This is a transcript from a student focus group conducted by Education Week on March 6, 2003 with high school seniors in a large, diverse high school in a mid-Atlantic state in an approximately 11,000 student urban/suburban fringe school district. The focus group was facilitated by Maria Elena Torre (MOD 1), April Burns (MOD 2), and Monique Guishard (MOD 3), doctoral students at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. The purpose of the focus group was to explore students’ views and feelings about their engagement in school, the challenge of their classes, and their relationships with teachers. The student names in the transcript below have been changed to protect their anonymity.
MOD 1: Thank you for coming. Maybe we should go around the room and introduce ourselves and hear our voices together. Do you all know each other?
Students: No…. not really….[mumbling]
MOD 1: And you are all seniors, right?
Students: I am, I am…we’re all seniors.
MOD 1: And I am Maria. April, Monique and I, did they explain who we are?
Ed: They said it has something to do with Education Week.
MOD 1: Indeed it does.
Alice: My mom said she reads it all the time. And I never even heard of it. She was like, oh my God, me and my business partner love that paper.
MOD 1: What does your mom do?
Alice: She is a technology consultant. She goes to different schools up in Philly and does the technology thing.
MOD 1: OK. Well we are graduate students at the City University of New York. Um, We’ve been working with Education Week on a project that they are doing about schooling. We wanted to chat with you all and we are going to do that for about an hour and a half. Um, if at any point you want to get some more food or drink or whatever, please feel free to do that. There is a reporter there in the corner, you can see her. She is going to be taking notes. Some of the conversation that we are having might be used in the article. But there will be no identification of you as individuals or your school or school district. So, you know, as much as we are comfortable to speak freely and it won’t…opinions will just be out there, they won’t be that of specific students. And, are there any other concerns or questions you have about having a reporter present? [silence] OK, great, than should we get started?
MOD 2: I have a question. So besides the reporter, are we going to agree that whatever stays, whatever is said in this room stays in this room?
MOD 1: Great suggestion. Is that cool with everybody.
Students: Yeah, sure, that’s fine.
MOD 1: OK, good. Does anyone else have any other requests they’d like to make of the group? Has anyone ever been in a focus group before?
MOD 1: No? This is a new experience for you? Basically all we are going to be doing is having a focused conversation on a series of issues around relationships with teachers, and school experiences, um, so it is just a conversation where we’ll all be talking about school and opportunities. OK? If any of you do have questions, just pop up and ask them. We’ll get started then.
MOD 1: You know what we don’t have – paper and pens. Do you guys have paper? Here you go. Here’s a stack. Do people have pens? How about pens? We are just going to do a little bit of writing, in the beginning, just to get your minds and thoughts warmed up.
MOD 3: Don’t put your name on it or anything.
MOD 1: Also, so you know, we’ve been working with high school students in New York and New Jersey around issues around schooling and um, opportunities, so you guys are kind of joining in with the voices of other high school students who are starting to open up conversations about what’s happening in schools. So we are going to start. Monique is going to read to you a quote from a report that was written about 20 years ago about school, about the state of education in the United States. And then we are going to ask you to write, to respond to it on your papers for just about 3 minutes, OK?
MOD 2: So the quote goes, “You forfeit your chance for life at its fullest when you withhold your best effort in learning. When you give only the minimum to learning, you receive only the minimum in return. Even with your parents’ best example and your teachers’ best efforts, in the end it is your work that determines how much and how well you learn…”
MOD 1: So we’d like you to think about that, and maybe, some of the obstacles that get in the way of your best effort to learn.
Lisa: Can you repeat that?
MOD 2: Sure. [Repeat quote].
MOD 1: OK. You guys finish up.
Students: No wait [mumbling, laughing]
Students’ written responses to question:
One thing that can get in my way would be friendships and boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. Why? Because while trying to focus on my school work and pay attention things like that tend to get in the way of my school work which allows me to be thinking of all that drama that goes on in friendships rather then [sic] my school work.
It’s absolutely true, the main obsticals [sic] that get in the way of that one are parent/teacher relations, work, time, and your ability to dedicate yourself. You cannot benefit from help if you don’t take it when you need it.
One thing that get [sic] in my way is my laziness. Another thing is my stubborness [sic].
I would have to say the [sic] time is one of the main topic [sic]. Because if there was time to do homework it would really help towards my best efforts. For most students they have a very tight schedule to follow after school. Most are lazy true but the majority that works [sic] has a hard time to put their best effort into school.
Environment helps too
I’m lazy comared [sic] to some not others
Other end learning to [sic] much also is a problem
I think the statement is true to an extent like disruptions, fights and just being a teenager gets in the way. Some things can be looked over and changed as others can’t.
Basketball get [sic] in my way of learning. TV, the phone, and being bored. When I am doing homework I can never get into it because [sic] something is always distracting me or grabing [sic] my attention [sic]. There for [sic] I have a lack of study and don’t get my work done.
Family problems, relationships. Being tired or stresses all gets in the way of learning.
Without personal efforts, learning experiences are not worthwhile. Much of what is gained in schooling depends on the individual – how much they are willing to work, how open they are to learning new material in different ways, and how willing they are to adapt to their environment. However, learning becomes a challenge when the individual puts out their best efforts, but their surrounding environment – faculty, facilities, material, etc. are not up to par.
MOD 1: OK, we are going to do one more sort of brain warm up and then we are going to launch into a joint conversation. Um, April and I are going to read some quotes to you. This is from a survey that was given to about 4,000 plus students up in New Your and New Jersey about school experiences. And we are going to read you four different responses to what students imagine the worst possible school experience to be and you can pick one of them and write down a few words…real quickly…just 2 minutes on this…just to brainstorm out some ideas that you have…
MOD 3: Like the general impressions you have of the quote? Is it true or not true for you or in this school? Do you agree with it? Disagree with it? OK?
MOD 1: So the worst possible school experience would be one where teachers wouldn’t care, students not listening…I’m sorry. The teachers wouldn’t care about students, not listening or understanding them.
MOD 3: The worst experience would be I’d be written off because of my race, sex, or appearance. And not being given an equal opportunity to succeed.
MOD 1: The worst experience would be being in low-level classes because it is a disadvantage to you.
MOD 3: The worst experience would be having no friends and fearing people in your class so much that you fear raising your hand to speak.
MOD 1: So how do those sound as far as your own school experiences?
Students: [laughing, teasing] Can we pick two of them, I have a lot to say. You can’t imagine that in this school. Can you imagine being in the slow class, Lisa? You are already slow….
MOD 1: If you write fast you can do two. Write it down and we will talk about it. All right, just take a minute and then we are going to get going.
Students: [mumbling] We got another essay going on…I know.
Students’ written responses to quotes:
I guess my worst experience would be not having any friends because I’m the type of person who worries what people think of me for some reason. I am also shy so if had [sic] no friends and I was a loner I would feel embarrase [sic] to raise my hand in front of everyone.
Not being given an equal opportunity to learn because [sic] of predudice [sic]. Its never happen [sic] to me but it dose [sic] happen and the mier [sic] though [sic] makes me want to _____
My worst experience would be in lower classes, because then everyone would tease you and call you slow. They wouldn’t tell you anything cause they would think you couldn’t catch on.
I would have to talk about the teachers not caring about what you do and how you work. They just go on with their own plan and not listen or help you at all. For many students need the interaction with teacher, because teachers want to school to teacher [sic] others to learn.
Others not caring is a problem
Low classes are only sometimes bad (because of above)
I think if the teacher didn’t realy [sic] care if the students were listening or not and just kept teaching it would kind of be like my science class.
I can’t amagin [sic] something like that because their for [sic] wouldn’t be a reason for coming to school.
[Referring to quote 2] That happened to my friend. [Referring to quote 3] Unfortunatly [sic] depending on how shy you are and how kids and the teacher feel about you this happens a lot.
An experience without caring teachers, as well as one without appropriate level classes would be the most hindering. Without these two things, positive learning experiences, where the student is not challenged or enjoying the material, cannot be achieved.
MOD 1: OK. How many of you wrote about teachers? A couple of hands. We are going to start our conversation today about relationships with teachers. And we’d like folks to go around and tell us about a great teacher they’ve had. If you’d like to start…
Tom: You mean high school years?
MOD 1: Yeah. OK, why don’t we start with Lisa?
Lisa: I think my best teacher I’ve had so far is my English teacher. Miss X.
MOD 1: How come? What made her a great teacher?
Lisa: Well…it is like. Like before I went to like a school in XXX and whatever and my teachers there they didn’t give me like help outside of school and stuff like that. I don’t know. She is just nice and she likes to help me. She’s not like a teacher. She’s like a friend and stuff. That’s it.
