Nothing to See Here...Move Along

03 May 2006

I went to another school district yesterday to serve on an accreditation team. Every six years, schools go through a process of renewing their seal of approval. It probably doesn't mean much except for those students who are off to colleges and universities, but it can also be important for schools in the sense that it causes them to engage in some reflection about what's happening.

The team I was assigned to was to evaluate the focus on education/instruction happening in the school. I have to tell you, there wasn't much of that going on.

I checked in on a geometry class. The teacher was at the front of the room, orating directly from the text. The kids? Maybe one or two were paying attention. The rest were chatting, tossing around some hand lotion, or doing other things. But the teacher droned on...every letter, symbol, and nuance of the formulas. I talked with some of the kids---each day was the same: teacher talks, they (supposedly) do homework the remainder of the period. I talked with the teacher, too. He recently retired from another school district where he had taught social studies. He was hired to teach two periods of geometry...and the last time he'd encountered the material was when he was in high school. I asked if he'd received some professional development or support to make the big change to math. "Oh, no---I just stay an hour after class each day and read up on the textbook." And the kicker? He's hoping for a full time contract for next year.

In a science class for special needs students, the teacher was busy doing his own thing with some equipment while two aides assisted the kids with a terrible assignment. They were to find pictures of "diplopoda." One kid asked "Why are we doing this?" which I thought was a fabulous question. The answer was, "So you'll know it later."

During the entire day, I saw only two classes (PE and Carpentry) where kids were actively engaged in doing things. In fact, some of the kids I talked to in other classes observed that they'd really like to "do something" in their classes. Meanwhile, there were no learning targets to be seen anywhere. Everyone was an independent contractor---independent of one another and of a rigorous curriculum and expectations.

The school has had some discipline issues with its current group of freshmen. I really have to wonder how much of that is kids getting into trouble out of sheer boredom.

Is there any hope for the school? Lots. The school climate is very good---kids and staff are pretty happy there and there is a great deal of trust and respect for the administration. If they can harness all of that positive energy and put it into instruction, the school could be a real winner. I really hope they find a way to do that.

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