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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Customer is Always Right

In my last post dealing with some of the problems in education today, I focused on the lack of respect afforded to teachers in an overall sense. I noted how that lack of respect translates into power being given to students and their parents, and into lack of teacher support from those same people and administration. I'd like to discuss those aspects in a bit more detail now.

As I've noted before, school feels like big business these days. The customer is always right--and, in this case, the customers are the parents and the students. What's worse than the fact that this is the case, though, is the fact that they know they are in charge and are calling the shots. As parents (and students, appallingly enough) never seem to tire of saying, "We pay your salary!"

Over the course of the past few weeks, many of the people who disagree with me have said that 'kids will be kids.' Apparently, according to some folks, kids have always been rebellious. It's in their nature, they want to push the envelope, they are experimenting and coming into their own, etc. We've all had our moments as kids, they say.

Nobody is contending that all kids are terrible; nor is anyone arguing that teenagers are still developing and learning how to be contributing members of society.

However, once upon a time, rebelliousness had ramifications and consequences. Once upon a time, if a kid got in trouble in school, he may feel shame at school for getting into trouble in the first place and that alone might help him learn from the experience. He may feel an ounce of fear at what his parents would say. When he got home, his parents might discipline him for the action and it may correct the behavior.

I remember a situation from my own childhood, an incident that occurred back in 2nd grade. It was filmstrip day and the three 2nd grade classes were gathered in one of the classrooms. (Filmstrips are outdated technology, for those of you asking yourselves, "What the hell is a filmstrip?" Filmstrips are strips of film that have images on them that were shown on a type of projector. Pretty much a movie, though classically, filmstrips dealt with educational subjects and videos were more 'fun' to watch because they were usually major motion pictures. But I digress...) While the filmstrip was being set up, I was chatting with the two boys on either side of me. The teachers said for everyone to quiet down so they could begin the film. We didn't stop talking. We were sent into the hallway. The teacher who escorted us to the hall told us that we were welcome to come back in when we were ready to listen. I remember not only being completely mortified for getting yelled at, but also completely paranoid that my mom was going to come around the corner and see me in the hall and punish me on the spot. (For the record, there was no reason my mom would have been at the school--I was just paranoid that she would be that day as I was sitting guiltily in the hall.) Soon after, the teacher came back into the hall and asked if we were ready to cooperate. We all said that we were, apologized profusely, and were allowed to rejoin the activity. That night when I went home, I confessed everything to my parents and we discussed the importance of following directions and how the punishment was fair, and that was that. I'd learned a lesson.

But that scene does not play out the same way today. (Again, this is not true of all students and all parents, but it is the increasing trend.) Today it would be more likely that when the teacher told the student to go in the hall in the first place, she would get some lip about it. "Why? I wasn't doing anything! I was just talking!" Then, the teacher might get a call from the parents wanting to know why the teacher had embarrassed their child in front of her peers. Then, the teacher might get called to the principal's office (because the parent also called there to complain), and might have to explain the entire scenario to the principal as well, by way of justifying the situation as it played out. The next day, the students might even come to class and brag to one another that they'd gotten the teacher in trouble.

Many parents don't punish their kids today. Instead of disciplining them, they want to be their friends (or are afraid of them). After a teacher contacts a parent as a result of a student misbehaving in class, students can come into class the next day and say, "Yeah, you called my mom last night and she told me I wasn't going out because you called. But I was like, 'Whatever, Mom. You know you aren't going to punish me. I'm going out whether you want me to or not. So you might as well give me $10. And she did. So there!'" Students seem to enjoy approaching teachers after a contact has been made to tell the teacher that their parents either didn't care, or didn't punish them, or thought what they did was funny, or something of the sort.

Teachers are required to make these parent contacts when any behavior issue comes up, or if grades start slipping, or if anything else of concern occurs. But what the parents choose to do with this information is not always helpful or heartening. As a teacher, you can call home and a few things could happen:

1. The parent will say all the right things, but nothing will change. "Oh, absolutely. I can't believe he said/did that. We'll definitely talk to him. Keep us informed." But the behavior doesn't change. So either the conversation did not take place, or there was not an appropriate consequence for it, or the student will lie to get out of a punishment, or something else.

2. The parent will turn the situation around on the teacher. "Oh really. Well, I'm sure if he said that, he must've had a good reason. He's on the honor roll, you know, and he feels like you don't like him." In this case, too, the behavior doesn't change because there are no conversations taking place with the student because now the teacher is put on the defensive and there's an insinuation that the behavior is justified.

