Monday, August 20, 2007

Get back to basics

I suppose this is a post that might get me in trouble, but oh well, I'm honest and I'm calling it like it is, and I don't give a damn who it upsets. I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that this school system as it exists now is an abysmal failure. Yes we're worlds better than other mini Pacific Islands in the region, if we look at them as the competition, but we're still not even in the vicinity of up to par in a globally competitive way. I dealt with the finished product, seniors, for four years, so I know exactly what students look like leaving the system, and it isn't pretty. I tried to fill in all the gaping holes as best I could while I was there with seniors. Now I'm with freshmen and trying to establish good habits, which is harder and much more exhausting.

What is clear to me is that teachers system wide simply do not emphasize the basics enough. I would say a full half of the seniors could not write two sentences clearly differentiating plurals and possessives. I mean given instructions, and examples, and days of instruction, a student could not write: "There are ten cats outside my house" followed by "The cat's tail is long and white" consistently if asked to do so. Forget about the wrinkle of plural possessive, that blows the situation up even worse. I suspect they were doing it the wrong way for so long it became ingrained. I wonder if the teachers were correcting these things.

If I had a nickel for every "his my friend" I've seen in a paper, I'd be buying Google tonight. Tense, subject/verb agreement and other mildly confusing subtle word differences like your/you're, its/it's are a train wreck. I've been working on these issues since school started this year, and a considerable number of students still can't do it consistently. Perhaps I suck as a teacher, I don't know anymore, but I'm growing weary and demoralized by this state of affairs -- already. The parents need to get involved. I've never really seen any involved, at least among the students that most need help. They seem to think that parental involvement is strictly an elementary school function. It isn't.

I routinely get sentences without punctuation or capital letters or simply giant uni-paragraph essays. I emphasize the correct fashion pointing out the most common problems almost daily, but it doesn't seem to matter much. I look over 120 of these displays a day, and it wears me down saying the same thing 50 times a day. Of all the classes, Language Arts needs a size reduction, but it is the largest class across the board -- exactly the worst thing possible.

World awareness is even worse. I've had people tell me that Toronto was a city in the country of "Europe," and that "Baby Ruth" was the first African-American in Major League Baseball. Students think the governor is in charge of every last detail of a civilization including the price of gas, and many can't give you a ballpark time period for World War II.

Teachers have a near impossible task here, I know this all too well, but I can say for sure they aren't ensuring mastery of the basics. It has to stop. A student at the very least upon graduation should be able to read and understand literature as simple as the Saipan Tribune and write in at least a reasonably grammatical fashion. They aren't right now, and it has to stop.


Betty said...

Your frustration is understandable. Sorry I don't have the solutions, only my opinion.

As a parent of one of your former students, I think you are a terrific teacher. Do not lose the faith in what you do. You make a difference even if you don't see it day in and out.

Take Teresa as an exapmle. Not the top of the class by any means. Struggled with balancing classwork and her social life, weak in grammar skills with terrible handwriting!

But, look at her now. working full time, carrying 16 credits at NMC (on the Dean's list I might add), and still dancing island show.

The many skills she learned in YOUR classroom assist her every day. If you don't believe me, just ask her. ; - )

I know this doesn't help you solve the problems you face daily, but hopefully it helps you understand the work you do DOES matter.

Jeff said...

Teresa had me in the first semester I was here when I didn't know what I was doing. She would have gotten a lot more if she had me the next year. But thank you.

marianas life said...

The other night, Litcelle proceeded to tell a story to a new teacher on island. She started her story with, "A couple of months ago, my mom dropped me." Then Erik said, "wait, she dropped you? On your head?" I called time out and pointed out to Litcelle that this was a prime example of why she needs to practice speaking proper English rather than the Taglish/Island Slang she's used to. Erik doesn't know she means, I dropped her off somewhere. To him it sounds like I've dropped her on her head or something. I asked her to think about her words and she started over and told the story well enough.

The problem is, if you don't have parents at home who speak proper English, how are you going to learn? If your teachers fail to do it as well, there are never enough opportunities in the day for exposure.

Please compare your students scores on your pre test and what team they were on in 8th grade. I'd like to know.

I feel like a language arts teacher some days. Yesterday we were creating a chain of events graphic organizer on digestion and I asked them to fill in the boxes with action words. What are the verbs that describe digestion in each organ? I found a deck of mad lib cards at Joeten. They are color coded for each parts of speech. Players create sentences by sorting the cards.

Jeff said...

They need to read for fun as well. When they watch tv, they should try to watch things other than slang filled action nonsense. I integrate a little science in my class, though not much. Every class needs to be cross curricular.