Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Teacher teacher

School of Rock Ken heard from his Cousin Ros today, and it was great to hear that she's doing well. She lives in California, and she is that woman you think about when you think "California Blonde." Tall and beautiful! But the best thing about Ros is that she has an incredibly good heart. I'm so happy to call her family now, because she is a real peach.

Ros is a teacher in the San Bernardino area, and I was saddened to hear that she has decided to stop teaching. This year she had 32 kids, 20 of them with discipline problems, and with the continued lack of support from administration, she just couldn't take it anymore. When we've been out to visit in the past, she's told us stories about some of the problems she encounters, and the uphill battle that she faces every day. Like every other teacher I've known or spoken to, she spends plenty of her own money on school supplies, and often spends long hours working on projects after she gets home. (I'm sure this is sounding all too familiar, Miss A.) In hearing her speak of her kids, I could always tell that she loved them and wanted to help them, and wanted to teach them. But it got to the point where the stress was affecting her health, raising her blood pressure and causing a 20-pound weight loss (and she didn't need to lose any weight at all). I'm happy for her that she has decided to get out of it, purely for her own health, but it dismays me to see that dedicated, wonderful teachers like Ros are getting out because of what they have to deal with in our school systems.

You all know that I'm a big fan of education, and not just the School of Rock! I'm grateful for the wonderful teachers that I had in grade school, high school, and college. I was fortunate in that I had teachers who encouraged and challenged me. In grade school, they saw that I was a reader, and pushed me to read more, read "up," and to continue to develop that aptitude. In high school, there were some who recognized that I liked to write, and tried to teach me to let it flow, increase my vocabulary, and think about things beyond my comfort zone, as well as the science teachers who set me on the path to my eventual career in Microbiology. In college, it was a lot more science (Including Dr. Young, my Immunology professor, who was doing amazing things with cancer research--she taught me the relationship between the immune system, cancer, and potential cancer treatments. It's still fascinating to me.), with plenty of electives to round me out.

Blackboard JungleI'm willing to bet that each and every teacher I ever had would thank my parents for instilling a love of learning in me. My parents still have that love themselves, and even 25 years after college, that enjoyment of learning just for the sake of learning has never left me. So I find it upsetting and disheartening to see our schools lagging behind, and to see amazing teachers like Ros have to get out because of the horrible stress and lack of support. The situation seems especially dire in public schools, although it depends on the area. In areas like Ros's in San Bernardino, or like Miss A's in Detroit (although she doesn't teach in the DPS), it is not good. Not good at all. I got a great education in public schools, but in a rural area, we didn't have many of the problems that plague inner city schools. I got a great education from a state university, too. Public schools can work and can provide a quality education, but what are we doing wrong?


Oh...were you waiting for me to answer that question? Sorry, 'cause I got nothin'. I really don't know what the answers are.

I do have a thought, though. It seems to me that the underlying problem is a mindset among so many that discourages education rather than encouraging it. It's the "don't get above your place, kid" attitude. Neither of my parents went to college, but it was pretty much an expectation that I would go. They wouldn't have been mad at me if I didn't, but it was just a given that I would go. I never thought of doing anything else. Even among those who on the surface seem to encourage education, I've seen an ugly attitude of "anti-elitism." (I'm not sure when getting an education meant that you were a member of the "elite.") Call it the Uppity Argument. Writing about various and varied interests is uppity. Using big words is uppity. Having a grasp of issues and wanting to learn more about them is uppity. When did it become acceptable for people to look down on others for having a degree or continuing to learn? When did writing above grade-school level mean that someone is a "know-it-all?"

It's a pervasive attitude among many, whether it's a parent discouraging their child from being "too smart for their own good," or those who would ridicule others because of their education. I believe it's a fundamental problem, and if we can get past that and get people to respect education and realize the importance of it, maybe teachers like Ros will find the support they need to continue with the good work that they do.

Here's Rockpile singing "Teacher Teacher." (Isn't Nick Lowe cute?) This one goes out to all the great teachers that I've had over the years, and all those who continue to do good things for students everywhere, including people like me who never get tired of learning.


