Saturday, June 07, 2008

Teachers cannot teach if students refuse to learn and response

June 4, 2008

Teachers cannot teach if students refuse to learn

Latoya Manon
Guest essayist

Seemingly, many people who are not teachers think they could do a better job
than most teachers.

Everyone has gone to school and has had teachers, so how hard could it be to
teach? Well, I would like to give you an opportunity to walk in our shoes by
posing some questions that we teachers often deal with:

* What would you do if all you have ever wanted to do is teach, but you
find yourself doing mostly test prep?

* What would you do if you had to dip into your personal budget to buy
school supplies for students who refused to come to class with those
supplies? Never mind that their brand-new shoes probably cost more than your
entire outfit.

* What would you do if you had planned a wonderful lesson, but more than
half of your class failed to show up for no particular reason at all? Do you
teach that lesson to those in class and then teach it over and over so the
other kids get caught up? (Remember, you don't want to leave anyone behind.)

* What would do if you held after-school and/or Saturday extra-help
sessions and no one showed up even after you called homes, sent letters and
offered extra credit for those attending? Remember, you have to get as many
students as you can to pass the Regents exams or New York state will say
you're an ineffective teacher.

* What would you do if you had a student on the verge of dropping out or
refusing to do any work because he felt that his teacher didn't care about
him, and refused to see that his lack of effort and his disrespect for
people and rules were actually the issue? "My teacher doesn't like me" was
an unacceptable excuse for failure in my home.

* What would you do if sports became more important to your students than
reading, writing or thinking?

* What would you do if you called parents to notify them of their child's
belligerent behavior and they responded, "Well, you must have done something
to him because Sam doesn't just cuss people out for no reason"?

* What would you do if parents told you not to call them anymore about
their children, or even hung up on you?

* How do you teach pupils who want to learn while making sure that you
don't leave behind those who don't want to learn?

* How do you teach students to be respectful and responsible adults and
positive contributors to society when bureaucracy has made it acceptable to
be less than that? You can't hold students accountable for lost books,
missed assignments or bad behavior because, as some would say, "They are
poor; they don't know any better."

* What would you do if a student often slept in your class because she had
to watch siblings or her own children all night, or maybe just hung out and
went to bed very late? Remember, detention is not an option because students
may play a sport after school or they might have more important things to do
than stay for detention.

* What would you do if you knew students were graduating without being
ready for college or having any alternative plan?

* What would you do if a student threatened you with bodily harm but
suspension was no longer an option because the district was trying to keep a
lid on suspension numbers?

* What would you do if you wanted to spend time with your family but you
had to plan lessons, grade papers, assist in school events, etc.? Your day
doesn't end when the bell rings.

Many of you may have the answers to these questions - and I challenge the
community, corporations and parents to take a more active role in the
schools and in the lives of children and young adult students. Everyone has
something to offer that may change the life of a child or young adult.

I am a graduate of the City School District where I now teach, and I am also
a parent of a ninth-grader in the CSD - and it is obvious that something has
gone terribly wrong. Our kids are learning how to shortchange themselves
from a flawed system that refuses to make them accountable and promotes
mediocrity. How can we expect young people to become productive contributors
to society if we refuse to give them the basic tools they need?

Parenting doesn't stop once your child goes to school. However, the sad part
is that even if the community, schools and parents work together, if the
student refuses to see that he or she has to take an active role in
learning, then change will be difficult. Whether they believe it or not,
students have to be vested in their own education. They have to want to
learn and to better themselves.

Manon is a teacher in the City School District.

Carolyn Eubanks responds:

Part 1

Yes, teaching is difficult, sometimes extremely so.

The DOE, or its equivalent in other cities, makes teaching difficult. The DOE also makes learning difficult. Even as teachers become frustrated so do parents and students.

What are some of the real problems in the public schools? Latoya Manon's essay touched on one of them:constant test prep. But she was too busy blaming parents and students to look at the major causes of the problems.

Test prep is a problem. It means that teachers must "teach to the test" rather than teach for real learning. There is no time to go "off on a side topic" that might be as important as, or more important than, any of the topics on the test. I still remember receiving a file letter for "wasting class time" talking about racism even though the class discussion had followed a fight in the school between AfricanAmerican and Latino students. Oh, and just in case you wondered, no student had complained about the discussion. Of course, this topic would have been considered "inappropriate" by the DOE even if it had not taken from test prep time.