MOD 1: Shall we go around? Mark, do you want to pick it up? Tell us about a great teacher you’ve had here. Tom, do you want a minute?
Alice: Of course you do, there are so many good teachers here, ha, ha, ha!
MOD 1: OK. Mark?
Mark: Well, I’ve only been here since October. But uh, Ms. X, she is a math teacher.
MOD 1: What about Miss X?
Mark: She’s nice. And when I first…
MOD 1: And just so you know, I said no names. So if you say a name it is ok, we will just erase it out later. So, tell us about Miss X….
Mark: She’s nice. When I first got here she helped me a lot. Everybody else was like, didn’t care, cause I came late. She was the only person who like really helped me to get my work done.
MOD 1: Yeah, how did she do that?
Mark: By staying, telling me to stay after class and get the work done and all that. It was nice.
Jack: Um, I am still trying to pick a teacher. Um, I would have to say Mr. X. Cause I don’t have too many teachers here that people talk about that are the good teachers. But of teachers I have, Mr. X is one of them because he makes the whole area like, he makes you really get it down pretty simple and easy. Um.
MOD 1: What does he teach?
Jack: History. I mean he does a pretty good job of how he teachers, a good way, that makes it easier to learn than some other history teachers.
MOD 1: What does he do that makes it easier to learn?
Jack: Well, he puts a lot of enthusiasm into it. He makes us get into groups and puts us together and tries to do things that will work with our hands and stuff and like group interactions and stuff to have more of an understanding from each point of view, of every person, to what we are doing. So
MOD 1: What about you Ann?
Ann: Miss X, because she is the first person who made me understand math.
MOD 1: Really, wow, and how did she do that?
Ann: I don’t know. When I was in junior high I failed math. When I met her, you know, she made it easier.
MOD 1: Is it something about the way she teaches the class?
Ann: Yeah, because now I have Ms. X, and she is crazy.
MOD 1: Not the same, huh?
Ann: No. I don’t understand her at all.
MOD 1: What’s different?
Ann: She gets mad when we don’t understand.
Alice: She is a bitter and cynical old witch. That wasn’t nice.
MOD 1: Wait a minute, I can’t hear Ann.
Ann: Ms. X, she helped us when we need it. She understands that you are not going to understand it.
Jennifer: I would have to be like Mr. X and Ms. X. They are kind of like together teachers. Ms. X she kind of more like aids for slower kids, like kids with disabilities and stuff. But she used to be a seamstress and that is what I want to do, fashion design. And they’ve helped me a lot with stuff. Like last year I made a dress and they helped me with that. So I would say they are my favorite teachers.
MOD 1: And like, when you made the dress, was that part of the class activity? Or how did they know you were interested in that?
Jennifer: Well, I’ve taken her classes since freshman year. And then I took it as an independent study and did my own thing and they still helped me.
Ed: Ms. X was my chemistry teacher for chemistry last year was really good. She was always willing to… it was almost like she was a member of the class. Not like she was separate from us. It was like she was friends with us. But she still managed to get through all the material and everything out there. And she, she just, I guess her style of teaching, it worked well with me.
MOD 1: And what was that style like?
Ed: Um, she just like, she would write like the basic stuff, you know, that we needed for the section up on the board, and then spend the rest of the time going over examples and stuff. But it was, you know, like I’ve noticed in a lot of classes where notetaking is the way it is done, it is like they write the notes, and then they erase it and then do examples and erase them. It is sort of like all the notes were there and the material was up there on the board at the same time. It really helped me keep in mind what was, how we were going through the process. And also because she had been doing it for a while, it was really very clear. Very easy to understand.
MOD 1: Thanks.
Alice: I think I am sort of jaded in this perspective. Because I have always been interested in music so of course I am going to talk about Mr. X, who is the music director of the school. I love his style of teaching. I think he is one of the best, or the best, teacher I’ve ever had. It is amazing what he can do. I mean, like, a lot of times he gets kids ho don’t even sign up for music classes, and he makes it interesting. He makes it easy to learn. And I have learned so much from this man it is just insane. It is insane. And, I mean, he’s been there. And, you know, I will be going to school for music and he’s put me through all the tests and told me what I should expect when I have to go for auditions and everything. And I don’t, I mean there are times when I honestly don’t even consider him a teacher. He’s like a friend. I know his wife. I am going to be babysitting his kid. And it is crazy. But he is a great guy.
MOD 1: What does he do in the class? You said he makes it interesting and easy to learn. What does he do?
Alice: Like, he actually…well, he started up a guitar class. So, he got, there are a wide variety of people down there taking that class now. And he makes you learn the basics, he makes you learn how to read music, and you know, how to finger things. He takes stuff from the outside. Like, every once in a while, when they have a period over lunch, he will be like, you know, I will bring in some music or CDs and we can listen to it. We can talk about it. We can tab it out, try to play it. It is just, he makes music so much fun.
Jeff: I’d have to say Mr. X. He’s a history teacher. Because he makes every class fun. He does something. He does, like the reviews for his tests; he does like a Jeopardy game with these little buzzer things. He just makes you learn history and you don’t even know you are learning it half the time.
MOD 1: You don’t know you are learning it half the time?
Jeff: No. He turned it all into a game. So you think you are playing a game. And then a test comes and you are like, yeah, it was all in the game.
MOD 1: Really, so it stays in your head?
Mod 1: What other kinds of things does he do?
Jeff: He jokes around a lot. But everything ties into history. He must sit for like three hours at home alone thinking of jokes that tie into history.
MOD 1: How about you Lisa?
Lisa: You want me again?
MOD 1: Oh sorry. Mark. Right, right, right.
Mark: Mine is Miss X. Math teacher. She makes math so much easier. Like last year, I think I had the worst math teacher. I had Mr. X. Last year I ain’t knowing what’s going on at all. Like if you asked him questions, he got mad. Like, if you ask Miss X a question, she will sit down and go over it with you. She will help you through it step by step. It makes it easy for me.
MOD 1: It is good you bring up the worst, because sometimes I think when we think about what makes a great teacher, sometimes we are clearer about what’s a terrible teacher, right? What are some characteristics of a terrible teacher? It doesn’t have to be one person. But what is a really bad teacher like?
Tom: Like, they put something on the board. And you are confused. And you ask them a question and they get mad at you. And they just start freaking. And you are like, but I am confused and they are like, it doesn’t matter. You should have listened the first time. And then, you don’t ask questions. You just sit there.
Alice: You sit there and look at the board and pretend you are taking notes.
Tom: And you wonder why you get bad grades…just sit there and ask no questions. Just sit there and be confused.
Ed: That’s the kind of teacher where eventually the only thing you learn how to do is to go into a coma with your eyes open for an hour.
Jeff: True. Like X’s class.
MOD 1: What’s that class like?
Alice: I don’t know this guy, but….
MOD 1: It doesn’t matter. What’s his class like?
Jeff: He’ll teach like, the whole class could be in the back of the room. He is a physics teacher. The whole class could be in the back of the room. He is still writing notes up on the board.
MOD 1: Why?
Tom: I don’t know, I guess cause he is young.
Alice: Isn’t he new though.
Jeff/Ed: Yeah, he’s new.
Alice: That might be part of it.
Ed: He is new and he was hired from a different program. He was hired because he knew physics. Incredibly well. Unfortunately, he had never taught before. And the last kind of education he had was really like college education, with professors standing up there writing notes. And if you take notes and pay attention, good for you. And if you are fooling around in the back then too bad. He’s sort of like, he knows his stuff. I have one of his different classes, and like, I’ll look up and pay attention for the most part. It is actually pretty clear. It is just if the class is in the back of the room playing cards or something, he doesn’t notice.
MOD 1: Is that what happens?
Tom: Yeah, mmm. He’s a good teacher. Most of the time I go home. My aunt is a physics teacher. So I don’t even try to sit in the class and pay attention because it is so easy. And then you take the test and get a B or C.
MOD 1: Even if you sit and talk in the back of the class? You can still get a B or C?
Tom: It depends. Some people just, if you do your homework. I do my homework. But sometimes I don’t pass all the tests. The homework builds up. So I go home and do my homework. When I don’t pass the test but do the homework, that brings me down to a C or B. So…
MOD 1: What other worst teacher characteristics are there?
Ed: I have had teachers who have, actually, when we had Mr. X as a substitute for the first couple of months of math….
Students: Oh no, on god.
Ed: And, every day he would tell us one of the same two stories. And spend most of the class telling us this story. And then he would tell us to go do the next page for homework and then consider his job done. And so it was sort of….
