Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year's End

Having just lived through the Quarter from Hell, I've been absent from the Farm for some time. So one of my resolutions (many of which I actually keep) is to post on at least one blog a week in the new year, just to keep my brain from tangling up.

And things do look a bit more promising, especially in regard to my classes. The nightmare of teaching four different overlapping preps to a surlier-than-usual crowd of students, few of them particularly anxious to learn anything I had to teach, is over. I'll only have one new class, and it will be small; the others have been consolidated into two (although there are two sections of each level--Art History 1 and 2--with between 30 and 39 students in each) and I've spent my winter break trying to get lesson plans in shape. I somehow managed to take notes on what worked and what didn't during the Fall term, and have had a chance to address troublesome issues. So, if I can manage to seduce three or four in each section into learning instead of whining, I'll count the upcoming Winter a success.

If I sound like I'm whining myself, I probably am. But I've been gobsmacked by a surprising number of students who simply don't care how they spend their money or whether they learn anything or not. They want simply to get through the course with a D, and if they don't--well, what's another two grand and another eleven weeks with the old bitch? Without the handful of eager learners who did emerge, I might well have been tempted to give it all up, take the minimal Social Security allotment, and chuck what's left of the career.

I'm fully aware that many of my colleagues are out of work altogether, through no choice or fault of their own; I'm also well aware that I should thus be grateful for mere employment. But teaching is one of those professions folks don't go into for the money; we're often passionate and committed and convinced that we've got a mission, and that this country needs good educators. But teaching these days is becoming something of an exercise in head-banging because politicians who know nothing about what's really involved with educating children are making decisions in state, local, and national legislatures that make it almost impossible for teachers to teach and students to learn. Top all that with a growing cultural bias against intellectualism that replaces curiosity with the instant gratification of digital technologies, and we've got a recipe for an abyssal decline in the national intelligence quotient.

Just when we need smart, capable people to help us get along in the world of the future, we're raising a crop of incurious, distracted, artificially connected young people who will grow up not understanding much about history, culture, science, or how to fix their devices.

Nonetheless, I begin each new quarter with hope. Perhaps this time I'll end up with a couple of classes filled with eager, hungry students grateful for the opportunity to learn. Then I can keep on trying to offer opportunities to discover new ideas without having to dumb down my material to meet lowered expectations or lack of enthusiasm. I can also usually bank on getting one or two older students, returning after a military stint or to update their credentials in order to find new work. I guess I'm fortunate that it still takes only a few of these to make the whole enterprise worthwhile.

I find myself thinking on a smaller, more local scale these days. Grand utopian visions seem a bit silly in this time of dearth and drought; but it's a new year. Anything can happen. I keep thinking of a character in the Nero Wolfe novel, Death of a Doxy. Julie Jacquette, a showgirl with an intellect of gold, gets 50 grand for helping Wolfe and Archie catch a killer. She uses it to go to college, and when she writes Archie with an update she ends her letter with "I wish you well."

It seems like an appropriate sentiment for New Year's Eve.

Image credit: uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Magnus Manske. Apparently taken in Norway on New Year's Eve, 2006.


JoniW said...

Happy New Year, Owl. I am sorry to hear so many of your students were like that this quarter. Sounds like GenX II, almost.

I hope 2012 brings you much joy!


jabblog said...

I find this quite extraordinary, Candace. I always thought that students in the US really appreciated the education they worked so hard to attain - no grants, heavy loans, part-time jobs - and more than one - to pay their way. It must be soul-destroying to teach students who just don't want to be there - why do they bother? I hope the few who really want to learn make it worth your considerable effort and time and encourage you to continue.

I wondered where you were - I hope 2012 will be kinder to you. Happy New Year to you and yours and a Peaceful and Healthy 2012.


desertsandbeyond said...

I hate to say it, but my third graders are the same way. I got the "lowest of the low" from second grade. Out of the 22 students (I had 29) who had test scores from last year, only 1 was proficient in language arts! 1/22!!! You do the math...I asked, "What is WRONG with this group?" and nobody could answer my question. The really strange thing is that they came from our former reading coach! It took me 2 MONTHS to get their behavior kinda/sorta straightened out. Then one of them screamed one day, "Let's KILL Mrs. Dean!" and I was sobbing. The next day, the principal "realigned" ALL the 3rd grade classes. I lost 6 kids, got in 8 from the gal next door, and these kids were proficient. Their behavior improved a little bit, as a class, and when the principal asked for someone to volunteer for a 2/3 combo, I jumped in. Another 6 left, and I got 8 more, so now I have 32 students. But the 2nds are HIGH seconds and believe me, I got rid of my worst (and lowest) kids to the other 2 classrooms! Now, things are running fairly smoothly. BUT...I had afternoons when I came home so frustrated that I was in tears. These kids knew NOTHING~~they couldn't write a complete sentence, they couldn't comprehend what they'd has been a LONG uphill struggle. From having 1 child proficient in language arts, I now have 5 (3rd graders), so I've made SOME progress with them...BUT..they CANNOT sit still, they CANNOT focus, they CANNOT retain information...I'm warning you...LOOK OUT! Oh, and their parents are ALL wonderful and supportive, so I don't know if it is too much TV, too much Sponge Bob (they ALL do the stupid dance), too many video games, or WHAT! I talked to a friend who said, "Oh, yes, THIS was the group that ran ME out of kindergarten!" Oye vei!

Anonymous said...

The New Year is upon us,may Winter 2012 bring you students with open minds and willing hearts. Some batches just feed off one another and fall apart like your last class. It happens,there ARE students and people who do love to learn out there I sincerely hope you meet many of them this semester.
Glad you are back at Owl's Farm,I missed you!

clairz said...

Oh, dear, your students sound like the last batch of 8th graders I had before retiring. There were a few who were happy to learn, but I'm afraid they were the exception. I was sad to leave, feeling the way that I did at the end of an otherwise enjoyable career.

My grad school teachers must have loved us, on the other hand--an eager batch of school librarians working on master's degrees, knowing that everything we were learning was immediately applicable the next day at work. We couldn't work hard enough.

I'm sorry you are experiencing such disillusionment. Here's to a better new quarter, and a happy new year.