8 Bad Days and Counting

1. Some kids are beyond reach.  Discuss.

2. No kid is beyond reach, but schools can’t do it alone and our society isn’t committed to doing everything it would take to truly help these kids, so for all intents and purposes, from the point of view of the school, they are beyond reach.  Discuss.

3.  All kids are within reach.  Failure to reach these students is failure of the imagination and commitment of the school administration, staff, and classroom teachers.  Discuss.

4. We’re rattling around in a box of our own making.  How to get out?  Time to blast this thing wide open with some new ideas.  What’s old is working so-so but not well.  Where can I get a paradigm shift?  Discuss.

5. Don’t worry about what you can’t control.  School culture is bigger than one classroom or hallway.  Children have baggage.  Discuss.

6. When you stop rattling and look at the box, you see the cracks in the walls.  Investment.  What have we done to invest the 65-75% of kids who don’t stand out in any major way, behaviorally or academically?  The swing voters, so to speak.  Is there a place in our school for more than behaviorism?  What about a little of this?  Do we have goals that speak to children?  Do they have goals?  Yeah, sure, we set goals, but do they have any power?

7.  Looking at the cracks in the box, again: Everyone talks a good game about “teaching kids to be good people” but what does it all add up to?  What does that teaching look like?  Is it happening in advisory?  I basically told my advisees today that they are hypocrites, who set nice-sounding little goals and talk about why it’s important not to be bullies, but then on the way out, trip someone intentionally. (I’m not feeling very nice this week).  They didn’t disagree.  When does the touchy-feely become real?  Cross that fuzzy boundary and start to mean something?  And why is it that when someone suggested to someone more important than me that we get some professional development on this stuff, on peer mediation, on running really meaningful advisories, the response was: no one should have to teach you how to care.  Oh.  Well then.  But just because you can keep a classroom of kids more-or-less safe and on-task doesn’t mean you know how to do the longer-term work that reduces rather than just suppresses the violence.  What does it mean, teaching kids to be better people?  Show me that.  Show me that when you’re on a mean block with kids whose parents occasionally say things like, I can’t help him anymore, I’m just waiting for them to take him away from me.  He’s ELEVEN.  He’s the sweetest child on Earth.  What a thing to hear from your mother.

8. My grades are due.  I have to work on that instead of this.  Anyway, I’m a little stuck.  It feels like a puzzle, something to be unraveled.  If you crack this code, if you figure out how to break through to the kids, all of them, or most of them all the time and the others most of the time, the world is yours.  Anything can happen.  But I’m stuck on this side of the code, I can’t see my way through it, resources are scarce, support is there but only for certain kinds of solutions which are a piece of the puzzle but not, in my mind, the solution.  I’m supposed to be a leader: what next?

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7 Comments

Filed under education, New York, teaching

7 responses to “8 Bad Days and Counting

  1. See, this is why I have to try NOT to think too much about this job–my head will explode!

    Re: reachable–I have come to the conclusion that some kids are indeed beyond our reach, but that goes into the home situation. I’ve got a couple in particular that I’m thinking about–if there’s no adult supervision/support at home, and the child is secretive/manipulative enough, there’s nothing a teacher can say to push that child into doing the right thing. Which means it’s not really the kid’s fault, but it remains that he/she’s not reachable.

    –About teaching to care, I think there absolutely are holes–other rooms, other places, all of life outside school. I suppose one can’t give up on it completely, but I truly doubt it would have tangible effects.

    Although it seems to work in some places/schools, but I want to say they’re charter schools and/or the suburbs?

    –Stupid grades. I hate doing them, it feels pointless. I always feel alternately too lenient and too harsh. But I have to remind myself that for the most part it doesn’t even matter. The stupid tests are the only things that matter.

  2. Diane

    Don’t give up.
    Anyone with as much passion as you have will definitely break through to the other side as you put it. Yes, there is a lot of stupidity in the educational system, more than most people can imagine let alone tolerate. It’s a jungle. And sometimes it’s difficult to tolerate the amount of frustration one feels.

    How about seeing 9th graders who can barely read? How could years of elementary school and middle school teachers, counselors, parents have allowed them to get to this point? What were they thinking? How will this poor child take care of himself, how will these poor ignorant, incapable children take care of themselves, let alone become part of our democracy and workforce? The imperative is enormous to make sure kids can read, write, and reason. Think! Understand! See!

