Saturday, December 05, 2009

Reflections on Public Education

I stumbled across this blog just when the author was talking about her frustrations with her son's teacher.  She has written some very thought-provoking posts, and I would strongly, STRONGLY recommend reading this one.  Please.  It is thoughtful and she has the unique perspective of being a parent of a public school student as well as a former public school teacher in the inner city.

Let me preface this quote that I am going to share with saying that I have worked with many fantastic teachers.  I know teachers who are extremely gifted, dedicated, respectful, and just all-around wonderful.  One of my eight principals was incredible (and continues to be incredible, just in another district).  Most of the teachers I know spend lots of their own money, bring the children food when they need it, spend hours and hours and hours of unpaid time on preparation in order to do the best for their kids.  And, to these teachers, the students ARE "their kids."

But.  Then there's this.

In the previous school year, most of my 3rd grade students had had a teacher who ate in class and then SLEPT on her desk. No wonder they all failed! Some of the kids confessed to me that they'd stolen money out of this woman's wallet while she dozed on her desk. I was secretly glad that they did so because I was so angry that such an incompetent, shiftless and immoral person could appropriate the title of "teacher".

I wish I could say that this shocked me.  But I've worked with a few of these.  One of them was next door to my classroom (out in the portable classrooms which are on the yard so people hardly ever come near them) and would shriek (and I mean shriek) at her students: "Why are you so stupid?!  Stupid! Stupid!"  She let them have PE all the time so that she didn't have to teach and took at least a day off a week.  The kids would come into my classroom and literally tell me that they felt safe there.

Another one ran a catalog merchandise business from her classroom when she was supposed to be teaching.  She didn't like standing up (she was also extremely unhealthy which could have something to do with it) and generally ate her McDonald's lunch at her desk during math time. The kids often had coloring pages instead of work to do.

Those were definitely the exceptions, but there was always someone like that.  There shouldn't be that kind of exception.

More common were the people who had started off as good teachers and got jaded and cynical.  Which is very easy to do and I think I would have gotten there if I had stayed.  It is so easy to start thinking that the parents don't care, that the kids won't succeed, that that you're fighting a losing battle.  It is discouraging to see kids drop out in middle school, parents drop off their kids while they are drunk (the parents, not the kids), and to be cursed at when you try to tell a parent what is going on with their children.

However.  I learned a lot during my time teaching in this particular neighborhood.  The first thing is that parents do care.  They do.  But often, they can't deal with their own stuff, much less their children's.  Or they're working three jobs.  Or they're struggling with addiction and can't be a parent.  Or they had a kid at 13 and never knew what to do.  But it is absolutely unacceptable for any teacher to say that a parent doesn't care.  You don't know what they feel!  I'm sure I've been guilty of it when I've gotten frustrated and I wish someone had called me on it.

Also, children of different colors are treated differently by many, many teachers and administrators.  I don't think most people do it on purpose and I'll write a post soon about that.  But - and I'm saying this as a white person - I think that the blog author is not overreacting when she sometimes expresses concern that her black male children are not being treated the same as other children, or aren't getting the same quality of education.  Ten years ago, I would have thought that was a paranoid reaction.  It's true.

In addition, the behavior described above would not be tolerated in many schools.  It shouldn't be!  But it is in the inner-city.  I can't think of another reason except that all children are not valued the same.  Whether their parents are addicts or not, on welfare or high-powered attorneys, Black or White or Latino or Asian, educated or not, the children are valuable.  I think most people would agree with that sentiment, but it is not acted upon.  I wish I could fix that.  Any ideas?

The purpose of this post is not to make teachers look bad.  It's a difficult enough job that I quit at age 32.  But parents and teachers absolutely must work together, have communications, and have high standards for each other as well as the kids.  All kids. I don't know how to implement that.  If you have any ideas, please let me know.

1 comment:

Rosita said...

I came over from Losangelista, and just wanted to say I really appreciate your comments. I am not sure I have any answers, but I know the issues are real. As a white mother of three bi-racial sons, with the older starting kindergarten next year, I can tell you that I have given this a lot of thought. Right now, my husband and I have them in private school, because after a lot of research of different options, it seems like the best place, but we are constantly watching.

There are several public school teachers at my church who just can't understand why I would choose to pay for private school. And when I share my concerns about it, while some do understand, others deny that there is different treatment for different races.

Just rambling on here, so I will stop. However, i wanted to let you know I appreciate the post.