I seriously cannot believe that I made it through my first semester at the H.S. I teach at. Considering it's 95% boys and I'm a fairly young(ish) woman, it was that much more difficult.
I'm glad that I came back to teaching, but it is very hard to not be jaded and frustrated, and believe it or not, sometimes it is not the students that have me pulling my hair out when I get home. Hearing things like, "Our students aren't ready for us to insist on homework as a major part of their grade," and "We have to realize where these kids live," etc., etc. just annoys me. Perhaps because I come from the very unique perspective of having taught at both the 4-year and 2-year college-level, I feel a great sense of urgency in the education and preparation of my students. I have very high standards. (Not to say that others don't, of course.) I expect them to learn and value their education, now, immediately, and to realize that if they have any plans of getting out of whatever potentially bad situation they are in, they can only guarantee it with a solid education. The excuse is just that--an excuse. Everyone must work hard, and I admit, some have an unfairly more difficult starting point than others, but complaining without actively doing something about it is not going to help them get a high enough score on the SAT to place out of remedial English and Math.
I've taught remedial English on the college level. It is not a good place for ANYONE to be, especially students just graduated from NYC public high school who are entitled to that same education they will get in remedial English--and pay for--when they were high school students for free. Making excuses and claiming "Our kids aren't ready," just allows them to become comfortable with mediocrity--because ultimately, aren't we claiming that because of their race, socioeconomic status, and zip code that they do not have to be held to the same standard of academic excellence? And isn't that doing them a greater disservice than insisting on excellence from the get-go? And isn't that racially, socially, and economically biased? I'm sorry, but I'm just not comfortable with that.
I've seen what happens when teachers make excuses for their students--and I've taught those students, struggling through their third, paid for, semester of remedial English, still struggling to pass the CUNY WAT (Writing Assessment Test). No one will convince me that the test itself isn't significantly flawed. I've graded it, and it is. But at the moment, it and other college-level writing assessment tests are what our kids are facing--and those tests, and eventually their bosses--don't care where they grew up, or what happened in their neighborhood the night before, or what financial difficulties their family might be having--they want results. They want high-performance. They want a student and an employee with skills. As an educator, aren't I obligated to prepare my students for this world--cold and harsh as it is? Because if I don't prepare them, and I don't give them the tools and skills to succeed--aren't I not doing my job? I'm not going to be able to write out 120 resumes for each of the seniors I might teach in a year, and I'm certainly not going to go on a job interview with them and explain to their hopefully future employer that, "Yes, Mr./Ms. So-and-So, Billy does not speak or write standard written English and he has not mastered the art of managing his time to successfully meet deadline, but you see, he's not ready for that, yet I think you should hire him anyway." How's that going to go down? Shame on anyone for not thinking about that aspect of their students' educations.
Perhaps I should be more idealistic, but that just isn't me. I could put on those perpetually rose-colored glasses and say that yes, all kids want to be successful and they want to achieve. I could say that--but I won't. I'm pragmatic. I want to deal with the issues now--not two, three, or four years down the road--because that is just too late. I'm okay with saying that many, if not most, of my students are content with mediocrity. Sure, they probably wouldn't mind being academically successful, but they aren't currently going out of their way to do anything about it. They do not realize how dire--how truly urgent--their situation is--and isn't it my job to instill that urgency? To make them realize just how dire the situation is? For whatever reason, there IS a culture of under-achievement in our educational system. To lie and say that it doesn't exist seems insane to me. Education standards need to be high--in all areas, for every student--and I will put the blood, sweat, and tears in to make sure they are successful, but I'm not going to lower my standards because of claims of readiness, race, or anything else, because if I did, my students are going to be the ones to pay for it--literally.