Morality, Higher Consciousness in Education

Please read the dialogue between other posters and myself regarding the following specific case in a high school in which the substitute teachers did not record grades for the students when the teacher was absent for an extended period of time.  My remarks may be controversial to some but I believe they stem from my pursuing a vision of higher consciousness when I lived with my first husband and best friend in New York City in the decade of 1960.

Link from Get Schooled, an educational blog on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Faced with no recorded grades for students, what should Atlanta Public Schools have done?

 

Excerpt:

Mary Elizabeth to another poster:

That suggestion puts unusual stress upon students when the mistake was not theirs.  Moreover, a remedial reading course is not equivalent to a science class, or any other content area course, in high school.  The progress made by each student in a remedial reading class is determined individually, depending upon where each student’s reading skills in vocabulary and comprehension development were prior to having taken the course and compared with that same student’s advancement in vocabulary and comprehension skills in reading after having been taught content in that course. All students are not expected to have been at the same beginning level in reading when they were registered in that course, nor will all of the students be expected to advance according to set curriculum criteria for all students in the class.  Each student’s reading progress is determined by how much that specific student increased his or her specific reading pretest skills, reflected in his/her post test scores/skills compared with his or her specific pretest reading scores/skills.

It would have been grossly unfair to have put remedial reading students, especially, who are already struggling with reading skills, under the additional pressure of retaking that remedial reading course at the same time that they would be taking other courses, which, more than likely, would have textbooks written over the readability levels of those particular students.  We do not make a bad situation better, through insisting upon  blanket moralistic code without considering the specifics involved, such as the particular body of students who were maligned and what not giving them credit when expected would have done to their future success. In all probability, those particular remedial reading students received adequate instruction to have passed that course at that time, even though substitute teachers did not encode grades for the instruction they gave to those students, daily.

When a surgeon makes the mistake of removing the wrong organ, we do not make the patient suffer the consequences of the surgeon’s mistake in addition to having to cope with the problem caused by that unwarranted surgery.

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The other poster’s response to Mary Elizabeth:

MES, I’m not trying to make the students suffer any consequences for the adults’ failures.  What “blanket moralistic code” are you talking about?

You are more familiar with remedial reading classes than I, so maybe you know whether the Reading Enrichment course is a year-long course.  Is it?  Because if it is, what’s wrong with applying North Atlanta’s solution? The NA students all received credit for the semester.  None had to retake the course or attend summer school.  Grades reflected students’ actual scores on assessments after the content was actually taught.  .

You wrote “In all probability, those particular remedial reading students received adequate instruction to have passed that course at that time, even though substitute teachers did not encode grades for the instruction they gave to those students, daily.”  Unfortunately, I disagree.

Students who need remedial instruction need a very good, experienced, effective teacher on a consistent basis.  They need a teacher who knows each student well enough to individualize their lessons accordingly.  A string of short-term substitutes sounds like the least likely scenario for those students to get the kind of instruction they need. To me, it seems improbable that the students received adequate instruction.  It’s a very sad situation and not the students’ fault.

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Mary Elizabeth’s response to that poster:

 

I agree with you that it is “a very sad situation and not the students’ fault.”

My perceptions come from years of thinking, reading, and being prepared for seeing life in a higher consciousness than many people are even concerned with daily.  I am sorry if some who read my words, here, will think that my words are egotistical, but I value truth more than acting in concordance with group norms and that is the truth.  I cannot possibly explain to you what decades of study, and even placing myself in another, more intellectual/spiritual environment than I was receiving here in the South when I was in my 20s, has caused me to know that we must resist thinking in platitudes and moralistic generalities.  If you do not see what I see about that relative to this specific case, I cannot possibly make you understand through my words, which reflect my perceptions acquired over the course of my life.

