My kid’s high school has a Bring Your Parent to School Day. I went today. Before I get into my observations, let me just say this. Teaching is one of the most difficult, thankless jobs in our country these days. It is ridiculously difficult to meet the many and varied needs of students. Far too many parents and families are disengaged and do not set expectations and consequences for their kids and their educational performance. Faced with all of the difficulties they face, I can understand that teachers can lose their motivation. But, still, when I see what I saw today, it really, really bothers me.
First Period — Government
The period started with the teacher discussing the results of the midterm from Friday. It wasn’t pretty. Clearly, most of the kids didn’t study. At one point, one of the kids said that they had never been taught how to study and blamed it on the teachers. Seriously. I don’t remember ever being told how to study. The reality is that everybody studies differently. It shouldn’t be up to a teacher to tell kids how to study. Yes, suggestions on methods they might try, but ultimately … I’m a big believer in this being one of those things every student has to figure out on their own. And here’s where I was gobsmacked by the teacher’s action. His class did poorly on their midterm, so how does he respond. Ten minutes of talking about how they need to study and then the announcement that this week would be “West Wing Week!!!!” Yes, that’s right, he’ll show them. Do poorly on a test and you get to watch TV for the next week.
I get that there is some educational value for high school students with a show like West Wing. Particularly, in a Government class. But … yes, there’s another but here. They spent the entire rest of the period watching West Wing and there was no discussion about what they saw in the episode. I asked my son after the class if his teacher ever talks about what happens in each episode — you know, to use the show as a teaching tool. He told me that the teacher does not. Well, that’s just great. Tonight, during dinner, my son said he feels like his government teacher is the worst teacher he has ever had because doesn’t do anything, he doesn’t even try to teach.
Again, I get it … you have a class full of students who don’t bother to study and do poorly on their tests, why bother putting a lot of effort into the thing. My own kid is one of those lazy students. It’s something I’ve been contending with for years. For some unknown reason, both of my kids have just consistently refused to accept the idea that they need to study to do well on their exams. Every time I see them do poorly on an exam because they didn’t bother to study, I want to throw my hands into the air and give up. But I can’t. I won’t. Their future means too much. I wish teachers would think like that too instead of giving up.
Second Period — English
The kids are working on resumes, cover letters, and thank you letters. Good idea. This is a skill kids should learn and understand. Problem for me is that I’m not sure why it’s being done in English. I know it wasn’t taught in any of my English classes. In fact, it wasn’t taught in high school at all when I was that age. I learned how to put a resume together by reading the section on resumes and business letters in my dad’s book, The Business Writing Handbook. Yes, most kids aren’t fortunate enough to have a parent who wrote such a book, but I’m pretty positive I didn’t get any help or tips in high school. So, it’s a good thing, just not sure about it in English. I thought English was about literature and writing essays and analysis and that type of thing.
And, then there was this. They spent the hour in the computer lab … with half of the kids surfing the internet and the rest barely going through the motions while the teacher looked at each student’s drafts and gave them editing suggestions.
Third Period — Econ
My son is in the Agriculture program at his school. He has raised two pigs and a steer over the past three years and participates in a lot of other activities for this program. He wants to be a vet one day. Students in this program take some classes that are slightly different than the non-Ag students. So, rather than being in Economics, he’s in Ag Economics. Don’t ask me why. Well, actually, ask me why. I found out today. The entire period was spent not on Economics, but on what they need to do to complete the application for the State FFA Gold Certificate, or something like that. And apparently, that’s what they’ll be doing all week, with assignments related to it spread out over the next couple of months as well. One wonders … what about the Econ?
I saw some interesting things in this class. A handful of students never got off their phones. One young lady sat with her foot up on her desk the whole time. There is a leopard gecko in an aquarium in the classroom. At the beginning of class, one of the student’s got the gecko out and was playing with it. Then she gave it to another student. When the teacher realized a student had the gecko he told her to put it back and complained about how easily distracted they were. Here’s a novel idea — then why do you have distractions in the classroom, why do you let them play with their phones during class, and why do virtually all of the students eat and drink in your classroom. That’s more than one idea, isn’t it?
We went off campus and ate at New York Pizza just down the street. I’m pretty sure this is a part of a chain of little hole in the wall places. I’ve seen them elsewhere, but had never had their pizza. Just seemed like one of those places where it would be more cardboard than pizza. Thing is … it was really, really good.
Fourth Period — Wood Shop
The last couple of years, my son has taken welding. He has really, really liked it and has done some pretty incredible pieces of art with a blowtorch. This year, he’s taking Wood Shop. He’s working on a birdhouse. The teacher was all over the place, helping every kid individually. Teaching the right and safe way to use the equipment. I don’t know, there’s something about having 15-20 kids around power saws that I would never, ever be comfortable with. But he did a really good job keeping them safe while also teaching them and helping them.
Fifth Period — AP Stats
A test. That my kid didn’t study for.
Sixth Period — Physiology
The kids spent the entire hour learning … six parts of the skull. Zygomatic, zygomatic arch, frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporalis, zygomatic process to temporalis (or something like that). An entire hour. For six basic things.
But that’s the thing, while every period was scheduled for an hour, the teachers never actually used the entire hour for teaching. Instead, every class ended 5-10 minutes early so the students could get their stuff together and then stand by the door to wait for the bell signalling the period was over.
Like I said at the outset. I get the difficulty of the job teachers have. My own kids, while smart and respectful in class, are great examples of the problem. Why work hard at this thing year in and year out when you keep seeing your students not take it seriously. I know I would lose my enthusiasm for it. I am with my own son. But sitting through a day with my son and seeing virtually no teaching take place just really makes me wonder.
I work in a place where we are seeing the “next generation” starting to come into entry level jobs. There is something about far too many of them. They aren’t prepared, they seem to believe they are entitled, they have remarkably low standards for their own behavior and that of others, their analytical and critical thinking skills seem almost totally lacking. I’m beginning to understand why.