I knew student teaching was not going to be easy, and I spent a good deal of time mentally preparing for the numerous personal sacrifices I would have to make to be successful, but I was not prepared for the professional sacrifices I have found myself making this week at TSHS. The principal’s message during an unscheduled and mandatory faculty meeting on Friday made it clear that the very act of educating students should be sacrificed in favor of disciplining students. Although I wanted to speak up several times during the meeting, I held my tongue, sat on my hands, and kept my eyes focused on a spot on the wall to keep them from rolling uncontrollably. Needless to say, it was a terribly frustrating meeting to sit through.
The majority of the meeting concentrated on student dress code and the students’ lack of punctuality. While I believe school is an excellent place to learn life skills, and adherence to rules is crucial, the repercussions for students who may forget to put on a belt or get to class 20 seconds after the bell, is excessive and damaging. Students who fail to comply, even in the slightest degree, are sent to In-School Suspension (ISS) where they are to sit, and do… nothing, I think.
The administration’s rationale for this policy isn’t entirely without merit. They believe that a student who is sent to ISS will learn his lesson and never make the mistake again. In the five weeks that I have been at TSHS, I have yet to see this prediction come true. In fact, the policy seems to be further disengaging students, particularly the repeat offenders. ISS is not viewed as a punishment by these students. At best, it is viewed as a minor annoyance, but mostly it is being used as a way to avoid going to classes where they must work and learn.
On Friday, the 1st period freshmen English class consisted of 5 students when there are normally 20. 3rd period only had 7 of 14 students. The sophomores from 4th period were the only students I taught on Friday, because the 7th period class was non-existent. To make the matter of student attendance even more frustrating, I had no idea which students were in ISS, ditching, or attending a lecture by a guest speaker, meaning I had no idea which students should be given make-up assignments or not, because, as ISS policy dictates, any student who is sent to ISS receives a zero for that day’s classwork/homework.
90% of the 1st period freshmen are failing due to outstanding zeros. This is absurd for two reasons: first, they don’t need to fail, if they are allowed to complete the assignments with a late penalty; and second, they don’t need to miss the valuable in-class instructional time that would support academic achievement on classwork and homework. The ISS policy may have seemed like a good idea in theory, but it is not working in practice. It’s just not sustainable.
My other concerns regarding this policy stem from issues of teacher accountability. Although parents and guardians have been informed of students’ truancy, delinquency, and failure to comply with school rules, they will eventually look at their student’s grades and point to teacher error. I suspect the shift will occur as soon as standardized test scores are released. I am a little frightened to face a parent who asks, “Why doesn’t my child know what they need to know? What have you been teaching him?” because I will have to make a decision to either support the administration’s policies, or be honest. I don’t see a way to answer that inevitable, hypothetical question without shouldering complete responsibility or throwing the administration under the metaphorical school bus.
The week was not entirely frustrating, though. I did enjoy a full day of teaching all four sections alone, despite the liability issue. I am also growing more adept at recognizing individual student’s needs and strengths, which has contributed to more efficient daily lesson and weekly overview planning. I have also noticed an improvement in my rapport with students. Several of them have sought me out this week, either to discuss homework, ask for tutoring, or just chat (usually about football). I am earning their trust a little more everyday, and I would like to think it’s because I make an effort to tell each student that I believe they are smart and capable, and that it takes more effort to avoid the work than to simply do it when they’re given the opportunity. I have told them that I am on their side; I’m not there to tell them they’re stupid; I’m not trying to make them fail. I tell them those things because I truly believe them.I hate that the ISS policy might well make a liar out of me. I wish I could say something to the principal, but I can see what she is trying to do, and I want to support her as well. Knowing that she and I are both new to our respective roles has helped me feel more compassionate towards her than many, many faculty members. The only thing I think she could do differently, would be to listen to the staff that has been there longer, and try to be more flexible and open-minded to ideas that aren’t hers. If she could relinquish an iota of control, she might gain more support from her staff.