Wednesday, September 20, 2006

On my soapbox about schools and schedules

While I was teaching in Brownsville, I couldn't believe how poorly managed the student schedules were. On the first day of my second year of teaching, I had 3 students in one class while other people had over 30 and it took them weeks to do what they call "balancing" to move the students around. I thought that disorganization was really disruptive to the process of setting the tone of the classroom that would allow for a productive year of learning. Little did I know, though, how bad it could get.

At the beginning of this school year, one of my former students emailed me to ask if the physics class she was in was the same course that she had taken with me, which it was, so I explained to her who she needed to try to talk to in order to get her schedule changed to biology. Then I realized that not only should she be in biology, but I had put her on a short list of students that I recommended for Pre-AP biology, so I sent an email to a colleague who said she would try to help out.

Five weeks later
, the student emailed me again in a panic, telling me that she had not been able to get her schedule changed and that she was going to have to take biology over the summer. Keep in mind that she's spent over a month in a class that she already passed. The teacher I had emailed wrote to me "you might send her to me...I'll explain to her that at this point and time, she needs to get a parent involved. The students whose parents have come in are getting changes processed...Believe it or not, at week 5 of the six weeks, schedules are still being "fixed". Even teachers don't have the "right" schedules yet. One day you have a 6th period, next day it's gone...and no one informs you until you go to take attendance and realize that the 20 students sitting in your class have been reassigned to other teachers and they didn't let the kids know either (they weren't called in for their schedule change forms) you send for their reassignments and escort them to their "new" teacher, who has already marked them absent for not being there at the beginning of class!"

So Monday, I called the school and gave a few people a talking to. Initially, they tried to explain to me that they were still trying to fix lots of student schedules because students would come in and want a schedule change and then they wouldn't need it or like it or want it and it would slow them down. This, though, was a student who really wants to succeed in school, but doesn't have a choice because the school can't get it together enough to put her in the right class. And I'm sure that there are many other students in the same situation, and as noted, if a parent makes a fuss, the situation gets fixed. I certainly made a fuss, and that particular student was in Pre-AP biology by Monday afternoon.

Thinking about the situation, I realized that if this kind of scheduling nightmare happened in a school in a high-income community, there would be so many parents in the school on the first week that heads would roll and resources would be redirected to fix the master schedule within days. In our low-income communities, there are a variety of reasons that parents aren't lined up outside the school: they don't have time, they don't understand what's happening at school or the rights of their children, poor access to information, they're not there at all, etc. Then the big question is, who is going to advocate for these students? The question is even bigger when it comes to advocating for excellence in the classroom, but how can we even begin to answer the question of what's happening in the classroom, when the students aren't even in it?

This whole situation has really reaffirmed for me that we, as a society, have to do so much more than we are right now to advocate for students. And it's much bigger than just calling schools about schedules; it's about breaking down all the barriers in our communities--big and small--that make it difficult for students to succeed. What is your role going to be?

I'll put a happy ending on this post. An email from my student:

hey mr scott how are you? me i'm doing fine i just wanted to thank you for the shedule change they already changed me to biology-preap.[student] told me to give you his e-mail address he said he hasen't opend it since a long time ago here it is [email address]. He also said hi and told me that if you could e-mail him. i hope your doing all right over there as a student and a teacher. I'm preatty happy because i'm not going to Lopez i'm giong to stay at pace I'm going to continue being a VIKING.whoohoooo!That's really great news for me. I hope you have really nice students over there. I Hope i could see you again here at Pace. Everybody wants to see you again.

Best wishes,

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