So the STAAR results came out two weeks ago and for my district here in the big oil town of Midland, Texas, they were not very good. I read an editorial in my hometown paper that stated, “MISD owes explanation for what students are learning in classrooms”. I agree. I think we do owe an explanation as to why our scores are poor. We need to be honest with our community and our parents. Telling us what we want to hear isn’t going to fix anything. No parent or community wants to hear their schools are failing. But if you look at our scores, they are. But why?
I think I have some answers to those questions from the perspective of a teacher. I teach 8th grade social studies and am a department chairman. That means I have one foot in the teacher world and one foot in the administrative world. I have the unique vantage point of seeing both sides at the same time and it ain’t pretty.
Today in a job interview the candidate asked, “What is the toughest part of teaching”? Without missing a beat our teachers responded, “STUDENT APATHY”! I agree. But why? I believe we have created a culture of learned helplessness and have removed many, if not all, of the consequences placed on students. They fail, they pass. They fail STAAR, they get another two chances to pass. They fail social studies or science STAAR, nothing, they move on. So that begs the question as to why a student who doesn’t care about grades would put effort into passing a test that has no power to limit them to going to the next grade?
Right behind student apathy is the lack of discipline in the school. I read an article in the paper where our MISD leaders claimed discipline was improved this year. Not where I teach. Numbers would prove that, and anecdotally I guarantee things did not improve. Lack of follow through and consistency were our main culprits. We implemented CHAMPS this year. Go to any teacher meeting and when this word is mentioned you will hear a loud guffaw. Did this new discipline plan work? Only for the students whom any discipline plan would work. But we need a serious plan for students who routinely disrupt the classroom and hallways. Persistent misbehavior is no longer an offense that can get a student expelled or even ticketed (thank you Texas legislature).
So What Do We Do?
- Hold students accountable
- Back teachers and administrators
- Create schools where teachers feel empowered and students feel safe
- Take poor behavior and disruptive behavior seriously and create immediate consequences and implement that consequence
- Fail those students who do not pass the majority of their classes
- Recognize many of our problems are societal, but can be addressed at a school level
- Make no excuses
- No obfuscation, the truth is the truth, no matter how ugly
- Talk is cheap, action is powerful
We have serious problems that need serious solutions. Huge blanket fixes will not FIX the issue. Schools need to be empowered to enforce a stringent set of guidelines designed to move students to a higher academic level. Those students who seek to act out and thereby disrupt the learning of others MUST be dealt with immediately.
Will we do this? I hope so, but I must admit I am dubious. [Tweet “Too much money and power is at stake with education today. Huge salaries and relative security in one’s position make radical change distasteful.”]
My hometown paper is correct, an explanation is owed for what your students are learning in the classroom. Until next time, peace.