Wednesday Morning Ramblings

Here’s an illustration of what’s wrong with education today.  First, for the last five days, I’ve graded almost non-stop because all of my sections started out overfilled, and now, at the end of the semester, I’ve still got as many students as I normally begin the semester with.  There’s almost a sadistic mandate from the highest levels to overwork us and burn us out.  It truly seems purposeful, as if administration views educators as a disposable commodity with an infinite supply.  Perhaps there is an endless supply of warm bodies to proctor a course, but in my experience, it takes years to develop professional educators, and the percentage of people who can grow into professionals is relatively small.  So one major flaw in our system today is the best quality educators, at least from my perspective, are being driven from the career because of burn-out and mental fatigue.

The second major flaw comes from how the K-12 system has created a generation with no concept of accountability.  Yesterday was a perfect snapshot of this mentality.  A student had flubbed her internal citations for a major paper; she wasn’t even in the ballpark of what I had taught.  After asking me to explain to her how to do it properly, she continuously interrupted me to tell me I was wrong and that she had in fact done it correctly.  Again, she wasn’t even close yet believed she knew more about MLA style than I do.  I was so irked by her disdain for my authority on the subject I literally had to walk out of the room.

From talking with colleagues, I’ve found that this particular mentality is becoming more and more prevalent among freshmen.  How dare we question them or hold them to standards!  For their entire academic careers, all they’ve had to do was show up and put something down on paper to get passed along to the next level.  While many honors and advanced programs do maintain certain standards, what we’re seeing is that the less rigorous ones seem to have none.  Showing up is all that’s required.  As a college instructor, I’m indescribably frustrated by this erosion of principles because as a composition teacher, often I’m the first person to hold these kids accountable for their lack of ability.  Therefore, I’m the villain for ruining their opportunity for higher education.

Like the old cliche states, children are our future, and from my vantage point, our future as a world leader is on shaky ground.  Without standards or accountability, children are coddled into believing that quality does not matter, and as quality evaporates, so does competitive edge.  In a global economy, competition is more fierce than ever, so at a time when we need it most, we are robbing our children of their competitive spirit because of a flaw in the system that encourages passing along children regardless of performance to maintain funding.  Older teachers who have worked in the K-12 system know exactly what I’m talking about, and many of them either already have or soon will flee the system because they are “encouraged” to lower their personal standards to meet the declining abilities of students.

The real crux of the problem is that most administrators have very little in-class experience.  Some do, but most don’t.  Most are trained administrators, so the system has evolved into one where the people with the least experience with classroom management and course development have the most say-so in setting the guidelines for how the system works.  To me, that seems like backwards thinking.  I know other sectors, such as manufacturing, have gone through similar struggles, where the people making decisions on how a particular line runs have never actually operated the machines, but education is not manufacturing or food service.  Education is the foundation for everything else, and I do mean everything, so we as a nation are setting ourselves up for failure because we have broken our own foundation.  All I can say is it’s a frustrating time to work in this profession.

13 thoughts on “Wednesday Morning Ramblings”

  1. I agree with you on this. I have a 5th grader and a 10th grader. If it wasn’t for their own personal need to excel, they wouldn’t have to in the classroom. there is a generation of kids who think you should be rewarded for just trying.

  2. Have you ever read Generation Me from Jean Twenge? It talks all about that and how schools are now so focused on building self-esteem that everything else is falling apart. A very good read.

      1. What scares me is that I am technically a part of that generation…and actually met several of the traits of the generation. Scared the crap out of me.

      2. There are still intelligent, ambitious people coming out of the system, but the problem is that they seem to be becoming the exception rather than the rule. You’re right. The lack of intelligence is spooky.

  3. Andi posted this blog on facebook, and as a recent MAT grad, I had to check out this post. What’s also frustrating is that the powers that be aren’t even interested in change. I sat through a year-long Masters program in which I fell in love with everything we learned about teaching, discipline, and working with adolescents. Everyone ELSE in the classroom scoffed all the contemporary ideas and said they will never work. Guess who was the ONLY one from the class of 21 to not be offered a job? Everyone (even the powers that be) complain about the broken education system, yet when presented with solutions, they adopt such a pessimistic, defeatist attitude about it.

