Local teacher Cynthia Brickey is as mad as hell, and she’s not going to take it anymore. If the taxpayers are going to blame her and other teachers for the performance of all of her students, she wants to know what she should do with her desk warmers.

I’ve pep-talked, pleaded, cajoled, called home, sent them to detention — nothing works. Sometimes I wonder if they come to school just to hang out with their friends. Here we are in the last weeks of school and these desk warmers all have a 40% or lower in my class. A few are in single digits. …

What do you think I should try? I figure you, the readers, are educated and interested in issues that affect you. Our state now pays more than 40% of its budget for education. What went so wrong?

Should I concentrate on the “good” kids who are doing the work and give them all my attention? I have some fabulous kids this year: four sections of sophomore English and one section of junior/senior world literature.

Should I just forget about the desk warmers/oxygen-deprivation machines? What do you, the taxpayers, think I should do? I know if I have this problem, then all high school teachers must have the same problem.

Parents aren’t much help with her desk warmers.

I have some parents who show no interest at all in their children’s failures. When I call home, they just throw up their hands, “What are you gonna do? They’re kids.” Other parents blame me for their kids’ failure to do any work at all. Educational think tanks have actually said, “If kids don’t do their homework, it’s because it’s not meaningful.”

Meaningful? How many things in life are meaningless, but we do them because we have to — like cleaning toilets, changing poopy diapers and paying taxes? Some parents think if their child comes to school, that should be enough. I had one parent write me this note: “He belongs to you people all day. At 3 p.m., his time belongs to me.” Uh, OK.

I think she confuses “meaningless” with “tedious, boring and unpleasant,” but that’s a matter of semantics. The context makes her point clear: Life requires unpleasantness, and so it helps to develop a tolerance.

Education has spent the past 20 years trying to get every kid to go to college. A lot of kids go for six weeks. After the first midterm, they drop out. It’s too much like work. They never belonged there in the first place. Example: Many junior colleges now have two levels of English labs the student must take and pass before the student is eligible for English 1A.

Work. That’s where I believe these oxygen-deprivation machines belong, at work. The ODMs (not my expression, my science colleague’s) belong at work. We finally got a grant … to improve our auto shop — fantastic! What about all the other non-college professions? Machinists, construction, heating and air-conditioning, plumbing, cement design, interior/exterior painting, esthetics, culinary, health care. The list is endless.

Health care?

Why aren’t we preparing these dropouts for work and not welfare? In some inner cities like Baltimore, the high school graduation rate is 30%. That’s deplorable.

What do the taxpayers want us to do? I believe they have the answer, not us.

She finishes by asking for feedback, but not before blaming families and parents for students’ failure. Classy.

I don’t disagree that the family life can affect the academic success of students, ending the letter like that will invoke the wrong kind of reaction.

What’s the role of ROP education, and vocational electives? Is it wrong to encourage students to go to college at the expense of the unmotivated?


  1. 1. Student motivation and attitude is like a pie, and teachers have only one slice. The other slices belong to parents, peers, self, popular culture, school atmosphere, and medical/psychological health. It’s no more wrong for your blogger to look to the parents than it is for parents to look to teachers, but neither is entirely to blame – and neither can fix the problem on their own.

    2. Up until a year ago, I firmly believed in high school as a college preparatory experience for all students, and that we should encourage/push all kids to go to college. Then I went to work in HR in a manufacturing company and learned something vitally important. Not only is college not the right choice for all students, but artificially “forcing” them in that direction has a massive detrimental effect on our workforce and economy. Students who are not ready for college, or who do not want/need college for their lives, are pushed into attending anyway. They accrue debt, and then they accrue a failing transcript, and then they drop out. The debt is often defaulted upon, causing financial burdens for the community and major problems for the student. If they ever decide to return to school, those failing semesters will haunt them until the day they graduate. (Trust me, I know.) AND people are no longer learning trades (vocational education), and as a result, the American workforce is facing a frightening deficiency of qualified electricians, welders, truck drivers, machinists, etc.. Our generation in particular is not receiving ANY training for “practical careers” (not my term) and the industry is hurting for it. That may seem like an “oh well” situation when we’re sitting here at our comfy desks blogging, but we’ll all think differently when truck routes shut down, commuter trains are discontinued, houses stop being built, and everything from office supplies to skyscrapers become scarce or shoddily made. Definitely a wake-up call for me.

