Wednesday, November 02, 2011

As Stupid Does

A friend at Long Island City High School contacted me a few weeks ago, expecting a whole new schedule. How can they change your schedule two months into the term, I asked. That's nuts. Oh no, said my friend, it's not just my schedule, it's everyone's schedule--every kid, every teacher, everyone who actually has a schedule.

I couldn't believe it. How could anyone even contemplate anything so utterly stupid? I kept it to myself, but when I read about it at the Times I figured, wow, they're really going through with it. LIC is a "transformation" school, so the alleged goal is to improve it one way or another. Apparently, the geniuses entrusted with this task felt causing abject chaos was the way to go.

They apparently had a lot of vacancies, but didn't see fit to hire replacements. They thought having kids sit in the auditorium for a few months was a better way to "transform" the school. When that didn't work as well as they'd anticipated, they simply killed the small learning communities and electives programs.  After all, courses that don't culminate in standardized tests won't get you a better grade from the DOE and are therefore useless.

Some kids still have holes in their programs. Under the new paradigm, you might find a kid attending periods 1-11, with four free periods but no math. Teachers met with the principal, who in true DOE style, appears neither to have listened nor addressed their concerns.  I'm told the network leader (Where would we be without network leaders?) showed up and helpfully suggested the problems were the fault of the teachers.

Imagine a school full of thousands of kids who've already received textbooks, but not from the teachers they now have. Imagine the task of collecting books from 170 kids who may just be anywhere. Imagine the empty bookrooms staying that way until the teachers, already nuts from dealing with their new schedule, track down those 170 math books.

I first started teaching in mid or late October 1984. One of my biggest problems was overcoming the resistance of a group of kids whose teacher had simply walked out on them on her retirement day. This is ridiculous, thought the kids. They knew there was no continuity, that something was wrong. And they knew that this was the time to test me, their utterly inexperienced teacher.

Kids test teachers all the time. That's kind of their job. For me, at least, by this time it's largely over. They know what to expect from me for good behavior or bad. That's because I've put quite a bit of energy into responding to their tests. I'm very glad so many are over and done with.

But for every teacher and every kid at Long Island City High School, it's back to square one. What can I get away with in this class? Will this teacher really call my house if I throw just one cheeseburger at her? My last teacher was a pain in the ass but maybe I can do whatever I want here. What the hell. If the people running the school gave a golly goshdarn about me or my education they wouldn't have let me spend two months wasting my time with classes that are now completely meaningless. Why did I do all that homework? Should I really waste my time with more? How do I know they won't change us again come Thanksgiving?

Kids are pretty smart. They may not say these things outright, but they certainly know what's going on. And they're certainly going to react, one way or another. Any principal not cognizant of this has likely not spent the Leadership Academy's requisite five minutes as a teacher.
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