01: Unintentional Consequences

Students are undeveloped living organisms. Our education system is designed to guide students through their evolutionary process. If we are not careful, we could entrap them in the lives of social and financial oppression for the rest of their life.

Each student is a unique and evolving organism that transforms themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally through daily experiences and challenges. We eat healthy food and exercise to build a more muscular and healthy body. We acquire new knowledge to synthesize and build new understanding. We master new skills so we can build things and solve problems. We believe that our education system is designed to guide students through their personalized evolution process by providing high-quality instruction, resources, and support. 

The challenge, however, is all students are different. Students are not robots or computers that we can install software or store data directly. Our input does not always equal the outcomes we desire. As current educators, we know that every educator and school leader always has positive intentions in teaching practices and policies; however, their positive intentions may cause unwanted lifelong consequences for high-risk students if we are not careful and forget our education’s long-term mission.

For example, there is a rising concern that schools are graduating students without the essential skills and knowledge to be successful in higher education or future careers. Consequently, students are closed to opportunities for high-paying jobs and financial freedom. Altogether, it oppresses high-risk students from escaping the impoverished or disadvantaged lives and perpetuating the cycle of poverty for generations in their family.  Now, that is the concern; so, let’s talk about the solutions.

Problems are not solved because we talk about it; instead, we act on it. We are current teachers, and I’m John Nguyen, your host. Welcome to the Win Elements Show, where we’ll talk about today’s important problems and solutions to improve our education, family, and community. 

For those who are new to our education system. 

All students are expected to meet the standards outlined by the state and federal government. The standards are designed to make all students receive the high equality of education to prepare students for the challenges in this competitive and globalized society. 

Schools are responsible for providing all students with high-quality instruction, resources, and support to meet the standards.

Educators proposed learning equity to provide all students with the necessary resources and support based on their individual needs. Before learning equity, educators proposed learning equality policies that provide all students with the same resources and support. However, the policies of learning equality policies are leaving disadvantaged students and students with special needs. 

However, the mission easier said than done, especially if we continue to rely on traditional teaching methods. Traditional teaching strategies are teacher-driven and mainly paper-and-pencil. These are the teaching strategies we are taught with, and it was how I taught my students during my first year as a public high school science teacher.

During my first year as a public high school science teacher, my teaching pedagogies focus on me, the teacher, on a stage giving direct instruction by reading and explaining PowerPoint presentations to many students in a small classroom. When assigning works, teachers rely on worksheets, textbooks, or other publisher’s ready-to-use materials. For example, I had students read and outline a chapter or define a list of vocabularies using their textbook. The activities were to help students build reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. However, I noticed the students are just completing the tasks for points rather than learning the skills or the materials. No matter how hard I try, I could not keep up with the grading. I stayed very late after school or took work home to grade them during the weekend.  The number of hours I have per day and the time it takes to grade students’ outlines did not add up. The students who benefited were the top 20% of students, and 80% are left behind.

During my first semester, I also downloaded and printed PDF worksheets and made hundreds of copies for students. Some packages are multiple pages, and thousands of copies are made weekly. It got so bad that I had to get up early or stay after school to make copies. It was not just me, but many veteran and new teachers were experiencing the same challenges. Likewise, many of us could not keep up with the grading. It was not that other teachers and I were procrastinating; it was impossible and unrealistic.  Some teachers were lucky enough to have students as Teacher Assistants to help with the grading. Are teachers supposed to use their Teacher Assistants for grading? I don’t know. There were no other practical solutions.

I quickly learned from other teachers to simplify and reduce my grading by stamping students’ for effort and completion or spot-check students’ answers for correction. Spot checking is randomly selecting one or two assignments from a list of assignments. The grade for the selected assignments will be the grades for other assignments. Grading students’ assignments and homework was a crazy and daunting task for many teachers and me.

When assessing students during my first semester, I relied on Publisher’s questions banks to assess students with multiple-choice questions that require students to bubble their answer on a 25-cents scantron. To discourage students from cheating, we made two versions of our tests and quizzes.  Then, we run it through a scantron scanner to correct students’ answers. Beep… Beep… If we made a mistake in our answers key. Oh, Lord… We had to manually re-grade all the questions on every single scantron. Worst thing that ever happened to me when I grade students scantron with the wrong version’s answer key.  Now, that was a nightmare.

