I was talking with a friend recently – my asthetistician, to be exact, but I also consider her a friend – while getting my monthly professional facial treatment. We talked about the recent days-long power outage, our parents – hers about the same age as mine- and life in general. We then somehow got on the topic of high school, class reunions, and school life back in the day. She and I are also about the same age. I mentioned to her the struggles that I have with providing students with extra help. There seems to be no culture of extra help at my place of employ. I am constantly telling my students that there is rarely a time when I am not available to them for extra help. However, students typically don’t seek me out on their own initiative. Instead, they come by way of teacher or parent fiat. Additionally, there isn’t time built into the school day for extra help, or after school for that matter. Conversely, when my asthetistician and I were in high school, life after school was bustling with clubs, extra help, sports and band practices, and students doing research in the library or hanging out with their favorite teachers. The “late bus” – the bus that served those who stayed after school – was even a culture all to its own.
Perhaps extra help just doesn’t happen in so-called, self-identified, progressive schools. My previous place of employ was a progressive school, and there was no culture of extra help, or after-school activities, for that matter, save play rehearsal and sports, the two things which seem to dominate after-school life at my present school. Mind you, my asthetistician and I attended garden variety, albeit good, public high schools, and extra help was a constant and regular part of the school day – before, during and after. So, one would think that at an expensive, private, college-preparatory school, the same would be true.
Extra help, given the competing forces, seems to be offered on the proverbial catch-as-catch-can basis. Do individual teachers offer extra help? Of course they do. However, when there is no culture of extra help, how does this impact the culture of expectation for students and teachers?
Jaime Escalante, the great Bolivian-American educator who brought AP Calculus to an East Los Angeles high school populated largely with economically-disadvantaged Latino students, reportedly said that students will rise to the level of expectation that teachers set for them. Mr. Escalante clearly had extremely high expectations for the students, despite the immense barriers the students faced on the basis of their race, ethnicity, linguistic heritage, and socio-economic status.
So…what are the barriers for well-to-do, predominately White, upper-middle class students who attend a very expensive, college-preparatory school? The dominant culture, i.e. White male culture, is a bankrupt culture in many respects. Despite the immense privilege such a culture offers, it is fraught with a compromised value system, misplaced priorities, and ineffectual parenting which values neither education nor personal responsibility and accountability. Therefore, extra help isn’t seen as a way of doing better because it is the right thing, but more as a safety net for when things become so bad that extra help is the eleventh-hour solution. Schools reflect the culture of the society in which they reside. Private schools, despite the bubble shield they evoke, are not as immune as we may have been led to believe. All of society’s ills exist with us as well.
I realize that my school isn’t going to resolve society’s many problems. However, I would like for my school to find a way to make extra help part of a positive culture of expectation. I would like to see more personal responsibility and accountability on the part of the students, and, to that end, we may have to teach these things to the students. Additionally, I would like to see a school day that supports and values extra help so that teachers and students alike feel that it is not only an important part of the school day, but that it is also a necessary component to teaching and learning.
Without a culture of expectation, nothing else truly matters.