MOD 1: Not a lot of interaction?
Ed: Yeah. And he wasn’t going to do any of the material.
MOD 1: How about you?
Jack: Um, I would say probably one of the worst scenarios for a teacher would be a teacher who probably, like, just doesn’t care about the students at all. That doesn’t even like care if they pass or they graduate, or doesn’t even want them to make up, and really makes it tough on them to the point where they are just happy that they are suffering and failing. They don’t care. It is not their…like they aren’t unhappy about it. They are happy about their own job, but not happy… They don’t really care too much for their students. They are more just about I’m here to teach, put notes down. If they take it, whatever, then that’s what they do. If they don’t, oh well, I don’t care. It’s not my life. They can screw up. They can do whatever they want. And it would be better, I think, for the teachers, the more interaction, to actually be with the student and try t help them get through that. And if they are failing, just try to be there. Like one of my teachers Mr. X. He knew I was coming to this meeting. He was really like wondering why, what was happening to me. And he was really like on top. That made me realize, yeah, this is my last year and I want to get through it. And he was actually, from him talking to me, try to help me out, made me want to get through the year. And I am getting through the year now. So, that is probably one of the worst scenarios, when teachers really don’t care about their students at all. They just don’t care. Just give them homework. And more homework. Doesn’t give them any time to do any homework or make up or anything and just doesn’t care.
MOD 1: Do you want to add anything Ann?
Ann: When teachers punish the whole class because one person doesn’t want to learn.
MOD 1: Yeah?
Students: Yeah. That happens a lot.
MOD 1: Want to tell us more? Jack raised an interesting point about when you have, you are going through some problems, or having a problem in a class, who do you go to when that happens?
Jennifer: Wellness center?
Students: [laughing] Wellness center, the nurse, home…
MOD 1: What about if you are having a problem with a teacher like you are not understanding the material or maybe you don’t have an aunt who teaches physics. So you are worried about what is going to happen to your grade.
Tom: I go home and ask my aunt…
MOD 1: I know that is what you do. But for those folks who don’t have your aunt in their back pocket, what do you do?
Lisa: You mean, if I need help with my work or something? I ask my mom if I have a problem. Well, I am a peer counselor. So I talk to peer counselors. I don’t usually need help with my work.
MOD 1: How about other folks?
Alice: Like, in my case, honestly, this year I am in two classes that are not music related. So, I don’t really have a lot of problems. And when I do, there is one teacher I go to. Like math. My mom was an English teacher. So as far as English goes, it has never been hard for me. I can write a paper in a good hour and a half I think. As far as math goes, though, I sort of struggle with that. Like, I will find someone in the class. I am scared of going after school with my math teacher. Because in class, she is the type of teacher where first of all, you never know how her day had been. So when you go in, and she sort of has that snarl on her face, that means like, don’t ask any questions or anything. Just sort of sit there and smile and nod. And she gets mad at you if you don’t understand. And I am so math challenged. I’ve never understood math. Ever. So it is really a challenge for me. But there’s really not much I can do about it.
Lisa: Who’s your math teacher?
Alice: Miss X.
MOD 1: So how about other folks? Where do you go when you have problems in your classes?
Ann: I go to myself.
MOD 1: You got to yourself?
Ann: Yeah, because my parents didn’t finish high school. My sister quit college. And there is no one else to help me.
MOD 1: And you don’t feel like there is anyone here at the school?
MOD 1: No? That’s what it sounds like. It sounds like you go either to family members or friends. And am I hearing a theme that the math and science classes are harder or have teachers that are not…what am I hearing?
Students: [mumbling] I am not in a science this year. Just some of them. It’s not…
Ed: In my science class, basically, I pick up physics fairly quickly. I have this teacher that doesn’t really react to the classroom, but he puts all the stuff on the board. And, for me, that’s almost all I need. Between that and just like reading the book and figuring out how to do things. And, like, my dad is an engineer, so he knows physics. So like, for me, I don’t have problems in my science class. And it is things like, for math, I have Ms. X and I go to her after school. She’ll sit down with me and explain what I am missing or where I am messing up. And it is almost like, if you go to them, they will help you.
MOD 1: Do you guys feel that way, if you go to your teachers, that they will help you?
Students: Some of them…yes…
MOD 1: Do you think teachers treat students differently based, maybe, if they are African American or Latino or white or rich or poor or….
Jack: I don’t think it really matters. Nowadays. I mean, maybe back then. But now like, the schools are so diverse. Maybe it used to matter to teachers. But I mean, I don’t really see how.
MOD 1: Does anybody else have experiences where you’ve noticed teachers kind of treat different students differently?
Tom: I thought that at the beginning of the year with Ms. X.
MOD 1: What made you think that?
Tom: She didn’t want to hear nothing I had to say.
MOD 1: Really?
Tom: She talked a lot. My uncle called her. You know, he’s like into business. Next day I came in, she was like my best friend. And I ain’t the type of person who disrespects my elders and stuff like that. So I would try to listen to her. But some of the stuff she was saying was kind of bogus. I don’t know. After that, now she’s cool. Because I had her two periods, English and right after for study hall. So, with a long period like this, I’d be with her for like four hours.
MOD 1: What kinds of things would she say that were, like, you said, bogus?
Tom: Like people ask her a question and she just look at you like, what is wrong with you?
Mark: She didn’t know her topic too much. We were watching some movie….
Students: [mumbling] What? She said that in class?
Mark: We were watching this movie about Maya Angelou, or whatever, and the next day we came in and we said, Ms. X, can you put the movie in? She said no I am not putting the movie on because all of the black people are talking through the movie.
Tom: She’s all right.
Mark: She ain’t all right.
Tom: Now that I know her a little bit. When I first got here she didn’t want to hear nothing I had to say. I came in like two weeks before report cards came out. And I like to play basketball. And I couldn’t play basketball because she gave me an F.
MOD 1: I’m sorry, what class does she teach?
Tom: I only need three credits. That’s one of my major classes. It was only two or three weeks before report cards came out. I felt like she could have given me an I for incomplete. But she gave me an F. I was furious. I was a little mad about that. But after my uncle called her, then she like my best friend now.
MOD 1: OK, we are almost wrapping up with this section. But how about in different level classes? Do you have different tracks here? Or levels? Like are there honors and AP classes?
MOD 1: Do you think teachers treat students differently based on those type of things?
Students: [mumbling, discussion]
Ed: In some ways, they can do things with some of the classes. With the honors classes the students usually don’t cause a disturbance and stuff like that so they can be more relaxed and stuff.
MOD 2: I am sorry, I thought Alice was going to say something.
Alice: Well, I will say this. We get a lot more slack. Like the honors and the AP level students as far as for example, I can be out in the hall during a hall sweep and nobody will say anything to me. Just assuming I have a pass even though I am really late. I don’t, I mean I see that happen all the time. I mean, I don’t know if that is necessarily fair. I don’t know, I don’t think, you know…
MOD 1: You were going to say something Jennifer?
Jennifer: That happens in one of my classes because there are different levels of people in there. And I know my teacher has another AP class, which she teachers, it is like a different science. And this is psychology. And there can be people talking in this class and when she has one of her AP classes it is fine. But if there are people talking who aren’t in her AP class, then she has more of a problem with them.
MOD 1: More strict, is that it?
Jennifer: Yeah. Like she can ignore them talking and think it is OK. But when someone else, you know, even asks a question, she will get mad about it. She is still a nice teacher and everything but…
MOD 3: Does anyone else have any experiences like that? Where teachers might…where they might compare your class with another class? Whether it is a higher or lower track? Because we have heard from other students where teachers will sometimes do that.
Students: Yeah sometimes. What class?
MOD 3: Want to give me an example?
Ed: Things like, one of our teachers had like one of her lower level classes has a lot of students who are always talking back to her and causing problems. So she just will be like, in her highest level class, she will say things like, now I have that “other” class next. It is things like, that’s just because these are kids, who like, tied a substitute to a chair. Things like that…
Students: [discussion] Who was that?
Tom: I think those are mostly the problems caused by the kids though…
MOD 3: So, any other experiences where teachers will make that kind of comparison? Maybe you can tell me a little bit about how you get into the classes you are in and the levels you are in.
Students: [discussion] You choose. I had no choices. What you want.
Lisa: I chose all college prep classes.
Mark: You know, but if you try like, if you are in a college prep class and you try to go down to a basic class, like some teachers will let you and some teachers won’t. Some teachers won’t let you because they say you can do it but you aren’t trying hard enough. And some teachers, they just don’t care, they will let you drop it. A lot of teachers don’t let you, because they say you can do it. You’re just not trying hard enough.
