Monday, June 11, 2007

The children who are really being left behind

Ms. Cornelius had this post about this article by Tammy McCartney, a frustrated teacher who is leaving the profession. Here is the part of the article that most grabbed me:

Most of the students want to learn or at least want to be successful, but there are five who have no interest in furthering their education. These students talk while the teacher is talking, throw things when her back is turned and sometimes when it isn't. They sing, dance, roam the classroom, try to trip one another, horseplay and generally make it difficult to conduct class in an orderly manner. In fact, these behaviors make it difficult for a teacher to conduct class at all.

Far from being the typical class-clowning of yesteryear, these behaviors are malicious and often willfully disrespectful. From the beginning of the year, Ms. Smith has been contacting their parents, assigning detention, referring them for in-school suspension, discussing their status with principals and counselors, yelling and basically doing everything she can to contain these students. Nothing works.

When these students fail the tests and are "left behind," whose fault is it? When a wayward student injures another with horseplay, who gets sued? There are no behavioral consequences that matter for many of today's students and there are some parents who do not have the ability or the desire to discipline their children; they simply cannot or will not parent.

If this doesn't show the necessity for giving the teachers the authority to remove disruptive kids from their classrooms--not just for the day, but for at least the semester, I don't know what does. I left a comment saying something like that on Ms. Cornelius's site, but it never got published. I don't know if it was a case of Fermoyle computer ineptitude (always a likely possibility), or if Ms. Cornelius didn't see it or just didn't like it. I do realize that when I post and comment on this subject, some people think I've got a bit of Nazi in me, but I plead non-guilty.

Ms. McCartney's article is titled "Teachers Don't Leave Kids Behind," and she makes the point that no teacher should be blamed for a failure to educate the five troublemakers in her story. But it's not those five that we should worry about; it's the other kids, the ones Ms. McCartney says "want to learn, or at least want to be successful." They are the ones we should be concerned about, and they are being left behind, too.

I have seen classroom situations like the one that Ms. McCartney describes--mercifully, not very often. When you have that many really disruptive kids, learning is just about impossible for everyone. The teacher is placed into an impossible situation. All of those tactics that teacher was trying--contacting their parents, assigning detention, referring them for in-school suspension, discussing their status with principals and counselors, yelling and basically doing everything she can to contain these students--have absolutely no effect on students like that. I have no doubt that the teacher being described in Ms. McCartney's piece is doing her best. I completely agree with Ms. McCartney's point that she is not the one leaving anyone behind.

Schools in America need to do the things we are capable of doing and stop beating our heads against the wall trying to do the things we're not. There are some things we can't do. We can't educate kids who have no desire to be educated, and we can't educate kids who show up every day to school with the sole purpose of bringing attention to themselves by disrupting their classes. We can educate kids who want to be educated, but only if we free them from others who make learning impossible. I think it's about time we do that. Until courts, Congress, and state legislatures make it possible for us to do that, they are the ones who need to take a good look in the mirror when ever they talk about "leaving children behind."


Blogger Lee said...

Dennis... all it takes is a school board with the will power to arrange alternative sites for these kids... and then to expel those in the middle and secondary grades who won't follow the alternative school rules.

I enjoyed working in just such a district for 30 years. The board had the willpower above for the last 25 of those years.

I don't think the courts, congress and the state legislatures are to blame as much as local leadership. Sure, some parents of ESE kids will play the rules (blame congress), but in reality we were able to remove most of these kids when necessary.

6/11/2007 3:09 PM  
Blogger Law and Order Teacher said...

We all struggle with these type of students. The most frustrating thing about this situation is that the students who are cheated are the ones who want to do the right thing and can't because we spend too much time trying to control the uncontrollable students. I agree that someone in charge must finally seize the moment and do something about furnishing alternative schools for students who refuse, I didn't say can't, conform to the rules. Parents are at the root of the problem, but if they refuse to parent, the people in charge have to protect the interests of the students who want to learn. Society as a whole provides jails for those who refuse to conform to societal norms. Schools should reflect society and provide for separation of those recalcitrants from students who want to succeed. Any system that cheats the many because of the few is broken.

6/11/2007 5:32 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

L&OT, it sounds like you and I are soulmates on this one.

Lee, what can I say? I'm impressed!

6/11/2007 5:35 PM  
Anonymous nikto said...

I teach in a Los Angeles high school, and this post described my situation exactly--Except I have more like 15-20 chronic "disrupters" in at least 2 of my classes.

Out-of-classroom personnel are largely useless and apathetic (indeed, many of them FLED the classroom due to the awful conditions themselves).

In addition, power-hungry, or authoritarian-obsessed administrators can "nail" any teacher they want, simply by "holding them accountable" for the impossible-to-manage behavior of their worst students, which they MUST teach.

Many teachers live in fear of this.

I have taught for 26 years (in L.A.), and things are MUCH worse than they have ever been.

Some days (like today) I come home absolutely despondent--WHY? Because I CARE!

The system SUCKS!!!!!

And cooperative students are the biggest victims (far more than I).

I hate to see the good students cheated as they are these days under these conditions.
But it just goes on & on & on.

My ego has been crushed down
to zero.

If I stopped caring, I'd feel a lot better about things---Like some of the seemingly carefree deans and administrators I see (public education's "ruling class").

But, alas, I do not know how to
stop caring!

A little apathy could save my life about now.

But I wasn't raised to be apathetic!

6/11/2007 10:56 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Nitko, I don't know how you do it. When I've had one class like that, it tended to ruin my day. I'd actually get headaches just thinking about the class. As you indicated, I often felt humiliated at the end of the hour that I had the class, and I'd wonder what the hell I was doing wrong.

I once heard a talking head on TV say that he'd like to go into the inner-cities and fire the teachers there. I think people like you deserve medals, not abuse from idiots like that. I hope you can hang in there. Like I said, I don't know how you do it.

6/12/2007 3:07 AM  
Anonymous nikto said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Dennis.
It helps.

You've got a great Blog, by the way. Good work!

I have an edublog I haven't posted on in many months, but I have a post I am quite proud of called,
"Education Is Not A Haircut".

I'd like to share it with you, if that's OK. Here it is:

Once again, thank you for your
kind words.

Don (nikto)

6/12/2007 11:35 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Don, I just read the post, and I thought it was outstanding. For most of it, I thought I was reading my own thoughts. I think you said very eloquently what a lot of us feel. With the experiences you've had, I'd love to see you write a book.

6/12/2007 1:32 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

I keep wondering when the parents of the good kids who are trying to learn will start raising a ruckus about the fact that these malcontents are "stealing" their children's education? If these parents got vocal, I think things would change. As it is, I'm glad I work in a district that allows us some alternatives to putting up with these theives. It's not perfect, but it's certainly better than some others.

6/15/2007 9:33 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mrs. Bluebird, you're probably right, but I think very few parents understand how disruptive some kids can be, how powerless teachers are to deal with them, and how much this affects their own kids' education.

6/15/2007 5:00 PM  

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