I attended Center Junior High School under the esteemed Dr. Robert T. Bussey, who was my mother’s principal when she was in school. The city of Waycross schools and Ware County schools merged the 1994 school term and contrary to some of the horror stories of that merger, middle school in 1996 was way different than middle school now in 2016. Other than being two decades apart, I will explain the nine reasons education is confusing.
9. Grading System Changed: Before teachers had more autonomy of their grades because simply speaking, students either completed their work or they didn’t. There were no categories like Assessment of Learning, Assessment During Learning, Homework, Classwork, Test/Quizzes/Projects or anything else for that matter. There were no percentages for the categories such as 50% classwork, 40% assessments, 10% homework. Teachers graded work as it was assigned, recorded it in the grade book, averaged the all the grades and that was what went on the report card. Now, teachers have a certain number of assignments per category so now it’s almost impossible for students to fail a class unless they choose not to complete any work.
8. Limited Class Options: I had the option of going to Agriculture, Life Skills, Health, and Career Connections with Mrs. Ganas where we learned about the Occupational Outlook Handbook and was able to job shadow someone for a full day and receive a class grade. Now middle school students are limited to P.E. without the Health class component, Band, Reading or Math/Study Skills class, Technology, and Art if it has not been cut from the budget. We were somewhat ability grouped, and changed classes by crossing over with other homerooms which made a competitive and productive roster. In my teaching environment students travel from class to class on their grade level with their assigned homeroom everyday, and the class roster is split into fours assigning these chunks of students to the same connections classes. There is not enough variety in the day.
7. Apathetic Students: I was required in middle school to do a Social Science Fair project or a Science Fair project. Teachers communicated the expectations to students, sent home parent letters, and gave ample time in school and after school to work on projects. I was lucky enough to attend the regional science fair at South Georgia College in 1993 for my project, Does Artificial Light Effect Plant Growth? Now students majorly choose to not complete a science fair project and accept the grades of zero that come along with it. It seems as if students have given up to the point science fairs are optional.
6. Standardized Assessments: The ITBS test is now used for instructional planning and a formative assessment. It gives your child a ranking in school based on their results, but its an ability grouping tool. Students did not feel the pressure to test well in 1996 because everything counted, so you were expected to do well. I am guilty of this, but when my students enter the door I start the year off mentioning state assessments that they know are sure to come. My class is based on test results, so my students learn fast why they are placed in my Reading class. It’s tough for students that know they struggle, but are now in middle school trying to play catch up.
5. Teachers Are Younger: Now you would think that age is nothing but a number when dealing with professionals, but I know that when I was in school my teachers were older, or shall I say their dress code was. My teachers hardly wore jeans, always wore dress pants, blouses, and dresses with modest make-up. Now when you walk into schools there are a lot children that look more mature than their teachers. It’s hard for urban middle schoolers to respect someone who is the same age as their older siblings.
4. Teacher Preparation: I came in as a TAPP (Teacher Alternative Preparation Program) teacher from a different career field, the military, so I had life and work experience. A lot f the teacher pedagogy that is learned traditionally is valuable, but teaching by the book is a no-go for middle school. This works well for early childhood educators, but at the middle school level when students are trying to find their identity, you have to play it by ear. The bricks and mortar way to teacher preparation gives teachers false interpretations of a classroom, so sometimes at the middle school level, teachers don’t last long. I’ll touch on this later.
3. Social Media: There weren’t computers in the classroom 20 years ago. The classroom equipped with computers was the computer lab and that was the typing class. We had the old typing lessons that taught you your home row keys and by the end of the semester you learned basic typing skills. The only phone you had was a house phone. Now kids of all ages have cellular phones, and some of those phones are better than adult phones. Social media is how kids communicate, rather than writing friendly notes. There is a whole new language (text talk) that is being spoken by this generation. I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t have social media, however in school it is a major distraction.
2. Parental Involvement: Open house, report card pick-up, parent-teacher conferences, athletic events, PTO meetings, and awards banquets have low parent participation. I remember being in school and my mom never missed an event. Now we can barely get a parent to show up for their highly disruptive child. New age parents are not like parents from decades past. It is heart-breaking to know that a lot of the students today are raising themselves. Schools need parents to meet them halfway.
1. Lack of Consistency: I entered into the profession of teaching eight years ago and I am now on my seventh district superintendent. I live in one city, but teach in another and I see that changeover is more severe in my district. From formative assessments, progress monitoring tools, academic expectations, and changes in district wide leadership nothing has been placed for longer than two academic years to see progress. It doesn’t help that new state assessments have changed, so have promotion requirements. I’m not a strategist, but it appears that once leaders leave the classroom, they become out of touch with the classroom struggle. Teachers are now simply collecting a check rather than genuinely teaching. Education represents stability, but in some cases teachers are providing a disservice to their students.
I’m sure there are more reasons, but these stood out for me the most.