Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is It Apathy?

Like all city high schools now, my school administered the PSATs to our sophomores and juniors yesterday. I proctored the first half of the exam, then switched with another teacher to take my lunch. In the staff lounge, a few other teachers who had recently been relieved were working.

I got to talking to Ms. C., a math teacher. She was proctoring a room of eleventh graders. I asked her how it was going. "Oh, you know," she said with a shrug. "Mostly okay. Two kids" [she named them] "looked at it, said it was too hard, put their heads down, and went to sleep."

Now I don't claim to know what causes kids to think and act in these ways. Maybe the test really was too hard (though what it suggests about our school system that eleventh graders are completely put off by the PSATs, I leave for you to ponder). Maybe they didn't understand why it was relevant, or maybe they were just tired. Heck, maybe it's not even wise to make every tenth and eleventh grader sit for the PSAT regardless of ability, motivation, or possibility of helpfulness to them.

It's just that stories like these make me wonder how I can possibly relate to some of the kids I teach, even 5+ years into my career. I cannot imagine just putting my head down on a test and giving up. If I had been the teacher in that room, I would have had a (silent) conniption. And yet I can't blame the kids, because obviously they've gotten the message over the years that the adults in their life will accept this kind of behavior, and that adults will accept that PSAT math is just too hard for eleventh graders.

But do we really want to accept that?
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