3. The parent will say the right things, and the behavior will change. "I'm so sorry. We'll speak with him tonight. That is unacceptable and he knows better." The behavior changes, the situation is rectified, and class runs a lot more smoothly for everyone involved, AND teachers and parents can feel comfortable knowing that they are a team committed to making a positive learning environment for student learning.

Sadly, this third outcome is happening less and less often as the years go by.

There is also this parental push--which I feel is a terrible disservice to students (and society as a whole) if one considers the long-term ramifications of it--to protect their kids from every punishment, large or small.

I know that a big part of parenting is about protecting one's children. It's right and natural to want to protect them. But parents need to be less afraid of letting their kids learn life lessons.

We all make mistakes in life. It's PART of life, part of growing up. Nobody doesn't make mistakes along the way. It's how we learn. But if every mistake we make is excused, ignored, defended, or hidden, how are we going to have a proper gauge of right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate? How will we know what not to do in the future (when, perhaps, it matters even more and bears more significant consequences)? We won't. And students today DON'T.

Take cheating and plagiarism, for instance.

Most schools have a specific set of rules and procedures outlined up front for students as consequences for cheating. However, when cheating inevitably takes place (and the sickening pervasiveness and blase attitude toward the practice is a blog topic of its own), there's this huge push from parents--and even administrators--to modify these consequences.

When the parent contact is made, parents will say things like, "Well, this was a really large portion of Junior's marking period grade. Can't he do a retest? I mean, the zero seems extreme because now he won't be able to pass the marking period."

Um, he CHEATED. He knew the consequence before he did the act. This is one of those cases where facing the consequence which, yes, may be really problematic for him since it may well be a large hit on the 'ole GPA, may actually daunt him from engaging in this behavior again in the future. A lesson could actually be learned.

If teachers attempt to uphold the consequence, there is a good chance that the teacher will be called to task by administration (since, again, the parents like to go over teachers' heads whenever they can), who may ask whether this was a first offense, or may say that, wow, this was a big points item, and perhaps it would be good to just let the kid take a retest. Suddenly, it becomes the teacher's fault that the student cheated ('Were you walking around the room while they tested?' 'What kind of test was it?' 'Are you SURE they cheated?')

Teacher authority is constantly being undermined in this fashion.

Students and their parents know that they wield the power. All they have to do is make a call to administration and--boom!--the teacher will be called to task about every issue.

Administrators--rather than taking the side of the teacher, and saying to a parent or student, "Well, that is the school rule so that will be the consequence" or "I appreciate your concern, but have you discussed the situation with the teacher first? That must always be your first stop"-- coddle them and put their own staff on the defensive. (Wouldn't want to upset the customer, after all.)

Teachers, then, are forced to play rules roulette, and are left wondering which of the outlined rules and procedures are actually going to be upheld and which of them will be modified for the squeaky wheel. When they're modified--when a negotiation takes place behind closed doors (without teacher input) which allows a lesser number of detention hours or when the consequence is excused altogether or when students return to class enjoying a lollipop given to them in their 'disciplinary' meetings--it makes teachers trying to enforce the rules look like weak, ineffectual boobs.

I'm not sure if administrators realize what this does to teacher authority or even the general authority of schools as a whole. If, as an institution, we show that weakness, we're inviting people to expect that rules are meant to be broken, that showing disrespect is ok, and that, no matter what, the customer is always right--even when they're wrong.


  1. Hi Natalie. I have to say that I didn't agree with your original posts on your former blog (although I think they school has no right to fire you over them), and honestly I don't agree with all of these comments either. But I have been a teacher for several years and I feel your frustration. I thought though that the other blog, while tongue-in-cheek and frankly really funny, was unprofessional.

    This one however I think is good, and I'll be following it (whether or not you post my comment). I still don't agree with all of your opinions, but I'm so happy that you're opening up debate in a way that is straightforward and focuses how to fix the broken system. I think everyone can agree that it is broken, but there's not enough input about what we should do from actual teachers on the front lines.

    I hope that this will create a discourse that will improve public education. I love teaching, but I have to leave it due to health issues. Honestly, I'll be homeschooling any children I have of my own.