    Keep at it. Don’t worry about the grades. Pretty soon you’ll find a way to grade that makes sense to you and feels authentic. And your students will respond by wanting to measure up to your standards.

    Ask yourself, what do I want these kids to be able to do when they leave my classroom? Have this discussion with your fellow teachers. What do we want these students to be able to do? What do we want for these students?

    Although it’s regrettable to say the least that it’s come to this, this is what we have, this is where we’re starting, so this is what we must deal with. And the sooner we accept our situation and accept the imperative as a gift of grace, the sooner the answers will come to help us deal and succeed at what we’re doing.

    Blessings and best wishes to you.

  3. ms. v

    oh, I guess it was a little unclear… it’s not the grades that bother me, it’s that I have to be thinking about grades right now when behavioral stuff is such a larger issue.

  4. 15 more years

    Some kids are unreachable- I have one right now, he probably won’t graduate, mom has been up on several occasions (I think mom is unreachable as well). In October, she claimed we “weren’t motivating him”. In February she said “he’s had a cold for a month”. Now she says, “I’ve been here before and nothing has changed”. The kid won’t even do current work, let alone make up missing work. The other day, he handed in a folded up lab report (which happened to be identical to another student’s- and was filled with righteous indignation when I called him on it).

    Sometimes you can’t change the world.

    Grades- HA! We got the Scantron sheets yesterday, and they’re due Monday at 8AM.

  5. “And why is it that when someone suggested to someone more important than me that we get some professional development on this stuff, on peer mediation, on running really meaningful advisories, the response was: no one should have to teach you how to care. Oh. Well then. But just because you can keep a classroom of kids more-or-less safe and on-task doesn’t mean you know how to do the longer-term work that reduces rather than just suppresses the violence. What does it mean, teaching kids to be better people? Show me that. Show me that when you’re on a mean block with kids whose parents occasionally say things like, I can’t help him anymore, I’m just waiting for them to take him away from me. He’s ELEVEN. He’s the sweetest child on Earth. What a thing to hear from your mother.”

    I totally agree with you, and I believe that “advisory” is a way to exploit us as teachers. Really advisories SHOULD BE RUN BY COUNSELORS and SOCIAL WORKERS. Yes, there are ways to reach these kids, and professional standards and strategies for doing…social workers and counselors learn about them. Clearly our students have emotional needs, and they need the emotional support that advisory can provide. But we are not trained to do this, and asking us to could be dangerous. If this is something that is expected, then we owe it to the kids to get the kind of training we need.

    You sort of hit a sore spot with me. Maybe this is because I have never been as good of an advisory teacher as I wanted. Ironically, all the teachers I know who are really good advisory teachers were R.A.’s in college or have experience as camp counselors. They have the kind of training you and I seek.

  6. Ivory

    These problems are not ones that can be “solved.” They can only be pondered and thought about. Less satisfying than completing a science experiment but this isn’t a straightforward thing. That you are asking the questions means you’re on the right track.

  7. Lsquared

    Ms Frizzle said “I basically told my advisees today that they are hypocrites, who set nice-sounding little goals and talk about why it’s important not to be bullies, but then on the way out, trip someone intentionally. (I’m not feeling very nice this week). They didn’t disagree.”

    And Ivory said “Less satisfying than completing a science experiment but this isn’t a straightforward thing”

    So, the thing that comes to my mind is: Want to try and replicate an experiment? In the Mathematics Teacher (NCTM magazine) a couple of months ago, there was a report of an experiment done in a math class to see what group work really looked like. They just took video of groups working together over several weeks, and coded how many times various students were excluded. After they were part way done, they showed some of the video to the class to show them what patterns they were seeing, and how people were being included or not (you’ll be surprised, or not, that the lower end kids that everyone claimed never said anything, tried to say lots of things and were consistently cut off). After seeing themselves and/or their classmates on video, they discussed it, and they kept taping for another few weeks. The outcome in this class of high school math students was that showing the students the video changed the group dynamics for the better.

    Would it work with middle school kids? Maybe…?

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