The new school year’s hit most of us hard. Some new teachers are digging out from under the dusty remnants of the 30-year careers of retired teachers. Others are grappling with a gross lack of technical support--no copiers, no internet, no keys. Still others are overwhelmed and disheartened by the enormous class sizes. Teaching positions have evaporated, but the students have not, and we who remain now take up the slack--more students packing fewer classes; more work for teachers, less pay.
For me it was no surprise to see I am facing the continuing decline of standards, no matter how many “standards” we write on the board when evaluators come into our rooms, and no matter how well the students can report which standards they are learning. I have an AP Literature class full of students who read not a page, not a line this summer even though there was assigned summer reading. Their essays are devoid of shape, thinking, purpose, and many took AP Language last year only to fail the AP test. Yet I would bet those who failed the test earned A’s, B’s, maybe C’s, in their AP classes. This institutionally sanctioned disconnect--AP access for everyone despite their basic skills and mild work ethic--makes the job very difficult, especially since other than the AP test graders, I seem to be the first to tell these students that they are not even close to ready for a truly advanced class. Getting them to trust me after they have known mostly false praise is a struggle I am not eager to face. Then there are the couple of students who actually are ready for AP, so here is the quandary: do I turn the class into the basic class most of the students seem to need or do I leave the majority in the dust and focus on the few true AP students?
In all, the chaotic first day--an ironically orderly date, 9/9/09-- was particularly bad for me mostly because I wore closed shoes for the first time in two months and had to run around the campus hunting for paper and working copiers. Experience tells me that the chaos will subside, only to be supplanted by the routine, signified by the ringing of bells. As in Hamlet it's not the action, but the thought between the actions that matters; in my room, it's not the bells that matter, but the learning that happens between the bells.