Enrique Recuero Hates Teaching
I hesitate to say I have made a mistake. But the truth is that the current educational system, and what it offers in a teaching career is not good for me. I would go even further in this post to argue that it is not good for society.
I have gained a great deal from teaching, insights about human nature, and many many times my students taught me in this regard. I don’t say this like a bad thing, human nature is what we have to work with. Ultimately all we have to work with.
My motivation to become a teacher was ethics. My whole life seems to have a current running through it that reveals further and further truth about human potential. I myself have climbed from many desolate lows (including dropping out of highschool, homelessness, massive poverty) to getting my Neuroscience degree, to achieving some small amount of success on personal projects, and to start a teaching career. One I am planning on leaving at the end of this school year.
I was accepted into an alternative certification program called the Texas Teaching Fellows in the spring of 2008. This program had classes, student teaching, and a lot of support for starting teachers. It was in my first months of student teaching that I saw my first problems, the same teacher personalities that made me feel so disconnected from teachers as a child are as prevalent today as ever.
Teachers in general, by my best guess based on observation, are people of normal intelligence who are not very intellectually motivated. They are generally not the type to go recreationally to a museum, to weep at great literature, to ponder a deep scientific question. They have two hobbies which they tend to pump all their intellectual power into; sports and religion.
The establishment clause should prevent public and mandatory prayer meetings at work at the school system which is a government bureaucracy, but it is common. In Lubbock is done blatantly and in the open.
This disconnect alarmed me a little at first, but I had no doubt that there were iconoclasts in the mix, smart people who cared about helping kids reach their intellectual potential and saw success as a whole lot more than being able to get a middle class job so one can watch the Superbowl in relative comfort, and attend Church (always Christian, usually protestant). These people are there, but they are few and far between. They will always be heroes to me.
The situation is static for most Americans. Most schools are primarily anglo (and the way race plays into this may surprise you) and primarily middle class. This describes the majority of the U.S. I did not work at those schools. I worked at what are generally called “at-risk” schools. This means that the kids are primarily from some minority background (usually black or latino) and that their parents make less than a middle class income. In my work experience families who were in extreme poverty, composed of illegal immigrants, or facing serious legal problems have not been uncommon.
The majority is ok, at least I think so. I worry that the bar is too low for those kids. The TAKS test, which was the Texas standardized test until this year, according to education researchers places a passing student in the 25th percentile of the U.S. If a school gets 90% passing they are branded as “exemplary.” So in Texas an exemplary school may well be full of kids where 75 out of 100 Americans have more intellectual prowess than them. But here is the real tragedy, at “at-risk” schools the kids are not even passing this idiotic and shameful test. They are failing it at alarming numbers.
The new STAAR test which debuts this year is supposed to be much harder. I have mixed feelings about this prospect.
What is the problem with these “at-risk” kids? Doubtlessly some readers are feeling racist ideas quickly surface to their minds: these African American and Latino children surely are just unable to succeed academically. Sometimes these stupid sentiments come from minority advocacy groups or the political left, they make these statements in white washed tombs, but they are prevalent. George Bush Jr. called this the, ” soft prejudice of low expectations.” As a Latino I resent this. As a Latino who’s father is a scientist, who’s grandfather is an attorney and a political writer, who’s grandmother and uncle have had successful careers in psychology I totally resent this. I expect all black kids and latino kids to aggressively pursue their intellectual potential, and consider it a major social problem when it is not happening along such a racial divide.
Human potential is a property of a healthy human brain, and by healthy I mean any brain which sustains no pathology. No damage, no sickness.
The kids suffer from an even bigger disconnect than I did. And sadly they can’t even see me as one of their own.
The tendency for all humans is to pursue a kind of social inertia. To be what comes easiest. If you are embedded in a family and a community which has not had a lot of experience with academic thriving and academic self development you are not likely to develop any interest in these sorts of things.
School is totally pointless. Reading is totally pointless: you understand that you need to be able to read a sign on top of a shop, but you have never seen your parents or your grandparents read for pleasure. The whole concept is totally alien. You have seen countless peers and relatives drop out of school, get dead end jobs, have kids and survive. This is what you expect, and what you prepare for.
