Wednesday, May 25, 2005

No child left behind

"So you'll be in my math class from now on," his voice rumbled down to me, just before he pulled me into a sudden, insincere hug. Released just as suddenly, I stumbled and wished that I had the power to insist he send me back to Mrs. Brown's pre-algebra group--the only highlight in my fourth grade life.

I went home that night and reported (quite likely tearfully) to my mom that Dr. Corash had informed me I was in his math class now. She was horrified and started the series of phone calls immediately to get me taken back out of my teacher's math class. The irony of this situation, which I didn't appreciate at the time, was that it was my parents' complaints which got my math class switched to start with.

I felt like I barely saw my parents that year--every evening there seemed to be another meeting they had to go to. When I had started fourth grade, it was the first time in three years that I'd had a new teacher, much less a new school. Within the first six weeks, one-third of the class withdrew and started their own private school. At the time, I didn't completely understand what was going on. I know now that my parents couldn't afford to enroll me in the private school my friends were starting, and they couldn't take me out of my class without jeopardizing my sister's placement at her elementary school. So they did what they could--working their way through the layers of bureaucracy to try and get me reassigned while keeping my sister where she was or to try to find someone to make my class better.

They started with the principal. Unfortunately she and Dr. Corash had been study buddies during their PhD program and she refused to listen to my parents' complaints. When they complained that we hadn't had math so far during the first two months of school, coincidentally math groups were assigned and divided up. Sometimes when they showed up for meetings with her, they found other parents--who were on "his side"--waiting there to rebut their claims. Soon their passion drove them to the school board.

The principal told everyone that my parents were trying to get my teacher fired and this caused the school board to treat them rudely and disregard their legitimate complaints. At one meeting, the head of the school board stood outside the door during their meeting--unable to leave hearing distance of the meeting but refusing to face my parents. Before another meeting, my parents got the last two spots on the list of people allowed to speak but when they showed up a few hours later discovered the principal had recruited a few other parents, and circumvented the school board procedures, to speak against my parents.

It was during one of their appearances before the school board that they mentioned my math class with Mrs. Brown. I may have been the only student who loved her, but she was a great teacher--consistent and demanding--and it was my few minutes in her presence every day that made school bearable. She was the complete opposite of my teacher who taught without lesson plans, flew off on random tangents, rarely followed through, and never explained the grades he gave out. Unfortunately the class I was in was called "self-contained" meaning it was only to include gifted students identified by the school district, and letting us out of the classroom for math violated that program, leading to my return to Dr. Corash for math.

I'm not sure who took pity on me and restored me to Mrs. Brown's pre-algebra class. I do know that eventually a few members of the school board heard my parents and they assigned a tutor for my teacher--someone to teach him to write and use lesson plans--and she also worked with me individually in English. The next year, he was transferred to another school in the district--his friend the principal felt forced to send him away--and we got a much better teacher in his place. Actually, the transfer proved to be good for Dr. Corash as well--a few years later I was at an awards ceremony where he was selected as the outstanding gifted teacher of the year in our district. It turns out that between the tutoring he received and his "team teachers" at his new school, he grew to be a good teacher.

That year was the most wrenching classroom situation of my twelve in public schools but I don't know how to draw a conclusion about public education from it. Elizabeth from Corporate Mommy had her say about it today and drove me to share this memory. I know the system is broken, but I don't know how to fix it. I also don't know how I feel when/if I'm presented with making that choice for my child.


At 8:22 AM, Blogger Laura said...

Interesting. I was across the hall from all of this and had no idea it was going on. I was nine, so I guess that's an excuse.

Mrs. Brown was an awesome teacher, I still remember her fondly.

At 12:41 PM, Blogger Angie said...

I doubt it was something they advertised beyond my classroom. Once the 8-10 students left at the beginning of the year, I think my parents were really the only ones still actively opposing him, so I'm sure I felt it much more strongly than anyone else.

I felt the same way about Mrs. Edwards at Place. I remember when she showed 1776 in class and at one point I looked around and noticed that she and I were the only ones awake in the whole classroom! :)

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Laura said...

Mrs. Edwards was also great. I'm not a huge fan of 1776, but she was my favorite teacher in middle school, hands down.

I think why I find this most interesting is that my parents had a very good relationship with the principal and no one in our family was a huge fan of Dr. Corash's replacement. I know that you and Suzanne had very good experiences with him, but he could be cold to those not in GT. I ended up having to repeat 5th grade math because he didn't want to take any non-GT kids in his pre-algebra course, even though math was team taught between GT and Challenge. Dr. Corash seemed more accessible. Again, I was nine and never had him as a teacher. In the long run it probably made next to no difference in my life.

At 6:27 AM, Blogger Suzanne said...

I think I'm going to blog about this...

At 2:10 PM, Blogger Suzanne said...

(Sorry, being anal here)...technically Ricks was started about 5 years before that (as UCGYC), but I think that many of the kids from Dr. C's class ended up going there. :-)

Unrelated...the same teacher wouldn't let me do prealgebra either, so I had to do 5th grade math twice as well. And I didn't get to fractions and percent either time. What was up with that?


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