    Food for thought…

  2. How do we, as a society, improve the performance of the whole pie, instead of just a few slices?

    Nonetheless: Opinion successfully solicited. Anyone else?

  3. dkzody

    Ms. Brickey teaches in Clovis Unified, where, until just recently, all students came prepared to learn. The teachers in Clovis have not had to deal with recalcitrant students, and if they had any of those, they were quickly sent to Gateway. I found her article very amusing, and my only comment would be, “welcome to my world.”

  4. Even so: That’s a problem we’re dealing with, or trying to, anyway. How do we deal with it?

  5. Health care was one of the magnet vocational options at the first high school I taught at. The other two were culinary arts and aeronatics (there was a Junior ROTC there).

    The college / vocational pendulum has been swinging back and forth for about 25 years. We’re tending to the vocational right now (in Arizona there’s a been a good influx of funding for vocational funding in schools) and I estimate in about 8 years people things will swing back the other way.

  6. dkzody

    >> How do we deal with it?<<

    We don’t send out every kid who has long hair, a tattoo, or a piercing. We quit doing worksheets and become project based. We get the funding so every student has a computer, gets to go on a few fieldtrips, and receives some incentives along the way. We put teams of teachers together who have the same rules, the same classroom management skills, and then we teach kids to do things, all with the same high expectations. It works.

  7. Mr. Dyer: Is all education reform like that? That certainly seems to be the sense I got from my master teachers, and others.

    Ms. Zody: Easier said than done, unfortunately.

  8. dkzody

    >>Easier said than done, unfortunately.<<

    But why is that?

    Hey, you’ve got something going right over there…your VP for SLCs emailed me about a program we are using and your school is considering. It’s a super entrepreneurship program that I give high marks. It’s all pretty much project based, so a step in the right direction.

  9. Is all education reform like that?


    It’d be easy to say yes, and lots of “new” ideas people tout have been around since oh the 1910s, but history is never that simple.

    Speaking of dead things, New Math was such a debacle that I doubt we’ll ever get anything exactly the same. (With a _lot_ of emphasis on different bases … for elementary school students.)

    Speaking of new initatives, some reforms are technology-based in which case if the technology didn’t exist before it couldn’t have come from a cycle.

    And every once in a glorious while I do believe someone comes up with something New, but because of the mishmash of old ideas they float with it’d be very difficult to recognize.

  10. Ms. Zody: It takes coordination, dedication, focus and agreement among a large amount of faculty and staff, and it is possible.


    Mr. Dyer: Most technology initiatives I remember as a student were distinctly unimaginative. They were, more often than not, the same mishmash of old ideas, but adding computers.

    The typing class my elementary school used to have became, by the time I got there, the same typing class, but now with computers. My middle school poster projects became high school PowerPoints.

    It wasn’t really new. It was just updated.

  11. Kathryn

    However? You didn’t really think teaching was going to be easy, and you can’t be doing it for the glamor. Go for it!

  12. It’s the large amounts of faculty and staff that trips me up. I’m not the most motivational kind of person.

  13. Online degrees? One laptop per child?

    Sure, you can find rough analogies (correspondence courses, um … slide rules?), but that’s stretching it just to prove absolutely what’s just a general rule of thumb.

  14. Online degrees are a direct descendant of correspondence courses, but I admit one-laptop-per-child is certainly a new kind of reform.

    Whether it’s worthwhile is a whole other debate.

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