Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What a Shame...

Off Topic for this post, but since my wife is leaving teaching, the thing she loves the most, for similar reasons, it is worth a mention.

Marian has taught high school dance for nearly 30 years. She works tirelessly to provide her students a glimpse into an art form she feels passionate about. Well aware that the vast majority of her students will not be professional dancers, what she wants them to know is the discipline of working hard to achieve a goal, the teamwork that goes into choreography and presentation, and the exhilaration that comes from a performance that moves an audience to wild applause.

About 20 years ago she decided to teach in inner city schools, to help provide that kind of personal expansion to kids that may not have a chance to experience it. For 12 years or so, she was successful on so many levels. There were some kids that didn't want to dance, and a few trouble makers along the way, but it was way off balanced by the kids that blossomed, grew, became confident and changed little things about their lives.

About 8 years ago it started to change. Change a lot. The kids, the parents, the administration, the incredible level of incompetence that simply pervades every level of public schools.

She has received more than a few letters over the years thanking her for making a difference. Two even credited her with literally saving their lives. One girl decided against suicide after taking dance, and another decided to quit the path to gangdom she had been on... that girl is now a dance teacher in Texas.

Nowdays, well, it's different. Way different. The kids don't participate, they are argumentative, incapable of self control and seriously not interested in learning anything about dance. (Why do they sign up for the class you ask? If I had the answer, I would share.) They are coddled by an administration too fearful of lawsuits to impose any discipline and are so full of 'self-esteem' that they are not interested in taking any correction. Correction and teaching equal 'dissing' them. Combine this with an administration that has become increasingly more hostile toward teachers than ever before and youhave an untenable situation.

So a dedicated teacher of 30 years quits. Preferring taking a hit on lifestyle from decreased income to banging her head against an increasingly uncaring bureaucracy, disengaged parents and kids who think that school is where you listen to your iPods, hang out and text your buds. (Yes, it is an inner city school... yes, in one of her classes virtually every student has an iPod, they all have cell phones and the phone of choice is a Treo. Inner city.)

So this is the second day of her last week of teaching. No more early mornings, late evenings, concert weeks, late night phone calls from angst driven students, papers to grade, Saturday rehearsals, late nights with the stereo blasting while she works out yet another choreographic masterpiece for her kids, choosing music (my favorite), and filling in those little bubbles for end of semester grades. And a lot more that makes her an incredible teacher. A lot more.

She starts retirement next week and is already planning to clean the garage. Sheesh... I want her to take a couple of weeks and just hang, listen to the stereo (we don't have an iPod) and text her buds...

Then it is off to chapter 3 for this amazing lady.

This post nearly made me cry because of how scary the situation is for the kids, the schools and the country...

A Dream Lay Dying
Still, I believed that with a real newsroom we were ready to make significant progress. Before my arrival at Stillman, my colleague Lucinda Coulter had produced the student newspaper on her home computer without charging the college a dime. With a campus newsroom, we assumed that our students would begin to take the profession seriously and would love hanging out in their own space.

We soon learned that we had been naive. Nothing changed. Students rarely came to the newsroom except for classes. The majority preferred to socialize with their friends during their spare time, and others knew that one way to avoid an assignment for the newspaper was to avoid the newsroom where story leads and tips were posted on the bulletin board.

My colleagues and I were witnessing the result of low admission standards. Were we expecting too much of young people who scored poorly on the SAT, who were rarely challenged to excel in high school, who were not motivated to take advantage of opportunities to learn, who could not imagine where a sound education could take them?

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