Our first experience at Manual high school was not what I expected. Interestingly though, I think it is what we were intended to see. A schedule was made for us before we arrived. The classes we were placed in were very interesting, the teachers were great, and the students were engaged – but that’s the problem! I have learned from our conversations during the past week that Manual is not a high performing school. What were we missing? I know that they have struggles and that many students are not doing well. I did not see this. What I saw when I went to Manual were the classrooms they wanted me to see. The teachers they wanted me to see. At least that is how it felt… But maybe I am wrong to assume this. Maybe Manual actually is a great school but the standardized tests that determine their SPF score are not accurately testing the school in a culturally responsive way.
I don’t mean to be negative; I more just want to understand why the classrooms I saw do not reflect the overall school performance. I want an honest perception of the school so I can formulate my own opinions.
Thinking positively about what I DID see, there were some great things. During one class I visited, the students were writing slam poetry about language, power, and identity. The students were engaged and dedicated to what they were doing. It was so interesting to see students who were so deeply and personally invested in their work. Although many of them complained they weren’t done writing when the teacher asked them to share with the class, their words were incredibly powerful.
I found this experience to be a great example of the potential for culturally responsive teaching and how it can engage students and create a classroom climate of supportive learning. I do not think the experience the students had in this class was a common one, but I think it should be. We talk about new schools coming in and replacing the already existing ones. Why not instead have confidence in what is already there and try to work with what we know works. We do not have to invent the wheel again! Manual may not be a high performing school but this was a high performing class so why not take the methods this teacher used to engage the students and use this in other classes. Couldn’t we try something like this that we have seen in action and know works instead of completely giving up and starting from new? What kind of message are we sending students by giving up on their schools?
HCU CR 2/24/16