Thursday, September 10, 2015

Glenn 2.0 and a slight reversion to 1.0

I haven't blogged or really even tweeted a whole heck of a lot about education stuff in the past year (since last November).  To be honest, last year was a catastrophic year for me, my health was hit, my ego and self confidence were hit, my sense of value to my school, students and the whole education profession tanked pretty hard.

So I made a very conscious decision to try to do something very different from the norm for me of late.  That was to not rant, and to some degree, to not be an advocate that I had tried hard to be for a few years.  It wasn't healthy for me, mostly because I approached it in a lot of the wrong ways, overestimating my voice and importance (common in egotists like me).  So I have at least attempted to be as I frame it, Glenn 2.0 (really I think I'm on at least version 10 at this point, but I digress).

It's been somewhat hit or miss, some things still get me upset, I just shut up or try to vent very calmly to those I trust.  Sometimes I swing and miss terribly, but I don't think I've really done a full Glenn 1.0 meltdown for a couple of months at least.  I've had a few people even ask me if I was on some medication, though I hope they were kidding.  For the record, I'm not, I'm just, at the risk of being more political/religious than I dare most of the time, trying to be more like a book I read this summer called Unoffendable (by Brant Hansen, I recommend it). I am certainly not unoffendable yet, but while I believe intent informs actions, sometimes actions can help affect intent, and so I'm working on that.

It is so hard though...every time I read my twitter feed, which is mostly Edu stuff of course, I get aggravated, mostly at progressive educators who think they aren't dogmatic, but it reality are just dogmatic about different things.  As always, the rebels don't really want liberty, they want people to do things their way.  Such is our nature I suppose.

On the plus side though, not worrying about all of the extra stuff has given me a more coherent focus on my classroom.  I still have other duties, many more than I would wish, but just freeing up mindspace for my kiddos. (Yes, I know people hate the fact that I call students that, but I'm going to do it anyway.)  I am trying to get back to the creative yet focused and competent teacher that I really feel like I haven't been the past few years.  That is a work in progress.

What inspired me to write today was some of the attitudes of some of my favorite and most capable students at my school.  I teach at a STEM Academy, and whatever you think of that term and its buzzword status, that meant something to me when I came here.  It means a little something different now as I try to dismount from my high horse, but it does mean though that we have a fair number of students for whom science, math, etc are priorities for.  We have a lot who don't care about that stuff and a lot that they or their parents just wanted something new.  On the whole though, we have a great student body to match some pretty amazing teachers.

I teach Chemistry I, AP Chemistry and Intro to Organic/Biochemistry to students that range from 9th to 12th graders, some really great students.  Of late I've noticed that a lot of them want to be Biomedical Engineers, Chemical Engineers, Materials Scientists, etc...a lot more than I think was the case in years past, to go along with those that want to be Doctors, Vets, Pharmacists, etc...  One would think that would be an amazing boon for the classes I teach.

The hurtful truth though is that remarkably few of even those students want to take those upper level classes in Chemistry, less than 5% of our students.  Glenn 1.0 (who was cynical and snarky unlike sweetness and light new Glenn) would say that maybe that is because of who teaches IOB and AP Chem (me!), but if I'm not being a sad panda, I don't think that is really the case.  Generally speaking, I have a couple of kids taking it because of me, not in spite of me, so I don't think that is wholly the case.

One might also think that it is because those classes are really hard.  That's true to some degree, but that doesn't stop them from taking a host of other AP classes at our school, ones that ostensibly might have less to do with their future success in science related majors.  I don't think the percentage of kids making As and Bs in my classes are any different than those classes, even if the work is hard. I don't think it about success on the AP test itself either, because last year was our most successful in that regard, and I only see that going up.

It hit me hard today though in conversing with a couple of my best students.  They said they probably wouldn't take IOB (my Organic class) because it didn't have an Honors or AP designation and would thus be a drag on their GPA.  I've heard the GPA complaint for years for AP, because, yes, it is more likely that you might get a B in there than another class, but never really worried that much about it.  I mean, if a kid is that foolishly worried about GPA, let it be.

But the IOB thing really drives me nuts, because that was a class that I made specifically to help students at our school.  I was tired of students going off to college thinking about Medicine or Chemistry as a major and getting buzzsawed by Organic Chemistry I and II there.  That is a real thing, that really happens.  No offense to some of my friends in other disciplines, but as someone with a degree in another subject aside from Chemistry, the introductory or 2nd year classes in that non science major was not going to keep anyone from majoring in that.  Organic might...heck, to be serious, Chemistry I and II do for many students.

How did we let things get so messed up that a student would give a rip about that minuscule a difference in GPA (which would still be 4.0 unweighted, I hate the weighting system almost as much as I hate GPAs)?  Do students really think their high school GPA matters anywhere outside of that 6 months between fall and spring of their senior year when they are applying for colleges and scholarships.  I say this as someone who graduated 2nd in my class in know who cares about that and how much difference in made in college for me?  You guessed it....exactly not a darn person...

I know that kids want to get accepted and they want the scholarships (or need, I get that, really I do), but seriously kiddos, what matters isn't getting INTO college.  What matters more is being able to get THROUGH college.  And for those of you with dreams of being doctors, engineers, or scientists, even if you have to take Chem I in college because they don't accept AP results, why, why, why would you not want to be ready for that?  Or maybe even more important, wouldn't you rather figure out in Organic Chemistry in high school that maybe you don't like science enough to go through with that degree?  That is better than figuring out 2 years in that you can't hack it, and the main reason for that being that you didn't prepare yourself.

I'm not saying that a student has to have their whole life planned out and decided in HS, that's ludicrous.  But I genuinely don't understand a student like the one from a couple of years ago that wanted to go to MIT, but said they weren't going to take AP Chem because MIT didn't accept that credit.  I was pleading with the student, trying to explain that by not taking it, they probably wouldn't be ready for Chem I at MIT, but they just blew it off.

This all of course just sounds like the rant of a teacher who wants more students in their class. That's really not the case, I generally like my class sizes, and if we don't get 20 in Organic next year, I'll be ok with canceling it so I can teach something else.  I just want my students to be successful, I want them to learn, to love to learn, to challenge them and have them challenge themselves.  To not take something just because it makes a transcript look good, but because it is beneficial and needful.

Sorry for the rant for the folks that came here...a slight reversion to the 1.0 version of me, but I'm not mad about it, just sad and disappointed.