“Any bad kids today?” my 10-year-old daughter would ask me as we sat down to dinner. She had always been the teacher’s pet — showed respect, followed the class rules, completed the homework, raised her hand and tried her best. But the real reason my daughter Vanessa was the perfect fourth grader was that she loved school. Vanessa loved getting up in the morning and getting on the big bus to go to HER school. She had lots of friends, loved to read and her only roadblock thus far was memorizing the times tables. Maybe that was why she was obsessed with my daily stories about “the bad kids.” The kids who utterly hated school, who acted out around the campus and who, unknowingly, gave me a story to tell my daughter every night.
I’m a teacher in a Florida high school, and I taught in a Long Island high school. I'm still amazed at the differences today compared to when we were students and afraid of the consequences of talking back to an authority figure. The idea of leaving work at the office and not taking it home is impossible when teachers have papers to grade, lesson plans to write and professional growth plans (the new term for evaluations) to master. Teaching is all consuming. It’s a career that leaves one feeling frustrated, insecure, unappreciated yet occasionally fulfilled that some student in the class actually did learn something useful for their future life.
My first career in information technology was awesome in terms of how much has changed so quickly in the world of computers, email, networking and software applications. After 17 years, I left that corporate world (and its two-hour commute) and chose to teach the next generation how to write code, how to fix a personal computer, and how to use word processing, Excel and PowerPoint. These are skills that every college student needs and are now offered in business education at most high schools. So why is there so much drama everyday? No one could have prepared me for the attitudes and the disrespect that is part of today’s high school culture.
I hate cheating. Today there are so many ways to cheat. In the old days, it may have been writing on your arm and pulling the sleeve up for a complex formula. Today, the biggest enemy is the technology itself in my classroom of 30 state-of-the-art computers. Put your file on a USB, hand the USB to your neighbor, who opens the test document or spreadsheet and changes the name on the document to theirs. Piece of cake. Some have slipped by me because it takes time to prove, but I hate cheating and give all parties a zero. That’s the policy. It’s more incredibly baffling that students continue to do this even after the first guilty party is caught?!
And of course there are the smart phones and texting for answers Parents, please put a block on your student’s cell phones so they can’t text in class or make calls from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. If every teacher took away every phone during the day, we would not get anything accomplished. Students are so easily bored and so insanely addicted to their phones. Electronic devices and iPads simply cause more problems at school with the result being Facebook posts during the day about fights, bullying, cheating, and on and on. The interruption in class time and learning is beyond measure.
My teaching style is all about asking an essential question, discussing current events and then delving into the technology lesson, which is always posted on the board under the word "objective." The mindless daily questions from students sound like “What are we doing today?” (It’s always on the boar; read it!), “Why do I have to learn this?” (Because you’ll need it for the test.) and “Why can’t we ever have a free day in this class?” (Because we have so much great stuff to learn!). Besides those endless comments, there are the power struggles with students who would rather play addictinggames.com on the school’s internet than learn. I actually have discovered and reported students who learned to bypass the network filters and were watching porn on the computers in the school library! At the end of every week, I reflect on what techniques worked and what didn’t. There are well received lessons and good and interested students who leave me feeling like the goddess of education. Yet there always seem to be the muddled attempts at covering the material, and the students who refuse to cooperate, all of which leaves me feeling disappointed and letdown at the whole effort.
There are times of the year when the all important state testing begins, and the pressure is on for all teachers to get their students to show “adequate yearly progress” and to make a high enough test scores to graduate. Teachers must call parents to tell them that their student may be in danger of failing or not graduating. These emails and dreaded phone calls take time and often result in negativity and blame. The voice of a mother telling me to “get off her son’s back” was particularly memorable. (As a parent, I hope to never be on the other end of this type of call.) The sad part is the result of calling home is usually an angrier student for the teacher to deal with for the rest of the year.
The students strangely continue to love the lunchroom fights and occasional teacher meltdowns. And the senior pranks (and other acts of vandalism) seem to be getting more expensive. Somehow a group of students forced liquid cement into the locks of all the doors one weekend, leaving the school with a very big locksmith bill and a day of relocated classes. The kids today seem to enjoy throwing books on the roofs of the portables, lying about doing their work, smoking on the bus, smoking in the physics lab, drinking in the parking lot and cutting classes.
All the while these events happen on campus, there are others supporting the teachers efforts in the back office. The attendance clerk (who also fills in as the receptionist on Tuesday, serves as the extra chaperone on field trips when parents cancel, has lunch duty supervision on Thursdays and acts as the principal’s secretary when she is out sick) is very busy calling home to tell parents that their students are not in school. And the dean of students actually may have a more thankless job than any of us when it comes to the daily contacts with law enforcement officials and social workers.
Parents, we need you. We need your kids to come to school and to be prepared and willing to learn. (It would also be great if they could be a little more respectful while they were here.) We were all teenagers once. I’m trying hard to teach my students how to be successful in school and in life. With some support, maybe I’ll last another year at this job. If not, the amazing true stories I’ve shared with my daughter at dinner will be replaced by the book tour of my next novel, Diary of a High School Teacher.