Friday, April 26, 2013

That Madwoman on The School Corner


I don't want to bring you down, but some kids aren't teachable. They can't learn the things we want them to learn. No amount of testing or Common Coring or free and reduced lunching is going to help. They can't learn. They aren't going to be successful. They are going to fail and be a drag on society. I know this because many of them pass through my classroom, a last stop on their way out of the school system.

Yesterday, outside my daughters' school, a parent was ranting and raving about the teachers at our kids' school. Turns out that, after the testing has ended for the day, some of the teachers are showing the kids movies. "As if there isn't more to be learned!" says the raving lunatic parent who is also swearing herself silly while my sixth-grade daughter listens. (On the ride home she asks, why was that woman yelling and I patiently explain that she is a lunatic who hasn't thought of anyone but herself in thirty years. It may come out more as, "she was a little worked up about something," but I think my daughter reads between the lines.)

Some kids, as the movies are playing, are misbehaving. This is what the lunatic mother is going on about. She wants the teachers to "clamp down" on this kind of behavior and get back to teaching. "These teachers!" she exclaims, her breath huffing, her hands upraised, and her eyebrows arched.

Yeah. Those teachers. It's as if they are burned out at the end of this second week of testing. It's as if they are demoralized. It's as if they have forgotten that their only concern in this world is to watch the lunatic mother's kids. I mean, really.

But here's the thing: in each of my daughters' grades there are three classes. The kids in those grades could very easily be grouped as high, medium, and low achieving. That's exactly what has been done in my sixth-grader's classes. She is in the high-achieving group because she is smart, well-behaved, and good at school. We could rename the groups as smart, passable, and stupid or maybe as likely, hopeful, and hopeless. Whatever we call them, there are often these three types of kids in a school.

The teachers are worn out by the kids at the low end of the scale. It's not that those kids are worthless. It's instead that they take up most of the teachers' energies. This is where the discipline comes in. This is also where the bad grades are. And it's these kids who will, more than any other group, put the teachers' jobs in danger.

All because they can't learn.

There are reasons. They don't have parents supporting their education. So they don't do homework. So they don't understand what's going on. Raising the "standards" just puts them further behind. They also come from poverty and poverty is a town almost no one ever leaves. People born into poverty stay in poverty. And poverty has a way of making people angry. It has a way of making people distrust authority. A kid who lives in shit, acts like shit. This is a truth of schooling that isn't said often, but it's true.

So, the lunatic mother on the corner swearing at the world about "those teachers" really ought to get her ass back in her luxury sport utility and drive her kid to the private school she can afford. That or she should go in to volunteer her time at the school working with the kids who stay after because they don't have any place good to go. Instead of complaining to the principal about a movie, she should get involved with raising money for the school to refurbish the bathrooms and make the school a building kids can be proud of.

And she should stop swearing around my kid.

There are a thousand things wrong with my daughters' school. The teachers aren't perfect and neither is the administration. Even the good kids do stupid things time to time because they happen to be kids. And the parents sometimes stand on the corner ranting and raving because they don't know what else to do.

The core of the problem though is that there are kids who can't learn and don't have any idea why they are there at school. Because they are so bad at school, they do anything but school stuff. They cause trouble and make it tough for everyone. So far there doesn't seem to be any solution being offered to work on this problem. I haven't thought of one yet either, but I'm still working on it. It's something to think about as I write on.