MOD 3: So is it any easier to move up?
Ed: It is almost like they don’t want to see you move up or down. But they are not going to be easy about moving you up. If they don’t think you can do the next level up, then they will tell you.
MOD 3: What about some other people? How did you get into the levels you are in? Did you pick? You chose? And what do you think would happen if you wanted to move down if you could or move up?
Jack: Be less work, would be more easier. I mean, cause after school I go right to work so...for me…
MOD 3: What would happen if you went to some of your teachers and said you wanted to move down.
Jack: If I wanted to move down? Well, I would say that some of my teachers they would probably, if they see me struggle, they would probably be like, it might be better off for you. Or some teachers might actually be like, here, I will try to help you if you come in after school for so many days, we might be able to pick up your grade a little bit better or something. Most teachers want to see me go up pretty easily. They don’t want to see me go down, then get good grades there. They want to see me get good grades in their classes. Pretty much. I mean, they don’t care that I go down. But, I mean, they would rather see me pass in their class instead of someone else’s, some other class.
MOD 2: I’m sorry, were you going to say something? I feel like we know a lot about New York and New Jersey schools. So, can you tell us, like, what is an AP class look like here?
Alice: The environment of an AP class is a lot more relaxed and I think the discussions are at a higher level, as far as the materials are at a higher level. But they sort of let us do our own thing. It is like we are smart enough to handle ourselves.
Ed: Yeah, as long as we get the material that we have to know for the test, they almost cut us loose as far as what we do in class. Discussions are fairly regular thing.
MOD 2: I guess my question is more of, do there tend to be an equal number of, this school, just like, going to the bathroom, it is pretty diverse. So is everyone, are the AP and honors classes that diverse? Or are there an equal number of black and Latino students in each AP classes as white students?
Ed: No. It is not as diverse. But actually, as far as the AP thing goes, the AP and the honors levels are very close. The difference is the AP level finishes up the material two months earlier. So really, as far as, between the honors and AP levels, there are certain students who figure I may as well take the AP. And it is the same group of kids class to class.
MOD 3: So what other classes – is there anything in between AP classes and college prep
MOD 3: So what are those courses like?
Mark: I got college prep courses. They say honors and college prep are pretty much the same.
MOD 1: Yeah, so why don’t you tell me what college prep is like?
Mark: Like basic. Ain’t that what it is like though?
MOD 1: Like in honors they said you have a lot of free discussions you can kind of do what you wanted…?
Mark: That all depends on the teacher you got.
Tom: Like, at my old school I had basic English. When I came here, the counselor asked me if I wanted basic again. And my uncle was like, no way, you are taking college prep here. I was all ready to leave this school, like, after a month. I go to catch up. And then when she gave me that F it was like…He said, man, do you want to switch? And I said no. It is hard but I try.
Mark: Like, college prep classes, they like pretty much equal.
MOD 1: Equal in terms of…?
Mark: Like, what she was talking about.
MOD 1: Race, ethnicity, yeah?
Mark: I don’t know about honors and AP.
Ed: That is one thing. In some ways, it is almost like separate groups. You know, like, there are actually fairly few students who have like a mixture of honors and college prep classes. It is usually like if you are in honors, even one class, than most of your teachers will let you be in honors in the rest of them. So, its sort of your either all honors or mostly honors or not. I only know one kid who had to, he was in honors English, then actually had standard English in 10th. But that was really only because of scheduling problems. Then he is back in honors now. So…
MOD 3: So are there any classes you guys had over your four years when there were students who were at all levels in your class?
Jeff: Yeah, in the culinary program.
Ed: A lot of the electives do. And um, like health classes. Little half credit required things.
MOD 3: So nothing like English or social studies or history…
Alice: I took an anatomy class last year because, my schedule, I had a lot of scheduling problems last year. Because there were a certain number of music theory classes I had to take before I go to college and they were like a required thing for me. So a lot of things got bumped around. So I never took chemistry. So I took anatomy. It was a good mixture of people. I was one of only two juniors in the class with seniors. You had everything from basic level students to honors students. And it was, there weren’t any problems, I mean, that was a really nice class.
MOD 3: So you liked it.
Alice: Yes, very much.
MOD 3: So what would it be like if you had some of your core courses – math, science, English – with students who were at all different academic levels?
Ed: Well, like one of my experiences, I think in psychology and bioethics, this year. It is actually a really good mix of students but things like, I had to take the half credit of health, which I was required to do, that was like – that was pretty much a disaster. Because that year, there was something confusing going on with the health teachers, the teacher had to take an administrative position, so she wasn’t able to teach the class. So they just threw in Mr. X who…
Students: [laughing] Oh yeah…I don’t know where they got him…
Ed: He wasn’t so bad a guy. He just wasn’t all there, I guess.
Alice: Is he like a real space cadet?
MOD 3: What made it…
Ed: Well like…
Alice: Was that his first year?
Ed: Yeah, I think it was his last too. He was like – out there. No one really wanted to be in health class. It isn’t the kind of class people choose to do. And so it was like, most of the kids spent all their time making fun of the teachers with him right there. There wasn’t anything he could do about it. He really wasn’t that great a teacher. He would do things like pick up the phone and say I’m sending someone to AA, but he’d never dialed. He would just pick up the phone and talk to it. And then he’d have this long 5-minute conversation with the phone while everyone laughed at him. In some of the required classes there are people who don’t want to be there. And it doesn’t really work. But like, in our electives, you signed up to take the course because you wanted to take the course, so most people are going to at least try there.
MOD 3: So some students, you think, if the classes are mixed, like in history, if the students don’t want to be there they might not want to learn?
Ed: Yeah, I think that’s true. It happens, it definitely happens.
MOD 3: What do other people all think? What do they imagine a class like that might look like or feel like?
Tom: Can you repeat the question?
MOD 3: If you had a like English class, or your math class, or science class where students are at all different levels, what might that be like?
Tom: Yeah, some people might know the work and you are stuck back on something.
Lisa: No. That would help me out because people in higher levels, they can help me.
Mark: But how do you know they are going to help anybody? You might be able to help yourself.
MOD 1: Hold on, I can’t hear. There’s some good stuff coming out here.
Lisa: I was saying, like, people at higher levels they can help me with my work if I have a problem or something like that.
Mark: They might not be able to help you. Just, cause you get good grades in class, you’re going to help someone else…? No.
Mark: See? So how you figure they gonna help you?
Lisa: I don’t know.
MOD 1: So, Mark, you said they might be able to help themselves?
MOD 1: So they might not want to help somebody else?
Students: [talking] Yeah, yeah some people are like that…
Mark: Like the one class I got. The one boy, he know everything that be going on. And if you ask him a question, he won’t tell you. You’re like, how do you do this. And he like, I don’t know.
MOD 1: Why do you think that is?
Students: [talking] And he know all the work. He be doing the work…
Mark: I don’t know. He says he doesn’t know. And then he turns in his paper and gets everything right. Like, you can’t help me with one problem?
MOD 3: So why do you think that is that people, if they have the answer, they won’t…
Lisa: If they are working hard, they don’t want, and they understand it, then you should understand it.
MOD 1: Some of you have been quiet, and haven’t shared for a while…Jennifer, didn’t you say you were in a class that had mixed levels? Was it the psychology class?
MOD 1: What’s that like?
Jennifer: It is a good, it is a pretty good class. She is a good teacher. I just think sometimes people get favored, there is a lot of favoritism that goes on. I think a lot in this school.
MOD 3: Favoritism based on anything in particular?
Jennifer: Like AP kind of classes, or honors classes. I don’t know. Sometimes I think that turns you away from them classes, like, I never wanted to be in honors classes. Just because I thought it was, I don’t know, a lot of people a real clique-y and everything. That was always my perception of it.
MOD 1: Did anyone ever push you to be in AP or honors classes?
Jennifer: No. No like pushing. Like I was when I was younger, before high school. But, I just, I don’t know. After that, I just didn’t want to be in it.
MOD 3: Can you imagine a class where people were at all different levels? Yeah, what does that look like? Is it a good thing? No? Why not?
Ann: Because some people might not be at the same level. And she, the teacher can’t teach different levels at the same time because there would be too many confused people.
MOD 3: Do you feel like you got to choose the levels you are in?
Ann: I never chose. But all my teachers kept telling me to go in them so I did.
MOD 1: Was it hard to get in?
Ann: No. Because they recommended me.
