Milty Goes to Connecticut

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 28 2011

Between a rock and a … well, you know…

One interesting aspect of my job is that I serve kids with special needs at a college prep school. That doesn’t sound interesting, right? Consider for a moment that some of my kids have IQs below 70 or developmental delays that mean they might not ever read at grade level. Then consider that the mission of the school is for 100% of graduates to go to a four-year college or university. Enter the conflicts of interest.

I am not suggesting that all SPED kids won’t go to college. Most of them are totally capapble; the learning disabled need extra help to catch up.  We also have the “smart but crazy” ones. In a totally un-PC way, those would be the ones who have the academic skills but not the social or emotional. They need counseling, anger management, extra time, extra space, a little schedule flexibility. Some of them, however, have lead poisoning or intellectual disabilities or severe autism or any number of other truly debilitating conditions. They need life skills – counting money, filling out job applications, etc. No amount of remediation will teach critical thinking to those who are not capable of it.

Here comes the problem. If you are continually asked to perform at a level above your ability, you will want to leave. Thus, it makes sense that many of the students in my case load want to leave for different schools, thinking it will be better. My concern is I feel like they will get lost at a larger school where they might not have teachers constantly lurking around them and breathing down their necks.

Here’s my other thought, and I don’t know if it reeks of TFA or AF bias but I think they will do better in terms of grades because the standards will be lower at the public high schools. Those 61s and 67s will be passing scores at most other high schools in town; here a 70 in the minimum passing score. They won’t get in trouble so much because they won’t be subject to our strict merit/demerit system or uniform code. I suspect this would produce one of two possible results: they will thrive and graduate in four years – or – they will see the gaps in the system, exploit them and get in even more trouble, <hyperbole> drop out and fail at life </hyperbole>.

It’s all about my fear of their unknown. Being unfortunately not omniscient, I can’t possibly imagine what will happen if some of “my babies” transfer to other schools, and this frightens me. I also cannot in good conscience counsel them to stay if they’re consistently failing here.

A major theme in my life this year has been “ambiguity tolerance.” I don’t know exactly what’s going on. I can’t know, and I have to accept that. This is totally contrary to my personality and desire to control everything.

As they say back home, it’s a hard row to hoe.

Whatever that means.

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    Charmingly (maybe) Existential (possible) Musings (read: rants) on My TFA Tenure

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