We could not pass back the scantrons or go over the questions because we had students who needed to make up missing tests. At first, I passed them back on the next day to go over challenging questions. However, I later noticed a few students are absent on the day of the tests or quizzes on purpose. I learned from another teacher that some students would wait for us to go over the answers in class, and they would get the answer from their friends. When they make up the missing tests or quizzes, it would be a lot easier. 

Likewise, students used similar strategies with classwork or homework. For any teachers who accept late work without any penalty, students would wait for other students to finish the work first to copy it to turn it in on a later day. For many teachers, they stop accepting late work without penalty because students were abusing the privilege. Of course, there were always special cases where we would accept a student’s late work without penalty.

Then, there was also the classroom management component of teaching. Suppose teachers are teaching lower-level classes, classroom management. We know that all students can learn, but not all students will want to learn, especially when they have given up in your class. These students either stop showing up to class or become the most disruptive students who will ruin the learning experience for all other students. Worst, if they know that they can cheat and pass your class with little effort, they will inspire other students to join the bandwagon.

When looking at class sizes, middle school, and high school teachers who are lucky enough to work in a district with class size limits would have about 165 students per day or 36 students per class. From kindergarten through first grade, class size is about 24-30 students per teacher. For 3rd grade through 6th grade, class size is about 36 students per teacher.

There are many even more challenging aspects to the teaching profession, and we want to share with you the two most important aspects so you would understand the process of educating students.

More importantly, it allows us to accept the apparent limitations of traditional teaching methods. Teachers, administrators, or parents may blame students for their failures. Vice versa, students, administrators, parents, or the rest of society may blame the teachers for students’ failure.

However, as current teachers, I can guarantee you that all the new teachers came to the profession with the passion for making a difference in all students. However, what will happen to their love for teaching when they have to go through these challenges every year. 

Over many years, the challenges evolved into an infectious disease that we called teacher’s burnout. Common symptoms of the “teacher’s burnout” disease include: 

-Feeling frustrated and overwhelmed

-Feeling hopeless

-Losing temper easily

-Trouble with sleep

-Sense of apathy or over complaining

-Headaches and muscle tension

-Drug abuse

-Alcohol abuse

-Blame others such as students, parents, and administrators

This disease cannot be cured with inspirational speeches or giving teachers extra paid or bonuses. 

When teachers are completely burned out, there is very little that we can do to ignite the lost flame.

Most importantly, teachers have the most significant impact on students’ learning. What will happen to students’ learning when your teachers are burned out and feeling hopeless?

At the beginning of the show, we pointed out a rising concern of unexpected high graduation rates in some schools, while students’ proficiency on standardized tests is going in the opposite direction. What has contributed to the success of high graduation rates? Also, why are the results of standardized tests showing the opposite?

As current educators, we know that every school leader, educator, and parent wants the best for the students. High school graduation rates and college acceptance have been the main indicators of that success. But, what if we are graduating students without having the proficient skills and knowledge to be successful in higher education or future careers?

According to NBC, “Some 44 million Americans collectively hold over $1.6 trillion in student debt. And these numbers are growing. During the 2019-2020 school year, the average cost of tuition, fees, room and board was $21,950 for in-state students at public universities, $38,330 for out-of-state students at public universities and $49,870 at private non-profit universities”

“One survey found that 21% of borrowers have delayed getting married, 26% have pushed back having kids and 36% have put off buying a home.”

Students’ loans are not like business loans, where students cannot file bankruptcy and get a fresh start in a few years. The debt is growing with high interest rates. It will become the fat and greedy pig that eats up our hard-earned money. The irony is that the pig only get fatter and hungrier when we stop feeding it. 

As educators, we may think our jobs are done when students have graduated. The reality is that their journey has just started. Without the knowledge and skills that they should have learned from Kindergarten through 12th grade, the chance of them being successful is very slim. Now, we not just talking the academic skills or knowledge, there are equal importantly skill sets that students must learn as well:

  1. Accept their mistakes. It’s okay to fail.
  2. Develop a growth mindset to persevere through any challenges, so they don’t give up easily
  3. Communicate with others and treat others with respect
  4. Love and care for those around us. 
  5. Take care of our world and our community
  6. Most importantly, learn to be human.

It seems like graduating students with fewer requirements may open many door opportunities for them on the surface. However, behind some of those doors are dangerous traps that forever oppress students financially with a large amount of debt. Consequently, these students spent the rest of their lives trying to dig out of a hole that is only getting deeper. Many at-high students and disadvantaged students do not have emotional  or financial  support that would help them out. Altogether, these students are forced to enslave themselves to get out of college debt.

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