Thursday, March 27, 2008

Why Bother?

Here's an interesting article in City Limits by teacher J.B. McGeever, who hails from Jamaca High School. McGreever teaches the "transitional" class, which apparently indicates he caters exclusively to kids who've failed the English Regents exam. But only 30% of the kids are expected to pass, so why would any teacher want that job?

It's particularly unattractive because this year, NYC is secretly monitoring passing scores of certain teachers. Who knows who they may be? Is it fair to measure McGeever against a teacher in Stuyvesant? Could a kid in Stuyvesant possibly fail this test? And if 100% of the Stuyvesant kids pass, does that alone mean they have great teachers?

A teacher is certainly part of the equation. A good one can clarify the requirements, and explain simply how to pass. In fact, this semester I got several classes of ESL kids, all of whom failed the Regents in January. Some have been in the US for a matter of months. Some have been here longer, but against the odds, have managed not to acquire English as most have by now. I think I'll beat 30%, but I wouldn't bet the farm on 60.

The notion that newcomers should take a test designed for people who've been here their entire lives is preposterous. So I tell my kids that anyone who scores 65 or over will get a hundred as a final grade from me. That motivates a few of them, as they sit scribbling furiously in the forced labor camp that is my writing class. But I know it will take more than 11 weeks for some to acquire sufficient English to write coherently.

It's really unfortunate that these kids are deprived of language instruction (which I could certainly provide) so that they can prepare for this test. But as long as Albany deems it wise to require it for graduation, I'll do the best I can for these kids. And if they're monitoring me, I say this--you guys go to Korea, and I'll give you one year to pass the test in Korean.

If you can pull it off, I'll eat my laptop. And it's a pretty heavy one too.

But honestly, why should crazy teachers like McGeever (and me) volunteer to take on these uphill battles when the powers that be choose to surreptitiously spy on us, and quite possibly hold scores against us in the future? Why shouldn't we just battle the APs for the honors classes, grab some great statistics, and forget about the kids who need our help the very most?

Maybe we're just not smart enough.
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