Friday, February 23, 2007

Column on Reed's Spring topic brings out problems of dealing with unruly students

Sarah Overstreet's column in today's Springfield News-Leader on the woes facing the Reed's Spring School District in connection with its removal of award-winning teacher Mike Collins from the classroom after he swore at two bullies who were picking on disabled students, makes some valid points about the problems teachers have dealing with students who are virtually uncontrollable:

Some at the meeting wondered whether the school district does enough to train teachers to deal with unruly students. Having taught public school myself, I wonder whether in our current world of backboneless administrative backup, there's any amount of training that would prepare a teacher for that. So, decibel three: A lot of us are sick of teachers having to discipline narcissistic, uncontrollable and mean students with the little pack of "appropriate" tools they are given.

While I cannot condone a teacher's use of the F word in the classroom, in this particular situation, if the facts are what have been reported in the media, it would seem a different, lesser punishment might be called for in Collins' case, such as a temporary suspension.

The Collins case and the reaction it has received points out some of the biggest flaws in No Child Left Behind. The out-of-touch politicians on both sides of the aisle who created this law have no clue what teachers and administrators have to deal with in schools these days.

Teachers deal on an everyday basis with students who have no qualms whatsoever about dropping the F word or any other word in a classroom and who do not care about whatever punishment they may be given. In-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, talks with parents, many of whom can't be bothered, everything is tried, but many of these children simply do not care.

What could be the reason for that? The sad thing is the culprits are many- students with drug problems, parents with drug problems, students from broken homes, students who are victims of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, a culture in which the movies that the students watch and much of the music they listen to encourages vulgar language and poor behavior, homes that do not have any books or reading material. That's just the beginning of the list.

Every method is taken to deal with troubled students. If critics could see just how many times, against all odds, teachers and administrators have been successful in turning these young people around, we might stop hearing this nonsense about failing schools. It is a miracle how many of these children are not left behind, thanks to the efforts of teachers, many of whom have been the target of verbal abuse from the same students.

Teachers receive training in how to deal with students who act out, but the methods administrators used to help teachers in the past are sometimes unworkable now. At one time, a principal could solve a problem with two unruly students in a classroom simply by taking one of the students and putting him or her in a different class. What do you do when that number swells to six or seven troublemakers? There is not a teacher in a public school who has not faced this problem. It is remarkable how many students receive a quality education when the battle lines are drawn each day between teachers who are determined to provide a quality education and sullen, resentful students who get their way at home and see no reason why things should be any different at school.

But teachers keep on trying. They realize that despite the ever-growing number of troublemakers, the majority of the students are interested in learning...and dreamers that teachers are, they keep thinking they may be the ones who can reach some of these seemingly unreachable students.

What reward do teachers receive for their trouble? They have to listen to politicians blame them (though they disguise it by directing their venom at these "evil" teacher unions) for everything that is wrong with public education. Public school teachers have to listen to the constant push for educational vouchers, since seemingly all private schools provide a superior education, a myth that has been perpetuated through the deep pockets of people like Dick DeVos of Amway and his All Children Matter group and the Waltons of Wal-Mart fame, as well as the politicians who have been the recipients of that money. When teachers do receive well-earned raises, they are almost always accompanied by requirements that they do even more work than they already do, and that they have to fill out reams of paperwork to prove they have completed that work.

Teachers have to listen to critics complain that they are only in it for the three-month summer vacations or the short hours. If teaching is done right, and in most cases it is, teachers are working far more than the 8 to 3, nine-month schedule of myth. They are sponsoring before-school and after-school activities, taking the time to grade papers, to take classes and attend seminars to improve their work, and doing many more things that self-serving politicians, willing to use the children to fuel their ambitions, completely ignore. It is laughable in Missouri, for instance that legislators, who receive $31,000 a year for 75 days in session try to leave the impression that teachers, who are in session for 180 days a year (counting six days of in-service training) and many of whom receive less than the legislators, are willing to give the impression that teachers do not work enough for their pay. (And yes, I am aware that our legislators work on many other days when they are not in session. You would think the legislators would be aware that teachers do the same thing.)

When good teachers, and apparently Mike Collins is one of the best, make mistakes, everything has to be done to get them back on the right path and keep them in the classroom. The best thing that could be done for Mike Collins and the rest of Missouri's teachers would be for politicians to begin focusing on the underlying problems for student misbehavior and low grades. So many of these things have nothing whatsoever to do with the schools. Unfortunately though, this is not a problem that can be simply solved by the passage of feel-good legislation. This is something that needs total community involvement and until that happens, a good many children will continue to be left behind...despite the best efforts of Missouri's teachers and administrators.


Todd said...

Wow, an outstanding post. You make some excellent points about the challenges that our every-day heroes--teachers--have to deal with.

Anonymous said...

Randy, this is one of the best pieces I have read in sometime. It should be mandatory reading by all in the legislature. They go to the Capitol and give education a little lip service, throw some money at it, vote, pat themselves on the back and then come home.

I will say this, we are VERY lucky to have a Representative from Taney County, that has been involved in public education for 40 some years. He has served as Teacher, Coach, Principal, and Superintendent. As Lowe's says, "Lowe's Knows", in this case "Maynard Knows". He's been there, seen it happen, dealt with it day after day. Public education needs more people like Maynard Wallace to guide it in the right direction.

In this hurried up world of today, parents either don't have the time to pay the proper attention to the children, or perhaps don't care whats going on. I believe many of them are certainly at the point they are not capable of giving them help with their school work. Education has left them far behind.

Lord help the teachers, they need all the help and praise they can get.


Anonymous said...

While I have been very critical of some of your stories, I am impressed by your coverage on this story. Teachers do have a very difficult task trying to educate students, some whom which to be educated and those who wish to make trouble in the classroom. I can not say enough for the teachers that have to deal with unruly students while being hamstrung by the critics that would have everyone turn a blind eye to the issues. I do have issues with some of the teaching group when you talk about the short work year expecting a full years pay in addition to several early days out for training. What happened to training during the summer break? I do support the work that teachers do and it is up to the PARENTS to bring their children up the correct way by teaching respect, which seems to have disappeared in society today. Enough rambling, thanks Randy for bringing a very valid point out for our discussion.

Anonymous said...

I substituted one year while I was in college and I figured out I was in over my head. No one should be allowed to judge teachers until they've spent a week alone with a second grade class, then an eighth grade class, then a high school class. Teachers have a tough job - some of them get burned out or are unsuited for the job. These usually become administrators. Good article Randy.