Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Don't worry, it happens at my school all the time

Out of New York City comes the story of 21 year-old Tatiana Reina. It seems Tatiana had herself a good ol' time attending high school, as it took her 6 years to complete it, with an academic record that, in the words of the New York Post, included, "a dismal record marked by truancy and failing grades." Not to worry though, Tatiana's principal made sure that she still received a diploma, after she allegedly pressured Tatiana's teachers to inflate her grades to ones that barely managed to squeak her through.

What does Tatiana think about all this? The last line from the article pretty much sums things up:
Asked about her atrocious attendance, she explained, "There wasn't no problem. I just didn't go."
This article caught my interest, because my fellow teachers and I see this academic atrocity every stinking year at the middle school at which I teach. I have taught more students than I wish to count whose GPA was either 0.00 or something just above it, yet they are passed on to the next grade for the next school year. I have taught 8th graders who received a grade of F in every one of their classes during every trimester, and they still moved on to high school. The worst thing that happens to these failing 8th graders is that they don't get to participate in any end-of-the-year activities such as walking in graduation or attending dances and trips. Big whoop - they still get to go to high school the next school year. Unlike this school in Brooklyn that passed on Tatiana, at least the high school into which my middle school students are fed actually still - presumably - has specific standards that prevents a student like Tatiana from graduating.

Even when a parent wants her child to repeat a grade at my school, it doesn't happen. I will never forget a couple of years ago, when during the first week of school, I called the mother of one of my 7th grade students who was already exhibiting behavioral issues in class. When the mother answered the phone, I did the standard teacher phone introduction: "Hello Ms. So-and-So, I am your son's 7th grade history teacher." There was an uncomfortable silence, and then the mother said, "I'm sorry, did you say '7th grade'?" I confirmed this, and the mother proceeded to unload on me about how she had called my principal and the school counselor back in June, and demanded that her son repeat the 6th grade because he had failed just about every subject during the previous school year. Yet, that student was still passed on to the next grade, even after the student's own mother had asked that he not be.

What really disheartens me and the other teachers at my site is that our students know all about this charade being carried on in my school district. They know that they can goof around, not do any work at all, and they will still be passed to the next grade. They even tell us teachers that they know this. Unless a student has a conscientious parent at home who demands that the student do what is required in school, then there is little other incentive to get the student to perform. Due to budget cuts, our sports program was done away with two years ago, so incentive to keep grades up to play has been removed. On the other hand, that never seemed to be a big motivator for many students, even if they loved to play sports. I remember one 7th grader I taught who was convinced he would be going to the NBA. The fact that he was never academically eligible to even play basketball at the middle school level didn't seem to faze him.

What do you do when nothing works anymore? Even showing a movie, which used to get the interest of my generation, seems to be blase' to this generation. There seems to be little that inspires, that motivates, that lights an intellectual fire which will get these students to want to learn much of anything. For too many, even the prospect of failing high school doesn't seem to bother them.

The list of reforms that must be made is a large one, but for starters, perhaps society's safety net, which was turned into a hammock about 45 to 50 years ago, needs to be reverted back to a simple safety net again. From what I see, I don't see much urgency of economic survival in the attitudes and actions of many of my students. I certainly don't see that from Tatiana Reina. That needs to change.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson


Clay Boggess said...

It seems that the system is weakening our young people by making it easy for them to fail and eventually turn into unproductive welfare recipients. This article is a powerful testimony. Something must change! Are we afraid to hold students back who don't meet academic standards? What must give? We must teach our children consequences for every decision they make because this affects everyone.

Darren said...

It's actually a disservice to the student, because state law actually comes into play in high school. A student must pass 4 years of English, two years of math including Algebra 1, etc, in order to graduate. And with Ed Code Section 49066 in play, the students who've been allowed to skate for so long all of a sudden hit a brick wall.

It's more than a disservice, actually; it's a shame, and if anyone were doing it besides the State it would be a crime.