Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cherry Picking and Glossing Over

Today I felt like cherry picking a quote from the Washington Post's article about a whole school getting left behind. As a critical reader, sometimes I get snagged on one or two sentences, causing me to miss the entire point of the article. The quote from the article:

"At least three of the new teachers had been dismissed or released from other schools. One resigned after just a few weeks when he was found hiding from the third-graders in his class who were throwing papers at him."

After visualizing this scene--I have a group of low performing seniors who get a kick out of throwing papers at each other--my first thought was not about how NCLB has failed to get high quality teachers into low performing schools. Instead, my thought was, whose kids are these?

Listen, we can talk all day about the causes of poverty in rural Mississippi or anywhere else, but why won't we ever take on the poor parenting. I have a hard time believing that students whose parents teach them right from wrong would cause a teacher to cower in a closet.
Maybe I am just naive to think that parents, even those who have been beaten down by the system, should still teach their childrend how to behave.
Instead of punishing schools--and yes, some need to be punished--why not punish parents who don't teach their children how to act with civility.

A second quote:
"Some teachers have to buy books and other basic supplies for their classrooms, and then take their neediest students to Wal-Mart to buy clothes and backpacks."

I live in simple but generally well-off eastern Connecticut town. It's the town I grew up in. Our education system is fabulous, which is part of the reason I returned to live here. I teach in a school system that is failing. We don't have resources, and many of my students lack basic supplies. And yet, in our publicly funded education system, the State and Federal governments allow for such a disparity in funding. We haven't come all that far.

A third quote:
"One of the new teachers hushed his first-grade class over and over during a fill-in-the-blanks exercise. 'Those people who are talking are not going to know what to do,' he warned."

It would be unfair for me to judge this teacher's level of competency. Rest assured though, that regardless of whether he is competent or not, he is correct in assessing that most who point out the flaws of teachers, if put in that same classroom, would be hiding in a closet.
I have successfully managed some classes with behaviorally challenged students. But this year, in at least one of my senior classes, I am lost. I have never had students who lack self-control like this group. What should I do when 2/3 of the sentences spoken by a student contain the phrase "fuck off?" Yeah, I've sent him out...they send him back. He needs to be in class, so I.S.S. doesn't seem to be the best option.
It isn't easy trying to control a room full of 30 children, especially when they aren't your own children. But that is what we are expected to do--continually manage 30 children who don't value education and haven't been taught how to behave. If we can't do that, our critics who sit in a nice office downtown or in a college lecture hall determine we are incompetent. Then they write an article in some journal or newspaper about the failings of public education.


At 7:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Instead of punishing schools--and yes, some need to be punished--why not punish parents who don't teach their children how to act with civility.

Because punishment is a bad idea. Coercive environments breed a lot of the [behavior and motivational] problems that we have to deal with.

Note, however, that this doesn't mean that your point about where we should be focusing our reform efforts isn't valid. I just think that punishment too often shoots us in the foot. People respond to positive environments. We don't want to use fear and greed to motivate people.

Thanks for the post!

At 2:47 PM , Blogger malpas said...

Punishment worked in 1950.

At 3:26 PM , Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Ohhh, do I feel your pain. They've given me a bunch of very tough boys this year because I am the, and I quote, "earth mother" and my "co-teacher" (what's that word for when a name means actually the opposite of what it sounds like?) spends almost every day fighting with them.

It's exhausting. God bless you.


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