Tagged: college

 /  By  / comments 8 comments. Add yours!

TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #7

“I want to make it big.”

Michele Godwinfavicon Monday, 1/12 – 2:35 pm
My advisees are subdued today. Not uncommon for a Monday, but they are even quieter than usual. They seem more serious, maybe even older. They are maturing before my very eyes. All of them talk about how busy they are, how much work they have to do. It’s nice to see them so focused.

One man/boy pulls me aside and tells me he has so much work to do, he’s not sure he’s going to be able to finish the application for the scholarship program I’ve nominated him for. “I have to study for my pre-cal exam, I have to make up some chemistry work, and I am missing some assignments for Spanish. I don’t know that I’ll be able to finish the application by Friday.”

“That’s not an option. You have to finish it,” I say.

I check myself when I see how flustered he gets. He does have to finish it! If he is accepted into the program, he gets $7,000 AND the an excellent bonus on his college applications. Plus, I spent a solid hour writing the teacher recommendation, emphasizing his story, working to convince the readers that he is absolutely worthy of being one of only 10 students for this program. His teenage brother was killed a few years ago. He takes his toddler nephew and niece to daycare every day, on his way to school. He has miraculously kept his grades at As and Bs, until recently. He has ambitions, but he has very little idea what happens after high school.


“You need this!” I almost yell at him as I try to talk him into pushing himself just a little bit harder to finish the application. I don’t though. He doesn’t need me yelling at him, reminding him how hard life is sometimes.

We make a list: THINGS YOU NEED TO DO BY FRIDAY. It’s not that long, and he remembers that the Spanish homework isn’t that tough.

“I’ve started the application on my phone. I can work on it while I’m on MUNI,” he finally says.

Tuesday, Jan 27 6:30 pm
Today is MY first day of school; I’m finishing up my Masters in Literature at SF State, and I took last semester off, so I haven’t been on campus since June. I’ve been looking forward to getting back to school and working that part of my brain again. I arranged a sitter to pick my child up on Tuesdays, bring him home, and get his dinner under way. I’ve purchased one of the several books for the class, and I’m ready to get started.

When I walk into the classroom, though, and ask the very young woman who is sitting inside if she is there for the Emily Dickinson class, she says no, she’s there for English 214. Not English 760.

Oh, I say. Maybe I’m in the wrong room.

I check my schedule and confirm I’m in the right place. As more people come in, though, it becomes clear that I am not in the right place.

I walk up to the professor’s office, on the fifth floor, to see if I might catch her before she goes to class. She’s not there. I walk back down to the second floor, to see if the English graduate office is open. Nope. I walk back down to the first floor, to see if there’s a directory or something that will tell me what I want to know. Of course there isn’t.

I see an older woman who looks like she knows where she’s going, so I hop on the elevator with her and assail her with my struggle. I ask if she can help me figure out where I’m supposed to be. She, of course, says yes, and I follow her back up to the fourth floor. She checks the master schedule.

“English 760 meets on Monday night, not Tuesday.”

I can feel myself about to cry, so I thank her quickly and leave. I drive home too fast, yelling at cars who get in my way. I don’t cry, but my frustration is overwhelming. I can’t take a Monday night class! That doesn’t work for me!

After I let the babysitter know she no longer has a steady, Tuesday-night gig, I go online, find another class that, honestly, I’d rather take, that happens in the middle of the day, Tuesdays and  Thursdays. Perfect! I try to register, but I need a permission code, so I email the professor (who I’ve had before, so I happen to have her email address AND a nice rapport with her). She sends it to me, along with a warm greeting and the make up reading assignments. I navigate the ridiculously user-unfriendly website to drop the Monday night class and add the T/TH class. Voila!

I realize: This is similar to what my students will go through when they go to college, but it will be even more overwhelming. What will they do when they need to change their schedule? when they can’t find their class? I have the time, experience, and patience it takes to navigate this kind of situation, and STILL I almost flopped myself on the floor of that woman’s office and had a temper tantrum. Many of our students don’t have the attention span or the technology or the willingness to engage with the middle-aged lady in the elevator to say, “Do you work here? Will you help me?” I worry about them.

Wednesday, Feb 11 – 2:00 pm
Overheard between two seniors and a sophomore, as we are walking the track for the women’s fitness class we are participating in:

Senior #1 to Senior #2: “But I want to make it big!”

Sophomore, who didn’t hear the first part of the conversation: “You want to make what big?”

Senior #1: “No, I want to make it. Big.”

Soph: “Right. Make what big? Your ass?”

Senior #1: (frustrated) “No! I mean I want to make it! I want to make it, big time!”

Soph: “Right. What do you want to make big?”

Senior #1: “I want to make it in the world! I want to do it in a big way!”

Soph: “Oh. Yeah.” favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 14th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 11th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

 /  By  / comments 4 comments. Add yours!

Paul Tough’s “Who Gets to Graduate?” offers hope that we can make a difference

220px-Paul_tough_2012favicon Paul Tough knows how to write. He writes so well, if he wrote about marmalade, I’d read it, no problem. Barnacles, too. Give Mr. Tough a topic, any topic, and he’ll churn out a must-read.

His latest piece, “Who Gets to Graduate?” in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, is an article that every urban educator should read. Thanks to loyal Iserotope reader Michele for recommending it!

I don’t want to give too much of it away, or else you won’t read it, but Mr. Tough makes three major claims: (1) Poor students are less likely to graduate from college than rich students, (2) One key reason for this is that poor students don’t feel like they belong and then freak out in college when they experience setback, (3) There are easy ways for schools to intervene so that poor students feel like they belong and remain resilient through challenge.

