To AIMS, or not to AIMS; That Might Just Possibly, Maybe, All Things Considered, Other Conditions Met, Be the Question

October 27, 2004

Mood: Quizzical (no pun intended)
Song: "Don't Know Much"

I arrived at my internship today, just after finishing my huge breakfast consisting of an All Bran cereal bar (next time I'll just have to take Mir's recommendation and try a Cliff bar), only to discover that my mentor teacher, unexpectedly, was absent today. Though she had *mysteriously* vanished, a note remained: "Juliet, you're in charge"


After my brief panick attack, I realized that thankfully, I am a *ahem* qualified (ha ha ha) educator, and I set to work, thankful that I had been there yesterday and so had a general idea of what the classes ought to be covering.

Ever lead a discussion on a book that you yourself never got around to finishing? I left first hour feeling like I really ought to have read Cyrano de Bergerac. I think it's a play, right ;)?

First hour is English IV AP; thank goodness I myself was in that very class not TOO long ago, and that I could rely on my Torrey training, so I was able to pull Socratic questions out of thin air, even though I felt like I was on thin ice. I never was a math major, but for all those out there who think Math and English should be as separate as, say, some believe Church and State should be, let me present my version of an equation:

28 AP students + 1 intern teacher (who graduated from that particular high school) – free time= brilliant scheaming.

Somehow, and I'm still puzzling over this one, my awkward High School memories have come back to haunt me.

The students of first hour managed to unearth what I thought was buried forever…a photograph of me, several pounds heavier and DEFINITELY geeky to the core, taken during my Junior Honors Physics class. Actually, I had no idea such blackmail evidence still existed.

Yes, I was obsessed by stars even back then; I am captured on film standing next to my homemade tennis ball launcher, painted with…you guessed it :).

Second hour, English support (formerly C-track English before political correctness had its way) was equally amusing.

Picure Noah (name changed for my protection 🙂 ), a sophomore diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (kindof sortof like Autism, but without the language and communication difficulties). Picture Noah really, really not wanting to write the persuasive paragraph that was the focus of today's lesson. As Noah saw things, he had already written a persuasive essay for another class and so should be exempt, since it wouldn't be fair that he had to write two while everyone else just wrote one.

Master of persuasion though he was, Noah had never expected to reckon with…English Grrrl (namely, me). He thought to defeat me with his secret weapon-surprise, surprise and fear. His two chief weapons were suprise, fear, and ruthless efficency-oh, wait, wrong source. Actually, what Noah really wanted to do was play Super Mario Brothers on the classroom computer, and who could blame him, really?

Swiftly diagnosing the situation and rushing into action with all due haste and alacrity: I told Noah that he could, provided that he wrote me a, you guessed it, persuasive paragraph on why I should allow students to play video games during English. He is still stunned :). By the time he had finished, the computer was already in use…gee, darn ;).

****SPOILER****Rants and Ravings about Education Follow****************

Practicality should be a byword for education, at least as far as many schools are concerned. Students want to know the purpose for assignments, and as instructors what we do should be relevant and applicable to their lives. Of course, the fact that we’re evaluated based on our adherence to the standards set forth for our various disciplines doesn’t hurt either. In the school district where I’m interning, my mentor teacher informed me that she would be subject to evaluation recorded in a new, electronic handheld. From a ludicrously short “slice” of classroom life, the administrator is supposed to assess whether or not the lesson presented falls under the academic standards for the grade level and content area being taught. Let’s think about that for a moment, shall we? There is simply no way ANY principal could possibly know the exact standards for all levels of Math, Science, Social Studies, and English classrooms. It becomes imperative, then, for the teacher to post the standards to which the day’s lesson pertains; otherwise, evaluation will be an extremely unpleasant experience.

Despite what I’ve argued before about the necessity of making education accessible and practical, I am troubled by a simple statement found tucked at the bottom of page 239 in one of my textbooks: “the [learning] strategy should address a key problem that is found in settings that the student must face”. Face value might lead to agreement with the author’s sentiments; there ought to be a “real-world” rationale for how and why we teach certain things. Unfortunately, taken as a whole I fear that this philosophical underpinning, taken to the extreme, will lead to what is currently transpiring in the school which I am placed at this semester. I have a variety of students under my tutelage, from Advanced Placement to Support; should I content myself with simply teaching them functional skills? What if their aspirations would take them beyond this level? I simply cannot say. All I know is that I was recently told, “The principal is against teaching Shakespeare or any other type of literature, since it isn’t taught on AIMS.” Yes, admittedly knowing that Macbeth is the character who says, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…” after the death of his wife in Act V is probably not a qualification for employment at Starbucks. Certainly it is beyond the current abilities of many of my students, particularly in the Support class, to understand and interpret those words. With no “real world” value in sight, why continue teaching the Bard indeed?

Because I believe that one of my roles as a teacher is to stretch my students’ minds and help them to think critically about the world that we inhabit. When I saw my uncle (a professor at Pace University) web site listing strategies for teaching Shakespeare to ESL students, I wondered to myself why that would even be important. The answer to my question lies in literature’s ability to motivate and teach us about ourselves. Teaching test taking skills, as our text points out, has its place. Let’s be real—students have to pass AIMS in order to graduate, and a diploma is a necessary prerequisite for many occupations; however, I refuse to believe that my job as a teacher is to settle for being glad my students know strategies to do well answering multiple choice questions. I am certainly not implying that you will disagree; in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m preaching to the choir, metaphorically speaking. On the other hand, if principals like the one I described earlier still exist, which they obviously do, it is still important to be aware of controversies like these. Unless we encourage our students by giving them work that is beyond their current capabilities and cultivates higher-level thinking skills, we may never see them reach their individual potentials.

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