What an Inner City 8th Grader Should Expect Before Graduation

future-crystal-ballBy Nick McDaniels — It is very easy, relatively speaking, for me, when dusting off my old crystal ball, to look to see how the increasing tsunami of corporate education reform will affect my job as a teacher. It’s gonna get harder.

Today though, as I was driving through West Baltimore, I couldn’t help but think about what the next five years of rapidly implemented school reform might bring for a student.

Imagine you are a rising 8th grader this summer in one of America’s biggest cities. You have one year left in middle school and then on to high school. 5 years. That’s it. A lot can change in 5 years. Here’s just ten things you can expect before graduation:

1) Total destruction of the neighborhood school. The neighborhood school will, if it already has not, give way to school choice so that your high school is populated with students who do not live in the community surrounding the school and most of whom you don’t know from childhood.

2) Incredibly high turnover in your teachers from year to year. The teacher who awarded you a high grade in your civics class, probably won’t be there to write you your college recommendation letter when you are a senior.

3) A rapidly changing (and increasingly difficult) curriculum. This will make all of your teachers uneasy, seem under-educated, seem under-prepared, and leave your head spinning because you never received any of the prerequisite coursework necessary to understand the new material.

4) A totally new style of instruction. Your teachers will now be using different language (jargon mostly) when addressing you, because if they don’t, their evaluation will be lowered. You won’t connect as well with them and they will begin to seem more and more like robots.

5) A bunch of new standardized tests to take, and for a few years, on top of the ones you are used to taking. You will likely spend at least 20% of your school year either preparing for or taking tests.

6) Multiple principals during your high school career due to firings, or, for the lucky principals, promotions. This will leave your school chaotic and misguided and will leave you feeling distrusting of adults because, after all, your teachers left, and so did your principal… what else could you think?

7) Over crowding of your classes. You may have to hope that students are absent on a daily basis just to know that you will have a desk to sit in. All of the money that could have been used to pay teacher salaries has gone to pay for new textbooks, new tests, new test prep materials, and new curriculum supplements to keep up with the wave of reform.

8) Closing of schools. If you are lucky enough not to have your school closed, expect to be prepared to make a bunch of new friends every now and again when other schools close and a bunch of new students show up in your classes.

9) Increased violence. As schools work toward controlling statistics that are easy to control like suspensions, you will wonder why violent students who used to be suspended are not receiving counselling services to help them deal with their anger problems. Oh yeah, your school had to cut two counseling positions last year to pay a contractor to come in with a PBIS-like system to “fix your school culture.”

10) Your high school’s name might stay the same, but you will be moved to a new building, perhaps less convenient to get to, while your school is getting renovated. This is of course, if your school is not closed. A bunch of wise politicians got together and decided to help out their buddies in the construction industry by authorizing huge amounts of public borrowing (not free and clear spending!) to renovate schools. Good! You will get to sit in a nice classroom, maybe, and so will your little sister, but your children are going to have to be self taught because the money borrowed to renovate your schools will collapse the system entirely in the future as long as well continue to build on the backs of a struggling middle and working class.

YIKES!! Beware, right? Throw in the towel, right?
How can a student overcome all of this?

It’s simple really. Togetherness. Solidarity.

The one thing corporate ed reformers have tried to do is split us up. Parents against teachers against principals against students. And they have been successful, but as long as we remind ourselves of the common goals of education in our society, and the role we all play in reaching those goals, no amount of divisiveness, no amount of shaking the ground we are trying to stand on, will keep us from maintaining what is, as citizens of this country, rightfully ours.

If you worry about your future as a teacher, think about the future of your students. Everything that affects us, affects them ten-fold. We are, teachers and students, along with many other folks, in this thing together. And no matter how bad it may seem, or how hard it gets, or how much things change, teachers can still teach and students can still learn, no matter where we are or what conditions we are in. They can’t reform that away from us, so let’s face the changes and keep one thing the same: the liberating and transformative nature of a free education. If we are worth anything as teachers, we will be able to protect our students from the chaos, keep the wolves away from the door. This at least, a rising 8th grader may be able to look forward to.

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