It has been nearly four months since my last blog post.
Implementing our district’s Common Core algebra 1 curriculum along with a “flipped classroom” approach to AP Calculus AB consumed every “free” moment of my time this semester. While the third year of teaching supposedly marks the easing of the frenetic pace of the first two years, my fifth semester did not follow that trajectory. If anything, it was one of the more difficult ones with challenge after challenge emerging, mostly stemming from what I consider an overzealous algebra 1 curriculum for Common Core that does not align with the prerequisite knowledge and skills of our students. The bottom line: most students who presently are scheduled for algebra 1 in high school are ill-equipped to succeed in the course. In fact, nearly 80-90 percent of them took algebra 1 as eighth graders and did not pass the high school equivalent examination. Hence, they are destined to repeat the course without receiving needed interventions to improve their ability to succeed the second, third, fourth, or even fifth time around, as it is nigh impossible to intervene effectively with a student while simultaneously teaching them “new” concepts for which they need to have mastered the material for which they are receiving intervention support. Even with interventions, many students struggle mightily given the challenges they face on a daily basis.
Given these challenges, I continuously work towards getting underprivileged students to recognize the importance of school to their future lives and to commit to active learning. Doing this while managing the various behavioral problems that plague some of my students has drained me this semester. Compounding the energy loss, most of my algebra 1 students continue to fail at demonstrating even the most basic understanding of, and skill with, the essential elements of algebra, or even arithmetic. This is a wholly unsatisfactory experience for me, especially as I have poured my heart and soul into finding methods to help my students. Further frustrating my efforts, our district’s “teacher-created” algebra 1 curriculum ignored the massive skills gap present in our student populations opting instead for a “rigorous” curriculum that few students could begin to grasp, in spite of the fact that I trimmed much of the content that would have further overwhelmed students. Even with a thinned curriculum focusing on linear equations and systems of linear equations, nearly two-thirds of my students received a D or an F in the course, with nearly forty-five percent failing. No teacher feels successful when this occurs.
Fortunately, the fall semester fades away while a new spring semester awaits.
I hope to rejuvenate my spirit and passion for teaching during this Christmas and New Year holiday break. To do so, I need to reconcile my desire to help underprivileged students with the paradoxical plight they face where multiple factors conspire to cloud their ability to understand the necessity to invest themselves fully into their learning. For without sustained, active effort on a student’s part, teachers, alone, are unable to overcome the host of factors that complicate student learning. These factors range from student inattentiveness to a lack of sustained practice to an inability to recall needed facts and/or procedures to self-destructive thoughts and behaviors to other factors that confound teachers, administrators, parents, researchers, pundits, reformers, and educators of all stripes.
May the spirit of the season find a way to rekindle my flame for teaching students in need. For without being on fire to teach in these challenging environments, I will not be able to continue in a field that truly holds my heart and interest. While I firmly believe I am good for teaching, I am not sure teaching is good for me…