    1. For those of us who’ve been in the trenches for a while, we see every year some new solution rolled out that turns out to be more bureaucratic layers and oversight. After a while, we grow a little cynical of the new, but I do understand your frustration.

  4. Reading through my comment again, I feel like it comes across as more accusatory than I intended. I didn’t mean to suggest that you were one of those who talk about the broken system, although it does seem to read that way now that I look at it. I agree with everything you said about the rising generation and the school system, I am just frustrated by the aversion to change. I understand the hesitation, but I can honestly say that it wasn’t until college when I found myself regularly getting excited about learning. Maybe I was more mature, maybe it was because I felt freer, or maybe the material was presented in a way that it actually had meaning. Maybe all of the above. I just wish there was a way to instill that excitement in school-age kids, but I feel like the focus is in entirely the wrong place. The result is that the system fails the students — it fails to inspire them, fails to hold them to high expectations, fails to hold them accountable. Then, when the students get to college… they just fail.

  5. Alex, I have to agree with you about all you’ve said. However, I teach special ed, which has its own different set of problems with expectations. My students, some of whom have much lower abilities than the average student, are expected to learn the same amount of information and to meet the same standards on tests. Yes, they may get some “modifications” on their tests – I can read the test outloud to them and they can get extra time and maybe an extra break or two, but the expectations are still the same. I want to cry everytime one of them says, “What does this mean?” about an awkwardly worded question and I have to say, “Honey, I can’t tell you: this is a test.” Often there’s a good chance that they could actually answer the question if they understood it.
    Even at 6th grade level, I see that lack of accountability. I can’t give good examples of that because each one is different. The example I gave above happens so often I can’t even tell how many times it’s happened.
    We often try to get the students to read library books on their own, only to have them say, “I forgot” and to have the parents, who were informed at the beginning of the year of this policy, to say that the 15-30 minutes of reading per day is “too much homework”. Or to claim that their child is sick when said child asks to stay home because they have a test or an assignment due that they aren’t ready for.
    But, perhaps, the worst thing for my students is that they already believe they are failures. I have to convince the children that I believe in them and their ability to succeed in order for them to even try on the assignment.
    I’ll get off my soapbox now. Alex, I’d love to discuss this with you more, but in not such a public forum. Perhaps the next time we’re both at a convention we could take a few minutes to talk?
    Sandra 🙂

  6. As an ex-middle school teacher and a freshmen instructor at the university level for three years I agree with the crux of your argument. Also, it is evident from the comments that there are other circumstances at play here that are just as valid. However, I believe that the standards issue is more about imposing standards, i.e. standardized testing, on students than their lack thereof. The current generation in college has known only standardized testing as the benchmark for how well (or not well) they are doing. Of course their teachers also test them, but the standardized test is believed to be the final measure of their ability. The issue is that nearly all standardized tests are multiple choice, which after 10+ years of these tests children learn that there is only one right answer to a problem. for example, my third year of teaching freshmen (in a teaching fellows program) I had a student say that he wanted to be an English teacher so he could be there the moment his students are taking their tests and one of them gets the correct answer causing his/her face to light up. This is the worst possible reason to be an English teacher! Ultimately, the issue with students second guessing you or even dismissing your expertise has more to do with their belief that they know the one way to do something/solve something because they have not only been selecting the one right answer their entire schooling career, but they have also been very successful at it. So, when they are given a differing or alternative view they cannot reconcile it cognitively, particularly when they are wrong.

    1. I like your insight and agree it! As a middle school teacher with “the test” hanging over my head from the first day of school to the last, I find that almost all of us test our students in a multiple choice format on a regular basis – to help them be more “comfortable” when taking “the test”. BTW, the test is going on this week – tomorrow we have my subject – social studies.
      And, yes, I have experience the constant arguing, too. They’re so sure they’re right. Whether they actually are or not is immaterial to them. Oh, well, we’ve all said it. They argue with us.

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