A Teachers Viewpoint

Location: Texas, United States

I am a teacher with 33 years experience in public education. The purpose of this web log is to critically examine the present state of education in our great country and, particularly, in Texas.

Monday, May 23, 2005

If you have kids in a public school pray for them.

I just viewed the videotape of the attack on two teenaged boys on a schoolbus by an out of control adult. The article and video can be viewed from this link. The parents handled themselves extremely well in the interview I heard. The bus driver is a very fortunate man. The child he attacked wasn't mine.

Why do parents put up with this kind of behavior from anyone associcated in any way with a school. The bus driver clearly struck the student first. I don't think he feared for his life. If the story is correct as it has been reported (and as we know pigs are flying regular routes around the country) there was a kid who may have been disrespectful of the adult in charge. There also may have been an adult who took God's name in vain in front of the kids, called police then proceeded to go ahead and kick the crap out of the child who came to his brothers defense before the police got there. There is nothing like seeing a jerk about the size of the average gorilla grab a scrawny 15 year old by the neck and shake him like a rag doll. Yep, this winner is real powerful with kids. I wonder how he would be with some of the dock workers I grew up around. They were good men filled with love for their wives and children. But, I shudder to think what might have happened to someone who grabbed one of their kids and nearly broke his neck. There were very good reasons why no one sexually molested a kid in the neighborhood where I grew up. Can you
say vanishing off the face of the earth?

These parents need to get themselves a better lawyer as well. That guy basically apologized for defending the kid. What he should have said in response to some of the stupid questions is something like "Stupid, pathetic, cretin, you don't throttle a kid for being a cheeky kid under any circumstances where there is not a deadly weapon and the threat of immediate death. They need to get a lawyer who hates schools and would love to pull some creep through a propeller backwards. Fire the suit.

Does it matter if the kid misbehaved? Certainly. Do the kids need correction? Yes. Did a kid say something cheeky that started this travesty? Does the sun come up in the east? Were the kids who watched this happen abused? Yes. Should the boys be charged with a felony and spend the next five years of thier lives in juvie? Not in any universe. Would I have blamed any dad who came up to beat the stuffings out of the bus driver? No? If I were one of the authorities in question would I have leveled charges at such a dad who defended his kids from an out of control animal? No, based on defense of ones offspring. If you are a parent who can put yourself on that bus when the driver was shaking the kid by the neck who would not use a tire iron to drive the point about not strangling kids home to him then may your kid have many guardian angels. They will need them. They are not safe around you.

What happened to adults maintaining control of themselves? What happened to adult influence? What happened to adults being able to get along with kids? What happened to the idea of talking to kids. What happened to the archaic idea of teaching the kids as if each one of them was the apple of your eye?

Have we finally come to a time when an adult can actually assault a kid and basically skate while the kid gets a felony. If these two boys have to go through the special hell of a trial, being sentenced to five years in juvenile, and basically lose their youth then this school district should just be closed, it's leadership fired, it's buildings ripped to the ground and the earth salted under it. They have no business being anywhere near kids. Actual human beings should then come to build a real school where kids are taught right from wrong, instructed until they have mastered what it is they are trying to learn, and treated with the respect that comes with birth in this great country. By the way, if anyone wants to reply that I am talking about being weak on discipline go submerge yourself for about an hour. We gave up corporal punishment in most places not because we thought it was bad for the kids but because we were such disgusting pukes that we were afraid we would get sued. We replaced that with running every kid who chews gum through the court system. You think that's an exaggeration? If you do you know nothing about zero tolerance.

Education is in a flaming nosedive.

Kids have to be taught. You see it goes like this. If you want your child to be respectful, treat the child with respect. If you don't want your child to smoke, don't smoke around the child. If you don't want your child to drink, don't drink. If you want your child not to do drugs, don't do drugs. If you want your child to be of high moral character, be of high moral character yourself. If you want your child to show respect to the opposite sex, then show respect to your wife or husband. If you want your child to be honest, don't be dishonest. If you want to be able to tell your kid not to have sex as a teen, then you had better be sure you didn't. Kids learn by example. News flash - if you work in a school you are one of the examples. Join up and get over it. If you can't accept that responsibility, get your sorry butt out of the school business.

The same goes for teachers. It also goes for school bus drivers, teachers aides, secretarys, office workers and the copy clerk. Get over it, if you work with kids you ARE held to a higher standard. You are the example when the parents are not there. Teachers are the only good example in some cases. Everyone who works with kids has a commission given to them by God. We work with precious cargo. We have a higher calling. And, here is a news flash for any simpering jerk who wants to argue that we just have a job then you need to get out of this sacred profession now.