Ed: I think like as far as what the classes would be like, there was one year where the math we were doing in class was really the same as stuff we were doing the year before. And that was just because the year before I had a very good teacher. And then, next year was sort of like, half the stuff I already seen. And I think like part of the problem is that put me a little ahead and I was a couple of months ahead of the game. It sort of made me feel like when the teacher had to stop and explain things to some of the other students, it was like fine, I understood the other students had to have it explained. But I almost felt like I was wasting some of my time. Because I was sitting here, yeah I know this already. It was almost like I wanted to keep moving. And its like, it can be a help to other people but it can also hold some people back. And, you know, for the first half of that year, since I had already seen part of the stuff, everyone seemed to think I was the brilliant one in the class and so everyone was asking me to help them. And it was one of those things where if it was simple questions I’d like do what I could. But people wanted me to practically do their homework for them. I need to do my homework, not yours. So, on one hand I help out as much as I can but then, on the other, it’s not really fair to me.
MOD 2: Tom, before, when Mark and Lisa were talking, you were saying it wasn’t like that?
Tom: What? What were we talking about?
Students: [talking] The honors classes? What?
Tom: Why she thought everyone would be on the same level? When people don’t? Well she [Lisa] said it like you are in class and somebody they know the work and you ask them can they help you. And they just turn you down. I’m not helping you. Why? Why not? Then the teacher be too busy cause she got, she can’t help one person then she’s got to help the whole class. You be left back a little bit.
MOD 3: So do you guys, I mean, do you guys feel like no matter what level or class or track you are in, they are all taught to the same level? Like maybe not, like, maybe it is all quality education?
Mark: Not English. I don’t know.
MOD 3: Why not?
Mark: I don’t even think we, I don’t know. It seems like we don’t really learn nothing in English.
Lisa: I do.
Mark: That’s cause you have Miss X. We have Miss X. It is like you go in there and – why am I here? What are we going to do today?
MOD 1: So what is a typical day like?
Tom: Boring, tired.
Mark: You just sit there and talk about retarded things, like this…
MOD 1: We’ll try to spice it up for you…
Mark: Like you just talk about anything. Like, if you don’t feel like working then you can talk her off subject. Like, she’ll be like OK, open up you book to this. And you are like oh Miss X, by the way, I was watching this thing on TV…
Tom: And as soon as she try to get back on the subject, someone will cut in…
Mark: So for like a good 45 minutes you won’t do anything in that class.
Tom: And when she do work…
Mark: You are confused.
Tom: You are confused or you just look at her and fall asleep. Her voice is just that…
Mark: Her voice is boring.
Tom: Someone talks to me in that voice…I just fall asleep.
Mark: Then when she reads! Oh God, that is the worst. When she reads – somebody else read. God.
MOD 1: What level class does she teach?
Students: College prep.
MOD 2: Sorry. So there’s AP, honors, college prep and then basic…?
Students: Yeah, basic.
Lisa: Traditional. They call it traditional. I guess that is similar. Regular. They don’t say basic no more.
Mark: Yeah Lisa, they don’t call it basic no more. They call it traditional.
MOD 3: Why do you think they wouldn’t want to call it basic anymore?
Students: [talking] People might feel bad. They want raise self esteem…
MOD 3: Wait a minute, I can’t here Lisa.
Lisa: I guess, like, the students would feel lower than everyone else. It is still the same thing though but I don’t know if I had a basic class, I’d probably feel dumb. Because I have college prep or honors.
Tom: That depends. Some people will be like, you are in basic class? Man you are dumb.
Lisa: They can get, it’s not like we can’t do like honors classes and stuff like that. It is just that I know I am lazy. And I don’t want to work. I don’t want to do more work. So. I always want the easy way out. So I’ll probably try to skip those classes, but I know if I tried to apply for college they wouldn’t look my way.
MOD 3: So any of your teachers ever encourage you to move up to honors courses?
Lisa: Miss X.
MOD 3: What does she teach?
Lisa: But that’s it. Cause I had, when I first came here, my 10th grade year, I was in basic English. And Miss X talked me into going into college prep. My old school, they ain’t care.
Tom: That was a new experience for me. My old school just had so many kids. Everybody leave the school when they want to leave the school, come when you want to come. Mark your own grade down….
Mark: I am leaving. OK, see you later…
Tom: So it’s like…There is some good teachers. Like my English teacher. But English is just boring. But you need it to pass. So you got to do the work.
MOD 1: I’m just curious. For people who are in honors or AP classes, and then we will shift to the next set of questions, but um, would you recommend students try out an honors class? And if so, why?
Ed: If they can, then do. Because it is like, it really is, like I am really more comfortable in those classes. When you know the teacher, is almost like your buddy instead of like this person who is up in front of the classroom. It is almost like you are more relaxed and learn better. Also, once you get into AP it is more of a challenge. You are moving through more stuff. If you can do it, you should.
Jeff: I think even if you are doing different levels, like you are doing one class and there are still different levels in that level, that you are in anyway…
Alice: I say go for it. You know. I like those level classes. I think that you go in a lot deeper. You don’t just skim the surface of something. You can really dig into something and talk about it.
Ed: Except in English…
Alice: Yeah. I know, I mean after a while the same things do get boring and that’s when we know we have to move on. But, just taking that extra mile and analyzing why this guy is a bug…
Alice/Ed: Oh that’s a, we are reading the Metamorphosis. This guy turns into a bug and dies. But he’s not really a bug. It is this whole story….we spent weeks….
MOD 3: I have a question. Lisa, you said you can do higher level work but you, you know, you would have to do a lot more work. Right?
Lisa: Yeah, I am a little lazy.
Alice: Me too.
MOD 3: And you know, Ed was saying, you suggested that, you know, if you can do it. So how much of being in the AP classes and the honors classes is about working really hard and how much of it is having the ability?
Ed: It is having the ability to work hard.
Alice: Yeah. It comes to a certain extent. If you are willing to do the work, you will get far in the class. But honestly, if you, I mean like, opening up a book and answering some questions is one thing. But being involved in intelligent discussion is far another thing.
Tom: Or if you know the work. Some people just know the work like that [snap]. A friend of mine, he don’t do no homework and he talk to me all day. When the test come around, he got an A. And I’m struggling.
Mark: That makes you mad. Cause you got to actually do all your work and someone else they’ll do nothing and pass…and you’re still working.
Tom: Don’t worry about it. I got that. I’m going to pass.
MOD 3: So anyone who is willing to work hard can get into AP courses?
Students: They’ve got to be recommended…
Ed: If the teachers think that they can do it.
Mark: Basically, it is not up to you. It is what your teachers think really. You might think, you might think you can do it. But your teacher is really the one…they say whether or not they think you can do it.
MOD 2: So could you guys tell me about your most challenging class?
Lisa: Spanish. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I never was good at Spanish. I barely passed it. And then I had Spanish II. I only wanted to do it because you need two years at most colleges. And I am just real bad at Spanish.
MOD 2: What’s, if you could just tell me a little more. Like what’s challenging about it?
Lisa: I can’t speak it. I can’t read it. I can’t…and the teachers were good and all.
Tom: You just don’t want to learn it.
Tom: Like when I first came, some of the classes I didn’t need. I was going to get credit for them. I was going to get credit for Co-op and my uncle said no way.
MOD 2: Can you explain co-op?
Tom: Co-op? When you leave early. And you go to work and you get credit for it. He (uncle) wanted me to take academics and all that. So I got classes that I didn’t need. Classes I already had before. My first chance I got like basketball class. Best class in the school.
MOD 1: So was it only your uncle who helped you redefine your plan? Or did any teachers? Or guidance counselors say anything?
Tom: Nope. He was in the guidance counselor’s office. And he was telling me you could take Co-op because you only need three classes, or you could take academics, electives….
Ed: The guidance is very concerned with your self-esteem.
Ed: There’s like, you know this course is VERY difficult. So you may just want to take the lower level because the colleges would rather see an A in a lower level than a C in the high level. And it is just like, I am taking high level courses and I am doing fine. They just don’t want my self-esteem to go down.
MOD 1: So this is what a counselor said to you?
Ed: That’s not what they said, that’s just like how their whole attitude…
Alice: They are real squirrel-ly. That whole department. Like you go in there and you tell them what you want to do and it is like they don’t listen to you. Like I did not need to take math this year. Why I am taking math? Because my guidance counselor told me to. Next year I will have to take one credit of an algebra class and that will be all the math I will have to take in college. But, I don’t it, it bothers me, because it’s like you go and you figure out what you need to do in order to be eligible to apply to which college and they tell you you are wrong. They tell me what to do and I am like, why, you know…?