More pragmatically, I will say that the advanced reading classes which I taught, and the remedial and personalized classes which I supervised, were divided into 3 academic quarters per year (not 2 semesters per year).  I made certain at the beginning of every quarter that every student that was new to my course had the prerequisite skills in reading to master the content taught within my advanced reading course.  If the student was not ready to absorb that content, I made certain through talking with parents, teachers, and counselors that those particular students were switched to the personalized reading, instead, where every student was able to grow in his/her reading development in vocabulary and comprehension at his own pace.

Please be aware that I have not only taught reading but I began my teaching career as a high school English teacher so I well know the difference in how the content must be taught in these two different areas of curriculum, and what students might learn through substitute teachers, even if grades were not given out, through negligence.

Finally, some things are not able to be explained to those who cannot see.  One of those things is how negatively having those students carry the responsibility of accounting for their growth into the future would have done to some of those students.  Even having one be stressed under that pressure would not be worth the cost to that child’s emotional development, based on my years of studying human development and reading curriculum skills.

Thank you for your substantive posts and I hope that the conversation between both of us will have stretched the readers’ knowledge of the seriousness of handling this unfortunate case with immense care not only for the students but for the adults involved.

 

P.S.  It is my opinion that educators cannot generalize about this unfortunate situation as to how situations similar to this one should be handled in the future.

Every school situation must be handled individually, based on the details within that specific case, and with enormous care, imo.

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The other poster responds to Mary Elizabeth’s remarks above:

Well, I guess I’m one of the “those who cannot see” because I’m not grasping where the additional stress and pressure would come from.  I don’t claim any particular spiritual enlightenment about this subject.  Just some experience with several instances of students being left in limbo without grades when teachers went on leave.  In one of those instances, the school came up with a solution that did not involve inventing grades out of thin air, so I offered it here.

You seem to think I’m advocating “retaking that remedial reading course at the same time that they would be taking other courses”.  I am not.  In the scenario at North Atlanta, none of the students retook anything.  Absolutely nothing was added to their course schedule.  The students merely continued to follow their pre-set schedule for 2nd semester courses. They had to wait a few weeks for their Incompletes to get changed to actual grades with some data behind them.

Data obtained during the first few weeks of the 2nd semester was used to generate grades for 1st semester.  So at that point, semester grades were changed from Incomplete to actual grades.  2nd semester grades were collected and processed normally.

I’m not grasping how any of that put any additional pressure on the students.

The teacher who returned from maternity leave probably did feel additional pressure.  Through no fault of her own, that course completely fell apart during her absence.  She probably did not look forward to returning when her maternity leave ended. She knew that mess awaited her.  She could have chosen not to return.  Fortunately, she DID return and she did a good job of leading the class through the remainder of the school year.  I admired her for that and I think the students did, too.

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Mary Elizabeth responds to the other poster’s remarks, above:

 

Evidently, in that particular case there were no beginning grades to generate an approximate grade for a full semester’s work. Moreover, I do not believe from a strictly moralistic point of view that the first few weeks of the grades of students reflect the final grade they would have individually received after a full semester’s work, with any authentic purity.

Again, remedial reading skills are taught in a significantly different manner than either science and math (or English) skills.

We have probably exhausted our differing positions on this case; however, rather than assuming the principal acted in a self-serving, devious manner, I would prefer to give her the benefit of the doubt that she acted in the best interest of those specific remedial reading students.

Naturally, the group which assessed her gave the principal (her) the responsibility for the negligence because she is responsible, ultimately, for everything that happens in her school, but thinking deeper, I tried to present another scenario in which she may have even tried to protect the person to whom she had assigned responsibility for the class’ continuity by assuming that responsibility herself, in the end.

I simply believe that demotion to assistant principal from principal was sufficient for punishment, in that case. I further believe that her system is trying to make lemonade out of lemons so that there is no more pain given to anyone and that the negligence is corrected in every future situation in the APS where there is a need for long term substitute teachers.

That is the best and most positive possible outcome for everyone in that unfortunate case, imho.

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