Category Archives: schools

Throwing Chairs At Teachers

We need to pay attention to our schools. Staff and teachers are left with no strategies for dealing with disruptive (and physically out-of-control) kids. If you think that schools have been exaggerating misbehavior, I think you can easily find out, probably on the internet, that schools have actually been soft-pedaling the numbers and types of disruptive, or otherwise anti-social encounters. I’m sure most of you saw the child who was hand-cuffed above his elbows by a policeman and was complaining about how much that hurt. It probably did hurt and it definitely should be a last resort in subduing a disruptive child.

Throwing chairs at teachers and staff, however, is quite common these days and I will bet that chairs are not all students throw; chairs are just the one thing I have heard mentioned most often. Defying simple rules like arriving in the classroom on time, giving your attention to the lesson at hand, staying in your seat, using appropriate language and tone are no longer goals for some students; they are targets. Students arrive when they wish and leave when they wish. If teachers intervene these students have incredibly polished intimidation skills. They also know and say that teachers cannot touch them at all or use swear words to escalate hostilities. These students become like the people who enjoy baiting the guards at Buckingham Palace to see if they can get a reaction, but these kids are not being creative and there is no humor. This is not a prank, just a conditioned response they have taught themselves so that they have a sort of personal power, however anti-social that power may be. How schools educate anyone and deal (even very marginally) with these angry children is a mystery to me and I was a teacher for most of my life (although this kind of acting out was not so common then.)

Perhaps some teachers see this as a challenge. They believe they have better ways to defuse behavior than students have ways to turn a lesson into a heart-pounding drama. Some of these teachers are right. They do have a knack for keeping a classroom in order without being too dictatorial. Some prove unsuccessful in the arena and everyone suffers. Some teachers are so warm and supportive that they win students over in that way. Not all students are receptive to warm and supportive though. Most teachers are just bewildered and scared however. This battleground is not what they signed up for. They find it difficult to accomplish educational goals while dealing with students who are consistently trying to stop progress.

If we want schools that take care of the needs of all children we need to hold working conferences and devise structures and strategies. Some of the children are just bringing behavior required to survive in their family or their neighborhood, or both, into school with them. Calling their parents does no good. It is possible that their behavior at school is encouraged. How do we offer these children a different, kinder and more productive/cooperative view of human interaction? I’m assuming that in most cases we do not intend to break up families. We will have to make an impression that cancels out or transcends their past and current experiences. Perhaps these children need an anger management component in their day that offers a controlled but engaging, team approach while pursuing an activity they like or feel good at.

Art and music used to serve the purpose of being both practical and pleasant for some, or shop class, automotive repair, typing classes (computer classes), home economics. Perhaps we have been too hasty in abandoning these classes where students get to mingle and compete against themselves. We still have sports but not everyone is coordinated enough or is inclined to like participating in a team sport. Some might burn off excess energy in classes like yoga or spinning. Channeling negative energy into positive places might help defuse angry frustration.

Other disruptive students may have disabilities or mental illnesses. These may be minor or really serious, but can be very frustrating to children if they are not accommodated appropriately or are not being taught accommodations they can use on their own.

We barely have money for teachers so where will we find funds for these children who are having severe adjustment reactions and who are constantly showing everyone how unhappy they are. We need psychologists and strategies. They need to be communicated to teachers on teacher’s conference days and in summer sessions. The techniques need to be practical and to be proven successful for handling out-of-control students. Out-of-control students have no place in a classroom. They need to be removed, not to a rubber room, to a therapy session, to a calming activity, or whatever the experts decide on as a plan. A classroom should never feel like a physical battlefield, only a place where minds are engaged and controversy is about ideas.

We must put some money into this or it will not go away and we will hear ever more frequently about how our schools are not working and it will get harder and harder to find teachers and staff willing to spend each day wondering if the day will be calm or explosive. We must make a plan, spend money to implement the plan and we must keep tweaking it until it works. If there is no money it is very clear that things will most likely get much worse. Perhaps it is instructive that many of the adults we hear about on our news these days are so contentious. Perhaps we need to figure out how to tone down our grown-up aggressions for the sake of our children.