Ed: It’s like, I was applying to schools. And some of the schools I am applying to are hard to get into. So they are like, you might not want to apply to this one. How about just applying to one of these huge state universities? I don’t want to go there. They have nothing I need, nothing I want. Well, they are much easier to get into and we don’t want you getting rejected. If I get rejected, I get rejected. That is why I am applying to more than one.
Alice: They are like telling me I don’t know this already and haven’t been up there…
Ed: They are trying very hard to keep us from something that could make us depressed. But I mean, its like, they have to tell us we are wrong when we choose to do something that might challenge us.
MOD 1: Is that true for your experiences too with guidance?
Mark: No. I don’t talk to my counselor that much…
Tom: Only that one time…I’ve been there one time. That is when I got my class changed. Because I had four years of history already and they gave me another history. It was 10th grade and I was 12th grade – I was the only 12th grader in there. And even the teacher was like, why you in here? I don’t need the class. I am just in here. So, I felt like I don’t have to do the work. So I went to guidance and I said, can I get out? He was like, ask your teacher. Ask the teacher? I mean, I had this already. All right, he said, just get a basketball class. Thank you.
Ed: Once you make up your mind on something, the guidance department will help you out, but it is like, they will try to dissuade you…
Students: You have to know exactly what you want, you know you may not be successful if you go here, and….
Alice: And you may not want to do this because you will be living in a van near the river and all that.
MOD 1: Is that the way it is for you Lisa?
MOD 2: I am sorry, I didn’t hear what Lisa said?
Lisa: No. I don’t talk to my counselor at all. I think there is something wrong with her like she has amnesia. Cause like this one time I came to her like the first period. And I was like, I told her I wanted to get out of aerobics class. And then she was like, well, come back and talk to me next period. And I came back and she said, I don’t know what you are talking about. And I was like huh? And she was like, go to class because I don’t know what you are talking about. So I was like, whatever.
MOD 2: Maybe I can ask you Lisa, why do you think like she has amnesia. Does she have so many students and they kind of blend?
Lisa: I guess so.
Tom: How many counselors are there, for the total group?
Student: I don’t know….
Ed: There are only like three guidance counselors.
Students: It is broken up…it goes by your last name.
MOD 2: You say there are not a lot of counselors?
Students: [mumbling, talking]
Alice: I got a new guidance counselor this year. And honestly, I think she was scared of me. Because I came in. I told her what I wanted to do. I told her what I wanted to take, what I needed. And that was it. And she didn’t argue with me. She just put it down and left it at that. So that was pretty nice. And she is very willing to help. I mean, I see her in the hallways, and she is like, how is your college thing going, have you heard? You know, she is really nice. You know, generally, only as a department though, it doesn’t seem like they are necessarily out for the individual student’s best interests.
Mark: But don’t the AP students have a different counselor than everybody else?
Ed: No. It’s all by last name.
Mark: Cause somebody was like AP students have a different counselor than everyone else did.
MOD 1: Do you think that counselors would be more attentive to AP students?
Students: I don’t know…
Mark: They probably would.
Ed: I think in some ways.
MOD 2: I guess I haven’t heard a lot from Ann and Jack. And I can’t see your nametag – Jennifer. So what are your most challenging classes like?
MOD 2: Your most challenging classes are boring?
Ann: Yeah, that’s why they are challenging. Because I want to pay attention but I can’t because it is too boring. Like Mr. X’s class.
MOD 2: Boring like the assignments are boring or…?
Tom: Sometimes the teacher is boring. His voice is just…
Alice: He looks like a vacuum salesman.
Alice: Like a guy that would come to your door, and you know, I don’t know. He doesn’t…
Ed: He starts talking about the vacuum cleaner and you shut the door and he is still going on about the vacuum cleaner…
Alice: And I hear that’s just what it is like…
Jeff: Our class, we walked out like five minutes early to lunch one day and he is still talking. There was not one person left in the class and he is still talking. And everybody else walked out of the room.
MOD 3: Besides being challenging because it is so boring, um, what about some of the work you have to do? Like, what’s your most challenging assignment?
Alice: My most challenging thing is that I am in Theory IV now. And it was like music theory. And it was like a really big jump. Because it is sort of like an independent study so I only meet with Mr. X like not as much as I wish I could to talk about theory. And you know, one day, I am doing my little project writing and all of a sudden, I’m talking about minor XXX and he is talking about XXX and he says here --- analyze this and bring me it in a week. And that’s hard. Because they are long and it hurts sometimes. I mean it is challenging and I do enjoy doing it but it just gets harder, you know.
MOD 3: What about other people? What about Jennifer? What’s a challenging assignment for you?
Jennifer: English. I don’t know, I just don’t really like English. But it’s not really challenging this year because I have a good teacher. Like, last year it was challenging because my teacher stunk like cigarettes and she….
Students: [laughing] Miss X? That poor woman…
MOD 1: But no particular assignment or project?
Jennifer: Our senior research papers. Cause they are really stressful and you have to pass them or you won’t graduate.
MOD 1: So what’s the senior paper like?
Lisa: Well, I just finished mine. And I think I got at least an A or a B on it. It was easy. I mean, I thought it was going to be a lot of work but I have a good English teacher. So she helped me with it.
MOD 3: So what did you do it on?
Lisa: Anne Frank, the diary of Anne Frank. Yeah.
MOD 1: How long was it?
Lisa: Ten pages.
Alice: Whoa. That’s long.
Lisa: I like writing.
Alice: Mine was like seven pages. I think I could have gone on but at that point it would have been writing out of pure anger. I did a socio-political commentary on Douglas Turner Ward’s “Day of Absence.” It’s this play where the black people acting in white face and they wake up one day to find out that all the black people in the town have disappeared and the whole town just shuts down because they cannot…they realize that they are so dependent on blacks. It is an amazing show and I’ve seen it and it is going to offend a lot of people, this paper. And I don’t think I have a problem with that. Quite frankly. I am very content with that. So….
MOD 1: Jennifer, how long was your final paper?
Jennifer: About seven pages.
MOD 1: What was yours on?
MOD 3: What are the guidelines?
MOD 1: Oh sorry.
Ed: Well, they prefer six to ten. If it is 11 or 12 and it is good they don’t have a problem. If it is five and really good, they don’t have a problem. But, you want it to be inside the window.
Alice: Basically, what they are looking for is…
Ed: I’ve basically been doing research papers once every year and the past couple of years the papers I did I just had huge amounts of information on the subject I was writing about. So this year it is actually weird cause the subject I selected I thought would have a lot of information. There’s like nothing on it.
Alice: Oh, I knew mine wouldn’t. That was the challenge to it.
Ed: It goes from having too much information to too little. For me it is just something for me to have to deal with that.
MOD 1: I think I cut Jennifer off. What was your paper about?
Jennifer: Nazi concentration camps.
MOD 1: Oh, wow.
Lisa: Who’s your English teacher?
Jennifer: Ms. X.
Alice: She is a good teacher.
Jennifer: It wasn’t that it was so hard. It was just that it was so much work. Like all your note cards.
Alice: I don’t like that process though. Like me, my outline I think was about a half a page and it was jut a topic outline. Because I can’t sit down and write and outline and then write a paper. I start writing a paper and that’s it.
Ed: Yeah, that’s what I do.
Mark: We didn’t even have to do an outline.
Students: Are you serious…?
Mark: She gave us a choice. This is how weird Miss X is. She said you can either do an outline or a rough draft. You get the same amount of points.
Tom: But she ain’t tell us that until two days before we had to hand it in. Everyone was having trouble…
Mark: And everyone started the outline cause she said, well, you could do the outline…
Tom: And then she made us do notecards –200.
Alice: I had like 70 notecards. That was stupid.
Students: [talking] She gave me an A…I had a bunch of things with highlighted stuff on it.
Mark: If you get an A, B, or C on your rough draft then you shouldn’t have to do a final paper. I was like, what?
Alice: The English department says they are required to make us do that. And I just, you know, I’d rather them just say, here you have to write a paper by this date. Get it done. I don’t like checking back.
MOD 2: I guess by challenging what I mean is like, so what is the classes, kind of, that you feel you have to work really hard in? Or do you think you have to work really hard to get a good grade?
Tom: No I got to study. But I can’t study for nothing. So that’s why when I get to class it is kind of hard. It depends on whether I know the work or not. Some stuff….
Ed: I am actually having some trouble in the math class I am taking this year. It is like, it is one of these things where like, normally what will happen in class is like, in chemistry and physics I can look at the book the night before the test and read through that stuff. And I will know enough to pass the test. But in math that is just like not happening really. I’ve been working really hard. I am doing like three times as much work as I ever had to do for math class before. I’m still getting not so great grades on the tests and things. It is almost got to the point where I pretty much know the stuff. I just can’t do it fast enough to get the test done. So it is like, almost to the point, um where, the class is beginning to interfere with my education.
