I'm young, fairly young, and I've been teaching for almost fifteen years. Since I entered the profession, I can say that I've seen a change in my students. Maybe I hadn't noticed it when I was younger and didn't pay much attention to my students, but it seems more and more of my students have deep emotional issues.
First, I have to mention that I used to do a lot of activities with my students; like co-sponser the junior class and all that entails – football and basketball concession stand sales, and PROM. I've not done that in years. I paid my dues. I participated in many activities with my students and even though they had their issues, it seemed the issues weren't so deep and almost dark. Many of my students come from dysfunctional homes, more parents apart than together, and that heavy feeling of an absence of some sort.
I felt it last week, and part of it lingered into this week. I worked even harder to reach out to my students. I differentiated instruction, honed into their interests, and some still had that zoned out look. I pulled some aside and they all said some thing "big" had happened at home and it was on their mind – just circling like those 'ancient' tape recorders. I don't want to solve their problems, but it makes me wonder about those lessons I teach about the hero's journey, empowerment, and overcoming adversity. Does it matter? It works for me, but for them?
Last week, I had a couple of students who were in 'altered' states and I didn't know it. I tried reasoning with them, but it was a downward spiral. After my encounters, I just felt bad for them, very bad for them. They don't care about school and with the issues that came out, I'm not surprised. Student concerns about school can take the back burner, and it is frustrating because we have to make sure our kids make gains. What if those gains can't be measured on standardized tests? For example, if somehow I could work with them and they started to even like school, and they still are labeled "Falls Far Below" on the state exams because they have fourth grade reading levels? Hm.
These are the kids who are left behind and when, or if, they graduate high school? What next? Some days I wonder how I'll get my kids to meet or exceed the newest reading and writing projections on their state exams. It's that and then my students who need the hope to stay in school. My students in the earlier days had those deep issues too, now that I think of it, but there wasn't the pressure of meeting certain exam scores. We learned without the pressure of numbers. My students have become numbers. I like the emphasis on "knowing your students," but if the numbers are looming and those labels are the ones that stick, then what?
I remember, 'back in the day' I used to take my students all over the place to listen and work with Native American writers and artists. There was money for that somewhere, and more of it. Those students now graduated, remember those days with fond memories. Some will say, "I still love to write because of those encouraging writers." It used to be so much fun. Now, I feel overwhemled with data and scores.
I look for that balance between accountablity and learning.