I believe it is time for people who give a care about kids to say ENOUGH. If you want to know why kids in this country seem to be out of control look in a mirror. Our popular culture is just so much crap.

That is why I find this bus problem so horrifying. An opportunity to lead young people was missed. An opportunity to show how an adult responds to stress was missed. An opportunity to show a group of kids that school is not some wretched place they have to spend their days was missed. I can't think of anything that was done right in this situation from the inoffensive lawyer to the gorilla on the bus. We in education are in deep quicksand with the limb over our head more than an arms length away. The time is almost too late. We have to say ENOUGH - NO MORE. Heaven help us all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

More on student morale

I wonder what would happen if schools suddenly decided to treat students like the young adults they are. what would happen if kids were given some decision making power in the way they learn the things they have to learn. What would happen if students were surrounded by their own art, their own work and their own intellectual creations. What would happen if students were addressed as 'mam and sir. What would happen if students were spoken to in a quiet voice as two sane adults address each other. What would happen if we modeled the best behavior a human being is capable of to students.

Would test scores improve? Would learning improve? Would students look at school as a destination rather than a required drive-thru window on the way to life. I think the answer to all those questions is a clamorous, lusty yes.

If we examine the way we work as adults, I think many of us would agree that our best work comes out of autonomy. My best work is produced when I am given some latitude in how I am to complete my work. I know for sure that most of what I learned that is with me still I learned as a teacher.

While I prepare lessons from scratch as a teacher I am doing original work and research. I am fully engaged in the project. There is a flow to the work that I fall into that is hard to lay down. I have had students so engaged in my career that I had to run them out of the building in the afternoon.

A reasonable assumption is that students who look at their school lives as positive parts of their overall lives will feel better about the school. Let's face it, most kids do not think very far into the future. They think about how they feel now, today, and in the next hour. Kids also do not have the ability to understand how something will impact their lives. So, tick off the kids and everything goes away - discipline, teacher morale, test scores, safety, and untold numbers of things that I haven't thought of yet.

Kids also understand when their time is being wasted. If they are drilled to death for the state tests they will realize they are not really being taught something for their good. They realize that most of the time the school is concerned about the schools good. If the dress code becomes more important than the learning the kids will behave in a perfectly predictable manner. If, for instance, the administration of a building holds the view that the dress code is the underlying secret of success there will be a problem in every case. I have known of districts where the superintendent actually spent time at the high school, clipboard in hand, tagging kids for dress code. In the same situation teachers are told that their teaching evaluations will be effected if administrators walk into a teachers room to find one or more students out of dress code. Use your imagination. You will be able to predict what happened to the morale of the teachers and logically enough the morale and dedication of the kids.

The test scores in this unidentified school district continue to go down at the same time that dress code was identified as a way to improve scores, discipline and student morale. The results were predictable. Scores are going down, teachers are leaving and kids are constantly in trouble.

Check out your own local school. Find out if your school is rule driven or driven by a concern for impact of administrative decisions on the human needs and concerns of students. One student told this writer that "they just can't get past the dress code, if they put half the effort into helping us learn that they put into being sure that we don't have on denim that day, maybe things would be better. Right now, I hate school".

Schools should not ask students to think until the administration of the district is willing to ask itself the hard questions. The first question might be "why are we following this policy"? The second question might be "is there any indication at all that what we are doing could possibly, by any stretch of the imagination, in any universe, contribute to student learning and mastery"? The third question might be "is this policy based on reasoned thought and disprovable research questions or is it the result of my two-bit bias?"

Schools in our era are too often driven by assumptions that are simply the biased opinion of someone who should know better, the biased opinion of someone who is painfully ignorant, or the untested hypothesis of someone who wouldn't recognize good research if someone threw a book of research design principles at them.

In my experience rigorous thought and hard reasoning is extremely rare in the upper levels of educational administration. More often the contents of a one day seminar is forced on a district by an upper level administrator who bought the presentation hook, line and sinker without asking "is there any reason to believe that this content represents anything close to the truth.? Too often they simply are caught up by the flash of the latest idea down the pike. Two often what has really worked with kids since the first time there were kids is thrown out in deference to the latest idea that someone created because they really wish it worked and was true.

