Response to Luke Kohlmoos

I would like to address Myth #5, “More Effective Teachers are the Answer”.  ( Author Kohlmoos doesn’t specify whether he means “more” as in quantity, or “more” in the comparative sense.  Based on the content of the paragraphs, I believe it is the latter.

When I came to the mainstream classroom, I brought years of university level teaching and “success” with me.  For over a decade, I’d guided and instructed students as they moved through the various levels of ESL instruction using a selection of diverse methodologies and solid pedagogical practices.  Each new class, of course, required a slightly different approach, almost as though the body of students were a single entity with a unique persona.  The added factor was that within that entity were varied individual elements as well.  Thus, my repertoire of strategies, means, and responses was extensive and adaptable.

Regardless, nothing I’d experienced as an instructor overseas or in the United States prepared me for a main stream urban high school.  In short order, I went from feeling confident in my ability to deliver a curriculum effectively, guide the students meaningfully, and produce results adequate to future goals,  to wondering why nothing worked.  This past year, for example, I was assigned four English 1 repeater classes – that is, students who, for the most part, had taken the class before and failed.  The average GPA in these classes was a D or 1.0,  with many students falling well below that level. A D is passing in California high schools and often students are satisfied with that.

Naturally, the majority of these students had low skills which correlated their GPA.  Passed year after year, these sophomores (10th graders) brought fourth grade competence to the high school classroom.  They had no history of a school work ethic.  Doing homework was unknown, literally, for 95%  of the students. Reading skills were dismal, with the resulting low levels of vocabulary competence.  In an attempt to meet these teens where they were, I created lessons that introduced information with exemplars and scaffolding,  offered texts that made relevant and interesting connections to real life and spoke to the universal condition of humanity through fiction and non-fiction. Over time and with repetition, basic skills were actually advanced, but without a willingness to do anything outside the classroom, the more complex, academic skills and proficiencies remained largely stagnant.  Ten years of experience and special instruction, plus sixty hours a week in class and doing preparation were not enough to make the kind of educational inroads that were always my goal, though, of course, there were the surprises, the successes, and  those who gradually woke up to their own future.  The statistics of teachers who leave the classroom after a few short years are tied to this type of frustration and the often attendant discipline problems. Most teachers truly do want to make a difference, and these assignments are excrutiatingly difficult to sustain.

Today,California has millions of such children; those who have never “bought in” to education in the first place, whose households are largely headed by undereducated adults naïve about the intellectual demands of modern life, and students, who, when queried, admit to a certain “gamesmanship” in regard to the learning process. Several teachers at my school had the same tale, one in which students have confessed that somehow they feel they have “won” if their teachers cannot convince them to do the work or succeed in school.   This is a conundrum worthy of Hercules, but not those who espouse the short-sighted dictums of “No Child”.

Like the Gordian Knot, the issues of why students’ test scores are not rising are many and complex.  It is a short-sighted legislator or “expert” who does not spend enough time in the troubled schools of theUSto know what is really going on.


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