  2. kids have no fear and parents have no control because of the spanking and possible subsequent child abuse issues. depending on the demographics, there are some places you can teach and the things that Ms. Munroe said seem like good days! i work in one of those ares, have for ten years, but it is frustrating and difficult to move the kids along in the curriculum.
    kids have too many rights anymore and the teachers have none. there are really no consequences for poor behavior over the long run, a suspension once or twice a year is the most you can hope for. basically you have to pick your battles, but i agree that students have NO drive!

  3. There's an entire juvenile justice system which is based on the premise that children do not truly comprehend the meaning of their actions. Yet, they should be held to the same accountability standards that adults are held to in higher education. In fact most higher education institutes have been moving towards different remediation for cheating. So, children should be held to higher standards than adults?

    I remember distinctly in Jr. High I cheated on a paper (many years ago). My grade 7 teacher shouted at me:

    "This is plagiarism."

    To which I replied : "What does plagiarism mean?" (as I had no idea what the word meant when I was 12)

    To which he just glared at me he was giving me a F. While I deserved the grade I got, the interaction definitely shows something that seems to be endemic to the teacher student relationship.

  4. Ms. Munroe,
    I have to say that I actually like this blog. I found what you had to say insightful to the lack of support for the teachers. I think that teachers lost most of their rights to discipline their students when they took away corporal punishment. I went to school back in the 70's & 80's and I clearly remember my classmates saying who gave swats, which teachers swatted the hardest, etc. Then when you got home, you got it from your parents. We may have been pissed about it, but if you did wrong that's what happened. I think that the younger parents are raising their children far differently than how our parents raised us and their parents raised them. The old addage of "When I have kids, I'm not going to be anything like you." sometimes rings true. To top it off, we have shows like Teen Mom, Skins, and other shows where teens get to see their peers showing disrespect for adults and parents. Rather than parents doing their JOB and punishing them, they would rather be friends. However, not all parents fit into your blog and you at least acknowledge that.
    What I would love to see on your blogs, is one that showcases the GOOD kids and the GOOD parents who help to make a teachers life easier. You seem so focused on the negative that I wonder if you even really see the positive students.
    While there are just as many students who don't do right, there are teachers who are the same. I had a teacher when I was in the 10th grade that kicked the bottom of the desk because I had laid my head down. I came to school sick because we had a test and I rested my head just for a moment when he kicked it. I was very lucky that he did not kick my head. Now I should not have been resting my head, but does that excuse his behavior? What about the teacher who publicly humiliates their students in class because they got the answer wrong? You are only showing one side of the picture, which is not really fair. Why not show all sides? As a teacher, I am sure you see this all the time.

  5. Hi, Natalie--

    just wanted to lend my encouragement and support; I read about your story through a headline and it really enraged me. I'm a private music teacher, so I don't have the exact same frustrations or experiences as a public school teacher, but I definitely see glimpses of everything you are talking about through my one-on-one interactions with students.
    I feel for you. I completely disagree with all who say you were "unprofessional", for your blog is your own business; it's anyone else's prerogative to simply not desperately search for your blog and then defame you for it. God knows I knew some teachers weren't all that crazy about me (I wasn't a troublemaker, but I didn't always do my assignments) when I was in school--and through the grapevine, I'd even hear about sarcastic, hurtful things they'd say about me to other students or to outside friends (who happened to be our family's neighbors, to this particular teacher's ignorance, I'm sure)--but I just shrugged my shoulders and carried on. I never once thought to complain to administration to get those teachers fired, or to go out of my way to humiliate them publicly. Why? Because now that I'm a teacher myself, I understand the frustrations one has when they see a student isn't doing their best, is getting away with bad behavior and worse, the parents or guardians don't give a crap, or are too scared to hurt their children's feelings.

    Thoughts are with you and I sincerely hope you get your job back. You sound like a genuinely caring teacher who was good at what she did.

  6. ... and just how did these 'problems' with 'children today' hatch in the first place? Just maybe it's high time to examine the true origins of this unsettling situation...

    I feel that it has everything to do with our 'rat raced and insatiably materialistic society'.

    In order to 'keep up with the Jone's', kids are far too often shoved into the arms of caretakers before the very tender age of 1. They forcibly become disconnected from the nurturing stabilty that ONLY a parent can sufficiently supply.

    Children are needy. They NEED their parents, and if one parent works, the other should steadily be at home at least until such time when the child begins kindergarten.

    Some want it all though, and they'll sacrifice the natural needs of their infants to make sure they have it.

    Are children really wanted in our world today, or are they had to keep up appearances and to go along with the accepted societal flow? You know... the education, the job, the spouse, the house with the white picket fence, the couple of cars, the dog, the cat... yeah that's it... the perfect little set up.

