I’ve been so busy attending our wonderful Fulbright Orientation in Washington, DC this week, that I haven’t had time to post the conclusion of my narcissistic little interview. In case you didn’t read the first half of this post, my point was to try out possible interview questions that I will use with other teachers and administrators in UK educational settings that serve 16 – 19 year old students, as part of my Fulbright research project. I have so many new post ideas related to preparing for my trip (5-day countdown to UK in progress!) that I contemplated just leaving this post incomplete, but I wanted to get to the part of interviewing that I think will be most helpful for my Fulbright interviews – listening to other educational philosophies. So here goes…
Becca and I concluded our interview when she returned from her Fulbright Orientation in Washington, DC. She seemed excited and rejuvenated to be beginning her new adventure and was eager to get started. I decided to take advantage of her enthusiasm and jump right in with my questions.
We believe that students with disabilities will graduate if they have strong relationships with supportive teachers, a clearly developed plan, and coursework that challenges each student at his or her level. First and foremost is the supportive relationship. Many of our students have told me that they feel that no one cares whether they graduate or not, or whether they go on to have successful lives or not. One afternoon, after only about two months working in the Late Afternoon School, I sat around with a group of students waiting for their rides home. We were laughing and talking about our weekend plans when one the guys, a senior who had had chronic truancy problems since elementary school, said, “Mrs. Leech, you act like you like us.” I laughed and said, “of course.” and was confused when he responded, “That’s the first time.” I asked what he meant and he said, very seriously, “The first time a teacher ever liked me.” He was a likeable guy, so I doubt that was true, but it was his perception. I realized then that the key to keeping kids in school was to provide relationships that show kids that someone is on their side and wants them to succeed.
The second tenet is the development of a clear and achievable plan. Each student sets specific goals and we work to create a course schedule that includes only the courses the student truly needs either to graduate or to meet self-selected post-school goals. Students at-risk for dropping out generally do not like being in school. If they are to stay, they must be able to see the end in sight, and be able to track their progress toward meeting that end.
The third key to success is that students must be challenged in their schoolwork. No program will be successful if kids are simply being handed course credits and diplomas. Firstly, because students get bored and feel that the time they spend at school is wasted. They lose respect for the process. Most importantly, though, students need to feel capable and successful, and the only way that will happen is if they take on challenges and meet them. Since our students have special needs, they usually do need extra help and accommodations to the general education curriculum. They need support, reteaching, and problem-solving strategies so they can experience success in the classroom that will carry them beyond high school.
Research also shows that if high school students are to stay in school, they must perceive their education as relevant to their lives and to their future goals. That is the element I plan to study in the United Kingdom during my Fulbright program. For now, educators in our state must provide the coursework and address the standards that are required for the single diploma path all students must follow. Students usually take some electives based on their future goals, but the content of the academic coursework they must take is not tied to their chosen path. We find that most of the teaching we need to do in Late Afternoon School is to help students catch up in the subjects that are most difficult for them, usually Math, Science, and English. We do try to make the subject matter relevant to each student and tie the learning to their daily lives, but it is not always possible, given the homogenous coursework and standards we are required to teach.
(BL, FS): How do you measure success?
(BL, TC):We measure the number of students who graduate with general education diplomas each year. I wish we were also able to measure where these students go the next year, if they are in jobs or school, but we simply don’t have the staff or budget to do that.
(BL, FS): What kinds of changes are taking place in your school or school system?
(BL, TC):Over the past 4 years, our system has been phasing in new graduation requirements, which move toward more requirements for college preparatory courses and more stringent academic coursework for all students. Now, with the new “Race to the Top” initiative, Tennessee is adopting Common Core standards and changing the way our standardized testing is done (again.) We are also making big changes in special education, especially in referral and identification of students with disabilities and a new Response to Intervention model. There are also many changes for the profession of teaching in our state, including the removal of collective bargaining power, changes in teacher evaluation, and potential loss of licensure for those teachers who do not improve student standardized test scores.
Stanley, Kylie R., and Jonathon A. Plucker. “Improving High School Graduation Rates.” ￼Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, Vol 6. No 7. Summer 2008. Web. 28 July 2013.