Saturday, October 23, 2004

Brain Drain

Occasionally I get out and rub shoulders with the corporate crowd. Upon introduction, people inevitably respond with either sympathy or awe. The resultant conversations will usually focus on how brave I must be, and how hard my job is.
This week, during the course of one of these discussions, the question was asked, "What would you say are the biggest frustrations you have as a teacher in Cleveland?"
My answer was not the one that was expected.

My biggest frustrations are the smart kids.

I just don't have the time for them.

Years ago the practice of tracking students according to their ability was abandoned in favor of classes containing a mix of diverse aptitudes. The rational was fairly logical. By eliminating the stigma of being in the "slow" class, low achieving students would be challenged by higher expectations and motivated to work harder, essentially being pulled up by the high achievers.

The problem in Cleveland is this. For a variety of reasons, we are a system with a disproportionate number of low achieving students. We are so bottom-heavy, that it is impossible to expect the masses of low achieving students to be buoyed up by the high aptitude kids...After all they are just kids.

As teachers we are often forced to practice a type of educational triage in our classrooms.
First we attend to the "noisy-needy", those in-your-face personalities who will become disruptive unless attended to.
Next, we are pulled to the kids who are stuggling with basic comprehension of the subject matter. With large class sizes of 30-40 kids, in a 40 minute class period, these kids will easily demand all of a teachers time, when they make up about 60-70% of the class population.
The smart, quiet kids that "get it" are low maintenance. They don't demand immediate attention, so they usually don't get much. Rarely are they challenged, often they are bored. In many cases the street is much more interesting than the classroom, and if the student comes from a family without a history of academic success, one that doesn't place a high value on education, we lose them.

The media talks about the "Brain Drain" from the greater Cleveland area, referring to the exodus of college graduates from the region, as they move to other cities in search of jobs.
Cleveland Schools have their own version of a "Brain Drain", as our students with the most potential desert our rosters for the street in search of new challenges.

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