MOD 1: So what class is it?
Ed: This is math. It is the AP math – AP calculus. I know the stuff but I am still not doing well because of the way the class is set up.
MOD 3: Maybe we could just go around. Could you say the question again?
MOD 2: I was asking people about challenging classes…
Alice: When I am doing something challenging, I enjoy it even though it is a little more taxing than what I am used to. And that is something like with, I was telling about my music theory classes. With math it is just hard. I don’t like it. I don’t want to do it. And it is a struggle to get through it because I don’t like it. And you know, I open the book and it is like in Greek and I don’t know what they are talking about and it, it is just not fun. I thought learning was supposed to be fun. And this is not fun. It’s not. At all. Don’t they tell you that on those commercials?
MOD 1: What do you think Jeff?
Jeff: Math. I already failed that class this year.
Students: [laughing] You done with that class, huh Jeff? You done now.
Jeff: She already told me. She said you already failed. You don’t have to come no more.
Lisa: Don’t you have to go to summer school?
Jeff: Nah, I don’t need that. I only need English this year.
MOD 1: When in the school year did your teacher tell you that you failed?
Jeff: Right after midterm.
Alice: Are you serious?
Alice: Cause I know I have like ten absences…
Mark: How many absences you got?
Jeff: Like three. I failed cause of grade wise though.
MOD 1: So you need your English class?
MOD 3: What kind of work do you need to do to get a good grade in English?
Jeff: I think I just got to do the final paper. And get decent grades for the first two marking periods.
MOD 2: So if I can ask you guys, what kind of standards do you think your teachers have for you?
Lisa: Do you mean, do they have high standards for us?
MOD 2: I am sorry.
Lisa: I mean some of the teachers have very high standards for us and some of them have low standards for us. I believe. Some teachers just don’t care.
Jeff: Some teachers want to see you do good.
Tom: If you talk to them on the side. If you conversate with them everyday then they get to know you a little better. But if you don’t say nothing to them, they don’t really say nothing to you.
MOD 2: What about that quiet corner with Jack and Ann? What kind of standards do you think your teachers have for you? And kind of like, how do you know? How do you know?
Jack: Um. That’s a good question. I need to think about that for a couple of seconds.
Ann: I think my teachers think too much of me. Because I don’t think I am that smart. But I do my work and I feel like it is wrong but I turn it in and I do good. But if someone asked me to help them, I’d be like I don’t know.
MOD 2: You do your work and you think it is wrong?
MOD 2: But they say it is OK?
Alice: I never get that feeling. I am always wrong…
Students: [mumbling, discussion]
MOD 2: Wait a second. Mark, you see it opposite? You have the opposite experience?
Mark: I think I do good. But when I get it back I’m like, God I knew I had that one right…
Tom: You got to check other people’s papers like, that isn’t the right answer?
MOD 2: What about Jennifer?
Jennifer: I don’t think the standards are this high this year because we are seniors. And everyone kind of has senioritis and I don’t think…
Alice: We all stop caring…
Jennifer: Yeah. So I think all the teachers have been through it before and they know we are kind of, you know, coming to the end, so we are just lazy and…
MOD 1: But thinking back over your 4 years, do you think that teachers have the same standards for students in different level classes? No? You are shaking your heads…Let’s here from Ann, she was shaking her head.
Ann: No, they expect more from higher level students. Because I think if you are smart enough to get in, you are smart enough to exceed the expectations.
MOD 1: How about other folks?
Alice: I think they have to be different. All standards have to be different. And from student to student. For like, somebody like Ed – what are you, what are you majoring in?
Ed: I have no idea.
Alice: I mean, like let’s just say you were a science major. If we were in the same science class and the teacher knew that, he would probably have higher expectations of Ed to do well because that’s what he wants to do. For me, Mr. X has very high standards for me, because he knows music is what I want to do.
Ed: And Mr. X doesn’t expect me to do as well in guitar.
MOD 1: What about kids in traditional classes? What kind of standards do teachers have for them?
Students: [mumbling] I don’t know…
Tom: It depends. I think.
MOD 1: It depends on what?
Tom: If they want to do their work or not. How they feel about the class.
MOD 1: The teachers or the students?
Tom: The students. Some seniors are like, this is my last year, I don’t want to go to college, so you do just enough work to get by. Some students in the AP classes do all their work so they can have high standards for college and get into college.
MOD 1: So you think it is OK for teachers to have low standards for students in traditional classes?
Tom: I am not saying…. I am saying that if they just base it on the student. If you don’t want to do good…
Ed: It is almost like if a student, if the expectations aren’t going to change how much the student works, then…
Jeff: Um, for traditional classes? When I came here from XXX they put me in traditional classes and I saw how it worked there. And pretty much they are the kind of kids that just don’t want to do nothing. They are like the laziest people. And we get really easy work. It was a really easy class for me because it wasn’t that hard. Um, but they tend to give like work that’s just like, for, like a grade before kind of classes and stuff. They don’t really expect too much because most of them that are in there are there for a reason – because they don’t feel like doing nothing. So, I mean that’s what most traditional classes are all about.
Alice: I hate that mindset. Like, I think it is a bad, it’s like a lot of people think that traditional classes are for kids who don’t want to work. And that’s just not always the case. It is never always the case. It may be just, you know, you just might not be adapted to that sort of thing. You can’t just shut it off like that. It can’t be a matter of AP students are smart. They want to work. They do all their work. They are nerds. Traditional students aren’t smart and they don’t want to do their work. Because that is not the case.
Jeff: There are all different kinds…I am just saying that the majority of people that are in traditional just don’t want to do their work. And that’s why they are in that class for a reason.
Ed: It is almost like a self-going problem. They’ve been told for four years that they aren’t supposed to want to work. So they don’t want to work. So then people say they don’t want to work. And then they here, well, we aren’t supposed to work. It just keeps going…
Tom: Or you could be a problem child or something. Or the clown in the class or something. Cause some chaos, and the teacher just don’t want to teach you. So all through your years, you are like, OK, I am not going to do my work.
MOD 2: Would you say there is a lot of competition in your school?
Tom: Competition like what? Like between who?
Students: [talking] I don’t see no competition. I don’t…
Jeff: I mean, nobody really cares about that, about you in this school so…
Tom: Nobody cares about anybody else? I mean, people want to see people do good. But on a daily basis nobody worried about someone else.
MOD 2: Like, I guess I mean like even in your track, so in college prep or in honors, AP honors or….
Ed: It’s not like we spend our time thinking about how to do better than the other guy.
Alice: Yeah, I know what I need to do to pass my courses and that’s it. Then again, being around, I am in an English class with the top two students in the school. So like, every once in a while you always here the two of them going back and forth about something.
Alice: X and X.
Mark: They the top two?
Alice: Yeah, so basically they are like, you here them talking, did you get a B in this? Because if you got a B in this and I got a B in something else, then we are still even, on the same level. And it is just like, stupid stuff like that. I am just like, you know what guys, it is not the end of the world.
Ed: It is sort of weird because half the joking, half the time they are joking but half the time they are serious.
Alice: And you can’t really tell when they are joking or when they are really mad at each other…
Ed: The rest of us just stay sort of clear.
MOD 2: Mark, you were saying something else before when I was saying about um, competition, you said something about dress?
Mark: On no, cause he said something dressing wise. People just wear whatever.
Lisa: I was just trying to be funny because you said competition…
Mark: A lot of people wear whatever, some people dress…
Tom: If people are going to judge you, they are going to judge you by clothes.
Students: [talking, laughing]
Tom: I know in my old school, XXX, it was like a fashion show. That ain’t nothing but a fashion show. You got to dress the best and…I got here and it was like…
Mark: What are they wearing?
Lisa: I know, I was like, huh?
Tom: And then I started slacking off, some sweatpants, some boots…
Mark: You can wear whatever.
MOD 1: OK, we’ve just about run out of time. So, um, let’s just go around one time and how about everybody answer since this came together to have this conversation for um, Education Week, and what’s one thing you ant educators who read Ed Week to know about schooling today. And maybe that you wish was different. It could be based on our conversation or the past 4 years….
Students: [talking] That’s a hard one…
MOD 1: You can take a minute to think. Here’s your opportunity now. You know, teachers read this. Right? Alice’s mom reads this. What do you want them to know?
Students: [talking] I’d like to say hi mom….
