I was listening to the Melissa Harris Perry Show on Saturday (8/29/2015). The discussion was about New Orleans, specifically about schools in New Orleans. When schools there failed they removed half or all of the teachers. Surprise, surprise; that is the same thing that happens in my city, which has been cited by a study of The Century Foundation (Architecture of Segregation) as one of the most segregated cities in the US.
We need to stop blaming failing schools on teachers. It’s a distraction and it’s disruptive. It gives students the erroneous impression that if they act out their teachers will be punished and it gives kids suffering from a type of PTSD and from anger issues great glee and a sense of fairly negative empowerment, when we would really like them to be empowered to learn and prosper. By drawing attention to teachers, who are not to blame for what goes on in underperforming schools, we fail to find and address the real issues in the classroom.
We need a better plan:
- We either need to come up with a learning style that more closely matches the culture of this century.
- Or – We need to line up plenty of support services (not just tutors), and emotional outlets for kids who show signs of experiencing some kinds of trauma outside of school
- Or – We need both
- And – We need to reexamine mainstreaming laws for students with mental disabilities which are obviously a) not working, and b) are sometimes being side-stepped anyways so that students without such issues can learn without fear of outbursts.
We are expecting teachers to be psychologists, with no time added (and no training added). Students with learning challenges need an environment where they can learn, but students without such challenges also need such an environment. We need to be sure that individuals with such issues are not punished for their lack of discipline. These children may need a different learning style than children without these difficulties, perhaps using more of a behaviorist approach. (Experts would know what things might work – why aren’t they consulted?)
There should be professional case meetings of staff involved with children whose learning difficulties have a mental/emotional base where students are discussed as individuals with personal treatments planned – much like an IEP but done by a team of experts. We need to put counseling back in schools and it needs to be true psychological counseling, not academic counseling (although we also need counselors who specialize in this). Having children with mental disabilities or instabilities in the same school with children who don’t face such challenges may be efficacious enough without mandating that they be in the same classroom.
We know that there are teachers with personality traits or approaches that defuse disorderly behavior in the classroom. It is possible that these teachers could be taped (with their permission) and that other teachers could go over the tapes in the same way that sports teams can learn from game tapes. Obviously we cannot clone these teachers who may not even know what traits make them so successful. I suspect many of these traits are social. In a free society we don’t get to pick either students or teachers by profiling their social skills and matching them up. We know this is not scientifically possible at this time. Computer dating sites with lengthy questionnaires and complex algorithms are not even good at finding two people who are compatible.
Even in our klutzy way we could still do better than we are doing but it will cost money. This would be money well spent if we could clear up the problems we are having with educating children in some of our central cities. These children deserve better. These teachers deserve better. Our nation deserves better. Of all the things America needs to work on, education should be at the top of the list until we find a way to turn all children into learners.
By Nancy Brisson