My first semester as a teacher – part 9

…continued from here

Yes, I sold my soul to the administration of my school.  In exchange, I got to keep my job.

Well, actually how it worked out was this.  We had a special department meeting about a week before grades were due in which it was discussed that if our students did not pass our classes at a high enough rate, that it was clear we were inadequate teachers and maybe wouldn’t be asked to come back next year.  We were even told that about 60% of our students should pass our courses overall, that was the "expected" number in our school.

Whoa!  Wait a minute, I thought, that’s not going to happen!  I have one class where I don’t even have 60% attendance for the year, how am I going to make these students pass?  Am I going to be fired if they don’t pass?

I went back to my classes and made sure they were all aware where they stood in terms of homework.  We had sessions during class time when the students were encouraged to "work on" (read copy from each other) their missing homework assignments from earlier in the year.  All of my students got a full 20% participation score!  Almost all of them had 20% for handing in all of their homework!  I was getting there.  But wait! In NYC students need 65% to pass, not 50%.  Fortunately we did have a few tests from the year, and I did some quick math.  Let’s see 65 – 40 = 25 points.  Okay my students need 25 points to pass.  I shared the math with the students.  That meant that they needed to make up 25 points from the 60 points the tests were worth, which meant that anyone who had 42% or more overall on their tests could pass the semester.   Oh, and anyone who achieved at least a 60% was bumped up to the magic 65%, the rest were moved to either 50% or 55% depending on whether I felt they were trying or not making any effort at all.

Whew!  That worked out to about 70% of the students in my two strong classes and about 30% of the students in my weakest class.  I felt a bit guilty but decided that the attendance rate was poor enough in that class that I would be forgiven for the poor grades.  Besides, I’d carefully kept my phone call log from the semester with the several dozen phone calls I’d attempted to make to encourage my students to come to class.  That should cover me.

What sickens me about this experience now is that I was encouraged by the administration to be much more concerned about the numbers of students passing and my job security than the quality of work I was doing.  As long as my students pass at that magic 60% or greater mark every year, I felt like I was okay, I could keep working in the school.

Actually doing report cards in New York city was very easy.  Incredibly easy, I’ve never had it so easy since.  Every teacher gets bubble sheets from the school, with one row for each student in each of their classes, and carefully filled in the bubbles for the percentage grade, and then choose between 2 and 3 appropriate comments for the students, which were also selected by filling in bubbles.  Lots and lots of bubbles sheets, that’s what I remember from grading in NYC.

The end of the semester soon came.  I handed in my bubble sheets and looked forward to a fresh start.  I had survived a semester teaching in NYC.  I had developed some friendships which have lasted since.  The students had come to give me some respect and I had learned a tremendous amount about to survive in Brooklyn.  My life would never be the same.  Since New York I’ve had the confidence to face anything, and this experience will always stay with me.  I’ve lived and taught in 3 other countries and although I miss friends and family from those countries, only the city of New York do I truly miss itself.

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