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Lessons High and Low

School is out at long last. Gargantuan confetti in the form of notebook paper litters the halls, grades are being withheld from students who haven’t returned their textbooks, and nobody’s bothering to take attendance. I’d say it’s time to take stock of my kids’ grades, and what that says about my performance, but honestly I’ve been doing that all semester.

First observation: too many failures. Martin tells me not to take it personally: half of those are chronic truants, not students to whom I couldn’t make myself understandable, and I didn’t underperform the school generally, and he correctly insists that I’d consider one failure too many. So what? “As good as the rest of the teachers in the school” isn’t much of an achievement; Barringer is widely recognized as a bad school, a failing school, a target for reform, effective or merely draconian. And one failure is one failure too many. Intellectually, I can accept the wisdom of recognizing that a lot of students’ performance is beyond our control; emotionally, I’m a first year teacher—I still feel on some level that a room full of beaming A students is possible, and that failing to meet that fantasy is somehow my fault.

Second observation: grades began rather low in the semester, then rose sharply. I cite two causes, neither of which Martin doubts. Most of these students weren’t prepared for the current material, so dragging them up to speed was tough. I don’t have much control over that. I also suspect it took a while—too long—for students to get used to my eccentricities. Gotta work on my presentation, learn to couch lessons in more accessible terms without abandoning the technical terms they need to know. Gotta learn to speak more simply, less precisely.

(Technically, there are three causes to the rising curve in grades: I also refuse to compromise on grading standards. It’s a lot easier to match or exceed the school average, or the NCLB requirements, if you fudge the borderline cases. And I’m not. Never mind the ETSB; if kids can’t pass my test, their education needs reform. But since I refuse to budge on that point, I’m not citing it as a lesson to be learned.)

So the certificate will come, and it’s down to grubbing for a job in a very bad market. But today, I will celebrate: I will get home and crack open a cold beer.

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