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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Addendum: To feel consequential in this country, everybody needs somebody to screw over

Read this important piece related to what teachers actually face in the classroom.

CHICAGO –- Two weeks before teachers here went on strike, shutting down the third largest school system in the nation, a teenage boy was shot and killed in a rough neighborhood on the South Side.

At Morrill Math and Science Specialty School, the shooting prompted teacher Monique Redeaux to scrap her regular social studies lesson, a unit on Christopher Columbus. Instead, she guided her seventh- and eighth-grade students through a discussion on violence and inner-city poverty.

There is an attitude about teachers that lingers from the 19th century.  It is implicit in the rancor and false representations about teachers' unions.  A large portion of the public thinks of teachers as bonded servants and resent any independent status and freedom that teachers have obtained.  

The servitude of teachers was defined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by rules such as these typical ones:
1. Teachers are expected to live in the community in which they are employed and to take residence with local citizens for room and board.

2. Teachers will be required to spend weekends in the community unless permission is granted by the Chairman of the Board.

3. It is understood that teachers will attend church each Sunday and take an active part, particularly in choir and Sunday School work.

4. Dancing, card playing and the theatre are works of the devil that lead to gambling, immoral climate, and influence and will not be tolerated.

5. Community plays are given annually. Teachers are expected to participate.

6. When laundering petticoats and unmentionables it is best to dry them in a flour sack or pillow case. (So no one sees them hanging on the line to dry).

7. Any teacher who smokes cigarettes, uses liquor in any form, frequents a pool or public hall, or (for men) gets shaved in a barber shop, (or for women) bobs (cuts) her hair, has dyed hair, wears short skirts (could not be any shorter than 2 inches above the ankles) and has undue use of cosmetics will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

8. Teachers will not marry or keep company with a man friend during the week except as an escort to church services. (The only man a woman teacher could be seen with was her father or her brother).

9. Loitering in ice cream parlors, drug stores, etc., is prohibited.

10. Purchasing or reading the Sunday Supplement on the Sabbath will not be tolerated.

11. Discussing political views or party choice is not advisable.

12. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.

13. After 10 hours in school, the teacher should spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.

14. Women teachers who marry or engage in other unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

15. Every teacher should lay aside from his pay a goodly sum for his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.

16. The teacher who performs his labors faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of 25 cents a week in his pay providing the Board of Education approves.
Not much has changed in a hundred years.  When a 19th century teacher was asked if she  liked teaching, she said:  
You ask if I like teaching. Oh, yes, the teaching part but not the discipline. I had to keep all my scholars but one in at recess today, and I had to whip one boy—the first punishment of that kind that has been necessary. Then it is so hard not to like some children better than others, and there are so many little disputes to settle. But I do like teaching.
The matter of student behavior has been a major factor in public education from its outset.  During the time I was a director of the Dakota Writing Project, it came up constantly.  A frequent criticism of Project programs was that we did not provide much in the way of classroom management and discipline resources.  We didn't, because the Project was devoted to ways to get students involved in activities that would improve and refine their writing skills, and the Project assumed that discipline issues were covered by teacher training and system policies and procedures.  But as one experienced teacher said during one of our evaluation reviews,  the ideas presented were innovative, valuable, and highly effective, but teachers cannot make much use of them when so much of the time and energy is devoted to dealing with recalcitrant attitudes and creating conditions in which the techniques of instruction presented by the project could be implemented.  The project had a basic premise.  While it brought in outside experts to discuss effective, successful methods that they were involved in, the premise of the project was for working teachers to share successful procedures with each other and to engage in a constant process of exchange, review, and analysis with fellow teachers in their school setting.  The Project was not limited to English teachers.  It involved teachers from all grade levels and and disciplines to make writing something students used as a learning tool in all their classes.

One of the problems faced by teachers who became fellows of the program and tried to utilize it at their schools was the fact that their schedules provided little or no opportunity to engage in the consultation, exchange of information, and review that made the program work.  At one campus where we had a successful program in process, it ended when the school board increased the teaching day from seven to eight periods.  Many of our fellows found that their principals had no interest in making the arrangements whereby teachers could engage in professional development that originated and was conducted by the teachers themselves.

At a school we were using as a model for implementing the processes of coordination and collaboration, the unified efforts to improve writing skills ended when the school board introduced merit pay.  To meet the criteria for qualifying, the teachers found they had to compete against each other rather than collaborate.

 One of the dismaying aspects that the Project confronted was the diffidence of administrators.  For its summer institutes, the Project required a letter of recommendation from the supervisors of the teachers who applied for admission.  Many of the administrators told the teachers to write their own letters of recommendation and the administrators would sign them.   They had little interest in the professional aspects of the Project or results of the research and practices it presented to teachers.

The second most troubling problem the Project confronted was that matter of classroom discipline.  Our most successful and effective teachers said that they did, indeed, spend too much time working with discipline problems before they could engage students in the learning process. Effective teachers create atmosphere and attitude in the classroom that engages students in learning, but a multitude of outside factors determine classroom attitudes more than the skills of the teacher. 

One of the writing exercises introduced to Project participants by a highly successful teacher from California was "the class from hell."  Teachers were asked to write about a class that presented unusual challenges in terms of attitude and discipline and how they dealt with it and how successfully.  Every teacher could readily cite problem classes.  And they cited a number of causes for bad student attitudes:

  • Students came from homes that denigrated school as a boring, punishing burden that  they were expected to endure.
  • Students came from dysfunctional homes or chaotic neighborhoods that disturbed them too greatly to be able to concentrate on school.
  • Students had mental and emotional problems that were barriers to their learning ability.
  • The schools were located in communities that had did not value education or schools.
  • Schools were run by administrators who were more interested in exercising power over the teaching staff than in supporting and participating in the educational efforts.
  • The board, administration, and/or constituency denigrated the status and role of teachers.
  • The values of the board, administration, and constituency emphasized vocational training over education.
  • Administrations were disruptive and dysfunctional

There were administrations that were competent, involved, and supportive of their teachers.  But a sad aspect of teachers we encountered was ones who had long careers in teaching and had earned recognition for their effective work, but who said, given the student attitudes they encountered, would not go into teaching in today's social climate. Their complaint was that the they had no support in dealing with the discipline and classroom management problems they encountered.  A man who had gained national recognition as a guidance counselor told us that teachers can endure the belligerence and disrespect of students only so long and eventually their own psychic survival, not delivering education, becomes their goal. 

The discussion and proposals for improving education all deal with citing teachers as the source of problems, and the attitude that they are bonded servants who need constant and detailed supervision has returned as the way society chooses to regard teachers.  

All of the proposals for improving education focus on teachers and holding them accountable and providing for discarding them if they don't measure up to someone's evaluation scheme.  None of the proposals deal with the matters of student attitude and discipline, with the attitudes of the communities that students bring into the classrooms with them.  No proposals are put forth to evaluate the school boards and the administrations that presume to evaluate the competence and effectiveness of teachers.

This is what the Chicago teachers want fixed.  They realize that effective teaching requires community support and knowledgeable and competent leadership.  They don't want to be designated the sacrificial goats for the the problems of school systems of which they are only a part.  Any plans to improve education will have to hold school boards and administrations and the parents of students equally accountable for their performance in the classroom. 

The video of school bus monitor Karen Klein being abused by middle school boys was played throughout the world, but there was almost no commentary or recognition that what Ms. Klein endured was something that teachers confront every day.  All the proposals to improve education deal with holding teachers accountable, but the real question is who should be held accountable for the attitudes and behavior displayed by these children?


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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States