    It's time to start making some honest heartfelt choices. Can one do with less material in order to lovingly fulfill the needs that their children naturally possess? Is a child, with all that child rearing entails, truly what one desires from the depth of their soul?

    Very young children are thrown the implications of the decisions that their parents make... and at some point, society as a whole will have to deal with them too.

  7. As a parent of three school age children, it has been interesting to hear the debate going on. I have found the lack of school follow through on disciplinary actions to be a disgrace. Each year we get a school handbook that outlines acceptable and unacceptable behaviour along with consequences. The parents are asked to read through this and sign along with the student so that all the rules are clear. We make sure our children understand the rules before we allow them to sign. We take the time as a family to do this. However, this past year, our 8th grader decided that he did not want to put in the effort to keep his grades up. We told him that if he did not do his part he would not be able to take part in an afterschool activity - clearly outlined in the school handbook. After meeting with teachers, administrators and my child it became clear they were going to make an exception for him. We told the school that we wished to have them follow through with their rules - however they did not. They even went as far as telling our child in the meeting that they had faith in him and they would let him take part in the activity anyway. He had to take the consequences from us, but it was maddening to not have the school follow up on their own rules.

  8. Wind of Grace,
    When you say caretakers, I truly hope that you are referring to grandparents or family members rather than nannies. While I agree if one parent works, the other parent should stay home. That's how my parents were, and yes we did without on many things because as long as we had a roof over our heads, clothing on our bodies and food to fill our bellies that was all my parents cared about. Any extra's were extremely rare. However, what happens when a child is raised in a single parent home? I divorced my husband when I was pregnant with our son due to abuse. I don't regret it, but it meant that I couldn't be the stay at home mom I wanted to be. I couldn't rely on child support so I worked to support my son. I don't know what neck of the woods you come from, but in my circle of friends, the word nanny is something that Hollywood starlets have. In my case, I left my son with my mother while I worked. She helped my son get to and from school, helped with homework, and basically did all the things I would do if I could stay home with him. Do I wish that I could be that PTA parent, or class room parent who helps out at all the parties and fundraisers? Of course I do, but what you are saying is really not realistic for some parents.

  9. Hi, Natalie,

    As an education major who comes from a large family of teachers, I would like to say that I back you 100%. Nothing you said sounded all that different from the things my mother, mother-in-law, aunts, cousins and friends say about their students. And most of my family teach kindergarten through 6th grade. Your comments were hysterical (my father-in-law and I sat and read through some of the old blog posts and were roaring, as our entire extended family have all expressed similar sentiments), and although it may have been imprudent to post some of what you did online, as you said, you never named names or school districts, and someone was obviously witch-hunting you.

    I find it absolutely deplorable that parents always run to the, "Not my child!" line. As a mother myself, should my child be accused of hitting or biting, I know my 2-year-old very well, and would be shocked. But my son is in the 95th percentile for both height and weight, so if a teacher told me he'd pushed another child and unintentionally hurt them, I wouldn't be so shocked. Children at that age often don't know their own strength. If he were 12, however, you would expect him both as a parent and as a teacher, to know better. I find that now a days, parents are less and less in touch with who their children really are as people. Sometimes we forget that those baby faced little angels grow up and develop personalities of their own. I fully believe that you're right, administrators are more and more concerned with keeping their parents happy, and less concerned with making sure their teachers aren't misrepresented - or worse - completely disregarded in the disciplinary process.

    I sincerely hope that everything works out for the best for you and your family. Best of luck, and congratulations on your new little one!!!

  10. The phrase "The customer is always right" has been misconstrued. It doesn't mean that a 'seller' (teacher) needs to take abuse. It means that the customer knows what the customer wants to buy, so if Ace hardware doesn't have widgit X, the customer will go to Home Depot, or, more likely online.

    You are still in teacher defense mode, but if you REALLY want a dialog on education, you need to step out of that role and realize what your customers are asking for. Since Wisconsin is in the news here lately, two-thirds of the eighth graders in Wisconsin public schools cannot read proficiently according to the U.S. Department of Education, despite the fact that Wisconsin spends more per pupil in its public schools than any other state in the Midwest. Yet the average actual cost of salaries and benefits for Wisconsin teachers is over $100K per year (2011). That's straight from the schoolboard.

    I don't really know who is responsible here, but I do know the system is completely broken. It absolutely must be dismantled and re-built from the ground up. You can help to do that, but first you have to admit some responsibility.