If you have a kid in a public school, pray for them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A short object lesson

I have written before about the need for respect in dealing with kids. Like people of all ages, young people during the period of early adolescence want to be treated with respect. This is a simple concept. Today, I worked at a middle school as a substitute. I was assigned to the class of an excellent teacher who had been called away suddenly. When I arrived, the class could be heard several doors down the hall. When I entered the room an aide exchanged places with a look of relief.

The scene was the usual middle school chaos that can occur when kids are within three weeks of the end of school and their regular (and excellent) teacher is gone. Three boys were up pushing each other larking around - having fun. Two students were in the back listening to their cd players. Girls were loudly talking. Some girls were putting on makeup or adjusting their hair in mirrors. A couple of kids were sitting in their desks staring off into space in the 13th year trance.

I walked across the room to the teachers desk to put down my gear. After placing my laptop pack on the desk I turned and walked to the front of the room. I stopped in front of the class just looking at them with what I hoped was a neutral expression. I held up my hand in the "attention" gesture commonly practiced at this school. One girl and one boy started yelling for quiet at the top of their lungs. Another boy came and stood beside me doing a really good imitation of me by holding up his hand in the same way and saying "quiet class, quiet".

I turned my head slowly and pinned him with my best sinister glare. I said quietly "excuse me, may I continue" in my most neutral voice. Then I stared at him is what I hoped was a neutral expression. With bravado consistent with his age and stage of development he replied, "don't get all up dog, yo". I motioned to his chair. He did a very exagerated bow that drew a few giggles. I smiled back at him. He sat down. I bowed in a grand fashion and said "thank you so much, sir", paused a few beats and added the word "yo". That drew laughter. I said "I need everyone looking at me for a moment". I waited probably 20 seconds in silence. The class gradually, over the next minute or so, turned and settled down.

In a moment I said "I have only one rule; I am going to treat you with complete respect.... and I expect the same courtesy." One last student said something that I didn't fully understand to which I responded "excuse me". As soon as the kids became quiet I said "o.k. let me check roll. I am going to try to pronounce your name correctly, but if I don't please forgive me. I didn't learn to even spell my name until I was in the fourth grade." Giggles around the room... I checked the roll verbally. When I finished I said "now I need a good volunteer to take the roll down for me". Twelve hands went up. I picked a girl who had been sitting quietly during the start of class. I then explained the lesson, got the kids started and then circulated around until the kids were well on their way. There wasnt a problem the rest of the 90 minute class. I managed to teach quite a bit during the progress of the period. They kids responded so well. I was so proud of them.

A few days earlier, I was at the high school. While there I had a chance to visit with an old friend who had done a survey for the administration. One of the things the a young man said was "I want my teachers to stop yelling and sceaming at everyone". Another kid said "I want my teachers to teach".

I started my career 32 years ago yelling, barking orders and talking kids into corners from which there was no escape. I will never forget the day my supervisor took me out, bought a six pack of beer and drank it with me. That day he told me to always remember that every child was the apple of someones eye, the most precious of all things to them. I have never forgotten that statement.

As I write this I am listening to one of the great songs currently out. The song is called "Simple" by k.d. Lang. (yes,she uses lower case). With your permission k.d., the most touching line of this work of art says:

Love will not elude you .... love is simple;
Love will not elude us ..... love is simple;
Love is a philosophy..... it's simple;

Teaching with love is a philosophy.... it's simple. Teaching with respect is a philosophy....it's simple. It's simple. Love gathers love.
The fruit of showing love and respect is receiving love and respect. Kids are not the enemy to be crushed under our feet. They need the same things we all need - love, respect, encouragement, freedom from ridicule, and a good example.

If love is your philosophy, the kids will make teaching what you want it to be. Love will not elude you. Returned respect will not elude you. It's simple.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The best intentions of mice and men

A person greater than I once said something about the best laid plans of mice and ment being blown away must have been thinking about my last month. Suffice it to say that this has been one of those times when life is "interesting". I believe there is another saying about wishing someone an "interesting" life.

I remember at some point telling Edwonk - I believe - that I was going to post everyday or at least several times a week. So much for that.. I was completely innocent of what it takes to write a great blog like so many of you do everyday of your lives. All my preconceptions are now gone, reality has set in.

Anyway, my "interesting" month has come to a conclusion. The bilge pumps worked, someone on a white horse rode in for me in just the nick of time. I am back, hopefully to stay without too much interruption.

I started this in the hope I would be able to make some contribution - no matter how small - to the grand effort of helping people to get appropriate educations. My intention is not changed as I pick up the thread.