Just a thought – perhaps if we took the billions being spent by billionaires and special interests and put it into education instead of buying elections we wouldn’t have to repeat that America is still exceptional to try to get people to believe it; America really would be exceptional. 

By Nancy Brisson

 

Questions for Governor Cuomo about Education

 

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Public Education and the State Budget

 Why do you seem to favor charter schools?

Do you believe we can educate all NY’s children in charter schools?

Do you think schools competing for already limited funding will produce better schools?

Do you believe education should be farmed out to private businesses or corporations?

Do you favor vouchers and how would school know how much money they had to work with each year?

Do you have a clear plan for dividing tax monies between public schools, private schools and charter schools, especially given the problems already experienced in determining formulas for funding schools in wealthier and in poorer neighborhoods?

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Should the tax base of a given city, town, or village determine the size of its school budget?

How much of a priority in our state budget are our schools?

What is our priority structure? Could we see a list in order from 1 to whatever?

Is NYS short on funds?

Have school districts lost large numbers of students and do they therefore need to be downsized?

Obviously some school districts are more successful at turning out competent graduates than others and obviously it’s difficult to control what happens at home. Is it your belief that putting teachers between the pressures of the classroom and the state government will inspire them to reach into themselves and somehow pull out consistent across-the-board success in spite of differences in demographics?

Will linking students’ test performances to a teacher’s continues employment be successful in producing consistent across-the-board success?

Is this all about union and tenure busting?

Are we at the point of scrapping compulsory public education?

Do schools spend too much?

Could you pick a school district at random and go over their budget with them to see how money is spent and make a more informed judgment about appropriate budget levels?

Will our schools continue to experience budget cuts every year? Can we expect this?

How do parents know when schools actually need to downsize because of fewer pupils and when they are just being forced to downsize because of political priorities or real gaps in budgets?

You seem to have some anger around schools and teachers. Could you express it more clearly, please? Use your words.

Higher Education

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Why are you cutting our SUNY schools when they should be our pride and an important selling point for our state? These schools are excellent, yet they are constantly sustaining budget cuts. Is this because of real dollar shortages?

Again could we know how you prioritize various sections of the budget?

Are these cuts policy decisions?

Are there better ways to make cuts?

State schools used to specialize in different areas of study. Could we save money and promote excellence and keep costs low by returning to a system where all programs are offered, but not at all schools?

How low can faculty pay and hours go before personal survival outweighs the personal passion for excellence and good professors are lost to the private sector?

Can’t you convene a working group from throughout SUNY – give them the real dollars available and let SUNY self-right-size itself by deciding the most sensible arrangement of statewide offerings and student costs? There are, after all certain courses that must be offered on every campus and other courses where specialties could be unique to a particular campus.

Perhaps students could be admitted to the whole SUNY system and take their courses on any campus as convenient rather than attending only one campus or at least make credits accepted on one campus, acceptable on all SUNY campuses? I’m guessing only some students would find this option useful but it might help SUNY attract and retain students.

New Yorkers (and others)

Come up with your own list of questions or feel free to add to mine.

