Some of my female colleagues have the bad habit, in my opinion, of calling their students ‘sweetie’, a moniker they claim reflects their affection and regard for these ebullient teens, both male and female. The reason I profoundly disagree with this term, besides being too sugary, is the negative reaction I observe in most adolescent boys; they don’t manifest their inconformity openly, but I can see their pained expression as if saying “Don’t confuse me with a little kid.” Self-esteem often grows and withers during the teen years, depending on the circumstances. The use of such condescending words can only irritate and even damage their self-image.
In some inner city schools, many teachers fear for their life, aware that some of their high school students belong to violent gangs (is there any other kind?) They therefore do their best not to make waves, i.e. not to upset their mean looking and tattooed pupils. Entrance to the schools is blocked by cops and metal detectors, but even then, the bad guys manage to sneak some weapons into the classroom. Of course, education and learning suffer greatly, but even then some students manage to graduate while many others drop out to explore illicit gains. That is one dark side in education; the other one can be called politics and mismanagement, which is the one I plan to discuss in this space.
very young gang members
After reading with great pleasure the various comments posted on the subject of a new teaching system, I felt like keeping the fires going.
Let’s continue this train of thought, changing the usual classroom format, and imagine a series of learning stations manned by educators who, instead of lecturing, would answer questions, counsel, orient, and guide the young people’s progress.
Time for one more post before the scalpel does its work:)
“A youth, when at home, should be filial, and,
abroad, respectful to his elders. He should be earnest and truthful.
He should overflow in love to all, and cultivate the friendship of the
good. When he has time and opportunity, after the performance of these
things, he should employ them in polite studies.”
In the teachers’ lounge in our high school, there is a big sign that has a short and vibrant message: 20 days left! We can do it! Every day, some good and agitated soul changes the fatidic countdown. A layman may wonder at this attitude by teachers and ask why we keep working at a job we dislike so much. One cannot find an equivalent case in the world of business, perhaps because they don’t have two and half months vacation time. The truth is that we love our job (except for a few misguided minds) but the daily demands of catering to hundreds of energetic juvenile human beings are taking a heavy toll on our nervous system.
If one has not had the experience of being in a classroom for 7 hours straight, every day for 200 days, it is difficult to imagine what gargantuan efforts are needed to both control and guide these youngsters toward learning bliss (no sarcasm here; learning means opening up new worlds of knowledge and I can’t imagine a more pleasant activity than to share the discovery with kids and witness the aha moment). A good analogy would be comparing a teacher to the mother or father of a very large family; parents must also be teachers at home although they don’t have the benefit of a long annual rest period. On the positive side, progenitors don’t have to deal with bureaucrats or meddling principals who seem happy to invent more paperwork or unnecessary meetings respectively.
While the national conversation about education would never be the same, stunningly few of the Commission’s recommendations actually have been enacted. Now is not the time for more educational research or reports or commissions. We have enough commonsense ideas, backed by decades of research, to significantly improve American schools. The missing ingredient isn’t even educational at all. It’s political. Too often, state and local leaders have tried to enact reforms of the kind recommended in A Nation at Risk only to be stymied by organized special interests and political inertia. Without vigorous national leadership to improve education, states and local school systems simply cannot overcome the obstacles to making the big changes necessary to significantly improve our nation’s K-12 schools (Wikipedia)
Peter (not his name) is 15, with nary a stubble on his pinkish cheeks, and yet he is already a genius with computers. Some teachers don’t even bother with tech support, a very slow and inefficient service; they interrupt a class and ask for him, the teen who can fix anything electronic, whether hard- or software. The incredible story is that he was diagnosed with a severe learning disability and belongs, ipso facto, to special education. I suspect a touch of autism also, though his assessment doesn’t mention it. After all, aren’t we all a bit autistic, a word that means “love of self?”
A teacher in my school with 18 years of experience has an interesting technique to “enforce” discipline management in her class. Every incoming student has hand-outs on their desk which they must address immediately. No down time, no idle chitchatting before the lesson actually starts and transgressors of this rule are called to order without delay. I have seen other instructors do things differently and suffer the consequences: They sit down at their desk while students are still incoming or they write instructions on the white board with their back turned to the class. Granted, these are high school youngsters who should know how to behave; but a teacher who is not ready to keep them busy from the get go will see their class fall into chaos with frightening speed, especially if the group exceeds 25 teens. It is always much more difficult to recover discipline than to start right away in an orderly fashion.
- Do not pursue with the terrible scourge him who deserves a slight whip.
- Horace, Satires. I. 3. 119.
The recent news regarding the death of a high school football player due to severe physical punishment for arriving late to practice is added to a long list of students who either died or were injured under insensitive coaches. What constitutes punishment for a student, any student, whether athlete or not, is a topic that has not been studied sufficiently by science. As a comparison, I watched the training of an elite military unit which pushes candidates to the limit of their resistance. Sergeants and instructors were very careful to tell each man to drop out if they felt so weak that they might lose consciousness. These soldiers were not being punished; they were trying to qualify for a few spots in a grueling try-out. There was no shame is giving up; not everybody is able to transcend their physical limits. It is a lesson that some coaches apparently haven’t learned. Some of the injured kids were too proud to admit defeat or to tell their instructor that they couldn’t continue.
One of our most important tasks as a special education teacher in a public school is to prepare and conduct an ARD (Acceptance, Dismissal, and Review) meeting. This is where all the crucial information about the student is discussed, approved, or rejected. The attendees are the parents, usually only the mother can be present, a representative for the district, the classroom teacher for that student, a teacher for the career chosen by the teen, and the folder teacher who prepares and presents the material. The ARD will receive the student in high school, follow his/her progress every year, and meet for the last step, graduation. Few parents really understand and take advantage of that meeting to make sure that their son or daughter is receiving all the benefits of special education, a sort of safety net for disabled children.
Dealing with Parents
It is therefore most important to clearly explain all facets of the program; sometimes parents will make impossible demands, as they fail to understand their child’s academic limitations. They may believe that college is the only option for a student who reads at the fourth grade level. They may ask for difficult classes that guarantee failure for the youngster and that he or she does not have to take. Indeed, in many cases, a special curriculum is established simply because the student cannot successfully follow the regular one. A common exigency by emotional parents of special education students is to give them a different classroom teacher because they simply don’t like the current one. They have also demanded a change in folder teacher (special education), the person charged with following the progress of the student and report regularly to the parents. I have witnessed female colleagues in tears after talking to a parent on the phone; some young special education teachers quit after a few months, unable to handle the enormous stress caused by some students and parents.
Not Just Anybody
It takes a special character to work in special education (pardon the pun), quite different from the teacher who faces a whole classroom of excited teens 5 or 6 times a day. Not only do we act as counselor, surrogate parent, confidant ( the art of keeping adolescent secrets), friend, and school supplies provider, but we also perform as “lawyers” when arguing with a regular teacher who failed to apply the modifications stated in the IEP (Individual Education Plan). As I tell all my new folder students fresh from middle school, “I am your best friend in high school. Come to me or look me up at any time if you have a serious problem.” If I suspect or know about abuse in the home, I am legally bound to report it immediately (I may lose my certificate if I don’t).