Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Oversized Classes and Ridiculous Exams

The beginning of school is pretty exciting, but it’s also pretty frustrating. In my school, for example, there are over 200 oversized classes. I know because I teach four of them. These will mostly be worked out over the next week or so, so that’s not a disaster.

What really frustrates me are the constant changes that we experience. For example, there are 43 students in my afternoon class. A big issue is the fact that at least 15 of them passed that class, with me in fact, last year. To me, that’s an emergency. However, to the 30 other teachers in my department, their classes are the emergency. My problem doesn’t worry them at all.

So really, the only thing to do is wait and hope. You wait, and you hope that your class will come first, or soon, or optimally now. I mean, I’m ready. The issue is that I’m teaching a whole bunch of kids things they don’t need to know, and then when the kids who maybe need to know those things show up, well, I don't think I'm gonna go back to square one and start from "hello."

There's also the issue of the NYSESLAT test, the one that rates and places my kids. I've given and read the test for two years, and as far as I can tell, it has little or nothing to do with whether they know the language or not. So a whole lot of my students tested commanding, or some such thing, which means they are no longer entitled to ESL services. This is unfortunate, because some of them have never passed a single one of my modest teacher-designed tests.

Why might that be important? Well, there's a whole lot of talk about students being "college ready." Now, what that means to New York State is that the students got this grade on some Regents exam, and that grade on some other Regents exam. In fact it's wholly arbitrary and has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not they are ready for college. You know, just like answering questions that involve repeating what a teacher said, like in the NYSESLAT, does not necessarily make you fluent in English.

I taught English in colleges for twenty years, and I have a pretty good idea what they want students to be able to do in English 101. Basically, they'd like to see people write coherently. I personally favor coherent writing. In fact, when I teach grammar and sentence structure, things my kids don't know in English, it certainly helps them. Of course I'm not supposed to teach that. I'm supposed to hand them some book about Hammurabi's Code, or The History of Cement, and have them close-read and answer tedious questions.

Now that would be a great idea if my goal were to make them hate me, hate my class, and hate English altogether. But as I'm not a great thinker like David Coleman, I actually want them to look forward to coming to my class. I want my class to be a safe place, a place they can count on for support, a place where absolutely no one will make fun of their English.

David Coleman's gonna have to place a gun to my head, literally, to make me teach his tedious tripe. I think my oversized classes will get fixed, and I think the kids who passed last year will move up. Some of them, sadly, will move up way too high and lose their chance to learn what they really need to know.

But hey, how would Questar, or whatever company that designs the crap tests that place them there, make money to send their reps to gala luncheons if we didn't have those tests? What's good for business is good for America, and it's unpatriotic to suggest otherwise.

Isn't it?
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