Why English?

When I tell people I am an English Education major they usually lift their eyebrows, give me a ghost of a smile and tell me good luck. It’s either that or they tell me they hated English in high school. I used to think I was going into education because I liked English. I then thought I was going into education because I liked to teach. While I think those are two very important mindsets to have if you want to be a teacher I know now I am going into education to change how we educate kids. I honestly never thought I would be interested in administration because my heart is in the classroom but the thought of going for my masters is no longer something I don’t want to do but something I might do.

I am in BLOCK right now. This is the last semester of college before I student teach*gulp* and it is meant to prepare us for student teaching. It’s the last education courses we will take before we get our degree and it is meant to cover everything that hasn’t been covered yet. I had heard a lot of things about BLOCK from various people so I didn’t know what to expect. Some people said it was hard, others just told me to show up, pay attention and you’ll pass. What I didn’t expect was being told everything I learned in my English classes was wrong. I guess that might be an over exaggeration but that’s how I felt this last two weeks of classes. Everything in me was screaming that telling kids they are worth a percentage is wrong but what can I do against a system that has been in place for years? I know education has made some incredible advances in recent years but we are still assigning grades and hours and hours worth of homework. I don’t believe in homework and honestly I don’t believe in grades either. Grades tell our students we care more about a number then them actually learning the material and homework tells us that we don’t actually think students are learning in the classroom. I understand the value of grades because we do need to assess where students are at. However, as a student that never helped me. I still remember failing math test after math test and while my teacher cared that I was failing he never bothered to sit down with me and ask “what do you not understand? What do we need to work on to get you where you need to be?” He was a good math teacher and he genuinely cared but he was a part of a system that thinks grades are the best way to motivate students and to show their learning. It’s not. The plain truth is grades do not show you where a student really is.

I took Comp I and II in high school. I spent a good chunk of the first semester wiring a research paper. I was super proud of that thing because I had written draft after draft and when I was ready to turn it in I knew it was good. Now my teacher gave the final grade but as a way to assess the students across the district all the English teachers got together and graded the papers. They then averaged the scores and handed those back to us as well. It didn’t affect my grade or factor into my grade at all it was just a way for the district to see and compare across the schools. I got a two on my word choice (which don’t even get me started on this 1,2,3,4 number system). That was all. I was given a number and nothing else. Do you really think this helped me as a student? Haha, no. I looked at that number and thought “I failed”. My “word choice” whatever that means, was a two, again whatever that means.

When my mom student taught she had a third grader cry because this little 8 year old went down on her standardized test from the year before. She was crying over a standardized test that didn’t affect her. An eight year old was so stressed about a test that she cried. She was eight. Let that sink in. There was a girl in my class that was a really really slow test taker. She was incredibly smart but she was just really slow. It sucked because no accommodations were made for her and she had to finish tests in the allotted time. Tests stressed her out because she had to finish otherwise she would get a bad grade even though she knew the material.

I hate the word smart because it everyone is smart in some way or another. Being smart doesn’t mean anything because I can read a hundred page book in a day. I could not foil a binomial but my old roommate who struggles to read even ten pages could foil ten binomials. Just because you don’t know the material does not mean you aren’t smart. It’s because whoever taught it to you didn’t care enough to make sure you understand what was being taught. My geometry teacher was a nice person. She was a good advisor for National Honor Society. She was a terrible teacher. She knew geometry. She understood it, she just didn’t know how to teach it. She would literally watch my class every day copy each others homework right before we had to turn it in. She knew we were doing it and yet she didn’t care to take the time to ask us what we didn’t understand. I still don’t understand geometry to this day because I had to teach myself and I was already terrible at math.

One of my professors for BLOCK told us that when we write behavioral objectives we need to have a percentage to measure what percentage of the class got the material. So say I was teaching how to cite properly (which honestly no one knows how to cite properly) and I said with “80% accuracy”, that meant I wanted at least 80% of the class to get it. If the entire class is not getting it you aren’t doing your job. It should 100% always.

As I write this I know I will never reach every student and inevitably as much I hate to say this someone will fall through the cracks. Someone will get left behind because I work for the pubic school system that cares more about numbers than students. I will have to turn in grades and more than likely assign homework as much as I will hate doing it. However, I shouldn’t be afraid to push back. I shouldn’t be afraid to present the research that shows reading the Canon or the “classics” is a waste of time because students aren’t actually reading them. I shouldn’t be afraid to change the face of education because I refuse to let those students fall through the cracks. I refuse to accept 80%. I refuse to keep students the same way we have been teaching because as a veteran of the public school system I know from first hand experience it doesn’t work.



2 thoughts on “Why English?

  1. I love this post! It really does a great job of taking on the idea of grades and how we treat our students. Students should be seen as people not averages or percentages. I had a similar experience in math, and it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that a teacher realized I had no idea what I was doing and helped me. It’s crazy to think most kids will never have that teacher, and it just makes me want to be that teacher who actually takes the time to care.


  2. A 2 on word choice. What does that even mean? Every so often, I get conned once again into thinking I should use a rubric to assess student writing and I always end up so frustrated and annoyed with myself for trying it again when I know that it’s ridiculous! I really enjoyed following your thinking through this post. I am well aware that I am a classroom idealist, but to me, idealism feels very realistic, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have a 100% goal for my students’ learning. Why wouldn’t I assume that everyone will learn?


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