Sunday, January 20, 2008

Our Schools Are Broken

I had a wonderful conversation with my daughter on Saturday. She talked about how much she liked school, how much she was learning, and how excited she was about graduation. Sounds like a normal conversation you would have with a high school senior, right? Sadly, not at my house. Until now.

My children have never been scholars. They got a double dose of laziness from their parents. Neither their dad nor I ever applied ourselves in school. Our children never did either. I will not make any excuses for their lack of dedication to their schoolwork or their grades. It's been a struggle.

My son was quiet, unmotivated, and uninterested. He never got in trouble, he never asked for help. He just sat quietly and failed. I brought the problem to his counselor several times, pointing out that he would not graduate on time if we did not get him help. There were no options. He wanted to drop out and get his GED. I was not going to allow it. For his senior year, I moved him to a private school. There were small classes, there was no homework, and they did not accept less than a "C". If you didn't get a "C", you had to do it again until you did. My son flourished, made up his credits along with his regular required classes and graduated on time.

My daughter started down the same road. As a freshman and sophomore, she was unmotivated and failed a few classes. As a junior, she woke up and realized she would be in the same position as her brother if she didn't work harder. She did and also made up some classes after school in an online program at the school. But she still didn't apply herself in all classes and continued to fail in those situations. Her fault but still frustrating.

And she felt like she was treated like a small child. There was a time that her teacher would not allow her to go to the bathroom. She asked. She was told no. She was not a discipline problem. She asked again. She was told no again. She sat there until she was crying because she had to go so bad. The teacher finally let her go. I told her that the next time that happened, leave the class, go to the bathroom, then go to the office and tell them what happened. Tell them to call me. I went to the principal and the counselor. They were no help - for the bathroom situation or the general classroom situations where she wasn't learning.

She had a few really good teachers. One was exceptional. Her name is Angela Ford. My daughter felt like she cared. She felt like Ms. Ford had confidence in her. My daughter had her for 2 classes. And she learned a lot from Ms. Ford. I am not saying any of my daughter's problems are related to teachers. There really are good teachers. My problem is with the school.

There is such a need for security and control that they have forgotten that part of learning is learning responsibility. The parking lot is locked after the day starts. No one in, no one out except for the main entrance that is patrolled by an officer. I get the security issues and need to control access. But the kids feel like they are prisoners, not that they are being protected. My daughter hated it. She said she didn't care if she graduated.

I went to the school right before Christmas to withdraw my daughter. I asked for her transcript. They told me that since she was 18, they probably could not give it to me. I said "You mean to tell me that you required me to write a note for her yesterday to allow her to check out early but you can't give me her transcript?" They gave me a copy.

My daughter is going to Knox County Adult High School. It is a program where students that are 18 and in danger of not graduating can attend to get their diploma. They are assigned a teacher but they work online at their own pace. The teacher is there if they need help.

So back to our dinner conversation. We were discussing her new school. She said she felt like she was being treated like an adult. Like it was her responsibility and if she wanted to get it done, it was up to her. She said that made her want to work harder. She said she felt like the teachers cared. And that she was really learning. That she was retaining more than she ever did in a traditional classroom. She can leave for lunch and come back and no one treats her like she is going to skip school. She can go to the bathroom when she needs to. She can walk out in the hall if she needs a break. And her teacher says she is progressing faster than average. That if she keeps it up, she will finish all her credits and make up all the missing credits to graduate on time. Maybe even early. She said that she didn't care before because she felt like she just didn't fit "school", like she couldn't learn, like no one cared if she learned. She said that for the first time, she wants to graduate. And she is excited. That was a conversation I never thought I would have.

Our schools are learning that every student does not learn the same way. They are making changes but it is slow. There are so many things that are broken, the time it will take to fix them all is overwhelming. Add to that government regulations, test scores, and advancing technology. I don't have answers. I wish I did. I am an educator. It makes me sad.

But the changes we made were good. I am sad that we had to abandon our school to make this work. But this is my daughter's future. And it looks much brighter now.


Ruth D~ said...

I'm glad the change of school has made such a difference. Kids are too important!

calimountainmama said...

I just became a tutor. In a program funded through the bullshit No Child Left Behind Act. In a failing school, with failing children who come from homes with no money. Two days per week, 6-8 kids in my class. I have a feeling I'm going to get pissed (at the system, not the kids)....and there may be fireworks....stay tuned....