  11. I disagree with the above poster. Child development studies show that infants will create proper attachments with one or two main caregivers in their lives, whether that is parent or daycare. The importance is that there must be nurturing for those appropriate attachments and emotional development to occur.

  12. Hi Natalie
    Your suspension from teaching was mentioned in our major broadsheet daily newspaper last week. It caused me a bit of an adrenaline rush as I read the report as I'm a secondary English teacher/blogger/writer in Melbourne, Australia. I, too, write about what occurs at school. I read what had happened to you and saw this as the stars aligning to warn me to blog carefully.

    I've spent this morning trawling through my archives and deleting anything that could have me similarly mistreated. But seems to me we're a bit more relaxed in Australia, so I might have been safe anyway.

    Re this post, I absolutely hear you. I've been teaching for over 30 years, BTW. It's very hard for people who don't teach to really understand what happens in classrooms and schools. As you said so eloquently in a previous post, everyone has their own memories of school and 'bad' teachers, so they think they know. If only.

    Hope things work out for you in the meantime.

    Kindest regards.

  13. Heylo Jules,

    My last post references two parent families,
    and the out of home daycare services that are often the norm for many parents who work full time.

    The caretakers in daycare do their very best to ensure the well being of the children they're responsible for, and I feel that they certainly deserve everyones full respect and admiration.

    A single parent such as yourself doesn't have the option of staying home with their child,
    that's a given. But for those who can make that choice in the best interest of their children, many don't... and that's the point I'm making.

    Daycare, as good as it can be, is not as enriching for a child as is a loving home with one parent.

  14. Wind of Grace,

    I knew you were, and I am thankful that I was able to have that dynamic growing up. Having my mom there when I got up and got home from school was something that was a gift that is rarely heard of anymore. I did put my son in Kindercare when he was 3 because I wanted him to have some socialization and he was showing he was extremely bright. He was taught Hooked on Phonics and after the first month he flew through the program. By the time he started pre-kindergarten he could read at a 3rd grade level. He also did Hooked on Math, and could do 2nd grade math as well. I found that the preschool was very helpful for him because it also brought him out of his shell. What is sad is my son has Aspergers Syndrome and has a hard time with social cues. What's funny, that some of the issues Ms. Munroe was talking about is prevalent in preschool too. It's even more sad because you really get to see how parents truly are. Luckily, I still had my mom who when my son got into grade school was able to take him to school and pick him up. He got to have the best of both worlds. I still prefer my mom being the caretaker when I am not there, than a preschool. You did make some very valid points, and I enjoyed reading your post. :)

  15. I am so sorry! Honestly, that's all I can say. I've repeatedly told my friends who are teachers that I could NEVER do their/your job. I do not have the patience to do so, and I know it! My stepson's bio-mom is one of those parents who basically reward bad behavior in the classroom, and it drives me NUTS! I know that this is a sucky time in your life right now, but just remember that there are people out there who support you and all you stand for. I look forward to reading your future musings.

  16. I'm a retired teacher in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I am strongly supporting your efforts to get dialog out there. I strongly agree with many of your statements. I want to say, also, that I'm "liking" (where IS that Facebook Like button; oh yes, this isn't FB) what these people wrote here to you: Heylo Jules, violinista, The Fraudulent Teacher, and especially Jos. Three cheers for you, Natalie!!
    I'm going to quote a Kris Kristofferson song for you:

    And I've just got to wonder what my Daddy would've done
    If he'd seen the way they turned his dream around
    I've got to go by what he told
    me, try to tell the truth
    And stand your ground

    xoxo Ruth in Chilliwack
    (retired early & fled Vancouver)

  17. I find it rather amusing that out of one side of your mouth you complain about students who were reprimanded and then give excuses as to why their behavior is ok, and then the other side does the same thing for you.

    Again, I understand the need to vent and terrible families and children. It sucks, it really does. But is the most appropriate place to complain and make light of them on the public internet? Is there any reason that I (or any of the other people here, honestly) really need to read your black humor or vented frustrations? Has it really served you in the long run?

    Discretion, that's part of what we try to teach our children as well.

    As for those who recommend hitting children as the answer to discipline problems, read a study about the efficacy of doing so. It is very possible to appropriately discipline your children without the use of violence, with long term studies showing it is more effective to create good, productive society members when you don't hit children.

