*This is another deviation from my normal posts. I originally wrote this during one of the worst teaching weeks in my 3-year career.*
My name is Cori, and for the past two years I have been the Spanish teacher at a high school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My first year at this school I taught Spanish I to 190 students while floating between 5 different classes. This year I taught Spanish II to 150 students.
During my time here I worked incredibly hard to help all students have access to quality education. I developed a Spanish I and II curriculum from scratch, often times spending my own money to enrich the program. My students went from Dora the Explorer “Hola” to writing complete stories in Spanish. This year I received over 50 high quality music videos in Spanish written and directed by my amazing students. In May I took a group of students to Costa Rica for a language immersion and cultural exchange trip. During my three years teaching I was a nominee for the Sue Lehman Fellowship and a teacher of the year finalist.
I say all of this in the hopes that you are able to understand exactly how committed I have been to my students. When I look at my students I see greatness. They are some of the funniest, most clever, most resilient, and most intelligent humans I have every met. I felt humbled to have had the opportunity to teach them. I believe the students I taught are amazing and capable of doing amazing things, but we are repeated failing them in this system we call “education”.
I was what many of my students considered a “hard” teacher. I didn’t accept late work after the 6 weeks is over, and I didn’t accept late online homework at all. I always had over 12 assignments in my grade book, and 70% or more of my assignments classified as “Accuracy” (actually grading the work turned in). I rarely ever offer extra credit. For most of my students I was one of their only teachers who held them to such “high standards”.
In classes we spent many lessons learning, analyzing, and discussing the pervasive “permission to fail” culture in the educational system. With my peers I would often have conversations venting on the habits our lack of standards system was teaching our students. Even so, many of my students, who have gotten used to a system that allows them to complete make-up work to pass in the 9th hour, failed.
Inevitability students, parents, administrators, guidance counselors, coaches, deans, and even teachers could be found outside of my door at the end of every semester. I offered tutoring every lunch, the homework (over 60% of the grade) could be redone until the student had a 100% within the deadline, yet none of this mattered to the adults enabling my students.
This semester I had a student appeal to over four different administrators trying to find a way out of my class. Even after I independently scheduled and subsequently met with her mother during a two-hour long meeting, the student did not show up for class or do her work. In the middle of April, she began asking around, hoping to be placed in E2020, the online course to make up a credit. Every person she talked to told her no, except for one. Upon discovery I went to the principal who performed an investigation, and vowed to remove any student from E2020 who was currently enrolled in my class.
However, after the parents called me and stated ” I didn’t teach real Spanish” and threatened to go to the school board. Word came down that we were required to give her the credit. During this same investigation, it also came to light that another of my students had been placed into E2020 for Spanish II semester II in December–before the second semester for Spanish II had even started. Furthermore, proof was uncovered that her attendance record had some how been wiped. Again, no action was taken.
While the stories above are small, antidottal stories I write them because I believe they highlight a bigger problem. Our system has become so convoluted and backwards that we have taught our students to feel entitled to a high school diploma, and grades they have not earned. There are so many people not performing their responsibilities both at my school and at the district that the few who truly take pride in their work are unable to keep up.
At the end of this year I left teaching; I don’t believe I will ever be back. I have worked so incredibly hard and seen such possibility in my students only to have it consistently tossed aside for the easier route.
Is it any wonder the teachers who truly hold their students to high standards receive verbal abuse at the hands of their students when we have deans, guidance counselors, and other teachers doing the bare minimum? What lessons have we taught our students? You’re not worth my true time and effort so I will just let you slide by? You don’t really need to do your work because you can always just take the easiest way out? What messages are we sending to the teachers? As I stand here at the end of the school year I can tell you the message I will walk away with: The harder you work, the more work people will give you to do; the more you try to truly educate your students, the more the system–and the people working in it–will get in your way.
I walk away from my three years teaching in East Baton Rouge School District dejected. Good teachers will never be enough. We cannot change the system from the classroom level. If we are not holding ourselves, our coworkers, and our bosses to high standards, we can never expect to hold our students to a high standard. We need systemic change. We need a system that employs high quality employees and holds them to a high standard. Our students are worth it. I am walking away from this disaster because I no longer find joy in my work. I was no longer a good teacher. I hope however, somewhere, someone who still finds joy in this work is able to keep working towards that one day.
East Baton Rouse Parish School System