When I think about inflation, the first thoughts that come to my mind are historical ones. Times in history when the prices rose dramatically, and incomes either met the rising demand, or the economy took a drastic downturn as a result. I think of the stories my grandparents told of the Great Depression or of the ones I lived through in the 1980s as my father's job was cut and we ended up standing in a bread and cheese line.
Unfortunately, the type of inflation I am dealing with here and not is not economic. I am a teacher and my husband is an administrator, so we are not hurting for cash. We are responsible spenders, and we save our pennies, but more importantly, we live within our means. Still, there is an inflation which for me is even more stressing and more trying of our times. This inflation is leading me to make choices that will affect my standard of living and my family's welfare for the rest of our lives. More significant though, is the fact that this inflation is not only harming me. It is harming every student that passes through our school systems every day.
Grade inflation has become an epidemic in our schools. We see political cartoons and editorials about it every day, but no one has stood up and demanded that we step back to the high expectations we held just 10 years ago. It is sad, but so true.
In my state, students are awarded college money based on their GPA. This has only fueled the grade inflation fire. Now, teachers, principals, and even superintendents feel responsible for making sure students receive the money they will need to attend college. After all, we are in an unstable economy, and our kids will need all of the financial help they can get. How can we jeopardize that?
Well, let me tell you how. For every assignment we dumb down or every grade we inflate, we are cheating that student out of the KNOWLEDGE they need to be successful in college. More importantly, as we continue to lower the standards, we are decreasing our students' chances of being successful in LIFE!
In the end, we need to step back and take a look at what is more important. Do our students need the cash or the credit? If we continue on this path, we will end up with more unprepared college freshmen than the system can handle. Remedial 101.
Having gone through an education program during the 90s when textbooks were considered evil and the ideal classroom offered a variety of centers to reach all of the multiple intelligences, I have always been anti-textbook. It's just been in my blood. Ironically, I have served on a few textbook committees, reviewed textbooks for the publishers, and even suggested textbooks for district adoption. Still, deep down, I always resisted their use in my own classroom. Honestly, I saw textbooks for the teachers without the creative juices to design and implement their own lessons.
Now, I am beginning to question this view. Still, my gut wants me to type this dripping in sarcasm, suggesting that textbooks be used to teach lessons about the mistakes they hold, they lies they tell, and the lack of perspective they provide for the readers. But, I am holding back this time. The truth shall prevail.
I have to admit that textbooks have improved over the 12 years I have been teaching. They are now including more primary source references (although usually very short and limited in opportunity for analysis), many more pictures, charts and graphs, and a whole new assortment of perspectives on the topics at hand. I am somewhat impressed!
More importantly, our students have changed over the past 12 years. While they used to be bored with the textbook and desirous of the movement our centers provided, they are now tired of moving around the room and desire the structure and spoon-feeding the textbook provides. Boy, how times have changed!
So, in the end. To textbook, or not to textbook? That is the question. And honestly, it has to be the question considered by each teacher in each individual class. After all, we have always known that the best instruction comes from the teachers who plan for their students, not for their subject areas. With that said, textbooks can be one more valuable tool to use in our classrooms to help our students reach their greatest potential. And after all, it's not the resource that provides the value, it's the teacher and how they use the tools they have!
For many teachers, this is the time in the year when they think about giving up. It is the point where they may not see the light at the end of the tunnel, and they are not yet seeing the rewards of their hard work so far in the year. This is the time when some less experienced teachers begin to question their choice to be in the classroom. This is the time for doubt.
Despite my many years in the classroom (and my husband's monotone reminder that "You do this every year"), I always face my moments of doubt at this time. It is not my being "negative," and I am not questioning my abilities in the classroom. I am simply at the point in the year when I assess which of my students I have "reached" and which ones have started to slip through the system cracks.
I am a very dedicated teacher. My school year consists of far more than an 8-3 job, Monday through Friday, for 9 months. I am in my building from 7 to 4:30, and I spend many weekends on my couch creating lessons and activities to engage my students. With that considered, I am still aware that there are always students, even in my classroom, susceptible to slipping through.
These students are the ones not asking questions. They are not the ones who throw up their hands in the middle of an activity and yell out that they are lost. They are not even the ones who complain non-stop about your activities, your lectures, your bellringers, etc. These ARE the ones who say nothing. They sit quietly and attract no attention. And they slowly, slip away.
So, at this point in my school year, I stand in my classroom and I doubt.
- Have I reached them all?
- Have I made the connections?
- Do they listen to what I say?
- Do they know that I care?
- Do they want to succeed for me?
Ironically, despite my obsession with knowing all of my students know my CONTENT, at this moment in my year, I do not care the least if the students in my current attention span even know what unit I am in. I do not care if they can recite my vocabulary. And I am little interested in their latest analysis after my superstar activity. I just want to know if they are bought into me.
Now, some may try to equate this with my wanting them to like me. That is not the case. I do not want friends. I want followers. I want to know that they are drawn to my class each day. I want to know that they care about learning in my classroom. And I must know if they learn in my class just to please me, if not for intrinsic motives. These are kids, that otherwise, have no reason to learn my content. What does World History matter to them? More importantly, why should they learn at all or be interested in school in any way, shape, or form?
So, as the new semester begins, the question becomes: What can I do now?
Keep in mind, my classroom personality is quite different from the rest. My students are used to my screaming out in joy and in frustration. They are used to my climbing on desks and dressing in costumes. They know that I am loud and they know that I am never what they expect me to be. So...
- Change it up again. Be something you never tried before. For me, it is quiet and reflective. I engage my students in real conversation. I bring history to life through real stories and through my life and family experiences. I become human.
- I allow my students to see me fail. I scratch out my mistakes and keep going instead of making clean corrections. I cry with sadness when my lessons fail. I become human.
- Make it personal. I reach out to the ones on the slippery slope. I ask about their days and their nights and their hopes and their dreams. I tell them about mine. I become human.
- And most importantly, I DEMAND attention. I tell them like it is and I tell them I need them to succeed. They are my success and without them, I fail. I become human.
Now, if you read this post carefully, you saw that my attention at the beginning was on the teacher who is in doubt. The one who does not know where to go from here. But then, I focused on the students. Why? We are all the students. Sometimes we are the ones who get it easily and perform a masterpiece. Sometimes we are the ones who handle the lessons with ease and grace, but expect and receive no glory. Sometimes we moan and groan as we tread through the tough lessons, but we continue on to the end. And sometimes, we are the lost one who is slipping through the cracks.
For we old, experienced teachers, we know this is routine. This is normal for those of us who truly care in our classrooms. This is normal for those who live this as our lives, not just our "jobs." This is just the time in the year where we take a look around to analyze our situation.
For new teachers, you doubt. Is this the right thing to be feeling? Is this what it is always like? Is this the way it will always be?
Teaching is not a walk in the park every day every year. It is, however, what we do every day every year. In the end, we just need to remember... We are human. And it's now the time of the year where we can begin to show that to our kids.
After all, don't they teach us something new each and every day? Sometimes, they are lessons we don't want to learn, but they are lessons still!