    And to look at some of the other comments, they are a cross section of the same behavior that you see in your parents and children. "People who have their kids in daycare are causing the problem" "Hey, I have kids in daycare and I have no choice" "Well, I didn't mean your kids, I mean the other peoples' children." "Yeah, /those/ people have issues." Cognitive bias at its best.

  18. @ Wind of Grace-
    What an ignorant comment to make! How dare you blame all the problems within the classroom on daycare kids. As a teacher, and parent of 3 daycare kids, I am outraged. It pains me everyday to go to work and drop my children off at daycare, so I can go into a classroom and be abused by students, parents and administrators. If I could stay home I would! Believe me, I'm not working for the extras. I'm working because my family needs me to!

  19. Is the problem of disrespectful students really such a surprise? After all, the problem is us. It is we who think we're better, who think that our time is more important than yours, who think we know more than you do. We want things our way. We want that easy A. We are entitled and anyone who disagrees is an idiot.

    Is it any wonder that our kids are the way they are?

  20. Heylo Jules,

    I revelled in the same home environment as you did growing up. While I was in school, I was treated to homemade lunches from heaven every single day :) I'm so very grateful for all of the wonderful care that my mother lovingly provided for all three of us throughout the years.

    It's obvious that you're a deeply devoted parent. Having a child with special needs can be very challenging at times, and receiving your mother's help is truly a blessing in every sense of the word. I'm thrilled to know that you're son excelled in the programs that you placed him in. With the encouragement and support that he's receiving, I have no doubt in my heart that he'll continue to shine forth all of the brightness that is his.

    Thank you very kindly for your comments, your posts have been a pure joy to read too :)

  21. I live overseas, and attend a Department of Defense school, and I see a lot of the same behavior. I do see kids disrespecting their teachers. I do see parents who don't care, or want to be 'friends' with their kids. And I see a lot of kids lying to their parents, which leads to a lot of misunderstandings between parents and teachers. Even as a teenager myself, I just don't understand where this sentiment is coming from. Teachers are responsible for providing us with the tools we'll need to survive on our own, as I see it. And we're responsible for providing them the respect and attention they deserve in return.
    I just don't like how rude my generation has become...

    I'm actually commenting because I have a question for you, Mrs. Munroe. I'm wondering, what is your opinion on Idaho's proposed education changes, if you have one? You advocate change for our education system, so I was wondering what you think about Idaho's method of going about it. Personally I think it needs a lot of change, as even the people, the students, don't agree with it. And forcing change on reluctant people seems dangerous to me.
    I don't think that made a whole lot of sense... I'm in rambling mode. Sorry.

  22. I really liked this post!

    It is sickening that today's kids are being brought up in the "Marshmallow Generation," as I've heard it termed, where schools are discontinuing tryouts for sports teams and school plays because they don't want the kids to feel disappointed. I am 20, and already there has been a huge change from when I went to school.

    My parents taught me to respect adults. Yes, they spanked me. Does that mean they abused me? No. Does it mean they're bad people? No, not at all. They're wonderful people, and wonderful parents. They made it clear they weren't my friend, they were my parents, and I knew it was their job to teach me wrong from right. They would be horrified if, like the kids at the school I am doing my practicum, I referred to my teachers by their first name.

    I also had tryouts in school. I made the volleyball team, but didn't make the badminton team. Did that scar me for life? No, it prepared me for it. In real life, there will be rejection, and for schools to get rid of rejection by eliminating tryouts and failing grades, what are we teaching them?

    Keep on keeping on, Natalie. I'm behind you 100%!

  23. My dear Natalie,

    You are hereby outed and declared to be a plagiarist of the highest order. All your points and issues above are attributable to another source. ME.

    I taught high school in Victoria, Australia for almost twenty years and I swear on oath to a higher being that you have taken my thoughts in their entirety, and laid them out here as your own.

    I always considered myself a disciplinarian in the classroom as I don't believe much learning takes place when the students are all self-absorbed in whatever they are "into" at the moment. Dialogue rapidly degenerates into monologue!

    My experience was a "ditto" of yours.

    I also had a few lessons in education politics. My second to last year I had the case of two students in a grade eight class who thought I was just some sort of a visitor. Putting one out for disruptive behaviour had the second up in arms to question the reasons for such a decision. The story from the level co-ordinator and the Principal was that one of the pair had "issues" they were working through. So just make allowances. So that was one group who achieved very little that year. I bumped into the co-ordinator the next year and he was a convert. Twenty eight students sacrificed on the alter of just two. But very politically correct, you see. Too bad about the rest of the class.

