Teaching at a rigorously academic school has been amazing. Education is one of the most important things in life to me. I am a life-long learner and thoroughly believe that more education is always better than less. I love how my school focuses on classic education! Because of this rigorous curriculum, the expectations are set quite high for our students. However, often I remember just how young the students are. The oldest is only 14. I look at the curriculum set down for our students, even in kindergarten, and I sometimes start to wonder…..
I do believe that not only because of the harsh and punishing cyclical policies of No Child Left Behind and the downward spiral of our culture of not wanting to “challenge” or “hurt” a child’s feelings, the bar in expectations, including in education, has lowered quite a bit in the past decade. It saddens me how little we expect students to be able to do, how little we actually teach them, and how much we continue to stroke their egos.
Which is why I am so happy that there are still some schools that don’t teach to the test, that do allow F’s, that challenge students. Because, if a person, especially a child whose brain is still molding and malleable, is challenged, they are more likely to do more and better. We are stretching their ability. We are focusing on growing the muscle of the brain–just as a coach would push athletes with conditioning, or running suicide after suicide.
Charter schools are a great example of this. They are ruled by a charter–a document created by a bunch of parents who have common goals in education for their children. This charter lays out school policies and procedures, as well as setting down the curriculum and methodology for teaching. My school’s charter wanted to be very professional–to mold young minds to love learning and be mature. We use a curriculum called Core Knowledge, which focuses on important items that all students should have a common knowledge of. That is the basis. Added on top of that is writing solely in cursive, using Saxon math, grammar knowledge, the ability to write strong argumentative papers, and Latin Root Vocabulary (for the elementary students: common phrases, sayings, and idioms).
It is quite a lot. The first graders begin grammar–they are able to label the subject and the predicate (verb). The fourth graders are able to label and diagram Subjects, objects, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and prepositional phrases! They start doing 5 paragraph essays in 6th grade!
I teach English. I have my students for two periods: Literature and Language Arts.
This is my curriculum for Literature:
– 5 novels (including 1 Shakespeare)
– 30 Latin Root vocabulary words per month
– a poetry unit
– 3-4 short stories
– at least 2 5-paragraph essays
My curriculum for Language Arts:
– grammar (labeling and diagramming that I didn’t know how to do until college!)
– writing skills, varying from building and supporting arguments with facts and evidence, elaboration and sentence fluency, different types of intro paragraphs and their corresponding concluding paragraphs, claim/evidence/warrant format, proper citation, and transitional phrases
Sometimes, it gets a little overwhelming for my students. They almost always have reading and writing homework, as well as studying their Latin Root words, on top of daily math homework, as well as whatever their other classes have. It’s a lot of homework. But, they do it–for the most part, and they understand it–for the most part.
I taught the same grade levels last year in history at a public school. Hardly any student did the homework, they all talked and texted during class, never studied, and only a handful would get A’s or B’s on the tests. Throughout the year, I began expecting less and less from them. Maybe it was because they weren’t expected to stretch with their other classes, maybe it was because the school itself wasn’t united on policies, grading, etc, maybe it was because they just didn’t care about history. I don’t know what it was, but I had to dumb down my lessons, lower my expectations and requirements, and I hated it.
I was so excited to teach at this school, where the students try. But, after almost an entire semester, and talking to some of the teachers whose own children are in the lower grades here, I’m starting to wonder. Are we expecting too much of them? Are we putting too much pressure on them?
I remember the first writing assignment we had–a paragraph that used elaboration techniques we taught the first two weeks. The students had to do a prewrite, get it approved, do an outline, get it approved, two drafts each edited by the teacher, and then a final. A little overkill, right? But, also because the entire English department was new this year, the Writing Coordinator of our school wanted to check our edits and suggestions to our students each step of the way. When I gave her the rough drafts with my markings and suggestions (and I was quite impressed and proud of my kids comparing them to my kids from last year), she said, “No. They can do better. They need to fix this and this. They are expected to do that and that. They aren’t writing to our standard.” I was honestly a little shocked, and I’ve continued to be that way every now and then at this school.
Now, I love this school. I love what I teach. I love my colleagues. I love the support the parents give us–they are on our side, not their children’s side, which is GREAT! But, I sometimes wonder–are we pushing them too hard? Our Writing Coordinator would say, “Of course not. They can do it.” But, can they really? I do want to challenge my students. I do want them to develop the learning skills that will help them succeed in high school and college. But, I don’t want them to become overkill. I don’t want their parents and them to stress so much that they don’t enjoy life. Many of my students have high C’s right now. Now, for the vast majority of my students to have over a 75% makes me ecstatic, would make any teacher ecstatic. But, knowing that they have this C, when they are capable of a B or an A because of (mainly the Latin Root Vocab, which I hate because I believe it is above grade level), just kills me.
Public schools are lucky. They can twist and turn and change their curriculum and methodologies for the most part to help their students, as long as they still hit the typically pretty generally/vaguely worded state/common core standards of learning. But, with a Charter, you have to obey what the charter says. You can’t add to it, you can’t change it, you can’t leave parts out. That, I believe is the one downfall of charter schools–they are trapped by their charter. If only public schools could have the support, determination, and unity that charter schools have, that would solve most problems (as well as getting rid of the ridiculous laws that go with No Child Left Behind, but that is another post for another day).
What do you think? How much is expecting too much of our students? How can we find a balance of not teaching to the test and not lowering the bar, but also not overloading them with so much to learn in one year?