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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Philadelphia Magazine Feature Thoughts

The May issue of "Philadelphia Magazine" has a feature article about me.

I liked it and found it to be a pretty accurate depiction of what's been happening--certainly a more complete picture than other media sources have reported in the past, which I appreciate.

I was particularly interested to read the parts of the article dealing with what was coming out of my school, both from the principal and from some unnamed colleague. (As it were, I've been pretty completely cut off from school goings-on since February 9th. Not even my school "friends" feel comfortable talking to me in large part. The one or two who will chat try to keep things as non-work-oriented as humanly possible. I can't help but wonder if they were told not to talk to me. What is the school going to do if people talk to me? Fire the person for communicating with me? Think that by talking to me in any capacity means that the other person agrees with my every thought and action? Sorry, but that's absurd. But again, it makes me wonder what was said behind closed doors about this whole affair... but I digress.)

In reading the article, I found it particularly ridiculous to hear the principal describe the school as "almost utopian." Haha! Sorry, but NO place is perfect or ideal. What followed that statement was information that last year the school had a 99% graduation rate and that 94% of those kids were college bound. While I am in no way trying to discount these statistics or take away from the accomplishment of anyone involved, these facts alone do not perfection make.

Graduating and going to college--while good and admirable--cannot be counted as the mark of high esteem and success they once were. Most students (particularly those who can afford to pay for it), go to some form of college these days; they almost have to go in order to be marketable for a job. And check the stats--colleges are having to do more and more remedial work with incoming freshman students than ever before. Just because students are graduating and going off to college doesn't mean they are college-ready. Nor does it mean they will be a success; further, there are plenty of life paths that do not include college that will result in successful individuals. Thus, citing those stats does not mean perfection is present.

Nor does a degree--from high school or college--mean that someone is a good person. Their degree, in fact, may be the only positive thing he or she has going. (Consider, for instance, some of the nasty, disgusting comments (also quoted in the article) that were made by some of the students at this "almost utopian" place, or any of the stories of frustration I or any of my silent colleagues have encountered.) Yeah, it's so nearly perfect I could cry.

But in pointing out this bit of absurd diction on the part of the principal, I will note that as much as the school is FAR from a utopia, it is also hardly dystopic. It's a normal school with some normal problems, which, in itself, is a problem (see previous posts regarding the state of education today). But to try to act like the situation is otherwise is just sad and lame.

Also sad and lame was the claim that he "couldn't imagine an educator would feel this way--and then post it with such vitriol." What utter bollocks! Maybe he can't believe I posted it, but he can certainly imagine an educator feeling this way. First off, he was a teacher before he was an administrator; he knows what goes on. Second, he has also made comments behind closed doors as an administrator that have been critical about both students and their parents, as well as other staff. So the faux-surprise and holier-than-thou ruse that someone having a bad day could feel negatively about something pertaining to her job and then make negative comments about it to her friends was just, well, laughable to read.

I was also interested to see some comments from an unnamed colleague who remarked that it's a shame that, "when we want to scapegoat why schools aren't what they should be, we pick on people who have the least responsibility."

I think this mentality is part of the problem with education. Students DO have some responsibility in why schools aren't what they should be today. While they aren't solely responsible, they should shoulder a good deal of the blame. Yes, there are definitely some idiots making the rules and setting up the system to fail. But if ALL students made it their business to care a bit more and take their job as students more seriously, the system would also function better because there would be a demand that it do so; the people at the top would need to make a better go of it. But since so many people who should care don't (i.e. parents, students), it makes it easier for the people in charge to muck it up.

It seems that students are more concerned about the perception of themselves than about their actual behaviors and actions. Those students who were personally offended by my few frustrated postings about students (MANY of whom, I found it interesting and sadly amusing to note, had mis-identified themselves as the specific "target" of comments I'd made in a general sense, which is rather telling in and of itself) wonder if this is how teachers view them. Part of the animosity I've encountered has been because students allegedly now have a complex about the fact that others are thinking things about them, and how they are viewed. (What a concept!)

But to that I ask: why is that a problem? Shouldn't we ALL be concerned about how others view us and keep that in mind as we make decisions about our actions? I think it's a good thing that they wonder. They should wonder. Maybe it will help some of them not to spend class time twisting paperclips into the shape of people having sex or feel that it's appropriate to come up to a teacher after she's called home and brag about how they weren't punished at home for their behavior. Maybe then school could actually focus on what matters: learning.

Maybe this situation will be a learning experience for everyone involved.


  1. I haven't followed the link to the article yet--I will when I have the time to look at it, as your situation continues to intrigue and frighten me--but is it possible the unnamed colleague was speaking of YOU as having the least responsibility in the handbasketry? We teachers ARE most repsonsive to and least responsible for, right?

  2. Amen! I completely agree...As a former elementary school teacher, I have to say that (sadly) I saw a lot of the same attitudes and behaviors in children as young as five years old. At such a young age, their behavior was shocking and appalling; time and time again I learned that it was all due to the influence of the parents and what was going on outside of the school environment. Yes, we have a nation of parents and students who do not care, who feel they are entitled to things simply for existing, and who excel and nothing other than deflecting responsibility.

    To be fair, not ALL students and parents can be classified as detrimental to the public education system. Some are quite wonderful to teach/work with, but those people are in the minority. I miss my motivated, thoughtful students and their supportive parents, and applaud those that are still "fighting the good fight" in the face of such seemingly insurmountable problems in school culture today.

    I also wonder when the hell our nation's administrators will stop entrenching themselves in the 1980s-way of thinking and finally support those teachers who dare to Tell It Like It Is; the behind-closed-doors scenario you described is a commonplace occurrence, and it's doing more harm than good.

  3. What's interesting to me is that I have taught in two school districts-- one was "in distress" and the other was "middle class normal." I had many more discipline problems in the middle class setting. I believe the reason is that in poverty stricken schools where parents are absent and teachers are often incompetent or shackled to a script, any time a good caring teacher comes along the students will do ANYTHING for that teacher. When I moved to the 'better' situation I found that parents tried to rescue their kids at every turn, would not believe a teacher's word, and assumed that their child would receive an A for minimal effort. As a result, students did not get as attached to teachers and therefore did not perform as well for me because they had plenty of caring adults in their lives. If I left there would be someone else.

    I still believe that there's blame to go around. It's not all the students, but part of the responsibility is theirs. A lot of it though is parents (and administration) who are thinking about what the kids want and not what they need.

    Are you planning to write about the CNN special "Don't Fail Me" on Sunday? I'll be watching and blogging myself, so I'll be interested to hear your thoughts afterwards.


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.