    My last straw was a pair of grade ten students who were in the corridors at lunchtime when they were not allowed to be. I found them a few moments later with a female teacher up against a locker, and refusing to get out of her way. I intervened and repeated the instruction. This got me a sneer. I shirt-fronted one of them and put him up against the locker, away from the teacher. "I told you to move", I said. "I will tell my mother", he replied. "Get your hands off me!"

    I send him off to the Principal's office for follow-up. The follow-up was an official complaint to the region by the mother, a series of questions from the Principal, and zero support for my actions from the administration.

    The grade ten co-ordinator then tells me how this student did the same sort of thing last year, and got a suspension. His mother gave him a job in her store for the three days and PAID HIM.

    Time to get out of of teaching. Things have only gone downhill from there. I really do feel for you.

    I meet this same lady teacher two years later when looking for a school for my eldest son. She was still grateful for my intervention.

    So I have two pieces of advice. One is to forget about giving, or finding any administrators with, any backbone. That is not how they got there.

    The second is to use your blog here to maximum advantage. Everyone in this pathetic tale knows who you are, but nobody knows who the administrators are who are refusing to support you. Name them. Provide quotes. Why should you be the only person identified in this discussion? Turn the tables girl, and let the light shine into some of their dark corners! Let parents read about what arguments are being presented in their name.

  24. Kristen, I think it's unfortunate that some states are thinking the answer to education problems is to further limit teacher authority (in taking away collective bargaining rights) and to fire or lay off significant portions of the workforce. While I don't know exactly what the answer is, I do know that this course of action is not it. Who does it benefit to fire capable and experienced instructors? Regardless of one's feelings regarding unions, some of the issues in the collective bargaining agreements--things like class size negotiations and so on--benefit the students, too. Sure, it's cheaper to have larger class sizes, but it is detrimental to learning. Everyone knows this. Bottom line: these changes are not being implemented to help further learning or improve the state of the education system; they are merely moving toward the privatization of education.

    Heather, please send me your email address (I won't publish it, but will contact you.)

    Everyone else, thanks for your comments.

  25. We live in a culture of unaccountability. As Charles Ferguson said last night just before accepting his Oscar for the Inside Job documentary about the fraud and corruption of Wall Street, ""Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that's wrong," Ferguson said.

    Why should we expect students and their parents to act any differently when this has become our model? Obama made it plain as soon as he took office that he would not investigate the criminality of the Bush department.

    All this needs to change. But when, how, by what means, I do not know. If it doesn't change, that social glue holding our nation together will not hold much longer.

  26. Natalie,

    Your blog and the resulting news stories have inspired my new blog for teachers . It's an open forum for teachers to blog anonymously. My hope is to let teachers all over the country speak more freely about their personal and political opinions regarding schools.

    Thank you for speaking your mind. I am neither advocating nor opposing your personal opinions, but I do promote and defend your right to express them.


  27. As another educator who got into hot water for what was written, I offer my words:

    I wrote the first one and sent it to what I thought were like-minded members on staff. I was promptly turned into the administration and given what could only be described as a drubbing. I wrote the rest after leaving the district, but not before being told that writing what I had written was not the way to go about being "an agent of change."

  28. Natalie:
    This post is in a word...BRILLIANT!
    As the husband OF a H.S. teacher (and a former student that didn't cause problems in class back in the dark ages of the late 60s), this is spot on!
    Congrats and kudos for a perfect assessment of the current educational system and the "triangle of education" - teachers, parents, students.

    Keep the faith.
    And keep those hits coming.

    Stay safe.

  29. I've been having issues with my 13 yr old and school. His algebra grade plummeted a couple of months ago. When I confronted him, he complained that his teacher "doesn't teach, she just throws the assignment at you and expects you to know how to do it". That statement was the big red flag to me. My son doesn't respect her, and therefore, he's willing to risk flunking the year to try and show her who's boss. It pissed him off to learn that I've been in direct daily contact with her via email for the past two months, and his attitude about her and algebra in general has gotten worse. However, he no longer shows up to class with his work unfinished. It's not the drastic improvement I want from him but we're getting there. He can dislike her all he wants, and me for that matter, but when he's in her classroom, he damn well better respect her and her time. I hated algebra myself at his age, but like that saying "hate the game, not the player", hate the subject, not the teacher. My mother would have dropped me off at juvie herself had I ever disrespected a teacher myself. You are spot on correct when you say that there are rarely any consequences at home. Parents need to understand that their children ARE a direct reflection of themselves. Whether they like it or not.

