Sunday, January 4, 2015

Fight the System

Tomorrow marks the end of my winter vacation. The end of my two weeks of freedom. Two weeks that should be stress-free yet I find myself stressed anyway. Dreaming about school. Worrying about school. Feeling hopeless. Before the break we found out that the superintendent threatened to fire our principal at the end of the school year if he can't get our attendance and passing rates up. If this happens, he'll be replaced by a "turnaround" principal. Someone who will abandon the philosophy and culture of the school to make our data look better.

Apparently data is all that matters anymore. Did you pass enough kids? Did your attendance rates improve? Are graduation rates up? Did they pass that standardized test?

Why are these the only questions they care about? Why aren't we asking the following?:

  • Do kids know how to think critically?
  • How have they grown as a whole person?
  • What have they learned beyond how to take a test?
  • Are they receiving the social and emotional supports they need to be more successful in school and beyond?
  • Are kids prepared to be productive citizens?
  • Are they really ready to graduate high school?

No one seems to recognize that we are a transfer high school. That means we take kids on the verge of dropping out. We take kids with mental health issues. Kids who are homeless. Kids who have been mentally and physically abused. Kids who are stopped and frisked everyday on their way to and from school. Kids who carry a concealed weapon for protection in case they get jumped. Kids with addiction problems. Kids who have never before felt accepted by their community. Kids who were bullied for being gay, appearing gay, or just being too different or too weird. At my school, these kids are supported not only by the adults who work with them but by their own teenage peers.

But no one sees this.

They don't see the girl with bruises and scratches on her face, who was jumped because someone had a beef with her mom. They don't see the fake suicide video a student posted on facebook just to get some attention. They don't see the boy with an infant son who was stabbed in the chest in his apartment. The 21 year old who was shot in the stomach multiple times when he was fourteen. The girl with a 3 year old child and a restraining order against the father. The kid with the eating disorder. The kid who doesn't know where he's sleeping each night. The kid who at first glance might seem like she has bad skin but in reality she's struggling with a heroin addiction. The girl with cognitive deficits who was gang raped on camera at her last school. They don't see the external factors in a student's life that makes school their last priority. They only see that kids aren't coming to class enough and ignore all the other factors that are keeping kids from class.

They don't see the kids getting hired at their internships. The kids who go beyond the requirements and write a 12-page paper when they are asked to write 6 pages. They don't see the talent show where kids let their guard down and sing, dance, and read their poetry. Where kids call one another out for stealing an ipod, telling their classmates, "Give it back you scumbags!" They don't see the tears of joy, the hugs, the smiles, and the gratitude from parents on graduation day when they've finally made it. They don't see the intellectual, social, and emotional growth that each and every student who enters our building experiences.

I love my school. I love my colleagues. I love my students. I love what we stand for. It's difficult to imagine teaching anywhere else, where what we're doing matters more, where we can have a greater, more positive impact of the lives of young people.

Now, it may be the time where we take a stand, when we tear up the exam booklets and fight for our existence.