  1. Hear! Hear! I'm still a 'teacher' though sadly in a medical school such a term would be considered a denigration. My best years were spent teaching in a public high school. I still stay in touch with some of my former students, but more importantly, I still hold those public school colleagues in higher esteem than many of my professor co-workers. But, I choose to leave after eight years of high school teaching experience when I finally cracked $25K a year in the highest paying public school system in NC....while holding a BS and an MS in science, eight years of science field experience AND a third graduate level education degree. All total, the extra hours, the frustrations, the drugs and occasional violence weren't worth those big bucks. I raise a toast to those that can do it.

  2. I was raised in a household where college was a given. I can't fathom why any parent wouldn't encourage their children to become as educated as possible. Ignorance is not bliss, but rather leads to prejudice, hatred, poverty and war.

  3. Teachers are awesome...

    be well...

  4. i dont know the fix either, only for us in the city schools (public, private or charter) overcoming the apathy and attendance problems seem crucial to increasing graduation rates. you have to show up and do something to actually give yourself a chance to succeed- the key is getting the kids (and also their parents/ caregivers) to show up.

    i think making kindergarten mandatory in our state could possibly help and maybe moving the cut off forward to 'five by the first day of school' vs 'five by december first'. so many of the discipline problems we have in the schools could be counteracted with moral training.

    oh and get the hell rid of NCLB because all it's succeeded in doing is further dumbing down the curriculum in many states so the required number of kids can 'pass' the regents exams required to 'graduate'.

    thanks for the soapbox!


  5. You wouldn't believe some of the stories Paul comes home with and he's working middle grade. The kids talk back and actually dare you to make the sit and be quiet. They're not afraid of being disciplined either. What are you going to do suspend them? Just means they get to stay home and watch tv and play video games.

    I think some parents expect teachers to be the disciplinarians, yet yell bloody murder if you complain about their behavior.

    It's a shame too. These kids will grow up with no learning skills to carry them into college or allow them to get a better job. What's even scarier is this is our future we're talking about. (Hugs)Indigo

  6. I admire good teachers, I'm sure it seems a thankless job for many, if not all of them.

    Jack Black---I can just look at him and laugh.
    Which novie is that from?

  7. I'm with Indigo.... if the parents don't allow discipline, how can we accomplish ANYTHING!! I've seen SO MANY parents come to defend little johnny who brought a knife; chain; firecrackers; alcohol; even drugs to school... "IT WASN'T HIS, HE SAID SOMEONE PUT IT IN HIS POCKET WITHOUT HIM KNOWING!"

    Well, then MOM, your kid's hanging out with some real good friends, there!!! Let him face the consequences and that should teach him who his friends are!!

    My hats off to any teacher who spends the day on a high school (or ANY) campus!! They have more guts than I know!!

  8. I have nothing to add, I am dismayed by Ros's email. It is a sad state of affairs. It is magnified in our area by the property tax cuts, things will most likely get worse before they get better.

  9. you have millions upon millions of parents out there that are under some type of substance and their teens are just trying to make it to the next day in one piece. For those kids, college is not an easy option. They must fight and stay on a course where they are not bogged down with all the negatives. Kids CAN get a good education in public schools....as long as they have teachers that care and there are many many of those types of teachers. Sorry to hear your relative must stop teaching but i am sure there is more than one adult out there that had their life changed in a positive way because of her.

  10. With respect to Ros, I had an awful public elementary school education and it was in a wealthy NYC suburban community. I can grind my teeth today over some of the things that happened if I let myself. School was not for education. It was a compulory getting away from the house and being tied down for a few hours 5 days a week, and being abused and ridiculed by teachers who didn't really want to be there. My 4th grade teacher liked to ridicule and humiliate us, my 5th grade teacher told us man could never fly to the moon, my 6th grade teacher called ma a liar in front of the whole class for saying that I liked to watch the UN on TV. I wish I had been as rude as some of these current students are.

    High school wasn't much better. In high school I had only one teacher who inspired me. I guess I was lucky. By the time I graduated from high school I had lost all interest in formal education. I lasted only one year in college. Everything I know I taught myself or learned on the job.

    In the 40's and 50's the point of education was to get a good job. That's not true anymore. These days it makes more sense for a kid to be an athlete, a rock singer, a rapper or a drug dealer. That's where the money is. Compusory education has become a pain in the ass for everyone. There are excptions, and many of those are immigrants. A student can do very well once they reach higher education, provided they can go to the right college. For too many the costs are too much and they know it. So why bother? A high school diploma doesn't mean a thing. But every kid has a special interest in something. Throw out the classroom, the blackboard and the regimen, find out what the kid wants to do and take him there. He'll have to learn other things along the way and he will want to.


