Sunday, February 7, 2010

Paying to be the Best

Recently I watched with interest an infomercial highlighting a local school district and all its innovative programs. From the ten minute presentation, the school system looked fairly impressive. I thought things must have changed drastically in the 35 years since I taught adult ed in that district whose residents at the time seemed to come from trailer parks on swamp land. During the day, I had a parttime assignment teaching high achieving 10 graders in the Ann Arbor district chemistry and physics. At night I taught adult GED math students in the district 10 miles away geographically but light years away in every other aspect. I had no experience teaching 'adults'. I had done my student teaching at the other big Ann Arbor high school teaching AP chemistry and 'regular' chemistry. Even 'regular' chemistry requires math skills that most of my adults would never master. I tutored math while I was in high school but fortunately for me, my students were quite bright, just lazy or distracted, so all ended up successful once they actually looked at the stuff. With one of tutoring jobs tutoring 2 girls at once, I received the princely pay of $7/hour. I had been babysitting for 50 cents/hour-a big bump up with less work.I also tutored younger kids in the intercity reading-an experience that openned my suburban eyes to a lot of things. I had no idea what to expect with adults; I was familiar with high achieving tenth graders though they were no picnic. I was younger than all of my students excepting a 19 year old who already had 3 kids. Her mom was in the class too-her motto: I can't add but I certainly can multiply.Indeed!Where to start? Absolutely no guidance except my marching orders to just get them ready for the GED and to keep track of the Milan prison parolees (!!!?!) I gave a skills test gleaned from a 7th grade math book nervous that the adults would find it too easy-my 10th graders would have no problem with it. No one could get anything right but still they had all different levels. One elderly man, a very sweet pastor with his wife, I called him the Rev, could add up strings of numbers in his head but couldn't multiply. Basically, my adults averaged at the 3rd grade level. My star pupil, a former hood who finally in his twenties wanted to get his life together but was always placed in remedial math classes due to his past poor performance, was quite bright and I quickly got him up through the middle of first year algebra enabling him to score in the high nineties on the GED. Lots of stories...but back to the 'best in Michigan' school district.
One of my classrooms by day was an 8th grade classroom. There was a chart on the wall with all the students' names and their progress mastering the times table. Only one student had mastered it all. Eighth grade!!! Some Ann Arbor students at that age take 2nd year algebra. Another was a biology classroom with a caged animal with the sign:
Carfull, he bit!
It was a chinchilla-never saw one before in the flesh (just their organs of Corti-from my scut job counting hair cells at the Hearing Research Inst.) He managed to escape once under my watch. I didn't want to pick him up given the warning.

So how did this school district turn itself around in the 35 years since I visted it last (although as a part time science educator, I did demonstrations in its schools)It paid a public relations company lots of bucks!!! As it is a 'school of choice' district, it can entice students from other districts to go there and get the state aid that follows those students so I guess, money well spent especially if the high achieving, low cost to educate students can be enticed.

I was in the hospital another day with my friend who was finally released. She will be with her beloved son for the next few days and then I will keep her company at the end of the week. But I think our time together has made us closer.

My husband will leave in a week (instead of today dealing with snow drifts along the route) for his caregiving.

My friend was in the new, fancy wing of the hospital. From the top floor, one could see Detroit. South and east of Ann Arbor, Michigan is a flat chunk of land. Coming from the hills of the Southern Tier region of New York, I was shocked at its flatness moving here though we always went to Ann Arbor twice a year as that's where my grandparents lived (in Barton HILLS-so that wasn't flat). Pretty as this wing is, there are some design flaws that were made evident to me yesterday. The sleek design of the elevator keys make it not obvious on which button to press. There is a star on what appears to be the first floor button. (At least everyone knows the first floor is the one to get out of as this hospital is built on a flat piece of land-UM is built on the side of a steep hill-Main floor of the Cancer Center-bottom of the hill is B2-In other buildings the 5th floor). I first found an elderly couple who were going up and down just hoping that the elevator would stop at one. They had pressed the 'star' not this little bump nearby that apparently elderly eyes can't distinguish. They were quite grateful to get to the first floor and I showed them the secret button for future reference. Design flaw number two: very poor signage. They get off the elevator and there are no signs hinting in which direction to go. Being that it was my third day there and that I had made numerous trips in that time, I had mastered the maze. I took them through several corridors until we could find the signs. They had extremely limited mobility and making them learn the maze by trial and error seemed really unfair. When I left the hospital for the day, I got on the elevator with a hysterical older woman already calling security through the emergency phone. Apparently she had been stuck on the elevator for sometime trying to get to the first floor and had claustrophobia. She thought it was just accidental that we made it there when I came in. You didn't press the right button. I know how to work an elevator, I pressed the star with the one on it. Are you ever coming back to this hospital? I have to, all my friends have cancer!!! Well let me show you the magic button...

I only heard one lullaby yesterdy. A slow day for babies. I found a woman wheeling out newborn twins. I asked if they had been born two days ago at noon (when we heard the lullabies close together). No they had been in for more than a week-one looked 50% bigger than the other.

Naomi's big test is today(she goes to the school's testing center-open on Sundays). She thought she could study on her own for the past two days making me very nervous.
While my friend entertained other friends, I went for a run yesterday. The wind was brutal but pleasant while on my back. So far Michigan has been spared much of the snow everyone else got. Fine by me.

1 comment:

Sara Williams said...

Good luck for naomi with her test!


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