There is nothing stupid about it. But there is plenty which is tragic about it.
Kids need to understand that life is happier, better, richer- when one has a depth of understanding about the world they live in and their role in it. When finding our equilibrium we must use Socrates dictum “The unexamined life is not worth living,” as part of our calibration. These kids are not aware of this option.
The other problem, for which the education system is wholly responsible, are educational dogmas.
Textbooks are now considered obsolete in education. An alarming state for me, a guy who will occasionally buy a textbook for no other reason than to read it and to be edified by it. The theory in play is that school needs to be more and more playful. Manipulatives, which are toys the children play with during lessons, are considered to be a panacea for all academic short comings. These toys are used all the way through high school. Teachers who use the toys the most are considered master teachers. If you think toys are going to help a kid who is functionally illiterate, allow me to recommend books instead. Oh yeah, those are now considered obsolete. The lessons are perpetually getting dumbed down through things like Manipulatives, and small groups (which with at-risk kids is an invitation to be totally off task). Yet the tests coming down the pipeline require analytical skills, reading skills, and basic self discipline. There is essentially no self-discipline taught in the schools I have worked at.
I suspect the Anglo schools use much more traditional teaching methods, and that books get a little more wear and tear. But they probably pay plenty of lip service to the dogma. Though these are merely my speculations. I do know that a kid that has at least seen their parent read, even if its Cosmo or the latest Rick Warren Christian Self-help book, are more likely to read when asked.
This may make my attitude seem conservative, but on the contrary. If I had my hands untied I believe I could get the kids to read, read on level, and take a proactive interest in academic matters if I could use the things they care about. The problem is the things they care about are taboo. They care about drugs, they care about crime, especially gangs. If they are in 7th grade or older they care about sex, and as evidenced by teen pregnancy rates they are having plenty of it. They are fascinated by violence and profanity. They are essentially a lot like most kids their age, the kids not considered “at-risk” are just socialized to participate in school.
I believe a little more freedom in content for the teacher could allow the lessons to be truly student led, by encouraging and allowing the students to express their real interests without censorship, and that we adapt the lessons to their preferred content. In fact this could actually lead to the kids developing a love and a passion for learning, which opens the true path to their potential. I can teach plenty of reading, writing, math and science using the stuff my kids are into. But not without risking my job, and perhaps worse. I have seen teachers totally destroyed in the media for doing a lot less than I am proposing.
The adherence to dogma is absolute. You will hear the same crap over and over, always from people who have clawed their way up the bureaucratic ladder so they don’t have to actually be responsible for a classroom. Though I can’t seem to really complain, my other colleagues seem to love it. Always bending over backwards to proverbially make the earth flat, or put the earth at the center of the solar system. The problem does not improve. The system will curse another generation of “at-risk” kids to the cycle of poverty and ignorance.
I have proposed some systemic solutions. They will not come any time soon. I have expressed my opinions at all levels of the bureaucracy, from my colleagues to my principals. The dogma always overrules.
This is no way for me to spend a lifetime. The job is extremely time consuming, and the work environment and the depth of the problems with the children create a huge energy drain on the teacher. Hell, the work environment is often downright hostile and inhumane. The whole system is based on teachers receiving all blame for student performance, no matter what obstacles the teacher faces. I suspect the pressure for administrators is actually worse. Every handshake and smile has some kind of threat behind it. Maybe all jobs are like this on a certain level, but I have had a lot of jobs and none takes it quite this far.
I must leave.
Teaching another year for me would be unethical. It would be unethical because I rob myself of my own potential and I collaborate in a system which does this to children.
I am not impressed by the supposed alternative to my “at-risk” schools. I can already imagine it, a bunch of self-congratulatory behavior at the Superbowl party following a prayer meeting, all to celebrate that once again we have helped a generation make it to the 25th percentile.
There are better ways for me to follow my ethical passions. Better ways for me to serve the cause of human potential.
- Enrique Recuero