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

Turning Schools Around

There are many students in America who attend school every day but rarely get to use a computer. These are usually the students who attend school in the largest and poorest and most diverse school districts, often in the center of our cities. We cannot expect these students to progress in math and science and compete with more privileged children who use computers almost as soon as they are born.  With all the aid we give to schools why aren’t we making sure that students without computers are given lots of computer access in as early a grade as possible? These students should take computer classes which allow them to work with graphics, gaming, word processing, researching, programming and even the “nuts and bolts” of repairing computers.
America’s students should have computers that they can take home with them, that become their own, and we should make sure wireless or broadband computer internet connections are available to all students in the United States. We throw a lot of money at schools through large scale government assistance for programs that we hope will improve the chances of more successful schooling for more students. These monies are not always spent in the most efficient ways and they often don’t get to the schools that need them the most. The returns from putting money into making sure schools were full of up-to-date technology and that it gets used to best advantage might be greater than what we are getting for our program dollars as they are currently spent.
 I taught school for many years in our downtown and I met many students who hardly ever got to touch a computer. I don’t hear this discussed when we listen to experts talk about how we can improve our schools, but I did see a special presentation on CNN about a charter school where every student has a private cubicle surrounded by a low wall with her/his own computer. Perhaps they did not spend the entire day in front of the computer, but they did most of their work on their computers. These students were doing exceedingly well and they looked forward to school and felt that it was relevant to their lives. I cannot understand why we would not adopt a similar model for all of our schools.
It doesn’t look like computers are going away and experience shows that people can learn effectively using computers. Not only is it possible that it would raise test scores and graduation rates, but it might help resolve many of the behavior problems so prevalent in our schools. It provides a natural way to explore a great deal of science and mathematics and can make a contribution in almost every other subject field, but it is action-based and students don’t seem to see it as pedantic.
US schools ranked “average” in a recent worldwide study. We have all heard those other numbers: we rank 27th in math and 21st in science. This could easily be a great goal for a humanitarian group of wealthy people who are concerned that America is falling down the ladder of accomplishment relative to other countries around the world. These are obviously people who are interested in schools and who feel that a great education is very important. An infusion of cash for adding technology everywhere in our schools might turn the numbers around.

Our Schools

What are we doing to our schools? Schools are being cut, slashed, eviscerated from preschool to college without mercy and without a plan. Teachers are constantly under attack from the government and from their students (who understand that teachers are unpopular people right now). Because the economy is so stressed, the economy is being used as an excuse to rob the unions of their power, to rob teachers of their tenure, and to put an end to peer review. Although the unions bear some responsibility for their current difficulties, most are the result of a loss of leverage because money is tight. At the very least unions should have found ways to get rid of bad teachers. Still, I am betting that sometime in the future all of these management victories will have to be overturned. I understand there is no money right now, but we all know the importance of an education. We all see that a fair number of our children are unconvinced that this is so. We can see what this is doing to their chances to succeed in the 21st century. We do not “put our money where our mouth is.” We say one thing and do another.
Yes, schools are due for reform and the unions probably also need to rethink their priorities. Yes, possibly this austerity approach will force reform. But will we get the reform we need. Will robbing school districts of money and therefore staff and faculty and equipment and books really make us more competitive in terms of the outcomes of our schooling? School administrators are so busy cutting staff and cutting services that they do not have any time to concentrate on curriculum and teacher training and innovation and all of the things that improve schools. Each year they must scramble just to make school happen for that particular year. The stress of this triage pervades the entire institution from top to bottom.
How do we get reluctant children to value education? Drastic cuts in funds do nothing to answer this question, which is not such a prominent question in cultures with less personal freedom, but it is in ours. Many of our children, once they hit middle school, do not want to go to school. That is a real problem and one we haven’t addressed enough. How do we come up with schools that our children want to attend? I’m sure everyone has some ideas about this. Express your ideas; write editorials in the newspaper, get involved with your politicians, let them know how you feel and that you are watching. Request forums where educators and parents get together and discuss this stuff. Parents see what their children go through in school. They know what their children like and don’t like about school. They know the reasons why a child might find a school irrelevant to his/her life.
Parents and teachers together might be able to come up with a more compelling classroom model for schools. At the very least parents and teachers might come up with valid blueprints that conform to reduced school budgets. Schools are just being reactive right now. They know they will probably be cut again next year but they are not calling out their troops to decide how they will deal. Schools could be a bit more proactive. I do understand. however, that it is difficult to be proactive when each school year involves making frantic adjustments to conform with a new financial reality.

Right now it doesn’t look like our governments (federal, state, or local) have much sympathy for schools or teachers or even students for that matter. If schools are to move up on the priority list, what will we need to give up? It would most likely pay off in terms of our children’s futures, and our competitiveness in the world, and even in the health of our economy if we could find some acceptable sacrifices to make for the sake of our children.