  30. You are absolutely right. As a veteran teacher, I *know* that without parental support at home, the vast majority of students will not achieve their potential, which is probably why so many Wisc. eighth graders cannot read proficiently.

    I am aghast at how many parents are prepared to castigate teachers for their and their children's failures. Appalling.

  31. Maybe it's just me being a teacher's daughter or just being a smart and rationale human-being, but I totally agree with every point you are making in your stance. When I was in school, we always feared getting sent to the principal's office and getting the "paddle!" No one ever talked back to teachers and there was a huge respect level present. Kids today are horrible. I WANT to know about my child's behavior at school and I WANT to be able to discipline them to teach them the right way to do things and the right way to act. I can't stand when parents just stand idly by and do nothing. I don't even want to see what the world will be like when these kids are leading this country. Very sad and very irresponsible of parents today. God bless you for not being scared to speak your mind.

  32. Rachael, I commend you for some good parenting! But at the same time, I'm disappointed. Where are you getting the idea that you are so unique? There are tons of great parents in their own homes fighting the same battles you are.
    You seem to be a great parent with a good 13 year old kid, and yet he is having some problems in class despite the consequences at home. Why would you assume that other kids have problems because there are no consequences in their homes?

  33. Hello Natalie,
    I came across your blog through a sort of advertisement while reading the nytimes.

    Few things about me: I am always compelled to see things from both sides of an argument. I always think I am right. =) And try to resolve things by making others see my point of view. =) Actually, I think that is how most people are. I used to teach in an Art Program that worked with students in an attached Elementary school, K-5. I taught around 20 kindergarten students at a time in Art related projects and assisted in mixed-age group projects. I worked with the kids and LOVED it. It was the best work I have done in my life(besides being a mom). The thing is, I didn't stay with it. The money wasn't there, I was going into debt and struggled with leaving. I know I made an impact in those kids lives while I was there.
    The negatives I took away with me was the value of my job vs. the value of my paycheck. Teachers are highly influencing the lives of our children, who we say are the most valuable to us, yet we don't always show it. I made more money as a restaurant server than working in the school system. Restaurant servers are supported by the public. Not that it isn't stressful in its own right, but almost anyone can do it. Not everyone can be a teacher.

    Anyway, I just rambled, what I want to say is this. I hope you don't lose your job, but if you do you'll have a case (was there a known policy in place specifically related to writing a blog? We don't always agree with things people say, especially when someone is saying something about our kids (I'll put down the bat). But honestly, kids are pretty disrespectful....we just don't want to admit it, because than we have to admit it was our fault in raising our kids to act disrespectfully and not the teachers fault that our kid didn't learn anything in that class.

    All you haters out there: Don't you remember being in High School?! Don't you remember those A-holes(kids) in class always interrupting? or "causing trouble". Pa-Leeze!! While my two girls are perfect angels that any teacher would be lucky to have, All those other brats are pretty rotten. Good luck with the free speech.

  34. you need to come work in fulton lol and set these little bastards straight. :)

  35. Hello Natalie,

    I am another teacher chiming in to express my admiration for the courage and clarity of your blog. It is a relief to feel that no, I am not the only one, and that indeed I was right to stand my ground in situations like the one you describe. At the end of the day doing the right thing does not always work out professionally. But that is only because many people, including many parents, students, and administrators, actively dislike education and educated people. They would prefer to see schools taken over and run by anti-intellectual bigots like themselves. Unfortunately they outnumber the teachers sometimes, and it is hard for the teacher to win in those kinds of places - especially alone! Therefore I wish you all the support in the world.

  36. I am sure everything that you have written is correct. However, the school is required to make an inquiry any time someone questions the integrity of the school. They do this not because they do not support you. But because if any legal ramifications were ever taken, they can say that they looked into it and there was not any wrongdoing. If they automatically sided with the teacher and their was wrongdoing then they could be liable. The miscalculation of your post your assumption that all teachers are like you. You take your job seriously, you work hard, you care about the students. All teachers are not like this. I have seen teachers do things that are completely unethical to students. I agree that teachers need support, but I don't think the answer is blind support from the administration. I do think parents should hold their child accountable for their actions. I also think the administration should uphold their own standards.


Please feel free to comment. However, please note that not all comments will be posted, and that it does take time to read through them, so your comments may not be read the day you write them.

Thanks to all for your thoughts.