Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fighting a losing battle

It must be a tough job to write up the constitution of any country, it needs to be tight enough to catch as many of the criminals as possible but at the same time, reasonable enough to allow the innocent to walk if they are ever wrongfully tried. It must be a tough job to be an honest lawyer or a judge to uphold the law to make sure that no innocent man is put behind bars and put through the horrors of prison but at the same time, to keep most of the criminals behind bars, away from society.

Over the years, I have often thought about the idea of "innocent until proven guilty" and have been comforted by it. It seems like a scary thought when you are framed for a crime you did not commit and are punished for it. No innocent man should ever go through that. I used to feel that it is a bigger injustice to put an honest man in prison than to let a murderer walk free because of a technicality or loophole in the law.

We would much rather see a criminal walk free on a "technicality" if that same technicality helped an innocent person stay out of prison. It doesn't make it any easier to see a criminal walk free with that smug look on his face, but at least an innocent victim was saved from a horrible fate.

Recently, I tried to apply that idea to my job and found it very disturbing. Its weird how similar a teacher's gradebook is to the law/lawyers/judges. It needs to be tight enough to make sure that those who work hard and work sincerely pass but not so tight that everybody fails no matter how much they try. It has to be fair. My idealistic view was that a good gradebook would be 100% fair. Nobody who deserved to pass would fail and nobody who deserved to fail would pass. What I did not realize was that this is not a good gradebook, it is the perfect gradebook. And nobody has it. At least not in my school and school district. Apparently we need to pass 80% of our kids, which means curving grades, which means, a few students who do not deserve to pass will pass. And the kids that are aware of this loophole will take full advantage of that.

I just surfaced from a struggle with everybody to stay true to the grades that I had entered in my gradebook, a student who never showed up to class, never completed work on time, ended up passing my class on a "technicality". I had to sign off his gradebook and allow him to pass this year. It broke my heart as I thought about the kids who work their tails off to ace my class or even to pass it. And then there is this kid who knows how to work the system against the teacher and passed on a technicality.

Everybody keeps wondering why the American school system isn't getting any better. Try teaching at a public school for just one month - I challenge you. Teach in a public school for a month, not just for the sake of teaching, but for the sake of making this a better system for the kids, a system that teaches respect, discipline and good work ethics. You will quit within that month. Why? Because nobody will support you. Every teacher who strives towards this goal is shot down, by the students, by the administrators, by the parents, by the community, in favor of better graduating rates and passing rates. As long as teachers are held accountable for the students passing or failing, the education system will be flawed, unless we put the sense of responsibility and accountability back in the students' hands, the education system will be flawed. If I ever did badly in a class, my parents questioned me and my work ethic, not my teacher's work ethic. For any kid that walks into my class, I know that less than 5% of them will actually use the Physics I teach them to make a career or support their career. I couldn't care less even if they aren't perfect in Physics, it will make me prouder to see them walk out of my class room with a better understanding of treating people with respect, having the discipline to do their work sincerely and most importantly, have a good work ethic. That is what school is supposed to teach teenagers. Everything else comes easy after that.

I would much rather see a kid who doesn't deserve to pass get a passing grade than to fail a kid who deserves to pass, that is for sure. It doesn't make it any easier to see the lazy kid walk away with a smug look on his face, but as a teacher, I have to think about all my kids and what is fair to all of them.

I don't think I have grown as much in any other job/role in my life as I have in this past one year being a teacher. This job calls for such a huge sense of maturity, the ability to fight battles and keep carrying on from the ones you lose. I don't know if there is another job where you get so invested in the people you are working with, your students. I will never understand the people who are able to be teachers as just a part of the job. Its more than a job. It hurts me everytime my kids fails and it lifts my spirits everytime they succeed, as though they were my own kids.

I guess all things said and done, there will be those that slip through the cracks, work the system against you, there will be those that hate you, hate your guts and annoy you to no end. But being a teacher means being the bigger person, remembering that these are just kids, giving them the benefit of the doubt, believing that they will learn eventually and just keep working till that day. But all things said and done, there will be those kids who will love you, who will work for you and for the love of the subject you teach, who will come after school to hang out in your classroom while they wait for their rides back home, and who write little notes for you at the end of the year telling you how much they will miss you :)

I feel emotionally drained after spending a school year fighting for my kids, against everybody who stands in the way of their education, without any support within the school (except for my wonderful wonderful mentor). I ask myself at this point, will I fight just as hard for the kids next year? The answer is a very tired sounding yes, but a yes nevertheless. The day that answer turns into a "no" is when I need to quit being a teacher and find something else to do.


double head said...

The fact that you have written a beautiful blog on this topic makes you a very concerned teacher. I enjoyed reading your blog and I could feel your agony.

Anonymous said...

I support you with all my heart my love.

Anonymous said...

I teach elementary school and sadly the same thing is happening at this level. I agree with everything that you have written. It is so sad to see what has become of education in the US today.