As I was posting here the other day, I thought about why I named my blog, this blog, “The Elastic Scholastic.” I remembered, that as a new teacher, in year three, I started a blog by the same name. I was struggling in an inner city school that was underfunded, understaffed and underachieving. I was passionate and furious. I wanted an outlet.
I couldn’t remember how to log in to the old blog, but I Googled and found it online still. Out there in the world. I reread what I wrote. I believe it today just as much as I did back then. Well, the gist of anyhow. I now have a better understanding of how the hefty penalty for speeding disproportionately affects those in poverty (a reference in the post will make this more clear.) I now realize that I probably had closer to 50% of it wrong back then. That 20% quote was way off and I know that now due to the benefits of experience. I also have a much better understanding of how the educational (industrial complex?) system, we’ll call it a system, tracks certain kids, specifically minorities – specifically CERTAIN minorities – and students from poverty into jobs. Tracking. It is an ugly and heated word. I get all of these things better.
Either way, I felt it worth reposting. The gist is that teachers are still scared. This has only gotten worse with the new evaluation measures tied to student growth. We SHOULD be held responsible for our kids learning. Yet, for some reason, this makes teachers feel backed into a corner. They default to poor practices. They drill and kill until the kids are so disengaged, that we are lucky if we can wake them up in class. So, my gist stands. I also still agree that we need to provide kids with more options. I heard Howard Fuller say “I don’t know how you tell children to reach for the stars when you’re pointing them to the ground.” And I believe this. How do we tell students that THEY can do anything they want, but not college. Not that. But it comes back to choice. How do we provide the choices, support the choices without forcing the choices on certain kids? I know as little today as I did back then as to how to fix that problem
I’ve been pondering and reflecting on my experiences today and it lead me to the realization of what I’m about to say. So, you may want to lean a little closer, because, well, I’m whispering this. We, teachers, refuse to acknowledge the harsh reality of what I am about to say. Listen up.
There are mediocre teachers.
Think about it. Gasp collectively with me. Mediocre teachers? Nooooo…….no…..now breathe and regroup.
Why are we, as a group, trying so hard to hide this truth? After all, mediocrity is everywhere. The average grade is a “C”. There are mediocre auto mechanics (down near the bottom of the pay scale.) There are mediocre presidents (up at the top of the power scale)….and in every profession in between. Kathy Griffin wouldn’t have a job if there wasn’t room for mediocrity in every career.
This then begs the question, why are teachers so scared to admit publicly that Ms. Jones in room 301 has simply lost her flare for inspiring young minds to greatness?
This isn’t rhetorical. I want answers. I am going to pontificate on why I happen to think we gossip amongst ourselves but refuse to acknowledge it in the midst of non-teachers…but, shoot, I’m sure someone out there knows better than I do. There must be research on this kind of thing, right?
Here is my take….and you can then decide on your own, whether to take it or leave it.
If we admit that not all teachers are fantastic, if we admit that not all teachers actually care, if we admit that not all teachers have a clue about HOW to teach, then we open ourselves up for a collective blame session, where by all teachers are shamed and blamed for failing schools and lower achieving students. Oh no, fault wouldn’t just fall on dear, sweet, Ms. Jones….we would all feel slightly guilty for her failure and it would then open up our own practices for scrutiny. And as a teacher who tries to do her best 100% of the time (and believes that she probably only fails at it about 20% of the time), go ahead and look. I have nothing to hide. It is kind of like the speeding laws passed with hefty fines, well in the $1000’s for speeding. People threw their arms up at the absurdity of the fine. In reality, the math adds up perfectly: if you don’t speed, you never are faced with the hefty fine. But because in reality, politicians are just pandering for votes, they repealed the law and settled for mediocrity.
So, back to why we hush-hush about the horrible teachers who inhabit our school space. The pack mentality. We want to protect our own, because we know Ms. Jones isn’t alone. It is also Ms. Harris, Ms. Johnson and Mr. Brown who aren’t doing what they need to do on the daily. And maybe those people are our friends. And we don’t want them to lose their jobs. So instead, we hide behind tenure, because it makes us all safe “just in case” we, too, lose the passion of our idealistic youth. We just hope in the meantime that ole’ Ms. Jones doesn’t accidentally permanently scar a kid for life.
Now, this sounds a lot to my reader that I’m blaming the teacher and not placing any responsibility on the kid. Come on….I know my reader knows me better than this. There are more than enough mediocre kids in every school setting from sea to shining sea. And shouldn’t there be? Not everyone is Albert Einstein. I surely wasn’t and I turned out okay (I think so and so does my mom. It must be true.) It isn’t pigeonholing kids into “bad jobs.” Although, it might be placing a hierarchal system of value on jobs that devalues manual labor and makes kids feel like a “lesser” disenfranchised member of society for being interested in or pursuing one of these jobs. And couldn’t the argument be made that erroneously assuming all kids are college bound creates an equally large gaping hole to push them into that leaves kids feeling inadequate when they want to pursue a job that doesn’t require a college education? So, the kids that go this path are being equally bullied into feelings of inadequacy and devaluation of their worth from the world, their teachers, and their parents. Wow. Good job us.
In the end, shouldn’t it be about choice? The kids get to make choice. Tell their parents to hush it up. We need to give kids the choices and we need to create a culture that tells kids they have the first 6-8 years of their education to decide if they want to stay in it. By the end of 8th grade, a kid should HAVE to make the choice towards the next step. Either pursue education or pursue an alternative education. Teachers, counselors, principals….we shouldn’t have our hands in that mix; too many opportunities for corruption and profiling. Yet, we need to create a culture nationwide whereby kids know we all support their decision to become a contributing member of society…no matter what job that is. We need to revalue all the jobs in this country.
Now hold your horses, because I hear the collective groans from your side of the screen. I get that the majority of people who hold the lower end jobs are minorities and immigrant families. And I equally understand where giving these choices would or could lead to an even higher disproportionate number of minority people being stuffed into these types of jobs. I don’t know how to fix that problem other than to come full circle back to my original point. Crappy teachers. They are in every school, in every district, every state…and so on…
Let’s squash them. Let’s allow our practices to be scrutinized. Remove tenure (I can’t believe I’m saying that. I may be hyperventilating.) and finally allow principals the power to remove teachers who are not performing their job duties up to par. Better teachers, higher standards, more learning, more kids loving education as much as they did when they were five. Let’s set the bar higher, but let’s start with the damn teachers.
I’m not for mediocrity. It, in fact, drives me nuts.
If both teachers and students are willing to make the change, we might begin to see some real change. And if you aren’t on board….well, let me quote my old Italian grams:
“Shit or get off the pot.”