Jack: I think we are like the last generation that doesn’t have to take this testing for the testing for graduation. The kids after us, I think, it is not fair to them. Because it is like predetermined their intelligence, like what kind of people they are. And it is not right to separate the people even more into different parts. I thought we were supposed to be like one whole country and now we are getting divided into sections like these people have to work in these areas and these people can work here based on smartness. That’s what I think. That’s just messed up. I am going to be the last on to just get a basic diploma where that is just like normal and not separated.
Students: [talking] Yeah, that’s not fair…. sometimes they don’t even teach the stuff…
Alice: It is all about quotas, it is all about being standard.
MOD 1: Who’s next?
Ann: Education should not be based on how you do on a test but how well prepared and how you work during the year. Because some people don’t do well on tests. So we all can’t be determined our intelligence level the same.
MOD 3: That’s a good point. Jennifer?
Jennifer: Mmm, I don’t know. Can it be to like guidance counselors?
MOD 1: Sure. Any educator, from principal on down.
Jennifer: Cause I think that guidance counselors should be more helpful when it comes to getting into college. Cause like my parents didn’t help me at all, with like, college applications and stuff. And I know probably a lot of parents are like that. So I had to do it all on my own, you know, and I think if they were to help out more, a lot more people would probably apply. You know, what the deadlines are for things, and…
MOD 1: Do you use this room, this looks like a college room?
Ed: It’s the career center. They call a lot of us down here for, to look over stacks of papers that high…
MOD 1: Is that what they did with you Jennifer? Did they call you down here to look at the stack of papers?
MOD 1: Ed, what were you…? What were you going to tell the world of educators?
Ed: I don’t know. I guess, the more friendlier you can be with students, the better because like, kids don’t want to have someone who is lording over them all day with a whip or something. They want someone to talk to.
Jack: You know, sometimes the stricter is better for some kids. I mean, I respect that but every student is different.
Ed: Yeah but you can be strict, without like beating kids. There’s strict and…
MOD 1: Please tell us teachers aren’t beating kids.
Ed: They’re not. I’m just saying like they are strict and then there is strict.
Students: [laughing, talking]
Ed: You can be completely apart, or you can be strict with the rules and still be like, fairly friendly.
Alice: I think I have two things. One, teachers are not paid enough. And this bothers me. And somebody should do something about it.
MOD 3: How would that make a difference for you as a student?
Alice: Well, I don’t, that’s not necessarily for me as a student. That’s for I think teachers, being a teacher is one of the most, should be one of the most….
Jack: Highest paid professions.
Ed: Like a million dollar contract…?
Alice: Sorry, but they are teaching the children that are going to be the next presidents and the next doctors and lawyers and they don’t get enough credit for that. And that bothers me. And number two, the arts programs are not stressed enough. And they are not given enough credit. And that should change. I mean, there just, people think of art as an elective and people think of the fine arts – dance, music – are just electives. That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. And you don’t see arts programs getting enough credit.
Ed: Yeah, especially not in schools….
Alice: Yeah, you don’t and that’s not fair.
Jeff: I mean, if the kids to get through, then they are going to do the work. If they don’t then they are just going to sit there and fill up space in the room.
MOD 3: So how do we get them to want to be there?
Jeff: I don’t know.
MOD 3: So that’s what you want to tell educators about schooling today, that some kids want to work and some kids don’t?
Jeff: I mean, if they don’t want to work, I don’t know how you are going to be able to get them to work. If they don’t want to do anything.
Ed: People won’t do things they don’t want to. You’ve got to make them want to do it. And not force them to do things they don’t like.
MOD 1: Like make Jeopardy games?
Students: [laughing] I love them…some kids are too old for that…
MOD 1: It seemed to work in your class Jeff right?
MOD 1: How about you Lisa, what is one thing you’d like to tell educators about schooling today?
Lisa: Same thing that Jack said. I don’t agree with that new testing program. My little sister, well she’s smart anyway, but other people, they’ll have like basic diplomas and stuff like that.
MOD 1: Is that what’s going to happen here?
Students: Yeah, everywhere…
Ed: The kind of diploma you get is based on the test. There’s like this one state test, which actually is not a well-designed test…
Alice: It is not at all.
MOD 1: OK, sorry I cut you off. Mark, what about you, what do you want to tell educators?
Mark: Well, the thing Jack and Lisa said. The test thing. It’s not really fair. Because a lot of teachers don’t cover, like, the stuff that you get. Like if you have people in your class that don’t want to learn, then they can’t get around to all of it because the kids that don’t want to learn…and you are going to be out of luck. You are going to fail for someone else not wanting to learn.
Tom: Like the SATs? You get stuff on that that you ain’t never learned before.
MOD 1: On the SATs?
Tom: Yeah, people disappointed because they got a low score or something. But you ain’t never, you never saw the stuff on there.
Jeff: Some of it you learned before, you can’t think back to it…
Students: [talking] it is a test on stuff you learned four years ago...you pay $25 and then you fail.
MOD 1: Then what would you tell the educators about that, the SATs, what would you change?
Tom: Put some stuff on there that kids learn.
Jennifer: They have like prep courses, or something, through the school…
MOD 3: How many of you guys have taken SAT prep courses?
Lisa: Not, I should have.
MOD 1: Has anybody taken SAT prep?
Alice: I didn’t care enough about it to do that. Honestly?
Ed I didn’t take the SATs. I took the ACTs.
Alice: I made out OK and…
Jennifer: I was going to but it was like far away and by the time I found out about it, it had already passed.
Ed: They make a point of keeping track of all the prep courses that are around, but they don’t make a point of getting them out there to access them. Like if you go and talk to them they will say we have these three…
MOD 1: So, because we are not going to see you again, but what are your plans for after you graduate?
Tom: I want to go to trade school.
MOD 1: In what?
MOD 1: Cool. How about you, Mark?
Mark: I want to be an engineer.
MOD 1: What are you going to do to make that happen?
Mark: I am going to go to a trade school like him.
Lisa: I plan on going to XXX State for a year and transferring to XXX. My major is nursing.
MOD 1: To be an RN, great.
Jeff: I am going to be going to culinary school.
MOD 1: Culinary school.
Alice: My friend goes to culinary school. Um, want to go to school. Music ed. Then get a master’s in history and then a doctorate in just, either, music or conducting, like score. So, I just have to figure out which school I’m going to. I am going to be in school the rest of my life. Basically.
Ed: I am going to college somewhere. I don’t know. I am about as undecided as they get.
Alice: Oh, Ed…
MOD 1: What about you?
Jennifer: I want to go to school for fashion design. I am not sure if I want to go to an art institute or a university. If I go to the university I am going to major in marketing and then go to an art school after that for fashion design.
MOD 1: Great.
Ann: Get a degree in college and see from there.
MOD 1: You can meet up with Ed for lunch, talk about being undecided….
Jack: Me. As soon as I get out, going to art school. Then go to the service, or something to get into a better college for psychology and parapsychology. Um, probably the service is going to be my way through there. If not, I will try to find some other way. Eventually, just go to art school and parapsychology school.
MOD 1: Do you have any questions for us?
Lisa: I want to say thank you for having us…
MOD 1: Thank you all for coming….
Mark: Are you all still in college?
MOD 1: Yeah, we are in graduate school.
Alice: See, they are in school forever too. It’s not just me.
Mark: How many years…
MOD 1: Well we are working towards our PhDs…
Mark: That’s a long time…
MOD 2: Before you leave, the Ed Week reporter has a few words…
Bess: It was a great discussion and I’m hoping some of you wouldn’t mind if I, any of you, wouldn’t mind if I called you up and asked you about some of these things we talked about.
Mark: You can call me.
Reporter: But again, it is the same deal. I wouldn’t use your name. But I might need your name and telephone number to get a hold of you. The story is not going to identify you in any way – or the school, or the school district, or the state, which is what we promised. So it would just be kind of a continuation of this discussion.
MOD 1: And if you don’t want to do it that’s totally OK.
Reporter: Yes. So maybe I can pass around a piece of paper…
Alice: Why did you come here?
MOD 1: I will tell you. The project that we work on is looking at – have you guys ever heard of the achievement gap?
MOD 1: What the achievement gap is, or what people call it, we don’t actually call it that, is in a lot of states that have these big tests, there’s gaps in some of the test scores between different students. So white and richer students tend to score higher than other students.
Alice: That’s a whole different thing…
MOD 1: So there are a bunch of schools trying to figure out what’s going on. And so, we are part of a group of schools and school districts that are trying to understand better what’s happening. And we are looking at the ways that race and ethnicity, class and educational opportunities are sort of, what the gaps are in those in schools.