What Goes On Inside a Failing Public School?

White School Hallway With Brown Wooden Doors
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Ever since middle school, I wanted to be a teacher.  As a young 12-year-old who had just figured his entire life out, nothing excited me more than becoming one.

As I grew older, I fell out of wanting to be a teacher, but it was always in the back of my mind.  When I went to college, I studied business.  I finished college with a Bachelor’s degree in accounting, a minor in finance, and a management job lined up at Walmart.  I thought I was set.  

Three weeks into my career at Walmart, and I already wanted to quit.  I knew right then I should have listened to my 12 year old self and stuck with the teaching plan.  I enrolled in graduate school, and just a few months later was in the classroom, landing my first job at my Alma Mater, a slightly upscale school district in a classic cookie cutter community.

Niche.com gives the school great rankings across the board, giving them an A- for academics and a B+ overall.  I then student-taught 15 minutes down the road at another solidly performing school.  After I finished student teaching, I was able to find a full-time position at another public school.  

The school I teach at now, is in every way imaginable, a failing public school.  According to usnews.com, this district ranks 13,394/17,857 in the nation, and ranks 518/678 among districts in the state of Pennsylvania.  But what exactly goes on in these schools?  

I can only speak from experience at the high school, but starting from the top, the principals are greatly limited in their discipline methods.  The main principal often gets on the intercom and often “threatens” the students with in-school suspensions if they fail to report to class on time.

To give some context behind this, it’s typical for a plethora of students to not only come to class 5, 10, 15 minutes late, but also aimlessly wander the halls.  Cutting class entirely is also extremely common, and I had seen in an email from our union representative that the school has been flagged by the Pennsylvania Department of Education because of these issues.

Fights are common, often a couple small spats a week.  Just last week, we went on lockdown for 3 hours because of a fight that caused the police to escort students into police cars and off to the local police station.  The discipline is so broken at this school that one of the main aggressors of the fight was back in my study hall period not an hour later with ice over their broken finger.

Learning is secondary at this school.  Students often sigh in disgust when 5 question assignments are given. In my personal experience teaching a careers class, I specifically designed the class to be informative and not challenging.  Since I’m teaching “real-life” skills, I felt that designing the class the way I did was appropriate.

Lecitus Smith