Kids these days!
This post should fit in very nicely after my last one in which I identified with crotchety old teachers.
For most of the nineteen years that I've taught here in Warroad, Minnesota, I've had all of the sophomores for American History. I've always liked that situation because I end up knowing all of the kids in the high school from grades 10-12, except for the few who move into our district for their junior or senior years. I really like walking through the hallways and being able to know just about everyone. This also gives me a very good feel for all of the classes that come through our school. To be frank, so far, the feeling that I have for this year's group of sophomores isn't very good. My basic class this year is wonderful, but one of my regular classes is the worst I've had during my entire career. Here are some observations and thoughts that I have regarding the kids I've got this year. Some of them are particular to this group of kids and our school but some of them are more general.
1. The most frustrating and maddening thing is the lack of seriousness that these kids have regarding their education. Now, I know that I am 56, and most of my kids are 15 going on 16, and I understand that there are things in their lives that excite them more than George Washington or the Declaration of Independence. (To tell the truth, there are things that excite me more than those things, too.) But every year, I expect a certain amount of seriousness and attention, and every year I am at least somewhat disappointed. This year I have been disappointed more than usual. I know that school is a social situation, and I don't have any problem with that, but for many of our teenagers it is little more than that. The sophomore year is such an important year in the lives of these young people, because education is a matter of keeping doors open. When a student is a sophomore there is still time to recover from past failures, but it's going to be very difficult to recover if they don't make an effort this year. It is so hard to get many kids to understand or care about that. They really have trouble seeing past next Friday night. By the way, I don't think this is a problem that is particular to my school or this group of kids. I think this is something high school teachers are seeing around the nation.
2. The defiant attitudes of some of the kids I've got this year is shocking to me. I have never dealt with so many kids who do the opposite of what they are directed to do, even when I am looking right at them. There have been times in a couple of my classes this year when I've felt like the little Dutch boy. As soon as I deal with a disruption in one corner of the room, another disruption pops up in another part. If I was going to kick out all the kids who deserved it, I'd have about a third of one of my classes sitting in the Principal's office every other day. I don't think he'd like that.
3. Size matters. Up until a couple of years ago, my class sizes were rarely over twenty-five. (I know there are a lot of teachers around the nation who would kill to have that situation, but I had it for most of my career.) Due to cuts our school has made, having thirty or more kids in a class has become normal. Getting and keeping the attention of kids, effectively dealing with disruptions, and just walking around the room are all considerably more difficult for me than they used to be.
4. Cuts matter. The larger class sizes all of the teachers in our school are dealing with are a result of cuts, but that's not the only effect. Some of the lack of seriousness and behavioral things I'm seeing are societal, but some of it is a result of our school system not being as good as it used to be. Those kids who behave so poorly are coming into my classroom assuming that their behavior will be tolerated. Obviously, they've learned that. Over the last few years, a number of younger teachers have been cut, and at least a couple of them were excellent--teachers who set high standards for performance and behavior. They made my job a lot easier when their kids came up to their sophomore year and walked into my classroom. We've also had a lot of teachers get bumped into subjects that they hadn't taught before, and weren't really comfortable with. And then, as I already mentioned, we're all dealing with larger classes which are harder to manage.
5. It will get better. Part of my problems, so far, stem from it being early in the year. As the year goes on, some kids will improve as they get used to my performance and behavior standards, and there will be some others who will drift off to our alternative learning center. Included in the latter group will be at least a couple of kids with the worst behavior problems, and a couple of other kids who do nothing in class. I have a good idea which kids will end up leaving, and it would save everyone a lot of grief if I could make that decision for them right now. If only!