Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Climate Change

I've written before about school climate and the effect that we as teachers can have on influencing that climate. As I continue to read Pedro Noguera's book, The Trouble with Black Boys, I continue to believe, and am encouraged to believe, that we have an ability to change the atmosphere in our buildings.
Most schools, I believe, have a positive atmosphere in which students feel safe, involved, and respected to the extent that a teenager can understand respect. Yet, at too many of our urban schools, students and teachers struggle to find common feelings of safety, involvement, and respect.
One of my reading classes fiished their test much earlier than expected, though grades turned out to be poor. Curious about how my students feel about our school, I chose to spend the additional time reading from Noguera's book and allowing my students to freely talk about our school. I structured the discussion to fit the reading skills we had just been tested on: Cause and Effect. I provided the effect: WGASH has been ineffective. They were to provide the causes.
Initially my students were unwilling to speak. They told me I talked too much (meaning I read to them for too long), and they gave obvious and vague answers like "School sucks."
When pressed with further questions, and identifying that I really wanted to hear from them--I closed the door to the hall--they finally began to speak. Here were the four causes they provided:

1. Too many native Spanish speakers don't know enough English to get by in classes. [One girl told a story about a friend in one of her classes who is struggling because she never understands the teacher due to the language barrier]

2. Teachers don't speak Spanish. [I asked us all to consider what it would look like if during instruction our teachers spoke English, but in the other times we spoke Spanish]

3. The building is dirty. Things are broken. The heat is either too much or not enough.

4. Teachers are lazy. [They had trouble explaining what they meant.]

The first three are very true. I believe that we need more funds to effectively teach English to our Puerto Rican students who arrive without the English proficiency to succeed. I believe that our professional development time shouldn't be focused on DDDM. Instead, we should be learning how to speak Spanish, something that over 50% of our student do. I believe that our building is dirty, broken, and not set up to make students feel like we care. All three of these are within our control and accurate assessments.