0039: Bullying, Helplessness, and a Cycle of Crushing Pain
Teaching, being a humanist profession if attended to correctly, puts you in direct and often harsh contact with the gamut of human emotions. It can get a little heavy. Kids, teachers, people are up and down. There are moments that are wonderful and rich, and others that scrape the edges of darkness. There is no moment more painful and confusing than watching someone wretch and cry over something that is so out of their control. Bullying is a bad word and a buzz word. It’s easy to become numb to it. We sit through professional developments about the subject, most of them vaguely tell us that bullying is bad, and then they spout of some suicide statistics. We are to “deal with bullies”, but how? They bully, we talk to them. We send them to the office. They get suspended, punished, or let go. They enter the cogs of punitive discipline while keeping up with their chronic victimization of others. We punish the bullies without dealing with the genesis of their behavior. And, then the group-think. A kid sparks a fire and the next thing you know you have a class of kids or an entire school against one person, or so it seems.
Finally, the victim. Today the victim has a clear and tearful face. She’s been harassed since she got to this school about being “poor”. The majority of the kids here receive free lunch. The school is a Title I school. The area is poor. But, there’s that one kid who stands out. They don’t have the nice clothes and the shoes. The family has other pressing priorities. She’s had enough. One comment about her shoes resulted in a desperate scream of “leave me alone” and out the door to violently breakdown on the sidewalk. The class laughed, and she was alone. I walked out behind her and listened through mumbles and tears— about lost it myself. I was helpless except to listen to her and share with her my delight in who she is. But, that does not change the fact that she feels entirely alone. She says she has no one except her mom. She was the victim of the day on the wheel of outcasts that are defined in classrooms. I’m baffled today. I’m baffled every time it has happened to anyone.
What to do? Listen?
0037: Ode to Standardization and Guerilla #Teaching
#humanity #edchat #testocracy #revolution
I spend a lot of time bitching about standardized tests. They’ve done a terrible thing to our society and our educational system. They’ve created students who think in terms of multiple choice and think no. 2 pencils are tools for performing strange religious ceremonies. They have turned teachers into prison wardens who speak only in terms of a, b, c, or d and the process of elimination. They’ve turned writing into the act of selecting the best passage with the fewest errors, rather than actually writing to find out what one thinks. Standardized tests are our keys into colleges, graduate schools, and many jobs. We all think in terms of a, b, c, and d. If you don’t then you are separate. You will never have access. You will be damned! Damned to what? A thoughtful and peaceful existence?
All of this is quite dystopian and chilling, but what can we do? We could all refuse to give them. Maybe no one shows up on testing day. No one. Or maybe teachers show up and students sit in the parking lots. Maybe someone breaks in and eliminates the tests. Guerilla test forces pop up in school districts across the country, and end corporate testing. It would be nice. But, what can we do as teachers who are chained to the assembly line?
I submit that we teach around the test. Let’s just take a year, and really teach. Teach your subject passionately throwing caution to the pacing guide. Teach at a pace where your students can really learn. On top of that, help them learn to think, and question, and reason. Present the test as a problem, for a problem-based learning activity. We, the class, have this monster of a test before us, that serves to dehumanized all of us. How can we beat it? Let that be the starting point. Standardized testing is a brutal reality of our budding society today. We have to find ways to interrupt the consequences of testing and teaching to the test while still meeting our impossible “quotas”. We’re working hard to cultivate people, not test takers. We have to help our kids transcend their scores of minimal, basic, proficient, and advanced and become real people with faces. Sure, pass the test, but, in our souls and hearts we must always say: fuck the test. I am not a score. I am a human.
0005: We don’t need a tune-up— we need a brand new car
In talking with teachers, administrators, and especially janitors (who hear and see all) the consensus is that the system is broken. I’m not hearing much positive talk; only cynical, false positive talk. Everyone is overwhelmed. We have this problem of motivating and educating a mass of people, but no one is trusted to do it. Building administrators are not trusted by district administrators; teachers are not trusted by building admins; students aren’t trusted. And, the lack of trust goes back to the top. Rather than working as a team toward the well-being of those who are forced into the leviathan that is public education, the body is fighting and destroying itself. Teachers want to leave, so do students, and I’ve rarely met a principal who hasn’t been beat down a bit. Education seems to lack altruism. I don’t know if that’s the way to put. I guess I perceive(d) public education to be a system designed to help learners become fully productive members of society. But, I see kids leave semi-literate and disheartened. They’re criminalized for not sitting down and paying attention to the boring teacher. The boring teacher is demonized for not inspiring bored, understimulated children with a curriculum and methodology that is 200+ years old. Principals are silently criticized by teachers for not trusting them to be professionals. The cycle is endless, and there is no team. Bureaucracy does not build teams; it makes them impossible to exist. And, it certainly does nothing for communication. Information, excrement, and misunderstanding all roll downhill.
So what would make it better? What does an effective classroom look like? I’ve been in some. I’ve taught some. The best have had an element of technology, and most important students were able to openly interact with each other and with me. Seemingly, the more freedom students are given, the better the class environment. And, the fewer discipline problems. But, when students are treated like numbers and criminals the problems escalate. Problems with behavior, learning, teacher motivation, and so forth. I spoke to a student today who moved from another district. Her school was a violent place with poor academics, but she was in honor classes. Small classes homogeneously grouped by academic ability. She said she always felt challenged, and everyone was focused. Everyone was challenged. She was completely separate from the regular student population. She went to classes with the same small group. They worked constantly as a team, and interacted with their teachers as equals not subordinates. They collaborated. But, is this only possible with small groups of “academically gifted” children. My first year of teaching was in a difficult school that had become the dumping ground for kids who just couldn’t measure up academically or behaviorally. Many of them had criminal records (these were eighth graders), and had established patterns of failure. Within that group I had several small groups of remedial algebra students who were wonderful. They were the “worst kids” in the school, and had records to back those reputations up. The classes were small though. We interacted as peers. It took a few weeks for them to become comfortable with a little freedom, but after we became partners, and no longer enemies, we made great strides. Equally, I’ve had some big classes that functioned the same way. The common denominator was the trust I had in the students. They equally trusted me. I tried to be honest and respectful, and human. If I made a mistake, I apologized. Thinking back, only one of classes had a lot of technology. A few of those classes didn’t even have dry erase boards, just chalkboards. The schools have all been in high poverty areas, some rural and some urban. School should possess elements of freedom, humanity, and relevant material infused into whatever is being learned. And, that should be widespread. It seems that to every one progressive and comfortable teacher there is at least five who are at their wits end. What can be done to help teachers and administrators become more comfortable in there roles? Would schools function better democratically, with every participant as a stakeholder? Could bureaucracy be eliminated or lessened in school districts?