As a longtime volunteer (CASA) guardian ad-Litem, I observed how really troubled children behave in school & understand just how impossible they can be in a classroom. Suicidal behavior, sex in school, stabbing, biting, & other violence were common among them.
The blaming of teachers for poor student performance or failing schools is working directly against the possible fixing of the problem. Just like social workers, they are attacked from all sides, provided inadequate resources to do the job & expected to manage the unmanageable.
Private schools and other non-public education can and do show better all around performance because they can manage the number of really troubled youth they let in. Public schools are now handling the vast majority of the 3 million children reported to child protection services in this nation each year. Abused and neglected children are very disruptive and their mental health issues generally have serious impact on school performance.
Today’s “AM I A BAD TEACHER” article in the Star Tribune gives a personal insight from a maligned teacher on the unfairness we are visiting on people that are working the front lines in our troubled nation.
There is no question that our schools have been failing (in comparison with the rest of the industrialized world) for many years now. Allowing schools to fail assures that America will never regain its top tier status in the quality of life indices that we maintained for so many years.
Blaming teachers for failed schools is like blaming the social worker when a baby is found in a dumpster (it is wrong on many levels).
What is it like to oversee a classroom of 35/40 students, several with severe behavioral problems & often on psychotropic medications?
How is it that we offer almost no mental health services to our most troubled youth until after they have done horrible things, or that several states have eliminated mental health services in their schools and send all those children to jail.
America sends 25% of its youth into the adult criminal justice system & leads the world in incarceration & crime (we now have 5% of the world’s population & 25% of the world’s prison population).
Our disrespect and lack of support for social workers & teachers when the the number of at risk children in our schools is tremendous & growing guarantees an end to America’s leading nation status.
As Pliny The Elder said 2500 years ago; “What we do to our children, they will do to society”
They need our help.
Pass it on.
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Confessions of a so-called bad teacher
- Article by: WILLIAM JOHNSON
- Updated: March 7, 2012 – 7:47 PM Minneapolis Start Tribune
I am a special-education teacher. My students have learning disabilities ranging from autism and attention-deficit disorder to cerebral palsy and emotional disturbances.
I love these kids, but they can be a handful. They struggle on standardized tests, frustrate their teachers and find it hard to connect with their peers. As high school students, their disabilities are compounded by raging hormones and social pressure.
Beyond the challenges posed by my students, budget cuts and changes to special-education policy have increased my workload drastically.
On top of all that, I’m a bad teacher. That’s not my opinion; it’s how I’m labeled by my city’s Education Department.
In June, my principal at the time rated my teaching “unsatisfactory,” checking off a few boxes on an evaluation sheet that placed my career in limbo. That same year, my school received an “A” rating. I was a bad teacher at a good school. It was pretty humiliating.
Like most teachers, I’m good some days, bad others. The same goes for my students.
In May, my assistant principal at the time observed me teaching in our school’s “self-contained” classroom. A self-contained room is a separate classroom for students with severe learning disabilities.
In that room, I taught a writing class for students ages 14 to 17, whose reading levels ranged from third through seventh grades.
When the assistant principal walked in, one of these students, a freshman girl classified with an emotional disturbance, began cursing. Then she began lobbing pencils across the room.
Was this because I was a bad teacher? I don’t know.
I know that after she began throwing things, I sent her to the dean’s office. I know that a few days later, I received notice that my lesson had been rated unsatisfactory because, among other things, I had sent this student to the dean instead of following our school’s “guided discipline” procedure.
I was confused. Earlier last year, this same assistant principal observed me and instructed me to prioritize improving my “assertive voice” in the classroom.
But about a month later, my principal observed me and told me to focus entirely on lesson planning, since she had no concerns about my classroom management. A few weeks earlier, she had written on my behalf for a citywide award for “classroom excellence.”
Was I really a bad teacher?
In my three years with the city schools, I’ve seen a teacher with 10 years of experience become convinced, after just a few observations, that he was a terrible teacher. A few months later, he quit teaching altogether.
I collaborated with another teacher who sought psychiatric care for insomnia after a particularly intense round of observations. I transferred to a new school after being rated “unsatisfactory.”
Teachers care a great deal about our work. At the school where I work today, my “bad” teaching has mostly been very successful.
Even so, I leave work most days replaying lessons in my mind, wishing I’d done something differently. This isn’t because my lessons are bad, but because I want to get better.
Dozens and dozens of teenagers scrutinize my language, clothing and posture all day long, all week long. If I’m off my game, the students tell me.
They comment on my taste in neckties, my facial hair, the quality of my lessons. All of us teachers are evaluated all day long, already. It’s one of the most exhausting aspects of our job.
Teaching was a high-pressure job long before the current debates about teacher evaluation. These debates seem to rest on the assumption that, left to our own devices, we teachers would be happy to coast through the school year, let our skills atrophy and collect our pensions.
The truth is, teachers don’t need elected officials to motivate us. If our students are not learning, they let us know. They put their heads down or they pass notes. They raise their hands and ask for clarification. Sometimes, they just stare at us like zombies.
Few things are more excruciating for a teacher than leading a class that’s not learning.
Good administrators use the evaluation processes to support teachers and help them avoid those painful classroom moments — not to weed out the teachers who don’t produce good test scores or adhere to their pedagogical beliefs.
Worst of all, the more intense the pressure gets, the worse we teach. When I had administrators breathing down my neck, the students became a secondary concern.
That said, given all the support in the world, even the best teacher can’t force his students to learn. Students aren’t simply passive vessels, waiting to absorb information from their teachers and regurgitate it through high-stakes assessments. They make choices. I know I did. When I was a teenager, I often stayed up way too late, talking with friends, listening to music or playing video games. Did this affect my performance on tests? Undoubtedly. Were my teachers responsible? No.
My best teachers, the ones I still think about today, exposed me to new and exciting ideas. They created classroom environments that welcomed discussion and intellectual risk-taking.
Sometimes, these teachers’ lessons didn’t sink in until years after I’d left their classrooms.
I’m thinking about Ms. Leonard, the English teacher who repeatedly instructed me to “write what you know,” a lesson I’ve only recently begun to understand. She wasn’t just teaching me about writing, by the way, but about being attentive to the details of my daily existence.
It wasn’t Ms. Leonard’s fault that 15-year-old me couldn’t process this lesson completely. She was planting seeds that wouldn’t bear fruit in the short term.
That’s an important part of what we teachers do, and it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t show up on high-stakes tests.
How, then, should we measure students and teachers? In ninth grade, my students learn about the scientific method. They learn that in order to collect good data, scientists control for specific variables and test their impact on otherwise identical environments.
If you give some students green fields, glossy textbooks and lots of attention, you can’t measure them against another group of students who lack all of these things. It’s bad science.
Until we provide equal educational resources to all students and teachers, we can’t say — with any scientific accuracy — how well or poorly they’re performing.
Perhaps if we start the conversation there, things will start making a bit more sense.
William Johnson is a teacher at a public high school in Brooklyn. He wrote this article for the New York Times.