  11. We have the very same problems over here Beth. I sure don't know what the answer is either. However I truly believe ALL education begins at home and the sad thing is the care givers themselves may never been given much education or encouragement and so therefore see no need to give that encouragement to their children. "Whats good enough for me should be good enough for you"..."don't get above your station" seems to be the cry.... Thank goodness we had parents who encouraged us every step of the way...
    Love Sybil x

  12. This is an issue that makes my brain itch. It shouldn't be so hard to send kids to school to get an education. But there is no investement and it is taken for granted, as are many of the public services that often gets ignored until they start to fail.

    Though all education begins at home, how do you create a stable home environment conducive to education? So many external forces acts upon a household, nuclear or otherwise, that it is hard to say what is a priority.

    How do we prioritize education when you don't have enough food? How do we say value yourself and don't have sex until you have matured, when you can only find a sense of worth by pursuing and submitting to something before you can handle the consequence of what you are doing?

    Then because you can't rise above your intial mistake and there isn't anything to replace the behavior that led to the circumstance, you continue to repeat the same kind of mistakes. The only thing that is different is the day, because when you burn things down, the mistake is the same.

    You have immature young parents who don't know any better, sending their woefully unprepared children off into the world, with little direction, to do what?

    Hungry, attention deprived, under disciplined and unsocialized kids flood the public schools, to do what? They are sent there with no purpose, because there come from homes with no hope or focus. What they learn, they assimilate from a pastiche of influences, auditory and visuals, and it is only what sparks an interest in their minds that they choose to replicate.

    Not only are the children without focus or direction (I mean, when I went to elementary school, everyone at least understood why ... I no longer think that is the case, and figuring out in high school that you need to have an education is a bit late in the damn game! I think you should have done better in JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL if you wanted to have a better shot at life!!), but many public schools are underfunded. Why is that? Why is there no equalization between the money in one school district to the other?

    It takes more than the words, 'it starts at home'. From unprepared parents to the crass commercialization that makes everyone feel 'less than' if they don't have the latest thing to make them feel like someone ... it goes on and on.

    I don't think I am still on the same page anymore, but I think that instead of finding out where it needs to start, there needs to be an investment in the kind of 'nation building' we are doing in Iraq, here in some of the cities and rural areas in the US.

  13. Hi Beth,
    It's a real problem, that's for sure. I keep hearing stories about budget cuts in education, good teachers leaving and etc. out here in California. Then, to balance it all out, some friends who are teachers locally continually complain about the borderline crazies who are assigned to them as assistants (for special needs kids with particular discipline problems). The school system doesn't let these "duds" go. Instead, they just keep assigning the terrible assistants to different teachers each year. Go figure ...

  14. You really nail the anti-intellectualism that fuels the thinking of far too many people in this country, and it is certainly a key element in the ineffetiveness of our public schools. However, as a former classroom teacher, I also think that public education is static, based on the same basic structure in place a 100 years ago. The parents of the students currently in school were disengaged in learning and they transmit the same message of disinterest to their children. The teachers are frustrated, the students are angry, and very little learning takes place. The only model of how we teach doesn't work any more; we need to develop new paradigms of teaching. I left teaching nearly fifteen years ago, not because of the students, but because there was little room for innovation in the classroom. Bored students are likely to either sleep through class or disrupt class, neither is a desired behavior. As a teacher, I thought that it was my job to make learning exciting, and my classes intersting. However, when your classes are packed with far too many students, there is a pile of repetitive paper work to be completed, parents only come to school to yell at you, and there is never enough money for books and supplies, engaging your students in learning takes a back seat while you try to deal with everything else.

  15. Beth this is a great post. I am a teacher in NYC, an Art Teacher and I love my school. I teach k to 5th and let me tell you as wonderful as my school is, the job is real hard basically because of the discipline and the paper work. Especially for classroom teachers. I am so happy this year that I have a smart board in my room. I have 16 macbooks to teach computer photography and I have a 6000 stipend to buy arts supplies. And I am respected by my colleagues. However the situation is getting worst and not all schools have talented administrators that get the work done, while treating their employees with respect. That is a big component of failing schools.


I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you?