All right, now just a little bit more on a couple points. First up, the college graduation gap. Please take a look:


My eye goes to two numbers: the 52% on the top quartile line and the 44% on the bottom quartile line. If I’m reading this graph correctly, if you score really high on the SAT but are poor, your likelihood of graduating is less than someone who scores really low on the SAT but is rich. In other words: Your class background matters more for college graduation than your reading and Math skills.

This looks overwhelming, right? It makes you want to act like Diane Ravitch and say that poverty trumps all, that nothing can happen to close the achievement gap until our country solves poverty, right?

But wait. Mr. Tough offers tons of hope. The answer is what David Yeager and his colleagues are doing at the University of Texas at Austin. Mr. Yeager comes from a long line of Stanford professors, including Carol Dweck and Claude Steele, who believe that the mindsets of young adults matter. When students feel they belong, and when they feel like obstacles do not compromise their academic ability, they persist and succeed.

Here’s what Prof. Yeager believes:

Ultimately a person has within themselves some kind of capital, some kind of asset, like knowledge or confidence. And if we can help bring that out, they then carry that asset with them to the next difficulty in life.

To test those beliefs, Prof. Yeager conducted a large-scale experiment on incoming freshmen at UT Austin. Students in the experimental group completed a 25- to 45-minute online module that involved a short reading and writing exercise. The results were stunning. More poor students than ever before did well in school their first semester, passing more classes, completing more units, and starting off strong toward graduation.

Getting these excellent results after a fairly quick intervention is bringing out doubt from Prof. Yeager’s colleagues. Is this really possible? It seems so easy! Apparently, according to several similar studies, it is.

And that’s what makes me hopeful. The most crucial step, Mr. Tough suggests, is to message loud and clear to students that they belong and that they are valued. Too often, teachers — grizzled and jaded from too many years of struggle — present a deficit model to their students. If that occurs, then the gap will continue.

But if we send a positive message, and interrupt deficit mindsets, change is possible. There’s no simple answer, of course, but not everything has to be difficult.

Now, your homework: Please go read this article (it’s also on Iserotope Extras!) and let me know what you think. For example: Do you believe that it’s OK to tell students the truth, or do you agree with “the first rule of the Dashboard?” Thank you! favicon

 /  By  / comments Please comment!

Another reason that college is crucial for all students

favicon College is expensive, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a job after graduating. Those facts together have led some teachers to question the value of college for all students.

Of course, it’s also true that the same teachers who are challenging college did, in fact, earn a college degree and are reaping the rewards of a college education.

And likely advocate college for their own children.

But in case there’s any doubt, check out this unemployment rate graph from Business Insider:

Blue = Unemployment rate of high school graduates
Red = Unemployment rate of college graduates & higher

unemployment rate

(Um, 2008 was not a good year.)

So in addition to all the other reasons all students should go to college, not being unemployed is pretty high up the list. If I read the graph correctly, the unemployment rate among high school graduates is double that of college graduates. (I wonder what happens if you don’t graduate from high school.)

For another sobering article about college, check out Iserotope Extrasfavicon

 /  By  / comments Please comment!

The risk of going to college

favicon A few years back, something switched.

Up until then, my students — many of whom were the first in their families to go to college — would enter senior year aspiring to get accepted into a four-year university. They would complete applications, write personal statements, look for scholarships, and fill out financial aid forms. In the Spring, many students would receive good news from UC Santa Barbara or San Jose State or Dominican University. And that was that.

In short, my students believed, as The Atlantic reported today, that “going to college is perhaps the single best financial decision a young adult can make.” Even if college meant a little (or a lot of) debt, getting a four-year degree was the right thing to do.

This is no longer always the case.

With college tuition rising, particularly at state public schools, many of my advisees began openly questioning the value of college. The military became a popular option; three of my 2012 graduates, including the school’s valedictorian, joined the armed forces. (The valedictorian quickly dropped out of the Naval Academy and will attend UC Davis in the Fall.) Others eligible for San Francisco State chose City College instead. A few decided to find a job immediately.

Part of the trend, of course, is based on economics. After all, why wait to make money when you can start making money now? With the unemployment rate fairly high, even for college graduates, that line of thinking makes sense. Better maybe to pursue a two-year technical degree to prepare for a medium-skilled career as an X Ray technician. Four years is a long time for an 18-year-old who just spent an eternity (of the same length) in high school.

Like many teachers, I shun that perspective and believe that college should be the goal for all students. But The Atlantic article included a graph that put things into perspective, that really demonstrated how much of a risk going to college is, particularly if you’re not wealthy.


Is this what my students have been telling me — that if they’re not completely sure they’ll graduate, that if they lack confidence in their academic skills, that if they think college might be too much for them, then maybe they shouldn’t take the financial risk?

For many people, a graph like that may lead to the conclusion that maybe college is not meant for everyone. I usually hear it like this: “Is it right for us to tell them that the only way to achieve happiness is by earning a bachelor’s degree? I mean, what if they don’t graduate and are saddled with debt?”

Here’s a corollary: “Just because I have a college degree, is it my place to demand it of someone else?”

The answer to both of those questions is undeniably yes — despite all the risks. But The Atlantic article also reminds us that we must provide our students, particularly our first-generation college students, a full understanding of what college looks like, of what it entails. favicon

 /  By  / comments Please comment!

Only Half of First-Time College Students Graduate in 6 Years

favicon I’ve spent most of my teaching career working with students who will be the first in their families to graduate from college. It turns out that just about half of first-generation college students end up graduating, which means two things: (1) There needs to be more rigorous preparation in high school, (2) There needs to be additional support in college. I’m happy what some schools are doing to track their graduates through the college years.

Find out more at  Iserotope Extras, or see the original post at economix.blogs.nytimes.comfavicon