The necessity for teachers to buy supplies was mentioned. I have found that most of the money I have spent buying supplies was spent buying things that the school should have supplied: decent books and other educational materials because the DOE spent money buying useless books (for math classes terrible Prentice Hall texts) or simply bought no books. Now that I am retired, I am helping with tutoring in a community center and I find that many, if not most, students do not have textbooks at all. This means that teachers must constantly make worksheets for their students and that students have no books to use when they need help in doing their work. When I was a student, I attended school in a fairly poor rural district but at least we had textbooks. This is just one example of the lack of importance NYC or any government in this country now places on the education of working class students.

More and more charter schools are being created and voucher systems are being pushed to take support and resources from the public schools. At the same time the DOE is making it harder for parents to register their children for the "better" schools in the City. Now parents must register at Tweed, not at the local school, if they want their children to attend a specific school. How many, and which, parents can take a day to do this or even know how to work their way through the bureaucracy? Could this possibly be one more way to guarantee that the "right" students get into these schools?

Mini-schools are being created to destroy existing large schools. This does at least three things: It divides teachers into many small union chapters, instead of leaving them in fewer but larger and stronger chapters. This makes it harder for teachers to fight back effectively against the DOE. The creation of mini-schools, especially those that can in reality choose their students, also leaves students who do not apply to or are not accepted by mini-schools crammed into the few remaining large schools. Third the creation of mini-schools allows the DOE to hide its failures. When a large school of a few thousand students fails, it is very visible. It is impossible for the DOE to hide. But when a small mini-school fails, the DOE can simply dissolve it and give it a new name. Then there is no record of a failing school.

Classes are large even as schools are becoming smaller. This means more administrators and fewer teachers. All of us know that, no matter how good a teacher you are, you can't teach a huge class as well as you can teach a small class. In fact, it is interesting that Bloomberg and the other businessmen and politicians who tell us that class size is not important send their children to private schools where class size is around a dozen students or fewer. But, when talking about public schools where working class students study, they suddenly don't consider class size to be an issue.

Manon speaks about accountability, specifically about holding students accountable. The real lack of accountability is at the top, not on the part of students. The fact is that big business and the major politicians are not held accountable for their attacks on the working class, especially on working class youth. Those who run this city and country have no desire for a decent education or life for our children. Our children are seen as cannon fodder for the ruling class's wars and as future low-wage workers. Yes, they need well trained workers to produce and use technological weapons and tools. But for the rest of our youth the politicians and businessmen have no such plans. Cannon fodder does not need to be educated. In fact real education is dangerous. The last thing that big business and their politicians (whether McCain, Obama, Clinton or any other) want is a thinking working class that will organize and fight back.

Part 2 of my response will deal with the division between teachers and students.



Anonymous said...

thanks for posting this . it was really helpful to a paper i was writing

Anonymous said...

I have taught for several years at a midwestern 2-year college. My colleauges are very knowledgable and kind. For the most part, I have enjoyed the students. However, I have noticed that "19 is the new 11." Students refuse to attend class, buy the books, participate when they do show up, or turn in work on time. The work they do finally turn in is often plagiarism of wikipedia. Then they expect an "A" just because their parents paid for them to take the class. What ever happened to the view that the teacher makes demands and students struggle to fulfill them?

Anonymous said...


Jake said...

I don't think there is anything wrong with "teaching for the test" in principle, as long as the test is well-designed. For instance, there is nothing that precludes the test from having students write about racism, which would then render a classroom discussion about race issues more "test-relevant."

Anonymous said...

Teachers you chose to be a teacher! No one made you do it. Since you are unhappy then another line of work! Also stop blameing everyone else. Some of you can not teach and you want to blame everyone else!!

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I am still a high school student who is interested in becoming a teacher. I see both sides of the argument to be truthful. Coming from a working class family as was said it is harder for me to continue my education after high school. As for both articles they are both right in their own ways. Our government and education system is cracked and no one wants to even notice it. I think everyone has their views on it but I think most of us like to look through Rose colored glasses when looking at some of the things our government and public schools are doing.