

The other day I was informed that one of my students got into a serious car accident (during school hours) and was going to be out for awhile. In addition, another student reported to me asking for a pass to the nurse. His molar had fallen out of his mouth. I asked to see it and indeed the root was a in massive decay. One of my students has been missing her front tooth for about 3 months. Mom needs to pay $300 up front for a replacement. A couple of students have been moved into different classes for their own safety. I have more than one student who has at least one parent in prison, and several who have lost family members to gang violence. Another student, on his first day wrote "Valley Hi Piru 7800" on my desk. Another one of my students I see frequently in the morning just off campus handing out something to his friends. I have suspected so many of students as being high but have not exactly been able to prove it.

Had enough? Does this sound like your work place (sounds like working in a prison to me)?

I have to admit that many of the problems drown out the many decent students, their stories, and their families. I am always seeing them through a thick, London fog.

Texas Truth said...

I agree with you 100%. I started out in middle school for 2 years and the moved to high school for 6 years. I then moved back to middle school for 4 years when I relocated cities. I have been in high school now since and will probably stay at my current position until I retire.

Many of the students I know could care less about their education. They think they are going to be a pro athlete, a famous rapper or rich and famous. The interesting fact is that they have no idea how to get there.

I currently teach low level juniors and senior that are on their last leg to graduate. I have no or few problems, but their academic level is so low. Many just want to graduate and get a job. In fact most of my students have jobs and work until 10-12 midnight every day. The money they make is more important than the education they receive.

Here in Texas, administrators are more interested in the TAKS test results that truly giving a student a quality education.

The state mandates that everyone must pass TAKS and teachers schools, and administrators are judged by TAKS.

As far as teaching college, the salaries are probably not as good as I make.

I tell former students who are looking as education as a career to check it out carefully.

I do not know if I was getting out of college now if I would be a teacher.

Just some food for thought. Thanks for allowing me to vent.

In addition, thanks for the posts on my blog. I will link you your blog from mine and will check back often.