Saturday, January 19, 2013

Just Imagine

     Just imagine you are a teacher in a school where many families live below the poverty level. Transiency is high, and some students leave to go to another nearby school and then return in the same year or very next year as evictions, arrests, and relationship issues tear up the homes and families- or as an increased focus on a family raised by concerns in school puts them on the move once again.

     Just imagine that the students coming out of these situations (as difficult as it is for them to succeed within the structure of the regular classroom and the school day) feel that the school, their classroom, classmates, teacher, the daily routine...that these things are the security in their lives; that this is where they feel the most loved even. Imagine that the bulk of their lives has been spent surrounded by poor choices and poor models of behavior, language and education outcomes. Imagine that, as the teacher, you see these kids off for Christmas vacation and the summer break and many won't let go of the hug: they are in no hurry to go home.

     Not surprisingly, these students often don't conform to behavior expectations and have difficulty meeting academic goals. For teachers, professional development over the past couple decades had morphed with society to an increased focus on behavior management-even going so far to give teachers a "heads up" on A.R.T. (Aggression Replacement Training) as a possible skill-set for handling difficult kids. This intervention/training is one used by police officers, in prisons, juvenile facilities...apparently our classroom teachers are now expected to fulfill the roles of arresting and corrections officers. Now professional development time is more likely to be consumed with compliance and survival within an accountability model that ties the value of teachers to the academic progress of students on standardized tests.

     Despite the fact that this reform movement is pushed by people who don't want school to be standard or equitable (they preach "choice"), don't expect the economy to be equitable (they preach "competition"), they want to pretend that standards and benchmarks are the way to enforce progress on the back-end, as opposed to supporting success on the front end. It's a convenient way to ignore the obligation to promote success (because it may cost something), while profiting from policy-making that punishes the lack of success. 

     As struggling districts have fought to operate under the force of increasing mandates and dwindling budgets, students are less likely to receive the supplemental or support services that they could benefit from. That forces the regular classroom teacher to spend instructional time addressing their students' parental/social/behavior/physical needs in order to get to the academic charge. The number of roles and the bulk of their responsibilities outside of the academic expectations is ever-increasing.

     It's not that this multi-role reality didn't always exist. There have always been students needing the teacher's gift to be all these things at different times for different reasons. But the recent reform movement, and the belief that standardized tests can properly or fairly determine the value of teachers (to a school, student, or society) is the most preposterous and blatantly disingenuous proposition possible. The reality everyone understands, reformers included, is that these burdens are continually increasing-especially in areas when the free market and "trickle down" economic practice have failed communities.

Just imagine that, if instead of trying to violate our economy and our public institutions, lobbyists, corporations and politicians got behind the job of promoting true success the way teachers in public schools try to do every day.
Critical as reformers are of public education, they sidestep with the "no excuses" mantra the undeniable correlation between poverty, domestic stability, family support/experiences and academic success. The reason for this is clear: advocating for more equitable economic policy would not get you invited to those fancy political/lobbying parties. It's much easier to pretend that if teachers just taught harder, everyone would be wealthy and successful.

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