Of the submissions to date, the panel has agreed on the first to be wait-listed for inclusion on the 2nd edition of Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education. The term “wait-listed” means it will be included unless there are too many (unlikely) equally excellent submissions for this same topic, so that some have to be omitted. See the blog tab “Contest Results” for the current status of entries.
JoAnne P is a retired English teacher in Wisconsin. She describes herself as: “I taught for ten years at a small rural school, coming to this second profession from a business career for the sheer love of teaching my passion. For every moment of frustration, there were a dozen of joy, and though, in the end, the house still won, I don’t regret a minute.
JoAnne’s piece is an outstanding look at how a principal, concerned only with his reputation and avoiding state sanctions for low graduation rates, and showing little interest in a child’s education, overrides a teacher to “pass” a failing student year after year, until that student is set up for failure when they graduate. Sadly, this reprehensible scenario occurred many times in every one (repeat, every!) of the urban high schools I surveyed and visited when researching Lifting the Curtain. Those outside the classroom would have little chance to know the devastating impact such administrative pressure to pass failing students has on the student, and as you can see in JoAnne’s words, on the teacher as well.
And the worst irony here is that this will be seen, outside the classroom, as JoAnne’s failure. Teachers, like Vietnam veterans decades ago, know all too well what it is like to be blamed and scorned for something completely out of your control.
Here is JoAnne’s outstanding submission:
Mandates, we have a lot of them. Administrative strangling, we have that, too. And don’t forget parents. The best of them bona fide blessings and the worst…well, they can frustrate a teacher more than anyone else. Almost.
But, as long as we can make a difference, it’s all worth it. That’s why my biggest teaching frustrations come on this front. When someone robs my students of the one single thing they need most, I get angry.
They need the truth.
Take “Donnie.” A nice kid – personable, eager, sincere – and promoted beyond his ability. When I get him, he’s a senior, planning to go to college. And I want him to go, but he won’t make it, not with his English skills, which are on about a sixth grade level. So I help him as much as I can, and he tries hard, but doesn’t make enough progress. He doesn’t pass. That’s OK, I think, I’ll coach him over the summer. Summer school can help. Let him graduate later. He can still make it.
But, no. The principal changes his F to a D in the name of accommodation, lets him graduate, and he flunks out of the local junior college the first semester. A child of color, an immigrant with a rough upbringing, and we lied to him. We failed him, the very one we want to help most.
Shame on us.
JoAnne’s piece should be required reading for every parent and legislator. Giving a child a free ride through high school is not an act of love.