Educating Young Humans

It was the summer before the state was about to institute the High School Exit Exam. I was paired with another veteran teacher at my school, and two teachers from every school in this unified district sat down in a room for two weeks and we created a Remedial English curriculum to meet the needs of those students deficient at their grade level English standards.

First we addressed the probable reasons for those academic deficits: conduct/oppositional-defiant disorders, mild-moderate unidentified learning disabilities, and second language issues. Then we discussed strategies to address those issues. Each school would have a “behavior” teacher that specialized in effectively modifying the behavior of those students with inappropriate classroom behaviors and turn them into appropriate students (at my school, me! πŸ˜€ ) Then we discussed students with learning disabilities/second language issues and strategies to address those needs (very similar strategies) Then we discussed materials: magazines, newspapers, job application forms, operating manuals for appliances, menus, scholastic book orders (let kids pick their own books! Radical or what!) dictionary skills, internet research assignments, and our own “bag of tricks” of effective lessons and materials we’ve each aquired over the years. We agreed to meet once a month and share our successes, materials, lessons, and our not so much πŸ™‚

My contribution that first meeting was sticker charts and stamps. It was slightly surprising what a high school kid will do for a sticker on their chart, or a particular stamp on their paper! πŸ˜€

Our program was a great success. At my school, in particular, over half the students previously identified by the district as to probably not pass the Exit Exam on the first time did! We went into the summer break feeling good and optimistic we could make improvements to the program and help more students achieve success.

Late in the summer our district wide Remedial team was called in for an unexpected two week long training. The district had signed a contract with a company and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a boxed curriculum and it’s trainers/consultants to meet the needs of the students the Remedial team was already serving successfully, and we were doing it at a small fraction of the cost the district was now paying. The curriculum was designed to be used at the elementary level, and was based on the assumption that all students were at the same remedial level. Just visually alone it was inappropriate instructional material to be used at the high school level.

We began the next school year, picking and choosing parts of new boxed program to implement, while still using the materials and lessons that had been successful the previous year. We made no secret of this. Soon we were all called in to explain why we were not implementing the program as prescribed. We voiced our concerns about the appropriateness of the materials, knowing and meeting individual needs, etc. Apparently our voices fell on deaf ears. Soon we were all sent to another school district to observe teachers implementing that same boxed program to the letter.

After all the observations we would speak privately with those teachers away from our and their administrators and ask them were those lessons what they actually did every day? No. Not a one followed that box program, doing as we did. Picking the elements that helped their students and leaving the rest on shelves and in cabinets (actually in my case what I didn’t use I gave to the Special Ed. teachers) We went back to our classrooms and did as we had πŸ˜€ Defiant teachers daring to meet the individual needs of our students!

Late that year a teacher in our district was called upon to do the dog and pony show using the box curriculum. Again we asked her in private if that is how she really taught day to day. No, was the answer

The next two years continued the same. Also, we, individual teachers, looked for, found, and presented to the district more age appropriate and comparable materials, particularly at the high school level. The district apparently had money to spend in this area, remediation, and spend they did. By the end of the original contract with that company, well over a million was spent on materials, trainings, and consultants.

We continued to voice our concerns and the evidence was conclusive. Each year we were more and more successful having more and more students pass the Exit exam using our own materials and lessons and less and less of the boxed curriculum.

When the district signed a second contact to continue the boxed program, myself and the 3 other teachers at my school working the Remedial program resigned.

Some are born with the gift, others acquire it. Good teachers teach, students learn. It’s not about the materials used, although that helps. When I was in college in the 1990s the research literature said books would disappear by 2000 and all desks would have screens πŸ™‚

Those researchers completely under-estimated the textbook mafia 😦

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